Narcissistic Parents Won’t Admit It When they Lose

Walter Rhein

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I remember the moment of awakening I had as the child of a narcissistic parent. A child is powerless to fight abusive parents directly. Instead, your only tactic is to live by their rules. It’s only as you get older that you recognize their rules don’t make sense.

Life is hard even under the best of circumstances. Everyone wants to be a success. It’s frustrating when we fail at the things we set out to do. When you’re living with narcissistic parents, this problem is magnified.

Narcissistic parents emphasize your shortcomings and disregard your achievements.

Nothing ever seems to be good enough for a narcissistic parent. If you come home with a report card that’s five As and one A-, the A- is the first thing the parent will mention. If you clean up a room but leave a speck of dust on the top of the shelf you can’t reach, that’s the first place the parent is going to check.

You can’t win.

Even with all these repeated examples, it took a very long time for me to recognize that my father was abusive. Even when he did things like slam my hand in a car door, I believed him when he said it was an accident.

I knew that he had a very rigid set of rules. I committed myself to follow these rules to perfection. I went after this goal with the same tenacity as an Olympic hopeful in pursuit of a gold medal. The primary difference is that a gold medal exists. My dad’s approval does not.

The straw that broke the camel’s back came when we were playing a family board game. The game was called Mind Trap. It was a game where one player read a card that contained a riddle. The other players had to figure out the riddle. Most of the questions were pretty obvious, and the answer was usually that somebody got shot with an ice bullet.

One type of question allowed the players to ask an unlimited number of questions until they figured out the response. These questions were impossible, and we usually gave up before we got the answer.

In this case, however, my siblings and I received an unlimited question card on the last point of the game. If we got it right, dad lost. So, we decided to try and get it right.

We peppered dad with questions, and I remember his behavior became increasingly bizarre. He started to act like he didn’t understand what we were asking. Sometimes he pretended he didn’t hear us at all.

We eventually provided our answer and he announced that we were wrong. Then, he stuck the card in the deck and walked away. We found the card and discovered that our answer was correct. We asked him why he lied to us. He denied it.

I realized that it was only a stupid card game, but it made me wonder what else he lied about. If he was willing to behave in such a petty matter over a meaningless game, what was he capable of when something was important?

Recognizing that made me reflect on other interactions with him. If he lied about a card game, he probably lied about slamming my hand in the door. It took a dumb card game for me to truly understand how abusive he was.

Narcissists are people who can’t stand to lose. Faced with loss, they throw a temper tantrum and deny reality. Decent people acknowledge defeat with dignity.

A person who fails to acknowledge defeat robs himself of the chance to recognize where to improve. Narcissists are doomed to failure because sooner or later they lose power. When that happens, there’s nobody left to help them.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI
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