Resources: How Narcissists Abuse Children During Divorce

Many, many separated family members describe the difficulty of co-parenting with high-conflict ex-spouses who they believe suffer from personality disorders, most often Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder.

Of course, few of these “diagnoses” will ever be confirmed by medical opinion, and most are probably applied mistakenly.

In many cases, these disorders become shorthand mis/labels for the challenges of high-conflict co-parenting; in others, people begin to doubt their own sanity in the face of behaviour patterns that seem completely incomprehensible.

Certainly, blogs like The Psycho Ex Wife describe conflicts so hideous that we can only begin to imagine the human cost of dealing with such depleting levels of crazy.

Hopefully, most of us (and the small ones we care about) will never have to cope with pathological narcissism, but if you do, it’s surely better to be informed and gather some strategies; resources are listed at the end of the article.

* * * * * * * *

How Narcissists Abuse Children During Divorce

By Paula Lovgren

Narcissistic Parents Emotionally Abuse Children. - Arvind Balaraman /

Narcissistic Parents Emotionally Abuse Children. –Arvind Balaraman /
Narcissists often use children as pawns during and after divorce. Learn to identify this emotional abuse of children caught in the middle.

The emotional abuse by a narcissist is pervasive and insidious. It impacts not only the narcissist’s spouse but his or her children as well. Once divorce proceedings begin, the narcissist’s abuse will likely escalate. Narcissists will use any means possible to gain control of the situation or to make themselves look better. Children become perfect pawns for narcissistic parents to use against their spouses. Identifying how narcissistic parents abuse their children is the first step to devising strategies to minimize abuse and help children cope.

Using Children as Pawns in Divorce

Narcissistic parents will often seek custody of children during a divorce even if previously they were not involved parents. It’s important to them to appear to be the better parent. Also, if they have custody of the children, it gives them another way to continue to control and abuse their spouse.

If narcissists don’t get custody of the children, after divorce, they may use visitation as a means of control and harassment. They may ask for many changes to visitation schedules to accommodate optional work, social and vacation events. Most often these requests will be to not to have the children when they are scheduled to. Narcissists may refuse to accommodate the spouse’s requests even when the requests are made for the benefit of the children.


Read the rest of the article at Suite101: How Narcissists Abuse Children During Divorce



Filed under Linkety-Link, Resources

23 responses to “Resources: How Narcissists Abuse Children During Divorce

  1. Lou

    I couldn’t agree more. Sadly, my ex has many narcissistic tendencies; being a charming and very intelligent man and having the grandiosity of “a great man”, yet he was a stealth abuser during our marriage, with a desire for subtle and absolute control in our relationship.

    Our separation was traumatic and I have watched him recreate an alternative reality, where his actions were idealised as exemplifying all that a father could be; compassionate, supportive, and diplomatic, while my reactions, largely those of disappointment, have been re interpreted as pathetic, immature and “toxic”, enabling him to look even better. I think he even went as far as to suggest that he was abused during our marriage, which I understand is a hallmark sign of an abusive man. It really hurt initially. No longer though.
    We are still caught in legal battles, years after our actual separation, largely because of the sorts of issues outlined in the article.
    Fortunately, as the article recommends, “separating ourselves” as much as possible, has been relatively easy, as he lives elsewhere. And hence, our children have been spared many of the problems associated with having a narcissistic parent, which is a relief.
    I don’t think its an easy journey for any woman to share parenting with an ex with narcissistic tendencies (almost all narcissists are male). It’s something I expect to be dealing with for years down the track.
    All I can say is god help the next woman he becomes involved with!
    Great article. Thanks for sharing it. And I hope your stepkids appreciated the feast of snacks, juices etc that you had ready for their stay….though they never seem to last long. : )

    • Yes, I gather most people with personality disorders do generally try to twist the situation and portray the target person as an abuser. And presumably people with NPD get a lot of juice out of door-to-door selling the image of themselves as abuse victims…

      Some years ago I had a boss who obviously (in retrospect) had NPD; it was the most awful – even terrifying – experience of my life. The histrionic rages, the elaborate traps and the bizarre attempts to build himself up when he had failed in some way were a complete and utter headfukk. I can’t begin to imagine how awful it must be for people who are/were partnered to somebody with similar behaviours.

