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Narcissistic Abuse: From Marriage to Co-Parenting and It’s Lasting Effects

Updated on August 21, 2019
abbykorinnelee profile image

Bachelors Degree in Organizational Behavioral Psychology with a background in Autism, Mental Health, Business Psychology

Forever Attached to a Narcissist

Importance of Co-Parenting after a Divorce

Divorce is not just difficult for the individuals in a failed relationship; children are caught up in a whirlwind of life changes and emotions. There can be a lot of anger, hurt, and bitterness which can cause communication to be almost impossible. Learning to have healthy co-parenting strategies is very valuable and assist children in adapting to the inevitable changes of the divorce.

When children can affectively adapt it solidifies a solid loving and trusting relationship between both parents. The benefits are significant in establishing psychologically and emotionally stable children:

  1. Increases sense of stability and reduces stress. (Children don’t feel like they have to choose one parent over another, young children don’t feel like the divorce is their fault, and helps them establish life skills as an adult.)
  2. Increases likelihood both parents remain an active part of the children’s lives. (If the parents have effective communication, there is less disruption in the parenting relationship.)
  3. improves communication and the post divorce relationship. (Studies show that this is directly correlated the child having a reduced risk for drug use as a teen as well as a reduced risk for alcohol and sex.)

But what happens if one or both parents are not willing? Or creates a “high conflict” continuous relationshi?

National Resource Center of Marriage and Families

Narcissist And Counter-Parenting vs. Co-Parenting

Describing Narcissistic Abuse

Understanding Impact of Narcissistic Abuse

A relationship can be very damaging with someone who is a narcissist and divorce ends up a relief. Longer you are married to them; the more damaging it can be. According to author, researcher Kim Saeed, found long term abuse can cause brain damage.

  • Prolonged emotional trauma can lead to PTSD
  • Repeated emotional injuries shrink the hippocampus and enlarging the amygdala. This can affect emotional regulation and the greater the decrease of the hippocampus, the greater the symptoms are of PTSD.
  • Since a Narcissist keeps their victim in a constant state of fear and anxiety it is directly correlated with emotion regulation difficulty and the fight or flight response.
  • Victims of continuous abuse live in this state daily.
  • Victims experience and engage in what Saeed terms as “primitive defense mechanisms.” Denial, Compartmentalizations, and Projection.

These things can help explain why Co-Parenting in a relationship can be toxic to not just the victim of the narcissist; but also the children and any new partner.

Damaging Effects of a Narcissistic Spouse

Narcissistic “truth” is Relative

Divorcing a Narcissist

Its important to understand the impact of narcissistic abuse and the impact of the divorce. When you can understand what a narcissist does to their victim; you can further understand heir motivation in a divorce. Understanding the impact on the victim; you can further understand the co-parenting environment and see the impact children are affected and why.

Sadly, I have seen this and going through this very thing with my fiancé and I only am writing this article because I was researching why we are dealing with what we are. When I realized just how deep-rooted it is and how damaging it is on the children; I felt that it was important to write.

1: “He/She is in it to WIN It”: Normally when a couple gets divorced they want to split the assets. This isn’t the case with a narcissist; they commonly ”play the victim” and with no regards to the facts. Other couples who may not agree will agree to mediation. Mediation or negotiating with them will not work for the narcissist.

2: “Ultimate Goal? Being proven RIGHT”: Typically, human beings want to be right; the difference is with a narcissist, they will do whatever it takes to be right.

3: “Truth for a narcissist isn’t relative, it’s OPTIONAL”

4: ”Narcissistic is a game player”

How they maintain power is keeping their victim “off balance.” They do this by manipulating their victim, the victims reality, their emotions to always keep them “on the edge.”

Example: My fiancé’s ex-wife is battling me. She no longer has complete control over him and it’s causing her to play the game even more aggressively. Problem is: she is losing power over my fiancé. He is staying as out of her reach as possible because I noticed hes her puppet and she’s the one pulling the strings.

Shes automatically re-directed to me. Shes now having to play her game through me; but I know her game. Im very educated and studied personality disorders and even were in Narcissistic relationship. i already learned how to deal with them.

