How Narcissists Groom People with Madelaine Claire Weiss

Madelaine Claire Weiss on How Narcissists Groom People

IN THE LOVE BOMBING PHASE of narcissistic abuse, narcissists have an uncanny ability to disguise themselves as your soulmate. They seem to want to learn everything about you. They study you intently and they mirror your finest qualities back at you, building a false sense of rapport. This is how narcissists groom people.

It can feel a bit like being caught in the high beam of an oncoming vehicle on a dark night. Love bombing is the first instance of gaslighting in the cycle of narcissistic abuse. It deliberately distorts your vision and the euphoria is designed to override your instincts. A love bombing narcissist has an uncanny ability to identify the places in the human spirit that are unnourished. Narcissistic people know that a hungry heart is willing to sacrifice a lot to experience satiety.

To learn more about how extreme narcissism can play out as aggression in the context of romantic relationships, I reached out to Madelaine Claire Weiss. She is a Psychotherapist and Executive Coach trained in Organizational Dynamics at Boston University and Psychodynamics at Harvard University, where she was the Administrative Director of Group Mental Health Practice. She was also the Associate Director of the Anatomical Gift Program at Harvard Medical School. In addition to this, she delivered training programs at the Center for Workplace Learning and Performance.

Understanding narcissistic personality disorder

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Please share what you think are the most important things to know about narcissistic personality disorder?

Madelaine Claire Weiss: When we talk about narcissistic personality disorder, we are talking about specific patterns of repetitive behavior that are destructive to self and destructive to the well-being of others. It is a mental condition that presents as:

  • An inflated sense of importance,
  • A craving for excessive attention and admiration,
  • Dysfunctional relationships, and
  • Low empathy for others. 

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Can you describe why people targeted by narcissists may have a blindspot for the manipulation taking place in the early stages of the relationship?

Madelaine Claire Weiss: It starts deliciously! You are certain the universe put this person on this planet just for you. This is the one you have been waiting for forever, who finally gets you like never before.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: How do narcissists ingratiate themselves with their targets.

Madelaine Claire Weiss: The narcissist lures and lands the giver of narcissistic supplies with incredible charm.

Narcissists seek supply to stabilize a fragile self

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Can you describe how narcissists extract ego boosts or narcissistic supply from the people they target?

Madelaine Claire Weiss: Narcissistic supplies can include attention, admiration, approval, adoration, and other forms of sustenance essential for the narcissist to stabilize the fragile self and fill up the emptiness inside.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: What makes someone bright and talented susceptible to the manipulation of a narcissist?

Madelaine Claire Weiss: There may be gifts, endless compliments, so many calls and texts, so much gorgeous attention, that you have no reason not to believe this person isn’t crazy about you. You have finally found your soulmate, and nothing will ever take you apart.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: How can someone tell that the person love bombing them is a narcissist?

Madelaine Claire Weiss: It starts to hurt. Little by little, this person invades your life until it shrinks so small you can’t even find yourself in it, let alone the family, friends, outside activities, and interests you used to enjoy.

The aftermath of narcissistic abuse

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: In your opinion, what is the most harmful aspect of narcissistic abuse?

Madelaine Claire Weiss: Narcissistic abuse becomes a physiological peptide addiction – an addiction that must be broken.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: What is your best advice to someone caught in the grip of narcissistic abuse, who is essentially battling an addiction?

Madelaine Claire Weiss: Break the addiction in the best way you can. There are techniques for this. Good health and happiness are waiting for you on the other side.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: After narcissistic abuse, people tend to blame themselves. What do you think is the most important thing for them to understand about what happened to them?

Madelaine Claire Weiss: It’s not just you. It happens to many people – up to 158 million Americans.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Is there an empowering central lesson survivors of narcissistic abuse can take away from their experience?

Madelaine Claire Weiss: Know this: the charming narcissist doesn’t target just anyone. Typically, you have to be pretty amazing in some way that the narcissist is not, to make the narcissist look and feel good. So go ahead and be flattered, but know this, too. 

Read Madelaine Claire Weiss’ new book ‘Getting To G.R.E.A.T.’ and follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.