      You must have needed to be tough to come through ok so far! Hopefully you will also be able to find a workable way forward in your outstanding dealings with your ex.

  2. Kelly

    It’s so true. I also had a boss like that a few years ago. He was always very charming to me, but he had taken a dislike to another colleague, and undermined her constantly – all in the guise of trying to help her overcome her shortcomings. He flattered me, and I suspect many others, by talking to me about his concerns for this person, and enlisting my help. It wasn’t until I’d left the situation, and also heard her side of the story, that I realised how manipulated I’d been.
    That was work, and I moved on. It must be scary to be involved in a relationship with someone like that, especially if there are kids involved so you can’t make a clean break.

  3. I think you were one that suggested that the shit might have a personality disorder. I’m not sure but there’s clearly something fucked up about him.

    I imagine the kids also have to deal with a parent that runs hot and cold with their emotions. One minute the kid is the centre of the parents’ universe, the next they are shunted away to the side.

    • I’m not sure whether I suggested it, but as you say, The Shit obviously has some massive issues – I’m just sorry you copped the brunt of his storm.
      Truly, some of the things that happened during your breakup (and while you were together) were just so twisted. I’m really glad you’re safe out of there.

  4. “Narcissists will use any means possible to gain control of the situation or to make themselves look better. ”

    This, along with many descriptions of borderline personality behavior, describes the BM perfectly.

    Thank you for this article. I wish I didn’t recognize so much of the characteristics. It makes me even more scared for the kids.

  5. Steph

    OMG… this so describes my freinds situation… Her ex used to leave all the parenting to her and now acts like hes a “super dad”!!! which woiuld be great if he wasnt just doing it to mess with her and the kids. Sometines I think he does it to mess with his new girlfreinds mind! Like a puppet master, pulling all the strings and making the people around him dance! Shes recovering but its sad to watch the new g/f get caught in the web of his deception.

    • Yes, it’s interesting when one parent’s child-rearing (usually a father’s) changes dramatically post-divorce.

      Hetherington and Kelly describe the phenomena of the “divorce-activated father”, where a dad uses the divorce as a catalyst to become far more actively involved with his kids.

      Understandably, mothers often view this apparently inexplicable increase in parenting motivation as stemming from manipulation. Sometimes, as with your friend, it may well be so.

      On the other hand, it’s unfortunate when a person’s determination to believe the worst about their ex after divorce/separation prevents them recognising genuine improvements in parenting commitment and involvement.

      What a shame it has to be so complicated!

      • Kelly

        I’ve pondered this whole issue so much, ever since reading your original post, and then the comments. It’s funny how my first reaction was to think about my old boss, who was a genuine work-place psychopath, but not my own friends, who obviously don’t have personality disorders… they?
        The revelatory moment came when I read the quote “Narcissists will use any means possible to gain control of the situation or make themselves look better”. Surely, I thought, we all want to be in control of the situation, and make ourselves look good. But I guess the key words are “any means possible” – as I understand it, personality disorders are diagnosed when ordinary personality traits are taken to such extremes, or applied in such a way, as to be dysfunctional, and to cause suffering to the individual or to others.
        And so maybe, under the stress of divorce, with so much at stake, this happens to ordinary personality traits in ordinary people, not because they have a personality disorder, but because of the circumstances.
        I originally started to look at a few of these step-family blogs because of a particularly acrimonious divorce that 2 of my close friends are going through. I’ve stayed close to both, and from each of them I hear such different versions of the same events that I start to wonder whether they even live on the same planet, let alone share a common and at one time loving history. It certainly makes me realise what tenuous concepts “truth” and “reality” are. Yet, I don’t think either of them are lying, or deceiving themselves, they just have very different truths.
        Both of these people have very admirable qualities, but both also have their faults, of course, because they are human. I’ve seen these faults overcome their usual judgement under the stress and acrimony, mistakes are made, but theses faults and mistakes are then picked up on and amplified by the other until you have….voila, a personality disorder.
        What is now happening is that through their contacts with lawyers and psychologists and others who feed off the divorce industry, they are both picking up and flinging about a lot of the terms that you also have used, such as “personality disorder” and “Parental Alienation Syndrome”. I see this as a point of no return from the standpoint of them ever being able to develop a civil parenting relationship. Now if the kids raise a grievance, accusations of PAS fly about (and the grievance isn’t addressed), even through my perception is that both have made an enormous effort to remain neutral in front of the kids. And, as you pointed out, if one one them attempts to make improvements in their behaviour, or explain or justify their actions, they’re just as likely to be met with: well of course s/he would say that and sound convincing – typical of their personality disorder, there’s bound to be an underlying motive.
        It’s bloody sad.
        And that brings us back to the conversation you had with Lou, about labelling, how sometimes it can be helpful in developing understanding, but how it can be counter-productive as well.
        I’m enjoying the philosophical discussions that arise from your blog. The amount of research you do, and share, is phenomenal. Thanks.

        • Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Kelly.

          I think you’ve absolutely nailed it re the way normal personality traits are magnified by the stress and conflict of divorce, perhaps (in some cases) coming to mimic the traits and behaviours that correspond with diagnosable personality disorders, but usually only in relation to circumstances, situations and people involved in the divorce dynamic. So rather than BPD, I think one or both members of many ex-couples experience a kind of transient divorce-related personality disturbance. The trouble is that this can last for a long time, or even (it may be) become entrenched in the ex-spousal relationship.

          After all, if you read stepmother blogs, you know that every second “bio-mother” (I don’t like that term, but it’s hard to know what would be a succinct substitute) has borderline personality disorder, yet often these are obviously people who function relatively normally in other aspects of their lives. And, of course, we are only hearing one side of the story in most cases and it’s impossible to estimate how much poor and exacerbatory behaviour might be stemming from the “other”/bio-dad + stepmom half of the dynamic.

          (That being said, many bloggers describe conflict scenarios so ugly and apparently unwarranted that I wonder how they possibly get up each morning and make it through their days…)

          One of the possible explanations for these high levels of perceived personality disorders relates to the “rebound” factor – when a couple are together their personality differences are minimised, often deliberately as well as unconsciously, and when they separate they “fling” apart, often migrating further away from their previously shared positions than they might otherwise gravitate in an attempt to re-establish an individual identity, generally without even realising it. So everything each does can seem completely out of character (and even to be evidence of pathology) to the other!

          It’s easy to label, and hard to accept responsibility – while there are clearly people struggling with ex-spouses who have genuine personality disorders (unsurprisingly, since personality disorders are a huge risk factor for divorce/separation), I suspect that many of the labellings that happen are a symptom of conflict and a sad and sorry part of the process of adjusting to the idea that an ex who used to be “everything” to a person is now, unfortunately, the enemy. As you say, it is really sad.

          I decided to post this article, and another one coming up shortly not to allow readers to gather evidence against their exes, but to provide information. In some cases more knowledge will cause people to rethink accusations of personality disorder for ex-spouses who don’t really fit the bill, in others it might hopefully provide an “a-ha!” moment for people dealing with conflict of avalanche proportions who are beginning to wonder if it is in fact them with the problem.

  6. Kim

    Dealing with a BM with mild NPD but amazing how it’s still so abusive. My SS said “my mom always gets her way” when he was just 9 years old – they know…

    any chance anyone knows Stepmama Metamorphoses? I LOVED reading her blog but now need an invitation & I don’t know how to contact her. Please pass her my email address if you can

  7. Lou

    Just a further thought…..
    We should be using these articles and reflections to look at our own selves very closely too.
    Being in a relationship for a long time with a person with narcissistic tendencies, meant that I had to face the truth that I have many features of a codependent personality style, and they needed attention. I still have a long way to go. The internet is a thriving arena for those in all manner of psychological distress, myself included.
    Calling people “The Shit” is awful in my opinion, unless of cause we are calling ourselves “The fat lazy bitch…or the Over indulged Princess”Even then, I don’t think it serves us or anyone well.
    Anyway, it’s a glorious day! Lets go out and enjoy ourselves, ALL of our children and our families!

