Hello, I’m 23 years old and am a fine arts and computer major in college. Before I tell you the real issue, I’d like you to know that I can become extremely attached to my friends, to the point where they become like family. I think this needs to be known, because without this, there wouldn’t be a problem.
About four years ago I came into online contact with an entire family of artists. Two parents and six kids. I became absolutely enamored with them, and we would meet in person. They have grandiose plans to create their own animation company, and several times asked me to be a part of it. We created elaborate story designs.
Eventually, other people were tacked onto this project, first brought on board by me before becoming as enamored with this family as I was.
Eventually, I realized that no one was serious about our endeavors but me. This was a bit of a blow, but the issue comes with the fact that I can’t seem to detach myself, as emotionally rending as this relationship has become. These people are extraordinarily judgmental, particularly the oldest daughter (who is around 31 and still living with them), and constantly berate me on my apparent lack of spirituality (not even true) and the way that I conduct myself. Things that apply to me and others don’t apply to them. If I like a movie and they don’t like it, it’s ‘immoral.’ If they like a movie and it’s got the same amount of sexual tension or violence, it’s not immoral, it’s ‘art.’
I enjoy writing, and one day one of them read one of my stories and told me they wanted nothing to do with that sort of trash (I still can’t figure out what was so offensive.)
I used to own a forum with over three hundred members. Once they got onto it, everyone was chased off.
Why do I allow myself to constantly be bowled over by these people, and why do they act the way they do? I realize they must be abnormally charming considering the other people they’ve made friends with (who tend to agree with everything they say when they’re together and not when they’re apart,) but they are so emotionally abusive that I don’t understand my fascination with them. I am the only one with any sort of realized goal, and yet they constantly put me down and consider themselves above me.
They are also highly strange. At one point they became convinced that an enormous corporation had gone onto their small gallery and copied their art (that is possible, but in this case, it was definitely a delusion.) Yet others and myself are constantly drawn in by them.
One thing I’ve noticed is that they’re far more personable when it’s just one of them speaking to me. Together they’re unmovable.
Have I come across an entire family of narcissists? Why am I such a pushover that I allow my association with people who give me such anxiety, and others do so, too? And I never stop thinking about them, either. It’s like I’m living for the moments we can speak again, and yet I always leave our conversations far more depressed.
Completely breaking off relations is a terrible thought to me. I feel like I’d be destroying an entire world.
A. You mentioned all of the negative aspects of your interaction with this family but you failed to mention any positive aspects regarding your interaction with them. Drug addicts can list all of the negative aspects of drug use but that doesn’t stop them from using drugs. Individuals addicted to drugs are not stopping because of the negative aspects of drug use; they’re using because there’s something positive or reinforcing about the drugs. The key question for you is: what is reinforcing about this family that keeps you drawn in?
One is their involving you in their art project. They began a project and were interested in your participation. By asking you to be part of the project they are in essence saying “you are good enough to be one of us.” There are probably many other instances in which the family sends you a positive message about your personal abilities and qualities. These serve as reinforcers that maintain your interaction with this family.
In your letter you do not mention your social life beyond this family or the Internet. I would, as a therapist, be interested in your social life beyond the Internet. It is easier to interact with others on the Internet than in person. For instance, instead of having a fraction of a second to respond in a face-to-face conversation, an e-mail allows you time to plan a response. You do not have that luxury in face-to-face interaction. There is a possibility that you have problems with social interaction. In my experience, I have worked with many clients who have had difficulty with social interaction and subsequently conducted most of their interaction on the Internet. In all cases, the Internet did not serve as a suitable replacement for real-life social interaction.
You asked whether the family is a group of narcissists. That question is difficult to answer but keep in mind that they are a family and have found a way to interact with one another. The fact that they are a family makes them a tighter social group that would naturally occur in the public at large. They have essentially created a microculture. You are entering their microculture and as with any culture if you do not fit in perfectly, you may be criticized or punished when you defy their cultural norms.
Humans have a need for social interaction and acceptance. This family may be an attempt to fulfill that need for you. They have accepted you into their group but you are paying a heavy price for inclusion: you can’t disagree or step out of line. You must share their opinions, morals and values or risk expulsion. The rules of acceptable thought, opinion and behavior, in their microculture, are very specific and allow no variation.
Your reliance on this relationship is unhealthy and unfulfilling and it should be replaced with relationships that occur in the real world, in face-to-face interaction. To avoid this type of problem in the future, it is important that you identify what specifically reinforces your interaction with this family. Once you determine this, you will want to seek out that reinforcement from other people, areas or accomplishments in life.
Closed-minded people with very strong opinions who are not open to divergent views are the opposite of critical thinkers. Critical thinking is necessary to be successful in life, to be happy and to avoid mental illness. It is important that you learn critical thinking skills. It may help you avoid situations like this in the future.
If you have trouble understanding what draws you to this family and what needs they are fulfilling in your life, I would suggest consulting a therapist. He or she can provide an objective evaluation about what is keeping you attached to this family. Please click on the find help tab at the top of this page to search for therapists in your community. I wish you the best of luck. Please take care.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Oct 2010
Randle, K. (2010). What’s Wrong With Them (and Me)?. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 26, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/10/12/whats-wrong-with-them-and-me/