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Grief Is Not a Mental Illness

How to Deal with Loss in the Narcissistic Family

A client recently said, "I wish there were a mental health diagnosis for serial grief, I am not mentally ill. Mostly just sad and grieving the vision of the mother I so desperately wanted."

Many men and women are beginning the painful discussion of the losses in the narcissistic family. When a family is not emotionally connected, and there is a superficial flair to all conversation, one learns to interact on a shallow or surface level. In families where emotional intimacy is not practiced, there is little to discuss. Feelings are denied, judged or criticized. Successes are not celebrated. Painful events are ignored or discounted. What is left to talk about - the weather, aches and pains, or perhaps just criticize the neighbors?

For adult children raised in narcissistic families this creates a sense of loneliness. They look around at other close families and say, why me? Why is my family not like that? How did I get existentially thrown into this particular family where people don't talk about real things? Why is there this sense of disconnect and lack of caring in the family I grew up in?

When people are not asking about each other and what is going on in their important lives, the conversation seems to turn to talking about the other family members behind their backs. A common communication pattern in narcissistic families is that of triangulation. This means that one person talks about another to a separate family member. The conversation eventually gets back to the person it was meant for. That person is left feeling betrayed and violated. Can you imagine the drama this creates? It is like that childhood game called "Telephone." You know, the one where a person starts whispering in the ear of the next person and it goes around the circle and comes out at the other end. The result is a distortion that makes no sense. Things get messed up in the game of "Telephone."

As adult children struggle with the recovery steps for healing the effects of having a narcissistic parent, they soon begin to realize that the grief extends to the whole family.  The siblings are pitted against each other and no one is really close. We describe these families as "disengaged." This calls for extended grief work and a deeper understanding of the bigger picture of a very dysfunctional family indeed.

What if you are the one in the family who has called out the dysfunction? You saw the elephant in the living room and you said "hey there is something wrong here!" What happens to that person in the narcissistic family? That person will likely become the scapegoat and the one in the wrong. If other family members, including the narcissistic parent, stay in denial... the person seeking health and truth will likely be ostracized. If family members listen, they will have to deal with the issues so it is easier for them to stay aloof, busy, disconnected, and act like everything is ok. That is the mantra of the narcissistic family. "Look good on the outside...ignore what goes on behind closed doors."

If we don't live in our truth, and tune into ourselves and how we truly feel, we cannot be healthy individuals. It is courageous to take this step. Tuning into self with self-compassion and empathy allows you to have compassion and empathy for others. It changes how you parent and how you do relationships. It is worth the time and work to learn to deal with you. Taking the appropriate steps to work the grief when you are raised in a narcissistic family is priceless. It changes how you look at the world. It is hard. It takes time. It may cause you to be an outsider. It is a decision only you can make.

Many adult children of narcissistic families see themselves as the proverbial "black sheep" of the family. They feel different and left out. Changing this image to a giraffe is a new picture of health. In the meadow of many, many sheep all doing the same thing and following the sheep ahead, stand a few giraffes. These giraffes with long necks and tall bodies can see horizons, rainbows, and sunsets at the treetops. They see things the sheep don't see. They see personal growth, opportunity, and visions, all unseen by others in their families.

Change the picture for yourself. Be a giraffe. Stand tall. Stand in your truth. Have the courage to move forward in your growth and know that sometimes being different can be the best thing you can do for yourself. "Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace." Amelia Earhart


Additional Resources for Recovery:

Resource Website:

Book: Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers

Audio Book:

Workshop: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers Virtual Workshop. Work recovery in the privacy of your own home, complete with video presentations and homework assignments:



Daughter Intensives: One on one sessions with Dr. Karyl McBride

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