Divorce can be extremely complicated and hard, both emotionally and logistically. And for many parents, finalizing the divorce is just the beginning of a rocky road. When you have kids with someone that you're no longer married to, co-parenting can get really hard, especially if your ex is, well, difficult. Maybe they've even exhibited some narcissistic tendencies, which is why you may need some help navigating. Learning how to co-parent with a narcissist isn't exactly easy.
I'm sure most mental health professionals would agree that the term "narcissist" gets thrown around a lot to describe people who may just show narcissistic tendencies some of the time. So first, let's see if the person you're dealing with is actually a narcissist. In an article from Psychology Today, a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder must have at least five of these specific summarized traits. Among them are things like "a grandiose sense of self-importance and exaggerates achievements and talents, dreams of unlimited power, success, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love, requires excessive admiration, believes he or she is special and unique, and can only be understood by, or should associate with other special or of high-status people (or institutions), lacks empathy for the feelings and needs of others, unreasonably expects special, favorable treatment or compliance with his or her wishes, exploits and takes advantage of others to achieve personal ends, envies others or believes they’re envious of him or her, and/or has 'an attitude' of arrogance or acts that way." You know people who have some of these traits. Maybe you even have some of these traits yourself, but according to the article, dealing with a narcissist looks and feels like you're dealing with someone "who puts him or herself above all others" and possesses at least five of those characteristics. Sound familiar?
New York-based psychotherapist and Licensed Clinical Social Worker Marina Lenderman explains the difference between a narcissist and the rest of world to Romper. "You know you are dealing with a narcissist if they believe that the world revolves around them. Most people can be self-absorbed, which means they like to talk about themselves and focus on their accomplishments, but they have the ability to put their needs aside in order to deal with someone else’s needs. Narcissists cannot do this. They are completely self-interested and lack empathy or the ability to relate/address other people’s needs." She continues on to explain that narcissists are very "entitlement thinking," meaning they feel entitled to things and special treatment from others and they tend to exaggerate and view things as grandiose. Narcissists can be very appealing and charismatic, making them master manipulators, so it's hard for people to see their true colors. Which makes co-parenting with one really difficult. Not everyone is going to see who they really are and who you're actually dealing with, which can feel scary.
So now that you've established that you are indeed dealing with an actual narcissist, let's see how to navigate co-parenting. I've checked in with a few experts to get some advice on this tricky situation. According to Lenderman, "The best strategy for dealing with narcissistic people is to set boundaries that are clear and fixed. Once boundaries are set, establishing consequences and being cautious not to allow any special treatment can be effective in communicating that they will be held responsible for their actions." Sometimes this might sound like it's easier said than done because narcissists can be vindictive. They love vengeance when they don't get their way, which makes setting boundaries seem really scary. But trust me, setting those boundaries are important and essential for your personal happiness and well-being. So, be brave and find your power. Lenderman notes that saying things like, "I will not allow you to treat me like that" can be very helpful.
Pyschotherapist Kimberly Hershenson, who also practices in New York City, tells Romper that you simply "need to learn to say NO." While it's easy to want to engage in an argument, don't. "Narcissists are unable to hear you." She suggests setting your boundaries and end the conversation when you need to and "do not bend to their demands." Narcissists love to "manipulate situations and violate boundaries" which makes trust a serious issue. You must always "get things in writing," Hershenson adds. Literally everything. "Custody schedules should be legally documented, and issues with the kids or changes in plans should be sent via text or email so there is a record of the discussion." You can even keep a journal to record any incidents because those will come in handy if you ever have to go to court. Always remember — do not trust the narcissist.
The best advice though is to remember "to take care of yourself," Lenderman says. Co-parenting with a narcissist isn't easy, and unfortunately a narcissistic parent "is not going to be able to take your or your child’s needs into consideration," says Lenderman. The best thing you can do for you and your child is to not take anything they do or say personally. Protect yourself by getting everything in writing and keeping track of any mistreatment or violations. Go to court when you need to, and make sure you always uphold your end of the agreements. The justice system is more likely to work in your favor when you're doing your part to make things work.