Today is the day we celebrate fathers. For some, it is an easy, pleasurable celebration filled with memories of caring and nurture and joy. A daddy who was there, in every sense of the word. For some, celebrating is a near impossibility filled with memories of pain and anguish and all that should have been, but never was. A man who, in some sense of the word, fathered, but was so broken himself he caused great pain and harm in the lives of his children. And there are others who, for whatever reason, simple never knew a daddy.
Whatever your experience has been of your earthly father – good, bad, or indifferent – the opportunity has been presented to you to long for something more – Someone more. All of our experiences have the potential to direct our eyes and our hopes to the One Who created us for intimate fellowship with Himself, the only One who can fully satisfy all of our deepest needs and desires.
I lost my Dad nearly 3 years ago. To say that our relationship was rocky would be an understatement. My parents divorced about the time I turned 8. My “perfect” world fell apart. As I tried to make sense of the chaos that surrounded my life, what I learned best was how to stuff my own pain and attend to others’ needs. I also perfected the ability to see only what I wanted to see, only what I wanted to believe so that I could feel like life was “normal” and perfect like it should be.
My daughter says that I see life through rose-colored glasses. Perhaps. It is possible that is what it looks like when a dreamer and visionary (me) tries to fit into the literalist world around her. Especially when the tools to name the pain and discover the harm life inflicted are not modeled or made available. Perhaps, too, there was an active element of grace and the Presence of God at work in my life long before my faith was mature enough to recognize it.
I am learning that true forgiveness and redeeming grace is not possible without the process of naming and understanding the harm. Surface acknowledgment results in superficial forgiveness; bondage is still attached, causing ongoing harm and destruction in its wake – and continued chaos along with it. I don’t want just superficial, surface forgiveness. I don’t want shallow love or short-term peace. I desire the fullness of God. I am beginning to understand that can only experience His fullness to the degree I understand the depth of my need and the enormity of His forgiveness and provision for my salvation.
Only then can I face the true harm that has been done to me and freely offer genuine forgiveness to those who inflicted the harm. Only then can I see those who brought harm through the eyes of God and offer them His grace to see their own hurts and receive the healing of their hurts. Isn’t that what redemption is truly all about?
But now words and wisdom are being given voice in my life. After several years of not hearing from my dad, and not knowing how to contact him, I was able to spend a few days with him just before he died. They were precious days. They were days that brought home once again the pain of never really having the opportunity to experience a daddy who was truly whole and emotionally healthy and able to provide all that a daddy is meant to provide for his children. They were days that brought back the pain of wanting what I never had. And there was the sorrow of the emptiness that is the result of narcissism, along with the pull to provide what was lacking, like a “good daughter” should.
Oh, how I wanted to bring moments of joy to my dying father; to receive healing for the pain that resulted from the demands of my very self I could never fulfill. I longed to hear the apology that was never offered; sorrow and remorse for the harm done. At that time I did not have the knowledge or the voice to ask for what I needed or to address the issues that needed healing while my dad was still alive. I tried, but without the proper tools and understanding, it was not possible.
What it did give me, was a level of peace and the first cracking of exterior that allowed me to begin the process of naming the narcissism that drove a wedge between this father and this daughter. It has been a slow process. One that is just now beginning to produce in me the voice I have needed for so long. It is a rocky road. It is also a generational curse I would like to see stopped and overcome in this generation so my kids don’t have to repeat it for another generation to come.
For now, I am thankful to be on the road towards healing. I am thankful to be on the road towards being able to truly forgive, as I truly name the harm. I am beginning to see the good God wants to create out of the harm the evil one has brought against my family for who knows how many generations past. His redemption is being revealed.
So, I say Happy Father’s Day, Daddy! I am pleased to know that you do now know wholeness and healing in the Presence of our Heavenly Father. You now know what it means to be loved and to love with your whole being. I long for the day when we will be able to meet again – no more sorrows and no more pain! No regrets and no grudges. Only love and truth and righteousness. Until then, I will continue to press forward in learning how to truly forgive here and now and live my life for God’s glory – warts and all!
If you are interested in more information on narcissism and its effects on children of narcissistic parents, here are a few basics, courtesy of Wikipedia. (Grateful for the laymen’s terms.)
Thomas suggests that narcissists typically display most, sometimes all, of the following traits:
- An obvious self-focus in interpersonal exchanges
- Problems in sustaining satisfying relationships
- A lack of psychological awareness
- Difficulty with empathy
- Problems distinguishing the self from others
- Hypersensitivity to any slights or imagined insults
- Vulnerability to shame rather than guilt
- Haughty body language
- Flattery towards people who admire and affirm him or her
- Detesting those who do not admire him or her
- Using other people without considering the cost to them of his or her doing so
- Pretending to be more important than he or she is
- Bragging (subtly but persistently) and exaggerating his or her achievements
- Claiming to be an “expert” at most things
- Inability to view the world from the perspective of other people
- Denial of remorse and gratitude
Hotchkiss’ seven deadly sins of narcissism
Hotchkiss identified what she called the seven deadly sins of narcissism:
- Shamelessness: Shame is the feeling that lurks beneath all unhealthy narcissism, and the inability to process shame in healthy ways.
- Magical thinking: Narcissists see themselves as perfect using distortion and illusion known as magical thinking. They also use projection to dump shame onto others.
- Arrogance: A narcissist who is feeling deflated may reinflate by diminishing, debasing, or degrading somebody else.
- Envy: A narcissist may secure a sense of superiority in the face of another person’s ability by using contempt to minimize the other person.
- Entitlement: Narcissists hold unreasonable expectations of particularly favorable treatment and automatic compliance because they consider themselves special. Failure to comply is considered an attack on their superiority, and the perpetrator is considered an “awkward” or “difficult” person. Defiance of their will is a narcissistic injury that can trigger narcissistic rage.
- Exploitation: Can take many forms but always involves the exploitation of others without regard for their feelings or interests. Often the other is in a subservient position where resistance would be difficult or even impossible. Sometimes the subservience is not so much real as assumed.
- Bad boundaries: Narcissists do not recognize that they have boundaries and that others are separate and are not extensions of themselves. Others either exist to meet their needs or may as well not exist at all. Those who provide narcissistic supply to the narcissist are treated as if they are part of the narcissist and are expected to live up to those expectations. In the mind of a narcissist there is no boundary between self and other.
Narcissistic parents demand certain behavior from their children because they see the children as extensions of themselves, and need the children to represent them in the world in ways that meet the parents’ emotional needs. Most often resulting in estranged relationships with their children coupled with feelings of resentment and self destructive tendencies.