One moment I am so strong, and then the next moment, my thoughts are churning around so fast, that I convince myself I need to call my ex. Uggg, so frustrating!

I get it! We have something happen, or we see something that triggers a memory—then bam! There is an automatic thought and destructive feelings— that start the hamster wheel of more negative thoughts and feelings— which leads us to react or behave in ways we know are not good for us.

In session, we discussed how it may be beneficial to write down our automatic thoughts** (see examples at the bottom of the page) looking for themes or patterns. Also noting the event or interaction that precedes an automatic thought, as well as the feeling following the automatic thought.

Event or Interaction >> Automatic Negative Thought >> Feelings

For example:
Interaction: You see your ex partner, to return some item, and it goes badly >> Thought: I am an idiot to meet him here, and obviously no one will ever love me >> Feelings: sadness, helplessness

Writing these out allows us to get off the hamster wheel in our mind, which often goes round and around, feeding itself and further carving the thoughts and beliefs into our brain’s neural pathways. When we write it out, we can see the patterns, and underlying reasons– which may have made sense to us at some point– but may no longer be helpful. It’s an excavation project, to see what’s underneath the thoughts and take the power source away. The power is usually fed by very early experiences, when we felt vulnerable and unable to manage what we were faced with; Even though this is no longer true, we somehow we have continued to refer to the thoughts, beliefs, and coping mechanisms, momentarily forgetting that we are older, wiser, and capable of more perspective. But first, just note when and where or with whom, they occur. Observe first.

Think about the time or times, very early on, you may have experienced the same feelings or thoughts… Picture that time and place, and the person you were. That is the “wounded child,” and that little person (or even teen or young adult) coped and made sense of things the best way possible, with what they had or the situation they were in. We are not angry at, or resentful of that child version of ourselves, but we also do not
want them in the driver’s seat, in our most vulnerable adult moments! What we are moving toward, is an “adaptive adult” version of ourselves. All that takes is the excavation of the past patterns, compassion toward ourselves, and the intention to stop when we feel an automatic response or thought. (More later on what to do next in an actual, emotionally loaded interaction.)

When we can step back and look at the thought– we need to try to accept it for what it is. It is a thought that is coming into our minds, for very good historical or protective reasons, but it is not necessarily true. Repeat– a thought it is not necessarily true. Stop and breathe, step back and simply recognize the thought. Do not fight it or judge it, simply accept it. A thought holds no real power or emotion, until we attach meaning beyond acceptance. Focus on the present moment… your breathing, any sensation, experience, or physical movement that brings you into the present moment. If that could include a more truthful or helpful thought, that’s great. I have often added these interventions to my notations and excavation, when working through this process.

Event or Interaction >> Automatic Negative Thought >> Feelings >> Positive, Supportive Action >> More Truthful Thought >> Feelings

For example:
Event: My ex sister in law doesn’t return my texts >> Thought: She hates me because my ex has lied about me >> Feelings: Shame and anger >> Positive action: Breathe and look at the thought, stretch, meditate or take a walk >> More truthful thought: Perhaps she is overwhelmed with her kids and hasn’t had time to respond >> Feelings: compassion, acceptance

Acting out, running away, numbing ourselves, disassociation, or trying to manipulate others to get our needs met– are reactions– automatic reactions to an old wound or an old belief about ourselves/ the world. When really examined, we find we don’t entirely (intellectually) believe it any more. Yet when emotionally challenged, we automatically go back to that primitive emotional reaction. This is the big challenge- how to stop, what has become almost a reflex/ automatic knee-jerk reaction. Awareness and acceptance is first. For now… make the notes, make the connections, acknowledge the pain, comfort “the child,” and begin to empower the “adaptive adult.”

** automatic thought examples:
I am damaged.
I am broken.
No one will love me.
The world is evil.
Life isn’t fair.
Other people have it easier than me.
I am not enough.
I will die alone.
There is no hope.
Life isn’t worth living.
Life is harder for me.
I hate myself.
I have made too many mistakes.
No one will ever understand me.
I am not lovable.
Everyone is out to get me.

Keep a notepad handy, and jot down when this is happening. It really does bring clarity.

Call or text if you need clarification or support.
You’ve got this!

It is kind of overwhelming to realize how long I have been in this (co-dependent) pattern. And I guess hard to take responsibility for my part. I always thought it was everyone else’s fault.

I wanted to follow up and give you some writing prompts. I can’t encourage writing enough— it literally gets you out of destructive thought patterns and into your creative brain. Please give them a try, and be patient with yourself. This is a process, but doing some writing will really jump-start our sessions!

