Sons of Narcissistic Fathers
Sons of narcissistic fathers are driven by lack of confidence. Raised by a self-centered, competitive, arrogant father, they feel like they can never measure up or be enough to garner their father’s approval. Their father may be absent or critical and controlling. He may belittle and shame his son’s mistakes, vulnerability, failures, or limitations, yet brag about him to his friends. He may boast about inflated versions of his achievements, while disparaging those of his son.
A narcissistic father may ruthlessly bully or compete with his son in games, even when the boy is a less-capable child. Similarly, he may be jealous of his wife’s attention to the boy, compete with him, and flirt with his girlfriends or later wife.
Narcissists lack empathy. Many such fathers are authoritarian and rigid about how things should be done, the correctness of their opinions, and getting their way, portrayed by Robert Duval as the father in the movie “The Great Santini.”
Franz Kakfa articulately describes a literary example of such an imposing intolerance in Letter to His Father (1966):
What was always incomprehensible to me was your total lack of feeling for the suffering and shame you could inflict on me with your words and judgments. It was as though you had no notion of your power. I too, I am sure, often hurt you with what I said, but then I always knew, and it pained me, but I could not control myself, could not keep the words back, I was sorry even while I was saying them. But you struck out with your words without much ado, you weren’t sorry for anyone, either during or afterwards, one was utterly defenseless against you.
Arrogant and overly confident, his father listened to no one, but judged everyone without any need to be consistent. His rules and decrees were conveyed in a “frightful, hoarse undertone of anger and utter condemnation … [that] only makes me tremble less today than in my childhood…” The fact that those commandments didn’t apply to himself made them all the more depressing to Kafka, who outlines the three worlds he lived in:
one in which I, the slave, lived under laws that had been invented only for me and which I could, I did not know why, never completely comply with; then a second world, which was infinitely remote from mine, in which you lived, concerned with government, with the issuing of orders and with the annoyance about their not being obeyed; and finally a third world where everybody else lived happily and free from orders and from having to obey. I was continually in disgrace; either I obeyed your orders, and that was a disgrace, for they applied, after all, only to me; or I was defiant, and that was a disgrace too, for how could I presume to defy you; or I could not obey because I did not, for instance, have your strength, your appetite, your skill, although you expected it of me as a matter of course; this was the greatest disgrace of all.
As a result, Kafka lacked confidence, courage, and resolve. Like other children of narcissists, he internalized guilt and the projected shame of his father. (See Conquering Shame and Codependency.) He became so insecure and fearful, he was unsure of everything, “even of the thing nearest to me, my own body,” eventually leading to hypochondrias.
When narcissistic fathers get involved with their son’s activities, some take over, micromanage, or are hypercritical. Frequently, narcissists are perfectionists, so nothing their child does — or who he or she is — is good enough. Seeing their child as an extension of themselves, they become overly involved and control their son’s lives, education, and dreams, as did the father in the movie “Shine.”
Alternatively, other fathers may be physically or emotionally remote and wrapped up in their work, addiction, or own pleasures. They act like giving attention to their son’s needs, feelings, and interests or showing up at their games and activities is unimportant and a burden, even though they might provide for him on a material level. In either case, such fathers are emotionally unavailable. Because they deny and disdain their own dependency and vulnerability, they often shame and belittle any sign of distress or weakness in their sons.