It is so sad to watch your children being emotionally manipulated by their narcissistic parent.
It is a complicated situation and difficult to know how to respond. How can you help your children when they are being co-raised by you and this type of parent? Here are some suggestions on how to navigate this difficult situation:
- Honesty – Give your children the gift of honesty. Talk frankly with your children about the reality of their lives, respectfully and matter-of-factly. Do not play the game of “let’s pretend everything’s normal.” Do not contribute to your children’s sense of cognitive dissonance by acting as if the “emperor has no clothes.”
- Education – Teach your children about manipulation and emotional abuse. Try to keep it as age appropriate as possible. This can be tricky, but you know your kids, what can they handle understanding? Keep it simple and keep it real. Teach them how to not get sucked in to the drama.
- Role Modeling – Be a good role model. Show your children how to stay out of the narcissist’s web of destruction by maintaining your own composure and sanity. Exhibit self-compassion and empathy. Show them how to “observe, don’t absorb” when in the presence of the narcissist. Demonstrate confidence and strength.
- Managing Anger – Since your children already have one angry parent – even if he or she is covertly angry, make sure you don’t carry grudges, express your own anger appropriately, and keep short accounts. Learn how to take deep breaths and walk away when you feel triggered to express your anger in a damaging way. You can learn to have self-control with your own anger.
- Reflection – Let your children know, “I see you.” Reflect back to your children truth about their feelings. Let them know you really see their pain and their struggles. Look your children in the eyes and be with them. Connect and attune with their hearts.
- Grieve with – It is heartbreaking to realize that you have a parent who only sees you as an object and who can never truly be with or see you for the valuable and precious human being you are. As the other parent, who knows only too well what this feels like, you can offer a place of comfort for your children.
- Validation – When people spend any length of time with a narcissist, their reality, their feelings, and their intuition is constantly invalidated. Let your children know that what they feel and experience is really happening.
- Safety – Your children need at least one safe parent, after all they go through emotionally having a narcissistic parent, the gas-lighting, emotional abuse, double standards, invalidation, etc., they need a parent who can offer solace, warmth, stability, and flexibility.
- How to Love – Since narcissists do not know how to either give or receive love, they teach their children that love is a commodity, based on performance, and must be earned. Narcissists view others as objects or resources, rather than as having intrinsic value based on the interpersonal relationship. They do not know how to care about others or offer any type of compassion that is not self-serving. As the non-narcissistic parent, you must teach your children what love is.
- Self Care – Take care of yourself by relaxing, reading, maintaining close friendships, enjoying life, forgiving others and finding humor. Build your life around healthy activities and communities.
At the risk of sounding alarmist, I must warn that narcissistic parents are damaging to children. It is advised that time spent with any narcissist be limited because it engenders confusion, dissociation, brain-washing, desensitization to abuse, emotional dysregulation, and destruction to one’s sense of reality. It also contaminates a child’s developing inner working model for how relationships operate. Take any steps you can to minimize the damage caused to your children by an emotionally injurious parent.
Written by Sharie Stines, Psy.D
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