Another piece of the puzzle: My father the sociopath

Over the past year, I’ve made discovery after discovery about why I am the way I am. It’s like I’m on a scavenger hunt for clues. There have been five or six times I thought the picture was finally complete, only to find another piece to the puzzle. Just when I thought I was finally done, this week I got another one. A big one. I feel like this time I may have finally come full circle.

My mother is a narcissist. For years, she has been the primary focus of my recovery from childhood emotional abuse. My dad, well, he was dad. Every time I’d go to a therapist and they’d ask me, “where was your father during all this?” I never really had an answer. He was there. That’s about all I had. But she was the enemy!

I always looked at him as more of a codependent. My mother was the certifiable one. Poor dad, he had to put up with her, just like we did.

Last week I wrote a post about the history of Cluster B’s in my family, or more precisely the history of narcissists and sociopaths. I went back and forth about what dad was – I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on it. But as my therapy has progressed and I’ve become healtheir, I realized more and more that he was seriously off too. It’s like my inner compass was being realigned.

I figured maybe dad was a covert narcissist himself. After all, he too thinks he’s perfect. He too has fits of rage. He too looks down on people. He’s manipulative. He allowed my mother to scapegoat me and took part, or at the very least he never stopped it. The list goes on. He’s just way more undercover with it all than her, I was coming to realize.

As I become healthier, I sometimes recognize that certain behaviors I thought were normal, are most decidedly not. Last week, for some reason I thought about my shoplifting habit and for the first time considered that it A. may not be normal and B. may be a function of my personality disorder. So I googled, “how common is shoplifting?” My guess? Maybe 80% of people do it. You can imagine my shock when I found the stat: only one in 11. One in 11?! That’s less than 10 percent! WTF?

Is stealing a byproduct of my NPD, I wondered? My mother doesn’t steal. The DSM outlines 9 behaviors of NPD, the closest I could get to this was, “Has a sense of entitlement”. But it still didn’t feel quite right. I mean, honestly it felt a little more along the lines of breaking the law and disregard for others.

It’s like one of those eye tricks, where all the letters in a word are out of place except the first and the last, but your eye skips over it and is still able read it perfectly. My eye just consistently skipped over my dad—now I realize that was probably by design.

The thing is, quite a few of my learned behaviors felt more ASPD than NPD. I’m not a sociopath though, I know that for sure and confirmed it with my therapist. So, where did I get these behaviors from? The answer was so obvious, it’s incredible I only saw it now. Maybe I needed to believe that at least one parent was more normal.

And everyone loves my dad.

It’s like one of those eye tricks, where all the letters in a word are out of place except the first and the last, but your eye skips over it and is still able read it perfectly. My eye just consistently skipped over my dad—now I realize that was probably by design.

The most important life lesson my dad consistently drilled into my head was, “Do whatever you want, just don’t be dumb enough to get caught.”

After having being diagnosed with NPD, I learned that you can’t trust the information you find on most of the sites dealing with the maligned Cluster B’s. So I took directly to the DSM, the book therapists use to make official diagnoses. In order to be diagnosed with Anti-Social Personality Disorder, a person must meet three of the seven criteria:

  1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest. Check.
  2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure. Check.
  3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead. Sometimes.
  4. Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults. Check.  
  5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others. Sometimes.
  6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations. Check.
  7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another. Check. Just, check.

At least five out of seven—with at least a few examples I can remember of all seven. What. The. Fuck. I then took to the Internet.

“They may have an inflated and arrogant self-appraisal… and may be excessively opinionated, self-assured, or cocky.” YES!

“Tend to be charismatic, attractive, and very good at obtaining sympathy from others; for example, describing themselves as the victim of injustice. Some studies suggest that the average intelligence…is higher than the norm… possess a superficial charm, they can be thoughtful and cunning, and have an intuitive ability to rapidly observe and analyze others.” YES, YES, YES!

“Obsessively concerned with what they think of as their ‘good reputation’. They think they have a following of adoring fans who judge them on their great goodness and benevolence and plain old fashioned ‘coolness’.” OMG, YES!

My dad was terribly abused as a child. I’ve only ever gotten bits and pieces of stories, in hushed tones. In fact, talking about it is one of the few times I’ve seen my mother show empathy. So, it must have been bad. From what I’ve heard, and what I’ve seen, my grandfather was likely ASPD, as is my aunt, my dad’s sister.

As a kid, I knew my father’s spots for his drugs and his money. He had stacks of thousand dollar bills hidden away. I don’t know where they came from, but I don’t think it was from working a 9-5. Or maybe it was just some of the money he “stole from himself” so he didn’t have to pay the taxes on it. I was taught this was a totally normal thing for a business owner to do. Duh.

He put himself through college by selling drugs and one of our closest family friends met him through being a client. He always seemed to have a side hustle.