  8. Our PEG fits all of this to a tee, I had never thought to use the word narcissistic to describe her but after having read what defines that type of parent, I have not stopped nodding my head in agreement once. She loves to blame us for her shortcomings and has many many times, her biggest lie and focus is to make people believe she is the best mother in the world and nothing is ever her fault. It always falls on my husband, her son’s father. Hubbs didn’t know what he was getting into and hadn’t dated PEG long enough to figure out her crazy behavior. Once he found out she was pregnant her true colors started to show and the rest follows this pattern exactly. She wants so badly for people to take her side, and think she is the best, while putting down Hubbs and trying to pretend he is an absent father, while she refused to move like they had originally agreed when they found out she was pregnant. We have gone out of our way to try and accommodate her crazy behavior but there is no winning in this crazy game. We do what is best for the son and ignore her as much as possible. I used to think she might get tired and sick of playing these games, but she continues to prove me wrong. I have started to realize she lives for this kind of drama….

  9. Pingback: Is there really an epidemic of BPD among separated parents? (from Co-Parenting 101) « Stepmum Of The Year

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  12. The Disease of Parental Alienation: Legal and Therapeutic
    Interventions for Moderate & Severely Alienated Children
    ————–By Joseph Goldberg——————

    In a scientific article written by Dr. Richard Gardner,
    titled Recommendations for Dealing with Parents Who
    Induce a Parental Alienation Syndrome in Their Children Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, Volume 28(3/4), 1998,
    p. 1-21 Gardner outlined what treatments would be
    most effective in helping the child.

    In reviewing the scientific literature, we can also find
    several studies that support his treatment recommend –
    ations; including support for his most controversial recommendation , a change in custody from the
    alienating parent to the targeted parent. ( Clawar &
    Rivlin, 1991; Dunne & Hendrick, 1994; Rand, Rand &
    Kopetetski, 2005; Warshak, 2010a )

    Many leading researchers today consider parental
    alienation more than just a syndrome, they consider it
    a disorder worthy of inclusion in DSM-5 ( Bernet,2010; Gottleib, 2011; Worenklein, 2011; Caddy, 2012, et. al. )

    Many courts have ruled that the best way to repair a
    relationship between a severely alienated child and
    a rejected parent is to reverse the custody and in review-
    ing aftercare reports a large majority of the children
    were able to normalize their relationships with the target parent.

    In moderate cases of P.A.S.when the parent is
    defined as an obsessed alienator, Gardner recommends
    once again that only reversing custody is an
    appropriate treatment for the child. It should be noted
    that not all parents meet the definition of an obsessed alienator; Some are defined as active alienators and
    others are just naive alienators. ( Darnall ).

    Treatment recommendations should be based on the reactivity of an alienating parent and their ability to
    change the negative influence they previously exhibited; rather than a list of all the egregious behaviours and parenting deficits.

    This is a problem for many targeted parents who
    have been a victim of the alienation because they want
    to remove all of the access to the child to protect the
    child from further harm. This reaction in targeted
    parents is not all that dissimilar to the reaction of
    alienating parents attempting to justify all the reasons
    they had for being overly protective.

    Due to errors in understanding these behaviours,
    first by parents and later by professionals who become involved ( i.e., ad litems, parenting coordinators,
    mediators, mental health professionals ), it’s not all that
    hard to understand why judges have so hard a time
    in discerning what to do in the best interest of the
    alienated child.

    Note 1. I refer above to the “ alienated child “
    as differentiated from a child realistically estranged
    or enmeshed or rejecting the parent for hybrid

    Parental alienation is a disease because there is a
    substantial body of social science research that
    continues to illustrate how an alienated child imports delusional thinking from an alienating parent. This delusional thinking in the child is characterized by a changed belief that the target parent, once loved and trusted, is now unsafe or dangerous and unworthy of
    any kind of affection.

