Can Narcissists Share Parenting?

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© 2010 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.   In my last blog, I asked the same question about people with borderline personalities. Borderlines and narcissists seem to be the most common high-conflict personality disorders in high-conflict divorces – especially in family court custody battles. (Sometimes a high-conflict parent has traits of both.) They often have a hard time sharing but for different reasons. Sometimes they can share parenting with a reasonable parent, with clear structure and clear consequences. This often requires clear court orders, which I will address in my next blog. Narcissists see themselves as superior, so they often have a hard time sharing parenting as equals. I have had cases as a family law attorney with narcissists showing no interest in having custody of the children and almost no interest in parenting at all until something goes wrong in their lives (such as a divorce, loss of a job, loss of a new relationship, a business deal gone bad). Then, to cope, they suddenly see themselves as perfect parents and want custody of the kids. Or perhaps they re-marry and their new spouse says “You should have custody.” Then, they start a custody battle and sometimes win the battle. Then, they often lose interest again and have someone else raise the child for them, such as a girlfriend or new spouse. In one case I had, the father took an out-of-town job during the weekdays and left his teenage son home alone. Fortunately, the boy on his own initiative returned to his mother (my client) and lived with her again. On the other hand, there are narcissists who start out with custody. They see themselves as owning the children and increasingly have difficulty sharing decision-making and care of the children with the other parent. Sooner or later, they find something they think is wrong with the other parent and go to court to reduce that parent’s time with the children. When the judge doesn’t do exactly what they want, they often feel insulted and sometimes take matters into their own hands. Sometimes they run away with the children so that they can have total control. I just heard from a father (one of my former clients), who recently reunited with his son at age 18, after his mother ran away with him at age 3. I don’t know if she was a narcissist, but I know that she wanted total control and didn’t like sharing. For more about why a parent may do this, including personality disorders and attachment issues, see my new book Don’t Alienate the Kids! If you want to see a good example of a narcissist before, during and after the divorce, just watch the movie “The Squid and the Whale” from several years ago. You can see how the narcissist’s alienation starts well before the divorce, and that the problem isn’t intentional behavior – it’s his personality. This is just how he is, without even thinking about it. Sound familiar?     BILL EDDY, LCSW, ESQ. is the co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer of the High Conflict Institute in San Diego, California. He pioneered the High Conflict Personality Theory (HCP) and is viewed globally as the leading expert on managing disputes involving people with high-conflict personalities. He has written more than twenty books on the topic, developed methods for managing high-conflict disputes, and has taught professionals in the U.S. and more than ten countries. He is also co-host of the popular podcast It’s All Your Fault, and writes a popular blog on Psychology Today.