Parental Alienation and Narcissistic Abuse in Divorce

Parental Alienation and Narcissistic Abuse in Divorce
Aug 11, 2023

In litigious divorce cases, one of the issues co-parents may have to deal with is parental alienation.  Parental alienation occurs when one parent manipulates a child such that the child refuses to have a relationship with the other parent and as a result, hostilities abound.  Many times, parental alienation is tied to narcissistic behaviour.  An individual with narcissistic traits will thrive on the use of control and manipulation in order to retain what he/she deems as the “perfect image.” Parental alienation, whilst may be satisfying to the alienating parent, will have devastating effects on a child and the alienated/loving parent and is never in the best interests of the child.

Here are a few things to consider and look out for if you are involved in a divorce with a narcissist and dealing with parental alienation:

  1. Look for Potential Warning Signs of Parental Alienation:
    Each and every situation look different and your warning signs will be specific to you. However, here are a few of the more common signs to look out for: the alienating parent will vilify the loving parent; vilification of the loving parent may then extend to his/her extended family and friends; the alienating parent will employ guilt trips upon the child in order to obtain a desired result; the alienating parent’s projected feelings about the loving parent may be highlighted in the child’s own opinion.  These warning signs can be displayed in certain behaviour such as the following examples:  The alienating parent will refuse to respect the loving parent’s time with the child; the alienating parent will tell the child about adult issues including that the loving parent does not love or care about the child; the alienating parent will guilt trip the child by acting hurt if the child is nice to the other parent; the alienating parent rewards the child for talking badly about the other parent.  Ultimately, at the core of parental alienation is that the child is left in the middle feeling as if he/she has to choose between one parent over the other.  A healthy message that should normally be relayed to a child is that he/she does not have to choose between either parent and that both parents, despite being divorced, love the child and want what is best for him/her.  This idea of healthy parenting is not a concept that a narcissistic abusive co-parent can understand.
  2. Be Aware of the Risks:
    The main risk of parental alienation is that it will cause destruction in the relationship between the child and the loving parent, despite the fact that it is the alienating parent who is causing the divide between what once was a healthy relationship. Many times, a relationship between a child and loving parent is irreparably destroyed due to parental alienation caused by the narcissistic parent. What results is either a toxic/resentful relationship between the child and loving parent, or in the worst-case scenario, no relationship will be in existence between the loving parent and the child. This ultimately is the goal of a narcissistic parent who aims to destroy the relationship between the loving parent and the child.  This then allows the narcissistic parent to have full control of the child and full control over the loving parent.  It is therefore important to be aware of the warning signs of narcissistic parental alienation before it gets to the point where no relationship exists between the loving parent and the child.
  3. Do Not Compete:
    If you are up against a narcissistic parent who is indulging in a parental alienation campaign, it is important that you do not try and compete with this individual and his/her behaviour. Instead, it is important to focus on your own parenting styleyou’re your own relationship with the child that is focused on healthy values. Whilst a narcissistic parent may try and bribe a child with gifts and excess, it is important to instead focus on parenting your child with love, empathy, stability, truth, presence and a peaceful environment.  Long-term, this will prevail once a child is old enough to comprehend the full picture of what has been occurring.
  4. Ask for Help:
    Dealing with a narcissistic abusive co-parent is not an easy task and should not be handled alone. You should be asking for help from third-parties such as family and friends who can maybe intervene and assist in the peaceful communication between you and your co-parent. You may also need to speak with a therapist to learn how to deal with a narcissistic abusive co-parent and develop your skills on how to communicate with him/her and with your child. In very difficult cases, you may also need to seek solicitor advice as your solicitor may be able to assist in finding a solution for your situation.
  5. Take Care Of Yourself:
    Finally, it is important that you take care of yourself when dealing with a narcissist in your co-parenting journey. It is a difficult task to deal with someone who may be manipulating and attempting to control you and your child. It is important that you take time for yourself, whether it is talking it out with a therapist or spending time with family and friends, enjoying the hobbies that make you happy and strengthening yourself so that you are able to create boundaries with your co-parent and learn to be mentally strong despite the circumstances.

If your co-parent escalates his/her narcissistic behavour to physical abuse, this is when you will need to seek professional assistance and report any abuse to the authorities.  Speak to someone who can support you in safely reporting any abuse to authorities and ensure that you and your child are not in danger. This is also the time to speak with your solicitor so he/she can assist with legal action in protecting you and your child against an abusive spouse.

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