    The child’s delusional thinking and concomitant
    behaviour is inculcated by an alienator that uses
    various strategies to program the child through
    successive approximations.

    Note 2 Refer the reader to folie a deux. Presently
    identified in DSM as shared psychotic disorder.

    The therapeutic interventions for moderate and
    severely alienated children has been discussed in
    the social science literature and supported with
    conjoint legal interventions for more than twenty
    five ( 25 ) years.

    Judicial education in parental alienation has also
    contributed to an increase in custody reversal
    rulings but most judges do not see the change in
    custody as a treatment approach, they view it as
    the only alternative to stopping the psychological
    harm to the child or as the only way to repair the relationship between the child and the rejected

    Judges might consider custody reversals more
    frequently if mental health professionals stated a
    need for custody reversals as the first step in the
    child’s treatment. Lawyers, would also have a
    stronger argument to reverse custody if it was
    discussed as a treatment issue rather than as a
    custody solution.

    Some medical syndrome conditions like A.I.D.S
    have received lots of support for its existence prior
    to its recognition in DSM. Perhaps the hysteria of
    contagious infection influenced it’s acceptance;
    there is no public hysteria that parental alienation
    will spread, but it does to extended family members
    on the side of the rejected parent. This fact has not advanced the public acceptance and recognition of
    PAS… It should, but it hasn’t.

    The population of alienated children, rejected
    parents and extended family members far exceeds
    the numbers in the population, that are afflicted
    with A.I.D.S.

    Note 3, According to the CDC: The estimated
    incidence of HIV has remained stable overall in
    recent years, at about 50,000 new HIV infections
    per year. In the social science research parental
    alienation is said to affect as many as 500,000
    family members a year.

    Although some might argue that one does not die
    from the disease of parental alienation, neither do
    people die from A.I.D.S., they die from the A.I.D.
    infections that weaken their immune system.

    In similarity, when a child does not receive the
    proper treatment for parental alienation they are
    susceptible to a long list of maladaptive
    behaviours including self injuring behaviour,
    which people do die from; another example –
    substance abuse, is also a contributing factor
    leading to death. If alienated children do not
    receive the treatment and interventions they
    need they will later become adult victims of
    alienation and some will die from the root cause
    of their untreated disease.

    It’s important that mental health professionals link
    the risk of failed treatment plans to life or death
    outcomes for moderate and severely alienated
    children. There is a wide body of scientific literature,
    that identifies these maladaptive behaviours. ( Baker,
    2010, )

    Targeted parents with limited financial resources are
    not able to afford psychological assessments that can identify the disease and judges often suggest in open
    court that these evaluations are necessary in order to
    help the child.

    Regardless of an inability to pay for psychological evaluations, many parents are very fortunate that there
    are a few professionals who can identify the parental alienation disease and often times at no cost with
    the help of a parental alienation consultant.

    These professionals are also educators who are very
    familiar with the scientific literature. They can make a science based differential diagnosis; even without
    meeting all the members of the family. Given the
    benefit of a free consultation with a P.A.consultant,
    its important to take as much advantage of the
    opportunity as possible.

    One also needs to understand that the cost of a psychological evaluation far exceeds the fees for the evaluator, alienators almost always refuse to
    participate in psychological evaluations so include
    the legal expenses of taking this matter before a

    A majority of evaluators doing custody work today
    do not have credits or training in parental alienation,
    or in differentiating parental alienation from
    estrangement or enmeshment, nor in assessing
    pure cases from hybrid cases and this lack of science
    based knowledge leads to failures in arriving at the
    right recommendations for the court.

    Many custody evaluators will refuse to do this work
    because of the risk to them that there will likely be a complaint against their license after their findings
    come out.

    A less qualified population of mental health
    professionals are willing to do the work but they
    handle the threat of professional complaints by
    couching their recommendations in watered down
    opinions. This sadly has the effect of making
    matters worse, rather than better.

