Counter Parenting: The Combative Patenting Style Narcissists Use to Control Families

Counter Parenting: A Post-Separation Coercive and Control Tactic

Coercive Control By Jul 12, 2023

People sharing children with egocentric former partners are all too familiar with counter parenting, a combative style of child rearing used by narcissistic caregivers was part of the coercive control regimes they enforce on their families. Counter parenting goes beyond the typical power struggles and disagreements that occur between parents; it is a willful and deliberate strategy of sabotage used to maintain dominance and feed their need for validation. Counter parenting as an extension of coercive control was recently found to be a form of parental neglect by a family court in New York State. However, most legal systems are behind the times when it comes to the harm counter parenting inflicts of parents and the emotional scars it leaves on children.

What is Counter Parenting?

Counter parenting is a term used to describe the manipulative tactics employed by narcissistic people to maintain control over their families. It is a type of latent violence. It is an expression of post-separation abuse used to punish a former partner and extend coercive control long after the relationship has ended. It can be thought of was the diametrical opposite of co-parenting in which both caregivers work as a team to meet their children’s needs.

Unlike healthy parenting styles, which prioritize the well-being of children, counter parenting focuses solely on the narcissistic person’s needs and desires. Counter parenting includes gaslighting, emotional manipulation, and exploitation, to ensure that everything happens on the narcissist’s terms.

One of the key characteristics of counter parenting is the constant need for control. Narcissistic people often have an insatiable desire for dominance and validation. They view their children as extensions of themselves and expect absolute obedience. Any deviation from their expectations is met with severe repercussions, guilt-tripping, or emotional manipulation.

Counter parenting is also marked by a lack of empathy and emotional support. Because narcissistic people see others as objects, they are unable to connect with their children on an emotional level and often dismiss or invalidate their feelings. This can lead to long-term emotional and psychological damage for the children involved.

Signs of Counter Parenting

Identifying counter parenting can be challenging, as narcissists are skilled at concealing their vindictive true nature. However, there are some common signs that may indicate a counter parenting dynamic. These include:

  • Extreme control. Narcissistic parents exert excessive control over every aspect of their children’s lives, leaving little room for autonomy or independent decision-making.
  • Manipulation and gaslighting. Narcissistic people twist facts, distort reality, and manipulate their children’s perceptions to maintain control. Gaslighting, a form of psychological manipulation, is commonly used to make the child doubt their own memory, perception, or sanity.
  • Leveraging children. In counter parenting strategies children may be used as pawns by a narcissistic ex-partner as part of their coercive control strategies. This can manifest in a number of ways, from threats of taking the children away from the other parent, disrupting the structure and routines established by the other children, etc.
  • Emotional exploitation. Narcissistic parents often exploit their children’s emotions for their own gain. They may use guilt, fear, or shame to manipulate their children into complying with their demands.
  • Smear campaigns. Narcissistic parents may engage in parent-child estrangement tactics such as openly criticizing and finding fault with the other parent in front of the child or sharing distorted versions of secrets once confided by the ex-partner during the love-bombing stage of the relationship to embarrass, humiliate, and discredit the other parent.
  • Lack of empathy. Narcissists lack empathy and are unable to understand or respond to their children’s emotional needs. They may dismiss or belittle their children’s feelings, leaving them feeling unheard and invalidated.
  • Constant criticism. Narcissistic parents are highly critical of their children, finding fault in everything they do. This constant criticism erodes the child’s self-esteem and creates a sense of worthlessness.

The Impact of Counter Parenting on Families

Counter parenting has devastating effects on families, creating a toxic environment that hinders healthy development and relationships. Children raised in such an environment often experience a range of negative consequences that can persist into adulthood.

One of the most significant impacts of counter parenting is the development of low self-esteem and self-worth. Constant exposure to coercive control erodes the children’s sense of self, leading to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. These negative self-perceptions can persist well into adulthood, affecting relationships, career choices, and overall life satisfaction.

This style of parenting also hampers the development of healthy relationships and social skills. Children raised by narcissistic parents often struggle to form trust and establish healthy boundaries. They may have difficulty recognizing or responding to the emotional needs of others, leading to challenges in forming and maintaining meaningful connections.

