August 02, 2012

Daughters of Disconnections and Misbegotten Rivalry: the legacy of the narcissistic family

John Singer Sargent's The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882)
"Dressed in white pinafores, the children are arranged so that the youngest, four-year-old Julia, sits on the floor, eight-year-old Mary Louisa stands at left, and the two oldest, Jane, aged twelve, and Florence, fourteen, stand in the background, partially obscured by shadow...'The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit' is as much about the subject of childhood as it is an example of portraiture." ~Wikipedia Link

Sargent's Daughters:  a subjective interpretation

This painting would not be so disturbing were it a portraiture of four sons.  Young brothers in individualized poses wouldn't strike us as forlorn. Their disconnection from one another might signal healthy individuality, each son forming a separate identity as the task of his maturation. In the background shadows, two older brothers would be characterized as protective---standing like sentries defending the monarchy. The six-foot tall of highest quality porcelain vases, would represent the family's hierarchical status in the community. This family would not to be mistaken as commonplace. If this painting in Boston's Museum of Fine Arts featured sons instead of daughters, visitors wouldn't be overwhelmed by the composition. They'd hardly be moved to rest on museum benches facing the painting...and weep.

However, this painting isn't about four sons inheriting their patriarchal agentic legacy. This painting is comprised of seven objects: two porcelain vases, a china doll, and four sisters. The girls are situated away from one another, restrained from customary affections. Even the two sisters in the background break their fingertips-only connection by gazing in opposite directions. Each girl's expression lacks vitality, her eyes less sparkling than the glaze of decorative vases towering over her. One daughter secludes her face in the shadows, and leans against the delicate vessel as if to tell onlookers that appearances can be deceiving: this fragile vase is more formidable than it appears. The second vase, eclipsed by the painting's border, remains aloof, unattached to the domestic scene in both spirit and heart, present only as an obligatory afterthought. Each girl, encapsulated within herself. Each girl, a separate portrait. Each girl on her own, separated from the affiliative bonds through which she attenuates identity.

What disrupted their sisterly connections? Why are they uncharacteristically distanced from one another? Their positions in the painting disturb viewers on an inarticulate level and our intuition nags, "There's more to this picture than meets the eye," because there is more to this family portrait. It's a Rorschach test...a muse for probing our past and our assumptions. Emotional reactions spark awareness and the mind construes reason and that is precisely why this painting is psychologically compelling. We stare into the abyss of four daughters we will never know, and we see ourselves.

Subjective interpretation of Sargent's Daughters is especially poignant for daughters of narcissistic families. I sense an unmistakable dread. A foreboding of their sorrowful futures. One of alienation, from other people, from themselves, from their parent's lives. The daughter's stiff, commonplace pinafores jarring in a household rich enough for French lace and velvet frocks. Were they daughters of a narcissistic mother who envied and resented them, treating them like servants (or dolls)? Were they daughters of narcissistic fathers who neglected them, resenting them for the attention they stole from his wife? Were both parents too preoccupied with each other to meet the needs of their daughters? Is Mama represented as the uncommitted vase protected by the cloak of benevolent sexism? Or is father the porcelain giant hidden behind his shield of paternal privilege? I can't say although the following anecdote written by Henry James, offers evidence to the possibility of the Boit family's narcissism:
"The girls’ parents were the enchanting heiress Mary Louisa Cushing, known as Isa, and Edward Darley Boit, a handsome and courtly lawyer who depended on his wife’s inheritance to support his modestly successful career as a watercolor artist...Of the two, it was Isa [who was] always social, always irresponsible, always expansive, always amused and amusing” and, more tellingly, “eternally juvenile.”  
"Poor Mrs. Boit," Henry James wrote to a mutual friend, "she has as much business with daughters as she has with elephants. Worse, her elephants grow bigger and bigger all the while and she doesn’t; but only grows older and sadder and further away from her happy, laughing, irresponsible years." ~Link
This comment certainly mirrors descriptions of charming narcissistic mothers and dependent narcissistic fathers who orbit their narcissistic wife, attending to her every whim and fancy. It also validates what we know about the narcissistic family system existing to meet the parent's needs, forsaking the children's needs. It may be presumptuous of me to diagnose a family from the 1880's when little is known about their actual history. But all ART, this portrait in particular, begs to be interpreted. It's as if each girl invites us into her private room, for she has an important message to deliver.

