Funny things can happen when people look at families from the outside and try to work out how to fix them. Without knowing how situations developed, or only seeing one aspect of them, it’s very easy to confuse reactions with causes. For instance, X roughly stood up to Y, whereby Y was visibly upset; hence X is cruel and callous. Without sufficient background information, they may not realise that there’s a lot more going on. For instance, it may be that Y is a self-obsessed life-sucking parasite whose demands X could never ever meet without submitting to vorarephilia of the soul. That’s not an obvious trait, though, and people can only see what’s in front of them. It doesn’t stop them judging, though. This poses an interesting conundrum to people who are stuck with relatives who have a personality disorder, but are relatively functional.
If you have a relative who is positively and obviously affected by a psychological disorder, chances are that you might reap a modicum of public support. That is not the case if you are stuck with someone who may be able to manage most aspects of everyday life – be decent neighbours, good acquaintances, reliable co-workers, whatever – but simply does not have what it takes for a closer, healthy bond. You end up stuck stuck between a rock and a hard place. If you treat your relative based on their stated role, as if they were normal people capable of healthy relationships, chances are that you will get screwed. If you treat them based on their disorder, you will be pilloried.
This is bad enough if the relative in question is a socialised psychopath or grandiose narcissists; they tend to be charming in the short-term, but either not deepen their relationships or wear thin on people. Vulnerable narcissists, however, are a different kettle of fish. They might not have many close friends, for the simple reason that they are terrible chores; the company of needy, neurotic, self-involved sad sacks isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. This doesn’t mean that they can’t get a permanent fan club, though. There are plenty of people willing to tolerate them for short periods, either because they feel sorry for them or because their presence makes them feel superior. Those are often the people who will often tear you a new one if and when you dare rock the boat.
It can be hard enough to work out and accept the fact that someone with whom you should be able to have a loving, fulfilling relationship is just not capable of supporting it. On top of that, you might be struggling with the conflict between your familial responsibility and your sense of self-preservation; although you may be confident that you are doing what you need to do for your own sake, you might still struggle with feelings of guilt. Being subjected to public scrutiny and found sorely wanting is not precisely what you need to crown it all, but chances are it’s what you’ll get.