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Narcissistic Families: Pseudomutual, Pseudohostile

Uploaded 12/3/2022, approx. 31 minute read

There are three types of dysfunctional families. There's the indifferent family. The family were the children, are abandoned, neglected, the parents are absent, self-preoccupied, depressed, selfish, fearful, anxious, etc. And Ray Green called it "the dead mother".

By extension, we could say, the dead parents. The parents who are not there, the children are left to fend for themselves on their own. Some of them get parentified, they become the parents of the family and some of them get dysregulated. They develop borderline behaviors, anxiety, depression, they become reckless, they act out.

The indifferent family is the topic of another video.


Today I'm going to discuss two other types of dysfunctional families.

The pseudo-mutual family and the pseudo-hostile family. You heard it here for the first time. My name is Sam Vaknin and I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited. I'm the pseudo-mutual and pseudo-hostile, or actually not pseudo, the hostile, blue professor of psychology.

And let's delve and dive right in.

Sometimes you see in clinical practice or in reality, families which constantly bicker and argue and fight with each other. They're very vocal. Nothing's wrong with it. Fighting indicates an emotional investment. People who stop fighting are no longer interested in each other. They no longer believe that change is possible.

And so fighting in itself is not a bad sign, not a bad clinical sign.

But sometimes the fighting is superficial about trivial and tangential and fringe issues. The fighting is actually a symptom of a power play or a mind game taking place in this kind of family.

Can all collectives, families included, go insane? Of course. I actually, 20 something years ago, suggested that entire collectives can become narcissistic.

And so today we will be dealing with variants of narcissistic personalities, the first one of which is the artificially bickering family, in clinical terms, the pseudo-hostile family.

The other type of family is exactly the opposite. This is the picture-perfect family. The family with no fault, where everyone loves everyone else unconditionally, totally and unreservedly, where there's no word of argument. There's never a disagreement. The whole thing flows smoothly as if it were a cult. And this cult-like setting of this type of dysfunctional family is the pseudo-mutual family.

So pseudo-hostility involves frequent arguing and bickering in order to avoid deeper emotions, deeper feelings, in order to avoid going deep.

Pseudo-mutuality involves no disagreements and no conflict, at least not overt conflict, because they are not separate identities and there is no deeper intimacy. These are not allowed.

We will go a bit deeper in a minute, but in a nutshell, these families are very insidious.

The impact of the children is pernicious and long-lasting.

In the pseudo-mutual family, children learn to become cogs and wheels in a large machine. They can't separate. They're not allowed to individuate. They can't have a voice. They are never authentic. They have to conform or else.

And the punishment, the punitive aspect, is passive-aggressive, covert, hidden surreptitious.

In the other type of family, the pseudo-hostile family, the punishment is simply aggression. Aggression is a management technique.

Win, W. Y. N. N. Eand his colleagues are the foremost authorities of pseudo-mutual and pseudo-hostile families.

They use these concepts, which were coined before by others. I will discuss the history of these concepts a bit later in this video.

But W. N. Eand his colleagues, they use this concept to describe miscarried, maladjusted solutions to the eternal human problem of, "How do I retain my identity, even as I relate to other people? How do I distinguish myself, separate myself, even as I integrate and connect? How do I become part of a whole while still maintaining autonomy and agency and self-efficacy? How do I not get absorbed? How do I not disappear? The eternal commandrum between engulfment and abandonment, how do I not get abandoned while at the same time, how do I not get enmeshed or engulfed or subsumed or consumed?" The pseudo-hostile and the pseudo-mutual relationship aims to fit together to bind at the expense of the self, at the expense of object differentiation of the identities in dividuation of the persons involved.

Pseudo-mutuality and pseudo-hostility involve a family mythology, a narrative of the family sustained by patterns of behavior.

Any deviation from this agreed upon legend of origin, any deviation from accepted habits, which should never be confronted or challenged or undermined, any deviation, any divergence, any disagreement, any hint of rebelliousness, any form of defiance, all these are dangerous within these kind of families.

There are fixed expectations and if you deviate from them, however marginally, you are punished exponentially,

there is a disproportion between offense and defense.