    This fact is also supported by a substantial amount
    of scientific literature. ( Warshak, Bone, Gottleib, et.
    al )

    Frustrated, targeted parents with limited financial
    resources stand their best chance for resolving the
    obstacles to a therapeutic and legal intervention by
    turning over control of the decisions to a parental
    alienation consultant , one that is competent to micromanage and choreograph the therapeutic and
    legal intervention. It may be the only sensible way
    today to contain the costs or to wisely spend the
    resources available to the family.

    It would be better to simply state that the first
    priority in cases of parental alienation is to find the
    litigation support of a parental alienation consultant;
    even ahead of making decisions to obtain a lawyer,
    or any other types of professional services. The
    longer a decision is prolonged to hire such a
    consultant, the less likely it is that the family will
    have any finances left to be able to rescue the
    alienated child.

    Reunification therapy is often talked about when
    judges find that the child is to young to decide to
    stop all access between a parent that deserves
    time with the child. However, reunification
    counsellors are not very helpful in cases of parental alienation because alienated children are different
    from children who have been separated because
    they were kidnapped or separated by other sets of circumstances.

    Targeted parents that seek court orders for
    counselling and lawyers fighting for such orders
    often times only seek general conditions that
    allow therapy to begin. They rarely ever take into consideration the right type of therapy needed,
    or the qualifications of the therapist, etc.

    Navigating in court to repair a parent-child relation-
    ship without your lawyer having advise from a
    parental alienation consultant, is like sending a sail-
    boat out to sea without a sail. There’s no hope of
    arriving at your destination.

    Lawyers that know better and do not concern them –
    selves with such details are certain to say that they
    at least got you the order for the counselling; and
    lots of lawyers will suggest that you just agree to
    select a therapist favoured by the alienating parent.
    This is a mistake of gigantic proportions.

    Lawyers will not be able to avoid making serious
    mistakes and running up the cost of a case with
    counter-productive approaches unless their clients
    provide them with the litigation support they need,
    more specifically the expertise of a parental
    alienation consultant.

    Extended family members, significant others and
    newly married spouses must understand that the
    most important role they can play is recognizing
    that this is a disease that requires the right
    professionals to step in and seize control of the
    situation, without the right professionals nothing
    will ever change, that’s a fact strongly supported
    by common sense.

    Contact me for a Free Consultation.
    Visit my website at
    And visit my Facebook Page at –
    Parental Alienation Consulting Services

  13. Kerry Mauldin

    After reading these comments so much makes sense with what is going on with me right now. I am in the middle of a nasty divorce after finding out my husband has been having an affair on me for almost 4 years, he lied about so much and almost had me convinced he did not sleep with this woman. Well a lot of crazy stuff has happened right down to constantly being called im crazy or living in a fantasy world. I came across a lot of evidence that proved he had been sleeping with this woman and so much more, unfortunately my son does know what has been going on, but has still chosen to live with his father even tho we have joint custody, they decide when I do or don’t see him. When my son is with me he seems so happy then when he leaves he acts like he hates me and when I text him nightly to ask how is day is and I love him he either ignores it or is rude. My friends kept telling me he is a narcissist, an evil vindictive man, I look back now over the years and things that had happened and how he has treated me. What is sad is its gone from just last year my son hated seeing my husbands vehicle in the drive way to now living with him. He even told me at one point that I am always rude to his dad, we haven’t had a conversation in front of my son in a long time we text, he even went as far as to tell my son what he had to pay me from the temporary hearing. I also found out from someone that he always talked bad about me in front of my son. This has been a very horrible thing to go thru, and not to mention this man did call me an abuser we got into 4 fights while arguing about this woman and I threw my phone at him, so im this crazy abusive woman, how does someone prove that their child is being manipulated by this narcissist.

    • Hi
      I’m so very sorry to read that you’re having a difficult time.
      I strongly recommend a book called ‘Divorce Poison’ and another called ‘Walking On Eggshells’ that might give you some strategies for managing your relationships with your ex-husband and child.
      Best of luck.

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