In our latest article, Living With a Narcissist When Leaving Isn’t An Option, we focused on how victims of narcissistic abuse can protect themselves from their abuser if leaving isn’t an option by using the gray rock method and setting boundaries. We also mentioned that a reason many victims of narcissistic abuse can’t leave their abuser is because doing so will likely cut them out of their children’s lives. So, we decided to create a small series on co-parenting with a narcissist. We’ll start this series off by diving into the complexity of co-parenting with a grandiose narcissist.
What Is a Grandiose Narcissist?
If narcissism was an organization, grandiose narcissists would undoubtedly be the face of it because they are the most recognized type of narcissists. These are the type of narcissists who are charismatic, entitled, intelligent, well put together, and extremely arrogant. They’re often very successful, very flashy, and very popular.
For the most part, the definition of narcissism has been based on grandiose narcissists because they have an abundance of many of the characteristics associated with narcissism like constantly seeking validation, hypersensitivity, lack of empathy, incredibly entitled, superficiality, and rage. Grandiose narcissists are the top of the narcissism food chain.
Grandiose narcissists are masters of charm, charisma, confidence, and cleverness. A very common aspect of narcissism is the love bombing phase which, like the definition of narcissism, has been defined and constructed around the aspects of grandiose narcissist’s behavior. They’re the type of narcissists who are most likely to shower their victims with extravagant gifts and an overwhelming number of compliments in the beginning of a relationship, it’s almost like a performance for them. They are extremely talented at morphing into someone’s “Mr. Or Mrs. Perfect.”
Meeting a grandiose narcissist can make someone feel incredible, so incredible that they ignore warning signs like the narcissists constantly name dropping, relentlessly speaking about themselves, getting bored or annoyed when the attention isn’t on them, and reciting these never-ending extraordinary stories. 35 of our participants who survived narcissistic abuse were able to confidently categorize their abuser as grandiose narcissists with the help of their therapist. Many of them told us that when they first met their abuser, they felt like they were in a fairy tale, reality tv show, or a movie.
“It was incredible. I’ll never forget the way he made me feel in the beginning of the relationship. It was so confusing because when the abuse started, I can see now that I was just holding onto the love bombing phase, that’s why I stayed in the relationship for so long. I was waiting for him to come back” Alexis
Grandiose narcissists LOVE social media because it gives them the perfect platform to showcase their charm, charisma, confidence, cleverness, and success. Their ability to break or bend rules in order to “win”, makes them the most commonly enabled type of narcissist by society.
What Happens When Things Don’t Go Their Way?
Grandiose narcissists are not to be trifled with; they are some of the most vindictive people you’ll ever meet. They’re the type of people who will destroy you, whether that be in a work, intimate, or family setting, just to make a point.
We’ve mentioned that narcissists have an insecure need to fit in and look good to the world before, and we’ll say it again here. For grandiose narcissists, appearance is everything, and they are very well acquainted with tactics that are designed to preserve their image like flying monkeys, breadcrumbing, and hoovering.
One of our participants told us that their narcissistic partner, who they categorized as grandiose, guilted them into staying in the relationship countless times by pointing out how other people in their community would judge them. They told us that their abuser would make themselves cry and have panic attacks over the fear of how the community would talk about the “perfect couple” breaking up.
Her story is quite interesting because it coincides with a narcissist’s insecure need to fit in, which we spoke about in depth in How Can A Narcissist Move On So Quickly?.
It’s important to remember that there are no absolutes within the narcissistic realm. In fact, Elsa Ronningstam’s, PhD, research shows that when things aren’t working out for grandiose narcissists, their public image is smeared and so on, they show strong characteristics of a victimized covert narcissist, almost as if they’ve morphed into one.
Co-parenting With a Grandiose Narcissist
Co-parenting with a grandiose narcissist is incredibly challenging because of how entitled, selfish, and ignorant they are. It’s very common for grandiose narcissists to feel entitled to the same luxurious lifestyle they had before they became a parent.
“My ex-husband was almost nonexistent in our children’s lives. Unless it somehow benefited his needs, I was the one who picked them up from school, brought them to their extracurricular activities, helped them with their homework… the list goes on forever. He refused to come to Lamaze classes because it interfered with his schedule, and he made me sleep in our guestroom after I gave birth to our children until they had sleeping schedules that were acceptable to him.” Sarah
Grandiose narcissists tend to have this level of neglection of their parental responsibilities, unless it suits their agenda, throughout their child’s lives. Oftentimes victims of narcissistic abuse hope that having children will change their abuser’s behavior, when in reality, children often make the situation even worse especially with grandiose narcissists.
What Should You Expect?