Additionally, counter parenting can have long-term psychological effects on children. The constant manipulation, gaslighting, and emotional abuse can contribute to the development of anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. These issues may persist into adulthood and require professional intervention to address.

Psychological Factors Behind Counter Parenting

Understanding the psychological factors that drive counter parenting can shed light on why narcissistic people engage in such destructive behavior. Narcissism, at its core, is a personality disorder characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a need for excessive admiration, and a lack of empathy.

Narcissists often have deep-seated insecurities and fragile self-esteem. They use counter parenting as a means to maintain a sense of control and superiority over their children. By exerting dominance and manipulating their children’s emotions, narcissists are able to bolster their fragile egos and validate their sense of self-worth.

It is important to note that counter parenting is not a result of the child’s behavior or actions. Narcissistic individuals engage in these toxic behaviors as a reflection of their own internal struggles and insecurities. Understanding this can help victims of counter parenting realize that they are not to blame for the narcissist’s abusive behavior.

Strategies for Dealing with a Counter Parenting Narcissist

Dealing with a counter parenting narcissist can be challenging, but there are strategies that can help individuals navigate these difficult dynamics. Here are some suggestions for managing a counter parenting situation:

  • Set boundaries. Establish clear boundaries with the narcissistic parent and communicate them assertively. Be firm in your boundaries and reinforce them consistently.
  • Seek support. Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or support groups who can provide emotional support and guidance. Having a strong support network can help mitigate the impact of the counter parenting dynamics.
  • Practice self-care. Take care of your own well-being by engaging in activities that bring you joy and promote self-care. Prioritize your mental and emotional health by engaging in therapy or counseling if needed.
  • Document incidents. Keep a record of incidents of counter parenting, including dates, times, and specific behaviors. This documentation can be useful if legal intervention or professional help becomes necessary.
  • Limit contact. If possible, limit contact with the narcissistic parent to protect yourself and your children from further emotional harm. Implementing strict boundaries around communication and visitation can help reduce the impact of the counter parenting dynamics.

Seeking Professional Support

In some cases, professional intervention may be necessary to address the complexities of this oppositional style of parenting. Therapists or coaches with experience in dealing with narcissistic family dynamics can provide valuable guidance and support. They can help individuals develop coping strategies, heal from the emotional trauma, and establish healthy boundaries.

Individual therapy, family therapy, coaching, or support groups specifically tailored to counter parenting dynamics can provide a safe space for individuals to share their experiences and learn from others who have faced similar challenges. These resources can offer invaluable insights and strategies for dealing with the effects of counter parenting.

The Long-Term Effects on Children

Counter parenting has long-lasting effects on children that extend well into adulthood. The emotional abuse, manipulation, and control experienced during childhood can leave deep scars that impact various aspects of their lives.

Children raised in toxic family environments often struggle with self-esteem, trust, and forming healthy relationships. They may carry the emotional baggage into their adult lives, leading to challenges in personal and professional spheres. Additionally, the psychological toll of counter parenting can contribute to the development of mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

Healing and Recovery from Counter Parenting Dynamics

Healing and recovery from counter parenting dynamics is a challenging journey that requires time, effort, and support. It is crucial to recognize that the effects of counter parenting are not the fault of the child, and seeking professional help is a valuable step towards healing.

Therapy and coaching can provide individuals with the tools and support needed to address the emotional trauma and develop healthy coping mechanisms. By working with a qualified professional, individuals can begin to rebuild their self-esteem, establish healthy boundaries, and cultivate positive relationships.

In addition to professional support, self-care practices such as mindfulness, journaling, and engaging in activities that bring happiness and fulfillment can aid in the healing process. Creating a safe and nurturing environment for oneself and one’s children is paramount in breaking free from the grip of coercive control.


Counter parenting is a destructive and harmful parenting style employed by narcissistic people to control and manipulate their families. Understanding the dynamics of counter parenting, its impact on families, and the strategies for breaking free from its grip is crucial in promoting healthy parenting styles and empowering affected families.


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