Randi G. Fine, Author
A father’s role is to love, protect, support and guide his children. Narcissistic fathers do none of those things. They are cruel, arrogant bullies who take advantage of vulnerable children—children who so want and need their love.
The narcissistic father has no respect for his children. He does not consider them individuals in their own right but rather extensions of his perfect self. Children are nothing more than captive narcissistic supply. He sees no other reason for their existence.
Though he may occasionally tell his children that he loves them, his words do not match his actions. He is rarely pleasant; he is often explosive, moody and abusive. When he is not exploiting and devaluing his children he is ignoring them.
The narcissistic father is impossible to please. Children are expected to meet his ever changing, self-centered needs without the benefit of reward. He rules them through manipulation, intimidation and fear. Children do not like how they feel when their narcissistic dad is around, but nothing could ever diminish their need for his love, acceptance and attention.
Children are given little to cling to in that regard; there are elemental acts of paternal care, occasional displays of affection, and glimpses of mercifulness. Sadly, the same gestures so prized by his children are just as easily used against them as emotional blackmail. He is heartless in getting what he wants from them.
The narcissistic father expects his children to cater to his every whim. They are expected to be ready and available to him at all times. That is because narcissistic men have no impulse control, no ability to delay gratification. When they want something they expect to snap their fingers and instantly receive it. If they don’t get their way they throw ferocious temper tantrums.
To avoid having to deal with his terrifying episodes of rage, the narcissistic father’s children walk on eggshells around him. That still provides no insurance. He finds any excuse to get angry.
Nothing his children do is ever good enough. He is intolerant of anything less than perfection— perfection as defined by his distorted ideals. To maintain his delusional, spotless self-image, he demands his children be impeccable in looks, exemplary in actions, and unequalled in performance.
All demands narcissistic fathers place on their children are hypocritical and contradictory. These men are disrespectful to their children but intolerant of their insubordination. They are derogatory and vulgar in the way they speak to their children but expectant of refinement and decency from them. Though mercilessly critical of their children, they are highly offended by their children’s innocuous queries and comments.
Their thinking is backward. The behaviors narcissistic fathers consider disrespectful and insulting—independent thinking, assertion of autonomous beliefs, judgments and opinions, and expression of personal likes and dislikes—are the very things most fathers praise and encourage in their kids.
Children in these environments have no rights and no voice. Their fathers consider themselves lords and masters over their families. All decisions are to be made by them, no questions asked. They feel entitled to choose their children’s friends, clothing and interests. Children who dare to question their fathers’ choices or opinions face terrifying rage and irrational threats.
Fathers may threaten to send the children away or leave them, or threaten bodily harm or death. Threatening statements such as, “I brought you into this world, and I can just as easily take you out of it,” are usually idle, but the children cannot bank on that. They can never be sure of what their maniacal father is capable.
Narcissistic fathers also punish their children through guilt trips with statements such as: “I give you a house to live in, clothes to wear, and food to eat, and this is how you repay me,” or “You are nothing but a selfish ingrate.”
As is the case with all narcissistic parents, nothing brings out more hostility in these fathers than the threat of their children’s autonomy because they fear losing narcissistic supply. As owners of their children, narcissistic fathers feel entitled to feed off of them at will. They claim the right to abuse them mentally, emotionally and sometimes physically. Some fathers, the worst of the worst, sexually abuse as well.
Children have no right to their futures. Their fathers quash their dreams, goals and plans. Their career paths are chosen for them without any consideration for what they want to do with their lives. They want their children to be successful so they can take credit for their achievements, but there is one catch: children are not allowed to have more or achieve more than their narcissistic father has.
Narcissistic fathers demoralize their children. Children are told that they don’t deserve to have or receive nice things. Those who dare to ask for anything more than what is offered are told they are greedy. They are accused of only loving their father for his money. Their father chooses what his child will and will not have, and when he or she will have it. Nothing given is permanent; everything comes with a high price tag.
No matter how devoted the children are or how hard they try to please their father, they are forever held in debt. Nothing they have done before gets credited to them. They are only reminded of what they owe their father in the moment.
While all the children in the family strive to please their father, only one child at a time will be recognized for it. As is true with all narcissistic parents, fathers choose only one golden child. The rest of the children are assigned scapegoat or invisible children roles. Typically chauvinistic, they are more likely to choose a son over a daughter, or the most “manly” son in the family as their golden child.
The golden child is clearly favored, but he knows that the stakes for that veneration are high. He never confuses the preferential treatment he receives from his father with paternal love. His father may toss more crumbs his way than he does his siblings, but true parental love is never shown.
The narcissistic father blinds the golden child into believing that he has the most wonderful, generous father in the world and should be grateful for his privileged status. But the golden status is highly conditional. For one, it often requires the child take sides with his father against his mother and less favored siblings. He is deliberately misled by lies his father tells him to ensure that allegiance. He must also be available to his father, comply with all his rules, and revere him. Any infractions could boot him right out of golden status and get him demoted to scapegoat status.
The scapegoat role is typically assigned to sons with less machismo or daughters, but any child can end up in that doghouse.
