Recently, my dad has done a shitty thing. He’s always been selfish and unreliable, but this was a new low. While speaking with my counsellor about this recently, he asked if I knew why my dad might be like this. I know this wasn’t the intention, but his question prompted me to begin a process of internet searches and unprofessional diagnoses in an effort to understand my dad for the first time in my life.
I recently wrote a post about my childhood, and a lot of that content involved my dad, so there will be some overlap. Just a heads up.
My dad has been what he is for as long as I can remember. At a young age, I accepted that he would never change. I never had language that described my dad succinctly; when it came up, I could only say that my dad was my dad. He was different. And not in a good way. To explain the problem, I would have to explain everything. And I hardly have the language to do that. But language is the vehicle I am currently using to communicate this story, so I’m going to have to try.
I don’t remember my dad being an especially unique parent until his divorce from my mom. He briefly lived in a townhouse where my sister and I stayed part-time, then we moved in with his girlfriend. I’m increasingly convinced that household was abusive, but I still can’t explain why. My sister has more specific memories, but I just remember how I felt. There were countless little things that all culminated in a shitty situation. When they broke up a couple years later, we quickly moved in with his next girlfriend. My dad asked if I thought it was too soon; I said it was; it happened anyway. After that relationship ended, my dad, my sister, and I lived in a townhouse. My dad promised me he wouldn’t move in with another girlfriend until I graduated high school. But six months later, we moved in with his next girlfriend. (Throughout this time, my sister and I lived part-time with our mom) Eventually they got married, but last year they divorced. My dad lives alone now (with my sister still visiting part-time) but he has a new girlfriend.
Then there were the broken promises. For years on end, my dad would claim we would take a family vacation in the Summer, and it never happened. At one point, we were going to get a dog. Nope. My dad would promise me a ride, or say my sister and I would get home at a certain time. No. These might sound petty, but the consistent inconsistency was frustrating.
But again, it was mostly the little things. Never being able to visit my friends. Being looked at like a brat when I asked to turn up the heat because I was cold. Having my dad scream at me if I got upset about any of this. When he got married without inviting my sister and I, I never expressed my sadness because I knew he would get mad. We always had to be happy for him. We always had to forgive him.
And I’ve always loved him. He’s my dad. I’ve been convinced that he loves me, because he makes a point of saying it every once in a while. That he loves me and I’m the reason he’s gotten through everything. And he gets incredibly clingy when I don’t live with him. But after some research and reflection, I’m not sure of these things anymore.
I’ve become somewhat convinced that my dad has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or some undiagnosable level of narcissistic traits.
I have thought this in the past, but I forgot about it, since my dad is not the person I picture when I think “narcissist”. He doesn’t seem to have an inflated ego, and doesn’t go around bragging about how great he is. But he has so many other features, and exhibits these traits in subtler ways. Yesterday, my mom said something about my dad thinking he’s the centre of the universe and everyone else is just a satellite, and it made me think there’s something to this theory of mine.
My dad is selfish; this has always been obvious. His needs come first, and everyone else is an afterthought. But what’s always struck me as more pathological is the way my dad reacts to other peoples’ emotions. He seems GENUINELY confused. He doesn’t just seem angry when his actions impact other people; he seems surprised. Like it never occurred to him. That can’t just be regular selfishness. To this point, one symptom of NPD is “Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.”
Further, as I said, criticizing my dad in any way is futile. He gets extremely angry. Though not a diagnostic criterion, it is a feature of NPD to react with disproportionate anger and hostility to anything threatening one’s ego.
Many of the diagnostic criteria involve an inflated sense of self-worth, which I never saw in my dad. But on reflection, there is something there. He owns a soccer academy and thinks he’s going to fundamentally change Soccer in North America, maybe leading to international success for the men’s team. That’s a bit much. He also had trouble working with others before he was self-employed, as he doesn’t like taking orders. And he’s done well in the business world, which is apparently correlated with NPD diagnosis.
I might be grasping at straws, but in some areas, this assessment makes so much sense. My dad has always lived in his own world, disconnected from the thoughts and feelings of others. He has made countless decisions with little or no regard to anyone but himself.
When I began reading about narcissistic parents, what I found disturbed me. It is claimed that narcissists have children, not to care for the child, but to have someone they can control and someone who will love them. Essentially, they don’t love the child; they want to fill their own emotional needs. And when I look at my childhood, this kind of makes sense. Whenever my dad has told me how much he loves me and that I’ve gotten him through so much, it’s possible that he’s trying to make me feel guilty enough to stick around. Maybe he ignores me when I live with him but gets clingy when I move out because he wants to control me. Looking back, I think he’s only really expressed affection when he’s in danger of losing me. So there’s that.
I’ve also read that children of narcissistic parents often learn to view their own needs as selfishness, and thus have trouble expressing them. This has been a huge issue for me. It feels nearly impossible for me to ask for anything, because it feels so selfish and inappropriate. I shouldn’t need anything from other people. I can’t inconvenience them.
Maybe I’m reading too much into things that aren’t there. But a lot of what I am reading makes sense, and whether this diagnosis is true or not, framing my dad’s personality in terms of narcissism makes a lot of things make sense. He’s always been an unpredictable enigma, but this helps me understand him a little better. Of course, what I’m reading suggests that my dad doesn’t love me, but there’s not a whole lot of evidence to dispute that either. So I don’t know. That’s all I have for right now.
I’ll also quickly mention that my dad grew up during the violence and terrorism going on in Northern Ireland, so that’s another possible cause to look into. I know internet-diagnosing people with mental disorders is one of the most unbearable things a person can do, but it’s helping me understand myself, so I think it’s okay?