When you go through these traits, some may hit home; while others may not be relevant. Some may ring as very true; while others as less so. This is why narcissitic traits are not synonomous with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
The Heuristic Problem of Personality Classification:
Narcissism is not a dirty word, in fact, narcissistic traits are commonly found in most of us. There’s nothing disturbed about that. The other extreme is the Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a controversial, but often helpful label. For the record, our diagnostic categories are somewhat arbitrary and lack the veracity of harder medical diagnostic labels like a broken femur or glaucoma. These disorders are easier to document and study. Personality Disorders help us organize our thinking about an individual, but may fall far short of a truthful depiction of a whole complex person.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether a person is narcissistic or merely has a healthy self regard. Narcissism isn’t about having high self-confidence; it’s a love for oneself that has morphed into a preoccupation. The term is based on Narcissus, the Greek mythological character who was so infatuated with himself, that it ultimately proved fatal.
Although it’s not actually fatal, narcissism can become so pathological that it satisfies the criteria, however faulty, of a personality disorder. The fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV-TR) defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as
“A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts… as indicated…. by the following”:
- wanting to be admired
- having a sense of entitlement
- being exploitative
- lacking empathy
- being envious
Another characteristic typical of narcissists is a disregard of personal boundaries. Narcissists don’t always acknowledge the need for boundaries which is coupled with their failure to realize that others do not exist merely to meet their needs. A narcissist will often treat others, especially those that are close to him, as if they are there to fulfill his needs and expectations.
Now that you have a firm grasp on what a narcissistic father may be like, let’s take a look at how he might affect his kids. (We will get to narcissistic mothers another time.)
How a Narcissistic Father Can Hurt his Son or Daughter:
Narcissistic parents often damage their children. For example, they may disregard boundaries, manipulate their children by withholding affection (until they perform), and neglect to meet their children’s needs because their needs come first. Because image is so important to narcissists, they may demand perfection from their children. The child of a narcissist father can, in turn, feel a pressure ramp up their talents, looks, smarts or charisma. It can cost them if they fulfill their Dad’s wishes – and it can cost them if they fail. No winning here.
In general, here‘s how a narcissistic father can affect a daughter or son.
• Daughters of narcissistic fathers often describe feeling “unsatiated” when it to comes to getting what they needed from their fathers. They never got enough and would have to compete with siblings for time with Dad. As a young child, Dad would comment on how beautiful you were. But as you grew older, he would rarely miss out on commenting on weight and attitude. You probably carry these concerns into adulthood, even if you found success. With a Dad like this, it’s never enough. With men (or women), you often feel vulnerable and worried you’ll be dumped for someone else. Anxiously avoiding commitment or taking on the narcissitic role are both natural ways to keep relationships safe; it’s understanble and self protective.(But, you lose.)
A daughter needs her dad’s adoration; it validates her and helps her internalize her specialness. Healthy fathers give their girls that gift. You are special and deserve love, for being you.
• As the son of a narcissistic father you never feel that you can measure up. Dad was so competitive, that he even competed with you. (Or, didn’t pay attention to you one way or the other.) You may have accepted defeat – you’d never outdo your dad. Or, you may have worked hard to beat Dad at his own game just to get his attention and some semblance of fatherly pride. You somehow never feel good enough even when you do succeed, you still feel empty and second rate.
Just like girls need to be adored by their fathers to feel validated, boys also need their dad to believe in them. You may even become a narcissist yourself. This way you get Dad’s attention (after all imitation is the highest form of flattery); and you learn from your old man how to manipulate and use people.
So how do you survive a narcissist father?
Every narcissist is a hero and a legend in his own mind. And, so was Daddy.
- Get into a good therapy. You want to come to terms with dad for who he is, and how he hurt you. He’ is your father after all, and you will need to differentiate from him in order to enjoy his presence without being undermined. It’s no small task.
- His arrogance and constant need for ego stroking can be annoying. AcceptDad for who he is. If you put him into place in your mind, he may simply end up being a lovable, but annoying father. Take the best, as long as he doesn’t still have the power to hurt you.
- Do not let Dad hurt you. If he has a rage attack, you may decide to get in the car and leave. Limits are often a good thing. “Dad, this is not constructive.”
- Cut ties if it is too toxic or dangerous. Some narcissistic parents have violent or abusive tendencies. It goes along with their self righteousness. You are now and adult. Take care and take caution.
- Has your Dad affected your dating habits and choices? Some identify with their father by becoming arrogant themselves. Others are anxious in their attachments because they could never trust Dad’s undivided attention. Do you date narcissistic people yourself?
- Keep your expectations realistic and low. Don’t expect a relationship with a narcissistic person to be based on mutuality or reciprocity. Narcissists are selfish and can’t put your needs on par with their own. As an adult, you can keep these conflicts with your father at a distance; but if you date or marry a narcissist, it probably will wear you out.
- When you want something from a narcissist, convince them that it will be to their benefit. I am not a big fan of dishonesty, but some people with narcissistic traits can be manipulated. When you want such a person to do something for you, you need to spin it in a way so that your request seems to be to their benefit. This may work with your father and with others too.
- Never let a narcissist determine your self-worth. Narcissists lack empathy and the ability to validate others, so be careful about trusting them with sensitive information or sharing important achievements because they won’t treat it with the respect it deserves. I have seen this backfire many times.
- Sometimes compliance is the simplest way to deal with a narcissistic parent. It may sound cheap, but if your father is narcissistic, you may not be interested in cutting him out of your life. He is your Dad, after all. Sometimes, it’s easier, and requires less effort, to comply with most of his wishes. It may not be worth the fight. You are an adult now, and you are not under his roof anymore.
- Alternatively, you can assert your own authority and challenge his. Narcissists get away with their behavior because others (passively) allow them to. Sometimes, you may need to adopt an authoritative stance – and firmly impress upon him that his demeaning attitude is unacceptable. You are no longer a child, and you are not as vulnerable to his rejection or anger. Be prepared for push back. Narcissistic people HATE criticism.
- Pity the Narcissist. Arrogance doesn’t really inspire sympathy or compassion. But at the end of the day, when you think about it, you may come to pity someone who is in constant need of compliments, attention and validation. It is freeing.
Appreciate the Healthy Adults Out There:
While it’s hard to grow up unaffected by a narcissistic father, there may have been others who helped you along the way. Looking back on your life, you may identify a grandfather, a grandmother, a coach, a teacher, a therapist or a religious figure who really appreciated you. Maybe, your mother saved the day.
Take in the Good:
I hope you can find the good. There may have been some good in your narcissistic father. Embrace that, while distancing yourself from the rest. Plus, there may have been special men and women in your upbringing – internalize their good. And, there are good people to care about today – bring in this good as well.
Finally, realize the value within yourself. You don’t have to be great to be good enough. That’s an important healing.