  1. Write a letter to co-dependency (or love addiction). What has it cost you to be in this pattern? What parts of yourself have been lost or compromised? This is important to acknowledge, and refer to whenever you are sliding back into old patterns. Keep this letter handy, and look at it when you forget the high costs of not focusing on your own needs in a healthy way.
  2. Write a letter to your parent or parents, and let them know what you wish you could have received from them at an early age. What words, physical affection, beliefs, values, or encouragement did you want/ crave/ miss? Let them know what it would have meant to have received unconditional love and belief in your core self/ unique strengths. What did you want them to see and nurture in you? What would be different for you, if somehow you were truly nurtured to be everything you are meant to be? How would you feel about the world, about love, and what you look for in a person to love?
  3. What emotions are coming up? Allow them. Write a little about the feelings and observations. What surprises you? Allow yourself to soak in and receive what came through in regard to true love and nurturing— allow some slow breaths and allow your feelings to breathe as well. The nurturing is very real— even though it isn’t coming from your parents directly. It is coming though divine wisdom, beyond what your parents were capable of. When your brain hears these messages and fires neurons that heal— it is the same as having the actual experience. Your brain doesn’t know that difference. Seriously. Physically, you are creating new neural pathways of possibility; and spiritually, you are healing the pain/ doubt that you have carried for so long.

Thank you for being open and brave, even thought parts of you are not believing you can change, or maybe even deserve to change. Even though you aren’t ready to let go of your past relationship, it’s okay. Please just do what you can and trust the process. Turn off the critic in your brain for a minute, and just try what I suggest.

It is a privilege to help you work through these things.
Call or text if you need clarification or support.
You’ve got this!

Why can’t I let go of this relationship? It’s toxic, and I know I deserve better. What’s wrong with me?

You are just where you need to be… nothing is wrong with you. You are awake and aware now, of things that you were unable to accept or see in the past. Changing old patterns is not easy, but you are taking it on! Let’s recap a couple of things we discussed in session:

We talked about the need to consider a final ending to the relationship with H. Keeping even occasional communication open– may be holding you back from new relationships– or even pulling you back into a destructive pattern with him. I know it is hard to let go, and give up on the idea that he might finally give you what you need– or
make you the first priority– but it is only an idea or fantasy of what could be. He has shown no signs of the kind of growth or courage it would take to truly be your partner. So although it is difficult, it is time to let go and give yourself permission to move on.

Some suggestions for that process–
1. Write a goodbye letter– and do not send it. Tell him all the things you imagined and believed were possible. Tell him the depth of love, drive, and loyalty you have to give– that he will never know. Tell him that you are no longer available for his games and putdowns; you have worked too hard and value yourself too much for any more waiting or wishing. Let him know you have outgrown him. (Write the letter out– or print it if you are typing it– and possible burn it or destroy it. It feels like a release or ritual to do this, and actually helps a lot)
2. Ask God or the Universe for the strength to cut off contact, and ask for guidance as to grieve the end of this friendship. Write a stream-of consciousness conversation with God, asking for peace in regard to the death of “what could have been” and forgiveness for your regrets. Ask God what traits in a partner, would better match your faith, drive, intelligence, family, and goals. Ask for the strength to let go and the ability to shift your thoughts away from the past, and to actually wish the best for H, without you in the picture. Write your questions– and then let the answers flow out onto the page as well, without thinking too much.

Call or text if you need clarification or support.
You’ve got this!

I was very frustrated in our co-parenting call. I don’t feel like H takes what I say seriously. I want her to know what works at my house, to keep things consistent. She spoils O and babies her too much.

It sounds like you really value the routines you have established, which is certainly so important with young children. I am glad you want to share what works in your home, but we also want to be respectful that we all develop our own parenting style and unique ways of relating to our kids.

