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Enabling Fathers

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'I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father's protection'
Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, New York: Norton, 1961, p19


If anyone can make a difference to the impact a narcissistic mother (NM) can have on her children, it is the father. And maybe there are some cases where the father does indeed compensate for the mother's emotional unavailability, negligence, and abuse. Those case may not come to light because the children are less impacted by their mother's condition. Most children of narcissistic mothers seem however to have been let down by their father.

It would appear that the NM will chose a mate who will enable her to exercise total control over the children. 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, she explains.
Karyl McBride, Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers , Free Press: September 2009,Paperback, 272 pages, p60



The enabling father falls in one of these four categories:

- 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 himself abused by the NM. 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, 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' or ‘henchman' father: he actively participates to 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, or 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 (2000-09-01). Understanding the Borderline Mother (p. 302). Jason Aronson, Inc.. Kindle Edition.


IAN'S TAKE: My father was my mother's first victim

The day after my father died, my mother accidently 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 a 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 a 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 of 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, there was some genuine love for his children in him. 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. I'll update this page as things progress.


First Published: 3 June 2014 - Latest update: 3 June 2014



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