For many victims of narcissistic abuse, the realization that they’ll have to co-parent with the narcissist in their lives for the foreseeable future is a terrifying part of their healing journey. Co-parenting with a narcissist without a comprehensive grasp of the forthcoming abuse is a very dangerous position victims of narcissistic abuse often find themselves in because the chances of them falling back into the narcissistic abuse cycle rises substantially. 

Co-parenting with a narcissist is exhausting. The behavior patterns that narcissist’s display in co-parenting situations are designed to cause a significant amount of emotional conflict, decimate the victim’s emotional stability, and portray the victim in a negative light to family, friends and court systems. 

Much like many other facets of narcissistic abuse, knowledge is the best defense against the abusive behavior patterns victims of narcissistic abuse should expect to experience when co-parenting with a narcissist. More often than not, co-parenting with a narcissist doesn’t end when the child turns eighteen which is why it is so important to lay a strong foundation of knowledge before fighting this excruciatingly petty, abusive and time consuming battle.

6 Things You Can Expect When Co-parenting With a Narcissist 

One of the most important steps one could take when preparing to learn about all of the different abusive behavior patterns they can expect from a narcissist in a co-parenting situation is to familiarize themselves with the underlying characteristics that those with narcissistic personalities share. 

The underlying characteristics that all narcissists share are a lack of empathy, sense of entitlement, specialness and uniqueness, prone to rage, emotionally immature, a persistent need for validation and admiration, a tendency to victimize themselves, an overwhelming amount of suppressed negative emotions like shame, insecurities and vulnerabilities, a hypersensitivity to criticism and manipulative. 

When co-parenting with a person with these characteristics, one could expect a significant amount of projection, to be constantly undermined, financial abuse, difficulty with the court system, triangulation, poor boundaries, grief, gaslighting and confusion.

Projection

If you didn’t know already, narcissists spend their entire lives hiding behind a falsified identity. There are many different theories as to why this is the case, but they all circulate around an unhealthy/abusive upbringing. 

This upbringing has caused them to develop a belief that their true identity, which happens to be very insecure and vulnerable, is unworthy of society’s acceptance. So, in an insecure grasp for validation and admiration, they create a falsified identity that they believe is much more likely to be accepted by society. 

Unfortunately this unhealthy/abusive upbringing narcissists have experienced has caused them to develop an emotional immaturity that makes them incapable of looking past society’s superficial exterior when building their falsified identity.

In other words, narcissists build their identity out of extremely trivial things like money, social status, and appearances. 

There’s a lot more to the creation of a narcissist that you can learn about in our article How Are Narcissists Made but what’s important for you to understand in this article is that narcissists have an extremely fragile ego because of the insignificance of core aspects of their falsified identity. 

The fragility of their ego causes them to experience narcissistic injuries, ego injuries, on a daily basis. The reason that narcissistic injuries are different from ego injuries is because when a narcissist experiences a narcissistic injury, it contradicts the falsified identity they’ve built for themselves.

This is incredibly destabilizing for a narcissist because their emotional immaturity means that they’re incapable of regulating the negative emotions they feel from their true identity. So, this creation of a falsified identity to protect a fragile sense of self is more of an act of survival than anything else. 

So, when they experience anything that contradicts their falsified identity, they get very aggressive. This aggression often manifests in something called narcissistic rage, but it can also manifest in more passive aggressive forms like the silent treatment or projection. 

Projection is a defense mechanism that all human beings use from time to time. It occurs when we take aspects of our identity that we don’t like and place them on to others. For example, projection could manifest in the form of an individual who cheated on their partner accusing their partner of cheating on them instead of admitting they were the one who was unfaithful. 

It is a common behavior pattern that all human beings display. However, the reason it is associated with narcissism is because of the combination of a narcissist’s emotional immaturity and their need to protect their falsified identity causes them to over rely on projection?

So, in a co-parenting scenario with a narcissist projection often manifest in the form of criticism and contempt for your parenting style. This is important to be aware of because the victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse are often plagued with self-doubt and self-blame because of how intense the abusive behavior patterns they experienced were.

