Did My Father Have a Personality Disorder? Borderline, Antisocial, Narcissistic?

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Reader’s Question

I would be really be interested in your assessment of my father’s personality. He is long-dead now. But he caused total havoc in the lives of my brother, sister, mother and myself while he lived with us.

A few years ago, I thought I discovered what the problem may have been. But I also think my assessment may be incorrect. I categorized him as suffering from Antisocial Personality Disorder. He had an extremely selfish side to his personality. Nobody could watch anything on the television except what interested him. On the rare occasions that he was “lenient” and let us watch what we chose, he would talk all the way through the show. He was extremely strict and totally inflexible. He could cut people down with his words, and he had no regard for the hurt he caused people. With me, particularly, I was consistently hit around the head for years…and suffered constant headaches as a result. He seemed to enjoy the hurt he caused others, and wouldn’t stop doing it. I can still recall the smile on his face as he hit me.

He was totally hated by every member of my family when he left our home, which was around the time I was 13. He never tried to make amends for the damage he had caused because, in his mind, it was always someone else’s fault. As I am writing this, I seem to remember my mother using the word ‘borderline’ when I was small.

He would always use threats to control people, because he had no idea how to care about people. Love was totally foreign to him. He felt love was just a tool that people could manipulate you with. He would never give his family anything out of kindness, but would always expect payment of some kind.

He used force often and repeatedly, almost daily. He felt that children had to be controlled or there would be total chaos. But the main thing was that he hurt everybody and did not care about the hurt he caused at all. However, outside the family, he got on well with his customers. It was a really strange situation.

Can you explain?

Psychologist’s Reply

In my first book, In Sheep’s Clothing [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK], which is now in its 14th international printing and third major revision, I discuss the differences between the various personality types and highlight the traits of those individuals best described as being disturbed in character. In my upcoming book Character Disturbance [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK], I explore in depth the features of the most character-disturbed individuals, what sets them apart from others, and the reasons they behave as they do.

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As I mention in my writings, it’s a mistake to frame disturbances of personality and/or character as an affliction from which people “suffer.” It’s not like they are the victims of an insidious disease that has interfered with the normal functioning of their brains. And there are very distinct differences between those individuals whose aspects of personality reflect some sort of “neurosis” as opposed to those with significant disturbances of character.

By conventional definition, antisocial personalities pit themselves against society in such a way that they typically lead lives of wanton criminal activity. In my books, I make the point that this conventional definition is short-sighted and overlooks the various subtypes of deeply disturbed individuals. Many disturbed characters don’t fit conveniently into one distinctive personality classification. So, it’s possible for someone to simultaneously have narcissistic (pathologically self-centered), sadistic (enjoying hurting others), as well as aggressive personality characteristics in their personality structure.

One of the main reasons I felt compelled to write Character Disturbance is because so many people just like yourself have trouble trying to understand the difficult and painful people they’ve encountered in their lives. Our present labeling schemes are simply inadequate. I hope that if you have a chance to read the book, it will help you make some sense of your father’s personality and of the hurt you encountered from him in your life.

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