The work of developmental psychologist and psychiatrist John Bowlby and developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth reveals that a child only needs one available, responsive, and consistent primary caregiver in their life to have a healthy cognitive development. This is great news if you’re co-parenting with a narcissist but to be an available, responsive, and consistent parent for your child you have to understand why co-parenting with a narcissist is so hard.

As a general rule, post separation abuse is what makes co-parenting with a narcissist so hard. A narcissist will feel entitled to remaining in power and control even though the relationship has ended. If done incorrectly, co-parenting with a narcissist can yield severe consequences for both you and your children.

This article is going to guide you through the different forms of post separation abuse that you can expect when co-parenting with a narcissists so that you can ensure that both you and your children are as emotionally and physically safe as possible but we strongly recommend that you reinforce the information in this article with the guidance of a qualified professional.

A woman speaking with a therapist about co-parenting with a narcissist

A Narcissistic Co-parent Is Going to Undermine and Criticize Your Parenting

In our article How to Tell If You’re Co-Parenting With a Narcissist we went through this much more thoroughly but co-parenting with a narcissist is a complete nightmare. They are going to be constantly undermining and criticizing both you and your parenting, they’re going to continue to have extremely poor boundaries, they’ll continue to use a lot of gaslighting, triangulation, and projection to manage their negative emotions, and they’ll be financially abusive. 

It’s important to remember that narcissists view their own children as a source of narcissistic supply so you shouldn’t expect them to step up and be a parent who can reflect or “mirror” your child’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. This is very important to be aware of because parental mirroring allows a child to develop a realistic sense of self. 

You should expect a narcissistic co-parent to portray you in a negative light every single chance that they get, view their children as either a positive or negative extension of themselves, subject them to a variety of different narcissistic behavior patterns, and remain unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent in the moments where they need to show up the most. 

Co-parenting with a narcissist is a very challenging task. It’s best if you can seek out the guidance of a qualified professional for both you and your kids to ensure that your children get the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they need to have a healthy cognitive development. In the meantime, our articles What Are the Signs of a Narcissistic Mother and What Are the Signs of a Narcissistic Father  will help you prepare yourself for the challenges of co-parenting with a narcissist!

A woman learning about how narcissistic co-parents act

A Narcissistic Co-parent Will Try to Isolate You

When a narcissist becomes a co-parent it causes a tremendous amount of psychological tension for them which makes them extremely vulnerable to narcissistic injuries. We spoke about this much more thoroughly in our article What Causes Narcissistic Injuries but a narcissistic injury is caused by a contradiction to a narcissist’s falsified identity. 

The falsified identity that a narcissist will create is designed to accumulate the validation, admiration, and reassurance of others so it often portrays them as admirable, charming, and virtuous. This identity is contradicted once they become co-parents because it triggers their fear of abandonment, sense of inadequacy, and challenges desire to look admirable, charming, and virtuous to others

To regain a sense of power and control over their public image, it is very common for a narcissistic co-parent to attempt to isolate you by portraying you in a very negative light to others. 

They will spread lies and gossip to friends, family, and the teachers of your children. They’ll attempt to discredit, invalidate, and devalue everything you say and do. They’ll try to paint you as the “problem” to the community you reside in, and they’ll try to physically and/or emotionally isolate you from your children. 

Isolation is a huge aspect of narcissistic abuse so it is important to familiarize yourself with our articles How Do Narcissists Treat Their Children and What Is It Like to Co-Parent With a Narcissist to grasp a comprehensive understanding of how narcissists manipulate their children and their non-narcissistic co-parents into isolation!

A victim of narcissistic abuse wondering how narcissists treat their children.

A Narcissistic Co-parent Is Going to Subject You to Financial Abuse

One of the most common ways that a narcissist will soothe their insecure need for power and control is through financial abuse. If you didn’t know already, narcissists determine the value of themselves and others off of very superficial, materialistic, and trivial aspects of life like money, appearances, status, and so on. 

In co-parenting situations it is very common for non-narcissistic co-parents to experience economic exploitation, employment sabotage, and a form of financial abuse where the abuser “takes care” of the finances. 

