How Narcissists Abuse Children During Divorce

Posted on May 30, 2014. Filed under: Parental Alienation Syndrome | Tags: , , , |

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.

Narcissists may also be late in picking up the children for visitation or not picking them up at all. They may make last minute changes and expect to be accommodated. When they are not, they will cite this as an example of how unreasonable their spouse is. Narcissists may also take advantage of third parties such as school, daycare or friends and family who don’t know the agreements made with the other parent. It’s important to note that all of these tactics by the narcissist have nothing to do with the best interest of the children. It’s simply a way for the narcissist to play games and have control.

Emotional Abuse by a Narcissistic Parent

Narcissists will use people in whatever way in necessary to get what they want. This world view also applies to their children. They will abuse their children regardless whether they stay married to the other parent or not. During and after divorce, a narcissist’s emotional abuse of his or her children may seem more direct or blatant. Quite often, this is simply another tactic employed by narcissists to further control their former spouse. Unfortunately, the children pay the price for the narcissist’s games.

Narcissists are masters of lying. They will lie to their children and distort reality the same as they do to everyone else. Often, narcissists will sacrifice their children’s well-being in an attempt to save face. This leaves the children feeling confused and unsure of their own reality and judgment. Narcissists will ask their children to lie for them, keep secrets and to spy on the other parent.

Narcissistic parents do not respect their children’s desires. They may make promises to the children in order to gain compliance from the child, then refuse to honor the promises. Children may miss out on birthday parties, sporting events or other activities important to them in order to accommodate the narcissistic parent’s wishes. The children soon learn that what they want is not important when with the narcissistic parent.

Coping with a Narcissistic Parent

It’s important to understand that it’s impossible to control a narcissist’s behavior. Neither the narcissist’s spouse nor children are responsible for his or her behavior. Narcissists are who they are. The best the other parent can do for their children and themselves is to separate themselves as much as possible from the narcissist.

First and foremost, former spouses of narcissists need to seek professional support for themselves and their children. It’s important that both children and spouses of narcissists have someone outside the situation to support and validate their feelings and reality while trying to cope with a crazy-making narcissist.

Spouses also need to hire a lawyer who understands narcissism and how to best deal with it in court. It’s often best for abused spouses to seek full custody of the children. They should, however, be prepared to offer reasonable visitation. In addition, spouses of narcissists will do well to put as many negotiation points about the children as they can think of in the divorce decree. These include visitation, pick-up times, phone calls, school activities and vacations. It may seem excessive or restraining but in the long run these written agreements will often be easier than constantly renegotiating with an unreliable and emotionally abusive former spouse.

Divorce is never easy on children. Coping with a narcissistic parent makes a stressful situation even more difficult. Learning to identify the games narcissists play can help parents to minimize the emotional abuse children suffer at the hands of a narcissistic parent.


Bancroft, Lundy. When Dad Hurts Mom: Helping Your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse. New York: Berkley Books, 2004.

Hotchkiss, Sandy. Why is is Always About You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism. New York: Free Press, 2002.

Skerritt, Richard. Surviving the Storm: Strategies and Realities for Divorcing a Narcissist. Kennett Square, PA: Dalkeith Press, 2009.

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4 Responses to “How Narcissists Abuse Children During Divorce”

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My ex husband would make last minute changes about seeing my daughter. I know this through my daughter’s grandfather and my (now deceased) friend who was taking my daughter with her on outings during my deployment with the Army. My X & his 5th wife not only got married without the presence of my daughter, but they went to Disney World without her, too. Once I started seeing someone my daughter admired, my ex suddenly swamped our daughter with the attention she had been starved for. My ex & his wife started a nasty smear campaign against me & involved my daughter & have completely alienated her against her maternal AND paternal grandmothers, me & her brother. My daughter has been suffering greatly as is evidenced by medical records I see only because I am the one who pays for the health insurance (as well as child support to a man who owns more than one real estate business). The counselor was as dishonest as the GAL. The judge never bothered to look at the hard evidence revealing the dishonest and disgustingly abusive patterns of behavior of my ex. The judge did not care. Child Protective Services did not care about my daughter. My ex does what he wants regardless of court orders and no one holds him accountable. Parental Alienation is abuse of the entire family. The Family Court system is a shame and a sham.

Reblogged this on From Torn 2 Pieces 2 Peace and commented:
How someone can play mean games, I will never comprehend, nor care to. I’ve been having dreams lately that my daughter is in my care. I know it’s too late for this to happen (she has one year to graduate from high school and she is used to staying out all night engaged in activities of her choice without supervision as her “father” has indulged her to manipulate her into becoming his tax deduction & a weapon used to hurt me.) Maybe these dreams are in a sense somewhat spiritually true because a part of her broken & bruised heart is open to good memories of me, her mom? Praying for her healing.

Reblogged this on amississippimom and commented:
Should be required reading for all professionals, educators, etc. in addition to ALL parents as well. There is so much ignorance, unnecessary suffering associated with this.

So true! The only thing I can add is that as an abuse victim or dealing with a personality disordered ex, you have been through alot of pain and trauma. Your experiences are real. The Court may not understand or be educated on abuse, or what you are going through as a survivor. The Court may also perceive your response to the abuse, and concerns, in a different way than you intended. When you go to Court or speak to a professional, you have to be professional and calm at ALL times. Anything you do or say can (and often is) used against you. Even crying can be used against you. You have to be a strong voice in advocating for yourself and your children, even if you don’t feel strong.

It is so important you have a safe and confidential place to vent, process and heal. Keep in mind that a therapist’s records can be requested or subpoened by the court or your ex. Even if the Court does not get case notes, they can see things like intake reports, evaluations or speak to your therapist. It will look bad if you try to hide information. You can get some privacy from public support groups where you can remain anonymous like those offered at domestic violence shelters/organizations. You may also consider speaking to clergy/religious support, family, friends, or attending a support group. Sometimes they have walk-in mental health clinics that are confidential. Getting help is so important in keeping you strong, and being able to hold it together in court. It will also lessen the hold your abuser has on you.

Great post!!!

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