Having a narcissist as a parent is one of the worst scenarios for a child. Narcissists are solely focused on their own needs, they emotionally abuse their children, and they often leave their children with lifelong scars. There is a difference, however, between how narcissistic mothers interact with their sons and daughters and how narcissistic fathers do. Narcissistic fathers often become bullies to their sons, or they completely neglect them.
When a narcissistic father abuses his son, it can cause the son to have problems developing a secure sense of identity. That can result in narcissism, just as it did for his father. There are, however, other problems the son of a narcissist can have that don’t involve a personality disorder.
If you are the son of a narcissistic father or if you are involved with one, you’ll want to understand better the kind of harm a narcissistic father can cause. It’s also important to consider the kind of relationship such a father has with his son. It’s different than what he has with his daughter. Read on to learn more about the harm a narcissistic father causes to his children, particularly his sons.
Do Narcissistic Fathers Cause their Sons to be Narcissists Too?
Pathological narcissism results from the disruption of a healthy sense of identity in a developing child. This can happen in a couple of different ways, but in the end, the child comes to believe they are hopelessly flawed.
They are filled with shame for their failings and bury their true self to keep others from seeing how worthless they are. They still need an identity structure to allow them to interact with the world around them, so they construct a false self-image that they then infuse with grandiose ideas of superiority and perfection.
That false self-image, however, cannot support the narcissist’s self-esteem. They need other people to do that for them, so they begin learning how to manipulate people into making them feel good about themselves. This is what the father is struggling with as he interacts with his son.
At first, the narcissistic father idealizes his son, but as the son starts to grow up and become his own person, he inevitably disappoints his narcissistic father. That’s when the father starts devaluing him, and that’s when his developing sense of identity can be damaged. It might even seem like he doesn’t love his son, but you can check out this video to see if that’s even possible for a narcissist.
If these events occur at specific times during a child’s normal psychosocial developmental trajectory, it can damage his son’s identity in the same way it damaged the narcissist’s. The child could become a narcissist as a result.
However, that is not the only possible outcome. There are other psychosocial problems the son of a narcissist can develop as a result of his father’s emotional abuse. Additionally, there are certain patterns of behavior the narcissistic father will almost inevitably pass on to his son.
How Do Narcissistic Fathers Treat Their Sons?
Narcissistic fathers can be very abusive toward their sons. Just as narcissistic mothers have a more contentious relationship with their daughters, so narcissistic fathers have problems with their sons.
They are harshly critical of their sons as they try to become an independent person. They rarely praise them and are quick to point out flaws. Moreover, they have a tendency to pass on their pathological belief systems about the world.
A researcher in the psychology department at Kent State University determined that paternal narcissists pass on their male ethos ideology to their sons. What is meant by male ethos identity is institutionalized sexism.
The study found that narcissistic men have obviously hostile and adversarial ideas about women, and regardless of whether or not the son of a narcissistic father becomes a narcissist himself, he almost always develops these same ideas toward women. Clearly, that creates problems with adult relationships.
For the son of a narcissistic father, however, he can never do enough to earn his father’s approval. He will adopt his father’s belief systems and try to please him again and again, all to no avail. His father, if present in his life, will belittle him, shame him, and bully him.
He may compete with him for his wife’s attention. He might also flirt with his son’s girlfriends to assure himself that he is better than his son. Narcissistic fathers are authoritarian and rigid, and if they become too dissatisfied with how their family is affecting their image, they may even abandon them altogether.
It’s easy to see how this kind of constant abuse can damage a son’s fragile developing identity mechanisms and result in narcissism or some other psychological problem. It’s also not uncommon for a narcissistic father to physically abuse his son and other family members.
How Do Narcissistic Fathers Treat Their Daughters?
The relationship a narcissistic father has with his daughter is equally abusive but in a different way from the relationship he has with his son. The abuse is just as toxic, however.
As with a son, a narcissistic father is never happy with what his daughter does. She will never please him and will only rarely earn his praise. He will make her feel less than in every way. It’s not uncommon for the daughter of a narcissistic father to obsessively try to gain her father’s approval.
While a narcissistic father might compete with his son and push him to his physical limits, he objectifies his daughter. He focuses on her looks and femininity, which is consistent with his patriarchal sexist ideology.
He also prioritizes her beauty and feminine personality over other types of accomplishments like intelligence and academic or professional achievements. He can never fully express his love for either his son or daughter since that would make him feel vulnerable.
Both a narcissistic father’s sons and daughters are affected by his aloof nature, and they will often go to extremes to get his attention. They want his approval though they’ll never get it. This leaves them feeling anxious, and it can cause them to have a long-lasting fear of intimacy.
The narcissistic father lacks empathy, so he has no clue about how his behavior is affecting anyone in his life. Instead, he is so focused on preserving his false self-image that he can’t begin to focus on the emotional needs of other people, including his own children.
While this can result in the children becoming narcissists too, it can also cause numerous other problems that can severely affect their quality of life as adults.