I don't know. Maybe the daughters are daring us to tip the vase and see what they've hidden inside. Things gone missing from mother's jewelry collection, from father's butler's chest. Maybe forbidden sweets from the pantry or notes scribbled during parental absences when governesses and nursemaids filled the daughters' emotional voids. Secrets abide in this household.

Something new and something sad bubbles to the surface each time I peer into this family portrait. It's a haunting painting. I'm not suggesting that anything I've read into this painting depicts the actual facts and circumstances of the Edward Darley Boit family. There is no way to diagnose a family from an artist's portrait and an excerpt written by a friend of the family. Interpreting what we see in a masterpiece can be deeply healing though, bringing forth unresolved feelings, reframing childhood as adults, illuminating insight and understanding of our past, feeling compassion for ourselves. For our siblings.

While connecting the dots between the past and the present, we might notice we're unconsciously repeating patterns of learned behavior. Behaviors that may have made sense when we were children but are destructive as adults. Once the unconscious is conscious, (art can be a powerful muse), we are primed to change dysfunctional behaviors that will hinder the creation of loving relationships as adults. I didn't write may hinder. I wrote will.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Misbegotten Sibling Rivalry

If parent's unconditional love failed to fill children's heart, if their love was withheld, conditional favoritism won't fill yearning hearts as adults. We cannot get what we never got in childhood. To assume that one child was granted love and the other children denied, is an illusion. The belief that there is love yet-to-be-granted, keeps people running towards a promise, competing with siblings for something that doesn't exist. We are jealous, even envious, of something that doesn't exist. We hate our sister for getting our share of the love we deserved. We hate ourselves for being unworthy, feeling empty, feeling ashamed of our deficiencies. We blame ourselves for hating our sister for we know on a deeper level than our resentment, that she is just as hurt as we. That she bears the wounds of childhood, too.

The narcissistic parent is unable to love other people. This is the essence of the disorder. Through the eyes of the child however, parents aren't deficient, she is. Parents aren't unable to love, she is unlovable. Because children adapt to the weaknesses of their family, they learn to compete for  any crumb of pseudo-love that might be available. They resort to manipulation, to doing, to pleasing, to earning favor from their parents. (earning favor is a miserable imitation of genuine love, but if that's all there is, it's better than nothing). Favoritism is tenuous, however. It's as ephemeral as a fleeting thought, a momentary feeling, the last pony trick making mama or papa smile.

Unfortunately, adult children continue to see one another as competitors in a lifelong battle striving for parental affection and favor (what passes as love.) Whoever the narcissistic parent is favoring at the moment, threatens her sibling's position in the pecking order. I think this limited perception of love is inevitable when genuine, unconditional love was unavailable or inadequate. Children are not capable of seeing deficits in their parents and the more extreme the parental narcissism, the more idealized their parents. In other words, she'll hate her sibling, not her mother, not her father. She'll hate her sibling for stealing what was rightfully hers, never realizing that neither child was loved unconditionally. She will blame her sister for stealing their love, rather than face the intolerable reality that her parents are unable to love.

Even adult children of narcissists say, "Mom loves you more than me. Dad loves me more than you." To children, love is all-or-nothing. If you love one child, you don't love the other. This is the perception of the child that carries over into adulthood. Even as adults, if a parent favors them, they feel special, even superior to their less-favored siblings. They defend these golden crumbs with vigilance. With other siblings in the family, there's a perception that there's not enough love to go around when in fact, there is no love for anyone. 

Sibling Rivalry

People assume sibling rivalry is a natural part of family life. They tell humorous stories about the mean things they did to one another as they jostled for identity in the family. Sibling rivalry is benign enough that people use the term lightly. Over the course of a lifetime, sibling rivalry transforms into respect for one another's boundaries, and appreciation for each other's individuality, despite growing up in the same household. "Remember when I peed on your pillow...." starts the dinner table discussion as siblings remember childhood with jocularity and yes, fondness.

