Co-Parenting with a Narcissist, Part One

Co-Parenting with a Narcissist | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

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 and author of the children’s book ‘Dreams of Zugunruhe.’ 

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.

Parental alienation

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: The question is, “I am a survivor of narcissistic abuse and the atmosphere between my adult children & narcissist ex is cult-like. The children participated in the abuse when they were younger and refuse to have contact with me today. I’ve never met my grandchildren.

Why does my narcissistic ex have such a hold on my children when they know they abused me?

Dr. Michael Kinsey: Hm.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: It’s a tricky one.

Dr. Michael Kinsey: Yeah, and it’s much easier to understand intellectually than it is emotionally.

I think any time you try to put forth problem-solving strategies or easy ways of understanding these kinds of things it can almost invalidate the difficulty of the situation.

When you have children that you’ve nurtured & that you have loved with all of your heart & in some ways built your life around it’s almost impossible to come up with some emotion or visceral understanding of the situation. It’s so difficult to do.

I think it does help to have some context. The context that I would give people who are alienated from their children or who are caught up in the narcissist’s version of reality [is that] I think what you have to understand is the nature of the narcissist’s defensive structure. And we’re mainly talking about splitting, projective identification and these are kinds of jargony terms. But splitting means that the world to a narcissist and other borderline personality structures is divided into good and bad and the narcissist distances himself or herself from the bad as much as possible.

There is intense profound disgust for the bad & the bad always has to be outside of the narcissistic personality that means that there are scapegoats, it means there are demons, there are devils, there are people who are completely unworthy of association. And it goes back to what I was talking about before about how an identification often develops, especially with the same-sex parent.

Co-Parenting with a Narcissist | Counter Parenting

If the same-sex parent is a narcissist then there is a tendency to emulate that way of dealing with problems, difficulties, and emotions. so, functionally, what this means is the bad that exists in everyone and especially exists in the narcissist is displaced or it’s placed into the other parent. Usually, these are things like vulnerability, weakness, unworthiness –”

 Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: You mentioned – in another discussion we had on this topic – you mentioned tenderness. 

Dr. Michael Kinsey: Tenderness, absolutely. Even really positive things, too, can be disowned in that way

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: And you described it in such an interesting way. You didn’t call it parental alienation at all. You described it as being “exiled from the narcissist child dyad.” I thought that was really interesting.

Dr. Michael Kinsey: Being within the dyad is, obviously, a very coveted place. You know with both of our parents there is such a deep need to be loved and accepted. 

If a child is forced to choose they might choose the person that they feel they are most like or they’ll also choose the person who they feel is safer or who they feel is the more desirable one to follow. 

In the case of the kind of scenario you’re discussing, it’s really a matter of survival. Being in the “in-group” of the narcissist is so essential to survival.

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.

I think we were also talking yesterday about how in some ways these are going to be overgeneralized answers there’s so many nuances and variables and double binds that are built into these kinds of dynamics.

If something I say just doesn’t fit or it sounds like I’m oversimplifying things it’s because I am. What I encourage people to do is…I’m available online, you can reach out to me, you can touch base with me. Additional information is available on mindsplain.com.

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. 

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Narcissists and Love Fraud

Narcissists Love Fraud | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

IT IS NOT UNCOMMON FOR NARCISSISTS to manipulate others into relationships by making fraudulent claims about who they are, what they stand for, and by mirroring the goals of the targeted individual. 

They deliberately make promises they don’t intend to keep and spin webs of deception for the sole purpose of exploiting the target and their resources. 

In popular psychology, this deceptive tactic is called future faking. Narcissists profess a desire to build a long-term relationship with the target to obtain short term gain.

Once the target has extended trust to a narcissist, their good faith is weaponized and used to access their assets, e.g. sex, connections, status, goods, and services.

The narcissist’s agenda

Narcissists enter relationships with a self-serving agenda. In their estimation, whenever they interact with another person, they are either gaining power or losing it.

Once they have made up their mind to exploit someone, they disguise their malicious intentions by mimicking love for the person they are targeting. 