Meaning that when the narcissist in your life begins to bombard you with comments about how much of a terrible parent you are, you shouldn’t take it personally because all it is is projection. 

Somewhere deep down in their psyche they know that they’ll never be able to be the loving, caring, attentive, responsive, and consistent parent that you strive to be every single day. So, they use projection to protect their fragile egos from being damaged by their own inadequacies. 

Financial Abuse 

If you take a moment to remember the information I gave you about a narcissist’s overreliance on projection, it won’t take long for you to see how emotionally unstable narcissists are. Living a life with such a fragile ego and an insecure need for power, control, validation and reassurance is tortuous and explains why narcissists are some of the most self-loathing individuals on the planet. 

Unfortunately, we currently live in an era with many different ways to regulate the emotional distress that comes from the combination of a fragile ego and a crippling level of insecurities. One of the most common ways we see narcissists regulate their emotions is through money. 

Before we get ahead of ourselves, there are two sides to the story. There are the types of narcissists who are very good at making money and there are the types of narcissists who are very good at exploiting the kindness of others when it comes to money.

Some of the core characteristics of a narcissistic personality are incredibly useful when it comes to making money. For example, someone who lacks empathy, possesses a superficial charm, is charismatic, and manipulative will be able to make a lot of money and/or take a lot of money from others. 

How does this manifest in co-parenting situations? 

In our article The Three Types of Financial Abuse That Abusers Use we spoke about employment sabotage, economic exploitation and when the abuser “takes care” of the finances. 

In co-parenting situations the two most obvious forms of financial abuse are employment sabotage and economic exploitation but the victims and survivors of narcissistic relationships with a considerable amount of financial abuse can also deal with the fallout from months, years or even decades of their abuser “taking care” of the finances.

Those were just three examples of how financial abuse can play out in co-parenting situations with a narcissist but there are 30 other examples that we outlined in article 33 Signs of Financial Abuse That You Need to Know that you should familiarize yourself with to have a comprehensive grasp of what co-parenting with a narcissist could be like.

Difficulty With Those Who Don’t Understand Narcissistic Abuse

Sadly, people from all walks of life do not understand narcissism, narcissistic personalities, and narcissistic abuse. From the perspective of someone who doesn’t have the slightest clue of the absurd lengths a narcissistic person will go to protect their falsified identity, narcissistic abuse is unbelievable. 

You should expect to deal with so many people who gaslighting you because they don’t understand narcissistic abuse. It’s for this reason that you should make building a support group, learning how to explain narcissism to others, and educating yourself about narcissistic abuse a priority in co-parenting situations with a narcissist. 

We’ll talk about the importance of educating yourself about narcissistic abuse later on in this article so this section will focus on building a support group and learning how to explain narcissism to others. 

Ok, rule number one, narcissistic abuse is ruthless so you need to be just as ruthless when it comes to protecting your reality, healing journey, and sanity.

What do I mean by this?

It is not your job to educate others on narcissistic abuse, they either get it or they don’t. This is a very hard rule to follow because it often means that you’ll have to go no or low contact with close friends and family members until you’ve healed, sometimes even longer. 

Narcissistic abuse leaves its victims and survivors plagued with negative emotions like self-doubt and self-blame. These negative emotions often follow the victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse around for years after escaping the narcissistic abuse cycle and it’s for this reason that going no or low contact with those who don’t understand narcissistic abuse is so important. 

While their intent may not be malicious, their ignorance has the potential to set you back months, even years on your healing journey. Building a support group that is truly supportive is so important.

Something that can help you get as many supporters as possible is learning how to explain narcissism to others. One of the biggest challenges you’ll face when escaping the narcissistic abuse cycle is how hostile others can be when you use words like narcissism, narcissist or even narcissistic. 

Even though the victims and survivors are describing their abusers behavior, not making a diagnosis, many people hop up on their self-righteous horse and shut the victims and survivors down. 

