Daddy Issues: 5 Toxic Signs of Narcissistic Fathers

If you’re the daughter or son of a narcissistic father, you likely experienced manipulation and exploitation from an early age. Narcissistic fathers and narcissistic parents in general can demean their children using the following manipulation tactics:

They are charming to others but unleash their aggression on their loved ones. Their reputation in public rarely matched their cruel treatment behind closed doors.

The narcissistic father can be charming and kind to others but cruel to their loved ones behind closed doors. You may have experienced cognitive dissonance as you witnessed your narcissistic father charm the community, relatives, friends, or strangers in a way that made them appear affable and loving. In reality, they were engaging in cruel verbal, emotional, psychological, or even physical abuse against you, your siblings, and their spouse. Some narcissistic fathers even lead double lives, engaging in deception and fraud, or have whole secret second families. This type of maltreatment at a young age can affect the developing brain and condition you to adapt to dangerous situations rather than protect yourself from them. This is why daughters of narcissistic fathers tend to end up in a trauma repetition cycle with rageful, narcissistic, and abusive partners who initially wear a charming false mask in adulthood. They become trained to ignore their own discomfort to please the abuser, avoid abandonment and perform a great deal of emotional labor to keep themselves “safe” in the relationship even while remaining in the damaging relationship (in these cases, their sense of safety is not about actual safety but the need to maintain the toxic relationship to mitigate this fear of abandonment). This is not their fault but rather something they were conditioned to do to survive childhood abuse – that is why healing these patterns and deprogramming such beliefs can be so important. Sons of narcissistic fathers can adopt harmful, misogynistic beliefs toward their partners passed down from their fathers due to witnessing their mothers being abused by their fathers or become entrapped in relationships with narcissistic women.

They may have idealized you when they could control you. Your entry into young adulthood or adolescence was likely a “trigger point” for the narcissistic father to devalue you because it signaled your independence.

Your narcissistic father may have doted on you with excessive amounts of affection and praise when you were younger or showed you off as an infant or child with pride. They used you as an object to gain external validation from others. However, as you entered adolescence or young adulthood, you may have noticed a drastic shift in the way your father treated you. For both daughters and sons of narcissistic fathers, this is because of your burgeoning independence. For daughters of narcissistic fathers, he likely felt threatened by your newfound ability to engage in relationships which he perceived as a loss of control. He may have withdrawn affection and become cold. He could’ve tried to micromanage or police your relationships to an excessive extent, overriding your sense of agency while subjecting you to verbal and emotional abuse as punishment. He could have also shamed you for your sexuality. This is because narcissistic fathers seek to put their daughters in a state of perpetual childhood unless their “womanhood” can be used for a specific purpose. Narcissistic mothers can do this as well, but moreso because they are jealous and envious of their daughters and are in competition with them. For the narcissistic father, this control tactic is more about ownership.

He attempted to indoctrinate you with his misogynistic beliefs about marriage, children, sexual “purity” and a “woman’s place” while belittling your accomplishments and always demanding perfection in everything you did. He may have tried to control you using finances especially if he realized you were becoming financially independent and he could no longer control you.   For sons of narcissistic fathers, young adulthood can represent a milestone of “becoming a man” and the narcissistic father may instill in you damaging ideas about the way relationships work and misogynistic stereotypes about women, holding you to impossible standards of success and training you to abide by models of toxic masculinity. Sons who witness their mothers being abused may adopt especially damaging beliefs about women that can affect their relationships in adulthood. The narcissistic father will hypercriticize both his sons and daughters as they become more independent, constantly moving the goal posts to ensure they never feel a sense of confidence and retaliating against them when they do not meet his rigid expectations.

He weaponized rage to micromanage you and the rest of the family.

Rage is a given in a household with any narcissistic parent. The narcissistic father is no exception – in fact, he’s the embodiment of the rule. The narcissistic father feels especially entitled to unleash his rage upon his loved ones. He expects both his children and his wife to comply with his demands and perspectives. He is especially prone to wrath when he feels slighted – when his false sense of power and superiority are questioned or challenged or when he perceives criticism even when there is none.  He could’ve threatened you or your siblings, vacillating between playing the victim when you don’t meet his demands and escalating into narcissistic rage when you resist his manipulation. You may have witnessed him belittling and gaslighting your mother on a daily basis, attempting to make her feel less than even if she surpassed him in many ways or even exploiting her resources and making her financially dependent on him by taking her resources as his own. This type of rage and control can train you to walk on eggshells at an early age, conditioning you to become a people-pleaser or “fawn” as a trauma response in adulthood. You might struggle with asserting yourself and end up in toxic relationships, friendships, and workplace environments that exploit you as a result of witnessing and experiencing this mistreatment. You also become conditioned to the traumatic highs and lows of growing up in such a chaotic environment and may feel subconsciously drawn or addicted to danger.

Their “love,” empathy, and emotional validation are non-existent and conditional.

Narcissistic fathers are incapable of and unwilling to extend healthy love, empathy, and emotional support to their sons and daughters. They will ignore and neglect your emotions or punish you for having them at all, treating you with contempt when you express sadness or outrage or when you are physically vulnerable. You are taught that your feelings, rights, and boundaries do not matter. Their emotional invalidation teaches you to suppress your emotions to make others comfortable – this is a dangerous habit that can follow you well into adulthood. You are taught to “earn” love and attention by seeking their approval – and even their approval is dependent and conditional on following their instructions for how you behave and the goals you pursue. They may demand that you pursue a certain career, a specific type of relationship partner, or that you “give” them grandchildren to carry on the legacy of the family. If you betray these instructions, you will be excessively shamed regardless of how successful or joyful your life path is. In their eyes, you should not have autonomy because you are considered an extension of them and exist solely for their selfish purposes – and if you do dare exercise that autonomy to pursue the life you truly desire, you will be severely verbally and emotionally assaulted.

They were hypercritical, envious, and tried to sabotage your success.

For narcissistic parents, nothing was ever good enough. Narcissistic fathers will attempt to hypercriticize and sabotage your accomplishments and dreams because they fear you finding sources of happiness and validation elsewhere outside of the cult of the family unit. They could have tried to diminish your confidence in your abilities, natural talents, and strengths in an attempt to prevent you from achieving your full potential. Even though they may show off your accomplishments to others with pride, they will belittle you condescendingly and criticize you with contempt. This criticism has no limits: you could be a multimillionaire with a Ph.D but the narcissistic father will still ask you why never became a medical doctor. You could be an award-winning athlete and the narcissistic father will find a way to criticize other aspects of your life, demeaning your relationship choices and the way you raise your children. It is never about honoring your true success or fulfillment for them: they do not wish to acknowledge your achievements unless they can take credit. They’d rather move the goal posts out of envy and fear that you are able to accomplish incredible goals without them. For many narcissistic parents, the financial and emotional independence of their adult children inspires fury because it means those children can finally free themselves from the abusive environment and never have to depend on them again. This is the type of freedom all adult children of narcissistic parents deserve.

About the author

Shahida Arabi

Shahida is a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia University. She is a published researcher and author of Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse and Breaking Trauma Bonds with Narcissists and Psychopaths. Her books have been translated into 16+ languages all over the world. Her work has been featured on Salon, HuffPost, Inc., Bustle, Psychology Today, Healthline, VICE, NYDaily News and more. For more inspiration and insight on manipulation and red flags, follow her on Instagram here.