Monday, January 19, 2015

Parents who pit siblings against each other, a folly that fosters abuse

name of cartoon: "I'm Special; Compete for My Love"
image is © Lise Winne
(for questions regarding use of images contact: LilacGroveGraphics (att) yahoo.com)

(note: There is more discussion of sibling abuse on this blog post. There is also more discussion about the dynamic of the bully golden child and narcissistic parent from this blog post (on the Karpman's Triangle). This post covers how parental favoritism helps to propagate sibling abuse. This post covers the roles that happen in dysfunctional families where a narcissist is a parent. 
This is post about competition baiting where a sibling or co-worker tries to get you "in trouble" with authorities).

Pitting family members against each other happens most often where one or more family members has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. As this article attests, there is a certain pattern to this type of family:

... when researchers realized that children raised in narcissistic families turned out very much like those children raised by abusive or substance-addicted parents, even if the children were never abused or technically mistreated. In this type of family, the interactions among family members are characterized by selfishness and competition; parents are generally more concerned about their own happiness and well being than that of their children, and will often pit siblings against each other to spur competition.

Just look at this Google search for the keywords pitting siblings against each other and you find that all of the top articles are about Narcissistic parents (and particularly Narcissistic mothers).

According to Karyl McBride, PhD, in an article about the Narcissistic family (where one parent has Narcissistic Personality Disorder), children are valued only for what they do for the parent, not for who they are in their own right. She states, Feelings are denied and not discussed. Children are not taught to embrace their emotions and process them in realistic ways. They are taught to stuff, repress, and are told their feelings don't matter ... There are few boundaries in the narcissistic family. Children's feelings are not considered important. Diaries are read, physical boundaries not kept, and emotional boundaries not respected. The right to privacy is not typically a part of the family history ... In healthy families, we encourage our children to be loving and close to each other. In narcissistic families, children are pitted against each other and taught competition. There is a constant comparison of who is doing better and who is not. Some children are favored or seen as the golden child and others become the scape-goat for the parents projected negative feelings. Siblings in narcissistic families rarely grow up feeling emotionally connected to each other.

From this Psych Central article by Cindi Lopez on Narcissistic mothers, she states:

Narcissistic mothers do not have children for the same reasons the rest of us do. They do not look forward to the birth of their child because they can’t wait to see what they look like or what type of personality they will have or who they will become. No, they have children for one reason only: More mirrors. They have children so that the children will love them unconditionally, not the other way around. They have children to do things for them. They have children to reflect their false images. They have children to use, abuse and control ...

According to another article on the Narcissistic parent from NarcissisticMother.com:

In functional families, sibling rivalry naturally occurs and, with adequate parenting, ideally turns into respect for each other as children mature. Siblings are encouraged to be close and love each other.
   This isn't the case in a family with a narcissist as the matriarch. Children are pitted against each other and taught from very early on that if they wanted any sort of “love” or attention from their mother, they’ll have to compete for it against each other.
   Sadly, siblings with a narcissistic mother often sacrifice relationships with each other to compete for something that doesn't exist: their mother’s unconditional love. Narcissists have difficulty feeling love or empathy for anyone, leaving you and your siblings to bid for conditional, short-term attention that can be switched on and off at any minute ...
   Children are often put into shifting roles by the narcissistic mother. First, the golden child, is the hero, the mother’s other-half, or her mirror. There are pros to this role, such as getting all of the best stuff, the attention, and the ability to entertain the illusion you can do no wrong.
   Your accomplishments, no matter how minor, are celebrated to the fullest extent. However, it is not all sunshine and rainbows for the golden child.
   You may become enmeshed with your narcissistic mother and grow up without any real knowledge of boundaries or self-identity. In this spotlight, you are just the puppet of the mother, and the one of whom the other siblings are ultimately the most jealous.
   Then there’s the scapegoat. When you receive attention from your mother in this role, it’s of the negative variety. But, oh, the relief in feeling you are at last beyond her control. Of course, that feeling can be short-lived as a child because the narcissistic mother will make great effort to strip you of that control and as the adult, she often has the power to do so.
   When in the scapegoat role, you shoulder the blame, shame, and anger of the family. If something goes wrong, it’s your fault. You are labeled as the “bad” one, even if you don’t fit into that category. The silver lining of the scapegoat role is that you often have a better concept of self and independence than does the golden child, which can help you later on in life.