An alternative to calling your abuser a narcissist would be to focus on describing their behavior patterns instead. By focusing on how antagonistic, explosive, entitled and irresponsible the narcissist in your life is, you’re much more likely to get the support you need. 

With that being said, you should still be cautious about who you confide in, even if they appear to be a supporter after you explained narcissism in a different way. 

Why? 

Well, while they may understand the behavior patterns you described, they still don’t understand the complexity of narcissistic abuse. To truly heal from narcissistic abuse, you need to be able to confide in those who understand. 

Poor Boundaries & Constantly Being Undermined

As we mentioned in the projection section, narcissists spend their entire lives maintaining a falsified identity because an unhealthy/abusive childhood has led them to believe that their true identity is undesirable, unloveable and unworthy of society’s acceptance. 

One of the strongest characteristics holding this falsified identity together is their grandiosity. 

When a narcissist’s grandiosity is combined with their charm and manipulative tendencies, they come off as very charismatic making their grandiosity yet another tool that they use to convince others of the falsified identity they created for themselves. 

Ultimately, a narcissist’s grandiosity causes them to feel entitled to whatever they want, whenever they want. In a co-parenting situation this often leads to the narcissist having very poor boundaries and the non-narcissistic co-parent constantly being undermined by the narcissist.

This could manifest in the narcissist calling at inappropriate times or showing up to events unannounced to refusing to agree on a parenting style that’s beneficial for your children or manipulating your children into turning against you.

Triangulation & Flying Monkeys

Triangulation in a narcissistic relationship is when a narcissist will bring a third person into the relationship in order to remain in control and flying monkeys are people that narcissists manipulate into participating in their smear campaign of the victim. 

Encountering flying monkeys and triangulation is almost a guarantee when it comes to dealing with a narcissist but in co-parenting scenarios it is important to be aware of just how far a narcissist will go. 

What do I mean? 

Narcissists have been known to either use their children as the third person in a triangulation situation or manipulate their children into becoming a flying monkey. As inappropriate, abusive and immoral as using children as a psychological weapon is, a narcissist’s lack of empathy, self-centeredness and insecure need for power and control enables them to cross these types of boundaries.  

This is a very, very important aspect of co-parenting with a narcissist that you should be aware of because as tempting as it may be to show your child how abusive the narcissist really is, you can’t.

You should prioritize remaining an emotional mirror for your children by being available, responsive, and consistent for all of your children’s needs. 

Teaching your children all of the characteristics that their narcissistic parent lacks like empathy, discipline, consistency, honesty, and responsibility is much more important than traumatizing them by exposing them to the horrifying truths that come with the realization that someone they are emotionally involved with is a narcissist.

As important as this step is, you will surly need to determine the level of honesty you have with your children on your own. For example, a child who is eighteen or older may have a much easier time with the truth than a twelve year old.

But by no means is this an easy task which is why it is so important for you to educate yourself on the different ways you can manage the grief and confusion that comes from narcissistic abuse, especially in co-parenting situations. 

Grief & Confusion

When it comes to healing from narcissistic abuse, grief, confusion, and many other negative emotions are just a part of the process. 

“I think the hardest part for me was watching my narcissistic ex be able to move on with his life as if nothing had ever happened. He tortured our family for YEARS and I had to watch him manipulate the court system, introduce fling after fling to our children, financially abuse me, and have the audacity to try to hoover me back in. It hurt so much because I felt powerless for so long. When you think about how amazing your life will be once the narcissist is exposed for years, it can be devastating to realize that that day isn’t coming anytime soon.” – Jasmine, Survivor of 9 Years of Narcissistic Abuse

As painful as these negative emotions can be, it is really important that you take the time to understand why they exist and find ways to manage them. Throughout our time working with the victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse we’ve learned that journaling, practicing radical acceptance, and educating yourself on narcissistic abuse are very effective techniques one could use to deal with the negative emotions that come from narcissistic abuse.

