If you’ve divorced a narcissist you know, first-hand, how a narcissistic father can emotionally harm his children.
“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.
How a Narcissistic Father Can Emotionally Harm His Children
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 father had narcissistic tendencies or was an outright narcissist.
- 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 his fantasies 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 than 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 narcissistic traits are not synonymous with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
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.
How a Narcissistic Father Can Emotionally Harm His Children:
Narcissistic parents often damage their children. This is especially true if one of those parents is a narcissist and a divorce occurs. 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 to 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.
Daughters of narcissistic fathers often describe feeling “unsatiated” when it comes to getting what they needed from their fathers. They never got enough and would have to compete with siblings for time with Dad. As a young child, Dad would comment on how beautiful you were. But as you grew older, he would rarely miss out on commenting on weight and attitude. You probably carry these concerns into adulthood, even if you found success.
With a Dad like this, it’s never enough. With men (or women), you often feel vulnerable and worried you’ll be dumped for someone else. Anxiously avoiding commitment or taking on the narcissistic role are both natural ways to keep relationships safe; it’s understandable and self-protective. (But, you lose.)
A daughter needs her dad’s adoration; it validates her and helps her internalize her specialness. Healthy fathers give their girls that gift. You are special and deserve love, for being you.
As the son of a narcissistic father, you never feel that you can measure up. Dad was so competitive, that he even competed with you. (Or, didn’t pay attention to you one way or the other.) You may have accepted defeat – you’d never outdo your dad. Or, you may have worked hard to beat Dad at his own game just to get his attention and some semblance of fatherly pride. You somehow never feel good enough even when you do succeed, you still feel empty and second rate.
Just like girls need to be adored by their fathers to feel validated, boys also need their dad to believe in them. You may even become a narcissist yourself. This way you get Dad’s attention (after all imitation is the highest form of flattery), and you learn from your old man how to manipulate and use people.
FAQs about Narcissistic Fathers:
What are the signs of a narcissistic father?
Your father is a narcissist if he is 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. He would take advantage of others to the point of exploiting them when it suited him.
Am I a daughter of a narcissistic father?
Daughters of narcissistic fathers often describe feeling “unsatiated” when it comes to getting what they needed from their fathers. As a young child, Dad would comment on how beautiful you were. But as you grew older, he rarely misses out on commenting on weight and attitude. You probably carry these concerns into adulthood, even if you found success.
Why can’t I measure up to my narcissistic father?
As the son of a narcissistic father, you never feel that you can measure up. Dad was so competitive, that he even competed with you. (Or, didn’t pay attention to you one way or the other.) You may have accepted defeat – you’d never outdo your dad. Or, you may have worked hard to beat Dad at his own game just to get his attention and some semblance of fatherly pride.
Have you become a narcissist?
You may even become a narcissist yourself. This way you get Dad’s attention (after all imitation is the highest form of flattery), and you learn from your old man how to manipulate and use people.
Was I raised by a narcissistic father?
You had a feeling something was amiss with your father, but you couldn’t tell what it was. As your suspicions grew stronger, you began to question if you were raised by a narcissistic father. You were definitely raised by a narcissistic father if you witnessed him taking advantage of people, avoiding criticism and losing his cool badly too often.
Anna Wier says
My Narc father has since abandoned me as I would no longer deal with him,and his ideals. He has now moved on to my dauhetrre she moved out of my house and in to his. It is now court ordered that I only see her once a week. I raised my daughter by myself for 17 years, and now he has decided im not good enough. We went to court but he knew the court would let her move there if she wanted given her age. He has promised her college tuition, not having to have a job any more and her own apartment. How can I compete with this narc who stole my child from me..I cry everyday. She is so under his spell she is suspicious of me,making any contact now. Can anyone help. My daughter is in therapy but I believe that the therapist is under the narc thumb now too
Take strength when needed and cry when you have to. Call the therapist. State your concerns openly but with no emotions about your situation. Ask for clarity about your daughters mental health and voice your fears about her age and level of care when the move occurred. Maybe some family time with both parents and the child will help all parties to see the changes and the effects on all of you. Teens are selfish by nature and often do scarier things than go live with the other parent. You have raised a daughter who is strong and independent have faith in YOUR ABILITY as her parent and what a great job you have ALREADY done. Don’t take it to heart unless it suits you to. Be strong!
