This begs the question of whether narcissists are capable of loyalty in any fashion. They frequently cheat on their spouses and have very unpredictable emotional responses to their loved ones. I might argue that the concept of loyalty remains a lopsided abstraction to a narcissist, by definition of the disorder.
As narcissists see everyone as an extension of themselves, useful only insofar as they can serve the needs and desires of the narcissist, loyalty to self remains paramount. Additionally, the narcissist views narcissism from one perspective only—their own. They demand loyalty from others while absolving themselves of holding the same standards. It’s a wonder they can ever stay married, and relatively few do.
With regard to family, the situation becomes even more complicated. The narcissist typically manipulates family in order to maintain control, and pledging loyalty (or pretending to do so) can be employed as a tool to help them to reach their goals. But not as a lofty ideal.
Let’s examine the conflicted and complex relationship a narcissist has with the idea of loyalty.
While the narcissist is very interested in loyalty, it is only in the sense that they feel that they alone deserve loyalty. In fact, many narcissists demand displays of loyalty from their friends and family with regularity. If you don’t demonstrate sufficient deference to the narcissist, they will often become enraged.
However, the narcissist’s loyalty to their family is intermittent at best and non-existent at worst. That is, if their self-interest comes up against their fidelity to family, that self-interest will always win out in the end. With regard to personal relationships, the narcissist commands absolute faithfulness, while at the same time often cheats on their partner.
In addition, narcissists will frequently push the boundaries of loyalty toward outright submission. Loyalty to the narcissist often looks like complete fealty to their superior abilities and opinions. Disagreeing with the narcissist’s perspective feels, to them, like a betrayal of trust and loyalty.
Conditions Lead to Suspicions
With the narcissist, love and affection are conditional, based upon how well the other party fulfills the needs and desires of the narcissist. If the family (or a member of the family) isn’t supplying the narcissist with a constant supply of attention and praise, then the narcissist will withhold their love and affection. Loyalty cannot thrive where there is no emotional consistency and trust.
The narcissist will push this dynamic even further, withdrawing even acceptance from family members who do not support their agenda. Thus, if children try to express their individuality to a narcissistic parent, they will be rejected and ridiculed—no matter how much they’ve previously tried to please the parent. Their loyalty to the narcissist requires complete obedience.
The unpredictable nature of the narcissist will rule the family dynamic, creating an atmosphere of chaos and pitting family members against one another. Narcissists sow dissension and suspicion among their family and friends as part of their campaign of manipulation. Loyalties and alliances are torn apart by the narcissist’s need to occupy the central role at all times.
Blaming and Backstabbing
As this suspicion ripples through the family, the narcissist will ensure that they are never taken to task for their words or actions. They will point the finger at other family members and project their own bad behavior onto them. Instead of accepting any responsibility for the lack of trust and loyalty within the family, they will turn the tables onto an unsuspecting scapegoat, usually the most emotionally vulnerable.
Because the narcissist loathes themselves and cannot stand to be seen as weak, they will accuse others of being self-centered, hateful, and manipulative. Basically, they will project their own feelings and behaviors onto other family members. It’s a form of emotional betrayal and even psychological abuse.
The unhappiness and mistrust the narcissist stirs up among the family makes the conditions for loyalty in any given circumstance pretty bleak. If you decide to be loyal to one family member in a coalition against the destructive agenda of the narcissist, then you are potentially subjecting yourself to a campaign of revenge from the narcissist.
Enlisting the help of other family members, gaslighted by their manipulation, the narcissist will divide and conquer the family unit.
Competition Trumps Cooperation
In a family ruled by a narcissist, coming together to address issues and solve problems is an unlikely scenario. The narcissist thrives on pitting people against each other—playing favorites or using flattery or constant comparisons that demean at least one party—and sows disharmony as much as possible.
All of this works to the narcissist’s advantage, in that the family is dodging all of the chaos the narcissist creates and, therefore, cannot form a unified front against their machinations. Keeping everyone on edge, suspicious of each other and competing for the narcissist’s favor, helps the narcissist maintain power and control within the family group.
This environment essentially destroys trust and integrity, and without those elements, loyalty has no chance of being firmly established. Instead, a set of constantly shifting and fleeting “loyalties” takes the place of dependable and reliable interpersonal commitments.
The Narcissistic Pact
There is one minor—and fairly dysfunctional—exception to this rule. If there is more than one narcissist within the family unit, then these two (or three, etc.) will sometimes form a loyal alliance in opposition to the rest of the group. Their mutually self-centered agendas will give them common cause to remain committed to each other, at least to a degree.
They will be aware of each other’s hidden insecurities and buried self-loathing, so the fear of exposure is alleviated. Neither narcissist will reveal the truth about the other, as long as each one is getting their needs and desires met. This distorted form of loyalty might be the closest the narcissist can get to an honest sense of obligation.
The true narcissist isn’t really capable of undertaking the responsibility and ethical imperative that constitutes loyalty. It requires taking into consideration the needs of others, as well as being willing to forgo your own desires in order to serve a greater, communal goal.
In families, narcissists usually seek to create dissension and suspicion rather than loyalty—unless, of course, they can get another narcissist to be on their side.
If you’ve got a deceptive narcissistic family member, this article can help you detach yourself from them emotionally.
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