Dating a narcissist helped me stand up to my hyper-critical father
In January 2018, I emerged from a 15 month, committed, monogamous relationship with an emotionally abusive narcissist.
That relationship ripped out my soul, leaving me a empty, purposeless pile of flesh. But the lessons I learned from going through that turmoil ultimately gave me the strength to make changes in my life — namely, changes in relationships that truly mattered, like that between father and daughter.
*Let me be very clear: I’m only focusing on one aspect of my father in this article. He is a good man and has many positives.
Dating a narcissist
If you’ve dated a narcissist, you’ll understand that while I was in the relationship, I had no idea he was one. But retrospectively, he showed most of the symptoms of Narcissist Personality Disorder:
- An exaggerated sense of self-importance
- Belittling people he saw as inferior
- Difficulty regulating emotions
- Preoccupation with fantasies of success, power, the perfect mate
- Reacting with rage and insults to make himself appear superior
The most difficult one for me to handle during the relationship was the last — reacting with rage and insults. Why? Because while it was something I’d endured a lot of from my dad growing up, I’d never conquered to ability to cope with it.
When my ex would yell at and insult me, I’d accept the blame.
It’s simply that he’s like my dad. I just need to learn to communicate better so that I don’t make him angry. It’s normal. I can get through to him if I just keep loving him.
Growing up with my dad
I come from a large clan of hyper-critical people — myself included. While my mother was least critical toward her children than toward others, my father was most critical towards us. As an adult, I know his intent was to provide motivation; to point out where we could do better. But there’s a difference between pointing out areas of improvement and insulting your kid.
I remember several instances in childhood where my dad was less than supportive.
- There was middle school when my report card of six A’s and one B was met with, “Why wasn’t it all A’s?”
- Pointing out my mistakes when attending dance recitals — though to his credit, he never missed one.
- Teasing me in front of friends and boyfriends, saying I’m stubborn and difficult to get along with. Asking how they “put up with” me.
- The countless times he’s questioned my intelligence by telling me, “How dumb can you be?, Don’t you think?, Stupid, I thought I raised someone who could think for themselves.”
My dad also has a pretty short fuse. Ironically, he doesn’t appreciate when his own intelligence is challenged. He appreciates a good debate with people who aren’t his blood, but when it comes to his offspring, he needs everyone to know he reigns supreme.
When we questioned Dad, things escalated rather quickly. He’d slather on the ad hominem, with a handful of shouting. As his anger increased, his balding head would turn the color of bubble gum gradating through the spectrum until settling on tomato red. I swear steam came out of his ears. He was a cross between angry Yosemite Sam and enraged Elmer Fudd. It’s rather humorous if you’re not the one bearing the brunt of his wrath.
By 25, I grew weary of feeling like I always had to stand up for myself against my father so I stopped trying. I moved further and further away, and spoke to him less. When we did speak, I tried stay on safe topics — a new movie, gossip about coworkers, stories about my dog, questions about his sports teams.
At 27, I was living 2,000 miles away, communicating mostly through my mom or email. I’d see him once or twice a year, and our visits were far from meaningful.
During these times, my dad retired and my grandparents passed away, which helped calm him. He no longer had the stress of work or caring for his ailing in-laws. When stress is less, it’s easier to be happy. He’s grown less critical and more open minded to others in society, but it’s been slow going with my brother and I.
But after dating the narcissist, the improvement became drastic.
Perhaps he finally realized he’d wrongly taught me that constant criticism and belittlement was an acceptable way to show love. Or maybe it’s because I finally decided I wouldn’t accept such treatment anymore.
Taking a stand
Just over a year post-breakup, I was ‘home’ for a visit. Dad and I were working on a project together. My friend and I had spent the previous days making the blueprints, and I’d instilled my old man’s help because it would be a good bonding activity…and I need to use his power tools.
I told Dad how I intended to do the next step of the project. He responded, “That won’t work,” To which I responded, “Why not?”
His retort was angry. “Well why would it?”
I maintained composure, despite the situation triggering my teen aged angst and PTSD from the recent relationship.
I calmly questioned him.
“That is not an answer to the question I asked. My friend and I worked on these plans for several days, and feel they are fine, now you’re saying they aren’t. So it is on you to explain me why this won’t work, rather than on me to convince you why it will.”
His face turned that lovely tomato shade.
Seething with anger, he screamed at me, “Why do you treat me like I’m stupid? Huh!? Always acting like I’m dumb. I have a Master’s degree, ya know. And 40 years of life experience over you. Why do you always have to argue with me instead of just listening and doing as you’re told?”
Enough was enough. I’d endured his criticism for 32 years and refused to do so any longer. It was time to get passed my fear of losing him forever, and start setting mature boundaries around the type of communication I found acceptable.
“I asked why it won’t work. I didn’t call you stupid. Asking you to explain your reasoning is also not arguing. It’s asking to learn. It is time for you to accept that you taught me to think for myself. And that at some point, I became out educated in certain areas.”
“I have a science degree, I’m 32 years old, and I have done all of my own DIY since the day I moved out at 18. I’m fully capable of doing this on my own if needed. So if you’d like to continue to help me — which I would like — I will need you to explain why is it that you think doing it the way I’ve outlined isn’t going to work.”
He was stunned. He stared at me blankly with no idea how to respond.
When he finally did, he had to use visuals to demonstrate his thoughts as he grunted. It was clear he wanted to be working on this, spending time with me. But he was also used to having control over things — being the project manager and didn’t know how to behave differently.
In the year and a half since standing up to my Dad, both of us have far more patience with one another, and we can finally start talking about more meaningful things.
He no longer belittles or yells at me, so I no longer take offense when he pokes fun at me for little things, like how long my boyfriend’s hair is or how silly meditative chanting is. He asks me about my life in The Netherlands — not just what the weather is like, but meaningful things like cultural differences and language.
He even initiated telling me he loves me, something he used to only say in reciprocation.
We’re starting to understand one another a bit better overall, because we’re finally letting down our defenses.
Dating a narcissist taught me to better understand my father. While my father is surely not a narcissist, I do believe he has always been afraid to be vulnerable, instead using anger and belittlement to mask his own insecurities.
Though I’d say that the greatest lesson learned from dating a narcissist was the importance of setting boundaries and that I deserve to be loved the way I want — kindly and compassionately and without the need to change who I am.