F.M: Karyl, in your new book “Will the Drama Ever End?” you write that narcissistic family dynamics are passed down from one generation to the next. Why is this so? What are the characteristics of a narcissistic family?
K.MB: The narcissistic family means a family led by a narcissistic parent. The primary mantra of the narcissistic family is that the parental needs take precedence over the needs of the children. The narcissist leads the pack while the enabling parent revolves around that parent, leaving the children to be emotionally unattended. The cornerstone dynamics of the narcissistic family are lack of empathy and the inability to tune into the emotional world of others. If the legacy is not broken by healing, treatment, and awareness, the dynamics can be passed down generationally in an unwitting manner. People often parent as they were parented without intervention.
F.M.: The role of the enabler is very interesting. The enabler, actually, assists the narcissist parent. Could you please explain the role of the enabler? Is the enabler a covert narcissist him/herself? Do the enabler dynamics pass down from one generation to the next?
K.MB: The enabler’s role is to support the narcissist at all cost, even at the cost of the children’s wellbeing. It is the enabler’s job to make the narcissist look good and to maintain lies, manipulation, dishonest communication, or whatever it takes. The enabler often believes that if they just love enough, the narcissist will change. The enabler can be a narcissist but usually is not. The enabler teaches co-dependency which means taking care of others at the expense of taking care of yourself. This can be passed down generationally if not understood. Narcissistic families are a great boot camp for teaching co-dependency.
F.M: You were a child of narcissistic parents who did not encourage you to succeed. How did you manage to escape from the failure loop? How can a child be protected from narcissistic parents, especially if they envy him/her?
K.MB: Oftentimes, children do have a person in their orbit who teaches them how to love and teaches them that they are worthy and loveable. It may be a grandparent, aunt, uncle, teacher, or someone like this. I was given tremendous responsibility as a child and learned early to take care of myself and to work hard. Parental envy is very painful and difficult to cope with.
Most children don’t even understand it is happening, they just think there is something wrong with them. I see adult children of narcissists take one of two roads for survival:
- An attitude of I will show you how good I am and then proceed to achieve and achieve to prove their worth.
- An attitude of giving up and deciding the parent was right and they are not good enough. Sometimes children do both at different times in their development.
F.M: You write that when one or both parents are not fully present to the emotional needs of the children, children do not develop a strong sense of self. What does it mean to have a strong sense of self?
K.MB: A strong sense of self is knowing, growing and building, your authentic self. When one has a strong sense of self, they know who they are, what their values are, what they believe in, and how they want to live their lives. They are not controlled by what others think or dictate. They believe in themselves.
F.M: Narcissistic parents can be either engulfing or ignoring. Could you please elaborate it? Does the same apply to enablers?
K.MB: Engulfing narcissistic parents take over the child’s life, telling them what to think, do, say, wear, and how to behave. They expect the child to conscript to their mold of perfection. Ignoring narcissistic parents are neglectful and are not tuned in to the child. The ignored child is spending their psychic energy trying to get the parent’s attention and approval and not working on building self. The engulfed child is bombarded by the parent and can’t develop self. The impact of the opposite is the same! Neither child can work on developing a sense of self.
F.M: Why in a narcissistic family communication is used as a weapon?
K.MB: The communication system in the narcissistic family is one of dishonesty. In-direct communication is used to keep the system off balance and to create hurt and confusion. This helps keep the family in denial, keeps family secrets hidden, and keeps members of the family under the control of the narcissist.
F.M: “Trauma in early childhood can result in disrupted attachment, cognitive delays and impaired emotional regulation” Could you please explain it? What effects can have to the child? Can this case cause other kinds of mental illnesses to the children?
K.MB: Trauma caused from being raised in a narcissistic family has long lasting effects on the children. We typically see complex post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression disorders, and many other symptoms that require recovery work. The second and third part of Will the Drama Ever End? Untangling and Healing from the Harmful Effects of Parental Narcissism, discusses the harmful effects and also gives you a Five-Step Recovery Program for the healing journey.