A narcissist is someone who’s self-centered, lacks empathy, seeks validation, and has fantasies of power and success. We all have narcissistic traits to some extent, but someone with a full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder makes life difficult for themselves and those around them.
At the root of narcissism is low self-esteem. A narcissist tries to overcompensate for their low self-esteem by having an inflated sense of self. This inflated self-image needs a constant supply of validation from others because they can’t self-validate due to low self-esteem.
People with low self-esteem who are not narcissists are aware of their poor self-image and might work to fix it. Narcissists, however, are entirely unaware of their low self-esteem.
If you have a difficult father, there’s a good chance he’s narcissistic. Having a narcissistic father can be quite damaging to the psyche of the child.
The first step to healing from the abuse of a narcissistic father is realizing he’s a narcissist. That releases a lot of resentment and burden. When you read about the signs of a narcissistic father, you’ll realize that the things you thought were ‘normal parenting’ were indeed unhealthy patterns.
You intuitively knew something was wrong with your father’s parenting but couldn’t pinpoint it. Once you realize your father is a narcissist, a lot of things start to make sense.
Since it’s almost impossible for narcissists to change, you stop being resistant to their behavior. You no longer try to change them. You practice emotional distancing, grey-rocking, or no contact to safeguard your mental health.
Signs of a narcissistic father
1. Seeking validation
As mentioned above, it’s difficult for a narcissist to maintain their inflated self-image without external validation. Since they have low self-esteem, they can’t internally validate themselves as people with high self-esteem do.
So, a narcissistic father needs narcissistic supplies. These are people who shower him with attention, admiration, and validation. These may be his friends, colleagues, and relatives.
You may have been their supply, too, in your childhood. Your mother and your sibling may still be their supplies.
But, over time, a narcissistic father’s immediate family gets fed up with his narcissism. They distance themselves from him. At this point, he turns to external family, friends, and colleagues for validation and ignores his immediate family.
This results in the typical behavior of a narcissistic father- being nice and charming in public but angry and grumpy at home. The grumpiness is the result of not getting enough validation at home.
All humans are selfish to some extent. They have to be because it’s a survival-enhancing trait. But most humans don’t let their selfishness affect their relationships because we’re a social species and care deeply about our relationships.
Narcissists, however, don’t care about how their selfishness affects others.
A narcissistic father’s selfishness and lack of empathy manifests in varied ways.
He may be physically selfish, i.e., denying the physical needs of people around him, emotionally selfish, i.e., being emotionally unavailable, or both.
Children of narcissistic fathers learn that their physical and emotional needs are not important.
Due to their selfishness, narcissistic fathers can show exploitative behaviors even in small matters. For example:
- Eating on the biggest plate
- Taking the largest piece of cake
- Excessive bargaining
- Watching what they want on TV and ignoring what family members want to watch
As the child of a narcissistic father, you probably experienced frequent disappointments at having your needs neglected.
Normal, healthy parents don’t satisfy their child’s every whim, but they’re not dismissive of their child’s needs either.
For example, if a child wants an expensive toy, a normal parent might say something like:
“We can’t afford it.”
“We’ll save money and get it next year.”
“We can’t get this one do you want that one?”
These lines sub-communicate:
“Your needs and desires are valid. But they can’t be satisfied right now.”
Compare this to how a narcissistic father responds in this situation:
“Stop being so demanding.”
“Money doesn’t grow on trees.”
“Look at those poor kids who have nothing and be grateful.”
These lines sub-communicate:
“Your needs and desires are invalid and unreasonable. You’re bad for having them.”
3. Lack of accountability
Since a narcissistic father has an inflated self-image, they reject everything that goes against that self-image. If they fail or make a mistake, they quickly shift the blame to others.
You’ll seldom find a narcissistic father apologizing and taking responsibility for their shortcomings. In their mind, they’re flawless and can do nothing wrong.
When they do realize they’re in the wrong, they’re shocked and deeply affected. You can see it on their face. As their inflated self-image temporarily shatters, they act like they’ve been humiliated.
Mistakes and failures don’t feel good to anyone, but to narcissists, they’re like death.
To restore their self-image, they’ll quickly deny what happened or shift the blame to someone else so they can avoid their ‘flawed’ self from getting exposed.
A narcissistic father always tries to have his way. He will openly admit that he likes doing what he wants. This is because discussing matters with others could prove his ideas or decisions wrong. That is intolerable for him because he must always be correct.
In extreme cases, a narcissistic father can get aggressive when trying to dominate others. He may even use physical violence.
As the child of a narcissistic father, you probably walk on eggshells around him. You’ve learned that small, unpredictable things can set him off. You feel uneasy and fearful of his mere presence. You can’t imagine disagreeing with him, let alone criticizing him.
A narcissistic father may also exert control in less dominating but more subtle ways. That includes using emotional manipulation techniques like guilt-tripping and gaslighting.
He may also control your social interactions and tell you who to spend time with and who to avoid. He may badmouth your friends, spouse, and kids, so you fully devote yourself to him.
A consequence of their extreme selfishness is that narcissistic fathers easily become resentful when doing things for others, even if it’s their family.
They will constantly remind you of the favors they’ve done for you. Because what they do for others appears so big to them, they may minimize what you’ve done for them.
As the child of a narcissistic father, you might have come to believe that you shouldn’t do things for others. You may have come to think relationships are about sacrifice, not compromise. You may have developed trust issues.
Due to their inflated self-image, narcissists believe they’re superior to everyone else. Again, this prevents them from taking feedback and input from others.
They genuinely believe they know better and more than others.
If your father was narcissistic, you frequently found your ideas, opinions, and decisions invalidated and devalued.
Devaluation of others is their go-to strategy to appear superior. They’ll mock or be sarcastic or even publicly humiliate you. The goal is to make you feel the same shame they feel deep down.
Sometimes, their criticisms of you may be warranted. This, however, doesn’t mean they’re not satisfying their need to devalue you.
When they criticize you for small things that others easily overlook or when it isn’t your fault at all, that’s a strong indication of narcissism.
Part of healing from a narcissistic father is becoming independent. When you do so, your narcissistic father becomes resentful because he can no longer act superior to you.
He’ll brag about your success to others for validation and admiration. But, at the same time, he’ll resent you because he can no longer act superior to you. He gets caught between the desire to show you off to his supplies and the pain of you overshadowing him.
Narcissists compete with everyone at all times. This is a natural consequence of wanting to be superior.
Narcissistic fathers are particularly competitive in areas that let them be the ‘man of the house’. So, as sons of narcissistic fathers can relate, they want to be better than others when it comes to doing masculine things like fixing things around the house.
If you grew up with a narcissistic father, he probably didn’t teach you anything and didn’t let you touch anything.
Even in old age, narcissistic fathers continue to make others dependent on them. Seeing others depending on them boosts their ego.