It can be very challenging if you think you possibly have a narcissistic sibling. You might even feel a bit guilty to look into narcissism. The fact you’re investigating this means this person at least shows some unhealthy behaviour. It’s likely you know your sibling quite well and chances are you have witnessed both good and bad behaviour in the past.
Narcissistic personality disorder begins by early adulthood which means that at that time you could possibly see a change in behaviour. With the help of this article, you can explore whether the behaviour shown by your sibling is unhealthy/manipulative and if this possibly shows your sibling might be a narcissist.
This article doesn’t focus on the label narcissist but rather on the behaviour shown and the effect it has on you. In the end, the label is not something you’re dealing with. You need a way to deal with the shown behaviour. Getting knowledge about narcissism can help in validating your experience and help you in deciding how to approach the situation. I hope this article will be helpful for that.
When you have a narcissistic sibling, you’re forced by their manipulative behaviour to think about what you want in your relationship with them. This is because if you don’t, your energy will be drained and you might become more anxious and doubtful because of their manipulations.
It can be very tough and painful to have a narcissistic sibling and possibly a narcissistic parent as well. It can lead to very unhealthy dynamics and this can have a real impact on you. Know it’s a good thing you’re trying to get informed in order to make decisions to better protect your energy and start with healing and/or personal growth.
In this article, I will go into the signs of a narcissistic sibling, the family dynamics with a possible toxic combination of a narcissistic sibling and narcissistic parent, the effect this has on you, and how to deal with a narcissistic sibling.
Narcissistic behaviour vs. narcissism
A narcissist is characterized by a lack of (emotional) empathy, a need for admiration/validation, and an increased ego. It results in superficial, abusive, and self-centered behaviour in which a narcissist doesn’t consider the feelings or needs of others. There can be a variety of types of narcissists and narcissistic behaviour can thus play out in many different ways.
When someone shows narcissistic behaviour, it doesn’t necessarily mean this person is a narcissist. As everyone can show narcissistic behaviour from time to time it depends on the frequency and intensity of the shown narcissistic behaviour.
A narcissist will show draining behaviour regularly, uses other persons for their benefit, and thus has a very unhealthy influence on their environment. In my articles, I focus on the narcissistic behaviour someone shows and the possible unhealthy influence it has on you.
How to recognize a narcissistic sibling? Signs of a narcissistic sibling
So how do you recognize having a narcissistic sibling? Here are 9 possible signs of a narcissistic sibling.
1. Center of attention
Your sibling always needs to be the center of attention no matter what the occasion might be. It could even be on your birthday or graduation. It might show as weird, negative, or simply dominant behaviour that results in a shift of attention from you to this sibling.
A narcissist has an exaggerated sense of self-importance and this can thus result in needing to be the center of attention. They can do this in many ways such as by monopolizing conversations, praising themselves, playing the victim, using illness, or trying to get sympathy.
2. Seeking approval and praise
A narcissist needs a lot of validation, appreciation, and affirmation. Do you feel like your sibling is always looking for forms of validation or appreciation? Did you feel like an audience having to applaud your sibling all the time? These are signs your sibling is seeking for ‘narcissistic supply’ in order to fulfill their need for admiration.
3. Envy and intensity when comparing themselves to others
There could be quite some envy towards others with wealth or power. It will feel like an ongoing comparison with a lot of frustration, believing others are envious of them, and a lot of negativity concerning others. A narcissist will really believe their own view and seem really attached to this competitive situation. It can thus feel very intense.
They can be envious of you as well and believe you’re envious of them. If you try to talk about it with them because you feel this discomfort a narcissist might mirror and blame you. They have the ability to turn it back around on you and fully deny their part. It will feel like you can’t honestly talk about it because you will only feel worse afterward.
4. Lack of (emotional) empathy
There will be a lack of (emotional) empathy when you’re dealing with a narcissistic sibling. They could learn to act like they understand the pain or they emphasize but you will notice emptiness beneath it. You could observe this by a quick change of subject or an empty stare. It seems they can’t keep their attention to it when they know they should be emphatic.
They have an inability or unwillingness to empathize and consider your needs and feelings. It can feel like disinterest in your stories, whether good or bad, and you might feel inequality in how much you talk about their life and your life.
5. Acting as if you owe them (entitlement)
It can feel like you owe them. A narcissist has a sense of entitlement and believes they are more important than you. They might seem great by doing you favours and helping you out. When this results in inequality between you and your sibling it’s not healthy. If you’re dealing with an older sibling there is quite a chance they will say things that keep you small.
