Sons of Narcissistic Fathers

by

Sad boy, lonely boySons of narcissistic fathers are driven by a lack of confidence. Raised by a self-centered, competitive, arrogant father, they feel like they can never measure up or be enough to garner their father’s approval. Their father may be absent or be critical and controlling. He may belittle and shame his son’s mistakes, vulnerability, failures, or limitations, yet brag about him to his friends. He may boast about inflated versions of his achievements while disparaging those of his son. A narcissistic father may ruthlessly bully or compete with his son in games, even when the boy is a less-capable child. Similarly, he may be jealous of his wife’s attention to the boy, compete with him, and flirt with his girlfriends or later wife.

Lack of empathy is typical of narcissists. Many narcissistic fathers are authoritarian and rigid about how things should be done.

They’re inflexible about their opinions and getting their way, portrayed by Robert Duval The Great Santini. (Pratt & Carlino, 1979)  Franz Kakfa articulately describes a literary example of such an imposing intolerance in Letter to His Father:

“What was always incomprehensible to me was your total lack of feeling for the suffering and shame you could inflict on me with your words and judgments. It was as though you had no notion of your power. I too, I am sure, often hurt you with what I said, but then I always knew, and it pained me, but I could not control myself, could not keep the words back, I was sorry even while I was saying them. But you struck out with your words without much ado, you weren’t sorry for anyone, either during or afterwards, one was utterly defenseless against you.” (Popova, 2015)

Arrogant and overly confident, his father listened to no one, but judged everyone without any need to be consistent. His rules and decrees were conveyed in a “frightful, hoarse undertone of anger and utter condemnation … [that] only makes me tremble less today than in my childhood…” The fact that those commandments didn’t apply to himself made them all the more depressing to Kafka, who outlines for his father the three worlds he lived in:

“…one in which I, the slave, lived under laws that had been invented only for me and which I could, I did not know why, never completely comply with; then a second world, which was infinitely remote from mine, in which you lived, concerned with government, with the issuing of orders and with the annoyance about their not being obeyed; and finally a third world where everybody else lived happily and free from orders and from having to obey. I was continually in disgrace; either I obeyed your orders, and that was a disgrace, for they applied, after all, only to me; or I was defiant, and that was a disgrace too, for how could I presume to defy you; or I could not obey because I did not, for instance, have your strength, your appetite, your skill, although you expected it of me as a matter of course; this was the greatest disgrace of all.” (Popova, 2015)

As a result, Kafka lacked confidence, courage, and resolve. Like other children of narcissists, he internalized guilt and the projected shame of his father. (See Conquering Shame and Codependency.) He became so insecure and fearful, he was unsure of everything, “even of the thing nearest to me, my own body,” eventually leading to hypochondrias.

When narcissistic fathers get involved with their son’s activities, some take over, micro-manage, or are hypercritical. Frequently, narcissists are perfectionists, so nothing their child does – or who he or she is – is good enough. Seeing their child as an extension of themselves, they become overly involved and control their son’s lives, education, and dreams, as did the father in the movie, Shine (Scott & Hicks, 1996)

Alternatively, other fathers may be physically or emotionally remote and wrapped up in their work, addiction, or own pleasures. They act like giving attention to their son’s needs, feelings, and interests or showing up at their games and activities is unimportant and a burden, even though they might provide for him on a material level. In either case, such fathers are emotionally unavailable. Because they deny and disdain their own dependency and vulnerability, they often shame and belittle any sign of distress or weakness in their sons.

Kafka suffered predominantly from emotional abuse. He writes that although he rarely got a whipping, the constant threat of it was worse, as well as the guilt and shame he endured when he received a reprieve from one that he “deserved.” Some narcissists are physically cruel. One father made his son dig a swimming pool; another, cut the grass with a razor blade. [See How People Change, Allen Wheelis, 1973)]

Abuse makes a child feel helpless, afraid, humiliated, and enraged due to feelings of injustice and powerlessness. As an adult, he may have conflicts with authority and not manage anger well. He turns it on himself or others and becomes aggressive, passive, or passive-aggressive. He may suffer from shame anxiety, fearing that they will be criticized or blamed, even though his worries are unjustified.

Sons who do not become narcissists  suffer from codependency. The message they’ve received is that they’re somehow inadequate, a burden, and that they don’t measure up to their father’s expectations–basically, that they’re unworthy of love–despite the fact that they may feel loved by their mothers; because children need to feel that both parents accept and love them for who they are. They’re deeply moved receiving an apology or crumbs of love that other people take for granted, as Kafka describes when he was sick. He was overwhelmed with tears when his father merely looked into his room and waved at him. All Kafka wanted was, “a little encouragement, a little friendliness, a little keeping open of my road, instead of which you blocked it for me, though of course with the good intention of making me go another road.”

