You read that right. You may be divorced for five, 10, or more years. Yet the end of a marriage means very little to a narcissistic (or borderline) ex. The personality-disordered ex has certain personality traits that make it impossible for them to empathize or relate to the other parent without anger or blame. For the narcissistic ex a new game is on—a game of control, manipulation, and interference. I often receive calls from professionals and individuals in Colorado and nationwide who are at “wits end.”
The narcissistic ex is often described as entitled or someone who sees themselves as the superior parent. When the reality is, these parents are unable to make decisions that are in the best interest of their children. Narcissistic parents often use emotional blackmail, have a breakdown in the presence of their children, demand that the children take on responsibilities that are beyond their years, and they interfere with the other parent’s parenting time.
Narcissistic ex often equals high-conflict divorce.
If you shake your head and say, “This is completely crazy,” you are not alone. Here’s the inside scoop: The personality-disordered ex lives in self-created chaos. They fear change. They make desperate attempts to stay in control. With divorce comes change. The relationship once shared is no longer present, and learning how to engage in post-divorce negotiation is a critical aspect of raising healthy children.
Let’s face it: you have different agendas. Your ex wants to feel “needed” or important to you. One way to maintain this need is to stay in control or to orchestrate your actions. When I see clients in the Colorado office, I hear that they are worn out from unwanted and unnecessary texts and voice messages from their interfering ex.
Being divorced from the narcissistic ex and their antics means you get to decide what you will and what you will not accept in your life. But first, switching to a platform such as TalkingParent.com or MyFamilyWizard.com can help streamline communication and keep a full record of all communications in the event you need access to them. Identify the number of times you will respond to an e-mail message.
The narcissistic tug of war has its basis in manipulation. Trying to confront it will lead to claims of ignorance or innocence. For instance, you may realize that transitioning the kids at each other’s homes is a source for conflict and you propose a public location for drop-off. Don’t hold your breath. Your ex will get into fighting gear to keep the status quo. By removing the source of conflict, the narcissistic ex will not have a private place to manipulate or pressure you into hasty agreements in front of the children.
One might wonder what the narcissistic ex is gaining by being adversarial. The answer is chaos. The narcissist’s behavior can be translated as an immature emotional response to a lack of control: they are unable to deal with unrelenting anxiety or anger, seek a familiar target. When you are dealing with a high-conflict personality, it’s helpful to have a strategic plan. Begin by identifying the positive reason your ex might want to change the transition location. Perhaps it’s closer than the distance to each home or it offers a convenience for each one of you. Using the grocery store, for instance, can serve both those reasons. Reducing tension will lead to a more peaceful transition.
High-conflict personalities often divide the world into good guys and bad guys. Guess what? You are the bad guy. You are now more the bad guy than you ever were before. For instance, finding new love is betrayal in your ex’s mind. The narcissistic ex is easily threatened by any change that can shake their fragile make-up. Such a change can create a flurry of e-mails from your ex.
Decide on which e-mails require a response. Determine what is being asked (most e-mail messages require you to make some type of change or adjustment). Keep your focus on your child or children. Respond in a factual and not emotional manner.
When your ex can’t have access to you, your children become the source of leverage. Children are often the spokesperson for the ex’s agenda. Unbeknownst to them, children carry the torch for the narcissistic parent.
Keep hope alive. Children are influenced by both parents. One of the most important aspects of parenting is educating children. Even under the best divorce conditions, children struggle with divided loyalty. As they come to understand their needs and boundaries, they feel heard. Begin by helping children identify unsettling feelings; this helps them make a connection of the feeling to an event. Modeling is a powerful teaching tool that can help children develop the skills to express and handle emotions. The good news is that your children can learn how to connect negative feelings to negative experiences and, if taught, can learn to say no to those experiences. Sharing feelings and experiences can create strong bonds. Offering children an alternative to the tug of war can allow them to feel secure and safe.
Each movement forward sends a clear message that you are not going to participate in the same old push-pull of the old marriage. You can be free of your narcissistic ex. You can do it. Yes, it’s hard. Take one step at a time. Applaud your success each time.