That is not what I'm writing about. Normal sibling rivalry oughtn't be confused with Misbegotten Rivalry. I wasn't sure how to capture the pathology of a psychological process people accept as normal. There is nothing normal about the pathological rivalry siblings have for one another when they've grown up in a narcissistic family. I believe misbegotten adult rivalry is the result of the narcissistic family, having less to do with the individual than the system. This is why I've used the term "misbegotten." Under normal circumstances, siblings develop strong bonds of love instead of the competitive drive for parental favor, caused by a lack of genuine acceptance and love in childhood. Competing with one another for something that doesn't exist.

I think adults who insist they weren't loved by their parents are insightful and brave for it takes courage to accept one's emotional losses, the unfairness of unloving parents, the repercussions of growing up in a narcissistic family with lifelong recovery work ahead. It takes courage to shatter the illusion that grief can be avoided by trying harder, giving more, doing better, and this time we'll teach our parents how to treat us and we'll get the love we deserve.

The grandest illusion of narcissistic families is that love exists. That it can be earned, won, manipulated. That love is a zero-sum commodity and if one sibling wins favor, love is consequentially denied other siblings. This is an illusion of pathological proportions, the foundation to misbegotten rivalry.

The tragedy is that misbegotten rivalry results in a devastating destruction of bonds that could sooth the emotional deficits of siblings who were deprived of genuine parental love. Siblings can appease the ravages of parental invalidation for one another. If sibling alliances don't form as children, and they often don't in narcissistic families ravaged by triangulation, adult alliances can be fostered. But first, the belief that narcissistic parents love one child and not the others, must be eradicated. The belief that love can be earned, that favoritism is a viable substitute for love, must be exhausted. The belief that our siblings are our competitors must be challenged through adult awareness and compassion.

Children of narcissists believe love is a limited resource, so when one child is being taken care of or given attention or praised, the other children lose out. This all-or-nothing paradigm extends into adulthood. The notion of misbegotten rivalry stems from unquestioned assumptions formed in childhood. The fact is, and this may be heartbreaking to those still chasing pots of gold at the ends of proverbial rainbows: there is no authentic love in the narcissistic family. There are look alikes, chimeras, almosts, pseudos, pretends, illusions, and forgeries of love.  Nothing substitutes for genuine love and narcissists are incapable of loving others. The very act of loving other people eradicates narcissism. To love is to surrender ego to the betterment of the other, to render one's self vulnerable to suffering.  "We are never so defenseless against suffering," Freud writes, "as when we love."
“Whoever loves becomes humble. Those who love have, so to speak, pawned a part of their narcissism.” ~Sigmund Freud
Humble plus Narcissism equals Oxymoron. You get my point. To rival one another as siblings for something that does not exist, is an attendant tragedy of the narcissistic family. For it is one thing to resent a parent's inability to love unconditionally; but to reject and punish siblings for having stolen more than their fair share of parental love, is the result of misbegotten rivalry. Nothing fills the lacunae of the heart of the unloved child. It is a wound adult children of narcissists must learn to live with, accept and respect.

The message of Sargent's painting

What disturbs me the most about Sargent's portrait of The Daughters of Edward Daley Boit, is that their sisterly affiliations as allies and protectors have been broken. Their message to us may be: Love and honor your siblings. Respect her wounds and forgive your past competing for something that never existed. Make a promise to yourself to forgive her for being a vulnerable child like yourself. You were born into a home where love was non-existent, conditional favoritism substituting as pseudo-love.

Disconnections from one another as siblings carries forward the legacy of the narcissistic family long after parents are gone. The connections you do not heal in your lifetime, become the work of your progeny. Do the work we are blessed in the 21st century to do and learn about the narcissistic family. Own your stuff. Fix it. Don't pass this hateful legacy to your daughters and grand-daughters.

