Was Dear Old Dad Really A Narcissist?

Family Counseling Insights brought to you by California Psychotherapeutic Resources, Inc.

In a recent blog post — How To Spot A Narcissist — we talked about personality traits that might indicate a person was a bit of a narcissist. We focused mostly on identifying the tendency in friends and family in general. But what about one family member in particular — your father, whether he’s alive or not — who could have an outsize influence on you? How can you tell if your father is or was a narcissist, and how might that affect you?

Reflection of a troubled man

Writing for Psychology Today, Mark Banschick, MD, discusses people who, in a moment of self reflection and perhaps self doubt, wonder about how they compare to their father. They might remember their childhood impression of their father: “Mr. Self-Assured. He seemed to have it all – charm, success, popularity. He never seemed to be plagued by self-doubt, unlike you. He was the life of the party, knew everyone and made things happen. You couldn’t get enough of him.”

But now, as an adult, you might reevaluate that childhood perception. Was his confidence actually arrogance? Banschick says that a tendency toward arrogance might indicate narcissism, and says you might look for some or many of the following traits for clues:

  • Dad was self-centered and pretty vain.
  • Dad used people for his own good.
  • Dad was charismatic.
  • No one had imagination like Dad.
  • Dad didn’t take criticism well.
  • Dad’s rage was truly scary.
  • Dad could be aloof and truly unsympathetic.
  • Dad wasn’t around a lot.
  • Dad did what he wanted when dealing with you.
  • Dad wanted you to look great to his friends and colleagues.
  • You couldn’t really get what you needed from him.

If some of those tendencies hit home, you may then want to reflect on how your father’s narcissism affected you. “Daughters of narcissistic fathers,” says Banschick, “often describe feeling ‘unsatiated’ when it comes to getting what they needed from their fathers.” Similarly, “As the son of a narcissistic father you never feel that you can measure up.”

If all of this is beginning to sound too close for comfort, it’s good to note that there are ways in adulthood to deal with a narcissistic father. According to Banschick, it’s best to:

  • Get into good therapy.
  • Accept Dad for who he is.
  • Do not let Dad hurt you.
  • Cut ties if it is too toxic or dangerous.
  • Keep your expectations realistic and low.
  • When you want something from a narcissist, convince them that it will be to their benefit.
  • Never let a narcissist determine your self-worth.
  • Sometimes compliance is the simplest way to deal with a narcissistic parent.
  • Alternatively, you can assert your own authority and challenge his.
  • Pity the narcissist.

Read the full article here for a more in-depth discussion of narcissistic fathers and their effect on their children.