Discover more from Abnormally Normal
4 Ways Narcissistic Fathers Cause Veiled and Enduring Damage to Scapegoated Children
Adult children of narcissistic fathers often feel deeply flawed
If you stroke a dog against the flow of its fur, how do you think she would feel? The chances are she would walk away. It’s not that it’s abusive, nor is it painful; it just doesn’t feel right or comfortable for the poor dog. It’s certainly not a gentle and nourishing touch!
Those of us with narcissistic fathers are like these dogs. Things just don’t feel right; our nervous system is constantly being stroked against the grain. And yet trying to articulate how we feel is often met with gaslighting from the father himself or minimising from our friends.
According to Cleveland Clinic, about five percent of the population have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). A diagnosis for NPD requires healthcare providers to assess an individual on various topics; if they have five or more of the following characteristics, they are likely to have NPD.
Overinflated sense of self-importance - grandiose.
Constant thoughts about being more successful, powerful, smart, loved, or attractive than others.
Feelings of superiority and desire to only associate with high-status people.
Need for excessive admiration.
Sense of entitlement.
Willingness to take advantage of others to achieve goals.
Lack of understanding and consideration for other people’s feelings and needs.
Arrogant or snobby behaviors and attitudes.
My own Father fits snugly into each and every trait listed above. Of course, he hasn’t actually been diagnosed, as this would require an atom of self-awareness. Many narcissists remain undiagnosed; by their own logic, they are flawless, and any issues lie with those in their periphery.
While this piece focuses on narcissistic fathers, it lends itself as an effective starting ground for learning about narcissistic mothers and partners.
I experienced a narcissist before I knew they existed
I’ve been on a path of self-discovery, acceptance, and healing. A few years ago, I read up on NPD and saw my Father reflected back in the words. But initially, I gaslit myself. After all, it had been so deeply ingrained in me that I was flawed, unloveable, and not good enough, especially compared to my twin sister, that I couldn’t shake off the cloak he weighted me down with.
I continued reading, but even armed with knowledge, I felt trapped. I felt poised beside a wall, armed with a sledgehammer, but I couldn’t quite break through; this is when I turned to a therapist for help. It’s been some journey.
It’s taken time to process my trauma. Because that is exactly what it is. Being raised by a narcissistic father is traumatic. I feel like the real me has finally hatched out of my shell; I’m just allowing my feathers to dry in the sun before I figure the rest out. I’m ready to open up more about these experiences, and I want to encourage anyone who finds resonance in my writing to find the strength to heal their own wounds.
I recently read Narcissistic Fathers by Dr. Theresa Covert. It felt like Covert had witnessed my childhood and was narrating my autobiography back to me.
My early years
Blamed By Him
by 14-year-old me
Why does he insist on hurting me,
The way that no one can.
He’s meant to be my Father,
To me, he’s not even man.
Everything I do is wrong,
No word to me is good.
I just wish he’d treat me,
The way a Father should.
I watched with envy as my university friends laughed and joked with their Fathers. Mine made a big deal about coming to my graduation, and then “something came up,” and his own needs came first. But this was standard; this was my normal. His cancellations were all I knew. His complete disinterest in me and my life was another clear narcissism indicator.
I tried to describe the dynamic to some friends.
“It’s not that we’re not close, but he doesn’t know me, nor is he interested in me.”
The way in which my younger self described my Father fits nicely into the narcissism traits, which I was oblivious to at the time.
“I never felt good enough, loved, or accepted.” This is a standard feeling of victims of narcissists, especially the scapegoat child. Narcissistic fathers are known to shame their own children by comparing them to others and highlighting their inadequacies.
“I could never do anything right.” Blame is a narcissistic father’s best friend; they cast blame with impunity but take no accountability or criticism themselves.
“I didn’t fit his mould.” Many narcissistic fathers want their children to be miniature versions of themselves and force their own hobbies and interests on them.
“I regularly felt I had to walk on eggshells.” Narcissistic people flit between rage and charm with unpredictable irregularity. Narcissistic fathers often take an authoritarian fathering style.
“He operated a pecking order, and I was at the bottom.” Narcissistic fathers operate a hierarchy if they have more than one child. Their favourite child; is called the golden child, and their least favourite; is the scapegoat child. They do not subscribe to treating their children with equality or fairness; in fact, they incite division between their children.
If I verbalised the aggravation and tension I endured with my Father to friends or even colleagues (if asked), I was looked upon as someone with “daddy issues.”
Have you ever noticed how victim-blaming this is? I don’t have “daddy issues”; I have a Father who has issues and is the issue himself!
Four pervasive repercussions scapegoat children of narcissistic fathers endure
I’m not here to blame my Father for my unsettled internal vibrations. I can’t change the past, nor can you. But we can learn to understand our past, and from a position of understanding, we can learn acceptance and forgiveness. This has been my mission over the last few years.
Children of narcissistic fathers don’t just shake off their father’s “quirks” when they reach adulthood. The barbs of a narcissistic father dig so deep that they continue to have an overreaching impact on everyday life.
1. Fragile relationship with self
Fellow scapegoat children, I know you will understand this one viscerally.
