A severely narcissistic parent can create a negative situation for children whether they are aware of it or not. That can range from inappropriate boundaries and communication to outright physical or emotional abuse.

But narcissism can be hard to prove and even harder to work with, as the person may not be willing to admit they are acting in certain ways or seek help. For the other parent, the situation can be confusing and complex. If you’re divorced, you may worry about the happiness and safety of your children when they are with the other parent.

If you’re divorced (or getting divorced) in Illinois and have concerns about narcissism in the other parent, working with an experienced Chicago family law attorney can help. Find out more about narcissism and what options you have for protecting your children below and then call the Law Offices of Robert B. Buchanan to find out what options might be right for you.

What Is Narcissism?

Narcissism refers to an unhealthy or overgrown sense of self. Someone who is a narcissist needs to be admired or feel loved to such a degree that they may take inappropriate actions to enforce what they see as admiration or love.

Often, narcissists may see themselves as better than everyone else and entitled to more than those around them. This can lead to behaviors such as treating others as less valuable, talking down to others, and manipulating or controlling others.

How Can a Narcissistic Parent Negatively Impact a Child?

The controlling and self-centered behavior of a narcissistic parent can create a negative impact on children. First, the parent putting themselves first and not taking time to engage in the interests of the child can stunt the relationship and even the development of the child. In many cases, narcissists use communication and a lack of respect for boundaries to enforce their control and “superiority,” which can lead to the child feeling unsafe or unable to communicate his or her own needs, feelings, or wishes.

If a narcissistic parent makes a mistake, they may be unwilling or unable to admit it. This can lead to blaming the child for the issue or gaslighting the child or other parent, eroding the child’s self esteem and understanding of facts. It can also put the child in the position of choosing between parents in arguments. A narcissistic parent may ask the child to back them up or choose sides because they want the affirmation that they are right, in control, or admired.

In extreme cases, narcissism can lead to emotional, mental, and physical abuse. Children who are in such situations for lengthy periods of time may develop emotional regulation problems or not have fully developed nervous systems, which can lead to inappropriate fight or flight decisions in the future. For example, children might freeze up in the face of conflict or submit inappropriately to anyone who exerts dominance because they have learned to do so as a defense mechanism.

What Legal Remedies Do You Have?

As a parent, you do have some potential legal remedies to help protect your child. First and foremost, if you believe your child is in danger of abuse when they are with a narcissistic parent, you can petition the court to suspend visitation or shared custody until the parent works out some issues. This is obviously a big ask, and you will need to demonstrate the dangers to the court, so working with an attorney experienced in custody issues can be important.

According to new research on narcissism, it may be driven by insecurity in many cases and not simply a grandiose sense of self. Therapy and other treatments may help the narcissistic parent to develop healthier coping and communication skills, and that can lead to a higher quality of life (and safety) for children and parents alike. To that end, asking the other parent to seek help may be an option. If the other parent has refused to discuss the matter or go to therapy, talk to your lawyer about the option for court-ordered therapy.

In many cases, a narcissistic parent may always be at least somewhat narcissistic, and co-parenting with him or her can be difficult. It’s important in such cases to use the tools at your disposal to protect your children from a position of strength. Work with a family law attorney to create a strong custody agreement and ensure you are protected in writing.

You might also ask your lawyer or the court about options for required monitored communication options. You may be able to get the court to order that communication about the children and their care between you and your ex must be done via an app that is visible to the court should further custody issues arise. This type of step can help protect you and your children from gaslighting, as all discussions and communications are done with the understanding that a third-party can review them later to know what actually happened.

Co-parenting with a narcissistic parent — and protecting your children from the negatives involved in such a relationship — can be difficult. The professionals at the Law Offices of Robert B. Buchanan can help you understand what your options are and work on your behalf to protect your and your children’s interests.