An extremely strange aspect of coparenting with a grandiose narcissist is their ability to use their own family to protect their public image. The examples that I’ve laid out below occur because narcissists cannot accept anything outside of society’s guidelines for perfection. It’s quite interesting to dissect narcissism because narcissists are constantly seeking society’s validation and approval, so in a way, looking deeper into their insecurities highlights our shortcomings as a society.
Imagine that your child got cut from the baseball tryouts. You can almost guarantee that your grandiose co parent will try to strong arm the coach into a different decision. Or imagine that your child got in trouble at school for breaking a rule. Grandiose narcissist will write the teacher an angry email, show up to the school extremely angry and aggressive, maybe even go as far as pulling their child out of school all together and sending them to a different one.
A fantastic example of a grandiose narcissistic parent can be found within the scandal in 2019 where a group of parents got their children into top colleges like Yale and Stanford by paying others to take their children’s tests, bribing test administrators to look the other way, and even bribing college coaches to identify their children as athletes.
These parents were very wealthy, so you can see how their motives weren’t to better their child’s life but to protect their own public image by being able to showcase their children’s purchased achievements.
Minimization has always played a key role in narcissism and usually manifests in the form of gaslighting. In our article How to Deal With Gaslighting, we dive into the complexity of gaslighting but in short, gaslighting is when a narcissist will doubt their victim’s reality and ability so frequently that their victim becomes consumed with self-doubt and can’t trust their own perception of reality.
A really basic example of this would be someone telling another person that their shirt is red, even though it’s clearly yellow, so frequently that eventually the person believes that the shirt is red.
As far as minimization, this often looks like a narcissist telling their victim that they aren’t upset with the way they’re treating them, or they aren’t scared of them when they are angry and so on. It’s never that straight forward but the concept of denying the victim’s reality is still the same.
Minimization when co-parenting with a grandiose narcissist is when the narcissist will devalue not only your well-being, but your concerns for your child’s well-being as well.
“Jimmy is having a really hard time at school, his teachers say that he’s way behind on his assignments, he hasn’t been getting much sleep lately and, he has lost a lot of weight because he hasn’t been eating properly… I think we should bring him to see a therapist”
Grandiose Narcissistic Husband:
“He doesn’t need a therapist; he needs to toughen up. Maybe if you don’t baby him all the time he’ll be doing better. And as far as those assignments, I’ll write them an email because there’s no way my son is behind on assignments, I’ve always known they don’t know what they’re doing down there…”
Narcissists are insanely selfish. In their head it’s their world and we’re just living in it. No matter how important your child’s activity may be, if it doesn’t conform to your narcissistic co-parent’s “busy” schedule, they will not try to remember or participate in their activities.
Here’s an example from Neao highlighting how selfish grandiose narcissists can be.
“Our daughter had an important doctor’s appointment that I’d been reminding my ex-wife about four months in advance because I already knew how forgetful she could be. My mother was sick so it was really important that I went to see her while I still could, so I begged my ex-wife to take our daughter to her doctor’s appointment on the week that our daughter was already at her apartment. She made me feel awful for repeatedly asking her because she would tell me that she’s always been the one who provided for our family, what makes you think that I’ll stop now. On the day of the appointment, I go to our local park because it’s public and that’s the only place I’m comfortable with meeting her, and I’m supposed to be meeting my ex-wife and her new girlfriend. They are nowhere to be found, I gave her a call and she was in Vegas with her new girlfriend having a fabulous time. When I got upset and yelled at her for being so selfish, she told me that I hadn’t given her enough time to prepare and then proceeded to try to gaslight me.” Neao
Using the Children for a Source of Narcissistic Supply
There’s two ways a grandiose narcissistic co-parent will exploit your child for narcissistic supply. They could be the type of parent who searches for validation and admiration from their children.
- Who is the best dad ever?
- What other mom do you know who takes their son to a baseball game every single weekend?
- How great am I for buying you that prom dress you really wanted sweetheart?
Or they could always position themself in the limelight through their child’s achievements. For example, imagine that your child is a fantastic athlete.
Your daughter is an incredible swimmer, Mary!
Mary, The Grandiose Narcissist:
I take her out every night to practice, you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to train her. Not all parents have the dedication that I have, she wouldn’t be first without her world class mommy!
The golden child is truly one of the most malicious behavior patterns narcissistic parents will have. In our article Why Do Narcissists Need a Scapegoat? we unpacked the opposite of a golden child, which is a scapegoat. A scapegoat is someone a narcissist uses to regulate their emotions by blaming anything and everything on them. Remember that they’re some of the most self-loathing individuals on the planet but are incapable of addressing their hatred for themselves so they target others.
A golden child is yet another form of narcissistic supply because more often than not the golden child will bear a resemblance to the narcissist or participate in activities that the narcissist wants them to.