   She can also make active attempts to insure the competition is fierce. She may spend excessive time alone with one of her children, most likely the golden child, instead of including all of her children in an activity or outing.
   She may commiserate with one child about the other’s negative behavior, so that a tag-team competition is set up as well. Some narcissistic mothers intentionally block bonding and encourage competition between siblings. Other narcissistic moms create a vacuum of neglect where the kids are left to prey upon each other for the meager emotional resources that are available in the family environment ...
   The negative feelings you had toward your siblings while growing up can carry on well into your adult life. Siblings may never be close to each other due to the deep emotional scars and animosity they were programmed to feel towards each other by the narcissistic family environment. You may find one of your siblings is unable to let go of the old system and actively keeps the rivalry going. He or she will then miss the value of having a fellow survivor, their brother or sister, who understands what they endured
... --- Michele Piper, Marriage and Family Therapist, owner of NarcissisticMother.com


From reading forums from people who grew up with a narcissistic disordered parent and are dealing with their Golden Child siblings, it seems that bullying is how Golden Child siblings often deal with their own part in the sibling rivalry. The scapegoats of the family are often the ones to endure abuse and blaming by the golden and then get punished further by the narcissistic parent who defends the golden in any dispute between the two siblings. Even if the abuse escalates to the point of endangerment, the narcissistic parent cannot face the fact that he or she made a wrong choice in appointing the golden status to a particular child. I discuss this at length in this post. 

Bully siblings can and do accuse their brother or sister of things that they (the bully sibling) is guilty of. It is called projection and competition baiting (the links are to my posts on the subjects), and it can actually work in situations where parents do not care to investigate and research issues between their children. These kinds of parents are mainly concerned with silencing the complaining. They punish "the complainer" because the complainer is making them feel uncomfortable, and look like bad parents (a common trait of narcissistic parenting not too endearing).   

But, surely, pitting people against each other in the workplace gets results from its workers, creates an ambitious team working hard to get results, and an admirable place of employment? This answer is a resounding NO. In fact, it is detrimental in every way; it will create an environment where people do not feel impelled to work or get results. It is not any better within the family. According to this Forbes article and this article by Vivian Scott, author of Conflict Resolution at Work for Dummies, it is not a good idea to pit workers against each other at all. Both articles say that the workers who are ahead or favored by their bosses will assert themselves more and the people behind tend to get depressed and give up. The unhealthy tactic also borders on abuse: it is a public display of humiliation and it will make it almost impossible for individuals in a team to work together. If a boss or coach allows gossip, instigates shaming, insults, plays favorites and uses sarcasm, more workers will quit, and it will further divide the rest of the remaining team. 


Not only will pitting workers against each other ensure that employees will quit in record numbers, it will create an environment where the bullies will rein supreme. As newbies arrive to take the place of the workers who went elsewhere, the bullies learn they will be rewarded by getting the confidence of their bosses through innuendos and damaging gossip. While the bullies get promoted, the business as a whole flounders, sometimes going under entirely. Having a team that can't work together to get the objectives of the company fulfilled, constant training of more employees, who in the end will not be able to work with the bullies, takes time and money. Inspiration and innovation are best in an environment where team-playing, healthy ways of relating and stability are upheld. Bullies know how to jostle competition to their favor, and get promoted, but they don't know how to co-operate to get a job done since they are only expert at giving orders, intimidating and driving their competition out through dishonest means. 

While bullies may be adept at hard work, they are the least innovative. Great ideas are the requirements of getting a business competitive with other businesses. (More on why inspiration/brilliance, requires an empathetic mind in a later post).

All of what is true for businesses is applicable to the family too: members will thrive where competition with each other is at a minimum and where they support one another. Where bullying, insults, taking sides and favoritism are allowed to flourish, members feel resentful and protect themselves from abuse by either keeping silent or at a distance. All of it splinters the family into one or more opposing sides, making succeeding in life harder as members are always dealing with wounds and hurt feelings, distancing and distrust, violated boundaries, little co-operation during hard times and emergencies, selfishness and disregard, escalations of abuse, and dealing with the family's bad reputation to outsiders. The dysfunctions can be distracting enough that members who want to do great things for society can feel held back or sabotaged.


Always remember the children ... 
even the ones not yet born who might receive the family legacy ...



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