20 Signs of a Narcissistic Father & How to Cope (2023)

Impacts on a Child With a Narcissistic Father

Growing up with a narcissistic father can be a scary proposition. There are two behaviors that are especially risky for children’s wellbeing and frightening to witness: narcissistic rage and narcissistic abuse. Narcissistic rage refers to the explosive anger, including violence, that erupts from a narcissist when they experience threats to their fragile sense of self and self-esteem.2

When a narcissist feels that they are not receiving the adulation and respect they feel is their due, they may resort to narcissistic abuse of family members, including children. Narcissistic abuse is insidious and can be difficult to recognize, due to the manipulative powers of the narcissistic father. Narcissistic gaslighting is one form the abuse can take. Children may be made to believe a falsehood the narcissist uses to hide the truth; their feelings may be invalidated; or big promises may be made that the narcissistic father fails to keep.

When a narcissistic dad is exposed as a sham, he is likely to suffer narcissistic collapse. He will lash out with anger or turn to behaviors that present harm to self, such as addictive substances/processes, or behaviors that present harm to others, including reckless driving, verbal attacks, or threats of violence. While every parent-child relationship is unique, there are some similarities across families in the ways that a narcissistic father can impact their daughters and sons.

Daughters of Narcissistic Fathers

Being the daughter of a narcissist father can leave a young woman feeling like she’s the most beautiful girl in the world one day, to feeling like one of Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters the next. This can lead to eating disorders, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, and a feeling that she will never be “enough.” The constant criticism from a narcissistic father can leave her in a state of constant anxiety as she works to avoid letting him down.

In addition, the unhealthy power dynamic between narcissist and daughter creates a toxic relationship pattern for future intimate relationships. Daughters of narcissistic fathers may seek out narcissistic partners and accept partners who invalidate them, criticize them, and punish them through mind games. Until a woman recognizes that she is engaging in self-sabotage, she may be unable to find a “happily ever after” romantic relationship.

Sons of Narcissistic Fathers

Narcissistic fathers also emotionally damage their sons. Being a son of a narcissist, a young boy may be taught early on that he will never measure up to his father’s expectations, nor will he be able to feel that he is on equal footing with a man whose sense of achievement is so over-inflated. Life may become a constant struggle to be “good enough” to earn his father’s love. Because narcissists are not able to love their children unconditionally, sons may go to great lengths to earn praise from their father, then suffer a terrible toll when the love doesn’t flow or it’s taken away when a son doesn’t achieve the goal that his narcissistic father set for him.

Vulnerable narcissists blame others when they are thwarted in their efforts, or when they are not lauded at the level they believe they deserve. Their sons pick up similar behaviors and will attribute hostile intentions to others in non-threatening situations.3
Unfortunately, this behavior also leads to aggressive behaviors; thus, the sons of narcissistic fathers may be more prone to negative interactions with others from early childhood onwards

How to Cope With the Impacts of a Narcissistic Father

When you’ve been raised by a narcissistic father, your sense of “normal family life” can be tragically skewed. You may not be totally sure that your own childhood and adolescence were not normal until you reach adulthood and are able to gain distance and perspective on what exactly was “wrong” in your household. As an adult, you now are able to reshape your relationship with your narcissistic father in a variety of ways by caring for yourself and changing your behaviors.

Here are several self-care options person with a narcissistic father can benefit from:

See a Therapist

Don’t pretend you have not been hurt by the experiences of neglect, rejection, abandonment, or alienation that your parents created for you. It’s okay to feel your feelings, name your feelings, and explore ways to heal the hurt. You may also need time to grieve the childhood you didn’t have. Speaking with a professional can help you feel validated and help you find healthier ways of perceiving yourself and relating to others.

Practice Self-Care

Being raised by a narcissistic father can undermine your sense-of-self and leave you feeling unworthy. By practicing self-care, you are training yourself to recognize the value that you hold just for being you – and not needing to look to others to validate your worth.

Set Healthy Boundaries

The best way to maintain healthy relationships is to create and honor healthy boundaries. By creating boundaries, you clarify what you will and will not tolerate from others. Create boundaries that you are willing and able to maintain.

Take Responsibility for Your Life & Your Choices

When you take responsibility for yourself, you take away the power of others to try and bend your behavior to their will. Narcissists love to play mind games, and if you choose to play the “blame game,” you’re following in the footsteps of your narcissistic father.

Set Limits

Be clear about the time that you are willing to invest in the relationship with your father. Prioritize your own emotional wellbeing, and don’t allow yourself to be drawn into parental drama to satisfy your dad’s narcissistic appetite for attention.

Seek Out or Rebuild Healthy Family Relationships

Now that you’re an adult, you can more clearly see the damage that was done to your relationships with others due to your father’s alienating narcissism. Invest time and energy into re-defining and re-building relationships you missed out on as a child.

Let Go of False Hopes

Narcissistic behaviors often grow more ingrained over time, and your father may never be able to love you in the way that other parents love their children. Don’t invest precious emotional resources into a relationship that will never be the one you fantasize about.

Don’t Take on Responsibility that’s Not Yours to Carry

Remind yourself that you were not responsible for your father’s happiness or success when you were a child, and you are not responsible now that you are an adult.

Go No Contact, if Necessary

If any contact is too much contact, go “no contact.” Stop all contact with your narcissistic father. If you are feeling bereft at first, use this shift to create a “family of choice,” where relationships are built on mutuality and respect.

If “No Contact” Isn’t an Option, try “Grey Rock”

When in the company of your narcissistic father, engage only from the neck up – don’t risk being vulnerable by engaging your feelings or heart. Keep your contact as minimal as you can, and otherwise, act like a grey rock when your father is trying to goad you.

Positive Take-Aways

Growing up with a narcissistic father is not easy, so congratulate yourself! You deserve recognition for making it through to the other side of a highly dysfunctional family system and now being ready to undo the effects of this dynamic. You are in a better position to recognize other unhealthy relationships in your life. Let this new awareness allow you to create the boundaries you need to feel safe and to support your own continued growth and development.

Final Thoughts

While it’s never easy growing up with a narcissistic father, you don’t lose the ability to develop into a successful, emotionally healthy adult. By choosing to shift your perspective of your father, you can appreciate the strengths and skills that have allowed you to make it through the emotional challenges you faced. If you feel that your father still has an unhealthy influence on your life, reaching out to a mental health professional may help you bring a sense of closure to the damaging relationship. You are not alone in your experience, and finding a therapist or support group for individuals harmed by narcissistic family members can be an important step in your recovery.

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