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.
It is 24/7, 365 days a year. There is no such thing as a break, a vacation, a time to rest. Forget trying to protect yourself from the narcissistic blows. No, you are constantly throwing yourself in front of your own children to save them. 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.
Questions spinning in your mind
The healthy partner that finds themselves in a relationship with a narcissistic person will wear their own mind out with questions. These questions look like:
What am I doing wrong here?
Is this my fault?
How can I fix this?
Am I losing my mind?
Why is he treating me this way?
For many of us, by the time we realize what is going on here, we have become parents with this narcissistic nightmare. What in the world do we do now? A healthy parent feels an intense need to help their children in anyway they can. If you can't help them, after all, who will? The world certainly isn’t jumping in to do it. So you push yourself through this impossible situation with a strong determination. I assure you that you will reach the end of your rope many times. But each time, if you muster up the strength to look, you will see that your rope has grown a little bit longer. So you keep fighting.
The questions in your mind with kids involved look like this:
How do I help them?
Are they getting hurt too much?
Should I leave? Should I stay?
What if he gets custody?
How do I get the target off of them?
How can I protect them?
How can I stop this?
Am I strong enough to help them?
Have I done enough?
Have I done too much?
What do I say? What do I not say?
Are they turning out just like him?
What if I can’t help them?
Do they have compassion?
Do they have an empathy muscle?
Is it too late?
Have I done enough?
These questions are endless and completely exhausting! They will consume you and every ounce of energy you have. I had hit a level of internal exhaustion that I did not know even existed. It's bad enough that the relationship you are in is crazy making. When you have children in that relationship, the crazy making goes to an unbearable level. Some of these questions will remain unanswered for years and maybe forever.
It is a fight that we simply cannot afford to give up. So we keep fighting for them. I worry about them everyday, pray for them everyday, talk to them even when they don't want to, and just keep fighting. Are they listening? I cling to the belief that they are. Some days, I feel them close off, and my heart panics. When they show coldness and callousness, everything inside me screams, “NO!”
You need to know that you are not alone. Whether you are in a narcissistic relationship or not, these same questions are asked by all parents everywhere that have any ounce of care for their children. It's the narcissists that don't ask these questions. I have never heard anyone say that their narcissistic partner is overly concerned about the well-being of their children. They don't ask if they have done enough to help them be successful adults. They don't ask if their children have compassion and empathy. I'm not sure these thoughts ever even cross their minds.
So if you are that parent asking those questions, then hold your head high knowing that your compassion is genuine, that your concern is grounded, and that growth is coming in your direction.
Keep asking the questions. The answers will change daily and sometimes even hourly. It's OK. The moods of kids change that often too. Stability will come though it may seem like it is forever away right now.
Some questions to let go of
There are some questions that have most certainly bounced around in your head that you should let go of. These questions leave you second guessing your every move. They can paralyze you with fear and worry. They leave you doubting everything you are doing and saying.
These questions are:
Did I say the right thing?
Did I not say the right thing
Should I have said this?
Should I have said that?
Let all of that go. You say what you say and you do what you do. There is no rule that says you have to the perfect parent. You will make mistakes. You will say things that you could have said better. You will do things that you could have done better. That's OK.
Holding onto a False Image of Perfect Parenting
I want you to think about something for a minute. If you are holding onto an image of being the perfect parent who can fix everything, then you aren’t being genuine and real with your child either. Isn’t that one of the complaints against the narcissistic parent? That they cannot let go of this false image they are clinging to?
Quit spending so much energy trying to do everything exactly right. There is no exactly right. The only right way here is to be more of you! They don’t need a perfect mother/father. They need more of you!
They need to see some of your tears. They need to see some of your frustration and anger. What could possibly be more validating for how they feel about all of this than to know that you feel it too? They can now know that it is okay to feel scared, upset and lonely. They are not alone either!
You are not alone in your exhaustion. No matter how strong you think you are, this will push you to your limits repeatedly. Some of the internal questioning is worth hanging onto, but some of it should be discarded. Learn the difference and make it happen. Remind yourself often. Finally, quit trying to be some false image of perfect. Simply work on being more of you. That is what your child needs more than anything else - genuineness and realness.