Friday, October 12, 2018

More on NPD and custody litigation: Dr K’s top 10 list of tips and tools

More on NPD and custody litigation: Dr K’s top 10 list of tips and tools

After more than 30 years as a consultant to family lawyers and their clients (and as a custody evaluator/expert and therapist), I have been involved with hundreds of cases where one of the parents is a narcissist (NPD-usually the dad). What follows is some lessons learned from coaching their former spouses during and after they divorce the NPD, and try to co-parent their kids with them.

1. Former spouses of NPDs are traumatized and need treatment even if they look like they’re fine.

NPDs inflict major but usually invisible and long-lasting wounds on their spouses. The damage to the self-esteem and self-confidence, not to mention the trust, of the spouse is remarkably deep and pervasive. What’s more, many of the spouses are so wounded that don’t realize how wounded they are. They may have lived an outwardly very affluent and seemlingly happy life but behind closed doors at home, their existence was a wasteland of criticism, cruelty, and loneliness which they daren’t not reveal to anyone. By the time of the divorce, they doubt their own perceptions and judgment, as they have been “gaslighted” into near insanity by the controlling  and lying NPD. Despite their physical attractiveness (NPDs never marry average looking women) and expensive and tasteful wardrobes (NPDs would never been seen in public with someone that’s not wearing designer clothes), they are emotionally exhausted and impoverished on the inside. They are are emotionally prepared to litigate against an NPD whose goal is not just to win but to destroy them personally.

2. Former spouses of NPDs are frequently incompently treated by counselors and therapists.

The internal dynamics of former spouses of NPDs is much like traumatized combat veterans. Having lost their trust in their own perceptions of reality, and having been brainwashed by alternating periods of worshipful devotion and unexpected cruelty and denigration, they are anxious, depressed, and distrusting, bordering on paranoid. They are also able to pay for therapy, and difficult to engage in meaningful dialogue; for poorly trained or unethical mental health professionals, these are long-term patients who keep coming but have the same unending complaints and symptoms. Some of these women have been therapy for years without signficant progress or relief, believing their lack of improvement is their fault (another legacy of a close relationship with an NPD).

3. Children of an NPD parent are at significant risk for damage to their emotional, cognitive, and relational development.

The NPDs lack of empathy and overwhelming self-absorbsion means children are treated both as “furniture” and also as “reflections of perfection” of the NPD. NPDs need unending and uninterrupted worship and devotion; hence parenting is extremely unsatisfying and bothersome for them. Rules for children are arbitrary, usually cruel and unreasonable, and change at the drop of a hat.
Because NPDs see the world in black/white/all good/all bad terms, failure by the children to be “perfect” (whatever that might be at a given moment) results in harsh criticism, personal attacks and belittling, public humiliation, and/or rage and physical abuse, usually followed by complete neglect and emotional abandonment. Nearly all of these kids underperform at school, act out in rebellious or defiant ways with authority figures, have poor peer relationships, and are at very high risk for anxiety and depression. The greater the exposure to the NPD parent, the greater the risk and harm for the child. 

Post divorce visitation with an NPD parent is almost always represents a significant increase in the risk of harm to the normal growth and development of the child, since mom has usually buffered the kids from as much of the chaos from the NPD as she could. NPD single parent dads are frequently incompetent and uncaring parents with limited parenting skills and absolutely no real interest in their children. 

4.  Consequently, co-parenting with an NPD is impossible; “parallel parent”.

NPD’s do NOT “play well with others”; never have, never will. What a NPD hears when the court order says “co-parent” is this: “great, I am still in charge. I can do what I want, and I can make her do what I want, just like old times”.  Any attempt by Parenting Facilitators to engage dad in shared parenting, mutual sharing, and communication will be fruitless because NPDs don’t want to parent; they want to punish their ex by harassing the kids and generating control issues and threatening to take the kids from mom in a custody fight,

So moms should make good decisions about the kids knowing that they are going to be criticized  by dad no matter what they do. Communications should be by text and limited to the details of the exchanges, or to respond to the infrequent and unreasonable requests about the kids. Remember this
is not a reasonable, rational, normal dad; don’t expect normal loving dad behavior.

5. Before you litigate a reduction in visitation (or a custody change), get a competent therapist who understands NPD and NPD traumatized spouses.

The US Constitution guarantees “due process” in any court proceeding and that means you are going to have to see your ex in public, and probably more than once, during your hearings, depositions, and trial. In order to be seen as a credible and truthful witness  in face of your former spouse, who is ana an accomplished liar and manipulator, you have to be calm, confident, and not intimidated by “the look”. That means you have to be far enough along in your recovery from NPD trauma to be cool and calm and focused in your testimony. Competent treatment will get you there in a year or so.

