Welcome to the Co-parenting Kids Podcast, where you’ll hear all the tips and tricks to co-parent with someone who is difficult or has narcissistic traits. I’m your host, Kirsty Petersen, and I am a family mediator, author, and coach, supporting parents to have more co-parenting harmony, and less angst. Remember to subscribe so you don’t miss any of the episodes as they drop. And head over to co-parenting kids.com.au for lots of free resources about co-parenting and mediation.
Welcome back. Episode Four is all about Perception. What does our child’s other parent think of us? What do they think we think of them? And how does flipping this narrative make us powerful? This episode will delve into what our children’s other parent believes we think about them. And why knowing this makes us powerful. What does your kids other parent tell themselves about what you think of them? It doesn’t matter what you really think, what’s important is what they believe you think. Why?
Well, it’s because people with narcissistic traits are in their bones and deep in their soul, intensely insecure. They hate being vulnerable. They have imposter syndrome. You know, when someone worries they’re not good enough and that eventually someone will find out and expose them. But actually, they are good enough. They just don’t believe it. But because of the stories they have fabricated about who they are, they worry someone will find out they’re not as great as they’ve made out.
So if they’re a person who fabricates grandiose stories, it’s because they’re afraid of being little boring and inadequate. They need to impress others and they have a deep longing to belong somewhere. Usually, they seek to belong with people who aren’t in their immediate family. So even married people will seek approval and acceptance from a posse. It could be workmates, friends from sport or old school days or even church.
They’re also really likely to go through friends quickly. They form intense friendships, and then they end quite abruptly they burn through friends. So what does this all mean if you’re co-parenting with someone who has these traits? That means that you’re really powerful.
I hear you shaking your head through the airwaves because you don’t feel very powerful right now, though, do you? Feel trapped, condemned, stuck in the never-ending cycle of criticism, denigration, and conflict. There’s a few ways you can break free from where you are right now. I have a clear roadmap in my flagship coaching program, Change, that describes exactly what you have to do. But for now, we’re just going to focus on perception, their perception of what you think about them.
We already talked about their insecurity and vulnerability. We haven’t talked about their need to control and conquer. We’ll save that for another day. I could talk you know, all day otherwise. So indulge me for a minute. And let me share an analogy with you. I’d like to introduce you to Ryan or it could be Ruby, the gender of this person is not important. For now, we’ll just stick with Ryan. Ryan is the kind of guy that everyone loves. He’s charismatic, adventurous, charming with a winning smile. And he can chat all day about absolutely nothing at all.
He’s recently left his wife of 12 years and shacked up with Rebecca. And yes, of course, Rebecca is 10 years younger. Ryan and his wife are smack in the middle of a huge conflict battle over the kids and splitting their property. Ryan is terrified he’s going to lose everything he’s worked for. And he’ll end up a broke boring little man. Ryan is also terrified his wife will tell everyone he isn’t who he shows the world he is. Ryan is Father of the Year, Businessman of the Year, and sportsman of the year. He cannot allow his wife to tell anyone that that isn’t true. He needs to dominate her to get what he wants, which is to continue showing the world he is a great dad and successful person. So he needs money and he needs the kids.
His wife eventually gives into his demands because she thinks everything will be fine if he just gets what he wants. But what she doesn’t realize is that reaching agreement doesn’t change anything for Ryan. It just sort of shifts. Ryan is still scared his wife will convince Rebecca or anyone who will listen that he isn’t what he portrays.
He also believes his wife hates him and thinks he’s a bad dad. So he works overtime to put his wife down, denigrate her, and criticize. Because here’s the thing. People with narcissistic traits see in black and white, good and bad. If his wife is a good mother, therefore he is a bad dad. They can’t both be good parents, because that’s not how good and bad and black and white thinkers think. So in order to stay a good dad, his wife needs to be a bad mum. At any cost. He will lie and gaslight until she either breaks or something else gives.
His wife is currently a fluorostriped lioness dashing across the plane. She is way too visible and way too good. So he needs to cut down a peg to stop her being a threat. But that isn’t enough, is it? He also needs to eliminate her thoughts. Because he can’t stand that there’s someone who has an impact on his life. And doesn’t think the sun shines out of his you know what. His wife has exhausted from arguing, defending, and explaining. She’s barely had a minute to think since the divorce was finalized over a year ago. And yeah, yeah, I know, I’m moving on really quickly.
