Fathers Could Offset the Effects of Narcissistic Mothers
I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protectionSigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, New York: Norton, 1961, p19
If anyone could mitigate the detrimental impact a narcissistic mother (NM) has on her children, it would be the father.
If the father is reasonably healthy he could, theoretically, defend the child and validate their experience.
This would undo the devastating effects of maternal gaslighting – which causes children to doubt their own (accurate) perceptions.
- To navigate the world and make decisions successfully, you have to trust your perceptions
- If a child is consistently told they are wrong (gaslit) when they are accurately perceiving things, they learn to doubt themselves and end up confused & unable to make good decisions
If nobody challenged your mother’s gaslighting, you’ve probably learned to gaslight yourself, and struggle with self-doubt.
- This can be remedied later in life by having a close relationship with somebody who is highly attuned to you & gives you appropriate mirroring, validation, normalization, empathy, compassion, support, and encouragement
- A therapist, coach, or even a healthy intimate partner
Perhaps there are some cases where the father does indeed compensate for the mother’s emotional unavailability, negligence, and abuse. Those cases may not come to light because the children are less impacted by their mother’s condition.
Why Most Fathers Enable Narcissistic Mothers
Unfortunately, most children of narcissistic mothers seem to have been decidedly let down by their fathers. Particularly, but not only, the child to whom the mother has assigned the role of scapegoat.
This is because narcissistic mothers typically choose husbands who will enable them to exercise total control over their children.
The narcissistic mother uses her son as a narcissistic object to manage her emotions and self-image. And the father essentially offers her the son as a placating sacrifice in order to keep her out of his hair. Ouch – sad but true.
Karyl McBride describes the father as:
… revolving around Mother like a planet around the sun: if the marriage is to survive, the father must take a supporting role.Karyl McBride (2009) Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers (p60)
Types Of Enabling Fathers
The Absent or Missing Father
Either the father is unknown, has left the family, or the parents are divorced.
In case of divorce, the father’s involvement with his children may vary. The divorce may also be the result of a clash between two narcissists, which doesn’t bode well for the children.
The father may be replaced by a stepfather who may fall in any of the three following categories.
The Blind Father
He is unaware of what goes on when he is away. He is manipulated by the NM.
He may suspect something and be abused by the mother himself. This may be repressed into his unconscious, in the same way, that he may be unaware, or in denial of the fact that he was abused by a narcissistic parent himself.
The Ostrich Father
He buries his head in the sand and looks the other way when there is abuse.
He may be scared, helpless, or simply a coward. He may believe that he can’t do anything and somehow absolves himself. He may even justify some of the abuse to himself.
Like the ‘blind’ father, he represses things into his unconscious. He has most likely been the victim of abuse himself.
The Kapo / Henchman Father
He actively participates in the abuse. Maybe he is a narcissist himself, or a co-dependent totally controlled by his wife.
Like any narcissist, the NM excels at getting others to do the dirty work for her. She may play the victim, convincing the father that the children are horrible and need to be corrected. She may persuade the father that the children are against him, despise him, criticize him behind his back, etc. Or she may make him envious of his own children, possibly even deprive him of sex.
This will result in the father resenting the children, and he will then endorse or commit the abuse himself.
The father can enable the NM’s abuse either passively or actively, or somewhere in the middle.
The unanswered questions are: Is he as guilty or even guiltier that the NM? After all, he is less insane, isn’t he? Could he have stopped the abuse?
Had he stood up, what would have happened? Divorce, loss of custody of the children? Could he have demonstrated the mother’s condition to the entourage and the authorities?
Maybe the father could have just ensured that the children felt loved by at least one parent.
The truth may be that the father is not just an enabler. By not being there for his children other than physically, he has abandoned them. His children don’t just have one nurturing parent missing, they have two; they are in fact orphans.
Christine Lawson writes this about enabling fathers of borderline mothers, which most certainly applies to NMs as well:
The father, however, is often torn between loyalty to his wife and loyalty to his children. The borderline wife’s retaliatory rage and sensitivity to abandonment can leave both father and child fearful and torn between the objects of their love.
The borderline’s children often repress their anger at their fathers and are not able to express these terrifying feelings until deep into therapy. Idealization of the father prevents depression and rage from surfacing and protects the child from feeling orphaned.Lawson, Christine Ann (2000). Understanding the Borderline Mother (p. 302)
- My Father Was My Mother’s First Victim.
The day after my father died, my mother accidentally broke their breakfast set for two. I immediately thought that now in heaven, he could see everything, and had just seen the truth about my mother.
I didn’t know yet that she was an NM, but I surely knew that she had played him quite a bit. I believe that he died not knowing this.
He was a ‘blind’ father who died literally half-blind after developing cancer of the eye, a rare form of skin cancer. I loved him and I remember him when I was little as a loving and fun dad. People loved him. He was very pleasant.
Gradually he lost his joy in living, and he had his grumpy moments. He didn’t see or want to see when my mother started fooling around and abusing him. I’m sure he didn’t know what was going on behind his back.
But he also chose not to see. So, he was an ostrich too.
But I know that, unlike my mother, he had some genuine love for his children. I think that’s what has saved me from totally sinking into hatred and disease.
I feel his love in me. I know that I am lucky.
But maybe I’m still in denial about him. It may be that, as I progress through therapy, I will feel and express anger towards him.