The shared dread, the shared anxiety, the avoidance of inter-familial conflict or separation, they generate a facade of harmony.

This is pseudo-mutuality.

People within the family don't dare to discuss certain themes. These themes are taboo. They don't dare to confront each other. They don't dare to externalize and verbalize their needs because this is perceived as a challenge to the others. They don't dare to dwell upon the shortcomings and the failings of the family system and try to fix them. Everything is perfect. Everything is harmonious. Nothing should ever be doubted, questioned or challenged.

The fear of intimacy and closeness generate either persistent zombie-like state where everyone functions as robots, androids lacking in effect or overt effect.

There is what we call reduced effect display and this is in the pseudo-mutual family or constant fighting and bickering and argumentation without genuine separation. This is argumentation and bickering between units of the same multi-headed entity, the family, and this would be the pseudo-hostility.

The American Psychological Association dictionary, APA dictionary, defines pseudo-mutuality as a family relationship that has a superficial appearance of mutual openness and understanding, although in fact the relationship is rigid and depersonalizing.

Family theories of schizophrenia and other forms of major psychophysics have identified pseudo-mutuality as a critical etiological factor.

And this idea of pseudo-mutuality and pseudo-hostility is not very new.

If we go back to Wertheim in 1973, he postulated what he called the closed system pseudo-integrative type of family. This type of closed system could be a family, could be a nation state, could be a football club, could be a church, any collective of human beings, but usually this concept is applied to families.

In this type of closed system, there is a high level of forced convergence, forced harmony. More for studies, he's called. Everyone is frozen. People don't dare to change, to evolve, to develop, and to grow because any change is a challenge to the status quo. This is rooted in an interfamilial power imbalance. There's a power asymmetry.

For example, a family headed by a narcissist. The narcissist would attempt to create a power imbalance. He would attempt to create a count where he's the leader, everyone else is the follower, obedient, obsequious, questioning.

Power structures within the family, when they become asymmetrical, they create pseudo-mutual, pseudo-hostile dynamics.

The term pseudo-mutuality was actually coined by Winn himself that I mentioned earlier in 1958. It refers to an apparent stability of the family system, when there is an absence of genuine and consensual validation by the members of the family of each other.

There is a forced, more for studies, the forced frozen, forced ossified structure.

This contributes to inter-family alienation, individual alienation, and a very distant functioning of the family.

Laying another Scottish-British psychiatrist in the 1960s, especially, they came up with a concept called mystification. Mystification is a transpersonal process by which the imposing party interacts with other members of a collective or a group and sort of convert them into extensions.

Laying said that mystification is this process by which the imposing party actively endeavors to coerce the receptive party, often children, and they attempt to induce a desired state of being under the guise of parental or benevolent caretick.

So the parents, for example, would pretend to be benign, they would pretend to be loving and caring and compassionate and affectionate and supportive, providing saccord.

But in reality, the parents would be demanding and harshly critical, passive aggressively and implicitly or overtly and explicitly, and they would demand conformity to the tea, dotting the eyes. They would not agree to any deviation from a very rigid script.

The children would be the recipients of this.

It is this discrepancy between appearances and substance that creates the pathology in the child. The child is unable to reconcile reality with what he perceives to be the psychodynamic of the situation.

The child is like a seismograph. He picks up on the parents, for example, displeasure. He realizes that abuse is forthcoming. He's terrified of being bitten or being chastised.

The child is in a constant state of fear and anxiety, but is unable to explain to himself, the child cannot explain to himself, why is he being anxious? Why is he being depressed? Why is he so fearful all the time?

Because the parents pose as the best parents ever, a thespian endeavor.

And this is what Lane called mystification. The child is mystified.

The receptive party is meant to feel as though the subjugating party has unilaterally defined his or her state of being, determined it as the sole and correct state and removed any possibility for self-assertion or individuation, says one of the encyclopedias I consulted.

In the words of Lane, this results in a radical failure to recognize one's own self-perception and self-identity.

Put differently, this prevents separation, individuation, this subtle messaging, this signaling that goes on, atmospheric, ambient signaling, including efforts at gaslighting.

All this creates a hallucinatory, delusional space where the child wanders in awe, in desperation, in terror, and in misapprehension and misapprehension.