When the narcissistic ex-wife is losing her power, she can’t stop utilizing her tactics on me. I have made sure to document, save everything in order to combat every angle I know she will take.

Being the compassionate person I am and knowing it’s my future step-kids mother I have warned her how she is burying herself, but she’s convinced she can’t lose and stated “I can do what the (bleep) I want and say what the (bleep) I want.”

She truly believes this.

Due to their situation she feels that she can just hire a good attorney and work the system. She assumes that she will be able to charm herself as a victim and that a judge will feel empathetic and that she can manipulate even the judge.

Worse, once a narcissist loses to their victim; they will file on going motions, make many false allegation, and all just in the attempt to get you so worn down, you let them win.

5. “Impaired Empathy”

Narcissists have no regard for someone else being hurt in the games they play. It doesn’t matter even if it’s their own children; which is why co-parenting can be impossible. This is what is happening to us and truthfully it’s heartbreaking to watch and impossible to understand.

Now most concerning is the question that drove me to research so extensively:

Is it possible to have a healthy co-parenting relationship with a narcissistic ex-wife?

Documentary: Narcissistic Abuse: Unspoken Reality

Forget Co-Parenting with a Narcissistic Parent

“Narcissistic pathology in the context of divorce manifests as a parent’s pervasive preoccupation with his own inner states and personal identity to the exclusion of the other parent and of his own children.” (Michael Friedman, 2004)

Forget Co-Parenting with a Narcissist, at least the way most families do. It’s more like Counter-Parenting.

That Abuse you daily lives with, that abuse you think you will escape from after a divorce, will bleed into your life and raising your children together. If you didn’t prepare to co-parent; you won’t be prepared for “high-conflict” constant parenting situations, the continued abuse that you thought you escaped from, the affect it has on the children involved, and most likely won’t have strategies to minimize the impact; thus allowing it to still be a daily Abuse that bleeds into most aspects of your life.

Common tips and strategies include:

  1. Set boundaries on communication. Limit conversations to what’s necessary and do so in text or email. Establish a paper trail.
  2. Refuse to make your children a pawn.
  3. Have a detailed custody agreement.
  4. Keep detailed records.
  5. Never argue with a narcissist; you won’t win.
  6. Be aware of the narcissists triggers.
  7. Practice self-care.

These strategies are useful for many reasons. When you are required to communicate with the narcissist, doing so via text or email gives you time to evaluate your initial reaction to the narcissists behavior. You can identify how they are trying to control you by getting a desired reaction, eliminate verbal cues to cue them in to your anxiety or anger or other emotions. Since they feed off your emotions; they lose control of you and can no longer guide the conversation to the desired result or demand.

Example: My fiance usually gets defensive, he will start having out of control anxiety which pushes him to very emotional outbursts. His ex-wife will push these buttons as long as she has to; until she gets what she wants. Even in texts he would do this.

I showed him by having a text conversation myself with her; where she was saying hurtful lies that she thought would break me down and believe; hurt me and i would lose trust in him. By doing this, if I gave her a desired response than she’s actually hurting him by sabotaging his relationship.

I told him to always respond assuming a judge will read it. Since she isn’t getting the result of emotionally damaging me, and i Am not letting her manipulate me, it’s made her lose her control. She’s now trying desperately at all costs to regain that power.

Dealing with most communication now has had a less stressful and negative response on our relationship; and after she started doing it to her kids, the kids saw on their own who was right and wrong. We now have two kids with us.

The biggest challenge is not allowing them to use your child in their game of power and abusive behaviors. This requires constantly telling them they are hurting their child, documenting how they are using them against you, learning how to explain to the child why mom is doing something without damaging them further by talking about their parent.

Setting clear boundaries and controlling this is way easier if you have physical custody. If you aren’t the primary; it’s more difficult to control. One common way a narcissist uses children is through visitation and child support.

Seeking children therapy if your child is a victim of the narcissistic parent is very important. It’s imperative children are taught strategies so you can try to prevent long term damage. Confronting that parent does no good either as they won’t admit they do anything wrong.

Narcissistic Counter-Parenting


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