Economic exploitation in a narcissistic relationship is when a narcissist intentionally destroys their victim’s financial resources or credit. It’s a very intense form of financial abuse that usually involves the narcissist maxing out credit cards in your name, refusing to pay child support on time or refusing to pay altogether, dragging you through unnecessary legal cases, and so on. 

Employment sabotage in a narcissistic relationship is when the narcissist uses emotional and/or physical abuse to manipulate their victim into quitting their job or to prevent them from finding a job. This form of financial abuse usually manifests in the form of the narcissist destroying important materials you need to work, refusing to co-parent to make your work life harder, harassing you at work so much that you get fired or in trouble, and so on.

When the narcissist takes care of the money it simply refers to when the narcissist has total control over the financial situation of the family. In a co-parenting situation this could manifest in the forms of the narcissist refusing to allow you to have access to the bank accounts, the narcissist determining how the money is spent, or they could even dip into accounts that were dedicated to your children because they feel entitled to do so. 

Sadly, financial abuse is a huge part of narcissistic abuse and usually begins while the relationship you have with the narcissist in your life is still intact. You should skip over to our articles The Three Types of Financial Abuse, 33 Examples of Financial Abuse, Why Do Narcissists Hide Money From You, and Do Narcissists Use Money to Control Others for a comprehensive grasp of financial abuse in narcissistic relationships.

A man learning about financial abuse in a narcissistic relationship.

A Narcissistic Co-parent Will Subject You to Legal Abuse

One of the biggest hurdles non-narcissistic co-parents are going to have to overcome when co-parenting with a narcissist is society’s lack of understanding about narcissistic abuse, especially within the legal system.

Narcissists are known to get away with disregarding court orders, making false reports, purposely delaying court proceedings, using custody battles to regain a sense of power and control over you, and making absurd claims of parental alienation. 

Unfortunately, their ability to charm their way through legal processes means that you can’t approach the situation as you would under other circumstances because the court system is going to want to see a united front for your children. 

For example, a really good way to manage narcissistic abuse is the grey rock method. It is a technique where victims of abuse refuse to have any significant conversations with the narcissist in their lives.  

This means that they will not share good news with the narcissist, they will not react when the narcissist tries to bait them into an argument, they will not try to defend or explain themselves to the narcissist, they’ll just remain a boring grey rock so that they don’t provide the narcissist with any narcissistic supply. 

It is a fantastic technique that victims of narcissistic abuse should use to protect themselves from further abuse. However, it makes the victim look very cold, uncooperative, arrogant, and distant. Normally, you shouldn’t care about how the grey rock method makes you look because it is an act of self-love and it is making you a better version of yourself every single time that you use it.

But when you’re in a custody battle, coming off as cold, uncooperative, arrogant, and distant could do a lot more harm than it could do good. We strongly recommend that you check out our article How to Go No Contact When You Have a Child Together to learn about a few different techniques you can use to dismantle the manipulative structure that narcissists create in court. 

A Narcissistic Co-parent Will Use Coercive Control

In a narcissistic relationship coercive control is a pattern of abuse that puts the narcissist in a position of power and control over the victim. With threats, insults, financial abuse, intimidation, and humiliation, narcissists are able to remain in power and control over their victims in co-parenting situations.

Through coercive control narcissists are able to gaslight their non-narcissistic co-parent into questioning every single one of their own decisions, it fosters an environment plagued with fear, self-doubt, guilt, self-blame, and shame, and it helps create a falsified narrative that portrays the non-narcissistic co-parent as irrational, unsafe, abusive, and unstable to friends, family, and even their own children.

8 signs of coercive control

Sadly, there are many areas in the world where coercive control is not recognized as a criminal offense. So, you should check with your local authorities to determine which steps you can take to protect yourself but as a rule of thumb you should create a safety plan, document all emails, text messages, voicemail recordings, photographs of injuries, damage to property, bank statements to prove financial abuse, and whatever else may help you prove your side of the story if the occasion should arise.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

As a general rule, ending a relationship with a narcissist does not mean that you’re out of harms way. Co-parenting is often a lifelong battle that you’re going to have to fight. There are going to be a lot of ups and downs but with the guidance of a qualified professional and/or a solid support group you’ll be able to remain an emotional mirror for your children to ensure that they have the healthiest cognitive development possible!


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

What is coercive control?

Post Separation Abuse

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.

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