Hugs all,

Resources of Interest Sister Wendy. "...the daughters of Edward Darley Boit would never marry, and they would live their lives essentially alone. Though the two younger girls pictured in the foreground remained close, the older two suffered from debilitating mental illnesses as adults, becoming increasingly isolated from the world and one another."

Wikipedia Link "Author Bill Brown has noted the "uncanny qualities" of the depiction of the girls and the vases, which he asserts promote "an indeterminate ontology [because of] the inability to distinguish between the animate and the inanimate". Brown claims that the painting offers a portrait of vases and a still life of the girls, and that this "discloses a dialectic of person and thing"."  

'John Singer Sargent's Model Children' by Megan Marshall. "When I moved to Boston some years ago, I made an early trip to the Museum of Fine Arts and found myself face to face with John Singer Sargent’s nearly life-size portrait of four pinafore-clad girls, “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit.” Unlike many other visitors, I didn't take a seat on the bench in front of this haunting picture and study the canvas intently — or, as some have, begin to weep...."

'Sargent's Daughters: The Biography of a Painting' by Erica Hirshler. "Drawing on numerous unpublished archival documents, scholar Erica E. Hirshler excavates all facets of this iconic canvas, discussing not only its significance as a work of art but also the figures and events involved in its making, its importance for Sargent's career, its place in the tradition of artistic patronage and the myriad factors that have contributed to its lasting popularity and relevance."


  1. I see all that you say in this painting and none of it. Is this forgone conclusion or consensus?
    A work of art done well is open to any interpretation that the viewer chooses to assign.
    Did the painter ever shed light on the subject?
    In John Lennon's last interview he spoke of a scholar saying there were Gregorian chants sprinkled in the back ground of the Beatles's songs. The interviewer asked Lennon "what's a Gregorian chant?"
    Lennon said,"I don't know, bird calls I suppose."
    I am not trying to play devils advocate as much as I just was just wondering.

    1. Oh, it's subjective. I scan art galleries online and see what strikes me as valuable. This is what I did when first creating my blog and it continues to inspire introspection process and hopefully, something worth reading.

      It's an intuitive process though for sure. Because then I open a New Post and start writing from the heart. What I see may have nothing to do with the artist's intentions. We may never know what Sargent saw in the Boit family dynamics when he painted that portrait.

      There is a book about Sargent's Daughters (the link is included in the Resource section) which I've not read. It's on my list. I tried googling to see if anyone had written about the Boits and Narcissism...but didn't find anything.

      And the other thing that's fascinating about art is that what we see the first time, may be completely different the next time. Right now, I'm having serious problems with my sisters, so of course this disconnected painting would intrigue me.

      I also think "Misbegotten Rivalry" bears consideration. The post was a bit long (duh!) and could have been separated into two topics.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. It's a lot to ask of readers when a blog entry is this long!


  2. CZBZ, I think this is a brilliant post, a brilliant reading of the painting. I see exactly what you are reading. Bill Brown's point that it is a "portrait of a vase and a still life of the girls" is dead on. They are so disconnected from each other. The painter is using them as objects, positioned spatially, not in relation. It's a deeply disturbing painting, and your post on "misbegotten rivalry" is an important distinction from normal sibling rivalry, which teaches us to strive harder, and to measure ourselves in relation to trusted peers. Thanks for writing this. Many of the comments I've read on my blog describe bitter rivalry. I'm the "identified scapegoat" in the family for telling the truth about parental narcissism and how its affected me. But I do not ever tell my sisters what they're supposed to feel. My parents may love them; I know that my mother and father are utterly dependent on them to keep them positioned as the most important things in the universe. In return, they get their needs met.

    1. The vases are more luminous and three dimensional than the girls. The vases radiate light. The girls are comparatively dull and flat. The porcelain is luminous but their young skin gives off no light. This is a scary painting. I think you nailed it.

    2. Well you have inspired me too, have all the good people posting about vengeful rivalry. some of those sisters don't grow up to be codependents...they grow up to be narcissists.

      I've been reading a book on sibling rivalry by Teri Apter. It's a great book HOWEVER, just like any relationship book, pathology is overlooked/ignored.

