If you find yourself co-parenting with a narcissist, the no engagement rule has to be altered to limited engagement.
I spent three years tilting my head slightly sideways as I tried to decipher the emails that came through from my ex-husband. Sometimes I was forced to pinch myself — was I awake or was I dreaming? Did he really just write that? In an effort to save my sanity, I came up with an invention which I affectionately refer to as the Decoder.
After three years of emails and text messages that left me in a constant state of fight or flight, I needed to do something to regain my power. My ex-husband's goal was to evoke fear, pain, sadness and insecurity and he was generally successful. I was pleasantly surprised when I inserted the first email into the Decoder and after a few snaps, crackles, pops, and a little smoke, out popped a perfectly deciphered email. This invention is a must for anyone going through a high-conflict divorce with a narcissist or other high conflict personality.
Here is an example of an email from my ex regarding his past due child support balance and being held in contempt of court:
I propose we go to mediation services and not the Commissioner. He is going to be furious to see you and me again. I set up automatic deposits from my wages and the earliest this could start was the paycheck today. If you proceed with this hearing, I do not foresee this being favorable for you as payments will be consistently paid to you three times before this hearing. Let me know so I can proceed with proving you have written false amounts on court documents about your income.
Translated through the Decoder:
Before I begin, please take a sip of this Kool-Aid. Let me try and convince you that I could be reasonable in mediation. Pay no attention to my past actions in mediation that caused the evaluator to flag our case for a psychiatric evaluation. I really don’t want to go in front of the judge because missing 9 out of 12 child support payments could look really bad for me.
Pay no mind to the broken promises from the past about automatic payments being made and the check that was placed in yesterday’s mail. This time, my word is golden. If you proceed with the hearing, I am totally screwed so sit tight and put your feet up while I try and twist this around and project my lies about income onto you.
Thank you for your email. I do plan to go forward with the contempt hearing.
The general rule when dealing with a narcissist is no engagement. Because narcissists are incapable of their own emotions, they try to suck emotions from their victims which is why they are often referred to as emotional vampires. If you find yourself co-parenting with a narcissist, the no engagement rule has to be altered to limited engagement.
- Skim through the narcissist’s manifesto for information relevant to the children or co-parenting.
- Ignore the rants, raves and personal attacks.
- Answer the pertinent information with a 2-3 sentence, non-emotional response that is both courteous and business-like.
- Save your emotional response for your journal or counselor.
Over time, the Decoder has allowed me to look at my ex with nothing but pity. I now picture a sad, insecure, 6-year-old bully acting out. I no longer allow him to evoke any emotion or energy from me as he does not deserve an ounce of either. Learning how to communicate with a narcissist allows you to regain your power and your sanity.
Tina Swithin is the author of "Divorcing a Narcissist: One Mom's Battle," and popular blog, "One Mom's Battle." She is a contributor for the Huffington Post, HopeAfterDivorce.org and FamilyShare.com. Tina has two daughters, and lives in sunny California.