Many young boys look up to their fathers as a prime example of what a man should be. This is normal even in father-son relationships where the father does not have narcissistic personality disorder. However, when fathers have NPD, the figure that the young boy is looking up to may appear to be especially grand. Men with NPD are generally very preoccupied with appearances; usually, they strive to appear powerful, dominant, handsome, overwhelmingly successful in their career, and financially well off. From a young age, boys with narcissistic fathers are taught that their father really has achieved all the aforementioned, and boys tend to believe what they’re taught, even if the success is only a façade.
Though it’s normal for young boys to idolize their fathers, things can get tricky when a boy has a father with NPD. Because those who have narcissistic personality disorder have a deep need for admiration, children of fathers with NPD are often conditioned and incentivized to admire their father greatly and unconditionally. Due to this, many young boys find it extremely important to measure up to their fathers’ ideals, even if their father’s ideals are psychologically harmful, illogical, or flat-out incorrect. These boys will likely carry such ideals into adulthood. Shaking these beliefs will not be easy, even as an adult. This is because, deep down inside, the adult will still be desperately searching for ways to earn his father’s approval and be seen as “great” in his father’s eyes. And men often cling on to their father’s ideas even after they realize their father’s problematic tendencies.
I’ll Only Love You If…
You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that fathers with NPD aren’t jumping at the chance to have a “loser” for a son. For example, many fathers with NPD dream of having a son who grows into a handsome man with a prestigious career, vast wealth, a large home, and a luxury car. Many fathers with NPD do not love their sons for who they are. Instead, they generally love their sons for what their sons have achieved. Because of this, the son grows up believing that he must achieve his father’s idea of greatness, or he will not be worthy of his father’s love, or anyone else’s love for that matter. These boys often grow into men who struggle to cope if they don’t prestigious career, financial wealth, good looks, or a luxurious lifestyle. This is because they know that they’re a failure and embarrassment in their father’s eyes.
Insecure Attachments and Self-Regulation
Parents with narcissism have a tendency to raise children who are insecurely attached. Oftentimes, these children grow up being discouraged from expressing emotions. In young boys, this can be a particularly troubling issue: they’re constantly searching for their father’s approval, and they learn that they cannot get it by expressing emotions. These boys eventually grow into men who never learned how to properly express negative emotions, and therefore they don’t know how to cope with such emotions appropriately.
Fathers with narcissistic personality disorder often favor the child who is the most successful by the father’s standards. This may mean that a father ceases to pay attention to a son who isn’t as “promising” as a sibling. Let’s say that a father with NPD has a dream of raising a child who plays baseball professionally. The problem is that his son has no desire to play baseball and, when the son does practice in an attempt to please the father, he isn’t very good. However, the father’s other son shows tremendous talent and even interest in baseball. In other cases, a father with NPD may show more regard to a sibling that appears to admire the father more. This type of abandonment can feel devastating to a young boy: the boy has been taught that he needs to be “good enough” to earn his father’s regard, but even after his best attempts, his father still favors his more successful sibling.
What You Can Do
Narcissistic personality disorder alone will not generally prevent a person from getting custody of a child. Therefore, if you have an ex with NPD, and you have children, your ex will likely get some custody if they want it. However, you can help protect your child from being traumatized by their father’s narcissistic traits. Making sure your child knows that you love them for who they are, can help your child understand that there really are people in this world who will love you for you. Encouraging their emotional development by validating their emotions and teaching them how to express emotions appropriately can also increase your child’s chances of entering adulthood with less trauma.