Joanna Marie says
Hugs of strength to you, and prayers, it is a vicious, vicious cycle, one that in no longer care to repeat. My ex assumes to.think that he won, as he has control over all 3 of our grown adult children, I.have grieved the loss, and throughout the process have made the choice to.now out gracefully, and have chosen to exit stage left, as NO coactl = no CONTROL, besides the two oldest are married and the youngest is serving in.the USN, so all I can do is move on and pray for them, and their relationships! ♡♡♡
Oh my goodness, how I relate to the loss you describe. I have 4 children and 2 are completely upside down and beholding to my ex narcisstic spouse, I could not give him the title of “husband” it’s too sacred. I have one child that tries to walk the fence but would side with them in a pinch. One of my daughters gets it and is making her escape. This is a spiritual, emotional, mental and physical escape.
The hardest part is knowing where I fit in as they are hateful and disrespectful and abusive to me. I must not give in to this as it is the wrong message. Saying “no” to abuse is critical in teaching them. Hopefully they will learn and do the same.
My hope is prayer. God is just and He loves them more than I.
They have been sinned against and I trust that He will give them every chance to choose His truth. Because that’s the problem, they are believing lies.
My response is to move forward with my own life and to enjoy every day. I will lead by example and trust.
Good article. But I’m disappointed that there was no mention of the Golden Child and Scapegoat roles that narcissistic fathers assign to their children!! Knowledge of those roles is critical to understanding the narcissistic family dynamic.
I don’t know that it is critical to understanding. It isn’t unusually for there to be a “golden child” and “scapegoat” in families that don’t have narcissistic parents.
i have 3 treats my ex narc, cheats them very different.there is a golden child.. one son does everything he’s asked and never gets praised..the other son does everything wrong but he always makes excuses for him ..
Strong girl says
My ex was a result of a narcissistic father who in his mid 80s still demanded (and got) a daily ‘check in’ from all his 4 children, knew every detail about his sons business and personal life, and supported me against his badly behaved son – but not behind my back where it seems he actively encouraged his son in his philandering, lying ways! a magistrate who was known as an arrogant and pompous light weight his father quietly but persistently showed his disappointment that his son became a lawyer but could never be the brilliant man he pretended, lying, cheating, manipulating and relying on his ‘supportive’ parents as his private bank. It was a sticky web and I denied he was poisonous for a long time, believing he would change as he constantly promised………
when I finally had the nerve to end the relationship it was our 10 year old daughter who really surprised me. Now 13 there has not been one instance where she has voiced a moments regret that her father not only no longer lives with us but as time went on she refused to have contact with him in any form so that now his only contact can be via post or courier. I believe much of this is not only because of her own experiences with her father and how badly he made her feel but because she witnessed what effect her father had on her half sister, now 26 with debilitating mental health problems. She says she has no plans to be like that and she will stay away from him to ensure it. That half sister is a damaged and not very nice human being. My daughter refuses to refer to her father as Dad saying he was not her Dad for years……. She believes she has plenty of strong positive male role models in her life and she holds no dreams about him walking her down the aisle, watching her graduate and indeed says it would be better all round if he went to live overseas or died.
i have 2 sons from a previous marriage who have a fantastic relationship with their dad and he and I have always maintained a good and respectful co-parenting relationship, always able to come together for important events (not surprisingly my ex hated that). this is not me driving a daughter to hate her father. This man was the orchestrator of damage that is hard to comprehend.
The self protection my young daughter has exhibited and her insight into her father is astounding.
I am beside myself- my daughter has been living with one for 10 yrs- always always drama – well she has 2 sons with this A hole 7 & 4/ my husband & I worry about their safety constantly ! He so ugly to us and to them! Its at the point & has been this way over the past year he is not welcome at my house nor are we welcome at their’s we have to do holidays and birthdays all separate! No one wants him around! We have moved her out and the boys like three times in the past 10 years she always goes back take it he’s going to change he makes all these promises and it’s always the same crap Im at a lost of what to do!!
