Today, I want to look one of the biggest problems that all survivors of abuse have to face when trying to rebuild their life: how best to deal with a narcissistic co-parent. In fact, this may well be the biggest question of all since both your fragile sense of self-worth and your children’s well-being hinge on it.
Under normal circumstances, even when the love between you and a partner is over, your children should still be able to rely on having the love of both parents. Sadly, when it comes to a narcissistic parent, none of the normal, desirable rules apply. Instead, everything becomes far more of a challenge than it should ever have to be.
The narcissistic co-parent will make every step of the process of separating yourself from him or her as difficult and damaging as they possibly can. However, there are 9 simple strategies that you can use to help make the process as painless as possible.
1) Accept the unacceptable
When your relationship with a Narcissist ends, you end up carrying a load of guilt for what is not your fault. In order to expiate that guilt, you want to make everything perfect for your child. You want to meet their every need. You blame yourself for causing them even a moment’s unhappiness through the failure of your relationship with their other parent. Sadly, you just cannot protect children from the unhappiness that comes with narcissistic abuse. Not even with the best will in the world.
You cannot prevent your children from witnessing the cruel, selfish and dismissive treatment of their own parent towards them. The unacceptable, inevitable truth is that the narcissistic parent will hurt them, in any case. You are going to have to accept that there is nothing you can do to change that.
Acceptance is hard. But fighting reality is both harder and doomed to end in disappointment.
2) Children can be resilient
This is not to suggest for one moment that children can go through hell and just “bounce back” and either not feel the pain, or else not register that something was profoundly wrong. Of course, they will. However if they have the unconditional love and support of one parent – manifestly, you – they can still enjoy peace of mind, happiness and self-worth.
Besides, you have to remember that staying with your narcissistic partner would have caused no end of harm to your children anyway. Not to mention the fact that it would have left you in that strange place of having to somehow either condone the damaging parent’s behaviour or else subvert your own child’s sense of reality.
At least, distancing yourself from the damaging parent helps your child to see that you stand firmly on the side of what you say are your values. Since children learn what they live, when you live courageously and honestly, you gives them a worthy role model – and a far, far better role model than the narcissistic parent ever will.
3) Understand what your children need
Tempting as it is to fall into self-blame about what you believe you are depriving your child of, you need to focus on what you give your child. Your role is NOT to give your child all that their narcissistic parent should give them but was never going to give them – even if he/she had remained centre stage in the family.
- Unconditional love
- A decent role model
- A sense of belonging
All of these are things that you can offer the child. The narcissistic parent never could or would.
The best that a narcissistic parent will ever do is “celebrity parenting” for the consumption of a real – or imagined – audience.
On the plus side, without them in residence and constantly centre stage, constantly undermining your self-worth, you have more strength and availability to show up 100% for your children.
You cannot be two good parents to your children. That is too much to ask. But you can be one good, honest, accountable parent. That is good enough.
4) Establish your optimal strategy
When a child has a narcissistic parent, there can be no ideal outcomes. If the narcissistic parent disappears, never to be seen again – or, at least, not for years or even decades – that has its upsides. However, how can that child not pick up on the message that their narcissistic parent does not care enough to show up for them?
If, on the other hand, the narcissistic parent remains around, you need to a strategy for managing your emotions and dealing effectively with them. Without getting sucked into their endless mind games.
First off, you have to understand their strategy. It likely has 3 strands to it,
- To harm you as much as possible.
- To use your child against you and, if possible, alienate your child from you.
- To look like The Good Parent in the eyes of an easily persuadable audience.
Your strategy for dealing with this level of appalling behaviour has to be four-pronged. You have to,
- Refuse to let their behaviour get to you.
- Keep your focus on doing your best for your child.
- Make your contact with the narcissistic parent as successful as possible – in terms of getting the best possible outcome for your children, at all times.
- Invest in getting your own life back on track.
Above all, you need to radically revise your view of your ex.
5) Revise your viewpoint
“Your” Narcissist has gone to a great deal of effort to prove to you that they are the most powerful person in your universe – and you are the least powerful.
Now, whether or not they are objectively powerful, you need to revise your opinion of them and the way that you respond to them.