      I'm a careful reader now and encourage every ACoN to be, too. It's easy to blame ourselves as deficient when we're reading books written for non-pathological relationships. Nothing is easy when pathology is in the mix. Nothing. You can't take anything for granted and whatever you do to ameliorate relationship problems, will be triply difficult (if not impossible). It depends on the degree of narcissism the family is dealing with, doesn't it?

      You mentioned scapegoating---there's always a scapegoat in the narcissistic family. I think that kids see this, they take note that mom or dad has a garbage can for all that ails the family. Those kids will then do almost anything to avoid being the garbage can.

      I'm just not sure that narcissists "love" people...not the way we think of love. If your sisters do something that is unacceptable, they'll be devalued and as you've written "love withheld." They know this though...they know it and that's why kids tow the line, pretending to be someone they aren't in order to preserve the pretense of love.

      Strong people like yourself, are able to hold a solid gaze on the narcissistic family without flinching. People with more fragile psyches, can't even risk being rejected. This is how it seems to me anyway and it's how I muster compassion for brown-nosers. ha!


    3. Can't claim to have much empathy for the golden suck-ups either. While 'am wishing them no harm whatsoever, want nothing to do with them bayoches.

  3. Or maybe the intentions of the artist matters not. It's that his painting betrays his subconscious by how he composed the girls into the family role each has had assigned to them, through no fault of their own?
    I think you mentioned Rorschach.
    I can be slow on the up take.

    1. ha! Well, I am impressed that you slogged all the way through it. I seriously need an editor.

      Comments by the author of Sargent's Daughters, suggest that the parents were less interested in raising children than enjoying their 'rich lifestyle.' This portrait was painted while they lived in Paris.

      If I read the book, I'll write another post using narcissism as my lens.

    2. I can see another angle for this portrait but it wouldn't be as useful right now since my challenge is healing broken disconnections with my sisters.

      BUT, I could read this picture as a rich family's struggle with autism. (forgive imagination is a formidable foe). I could ruminate on how autistic children affected parents in the 1880's when little to nothing was known about the disorder.

      Then I'd have to file it under my Asperger category. *grin*

  4. From the male perspective it can get old that everything is gender specific. It's not that it's not a valid take. I have a sister and I could write a book on our mothers two pronged approach for us.
    I wish more men would get off their asses and speak up.
    I would have been the golden child at our house. And my sister the scape-goat to the Nth degree.
    This was not something I relished. I resented it as much as my sister did being the scape-goat. My mother didn't coddle me. She way too selfish and crazy for that. But she didn't heap all the blame and guilt on my sister and never me.
    So instead of sticking my proverbial tongue out at my sister from behind my mothers apron, I sat there and had to watch her get the brunt of things and do nothing.
    As an adult I defended my sister when my mother dragged out the same old suitcase of shit. But
    Just but.
    They should be put down. Like a rabid dog.

  5. Make that a "did."

    1. I hear your complaint, q1605. I prefer writing from a female perspective cuz I am one and realize that no matter how empathic I might be, I can't speak for men. This latest interest in mother-daughter relationships has come about because we are talking more about female narcissists than we were. Most of my recovery work concerned father-issues.

      Do you think that children's roles change? Can one child be the scapegoat and then switch to the Golden Child? I'm not sure the roles are static. Although, and I've read this in some of the literature on N-families, boys may have been preferred by narcissistic mothers (reflective of social values). Of course, Times Are Changing and having boys isn't how a woman earns her keep these days, thank heavens.

      One thing that seems certain though---sibling rivalry is caused by and maintained by narcissistic parents who are renown for pitting one child against the other. Like you said, "The two-pronged approach."

