You never know what to expect from a narcissist. I thought I had purged my father’s ability to have any control over my feelings and actions from my being. In my last post I related how I came to the realization—tearfully—that my father is never going to love me and be the father I want him to be. I also shared how I came to know that I have been his tool all my life
.My mistake was to assume that I was in control now when I faced my father. Just like the young monk who thinks he has gained enlightenment after a single moment of realization, I got slapped down like the Zen master would strike the monk. And, for a few days, I was more mentally fucked up than I have ever been.
This is something I would advise you to be careful of. Just because you make a decision with your conscious mind that your parent will not affect you does not mean that forces lurking in your unconscious agree. You can find yourself a mess even though you go into an interaction with the strongest of resolves.
This is how I discovered the power of the unconscious.
My Narcissistic Father Still Has Power
Events were put in motion when I had to take some Medicaid paperwork over to the nursing home to have it signed by my narcissistic father. The day before I planned to go, the turmoil that infects me whenever I’m about to come into contact with my mother or father started churning and roiling in my gut.
My wife and I fought that morning. I was on edge. I didn’t recognize why I was acting like an angry crocodile, biting those around me. I believed all my emotions were under control when it came to my dad. Didn’t I purge the hope he’d be a real father for me from my being? Yes, but apparently Dad still held power over me.
I began to figure this out as the day wore on. Though I wouldn’t see him for 24 hours, apprehension at our meeting reached out of my gut with slimy tendrils and spread throughout me. My ability to concentrate faltered.
I could feel an intense hatred for my father and his narcissism deep in my gut. I blamed my reluctance to visit him on my hatred of him. All I could think about was how he had hurt me over the years. And now I had to break my self-imposed exile and face him the next day. What I couldn’t figure out was how I would withstand the searing anger and anxiety that roasted me alive from the inside out.
Off to See the Narcissist
My wife came home from work. I explained what I figured out about our fights. I told her about the hatred and how much I was dreading going to see my dad, tomorrow.
“Why don’t you go now?” she said. “Why be anxious all night. Get it over with.”
A smile forced its way across my cheeks. Why hadn’t I thought of that? My wife was a genius. Why sit around all night, screaming at the kids for mild infractions, when I could go now and have it done with? I thanked her and grabbed the paperwork.
There were three pieces of paper to sign. Two of them needed a witness. I worried that the nurses would be unable to serve as witnesses and the social worker would be unavailable. I couldn’t handle seeing Dad two days in a row.
I figured I’d stop at the nurses’ station first and ask if they could sign. That way if they couldn’t sign I sneak back out of the building. I’d make my escape before dad even had a hint of my presence.
Are You My Narcissistic Father?
I had the entire interaction with my father mapped out. I figured I’d enter the room, tell him he needed to sign some papers, and then say I had an appointment and breeze out. Simple. I’d be all of three minutes.
I arrived at the nursing home. I hate nursing homes. The way they line the old people up in front of the TVs and leave them there for hours. Confused elderly shoved to the sides of the hallways to talk to themselves since there’s no one to listen. What an undignified way to end your life. I didn’t even like my father having to live there. But if it was a choice between moving in with me or residing in the nursing home, he was staying right where he was.
I asked a nurse if she could witness the signing of the papers. She said yes. I told her I would meet her in Dad’s room.
The room was empty. The nurse helped me find Dad. He was sitting in an overstuffed chair in one of the TV areas. I line of elderly ladies in wheel chairs spanned the room.
Dad looked up. He smiled. “Hi Rum,” he said.
I stopped cold in my tracks. I paused. And then composed myself. I said hello and that I had some papers for him to sign. I squatted next to his chair and gave him the first form.
An old insurance executive, he read the full page. The impatient nurse rolled her eyes. He signed it and the next one.
The last one required him to designate someone as his representative. “You want to choose one of the guys,” I said. I was a referring to my two brothers. He looked at me for a couple of seconds. Stared right into my eyes. He never does that. I didn’t look away. I don’t know what he saw in my eyes, but he wrote my name down as representative.
He handed the paper to the nurse to sign. “Did you like how I didn’t even ask?” he said. “I just wrote you down.” “Yeah,” I said dryly. “I caught that.”
Slipping into My Role as a Narcissist’s Son
I stayed and talked with him awhile. He was grinning and laughing. I felt myself donning the persona I wore all through my childhood and during my adult years when I was around the family.
Crazy Pete. That’s what my mother and father called me. I was a jokester, always cracking people up. That was my role—to be cute and funny. I wore Crazy Pete most of my hard drinking twenties. People loved me at parties, though women didn’t view me as a serious prospect.
And squatting next to Dad’s chair, I slipped that persona back on. It felt good, like a soft old fleece pullover. Dad and I joked. He told me that he and the nurse in charge of the floor butted heads. She’s the one that sent him down to the TV area.
“She won’t let me stay in my room,” Dad said. “I’m too independent.”
Finally I told him I had to go. He said OK.
“I’ll stop by next week,” I said.
“OK,” he said. “Love you.”
I paused briefly, and then walked away fast. I punched in the code to open the door leading to the stairs.
“You son of a bitch,” I muttered as I climbed the stairs. I stopped in at a bathroom to wash my hands.
After that I was in the car speeding home.
