Ask a Therapist: “How to Cope With a Narcissistic Father”

Published on: 01 Feb 2022
Clinically Reviewed by Liz Kelly, LCSW
father sitting at kitchen table with daughter

Knowing how to deal with a father with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) can help you to avoid feelings of inadequacy that often result from this type of relationship. Here, we’ll clearly define narcissism, review the most common traits of those with NPD, discuss the effects that a father with NPD can have on his children, and offer tips about how to navigate and cope with the relationship in the long-term.

Characteristics of a Father with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

The term narcissism or narcissist is thrown around pretty frequently these days. The truth is, most of us exhibit at least one (or sometimes more) of the common traits associated with narcissistic personality disorder, but that doesn’t mean we’re all living with NPD.

As the name suggests, NPD is a personality disorder, and disorders, by definition, disrupt normal mental and physical functions. It’s important to keep this in mind because if your father is suffering from NPD, it can help to remember that his narcissistic behavior, though it may be frustrating and confusing, isn’t his choice. 

While it’s not uncommon for people to use the term “narcissist” in an argument, it really isn’t a term that should be used lightly. If you’re searching for tips on how to deal with a father with narcissistic personality disorder, then first be sure that your diagnosis is valid.There’s an integral difference between someone who suffers from NPD and someone who simply has extra high self-regard.  

However, a person with a genuine narcissistic personality disorder will exhibit self-love that’s morphed into something more; a preoccupation with themself, with little to no regard for anyone else’s feelings or emotions. 

Signs of a father with narcissistic personality disorder

There are several traits a father with narcissistic personality disorder might exhibit, including:

  • A pervasive pattern of grandiose behavior or fantasies
  • Reacting to criticism with shame, rage, or humiliation
  • Constant need for extreme attention
  • Unrealistic need for admiration & appreciation
  • Being overly envious to the point of anger
  • Showing signs of being preoccupied with success or power
  • Disregard of others’ personal boundaries
  • Self-admiration to the point of arrogance
  • Blatant lack of empathy for others
  • False sense of entitlement

In general, people with narcissistic personality disorder aren’t overly concerned about you. They are more likely to focus on what you can do for them and the fastest way they can get you to do it.

How to Cope with a Father with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Living with a father with narcissistic personality disorder can be challenging, but there are several ways you can cope to try and maintain a healthy relationship.

Get a good therapist

A professional family counselor or mental health professional can help you and your father understand the impact his NPD is having on your relationship. Therapy can help you alone, or it can be something you might try doing together. The ultimate goal of therapy would be to understand how your father’s negative narcissistic behavior affects you. You’ll also focus on how to reduce the power and impact he has on you and your life.

Learn acceptance

Your mother or father’s constant need for attention and arrogance can be difficult. That much is a given. It’s understandable (and valid) for you to feel overwhelmed, tired, confused, and probably even a bit angry or hurt at times. However, it can be very beneficial for you to begin to accept who your father is and what his disorder means in your life. 

Create an image of him as a loving but challenging friend in your life. By learning to accept his behavior and his narcissistic gaslighting tendencies, you can begin to let go of some of the pain, resentment, or anger you may have been building up.

Don’t tolerate abuse

A father with NPD might have a constant need for ego-stroking. Beyond that, he may also eventually become abusive. This is never tolerable in any type of relationship, for any reason.

If your father, with or without narcissistic personality disorder, is abusive or toxic, you have every right to protect yourself and get out of the situation. Set healthy relationship boundaries, take care and use caution around anyone who exhibits a violent or narcissistic tendency, even if it’s your dad. We all have a right for peace and safety in our life, and you deserve healing from narcissistic abuse.

Impacts on a Child with A Father with NPD

Fathers with narcissistic personality disorder can have a significant impact on their children. The effects can vary with daughters versus sons, though.

