April 23, 2009

The Fruit of the Narcissist's Loins

Ceci n'est pas une pomme by Rene Magritte

"Parents who were unable to acknowledge their child’s needs also had a strong tendency to report that their child does not express a need for admiration, is not sensitive to criticism and does not take pleasure in activities that he/she usually enjoys (anhedonia).

"These findings support clinical observations that narcissistic parents tend to report fewer problems in their children." Article Link

The narcissistic family shines like a flawless apple---on the outside, that is. Just as the artist Rene Magritte prompts us to reflect, however: “This is not an apple.”

It is the image of an apple.

One is nutritious and wholesome. The other tastes like paper. Good for termites maybe, but not so good for human beings.

The narcissistic family looks authentic; however, each person is focused on meeting the familial system’s needs, not their own. If individual problems are too burdensome, children will be reluctant to ask for help and reasonably so. When the child of a narcissist admits to a weakness or a need, they open themselves to rejection or attack. You don’t have to live in a narcissistic family for very long before learning that. Family members balance assigned roles they must maintain to keep from upsetting the applecart. Nobody knows who anyone really is, not even the self.

They know the image of who they’re supposed to be, but they do not know themselves.

The dependent child’s resolution is to collude in the semblance of family because kids need to belong; they need to love others; they need to be loved, and so, they pretend everything's fine. “No problems with me, Mom and Dad. I’m fine. Just fine. Are you okay?”

Narcissists fail to meet the most basic of children’s needs such as trust and safety and secure belonging. If people could see how convoluted the family was with children serving parent’s needs rather than parents serving their children, mama-N or papa-N would be apoplectic. Image, you see, is the most important value in the narcissistic family system.

For all intents and purposes, this is a family. But, “Ceci n’est pas une famille.”

It is the image of a family.

Narcissism eats through the core of a family like worms in a ravaged orchard.



  1. My stepson was such a wonderful young man when under the watchful eye of his N-father. He knew how to do much more than many his age. I knew though that he must have much anger inside, as I would hear him bullying the neighbor boys when he thought no one was listening. I could hear many of his father's words coming out of his mouth, thinking he knew the best way to do many things. I miss him, and hope he turns out ok. He was very loving towards me, and never once hurt me in any way.

  2. I sincerely hope he turns out okay, too, anonymous. I can hear your love and concern for him in your words.

    Bullying may be a way for him to assert his power, but it may also be a way for him to reclaim himself when he recognizes the harm he is doing to others.

    He can always STOP being a bully. And he might. I have a good story about Bully-Boys (my son) which I'd like to share with you as soon as I have time to write it down. Please come back to my blog within the next couple of weeks and I'll tell you all about what happened.


  3. Thanks so much for this post. I hadn't heard of this expression before, 'This is not an apple, it is the image of an apple', and it resonates very deeply with me.

    It's true with many things, dysfunctional churches, dare I say cults, any other organisation or group for whom form is of greater significance than substance. It also reminds me of what you read in the book of Timothy...a form of godliness but denying its power. How I long for the deeply satisfying, if temporarily discombobulating, effect of Truth.

  4. Hi CZ,
    Checking out your older entries while you are off-blog, I'm sure creating another wonderful site. I'm excited and look forward to that.

    I enjoyed this post. I always learn when I come to visit you.

  5. I often think of my ex who is unquestionably a "N" he has custody of his three grandsons....they have suffered the abuse (physcial and sexual) and neglect of his drug addicted daughter(he acknowledges no responsibility in her deep seated problems) of course I have no knowledge of the situation personally, he hails for the West coast. He is emotionally abusive and at the same time can talk so therpeutically to them in between the rages where he destroys their rooms because they are unclean....you get the picture...what will become of these boys....they believe he is all they have and they deserve no better. The day they left my home,one of them looked at me as if to say, "we thought you knew"...

  6. Hi DeBorah,

    Sounds like a horrible situation...it's so frustrating to witness the damage narcissists do to other people and not be able to help or intervene.

    Are you able to spend time with the boys? Or have you needed to cut contact with him completely?


  7. He has throughly abandoned me and immediately left with the boys and I have not heard or seen them since. He quickly married within 4 months to a women who has adopted 4 children.....I can only imagine what is going on in that house !! If I thought reporting his emotional abuse would help them I would but he has them totally brainwashed and accepting of his bad behavior and abuse. It would only be an inconvenience, the boys would never tell the reality of their life with Grandpa "N".