Me, My Father’s Narcissism and My Wife
I walked into the house in a daze. As I drove home my mind became more and more confused. Why was Dad so friendly? Why had he put me down as representative? But most of all, why did he say, “Love you.” I couldn’t see the framework of a con.
My wife asked if I wanted to sit on the deck and eat so we could talk. I nodded. We sat together and my wife asked questions. I didn’t say much in return. She began to grow irritated.
So I told her what happened. She suspected that Dad was so cheerful towards me because he had someone with who he could share that he was in trouble.
“He’s like a little kid,” she said. “He thinks it’s funny, and he wants a co-conspirator.”
“Then why the “love you” then?” I said.
“You don’t believe him,” my wife said, “do you?”
“No fucking way,” I said.
We fell quiet. A few minutes ticked by. I could feel her staring at me. Dread filled me as I wondered what was on her mind.
“What else,” she said. “There’s something you’re not telling me.”
I sighed. “Well as we talked, I felt myself slip my old role on. I was Crazy Pete again.”
“How did it feel?” she asked.
“It felt comfortable,” I said. “Like an old sweater.”
My wife experienced a mini freak-out. “Do you know how far you’ve come? You’re not going to regress back to being Crazy Pete. You have kids to raise, our relationship to think about, our lives…”
I listened and nodded my head, assuring her I knew all that, unaware that my father’s power to affect me raged in my unconscious.
The Sins of the Narcissist Follow the Child
It’s 24 hours later. The moments my wife and I have spent together during the past day have been strife filled. At one point she invited me to leave, as in leave the family
Most of the cause of the conflict is me. The repercussions of my interactions with my father continue to reverberate. I am short with my wife. I told her that she is becoming more and more difficult to live with.
Part of the problem is that I donned Crazy Pete and I can’t get him off again. My insults to my wife remind me of him. I threw a bag of garbage tonight across the kitchen. That is not my typical behavior. But it’s Crazy Pete’s behavior. How amazing are the powers of a narcissistic parent to throw us back into old behaviors just because they act with us like they did when we were younger.
And their power still exists no matter how consciously we refute it and despite cutting off contact with them years ago. Like a computer, they have programmed our unconsciousness to respond and act in certain ways. This is why you always respond in a certain way to a set of behaviors exercised by your significant other. That specific action has been programmed into you through your parent’s conditioning of you.
The only way to stop it is for you to become conscious of that behavior. Then you must practice self-awareness and whenever you are about to perform that behavior, stop! Then feel the feelings in your body. Ask yourself where this comes from. Be honest with your significant other and tell them how you want to act.
You’ll have to do this again and again. Because even though it exists in your unconscious, the pathways for that behavior are engraved in your brain. You have to make a new pathway. And that requires repetition of a new behavior so that you can forge a new pathway in your brain. You can do this. Sometimes you may make a mistake and repeat the old behavior. That’s OK. Don’t beat yourself up. Just apologize and try to catch it the next time. You can win this battle.
This strife wears on our children. They yell at us and say they are sick of our fighting. They have a right to be tired of that and I am proud of them for speaking up. And even as I apologize to them I realize that my mother and father would have never allowed me to speak to them that way. I feel a momentary measure of pride. Maybe I can shed Crazy Pete after all.
I know I can. My wife called and I apologized to her. She said she needs to find a way not to be so affected by me. I told her she is wrong. I need to find a way to be gentler with her.
There’s no excuse for my behavior over the last few days. Least of all that I donned some old discarded persona, like it was lurking around like Lord Voldemort. Banishing the effect of interacting with my father is a choice. A choice made with every action. Every action I take I have to choose to be kind and think of the other person before myself.
Neither my father nor mother would choose like that. And it’s for that reason that making action by action choices is the right thing to do. My family means more to me than any pleasant interaction with either of my parents. Each of my family members is a full person. They don’t hide behind some false self.
And when it comes to choosing between your narcissistic parent and other people, let that guide your choice. Who is the real person? Your significant other or your narcissistic mother?
Let my lesson guide you. I let my boundaries down around my dad, simply because he acted glad to see me. Don’t let your narcissistic parent lure you into their spider’s trap. It’s not worth it. The pain and self-doubt you experience once again hurts and possesses the potential to harm others.
And when you think you have your narcissistic parent conquered is when they are at their most dangerous. Letting your guard down for a single moment will let them weasel their way into your psyche. And while they’re in there they’ll cut you with razors.
So keep up your guard. Watch out for the unexpected. Let any sign of affection or kindness always be a warning sign.
I’m stumbling my way through the dark forest of parental narcissism recovery. And I’m trying to leave a trail for others so they can learn, especially from my mistakes. If my mistakes keep others from making the same errors, then the pain I experienced over the last few days is worth it.
If you must have contact with your narcissistic parent for any reason, please be careful. Like a coiled rattler, they are poised to strike. Protect yourself always. Remember you can always say no if they ask to see you.
When you do see them, they’ll try to get you to play the role they assigned you when you were little. The same role they’ve wanted you to play ever since. Please have the courage not to play that role. Dare to be who you truly are. Just because they wear a false self doesn’t mean you have to. Be strong. You can do it.
Remember, you’ve done nothing wrong, but something wrong was done to you. I wish you peace and the ability to find and always be your true self. I also hope that you will be proud of who you truly are. Because your true self is beautiful.