The child can't emerge from this space because there's no adult to extend the hand.

The child actually is drowning in this space.

These are the ecological roots, these are the psychological roots of later life, dysregulation and lability.


And so Lane was the first to kind of flesh out, shall we say, the concept of pseudo-mishality in his work on mystification.

Barnard and Corales expanded on the work of Lane.

They said that mystification is a reciprocating system. In other words, it's both an act of mystification and a state of mystification, which is the outcome of the act of mystification.

What they were trying to say is that mystification is an active process. It is not necessarily premeditated, it's not necessarily malevolent, but it's an active process, active background process if you wish.

As I said, it's messaging, it's signaling, and this creates a state of mystification.

And they distinguish three phases.

The first is attribution. The role or the state of being is attributed to an individual which is functional and beneficial to the attributor, child and parent.

The child says, "The parent is beneficial to me. I need the parent. I cannot survive without the parent. Therefore, the parent is all good and my state of being depends on the parent.

And in all of the child is right until a certain age. If the parent were to ignore the child, not see the child, the child would die.

The parent has an inordinate power over the life and the being of the child. So it's a fair and realistic assessment, the attribution phase.

The second phase is invalidation.

The self-assertion, the identity, or the state of being of the individual, for example, the child, is rendered invalid, incorrect, or moot in deference to the imposition from the attributor.

Whenever the child tries to separate, whenever the child tries to individuate, whenever the child expresses an opinion, this agrees with something, demands something.

The party that is the imposing party, the parent in this case, doesn't allow it, invalidates it, mocks the child, threatens the child, coerces the child into actions which defy the child's promulgations.

So the parent manipulates the child in a variety of ways, coercive and non-coercive, manipulates the child to renounce himself or herself.

The child has to renounce itself.

It reminds me of the show trials, the show trials in Soviet Russia when defendants had to get up and say, "Yes, I'm an enemy of the people. What I've done is horrible. I deserve to die." They had to renounce themselves.

And the third phase, according to Cornalese and allies, the third phase is induction, by which the reality and prominence of the imposed state, this imposed state of being, has actively supplanted the will and the self-concept of the inducteeof the individual.

In other words, the induction phase is when the child succumbs, the child gives up, depleted, fearful, hopeless and helpless, learned helplessness.

Child says, "Okay, enough. I accept your view of reality, my mother. I accept the way you believe the world is structured, my father. And more importantly, I accept the way you see me. I'm going now to mourn by yourself, to shape myself, to conform to the way you see me. I'm not going to have a self-concept. I'm going to have your concept for a self. I'm going to adopt your concept as myself. And I'm not going to dwell on what is real and what is not, and what is will and what is not. I'm not going to have a will. I'm not going to have a volition. I'm going to become your instrument, your extension, your tool, a projection of your minds. I'm going to disappear.

In other words, this is mental suicide.

And in this way, mystification is very, very similar to pseudo-mutuality, because it is a process by which individual identities or psychological states are denied in favor of a false, imposed sense of oneness, of harmony, of togetherness, of a cult like we against everyone else, we against the world.

Pseudo-mutuality is seen in families with high emotional expression and cognitive binding.

And there's a similar concept to mystification and to pseudo-mutuality, and it's the double bind, I think first suggested by Bason, if I'm not mistaken.

The double bind is a forced situational or emotional contract by which the disempowered individual, for example, a child, feels that no matter which option they take, they will lose. There's no good option, no good outcome. It's a lose-lose situation.

Mystification and double binds share the control dynamic of a predetermined and constrained reality.

Mystification, however, is distinct in that it coerces the child to believe the imposed truth for his or her benefit.

This is the virulence and the insidiousness of the message. The parent is broadcasting, "I am doing this for your own good. I love you. That is why I will never allow you to become you. You are such a bad object. You are so inadequate. You're so helpless. You're so deficientthat to allow you to become you is to hate you. And I love you, so I will never let you go. I will never let you separate an individual because you will never cope with life or with reality. You need me for the rest of your life on earth. Otherwise, you will never survive.