Then she stumbled across this awesome podcast and this and this chick gold Kirsty tells her that she is actually very powerful. The wife cries, she cannot believe it, because she certainly doesn’t feel powerful. But she is. And the reason she is powerful is because she knows that what Ryan believes she thinks of him is important to him deep in his soul. All she has to do is start to shift what Ryan thinks she believes. Now, remember, it doesn’t matter what she actually thinks. It’s just what Ryan believes.
She realizes that she needs to stop confronting Ryan when he lies or doesn’t do what he said he would do. Instead, she needs to make a shift. Has anyone out there ever used a gratitude journal? You know, when you’ve had a really horrible day, everything’s gone wrong. And you still need to write in that damn gratitude journal, because you promised yourself last January that you do 365 entries? This is like that. Even though Ryan It’s a total pain and has let the kids down or failed to pay child support or whatever it is, she needs to say something positive.
Now this will be really hard the first time she might type a text, but she won’t be able to send it, she might get a bestie this press Send but she’s more likely to delete it and try again another day. Saying something positive to someone who is causing you huge drama is really hard. It’s hard to screenshot that funny meme and send it across to Ryan in the text. But just like the gratitude journal when it’s hard to find that thing to be grateful for but it’s worth it over time because it helps you see the world differently. This is exactly the same.
The cumulative effect of the little bits of appreciation, praise if you can bring yourself to it. An affirmation, add up to getting Ryan to think that you believe he is a great dad, a great guy, and a wonderful athlete. You’re no longer a floral lioness, but you’re not a floral gazelle, either. You’re just something lying in the grass that he can’t be bothered with. You’re no longer a threat, and he no longer has to worry about what you think of him because you’ve conditioned him over time to believe you think he is great.
Now, if you’re an astute listener, you may have picked upon the number one rule back there for starting to flip the tables, change the narrative, create a new story about what Ryan believes his ex-wife thinks of him. It starts with never confronting him, telling Ryan he’s let down his kids because he’s taking Rebecca on holiday to Disneyland in the school holidays and not taking the kids, is like waving an injured buffalo in front of Alex the lion.
That is a red flag for Ryan to attack and defend. When you’re starting to implement this tip, it will feel disgusting, and really disingenuous. But push through. Swallow that little bit of vomit that rises in your mouth and press send. Don’t be too over the top. You can’t go from arguing and attacking to flattery and praise. But it can be something as simple as saying the kids had a good time this weekend. Thanks for loving them like you do. Oh, yeah. But I promise you it will not kill you. It might give you mild indigestion. But compared to the anxiety and angst you’re currently experiencing, it’s a tradeoff worth giving a go.
Now, I mentioned before, there’s other things you need to do in combination with this and they’re all in the Change program. But if you do just this one thing, your life will start to change. You need to be consistent and it needs to be done in a way that seems genuine, but it works. While you are a threat to your kids’ other parent, they will attack you in whatever way they have figured out works. You can spend the rest of your life arguing, defending, and explaining. But their behavior doesn’t come from a rational place. It comes from the part of our brain that enabled us to survive the dinosaurs.
Your child’s other parent sees you as a dinosaur. You look like a T Rex, smell like a T Rex, and sound like a T Rex. Their brain is hardwired to protect themselves from you, and they will at any cost. They don’t care who they damage, no amount of telling them that parental conflict is the biggest predictor of negative outcomes for kids, will deter them from criticizing, denigrating, complaining, and being difficult. But you can change things. Have a go and let me know how it goes. You can always find me on the socials. You’re unlikely to see an immediate change, but it also depends on the degree of conflict. If you’re being attacked daily, you can see change within a week.
The attacks will decrease in both frequency and intensity. If you’re only being attacked before after they spend time with the kids, the intensity will definitely reduce within a couple of weeks. Now, this isn’t to say that it won’t fire back up without warning, you’re always gonna be their emotional punching bag. But you know what to do now. You don’t defend, explain or barter. You ignore the attacks and you say something positive, flattering even. If you’re really smart, you’re getting with something positive before they have a chance to fire off the negative. So that’s it. Perception enables you to be powerful because you can change how they believe you think about them.
I’m Kirsty Petersen. And this is the Co-parenting Kids Podcast. See you soon.
The Co-parenting Kids Podcast is brought to you by CHANGE. A program that takes your co-parenting from angst to harmony in just six weeks. If you’re co-parenting with someone who has difficult behaviors or narcissistic traits, this program will teach you practical strategies for disengaging from the drama and being able to live your own life. Find out more at change.coparentingkids.com.au