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6 Signs of Love Bombing with Dr. Steve Sultanoff

Signs of Love Bombing with Steve Sultanoff, PhD

LOVE BOMBING is a manipulation technique used by one person to gaslight another in order to control and dominate them. It is commonly used by highly narcissistic people and people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), but it can be used by other types of manipulators as well. The aim is to give the perpetrator an advantage over the recipient of the abuse. This is accomplished using a schedule of intermittent reinforcement that alternates between love bombing and devaluation to deliberately induce, escalate, and then soothe anxiety in the victim-survivor. One of the dangers of love bombing is that it feels so good it can be difficult to recognize it for the psycho-emotional abuse that it is. Today, we’re going to highlight 6 Signs of Love Bombing with clinical psychologist Steven M. Sultanoff, PhD

For more than thirty years, Dr. Sultanoff has been a professor at Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology. He’s also served as a clinical supervisor and spent twelve years as clinical director of a psychology training network. In 2012, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award in therapeutic humor from the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: What is something most people don’t understand about love bombing?

Dr. Steven Sultanoff: The extreme narcissist is a “big game hunter.” He is stalking his prey, and the thrill is in the hunt and capture of the prey. In order to capture the prey, the narcissist will go to almost any length to achieve that goal. The result is self-congratulatory: “Look what major feat I accomplished!” In other words, “I made you fall for me.”

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: What you are describing it sounds more like entrapment than love.

Dr. Steven Sultanoff: He is on a quest to “do” whatever it takes to achieve the goal: capturing a “love” connection or perhaps more accurately capturing the object of his desire. Nothing will stand in the way. Whatever it takes (behaviorally) he will do. He will shower the “love object” with whatever might be pleasing including gifts, flowers, romantic getaways, etcetera.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: This is an excellent analogy because it illustrates how little a narcissist’s behavior has to do with the person they are pursuing and everything to do with their self-image. What’s the pay off for the narcissist?

Dr. Steven Sultanoff: Once the goal is achieved, he will feel “full,” valued, worthy, etcetera until the moment of the accomplishment wears off.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: So, they obtain narcissistic supply through success in pursuit and conquest of someone they regard as “prey”. It gratifies their ego and fills them with a sense of pride in their ability to manipulate the person they targeted. What is the first major red flag that people should look out for?

Dr. Steven Sultanoff: One tell-tale sign is over the top extreme behavior that, of course, feels like being nurtured and loved.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: But in reality it’s neither of those things because the narcissist is using the capture and conquest of their “prey” to feed their ego. Dr. Sultanoff, you have been practicing for over thirty years. Please share something you’ve observed about narcissists in your clinical experience.

Dr. Steven Sultanoff: Most narcissists are men, although women are not immune to the disorder.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Indeed, that’s consistent with the research. Can you please share some other signs you think might help people recognize when they are being love bombed?

Dr. Steven Sultanoff: Narcissists are frequently absolutely charming and they make a great appearance. For example, they are often coiffed meticulously. They are usually generous with money and material things, showering the object of their affection with an assortment of gifts mostly of monetary value but not necessarily. Depending on their style and expertise, they may offer more personal gifts such as poetry, writing songs, sunsets on the beach, looking at the stars, etcetera for their partner. They make a major effort to be in contact with their partner and may frequently text or email with lots of emojis or other endearing extras.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: It’s often said that narcissists target people who have one or several blind spots. Can you talk a bit about this?

Dr. Steven Sultanoff: One sign that is often overlooked is the partner’s reaction to the love bomb. If you feel enamored, giddy, or enthralled especially to the point of discussing all the gifts with others then you may want to examine the relationship. It is easy for the partner to be “sucked into” the love bomb since it “feels” so good to be loved at such an extreme level.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: That’s a very astute and helpful tip! Dr. Sultanoff, do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share on this topic?

Dr. Steven Sultanoff: Bottom line, if he is too good to be true, he likely is too good to be true. Look for the signs of excessively loving behaviors, look for feeling immersed in his love, look for constant actions of his love and desire to be with you, and finally look beyond his loving actions and ask yourself, “What is the substance behind the actions. Is he who I can love if all these loving actions were not present?”

Dr. Sultanoff’s 6 Signs of Love Bombing

To summarize, Dr. Sultanoff highlighted six signs of love bombing and they are:

  1. Too good to be true
  2. Charm
  3. Flamboyance
  4. Generosity
  5. Excessive Attention
  6. Euphoria

Visit Dr. Sultanoff’s website humormatters.com to learn about therapeutic humor.


