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Episode summary:

It is extremely challenging to raise a child with a highly self-absorbed co-parent who moves through life with a sense of entitlement and an unwillingness to acknowledge the needs and feelings of others. In this episode, Susan discusses narcissism and invites listeners to a free webinar with Wendy Behary, her co-facilitator of a Co-Parenting With a Narcissist support group. To learn more about our free webinar,
visit this page.


Susan Stiffelman is a licensed Marriage, Family and Child Therapist, an educational therapist and a highly lauded speaker. She is the author Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and Parenting With Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (an Eckhart Tolle Edition).Susan offers online events for parents around the world on topics like Raising Tweens and Teens, Parenting in the Digital Age, and Raising Siblings and also hosts a monthly support group with Wendy Behary on Co-Parenting with a Narcissist.
https://susanstiffelman.com/narcissist-free-webinar/

Things you'll learn from this episode:

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Origins of the narcissistic wound
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Why a narcissist’s difficult behavior isn’t personal

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Why kindness and understanding often backfire

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 1:

Hello, and welcome to the Parenting Without Power Struggles podcast. I'm your host, Susan Stiffelman. I'm the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting with Presence. And I'm also a marriage, family and child therapist, a teacher, a parenting coach and a mom. And I'm very glad that you're here. So this podcast is really my way of sharing. Some of the things I've learned over the 40 plus years, I've been doing this work with families and my aim is pretty simple. It's just to help you have more fun, more joy and fewer power struggles as you raise your kids. We cover all kinds of topics here, including today's discussion on narcissism. Before we get started, please make sure that you're getting all of our updates by visiting susanstiffelman.com and signing up for the newsletter. You'll get updates and inspiration and news and all things parenting. And we always have a lot of wonderful offerings for parents.


Speaker 1:

And later this week, we've got something a little bit different coming up, which for some of you will be really helpful. And that's a free webinar on co-parenting with a narcissist. I'll be joined by Wendy Behary, author of Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-absorbed. You can read all about this event on my website, susanstiffelman.com. Please tell a friend if you know someone who might benefit because the thing is, parenting is hard. It's just hard, no matter what our circumstances might be. It's not easy to meet the needs of our kids every day with a light and a happy heart. But when we have a co-parent that we can lean on along the way, somebody who has our back shares the challenges with us is caring and supportive and respectful. It can be a lot easier. Well, some parents have that and some are going it alone, taking on almost all of the responsibilities of parenting without support and help.


Speaker 1:

And that can be relentlessly overwhelming. But then there are those who have a co-parent and that person actually makes life harder than if they were raising their kids on their own. When our child's other parent, our co-parent has the characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder every day can feel overwhelmingly difficult, even traumatic. So in the webinar that Wendy and I are going to be offering on December 4th, you'll hear a lot about narcissism, what it is and how to make life easier when the parent that you are sharing responsibilities with for your kids, has those characteristics. Here are some of the qualities of narcissistic personality disorder: an exaggerated sense of self-important requiring constant admiration, having a sense of entitlement, meaning the, these individuals believe that they deserve better or more or more special things, but better that they're above the law expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with one's expectations, taking advantage of others to get what one wants an inability or an unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.


Speaker 1:

And of course, this comes into play all the time when you're co-parenting with a narcissistic person and behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner. Now these are just some of the qualities and characteristics of those with narcissism. And of course, just because you don't like someone, or because they happen to rub you the wrong way or the two of you don't get along. That doesn't mean the other person's a narcissist. We're talking here about a personality disorder. Now, Wendy and I have teamed up for the last few years to offer support to parents whose co-parent has these qualities or characteristics. And trust me, it's incredibly tough for those parents to try to meet the needs of their kids with patience and love. While also dealing with a co-parent who disregards rules and routines or undermines authority puts the parent down in front of the kids or diminishes and shames the children when they misbehave or they don't make them look good.