If your new therapist is not able to describe NPD in a way you recognize, and talk to you about the effects of that relationship on you (that matches your feelings and symptoms), then find another therapist. It would be best if they experience testifying, have treated other NPD victims, and understand the challenging task of getting judges and lawyers to understand the dangers of NPD to kids.

6. Hire a family lawyer who both understands NPD and is willing to aggressively pursue visitation for dad that is dramatically less than “standard visitation”.

Family lawyers are getting better informed about Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), but even those who know what the diagnosis is don’t really understand the impact of an NDP parent on children. Before embarking on any change of custody litigation, have a lengthy interview of your lawyer and make sure they can not only explain NPD acccurately, but also articulate the dangers to your children, and explain the hurdles in the legal system to getting dad’s visitation (and therefore the risks of damage to your kids) reduced.

NPD is found in less than 1 or 2 people for every 100 people in the general population in the US. However, NPD is found in most of the high conflict family cases, which are about 1/3 of all divorces.  Your family lawyer must be willing to agressively pursue a non-standard visitation solution that is in the children’s best interest even though it does not fit into the “cookie cutter” mold for most visitation orders. If your lawyer is unwilling or unable to explain how that could work in your jurisdiction, then find another lawyer. NPDs respond to attacks and criticism by “doubling down” and increasing their threats and personal attacks through bigger lies, intimidation, and manipulation so the litigation will be long and costly and the case is unlikely to settle. You both have to be ready and willing to go to trial. If this lawyer is not comfortable in a trial, get a different lawyer.

7. In order to get the judge to order less than standard visitation for your ex to protect your children from an NPD dad, you will need compelling evidence of current and past harm to your kids and the testimony of a highly qualified expert to explain to the judge the current and future damage he’s doing to your children.

That means hiring a clinical or forensic psychologist (or maybe psychiatrist) who is willing to testify that NPDs inflict harm on both children (and spouses), and that no “dose” of exposure to an NPD parent is safe for children. This expert witness must clearly explain that greater exposure to this toxic parent means greater harm to children. Counselors rarely are trained to recognize NPDs; many of them naively assume that the NPDd will change or even can be coached or counseled to be more empathic parents (NPDs can’t and most won’t even try). There is NO known effective treatment for NPD.

8. Expect the fight to go to a trial.

As I explained earlier, NPDs response to criticism or disagreement, much less a public loss of “their time with MY children” does not lead to compromise or problem solving but to nasty, personal, emotional warfare.  You can expect to be intimidated, attacked, and accused of parental alienation. (Nearly half of all proven cases of parental alienation are non-custodial dads; a small fraction are mothers) .

In my experience, NPDs only give up the fight after they have been publicly humiliated in court as a chronic liar and emotionally/physically abusive parent (in a hearing or trial) or they have been “bought off” by getting something that assuages their egos and makes them look good in giving mom what she’s asked for in reduced (or even almost no visitation). Or in unusual cases, they are outgunned and out spent and run out of money, and they they fold.

It is hard for most judges, lawyers, and juries to grasp that a father really has absolutely no real interest in his children as people apart from what they can do for HIM. But a settlement offer of a sort that feeds the ego of the NPD dad (money, recognition, glory, admiration). NPDs can be bought but they are not cheap.

9. Because NPDs are so concerned about their public image, they are very vulnerable to having their family histories exposed. These family secrets can be leverage in negotiating a settlement right before trial.

NPDs create little NPD children, so most NPDs have one or both parents who are NPDs and siblings who have been damaged as a result. The NPD is likely the outwardly best functioning sibling, and the others are likely suffering from a variety of mental disorders including anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.  These family members represent an unacceptable narcissistic injury to their perception of their perfect selves and family, and are usually ignored or disavowed by the NPD. Careful discovery and thorough depositions can lead to useful leverage.

10. Don’t start this process if you can’t finish it. This process will be at least 2 years long and very costly. If you can’t afford the costs or are not emotionally equipped with person stamina and a good support system of friends and professionals who are NPD savvy, learn to live with the chaos and ongoing personal attacks.

On the other hand,  if litigation is not an option for you there is some good news. In my experience, when  left alone, NPDs eventually tire of parenting since there is nothing in it for them. NPD men do rapidly move on to the “next, younger, hotter model” and if they are not reminded of their children, most fade into the distance leaving their children not only emotionally but also physically fatherless.  Under the circumstances, perhaps the best of all the bad alternatives...

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