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What Narcissists Look For in A Partner with Dr. Rick Patterson

what narcissists look for in a partner

DR. RICK PATTERSON spoke candidly with me about what narcissists look for in a partner. He is the author of Shame Unmasked: Disarming the Hidden Driver Behind Our Destructive Decisions, an insightful book about the inner thoughts associated with extreme narcissism. In his work, Dr. Patterson underscores that toxic shame is the driving force of narcissistic aggression.

He explains “A person with internalized shame believes he is inherently flawed, inferior and defective. Such a feeling is so painful that defending scripts (or strategies) are developed to cover it up. These scripts are the roots of violence, criminality, war, and all forms of addiction.”

The role of narcissism in toxic relationships

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Dr. Patterson, what is something most people don’t know about love bombing?

Dr. Rick Patterson: As a reforming narcissist myself, I’ve seen this play out in all types of venues. Love bombing isn’t just a romantic thing. It can happen in any relationship anywhere, including the workplace or where you worship. 

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: As a recovering narcissist, could you share your thoughts on what qualities a narcissistic person or NPD looks for in someone they think will be susceptible to the love bombing tactic?

Dr. Rick Patternson: A narcissist can sense someone’s need and their openness to being manipulated.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Your mention of need is interesting because it’s a word associated with being impoverished, lacking, or hungry. Could you explain a bit more about what you mean when you say that someone is open to being manipulated?

Dr. Rick Patterson: Someone experiencing love myredbook sacramento bombing is thinking that this attention doesn’t make sense combined with a feeling of needing it to make sense.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: In your opinion, what drives the need to make the absurd make sense?

Dr. Rick Patterson: Ironically, someone’s need for attention from a narcissist comes from their own narcissism.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Given that narcissism is a trait that exists on a continuum that we all have, it makes sense that a highly narcissistic person or someone with narcissistic personality disorder would excel at recognizing and appealing to narcissism in others. What exactly does a narcissist see when they set their sights on someone?

Dr. Rick Patterson: They see the narcissism of the person they target presenting as neediness, which opens them up to a person whose narcissism presents as manipulative. Both individuals have complementary and codependent forms of the same shame-based malady.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: One is the yin to the other’s yang.

What drives narcissists to manipulate others?

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Let’s talk about what motivates a narcissistic person to love bomb someone. What drives this behavior?

Dr. Rick Patterson: There is something in it for the narcissist.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: So, it’s avarice. The narcissist is seeking to benefit from the person or people they love bomb.

Dr. Rick Patterson: This happens in volunteer organizations and the workplace all the time. Volunteer organizations need people to work for free. The best way to make that happen is through compliments. There is nothing wrong with donating to a cause – just do it for the cause and not the person showering you with attention. Your workplace has also learned that they can pay employees less when they give more compliments. They describe it as “worker retention”, but it helps “retain” workers when they can’t pay as much.

The role of sociotropy in narcissistic abuse

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: If a person has been targeted for narcissistic abuse what are three things they need to understand and be mindful of going forward?

Dr. Rick Patterson: Think about these things:

  1. Neediness – Your need and your openness to being manipulated
  2. Resources – There something in it for the narcissist to shower this attention.
  3. Vulnerablity – A willingness to give up your freedoms for praise.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Excellent points. An excessive need for approval and acceptance can cause people to lapse into denial when confronted with red flag behaviors. Sociotropy or people pleasing creates blindspots. It’s a green light for a predatory personalities.

Dr. Patterson: The danger for the recipient of love bombing is the needier you are for the praise you receive – in other words, the more shame drive you have – the less likely you will be to see what’s going on. Find someone you trust to give you some clarity.

Shame Unmasked: Disarming the Hidden Driver Behind Our Destructive Decisions is available for purchase on Amazon.


Confidential support is available 24/7/365 to anyone experiencing abuse.
In the USA call 1-800-799-7233 or log on to thehotline.org.
In the UK call 0808 2000 247 or log on to nationaldahelpline.org.uk.


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Narcissistic Cheating Patterns: 4 Signs of Infidelity

Narcissistic cheating patterns: 4 signs of infidelity

NARCISSISTIC PARTNERS DELIBERATELY make it difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. They are slick and persuasive liars, prone to gaslighting others in order to escape being held to account for their misdeeds. Put simply, a narcissistic partner is not a reliable source of the truth. They are unlikely to willingly admit to adultery. If your suspicions are confirmed they usually react by devaluing and blaming you for their infidelity. This is why it’s helpful to be able to recognize narcissistic cheating patterns on your own. Once you know what to look for, you can make an informed and independent decision about how you wish to go forward.

