The Narcissistic Family – Entrepreneurs, Bosses and Employees
Mar 24 2012

I recently read one of the most interesting and eye opening books that I have read in the field of psychology.  Admittedly, I have not read that many psychology books.  A good friend gave it me and it’s written by psychologists for psychologists.  It’s called The Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment (Amazon affiliate link).   It’s easy to identify overtly narcissistic families (i.e., they include alcoholics, drug addicts, physical abusers, physical long term abandonment, etc.) but it’s harder to identify covertly narcissistic ones.  The covertly narcissistic families look quite functional to the outside world, but usually most things revolve around the parents/caregivers and on occasion attention goes to the child but usually when it’s in the best interest of the parent.  There is very little empathy or understanding of the child’s emotional needs and feelings.  According to the book, covertly narcissistic families can have as strong an impact on survivors of those situations as those from overt ones.  Ironically, survivors of covertly narcissistic families  can find it harder to understand their struggles because it’s not as easy to understand as “my father beat/molested me, therefore I’m a mess.”

They refer to the story of Echo and Narcissus with the metaphor being Narcissus as the parent(s) and Echo as the child who can never gain the love/acceptance of the parent unless it’s on the parent’s terms because the parent is too busy trying to sort out their own issues.  Now apply that to the working world…seriously!

The book isn’t about assigning blame but helps survivors of such families (also work systems) to put into different boxes a) parents did what they did because they were dealing with what they were dealing with and b) child did not get emotional needs met and in fact had to parent/meet emotional needs of parents.  The child gets mixed signals and doesn’t really know where he/she stands in relation to the family or parent (boss).  Children growing up in the same family can have different experiences based on the perceived threat of that child to the parent’s sense of self.  Often adult survivors get those two boxes mixed together and have a hard time separating the two resulting in blaming themselves for not doing everything “right,” inability to heal and put things in perspective.  They often have a hard time understanding and properly articulating what they are feeling because their feelings weren’t validated so they feel embarrassed, ashamed, angry, get involved in destructive behaviors, etc.  They were walking on eggshells always trying to please their parents/bosses (a constantly moving target).  Oddly, many of these survivors are often quite successful professionally, but are unhappy.

I’m still processing the implications of the information in this book for my own self development (as a mother, a daughter, an entrepreneur, an employee, a boss, etc.) as well as prior and potential future work environments or personal relationships.  I highly suggest it for those in positions of leadership and for those who find themselves feeling like they can’t ever get it right.

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5 Comments on “The Narcissistic Family – Entrepreneurs, Bosses and Employees”

  1. 1 Liz said at 6:17 PM on March 24th, 2012:

    Excelellent review of a really powerful book. Its on my “to read” list but I haven’t read it yet. But your review makes me think I need to put it higher on my reading list! Thanks for the synopsis and insights.


  2. 2 Nell @ Housewife Empire said at 3:25 PM on March 25th, 2012:

    Wow, that sounds like a good read. I’m going to check it out.

  3. 3 Aruni said at 9:22 PM on March 26th, 2012:

    @Liz – I can’t wait to discuss it with you after you read it. It will really help and probably evoke hard to process emotions.

    @Nell – It’s a great read for any parent. We can easily get caught up in our own dramas and not fully understand how our kids experience them.

  4. 4 Franchesca said at 9:49 AM on April 12th, 2012:

    It’s hard when dealing with difficult people in business situations to give any thought to how someone’s behavior could have been affected by their childhood. Colleagues that we think might be poor team players might have had to deal with a lot more in their past than we have.

  5. 5 Aruni said at 2:16 PM on April 12th, 2012:

    @Franchesca – that is so true. If we had more patience with each other, empathy, and understanding maybe we’d have fewer conflicts. But given our human nature that is so much easier said than done!