And so, pseudo-mutuality in family systems, Lyman-Wein, I mentioned it, 1958, 1963, they examined this. They examined the contribution of family- relatedness and communication in the development of serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia. They never came up with a single theory. I'm not saying that there's a theory that could somehow supplant our current understanding of families and modeling and so on, but still it's a very interesting concept.

Pseudo-mutuality is about authenticity, and it's about authenticity not only in human relationships. It poses the question, how much do we sacrifice just in order to be with others? How much do we deny ourselves? How much do we agree to disappear? How much do we modify ourselves? How much do we consent to not be us just in order not to be abandoned?

Wayne and his colleagues sought to understand the particular patterns of inauthenticity that seem to be present in many families.

And during this investigation, they found that these families often deal with emotions within the family, positive emotions and negative emotions, but they do this in inauthentic ways.

These are fake dynamics, or let me put it differently. These are dynamics which are founded on fakery, founded on feigning, on pretending, on acting, on lying, on deceiving, and on cheating.

I refer you to work by Goldenberg in Goldenberg 2012.

They discovered distinct patterns of communication with regard to how the family responds to changes and coalitions, relational realignments, splits in the family.

How do these families react to disagreements? How do they react to, as I said, coalitions, mother with son against the father, father with daughter against the mother, children against the parents?

And so how do these families cope?

In healthy families, there's communication, there's consensus building, there's negotiation and compromise. Above all, there's love and acceptance.

In these families, pseudo-mutual and especially pseudo-hostile families, the families of the narcissists, the families established by narcissists, and the families that narcissists grew up in, in these families, it's all about power. It's all about prevailing. It's all about winning. It's a form of competition, mind game.

In 1961, Winn defined alignment as the perception or experience of two or more persons that they are joined together in a common endeavor, interest, attitude, or set of values.

Now this, of course, this coherence, this cohesion of the unit, this connective is a positive thing and it also creates positive dynamics.

When you're in a group with someone and you have a common goal or common attitude, the same values or whatever, you feel good about yourself and you feel good about that other person and you feel good about your togetherness. These are positive things and splits are the opposite.

That's the experience of opposition, difference or estrangement associated with negative feelings, but both these dynamics occur autonomously in families. It's inevitable.

Put three people together and you have two political parties.

So healthy parents raise healthy children and healthy parents and healthy children know how to cope with alignments and with splits.

Pseudo-mutual relationship within a family, pseudo-mutual family appears to be open, understanding, cohesive, but it is none of the above.

Pseudo-mutuality is a superficial alignment. It defends against any conscious splits. It blurs the ability to experience differences and the biggest difference of all is separation and individuation.

That's why these families, pseudo-mutual families don't allow the child to separate and to become an individual because that is a split, God forbid, and splits are beyond the pale. Splits are taboo. Splits are horrible. We should all be one happy family forever. We should never launder the dirty laundry in public. We should never confide in outsiders.

Is there a better definition of account? No, there isn't. This family is accounts.

The dysfunctional relational patterns in such a family are maintained. They are fixed and they are fixed even when the family experiences change and growth and dislocation and conflict and divergence. Even when these families succeed mysteriously and miraculously to develop intimacy, even then these patterns persist and prevail because the members of such a family don't know any better because one member or two, a parent or parents, retain all the power.

This power asymmetry and the children compete for the crumbs or the drags of the power.

And so the children feel unsafe. They can't experience their feelings authentically. They feel threatened. They become very defensive and the children exclude emotions, affects and taboo cognitions, intra-psychically.

That means they don't dare to experience these things even alone, even in the solitude of their room and interpersonally as well with other members of the family.

The pseudo-mutual family is about fitting together, making it difficult for members to cultivate any form of individualism.

Members of such families, for example, are terrified to have relationships outside the family. This is perceived as betrayal.

And when they have a boyfriend or a girlfriend, their parents will make sure that it fails. They will, I don't know, criticize the boyfriend, demean and denigrate the girlfriend. They would cast the whole thing as a form of abandonment or betrayal. I have sacrificed my life for you. You are ungrateful.

Growth within the person and the relationship is thwarted in such systems.

Individuals who grow up in this pseudo-emotional climate of the pseudo-mutual family, they don't develop a strong sense of self-identity and they can't differentiate even in terms of gender or sexuality.