Nikolina Jeric, co-founder of the dating site 2Date4Love, shares her expertise about how to spot narcissistic cheating patterns.

Key Points

  • Don’t ignore your instinct if you sense your partner is being unfaithful to you.
  • Pay close attention to their actions, not their words.
  • Some signs of cheating include secrecy, changes in sexual activity, provoking conflicts, and unexplained costs.
  • Sometimes these signal may signal that your relationship is breaking down for reasons other than infidelity.

1. Unfaithful partners are secretive

An unfaithful partner will seek to keep you in the dark about their infidelity.

Nikolina explains:

“They may suddenly become secretive about their phones and computers. If your partner never had a problem with you checking their phones but now has passwords and hides the screen every time they get a message or start deleting texts and clearing browsing history, you’re likely in a relationship with a cheater.”

2. Changes in frequency of sex

Another red flag to look for if you suspect a narcissistic partner is cheating on you is a change in your sex life.

Nikolina says this can show up in two different ways:

“There may be more and less sex. Both increase and decrease in sexual activity may indicate you’re in a relationship with a cheater. Less sex often indicates your partner is focused on somebody else, or they’re guilt-tripped because they cheat. More sex – with plenty of new moves – might indicate they’ve learned something new with somebody else, and they want to share that knowledge with you.”

3. They pick fights with you

Narcissistic people try to avoid accountability at all costs, especially when they are knowingly betraying someone. They usually accomplish this with a tactic called DARVO, which stands for deny, attack, reverse, victim, and offender.

Nikolina shares what this might looking like in an intimate relationships:

“They pick fights. Cheaters often want to rationalize their behavior by pushing the blame onto another person. If you notice that your partner is constantly picking flights about insignificant things, that may be a sign of cheating since they want to justify their adultery.”

4. You notice unexplained costs

Often unfaithful partners tend to get physically, emotionally, and financially invested in their new romantic interest.

Nikolina talks about an economic change you might notice:

“You notice unexpected costs. If you have joint accounts and you see there’s suddenly less money, you might be dating a cheater. If you ask them about it, and their answer seems insincere, it’s another way of confirming the suspicion.”

Final thoughts

If you believe that your partner is unfaithful, consider reaching out for support from a mental health professional. Remember that you are not to blame for their actions. Your sole responsibility is to take care of your health, recover from their betrayal and move forward with your life.


Confidential support is available 24/7/365 to anyone experiencing abuse.
In the USA call 1-800-799-7233 or log on to thehotline.org.
In the UK call 0808 2000 247 or log on to nationaldahelpline.org.uk.


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3 Narcissistic Cheating Patterns With Jeni Woodfin LMFT

Jeni Woodfin, LMFT

Narcissistic cheating patterns are important to learn. They will help you see through attempts to gaslight and manipulate your perception of reality. Because highly narcissistic people and full blown NPDs i.e. people with narcissistic personality disorder, are compulsive liars, they excel at concealing their true intentions and activities. Confrontation is useless. The closest most people come to getting a straight answer out of a narcissist are the farfetched accusations they make to deflect from the terrible truth about their treachery.

So how do you catch a narcissist cheating?

Jeni Woodfin, LMFT explains that the truth is evident in their behavior and shares how to spot three key narcissistic cheating patterns.

Why Are Most Narcissists Chronically Unfaithful?

Narcissists are relentlessly disloyal, which is why involvement with them leads to inevitable harm. 

More often than not, narcissism is a driving force behind promiscuity and infidelity. Narcissists may feign commitment as a means to an end but in reality, they approach romantic relationships with an attitude of I’ll-get-you-before-you-get-me.

One of the reasons for this is that narcissists detest feelings of vulnerability. They are driven by an insatiable hunger for power and control because it relieves them of early experiences of impotence.

Narcissists prefer ego-boosting sexual conquests as proof positive of their ability to charm and seduce. It’s one of the ways they parade their superior manipulation skills.

Lying puts narcissists at an advantage as it thwarts their partner’s ability to make informed decisions. Misleading and deceiving others is a way to ease the nagging insecurities that plague them.

The risks of a relationship with a cheating narcissist

Under normal circumstances, infidelity can destroy relationships. But if your partner is a narcissist, the betrayals are so absolute and extreme that they may leave you completely shellshocked. 

