You are now in your 20s or 30s and you find yourself having problems in relationships. You look back on your own upbringing and think about your “wonderful” father. He was the hit of the party, knew everyone and made things happen. You couldn’t get enough.
Is it possible that you were raised by a narcissist? And if so, why is it important?
We take our families for granted. This is normal. Each family is a miniature sociological experiment. Each has its own set of unwritten rules. Each family has its own secrets. But what if the secret is in plain sight? Like your dad was a narcissist and you just thought he was your dad. In fact, you assumed that all fathers were like your dad. Guess what? They weren’t.
Here are 10 signs that Dad may have had narcissistic tendencies—or was an outright narcissist.
1. Dad was charismatic. Everyone wanted to be around him.
Narcissists are almost always charismatic. That does not mean that charisma equates with narcissism. It doesn’t. When you have a great allure it does make it easy to get people to do your bidding. If your dad was charismatic, he was the life of the party and great to be around. You may have felt like the center of his world, but he quickly moved on. Charisma and narcissism means that everyone loved Daddy, but how much of him did you really get?
2. Dad thought big! Grandiosity is alluring.
Many super successful people have narcissistic traits. They think very big. They may invent new things, or take on the world with a political cause, or promote a winning idea. Many narcissists are successful. A lawyer, businessman or physician, for instance, with a great idea, can do a lot in this world. Just know that you don’t have to be as great in order to be special.
3. Dad used people, even if they didn’t know it. Everybody catered to him.
A true narcissist sees others as objects in his climb to success. For a severe narcissist, that may include his family. Charisma, looks and smarts is an alluring combination. It draws in customers, partners, friends and colleagues. But, morality is often a relative thing to a narcissist, so there may be damaged relationships (your mother?) along the way.
4. Dad was not around a lot. He got a lot of gratification outside the family.
There are many roads to narcissism. Some are constitutionally self-centered. Some are psychologically injured early in life and are ambitious to heal a hole in their hearts (see Orson Wells in Citizen Kane). Others are seduced by their own powers of persuasion. They are too smart, handsome, charismatic or talented for their own good. So, family life carries pleasure for the narcissistic father—they are his children, after all. But, he only has so much patience for the day-to-day blandness of family life; and there’s a big world out there.
5. Mom did most of the parenting. Dad could only handle so much child-rearing. Plus, he craved excitement.
Raising children is hard, exhausting and often, repetitive. It’s gratifying because you just LOVE that little creature called your son or daughter. The average narcissist is really quite young psychologically. They crave excitement and enjoying the spotlight. Having an infant squirt some urine in your face while changing his diaper doesn’t cut it. Going to a play date with a 6-year-old daughter gets old fast. Business calls. (And, getting some pleasures on the side does, too.)
6. You did dad stuff with Dad. Narcissists don’t step into someone else’s shoes very often. They are too involved with their own.
Good parenting requires joining with your daughter’s interests, even if it’s not your cup of tea. You watch her gymnastics or her field hockey games or go to the hobby store with her to pick up a knitting kit. When you have kids, you are no longer the center of your life; they are. The narcissist, on the other hand, will insist on doing things that he wants to do. And, while it’s great to introduce your son or daughter to new things, a father must validate their interests as well.
The narcissistic father (or mother) has a trigger spot. When frustrated, he can rage to hurt. Because the narcissist often sees others as objects, he can hurt you in the worst way, say the nastiest things — and really mean it. Even when dealing with kids, a narcissist wants to win. Damage is acceptable as long as he gets his way. No wonder so many family members tip toe around a narcissistic parent. They may be charming; but it’s the temper that gets everyone into line.
8. Dad appreciated you—to others. Narcissistic parents love to brag about their kids. But, often these kids feel they fall short in their parent’s eyes.
Our culture values looks, athleticism and money. But, we are all deeper than these things. A normal dad validates his daughter or son; they feel loved and valued for who they are and not just for what they do or look like. The narcissistic Dad can’t help himself. Since so much of a narcissistic father’s preoccupation was on success and looks, you had easy rules to follow. Indeed, you may have complied, but it left you worried in case you are to fall short one day.
9. You couldn’t really get what you wanted from him. This is subtle, but often true. You wanted his attention, but he would give it sporadically, and only when it suited him.
The narcissist often reads his audience very well. The healthier ones do care, but sometimes only within the specifics of a particular moment. They are so preoccupied with admiration seeking that they nurture goodwill in many people (this is why politics or business suits them so well). You may feel that you are the only person in the room. And, as a kid, that’s powerful. The problem is that he will have very little follow through and little patience for really spending time with you. So, you feel like you’ve got something special (and you do), but it’s a bit out of your grasp.
10. You often date charismatic, self-centered people, despite many bad experiences. You discover that you are habituated to dating unavailable men or women.
This is the natural consequence of a narcissistic Dad. You are habituated to seeking men or women who are exciting and powerful, but you lose out. Sometimes you may turn the tables and identify with the powerful father and be narcissistic yourself. This is a psychological trick of holding onto your Dad by identifying with him. You still lose out on real relationships, because, now you are the one who uses people and thus keeps them at a distance.
There is no cookie-cutter for a psychological diagnosis, and that includes narcissism. Each human being is unique and our heuristic groupings are by nature artificial and inaccurate. That being said, we all know extreme narcissism when we see it. They are charming users who can turn on you when they lose interest, or when they want something.
If your father had all the above traits in spades, he probably fits the narcissistic diagnosis. And, even if he only had some of these signs, his self-centeredness has probably affected your upbringing and who you have become.
In future posts, we’ll look at how narcissism affects sons and daughters of narcissistic men. (We are not picking on fathers. There are ample stories of narcissistic mothers to be told. But that is not for now.) Because a father’s relationship with a son is different than his relationship to a daughter, the way this all plays out can be different.
If you had a narcissistic father, you are probably suffering. You may be narcissistically inclined yourself, or you may be chronically insecure about your worth; perhaps both. Validation is not their strong point. I do hope that this piece does some service in validating your experience. If so, it’s been worth the effort.
Remember that knowledge is the first step to freedom. If you think you’ve been adversely affected by a narcissistic parent, please tell us in the comments section. Plus, know that there is much that you can do to emancipate yourself. More to come.