People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (or other Cluster B personality disorders such as Antisocial and Borderline) emotionally abuse those in their daily family lives. This emotional abuse is a form of domestic violence affecting the other parent, children, extended family, and institutional settings (school and family court) have to deal with this abuse.
Narcissistic parents will harm their children even if they love them because their impaired empathy and hypersensitivity to real and imagined wrongs causes them to blame the other parent, to lash out at people they perceive to not be on their side, and to do everything in their power to convince the family court system of their superiority over the other parent. Narcissists vary in their abilities to hide their abusive side in the presence of esteemed others; those with better impression management skills are more successful in their court battles.
If Narcissists gain primary custody of their children they usually move toward alienating the children from their other parent, delighting in not following parenting time guidelines or court documents. If they do not gain primary custody they generally move toward painting the other parents as responsible for their estrangement from the children instead of acknowledging behaviors directed toward the other parent and children have made the children distrusting of them and skeptical of spending safe time with them.
The narcissist will try to use parental alienation by the healthy parent to convince the court of the need to switch custody. Such a switch places the children in a consistently emotionally and or physically abusive environment. The Narcissist “gaslights” the children and other parent, trying to convince them that the other parent is at fault for everything, cannot be trusted, and that the children MUST obey and support him/her at every moment. Phone calls or Skype parenting time with other parent will be heavily monitored, children will be coached, and contact will end if they misspeak. Clear guidelines need to be placed in parenting time documents regarding no monitoring of electronic parenting time, no confiscation of tablets or phones used in this communication, with sanctions outlined for violation.
Tina developed her expertise and knowledge the hard way – marrying and divorcing a narcissist. I (Rebecca Davis Merritt; [email protected]) developed my expertise the easy way, years of graduate school, obtaining the Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, working as a professor at Purdue University for more than 20 years where I taught doctoral students how to assess, diagnose, and treat individuals with personality disorders. My skill set included a good understanding of the dynamics driving Cluster B personality disorders.
When a family member married and divorced an individual with these dynamics I observed the damage experienced by children when the court is slow to recognize the severity of Cluster B disorders and fail to promptly protect children. Court often assumes both parties are equally to blame for creating and maintaining a high conflict case, so the unaffected parent is treated as skeptically as the narcissistic parent. This is confusing to the unaffected parent who often listens to the narcissist spouting lies in the courtroom and describing themself as the most devoted, caring parent.
The courts may eventually recognize the need to take action and protect children of narcissistic parents but the slowness to take action results in prolonged emotional abuse during crucial developmental stages. Thousands of men and women in the family court system are battling with a narcissist, their children are not being protected, and the court may grant primary custody to the narcissist who is able to glibly lie and manipulate in court. Narcissistic parents voluntarily delinquent in child support will cry in court as they protest their undying love for their children and yet judges will fail to recognize the discrepancy between courtroom statements and their behaviors outside of the courtroom brought to the court’s attention (not paying child support when they have the ability to do so, emotionally and/or physically harming the children, stalking/threatening the other parent, etc.).
When unaffected parents become anxious or depressed from dealing with the narcissist’s abusive behaviors, they may be deemed psychologically unstable, placing them at risk of losing custody to the abuser. When their children report emotional abuse by the narcissistic parent, the courts and CPS too frequently conclude that the unaffected parent is alienating the children from the narcissistic parent.
It is a challenge of immense proportion to set and maintain appropriate boundaries within the family and within the family court setting with narcissists. A careful reading of Tina’s book Divorcing a Narcissist: Advice from the Battlefield (ISBN-10: 0615986344) will help the unaffected parent increase their coping strategies and skills in dealing with a narcissist and helping their children recognize when and how to set boundaries with their narcissistic parent. This book will also be a valuable resource for all those participating in family court as it will help them develop an understanding of narcissism and its impact upon families and the court.
Tina Swithin is a dynamic individual with a mission to increase awareness of narcissism and its impact upon shared parenting and divorce among the judges, CPS workers, Guardian ad litems, Parenting Coordinators, and attorneys handling divorce and custody cases in our family court systems. Her facebook group is viewed by thousands of people navigating the treacherous courtroom terrain associated with leaving a narcissist and protecting their children from narcissistic rage, gaslighting, and emotional abuse.
Tina’s online community is a village of survivors united in problem-solving and making positive educational and dynamic changes in the family court system. Tina and her village hope to get court personnel to realize that one disturbed individual can create and maintain high conflict divorce cases inundating the court with years of unnecessary grievances while tasking the economic and psychological resources of the unaffected parent.
The demand upon the court’s time created by vengeful narcissists could be lessened if court personnel could identify patterns associated with Cluster B personality disorders, recognize the need of a thorough psychological evaluation for such people, understand the need for clear sanctions (including making the disturbed parent responsible for legal representation bills of the other parent), and take timely steps to protect children and the other parent.
Advocate & Author
Tina Swithin is an Advocate, Author and Contributor for the Huffington Post. Tina’s focus and advocacy are centered on divorces and child custody battles when personality disorders are involved. Tina is happily married and lives in San Luis Obispo, California with her husband and two daughters.