  6. My mother is so over the top that she didn't waste her time pitting me and my sister against each other. Not as children. We were both persona non grata. It's just that if the skulduggery my mother got into got found out by my father, my sister fit the bill of someone to blame as opposed to a grubby little boy who had been out shooting his BB gun all day.
    She did try pitting us against each other later. She talked a good talk. Kept us triangulated..(if this is the right word at the right place) and gave it her best shot. I think you are familiar with my mother. In the blog sense. But she is so nutted out her crazy just has to ooze out somewhere and when it did/does it was her undoing and the end of her working us. I am not sure if my sister is even aware of this. I mean she knows that my mom's jaw is flapping 24/7. But I would be embarrassed for her to know how close she came to suckering me in. Which means she'll be finding out now because I believe she follows your blog.
    Sorry sis. I knew not what I did.
    I DID know better that to swallow it hook line and sinker though.
    The roles can change. As soon as I went NC she was calling my sister up and telling her I had flipped my lid. Not too far from the truth. But my sister knew the score better than I and listened with the non committal uh huh. You don't say.

    1. Yes, I'm familiar with your mother having read your blog for some time now. (you are a wonderful writer) You have been through something hellish, beyond what most people can imagine in their worst nightmares.

      Several sons have written about being the Golden Child, especially first-born sons. This is likely a cultural thing---since far more often than should be, narcissistic parents yearn for a son, telling their daughters how disappointed they were when she was born. But just as you've corroborated with your comment, it's a short fall from the pedestal when we don't conform to the N's demands.

      And don't be too hard on yourself for nearly capitulating to your mother's charms. Children want to love and be loved by their parents, even til the last breath. Children, even adult children, hope to be the 'apple of their parent's eye'. Getting yourself OUT of that illusion is not easy. I don't think most people manage to do it...not ever.

      Sorry to hear that family members might be reading your comments, though. It's unsettling knowing what we've written might be used against us---especially when we're putting extraordinary amounts of time into understanding why our family relationships aren't working. If we didn't care so much, we wouldn't write. We'd be reading "Shades of Grey" instead of Kernberg and Kohut. ha, j'est kiddin' Who needs Bondage Fantasies when you grew up in a narcissistic family?

      By the way, people in my family have tracked me, too. My X and his girlfriend printed out many of my messages to prove how evil and conniving I was. (I'm about as conniving as Forrest Gump and indeed feel that way when looking back on my life.)Knowing 'they' were reading almost made me quit posting. Unfortunately, I started my blog with the nickname people call me by. How smart was that?? NOT.


  7. Me and sis are on the same page. Just that I have never fessed up to how much I had started buying into my mothers crap. If she reads this she'll know. She won't hold it against me. She knows how my mother is.
    That's the good thing. It's me and my sister and my mother. No other close family.
    Nah! my sister is cool as the day is long.
    I WISH my mother would read my blog. Her head would fly off and revolve like a radar dish.
    And I then would like to whack it with a golf club.

    1. Oh! Thanks for explaining!

      Narcissists are incredibly seductive, q. We want to believe what they say is true and that's also one of the reasons we feel ashamed of ourselves afterwards. We knew better and we fell for it anyway.

      Knowing other people were seduced takes some of the edge off though.

  8. I hope that book will mention some additional mental health symptom's of the two older girl's. I would wonder if it was organic or the situation. It says they isolated themselves later in life, but that could be anything. We have to hope they are described well enough to hazard a guess. In those days they might have had a wart and been given mercury. Who knows?
    Damn. You have me sucked in to this friggan painting.
    You are going to make me read a whole book devoted to one painting.
    It's already paid off. Now I know what a pinafore is.
    Another thing about you CZBZ.
    You use empathic instead of the alternative. Even my spell checker has it wrong.
    OK just back from Google. I was led to believe empathetic is not a word. That it's empathic but every one gets it wrong. On line has both.
    Your word is law. What say you?
    Get the f off my comment section and get a life most likely, but if you rule on that one thing I'll go away.

    1. Ha! You are hilarious! I get to be the boss? My word is law? Okay...since it's my blog, the correct word is:


      I've noticed both words being used but when I started blogging, EMPATHETIC sounded WAY too close to 'pathetic' and I was sick and tired of feeling that way. ha! Plus, 'empathetic' rhymes with 'sympathetic' and I've read enough treatises on the distinction to be thoroughly confused by the details.

      EMPATHIC sounds dangerously close to psychopathic but let's not go there. 8-O (trying to draw a frightened face with my keyboard).

