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Author Topic: PERSPECTIVES: Family systems--understanding the narcissistic family  (Read 16961 times)
blackandwhite
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« Reply #20 on: December 31, 2009, 06:40:35 PM »

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Sounds like you played the 'Caretaker' role very well B&W.  So, I'm assuming there was/is some anger/grieving to deal with in the loss of those opportunities to develop yourself ?  


You nailed it, NPR! And yes, a lot of my mourning process (referencing here the Survivors' Guide but also how it really felt) was about those lost opportunities. I have felt safe enough to get very angry about these losses, which in turn helped me get past them. (Resources on anger can be found in the selected reading for this board at http://bpdfamily.com/message_board/index.php?topic=56280.0 and there is a workshop US: Respecting Our Anger at http://bpdfamily.com/message_board/index.php?topic=135831.0.)

When I think of the caretaker role that I assumed, I realize this is a part of myself I value. I enjoy helping people, nurturing my daughter's development for example. That is probably part of how I ended up in the role. But I also was assigned it. It was rigid. I got caught in the Karpman Triangle (see our workshop US: Our Dysfunctional Relationships with Others at http://bpdfamily.com/message_board/index.php?topic=135831.0) as the "rescuer."

Nonna's point about how we differ from our assigned roles in our family has a complex meaning for me, at least on this issue. I both am a caretaker (something natural to me) but also have to be very wary of being A Caretaker or A Rescuer in rigid, dysfunctional ways. When I feel a caretaking or rescuing impulse, it's best for me to check to be sure it's:

1. not motivated primarily by self-interest (Do I need to make MYSELF feel better?)
2. in balance with the rest of my life (Is it significantly drawing me away from things I must do and/or enjoy doing?)

So in some cases we may reject roles given to us as children. In others, we evolve them.

For reference, here's a simple description of some of the key roles given to children in dysfunctional families. It's from Wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt, but it is consistent with many other things I've read:

Children growing up in a dysfunctional family have been known to adopt one or more of six basic roles:

Quote
The Good Child also known as the hero: a child who assumes the parental role.
The Problem Child also known as the scape goat: the child who is blamed for most problems and can also be partly responsible for the family's dysfunction, in spite of often being the only emotionally stable one in the family.
The Caretaker: the one who takes responsibility for the emotional well-being of the family.
The Lost Child: the inconspicuous, quiet one, whose needs are usually ignored or hidden. Often occurs in balkanized families.
The Mascot: uses comedy to divert attention away from the increasingly dysfunctional family system.
The Mastermind: the opportunist who capitalizes on the other family members' faults in order to get whatever he or she wants. Often the object of appeasement by grown-ups.


(Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysfunctional_family)

B&W
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« Reply #21 on: December 31, 2009, 06:44:17 PM »

B&W thanks for posting those roles - as embarrassed as I am to admit this, I think I was the mastermind. Looks like I need to look into that a bit more.
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« Reply #22 on: January 01, 2010, 11:09:42 AM »

That description of dysfunctional roles is very interesting, blackandwhite.  I recognize myself as the good child, and also a bit as the mastermind (you're not alone, problemfamily!).  My sister was the caretaker, and still has an extremely hard time acknowledging the legitimacy of her own needs.  The good child or hero role is pernicious because the child accepts responsibility for making things better, a responsibility she can't possibly handle, as a child or as an individual of limited capabilities, and feels it as a personal failure when she is not able to.  She doesn't acknowledge her own limits and pushes herself beyond what is reasonable to expect, punishing herself harshly for failure. 

