Unequal treatment: Roles in a family headed by the narcissistic abuser

In the family unit headed by a narcissistic abuser, each member has his or her own role to “fill” and the narcissist is the one who pushes different members into different roles.  Often, children will be switched into different roles throughout their lives depending on how the Nparent feels about them at a particular point.  In any case, each member is conditioned to fill the needs of the Nparent, disregarding their own.  Narcissistic parents mold their children into what they feel they should be, rather than allowing the children to grow into their own people.

In the family where the narcissist-abuser is the head, children are seen as extensions of the parent themselves.  In other words, they are also reflections of the parents, which is why you’ll initially assume a narcissist is such a loving, sacrificing martyr-type.  That’s the face they put out there for everyone to see so that they can get their fill of admiration (or narcissistic supply).  In reality, the children are made to serve the needs of the Nparent rather than the other way around.  Because of this, the children are often underdeveloped in things like communication, self-respect, self-esteem, emotional maturity, or a number of other social and interpersonal skills as they grow into adulthood.

It wasn’t until recently that my twin and I even connected the dots about the varying shades of treatment each of our husbands (not to mention their siblings) received.

  • Example 1: After the incident where Twin A and I attempted to talk to her ourselves, NMIL went to Twin A’s husband and told him “you’re dead to me” but said no such thing to my husband.  Odd, considering I was just as involved as my twin was in that attempt at resolving our conflicts.  In addition, she would send mean, guilt trip-ridden texts to Twin A’s husband but did not to my husband.  To this day, she is still not laying out the level of disdain to my husband that she does to his brother.  I only wish I knew why, because it makes no sense to me.
  • Example 2: Unfortunately, this preferential treatment is extending to the children too.  When Twin A and her husband were getting ready for their first baby, the only thing NMIL bothered to get for that child was ONE new outfit and an old outfit my brother-in-law supposedly wore.  After the child was born, the only present she’d ever given was some books she’d received for free.  Before my baby was even born, NMIL went out to a relatively expensive children’s clothing store and spent over $100 on clothes for my baby and tried giving us a secondhand stroller, despite us telling her multiple times we were picking out our own “big” items.  I don’t find this fair in the least.  So much for treating children – or grandchildren for that matter – equally.
  • Example 3: The therapist my husband and I saw a couple of years ago had some interesting things to say about the ways in which manipulators will violate boundaries.  He said something along the lines of this: when you put any boundary in place, someone who has a habit of getting away with violating them will do whatever he or she can do to circumvent it or blast through it.  My husband nodded his head, confirming that yes, he feels this is what his mother does.  And she has done this.  This example involves another blatant disobeyed request, similar in the way our therapist described.  I had kept many of my childhood stuffed animals, therefore, we had requested to not get anymore for our baby because we had plenty.  Seems pretty simple enough, no?  He had even said this to his mother.  The next time he sees her, she says she bought this “organic” stuffed animal for our son.  When my husband refused to take it, she (and his father) got upset; he stood his ground and told him he had specifically asked that they NOT buy any stuffed animals.  Let me point out something here – I imagine most people would be like, oh just take it, it’s rude to refuse.  We don’t think that’s really the case in this instance because she went against a direct request and to take it would essentially be saying “you can ignore anything I say and walk all over me like usual” because she’s used to getting what she wants and will pitch a fit when someone has the balls to stand up to her.  Where this connects to the point of this post is that my twin tells me whenever they happen to be at the in-laws house and the toys are brought out, our NMIL always points out that the stuffed animal is their cousin’s toy.  ALWAYS.  Sure, let’s gloss over the fact that you never bothered with such a gift for the two children of your other son.  Let’s focus on how you are trying to pit my child against theirs, inciting jealousy amongst the children.  Sorry, writing this irritates me.

Anyhow, let me include some terms that you’ll likely come across in similar blogs – more about the following terms/information can be found here

  1. Golden child: Essentially means the child can do no wrong, the one the narcissistic parent chooses to play favorites with at a particular point in that child’s life
  2. Scapegoat child: This is the child all the bad is “dumped on” and in some cases, used as the metaphorical (or literal!) punching bag for the parent or other siblings
  3. Lost/Invisible Child: This is a child that is largely ignored or left to fend for themselves, especially since the N parent lives in a perpetual bubble of “you all exist to serve me and not yourself.”

It is important to note, that it is very possible a child in one role now may either always retain that role, or the N parent(s) could switch roles for children at any point, often in response to something that happened.  Unfortunately as well, these roles are often passed on – albeit much more covertly – to the grandchildren of narcissists.  Thankfully for us, we do know that there is some evidence children pick up on the vibes people put out, which often determines how they behave around different people.  My twin’s children to some extent seem to pick up on the fact that grandma is not genuine.  Whether this is because our MIL isn’t too good at faking loving behavior or if these children are particularly perceptive is unclear.  And this isn’t something we rejoice about.  It is actually a very sad thing, no matter how irritated we are at our MIL or the fact that she’s responsible for the abuse her children suffered at her hands.  I have fond memories of my mother’s parents, and the few memories I have of my dad’s parents were also fun (and without any sort of pathologically dysfunctional undertones).  Most people want their children to love their grandparents.  When there is a situation involving abuse, the circumstances change.

– Twin B

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