Sadly, for many victims of abuse who share a child with their abuser, the fiasco of co-parenting with an abuser doesn’t end when the kids turn eighteen. This can be infuriating for victims of abuse because on paper it means that they can’t truly go no contact because of the co-parenting situation but this isn’t entirely true. 

To go no contact when you have a child together you have to be able to explain the abuse that both you and your child are experiencing to your child in a non-intrusive manner and develop a skill set for managing the abuse that protects the cognitive development of your child.

This means that you are going to have to be prepared to play the long game because this battle is chess, not checkers. We strongly recommend that you use the information in this article with the guidance of a qualified professional through all of the negative aspects of co-parenting with an abuser to ensure that you and your child remain as physically and emotionally safe as humanly possible.

a father taking his daughter to therapy to prepare for no contact

How to Explain Abuse to Your Child In a Non-Intrusive Manner When Going No Contact

In the grand scheme of things, mirroring the emotions, thoughts, feelings, and needs of your child should be your top priority because healthy mirroring allows children to develop a realistic sense of self and fosters healthy cognitive development. 

This is important to remember because there’s a very high probability that the abuser that you share a child with will succeed in turning your child against you and the list of negative consequences for reacting poorly to this situation is longer than train smoke. 

To better understand how one should go about explaining abuse to their child in a non-intrusive manner, we consulted with UKCP registered psychotherapist and narcissistic abuse specialist Nick Kerry who has founded Narc & Co, a professional online mentoring service, delivered by people who know what it is to have experienced the emotional and psychological traumas of narcissistic abuse.

With the guidance of Nick, this section is going to guide you through a realistic co-parenting scenario with an abusive parent who is attempting to turn the child against the non-abusive parent to give you a comprehensive grasp of how one should go about explaining abuse to their child in a non-intrusive manner. 

a mother being an emotional mirror for her daughter

An Example of How One Should Explain Abuse to a Child

In this scenario the abuser’s name is Ray, the victim’s name is Amy, and the child’s name is Jack. Ray and Amy have been divorced for the better part of a year but share custody of Jack who is 12. 

The post-separation abuse that Amy has been experiencing is horrendous. Ray has been withholding financial support, undermining Amy’s parenting, threatening to take Jack away from Amy, and manipulating Jack into turning against Amy. 

It’s a difficult position for Amy to be in because on some level Jack believes that she is the bad parent because of all of the projection his father is using to invalidate, devalue, and dehumanize his mother. 

This causes a lot of psychological tension for Jack because he is hearing all of these bad things about his mother Amy but he is also seeing that Amy is empathic, compassionate, understanding, available, responsive, and consistent. 

Jack doesn’t have the level of consciousness to enable him to recognize how unavailable, unresponsive, inconsistent, and abusive his father is so the inconsistency between Ray’s depiction of Amy and his own perception of Amy causes him to question what the real reality is and subsequently he begins to question himself, which creates anxiety in him.

an anxious child

To regulate his ambivalence Jack acts out his father’s projection through aggressive and abusive behavior towards his mother Amy. As hurt as she is, Amy does not have an aggressive response because she knows that it would fulfill Jack’s misguided belief that his mother is a bad parent. 

Instead, she recognizes that Jack is confused and tries to empathize with him. She makes sure that she remains an emotional mirror for Jack so that together they can slowly build trust and compassion.

Amy is also very careful to not be overly critical about Ray to avoid placing the child in a double bind – Jack wants to align with both Amy and Ray but finds that he can’t align with either due to the consequence of losing the other “non-aligned” parent. 

It’s a really painful position to be in but Amy knows that if she keeps building compassion and trust with Jack that there will be plenty of opportunities for a discussion about Jack’s relationship with Ray, which will help Jack open up about his emotions, thoughts, feelings, and needs in a healthy and productive way.

Takeaways

Explaining abuse to children is always going to be a tough task. It can be really tempting just to sit your kid down and bluntly tell them the truth but that is the worst approach that you could have. It doesn’t matter how hard it gets, you have to remain a healthy emotional mirror for your child and a qualified professional can help you do that.