I'm sad to say I haven't really evolved this role too much as an adult, lol!  I still feel responsible for fixing any problem I am aware of, and consistently take on more responsibilities than I can handle, and hate myself for any failure, no matter how understandable or reasonable in the particular context.  I have of course shifted the range of my responsibility, from the family to the world at large.  Like many here, I have been active in political causes that I think will make the world a better place, and am involved in a religion that emphasizes our responsibility to do good for others and the world at large.  The religious aspect is helpful though, because while it says that it is our responsibility to do good, in the end, only G-d has the power to direct the fate of the world.  It is only our responsibility to do our best.  This is an enormous relief, to not feel responsible for ensuring success, and to be reminded it is not, in the end, within the range of human capability to do so! 

blackandwhite, it's interesting what you're saying about allowing yourself to express those parts of yourself that drew you to that role in the first place, and arise from within, while going through a process of questioning certain behaviors that have been problematic in the past with regard to whether you are making these choices in a healthy way or not.  I've made it a goal to do that when taking on voluntary responsibilities in the future, after a particularly disastrous set of choices in that area recently.  Some useful questions for me would be:

1. How will doing this activity benefit me personally, apart from the needs of the group?
2. Will taking on this additional responsibility detract from responsibilities I have already taken on?
3. Am I genuinely excited to take on this task, or am I simply stepping into the breech because I feel I have to?
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« Reply #23 on: January 01, 2010, 11:49:17 AM »



Really interesting and honest discussion here.  Thanks everyone for sharing.   I was reading Lawson and how she talks about the Queen tending to marry the King.   My uBPm fits the Queen role completely and totally and if I think about my dad he was the unparalleled king making us a very nifty narssisstic family.   I have always been extremely proud of myself for breaking the cycle and of alcohol and abuse from my father and but I really seeing now that I've struggled far more to break the cycle of my mother and and the toxic effects she has had on me.   

When you talk about the roles, I would say I have mostly been the lost child.  It feels that both of my parents needs were (and my mom's still) so strong and demanding, there was no place for me.   I just sort of got squeezed out.  Where that leaves me now is that in my 50s I am still struggling to find out who I am.  I have been a mother and a damned good one even with my fleas  my-issuesbut now my children mostly live elsewhere and I"m back to looking more inward.  My greatest fear has come to pass, I was afraid I would look inward and find emptiness.   I keep hoping there is more of me underneathe all of that but getting through the muck has been tough.  I have been a writer and I am trying to reconnect with that, but I'm not sure of what "my" self is in my writing.   


I also still struggle at times to even *know* what it is I'm feeling.   It makes me sad to even write those words.  How can a person not know what they are feeling?   Yet it takes me time to figure it out, esp. if I feel threatened or triggered in some way. 

I guess its better late than never that I'm working on all of this,
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blackandwhite
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« Reply #24 on: January 01, 2010, 01:52:56 PM »

From salome:
Quote
The good child or hero role is pernicious because the child accepts responsibility for making things better, a responsibility she can't possibly handle, as a child or as an individual of limited capabilities, and feels it as a personal failure when she is not able to.  She doesn't acknowledge her own limits and pushes herself beyond what is reasonable to expect, punishing herself harshly for failure. 


Therein lie the roots of perfectionism, eh? The authors also comment on how children in these families fail to learn--because it is not in the interest of the family system to teach this--they are NOT responsible to meet all needs and be endlessly available to everyone, at their own expense:

Quote
Adults raised in narcissistic families do not know that they can say no--that they have a right to limit what they will do for others and that they do not have to be physically and emotionally accessible to anyone at any time. In their families of origin, they may not have had the right to say no, or to discriminate between reasonable and unreasonable requests.

Quote
Children in narcissistic families do not learn how to set boundaries, because it is not in the parents' best interests to teach them: the children might use that skill to set boundaries with them!

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From LionDreamer:
Quote
I also still struggle at times to even *know* what it is I'm feeling.   It makes me sad to even write those words.  How can a person not know what they are feeling?   Yet it takes me time to figure it out, esp. if I feel threatened or triggered in some way.

Not knowing what you're feeling is a very common consequence of growing up in a narcissistic family. From the book:

Quote
In the narcissistic family, the children lack entitlement. They do not own their feelings; their feelings are not considered. When we do not have feelings, then others do not have to take our feelings into consideration."

