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.

The Use of Isolation in Coercive Control

The Use of Isolation in Coercive Control | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab | Julie Levine

I guarantee there is an entire generation that will instantly relate the word isolation to the 2020 COVID-19 crisis.

I do not.

I will not.

Every time I hear that word, my past haunts me. 

Images flash in my mind. 

But they are not of the present social distancing, wearing a mask, quarantine, and antibody testing. The images brought to my mind remind me of a different place, a different time when I was a different person.

Isolation is a reality of post-separation abuse for countless survivors around the world. It is one of the most powerful tools in the malignant narcissist’s game of power, control, and manipulation

The aims of isolation are two-fold:

  • The smaller a malignant narcissist can make your world, the more you will feel dependent on them. 
  • Isolating the victim makes it easier for the manipulator to distort the third partys’ perception of the victim and dominate the narrative.

An Invisible Prison

The last few months of social isolation have been extraordinarily difficult for me. I am reminded of my current strengths daily, as well as the person I used to be. In the blink of an eye, I remember things I wish I could forget.

When I was a married woman, living in a New York suburb, we had an electronic gate at the end of a very long driveway. Located in a well-to-do, bucolic neighborhood, the gate was attached to a concrete wall separating the house from the road – from the world.

There was a large metal box on one side of the front wall, which contained the gate’s motor and electronics. I did not know how to open nor operate the secured machinery. And there were video cameras everywhere. An ordinary person would think they were for security purposes — but I will get to that. 

You can be living in the dark hole of abuse – and not realize how bad it is until you start telling other people what is happening.

Julie Levine

The man I was then married to was in total control of operating the gate. On good days, I had a code to get in and a motion detector operated to let me out. However, on bad days when he felt I was disobedient when I had not been silent or had not worshipped him accordingly – he disconnected that gate when he left for work, abandoning me in a home with what I believed was no way out.

My sons would have to walk around or climb over the gate to get to the cul de sac for their school bus. When the gate was rendered inoperable – my world shrank and became even more restricted. I was ordered to remain at home until further notice.

Isolation was a punishment. It was deliberate. It was a minute component in the cycle of abuse.

Survival Mode in Coercive and Controlling Relationships

Looking back, I wonder: who was that woman who received such punishment? 

I could not drive a car out of the driveway with that damn gate stuck closed – but why didn’t I walk around it like my sons?

I never even considered it. I obeyed him. I lived in constant fear.

I was married to a man for almost two decades who used isolation amongst other Coercive Control tactics to dominate me. In the years since my divorce, I learned that his behaviors are consistent with narcissistic abuse.

In my case, other kinds of harm were added to the mix, such as domestic violence, and financial abuse. 

During my lengthy, high conflict divorce, the man who would later be known as my “ex” was diagnosed by several forensic psychologists as:

  •  a narcissist
  • a psychopath
  • a sociopath
  • having anti-social personality disorder, and
  • being morally bankrupt.

Did I ever hear of those terms before court-ordered reports?

Certainly not. 

For almost 20 years, I was so deep in survival mode, that I did not even consider there to be personality disorders and distinctions. It was just my way of life, a way of life I needed to survive for my children. 

Coercive Control destroys support systems

How Coercive Control Destroys Support Systems

Gradually, friends left my life, my family became estranged, people I had known for years stopped contacting me.

More isolation.

Eventually, the only human contact I had was with my children’s teachers and occasionally parents of my children’s classmates. But even those contacts diminished.

I tried socializing with other people in our community – as couples normally would – but that never lasted too long.

My ex-husband would tell me that people didn’t like me or only bothered with me because they thought I had money, convincing me that all break downs in communication with the outside world were my fault.

For many years, I never questioned it.

I was a class mother for my sons in school, an assistant soccer coach, a softball mom, etc.

I lived my life day to day as a mother of two sons whom I cared for and practically raised alone as their father showed no interest in them until I began to stand up for myself, mentioning divorce.

Throughout their childhoods, my sons learned that the only time their father showed them attention was when they would mirror his interests. My sons eventually understood how the equation worked, dropped their interests and passions, and reflected their father.

No more soccer, softball, or basketball. Playdates were few and far between.

Looking back at all this I realize that he was isolating his sons almost as much as he was isolating me. I didn’t know back then that children too could be targets for Coercive Control.

Coercive Control is Captivity

Getting back to that gate at the entrance of my home address — everyone thought it was to keep people out when, in reality, its purpose was to keep me in.

There were days I just stayed at home, often recovering from bruises, with no means of escape.

I guess I was so traumatized, controlled, and terrified that I did not dare climb over that gate to get out. I remained at home, in fear, until I had a release date that my then-husband determined. The security cameras were strategically placed around that gate to allow him to keep an eye on my comings and goings, recording it on six small television screens within the home and backed up on the Smart House computer system.  

There were years of physical, psychological, emotional, and financial brutality. I would be locked in a bathroom, locked in a closet — a prisoner in my own home — all to disarm me, to break me.

But here I am, despite it all. My life turned out to be one of survival over adversity. It is not one of victimhood. 

Little by little, I mentioned what was going on to people, I started to read, and believe I deserved better.

You can be living in the dark hole of abuse – and not realize how bad it is until you start telling other people what is happening.

Exit Fear Obligation Guilt

The Effects of Coercive Control on Children

Here is a shout out to anyone married to a narcissist. 

They will not want you to leave them, not even when they have a backup plan waiting in the wings in the form of their new supply.

As much as they use isolation to control their victim, narcissists fear abandonment.

If you have children with a narcissist, be prepared for the brainwashing of those children. The narcissist’s lies will be spewed and repeated, eventually destroying the relationship between you and the very children you love so dearly.  

When a narcissist knows you are on to them, they will use whatever will hurt you the most to get you back in line.

You can become isolated from the children who were once your entire world – alienated.

During the last few years living under the same roof, my ex did all in his power to separate and isolate me from the children I cherished. He wanted me to be as alone as possible.

Total isolation.

Isolation in a COVID-19 World

That word again – isolation. It is a gate that separates you from your children and the world. 

Lately, I’ve gotten so tired of hearing people complain about not seeing their families, not seeing their friends, not going out to restaurants, or on vacations. I’ve become inundated with people whining about how they can’t hug their grandchildren or go on their beloved shopping sprees.

Of course, these times are a challenge. But honestly, I think I’ve lived through worse. I often thank my Higher Power that at this very moment, at this very time – I am not in isolation with the man I was once married to.  

During this harrowing time of health crisis in our world, I am not isolated as I was in my past. This time, my isolation means I choose to stay safe.

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