Speaker 1:

It's really a difficult path. You can find out more about the work that we're doing in that regard. If you go to Susan stifelman.com and click the tab that says help for parents, and you'll see information about the monthly co-parenting with a narcissist membership that we offer our work with this population leaves Wendy and I really inspired, even though some of the stories are really heartbreaking because it's really a tough, it's a tough path. You can't just disengage from a narcissist just because you've decided they're not a healthy person for you. If you share children. So we have long recognized how little support there is for parents who are co-parenting with a narcissist. So we wanted to offer something free to those of you who might be in this situation, please visit Susan stifelman.com to check out the free webinar. And as always, the replay will be available. Soon after the session, I thought I would share a clip from one of our Co-parenting with a Narcissist member calls. We're very, very protective of people's privacy. So you will not ever hear us talking with anyone directly, even in this clip, but you're going to hear Wendy and I discussing some of the underlying elements that can influence a narcissist’s incredibly challenging and difficult behavior. Have a listen. And then we'll come back to wrap things up.


Speaker 2:

Let's talk about what's underneath, because I know that from time to time, when we have time in this monthly gathering, I think that it's helpful for parents who are on the call or watching the call to reframe the motive behind their co-parents behavior, their difficult, awful behavior, and the best way I've ever found to do the reframe is to revisit what might've happened to create the behavior that is now so difficult. So would you be willing to talk a little bit more based on some of what's in your book? 


Speaker 3:

Sure. Thanks, Susan. Yeah, I think it's helpful too. And I, as you were saying that I was picturing how many people will hear this. And immediately the first reaction usually is kind of an eye roll. Like I have to understand his makeup and who he is, and really, you know, I have to understand what went wrong in his life when he was the one who became addicted to pornography and let our children see the open laptop at the age of eight and nine years old. And so I get that, you know, this can sometimes just be really frustrating and upsetting and untenable to think about. And yet, as I've often said, and I'll repeat, I think the greatest gift you can give yourself to free yourself from any question, blame doubt, or as Susan says so beautifully, often that over attachment to the expectation that's going to ha whatever's going to happen is to learn as much as you can become wise to what underlies the narcissist what's happening underneath their motives.


Speaker 3:

They may be very angry. And like in the case of this 13 year old boy, which you so beautifully articulated in her letter to us is that there's a dad who I think probably if he's narcissistic is seeking some vengeance, right, I'm going to have my boy, you know, to myself, I'm going to have him see the error in his mother's ways and he's going to choose me. And I'll be the favorite parent. I'll be the most outstanding and important one, but looks like it's careless. It's insensitive to the child. It's a desperation though underneath that, I'm like you sit under the crust underneath that crust. There is a desperate soul, and I'm not asking anyone listening to this to feel sorry for the narcissist and to just say, okay, I'll let them off the hook. That's not the goal. The goal is the more you understand the better you become at holding them accountable, doing the right thing.


Speaker 3:

Even if doing the right thing means, just put it away, you know, just do your good parenting and leave it alone. But it's to do the right thing. And in some cases that does mean facing them head on, confronting them, holding them accountable, taking them to court, but understand what's happening underneath for your sake. This is a desperate soul who has a lot of insecurity, probably coming from an unlearned, an unknowing way of existing in the world, somewhere in there, once upon a time, they did not learn about unconditional love. They did not learn about the, the joy and the beauty of just being, and being treasured and cherished for just being a precious little person. They learned about doing, performing, showing up, showing off, getting approval, being outstanding, being remarkable, being the best of the best and the smartest of the smartest. That's what they learned.


Speaker 3:

And that's their value. That's their worth. Life is a game, a competition, a play who has control, who wins, who loses. And so it's binary switch. You know, it's, you're, you're great. You're dirt one or the other. And, but underneath there, there's a hurting little person, you know, who came into the world like everyone else with needs with sensitivities and met an environment that really couldn't meet those needs adequately, whether it was not helping them to tolerate frustration, to be uncomfortable, to set limits whether it was being teased or bullied, because they were slightly different or weird. Or they were the chosen child who was practicing the violin 12 hours a day. So they didn't know how to make friends, but there's a story there about a child who has great insecurities and has worked extraordinarily hard to have this righteous sense of entitlement that they can do what they want when they want to, to whomever they want to.