    1. She has four adopted children and he has custody of his three grandsons? I hope she's got a lot of energy because she's gonna need it! Sounds like he was looking for a real caretaker type to manage his life for him.

      That's the thing about pathological narcissists. They want the IMAGE of the amazing parent/grandparent but they need someone else to do the heavy lifting. Ya know?

      I'm sure this situation has hurt you, DeBorah. We get attached to the children even if there are problems in the relationship. Then suddenly, the N changes his/her mind and without any empathy for the pain it causes their former partner, the children are whisked away.

      I'm so sorry for what you must be going through.


  8. Thank you so much for this article - just wish it was longer! As someone who grew up in a 'shiny apple' family, it's been extremely difficult for me to accept the severity of the toxicity and abuse that occurred because yes, from the outside, everything was just wonderful. We were wealthy, dad was very successful, mum was a wonderful homemaker, we had a beautiful house and farm. But inside, especially for me, it was dark and terrifying and confusing and lonely. The few times I tried to speak about the real nature of things at home I was told I was exaggerating or that it 'wasn't that bad, people have it far worse' etc. Oftentimes I couldn't articulate what was even wrong because it was that horrid subtle undermining that narcissists are so good at; I just knew things were wrong - or I was just defective. It's only now, at 33, after a string of awful relationships with narcs, a massive breakdown and a diagnosis of PTSD that I have FINALLY had a therapist say, "no, your parents failed you badly. What you experienced WAS that bad". But like you say, if it was overt and obvious, that validation would have occurred a long time ago, and I would have got the help I desperately needed. I've also found that self-help resources for people in my position are uncommon; perhaps I'm looking in the wrong places! Can you suggest any? Not even sure what I'm looking for to be honest. My parents seem to be in those twilight zones of any 'diagnosis', yet it seems some kind of label is required in order to read the right things.....if that makes sense...
    Again, thank you xx

    1. Hi Anonymous!

      Many people have chosen to take this "recovery journey" without an official diagnosis of their parents. If you read material on the narcissistic family and you sense within yourself that it "rings true" with your experience, then that's enough. After all, YOU aren't writing a diagnosis for your family. You are simply searching for information that will help you move forward in your life, eliminating the unnecessary baggage children of narcissists carry with them...sometimes forever. If you are "waking up", then trust your intuition. Therapists are very very helpful for most people (not everyone feels it's necessary to have a therapist). I went to therapy during the most troubling part of my recovery---which was: staying awake. aha! You probably know how easy it is to "deny" your own perceptions and distrust your own feelings. A therapist will keep you grounded in your experience so you don't give up or give in to the awful feelings and memories that inevitably arise.

      You don't need a therapist specializing in NPD, I don't think. You will probably find the proper support for yourself with a trauma therapist. The point of this is YOUR recovery since there's nothing you can do to change the past and you certainly can't change your parents. That sounds so obvious but honestly, most of us spend years accepting the truth of that statement. Plan on this taking "time"...a long time and be okay with that. It may take years and that's okay---what else do we have that's more important? Nothing really! Our mental and psychological and emotional health is worth all of our time and energy!

      Find a group whose discussions resonate with your experience and get to know other people. I believe the best way to create a healthy life for yourself is through healthy relationships. It's so important to talk with people who are working on their boundaries, learning what "healthy" is supposed to look like, eliminating unhealthy patterns of behavior that everyone learned as children. If you are friends with people who are also interested in self-healing, then you'll find yourself growing along with them. One tip: when you are looking for group support, be cautious of forums or blogs that fuel hatred, revenge, blaming, etc. This might feel great at first but it probably won't get you where you want to go.

      I love Alanon which is where I started learning about "self-help". You can also find Alanon literature that will benefit your situation if you aren't interested in attending the meetings. I go to Alanon off-and-on, depending on what's happening in my life. When I'm having troubles, I don't waste time denying it---I pop in to a few meetings and get myself back on track.

      I think books about codependency can be helpful but I don't like any self-help "product" that blames victims, such as calling them "enablers". It's just my thing---many people have found codependency groups to be beneficial.

      There's so much information online now. It wasn't like that twenty years ago. The best books I read to help me through "the awakening" were by John Bradshaw. He's still relevant although I believe he has passed away.

      I hope this helps! Good luck!



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