Impacts on a daughter

Daughters with fathers who have NPD often state that their dads were never able to give them what they needed growing up. They commonly feel their relationship is unfulfilled. It’s also normal for them to recall having to compete with their siblings to get any parenting time or affection from their narcissistic fathers at all.

Some adult daughters say the toxic relationship still has a profound impact on their life. Many feel constantly vulnerable and always under pressure to do better, even as adults. People who suffer from narcissistic personality disorder are often perfectionists, and fathers can make their adult child, especially daughters, feel insecure and inadequate, unable to and undeserving of receiving love.

Impacts on a son

Boys who grow up with fathers who have narcissistic personality disorder may feel like they never measure up. Sometimes fathers can become competitive with their sons. They might go so far as to intentionally win at any cost against their sons, even at the smallest games. Further, they’ll likely relish the victory to the point of being extreme and inappropriate.

Sons with fathers that exhibit narcissistic behavior may feel defeated, as if they’ll never be able to live up to or outperform dad in any way. If they do succeed, it might be marginal and the victory can be downplayed by the father, making the son continue feeling second-rate.

Of course, every child — even those in a healthy relationship — has unique dynamics with their father. There’s a commonality, however, in the NPD father’s inability to empathize with or even show basic concern for his children. 

“A narcissistic father figure can negatively impact one’s self esteem and overall internal value system which can be the driving forces within relationships throughout life. As a result, one might experience a two fold emotional response of never measuring up, while also feeling beholden to shame or guilt. Talking with a therapist can be a supportive way to process these experiences and move forward.”

Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, LICSW, LCSW

How to Recover From the Effects of a Father with NPD

There can be a lot of work involved in the process of recovering from the effects of being raised by a father with NPD or a narcissistic trait. Adult children of fathers with narcissistic personality disorder can benefit from the following.

Learn more to understand him

Learn as much as you can about what narcissistic personality disorder is, how it can affect parenting, and the possible impacts it can have on children. Awareness is key to healing. Continue to enhance your psychoeducation about NPD, as it will likely help you start to make sense of your childhood.

Seek help

Working with an online therapist can help you remember and come to terms with your past. A therapist skilled in the area of narcissistic personality disorder can teach you various methods for coping and managing the relationship. You’ll learn to understand about certain developmental milestones you may have missed out on as a child — like dating, getting a job, or getting your driver’s license — and learn how they may still be affecting you.

“I always encourage taking time to grieve in order to heal from living with a parent we experienced to be toxic in some way. It can feel foreign to learn about proper boundaries and positive communication, but over time, with the right support, one can instill a positive self esteem and experience healthy relationships. Aligning with a clinician or therapist can help you identify negative thought patterns while helping you learn to navigate in a more positive light.”

Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, LICSW, LCSW

Self-improvement

Focus your attention on recovery and healing. Begin developing a stable sense of self. For most adult children of NPD parents, healing depends heavily on finding a deeper self-connection. It’s important to learn to love yourself for who you are and not who you think others expect you to be. Your therapist can also help you learn how to cultivate more stability and cohesiveness in your life.

NPD can feel unfair. You may have a lot of resentment, but by understanding the signs of a father with narcissistic personality disorder, you can learn how to manage the relationship. The good news is: you are strong enough to overcome the pain NPD causes. You can have a happy, fulfilling, and rewarding life full of love and healthy, non-codependent relationships. You just need to take the time to learn how to deal with a father with narcissistic personality disorder so you can move past the disorder. 

Sources

1. Mitra P, Fluyau D. Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556001/  Published 2021. Accessed December 23, 2021.

2. Narcissistic personality disorder. Medlineplus.gov. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000934.htm. Published 2020. Accessed December 23, 2021.

3. Caligor E, Levy K, Yeomans F. Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Diagnostic and Clinical Challenges. American Journal of Psychiatry. 2015;172(5):415-422. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2014.14060723. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ajp.2014.14060723#B11. Accessed December 23, 2021.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

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