Everything, every difference, every individuality is perceived as a threat to the family unit.

Wayne concluded that a focus on the family's alignments and splits provides illuminating diagnostic information about the health of a family and the health of individuals.

Paying attention to how family organizes around and responds to alignments and splitsprovides a therapist with many possible avenues of therapeutic intervention.


And so, this is the psychological background.

Of course, children in such families are enmeshed. There's a lot of emotional incest. Personal autonomy is extinct. Cohesion is just a facade.

And so, Sullivan was the first to describe a family dynamic perspective of mental illness. He stressed the importance of interpersonal relationships for mental illness.

I subscribe to this school. I think mental illnesses are interpersonal and relational, not individual.

And today, this is first becoming the kind of the, let's say, the orthodoxy.

Alainen, who is a scholar, A-L-A-N-E-N, he says that possessive traits can be found in mothers of children with mental illness based on, as I mentioned before, developed the concept of a double bind.

Liz, L-I-D-Z, said that the family is schismatic or skewed when the child is mentally ill. There's a constant hostility in the family. The parents don't constitute adequate sexual identification objects for the children.

Children can't emulate these parents. They're terrified of them. They hate them. They resent them, actually. But they can't allow themselves. The child cannot allow himself or herself to consciously experience hate towards the parent. It's very threatening.

So, she begins to hate herself.

The egos of these children are underdeveloped. That's why they become narcissists. They're easily broken down, these egos.

But anything forbidden, sexual, sex, aggression, pseudo-metrality and pseudo-austility are rigid, interactional systems. They're not open. They're flexible. They're not open to modification. They're not reactive to environmental cues and inputs or stimuli.

Part of the feelings are denied. They're isolated from consciousness.

Children learn to deny their feelings in themselves.

Still in SIBLIN, STIERLIN developed a family dynamic theory that encompasses many of these mentioned things that I mentioned.

According to SIBLIN, individuation is a fundamental process in normal development. But it is hindered by effective cognitive or moral binding in the family. And the family tells you that's the only right way to emote. It's the only right way to think. It's the only right set of values.

And you are not at liberty to question them, to doubt them, to undermine them, to challenge them. You're not at liberty to be you. You are just a recipient, tabula rasa. You're a black slate and you're a recipient. You're going to become what we tell you to become.

If we want your opinion, we will give it to you.

These families, even when they delegate, when members of the family tell the child, we trust you.

Okay, we trust you with a task. We trust you with an assignment. Even then, the child is a servant.

The child is expected to be subservient. He becomes a people pleaser. He becomes parentified.

Even when there is delegation in such families, the child performs services for other family members.

And this creates in the child internal conflicts.

And from generation to generation, there are studies that show that this is multi-generational.

Binding, delegating, double bind, negative family relationships are hypothesized as active agents for many mental illnesses. This is especially true in narcissistic families.

Narcissistic families are founded on these imbalances, on these discrepancies, on these unspoken, unthought-knowns, on these unspoken truths.

The narcissist holds all the power and the control and everyone else is a kind of enabler. Everyone else relegates responsibility to the narcissist. Everyone else becomes braindead, zombified.

Mother and father often interchange roles depending on the situation, but they both subscribe to a narcissistic creed.

And so these kind of narcissistic familiesgive the children, allocate to the children, roles. I mentioned them in my previous videos.

And the children gradually begin to perceive themselves as, in a way, survivors.

There's a lack of boundaries. There's emotional manipulation. There's harmful conflict. There's rigid enmeshment. And it's very, very effective. It's very effective because of this cult mentality, because of the generalized idea that the world is dangerous and hostile and we need to stick together in order to survive.

This is a general introduction to pseudo humility and pseudo hostility. I'll have a lot more to say in the future, applying these concepts to families that generate narcissistic children, borderline children, psychopathic children.

I can't hope that you have enjoyed this because it's not enjoyable. But if you have any questions or if you want to describe your case with your own family, feel free to comment. I promise not to delete more than nine out of 10 comments. That was me talking to you Sam Vaknin, professor of psychology and author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited and a survivor of a pseudo mutual and a pseudo hostile family. The worst ever.

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