You’re exhausted, right? And every day feels like a battlefield? You spend most of the day inside your own head – predicting, analysing, planning, questioning yourself endlessly – working out how reduce the conflict that you know is inevitable.
Surviving a marriage to someone with a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is excruciatingly difficult. But, once the marriage has ended the stress is not over, particularly if you share children together.
You still need to navigate co-parenting with your narcissist ex-partner, while also trying to regain your own identity, self-worth and a positive mental health space that has likely been eroded by the narcissist over time. Layered onto this is the confusion about how you ended up in this position. How had you not seen the signs of narcissism from the start?
Yes, the self-punishing fallout from a narcissist can be brutal.
The emotional labour of all these factors means you need a plan. A good strategy will give you focus and structure for your own recovery. This where your energy is needed the most (not reliving and replaying the past wondering what you could have done different/better).
There are 3 main areas to focus on when recovering from a marriage to a narcissist:
- Learning how to co-parent and communicate effectively
- Learn about NPD so you can understand the behaviour you are dealing with
- Learn about co-dependence, healing yourself and rebuilding your self-worth
CO-PARENTING: HOW TO DO IT EFFECTIVELY
Co-parenting means you must communicate with your ex-partner. It is important to do this in the most positive and non-destructive way possible. This will involve reducing interactions that will trigger your ex-partner wherever you can.
This effort alone will be exhausting, but there are three approaches to take:
MANAGING YOUR COMMUNICATION
Remember that reasonable communication is best for your children and their mental health.
Remind yourself that your ex-partner’s unreasonable behaviour and words are not about you, despite how it may feel. Detaching yourself from their behaviour enables you to be functional and factual. As well as to interact in a way that will get the best outcome for you and your children.
Tips for managing communication:
- In correspondence, always focus on just one issue at a time and make plans for the children the key point of the communication
- Understanding how they work and ‘playing their game’ does not mean you are lesser – just smarter and more effective. Don’t confuse ‘understanding’ their game with being sucked into ‘playing their game’. Remember, it’s hard to have a fight if only one person turns up ie – don’t engage in the rage
- Be honest and factual (rather than emotive) when discussing issues with your kids
Need more support communicating with your ex? These apps may help: 12 Best parenting apps and software in 2021.
Having a good understanding of your ex-partner’s behaviour and truly accepting it will not change is difficult, but essential.
You may have spent years trying to change it, without any meaningful success. It may be challenging (even heart-breaking) to accept they will never see your perspective or understand how damaging their behaviour towards you has been.
But understanding they are incapable of this is the only way to move forward with your own life. Their personal growth is not your personal project.
Release them to live their life in their own destructive way without trying to “fix” them.
Tips for managing acceptance
- They will not change. It is simply not in their belief system.
- They need to be right (see point above about why they won’t change – why would they if they are right?). Allow them to feel this as much as possible to minimise conflict.
- They will use others to upset you, particularly your children – do your best not to buy into this – you’ll only feed their power trip.
- They will present you as the ‘bad guy’ to other people. (Remember this is not your fault.)
- Have a back-up plan, for situations when you will not be able to control things. Because you will need one.
Learn to predict what your ex-partner may say or do and prepare yourself to ignore it.
This doesn’t mean endlessly playing over situations in your head. It means being clear and prepared, putting a mental “bow” around the plan knowing it’s done and ready should you need it.
Understand that a person with NPD will use behaviour that is not acceptable in parenting (or other) terms and will deliberately try and upset you or “set you off”. If you react, this will accelerate an already volatile situation.
Know your plan and stick to it to the best of your ability. And be gentle with yourself if you don’t always get it right.
Tips for ignoring:
- Say as little as possible. Avoid saying anything that can be used to create an argument or conflict.
- Be a healthy sounding board for your children. They need you to be calm and stable, if you react with anger then the children will avoid confiding in you, as they don’t want you to be upset. They may also feel they don’t have a safe adult to talk to, which will limit their own ability to learn the skills they need to deal with their NPD parent.
