I listened as my father bragged about my beauty and achievements to his friends at the country club. And I listened as he told the story about how Marilyn Monroe kissed my cheek at the ice cream parlor and how Maurice Chavalier took my hand to kiss it on Rodeo Drive, telling my father how he’d never seen such a beautiful little girl.
My father was a narcissist. In front of his friends, my father and I had a healthy relationship, but behind closed doors, he was always angry that I hadn’t pleased him. He told me he could not love me the way he would have liked because I had been a disappointment to him.
When your father is a narcissist, you realize from an early age that your value depends on your behavior. Yesterday, you were his pride and joy when you were the lead in the school play, but tomorrow you will be worthless because you forgot to help your mother do the dishes or you asked for an extra helping of garlic bread at the dinner table.
My father presented me as his perfectly beautiful and talented daughter to his friends, but behind closed doors, I was verbally, physically and psychologically abused. Every time I was not his perfect daughter, I was worthless to him. And that was all the time. I was criticized endlessly for everything that didn’t measure up to his expectations, and his expectations were impossibly high. There was no such thing as good enough. He would tell me, “You are a good daughter; in fact, better than most, but you are not as good as I want you to be. And until your performance has improved, you will not be deserving of…” this, that, or the other thing.
I never had a sense of self. I wasn’t allowed to develop an identity other than the picture my father painted of me. In other words, because my father only focused on my negative behavior, I believed that I was who my father told me I was. When you grow up without real love and approval, only conditional love, you live with insecurity and a lack of confidence because you have never been appreciated for yourself. You are only seen for what you can do to make the narcissist look like a good parent.
As the daughter of a narcissist, I always felt something was wrong with me. I lacked direction and motivation. I had multiple failed relationships. I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. My development was stifled, and I spent my entire childhood and most of my adulthood hoping for my father’s approval and affection. I was merely a trophy on his bookshelf. I knew that, and so did his many so-called friends whom he thought he was fooling by taking out his wallet and displaying all the beautiful and perfect photos of me he carried in his pocket.
It took me almost an entire lifetime to break away from my father’s influence. It wasn’t until many years of therapy and his death that I was able to accept myself. I no longer needed his approval and realized that being loved didn’t have anything to do with how much I did or didn’t accomplish in my father’s eyes.
“Nothing goes away until it teaches us what we need to learn.” Pema Chödrön