Speak to a women’s aid or refuge for advice. He is clearly controlling and manipulative. This is a voice of experience unfortunately. Good luck and stay safe
My dad fits every single description for a narcissist. I am now 31 and have been in and out of therapy for years and I’m now on anti psychotic medication and anti depression/stabilising medication. Any one reading this page an thinks they fit the bill of a narcissist you should really sort yourself out before you destroy you’re child’s mind and there future and any and all self beliefs.
John McElhenney says
And, of course, it goes without saying, narcissists appear on both sides of the parenting equation.
Yes this is very important to remember or else you may miss important clues in a relationship. Narcissists are both male and female.
How to warn ex-husband’s fiance’ that he is narcissistic or just let her figure it out.
When my daughter married her now ex-husband, while they dated, he treated her nice. Three children later, he got more mentally abusive. After having their last child, my daughter developed bipolar disorder I. He was fired from his job and then got a divorce from my daughter. He started the divorce while she was in a bipolar episode. He wrote up the divorce papers to suit him. My daughter was not totally aware of what was happening. He got full custody of the children and put many restrictions on my daughter (she sees her children for 2 hours every other week). He comes along to a restaurant and he makes her pay for everyone’s meal, including his. Now, he isn’t picking her up on the way to a restaurant. He tells her that she can walk because she has nothing to do. He does not follow what he wrote up in the divorce papers and makes up rules along the way. He also makes up rules for us (the grandparents). My daughter is on SSI and it is difficult for her to get legal help. He wants the children to call his fiance’ “mom”. He and his fiance’ are planning for his fiance’ to adopt the children. This would take every parental right away from my daughter. His fiance’ has no idea yet how mentally abusive, sneaky, and narcissistic, he is. He is a wonderful actor in the beginning and his acting slowly fades to reality. I am very concerned about the children and what this will do to them when they catch on. The new wife to be will also catch on. After marriage, he totally changes. He can fool other people; he also very few friends. I feel the new fiance’ should know, but at this point, she would not believe anyone. I am extremely worried about how this will affect my grandchildren.
Shalon Sullivan says
I have divorced a narcissist and we have to co-parent with three children. All girls. I am so scared for their mental well being. He mentally abused me so much during our 10 year marriage that I can now fully see, being away from him for the last 3 years. I can totally see his narcissistic traits in how he tries to co-parent and continually downplay me as their mom. My girls and I have an extremely close connection so I do feel there is hope. But they also have the constant desire to make their dad happy. This still just scares me for their growth. I read some of these stories about kids that grew up with a narcissistic parent and it makes me really sad. What can I do to help them? He doesn’t even know he’s a narcissist. He thinks he has all the right answers to EVERYTHING because he is a physician. You should never question his requests or opinion. It’s so frustrating………..
