What if your parent is a narcissist?

by Caroline van Kimmenade

A reader of this article left the following question as a comment:

“What if the narcissist is one of my family members (like my dad)? I love him very much, but it’s unbearable being around him. He’ll pick me apart for what he sees as my problems, and even say that he loves me more than I love him. It’s like he gets a rise out of putting me down and getting me to argue with him. I don’t feel good being around him, but I can’t imagine avoiding him for the rest of my life, he’s my dad after all.”

O.k. so first off, let’s break this down into the bits and pieces that somehow create a felt contradiction.

  1. My dad is a narcissist
  2. I love my dad very much
  3. It’s unbearable to be around my dad
  4. My dad picks me apart, blames me, yet says he loves me more than I love him
  5. It seems my dad gets a rise out of putting me down
  6. I don’t feel good being around my dad
  7. I can’t avoid my dad the rest of my life, because he is my dad.

I understand that this feels like a very unique situation, a situation very unlike being in a romantic relationship with a narcissist. After all, you can’t break up with your dad and go out to a dad-cafe to meet a new dad to bond with (Strictly speaking though, you can actually bond with someone else who takes on a fatherly role in your life, it’s just that “officially” this person will never be your dad).

Yet, just imagine what it’s like for someone who is married to a narcissist. Surely, they could make a very similar argument (and trust me, many people in that situation do): “My partner doesn’t treat me very well, I don’t feel good being around him, but I love him, and… he’s my partner of X years, so I can’t just leave him.”

If a friend told you a similar story, of being in relationship with someone who made them feel like crap, but not wanting to leave, and saying they loved this person, what would your reaction be?
You’ve established your dad is a narcissist. That makes sense of the fact that he claims to love you very much (oh, pardon me, he loves you more than you do, because of course, it needs to be a competition in which he is the winner!). He picks you apart, critcizes you and makes you feel bad to the point where you don’t feel good being around him. He gets a rise out of putting you down and getting into arguments with you. Yep, sounds like narcissistic behaviour. So, that part is clear then.

If it’s still unclear somehow, try confronting him about it, tell him how it makes you feel. If he does care, he won’t blame you for being honest and he’ll want to know how he can make things better, but if he’s a narcissist, he won’t accept any responsibility for his behaviour and just criticise you instead. It’s not a full litmus-test, but in light of the other things you’ve established, this would be the final “intervention” worth trying.

Now for the unclear part:

“It’s unbearable to be around my dad AND I love him”.

Ahem, do you generally love things, people, places that make you feel like crap? Really? Is that how your heart works? Or does it work like hearts generally do: loving that which makes you feel in alignment with who you really are? Is your heart really the exception? Loving someone who isn’t good to you?

“But he is my dad.” Yes he is. The only official dad you’ll ever have. Yet, just because he is your dad, doesn’t mean he is a very loving dad. There is no rule that says he must be. We expect it, for sure. People say things like this all the time: “your family loves you” [by default] as if there is something in the definition of family that implies love.

Similarly, just because he is your dad, doesn’t oblige you to love him. Sure, there is that societal expectation too. Yet, our heart doesn’t really let our brain terrorize it, not really.

  • The mind might be following a rule: “he’s my dad, I’m supposed to love him, so I love him”. 
  • Your mind might also be trying to cover up a fear: “what if I don’t love him, what then?”. 
  • Or, your mind may simply be confused. You feel crap around him, and people (including your dad) tell you that he loves you. So, conceptually, your understanding of what love feels like may have become skewed: “my dad loves me, so the way I feel around him is love”. You might not really have an alternative reference frame and so your dad may have “taught” you what love is, and how it feels. Except, it’s not really love. (These are just some possibilities by the way)

Another possibility is that you can kind of see beyond his personality, into his soul, into his potential. And you’ve found a spark there, something beautiful. And now when you think of loving your dad, you’re thinking about that spark, but you’re kind of ignoring what he’s like in every day life. If this is the case then you could say: I love my dad’s deeper potential, but I don’t love the way he treats me, and I don’t love the way he is as a person. Know that, you can love his potential from afar.

Of course, there’s the “what will other people think” factor and there is also the “I don’t want to deal with this” factor. Of course you, don’t! Who would?!

Only you can decide what to do. Yet, do allow for the possibility that you don’t love him as much or as completely as you believe you do. Open up to the possibility that you may have some very strong, and perhaps strongly repressed other feelings towards him too.

