I was married to a narcissist .… now it’s the holidays .… so here we go again ….
As children, we watched Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch or Marius Petipa’s The Nutcracker. As we matured, those family-themed holly jolly films transitioned to Hallmark Christmas movies and classics like It’s a Wonderful Life or White Christmas. For a few hours we escaped our dysfunctional childhoods, marked by chaos and conflict, and enjoyed unforgettable parties, mesmerizing fireworks, felt included in the unified family cohesion and feasted (in our minds) on traditional delights like we were kings and queens.
In marriage, however, reality set in. There was no sipping hot chocolate by a roasting fireplace, no sitting around a kitchen table constructing gingerbread homes and snacking on candy canes, no perfectly wrapped presents under a lavishly adorned Douglas Fir, no smells of homemade sugar cookies wafting in the air while listening to Christmas favourites playing on the radio.
So how did things go from planning for a Mickey and Minnie magical Christmas to putting on a brave face and hiding the parts of ourselves we don’t want our children to see? Why is it that every year around this time we are triggered by our past trauma that somehow unpacks itself at the most inopportune time? We grew up hoping that nothing “bad” ever happens during the holiday season, in spite of the research studies highlighting how deadly a time of year this can be. https://www.cnn.com/2013/12/23/health/christmas-death-rate/index.html And yet, here we are, trying to carve out holiday traditions for ourselves and our children after having been married to someone who violently assaulted, dominated, verbally demeaned/ denigrated, financially-controlled and psychologically scarred us and our children.
Co-parenting with a domestic violator can be difficult at the best of times. The holidays, however, often amplify those struggles. And now, in the midst of a pandemic, the volatility is at an all-time high. https://www.dw.com/en/lockdowns-christmas-holidays-and-domestic-violence-a-dangerous-mix/a-55762710
As we navigate through the Court system post-separation we find that certain terms often get watered down due to overuse. At the core of our ex-partners’ existence is their lack of sensitivity for others (putting it politely!). Narcissism is a clinical term for a personality disorder that refers to “people [who] have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.”
Care and concern are virtues we seek to instill and our children. When we read through the comments at The Court Said Canada, written by women who were in intimate partner relationships with narcissists, we quickly realize how many people walking amongst us face similar challenges over the holidays; women sharing joint custody and equal parenting time with a narcissist.
How does co-parenting with a narcissist play itself out?
Every situation is different. Some narcissists manipulate the residential rotation to suit their own needs without a fleeting concern for how their actions will impact the “other parent’s” celebrations. Some exert their control by returning the children late on transition days or failing to abide by communication protocols with their overt refusal to facilitate Facetime or phone calls. Others default in their child or spousal support or withhold reimbursing the protective parent for S7 expenses, thus adding insult to injury to the already-present financial abuse. While others may bombard the healthy parent with an onslaught of emails or OFW notifications as a means of distracting them from being “fully present” with their children. Sound like an everyday occurrence? Sure. But during the holidays when money is tight and emotions are running on overdrive, a narcissist’s intent to psychologically pulverize the loving parent can feel, well, overwhelming.
Why does this keep happening?
Narcissists are nothing more than empty vessels. Cowards. Bullies who inflict grave emotional harm to others to make themselves feel important and more empowered. They are psychological tormentors who thrive on seeing others suffer; their attachments can best be described as disorganized or insecure. Psychologists understand that attachment theory examines the early emotional connection between infants and carers, and how the quality of attachment affects our later development. It is generally proposed that parents and carers who offer a “secure base” (a style of caring that is responsive and in tune with the child’s state of mind) tend to become psychologically healthy children, who as adults can form good relationships, empathize with others and can modulate their own extreme emotions without losing control.
Conversely, a recent study that examined the inter-connectedness between attachment theory and offenders concluded that “attachment theory elaborates on the cognitive behavioural framework; it helps us speculate about what experiences might have led to such deficits, to appreciate them as deeply rooted rather than mere gaps in learning …. to have some understanding how empathy and self-regulation grows out of early attachment experiences gives us the “back-story” to the cognitive deficits that are recited in the cognitive behavioural literature. We can understand that, whilst early experiences in no way excuses later offending, a tendency towards impulsivity and an inability to see others perspectives have deep-seated origins.” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/247755669_Using_attachment_theory_with_offenders
Why do our narcissistic domestic violators insist on ruining the holidays?
Simply put, this is due to their sense of entitlement. They resent the fact that our children are our focal point. During the holiday season, narcissists have difficulty in isolating, controlling and regulating people enough to get adequate narcissistic supply; the attention they need to feel ‘alive’. Narcissists are painfully reminded this time of year how they cannot feel the love and joy that others can, and to try to offset this with their sense of entitlement. Also, narcissists do not get pleasure from seeing other people happy, even if it is their own children. As a result, they will sabotage plans, especially those that fall on your residential time. A narcissist will do anything to squash plans that bring the loving parent joy. These domestic violators will do everything in their power to manipulate, dominate and coercively control the situation, especially during the holiday season because of their inability to feel empathy and lack of secure, healthy attachments.
At the end of the day, what message should we send our children?
At the Court Said Canada, we strike a balance between ardent advocacy which we pursue 100% of the time, and a belief that the holidays are about having faith in a healthier, safer life. We hope you enjoy the togetherness with your friends and family. Participate in random acts of kindness, which we know is the narcissist’s kryptonite. And above all else, remain grateful that you have your children by your side. As we close out 2020, let us reflect on those families grieving the loss of their child, murdered at the hands of a parent because the Court ordered unsafe, unsupervised contact knowing the risk factors. We think about those protective parents who are separated from their babies either because of death or due to false allegations of parental alienation. We enter into the holiday season knowing that children do not remember from one year to the next what gifts they received, the decadence of the holiday meals or the extravagance of the decorations. What our children will remember is how we made them feel. Loved. Valued. Empowered. Respected. Heard. And seen. Those are gifts that cannot be bought with the deepest of pockets.
Cheers to staying safe and keeping healthy,
Ruth Cohen, M.S.W., R.S.W.
Co-Lead, The Court Said Canada