Speaker 3:

And it's not about, I want to hurt you. It's about, I want to protect me whatever I can do to protect me. Even if it does hurt you and it will, I'm doing it because I've got to protect me because the threat is so powerful for them. Yeah. Understanding these pieces. You know, if you can superimpose over the face of that, that grimace and that growl that they'll give you, you see that little soul that's so desperately clinging for power and just can't come out from behind the wall because they feel so shamed and weakened by the messages they were given. It frees you up. So you breathe a little bit. Okay. You know, there he is. You know, how sad, how sad that he can't rescue himself, how sad that he can't, you know, love that part of himself underneath and allow it to show, you know, maybe in glimpses it does, but most of the time, it doesn't, that's, what's real. That's what's there.


Speaker 2:

I think that's so helpful, Wendy. And I love when we can talk about this. And as we were talking in one of the member questions a little bit earlier, this is an area where even though in some many respects, we feel out of control. This is an area where we do have control, or we do have agency where we can make a decision to choose which lens we view this person through. And if we view the narcissistic co-parent or the narcissist in our life, through the lens of, they are out to get us, they are cruel, they are twisted. Then, then the impact of their behavior on us, the words that they use to speak with us, the things they say, the manner, the, the withholding, the ignoring, the snickering, the, the sarcasm has so much more of a painful impact because particularly when it's someone close to us, our, our former husband or wife, or our current husband or wife, or, or a close relation close someone important to us in our life when they, who are supposed to love us.


Speaker 2:

Like in that little girl, little boy, part of us, we have this understanding or belief that this is somebody who's supposed to have our back. This is somebody who, who wanted to marry me or who is my, my sibling or my, my mother or my father. They're supposed to love and accept me more than almost anyone on earth. And they are choosing to deliberately and intentionally and carefully throw arrows at my heart. Then the pain of that is so enormous. And when we start to understand narcissistic personality disorder, when we start to understand that really the behavior and the language and the actions that they take in our direction are a product of the pain of this hole in their heart. This list, this fragility, that insecurity and that we were just happened to be in the way we happen to be kind of an easy target for some anger or pain to get unleashed.


Speaker 2:

Then it doesn't mean it doesn't hurt, but it hurts differently. It's still very sad. It's very bittersweet, it's poignant, but at least we don't take it as personally. And not to say that we're never guilty of something that upsets somebody like that. But, but in general, I think the freedom of that comes from learning more about what narcissism is and, and how it, how it is created in, in a new child who comes into the world, you know, as you said, just pure and just having needs and having those needs met. So very conditionally, you know, based on their behavior, their accomplishments, you know, their ability to, to foster attention or get approval. That what we're on the receiving end of when we get all these horrible. In some cases, you know, messages, emails, comments, well, you were probably you, the, the listeners out there dealing with this. This is just an important newsflash, I guess you were probably doing all the things that were necessary, like setting limits, like asking for intimacy, like trying to make eye contact, trying to know them, trying to collaborate, engaging in reciprocity, give and take, taking turns. You were probably trying to do all the things that they actually needed, but those are the things that trigger them because they don't understand it. They're not used to it. And it feels threatening to them. So you were probably many of you, the best thing that ever happened to them and they squander it because it's so threatening. It so triggers that feeling of insecurity and inadequacy and everything. Susan just said, you know, it's getting into that empowered place. It can feel a little weird at first, like, well, but if I'm understanding what's underneath, you know, it's so much easier to say he's a demon, these are horrible, awful, useless, you know, hopeless person.


Speaker 3:

Well, that's easy because then you just say, this is just this icky cloud over there. And I have nothing to do with it. And the truth is you still have nothing to do with it. It doesn't have to be a demon. You don't, it doesn't have to be a demon. He can still be a human who has been wounded badly, who has developed all this armor and wears all these masks to cope with the world. You're the best thing that's come along. But you're the most threatening and frightening because it's unfamiliar. Don't be afraid to see that, you know, don't be afraid. And the fear usually is, well, if he really has all this sweetness underneath, why wasn't I able to draw it out? You can't do it. You can't do it by yourself. Narcissism must be treated. I mean, unless they're really on the very, very low end of the spectrum where it's just benign annoyances, anything above that needs professional intervention in order for it to change. So not about you not being able to do it because you weren't good enough if you're having any doubts.