      I listened to an hour long lecture (on YouTube) about Sargent, including background on this painting. It was a bit high-brow for people who don't have art degrees so grab a high-chair if you choose to listen to it. It was extremely interesting though (I love art history) and I got my dining room furniture waxed and polished to a 19th century shine.

      And to your last point: I have really enjoyed talking with you on my blog. As you've probably noticed, people haven't exactly been flocking to my comment section. hahaha So it's been a real joy conversing with people lately! I nearly fell off my chair when you and Cal' Sis commented a few minutes after posting. In other words, thank you so much---not only for reading, but for caring enough to comment.


  9. What a phenomenal analysis of this painting-as soon as I looked at it, I "felt" it. I can't explain what I mean about that "feeling." It both drew me in and repelled me at the same time. I felt as if, "I KNOW this" somehow.
    There is no joy here, no sense of the daughters rather than "props" to the picture. There is no "illumination" on the little one whose eyes appear so serious, so tentative, so little "expression" on any of their faces. I was fascinated by the vase to the right and the "cover" or what ever that is behind the vase.
    My full sis is without a doubt a garden variety NPD; I say "Garden Variety" in that her malevolence is no where as obvious as my biological "Mother" who I refer to as "Psychob." (Yes, I know, not very lady-like and please forgive me if that appears offensive to anyone.) However, Nsis is just as treacherous but her "manner"/ways of doing/being in the world are more subtle, more "cloaked" than Psychob's. But when her trap has been sprung on the unwitting, it's just as devastating to the target.
    I do indeed believe roles-particularly "Scapegoat"-are subject to change over time. A "Golden" can become the "Scapegoat" as soon as they refuse to participate in the "illusion" because that truly is what these families project towards the outside world. And it matters not a whit how much material abundance or lack thereof in which the AC was raised: The inability to love colors the entire family, their relationships to one another, the outside world. The rigidity inherent in these families would never allow for the members to grow both as individuals and as a member of the family. When ACs start speaking their truth, even to themselves they become persona non grata. They no longer "fit in" and will either be cast out or will themselves leave.
    Thank you for a beautiful, thought provoking work of art. And equally well-rendered "description" of how it "feels" to be one of those children, later adults who are finding our way in reality, not fantasy and refuse to further collaborate in the ruse.

    1. Hi TW! I heard through the grapevine that you were having computer trubbles...glad to see you're back online. I'm having 'house' in Mine Is A Mess and my son is coming for a visit and so polishing the woodwork is interfering with my online time.

      People have an automatic reaction to this painting! For some reason, the museum curator said people sit in front of it and that tells us the painting touches people on an extremely intimate level. They probably don't even know why it makes them weep.

      I loved what you wrote about your sister's behavior being 'cloaked'. Great insight!

      And I appreciate your comment about roles shifting which of course they would. The family 'system' reigns supreme, so whoever takes on the role of Hero, or Mascot, or scapegoat meets the system's needs. As you said, when members of the family start speaking their truth, they become persona non grata and they're faced with a choice. Either re-silence themselves or walk away completely.

      I'm always amazed at the numbers of people who figured out they had to leave in order to save themselves from complete annihilation as a human being and they did this long before we had public information about narcissistic families, even toxic families. I guess there comes a point when people realize the only way to save their dignity and self-respect is to remove themselves from the family that professes to love them. That's the destructive element in the narcissistic family system: the pretense of love while committing unloving acts towards one another.

      If people would just be honest and say, "I do not like you anymore!", there'd be no Crazy Fall-out. The craziness comes when actions contradict professions of love.

      "I Love you!" accompanied by a boink on the head, poke in the nose, twist of the arm.