Early in the relationship, they spend hours asking the target about their hopes, dreams, and goals. The target mistakes this for interest when, in fact, the narcissist is data mining to discover the target’s likes and dislikes. With this information, the narcissist can craft a tailor-made false persona in the image of the target’s soul mate. 

Misled by the narcissist’s pretense, the target invests themselves and their resources in the relationship. They may move in with the narcissist, marry them, and have children with them. All the while, though the narcissist is going through the motions, they remain detached.

The discard phase of the narcissistic abuse cycle

The discard phase of the narcissistic abuse cycle often comes as a complete shock to the narcissist’s partner. While they are blindsided by the narcissist’s betrayal, the biggest shock is the ease with which some narcissists abandon their progeny.

So why do some narcissists discard their children?

The reasons why may be rooted in the narcissist’s dysfunctional family of origin. These are high conflict family units with power imbalances, rampant denial, low empathy, and little to no boundaries.

In a narcissistic family, there will be a lot of psycho-emotional abuse and coercive and controlling behaviors. Anger, hypocrisy, envy, and betrayal contaminate the ecosystem beneath the façade. The toxicity between the caregivers trickles down to their children.

Why dysfunctional families discard their own

Children not accepted or loved for who they are in a narcissistic family. They live in a gaslit reality where the only love they receive is conditional upon their performance in the roles assigned to them by the narcissistic caregiver(s).

In a dysfunctional family, these roles are:

  • The Caretaker – this child is given adult responsibilities at a young age and parentified.
  • The Hero/The Golden Child – this child tries to make the family seem normal and trouble free.
  • The Lost Child – this child is introverted and flies under the radar.
  • The Mascot/The Clown – this child distracts from the issues in the family,
  • The Manipulator/The Mastermind – this child is an opportunist who exploits the vulnerabilities in the family to serve their own needs.
  • The Rebel/Problem Child – this child acts out the families dysfunction and is frequently punished.

    The Scapegoat/Black Sheep/Truth Teller is an alternate version of The Rebel and is distinguished by the fact that they are innocent and wrongfully blamed for all of the dysfunction in the family.

Why do narcissists discard their children?

Narcissists may discard their children when the child poses a threat to the narcissist’s narrative or the narcissist’s false self.

In Summary

When a narcissist discards a innocent child it’s likely that the child has been cast in the painful role of family scapegoat because they are not like the narcissistic parent(s).

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The Narcissist’s False Self

The False Self | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

THE FALSE SELF IS A FAKE PERSONA dysfunctional people invent as a psychological defense mechanism against re-living adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as traumatic stress.

A child’s construction of a false self is an adaptive process. Children may develop it to cope with unmet needs, especially the absence of support the child requires to differentiate themselves from their caregivers.

When a child is unable to successfully evolve as a separate individual, a profound wounding occurs. It is this wounding that severs the child from who they really are, causing their true self to retreat into the mist of toxic shame.

Enter the false self

Once the child’s damaged true self is subverted, the false self is developed as a protective fortification. It is the psychological armor the child creates to survive in an oppressive climate of family dysfunction.

The false self is a façade that disguises a vacant, inert, embryonic true self. The true self becomes an unrealized seed with its innate ability to develop roots and nourish the spirit with a rich emotional life unrealized.

Because the disconnected false persona is bankrupt of constructive emotions, it is unable to experience or genuinely express love, trust, or empathy – making it impossible to establish authentic bonds with others. Instead, the counterfeit self relies on subterfuge and predation, mentally spinning deceptive webs to capture its sustenance.

Over time, the false self becomes a prison where the child’s true self is held hostage.

The false self and pathological narcissism

Pathological narcissism is a traumatic stress response that manifests as ego distortion. It is the invention of a fake persona as a coping mechanism for abysmally low self-esteem.

The child’s deformed ego may present as collapsed or inflated, or it may vacillate between these states depending on circumstances.

Narcissism as ego collapse: I am unwanted

The child who develops a collapsed false self learns to obtain the conditional love of their caregiver(s) through compliance and submission. Pleasing their caregiver(s) keeps them safe from harm and so their best defense is to be infinitely agreeable.

To survive in the dysfunctional family they must show up as vulnerable, weak, and co-dependent. They are only acceptable if their ego is collapsed.