Children of an abusive parent frequently learn to be self-sufficient, guarded, and devalue their dependency and emotional needs, leading to intimacy problems. They may marry a narcissist, abuser, someone cold, critical, or emotionally unavailable. See “Do You Love a Narcissist?” and Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People.

Sons may be driven to achieve, in an attempt to get validation and the approval of their father, but their success feels hollow. It’s never enough – even for themselves. They need to learn to be assertive and to set boundaries in healthy ways not modeled and unthinkable growing up. They also need to value themselves and raise their self-esteem and confidence. Many have suffered from lifelong inner loneliness due to growing up in a family in constant turmoil and/or lacking emotional closeness. However, healing their shame and learning to comfort, accept, and love themselves and receive love are possible.

©Darlene Lancer 2016, 2017

Popova, M. (2015, March 3) “Kafka’s Remarkable Letter to His Abusive and Narcissistic Father.” Retrieved from https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/03/05/franz-kafka-letter-father

 

 

Share with friends
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

42 Comments
Newest
Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Namesake Paradox
Namesake Paradox
1 year ago

Eldest son of two, 47. NPD Father (80); Mother (RIP, 2009, at least damaged CO-D) suffered his endless emotional abuse. After 10-15 years of boundaries, I arrived at his home mid-stroke in March and AFTER DELIBERATING, I did call 911. He was furious (?!?). EMTs said he was minutes from death; he will only admit “I had a problem.” As POA, lead health/finance during rehab stint w/brother’s family; learned his cry poor routines = hoarded/hidden wealth, to devastating family effect. Dad made full physical recovery, but not before damaging brother’s marriage on way out. Dad alienated ALL other family over 40 years; I’m it. Should have let him die.

Jeff
Jeff
1 year ago

You are not alone! They never feel comfortable letting us say “Good riddance!” but it’s the right thing to say in these cases.

anon
anon
2 years ago

What if you love a man who has these issues and a trigger made him go into himself and is triple as guarded, devalue their dependency and emotional needs, leading to intimacy problems. What can I say or do to help him, its breaking my heart.

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
2 years ago
Reply to  anon

Sadly, you cannot fix or help him, but you can let him know how his behavior affects you in a negative way that may help him seek counseling. And what about your emotional needs? Instead, work on yourself and attend CoDA meetings.

Aa
Aa
2 years ago
Reply to  anon

You can empathize with them according to Marshall Rosenberg’s book: Nonviolent Communication; A Language of Life. You can also express what is stimulated in you to provide feedback. To increase the chance that your expression is eagerly received, Nvc can guide. Very powerful.

Bob
Bob
3 years ago

My father was a deeply wounded person. His father an alcoholic. His mother left his father when he was 6, remarried a man 10 years younger, who abused my father.

My father got a good education (engineer) which he managed to do on his own. I don’t remember the classic NPD traits. But he treated me awfully. An early memory is of him saying to me, “There is something wrong with you, I can put my finger on it.” That was his never-ending theme with me, even years later. He also physically abused me.

Now late 50’s, only now realize the life long harm he did. Single, no children. Now very depressed and struggling to find a reason to go on.

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
3 years ago
Reply to  Bob

Those messages as a child can haunt you lifelong. I suggest reading Conquering Shame and Codependency for more understanding and self-help exercises to make changes. Also speak with a therapist.

Zack
Zack
2 years ago
Reply to  Bob

Hi Bob, you are loved and respected. Understanding and posting this takes a great deal of courage. Thank you for sharing your story. It has helped me to understand my own. We have not lost the years behind us but been given an opportunity to see them in a new light and cherish those left.

Peter
Peter
2 years ago
Reply to  Bob

Hi Bob,
You’ve been programmed by a toxic father to believe something is wrong with you. This thought has been with you your entire life. It is not your fault, and it is not true. Things said to young children by a parent stick with them for life, if they don’t wake up and realise it is porgramming. Wake up Bob, and realise you are perfect and always was. Learn as much as you can as narcissistic parenting. Set yourself free! You are worth it! There are many of us! We are not alone! We are strong and valuable!

Nicolas Davout
Nicolas Davout
3 years ago

That’s my entire life….. heaven help me.

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
3 years ago
Reply to  Nicolas Davout

I think you’d benefit from reading Conquering Shame and Codependency. If he’s still in your life, Dealing with a Narcissist would be instructive.

mike
mike
3 years ago

Thank you so much for writing this.

Like many of the other people who left comments, I cried when I read it.