Scapegoat children deeply fear saying or doing the “wrong” thing. We were never encouraged to express our own feelings. We were told how we felt, not asked! We were expected to align with our narcissistic father's controlling ways. And if we didn’t? Well, beware of the rage and the shaming!
Adult children of narcissistic fathers quarrel tiresomely with their true selves and lack self-trust and self-belief. We struggle to back ourselves.
It is no wonder we suffer from low self-esteem, compromised self-confidence and are susceptible to mental health issues. Above all, perhaps one of our greatest struggles is to put ourselves first and honour our own needs.
We can practice self-love through expressive journaling, therapy, meditation, and mindfulness to help reunite with our suppressed selves.
2. Sibling rivalry and unhealthy family dynamics
My family is complex. My parents are divorced, and I have three siblings, including a twin sister. Even in this core six, there are many broken relationships and estrangements.
The narcissistic father takes center stage in his family; he expects everyone else to revolve around him. Any mishaps within the family he blames on the mother, and anything worthy of celebration he takes the credit for.
Narcissistic fathers use their maligned and manipulative manner to build competition within the family. He plays his children off against each other, even in adulthood. Narcissistic fathers purposefully build jealousy, resentment, and hostility in their families to maintain a narcissistic supply for themselves.
Remember, all children in the same family experience different upbringings. Factors affecting this include their relationship with their guardians, their guardian’s relationship with each other, and the socio-economic climate of their most influential years.
The golden child doesn’t evade the sting of the narcissistic father. They become entitled and go through life feeling they deserve special treatment. They may even become narcissists themselves and often suffer from substance addiction.
My Father rolled out the red carpet for my twin and barely tolerated me. She lapped this up. We had a fractious relationship as children, and now we have no relationship due to a domino effect of events. But I don’t blame her, although I haven’t quite found peace, as I write in this article describing this dynamic more deeply.
Going no contact is not shameful if relationships are tough, toxic, or unhealthy.
3. All relationships are impacted
I experienced a breakthrough moment when I realised the pattern in my friendships repeated over from the pattern of my relationship with my Father.
Scapegoat children of narcissistic fathers often end up in one-sided romantic and platonic relationships. They surrender themselves to other people.
Scapegoat children may find themselves in the clutches of a narcissistic lover or being used repeatedly by a friend. We also shoulder all the responsibility of these relationships, so much so that if the relationship breaks down, we suffer enormously and internalise feelings of guilt and shame.
They say a strong sign you are healing from past traumas is when you lose people from your life. I've stripped my life bare of unhealthy relationships and made room for a bouquet of wonderful wildflower friends.
I encourage you to take a long hard look at all the relationships in your life.
4. Lack of belonging
Brené Brown talks about the importance of belonging to ourselves first. As per the first point of this list, victims of narcissistic fathers often struggle with their own identity and putting themselves first.
Brown describes belonging as
“Being part of something bigger but also having the courage to stand alone, and to belong to yourself above all else.”
According to Brown, people who fit in are actually doing the opposite of creating a belonging. They are adapting themselves to be accepted.
“The opposite of belonging is fitting in. Fitting in is assessing and acclimating. 'Here is what I should say/be, here is what I shouldn't say, here is what I should avoid talking about, here's what I should dress like/look like,' that's fitting in.”
Us scapegoats are accustomed to “fitting in.” I can shoehorn myself into most situations by sacrificing myself, but that doesn’t mean I belong. And in all honesty, it feels like wearing a pair of shoes two sizes too small. It’s uncomfortable and restrictive and never brings happiness!
(Maybe I should rewrite the strapline of this newsletter to “for people who feel they don’t belong” instead of “for people who feel like they don’t fit in”).
To find a true sense of belonging, we must listen to what calls our soul and go after it.
Cut off the narcissistic supply to your father
My Father does not see me as an individual; he sees me in relation to himself. He once said to me, “I worry I may go to my grave without you knowing me,” and these words sum it up perfectly. He is so preoccupied with pushing himself onto me and seeking recognition and admiration that he doesn’t even realize he doesn’t know me, nor does he seek to get to know me! We have limited contact, which I am comfortable with.
I am who I am despite my Father, not because of him. But that said, scapegoats of narcissistic fathers are likely to be highly resilient, deeply empathetic, high achievers, and able to read the emotional temperature of the room. I identify with these supposed accolades, and I am learning to love and accept myself.
As I said, I am who I am not because of him but despite him!
Is your father a narcissist? How do you protect yourself from the inevitable damage? Have you healed your wounds? I’d love to hear your input in the comments.
Here are free links to a few of my Medium articles that complement this piece on narcissistic fathers.
Sunday’s newsletter for paid subscribers will focus on how to heal after being a victim of a narcissist.
If you get value from these articles, I invite you to upgrade to a paid membership. But there is no pressure to do so.
Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this piece, please share it with a friend and subscribe to the Abnormally Normal newsletter.
Don’t forget to give us some love on our socials.
Abnormally Normal is for everyone who feels like they don’t fit in.
You can also find my writings and musings on Medium, where I write about kindness, psychology, social injustice, the nuances of living childfree, friendship, social justice, feminism, personal growth, and much more.