The B.E.S.T. Way to Protect Yourself and Your Kids
While being married to a narcissist is incredibly challenging, divorcing a narcissist can be extremely challenging as well. The emotionally abusive behaviors that they exhibited during your marriage will unfortunately continue and might even get worse as you go through this difficult time. It is essential that you develop strategies to protect yourself and your children from the narcissist’s behavior, now and into the future. You have the power to make this happen. Here’s the B.E.S.T. way to accomplishing that goal: Boundaries, Emotional disengagement, Self-protection, Teach your kids about healthy parenting
One of the most important things that you can do to protect yourself and your kids when divorcing a narcissist is to create and maintain appropriate boundaries. This means setting limits and expectations and sticking to them regardless of the pushback that you get from them. These boundaries need to be set around a variety of different issues, with the two most important being communication and parenting schedules.
It is essential to establish one form of communication that does not involve face to face interaction. Typically, this will be through email or an on-line parenting app like Our Family Wizard, Coparently, or Cozi. This will serve the purpose of avoiding the type of in-person contact that has the potential to escalate in an unhealthy way.
It is also important to set boundaries regarding how often you respond to your ex’s communications. Clearly establish the limit that you will not be responding to every message but will only respond within a pre-determined period (such as every two days unless it is an emergency). You then need to set the limit for yourself to only check messages from them within that same established time frame, resisting the temptation to be constantly monitoring for their outreach. While your curiosity might motivate you to check more frequently, your sanity will be protected by avoiding that impulse.
Do not let yourself get sucked into communicating in ways other than what has been established. This will be the key to avoiding unnecessary contact and escalating conflict between the two of you in the future.
Creating a detailed parenting plan is essential when divorcing a narcissist. Everything must be spelled out as specifically as possible to leave no room for subjective interpretation or debate. This includes such things as how/when transitions will take place, holiday/vacation/summer schedules, and each parent’s specific child-rearing responsibilities.
Maintaining that plan on a consistent basis is even more important. If you succumb to pressure to change the established agreement, even once, you will set yourself up for frequent future attempts to get you to do the same again. Consistency with these boundaries is the key to avoiding such future conflict.
2. Emotional Disengagement
Narcissists feed on your escalating emotions and are experts at fueling them. To break into this cycle, you must take away their power to elicit an emotional reaction from you. I know this is easier said than done, but it is the key to protecting yourself from further abusive manipulation.
It is essential that you have clear expectations about your ex’s behavior and not set yourself up with the unrealistic hope that your next interaction with them might be better or that they might act in a kinder or more appropriate way. The sad reality is that they will continue to act in the emotionally abusive manner that you have experienced in the past and that is consistent with their narcissistic personality.
It is also important to establish a plan for emotionally preparing yourself for any unavoidable interaction. You need to have a strategy for empowering yourself and not getting manipulated into an emotionally harmful conversation. For example, post a note by your computer that reminds you to stay calm, not take the bait, fortify your defenses, and not escalate with them. You are no longer at the mercy of their hurtful words or actions, and you need to reinforce that message for yourself, frequently and with conviction.
Over the course of your relationship with your narcissist partner, you have undoubtedly heard an endless litany of your faults, your failings, your inadequacies, and all the things for which you are to blame. As a result, your self-esteem has undoubtedly been significantly damaged, and you are probably struggling to hold onto any sense of positive self-worth.
Now that your marriage is over, and you are free from the constant abuse, it is time for you to start the process of healing and to begin re-building your damaged self-esteem. You need to embrace the fact that all the negative messages that you heard for so long were more about your ex than they were about you. They reflected a pathological desire to manipulate and control you rather than who you are as a person. Going forward, it is essential to both deny them the opportunity to continue this abuse (which is the purpose of establishing and maintaining boundaries) as well as no longer accept these abusive messages as the truth should they find an opportunity to express them. Creating a protective shield that no longer allows these hurtful words to negatively impact your feelings about yourself will be a huge step toward protecting yourself from further emotional harm.
4. Teach Your Children About Healthy Parenting
You are unfortunately not the only one who has been exposed to your ex’s inappropriate behavior and explosive moods. Your children have also witnessed or been the recipient of the narcissist’s emotional abuse and it has undoubtedly taken a toll on them as well. While you can establish boundaries that will minimize the contact you have with your ex after the divorce, your children will probably continue to have a relationship with both of you. So, how do you protect them from further emotional damage and teach them about healthy relationships and appropriate parental behavior?
There are two natural tendencies that each have potential negative consequences. The first is to directly point out to your children the inappropriateness of their other parent’s emotional responses and behavior. While this temptation is perfectly understandable, it usually tends to back-fire and often results in the children becoming angry with you for “bad mouthing” their parent. The second ineffective strategy is to lower yourself to your ex’s inappropriate behavior as a way of fighting back. The unfortunate consequences of this strategy are that your children now lack any parental model of healthy behavior and you have compromised your integrity and ideals for the person that you want to be.
A more effective strategy is to strive to be a role model for healthy parenting, managing emotions, and dealing with conflict. Rather than pointing out how their other parent is doing things the wrong way, your role is to teach and demonstrate the right way, both through your words as well as your actions. Your children need to see you as an empathic and supportive parent who can calmy resolve conflict, provide unconditional love, validate their feelings, and discipline them in non-abusive ways.
This may seem like an impossible task, especially given all the stress that you are trying to manage in your own life. Please remember that you will not be perfect, that you will make mistakes, and that you will occasionally act in a way toward your children that you regret. Hopefully you will react to these lapses with humility, an apology, and a commitment to do better, none of which they will ever receive from their narcissist parent. Even with your mistakes, you have an opportunity to model skills for your children to emulate.
Utilizing the four BEST ways to protect yourself and your children when divorcing a narcissist will provide a layer of protection and a roadmap forward. These strategies unfortunately do not have the power to eliminate all the stress associated with dealing with a personality disordered ex-spouse or parent. However, utilized on a consistent basis, they will go a long way toward shielding your family from further emotional harm.