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Dr. Michael
Dr. Michael, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 2177
Experience:  Licensed Ph.D. Clinical Health Psychology with 30 years of experience in private practive and as a clinical psychology university professor.
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How do I keep my narcissistic ex-husband from getting into

Customer Question

How do I keep my narcissistic ex-husband from getting into my head and pushing my buttons?
Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 6 years ago.
Hello. I believe I can be of help to you with this issue.

I have sort of a 'million-dollar' question to ask you and I hope you can give it some thought before answering. I'm going to assume that your narcissistic ex-husband has somehow managed to maintain some emotional connection or powerful INFLUENCE with you, on some level even though you are divorced. This is in contrast to divorces in which the emotional connection or level of influence is very weak or nonexistent and the person has 'moved on'---so the former marriage has little meaning to them any longer.. So my question is, "In what ways do you ALLOW what your ex husband says or does to influence or control you still? In other words, can you identify 2-3 key areas in which you still give great weight or value to what he says, you actually believe some of the nonsense he says to you (e.g., his guilt trips etc.)?

I will pause here and wait for your answer.
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Customer: replied 6 years ago.
My ex-husband continues to influence me through our children - two girls, ages 15 and 9. The older daughter lives with him, and the younger one lives with me. We live four hours away from each other. He lives in MD and I live in VA I had been planning to relocate to be closer to my older daughter before she graduates from high school; however, due to medical problems (I was diagnosed with sarcoidosis two years ago) and financial commitments to my mom as a result of purchasing her home, I have decided not to locate. I discussed my decision with my older daughter, and while disappointed, she's accepted it. As a college professor, I have a nontraditional work schedule, and the option of not working during the summer, so I travel frequently to see my older daughter and allow both girls to spend summers with their father. He now wants the younger daughter to live with him because I've decided not to relocate. I've asked both girls how they feel about this option, and neither is in favor of it. The younger one is very attached to me. Because my ex-husband knows that he has no legal grounds for getting custody of the younger daughter, he has begun harassing me and trying to undermine my relationship with my younger daughter in order to get her. This is how he obtained custody of the older daughter. So, we he says things like "You're being selfish" it bothers me because I know that, between the two of us, I'm the parent who is more concerned about acting in the best interest of the children, particularly when I see him attempting to provoke an argument with him in front of the kids to serve his purpose. In summary, my concern that he'll use the children to get what he wants, even though his actions will negatively affect them, is what enables him to continue to "push my buttons."
Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 6 years ago.
You have good insight into your ex-husbands narcissistic manipulative style. So good for you. The involvement of your daughters in your relationship with your ex helps explain the fact that you still have to deal with him and his mind 'games', his projections of blame, etc.

I suspect you are smarter than he is, however, intellectually and have a bit more insight into his behavior and its 'functions' and purposes than he does. So it is this objectivity and cognitive understanding that can help keep him from getting you emotionally rattled and thrown by his behavior.

The chances that your ex can persuade and 'brainwash' your daughters especially the youngest one, increases when he has consecutive weeks and months with them, living with him during the summer (for instance). One thought I have is whether you could break up these visitations with their dad a bit so you could monitor and intervene as needed, if you start hearing the girls say things that their dad is attempting to plant inside their head. That is, he will gently and subtly coax them into believing that he is a victim of your unfairness and that the girls lives would have been "so much better" if they had lived with him full time, etc. etc. You know the drill by this time, I'm sure. But intermittent contact with you and a chance to intervene provide a reality check, and put your ex on notice that you can and will curtail their visitation if he acts to undermine your authority as the custodial parent, can help keep him in line until the girls are of legal age (and can then do what they want). I want to pause here and solicit your feedback and reactions to what I've written so far. I may be missing information that makes what I'm thinking about and suggesting here impractical or unworkable.................
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
You are right on target with your response so far.
Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 6 years ago.
Thanks. I've re-read your post several times and my best advice would be to try to dilute your husband's ability to influence your daughters by interrupting his visitations every week or so during the summer (if possible) and get them alone with you to obtain a subtle, casual debriefing about what they did during the prior week. You will find that they will more readily recall things their dad said to them in the prior few days and this action will put your ex on notice (you won't have to say a word), that he won't have complete and unrestrained access to the girls' thinking and development of their beliefs. In other words, he will automatically read your interrupting of the visitations as monitoring what he is saying and doing. And, as I said, you could curtail the visits if you got repeated hints that he was undermining you. You are in a position to limit this on legal grounds, but mostly custodial parents dawdle, procrastinate and can undermine access in more passive ways and the noncustodial spouse really can't do much about it except complain. This would then set you up to more immediately 'call him' on stuff he does e.g., "I'm concerned that you are making promises to the girls you have no intention to keep and which you haven't obtained my agreement and consent." Another key message is that to deal effectively with individuals who are narcissistic, is to set clear, firm and absolute limits with them and communicate what these are and why you are creating them; and then, make sure you do not engage them in debate, endless explanations and justifications, etc. Now, here are a couple of quite good books on how to manage the behavior of someone with narcissistic personality disorder more effectively.

I hope this information is helpful to you. Let me know if I have overlooked any aspect of your original question. Please click on the green Accept button at the bottom of the screen. Thanks.
Customer: replied 6 years ago.

Dr Michael,

Thank you very much for your very helpful reply and recommended reading.


Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 6 years ago.
My very best wishes to you!