Let the true, complete and messy package of all your feelings, experience and knowledge guide you on what to do (or not do) in this situation. And be sure to connect with your heart and ask what you need to know about the situation, and also, what you need in all this.

Our mind tends to try and simplify difficult situations by going into either/or mode. From there, we can waste a lot of time trying to figure out what the real answer is. Is it A or B, or a, or b, or perhaps a after all? Yet, more often than not, it’s something along the lines of ABABABCCFY. Which is why, our mind is incapable of coming up with a way forward. This is why we need our heart. Our heart is designed to cut through the chaos and connect us to the deeper, and more complete picture.

For more factors that may be involved, also take a look at this article.


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1 Bobbie December 21, 2013

Thank you Caroline for this helpful post, and your wonderful blog. Continue to Be a gift to humanity. Have a great weekend! ^_^

2 Nitya February 17, 2014

Hey there. Thanks for posting this question. I’m in a similar situation. And to make it worse I live in a jurisdiction where for safety purposes girls preferrably live with their parents till they get married. So I am living with my parents (narcissist father and victim mother). Whereas till recently I was trapped in the pattern where whatever happened I would lose my temper on my father and end up arguing with him.. Which of course harmed/ drained only me, whereas it gave him the desired energy he requires. I am however learning to keep distance from him and his manipulative ways.. Its hard and occasionally an argument becomes unavoidable. But I use prayer and meditation thereafter to reclaim my lost energy. And am learning to make it a point to say a ‘No’ to all his orders, commands, requests, and pleadings. Right now living away from him seems an unlikely option for me at least till my marriage which is not going to happen soon. Till then I’m just trusting and constantly struggling to keep my boundaries up.. Thanks Caroline for the response! It is helpful!!

3 Caroline van Kimmenade February 17, 2014

Hi Nitya.

Sorry to hear you are in such a tough situation! Sounds like you’re doing an excellent job of dealing with things though! Skills on how to deal with narcissists are an excellent thing to have in our life toolbox, you never know when you might need those skills later on. Sometimes we get stuck in a difficult “training ground”, but on the bright side, the skils we learn will serve us the rest of our life. If you can keep your boundaries up with a narcissist, dealing with most other people will be a breeze.

4 Lee H. March 29, 2014

This is a very interesting article. I have an adoptive father who is a narcissist, and I am also married to a narcissist (funny how that happens, but really not funny). At the age of 46 I met the man who is my father, the man whom I was separated from when I was adopted out as an infant. This father is also a father and is kind, respectful and sees me. His love is not totally unconditional (no ones is but God’s). I am divorcing my narcissistic husband. He has been abusive, and though I do not hate him I am angry at him, but I honor him still because he is the father of my children and still someone I love the essence of who he is as a person. I do not feel this way for the father who raised me. I am choosing some boundaries with my adoptive father and will try to kindly enforce them. I don’t know if I can ever really love him. I do love the father I just met very much…we definitely have a bond from our biological connection, no question. I need to forgive the other father for what he could not do, but that does not mean I cannot love my biological father. My life belongs to me and my choices are my own.

5 melinda November 16, 2014

I have the opposite situation. My teenage son is the narcissist. From the time he was little, his “go-to” was always blaming someone or something else when things go wrong. I can remember trying to teach him for years, “don’t be a blamer, be a problem solver!”, and I would always encourage him to look for solutions, but as you stated in one of the articles, someone with this personality will shoot down any positive ideas you try to come up with, and his negativity is like a big, oppressive dark cloud. I am a generally positive, upbeat person, and interacting with him just completely sucks the energy right out of me. But….he is my son, and he is still financially dependent on me, and I have to take care of him, so I just continue to take a deep breath and keep trying to guide him, but I really am starting to feel hopeless. I tried counseling, and that was a disaster, because he doesn’t think any of this is his fault, of course, and that there is something wrong with everyone else. He spends most of his time alone, and tells me outright that he doesn’t like people, because most people are just stupid. He has a younger sister that is the complete opposite… she is very social, very empathetic, and treats people well. She doesn’t blame or say anything is “not her fault” . I raised both of them with love and kindness, and I seriously can’t understand how my son can be so uncaring towards me when all I ever do is give to him. I always think something is finally going to “click” for him, but years have gone by, and it’s still the same.

6 Caroline van Kimmenade November 19, 2014

Wow, that sounds really tough Melinda!

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