Around the globe, millions of us are waking up to the reality of our childhoods and the upbringing that we had. For some, this realization is happy. It makes them proud to be connected to their parents and their siblings — but for others it’s different. Some of are coming to terms with the fact that we were raised in narcissistic families. But why has it taken so long to come to these truths? Narcissism is a tricky personality to deal with, and its effects are far reaching. Even when we’re right amid the chaos, the unstable bonds and power structures make it hard for us to see our siblings and caretakers as they really are.
What is pseudomutuality?
We struggle to see the behaviors of our narcissistic family because of pseudomutuality. In the APA dictionary, this refers to “a family relationship that has the outside appearance of happiness and openness, though in reality it is rigid and depersonalizing.” These families seem cohesive, but behind closed doors they are chaotic and the members are disengaged. Toxic bonding at its best, pseudomutuality is manifested in a lack of boundaries, emotional manipulation, and rigid enmeshment.
Lack of boundaries
Although the narcissistic family looks open to the outside world, it’s an entirely different story behind the scenes. In reality, these families are actually characterized by a total lack of boundaries. Members are not allowed to keep secrets or even have space that is privately their own. Everything belongs to the narcissist, and that includes the bodies and minds of their children. These parents cross the line time-and-time again, and disguise it as “we are so open with each other.”
Did you come from a family that really played up their “caring” nature? This is another typical side-effect of their poisonous patterns. On some level, narcissists know that their behavior is wrong. At the very least, they know it wouldn’t be tolerated by many people. So, they hide it by pretending to be overly caring about their children and loved ones. In truth, this is really just emotional manipulation disguised as care. Using a combination of positive and negative reinforcement, they create a pull-push dynamic between family members by using hurt, upset, envy, and all other sorts of emotions.
Conflict is inevitable in the narcissistic family. That’s because problems aren’t addressed from a mutually understanding standpoint, and only one person’s viewpoint and needs are ever really honored. Instead, conflict is answered with toxic behavioral patterns that seek to establish dominance and fear within the family unit. All disagreements are harmful to this family. Losing sight of authentic resolution entirely, conflicting members seek to emotionally injure one another and cause damage that impact relationships and life outlooks for decades to come.
How familiar are you with enmeshment? The only way narcissists are able to tie their families together, this term refers to the total lack of personal autonomy within a narcissistic family unit. That’s because personal autonomy is seen as a threat. It allows members to better see reality and step outside of the family cult that’s being created. Extreme measures are often used against those who attempt to become their own person outside of the family. If you question a parent or sibling’s behavior, it’s met with explosion and punishment. You are expected to be a reflection of the narcissists at all times.
Why it’s so effective.
To truly understand pseudomutuality, we have to understand why and how it’s so effective. It’s not a mistake. This technique is intentional in the narcissistic family, and it’s executed specifically to hide the abuse and toxic behaviors of the narcissists from the outside world. By targeting individual members through crafted hierarchies and creating massive imbalance, narcissists can pit siblings against one another in harmful ways.
Pseudomutuality is effective because it’s based around a lot of relationship imbalances. This is the basis for the cloud of confusion that the narcissist (and their enabler) mask their abuse in. Using this technique, the head narcissist exerts control by creating chaotic and disjointed relationships. Feelings of hurt and resentment grow. The enabler stays on the fence and allows abuse to perpetuate. Parents can even interchange roles to make sibling relationships even more unstable.
Relationships imbalances are primarily perpetuated through the appointing of roles. It’s not just about the narcissist and their inferiors (though they see everyone this way). In order to effectively keep confusion and chaos working in their favor, the narcissist and their enabler assign roles that pit family members against one another. They appoint golden children and scapegoats, carefully selecting those they know will help maintain their status quo. By creating a hierarchy, the narcissist can sow derision and thus maintain greater control over the family unit.
As you begin to wake up from the reality of your family trauma, you’ll begin to question why others didn’t take a stand or intervene. It’s hard for people outside of the family to see the toxic behaviors of the narcissist because they are carefully shrouded. The narcissist is very careful about protecting their image, and projecting whatever persona they want the world to see. It all goes back to the delicate egos and desperate insecurities. The narcissist plays the role of the perfect parent, and will even go out of their way to get involved with student activities. Anything that allows them to deny their toxicity.
How you can break out of the spell.
