In this day and age, the term narcissism is considerably common. You might even have a narcissist in your family and know that the term generally describes a person excessively preoccupied with personal adequacy and is mentally unable to see the destructive damage they are causing.
Some suggest that narcissistic personality disorder may be related to defenses against shame. Commonly considered traits include a sense of grandiosity or self-importance and a lack of empathy.
Narcissists are perhaps more insidious when they are less recognizable. Initially, they may view people close to them (like Mom or Dad) as positive, but they could quickly turn against them if adverse circumstances arise.
Whatever the cause of the narcissist pathology, it's important to know how to deal with one, especially if you're raising kids together.
So much advice focuses upon terminating relationships with narcissists, but the reality for divorced couples with minor children is far different. A narcissist could behave in ways that punish the former spouse and, by clear association, the children.
Unfortunately, the legal and therapeutic systems are not well designed to support either the adults or children when this occurs.
Court systems are designed only for the most obvious offenses, and socioeconomic circumstances often protect the narcissist from the glaring eye of society if they can provide materially well for the children — even if they're not paying their agreed share of basic expenses.
Even simple scheduling changes can result in a narcissist continuing along a path of elevated tension and toxicity that clearly impacts children. As parental conflict is the single greatest predictor of children experiencing problems when parents divorce, it is imperative that people have tools to manage this relationship.
So, what are real and practical solutions?
Though the answer is complex for each situation, the non-narcissist parent can do these five things:
1. Create clear boundaries
Communicate by email and avoid in-person or even text communications when possible, as an inflammatory and impulsive response is more likely from a narcissist. It's important that you have a clear written record of what is expected and how things will proceed.
Do not waver in your resolve because they will take advantage of any perceived weakness. You should be prepared to negotiate, but know in advance the limits of compromise as a narcissist will use almost any means to convince you they should always have their way.
2. Keep the conflict away from your children
Don't talk down the narcissist to your children. They are the other parent of your children and criticizing the narcissist hurts them.
If the children experience difficulty with that parent, make sure you give them tools for managing the difficulty without criticizing the narcissist as a person. When the kids are old enough, it may be necessary to suggest that they will likely need tools to deal with difficult people in their lives.
3. Seek help for yourself and your children as needed
It's likely that many people co-parenting with a narcissist experience many of the same symptoms as those individuals with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Don’t take this lightly. Find a therapist well-trained in how to support you and your kids.
There are also support groups to help you navigate too, and a divorce coach is another important resource who may help you navigate the difficult organizational and emotional waters.
4. Document, document, document
Having a written record will help you remember that you are dealing rationally and objectively in a very difficult circumstance. Keep a journal or a simple calendar of what occurs so you can remind the narcissist, if necessary, what the objective reality is.
Keeping most of your communication to simple clear email will also create a good record too. The narcissist may not be swayed by logic, but if extreme behavior occurs, a court may need this documentation to act.
5. Seek legal assistance as needed
Don't allow the narcissist to convince you not to get good legal help. If your divorce advisor dismisses you or the situation, find another lawyer. If the children are already aware of the conflict, make certain they have good support too, and make sure your legal advisor understands you want the conflict to end as soon as possible to reduce any possible harm to the kids.
Ask for a timeline and make sure it is reasonable to be followed by counsel and the courts if needed. This is certainly not an easy path, but one that must sometimes be pursued. You will likely still have to be the driving force to reduce the conflict for your kids.
There is no magic bullet for co-parenting with a narcissist. You will likely be their target until, and if, another adversary arises.
In the meantime, remind the kids it's not their fight, and that you will do everything you can to protect them. Strengthen your resolve and make sure your supports are in place. It may not be easy to co-parent with a narcissist, but with the proper tools you can take good care of your kids and yourself during this difficult time.
And, remember, what challenges us can make us infinitely stronger for the future. Take pride in the way you behave for your children and know that this is the very best you can do as they grow into adulthood. They will be infinitely grateful for that.
Cherie Morris and Vicki Vollweiler co-founded Dear Divorce Coach to provide those facing the overwhelm of separation and divorce with information, support and guidance. You can reach Cherie and Vicki by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published at Dear Divorce Coach. Reprinted with permission from the author.