Opinion: Narcissistic Parents Intimidate Their Children With the Threat of Force

Walter Rhein

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In my twenties, I still had hope that I could repair my relationship with my narcissistic father. I only communicated with him through email. I didn’t want to be in his presence. In his presence, he used physicality, violence, and the threat of force.

“We need to talk about this face to face so we can sort it out,” he would say.

He was confident that if we talked face to face, he could convince me he was right. He thought he could make me see his point of view.

But the problem with our relationship was not that I couldn’t see his point of view. He’d raised me from a child. I’d been completely powerless and in his control. I knew his point of view. I’d been immersed in his point of view all my life.

The problem with our relationship was that he couldn’t see my point of view. He didn’t even try to see it.

He refused to acknowledge that his stubbornness was the source of our conflict. Narcissists believe they are perfect and they seek out scapegoats to blame. My father blamed email.

“It’s easy to misinterpret what an email says,” he insisted. “We need to discuss this face to face.”

His position sounds reasonable, but I refused to meet with him. My father is a physically large man. He uses his physicality. He likes to intimidate people. He intimidates them by flexing the muscles in his face and shoulders. He makes abrupt and violent gestures.

In college, I grew large enough to handle him physically. That was not the issue. The issue was that I did not want to have to handle him.

Even now, decades later, it would bring me no satisfaction to get into a physical altercation with my father. You can’t beat obedience into somebody.

If we were going to continue our discussions, it had to be done in a way that did not involve physical threat.

As a child of a narcissistic parent, you have to learn to set boundaries. Narcissists like to put you in a vulnerable position so they can abuse you. If you call them on this, they will deny it and become offended.

Narcissists become resentful if you establish boundaries. They see this as an encroachment on their power and influence.

It’s not unreasonable to request to only communicate through email. My father became incensed by my insistence. With a narcissistic parent, everything becomes a contest. His focus changed. He no longer had any interest in working on our relationship. He only wanted me to relent and see him face to face.

His arguments against email became more hysterical. He started telling me I was a horrible person for forcing him to use a bad form of communication. He absolutely refused to even try to communicate through email.

To this day, he insists that our relationship is broken because I wanted to talk through email. He places the blame on email so he doesn’t have to blame himself.

Narcissistic parents don’t seek resolution, they seek victory. My relationship with my narcissistic father became a contest of wills. My father and I aren’t playing the same game. He believes he wins if I agree to capitulate to his demands. I believe we both win if he develops greater regard for the feelings of others. The idea that we could both win is not compatible with his psychology.

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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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