Monday, January 18, 2010

Your Child Has a Narcissitic Father (or Mother)

A woman left an anonymous comment asking for advice because her son's father is a narcissist.

Readers...please feel free to share your thoughts.

I suspect one could spend a tremendous amount of time and energy trying to limit your child's exposure to the toxic ex-spouse, but due to the custody agreement, that might not be possible. (If your ex is anything like the Michelle Pfieffer character in the movie White Oleander, he'll relish any opportunity at child-free time.)

If there's not much you can do in that direction, then I'd do everything I could to provide a safe, loving, nurturing haven for your son, a haven where he is free to express and explore his feelings, to develop his identity without manipulation and guilt, a place where he can recuperate and regain his sense of self...a place where it's all about him...where he can be respected.

I'd read all I could about the art of "mirroring" your child. For example, if he cries because he fell, instead of telling him to quit crying and that it's just a little boo-boo when it's a broken arm (not that you would!), say that the fall must have really hurt and carefully inspect the damage. If he says he hates his first grade teacher, nod and ask why he feels that way. Sorry. You probably know what mirroring is but, just in case.

I believe it was the psychoanalyst Alice Miller, author of Drama of the Gifted Child, wrote somewhere (of course, now I can't find it...damn) something to the effect that the impact of a narcissistic parent could be offset by another parent, another member of the family, a family friend. I found this an extremely hopeful and powerful statement. You may not be able to control your toxic ex-spouse, but you can try to become the best parent you possibly can by practicing mindful parenting.

Sliv in a comment wrote that the father of her young child lies, steals and cheats to get his way. I have to admit, I have no direct experience with that kind of diabolical/malignant narcissist, but I suspect that as the non-narcissistic parent, you'd almost have to go into mirroring hypermode to counteract the damage.

Having never had a parent who mirrored, this was something I had to learn how to do with practice, finally achieving some level of competence just in time for the fun teenage years, when you're just dying to give advice and that's the last thing your kid wants to hear (five words strung together constituting nagging). So even if you have the lousy luck of having narcissistic parents and, maybe not surprisingly, a narcissist for a spouse or ex-spouse, it IS possible to improve one's parenting skills by educating ourselves and making a mindful effort!


Susie said...

My best advice is to get everyone in on it. Tell everyone that the other parent is a narcissist, what to expect and what the appropriate response is. People to tell may include: teachers, custody lawyer/legal representation, day care staff, the parents of the child's friends, child's doctor/therapist etc. That way, you have completely surrounded the child with healthy people who understand your situation and will be able to identify any behavior that is inappropriate or destructive. Children do not spend 100% of their time with us, so getting as many allies is crucial!

I have cancer and my N-parents love to push the envelope/get attention during my visits. So, I simply told the staff about them and that I do not wish to have them in the room with me. The staff made up some excuse and when my N-father tried to barge in during my treatment, the staff threatened to call security because he would not comply with "policy".
The key is just to get people's attention. They become more sensitive to the behavior when you say, "My ex-husband is a narcissist who displays very inappropriate behaviors. *explain and identify behaviors*. I wanted you to know in case he acts inappropriately in front of me, the other staff, my child etc. If _____ happens, this is what you say/do:_________" More often than not, when people hear the word 'narcissist', they will help shield you from the destructive behavior of the N-parent. Just remember, the only things you can change are: yourself and your environment. You cannot change a N-person!

At home, having an open discussion about the other parent's behavior is not a bad idea. The point is not to bad mouth the other parent or make it a personal therapy session, but to explain to the child what to expect. It is okay to tell the child that the other parent is inappropriate. If any feelings come up, explore them through mirroring and validate those feelings. Acknowledge and honor the child's desire to know the other parent and remember that they have less experience with relationships than you do.

Anonymous said...

This is exactly what I have been looking for. Two months ago I separated from my N husband after he overdosed on his medication. Being so fed up,I confronted him about his ongoing selfish behavior and tried to tell him yet again how much pain this has caused me. Well, of course it had to be all about him, so he reached deep into his bag of tricks and pulled this stunt. He is perfectly fine now and somewhat proud of himself. No one will be surprised to hear that his whole family is this way, and I'm sure many of you empathize w/ me for what I've gone thru the past 22years. So after much soul searching I am at peace with this, because for many years I coudn't put my finger on what was wrong. Finally I had an answer, narcissism. My two daughters are happy well adjusted kids, and I want to make this process of divorcing him as humane as possible for everyone. Your advice is extremely helpful, and I'll be on here regularly! Thru all the difficulties,I acknowledge that my husband was a child that had been wronged beyond repair, for this I pray that he will find peace in the afterlife. Better yet if there is such a thing as reincarnation,I hope his soul will find parents who truly will love him the way God intended. Wishing you all strength and peace. D.

Robin said...

My non-n-parent mostly told me to "Get over it" when I grew up. Great-but what I've learned is that the words coming out of the n-parent's mouth is extremely hurtful. I used to tell myself it wasn't. Now I've learned to be aware of actions and words that I don't like, and to deal with it in kind. At least that way, there will hopefully be less resentment.