Even under ideal circumstances, extended family dynamics can be extremely challenging to navigate. When mental health and high-conflict personalities come into play, it can be overwhelming, confusing, and painful for you and your child. Whether they’re your own parents or those of your (ex) partner, a narcissistic grandparent can wreak havoc in your child’s life if left unchecked.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance and a lack of empathy. NPD and other high-conflict personality traits can lead grandparents to engage in manipulative behaviors designed to alienate your children and tear your family apart.
Whether a grandparent has been formally diagnosed with NPD or is only exhibiting typical behaviors, it is critical to account for their personality and protect your family against it. Read on to learn strategies for dealing with narcissistic grandparents.
Transgenerational Trauma and Narcissistic Grandparents
Transgenerational trauma is a psychological concept relating to the transferral of trauma from one generation to the next. At its worst, it can result in disorders like Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (cPTSD). If your child’s grandparents exhibit narcissistic behaviour, your child is potentially at risk of suffering their own trauma and continuing the cycle of pain and abuse.
While transgenerational trauma is a relatively new field of psychological study, it’s a useful framework for understanding the importance of effectively managing narcissistic grandparents. As your child’s parent, it is your responsibility to break the cycle. Especially in the context of high-conflict separation or divorce, it is absolutely critical to protect your child from not only your ex’s negative influence, but also the impact of grandparents and other relatives.
Make a Plan (with Clear Expectations and Consequences)
Failing to plan is planning to fail; when beginning to manage narcissistic grandparents, it is crucial to develop a detailed plan. In addition to setting clear expectations, a solid parenting plan should enforceable consequences for failure to follow terms. This could include approving and registering the agreement with the courts, or even police enforcement clauses for critical elements. Narcissists often cross boundaries out of a sense of personal entitlement; the threat of consequences can deter this behavior.
For help getting started, check out our Ultimate Co-Parenting Plan for a step-by-step guide to developing a comprehensive, airtight plan for dealing with narcissistic grandparents.
Minimize Contact, and Keep It Business-Like
At its worst, managing narcissistic grandparents can feel like a full-time job. Treating it as such can help you maintain boundaries and keep you focused on what’s important: your child’s wellbeing.
Like any good working relationship, it is essential to establish clear and firm boundaries. Narcissists feel entitled to everything, including your time and attention. If you give them an inch, they will help themselves to a mile; lay down the law early and often.
Minimizing your contact is likely something you’ll want to do anyway, but it’s especially important when dealing with narcissistic grandparents. Keep any communication brief and to the point. Always stick to objective facts and ignore any aggressive or demeaning jabs. Narcissists often use drawn-out conversations to goad their victims into a confrontation. Remember: there is no need to explain or defend your actions to a narcissist. Wherever possible, stick to “yes/no” or other one-word answers.
Additionally, do not become involved with their life, and do not share any unnecessary details about your life with them. Narcissists are master manipulators who twist the truth to suit their needs; take everything they say with a grain of salt. Similarly, any information you give them about your day-to-day life may be distorted and used against you later. The best way to neutralize a narcissist’s influence is not to give them anything to work with.
Resources with Pathways Family Coaching
Pathways Family Coaching offers a wide variety of online courses and one-on-one professional coaching to help manage all aspects of high-conflict family restructuring. Our expert coaches and comprehensive resources are ready to integrate with your existing legal and therapeutic teams, guiding you towards a healthy parenting arrangement for you and your child.
Pathways Through Conflict is our flagship online course, focused on building the skills to help you navigate conflict through practical communication strategies. Consisting of an eight-module online course, 12 one-on-one coaching sessions, and access to the Ultimate Co-Parenting Plan, Pathways Through Conflict gives you all the tools to manage conflict while providing a nurturing environment in which your children will flourish.
Trapped in Trauma is our newest course offering, focused on building your understanding of the impact trauma has on your family. Available on its own or bundled with The Alienation Code, Trapped in Trauma will educate you on the emotional and neurological effects of trauma (including transgenerational trauma) while equipping you with the tools to overcome through compassion and understanding.
If you’re concerned that legal intervention may be required to manage narcissistic grandparents, our Behavioral Pattern Finder can help. The BPF is a revolutionary service for logging, evaluating, and presenting behavioral patterns in high-conflict situations, organizing up to 250 pieces of data into a digital timeline revealing trends that may indicate harmful behaviours. The Behavioral Pattern Finder makes it easy for you and your team to demonstrate a narcissist’s behaviour in both clinical and legal settings.
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