Growing up and becoming an adult you might feel like you have grown more spiritually and they still act the same as if you’re of lesser value. It seems they didn’t move on from being a kid. They might still make the same old jokes about your weaknesses or their good looks or intelligence.
There won’t be boundaries and the jokes won’t feel like a simple joke anymore (they will deny this though). If you feel this inequality doesn’t seem to change it’s a sign of dealing with a narcissist.
6. Talking about themselves and comparing achievements
Your sibling could often change the subject of discussion to themselves or achievements. A narcissist loves to talk about subjects such as salary, materialistic things, and achievements. They seem to always fantasize about unlimited success, power, love, and perfection.
They will compare with you and probably ‘win’ because they work and are motivated to achieve more. A narcissist often exaggerates their achievements and possibly downgrades yours or at least not gives your achievements the same amount of attention.
7. Not accepting responsibility, criticism, feedback, or blame
A narcissist will not accept any criticism or admit to possible weaknesses or vulnerabilities. They will not take any responsibility for possible negative outcomes. Your sibling thus could become mad or play being hurt if you criticize them and they might accuse you of the same fault.
You will see they become really defensive and you can’t honestly communicate about it. They could mirror the situation if they feel they are under attack. To be clear, any normal criticism or questions about their weaknesses will be perceived as an attack. This is because it doesn’t match with their fake persona.
8. Not respecting your boundaries and taking advantage
The sibling will not respect your needs, wishes, or feelings. If you say ‘no’ they could just keep going and pretend you said nothing. A narcissist takes advantage of others to fulfill their own needs and wishes. They will not hesitate to lie in order to get things done.
It might feel you’re dealing with a pathological liar and your sibling is playing various roles depending on the situation. They could play all kinds of games to control other people and sabotage you. This could be playing the victim or the perfect sibling or child.
9. Believes being ‘special’
If your sibling acts like he or she is ‘special’ and is arrogant or patronizing towards others it’s a sign of narcissism. It might seem only certain people (mostly with status or great appearance) are good enough to interact with or be associated with. There is a feeling of superiority behind this.
The toxic combination of a narcissistic sibling and a narcissistic parent
There is a chance at least one of your parents is narcissistic as well. This would create an even more disturbing dynamic within your family. There is a chance the narcissistic child is the family’s golden child.
In this situation, they can’t do wrong and are an extension of the narcissistic parent. It works because they are wired in the same way and because of that they might entangle with each other. They will probably be showered with praise, gifts, and money. It leaves you in the position of the one that loses the comparison all the time. This is a very tough and unfair situation.
You could be the victim of a lot of verbal and emotional abuse if you have both a narcissistic parent and sibling. There is a chance you have been bullied by them and this a very painful experience. You can read more about narcissistic parents in my article about signs of a narcissistic parent and my article about what I have learned from having a narcissistic father.
In such a family, you probably have been forced into a certain role in the family. There are some different roles possible when growing up in a family with a narcissistic parent. These are a few examples of those:
- A narcissistic or toxic sibling will have attained the role of supporting the narcissistic parents, helping them, and plays manipulative games as well.
- A child could try to withdraw from the situation and ‘flee’ as much as possible. It’s an attempt to keep your head low. If this sibling speaks up the result could be being scapegoated and be the focus of the narcissistic parent’s rage (and the supportive siblings).
- Some might become very dependent and needy with the parent in order to survive. This would be a form of helplessness which is also seen as a defence mechanism when experiencing the discomfort resulting from cognitive dissonance.
- It could also be someone becomes neutral and denies the unhealthy situation of the family. This person will build a great wall and tries to be the glue in the family. They tend to ignore the pain, pretend and create a fake persona (or disconnection from themselves) to survive. This is my own experience growing up with a narcissistic father.
There is quite a chance growing up in these kinds of family dynamics results in problems with self-worth and becoming anxious or doubtful because of the abuse and the experienced cognitive dissonance.
The effect a narcissistic sibling has on you and your environment
Given the discussed behaviour above, it’s a logical consequence these manipulative and disturbing behaviours can have quite an impact on your energy, truth, and your self-worth. I will shortly go into a few behaviours and reference articles that go more deeply into these types of behaviour. If you recognize these effects or behaviours I would advise reading more about them.
- Gaslighting is a brutal manipulative method in order to make you slowly disconnect from yourself. The aim is to make you lose your perception of truth, identity, and self-worth. It happens slowly and is done in a way that can make it hard to realize it’s happening. Some common examples are saying you’re crazy/confused, questioning your memory, and saying you’re making things up randomly. This behaviour abuses a general belief in people having good intentions.