Let’s try to focus on building trust as co-parents at this point. Here are some thoughts they come to mind in regard to trust and parenting a small child:

  1. Establish schedules and share them, for the child’s health and comfort.
    Communicate about bedtime rituals, mealtimes, naps, etc; Realize, however, you have no place monitoring your child’s time with the other parent. Whenever possible, consistency is obviously easier for your child and so should be respected within reason. Share facts and observations about what you see in your child’s behaviors or emotions; avoid criticizing or judging the other parent’s practices or households.
  2. Trust that each parent will only have your child around healthy individuals and healthy people. Agree to communicate concerns respectfully, if they come up. Otherwise, it is not your place to monitor where the other parent takes your child, nor what friends or extended family are present.
  3. Agree on basic boundaries and consequences in both households. Obviously, no hitting, yelling, or excessive punishment. Agree to enforce effective, age appropriate ways to deal with disobedience. For example at 3 years old, most children get the message with 3 minutes in a “time-out” area; followed by a short explanation/ conversation about what they did wrong, and what they can do differently next time. Acknowledge feelings and questions, without anger, helping the child feel supported, even while enforcing boundaries. This being said, each parent may have their own way of communicating consequences, and this should be respected without question, if it is in no way abusive.
  4. Encourage independence, but realize children sometimes regress, and need to be held, nurtured or “babied.” It is often a way that your child is seeking more connection with you. Touch, eye contact, laughing, rocking—all promote secure attachment and confidence/ safety. Follow your child’s lead in imaginative and pretend play. Boundaries are important… but silliness, attunement, and play are the biggest factors in a child’s secure attachment with each parent.
  5. Set a limit on TV or screen-time, and try to agree on how many hours/ day is healthy for your child. Share what woks in your house, and why— then let it go. You have no control over how this is handled when your child is not in your care.
  6. Lastly, if there are constant disagreements in many of the above areas, you may want to enlist the help of a parenting coordinator. This neutral person, appointed by family court, can help establish guidelines or make decisions, when the parents are stuck in conflict mode.

Call or text if you need clarification or support.
You’ve got this!

Can you go over what we talked about on the call with my ex-husband? We spend so much time trying to make the other one look bad, that I know I lose sight of what really matters.

We talked a lot about re-setting the mind-set needed to co-parent. It is not about winning an argument or the award as “best parent.” The focus needs to be, “what is important to our child’s well-being in this moment?”

Below are some thoughts to ponder, regarding communications with your ex:

  1. In thinking about communication with the other parent, try to think first– what is best for my child? Is this comment or conversation vital to my child’s well-being? Or is this about my feelings/ need to put my ex in his/her place? With every decision and before every statement– put your child’s needs and emotional welfare first. If you are needing to vent or put your own needs/ opinions first, it is probably not a conversation to have with your co-parent. Reach out to someone else to process your feelings and/ or opinions. Avoid comparisons in parenting, but instead focus on facts regarding your child’s behaviors, moods, and development.
  2. Consider what negative assumptions you may be making in regard to the other parent? Can you put those aside, to help promote a healthy relationship for your child and the other parent? If you both could agree to start with the basic assumption— that the other parent loves your child and has their best interest at heart— then you can refrain from criticism of the other parent directly, whether the child is present or not. What language can you use when speaking to your child about the other parent, which demonstrates this positive assumption and respect? Practice this, and maybe even write out some phrases supporting this common ground. You both want what is best for your child.
  3. How do I care for myself and find emotional support away from my child? What friends or support system do I have, to process feelings and frustrations? Lean on and invest in these adults, and avoid leaning on your child to witness or process adult feelings and concerns. Likewise, stay positive and productive with your co-parent; avoid taking a “one-up” position in telling the other parent how to behave, feel, or react. It is unacceptable to attempt to control the other parent’s behavior or feelings. Again, stick to observable facts and stay child-centered in your comments to the co-parent.
  4. Avoid blame and shame, and ask for compassion. Work on compassion for yourself, taking time to soak in kindness or gestures from others in your life. Say “yes” to help and favors from others. Practice compassion for your co-parent, but maintain boundaries regarding certain negative communication tactics. Practice restraint in your “talking boundaries.” It is unacceptable to blame, shame, yell, accuse, or threaten your co-parent.
  5. Enjoy your unique connection with your child, and appreciate that the child has a special bond and rapport with the other parent as well. Avoid comparisons and encourage your child’s enjoyment and attachment with both parents, as well as grandparents. Meet your child where he/she is every day; development varies and fluctuates. Milestones are not nearly as important as your child’s awareness that you are attuned to them—you see them, are there for them, and love them, regardless of their behavior or accomplishments.

Call or text if you need clarification or support.
You’ve got this!

I can’t seem to accept love from my husband, even when I know he’s sincere. He says it’s like I have a wall up or something. What is that, and how can I open up more? Sometimes I dwell on every stupid little thing he ever did or said, instead of seeing what is right in front of me.