Amy Nicholson says
I left him seven years ago… Unfortunately when the divorce was final, he managed to weasle joint custody of our two children (then they were 7 and 3)…. And this was after burning my face with a lit cigarette and attempted rape( rape never even acknowledged to need concern by lawenforcment nor judge), helping me to finally get out with a protective order against him… Look I’m no saint but I never went that far. We had been married for 9+ years, even though we only knew each other six months roughly, before the wedding day.. I knew he wouldn’t let me leave him easily, after all I had tried in the past and it didn’t stick. He stalked me before, during, and after our marriage. Even sent undercover friends into my very small circle of friends to gain intel on me. I met the man of my dreams after I removed myself and my children from his toxic clutch. However, this did not make the situations between my narcissist and me any better. I am terrible at continuing log books or keeping jurnals, so of course, I can’t prove much of what he has said or done. Two years ago after slandering my husbands good name all over our hometown as well as the surrounding counties resulting in termination of my husbands job and little prospect for being hired anywhere elses, let alone in any business looking for the skillset he possesses.( Doesn’t help at the time both my ex and my current husband worked in the same jobfeild). My psycho ex actually attempted to obtain protective order against me for himself as well as our children. Needles to say since he did not actually fear me it was thrown out as well as his evidence against me deamed inadmissible by the judge. Now he comes back with not only the same evidence previously deemed inadmissible,but also he has managed to turn my children against me, convinced my current husband’s EX wife to attack him for their 2 children( whom she gave away her rights for willfully and knowingly over 12 years ago) and with abuse of legal process, his daddy’s money and an ocean of lies bearing only the smallest truths, he actually managed to get temporary custody of my children allowing me only two hours one day a week with them. Time witch he is actually allowed to be the supervision of the visits….. NO I can’t afford a lawyer, yes I am mentally healed plenty enough to understand that I possess the necessary capacity to reserch and represent myself ( don’t care if legal aid says they can help, because they are government paid and really only care about case matter not actually human beings inflicted by the ignorence or stupidity of our poorly functioning Justice system). I just need to know how to keep myself calm when I know he is lying so I can carefully manuver around his oversized ego and the cunning of his vengeful life force. To prove to the judge he is not what he says he is and I am what I say I am. My children are now 14 and 11. My fear is what this time apart has done to their psychological, emotional, and physical well being. Or what it WILL cause( not might…WILL). IM NO DOCTOR BUT I KNOW HOW I WAS AFFECTED IN 9 YRS HOW CAN I PROTECT MY CHILDREN FOR THE NEXT 7 AT LEAST.???????
Emily Gifford says
I was raised by a narcissistic father. He disowned me 5 years ago after I pressed charges on my brother after my brother seriously physically assaulted me. Now, my father is having strokes and may die soon. I am torn. Do I go see him? Will I regret it if I don’t? I also have a 2 year old son that my father knows about and has seen pics of, but has never met.
Margo Susanna Tovar says
For your own sanity, go see him and before he passes forgive him for yourself so you have nothing to regret after hes gone. Hang in there, i hope your life gets better as time goes on.
No. Let him reap what he sowed. There will be no happy resolution in the end. He will disappoint as usual. He’ll prob be even nastier. Nercs dont appreciate getting old. Make your peace. If he had nothing to do with you in life he doesnt deserve you now. Its up to you but id go about my biz and put him behind me and not let that toxic garbage back in my life or miy mind.
You hit the first half dead on. You did a good job teeing it up. The second half how they can damage kids I think is a little softball. Could have used more meat there, more examples. However, the last part you left out. We call it the prescription. What to do if this is you… or how you can counteract what the Narc did. I feel like after reading this article and identifying w the description, what’s a reader supposed to do? Jump in the river? My recommendation is to speak to an expert and add a last “ten things to do to help correct the wrong” to this article. This is the formula you will find in every magazine. Otherwise great job and you totally nailed my dad.
DivorcedMoms Editor says
Do you not realize this article was written by an “expert?” A Psychiatrist who went to medical school and works daily in that field? The article is about the damage done by a narcissistic father, not about how to heal the damage done by a narcissistic father. If it’s a book instead of an article you’re looking for, check out Amazon.
Louisa Grantham says
my sons narc father never spent any time with him when he was little ( ” he had a life”). We were never married. He had nothing to do with him to amount to anything until he got married when our son was 11 years old. Then he wanted custody of him, which the judge gave us 50/50 custody with him being the custodial parent. He does not follow the court papers, he treats our son like a slave now that he is big enough to “work” for him and earn his keep. Our son never does anything to please him, and he never spends any quality time with our son. He punishes him when he tries to talk or visit with me and my family on “his time” but will take or let his family take my visitation time and say that I owe him that. I follow the court order to a “T’ for fear o being in contempt. Contempt doesn’t seem to bother dad. He thinks he is above the law. In court he made me out to be an unfit mother ( which I have never done anything but love and take care of my son to the best of my ability) He lied through his teeth in court and the judge obviously believed every word he said, he came across as a saint. When the court was over he(as well as the step mother) treated our son like a third class citizen ( worse than a dog). My son is now 16 , been with his dad 5 years. He is afraid of him (he has been mentally abused and sometimes physically) but no one will believe that such a righteous man would treat his child that way. My is so depressed but afraid to go back into court for fear it will not go his way and he will have to remain with his dad and endure even more and more harsh punishment. My son is now 16 almost 17, he is failing everything is school and his dad already retained him one year, even though he passed, he thought he would make better grades the next year, but they were worse. How do I deal with this nacissistic behavior shoule we go back to court. I am desperate for help. I hate seeing my child so miserable and unhappy and being treated this way
My daughter has an alcoholic narcissistic father. We’ve been divorced for 11 years and she is now 19. When she was younger, he was not emotionally invested in her. He’s now on his 3rd marriage (has been engaged 6 times) and that has been his focus. He has never paid much attention to her. He also never went out of his way to help her with things she needed. Never wanted to be inconvenienced. Very flat emotionally. She has asked me several times, why does he always think the worst of her. Meanwhile, I did everything for her. I sacrificed much for her. I volunteered at school. I took her to all her activities because he refused to have any scheduled during his time. When she stayed with him in the summer, there was little supervision.
