Opinion: My Narcissistic Father Could Make Any Comment Into an Insult

Walter Rhein

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It got to the point with my narcissistic father that I had to put on my armor just when he walked into the room.

He bowed his head forward and rolled his eyes up at me. He wore a sarcastic smirk.

I knew that whatever he said, it would contain something designed to hurt. Once, I brought this up to him.

“You only see mean things because that’s what you’re looking for. You’re the problem.”

Then he would go and sulk. He would act hurt and offended that I dared to suggest he was anything other than kind. He sulked until I pursued him and apologized.

His feelings mattered and mine didn’t.

I’m not talking about screaming fits or blatant insults. I’m talking about constant abrasion. He wore you down like sandpaper.

Sometimes he hid insults in thing that sounded like compliments at first blush. He never once could offer a kind and sincere compliment.

I remember the comment that was finally enough for me. I was about twenty years old. At the time, I was an avid cross-country skier. I wasn’t great, but I was pretty good. I was in the first wave of the largest cross-country ski race in the United States.

It is a prestigious moment when you qualify for the first wave.

My narcissistic father never once came to watch me compete in that event. The race was the most important thing in my life.

I’m not resentful that he never came, but I find it perplexing. The race is over thirty miles, and I didn’t want to see him when I was physically exhausted. I didn’t want to see his face at the finish line smirking at me.

When my kids do races, it fills me with joy to watch them compete. I love to cheer them on and encourage them. I absolutely do not understand my narcissistic father’s psychology. My conclusion is that watching his children achieve brought him no joy.

What a sad and pathetic way to live.

When I was about twenty, a few weeks before the race, my father came up to me and said, “Have you done enough training so that you don’t embarrass yourself?”

Typically I would have responded to the barb with a quip of my own. He stood there waiting for my response. He had a smirk on his face.

I turned around and walked away.

That was one of the last times I talked to him face to face.

The answer was, “No I’m not going to embarrass myself. I’ll probably finish in the top three hundred out of four thousand participants.”

It was a liberating moment to not even feel an inclination to defend myself.

Even as I walked away, I saw that he put on his morose look. It was the look he wore when he thought he was being treated unfairly. That was the closest he came to admitting he acted like a jerk.

“Okay, what I said was kind of mean, but you overreacted. Why do you have to take everything so seriously? Why can’t you lighten up?”

That was his thought process. That was his justification for sulking off and acting like he was the one being mistreated.

When you have people in your life who constantly rub sandpaper on your self-confidence, it wears you down. The argument that their comments “aren’t a big deal” is invalid.

If somebody erodes your self-esteem day after day, week after week, year after year, they break you eventually. No insult is too small.

Good parents build up their children. My narcissistic father broke me down.

Nobody should have to put up with being treated like this. There is no justification for cruelty in communication. Even when people offer criticism, they can do so in a way that’s kind and supportive.

We don’t have to tolerate people who mistreat us.

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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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