My Narcissist Father

Those with Narcissist Personality Disorder (NPD) endure early and traumatic emotional wounding. My narcissist father is a tragically telling example of narcissist injury. A lovably layered yet also singularly cruel man, my father has carried heavy burdens practically from the moment he was born.

At 22, my father’s mother died after his birth as a result of unspecified “childbirth complications,” and his young father left him in the custody of elderly distant relatives with no children of their own.

My grandmother had been a gifted pianist, singer, and music teacher; and my grandfather was a bookish good-looking young man devastated by her death and convinced that he was not able to raise his son alone—at the time a commonly held belief about single fathers.

My Narcissist Father’s Surrogate Parents

My father’s surrogate mother, Nanny, was lovingly devoted but fearfully smothering and overprotective, so much so that, at her insistence, my father declined to participate in games with other boys and, as far as I could tell, developed a defining sissy complex that dogged him his whole life, despite being a natural athlete.

Her husband and my father’s surrogate father, Daddy Bill, worked in a cement factory and was away from home much of the time. At Nanny’s death when my father was 12, Daddy Bill handed my father into the custody of family friends. A year later when Daddy Bill died of lung disease in a TB ward, my father was denied entry, losing yet another parent without recognition or any sort of closure.

My father never said one good word to me about Nanny, and he never showed me a single photo of her. The one shot of Daddy Bill I saw was of him holding my dad when he was about 3 years old. Daddy Bill had thick strong hands and a proud but defeated expression on his face.

My Narcissist Father’s ‘Injured Child’

My father was an exceptionally intelligent boy whose substitute parents loved him but also compounded his insecurities. Nanny instilled fear, and Daddy Bill replicated my father’s feelings of abandonment and rejection by his real father. After losing them, my father moved from home to home until he distinguished himself in high school and earned a college scholarship that propelled him into a career in academics.

Those are the stories I heard about my father’s youth—explanations I sought out again and again from my mother to understand a man who hurt me relentlessly from as far back as I could remember.

My Narcissist Father the Shelter Dog

From my perspective as a little girl, my father was beautifully everything I admired—handsome, funny, playful, passionate, intelligent, athletic, inquisitive, unconventional.

And he was mean as mud—dark, slippery, unforgiving, intractable, vengeful, unreasoning, foul, capricious.

For reasons that clarified incrementally over time, my father disliked women, including everything female about me. That was the word he used—”female”—with a tone of contempt. In addition to his mother dying on him and his surrogate mother “smothering” him, he deeply resented one of his aunts for manipulating his finances before he came of age. There were other women in his life, most of whom had done him right, but my father was fixated on the betrayals of women and the (in)attentions of men, specifically older men from whom he sought fatherly love as intensely as a desperate shelter dog longs for the rescue of adoption.

My Narcissist Father the Puppeteer

My narcissist father made his son, my younger brother, his golden child—his idealized mirror image, his source of all things desperately yearned for and previously withheld—male attention, adoration, approval, and loyalty. My father, by then a grotesquely grandiose self-constructed narcissist, made sure my brother delivered to him everything he had felt deprived of, everything he needed to scaffold his gaping sense of unworthy emptiness.

And I, his “female” offspring, became his scapegoat, the projection screen for all his hurt, loss, anger, and betrayal, all his shame, resentment, and feelings of worthlessness. My job was to carry his guilt and self-loathing, feelings he directed at me on a daily basis through rage, blame, projection, mockery, and belittlement.

Forgiveness?

I love my father—always have and always will. But I’m not sure about forgiveness. It feels mandated these days for “self-actualization.” I’m all in for understanding and compassion, but I wonder if forgiving the abusive narcissist parent is possible, even appropriate.

Forgiveness, they say, is not for the guilty but, rather, for the harmed. Yep, that makes sense. Releasing anger and resentment is freeing. But as much as I empathize with my father, I need more time to consider forgiving his lifelong cruelties—betrayals and damage that have eroded my emotional and physical health for decades.

So, people, go free yourselves. Let that terrible hurt go if you can. I hope to follow you. I imagine it’s a kind of weightlessness. I imagine you bravely stepping forth, and me coming along too, some way, some day.

Julia L. Hall is the author of the forthcoming memoir Carry You about life, and a few near deaths, in a narcissist family. Read excerpts. Her articles on narcissism regularly appear in The Huffington Post.

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Image courtesy of Summer, CC.