It's not too late, at all. You're undoing a lifetime's programming, and you're making a lot of headway.  xoxo

B&W
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« Reply #25 on: January 01, 2010, 02:48:06 PM »


Not knowing what you're feeling is a very common consequence of growing up in a narcissistic family. From the book:

Quote
In the narcissistic family, the children lack entitlement. They do not own their feelings; their feelings are not considered. When we do not have feelings, then others do not have to take our feelings into consideration."




Feelings.  Wow.  I "KNEW" I 'understood' what feelings were. Rationally. Intellectually.  HAVING feelings?  That was a whole different concept. Because of the family, I thought people who had feelings, well, were, stupid.   Or warm and fuzzy.  And much less important.  This sounds so much like my father, it helps to be writing it down.  My mother 'held' the feelings for the family.  The out of control, don't know what to do, act out part of the system.  And she would be critiqued by my father and older sister when she would be off on one of her 'walk aways'.  It always puzzled me that neither one of them would see the rage and the episode coming.  but I guess that's because they were all about them? 

I'm finally in a better place with having feelings - everything between therapy and church has made a difference.  Seeing people be angry, have feelings, have someone (therapists) explain that feelings are okay made all the difference.  And that hugging WAS good. And that having feelings and being angry, didn't mean that I would become my mother, out of control and suicidal.   

Entitlement :  What a button for me.  I was never 'entitled ' to anything - see the quote - so when other people, at work, especially, 'get something by apparently 'whining', I am SO angry!  It's like, I've become invisible one more time - just as in the days of long ago in the family system.  So- there IS a reason why I feel this way!  Thanks, B & W!

js
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« Reply #26 on: January 01, 2010, 03:26:12 PM »

When I think of the caretaker role that I assumed, I realize this is a part of myself I value. I enjoy helping people, nurturing my daughter's development for example. That is probably part of how I ended up in the role. But I also was assigned it. It was rigid. I got caught in the Karpman Triangle (see our workshop US: Our Dysfunctional Relationships with Others at http://bpdfamily.com/message_board/index.php?topic=135831.0) as the "rescuer."

B&W

I see how that worked in your family dynamic B&W.  I see the parallel in my own experience.  I also enjoy helping people.  In my case, to help people get 'unstuck' and move forward in their lives, or to help parent and teach my gf's 6 year old.

When I became my mother's 'Surrogate Spouse' by becoming her confidant (when my father failed in that role - or couldn't play two roles at once), I recognize I was 'the Rescuer' in that.  Also as 'the Mediator' of the family, I took on 'the Rescuer' role to restore some semblence of peace (peace is one of my values) in the family.  Later, in my twenties, I think I tried to become my mother's therapist (which would also qualify as rescuing), which failed miserably because she was uBPD.  I think I have tried to play therapist to a lot of people in my life - friends, brother, and especially SOs.  Giving advice when asked is one thing, and playing therapist to those in my life is another.  

I think I just figured out I have been trying to do that here a little too much, and that is why I've gotten into some conflictory situations.  I think it might be tough for me to fully un-enmesh myself with that role of therapist.

I have also played the role of Persecutor and Victim on the Karpman Triangle at various stages in our family history.  I would say more often played the role as victim as I recognized the damage done to me, and I think started to feel entitled to some kind of compensation for that (mostly after sister's suicide, but also at short periods of time between 19 and 25).  

Then, when I didn't feel satisfied with that, I took it to a Persecutor role, where I started blaming my parents for my life.  It is one thing to recognize what has happened, and adjust my behavior to be healthy, and another to expect parents to 'make things right'.  I think I aggressively pursued that with them for a while.  I think for a couple of years, about a year and a half after my sister's suicide, I tried to 'make them responsible for my life'.  That seems to me to be 'the Persecutor'.  I think this is why I became 'the Scapegoat' also - in reaction to trying to 'make my parents responsible for my life'.    