If you’re involved with a narcissist and they are cheating on you, you’re likely at risk for a traumatic discard which may include being unceremoniously replaced by a new partner who they’ve secretly been grooming behind your back.

Alternatively, a cheating narcissist may drive you to end the relationship with one outrageous offense after the next. Only to immediately replace you with a new love interest they have quietly groomed behind your back.

Learning to recognize these three subtle narcissistic cheating patterns will empower you to see past the smoke and mirrors of a narcissistic partner’s endless deceptions.

3 Narcissistic Cheating Patterns

For expert guidance, we reached out to Jeni Woodfin, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist trained in repairing relationships after infidelity. She obtained her master’s degree in counseling psychology from John F. Kennedy University. Today she practices in Silicon Valley where she specializes in betrayal trauma, including infidelity, emotional affairs, and other trust breaches. 

They Put More Effort Into Their Appearance

Manya Wakefield: You’ve worked with hundreds of couples as well as with people who are cheating or recovering from infidelity. What’s the first narcissistic cheating pattern to look out for?

Jeni Woodfin, LMFT: Your partner changes and it’s noticeable. 

Manya Wakefield: Do you mean that there are changes in the narcissist’s baseline behavior?

Jeni Woodfin, LMFT: You may see your partner become very happy, suddenly interested in their appearance, losing weight, buying new clothes, trying a new haircut, or updating their manscaping game. 

Manya Wakefield: So the first narcissistic cheating pattern to watch out for is some kind of superficial change, like a change in style or appearance.

Jeni Woodfin, LMFT: If you notice your partner suddenly grooming more than normal, this is a potential sign your partner is thinking about how to be and feel attractive.

They Start Changing Their Schedule

Manya Wakefield: What would you say is the second of the narcissistic cheating patterns people should be aware of? 

Jenny Woodfin, LMFT: Another clue would be a change in schedules. 

Manya Wakefield: Can you describe what changes in the narcissist’s schedule might look like?

Jenny Woodfin, LMFT: Many of us have a fairly predictable schedule or routine. If your partner begins to take late meetings at work, has new business dinners in the evening, or is away from the house more, this potentially signals they are making time for another person. 

There Are Changes in Sexual Activity

Manya Wakefield: So, a narcissist who is unfaithful would be grooming themselves more and making changes to their routine to win over another romantic interest. What would you say is the third one of the narcissistic cheating patterns to look out for?

Jeni Woodfin, LMFT: The last sign that often happens is a change in the bedroom that can go either way. Sex may increase, new sexual moves may be introduced, or new sexual behaviors may be requested. Or, some affair-involved partners go the opposite way with the bedroom becoming dead. 

Manya Wakefield: This is an interesting red flag because, for many, it seems like a dead giveaway. Walk us through the strategy of the last one of these narcissistic cheating patterns. Why would a cheating narcissist stop having sex with their partner?

Jeni Woodfin, LMFT: These people may experience very low sexual desire for their partner, may avoid being sexual, or may have difficulty performing. 

Manya Wakefield: Something I often hear from survivors is that people with this personality report feelings of boredom. Their infidelities are usually less about their partner and more about the insatiable emptiness they are constantly trying to fill with white knuckle experiences like substance use, promiscuity, infidelity, gambling, and the power trip of manipulation.

To summarize, what would you say is the common denominator shared by all three narcissistic cheating patterns?

Jeni Woodfin, LMFT: The link between all these signs is change. Many couples know each other very, very well. If you see a change from a long-time pattern, especially if the change results in coldness or distance, this could be a result of an affair.


Confidential support is available 24/7/365 to anyone experiencing abuse.
In the USA call 1-800-799-7233 or log on to thehotline.org.
In the UK call 0808 2000 247 or log on to nationaldahelpline.org.uk.


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How To Answer Your Child’s Questions About A Narcissistic Parent

mother and daughter on grass

Knowing how to answer your child’s questions about a narcissistic parent is essential to their healthy development and wellbeing.

The reason for this is that narcissistic abuse commonly falls under the umbrella of domestic abuse in families. Raising children in an environment where domestic abuse is normalized can seriously impact their physical and emotional functioning.

Research shows that exposure to domestic abuse affects kids to the same degree as if they had experienced the aggression first hand. In many instances, children may suffer psycho-emotional abuseexploitation, and manipulation by a narcissistic parent. 

