10 Red Flags There's a Narcissist in Your Family, According to Therapists

Ideally, your family is full of people you consider your secure base. Even a phone call or text message conversation with a member of your brood should feel like home.

Unfortunately, that's not always the case—something you may know all too well, especially if your family member is a narcissist.

"Growing up with a parent who has NPD can be very painful and leave some deep wounds," says Stephanie Manes, LCSW, a relationship therapist.

It doesn't have to be a parent, though. Siblings, children, other important caregivers and even partners can have narcissistic tendencies that can affect people of all ages.

"In a partner, it can be more thoroughly seen as gaslighting and a never-ending quest for control," says Dr. Kathryn Smerling, Ph.D., a family therapist and author of the upcoming book Learning to Play Again: Rediscovering Our Early Selves to Become Better Adults. "In all cases, if there is a narcissist in the family, it directly and negatively impacts everyone else in the family."

Knowing the signs your family member is a narcissist can help you protect yourself and heal from past harms.

Related: 11 Subtle Signs of Narcissism That Are Easy to Miss, According to Psychologists

What Is Narcissism, Really?

First, let's get clear on what it even means to be a narcissist.

"Narcissism is a personality disorder listed in the DSM which is characterized by extreme self-centeredness, a sense of entitlement and a lack of concern for others," Manes says. "They have the expectation that they should be revered and admired. Narcissists can make for difficult patients because of their inability to put themselves in other people's shoes."

Everyone can be a little narcissistic at some point.

"Narcissism exists on a spectrum," Dr. Smerling says. "We all have some degree of narcissism—it's part of healthy functioning. For some, narcissistic traits may be more pronounced or exaggerated in certain circumstances."

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is the most extreme, Dr. Smerling explains. "To warrant this diagnosis, the person must display most of the core traits," she says.

Related: Do Gaslighters Know What They're Doing? Psychologists Share the Truth

10 Red Flags Your Family Member Is a Narcissist

1. They require positive feedback only

Concerns? Constructive criticism? You may find yourself thinking twice before bringing them to this person (or just keeping quiet).

"For people with NPD, even the smallest criticism can feel like a direct attack to their fragile ego," Manes says. "They tend to either counter-attack or collapse into victimhood, leaving you feeling like a villain."

Related: 10 Classic Mind Games Narcissists Play in a Relationship, According to Psychologists

2. There's a reward system

If this person's responses to your words or behavior feel like a glorified sticker chart, they may be a narcissist. 

"They reward you when you do or say things that reflect positively on them and punish you when you don't," Manes says.

For instance, a parent may praise a child for making the honor roll at school but give them the silent treatment if they don't perform in a play (or just "perform" by acting a certain way in public).

3. Conversations are a game of Monopoly

No one scheduled family game night, but this person has broken out Monopoly anyway. More specifically, Dr. Smerling says people who are narcissistic will frequently monopolize conversations.

"In any conversation not about themselves, they will find a way to put the spotlight on themselves," Dr. Smerling says. "As long as they are fed by people’s attention, they do not show their manipulative nature or their malevolent side. Their connections with others are based upon how the narcissist is feeling in that moment."

4. Hyperbole is common

Does your family member seem to over-embellish things (and how important their role was in certain events or accomplishments)? Take note.

"[Narcissistic family members] often exaggerate in ways that make them seem more important," Manes says. "Do you inwardly cringe every time you are out with friends and they wildly inflate their stories, claim to be great friends with important people or imply that they have more money or accomplishments than they really have?"

It could be a flag the person is narcissistic.

Related: 8 Things a Narcissist Absolutely Hates, According to a Psychologist

5. You feel invisible

You could be screaming from the rooftops and waving flashing lights, and this person still wouldn't notice you. It's not your fault.

"People with NPD have a way of making you feel invisible," Manes says. "They never seem to have real curiosity about you; in fact, they might not know much about you at all, even if you have spent a lifetime with them. What they do know about you is whatever they have fit into their own story."

6. They lack interest in you

Because of the self-centered nature of narcissism, you may feel like the person has zero interest in you. Conversations are so one-sided.

"[People with narcissism often] don't show any curiosity or interest in you outside of the parts of you that might enhance their self-regard," Manes says.

7. You must agree to agree (with them)

Even the suggestion that you agree to disagree prompts a disagreement.

"They may question anyone else’s opinion that disagrees with their own," Dr. Smerling says. "[People with narcissism] have an inability to have meaningful conversations unless it’s about them, and an inability to truly connect with others in a meaningful way."

Related: 11 Manipulation Tactics Narcissists Use—and How To Spot the Earliest Signs, According to Relationship Experts

8. 'You're with me or against me' mentality

People with narcissism may lack nuance, especially in how they view others.

"In their mind, everyone is an admirer or an enemy," Manes says. "Watch out for people who talk about how beloved they are or who always have someone at work, school or the book club who is out to get them."

9. Perpetual victims

Someone is always doing this person wrong.

"People with NPD tend to be preoccupied with whether they are being properly acknowledged and respected," Manes says. "Even the smallest social gesture can feel like a major slight."

10. Regular rage

People with NPD can be quick-tempered.

"Anger and attack are the go-tos of people with NPD," Manes says. "It's the quickest way to get you to stop whatever you are doing that is bumping into their fragile self. It's their primitive survival response to ensure their protection. But it can feel, at best, bewildering and, at worst, terrifying to the person on the receiving end."

Related: 13 Phrases People With High-Level Thinking Often Say, According to Psychologists

How to Cope With the Family Narcissist (When You Can't Cut Them Off)

1. Manage expectations

Manes stresses it's important to be realistic about the family member's capabilities.

"It's not helpful to keep trying to get some form of emotional sustenance from this person when you already know they can't give it to you," Manes says. "Instead, think about what they might be able to give you relationally that would actually have something in it for you. I know that sounds transactional, but it's actually about making empowered choices."

2. Don't react

Dealing with someone with NPD can fill you with rage—avoid it.

"The narcissist loves a good fight. Don’t react by head-butting," Dr. Smerling says. "You don’t want to encourage their behavior, and getting into an argument with a narcissist is fruitless."

3. Use the 'BIFF' method when conversing

Wait, what? Dr. Smerling says that BIFF stands for "brief, informative, firm and friendly."

"This is a good method to remember when engaging with a narcissist to prevent a conversation from getting out of hand and stand your own ground," Dr. Smerling says.

Related: 35 Phrases To Disarm a Narcissist and Why They Do the Trick, According to Therapists

4. Set boundaries

You may not be able to cut off all contact, but you do have some say in the types of interactions you have (and how often).

"If you recognize you have a narcissist in your family, you need to set up boundaries with them to establish behaviors of theirs that aren’t OK and that you won’t tolerate while they’re around you," Dr. Smerling explains.

For instance, you might let them know you won't accept comments about your clothing choices and lay out what will happen if they overstep.

5. Take care of yourself

People with NPD are self-centered and can leave you with emotional whiplash.

"It's very easy to lose your sense of reality around someone with NPD because they demand that you endorse their alternate reality," Manes says. "Try to get support from people who can keep you grounded in your truth. This could be a therapist, a trustworthy friend or a source of spiritual guidance. Someone who you trust to validate your experience in a healthy way."

Next: 10 Red Flags Your Parent Is a Narcissist, According to Therapists

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