I actually made my parents 'the Victim' in those two years, and I think my brother became the Rescuer/Hero.  After my Hero/Scapegoat/Persecutor sister's suicide, my dysfunctional family's dynamic kind of collapsed upon itself.  Because of this, I think nobody knew what to do.  Maybe I was trying to 'rescue' the dysfunctional family dynamic by becoming the 'Persecutor/Scapegoat' that was now missing because my sister was absent from the family.  I had removed myself from the dynamic about 4 years before sister's suicide, and I wonder if this had something to do with the collapse of the dynamic too ?

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« Reply #27 on: January 01, 2010, 03:42:00 PM »

In my family, I wasn't just not taught boundaries - I got assaulted and punished for having them. Example: my stepfather was looking for something he misplaced, and just walked into my room and started going through all my things, opening desk drawers and rooting through them, etc. I said "Stop going through my stuff!" and got slapped and snarled at - "Your stuff? What do you think is your stuff in here?"

Same with feelings. Like all kids, I would turn to my mother for comfort if I was upset about something. And like all normal human beings, I experienced anger. Sometimes, if I showed any kind of feeling like that, anger, frustration, sadness, my mother would go nuts and attack me, with slappings, screaming, throwing things. Those fits went on for hours. I learned that certain feelings were not just "not OK" for me, they would put me in danger.

I guess I alternated between Hero and Problem child, depending on how my mother felt about me at the time. If she wasn't feeling aggressive and punishing, she would come to me for comfort and advice, even when I was as young as 7 years old. When she was in her more destructive modes, I was either sick - she dragged me forever to various doctors, trying to find that elusive something that was wrong with me - or I was the very face of evil, to be eradicated.

After writing these things down, I kind of feel like I need to... I don't know, lie down or something.
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« Reply #28 on: January 01, 2010, 04:10:15 PM »

Wonderful topic, B&W.

While I know FTF pertains to BPD, I often think that narcissism is dowplayed in the helping profession in regard to BPD.

I'm at a bit of a loss as to what insights I gained, as my insights were bouncing all over the place even as a young teen.

My mother was certainly overtly narcissistic.   ... unable "to see, or react to the needs of another". I have witnessed my mother go into a panic when she momentarily was 'on the spot' to see to another's needs. Say, another party outside the family might say to her, in my presence, "I'll bet you are so happy that MTS helps you so much", momster would show panic because she was so unaware of my feelings that she was inept to  merely move the moment on by making a simple reply.

When attending her brother's funeral, who died in a car crash in his twenties, she refused my sibs and myself to attend the funeral, while she had her photo taken upon leaving the house to attend, as if she were a moviestar the tabloids were following. I was twelve years old, BTW, while eldest brother was fourteen years old.

These examples are not taken out of context. This was daily behavior for momster.










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« Reply #29 on: January 01, 2010, 07:08:59 PM »

We have many good examples of roles we all play(ed) in family systems. We're also getting to how children's needs are not acknowledged and the results into adulthood--lack of entitlement, ownership of our own feelings, and boundaries.

A discussion of family systems would not be complete without covering triangulation. One tidy definition of triangulation is "where a person takes their frustration with one relationship to another person, adding a third person into the original relationship and causing power, control, and communication imbalances throughout."

A simple example would be when one parent is giving the other the silent treatment and turns to the child to say, "Tell your father/mother XYZ." Another is when a parent speaks alone with a child and says, "Your father/mother is crazy. What are we going to do?" Or "don't tell your sister/brother, but..."

BPD sufferers, as we know, tend to think in black and white terms. They also tend to push away when they feel too much intimacy and pull us back when they feel too much distance. Those two dynamics alone can set a series of jangling triangles in motion in a family.

1. Does anyone have an elegant example of how a family with a BPD member(s) gets snarled up in triangles? (I'll post a case study later in this workshop.)

2. How do we avoid getting caught up in triangulation?

B&W
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