“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm, but the harm (that they cause) does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves”. ~ T.S. Eliot
You used to think that by the time you were in your twenties and definitely by your thirties you’d have your act together – you’d be establishing a successful career, have your own place, be in a committed and stable relationship, visit the gym enough to have the body you always wanted and your social life would be vibrant.
But, you’re nowhere near where you thought you’d be, and the tiny boxes next to the list of achievements that you’d hoped to accomplish are still unchecked.
As your confidence deflates, you look back on your own upbringing, and think about your father – Mr Self-Assured. He seemed to have it all – charm, success, popularity and he never seemed to be plagued by self-doubt, unlike you. He was the hit of the party, knew everyone and made things happen. You couldn’t get enough of him.
How Kids Experience Narcissistic Traits:
Come to think of it, did his confidence border on arrogance? Is it possible that you were raised by someone with narcissistic traits? And if so, why is it important?
We take our families for granted – it’s natural that we do. Each family is a miniature sociological experiment, with its own set of unwritten rules, secrets, and nuanced behavioral patterns. We take our mom and dad for granted; like this must be what it’s like for everyone. Your dad may have been narcissistic, but you just assumed that all fathers were like him.
Here are some signs that your dad had narcissistic tendencies or was an out-rightnarcissist.
- Dad was self-centered and pretty vain. He had an inflated sense of self-importance that led him to believe he was superior and entitled to only the best.
- Dad used people for his own good. He would take advantage of others, to the point of exploiting them when it suited him. Everybody seemed to cater to him, or at least he expected them to.
- Dad was charismatic. Everyone wanted to be around him and he relished admiration from others. He loved being in the spotlight and the positive reinforcement that came from being the center of attention.
- No one had an imagination like Dad. Grandiosity is alluring, and so were hisfantasies of success, prestige, and brilliance. He would often exaggerate his achievements, and his ambitions and goals bordered on unrealistic.
- Dad didn’t take criticism well. Nothing stung him like criticism; he often cut those people out of his life, or tried to hurt them.
- Dad’s rage was truly scary. Some people get mad and yell a lot. Dad could hurt you with his anger. It cut to the bone.
- Dad could be aloof and unsympathetic. Narcissists often have a hard time experiencing empathy; they often disregard and invalidate how others feel. Of course, he was exquisitely sensitive to what he felt, but others were of no mind.
- Dad wasn’t around a lot. He got a lot of gratification outside the family. Other fathers hung out with their families a lot more. Plus, he craved excitement and seemed to be more concerned by what others thought of him, rather then how his own kids felt about him.
- Dad did what he wanted when dealing with you. Narcissists don’t step into someone else’s shoes very often. He did things with you that he enjoyed; maybe you did as well.
- Dad wanted you to look great to his friends and colleagues. You were most important to him when he could brag about you; sad but true.
- You couldn’t really get what you needed from him. Even if Dad provided on a material level, you felt deprived on a more subtle level. For example, you wanted his attention and affection, but would only get it sporadically, and only when it worked for him.
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”:
- having a sense of entitlement
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.