Last week I hosted an event for individuals dealing with co-parenting with narcissists. Whether or not their co-parents were diagnosable or not, these parents were clearly suffering as were their children.
The phrase of the night was “crazy-making.” Indeed, Narcissists lack empathy and have no sense of responsibility. They are all about ‘blame and shame.” It doesn’t matter their role in the relationship, somehow you are the one made to feel responsible. If you’re in a custody battle with your narcissistic spouse, they will do everything in their power to make you look like the unfit parent.
Unfortunately, you’re not alone. According to one study, almost 10% of the U.S. has either Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Antisocial Personality Disorder (Sociopath). Research shows that the population of young narcissists is growing. Coddling our children, telling them they can do no wrong and building them up onto a pedestal hasn’t exactly served them well. Add the Instagram society and rise of the narcissistic celebrity to the mix and you can see where this may be heading.
What really is at the heart of many narcissists is incredible insecurity. In order to protect themselves, narcissists build an impenetrable wall that can’t be breached. The Mayo Clinic defines a Narcissist as follows:
“Narcissistic personality disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
Your spouse may not be a diagnosable narcissist, but divorcing someone with many characteristics of one can be extremely difficult. So, what can you do?
You can only control what you can control which is how you react and behave towards the narcissistic parent. Protecting yourself and your children should be paramount.
- Learn your triggers. Narcissists know exactly how to manipulate you. They know that they can make promises and not keep them, they can demean you and degrade you and you’ve likely been their punching bag. That’s what keeps them coming back. It also is what makes you feel and look like the ‘crazy’ one. The more you know and understand your triggers, the more you can learn how to remain calm and reasonable when you’re attacked.
- Limit your communication to the written word as much as possible. The less you communicate directly with the narcissist, the less the opportunities to trigger you.
- Practice ‘BIFF’ messaging: Brief, informative, friendly and firm. Rather than engage in a tit for tat conversation you know you can’t win, be firm and factual in your communications: “Johnny is feeling better” as opposed to “Johnny got over his cold that he got because you let him go to school without his coat on.”
- Do not defend your actions. Simply state them and end the conversation. If you have to repeat the same thing repeatedly, so be it. Remember, they’re looking to get a reaction out of you, it’s very frustrating when they can’t. With any luck they’ll turn their energy on someone else.
- Protect your children but don’t bad mouth the other parent or protect them from them. You can be a healthy parent who offers your children a safe, secure environment. If they are required to spend time with the other parent, unless there are signs of abuse, encourage the child to maintain the relationship. If the other parent plays games like not showing up for designating parenting time, don’t make excuses for them, simply state “I don’t know why mom/dad didn’t come today, we’ll have to ask her/him when we see them.” Your children will eventually learn how to cope with the other parent and make their own conclusions. By you putting them in the middle, you are really making it hard for them-remember they are the children of both of you.
You will continue to face challenges co-parenting with your narcissistic ex-spouse, the more tools you have in your toolkit-the easier it will be.
Karen Bigman is the Founder of TheDivorcierge.com