It has taken a long time to discover my father isn’t just selfish — he’s a narcissist.
Only through long-term recovery and intensive therapy have I finally come to terms with the fact that I can never have a healthy relationship with him. I’ve learned the hard way that I am the one who has to parent myself, not him. The only way to detach from his narcissism is by setting self-protecting boundaries.
My father thinks about one person: himself. How smart and attractive he is, the many girlfriends he can manipulate with his charm, and how greatly admired he is. Rules don’t apply to him. He will never work for others. “You’re either a follower or a leader,” he always said. Arrogance and self-assurance are his middle names.
Having children — twins, no less — served only as a reflection of his sexual prowess rather than as the result of a genuine desire to bring children into this world to enjoy and raise to be decent humans. This self-absorbed womanizer is my narcissistic father. And many of us have them.
The term narcissist originates from Greek mythology.
Narcissus was a hunter fixated on his physical appearance and public perception. He was so proud of his looks that he demanded others prove their unrelenting devotion to his striking beauty, and many were commanded to commit suicide to show this. As much as 6% of the population meets the clinical definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Affecting more males than females, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) 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.”
Key traits of narcissists include:
- A sense of self-importance
- Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- The belief that they are special or unique
- A need for excessive admiration
- A strong sense of entitlement
- A tendency to exploit of others
- Lack of empathy
- Envy of others
- Regular displays of arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
My dad’s behavior, as well as his alcohol use disorder, led to my mother leaving him and taking us children to grow up in a different country. Even when he visited us there years later, he hadn’t changed his ways — underneath the bravado and charm was his entitled and arrogant self. He was rude to staff in his hotel and restaurants and left us to pick up his tab. Visiting him in the United States was no different.
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He had a different girl on his arm each year, and we’d hear tales of how he’d lied to and manipulated them, like telling them he was over ten years younger than he was. What became clear is that he thought the women in his life, me included, were there to serve him. I was frequently asked to stop what I was doing to get something for him. My trips to visit other members of the family were cut short so that he could maintain control.
My attachment to him was so insecure, and I was so desperate for his attention, that I’d always give in to his demands.
As the daughter of a narcissist, my needs were grossly unmet throughout my childhood and affected me into womanhood. My father has never been able to express empathy, so when I went to him with my problems, the conversation quickly turned to him. Since he was focused on looks and had no respect for my boundaries, my weight and appearance were a standing agenda item. I’ve lost count of the lectures on how I should lose weight and the suggestions that I shouldn’t be eating carbs. This has led to years of feeling like I’d only ever get my father’s attention if I was attractive and the scale showed the “right” number. It’s no wonder I developed an eating disorder in my teens.
Subconsciously, I dated people just like my father.
In some twisted tale, my mind wanted to replay the story, but this time my goal was to have my partner show their unrequited love for and admiration of me. The fatal flaw in my plan was that I chose narcissists to date — charming, handsome, and initially attentive — so I only ever repeated the same pattern I had experienced with my father. Often, feelings of insecurity, obsession with my appearance, and needing validation were my motivations in relationships.
Getting sober forced me to sober up about my relationships. Through intensive therapy, I’ve picked apart the damage that the relationship with my father has caused: issues of abandonment creating insecure attachment, the start of complex PTSD, and the development of desperately low self-esteem. Recovery has enabled me to see which issues were borne out of my childhood and having a narcissistic father.
The sad reality is that to heal I have to detach from this man emotionally.
That means minimal contact and not responding to his demands. I feel very sad that I can’t have a relationship with the man that was partly responsible for bringing me into this world. The child within me still desperately wants his affection. But the adult wants a life of her own where she is not overrun by the damage he caused.
Over time, I’ve had to learn how to parent myself by nurturing my child self. That means consistently showing up for myself, not abandoning my needs, and caring for those feelings of insecurity and need for validation. Today I know my worth is not dependent upon a number on a scale, and that I don’t need a man to make me feel whole.