Is it possible you may be co-parenting with a narcissist?
What is a Narcissist?
A narcissist is a person with a personality disorder with a long pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, a person who has an excessive need for admiration and also has a lack of empathy. Medical diagnoses are listed in a manual called the DSM. The DSM stands for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5). This manual has defined a narcissist as having the following traits:
- Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from other people
- Fixation on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
- Self-perception of being unique, superior, and associated with high-status people and institutions
- Need for continual admiration from others
- A sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
- Exploitation of others to achieve personal gain
- Unwillingness to empathize with the feelings, wishes, and needs of other people
- Intense envy of others, and the belief that others are equally envious of them
- Pompous and arrogant demeanor
Narcissists are controlling, they seem unaware of others’ needs or how their behavior affects others. They are often intolerant of others’ views and will use various strategies to protect themselves at the expense of others. They will insult and blame others, and heaven help the person that gives them negative feedback! Then they turn angry and hostile. Since the narcissist’s fragile ego cannot accept criticism (even if you didn’t intend it to be a criticism), they will feel humiliation easier and react with angry outbursts. Their rage isn’t the normal reaction for what was done to them and they’ll often try to seek revenge. And wow, you married this person.
Of course, it doesn’t do any good to point that out, you’ve already realized what a big mistake this was, but what do you do now?
Our courts are filled with narcissistic parents and their ex-spouses. The lawyers grapple with the problem and the courts are just unable to micromanage your case in such a way to keep you sane.
Here are some steps that we use however to limit the craziness the other parent will expose you to. It doesn’t eliminate the problems altogether, but you can control it somewhat.
Steps to Survive Co-parenting with a Narcissist
Step 1. Keep your communications short.
You’ll notice that by the end of every phone call, you’ve achieved nothing and you are aggravated. The phone call (or email) went that way because they are looking to fight, and not to resolve anything. You’ll say something that is essentially not a big deal, but they’ll take it the wrong way. And then you start defending yourself and the whole thing slips down a slippery slope. Why do it? Don’t engage. It takes two to fight, so just send the information you need to send and refuse to engage. The shorter your communication is the better.
Step 2. Talk about the children only.
You’ll often notice that you called to tell her that you are running 5 minutes late and within seconds, you are discussing how you cheated on her and how you’ve ruined the family. What?!! Don’t let it happen. The minute it turns into something else besides why you called, hang up. The minute the conversation turns to something about you and the marriage personally, hang up. Just hang up, you’ll be so happy you did, and now you are in control, not your ex-spouse.
Step 3. Never let them see you sweat.
The minute you let them see that you are bothered by what they say, it will only continue. It just adds fuel to the fire. Don’t engage and don’t get mad. You have to realize what you are dealing with, and sometimes you just have to laugh at it. Laugh and walk away. You take all of their power when you aren’t bothered by what they say.
Step 4. Think like a lawyer.
Good lawyers write everything down. Why? Because we want a record of what was said.
Narcissists will always turn things around and you’ll find that you were never right. To combat that, keep a record. Even if you’ve just had a phone call. Lawyers do this all the time. After the phone call, you’ll notice that oftentimes they’ll write to you and say essentially what you just talked about.
Writing it down also lets you address someone hearing it incorrectly or misunderstanding. “Just to make sure we are all on the same page, you’ve agreed to pick up the kids at 5:00 p.m. tomorrow and I’ll have them ready at the library for the pickup. Please let me know if I’ve got this wrong.” Then you have proof about the details, which can be important if something goes wrong later. No matter how nasty the response is, keep in mind that the court will likely read this, so keep it clean. Keep in simple. Keep it short.
Step 5. Don’t talk badly about the other parent in front of your children, or where the children can hear you.
Parents want to include their kids in conversations that have nothing to do with them. Do everyone a favor and get yourself a therapist or best friend, because you shouldn’t be talking to your kids about their narcissistic parent. You will need to vent, that is for sure, just don’t do it with your child. If your child says something to you which you know is incorrect (“Mommy, why did you break up your marriage? Now we don’t get to see daddy for Christmas.), then just tell them that your marriage is none of their business. If it persists, you’ll need to get a petition before the court to stop the other parent from discussing your case or your marriage with your child. But don’t engage in the same type of bad behavior.
Step 6. Don’t take the bait.
When a narcissist cannot get you to respond (since you’ve been taking my advice) to their voicemails or emails, they’ll try and get you to respond through their actions. I had a case where the mom was a health food nut and she bought all organic type foods for her children. They weren’t allowed sugar or lots of bread. Dad, of course, knew this and every parenting time he had, he loads them up with junk food. There really isn’t anything she can do about it. …Or letting them stay up late when you want them sleeping by 8:00. You have to let this stuff roll off your back because the court isn’t going to do anything about it unless your child has a medical condition that doesn’t allow for the child to be fed that type of food. If the behavior isn’t risking their lives, let it go and don’t take the bait to engage with him. It is exactly what he wants.
Step 7. Set healthy boundaries.
The narcissist likes to mess with your time with the children. I see this type of behavior mostly out of the parent who has the children most of the time. The parent with the most time often texts and calls the children when they are in your care-excessively. To stop it, sometimes you have to take your child’s phone away, which isn’t giving you any awards with your child. But it has to be stopped and controlled. This is a problem the court can control, but typical orders allow the child to communicate with the other parent as much as they want. If you’ve got a teenager who spends all of their time on the phone texting his mother during your time, you clearly have a problem. If court orders don’t help and you aren’t able to effectively communicate with your child about it, you should be looking to have some therapy time set up between you and your child.
In conclusion, it isn’t fun to co-parent with a narcissistic parent, but you can do some things to alleviate the pain. Have a good parenting agreement drawn up and keep your conversations (or better yet, emails) short. Take control and don’t get emotional. Make it business. It’s unfortunate that it has to be this way, but you’ve got to have a little sanity too.
If you are having issues co-parenting with your ex and there are signs of a mental condition like narcissistic personality disorder be sure to seek advice from an experienced custody lawyer can help. Contact Anderson & Boback today to speak with one of our family law attorneys so you can discuss issues related to co-parenting with a narcissist.