Boys who are assigned the role of scapegoat have it rough. Their father mercilessly picks on and bullies them. They are called “sissies” or something to that effect. Scapegoat sons can never rise above the labeling their narcissistic father puts on them. All attempts to demonstrate their masculinity are met with ridicule. No matter what these boys do they can never measure up to their father’s expectations or escape the brunt of his hostility. They are constantly being yelled at, put down, teased, and called names.
Scapegoat sons can only endure the relentless abuse for so long before their hurt turns to anger and they act out. Some run away from home to escape the tyranny, some get into trouble at school or with the law. Some hold out until they are able to achieve independence and then leave as soon as they possibly can. Many numb their pain through substance abuse. Whatever the method of self-liberation, most of them will permanently sever ties with their father.
Daughters raised under the oppression of a narcissistic father seem to have a different experience than sons do. They are likely to receive positive attention from their father during the years when they are cute, compliant little “Daddy’s girls.” As they age they become less valuable.
Some narcissistic fathers begin treating their daughters as if they do not exist. Others may continue paying attention to their daughters but in an entirely negative way. Physically maturing girls may be told they are fat or unattractive. They may be labeled “teases” or “sluts” for the way they dress or for wanting to wear makeup.
Narcissistic fathers enjoy playing on their daughters’ emotions. They tease and provoke the girls to the point of screaming or crying and then say they are too sensitive or call them crazy for the way they’re behaving.
Daughters are not the only females in the family treated poorly. Narcissistic men are emotionally and sometimes physically cruel to their wives as well. Though the spousal abuse occurs away from the public eye, it usually happens in front of the children. Narcissistic fathers frequently place their children in the middle of their marital conflicts and make them choose sides. Neither the children’s feelings nor their emotional health are considered. These things do not concern him. The only feelings that ever matter are his own. All family members are expected to sacrifice their happiness for his. Still, nothing about his family makes him happy.
He prefers not to be with his family at all. If he does spend time with them, the activity must always be focused on his enjoyment. Family activities are never pleasant or fondly remembered by the children because they are never geared toward family fun. The children are made to do whatever their father wants to do—no discussions, no compromise.
Narcissistic men bore easily with the daily routine of having a family. Resentful of the mundane tasks of fatherhood that do not feed their egos, they’d rather spend time with other families that are impressed by their charisma, charm and grandiose stories, and are chock full of narcissistic supply.
Narcissistic fathers find every reason not to engage with their families. Having little or no patience with their children, all child-rearing is left up to their wives. While their wives are busy taking care of the family, they are out looking for excitement and gratification elsewhere, often from other women.
Narcissistic husbands typically have mistresses on the side. It is not uncommon for them to have second families and second homes. They are highly insecure, especially when it comes to their masculinity, so validation from one woman, especially a wife, is not enough. They must keep seeking reassurance from new women through a series of affairs. Unsuspecting newcomers rarely know these men are married.
To justify cheating on their wives, narcissistic men tell themselves lies such as: “She doesn’t appreciate me anymore,” “She doesn’t treat me well,” “She doesn’t really love me,” or “She’s lucky I even stay with her.”
The “other women” are treated much better than their wives are. They must keep up the grand facade to string these women along. If the men do have second families, those children are usually treated better than their legitimate children are. Much more narcissistic supply can be gained from a new family, one who has yet to see what these men are capable of. Some narcissistic men dump their first family and invest entirely in their new one. It is only a matter of time before the cycle of abuse starts all over again with these unsuspecting victims.
Should the first wife leave or divorce her husband before he abandons or divorces her, he will wage a tireless war of revenge aimed at destroying her life and decimating the family unit. Suddenly transforming from worst father ever to “Dad of the Year,” he will rally the children around him. This wake-up call has nothing to do with loving his children or fearing he’ll lose them. His motivation comes entirely from his compulsion to win. He does not really want the children—he wants to punish their mother.
To gain their allegiance, children will be told fabricated lies about their mother. They’ll be told that their mother is not who they think she is—that she is really a bad person, a fake, a liar. Their father will blame the responsibility for all the marital and family problems on her, maintaining that he always loved their mother and tried to keep the marriage together, but that she never loved him and was never faithful to him (more about this in Chapter Forty: Divorce and Parental Alienation).
This is a very confusing turn of events for children who had always feared their father and trusted their mother. Now they do not know who to believe, who to trust. Some side with the mother, some with the father. The children’s resentments against their other parent and each other build to a point where reconciliation is nearly impossible. The family is torn apart.
Having successfully achieved what he set out to do, he moves on to his next victim.
No matter the scenario, a trail of pain, heartbreak and devastation is left in the aftermath. Victims who have suffered this abuse are left with a tremendous amount to overcome.
If you are an adult child of a narcissistic father who wants to heal the damage done to you, my best advice to you is to enlist the help of an experienced professional who can help you work through your issues.
It is rational to want to confront the man who stole so many years of happiness from you, but it is pointless to do so. The only thing you will gain is more pain, guilt, anger and confusion. You will never get validation or cooperation from your father. He will never acknowledge what he did, take responsibility for his actions, or change his ways. He will always blame someone else—probably you.
Siring a child makes a man a father but not necessarily a dad. Dads love their children. Dads put their children before all else and all others.
You owe this man for nothing more than the sperm he donated to create you. Any loyalty or love you wish to give him is your choice. You are under no obligation to offer either.