Speaker 2:

Gosh, thank you. I'm really glad that we got to sort of touch on this.


Speaker 3:

Yeah. Thank you for bringing it up, Susan.


Speaker 2:

Oh yeah. And you know, I can just speak personally because I know both of us have lots of experience, both with men in our lives with people who have these characteristics professionally, personally, and I strangely have so much real love for the people in my life with narcissistic characteristics. Now that doesn't mean I have much to do with them. Like in many respects, I've had to create some distance, but the love is preserved. And that was a gift. I think I could give myself to not completely close down my heart and because I don't want to be that person. And now if you're raising a child day in and day out with somebody, then you may need more protection. You may not feel very much warm, fuzzy love. If you're feeling kind of beat up every day, every text message, every email is sarcastic or cruel or undermining. But I can say that, you know, part of what causes us pain is to shut off our hearts, to people that we have, have, you know, cared about. And I don't know that you have to do that. Maybe you, you sort of protect yourself for a while, but ultimately I think every human being is a wonder and a Marvel. And some of us just have been through the washing machine more brutally than others and how we show up in the world just makes it less safe to have contact. So that's fine.

Speaker 3:

And you don't have to doubt the decisions you've made. You know, as you're listening to us talk about this, it's not a proposal that you doubt any decision you've made to exit a relationship. You can still feel self-assured. I know many, a woman who has been scorned by the narcissist will say, I cannot even open up that window of fragment, you know, to have a describing a compassionate heart or any empathy. It's the only way I protect myself. And you know, you may have to do that as Susan said for awhile, but it's, it's not about an either or like, did I make a mistake? It's not a mistake exiting the relationship. Maybe the best decision you could have made for your safety, health, welfare, and the welfare of your children. And yet still you can look over at the narcissist in the corner of your mind and say, what is suffering? So what a sad and suffering soul.


Speaker 2:

Or what a, what a funny guy or what a smart, like, you know, you don't have to throw the baby out with the bath water


Speaker 3:

Right. Or that too, you can still, you know, you don't have to live in the land of regret. Like why did I spend 20 years with this individual? Well, there's reasons. And you'll remember some of them that aren't all about, you know, your fears about finances. It might've been, there were some delightful.


Speaker 2:

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Don't shortchange yourself of what's good. Thank you, Wendy. This is such a pleasure to dive into this. I know that there's not very much out there for people who are in the situation of those in our membership group. And I'm very grateful that we can kind of put ourselves together here once a month and offer realistic advice and support you to me too.


Speaker 1:

How did that land for you? If you struggle to get through difficult situations with a narcissist, it might be hard to even consider what might be at the root of their behavior. It may almost seem unfair, but there can be freedom in learning more about what narcissism is its Genesis and how it takes shape in an innocent child. At the very beginning, when their coordinates are not met, which leads them to that place of whatever I need to do to protect me. I'll do, even if it hurts you, when we can see the insecure child that's desperately clinging to power after having been so profoundly wounded in early life, we can see that their behavior is a symptom of their pain, rather than something personal. That's directed intentionally at us, even if it feels that way. And that lets us have more agency to feel less like a victim and to be less emotionally impacted by their anger and sarcasm and bullying behavior.


Speaker 1:

If you would like to dive deeper into understanding narcissism, please join me with Wendy Behary on Friday December 4 for Co-parenting with a Narcissist, the free webinar as always the replay will be available soon after we finish up the session. And if you want to look into our monthly support group, check out susanstiffelman.com and then look for help for parents at the very top for the tab that says co-parenting with a narcissist monthly support group. As always, if you're finding these podcasts helpful, please leave a rating or review or tell a friend or all of the above. We've had over 400,000 downloads of this series and it's because you're helping us get the word out. So thank you. And remember, you can hit the subscribe button if you'd like to be notified. As soon as a new episode is released, that's it for today. Take good care of yourself and remember, no matter how busy life gets, look for those moments of sweetness and joy, stay safe, stay well. And I'll see you next time.



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