All of this and NOW, that she’s in college, she blames me for so much. It’s crazy. I feel like she has been brainwashed. She runs after his approval and gets very little of it.
Joseph Eldringhoff says
My Dad was a very hard man. Owned his own masonry company, also a jehovah witness. He was a different person at his job rather than what he betrayed at the Kingdom Hall. I know this being the only Son an having to work with him. Mom was not allowed to give me much attention. He would belittle me at very young age violent when it came to his strick rules an discipline. Was scared to death of him. Very depressed child. Would cry over spilled milk. Low self esteem athorrity problem.
At 16 I had enough. I told him I what I wasnt taking it anymore. I hit him in the cheek an we headlocked together until we gave up in the know then floor. When I was 28 I broke his jaw. I think about it everyday, the look on his face when I done it. I loved it. Happiest day of my life.
Some Guy says
Yes, I hit mine 3 times as well but I feel bad about it still.
He called me names, allowed my older sister to rule over me sometimes slapping me because legally they would be responsible, did not understand why I wasn’t motivated yet belittled my dreams. Discouraged learning. Would not give me privacy. Would allow my older sisters, who were ten years older than me, when they got scared, to sleep in my room. Threw out my hobbies and other things of my own self interest. When I was 11 I told him I wanted to go to college. He laughed at me and belittled me then too. He bragged about killing people in vietnam during it’s worst years turining me onto violence and the idea that it was somehow cool. Then both parents began to lie and said it took 35 percent down on a house and that college wasn’t worth it because they assumed I was trying to pay for it out-of pocket. They wanted me home. Then they disapproved of marriage and told me my girlfriends profession (lawyer) was something that women get into to sleep around behind their husbands backs. I once accused her of it and she called me delusional. When I was young, He would come home and throw cups of coffee and destroy the place and force us to clean it up, Sometimes before school he would do the same thing. If I did something wrong he was pleased and if I did something right he would be very upset. Strict rules, then loose rules. He wouldnt go to the store and let my mother do all the work. Altogether a very unloving yet over protective abusive uneducated ex alcholic that had serious anger issues. Would curse, let us smoke cigarettes at 12, allowed us to get away with murder until it was time for them to blackmail us into doing work and make us feel down about it later.
Doubleminded psycho. Daughters are the same way. Never fed us but claimed he did too much for us. He was stupid on top of it. Very intimidating.
So I hit back once and he called the cops. I spent 6 years in an psych institution, 3 years in a halfway house and went to probation for two years. My 30s were lost. Lost my license due to being in the hospital for so long. They made me take pills… later on I found out thats the reason I went bald and put on 120 pounds. Then diabetes kicked in and then I was on insulin.
Psychologically I always strived to please him to be accepted and not mistreated. I used to seek to please people so they wouldnt treat me as bad as he did. He knew that… I am begining to see he knew full well what he was doing the entire time and would sometimes look at me and say I am preparing you… Preparing me for what? To seek to please people. Now I learned that I have to just please myself and love myself now. He got cancer now. Dying a lonelyman’s death. Poor, tired, grey…
Every once in a while you will see the ferocity come back and then die and dilute. The disease really got to him.