Interview with Spanish National Newspaper La Razón

Below is the English language transcript of the Q&A interview between Dr. Karyl McBride and La Razón, a Spanish national newspaper, June, 2024.






Q: What is a toxic family?

A: A toxic family is one in which the dynamics, communication and the way people are treated is harmful. It can be gradual and subtle, secret and manipulative. A toxic family is usually led by one or two parents who are not emotionally or mentally stable and therefore, do not parent their children in effective and loving ways. This can be seen in physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse. We also see this in emotionally immature parents. I write specifically about the narcissistic family, meaning a family led by a narcissistic parent.

Q: What is it like to grow up with a narcissistic parent?

A: The narcissistic parent lacks empathy and the ability to emotionally tune into the child’s feelings. The child feels invisible and not seen or heard and does not have a voice. Children in these families are not encouraged to develop their own sense of self but instead are forced to conscript to the mold of what is expected by the narcissistic family rules. The narcissistic parent is the most important one in the family and the rest of the family are encouraged to revolve around the narcissist’s desires and needs. The children are there to serve the parent rather than the other way around as it should be. The power must remain with the narcissistic parent and therefore manipulation, secrecy, dishonesty, and control are used to maintain that power. This is often done in insidious and subtle ways to put down, criticize and judge others in the family. Jealousy is also common, even jealously of one’s own children.


Q: What are the side effects in the child’s personality?

A: Children of a narcissistic parent grow up with a stunted emotional development, crippling self-doubt, a lack of self-worth, difficulty with trust, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, shame, and an internalized message of “I am not good enough.”

Q: What are the two kinds of narcissistic parenting?

A: Narcissistic parenting shows up in either engulfing or ignoring behaviors and sometimes both at different times depending on the need of the narcissist. Engulfing the child means dictating what the child says, does, wears, thinks, believes, and is. Ignoring means the child is not seen or heard and the child feels unattended to and invisible. Oddly, the impact of these two parenting styles is the same. Both créate a child who is not encouraged to develop their own authentic self.


Q: Can you tell us a case in therapy that you heard that shocked you?

A: Consistency in parenting is a hallmark of sound parenting. In narcissistic families, there is chaos and inconsistency, so children don’t feel safe. I was truly saddened to hear a 50 year old client tell me that all she wanted was consistency, so at 7 years old, she had to créate her own consistency to survive. She reported that she decided that every time she would walk from the living room to the kitchen, she would blink her eyes. She said this created one thing in her life that she could control and could be consistent.


Q: How does gaslighting operate in the narcissistic family?

A: Gaslighting is a term used when the narcissistic parent uses psychological methods to cause someone to question their own sanity. It destabilizes the child’s reality and puts it in question. For example, the child reports that a sibling is harming them in some way, and the parent tells the child it is only their imagination and they are being too sensitive.


Q: How do narcissists project their emotions onto their children?

A: Projection is used frequently by narcissists because they are not dealing with their own feelings in accountable ways. They have a feeling and can’t cope with it, so they throw the feeling onto their child. For example, the narcissist is feeling angry but instead of owning that and coping with it, they may say to the child, “why are you acting so angry today?” Projection seems to come out of nowhere for the child because it has nothing to do with them. Of course, it causes confusión, and the child usually internalizes it and thinks something is wrong with them.

Q: Why do we have the impression that there are more narcissists than ever? 

A: The term narcissism is thrown around loosely these days. True narcissism and narcissistic traits have been around for generations. People tend to think narcissism is just about being boastful and arrogant and all about themselves. But, the true definition is much more than that. Narcissism is about lack of empathy and accountability, and the inability to tune into the emotional world of others. It causes pain in relationships and is debilitating if raised by or in a love relationship with a narcissist.

Q: What’s the narcissistic anger?

A: We call it narcissistic rage. Because the narcissist is a person with a very fragile ego and lack of sense of self, when that ego is threatened the narcissistic response is rage. It is their defense mechanism. If you abandon, threaten, question, or leave a narcissist, they will usually turn to revenge and try to hurt you in some way.

Q: If a person is raised with a narcissistic parent, is it more likely they will later get involved with narcissists as friends or lovers?

A: We tend to be attracted to the familiar until we do our own recovery. It is quite common to see adult children of narcissists get involved with narcissists in love relationships and friendships. Once they do recovery, they become more aware of the red flags to be aware of, and are much less tolerant of these abberant behaviors. They learn to take better care of themselves.

Q: What is a healthy relationship? 

A: A healthy relationship is one with equality and reciprocity. There is an even give and take. We call it inter-dependent. The parties are equally giving and taking. There is also respect, trust, empathy, and honesty.

Q: What is your personal experience with this issue? 

A: I have written in my three books that I am an adult child of narcissistic parents. I have also treated hundreds of children of narcissists and also train other therapists in my five-step recovery program. I have researched this topic for 25 years.

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