Narcissism as ego inflation: I am perfect

Sometimes children react to their caregiver(s) conditional love, neglect, and/or abuse by withdrawing. 

Instead of collapsing into compliance, they balloon with contempt. In other words, the child adapts by concocting a counter-dependent false self with a glaringly inflated ego.

Both the inflated and collapsed egos remain undifferentiated, having internalized a tyrannical inner judge that is a facsimile of all the worst elements of their rejecting caregiver(s). Both ego structures are slaves to repetition compulsion in their adult lives.

The false self and addiction

Because the counterfeit self is emotionally isolated from the true self, it is also cut off from meaningful, authentic connection with others.

No matter how masterful it may be in its manipulations, the false self is a solitary figure. The consequence of this disconnected existence is that the false persona is prone to binging on poor substitutes for unconditional love and acceptance i.e. alcohol, narcotics, sex, gambling, work, gaming, adulation, people, etc.  

Freedom from the false self

Only an apocalyptic psychological event can shatter the cruel defensive armor of the false self which is every bit as oppressive as it is protective. To relinquish it is to experience the sum of all fears: ego death and the resurrection of the true self.

Bibliography

4 Subtle Ways Narcissistic Parents Abuse Their Children

4 Subtle Ways Narcissists Abuse Their Children

A PATHOLOGICAL NARCISSIST HAS MASTERED the art of inflicting psychological devastation without ever raising a hand. Their skillful manipulation of people’s perceptions and emotions leaves a trail of bloodless crimes in their wake.

This kind of person regards the pain and suffering they cause as a testament to their omnipotence. In reality, it is a manifestation of their sadistic nature.

A narcissist weaves a web of lies to entrap their victims. They win their romantic partners through deception and maintain their relationships through coercive and controlling behavior.

Thus, children of narcissists are born into a gaslit reality and given to the care of a psychological predator.

Here are four subtle ways narcissistic parents abuse their children.

1. The false self becomes a false idol

As a parent, the narcissist’s false self becomes a false idol that demands to be worshipped by their family unit.

Narcissists create glaring power imbalances between themselves, their spouse and children.

Love is neglect, abandonment, tyranny, and subjugation.

Because the narcissist’s needs supersede the needs of everyone else, the group internalizes the message that their needs don’t matter unless the narcissist says they do.

If the spouse is empathic, the narcissist undermines their authority. The children learn that might is right. They must appease the narcissist if they want to have their needs met.

4 Subtle Ways Narcissistic Parents Abuse Their Children

2. The narcissist engineers dysfunction

Because a narcissistic family unit is an organism that operates in a gaslit pseudo-reality, it is less akin to a family and more like a cult or a dictatorship.

In this dynamic, the group can’t be supportive, accepting, healthy, or just. Instead, family members behave and interact in unhealthy ways.

The children must learn to navigate the power imbalances and the inevitable abuses of power that ensue.

Thus, the default setting for existence in a narcissistic family is dysfunction.

3. Love is conditional

Children of narcissists learn that love is abuse. The narcissist shows them that if someone displeases you, it is okay to punish them and call it love.

For the child of a pathological narcissist, love is having your personality rejected and replaced with one the narcissist prefers. Love is neglect, abandonment, tyranny, and subjugation.

Narcissists see a child’s individuality as an act of insubordination.

Love is intermittent reinforcement with spouses and children alike.

The child is love-bombed when the narcissist feels the child reflects their false self. The moment the child fails to do so, the narcissistic parent blithely discards them.

Narcissistic family dynamics

4. Narcissists reject children who are not like them

Survival in a narcissistic family depends on each family member’s ability to take on and reinforce the assigned roles, toxic attitudes, and habits of the narcissist. No one is safe from a narcissist’s pernicious scrutiny, not even their children.

In the narcissist’s view, anyone who does not echo their image of themselves is rejecting them. Failure to reflect and affirm their false self is a threat. Thus, a child who does not accept the role assigned by the narcissistic parent triggers a narcissistic injury.

A lot of different personalities develop in the narcissist’s ecosystem.

