“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” ~ Rumi
Part 2 – Divorcing a Narcissist? Break Free and Heal Your Family
Healing Your Wounded Child With Empathetic Parenting
While at a party with familiar friends, a mother’s ten-year-old son clutches her arm. Instead of playing with the other children, he remains anxiously by her side.
Mom admits that on her week with the children, it is hard work. It feels as if she has to put back the pieces of their broken world, rebuilding a structure in their lives that feels predictable and safe. That includes lots of validation and reassurance. Sometimes this mother feels stable and strong in her role, and other times she does not.
She admits to losing her patience at times. Understandably, because repairing the ongoing damage from their narcissistic father feels like a full-time job. IN TRUTH, IT IS.
EMPATHETIC PARENTING: WHAT IT IS, AND WHY YOUR RECOVERY IS PARAMOUNT
As we discussed in Part One of this series, utilizing the 5-Step Recovery Model with a therapist is a must for your healing. As you begin to feel more solid and whole, it will be much easier to be an empathetic parent.
Just as it was imperative for you to accept the limitations of your narcissistic ex, it’s crucial that you recognize their shortcomings as a parent. Narcissists are unable to love, feel empathy or understand the emotions of others. When you accept that they can’t change, you can turn your attention to yourself as a parent.
So, what exactly is empathetic parenting?
Since the opposite of narcissism is empathy, the best way to protect and heal your children is by becoming an empathetic parent.
In her book, “Will I Ever Be Free of You? How to Navigate a High-Conflict Divorce from a Narcissist and Heal Your Family,” Karyl McBride, Ph.D., writes, “As an empathetic parent you tune in to your child’s emotional world and parent from this viewpoint at all times. In every situation that has any emotional weight the first thing that you do is understand, acknowledge, and validate your child’s feelings.”
McBride goes on to say that you do this before you take any other actions with your child. This will allow them to feel heard, seen, and known. It will enable them to understand the emotional landscape and be better able to find their way through it.
“Trauma creates change you don’t choose. Healing creates change you do choose.” ~Michele Rosenthal
WHEN ATTUNED TO YOUR CHILD’S EMOTIONAL WORLD, EMPATHETIC PARENTING CONSISTS OF THESE BASIC TOOLS:
- Identifying the feeling
- Reflecting back the feeling
- Giving validation and empathy toward the feeling
- Ignoring the context until these things are done
- Then dealing with the context
How much do I tell my child about their narcissistic parent?
Just as animals recognize animal lovers, children are very adept at identifying people who genuinely love children. Early on, they will sense that there is an emotional black hole in the narcissistic parent.
They may feel an emptiness around that parent and that they’re not being heard.
However, because children identify strongly with both of their parents, it’s best not to use the “N” word when talking about that parent, nor is it wise to criticize or disparage them.
Do your best not to voice your frustrations about the other parent around them.
TRY TO RISE ABOVE AND TAKE THE HIGH ROAD.
The Frustrating Case of Emotional Abuse
Sadly, some emotional abuse is to be expected when a child is being raised by a narcissist. Emotional abuse is tough to prove, however, and the judicial system has been slow to recognize its impact. If your child is acting out, depressed, or struggling at school, get them into therapy with a trained professional who can assess them.
If you feel the emotional abuse is crossing a line and you’re not sure what to do, you can contact your local social service agency that looks out for the welfare of children. In the state of California, it’s Child Protective Services. You can share your stories and information with a case manager who will determine if there is cause to reach out and intervene on the child’s behalf.
Helping Your Children Set Boundaries with the Narcissistic Parent
Teaching your children to speak up and share their feelings is very important, even with the narcissistic parent. They may be afraid of getting in trouble with this parent and choose not to express their opinions. If your ex is an abusive parent, teach your child to report it to you or their teacher.
Teaching your children to use “I” statements may be a more acceptable way for them to express their emotions:
- I feel sad when you don’t hear what I say
- When you make a promise and don’t keep it, I feel angry
- I feel scared when you yell or raise your voice
- I feel anxious when I worry what I say might make you mad at me
Can I help my child not internalize negative messages?
Even with your best efforts, your children are likely to internalize negative messages such as, “I am not worthy,” “I don’t matter,” or “I’m not good enough.”
The more you can talk about these negative messages the better. It works best if you can generalize these discussions rather than specifically relate it to the other parent.
This will create more awareness when your children are in a situation where they’re made to feel badly by these messages. They can become empowered to observe the context of these words and begin to learn to not identify with them.
Can my family heal and break free?
YES, YOU CAN! It begins with understanding and accepting that this will be a long road and a massive commitment. A commitment that requires a constant effort to reverse and control the damage. Studies show that early interventions with abused children can influence their lives in numerous positive ways.
Through your interventions and your example, your children will have the opportunity to grow into healthy adults. Likewise, when you become attuned to their emotional world, you’ll be creating a physically and emotionally safe space. Space where they can heal, develop and grow.
Hi, my name is Jamie Daniel-Farrell. I’m a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice in Westlake Village, CA. Specializing in divorce recovery, I’ve helped many individuals heal and recover from narcissistic abuse and trauma. Please feel free to reach out at 805-444-4968.