What are the Other Possible Outcomes of Having a Narcissistic Father?
Aside from becoming a narcissist, the son of a narcissistic father might become codependent. Codependency is also a mental disorder. It forms in children whose needs were neglected or ignored in their dysfunctional families.
The child who is told, either explicitly or implicitly, that their needs don’t matter may come to believe that. They learn that if they express a need in the family, it results in conflict or even outright abuse.
To keep the peace, they ignore their own needs in favor of prioritizing the needs of their abusive parents or siblings. They essentially become people pleasers whose focus on the needs of others can result in their own serious health problems.
The pattern of codependency that develops in childhood carries into that child’s adult relationships. These kinds of children often seek out abusive romantic partners and play out their codependent roles again and again.
In addition to codependency, the children of narcissistic fathers can suffer from a host of problems that stem from the abusive treatment they received in childhood. This can mean they become addicted to various substances, engage in risky behaviors like stealing or other illegal activities, or become abusive parents themselves.
It’s likely that, like their narcissistic father, they will be fearful of true intimacy, and they may have problems making professional decisions. Their father has left them with such insecurity and low self-confidence that they can’t make decisions for themselves.
They may drift from relationship to relationship and job to job as a result. That can also lead to depression and anxiety, and mental disorders associated with those feelings. Basically, abuse from a narcissistic father can follow his son and negatively affect the rest of his life.
What are the Characteristics of a Narcissistic Father?
Narcissistic fathers are usually arrogant, critical, rigid, and strict with their children. Narcissists always believe themselves to be correct and superior. A narcissistic father not only has a mental disorder that pushes him to behave in certain ways, but he is also often bolstered by cultural roles of what it means to be a father.
He distorts those cultural roles through the lens of his personality disorder, of course, and that often means he takes certain aspects of his role to the extreme. Culturally, for example, he may be expected to be the disciplinarian in the family.
A healthy father would interpret that as meaning to guide his children using gentle corrective measures in the direction of being independent and self-sufficient. The narcissistic father, however, sees it through the lens of how his children reflect on his grandiose false self-image. He wants it to appear that his naturally superior (because of his superiority) children are perfect, just like him.
He pushes them to the extremes with his rigid discipline. He may even be physically abusive to get them in line. He can’t tolerate even minor infractions since that makes it look like he is not the perfect father.
In a qualitative study conducted by researchers at the University of Wollongong in Australia, family members of narcissists were asked about their lived experiences. Notably, they described the narcissistic family members as perfectionistic – though outwardly critical as opposed to inwardly rigid – overly religious, and often abusive.
One son of a narcissist described how his father gave him a prostitute for his 12th birthday and beat him frequently between the ages of 6 and 15 years. At 15, he became tall enough to threaten his father back. This is consistent with the often bullying nature of narcissistic fathers.
How Can You Protect a Child from a Narcissistic Father?
If you are the spouse of a narcissistic father, protecting your children from his abuse can be complicated. It puts you in the crosshairs of his abusive treatment. Whether you still live with him or not, there are some things you can do to protect the children.
Of course, it’s important to document everything he does that is abusive. You might, at some point, need to seek sole custody, and for that, you would need to show that he is not a fit parent. It’s also important, however, to help your children understand and process their feelings about their father’s abusive treatment.
It’s critical to let them know that you are someone they can talk to you and that you understand what they’re going through. While you might not want to disparage their father in front of them, you can help them understand that sometimes people have childhood trauma that affects their behavior.
Their father is someone who has been hurt himself, and as a result, he has problems expressing his emotions because they make him feel vulnerable. That’s not offered as an excuse, however, and your children should understand that he does not have a right to abuse them because of that.
You need to encourage them to talk to you or some other trusted adult about what they are experiencing. You can even get them professional help so that they can process their own emotions with an objective advocate for their health and well-being. It’s important that they see you as someone who is helping prevent the abuse rather than an enabler of their father’s bad behavior.
If you’re a child of a narcissistic parent, check out this video to see how you can live with them without compromising your mental health.
What are the Signs of Narcissism in a Child?
Narcissistic fathers often produce narcissistic children, and if you share children with a narcissist, you’ll want to be on the lookout for signs your child is becoming one too. Children are naturally narcissistic early in life, but they should begin to grow out of it as they become aware that other people have needs too.
As a young child, your parents are focused on your needs, and that’s pretty much all you are focused on too. As you get to be older, however, you start to learn that other people have needs, and you should respect them.
Healthy children learn to balance their needs with the needs of the other people in their lives. If your child is developing narcissism, however, they will continue to stay focused solely on their own needs. They will often express an entitled attitude, and this often shows up when they start going to school.
They may believe that other children should cater to their needs and give them what they want. When that doesn’t happen, they may become enraged. Children who are becoming pathological narcissists also lack impulse control and object constancy.