By witnessing abuse, they may be quietly conditioned and even encouraged to use the same power and control tactics in interpersonal relationships as their abusive parent.

How exposure to narcissistic abuse can impact children

Witnessing or experiencing abuse in infancy and early childhood can produce elevated levels of emotional stress, which in turn can damage a child’s cognitive and sensory development. This can lead to a reduced ability to concentrate and result in poor academic performance from the child.

Children exposed to abuse in the home may experience difficulties distinguishing right from wrong, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and suicidal ideation.  

Research also shows that children from families where abuse is normalized risk perpetuating the cycle of abuse by falling into and repeating the familiar roles of victim or abuser.

Helping your child navigate the narcissist’s gaslit reality

It is imperative for parents who are raising children with narcissists to be able to answer their child’s questions in a way that validates the child’s experience and edifies their level of self-trust.

For answers, we reached out to Clinical Psychologist Michael Kinsey, Ph.D., a specialist in the dynamics of personality, intergenerational trauma, and parent-child attachment. He is also the author of  Transcendent Parenting: A Workbook For Parents Sharing Children With Narcissists and the children’s’ picture book Dreams of Zugunruhe.

N.B. This interview aims to inform, enlighten, and provide

accurate general information on the topic of narcissism. It does not provide medical, psychological, or other professional services. If you determine that you need professional assistance, please seek the relevant specialist advice before taking or refraining from any action based on information in this interview. Thank you.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: What is the best way to answer my child’s questions when they are at an age when politician style answers won’t cut it anymore? This kind of speaks to what we were talking about before, about the gaslit reality children of narcissists find themselves in.

Dr. Michael Kinsey: Yes and kids are such good BS detectors even from a young age. One of the amazing things about our brains and how we are wired is simply that we can decode – maybe not consciously – but we can decode guarded answers from free, authentic ones. We can tease these things apart with great precision. I suppose any parent really knows, whether you are involved with a narcissist or not, that kids don’t buy politician style answers.

The best advice I can give is something that I mentioned earlier which is that you really have to understand in a compellingly authentic way why the narcissistic person acts the way they do. That might be hard to hear and it might sound like you’re doing the work of condoning their behavior. It’s important that I say that’s not the case. You can understand something without condoning it.

The more you are able to understand it the more clearly it brings in to relief why it doesn’t work or why it’s dysfunctional or why it shouldn’t be the way it is.

You know for a lot of narcissistic people that explanation could be something like, “Your father or your mother had this experience growing up. What’s closer to the truth is they are feeling vulnerable, sad, disappointed, hurt, other way. It would be much better for all of us if it happened differently but this is the way it is. And there’s a lot of people you’ll run into in life who act this way because it’s very, very hard to feel sad, hurt, humiliated, etcetera.”

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: It’s interesting because many of the people who get targeted for this kind of abuse are highly empathic and the way you describe this particular course of action allows people to use their empathy to push through is I think that it’s an interesting, solid way to go forward.

Dr. Michael Kinsey: Keep in mind that this is a totally different strategy than you would use with the narcissistic person. Once a relationship has gotten to a point where it’s beyond repair, you can speak respectfully and assertively without needing to empathize or condone their behavior whatsoever.

But when you’re talking about children, you need to understand that you cannot pit yourself against a child’s love for their mother or father. You will not be well received and you’re putting yourself and your relationship with your child at great risk but trying to, in some ways, stand in between them and one of their parents. Because children always love their parents even if it’s unhealthy in many ways.

So when you’re dealing with your kids you really have to be respectful of that love that they have for them. Acknowledge the shortcomings, but also make it okay for that child to maintain some sense of loving connection to them and not make it a sort of zero sum game where it’s either him or me or it’s either her or me.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Right, by giving the children these sort of impossible choices.

Dr. Michael Kinsey: Absolutely.

Read the first part of our series Co-Parenting with a Narcissist and check back for the next installment soon!

Links

This interview is also available on our podcast on these fine platforms:

Co-parenting with a Narcissist, Episode 2

Resources

Osofsky, Joy D., ‘The Impact of Violence on Children’, The Future of Children – Domestic Violence and Children, Vol. 9, no. 3, 1999; Koenen, K.C., et al., ‘Domestic Violence is Associated with Environmental Suppression of IQ in Young Children’, Development and Psychopathology, Vol. 15, 2003, pp. 297-311; Perry, B.D. ‘The neurodevelopmental impact of violence in childhood’, Chapter 18 in: Textbook of Child and Adolescent Forensic Psychiatry, (Eds., D. Schetky and E.P. Benedek) American Psychiatric Press, Inc., Washington, D.C. pp. 221-238, 2001; James, M., ‘Domestic Violence as a Form of Child Abuse: Identification and Prevention’, Issues in Child Abuse Prevention, 1994.

