Whether you are divorced or still together, if your kids have a narcissistic parent, then they are being effected by it. The situations may be different. The degree and type of narcissism may be different. The ages of the kids and their ability to process this will all be different. But abuse is abuse, and narcissists abuse!
Too Authoritative and Too Indulgent
Both extremes create definite problems. If you really want to help your kids, start by getting out of these two extremes yourself. If their other parent is on one of these extremes, you might not have any say in that. But you can become a more effective parent and an emotional safe-zone for them.
I was horrified when I realized my two boys were being raised by a narcissistic father. Are they going to follow in his footsteps? I was terrified that they would. I could even see signs of the cycle forming right in front of my eyes. The self-centeredness was there. The anger. The lack of empathy for others. The arrogance and the need to feel special. How do I stop it?? This cannot be happening!
I refused to let my kids continue in this path. There just had to be a way to help them. While this was an extremely difficult and painful path, I sleep peacefully today knowing that the cycle is in fact broken. I did not do this alone, and they even deserve a lot of the credit themselves. But I am here to tell you that there is hope. There is a way, and you CAN be the one to help them find it.
should I leave for my kids or stay for my kids?
This is an impossible question to answer. Everyone seems to have their own answer, and yet no two situations are the same. I could only answer this for me, and you can only answer it for you. Yet it remains a rather heated topic.
Everything I read said that I should get out now! Everything suggested that I take my kids and run as far away as I could. And trust me, I really wanted to. But I just didn't think that was going to solve my problems here.
I chose to stay for my kids, and now I am glad that I did. Here is my story and my reasons. I hope they can help you as you figure out what you should do. No matter which you choose, believe in your choice. No one else can make it for you!
Counter parenting is when you are having to spend incredible amounts of energy undoing the damage done by the other parent. Before you can make healthy steps with your child, you first have to do some repair work. It is exhausting and can seem never-ending.
Undoing the damage from manipulation, gaslighting, circular conversations, and so on is hard enough when dealing with adults. Adding kids to the scene magnifies everything tremendously. The narcissistic parent goes through life slamming all the "emotional" doors in the house, while the non-narcissistic parent frantically runs behind opening them all up again.
a whole new level of exhaustion
Let me start by saying that dealing with a covert narcissist is completely tiresome, in and of itself. I know all too well. It’s been 20 years for me. But trying to co-parent with them sends you to a whole new level of exhaustion.
By the time a few years have passed, you have taken so many blows that you have no idea which end is up. The number of circular conversations you have endured is mind-boggling, and you feel like you don’t even know how to make a complete sentence anymore.
Damage - The child doesn’t feel heard or validated
When dealing with a narcissistic parent, the child’s feelings are way down on the totem pole. The narcissistic parent is entitled to say whatever they want, however they want, simply because they are the parent. No consideration at all is given to the child’s feelings, and no remorse when those feelings are stomped into the ground.
When counter parenting with a narcissistic parent, you must work extra on recognizing and validating your child’s feelings. Their feelings are beaten down by one parent, they sure don’t need this to be done by two parents.
Damage - Lack of Self and Lack of Boundaries
Children of narcissistic parents are not encouraged to develop their own sense of self. They are not taught to create healthy boundaries in their relationships.
Communication happens whenever the narcissistic parent wants and in whatever way they want. The kids are told what to think, when to think and how to think. The children are not allowed to have their own feelings and thoughts. If they try to and their own thoughts are in conflict with the narcissistic parent, the children are met with overwhelming friction. The child thus does not feel safe to voice their own thoughts and opinions.Thus the kids doubt their own feelings and carry a sense of powerlessness.
As the healthier parent, you must teach your kids to set healthy boundaries. You can't do it for them, but you can support and guide them as they learn this crucial skill.
Damage - The child does not know what reality is
Children of narcissistic parents can have an extremely tough time grasping reality. They hold quite a bit of confusion inside themselves. They have difficulty merging the love the narcissistic parent has for them with the way that parent makes them feel. So they seem to live in two different worlds. One is an image of love that is false and shallow. The other world is full of turmoil and pain. The first world feels better to them, so that is the one they try to protect and maintain. Continuing to do this will lead to much confusion and pain in later life. It can cause them to fall into a path of narcissism themselves.
As you read this mini-series, understand that not all aspects of the damage apply in every situation. Narcissism is extremely complex. When reading through characteristics of a narcissist, not all those characteristics will apply in your situation. The same is true for the effects of the abuse. Take the ones that apply for you and your family and work with those.
Damage - The child’s emotional development can be severely stunted.
One possible piece of damage is that the child’s emotional development can be severely stunted. Because of this the child might not develop the skills necessary for building healthy emotional connections. Unfortunately this can carry well into their adulthood years and greatly affect their future relationships.
Damage - The child exists only to please the narcissistic parent.
If you are in a relationship of any sort with a narcissist, you will quickly find that everything revolves around that person. It is extremely easy to be sucked into their vacuum, and you may not even be aware of it. If you have kids in this relationship, then there is an extremely good chance that these kids are being sucked in too. Your kids are probably having difficulty saying no to that parent. They feel that it is their job to keep that parent happy. They are reluctant to voice their own opinion, and they are afraid of upsetting that parent. They become highly alert to that parent’s mood. They consistently feel exhausted from the interactions. Their entire existence begins to revolve around the narcissistic parent.
Damage - The Child can Learn to Not Trust Their Own Feelings
The damage that kids often experience from narcissistic parenting can be extremely debilitating. It can haunt them and their relationships for the rest of their lives. But it doesn’t have to. This damage can be reduced. It may never go entirely away, just like scars that always remind us of the injury.
When living with a narcissistic parent, the child’s feelings are often telling them that something is wrong. In an unconscious attempt to maintain a carefree childhood, the child learns that their own feelings must be wrong. They don’t want to always feel like something is wrong, so they just turn those feelings off. This is extremely damaging and can cause incredible damage.