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  • Ashley Chen

The Truth About An Asian Dad (and His Narcissism)

The last time he came into my room with a hushed, innocent voice and hurt, puppy eyes, I already knew that he was manipulating me. It doesn’t take long before he utters, “I know that I hurt you, but I did nothing wrong.”

For more context, this is a prime example of my dad’s version of an apology: “I know that I repeatedly screamed across the dinner table (but I was just making sure you understood my point) and slandered you (but you also need to improve your attitude), but you have to understand that I’m a parent with a full-time tech job studying for your upcoming AP test so I can tutor you. It’s for your own good.” But he really was just hurting me, and for so long, I didn’t seek out mental health resources when they were available to me because of how stigmatized mental health is in Asian communities.

Without a doubt, my dad is a narcissist. It only took Dr. Ramani Durvasula’s YouTube video titled “How to think about your narcissistic parent” to determine that my dad really does fit that mold. One of the most liked comments in the comments section is one I agree with wholeheartedly. “When a stranger on the internet is more validating of your feelings than your own parents 👁👄👁” was my reaction too.

As defined by Preston Ni, a professor and coach in the areas of interpersonal effectiveness and professional communication, a narcissistic parent is “someone who lives through, is possessive of, and/or engages in marginalizing competition with the offspring.”

The most noticeable aspect of my dad’s narcissism is the third one from Ni’s article, Grandiosity and Superiority, “attained at the expense of one’s humanity, conscientiousness, and relatedness.” In the earlier example, my dad treats me like I don’t get hurt by his actions and that I’m some tool for him to control. In his mind, I’m less human than he is.

This superiority complex is exacerbated by Chinese culture, specifically Confucianism. Confucianism is a prevailing social ideology in China that promotes filial piety, “the attitude of obedience, devotion, and care toward one’s parents and elder family members that is the basis of individual moral conduct and social harmony.” From a young age, we are taught that the most important value to our lives is our loyalty to our family. Filial piety and narcissistic parenting also tie into one of the four parenting types, Authoritarian Parenting, which “generally lead[s] to children who are obedient and proficient, but they rank lower in happiness, social competence, and self-esteem.”

Filial piety twists what a good relationship is. A good relationship is where we help each other and hype each other up. That begs the question, how is it determined that what our parents are doing is helpful, or for our own good? The wrong answer is that our parents, because of their self-proclaimed extra wiseness from us, determine what is good for us, their children, who they’ve determined to be less wise. The answer that we should be accepting is that we determine what is best for us.

At a certain age, teens develop a form of self-determination; they start to make decisions for themselves. But narcissistic parents won’t accept that. Their long-standing impositions are suddenly fought against. My dad didn’t suddenly become a narcissist. Young children are burdensome and disobedient, wild and free-spirited, and they like to play. It’s the parents’ job to develop a set of values and morals in their children, especially in Asian families where family and education are top priorities. When we casually talk about Asian parenting, one of the most common descriptors is “strict,” but at a younger age, we’ll also say “it’s for our own good, setting us up for the future.”

As an incoming senior in high school and navigating through my own mental health struggles, I’ve come to realize that my parents, along with the values that have been inscribed on my brain from a young age, gaslight my own depression. My parents hate it when I cry, so after some time, I relocated my crying to my bathroom. I never stopped crying because the pressure to become human, which for my dad is possessing unconditional devotion towards him, would multiply by infinity every time I offended him by not giving him a hug, remained silent when he asked if I loved him.

As Dr. Ramani stated in her video, one of the ways to protect ourselves against narcissistic Asian parents is standing up for ourselves by calling out hurtful behavior when it happens. It’s easier said than done, given that narcissistic parents aren’t exactly promoting confidence in speaking. I do think this task is much easier when you're younger. As a young child, you’re more naive and expressive of your own opinions, because you don’t really know how what you say implicates something else. As you grow older, you don’t have that naivety to fight back against what you then believe to be true, yet you also believe not to be. All in all, a narcissistic parent is not something anyone should have to live through. Attending therapy and seeking out an Asian counselor are really important for improving your mental health.

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