- Cognitive dissonance is a feeling of discomfort resulting from having beliefs or values that don’t match with your behaviour. As people don’t like this discomfort the mind will try to reduce it by rationalizing or explaining things away. With a narcissistic sibling you, for example, might still believe this person is good or wants you to be happy as well. You have seen kind behaviour but this doesn’t match their manipulative behaviour.
There thus seems a discrepancy between your belief and their behaviour. This results in cognitive dissonance and you might seek the fault by yourself. This can result in self-doubt and apologizing even if you don’t really feel you should.
- Your sibling might build a web of control with people they can influence or have under their control. These are called flying monkeys. They can use these people to triangulate you and abuse you by proxy. They use many manipulation strategies to build this web of control and can use it to disconnect you from other family and friends.
All these games and manipulation strategies make it hard to see the truth and might make you question your perception of reality.
General tips when dealing with a narcissistic sibling
Now, it’s time to shift the attention from the narcissistic behaviour towards yourself. I will first share some short general tips when dealing with a narcissistic sibling and then show three different options depending on the level of contact you want.
1. Don’t tell them your thoughts about narcissism
This is something that will only add fuel to the fire and will not be useful in any situation. A narcissist doesn’t reflect on themselves concerning their effect on other people. They will not accept this, feel attacked, and possibly try to mirror you by accusing you of being a narcissist. You might only provide them with a tool to manipulate others or stating how bad you are even suggesting such a thing.
2. Protect your energy by not emotionally engaging and learn to trust your intuition
It’s pointless to argue with a narcissist or go into any emotional interaction. They play on the level of ego and being competitive towards others. It’s survival for them and they’re protecting their fake persona and appearance. They will have no boundaries in doing so.
If you possibly feel like you want to outsmart them I suggest you take a look at my article about why outsmarting a narcissist is not smart at all. I suggest not playing the game at all because it will only drain your energy.
Trying to not emotionally engage will result in less stress and anxiety. By not engaging you will have more space to learn to trust your intuition and truth. I wrote an article that might be interesting which is about self-worth and narcissism.
3. Get knowledge about narcissism and write things down
It can be useful to get more knowledge about narcissism and how to deal with it. It helps with accepting the situation and deciding how you want to move forward. You will learn it’s not your fault and that you have the control and the power to decide your path from here.
It can help to write down what’s going on and how you feel about certain interactions or behaviours. This can help you acknowledge and possibly validate your truth and experience. You could ask questions to yourself about your relationship with the sibling and how the narcissistic sibling makes you feel.
By going through the following questions you will get a clearer view of whether this is an unhealthy situation:
– Do you enjoy their company or do you feel drained? Why?
– Can you talk easily with your sibling? Is it comfortable or confusing?
– Do they bring up certain subjects or do you keep talking about the same subjects all the time?
– Are you always the one taking responsibility or the one to apologize? Is it ever their fault?
– Is there a lot of competition between you and the sibling?
– Do you feel you can trust this sibling or did he/she betray your confidence?
It can be painful to answer these questions but it does have a purpose. You can analyze what’s going on and acknowledge what happens and you’re role in it as well. This clarity will help you to decide what you don’t and do want in the future.
4. Work on accepting the painful truth
It’s good to try to work on accepting the painful truth once you recognize it. If you become aware you’re in an unhealthy situation and being abused or manipulated, it’s important to let go of certain expectations. It’s great if you’re able to recognize what qualities or vulnerabilities of you are being abused.
Do you feel guilty if you don’t do certain things for them? Does this sibling make you feel less worthy or like you owe them? Do you possibly still hope for things to be different and have a brother or sister that is proud of you?
Sometimes these hopes can make you feel stuck. It’s good to realize which hope or attachments you have towards the relationship with your sibling. By meditation, mindfulness, or conscious breathing you can possibly learn how to let some attachments go.
Tips on how to cope with a narcissistic sibling
When it comes to dealing with a narcissistic sibling there are different possibilities. It depends on the unhealthy behaviour this sibling shows because there can be many different levels of toxicity and intensity of narcissistic behaviour.
It also depends on the person you are. Is it easy for you to protect your boundaries and be clear or is this something you don’t like? Mostly the ones that suffer narcissists the most are those that are empathic, put the needs of others first, and those that don’t like conflict.
If the sibling is not extremely toxic or abusive you could try to find a way to only interact on a superficial level. It might help to consider them as a child and yourself as an adult. You could also focus on only interacting with them when other people are around as well if this is when he or she tries to keep a good appearance. It really depends on what you want from the relationship with your sibling and how capable you’re of protecting your energy around them.
