Before we really dive into this, I want to make sure that everyone is clear on what a narcissist really is.
The word is getting thrown around on the internet a lot these days, and I worry that people are using it, without a good understanding of what it actually means.
According to Psychology Today:
The hallmarks of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration. People with this condition are frequently described as arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, and demanding.
Another google search said that Narcissists:
- Feel superior to others and see nothing wrong with that.
- They have little or no empathy with the feelings or conditions of others.
- They also have no difficultly exploiting others in order to get what they want.
- It’s important to understand that they have no awareness and no insight into what they do. As a result, they feel no shame or remorse.
- Lack empathy
- Are manipulative
If you follow any stepmom or co-parenting platforms, chances are a post titled “how to co-parent with a narcissist” or: “what you need to know when you’re co-parenting with a Narcissist” has found its way into your newsfeed.
In fact, these days, it seems like everyone and their mom is diagnosing their ex as a Narcissist.
For the longest time, I’ve avoided this topic like the plague.
I have two reasons for that:
1. I think a lot of people are confused when they use the word Narcissist. It’s a personality disorder. A personal disorder needs to be diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional—such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical social worker.
That’s not me.
I’m pretty sure It’s not most of the people who throw this diagnosis around either.
There is a BIG difference between someone being a Narcissist and having Narcissistic tendencies, or even demonstrating narcissistic characteristics.
2. Characteristics of a Narcissistic personality are very similar to characteristics of someone with a high conflict personality. They are also similar to someone who is hurt, angry, immature, selfish, or resentful.
It’s all about perception.
If we’re being honest, when it comes to high conflict situations, whose ex HASN’T acted like a narcissist?
But just because someone lacks empathy or is very selfish, doesn’t mean they are a narcissist.
Again, the word is VERY overused.
In Episode 21 of my podcast, Naja Hall from Blended and Black and I had a really frank conversation about co-parenting with a Narcissist. Our conversation left me fired up about the topic, so I couldn’t help but write a blog post on the topic too.
[you can listen to the Podcast Episode HERE]
Whether you tune into the episode or not, today, I’m sharing 7 things that you need to do AND consider if you believe you’re co-parenting with a Narcissist.
1. THINK VERY HARD BEFORE YOU THROW THIS LABEL AROUND
It’s really important that you understand what a Narcissist really means. As I said above, it’s not something that can be diagnosed by a simple google search.
2. CHECK YOURSELF
Often, when people throw out labels such as Narcissist or High Conflict, they deflect any responsibility they may have for the dynamic of the coparenting relationship.
Oh, it’s impossible to _______ because she’s a high conflict ex-wife.
Oh we can’t possibly come to an agreement about _______ because we’re dealing with a narcissist.
This mindset prevents you from taking responsibility for YOUR actions and how YOU may be contributing to the dynamic.
I encourage everyone who is struggling to co-parent to stop and ask themselves:
- “What am I doing to contribute to this dynamic?”
- ”Is there anything that I can do to minimize the conflict?”
- ”Is there anything that I Can do to minimize the impact that our co-parenting dynamic has on the kids?”
I talked about this in more detailed in my eBook, 101 Ways to be a KICK-ASS Stepmom, but I have to say, often stepmoms who label their husband’s ex as” high conflict” (or in this case narcissistic) are playing more of a role in the high conflict dynamic than their willing to admit.
3. ASK YOURSELF … IS IT SITUATIONAL?
Be honest here. Is this EVERYONE’S experience with this person, or just yours?
Does this person exhibit these characteristics in all aspects of her life OR just toward you?
Think about how this person interacts with other people in their life. Do they have a successful job? Healthy relationships? Friendships? Have they raised stand-up kids?
Do they only display these characteristics when they are interacting with you?
There’s a good chance that they just don’t like you. Or they may have some vendetta against you for something that has happened in the past.
When people think about Narcissism, they often think about characteristics like “selfish, manipulative, lack of empathy” – if we’re being honest, a lot of people display these characteristics when dealing with someone they don’t like – especially when are hurt, angry and feel betrayed.
4. SET BOUNDARIES AND STICK TO THEM
Whether you’re dealing with a Narcissist or just have a high conflict personality, it’s imperative that you set your boundaries.
Get clear on what you will and will not communicate about.
Decide who will do what with the kids.
Make a concrete co-parenting plan and have a written agreement.
It’s also important to decide how you will respond when boundaries are not respected…. because it WILL happen. Especially in the beginning.
When you know how you’re going to respond ahead of time, it prevents you having an emotional response.
I think we can all agree, sometimes those emotional responses are not the most level-headed ones.
5. KEEP INTERACTIONS BUSINESS LIKE
Sure, you’ll have the desire to speak your mind.
When you’re dealing with a difficult personality, it’s hard not to not tell them what you think about the way they are behaving.
You want to set them straight.
But here’s the truth.
YOUR OPINION is not going to change them.
In fact, it will probably just add fuel to the fire. High conflict personalities get off on these types of reactions.
Keep your interactions business like and keep it kid focused.
Remember, you don’t need to respond to every argument you’re invited to.
6. PARALLEL PARENT
You don’t have to co-parent. It is entirely okay to parallel parent (which means you do your thing and she does hers).
If your objective is to minimize communication, this is a great strategy.
When you’re parallel parenting, each household runs their own show. This limits the need for day to day communication.
This is a perfectly acceptable way to raise children when you can’t get along with the ex – personality disorder or not. The goal should always be to minimize conflict AND minimize the impact that your high conflict dynamic has on your kids.
7. STOP DEHUMANIZING THEM
Remember, despite how difficult they make your life or how crappy they make you feel, they are a human being.
A human being with feelings, insecurities, a past, struggles, and a story.
Do your best to try and find some positive qualities in them (even if you have to dig REALLY deep to find it).
Remember they are a person, with a name, and a story, who is most likely hurting. Even though you don’t agree with the way they are expressing this hurt, it’s entirely possible to empathize with what they may be experiencing right now.
Seriously, try it. I’m not kidding. It’s a game changer.