Giving and receiving love, or allowing vulnerability and intimacy, is a complicated issue for those of us that (at some time in our early life) felt unprotected or powerless. When we are in a moment of true vulnerability, even though we are no longer powerless or small, emotional memories are triggered. Our primitive emotional responses kick in, and we put up walls, shut down, or even pick a fight. These responses are connected to early experiences in which, key care-givers were unable to meet our emotional needs. It is logical then, that we may now find it difficult to trust that, others truly want to be attuned to and understand our inner-most selves. These emotional memories also cause us to minimize or avoid our own feelings or experiences, because at some point, it may have felt like they didn’t matter.

The good news is that we CAN open up and grow into the loving people we want to be! Here are two “corrective” exercises that may help you heal from these unseen injuries.

First, can you recall and recognize emotional CONSISTENCY in some of your significant others? Who in your life now is reliable and consistent? Think of your spouse, family and/or friendships, and focus on your loved ones who ARE tuned into you, and are reliable and consistent MOST of the time. When you focus on these relationships, what happens in your body? Your emotions? Your thoughts? Your images? Your associated memories? Allow yourself to notice the feelings in your body and the thoughts in your mind. Thank about those experiences expanding and filling you up, in ways you may not have allowed in the past. Visualization is a powerful tool, as is writing about these experiences. Experiment with both.

Second, who was your protective figure as a child or young adult? Who “saw” the real you, who understood you, and communicated your importance? Who “lit up” when they were around you? If you had that person, visualize them close to you, and try to remember the feelings of wholeness or safety you felt when you were with them. Where in your body do you feel that kind of unconditional love and acceptance? Let that
expand and grow as you allow yourself to soak those interactions in even deeper. Let them nourish your truest sense of self. Slow down your breathing, and expand the space you have allowed others’ love to live and grow. Also visualize expanding the love and compassion you have for yourself.

If it is difficult for you to recall a protective figure, or you are overwhelmed by memories of a key person in your life falling short, then let’s try a different exercise. Maybe you were hurt— someone important failed to support you, to respond to your pain, or maybe even inflicted abuse toward you— take time now to write out what you needed to hear at that time. Picture yourself as the child or young adult that was verbally, emotionally or physically minimized and hurt— what exactly does he/she need to hear? What does he/she need in this moment, physically, emotionally, intellectually? Visualize your protective figure— either a real or imagined person/ entity— doing and saying everything YOU need to hear, experience and feel? Visualize this, and write this out, as you experience receiving the affirming words and/ or touch you crave. This can be profoundly healing— especially if you can avoid editing or minimizing this— and just allow the words to flow onto the page. What happens in your mind, body, and spirit?

Take some deep breaths, and allow the expansiveness of unconditional love to fill all the gaps we have long forgotten— yet need to be filled— so we can truly experience the strength and courage needed for vulnerability and intimacy.

Call or text if you need clarification or support.
You’ve got this!

Can you clarify what you mean by daily affirmations? I feel silly telling myself things, that I truly don’t believe.

One of the best things about affirmations is that, you don’t have to believe them at first, and they still are slowly changing the way you see yourself and the world around you. There are parts of your brain making connections to a greater truth, when they hear those words, whether your “inner critic” or your “super-ego” buy into the messages or not! Affirmations are intentions at first, and truths later; you simply write down affirming thoughts that align with what you’re trying to achieve.
Here are six reminders for making empowering affirmations that will take thoughts into real change and action.

  1. Start with the words “I Am.” These two words are extremely powerful as your brain knows you’re referring to yourself. Starting your affirmations with these two words will give your subconscious mind clarity and belief that whatever comes after them, is your reality.
  2. Write in the present tense. When you recite affirmations in present tense, you’re reassuring yourself that you believe whatever is in your affirmation, is factual and real right now. (
  3. Keep it positive. Avoid words with negative connotations like “not to,” “don’t,” “can’t,” “fear,” etc. Our minds focus more on these negative words, rather than what we are trying to avoid.
  4. Make it short and clear. Remember that the main purpose of an affirmation is for you to be able to picture it and ingrain it into your mind. So when creating an affirmation, make it direct and specific.
  5. Make it exciting. When creating affirmations, you want to make positive, self affirming, self-empowering statements that uplift and inspire you. So make sure you add fun and exciting words like, “I am enjoying making $——– a year.” or “I am energetic and loving.”
  6. Use it, say it, hear it, and see it as much as possible. Have affirmations in key places on post-it notes, in a journal, or as reminders on the phone, so that you are thinking of them often.

Call or text if you need clarification or support.
You’ve got this!