Baldry, A.C., ‘Bullying in Schools and Exposure to DV’, Child Abuse and Neglect, vol. 27, no. 7, 2003, pp. 713-732; Fantuzzo John W. and Wanda K. Mohr, ‘Prevalence and Effects of Child Exposure to Domestic Violence’, The Future of Children – Domestic Violence and Children, vol. 9, no. 3, 1999.

Fantuzzo John W. and Wanda K. Mohr, ‘Prevalence and Effects of Child Exposure to Domestic Violence’, The Future of Children – Domestic Violence and Children, vol. 9, no. 3, 1999; Kernic, M.A. et al., ‘Behavioral Problems among Children whose Mothers are Abused by an Intimate Partner’, Child Abuse and Neglect, Vol. 27, no. 11, 2003, pp. 1231-1246.

James, M., ‘Domestic Violence as a Form of Child Abuse: Identification and Prevention’, Issues in Child Abuse Prevention, 1994.


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Co-Parenting with a Narcissist, Part One

black parents lecturing upset daughter at table

CO-PARENTING WITH A NARCISSIST is often said to be impossible. A popular quote by A. Price asserts that “A narcissist will never co-parent with you. They will counter parent. They don’t care about the emotional damage that the constant drama inflicts upon the children as long as it causes emotional damage to you.”

A distinguishing feature of narcissistic family dynamics is dysfunction. The more malignant a narcissist is, the more they are prone to ignore healthy boundaries to satisfy their need for control. Narcissists think nothing of using their children to dominate and manipulate the other parent

Children are frequently exposed to or experience psycho-emotional abuse and coercive- and controlling behavior from narcissistic parents who seek to dominate the child’s perception by distorting their reality.

In many instances, children are made to navigate disruptive patterns of intermittent reinforcement, which narcissists use to bring the people they target under their influence.

A narcissistic parent’s oppositional behavior and mischiefmaking can have serious consequences for their children who often struggle with feelings of anxiety and depression.

So what is the best course of action for people who are co-parenting with a narcissist?

For answers, we turned to Dr. Michael Kinsey, founder of the mental health blog mindsplain.com. Dr. Kinsey is the author of the children’s picture book ‘Dreams of Zugunruhe’  and ‘Transcendent Parenting: A Workbook For Parents Sharing Children With Narcissists.’

He received his doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the New School for Social Research and he is a specialist in the dynamics of personality, intergenerational trauma, and parent-child attachment.

In addition to his distinguished background, Dr. Kinsey is in private practice in New York City.

N.B. This interview aims to provide general information, not advice one should rely on. Please get the relevant professional or specialist advice before taking or refraining from any action based on the information in this interview. 

Preventing personality disorders in children

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Welcome to Narcissistic Abuse Rehab, Dr. Kinsey, it’s an honor to have you here today to talk about co-parenting with a narcissist!

The first question is “I’m co-parenting with a malignant narcissist who was verbally & physically abusive to me in front of our children is it possible that my children risk developing personality disorders as a result of exposure to pathological narcissism?”

Dr. Michael Kinsey: Children learn first and foremost by what they see and what they observe. There are going to be lasting impacts of trauma in a context where there is emotional and physical abuse. 

The question you’re asking is, “What are going to be the long term developmental impacts of that trauma?”

That’s a hard question to answer because there are so many variables. I think there are things people can do to buffer against the permanent arresting of development that can happen as a result of witnessing or seeing that type of abuse. 

The first thing I would say is creating meaningful narratives around the experiences. Not walking away from it, not silencing it, not pretending as if it’s not happening. That’s a really important thing for kids. Kids need to know that they’re not experiencing an alternate reality from their parents. 

And especially when the parent who is experiencing the abuse is the same-sex parent. There is a strong identification, i.e. the classic example of a husband abusing his wife emotionally or verbally. The child who is going to be most greatly impacted by that is going to be the one who is identified with the one who is being abused.

Of course, there are other problems in continuing the line of abusers down the line when the observer is identified with the abuser.

