Getting over a narcissist is something a lot of single parents find themselves having to do. It’s not easy for anybody, but if you have children together it’s even harder as you can never completely sever ties. So how do you co-parent with a narcissist, and what can you do to help yourself move on from narcissistic abuse?
Annie Kaszina PhD is an Abuse Recovery Coach and joined us recently for a Q&A with the Frolo community. We had such a lot of questions in advance from single parents struggling to deal with the aftermath of narcissistic abuse on a variety of topics such as co-parenting with a narcissistic ex, learning to trust again and rebuilding confidence after a narcissistic relationship.
Here we’ve pulled together some of the discussion highlights to give you a starting point if you’re wondering ‘how do you get over a narcissistic relationship?’
How do you know if your ex is a narcissist?
Whether they are on whether they aren’t a narcissist in the end probably doesn’t really matter. The fact is that you have come up against a brick wall in your relationship and it had to end. You felt rejected, betrayed, disregarded, invalidated. It was a relationship that was dead in the water because you were working at it and they weren’t.
They may be able to read your feelings really well, but they don’t actually care about your feelings and if they know something hurts you they will do it again and again.
If you are a normal loving parent you do not walk away from a relationship with your child’s other parent without a great deal of soul searching. You leave someone because they are toxic for you. You don’t have to pin the narcissist label on it to be able to say it was a relationship that wasn’t working.
There are some signs however that you can look for to help you identify a narcissist:
- They have an exaggerated sense of their own importance and can be very rude to people they think don’t matter. Notice how they behave when you go out to dinner and how they interact with waiting staff.
- They tend to have a good ‘hero’ story or a good ‘victim’ story – sometimes both.
- They have a huge sense of entitlement and that your life is there to serve them.
- They will always tell you what a wonderful and special person they are, just for doing something that everyone does.
- They may be able to read your feelings really well, but they don’t actually care about your feelings and if they know something hurts you they will do it again and again.
Can a narcissist ever change and do they even know what they are?
Yes, they absolutely can change their behaviour, but only when for as long as it serves them. Is this fundamental change? Absolutely not.
A narcissist can pull it out of the bag for a while but they DO NOT CHANGE. Even if they are showing their ‘good boy’ or ‘good girl’ behaviour they do not change. Being a narcissist feels to them like a super power. They can understand and charm and manipulate people.
How do you move forward with co-parenting when your ex is a narcissist?
I’ll start by saying that you will never truly co-parent with a narcissist. Yes, they are the other parent in one sense, but they don’t parent. Narcissists will use their children to get your attention, to exercise power and control over you, and their children will really be more of a public prop. In public they will appear to be the perfect parent, but they will never properly parent. You have to let go of the belief that they will do their part effectively.
This brings you onto the next questions – how do I manage damage limitation with my children, and how I do manage my own feelings about the narcissist?
You may hate them and still be struggling with the feelings of gross injustice. You may also feel intimidated by them. In both cases you have to work on your own healing and rebuilding your sense of self, which you have lost, and stop reading the narcissist’s subtext. Shut down all communication with them that you don’t need to have, aside from the essential communication about your child.
A narcissist will use every opportunity that they can to manipulate you. Keep communication to text or email if you can rather than phone calls or face to face. Do not engage with them and give them the opportunity to make you feel bad. Focus on the fact that they are out of your life and you can start to heal.
Understand that they will play you every way they can. This might involve them seeming almost reasonable for a time, but it’s never going to be lasting. It’s part of setting you up and knocking you down again. The more you limit your communication and the less attached you can be, the better it will be for you. Keep communications factual and don’t show emotions – simply grey rock them.
What is grey rocking?
Grey rocking is a technique that’s really useful when you’re getting over a narcissist, where you give them as little emotional feedback as you can. Narcissists feed on your emotions, particularly stress, so keep essential communications as unemotional as possible.
An almost idiotic seeming response is effective. Completely shut them down and give them nothing that they can engage with. The art is to bore them so much that they don’t even bother to engage with you! Change the subject, let things bounce off you, refuse to acknowledge any feeling.
Once you get into the knack of grey rocking it can even be quite amusing for you! Understand that you have complete freedom – you don’t have to engage, you have the power over how you choose to react.
Narcissists feed on your emotions, particularly stress, so keep essential communications as unemotional as possible.
How do you emotionally deal with everything when even after leaving them they appear to have control over your life?
Firstly, consider – is this actually true or is it the narrative you are telling yourself? You may still feel that they are in control of your life and that you feel in their power but if you are separated, it’s unlikely that they actually have control over your life, it just feels that way. The work that you have to do therefore is how you challenge that belief in yourself and how you take back that power.