I am so worried that I am teaching my daughter the same co-dependent lessons that I learned… I have made so many mistakes. And now, I fear I am my worst critic. I’m afraid to make decisions at all. Sometimes I don’t even know who I am.

I hear you— you are paralyzed with worry, fear, and doubt. But you are willing to learn, and you are open to new ways of living. That’s wonderful! Co-dependency started as a small seed, usually early in our life. It is often rooted in an anxious attachment pattern, so that is a good place to start, when we consider cleaning up the garden!

In anxious attachment there is often the feeling of “wanting and not having.” This leaves us with unresolved longing, yearning, and feeling we can never have what we want. Often we accept relationships that play out the rejection or cruelty that we have internalized from a childhood wound. Someone close to us was unable to meet our needs or care for us in a meaningful way, and we internalized the thought that a) we must not deserve it, or b) we can only have love when we are taking care of someone else, or c) our needs aren’t that important.

The good news is that you can heal these wounds, while at the same time developing healthy and safe attachment patterns for your daughter. What is your preferred “language of love?” …Thoughtful gifts? Affirming words? Affectionate safe touch? Quality time in shared activities? Acts of service? (ref: The Five Languages of Love by Gary Chapman) Ask for these things! Look for these things! Absorb them when they happen! Even with your daughter, take the time to truly receive her gaze, her love, her embrace. Laugh and play with her; give her the gift of truly being attuned to her inner world, thoughts, and feelings. This will heal you and strengthen her. She will know that she matters, and her earliest emotional memories will be filled with connectedness, not pain.

Let others around you know what you need. Experience love from others as gourmet nutrition that you are craving, and you deserve. Drink it in, allow others to help you you need it. What is it like, when you
truly receive love? Describe how your body feels? The thoughts you are having? It may be difficult at first, but be patient, and allow yourself to receive even 1% more than you are used to, for a while. Practice this intentionally as you interact with others in various (safe) settings. What does your mind tell you? Your emotions? Do you immediately feel
anger or fear? Do you anticipate loss or rejection? Does your body block contact from others that could be meaningful? Writing about these feelings can be helpful. These feelings are letting you know that an old way of avoiding pain is still in the driver’s seat.

Also, be aware of when the “inner critic” of your mind is working overtime. When we create emotional safety and surround ourselves with safe people, we have no need for the constant “armor” of the critic, telling us all the ways we may be making mistakes. Gently tell the critic “thank you very much,” but we no longer need to prove anything or convince anyone of our point of view or choices. It was a good coping skill at as a child, or in a toxic relationship, but you no longer need it. It sometimes, in fact, led you to make choices and decisions that were not aligned with your true interests and passions. Now as a grown person, you have the values and process of decision-making that works for you. No further explanation is necessary.

Remember ways to calm the inner critic, though drawing, music, and mindfulness in whatever you are doing. Mindfulness is really just guiding your mind back to the present moment, through focusing on sensory experiences and/ or your breath.

We will explore all of these methods of allowing and accepting through mindfulness,
together, very soon!
You’ve got this!

Having just married someone with young teenagers, I feel like we need some structure or agreement on how I should interact with the kids, as a step-parent.

I think that is very wise to talk as a couple, and then share with the kids, what the goals of mutual respect in a blended family might look like. As a family, make a list of all the ways we show respect to another human being, and decide that you will honor each other by creating a household that shows love and respect to everyone. Some families like to schedule weekly or monthly meetings to talk through challenges, or celebrate
victories. Some create “contracts” that outline emotional, community, and household expectations. Kids actually really enjoy being a part of a process that clearly lets them weigh in on what is important to them. Come up with rituals, holidays, and outings that connect and give opportunities to bond as a new unit.

I also suggest a shift from “rule and punishment” model of parenting to a “value driven” model of parenting. This is hardest when there is conflict, obviously. But here are some guidelines:

  1. In a disagreement, listen respectfully and acknowledge that you are understanding the other person’s point of view, even if you don’t agree. “So what I hear you saying is…..” Try to get to what the other person is feeling or what they or needing— The goal is understanding or empathy first. Reflect it back to them, so they feel heard. Even if you don’t agree, acknowledge that you hear and understand what they are saying. Only
    then can you talk about your point of view. Then use “I” statements— own your feelings, opinions, and needs. “In this situation I was feeling… I was needing…” Avoid shaming, blaming, or making assumptions about others’ intentions. Model this and ask your kids to do the same. Slow it down and listen. If needed, remind kids that you are a safe person to talk through things with, and you will be there for them no matter what. However, it is never okay to be upset and disrespect anyone in the family. If that happens, the conversation must end until everyone is calm enough to talk with out blaming, yelling, or being cruel. Always require everyone to come back to the conversation when they are calm, however. It is a wonderful skill to learn early— how to calm down and re-engage when everyone can listen and communicate respectfully.
  2. Avoid comparisons to a co-parent’s household or handling of conflict. Shift to your values and how it works in your home. “Well, it may be different at Mom’s house, but we have reasons for the way things work here.” “We all need to pull our weight, or be respectful, or be honest, or fulfill our obligations, etc, etc… because these are the ways we show our love and trust for each other.” It is less about Rules and more about
    Respect— “this is the way we speak to other and treat each other, to feel safe and have a peaceful home.” It is a shift from rules and punishment to values and connection.
  3. Practice compassion. Assume the best in each other. Usually people are doing the best they can. If they are hurting people, they are usually scared or sad themselves. How someone is feeling is never wrong, it just is. Many times, kids are just wanting someone to understand and listen, not fix, dismiss, or explain it away. Ask more questions when kids make a bad choice or act out. (When you are calm enough) ask what they were thinking or feeling before an incident or argument. “Help me understand
    what you did/said/ or how you felt.” Try to affirm the feelings first and express understanding, even when you have to disagree with the behavior and give consequences. If your kid really loses it emotionally, try to imagine the need to calm the primitive brain (amygdala) at that point. Speak quietly and say things like “You are safe with me. Breathe and walk with me. I am here for you. I understand how you are feeling.” Of course, that’s hard, if they are being hateful or loud. But there is no reasoning (our upstairs brain) or conversation to be had, until the amygdala (our
    downstairs brain) is quiet. When the kids are calm, then we can talk about why they got so upset, what they can do differently, or even explain the consequences.
  4. No yelling/ Use “Time-out” moments. If you have a surge of emotion, walk away until you can speak calmly. Model this for your kids, and encourage them to use timeout tactics to calm down as well. If another person asks for a “time-out” to calm down or collect their thoughts, honor that. Decide as a family, how long is reasonable for a “timeout” tactic. All involved need to agree to come back to the conversation. Kids need praise as well, when they can successfully do this.
  5. If yelling happens, or people lose their temper and storm out, slam doors, etc— this needs Repair: When things calm down, the person who lost their cool needs to apologize for their actions and acknowledge the hurt they may have caused. This is super important for kids that may feel like, if they don’t perform as expected, they won’t be loved or accepted (very real feeling with a narcissistic co-parent) Model it and teach “Everyone screws up, or says and does things they regret. The key is to think it through and then make repairs.”
  6. Outline expectations, responsibilities, and consequences for kids, together, and stick to it. No giving in to exceptions or giving out harsh consequences in the moment; Ideally, if a kid has shown disrespect, pull away and talk as parents as far as what to do about it. Kids need to see the parents are aligned, and that consequences will be upheld by both parents. However, step-parents should not communicate the consequence/ punishment. That should come from the bio-parent, and hopefully be
    used as an opportunity to Repair feelings, Connect to a better choice next time, and Express unconditional love. Step-parents support the bio-parent, but avoid being the parent giving the consequence. Step-parents want to build trust and rapport in relationships with teens; they are aligned with the bio-parent, and certainly an equal but being the actual disciplinarian often causes resentment and erodes the relationship.
    Kids really want the connection with bio-parent when feeling vulnerable or trying to sort through their lowest moments.

I hope this helps, and that we can talk through your specific challenges as they arise. You will be a wonderful blessing to these kids— enjoy them!
You’ve got this!

I am really worried about my son and his relationship with his (narcissistic) mother? What do I need to look for, or be aware of?

The traits we often see in people Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are important to note, especially when these individuals are parents. As you might imagine, they are unable to put a child’s needs first, nor are they capable of unconditional love. Some of the symptoms you may see in a person with NPD are: a grandiose sense of self importance (may be shown as an exaggeration of abilities and talents, expectation that
he or she will be seen as superior to all others); obsession with him or herself; selfish or self-motivated goals; intolerant of criticism; fantasies of unbound power, success, intelligence, love, and beauty; a belief that he or she is unique and special above all others; requires extreme admiration for everything; sense of entitlement with unreasonable expectations for special treatment; willingness to take advantage of others to get need met; zero empathy; envious of others or convinced others are envious of him or her; as well as arrogant or condescending behavior.

