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Co-Parenting With a Narcissist

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Father talking to Daughter While Working
Yellow Dog Productions/Digital Vision/Getty Images

My son walked into the room and handed me the phone. “Dad can’t talk right now; he just poured a bowl of cereal and doesn’t want it to get soggy.” My ex, who hadn’t talked to his son in twelve days, was more concerned about his cereal becoming soggy than a few moments of communication with his child. That is what it is like to co-parent with a narcissist.

In fact, there is very little co-parenting that occurs, most of your time is spent attempting to undo the damage a narcissist can do to his/her children. The narcissist isn’t capable of “normal” maternal or paternal instincts. They view their children as objects meant to fulfill the narcissist’s needs, instead of the other way around.

I recently found the list below on Jay Rusovich’s blog, The Downside of Sanity. I’ve not read a more appropriate description of how the narcissist parents. If you are divorced from a narcissist I suggest you print out The 10 Commandments of the Narcissistic Parent and tape it to your frig. You will be referencing it often!

The Ten Commandments of the Narcissistic Parent:

  1. I am who I tell you I am.

  2. You will tell me things I want to hear or you will not be heard.

  3. You will feel the way I want you to feel or you will be forsaken.

  4. Love is conditional upon the aforementioned.

  5. Intimacy is vulnerability, and thus, death.

  6. There is only one road in and out of here.

  7. Children are like toys that become useless when they break, which is why they must be replaced with better toys.

  8. Parents are really one person in two bodies. When they individuate, they die.

  9. Conversely, siblings are really one person in several bodies. When one individuates, that person shall hunted down and slaughtered for the greater good.

  10. Narcissism is a myth.

Let’s go over each briefly. Allow me to add my own two cents to what Jay wrote based on real life experience.

I am who I tell you I am:

Our children learned this about their father the hard way. I don’t suppose there is an easy way! Their father would say one thing, do another and when they questioned his behavior he would become highly offended. He thinks of himself as a loving, involved father even though he goes years without contact with his children. In his mind he is loving and involved but doesn’t see or talk to his children because they have the audacity to point out to him that “loving and involved” fathers behave in a loving and involved manner. Since his children are people who know he is not who he tells them he is, he chooses to surround himself with people who will believe he is who he tells them he is.

Confusing huh? Imagine being a child and attempting to intellectualize and rationalize such behavior from a parent.

You will tell me things I want to hear or you will not be heard:

Refer to the example above. Our children didn’t tell their father he was a loving and involved parent so he know refuses to hear anything they have to say. He ignores text messages, doesn’t respond to emails. He is completely out of touch because they failed to tell him what he wanted to hear.

You will feel the way I want you to feel or you will be forsaken:

This is the one that does the most damage. The narcissistic parent places no value on his/her children’s feelings. When we don’t value other people’s feelings our actions can do irreparable damage to those people. Our son was upset over something his father wrote him in an email. He responded and told his father, “Dad, when you say things like that, it hurts my feelings.”

His father responded and told our son, “I am not responsible for your feelings.” And then he went on to explain to the child just how unreasonable it was for his son to expect him to care about his feelings. You can’t tell a child in one voice, “I love you” and then tell them “If your feelings got hurt it is your fault” in the next and expect that child to not be emotionally damaged.

Love is conditional upon the aforementioned:

Yes, if a child refuses to feel the way the narcissistic parent needs them to feel, love, attention, caring, concern, all will be withheld. The bad news for the narcissist, children eventually adjust and move on. That old saying, “out of sight, out of mind” works against the narcissist. I can, thankfully say that as adults our children rarely think about or mention their father. When you withdraw your love from someone they will eventually “let go” of their love for you.

Intimacy is vulnerability, and thus, death:

The narcissist alludes to intimacy without becoming fully engaged in intimacy. True intimacy with another person means allowing yourself to become vulnerable, emotionally dependent. Vulnerability and dependency are the kiss of death to the narcissist. Your child will love the narcissistic parent; the narcissistic parent is only able to love what the child can do for him/her.

There is only one road in and out of here:

And, it is a bumpy road! The road out is far more difficult to navigate.

Children are like toys that become useless when they break, which is why they must be replaced with better toys:

My ex replaced our children with a step-daughter. She reveres him, she extols his wonderfulness. She is much like his children were before the divorce. She will forever be the recipient of his goodness, until she questions a behavior or, disagrees with a belief. When that happens she will learn how bumpy that road out can get.

Parents are really one person in two bodies. When they individuate, they die:

When my ex and I divorced in his mind I was dead. I was no longer an object that was of any use to him so any needs, feelings or desires I had became of no consequence to him. Since I was no longer important to him he felt our children should view me through his eyes…I was someone who didn’t matter.

He could not co-parent with me; doing so would mean acknowledging me as an individual outside himself. To him I am not an autonomous human being, I’m something he tired of and discarded. The fact that our children love me and refused to also abandon their relationship with me plays an important role in his inability to continue to have a relationship with them.

Conversely, siblings are really one person in several bodies. When one individuates, that person shall be hunted down and slaughtered for the greater good:

When we divorced our children were 14 and 7 years old. The older child was quick to call his father out for hurtful behavior. The younger child made excuses and did whatever he could to keep his father happy. All the younger child cared about was spending time with his Dad. Due to that he detached himself from the emotional pain and focused on pleasing his father.

Our older child individuated, became separate from his brother and had to be done away with emotionally. Our older son in now 28 years old. His father has rarely acknowledged him since the divorce. He came to his high school graduation after 4 years of never attending a parent/teacher meeting, extracurricular activity, regular visitation and refusing to enter into counseling. That is the only time since our divorce that he has shown interest in our older child.

His child was “hunted down” and “slaughtered” emotionally.

Narcissism is a myth:

I believe that a narcissist knows they are different. They realize they are unable to form normal emotional attachments with others. Admitting to that difference would mean becoming vulnerable to the opinions of others. It is for that reason that most narcissists will deny their disorder.

The narcissist is awesome, just ask him/her. Awesome people don’t have personality disorders dontcha know? For the narcissist any relationship problems are about YOU, certainly not about them and their awesome selves.

I tell clients who are co-parenting with a narcissist to keep their expectations low. Don’t expect the narcissist to tackle parenting with the same parental instincts they have. And, never believe that you can “get through” to the narcissist and hold them accountable. Focus on your parental duties, be diligent in cleaning up the emotional messes the narcissist leaves behind and get your children into therapy. They are going to need it!

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