Of course they WANT to be controlling, but you have to make a space in your mind where they can’t do that. Redefine them – they are actually pathetic, spiteful, emotional toddlers. They are cunning in that they can use adult intellectual resources to get at you but they are still nasty little toddlers.
Here’s a technique to help you with this.
Close your eyes and visualse yourself with your narcissist. You’re behind a glass screen so you feel safe but you can see them and feel how intimidating they are. Keep your eyes closed and visualise shrinking them to about the size of a small dog. Realise that you can tower over them now. Now dress them in a different way – visualise them wearing something quite inappropriate, like an animal costume, underwear – something silly that will make them indignant. Then you visualise putting them on a shelf and changing their voice. Make them squeaky and high-pitched. Look at them ranting on the shelf and think ‘look at how pathetic you really are.’ See them for what they are – ranting, small and ridiculous.
And then let it go. They can’t harm you anymore.
My ex is favouring one child over another – how do I manage that?
Your narcissist will use your children against you because they know they are leverage. Grey rock initially to keep communication to a minimum and understand that they are not parenting. Your children will normally have to spend a certain amount of time with the other parent, which is difficult for you, but you have to do your best to manage that situation in whatever way you can.
Establish ground rules with your own children so that they don’t bring home to you the annoying aspects of your ex. You need to know they’ve been safe but you don’t need to hear anything they have talked about or things that have been said about you.
REMEMBER: You have to work on the basis that your narcissist is not parenting. You are the only competent parent. You have to trust that you are a good enough parent and that you can provide the safety and stability in your child’s life. That’s the best you can do. It may not be perfect, but children have grown up well without even one good parent. You can’t offer them two good parents but you can offer them one loving, supportive parent and that has to be enough.
You have to work on the basis that your narcissist is not parenting. You are the only competent parent.
If your child is old enough to articulate that the other parent is difficult, sometimes rejecting and problematic, you can’t deny it, because then you’re gaslighting your own child. Instead acknowledge that that is just how they are, and that you know it may not be what the child needs. You have to acknowledge the child’s truth but in a useful and compassionate way. If they have you rock solid behind them, they will come through this.
Are there any specific techniques to help with bringing down the walls, to learn to trust and love again?
The truth is that you can’t just go out and date again if you are still getting over a narcissist. If you start dating too soon, all the narcissists from miles around will smell blood and start circling like sharks.
You have to get yourself relationship ready. That doesn’t mean a makeover, losing weight, or going to the gym. It means finding out what you really want from a partner. This doesn’t just mean the baseline ‘washes every day and dresses nicely’, it means what do you want to feel when you are with this person? What values are important to you? How do you want to be treated?
In order to do this you need to rebuild your self worth.
When it comes to trust, don’t confuse building trust with needing to be more open and more vulnerable. You have been incredibly vulnerable already. Your first duty is to keep yourself safe. A partner has to earn your trust and they have to earn it incrementally. This time around you want to get it right, so rather than diving head first into falling in love, move forward slowly and make sure they are worthy of getting closer to you. Check that their actions match their words and take things slowly. Narcissist love speed – they love to fall in love quickly, knock you off kilter and commit you to a relationship before you know what’s going on.
A nice person is prepared to take the relationship at a pace to suit you if they think you’re someone special. You need to get into the headspace where you know you’re a special person.
REMEMBER: You have been completely programmed by a narcissist into thinking bad things about yourself and your value, so it takes time to unpick those toxic beliefs.
A nice person is prepared to take the relationship at a pace to suit you.
You are incredibly resourceful, otherwise you wouldn’t have got out of the relationship. You are incredibly strong, otherwise you wouldn’t still be standing. You’re a valuable, loveable person with a lot ot give. You have to do the emotional work to believe that for yourself before you can go out dating.
How can I avoid being a victim of another narcissist?
First, spot the signs. A narcissist will likely come on too strong, too fast and push you that bit further than you want to be pushed. You feel just a little bit smothered by them, they don’t quite add up. They have collections of ‘crazy’ ex partners and few long term friends.
You want someone who is gentle, sweet natured and generous hearted.
You also need to know about yourself. You need to trust yourself to abort the relationship at the very first red flag. So many of us see red flags and we choose to ignore them. Red flags do not come singly. When there is one red flag it is an outlier for hundreds of other red flags.
You also need to be able to trust that you will be able to pick yourself up again should you mess up.
Annie Kaszina PhD is an Abuse Recovery Coach. Find out more about her here.