So you are finally divorced from your narcissist, and no longer do you have to endure the day-to-day abuse, the passive aggressive manipulation, or his constant attempts to make you look like the bad person. Or do you? Just because he is your ex, doesn't mean his behavior ever stops.
There will be times you need to communicate with your ex, especially if you must co-parent. But because he is a narcissist, the simple act of communicating seems close to impossible. He may not respond to you at all, or play games with you via text or email, making you want to pull your hair out. Or the simple request of having him take your child to a sports function ends up in a full blown argument.
Beware of the narcissistic vortex. It's his attempt to suck you in to his narcissistic fantasy world, where he is always the victim/martyr, and you are his aggressor. It's his need for narcissistic supply -- the gasoline that provides fuel to his ego. He needs to remind himself (and others) that he is still truly special, but because you are now divorced, he knows you no longer consider him the prince he is trying to be. And for that, he resents you greatly.
So how can you communicate with someone who feels constantly threatened by you? While it's not ideal, it is possible, as long as you never get trapped in his vortex. It just takes a little bit of work and focus on your part.
1. Do not engage: While you may have to discuss logistics about joint assets or your children, it doesn't mean you must engage in every comment he makes. Should he insult you, or jab at your self-esteem, do NOT engage. This means do not defend yourself, insult him back, or threaten to take away the said assets or children. Stick with the goal at hand. Repeat the question and wait for your answer. If the behavior continues, walk away, hang up, or do not reply if it's via text or email. By engaging him, he has won another round of supply, no matter how negative. It makes you look like the crazy person, and he the victim. Mission accomplished.
2. Reply with "yes" or "no" answers: Unfortunately with narcissists, they can never write an email or text without passive aggressively knocking your ability to function as an adult. The true is secret to communicating is, ironically, little to no response. Reply with "yes" or "no" answers, or merely factual replies like, "Yes, I am picking kids up at 5 pm today." Ignore all other stabs or attempts of getting a heated reaction from you.
3. Ignore his "love bombs": Perhaps for years you hoped for just an ounce of empathy from him, or anything that shows he truly loves you, but to no avail. But now that you are divorced, he may send you "love bombs," which are texts or emails that say, "Whatever happened to us?" or "If only you knew how much I truly loved you." They can come out of the blue, when you least expect them, and if you have any hope of reconciliation, these love bombs are dangerous. Don't fall for them! A narcissist will never, ever change, so don't think he has somehow had a divine intervention. He is likely low on supply, and because you have always been that one consistent supplier, he comes chasing after you. Ignore them and do not respond. If you do, you'll be sucked right into his vortex.
4. Manipulate the manipulator: What do narcissists want more than anything? Approval and adulation from others. So if you really need something from him, you may have to compliment him. Think of this like a communication strategy, as if he is your potential customer. If you want your customer to buy, you must use persuasive language and make it about them. The same goes for your narcissist. Should you want him to drive Sally to soccer practice because you are stuck at work, simply asking him may not cut it.
Rather, try this approach: "Sally asked me if you could take her to soccer because she loves spending time with you. I know how good you are with her and thought that extra time would make her feel so special. Would you mind taking her today?" Yes, this may feel nauseating, but it really does work.
5. Set firm boundaries: When you first met your narcissist, you likely had few boundaries, and continued to ignore the red flags because you wanted to please him. Narcissists hate people with boundaries. They take and take from people who give and give. So if you stop giving, he will have nothing to take. This means stop doing him favors, even if it benefits your child. He may ask for an extra day with your child, despite the custody agreement stating set days. Or he may ask you to have the kids on a weekend you weren't expecting, so you cancel your plans just to be nice (after all, that means more kid time, right?). Doing favors for healthy functioning people means a favor in return. But not with a narcissist. You will likely get burned because a narcissist is never thinking about you or your well-being. Stick to the plan. Do not tolerate him being late or adjusting his schedule. Always have the saying, "That's not okay with me" ready to fire off. If it isn't okay with you, then say so.
No matter the form of communication with your ex, ask yourself, "Does this require a reply?" He will never behave the way you want, and you will never change him. Once you are aware of his inabilities, it will free you from the exhaustion of ever trying or hoping he will be different. Above all, try to remember tip #1, "Do not engage." it will save you a lifetime of stress and headache.
Lindsey Ellison is founder of Start Over. Find Happiness., a coaching practice that helps women navigate their divorce or breakups. She specializes in helping women with narcissistic abuse, and coaches them on how to break free from their narcissistic partners.
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