Keeping a Journal to Hold Onto Your Reality

When you keep a detailed journal of all the times that you can remember the narcissist in your life breaking a boundary you’ve set and/or being physically/emotionally abusive, puts you in a position from which you can practice holding onto your version of reality. 

After months, years, or even decades of narcissistic abuse, a broken memory is common so using a journal to hold onto your reality in co-parenting situations with a narcissist is very important. 

Practicing Radical Acceptance to Become Indifferent Towards Narcissistic Abuse

Practicing radical acceptance is arguably the most important aspect of co-parenting with a narcissist because it enables you to make clear, healthy, and progressive decisions. 

In a narcissistic environment radical acceptance is when the victim stops themselves from fighting the reality that the narcissist in their life won’t change, they stop responding to narcissistic abuse with impulsive or destructive behaviors, and they let go of bitterness that may be keeping them trapped in a cycle of abuse. 

How does this help with co-parenting?

Narcissistic supply is the glue that keeps a narcissist’s falsified identity intact. It is the validation, admiration, reassurance, and chaos they’re able to extract out of others and they’ll do anything to get it. 

If you’d like more information on narcissistic supply, feel free to read our article What Is Narcissistic Supply and Why Do Narcissists Need It So Badly but for the purpose of this article we’d like to focus your attention on the chaos part of narcissistic supply. 

Why? 

To successfully co-parent with a narcissist, you’re going to have to become indifferent towards their abuse. Narcissists need a tangible representation of the destruction that they cause because when they’re able to project their emotional instability onto others it acts as a type of reassurance that they can use to regulate their suppressed negative emotions. 

Practicing radical acceptance on a narcissist is an act of self-love. You take a significant amount of narcissistic supply away from your abuser which will infuriate them. If you’re lucky enough, it will be so destabilizing for them that their falsified identity will disintegrate and they’ll show their true colors to everyone who has been blinded by their manipulation. 

Learning About Narcissistic Abuse to Support Your Healing Journey

The complexity of narcissistic abuse often feels unfathomable but it is so important that you dedicate a specific amount of time on a daily basis to educate yourself on narcissistic abuse. It could be anything from reading or watching content from a reliable source to seeking guidance from qualified medical professionals. 

Why is this important? 

Understanding how you found yourself in a narcissistic relationship, why the narcissist in your life is so abusive, and how to manage all of the abuse is going to give you the closure that you desperately need. 

We’re not talking about closure where both people walk away as a better version of themselves, we’re talking about the type of closure that destroys the limitations the narcissist in your life forced onto you. 

The type of closure that enables you to move on with your healthy, inspiring, bold, and bodacious life. Closure with a narcissist only comes from grasping a comprehensive understanding of what you’ve been through and how to avoid going through it again. 

Takeaways From This Article

Co-parenting with a narcissist is like fighting a battle up a steep, snowy mountain. It’s almost as if they’ve been sitting at the top of this mountain watching you climb up it for the entirety of your relationship. While they were watching you struggle, they were simultaneously building a snowball of self-doubt, self-blame, depression, anxiety, fear and trauma.

Why?

Well, the moment they sense that they’re losing power and control over you, they’ll effortlessly roll the snowball of abuse in your direction. As it rolls further and further towards your direction it picks up more and more things to smash you with.

It could be an insecurity you have about your appearance or even a vulnerability you have from a childhood trauma. Regardless of what it is, it is coming straight at you and there is nothing you can do about it if you don’t take the time to educate yourself on the complexity of narcissistic abuse.

Knowledge is the only thing that will make you strong enough to stop the snowball of abuse in its tracks, pick it up and hurl it back at your abuser.


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.

References:

Co-parenting in a Highly Conflicted Separation/Divorce: Learning about Parents and their Experiences of Parenting Coordination, Legal, and Mental Health Interventions

Hardesty, Jennifer L., and Lawrence H. Ganong. “How Women Make Custody Decisions and Manage Co-Parenting with Abusive Former Husbands.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, vol. 23, no. 4, Aug. 2006, pp. 543–563