He hated working for people (they’re all morons), so he’d get a job selling cars and really excel at it because he could “talk people into anything”. But then he’d quit to start his own business. Every few years it was a new career, a new plan, a new business, a new job. He is smarter than everyone and always has the best ideas, according to him.

He used coke and weed and had several DUIs, despite that having a license was a prerequisite for his delivery job at the time.

He always had interesting and exciting stories about stuff he did that skirted the law or times he almost got caught, but got away with it. Sometimes they were about him hurting people – like the time he broke that guy’s collar bone. Awesome!

I’ve never seen rage like when he would “blow up”. It almost wasn’t human. As a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder, I channeled his rage during my own blow ups, but I could never out do him. Challenge him and you’d regret it – he didn’t hit me, but it was terrifying. He seemed to like knowing how scary he could be to us. You definitely wanted to stay on his good side.

I learned early on that to get people in line, a little rage goes a long way. His litmus test for gauging danger was this: If someone was trying to fuck with me, I should go crazy on them until they back down. “But if they act crazier than you, get the hell out of there—because that means they’re really crazy.”

He always had a hobby, usually something thrill-seeking like motorcycles or learning to fly small planes.

He had no friends, except for the occasional old acquaintance he’d meet up with every few years or so. But he didn’t seem to care. He hates people, although he takes great pride in being a “people person” because everyone loves him. How stupid they all are–he can out-con them all. Morons. One of his most treasured skills? Being able to tell people to their face they are idiots without them realizing it.

In high school he was the most liked, the class president, the sports champ, the leader of the drama club, and of course, the most eligible, attractive bachelor that every girl in school was dying to be with. You name it, he ruled it. Once, as gift, I tracked down a copy of his old year book and it was all true. The woman in the front office remembered him (clearly still smitten) and gave me one of the school’s only copies to give to him (of course).

He always had interesting and exciting stories about stuff he did that skirted the law or times he almost got caught, but got away with it. Sometimes they were about him hurting people – like the time he broke that guy’s collar bone (awesome!). Another he told over and over growing up was about a dentist who hurt him while working on his teeth. He attacked the guy and threatened to cut off his gums with the scalpel, but the guy wouldn’t open his mouth so he threatened to cut off his lips. He then dangled him out the window of a high rise. “Your mother was screaming, begging me not to let go! You should have seen her face.” Hilarious!

As teenagers, he knew me and my sister were having sex and didn’t care, even after I got pregnant at 16 by a guy I look back on and realize was probably a sociopath himself. (Turns out I have a life-long pattern of attracting them.) I got “grounded” but essentially my dad’s response was to tell me I needed to be sneakier. (Remember, the #1 rule is don’t get caught. You’re fucking up, Yara!)

As a teenager, my punishment was often losing the rights to my car—but he was honestly delighted if I somehow figured a way to outsmart him and sneak out anyway. That kind of stuff made him proud. Honestly, I think he enjoyed the cat-and-mouse aspect of it. He was bored and he needed someone to play with.

I always wished my father was the protective type I saw on TV, who drilled the guys when they came over to pick me up, because they were taking out his precious little girl. But honestly, he just didn’t seem to care.

Years later, I learned he had had affair after affair, and once my mother walked in on him having sex with a woman who worked for him, on the job. How’s that for impulsivity? As he gets older (in his 60s) he has taken to soliciting prostitutes, because my mother won’t have sex with him anymore –a detail he’s unfortunately shared with me many times.

He was controlling. I remember he would wash his work shirts, and I was responsible for ironing each one properly and hanging them out for him. It felt more like a wifely duty. It never sat right with me, felt somehow incestuous. If it wasn’t done to his standards, he’d be angry and I’d be forced to do them all again instead of playing.

He was controlling of both me and my mother, and insisted I have a ridiculously high level of responsibility from a young age. My sister is almost 7 years younger than me, so there’s about 10 years she simply has no knowledge of – those were his meaner years. The roles seemed to reverse after she came along. She was daddy’s little girl. And he used her to make both me and my mother jealous.

By about 12, I was responsible for taking public transportation across the city after school to pick up my sister from kindergarten and take care of her until my parents got home from work. I took care of her during the summers too. I cooked dinner and cleaned the dishes most nights while they all enjoyed themselves. I never once remember anyone doing things like checking my homework – stuff like that was my responsibility.

I was forced to be the adult when I should have been just being a kid. To me, that’s the biggest tragedy of my childhood—the one that makes me the saddest.

I remember he would wash his work shirts, and I was responsible for ironing each one properly and hanging them out for him. It felt more like a wifely duty. It never sat right with me, felt somehow incestuous. If it wasn’t done to his standards, he’d be angry and I’d be forced to do them all again instead of playing.

