The Narcissistic Parent’s Secret Weapon

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Parental alienation is the process of psychological manipulation of a child into displaying unjustifiable fear, rejection, disrespect or hostility towards a targeted parent by the “favored” parent.

What causes a child to become reject a parent?

“Nearly all childhood emotional and behavior problems are multi-layered, and parent-child conflicts are no exception. The favored parent’s negative influence is the most obvious ingredient in cases where children unreasonably reject a parent. Other factors include aspects of the current and past family situation, the child’s own personality, and the rejected parent’s response to rejection. In some families, children are more apt to align with a parent who has been historically less available or whose love the children view as more tenuous and contingent upon their undiluted loyalty (defined as sharing the parent’s negative view of the other parent).” —Richard Warshak


Guiding clients through the toxic aftermaths of high-conflict divorce and co-parenting is a most difficult job of a psychotherapist. Here are four things to know to lessen the blow and the psychological toll of alienation.

1. Narcissists are predictable. As sure as the sun will come out tomorrow, you can bet your bottom dollar that your ex’s mean-spirited behaviors are sure to follow. Expect a lull here and there, but then it’s back to the badmouthing business as usual. Letting go of unrealistic hopes for change means you’re not caught off guard when s/he threatens you with court or a call to the authorities.


2. Narcissists are psychologically lazy. The narcissist believes s/he can easily snow people. An unhealthy dose of thought distortion, contempt for authority and a bully-like disrespect for vulnerable individuals are the culprits. Look closely and watch however, as the narcissist exerts the minimum amount of effort with little to no credible documentation when making false claims. Like an impulsive child, s/he tantrums and makes outlandish threats, seldom based on reality. A narcissist believes the lies and threats are not only justifiable, but thinks the world should too. Unfortunately, some family court attorneys aid and abet this belief. An experienced lawyer recognizes alienation and exerts professional control by advising their client to stop the emotionally abusive behaviors. Sometimes you have to call their bluff. The good news is law enforcement and children’s protective services (CPS) are increasingly adept at understanding and detecting emotional abuse.

To get little kids to be quiet, lower your voice instead of raising it. This forces kids to focus. Got a whole pack to corral? Whisper, "If you want to hear what we're doing next, hop on one foot." Goofy jumping is bound to be contagious.


3. Narcissists do not change. But you can. One of the most effective tactics to affect healthy change is to develop a schedule for co-parenting communication. Caveat: parenting a toddler or children with special needs requires more contact, but as a general rule, limit your communication to issues of parental concern only. Too often, well-intentioned co-parents get sucked into the vortex of dramatic and dysfunctional correspondence. Instead, define your communication as brief, boundaried, businesslike, and boring. Just the facts, no emotional language or lengthy explanations. For example: “To reduce conflict and save time, barring emergencies, I will respond to your email messages every Monday from 5:00-5:30 p.m. from this point forward.”

4. Check your world view mirror. Because the narcissist can make you feel like you’re going crazy, a healthy world view is imperative. When you believe that the universe is basically a safe place where most people possess good will, you trust in the inherent order of life. You recognize that while the divorce and court process is stressful and overwhelming, you trust in your ability to problem-solve.

Perhaps the most important advice for targeted co-parents is to get support. If you’re not in therapy, I recommend a qualified professional to guide you through the maze of high-conflict divorce and parental alienation. Ask people in your inner circle for references or visit a therapist directory such as psychologytoday.com. Narrow your search terms to include clinicians who specialize in 'personality disorders,' 'alienation,' 'divorce' and 'co-parenting.'

Parental alienation is an insidious form of child abuse. The hope is that targeted parents will educate and arm themselves with the tools to fight back. Please help spread the word by sharing this article on social media. For additional information, I invite you to read, Forget Co-Parenting With a Narcissist. Do This Instead.

Warn children about the importance of privacy and the dangers of predators and sexting. Teens need to know that once content is shared with others, they will not be able to delete or remove it completely, and includes texting of inappropriate pictures. They may also not know about or choose not to use privacy settings, and they need to be warned that sex offenders often use social networking, chat rooms, e-mail, and online gaming to contact and exploit children.