People with NPD who have children open their children up to a WORLD of damage and child abuse. Generally, Narcissistic Parents are possessively close to their children when they are small – their children are a source of self-esteem. When their children grow to become more independent, the narcissistic parent may feel jealous or envious of the child. While there are many ways in which a Narcissistic Parent abuses his or her child, there are times that a Narcissistic Parent is kind. This makes the abuse harder to handle for children of Narcissistic Parents – the child knows that the underlying tension means that one wrong move means that things will go
wrong, and the Narcissistic Parent may fly into a Narcissistic Rage.

Children of Narcissistic Parents must adhere to the agenda of the the Narcissistic Parent for their lives to be stable. Asserting their feelings, their rights, or their thoughts can lead to much bigger problems. These children of Narcissistic Parents learn that their feelings are invalid, unimportant, and inconsequential. They often stifle all feelings to keep the peace in the house.

When a Narcissistic Parent is kind, the child learns that this kindness comes with an agenda, with strings attached. Generally, the strings include guilt or a feeling of being beholden to their Narcissistic Parent, “If I do this for you, you OWE me,” is a common behavior of Narcissistic Parents. The child is exposed to conditional – or love that requires criteria – love.


Some terms to be aware of, in regard to the Narcissist’s relationship with a child:
Narcissistic Attachment: is the belief that the child of a narcissist exists only for the benefit of the parent, such as a particular status.
Parentification: is the expectation that a child must care for his/her parent, siblings, and household as a surrogate parent. This causes the child to lose out on any type of normal childhood.
Infantilization: using brainwashing tactics to ensure a child stays young and dependent upon the Narcissistic Parent.
Triangulation: a tactic used by narcissistic parents to change the balance of power in a family system. For example, rather than allowing two siblings to work together, the Narcissistic Parent tries to turn the siblings against each other. The Narcissistic Parent insists that he or she be the go-between. This controls the way the information flows, the way it is interpreted, and adds nuances to the conversation. It’s also a way to feed
Narcissistic Supply.
Narcissistic Supply: is a term used to designate the manner in which narcissists require, feed on attention. The best sorts of attention are approval, adoration, and admiration, but other sources of attention – like fear – are acceptable to a Narcissist. Children, small children, of narcissists are used as an ongoing source of this attention.
Gaslighting: a way in which Narcissistic Parents (and other abusers) use lies— intentional or not— to make their child question his or her own reality. A child may end up feeling as though he or she is crazy. An example would be, insisting that the sky is actually green, until the child believes it. Gaslighting is one of the most insidious forms of emotional and psychological abuse.
Narcissistic Rage: Narcissists despise any challenge or insult, and when that happens, a Narcissist can fly into a rage – spewing insults and becoming physical and aggressive with their children.

Types of Narcissistic Parents

Narcissistic Parents fall into two different categories: Engulfing Parents and Ignoring Parents. Both of these types of Narcissistic Parents are
incredibly damaging to their children.

  1. Engulfing Parents: Narcissistic Parents who see no boundaries between themselves and their children. Children are seen as extension of the parent— not as another person. For babies and toddlers, this is okay— small children don’t often see themselves as separate from their parents anyway. An engulfing parent uses tactics like Parentification, Infantilization, and Triangulation to keep the child close. This type of narcissistic parent will ignore all boundaries as a child ages, seeing no problem asking overly personal questions, reading the child’s emails
    and personal communications.
  2. Ignoring Parents: Narcissistic Parents who don’t actually care much about their children. Unlike Engulfing Parents, an Ignoring Parent sees a very real boundary between themselves and their child, and has no interest in their child. This can be extremely confusing and bewildering as the child grows to feel unloved, uncared for, hindering future relationships for this child. Often, an Ignoring Parent doesn’t even bother helping a child with physical cleanliness, teaching hygiene, or helping with school work.

