Opinion: My Narcissistic Father Made Me Believe Cruelty Was Funny

Walter Rhein

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It is difficult to overcome the influence of a narcissistic parent. You have to adopt behaviors to survive. Those behaviors can stop you from having healthy relationships.

Narcissists don’t care about your feelings. They take advantage of vulnerable people. If something makes you cry, they remember so they can use it again later.

I think my narcissistic father endured abuse growing up. He always wanted to visit his brothers and sisters. Sometimes his family would say things that hurt him.

Nobody knows how to hurt you like family. Your family witnesses every failure. Your family witnesses every embarrassment.

My mom told me that one of my father’s uncles used to hit him. I remember watching that uncle say things that made my dad wince.

My dad would absorb the attacks and laugh. He responded by also saying something cruel. It became a game.

Everyone in that family always tried to say something mean. You had to try to top the insult.

The game drew me in at a young age. I learned to perceive mean comments as affection.

When we went to visit my family, I knew I had to be quick on my feet. I expected my family to say mean things. They expected me to respond with mean comments.

I became good at this game.

In some ways, this game served me well. I can think of a quick comeback to any insult.

In some ways, the game made it easy to absorb insults. I think of an insult as I think of a pitch in baseball. It’s an opportunity to hit a home run.

It wasn’t until I started having romantic relationships that I discovered the problem with the game. I thought that it was normal to insult people when you liked them.

I saved my worst insults for the people I liked the most.

For years, I couldn’t figure out why I kept driving people away. My family didn’t help me. They acted as if everyone was too sensitive.

Eventually, I realized that it’s wrong to say mean things to people. My mean comments also made people think I was disrespectful.

My behavior pattern caused problems at work. It took me years to learn not to instinctively insult people that I liked.

My father refused to learn that lesson.

I do not talk to my father anymore.

We have to treat each other with kindness and respect. People who interact with insults have no place in your life.

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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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