Yet despite all that, he had his own personal code, and thus considered himself an upstanding person for following it. Society’s rules: moronic. His were the only rules worth following.

Everyone outside the family thinks he’s the Greatest. Guy. Ever. He’s charming. Friendly. Likeable. I guess this is the sociopathic “mask” we hear so much about. I used to tell my friends that if they only knew how he was behind closed doors they’d be shocked. True to form, no one believed it.

None of this seemed weird to me. In fact, it’s so common place to us that when I brought it up to my sister earlier this week, she argued that dangling someone out of a window is kinda justified if the person really pissed you off.

I thought everyone’s dad was secretly like this – at least the ones who weren’t total squares. But hey, most people are idiots anyway. With a narcissist mother and a sociopath father, I’d say my opinion of others was pretty shitty. Suddenly it all makes sense.

Everyone outside the family thinks he’s the Greatest. Guy. Ever. He’s charming. Friendly. Likeable. I guess this is the sociopathic “mask” we hear so much about. I used to tell my friends that if they only knew how he was behind closed doors they’d be shocked. True to form, no one believed it.

The thing is, it wasn’t all bad. I have more happy memories with my dad than my mom. Now I wonder if that’s because he slowly corroded her happiness and sanity over the years. But in a lot of ways he was a good father. Like I said, he had his own personal code and part of that code was being there for us if we really needed him. You don’t abandon family. He always kept his word and was extremely reliable to us kids in that way.

He seemed to genuinely experience happiness and seemed to genuinely enjoy making us happy. Of my spotty childhood memories, I remember feeling more “love” from him than my mother. Every year he’d plan a “father-daughter” day for us, where we’d go do something fun – an amusement park, camping, etc. When I got older, he made sure I had a reliable car and taught me how to work on it so I wouldn’t have to rely on men to do it for me. I get my common sense from him, and my hustler’s mentality. I trust myself to always find my way out of any situation and I get that from him.

But, he’s poisoned our relationship with our mother. I finally see that he’s been scapegoating her to us all these years—and it worked. Up until this week, I thought my father was largely an innocent codependent, a fellow victim of her.

Google “raising kids with a sociopath” and you’ll find site after site that say things like, the “sociopath may use the child as a pawn in an ongoing battle to torment or control you.” Ongoing battle is exactly how I’d describe my parent’s relationship.

To this day he STILL tries to use us kids as pawns against her—except now he has grandkids that love him more than her too, so he’s got even more firepower to make her feel like shit.

But because she’s so un-self-aware in her narcissism, she’s an easy mark. She is selfish. He at least makes an effort and she doesn’t. Unlike him, she doesn’t recognize that relationships are at least in part reciprocal, so she gives nothing, but expects everything in return. Now that I’m self-aware in my own narcissism, I realize that although her behavior is hurtful, it’s not intentional.

This newfound knowledge leaves me in a really tough spot. So many questions. So much to think about. My relationship with my mother has deteriorated to the point we are not talking. But now that I’m seeing my dad’s role in it, and simultaneously learning to feel empathy, I can’t help but really feel for her. Forty years with a sociopath has to do a number on your psyche. Her narcissism has gotten worse over the years, and I’m sure that had everything to do with my dad. She definitely wasn’t this bad when I was a kid—I remember him being more of the problem. Why did I never remember that until now?

Was his plan all along to make sure when he dies, she’s left with nothing – no relationship with either daughter? When he goes, we go with him? His final fuck you, from the grave. How incredibly mean. And sad.

A few years ago, my mother told my husband that my sister, my father and I, have been “plotting against me for a very long time!” It sounded like the rantings of a mad woman – and this is why she’s so easy to scapegoat. It’s why I was so easy to scapegoat – because I acted just like her. We were easy to paint with the “crazy” brush. I could either feel somewhat accepted, by hanging with the cool kids (dad and sister), or be miserable over there with my mother. What would any child choose?

She’s right. It’s at the point where neither my sister nor I want anything to do with her, meanwhile my dad’s health is getting worse and worse. Is he self-aware? Was his plan all along to make sure when he dies, she’s left with nothing – no relationship with either daughter? When he goes, we go with him? His final fuck you, from the grave. How incredibly mean. And sad.

Part of me wants to call my mom and tell her I love her. I can empathize now and I know how much pain she must be in. It hurts to feel her pain. She is so fragile, so broken, feels so worthless inside that she is afraid even the slightest criticism will break her. When your self-worth is that low, you feel like you can’t give a single ounce of it up, or you may just evaporate into nothingness. Or be left to rot away like trash in a gutter. I know that feeling. It’s heartbreaking that that’s the only thing she’s ever known.

But at the same time, my newfound knowledge doesn’t make her any less toxic. And the other part of me just wants to just run far the hell away from both of them. And never look back.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s