When you’re trying to raise your child with a narcissistic ex, I’m sure the issue of emotional abuse has crossed your mind.
You may even have noticed signs and developed a genuine concern.
But emotional abuse is tricky because it doesn’t leave scars or bruises. Instead, it impacts the child’s emotional development and destroys their self-esteem.
Emotional child abuse is all about power and control, which is exactly what narcissism is all about as well.
So if you have a child with a narcissist, and whether you suspect emotional abuse or not, it’s important to understand what it is and what to do if your child is being emotionally abused.
Signs of Emotional Child Abuse
In many situations, emotional abuse does not cause physical signs but can be just as damaging and long-lasting. It is harder to detect than physical abuse because the signs are not obvious.
However, you can often tell by a child’s behavior that they are being emotionally abused. One sign of emotional abuse can be inappropriate behavior or dramatic behavioral changes.
If you suspect that your child is being abused by their narcissistic parent, you may notice:
- Avoidant behaviors
- Delayed emotional development
- Problems at school
- Self-harming behaviors (or the desire to hurt themselves or other people)
- Excessively seeking affection from other adults
- Regressions in their development (bedwetting, etc.)
- Frequent physical symptoms such as stomachaches and headaches
- Loss of interests
- Low self-esteem
Don’t assume that your child isn’t being emotionally abused because they still maintain an attachment to their other parent. Children will remain loyal to both parents despite how they are being treated.
Also, don’t expect your child to automatically tell you they are being abused. They may simply believe this is a “normal” way to be treated by their other parent.
Parental Emotional Abuse
Because this article focuses on emotional abuse perpetrated by a narcissistic parent, it’s important to point out notable signs of parental emotional abuse.
Parents need to discipline their children and sometimes that means showing “tough love”. However, there is a very clear line between being a strict parent and being abusive.
When it comes to narcissists, they emotionally manipulate their victims and their children are no exception. This can present as over-controlling and overbearing behavior as well as neglect and unrealistically high expectations.
While they portray their family life as being “perfect”, what goes on behind closed doors is vastly different.
This causes the child to become scared and confused. They may be confused as to what their narcissistic parent will do next or fear being belittled and reprimanded when they don’t reach their parent’s expectations.
Apart from how narcissists treat their children overall, it’s important to look more closely at the parent-child relationship.
Parents will disagree and spat with their children but there’s a point when this becomes a pattern of emotional abuse.
For example, calling your child names during a disagreement is not normal. Using personal attacks or character assassination against a child is emotional abuse.
So are frequent disagreements that involve yelling and screaming.
Most parents will work with their child to compromise and move forward from an argument. An emotionally abusive parent will refuse to compromise and rehash the issue during future arguments. They will also blame the child for the argument even when it’s not their fault.
Withholding Compliments and Constant Comparisons
A child will develop a healthy sense of self-esteem and self-confidence when they are praised or complimented by their parents. Parental pride is extremely important to children and they will do anything to seek it.
While not complimenting a child is not emotional abuse per se, it can be emotionally damaging. Oftentimes, a narcissistic parent will not praise their child but will instead criticize what they do or point out the things they have done wrong.
Narcissists will also compare their children to others in order for the child to reach their high expectations. While the parent may see this as a way to encourage their child to do better, it actually damages their self-esteem.
Neglect and Isolation
Narcissistic parents tend to either over-parent their children or neglect them. Neglect occurs when a child’s basic needs (physical, mental, emotional, educational, social, etc.) are not met.
They may also isolate their child and overly control every aspect of their life. Yes, children need protection, but parental suffocation is a form of emotional abuse. This hinders their ability to develop independence.
What To Do If Your Child is Being Emotionally Abused
Hopefully, your child is in your care full-time and will not experience the full-fledged effects of these behaviors. However, because children innately trust their parents, even receiving treatment like this some of the time can be emotionally damaging.
In Canada, and in most countries, there are laws that state that child abuse must be reported. You won’t get in trouble for making a report even if it turns out you were wrong.
If you believe that your child is being emotionally abused by their narcissistic parent, you can call your local child protective services and have them investigated. But, because emotional abuse is hard to identify, this route may not go anywhere.
You can also speak to your doctor, a social worker, or a teacher about your concerns. They may have some insight into what to do next and they may be able to substantiate your suspicions based on your child’s behaviors.
You may think that a court order is a useless piece of paper when it comes to dealing with a parent that refuses to listen to authority or follow the rules. However, court orders can be written to prohibit emotional abuse by including things such as:
- Non-disparagement clauses that prevent the other parent from speaking negatively about you.
- Orders that forbid angry outbursts toward the child.
- Ordres that regulate discipline.
In some cases, depending on the evidence you have against your ex, you could have the court order stipulating that visitations between your child and their other parent be professionally supervised and monitored.
If your ex violates the court order, they are considered to be in contempt of the law. If you can prove they have broken the court order, they can be penalized – they can lose access to the child and even go to jail.
Just keep in mind that these are extreme consequences and it’s likely your ex will be reprimanded in court (at least the first couple of times).
Supporting Your Child
Not only is it vital that you intervene if you suspect your child is being emotionally abused, but you need to find ways to support your child as well.
If the situation is being handled through the court, they may appoint a counselor to your child to help them cope, recover, and heal from the abuse.
Sometimes, having your child talk to a third party who is not involved in the situation is a great way to help them open up about their treatment.
If you can’t get a therapist through the courts, look into your health coverage to see if one is covered or reach out to your local mental health center.
Emotional Child Abuse – It’s Tough
I know the thought that your child is being abused by their other parent is heartbreaking – but it’s a situation where you can step in and make a difference.
It may be tough at first since emotional abuse is hard to identify but you have to fight to advocate for your child.
Go through the motions, talk with doctors, lawyers, and whoever else you have to. Don’t give up until your child’s voice is heard.
And do what you can to provide them with the love and support they need to overcome this situation.
Have you dealt with emotional child abuse from the other parent? How did you deal with the situation? Tell us your insight in the comments below: