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Co-Parenting wtih a Narcissist

A narcissist is someone who exhibits excessive self-centeredness, a grandiose sense of self-importance, a lack of empathy for others, and a constant need for admiration and attention. Narcissistic individuals tend to believe that they are unique, special, and entitled to special treatment. They often seek out situations that enhance their self-image and can be preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, or beauty.

Narcissism exists on a spectrum, and not all traits of narcissism are necessarily negative. In fact, a healthy level of self-confidence and self-esteem is important for personal well-being. However, when narcissistic traits become extreme and impair a person's ability to form healthy relationships, show empathy, and function effectively in society, it might be classified as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

People with narcissistic personality, self-esteem is often fragile, and they might react strongly to perceived slights or criticism. Treatment for narcissistic personality disorder can be challenging, as individuals with this condition may be resistant to acknowledging their behavior or seeking help. Therapy, particularly specialized approaches like cognitive-behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, may be beneficial in managing and addressing the negative aspects of narcissism.

Co-parenting with a narcissist can be an extremely challenging and emotionally taxing experience. Narcissists can be particularly petty with self-righteous rules around family rituals, and if anything gets out of order, they get annoyed and ready to write you off. They give only performative love in that they only show up for big events, games, and other activities that boost their ego, are always ready to take pictures and give lessons, but never go out of their way to meet their child where they are at.

A narcissistic parent behaves in ways that are primarily centered around their own needs, desires, and self-image, often at the expense of their children's emotional well-being. Here are some common behaviors exhibited by narcissistic parents:

  1. Lack of Empathy: Narcissistic parents struggle to understand or empathize with their children's emotions and experiences. They might dismiss their children's feelings or belittle their concerns.

  2. Manipulation and Control: Narcissistic parents often manipulate their children to maintain control over them. They may use guilt, shame, or emotional blackmail to get their way.

  3. Grandiosity: Narcissistic parents have an inflated sense of self-importance and often expect their children to admire, obey, and cater to their desires.

  4. Constant Need for Attention and Validation: They seek constant attention, praise, and validation from their children. They might become angry or distant if they feel they are not receiving enough attention.

  5. Blame-Shifting: When things go wrong, narcissistic parents rarely take responsibility for their actions. They may shift blame onto their children or others, avoiding any accountability.

  6. Competitiveness: Narcissistic parents might see their children as extensions of themselves and engage in competition with them. They might feel threatened by their children's accomplishments or successes.

  7. Boundary Violations: They often disregard their children's personal boundaries and privacy, invading their space both physically and emotionally.

  8. Conditional Love: Narcissistic parents may only show affection and love when their children conform to their expectations or fulfill their needs. This can lead to a constant feeling of not being "good enough."

  9. Exploitation: They may use their children to fulfill their own needs, using them as tools to achieve personal goals or to satisfy their own emotional needs.

  10. Lack of Emotional Support: Narcissistic parents often fail to provide emotional support or guidance to their children, leaving them feeling emotionally neglected and invalidated.

  11. Gaslighting: They may manipulate their children's perception of reality, making them doubt their own feelings, thoughts, and experiences.

  12. Inconsistent Parenting: Narcissistic parents may oscillate between being overly indulgent and neglectful, making it difficult for their children to predict their reactions.

Given these challenges, it's crucial to prioritize the well-being of your children and yourself. Here are some strategies that might help:

  1. Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries with your co-parent to minimize manipulation and conflicts. Stick to a structured communication plan and avoid engaging in unnecessary confrontations.

  2. Focus on the Children: Keep the best interests of your children at the forefront of your decisions. Create a stable and loving environment for them, and shield them from any unnecessary conflicts between you and your co-parent.

  3. Document Everything: Keep a record of your interactions, agreements, and disputes with your co-parent. This documentation can be valuable if legal intervention becomes necessary.

  4. Seek Support: Reach out to friends, family members, support groups, or even a therapist who can provide emotional support and guidance during this challenging time.

  5. Legal Intervention: If the situation becomes unbearable and negatively impacts your children's well-being, consider seeking legal help to modify your co-parenting arrangement or to establish clear guidelines.

Remember that every situation is unique, and the strategies that work for one person may not be applicable to another. If you find yourself struggling to navigate co-parenting with a narcissist, it's advisable to consult with professionals who specialize in high-conflict co-parenting, who notice it for what it is, and trianed in dealing with personality disorders so to help develop a strategy tailored to your specific circumstances.

Odell Terrell is a mental health counselor in Greensboro, NC. He graduated with a MS in Counseling from Divine Mercy University in Arlington, VA, and places emphasis on family systems theory and attachment theory working with families and children from the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy perspective.

His education and training has qualified him to sit for and pass the state of North Carolina Licensing Examination Board. His training in family systems theory, attachment theory, personality disorders, and complex trauma gives him the necessary qualifications to assess, diagnose and treat mental health disorders. He also has background and experience in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of attachment issues in the family courts and high conflict divorce. Odell is happily married for 18 years. He is the father of 9 children and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to his family and child therapy practice.

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