Evaluate how involved you are in their life. Are you being manipulated into helping them a lot or doing things you’re not comfortable with? What brings you joy and what only brings you discomfort?
The best option usually is to go no contact because of the dynamics with narcissists and the consequences it can have. Mostly, a victim is not in a state of self-confidence and ready to state some clear boundaries and protect them with success right away.
I will now discuss three options of dealing with a narcissistic sibling, which are (1) setting rules/boundaries for interaction, (2) using the grey rock method to emotionally detach, and (3) going full no contact. The picture below shows an overview of these options. I’ve created this video as well explaining these options below.
Option 1: Setting clear boundaries for interaction
This method could be worth a try if the toxicity and unhealthy behaviour of this sibling is not that great. It will be more suited for you if you’re extraverted and don’t run away from a bit of conflict or clarity in conversation.
In this method, you would become very communicative to the narcissistic sibling and firmly set boundaries all the time. It requires you to handle some conflict or being able to walk away after stating a boundary.
You could emphasize to them that you appreciate people that respect your boundaries. When your narcissistic sibling isn’t respecting those you need to tell them explicitly, and when they do respect your boundaries you can compliment them on this. It’s a form of rewarding your sibling with validation and appreciation when they respect your boundaries.
It’s a decision to protect yourself and tell them about your boundaries and possible deal-breakers. You explain to them what behaviour will be dealbreakers and will cause you to walk away and not be present around them.
It would be something like: ‘I would love to see you brother/sister but when I receive criticism, yelling, insults or negativity from you, I will choose not to be with you in the same place. It tells me it’s not the place where I want to be. So it depends on you whether we will be able to see each other. I do hope we can.’
You can observe whether this method helps or if they only become more toxic or needy. It could be effective because it’s a clear predictor of behaviour. It creates a form of pressure for them not to behave in a predicted way. They can choose whether they want your appreciation for respecting your boundaries and whether it helps their appearance or fake persona to have contact with you.
You need to be able to acknowledge and name specifically what’s going on in your interactions and what behaviour you will not be part of. It requires you to be quite solid. If you’re are aware when this person is trying to manipulate you and you have a certain emotional detachment to them as well, this could be a way to interact with a narcissistic sibling.
If you feel this method will be impossible with this person or with how you want to be yourself, it will not be useful and I advise going no contact or minimizing contact.
2. Minimizing contact: emotionally detaching using the grey rock method and conscious breathing
In this method, you basically minimize (emotional) interactions and reduce the narcissistic supply given to your narcissistic sibling. You become as boring and unappealing as a grey rock. It requires you to basically become emotionally non-responsive. You only respond when necessary and don’t ask questions or show interest in the narcissist.
If you feel like you can’t go no contact right away you could try this method and read my in-depth article about the grey rock method. It will help you emotionally detaching from a narcissist. You can consider this method as well if the toxicity of your sibling is not that great and you do want to see them even though it requires energy.
You can combine this method with conscious breathing to make it more powerful. It can help you with gathering your thoughts and protecting your energy when around your narcissistic sibling.
3. Full no contact
In general, this is the most valuable advice when it comes to dealing with narcissists. The best thing for your energy in most situations will be going full no contact. If you’re dealing with a very toxic narcissistic sibling that constantly shows unhealthy and disturbing behaviour, no contact will always be the best option. You will not be able to change or help them.
If it’s possible to go no contact right away, you can free yourself from this disturbed energy and focus on yourself and the positive and kind people in your environment.
No contact means full no contact in any form. Block their numbers and get a restraining order if needed. Throw gifts and letters away. Stay strong and they will eventually leave you alone.
At first, they will probably respond by showing more manipulative behaviour such as blaming, playing the victim or simply trying to get any engagement from you. They might try to smear campaign you and paint you black. You can read more about that in this article about smear campaigning by a narcissist.
Focus on yourself
I’m sorry if you had to experience (some of) the above. It’s very disturbing. In a way, you are forced to decide to not be used as narcissistic supply. Depending on the extent of their behaviour you need to disconnect from yourself or disconnect from them. You thus need to establish boundaries between you and the narcissistic sibling. This can be boundaries in your interaction, your emotional engagement, the amount of information you share, and whether to go no contact or not.
Deciding is shifting the attention from the narcissist to yourself again. Try to find the support of kind and sincere people and create an environment with positive energy around you. It would be great if you could get some professional help in recovering as well. You’re not alone in this as there are (sadly) many with similar experiences.
All small steps in the right direction are great! I hope this article will be helpful to you. You are worth your own kindness, compassion, and love. I wish you strength.
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– In addition to this article, I’ve created this video about possible options to deal with your narcissistic sibling.