By: Christine Hammond, LMHC
Divorcing a narcissist doesn’t solve everything. While the day-to-day distance can elevate the stress, anxiety, depression, and frustration of living with a narcissist, it doesn’t stop them from being narcissistic. The next party on the victimization list is often the children. But really, the narcissist is just using the children to attack the ex-spouse (ES). Here’s how:
1. Projection – Ex-Narcissists (EN) tells children that it is really the ES who is the narcissist. Any negative narcissistic traits are projected onto the ES, while the positive traits are preserved. For instance, an EN will claim the ES has no empathy and doesn’t understand what the children are feeling. However, the house they have is because of the EN’s achievements, not the joint effort of the prior marriage. It doesn’t matter what the truth is to the narcissist, it only matters how they can twist the truth to look superior.
2. Unnecessary Generosity – When a narcissist can be recognized or admired for their generosity, they can be very lavish with gifting. This is usually done at random times so as to draw even greater amounts of attention. The recipient children in turn feed the EN’s ego with gratitude and feel a sense of obligation to be on the EN’s side. However, once the devotion has dried up, the EN becomes angry and sometimes takes the gift back. The EN will say, “The child never thanked me,” even when they did. This statement is said to elicit more praise, adoration, and keep the child committed to the EN.
3. Excessive Discipline – On the opposite extreme of generosity is disproportionate discipline for minor infractions. The oscillating tactics of extravagant generosity verses excessive discipline keeps the child on edge. While the generosity inspires devotion (pulling the child in closer), the discipline sparks fear (pushing the child away). This mental abuse tactic is called push-pull. No doubt, this aggravates the ES who experienced and now despises witnessing it through the children. The EN knows this bothers the ES but does it anyway to maintain control of both the children and the ES.
4. Dream Stealer – If the ES expressed a wish to take a European vacation, the EN will make it happen with the children and probably the new spouse. The EN will claim that the dream was their’s but it wasn’t. This tactic is done to show off to the ES. It also serves as a reminder that had they stayed, they too could be going on the trip. Of course, the ES won’t deny their children such a trip so they are forced to concede and let the children go. Any complaining by the ES comes off as sour grapes and only makes the EN look better. This is a checkmate maneuver.
5. Gaslighting – A favorite line of the EN is, “That never happened, your mother/father (the ES) is making that up, they are crazy.” Without the filter of the ES present, the EN literally rewrites history and uses the push-pull tactic to cement the revision. When the ES protests the alteration, the EN blames the child for exaggerating. The confused child feels stuck between both parents, unsure which one to believe. This is a precursor to future anxiety issues in the child.
6. Silent Treatment – Most ENs are talented in utilizing the silent treatment to get what they want by withholding love or affection. In a divorce situation, this tactic changes slightly. Now the EN will demand the ES contact them when the child is away from the EN. However, the EN will not do the same thing in return. When confronted, the EN makes excuses, blames the children, and deflects responsibility. Then the EN states the ES is just being demanding, controlling, manipulative, and overbearing. This silence is a constant reminder and fear that the ES has little to no control when the children are with the EN.
7. Wrongful Punishment – When the EN becomes angry with the ES, the EN unjustly punishes the undeserving and unprotected children. This attack is so blatant that the ES and the children easily recognize it. But since the ES is out of reach of the EN, the EN goes after the closest target, the children. The children know they are being punished for the ES’s behavior. Sadly instead of becoming angry with the EN, the children become resentful of the ES for the lack of protection. This further alienates the ES from their kids.
Recognizing these seven ways can help an ES regain some amount of control over the situation. Better yet, having a therapist point out these methods to the children can prevent years of unnecessary anxiety.