Has pseudomutuality made it hard for you to heal from the narcissistic abuse and trauma of your upbringing? You can break out of the spell and shift your perspective. Then, you can begin your healing process in earnest. Figure yourself out, disengage from the family conflict, then do the only thing that can truly bring you peace: be prepared to go no-contact.
1. Figure yourself out
The narcissistic family thrives because it is able to strip its members of their identity and sense of self. To break out of the spell, you first need to figure out who (exactly) you are and what (exactly) you want out of your life. We do this through journaling and visualization, but not without questioning every inch of who we are inside and out. Once you know who you are, you will be able to stand up against your family more effectively and confidently on your own terms.
Take some time to figure yourself out. Who are you outside of your family? What do you really want from your life? Your career? Your relationships? It’s impossible to break out of the spell of the toxic family if you don’t have something to escape to.
Dig deep and question everything that you are. Along the way, embrace yourself — warts and all. Use this time to re-build your self-confidence as well as your sense of what you want. You need to believe in your right to be happy if you want to free yourself. You need to be brave enough to stand up for your boundaries and what you need. Get your family’s perspective of you out of the way. They can’t see who you are because they can’t even see their reality clearly. Let that shade go and work on becoming a stronger, braver individual.
2. Disengage from the conflict
There’s no breaking the spell of the narcissistic family without conflict. Even if you quietly go about seeking your own healing, you’ll begin to stand up for yourself in ways that the narcissist family will not tolerate. You will be fighting for your freedom. Your family will get in the way and do whatever they can to keep you under control and a part of the family cult. If you jump into the fray, you take away both your power and your focus.
Don’t engage with the increasing conflict. Your family is going to stomp, scream, and throw a fit. They are going to call each other up and talk badly about you. They’re going to tell their children lies about you, and they’re going to do everything that they can to punish you for your blooming health, happiness, and self-determination.
Avoid giving them power over you through conflict. Disengage from it entirely. If they start a fight with you at a family dinner, excuse yourself and leave. There’s no point in arguing. You won’t change their mind, but they can definitely warp yours. Pull away from their pain and leave them to the chaos of their own struggles. If they want to fight, they can fight with themselves. Worry about your own life and take away their power by refusing to give them the chaos that they seek.
3. Be prepared to go no-contact
Children of narcissists struggle with a lot of heavy baggage for their entire lives. Among this baggage can often come the idea that you’re responsible for “fixing” the family that broke you. That’s not possible, though. You didn’t build that toxic family dynamic, and you can’t fix it either. The only thing you can do is guarantee the quality of your own life. In order to do that, though, you need to let go of the people that hurt you. That’s a hard one. It means cutting communication and cutting ties with the place you came from.
Be prepared to go no-contact with your family — no matter how hard the process might seem. There is no fixing a narcissist. There is no talking them into changing, or earning their love in some miracle stroke of self-realization. They’re not capable of empathizing with you, and even the ones that pretend to cannot recognize bad behavior in themselves.
The only way to protect yourself against a narcissist is by cutting them out of your life. If you stay in contact with them, you let them into your life. If you let them into your life, then they will have power to create conflict and disrupt your path to healing. Dig deep. Cling on to that happiness that you’re carving out for yourself in the shape of a life that’s self-defined. At some point, you’re going to have to accept that you can be miserable with them or happy on your own. Take the leap and go no-contact when you’re ready to stand strong.
Putting it all together…
Did you grow up in a narcissistic family? It’s not always easy to recognize the toxic ties that bind us, thanks to pseudomutuality. This describes the narcissistic family and their false bonds. While everything may look close and perfect to the outside world, behind closed doors it’s an entirely different story. Narcissistic families are characterized by their chaotic bonds and imbalanced hierarchies. Does that describe your family? You have to take steps to break the spell.
Take some time figuring yourself out. Who have you become in your toxic family? Who do you want to be? Before you can embrace true freedom and healing, you need to rebuild your self-confidence and know exactly who you are inside and out. The more you become yourself, the more conflict you’ll receive from your family. Disengage from the chaos and stop giving them emotional power over you. After that, you can begin to prepare for the only guaranteed protection from any narcissist in your life. Brace yourself to go no-contact, and walk away from the people who hurt you time-and-time again. You deserve to be happy and surrounded by people who love you. Free yourself to find them.