Your life has been turned upside down. You have to deal with not only this, but also somehow manage to get the kids through it all. The weight of responsibility on you as the normal-range parent is high. And through it all, you feel that the NPD mother/father is not co-parenting but counter-parenting. Understanding the mindset of the Pathogenic Parent will help guide you through the minefield.
When it comes to safeguarding kids during a split from a narcissistic co-parent, there isn’t a huge amount of information and advice out there. To date the main focus in the world of psychology has been to understand the narcissism itself – understanding what is called Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome is relatively new, and assessing the impact on kids caught in the crossfire is new territory.
The word “Patho” means Pathological and the word “Genesis” means Creation. So Pathogenic Parenting describes parenting that is so abnormal or pathological, that by way of their aberrant and distorted behaviors and parenting practices, the Pathogenic Parent actually creates mental illness in a child that actually cause the child to terminate or cutoff their relationship with the other parent and also other family members. It is a distinctive and widespread form of psychological abuse and family violence by a mentally ill and pathological parent towards both the child and the rejected family members and often leads to the long-term, or even permanent, estrangement of a child from one parent and other family members. Linda Turner
Understanding the Mindset of the Pathogenic Parent
At a personal level, the distillation of what I have been able to find, plus my own strategies developed from looking after my own teenagers through a very toxic split, runs as follows – understand that, as you break away from the narcissist, get wise to their psyche and tactics, uncover their lies, employ strategies of No Contact and Grey Rock, so
- They are going to get increasingly desperate for narcissistic supply;
- They are going to try and destroy you in every way they can – because they feel, rightly or wrongly, that if you survive and thrive they themselves must be the problem and not you;
- They will attack your Achilles Heel – your relationship with your children,
- The kids will get psychologically damaged and, at the time of writing, there seems little that anyone can do to prevent this legally throughout much of the western world (edit – Prof Jennifer Harman has some interesting thoughts here);
- The best that you can do as the normal parent first and foremost is look after yourself. I liken it to the airline safety briefing – put on your oxygen mask first, because in order to be able to help the kids, you have to be in good shape first.
- When you as the victim are in a better place with regard your own healing, you are in a better position to be the strength and stability that your kids need.
- Wherever you are in your healing, being the best parent you can must be a high a priority as you can possibly make it.
- Understand that the narcissistic parent will be lying and manipulating the kids into believing that the normal parent is the evil, unbalanced one. It is therefore vital that you consistently prove to them that you are the opposite.
- I used to advise never talking ill of the narcissistic parent. In talking to many adult children of narcissists, I’m having second thoughts on this. They cite the following logic. Do you teach your kids that it is OK to lie, cheat, steal, smear etc? So if you hold your tongue about their toxic parent doing these things, are you condoning it? Do you teach your kids to be open with the truth, to stick up for victims, and to stand fast in your beliefs and values? So are you actually doing what you preach? If you allow such mismatches to persevere, you are causing your kids to be very confused and conflicted – resulting in issues that they can carry well into adulthood.
- Consider instead be honest, frank and open with the kids in an age-appropriate manner – accepting that the unusual and unpleasant circumstances that you find yourself in requires that they are going to have to grow up faster than they might in a normal, happy family.
I can only say that a lot of parental discretion is required to work out just how to play this, and an official prescribed line does not at the moment exist.
This is where it gets complicated initially – but where the key to understanding it all lies. Understanding, and mitigating. You need to learn to think counter-intuitively.
I would encourage you to read an article by self-confessed Narcissist, HG Tudor, entitled The Fading Narcissist, before continuing here.
In understanding the points that he makes, most victims play into the hands of the narcissist by going overboard to try and protect the children as much as possible, and by trying to push for as much custody as possible in order to be able to achieve this. Whilst narcissists cannot feel love, even for their own children, many will nevertheless push for custody to feed their narcissistic supply, few have much interest in custody or visitation rights save to upset the normal co-parent. However, they delight in playing the system in order to frustrate and wrong foot you, to provoke you and to force you into making errors. They love it when you beg for contact with your kids – it gives them a sense of power over you, from which they derive oodles of fuel.
So the trick is understanding the above insight, and working around it. It’s a little like the martial art, Tai-Chi, which teaches students not to resist the attack, but to harness the strength and energy of their adversary against them. Consider instead giving the narcissist visitation rights – in fact ask them to take the kids more. Use your newfound freedom to go out and have a good time. You probably don’t want to – and whether you do or not is less important – it is giving the narc the perception that you are out, having fun, moving on etc that is the point. They will begrudge your perceived freedom, they will resent the fact that you are moving on with your life, and they will regret burdening themselves with the kids. So hey presto – they’re trying to offload them onto you.
Dealing with the Guilt
Tackling the guilt of it all is a big issue for normal-range parents. We blame ourselves for the getting into the situation in the first place, for not spotting the signs as the relationship deteriorates, for not escaping sooner, for not being stronger and more together. But the reality is that even trained and experienced psychologists frequently fail to spot it – even in the advanced, toxic, devalue stages. So how on earth were we, amateurs, positive and romantic, idealist and naïve – how we could possibly have known what would develop? Could we have got out sooner? In hindsight, maybe – but empaths and not quitters and we were determined to make it the relationship work. Shit happens – and it is now important to forgive ourselves and progress on our healing journey as quickly as possible. For our sakes as well as those of the kids.