8 Signs You’re Co-Parenting With a Narcissist
Unfortunately, many mothers and fathers find themselves co-parenting with someone who is constantly causing problems. The source of this issue may very well be narcissism, a well-known disorder in popular culture.
Narcissists may have diagnosed or undiagnosed narcissistic personality disorder, or they may simply display narcissistic traits that don’t quite meet the full criteria for diagnosis. Either way, narcissism is marked by self-absorbed behavior, lack of concern or empathy for others, attention-seeking behavior, emotional outbursts, hypersensitivity to criticism, and an inability to own up to mistakes or accept blame.
It’s helpful to know what to look for if you’re having co-parenting issues and suspect narcissism. Read on to learn the telltale signs you are co-parenting with a narcissist.
Disclaimer: This piece is not a diagnostic tool. Narcissistic Personality Disorder can only be diagnosed by a psychologist or psychiatrist; never “self-diagnose” someone else.
1. They Constantly Gaslight You
Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic often used by narcissists to shift blame onto others when they, themselves, feel blamed or attacked. When a narcissist is confronted about their behavior or its impact on others, they may get defensive and use gaslighting to make the confronter question their claims.
Gaslighting could look like your partner calling you crazy for your claims or outright denying something that happened to you or your child. They may deny that you ever had a conversation that you distinctly remember in order to get what they want and make you question the facts that you know to be true.
If they gaslight you, their intention is to manipulate you into feeling like you are the one who has done something wrong, not them. Gaslighting is not something that normal co-parents do to one another; this behavior may be an indicator that you’re dealing with a narcissist.
2. They Consistently Undermine Your Efforts as a Parent
A narcissist may disrespect you by undermining your efforts as a parent and to try to make you feel like you’re not doing enough for your child. If your child is having behavioral issues or issues at school, a narcissistic co-parent may insist that these issues are a result of your parenting and are your fault.
Common indicators may include your co-parenting partner doing the following:
- Constantly putting you down
- Telling you that you’re not a good parent
- Telling you (and others) that you’re failing to give your child what they need
- Discrediting your role as a parent by manipulating your child and telling them not to listen to you.
3. They Ignore Your Rules and Have No Respect for Your Boundaries
A narcissistic parent will often disregard your rules and disrespect your boundaries. This could look like bringing the child back late, contradicting the rules you’ve set for your child by allowing them to do things that you don’t, or breaking clear boundaries that you’ve set.
If you agreed upon not introducing your child to new romantic partners for a certain period of time, they may ignore this rule and allow a revolving door of strangers around your child regularly, causing instability in your child’s life.
Inconsistency in rules between households can cause confusion and frustration in children who don’t understand why they’re being punished for a behavior that the other parents condones.
4. They Criticize You in Front of Your Children
A narcissist will often undermine your authority in your child’s life by criticizing you in front of your child. They may also try to turn your child against you by speaking negatively about you or making up lies about you.
Parents who have a healthy co-parenting agreement do not speak negatively about each other in front of their children; instead, they encourage the child to have a healthy relationship with the other parent. If you see or hear about your co-parenting partner doing this, that may be a sign that you are co-parenting with a narcissist.
5. They Expect Child(ren) to Fulfill Their Own Needs
Narcissists ignore boundaries that don’t serve them, and they typically “use” others to fulfill their own needs. A narcissistic parent may expect their child to fulfill their own need for approval and praise by seeking to be the favorite parent or the “fun” or “cool” parent.
If a narcissist is unable to fulfill their own needs (they often cannot), they may expect children to fulfill those needs, and may emotionally abuse or neglect them if the children “fail” to do so.
Narcissists often have enmeshed relationships, meaning they don’t allow their family members to have healthy ideas of their own self as a separate and autonomous person. A narcissistic parent, especially one with enmeshment tendencies, will often hinder a child’s ability to develop good, healthy boundaries and relationships because instead, growing up they’re manipulated by one of their parents.
6. They Lack Empathy, Even Towards Children
A narcissist will always put himself or herself first. They often struggle, or are completely unable to see things from another person’s perspective and will lack empathy for the feelings of others – including their children. Look for signs of emotional distress in your children, as they may be upset or angry if they were denied empathy from the narcissistic parent.
7. They Rarely or Never Accept Fault
Narcissists struggle to accept fault because they have an inflated sense of self that allows them to believe that they are never in the wrong, and everything is always someone else’s fault.
Regardless of how obvious the situation may seem to you or to others, while you wait for them to own up to a mistake and apologize like you expect them to as an adult (and as a co-parent, no less), they will be thinking it’s your fault or someone else’s the whole time.
Narcissists will rarely, if ever, accept that something was their fault and will find someone else to blame.
8. They Isolate Your Child(ren)
Narcissists are extremely selfish and may try to isolate your children by keeping them away from you or other people in your life. They may actively try to turn your children against people in their lives who love them, including you. They’ll do this because they crave attention and want to be the parent who is in control of the kids and has power over them.
A narcissist will always want and expect the child to be “on their side” and will isolate them to force them onto their side. If you sense your children are being isolated, this may be one of the signs you are co-parenting with a narcissist.
Narcissism Can Cause Significant Damage to Impressionable Children
Unfortunately, narcissism is more than just some irritating personality traits. Narcissism is often caused by Narcissistic Personality Disorder which can be difficult to treat, and if left untreated, can have lasting, permanent effects on impressionable children, including emotional damage and childhood trauma.
A child may grow up blaming themselves for their narcissistic parent’s hurtful behaviors towards them, their siblings, and their other parent. Many children raised by narcissists (either full or part-time) learn to believe that it must have been their fault and that they must have done something wrong to cause the problems in their family.
When the narcissistic parent never owns up to their mistakes, which is common, the child may begin to put the blame on themselves.
Feeling Invisible and Unimportant
Having a narcissistic parent can overshadow an entire childhood, leaving a child feeling ignored and invisible. The narcissistic parent will make everything about themselves, leaving the child without the chance to establish a sense of self. These children can grow up to feel as if their lives, their wants and needs, don’t matter.
Choosing Narcissistic Relationships or Avoiding Them Entirely
Growing up seeing narcissistic behavior and accepting it as normal or as a sign of love can warp the mind of children, causing them to seek out narcissistic partners or friends in the future. On the flip side, the narcissistic relationship they grew up with may have taken such a toll on them as a child that they avoid relationships altogether as an adult, which isn’t healthy either.
Worried you might be dealing with a narcissistic co-parent? We can help you set firm legal boundaries.
If you’re worried that your ex is showing signs of narcissism and it is affecting your children and your ability to effectively coparent, we can help. A Howard county child custody lawyer from Coover Law Firm, LLC can help you set firm legal boundaries to keep your children safe and your co-parenting agreement appropriate.
Call (410) 553-5042 to schedule a consultation with a lawyer today.