I feel extreme and intense shame because of what my father did to me. I can’t do anything without having a panic attack sometimes.

I’m going to check out your books. I have to do something to get some sort of self-esteem.

Thank You!

Michael Patton
Michael Patton
2 years ago
Reply to  mike

Brother, I love you. I know the pain you feel and have felt. If you ever need someone to talk to, message me and I’ll give my number

Joe
Joe
3 years ago

This made me cry. Ive never had something describe this issue/ with exact detail. I broke my back and cant work or pay rent so I’m back in school. I leave one single piece of trash on the counter and I get a text/picture/asking what is wrong with me. I got straight A’s this semester. Didn’t care, just a half way disappointed nod. I’m constantly reminded I don’t have a skill set, about every minute detail I mess up. Never been told good job, or on proud of you. Never says you’re welcome or thank you. I’m in my late 20’s. still everytime he talks to me i freeze up and everything I say makes it worse

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
3 years ago
Reply to  Joe

A narcissistic parent can make life very painful. Attend CoDA meetings and find a low fee counseling clinic. Read Conquering Shame and Codependency to heal the damage he’s done. You may also like Dealing with a Narcissist and my book and webinar on assertiveness.

Krr
Krr
1 year ago
Reply to  Joe

Please, Please stop listening to his voice. Nothing a narcissist says is grounded in any type of reality or truth. As as it may be, it is not about you however it is about the narcissist skewed perspective. Don’t ever believe that you are not a capable, talented and beautiful person. Because YOU ARE and so much more wonderfully unique traits. The first step is to stop believing anything a narcissist says. They have major issues and you are not one of them. Embrace yourself completely and start believing in yourself. Rather than the narcissist’s lies. Build a life you love living, and walk away from the hurt and pain. Believe in yourself!

Adam
Adam
3 years ago

Hi Darlene,

Reading this was hard. I’m 30 and only just beginning to understand why I hate myself so much.

My father is a narcissist and treated me like a pet for most of my childhood. I’ve struggling with MDD for the majority of my life and I feel like I cannot overcome the feelings of self-loathing that make up every waking day.

How do I overcome this? I’ve been in therapy for so long and I’ve been medicated up to my eyeballs. Where is the relief that people talk about? What does it feel like?

How do I get there? It feels so far away that it doesn’t feel like it will ever be in reach.

Adam
Adam
3 years ago

Hi Darlene,

Reading this was hard. I’m 30 and only just beginning to understand why I hate myself so much.

My father is a narcissist and treated me like a pet for most of my childhood. I’ve struggling with MDD for the majority of my life and I feel like I cannot overcome the feelings of self-loathing that make up every waking day.

How do I overcome this? I’ve been in therapy for so long and I’ve been medicated up to my eyeballs. Where is the relief that people talk about? What does it feel like?

How do I get there? It feels so far away that it doesn’t feel like it will ever be in reach.

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
3 years ago
Reply to  Adam

Depression is often the result of shame. If you’re not addressing the underlying shame and the trauma you’ve had, the depression will continue. Start reading Conquering Shame and Codependency and discuss with your therapist treating it and trauma.

Carla
Carla
4 years ago

Hi Darlene,
Do you have any advice for the mother of a 20-year-old son who previously cut his narcissistic father out of his life (which seemed a healthy thing to do), but has now decided to have a relationship with him and says “everything is different now?” My fears are that my son will either 1. Get hurt again or 2. His life will become just like his father’s.

Carla
Carla
4 years ago

Hi Darlene,
Do you have any advice for the mother of a 20-year-old son who previously cut his narcissistic father out of his life (which seemed a healthy thing to do), but has now decided to have a relationship with him and says “everything is different now?” My fears are that my son will either 1. Get hurt again or 2. His life will become just like his father’s.

Dave
Dave
5 years ago

My wife’s 61 year old mother is very co-dependent. She has been living us for 8 months after losing her job in 2014, and did not secure employment until 11/2015. My wife has incurred credit card debt to support her mother while she was out of work for over a year and to relocate her from Missouri to Ohio. I agreed to let her stay with the understanding that she could stay short term, actually, 3 months. But each time a move date has been established,she makes excuses why she can’t move( bad credit,debt, lack of money). She has no life outside of my wife. She is very clingy,and my wife does everything for her. My wife is very defensive.

Recent Posts

JOIN MY MAILING LIST RECEIVE “14 TIPS FOR LETTING GO”

To get your Free “14 Tips,” please provide your name and email to join my mailing list and monthly blog.

Check your spam folder, and email me if you don’t get an email confirmation. (See our Website and Privacy Policies)

Menu