  10. I enjoyed your post today, thank you for taking the time to write it.

  11. It was being told by my my n-m that my sisters wouldn't want to be in the same room as me that got me to realize I grew up in a pathological home. I knew there was something very wrong but as the "over-sensitive dramatic" I had accepted it was me. The joy I feel knowing it was all a lie is beyond description. I wrote my sisters a loving letter and discovered she had told them I wouldn't want to be with them. And the walls came tumbling down. One sister has a lot of healing to do as she's only 87 pounds having accepted my mothers weight projections. She weighed her before she ate starting when she was 8, she's in her 40's now. My other sister has markedly narcisistic tendencies and her son is showing signs of serious social disorder. I married a narcissist and despite being separated for many years only just realized I married my mother to try and fix my childhood. I was without childhood memories until recently and wow are they flying in. My n-m is staying away from me, either a sister shared that I had told them what was going on or she realizes she can't pull the wool over my eyes because our last two conversations were about me, not her. I made them about me to test her ability to last in the phone. As I suspected they were short calls. I hope that my sisters and I can heal together at some point. I feel good that I spoke to them in real love terms not the pseudo junk that passes for our family. I have a daughter and a granddaughter and two sons and I am determined that I heal so this legacy won't be passed on. I am fortunate to have been the scapegoat I think it's easier in some ways to face the truth and actually find joy in it than be the golden child and find out you're not that golden. Thanks for your blog. It's a part of my healing journey.

    1. Hello aoefe ansar,

      It's such a tragedy isn't it? I think most of us can imagine how family is "supposed" to be, at least the way cultures suggest families "could" be. People aren't as willing to pretend anymore now that family is a CHOICE and not a NECESSITY. I've thought about our relatively independent lifestyles now which don't make us as reliant on family support as we were. That's both a good thing and a bad. Good if you have an abusive family and bad if you don't because its easy to be so involved with our day-to-day, that we lose connections with family members.

      Narcissistic mothers can be extremely manipulative, back-talking and telling lies in order to keep the family divided against each other. It's terrible. And once a narcissistic mother (or any other family member) selects a scapegoat, the rumors and smears begin. If "we" could only hear what they say about us, we probably wouldn't even recognize ourselves!

      That you are seeing through the Pretend Love or "fog" (fear, obligation and guilt) is great. That you are taking matters into your own hands and at least offering your sisters a 'bridge' should they choose to take it, is a sign of your strength. I hope you're efforts are rewarded because sisters can be incredible supports for one another.

      I am happy to be part of your healing journey, aoefe ansar. Please come back anytime and let me know how things are going.


  12. Thank you! I am finding all sorts of wonderful sites on the internet - now that I suddenly realize what a nightmare my childhood was. Thankfully I stepped out of the box enough to marry someone that is NOT narcissistic, so he has been incredibly supportive through this dawning understanding of crap! It started with my sister's drama of continuing the abusive cycle - her sleeping on my couch since home wasn't safe, and us talking - DUH! Our father wasn't just "mean". I'm grateful that we have each other to share the healing process. Unfortunately, I feel like I've lost my brother. We were amazingly NOT especially triangulated until well into adulthood. In fact, we all used to talk to one another nearly daily. There wasn't sibling rivalry, so much as a rivalry with everyone else. I was jealous of my own friends because my father seemed to actually find them worthy of love and attention. Sadly I believe that my brother married a sociopath, or narcissist, so for now I have to let him go. I will be back to continue reading. Thank you again!

    1. Hello, mjs. I happened to be online when your comment posted! So thank you for reading my website and talking with me. I hope you can form an alliance with your siblings and work through the problems you faced as children in your family. I believe siblings can be incredibly healing for one another, having dealt with many of the same issues. Sadly, this isn't always to be so.

      For instance, each person will be affected by thir current adult relationships. There can be enough on their plate (if they married someone who's seriously dysfunctional), that they simply do NOT have enough energy to focus on childhood. They're doing everything they can and likely focusing more attention on their partner than they should. People from narcissistic families are often desperate to make their adult relationship work! When you give up that relationship, the pain and misery of childhood comes to the fore,'s a double whammy and another reason why people from narcissistic families have a harder time letting go of abusive, adult relationships. (like your brother).

      It's wonderful to hear though, that you found a great partner who is supportive and loving. <3


  13. This article and this painting has been very healing for me. Thank you for your insights and sharing your feelings about this painting.

    1. Thank you for reading my thoughts and feelings about this painting. And thank you for joining me on a "healing journey".

      Best wishes,


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