Opinion: My Narcissistic Father Couldn't See Beyond His Personal Experience

Walter Rhein

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My narcissistic father couldn’t understand anything that didn’t happen directly to him. This made it very difficult to explain anything to him.

For example, if he was fifteen minutes late to a meeting with you, he’d become offended if you got angry. “Relax,” he said. “It’s only fifteen minutes, why are you making such a big deal of it?”

But if you were fifteen minutes late to a meeting with him, he became furious. “How dare you show me such disrespect! Don’t you think I have better things to do than to wait around for you?”

Whenever I tried to explain that he told me it wasn’t a big deal when he was late he’d always try to justify it. “That’s different, I was late because I had a perfectly good reason.”

“But I had a good reason for being late too.”

“That doesn’t matter.”

I learned that the discussion wasn’t really about appropriate or respectful behavior. His response came down to whether or not he was inconvenienced.

If I made him wait it was wrong.

If he made me wait it was justifiable.

He refused to listen to me no matter how hard I tried to convince him that this thought process lacked logic.

I’m tempted to believe that my father suffered from a complete lack of empathy. He expected others to endure uncomfortable situations for his benefit and refused to endure them himself.

Over the years, I’ve encountered this attitude in a lot of people. Everyone from teachers to employers to clients shows traces of this form of poor decision-making.

The problem is that when people can’t evaluate situations with a clear head, they end up making bad choices.

Sometimes doing the right thing at work makes your manager uncomfortable. Even though the behavior might be bad for the manager, if it’s good for the company then it’s the right choice.

Unfortunately, in American society, managers often punish rather than reward employees when they do the right thing in this situation.

My narcissistic father’s judgment became clouded when his comfort was involved.

Once, our family was planning a camping trip. My mom sent my dad to purchase a camp pad for sleeping.

He returned with a three-quarters pad that could be packed down to about the size of a soda can.

“Why did you buy that one? It doesn’t look very comfortable.”

“Because it was the cheapest,” he said. “Why should I spend more money?”

“Fine,” I replied. “Then that can be the pad you use on the trip.”

He thought about it for a moment, then left the house and bought the largest, most comfortable camp pad he could find.

It was almost comical that the instant he recognized his comfort was at stake, money was no object.

My narcissistic father did not make consistent choices. He was indifferent to the suffering of others. He was only able to understand things when he saw how they were a direct benefit to him.

His lack of empathy made him engage in behaviors and decision-making that left other people uncomfortable.

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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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