Co Parenting With A Narcissist

Co-parenting with a narcissist is impossible.  They fight you on every little detail and are always vying for control over you.  Whether that be directly or though the children.  In fact they counter-parent.

Narcissists are chameleons.  In public they are kind, caring, supportive and simply wonderful.  Everyone loves them.  They may even hold positions of power and have a lot of respect.

But behind closed doors they are a completely different person.  Controlling, manipulative, bullying and abusive.  

They seem to ruin lives for fun.

And as parents they have more influence and power.

They use their children to further their own lives whether it be pushing their child to extremes in order for them to stand out which strokes the narcissists ego, or to use as weapons to maintain control over someone.  And so much in-between.

But the abuse goes unnoticed and is often dismissed because to the outside world, the narcissist is perfect.  They lie and manipulate everyone around them to ensure they maintain this facade.  And professionals don’t look past the mask.  They too believe the lies and so children and adults are left helpless in the clutches of this abuser.  You see a narcissist abuser is so dangerous because they have built their whole life around this image of themselves which they play out to the world.  Perfect wife/husband, parent and employer.  Anything that threatens this illusion is at risk of being punished or discarded.  And this can mean violence and even death.

Signs you are co parenting with a narcissist

1. Emotional manipulation

A parent will use emotional manipulation to maintain control over their child.

Guilt– a child who feels guilty if they “let their parent down” in either a real or perceived way

Blame– the child is blamed for everything to ensure the narcissist maintains their persona of perfection (eg an accident gets blamed on the child rather than the parent taking responsibility)

This can cause the child to doubt himself and weaken his self-esteem.

Gaslighting- a narcissistic parent will convince a child that they are not abused or badly treated by him. They will often say that they want the best for the child and sacrificed their life so that the child has what they need. By saying these positive things over and over, the child will start thinking that they are exaggerating and, that their parent is a good parent. Even though the child experiences verbal, emotional, physical or even sexual abuse.

2.They are always in control

A narcissistic parent will decide what the child does regardless of whether the child enjoys it or not.  A narcissist parent won’t really get to know their child and instead turn them into the child they want them to be to best represent the narcissist

3. They are not able to be ‘introspective’

Narcissists struggle with their own emotions and so are unable to model healthy emotional responses to their children.  This can lead to children being unable to regulate their own emotions and having inappropriate reactions

4. They put people down

The narcissist needs to feel superior to everyone so will put other people down to raise themselves up (although they will be careful not to do this in public as they don’t want to ruin their facade)

5. They are inconsistent in their behavior

A narcissist parent is very inconsistent in their anger and praise therefore a child will walk on eggshells, unsure what will set the narcissist off.

  1. They project a lot

A narcissist parent will put their emotions onto others so if they are feeling angry they will tell the child that it is them who is feeling angry which will confuse the child and leave them unsure what emotions are real and imaginary

7. They are the martyr who sacrifices their life for the children

A narcissist parent will make a child feel guilty for all that they have done for them.  The child will feel responsible for making their parent happy or unhappy but the truth is that the narcissist will never be happy so the child will always feel like they have failed them

8. They know what’s best for the children

Because there is no separation between the parent and the child, the narcissistic parent thinks that what they want and need, the child will want and need, too.

They would say that they know what’s best for their own children because they raised them, they are the one who has been there for them when they were small and helpless.

The irony here is that, a narcissistic parent is not able to give attention and emotional support to their children. 

9. They own the success of their children

The narcissistic parent feels they sacrificed many things for the child and the child needs to behave according to their expectations. Therefore, when the child receives praises or awards, they’ll take credit for them. 

10. They are defensive and rejects criticism

When you criticise a narcissist parent, you can shatter the perfect, false self they have built from an early age. 

  1. They like drama

A narcissist’s emotional state is always fearful. Their mindset is fear-based and, unfortunately there is no cure for this condition.  They will surround themselves with other negative people and emotions.

12. They never take responsibility for their own actions

At the core, a narcissistic parent has a deep sense of shame that makes them put on the mask of perfection. Thus, they can’t be blamed for things that they actually did: even if they hit a child, they will rephrase this act as good discipline. 

13. They live their life through their children

Narcissist parents neglect their children, ignoring their feelings, and treat them like they are forced to serve them or give them something.

14. They have favourites

They will have a child who is the favorite child, called ‘golden child’ who can do no wrong. The other child will take the blame for everything that happens in the family, also called ‘scapegoat’.

15. They invalidate the child’s feelings

When a child needs comfort they will get mad at them for making a mistake leaving the child confused about their own feelings and will eventually bottle them up or express them in unhealthy ways.

16. They violates emotional boundaries

A narcissist parent does not see their children as people with their own feelings and emotions, they see them as their property and therefore they can treat them however they want to and there is no arguing

17. They have children to gain attention, praise, recognition or to have someone who’ll take care of they when he’s old

A narcissist parent will have children to meet their own needs, not because they want to be a loving parent.  The child will be used from day one in every way possible.

18. They ‘parentifies’

Some narcissistic parents rely on their children for emotional support when they go through tough times.  They also expect their children to take care of them from an early age.

19. They never talk about their feelings because they have denied their existence

A narcissistic parent hasn’t grown emotionally to the point where they can understand their feelings and is able to work through them. They are in a child-like state where they don’t know what feelings are, thus, they are unable to talk about them or communicate their true self to others therefore failing to model healthy emotions to their children.

20. They lack empathy

The absence of empathy is common in narcissists, and, when it comes to narcissistic parents, this lack can do a lot of damage to the child’s self-esteem. When the child gets into trouble, hurts themselves or is feeling sad, they won’t receive the support that they’ll need. 

(adapted from

How to deal with co parenting with a narcissist

  • Keep your own emotions in check
    Go greyrock (rocks don’t respond, they just sit)
    Overreacting with emotion and anger to the narcissist gives him or her what they want.  Plus the narcissist will use everything you do in anger against you so don’t give them any evidence.

  • Maintain your dignity
    Bringing your own conduct to the narcissist’s level only serves to create more conflict and lowers your own self esteem.  It also shows the narcissist how much power they still have over you.  Plus it doesn’t look good in court.  Always ensure your behaviour and requests are focused SOLELY on the best interest of the children.  As long as you can evidence that, the court will be on your side.

  • Make a stand
    Every time you let the abuse of you or your children happen, you are telling yourself and your children that it is acceptable.  In child protection terms this is also called “failure to protect” and doesn’t look good if you go to court.  If you don’t feel confident to walk yet at least let your children know that what they are experiencing isn’t OK and that things will get better (remember that the child may be under the influence of the narcissist so if you share anything about leaving they may relay it back to win favour so be careful what you tell you them)

  • Document everything
    When you are ready to leave you are going to need to have evidence to protect yourself and your children in the future.  Any evidence you can gather now (video’s, written notes with dates and times etc) will help your case.  Especially if the narcissist makes false allegations against you.  The court will frown upon parents who get embroiled in a tit for tat case but if you have evidence then they are far more likely to take your seriously and it won’t look like you are just throwing mud.

  • Stick to the order
    If you don’t enforce any court orders you have in place you are weakening your own case in court and the narcissist will know that they can still control you.  Use the court order to enforce boundaries and if necessary use the police to enforce them

For further support in navigating a co parenting relationship with a narcissistic ex, speak to our expert Adele about one:one support.