In reality, they behave towards you like a malicious toddler having a temper tantrum, or else trying – quite unsubtly – to manipulate you.
So, you need to hold that image in your head at all times with a view to responding to them appropriately.
A client of mine has learned how to envision her narcissistic ex as an extremely unpleasant and wilful toddler. So she talks to him as firmly and calmly as she would to somebody else’s annoying child.
I wish I could say that he has meekly fallen into line. The reality is not quite like that. What happens is that each time she deals with some unnecessary difficulties that he creates, his power over her is diminished. He senses that and will pick another topic to fight her on … even while giving ground.
For now, he keeps fighting rear guard actions because he cannot bear to admit to himself that he is losing. However, every time that it happens, his power over her reduces still further.
This solution is not perfect, admittedly – but there can be no perfect solutions with a narcissist. Still, it is helping her to build her confidence, daily. Plus, because she no longer feels so intimidated by her ex, she is learning how to manage him so as to get to her desired outcome at least some of the time. For 4 months, that is a lot of progress and it is ongoing.
I truly belief that laughter generally is the best medicine. (Thank you, Reader’s Digest, for that.)
Make sure that you laugh every day. Find things to laugh about because laughter cannot help but raise your spirits.
Make sure, also, that you never miss an opportunity to laugh and joke about the more laughable aspects of your narcissistic ex.
In the early days of my healing, when I was still terrified of what my ex might do next to destroy my life, I was much comforted by a photo that I had taken of him unawares.
Mr Pompous was crouching down to look under the bed for I forget what. He was in a state of undress. Since he was, in any case, a super hairy creature (The Missing Link, IMHO) he was definitely NOT a pretty sight.
I would say that looking at that photo was far more therapeutic than several of the therapists that I have worked with. It served to diminish my sense of him as a force to be reckoned with far more than much of their sober, professional counsel. Every time that photo reduced me to gales of helpless laughter, I felt a thousand times better for hours together. Even the thought of it still makes me laugh.
7) Don’t put your own life on hold
As a survivor of narcissistic abuse, it is all too easy to put your own life on hold, at least, for the foreseeable future. Please understand that putting your own life on hold only benefits the Narcissist.
You see, your ex-Narcissist has a plan for you. He wants you to spend the rest of your life broken, hurting and regretting not having him or her in your life. That scenario feeds their almighty ego. You really don’t want to give them that satisfaction. Besides, the more that Narcissists can get you to obsess about them, the less energy you have to pick up the threads of your own life. That is one aspect of the problem.
The other is that in your guilt about your children and need to make their lives as perfect as possible, you keep putting your own needs, hopes and dreams on the back burner. You likely feel you owe it to your children to do the old self-sacrifice program that states: “I’ll prioritise my own life once I’ve sorted everything – and everyone – else out.”
I tried that one and I am here to tell you that that is a very bad idea.
Your children need to come equal first with your own well-being. Unless you want them to grow up to be domestic martyrs, you really don’t want to teach them – by example – how to put themselves last.
That is a role model that won’t benefit them any more than it has ever benefited you.
You need to focus on creating a life worth living, to the best of your ability, not least because that will help you to stop putting your attention where the narcissist wants you to. Their plan is for you to be a monument to their power and control. You need to be the inspirational role model that your children deserve – and you deserved.
8) Work on your own healing.
You have come through an enormous ordeal. You have already had more misery in your life than anyone deserves.
You deserve to be happy.
It is NOT okay to drag yourself through the coming months and years.
It is NOT okay for you to wait for time to heal your wounds. Time doesn’t do that – not unless you are prepared to wait, treading water, until your 80s or 90s when Time starts to draw a dense veil over your entire past.
9) Take just one lesson
There are many lessons that you could learn from your experience of narcissistic abuse. However, if you want to draw one lesson from your experience of narcissistic abuse that will help you recover, it has to be this one; you have to treat yourself like you are a really valuable person. You have to believe that you matter.
Co-parenting with a Narcissist is never going to be entirely plain sailing. However, if you follow the guidelines above, it will be a lot easier than it otherwise might be.
If you need support to get to the place of detaching emotionally from them enough to treat them like the toxic toddlers that they are, then get in touch.
Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.
The 5 Simple Steps to Healing from Narcissistic Abuse
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