Traits of Narcissistic Parents

While these traits may not match all Narcissistic Parents, what follows are some common traits of Narcissistic Parents:

  1. A Narcissistic Parent has difficulty understanding the emotions of empathy and how to create meaningful connections. As the personal needs of Narcissistic Parents dominate, these parents have little room for the needs of anyone else. It makes it almost impossible for these Narcissistic Parents to relate to the feelings and meet the physical and emotional needs of their children.
  2. A Narcissistic Parent owns the successes of his or her children. In a Narcissistic Parents mind, he or she has been sacrificing everything for his or her child – the child must retaliate by performing at or above expectations. These childhood achievements are then owned by the Narcissistic Parent as their own, “he’s a great soccer player – it’s my genetics. I was always athletic, too.”
  3. Narcissistic Parents must be in control. No matter what. A Narcissistic Parent controls his or her children by dictating how these children should feel, should act, and the decisions to be made. This can lead to adult children of Narcissistic Parents being unsure of what they, themselves, like and want out of life. These Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents never learn to be autonomous and make his or her own decisions.
  4. Narcissistic Parents emotionally blackmail their children. A Narcissistic Parent often is indulgent, kind, and sweet if a child is behaving in the way their Narcissistic Parent wants. However, the moment a child is disobedient, a Narcissistic Parent becomes enraged and cruel. This show of “I love you, go away,” creates insecurity and dependency among children of Narcissistic Parents.

How Do Narcissistic Parents Control Their Children?

There are a few ways that a Narcissistic Parent controls his or her young children. These control mechanisms include:

  1. 1) Codependent Control: “I need you. I can’t live without you.” This prevents children of Narcissistic Parents from having any autonomy, from living their own lives.
    2) Guilt-Driven Control: “I’ve given my life for you. I’ve sacrificed it all.” This method of control creates a feeling of obligation in children; that they “owe” their Narcissistic make their parents happy.
    3) Love Withdrawal Control: “You’re worthy of my love ONLY BECAUSE you behave the way I expect you to.” So long as their children are behaving properly, a Narcissistic Parent will be loving. That love disappears the moment a child doesn’t meet expectations.
    4) Goal-Oriented Control: “We have to work together to achieve a goal.” These goals are generally the goals, dreams, and fantasies of a Narcissistic Parent. A Narcissistic Parent lives vicariously through his or her children.
    5) Explicit Control: “Obey me or I’ll punish you.” Children of Narcissistic Parents must do as they’re told or risk shame, guilt, anger, or even physical abuse.
    6) Emotional Incest Control: “You’re my one true love, The One, the most important person to me.” An opposite-sex parent makes his or her child fulfill the unmet needs of the Narcissistic Parent.

What Happens To The Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents?

Growing up with all emotional needs unmet, becoming a “mini-adult,” being the product of so much emotional abuse takes a tremendous toll on a child of a Narcissistic Parent. If the Narcissistic Parent does not stop the abuse or the child does not receive adequate help, one of two scenarios happens to adult children of Narcissistic Parents:  1) The child grows to have narcissistic traits, and becomes a Narcissistic Parent to his/
her own children. This perpetuates the Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse; or,
2) The child becomes a “covert” or “inverted” narcissist who remains codependent and may actually seek out abusive relationships with other narcissists.

What can YOU do to Support your child with a Narcissistic Co-Parent?

  1. Express Unconditional Love as often as possible. “I love you you no matter what—There is nothing you can do or not do, that can make me stop loving you. I want you to do your best… but I will love you even if you fail the test, or lose your cool, or don’t make the team, or anything else.”
  2. Express the values or wisdom that drive your life. For instance, if you value Honesty, let the kids know why that is important for trust… (it matters in order to feel safe and make good friends, etc.) If you have learned about Forgiveness or Helping Others and those are important values, let the kids know how you learned it, and why it is important
    for your family to honor those values now. And so on… with any values that guide respectful living in your family. Live by example, but also keep reinforcing the words, actions, and expectations around those values.
  3. Try to acknowledge your kids’ positive behaviors and attitudes as much as possible. “That was great the way you —… I love the way you —… You can really make me laugh when you—” Emotional connection is the currency needed for kids’ feelings of belonging, acceptance, and confidence. You are in a situation that other people may be draining your emotional bank account with your kids! So make a lot more deposits… Affirmations, unconditional love, and your time with kids— are all GOLD. Also, pointing out their individual thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors helps them start to define who they are, and that it is okay to have boundaries defining yourself, and protecting yourself.

These things are not allowed in the relationship with the Narcissistic Parent, so you will have to work extra hard to counteract the messages received in the other household. Often dysfunctional patterns are in full force in extended family or current romantic relationships as well, further supporting the Narcissistic Parent’s demands/ needs. Help your kids identify healthy boundaries, feelings, and sense of individual identity.
Eventually, you will have to help them decide what behaviors and relationships are healthy, and what to do when boundaries are not respected.

Hopefully, we can work through specific challenges as they arise, but this is an overview of possible things to look for and ways to respond.

Call or text if you need clarification or support.
You’ve got this!