So I guess what I would say, going back, is just sort of validating the experience. Letting the child know that what they saw was really disturbing and it’s not okay what happened and that something is being done to protect or insulate the child.

One thing I can think of just at a very practical level [would be to say], “I know what you saw was really scary. Do you have any questions for me? Do you have any feelings about it?”

And also for younger kids watching for signs of the impact of the abuse in play is super important and not silencing the play when it shows up and saying in the language of the play, as well. So, if toys are fighting then you can sort of say, “Oh my gosh, they’re fighting. How scary.”

Things like that and just sort of validating that the child is seeing something that’s very hard.

Emotional abuse is a little bit more abstract and harder to pin down. But the other thing I would say, too, is that one of the biggest buffers against personality disorder development is having some sense of understanding of one’s feelings and the feelings of someone else.  

And, I think a theme that we’ll touch on quite a bit throughout this discussion is the fact that narcissists are not devoid of feeling states. 

To optimally protect kids, we need to help them develop an understanding of who that person is and what their emotional system is like and give them a context for understanding the behavior.

This is different from condoning the behavior. We can hold intention that the behavior itself, that the abuse itself, is unacceptable.

But, if a person is staying in that relationship despite the abuse, there’s already a way in which the abuse is being condoned.

So, at the very least, the child needs to have an understanding of who the narcissist is, why they are behaving the way they are and how it’s possible to still maintain a loving understanding of that person, even though they do very bad things. 

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: This is important because I think you saw yesterday on Twitter we were talking about gaslighting and having your reality invalidated. I think what you brought up is important because a lot of the times survivors who are co-parenting with a narcissist try to overcompensate for the dysfunction in the family. What I see when the overcompensation happens is that it feeds into creating a false reality for the child. Down the line, what I’ve seen, is that it affects the child’s judgment – it skews things because good becomes bad and bad becomes good.

Dr. Michael Kinsey: Absolutely.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: That can become very problematic. But, let’s go over to question two because it gets a little bit deeper into this. I hope it’s not…well, it is probably a hardball question.

Dr. Michael Kinsey: That’s what I’m here for.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: That’s very true and I think it’s a great answer. I think all of these questions I have for you are kind of hardball. I hope you’re ready for question three! And it’s about–

Dr. Michael Kinsey: –Well, you know, these are…in some ways… I was observing your twitter yesterday and there is so much terminology within this community that is new to me and I find it fascinating!

The softball questions aren’t going to help anyone and hopefully, there’s something in there that will be of use to people.

Triangulation with the narcissist’s new partner

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Let’s get into question three about counter-parenting or co-parenting with a narcissist: I am being triangulated with my ex narcissist’s new partner. They are telling our children that the new partner is a better parent because they are carefree, while I have been battling anxiety & depression. Ultimately, they want the children to move in with them. In your opinion, what is the best course of action for someone in my situation?

Dr. Michael Kinsey: I think that there’s the short view and the long view here. The short term view can be pretty discouraging. The kids may be believing it, they may be acting in line with what the alienating or narcissistic parent is feeding them.

But the thing to keep in mind with narcissistic people is that if you have an estranged relationship with them you are one of many people. The hallmark of narcissistic personality disorder is there are chronically strained relationships.

And the reason for this is that everyone ultimately has a fall from grace with a narcissist. So if you kowtow and you ingratiate yourself back into favor things can continue peacefully. But it will always happen. 

People will always see through the façade at some point. Maybe at first just for a few moments. Maybe there will be a prolonged estrangement that develops between the narcissist and the kids. But there will always be an opportunity.

And so what I would advise people is to create a very welcoming, open, accepting, non-contentious environment for the kids to return to. 

In many ways, that’s the best you can do.

  • You stay above the fray.
  • You don’t comment on it.
  • You don’t respond to it.
  • You speak to the kids.
  • You don’t speak to the narcissist through the kids.

You speak to the kids and you say, “It really hurts that it feels that way to you, that this other parent is better, but I’m your mother or father and I’m always here for you.”

Part Two of ‘Co-Parenting with a Narcissist’ will be published on May 22, 2020. You can find Dr. Kinsey on Twitter at @mindsplain He can also be reached through his website mindsplain.com

‘Dreams of Zugunruhe’ is available on Amazon. 

Transcendent Parenting: A Workbook For Parents Sharing Children With Narcissists is available at mindsplain.com

Watch the Co-Parenting with a Narcissist video

Podcast

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