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Adult children of covertly narcissistic families : a look at their romantic relationships Monk, Iona Rachelle


The narcissistic family is a term coined to describe a pattern of interaction existing within a family in which the needs of the parents take precedence over the needs of the children. The term narcissist is used not as a clinical diagnosis of the parents, but rather in a descriptive sense. Familiarity with the clinical use of the term was deemed necessary for understanding the descriptive meaning. Two types of narcissistic faniilies exist; overt and covert. Overtly narcissistic families include those in which the parents' needs take precedence due to overt reasons, such as drag and alcohol abuse or psychiatric illness. Much empirical literature exists on this subject. Covertly narcissistic families include those in which the parents' needs take precedence due to covert reasons, such as parental low self-esteem or lack of identity. The existing research on the covertly narcissistic family is purely anecdotal, none of it focusing on the romantic experiences of survivors. Therefore it was the aim of this study to explore the romantic experiences of adult children of covertly narcissistic families, with the hopes of finding common themes among participants and uncovering their feelings and experiences on a deeper and richer level. A research interview was conducted using open-ended questions to determine the experiences of romantic relationships for six participants. A qualitative content analysis was used to identify categories and themes within the interview transcripts. The study yielded five common themes; insecurity in relationships; difficulty with intimacy; unrealistic expectations; negative/precarious sense of self; and repeating unhealthy family of origin dynamics. Each theme was further broken down into three categories. Consistent with anecdotal and research findings on the narcissistic family, on romantic love, and on the effects of childhood covert abuse, results indicated that adults who emerged from these families indeed struggled with basic trust and intimacy issues which affected their ability to have and maintain fulfilling romantic relationships. The results also uncovered the depth and richness that exist within the experience of these individuals. Suggestions for counselling were based on a need for the field to familiarize itself with the particular struggles of this understudied group.

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