AND … always plan for the NPD behaviour in co-parenting arrangements and predict the issues you know are typical of their behaviour.
For example, if your ex-partner is always late or does not show up, plan accordingly. Rather than create a situation where the children also feel let down, say:
“[Parent name] said he will be picking you up sometime after x o’clock, but we know they often having trouble making it, so let’s go ahead with our day until we know for sure.”
For more tips around co-parenting with a narcissist ex see:
NPD: LEARN WHAT YOU CAN AS KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
At the beginning of the relationship, you probably thought your new partner was unpredictable. But the more you learnt about them – the more you found they are predictably unpredictable.
Learning as much as possible about NPD traits, phrases and behaviours will help you understand that is it not about you.
You do not cause or create this behaviour.
This will help you remove and detach yourself from their damaging words and actions and understand that it is not personal (despite how it feels). It is crucial for your self-care.
Tips for learning about NPD:
- Learn as much as you can about the disorder and how it works but avoid becoming a ‘couch psychologist’. It takes professionals years to understand and work with NPD – you only need as much info as you need to get through this.
- Ignore the behaviour as much as possible. Switch off to feeling hurt by it, and realise it says way more about them than it does about you (and yes, I know that’s hard, but worth it!)
- Do not try and achieve respect, compassion or understanding from someone with NPD.
- Ignore any personal attacks made by text or email. Don’t respond.
- Do not engage in arguments. It is about ‘winning’ not resolution for someone with NPD. Learn to just walk away and let them think they won. Remember my earlier point about a fight not being possible if only one person shows up. Let them be the one that shows up for the fight whilst you rise above it and don’t engage.
- Realise they will always feel some ownership of you, and will not accept a new partner in your life.
UNDERSTAND CO-DEPENDENCE AND BUILD YOUR SELF-WORTH
Part of re-building your self-worth is learning about your own personality and understanding how you ended up in a damaging relationship.
Your NPD ex-partner has exploited the cracks in your self-esteem, so it’s important to understand what those cracks are, how to mend them and seek assistance to do so effectively. This will ensure the baggage from this relationship does not continue to be part of your psyche moving forward.
Years of abusive and damaging behaviour means rebuilding your sense of self is not an easy task. But it’s an important one to help you avoid repeating similar patterns of behaviour, and to develop happy and positive relationships in the future.
A first step on this journey is to have a spring clean of anyone in your life who may exhibit NPD characteristics, both overt and covert. Being aware of how others treat you and making sure you protect yourself is important, particularly at this early stage when you are most vulnerable.
Tips on eliminating co-dependence:
- Avoid seeing your ex-partner (or anyone with NPD) in person.
- Communicate about factual things only, and in writing. Ensure you have a paper trail.
- Screenshot texts. Analyse this information rather that react. It will help remove the emotion you feel.
- Understand that the truth is not their starting point. People with NPD create a version of events or a situation that suits the outcome they desire in that moment. Truth is secondary.
- Remember that YOU are in charge of your thoughts, your mind. This is a big change. Remind yourself constantly of this fact.
Tips on rebuilding self-worth:
- Do the work on your recovery and self-worth. This will include facing internal self-blame, depression and PTSD.
- Understand how you got to where you are. Get specialist counselling.
- Forgive yourself. Do nice things for yourself daily. Practice self-care.
- Allow time for grief. Be kind to yourself while you heal.
- Reconnect with friends and family.
- Know that unless someone has dealt with NPD they may find it hard to understand your position. This can make you feel alone at times. Specialist support groups can help.
- You do not have to tell your story to new people, it’s ok to protect yourself.
- Take your time with new people. Watch, listen and learn as there are others with NPD that you will want to avoid.
- Seek other therapies that can help you heal, such as meditation, tapping, journaling, kinesiology, reiki and more. Find what connects and works best for you.
Finally, it’s important to know that you WILL get through this.
You WILL heal and find joy again.
You WILL regain your beautiful sense of self, and best of all you WILL discover new strengths and skills you never knew you had.
These will be the basis of your new life – with clearer boundaries, more confidence, greater strength and enhanced wisdom.