They may start fights and express binary thought patterns by seeing someone they are angry at as being all bad or evil. They can’t be angry at someone and still hold good thoughts about them on a deeper level. They may also become bullies and devalue anyone they see as their enemy.
If you see this happening with your child, you’ll want to help them develop empathy by imagining themselves in the shoes of some of their favorite TV or movie characters. You’ll also want to encourage them to explore the world. Praise them when they succeed and encourage them to try again if they fail. This can reduce narcissistic tendencies.
How Can the Adult Son of a Narcissistic Father Heal?
If you are involved with the adult son of a narcissistic father, you might be seeing the effects of the emotional trauma he endured as a child. Many children of narcissists develop what is known as complex post-traumatic stress disorder, or C-PTSD.
C-PTSD forms when you experience trauma over a long period of time. The adult son of a narcissistic father may lack self-confidence, have difficulty expressing his own needs, fear intimacy, and exhibit a general lack of ambition. He may have difficulty making choices and can, therefore, have problems in both his professional and personal life.
The most effective way for the adult son of a narcissistic father to heal is by seeking help from a professional therapist. They can help him see the effects of his father’s abuse and develop more effective coping strategies to heal.
It’s also possible for the adult son of a toxic father to engage in personal growth work to help himself heal. He might do inner child work, for example, and meditation can help him to process his feelings. He can use other resources to help improve his self-confidence and build a stronger sense of self.
For codependent sons of narcissistic fathers, it can help to get involved in a group like Codependents Anonymous (CoDA). That can help him to see that he is not alone; that, in fact, many people have similar problems. As with other supportive groups, CoDA helps him process his feelings in a supportive environment of people who know what he is going through.
Of course, it will also help the son of a narcissistic father heal if he has a strong social support network of loving friends and family members. Knowing they want him to live his best life helps him seek the help he needs.
How Can You Help the Adult Son of a Narcissistic Father to Heal?
The best thing you can do to help the adult son of a narcissistic father to heal is to support him as he seeks the resources that will help him most. There may be a time when it would be helpful for him and other family members, for example, to go through therapy together.
I know that I did so with my husband as we were both striving to heal from the effects of narcissistic abuse from our mothers. When you are raised with a narcissistic parent, you don’t have a sense of what is a healthy way to interact with people you love.
Your experience with family members who are supposed to love you has been skewed by a parent with a personality disorder, so you don’t know how healthy, loving people act toward one another. You can help the son of a narcissistic father learn how to behave in a healthy, loving relationship.
You can model good behavior for him, show him how to set and maintain healthy boundaries, help him understand that being angry does not mean you don’t love him anymore, and work with him to improve his communication skills, so he feels comfortable sharing his feelings with you.
I had to learn all of these things to improve my interactions with my husband. He also had to learn them, and so we went to family therapy to give us new communication skills and more effective coping mechanisms. Doing this with the adult son of a narcissistic father can help him overcome any trepidation he has about therapy, and it can show him how dedicated you are to helping him heal.
Should the Son of a Narcissistic Father Cut Off All Contact with His Father?
This is another common consideration for the children of narcissists. Is it better to cut off all contact? There are many people who would say it is, but I didn’t cut off all contact with my mother. You might not be able to cut off all contact with your narcissistic father either, for many reasons.
If he’s elderly, he might need you to help care for him, you might not want to cut off contact with your mother too, or you might just feel like you still love him or need to resolve the situation with him. These are all reasons why it’s not practical for many people to go to this extreme.
It is helpful, however, to minimize contact until you have healed enough to prevent any further emotional abuse. Narcissistic parents don’t stop trying to manipulate and control you just because you’ve grown up. So you’ll want to heal to the point where you can set firm boundaries and maintain them before you engage with him on a regular basis.
Until that happens, only see him occasionally, and then, only for brief periods of time. Leave immediately if you see that he is behaving in an abusive manner. Even if you simply have to make an excuse to go, do so and get out. When you are stronger, you can confront him with some of his behavior and inform him of your boundaries and the consequences you’ll enforce if he crosses the line.
That’s a difficult confrontation for a child to have with a narcissistic parent, however, so you’ll want to be strong enough to carry it off without a problem.
Like narcissistic mothers and their daughters, there is a particularly contentious relationship between narcissistic fathers and their sons. Narcissistic fathers are rigid, overbearing, arrogant, and strict, sometimes to the point of being physically abusive with their sons. They want their son to be the image of perfection, and a mirror image of their toxic father, so that they can demonstrate their superior parenting skills. To get them to do that, they often use abusive manipulation tactics like gaslighting, lying, triangulation, and emotional triggers to control their behavior.
I have developed a 5 Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers that can help with the last one on that list. This free guide will help you recognize your emotional triggers, explore the emotional wounds that created them, defuse the trigger, and eventually heal the wound. If you would like to receive a copy directly in your inbox, just click here. I’ll send it to you right away so that you can begin your healing journey.
If you want more tips for dealing with narcissists, setting boundaries, and managing emotional triggers, make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel