Standing in the shadow of a narcissistic older sister is a very difficult and painful role. We didn’t ask to be placed in our birth order. Often there are rivalries among siblings but when you are the younger one who must answer to an impossible older sister, you live in a state of anxious suspension. Some younger sisters look up to the elder one, viewing her extreme self confidence and feelings of entitlement as something to be admired and emulated. When her mood shifts darkly the narcissistic older sister turns very ugly. The narcissist views her sister as inferior, defective, inept and unattractive. In fact she is ashamed of her younger sibling. In reality the opposite is true. The younger sister(s) is often quite bright, creative, considerate of others and appealing. In fact it is older sister who is so envious that she seethes with a rage that boils within her and at times erupts in uncontrollable verbal attacks and recriminations. Alone with the narcissist, the younger one is humiliated and screamed at, told she is worthless, that mother never wanted her and she is the favorite. “You were an afterthought, an accident of fate.”
These cruelties continue throughout childhood and often beyond. Many younger sisters believe these horrendous projections and internalize them. They view themselves as “less than”, “not enough”. When the mother is emotionally unavailable or a narcissist herself, it is impossible for the child who has been emotionally hurt to find a safe personal alliance, a loving person to whom she can go and seek refuge. The younger daughter feels lost and alone. Some younger daughters hide their deep hurt feelings and numb themselves so that they can perform in school, make an effort to have friends and dismiss the innumerable cruelties dispensed by the older sister whom they once loved and admired. Some sisters are so desperate that they continue their search for love and acceptance, finding other narcissists who end up disposing of and hurting them all over again. Some younger sisters follow this destructive pattern through marriage to a narcissistic man. It can take them a long time to recognize that they are repeating a familiar pattern that hurts them and eclipses their lives.
There is a time of reckoning that occurs to many victims of narcissistic overbearing, cold, cruel older sisters. They search and find the answer. They realize that they have been playing the role of victim all of this time. They research the narcissistic personality, see their life pattern clearly and decide to stop the cycle of abuse.
With the help of high quality psychotherapy in some cases, finding friends whom they trust and know that appreciate them as unique and valuable, spending solitary time quieting the mind and learning to calm the nervous system, these sisters come into their own. They assert themselves. They are proud of who they are and own their true identities. The narcissistic familial thicket of thorns has been left behind. The pathway to a renewed life has begun.
Linda Martinez-Lewi, Ph.D.