Two Techniques You Can Use to Help Go No Contact

We spoke about this much more thoroughly in our articles How to Tell If You’re Co-Parenting With a Narcissist and What Is It Like to Co-Parent With a Narcissist but you should expect to experience a lot of narcissistic behavior patterns in co-parenting situations.

Generally speaking, abusers are motivated by their insecure need for validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control and there is no better way to acquire all of those than to turn your children against you.

Suggested Reading: Do Narcissists Use Children as Flying Monkeys?

It’s going to be a really painful period in your life but you have to remember that your number one priority is to remain a healthy emotional mirror for your child and we have two tremendously effective techniques to help you do so.

The Grey Rock Method vs. The Yellow Rock Method

It’s important to remember that an abuser’s insecure need for validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control means that they love to get a reaction out of you. The abuse that they put you through is designed to fulfill their need to feel superior instead of inadequate. You can almost guarantee a tremendous amount of post-separation abuse when co-parenting with an abuser and it is going to hurt a lot.

However, you have to ensure that you don’t react because the moment that you do, they’re going to use your reaction to either fulfill their needs or portray you in a negative light. The grey and yellow rock method are two of the best techniques designed to take away the satisfaction that an abuser gets from getting a rise out of you.

When someone refuses to have a significant conversation with an abuser, it is called the grey rock method. This means that they won’t try to explain themselves, they won’t try to defend themselves, they won’t engage in any type of arguments or confrontations, they’ll just remain a boring grey rock which means the abuser won’t get the validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control they desperately need.

This is a fantastic technique but it portrays the victim as cold, ridged, and arrogant which in some cases can do a lot more harm than good. For example, if you were in the middle of a custody battle, you wouldn’t want to come off as cold, rigid, and arrogant because the abuser will be able to use that to his/her advantage.

Portraying yourself as such could also have extremely negative consequences on the relationship you have with your child. The abuser will likely use your demeanor during the grey rock method to manipulate the child into believing negative thoughts like that you don’t care about them anymore.

It’s for this reason that we strongly suggest that you use the yellow rock method instead.

The yellow rock method uses the same principles; however, the victim of abuse will communicate in a way that portrays them as friendly or cordial instead of cold, rigid, and arrogant. The victim will be very articulate and to the point with the abuser but will also keep the interactions as superficial as possible.

When the day comes where your child understands the situation and is in a place from which they can’t be confused by the abuser you should use the grey rock method, or even better, go no contact.

But for now, the yellow rock method is going to protect your emotional stability and help you ensure that your child has a healthy cognitive development despite the cloud of confusion, invalidation, and devaluation the abuser has created.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

Going no contact with an abuser when you have kids together is an excruciating process for both you and your child. You have to be prepared to play the long game and understand why the long game is so important.

The abuser is going to be throwing jabs at your emotional stability every single chance they get so you have to be ready. Seeking out the guidance of a qualified professional for both you and your child is the best and most responsible course of action you can take in co-parenting situations with an abuser and will put you in a position from which you can go no contact when the time is right.


This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

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References

Sampson, Heidi. “Emotional Abusers and Their Effects on Custodial Arrangements Post-Divorce.” (2013).

DISCLAIMER

THIS INFORMATION IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND IS NOT INTENDED TO BE A SUBSTITUTE FOR CLINICAL CARE. 

IF YOU’RE IN THE UNITED STATES AND ARE SUFFERING DOMESTIC ABUSE, PLEASE CONTACT THE NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE AT 1.800.799.7233 OR YOU CAN VISIT THEIR WEBSITE FOR MORE HELPFUL CONTACT METHODS.

WE URGE YOU TO ENSURE YOU’RE IN A SAFE ENVIRONMENT WHEN YOU DECIDE TO REACH OUT FOR HELP. FOR THOSE WHO CURRENTLY RESIDE IN THE UNITED STATES, VISIT NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE’S LOCAL RESOURCES TO FIND HELP IN YOUR AREA.

FOR THOSE OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES, BE SURE SAFELY REACH OUT TO THE PROPER AUTHORITIES.