The Price of Admission: You Will Never Be ‘Good Enough’ for the Narcissistic Family —

So stop the Cinderella Act and walk away …

Wendy Cohan

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Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

This piece is not about fairytales — it is about narcissistic families. It is about the painful fact that, as an outsider, you will never belong. There is no acceptable price of admission. You will never learn the unspoken rules that the narcissistic family utilizes to mask its pain. You will remain forever invisible — and nothing you can do will change their behavior. I say this after attempting to survive within one for thirty years.

As a rule, narcissists are incapable of empathy. They run patterns throughout family structures that prevent or punish any attempts at empathy as ‘weak.’ Simultaneously, the ‘family image’ is elevated and celebrated. According to Anoushka Marcin (1), author of “Narcissistic Family Structures, the message is clear, “We are bigger, better, have no problems, and must put on the face of perfection.” There’s nothing to see here, folks. Move along. Above all, it’s essential to protect the family’s façade that “everything is fine — better than fine.” And this prevents the kind of real dialogue in which family members can openly disclose their needs, with the expectation that they might be met by other loving family members.

Family dynamics can be obviously dysfunctional, or disguised, according to Anoushka Marcin, author of “Narcissistic Family Structures.” In either case, the emotional and psychological abuse can be damaging to children. And because children don’t matter, in and of themselves, the damage isn’t recognized, and there is no attempt to address or heal patterns of abuse.

This stems from the fact that, in narcissistic families, children are an extension of their parents, not individuals with their own wants, needs, and desires. The narcissistic parent’s inability to demonstrate unconditional love leads to an atmosphere that is critical and judgmental. These “learned” behaviors are then passed down to the next generation, and the cycle of narcissistic abuse continues.

Children who grow up in narcissistic families often fall into caretaker roles, attempting to “to earn love and approval by working for it,” says Anoushka Marcin. But their attempts are seldom successful…

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Wendy Cohan

Author of character-driven women's fiction, short stories, and essays. Her contemporary romance, The Renaissance Sisters, debuted May 23, 2023.