While the golden child is clearly the narcissist’s favorite, that title isn’t set in stone. Regardless of the type of relationship, narcissists only view people as tools at their disposal. It’s very common for narcissists to manipulate the golden child into bullying the other family members. It’s equally as common for narcissists to change who is the golden child when it suits them.
What to Expect if You’re Divorced and Co-parenting With a Grandiose Narcissist
All of the examples above are relevant regardless of if you’re married or divorced with a grandiose narcissist, but the things I’m going to lay out in this section only apply to those who are divorced or have broken up with a grandiose narcissist whom they share children with.
For starters, grandiose narcissists will create a conflict every chance that they get.
- Fighting over assets
- Being late to drop offs and pickups
- Changing plans last minute
- Trying to manipulate your children to turn against you
- Petty lawsuits
- Ignoring the boundaries you’ve set for yourself
- Ignoring the boundaries the court has set for the pair of you
Something you should be particularly wary of is how quickly they introduce a new partner to your children after a divorce or break up. In today’s society, being married or in a relationship is expected of adults which is why narcissists, grandiose ones in particular, cannot be alone. If they didn’t already have a replacement for you during your relationship, they will have one almost immediately after the relationship ends.
Make no mistake about it, they will use social media, your children, and those around you to rub their new relationship in your face. No matter how much you may despise your narcissistic ex, this is always going to be a hard pill to swallow at first. It’s important to remember that narcissists only use relationships to regulate their emotions. They are incapable of the love required to have a healthy relationship which means that their new relationship is a farse, just like yours was.
As far as your children, it’s very likely that a grandiose narcissist will want your children to see them as the “more fun” parent. They’ll introduce their new partner far too quickly because they’ll want to create the “perfect family” without you as quickly as possible.
They also compete with your parental activities. You take your kids to see a movie, they’ll take them to Disney World. You go for a walk and out for ice cream with your child, they’ll take them on a shopping spree, buy them whatever they want, and then take them out for ice cream. Another possibility is that they don’t set boundaries or rules for your children while they have them. This could mean television before homework, junk food for dinner, going out as late as they want and so on.
All they’re trying to do is paint you as the less desirable parent because hopefully, you’ll have these boundaries and rules set for them while they’re at your home. Being painted as the bad guy can leave you feeling like what you’re doing isn’t enough, when in reality, it couldn’t be more appreciated down the line.
Depending on the age of your children, your narcissistic ex neglecting their parental responsibilities by letting your children do whatever they want, speaking poorly about you, and competing with you, could turn them against you.
It’s important to remember that while Disneyland and getting anything you want is really fun for a child, having an emotional connection with someone who loves you is far more important. Eventually your child will see the narcissist for what they really are: a self-loathing, undesirable, broken, manipulator, and they will cherish the moments that they spent with you.
How Do You Co-Parent with A Grandiose Narcissist?
One of your top priorities should be to understand that you’ll have to be an emotional mirror for your children by teaching them all of the qualities that your ex-partner lacks.
“I made the decision to not get back into the dating world to protect my children. I didn’t think it would be beneficial for them if I moved on because my ex would surely find a way to use it against me and I didn’t want to further their confusion. My ex introduced 4 different people into their lives in just 7 months… I wasn’t going to make it 5.” Rachel
You should also document everything in case you need it for court hearings and proceedings. A great app to use is https://talkingparents.com/home, all conversations had in here are court approved, they put timestamps on all messages, and show when the other party has read the message.
Find a balance between not talking badly about your narcissistic ex to your children but also being honest with them. Being the child of a narcissist comes with some hefty consequences. Like high levels of anxiety and trauma bond with a grandiose narcissistic parent. You can read How to Break a Trauma Bond With a Narcissist to learn more about how growing up with a narcissistic parent can lead to trauma bonding. So, it’s imperative that you find a constructive way to be there for them emotionally without calling your grandiose narcissistic co-parent out.
Another really important thing to do would be to repair all of the relationships with anyone who impacts your child’s life, like teachers, coaches, and other parents, that your grandiose narcissistic partner destroyed.
Successfully doing this turns them into allies for your child instead of them being wary and ostracizing your child out of fear of your narcissistic partner.
It’s extremely important for your child that you let go of the wish for things to be different, let go of the need for justice, and accept the unfair but much needed responsibility of raising your child without help and healthy guidance from a co-parent. The focus is to provide your child with as much healthy support as possible.
All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.
Interviewing 35 survivors of grandiose narcissistic abuse
Hardesty JL, Ganong LH. How women make custody decisions and manage co-parenting with abusive former husbands. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 2006;23(4):543-563. doi:10.1177/0265407506065983