The narcissist cannot process negative feedback, and by extension, nor can their family unit. They have zero tolerance for any person or thing they believe may endanger their fragile false self. When faced with such a threat, narcissists attack — even if the source of their ire is an infant.

Narcissists see a child’s individuality as an act of insubordination. Their response to this perceived narcissistic injury is contempt, oppression, and rejection of the offending child. As an act of expediency, the narcissist casts the child in the psychologically devastating role of the family scapegoat. The narcissist condemns the child to bear the blame for all of the family’s dysfunctional behavior and its outcomes.

Conclusion

To grow up in a narcissistic family is to grow up in an inverted reality, where right is wrong, and wrong is right. Anything goes as long as you tow the narcissist’s line.

There will be flagrant betrayals, hypocrisy, double standards, cruelty, and abuse. If one of the parents is empathic, the children will get a daily dose of how to manipulate, exploit, and subjugate another human being.

A lot of different personalities develop in the narcissist’s ecosystem. How the child turns out depends on how they navigate the harsh psychological terrain of the family.

This article is also published at Medium.com.

Resources

15 Signs of a Fledgling Narcissist

15 Signs of a Fledgling Narcissist

NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER (NPD) usually begins to manifest during a child’s teenage years or early adulthood.

While many teenagers may be somewhat narcissistic, it is usually a normal stage of development and self-corrects over time. For this reason, clinicians are reluctant to diagnose NPD and other personality disorders in minors. However, when children present as callous and unemotional they may be tested by for conduct disorder.

Good enough parents seek to cultivate empathy and mental wellness in their children. Parents who have experienced narcissistic abuse, either in their personal or professional life, are often keen to prevent these dysfunctional behaviors in their children.

So, how do you spot a fledgling narcissist?

What is a fledgling narcissist?

A fledgling narcissist is an adolescent or teenage child who mirrors the behaviors and attitudes of a narcissistic caregiver or role model.

It’s distinguishing features are:

  1. A sense of entitlement
  2. Inability to accept responsibility
  3. A lack of gratitude
  4. An air of superiority
  5. Low empathy
  6. Opportunism
  7. A belief that they are special
  8. Attention seeking
  9. Envious
  10. Exaggerations or compulsive lying
  11. Unreasonable expectations
  12. Exploitativeness
  13. Arrogance
  14. Contempt for peers
  15. Schadenfreude

In other words, they act out the narcissism present in their ecosystem in the form of role models and the culture at large.

Within the family system, a highly narcissist child is often cast in the role of The Manipulator, also known as The Mastermind.

Experiments of dominance

A fledgling narcissist usually experiments with these behaviors in the home, targeting an individual they feel confident will endure their aggression and insolence.

If the child’s expressions of superiority and dominance go unchecked, there is an increased probability that the child may become a full-blown narcissist.

Sometimes high levels of narcissism are encouraged in children. This can happen if one or both of the parents are highly narcissistic. In those instances, narcissistic behavior may be reinforced in the child(ren).

Who does the fledgling narcissist target?

They practices their behavior on a family member. Usually, this will be a sibling or anyone they perceive as vulnerable.

The targeted brother or sister will be subjected to sibling abuse which can take the form of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, 

If one of the parents is the target of an ongoing campaign of coercive control by a pathological narcissistic spouse, a budding abuser may target the vulnerable parent with their aggression.

After they’ve enjoyed successful experiments at home, the fledgling narcissist will graduate to targeting someone outside the home. 

These early experiments are forays into discovering how far the fledgling narcissist can go.

What you can do as a parent

Abuse should never be tolerated, especially not from your own child. Here are some actionable steps you can take with a fledgling narcissist child:

  • Consider family therapy with a licensed professional.
  • Make it clear that there is zero tolerance for abuse.
  • Set hard boundaries.
  • Be explicit with the child about what behavior is acceptable.
  • Inform the child about your “deal breakers” i.e. behavior that is unacceptable.
  • Write down the terms of engagement and seal the deal with a handshake.
  • If the child breaks the deal, call out the behavior.
  • Consistently enforce the boundaries.

Have Your Say

Have you experienced a fledgling narcissist in your life? Do you recognize some of the characteristic mentioned in this post? Please share your story in the comments below.