Tag Archives: divorcing a narcisisst

Cluster B Custody Battles and Gaslighting

Cluster B Custody Battles and Gaslighting

by Rebecca Davis Merritt (OMB President) and Jennifer (OMB VP)

If you and your children are experiencing Domestic Violence by Proxy chances are your children are being gaslighted.  A Cluster B gaslights the children by portraying you as an uncaring, negligent, untrustworthy parent when you are none of these things. Gaslighting is a form of mental and emotional abuse and signs include:

  • Information is often twisted and spun against you or falsely reported by the Cluster B to your children
  • Your children find themselves second guessing their initial response to gaslighting parent, having difficulty distinguishing between reality versus the Cluster B’s story-telling false reality.
  • Your children feel compelled to defend the Cluster B parent by creating excuses or justifying lies, manipulations, and abuse by the Cluster B. They become secretive and may become an in-house spy for the Cluster B smuggling out documents or property trying to win affection and praise from the Cluster B. They are unable to respect appropriate boundaries due to the successful manipulation by Cluster B.
  • You experience secondary gaslighting based on your children’s behaviors wondering if you are the problem and if you should just give up, let the children move in with Cluster B or always let him or her have their way to diminish conflict (note: neither are effective coping strategies).
  • The Cluster B is slowly eroding your parental bond with the children. You do not want to badmouth their other parent to the children but you want them to feel safe and secure not just with you but with their thoughts, feelings, and memories.
  • How can you help your children resist gaslighting, be authentic, and set appropriate boundaries with Cluster B parent? The answers depend on the developmental stage of the child and it is best if the healthy parent can begin this anti-gaslighting training while the child is young. If your child is a teen, looks up to Cluster B parent and craves their interest and attention there is very little you can do beyond providing external resources like individual therapy.  Any time you try to counter the disinformation the teen received, you, in their eyes, confirm the negative messages Cluster B had given them about you being unfairly disposed to criticizing or attacking their other parent.  Even parents who have done anti-gaslighting training from early ages can find the teen years very tricky especially if you are the primary custodial parent. Teens see you as the rule setting no fun parent while the other parent may be seen as the “Disneyland” parent with no rules, much freedom, and fun. One of the best messages you can give your child regardless of their age is to promise you will never lie to them. Say it to them and keep your word. You may have to say, “I cannot talk to you about that now,” but always be truthful. This will help them very much in coping with a Cluster B because they will see a distinct difference in parents as Cluster Bs lie so often the children eventually will recognize it.

Assuming you have younger children how can you implement strong and healthy, anti-gaslighting training while not badmouthing the other parent? Here are some tips:

Teach your children how to set and protect their own personal boundaries. Children should learn about all boundaries, not just with the Cluster B. In return, respect your children’s boundaries. For example teaching young children to object to others touching their bathing suit covered parts of bodies helps them set an appropriate boundary, learning who is and is not trustworthy. and having the right to use their voices. Teaching them to immediately tell you if any adult ever asks them to not tell you a secret teaches them healthy boundaries. Cloud and Townsend have a book about boundaries to use with your children, one for teens, and one for you.

Teach your children how to be assertive and use their voice and voice their boundaries. Teach them to say no when they feel uncomfortable. Teach them that the word, “no” means “no”.

Teach your children about children being kids not adults. It is not their job to take care of adults. It is adults job to take care of them. If Cluster B tries to place child in the middle of parenting issues, do all you can to remove them from the discussion and make it clear to child it is an adult issue. When an adult conversation comes up, tell them the conversation is a grown up issue. Stress that it is not a child issue and therefore should not be discussed with you. Teach them if anyone brings up adult issues with them to state, “I am a kid. Don’t talk to me about adult things”

Talk with your children about respecting other people’s boundaries, empathy and what it means to be kind to others. OMB strongly recommends the Bucket Books by Carol McCloud. ‘Have you Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids’ is a great resource for younger children and ‘Growing UP with a Bucket Full of Happiness’ is a great book for older children (7+). You need to read these books to younger children at least once a week, develop a shared language from this book. Teach your children to be bucket fillers. Also focus on bucket dippers as this is what their cluster B parent is, a bullying, unkind, bucket dipper who breaches boundaries. You do not label their unhealthy parent, you do not say like dad or mom but you give your child the ability to recognize and label unkind behaviors as being the “fault” of the perpetrator and not the victim.  Simultaneously, model kind behaviors to the child via volunteer activities. Volunteer in your community, at churches, homeless shelters, donate items/clothes.  Keep toiletry items, bottled water, protein bars in a ziplock bag in your car to give to homeless people.

Teach your children about manipulation through commenting on it when you see it in commercials (what is this toy commercial trying to make you feel and think?) or in movies (Frozen is a great example but there are many). The older children eventually ask why do some people almost always act like bucket dippers and manipulate others? In my house we learn about Cluster B personality disorders, those people who have profound deficits in empathy, understanding how others feel and caring about their feelings with an extreme need to control others by lying, manipulating, refusing to follow rules, and holding others responsible for making them comfortable, meeting their needs, even expecting children to take care of adults. We do not label Cluster B parent as Cluster B but teach the children to recognize Cluster B patterns of behavior in books and movies. You do not have to introduce the term Cluster B but you have to give your children the knowledge of its behavioral constellation so they recognize such types of people and can engage in self-protective coping including boundary management. Hopefully this knowledge helps not just with their unhealthy parent but in their future dating, friendship, and partnership decisions.

Get your child a therapist who understands domestic violence (the pattern of coercive control of Cluster B is DV) and Cluster B personality disorders, who does not subscribe to family systems approaches (rules out many social workers and marriage and family therapists), does not provides reunification therapy implementing PA or PAS “theories”, or who refuses to provide the court their perspective. In general look for a Ph.D therapist when you can but carefully screen. If you have a good DV program in your area ask them for referral names (lawyers and therapists) and see if they have educational support groups appropriate for your children.

Never tell your children the Cluster B parent loves them. You don’t tell them the Cluster B does not love them but the love of a Cluster B parent hurts and you do not want to do anything to encourage child to accept those behaviors as normal or loving. It is likely you will need to say, “I don’t know why mommy/daddy did that. You will have to ask him/her and decide for yourself if that is how you want to parent your children if you become a parent. Never make excuses or try to normalize abusive or neglectful parenting choices of a Cluster B.

Build your own support system, a tribe who understands Cluster B and can help you cope.


One Mom’s Battle is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Our mission at One Mom’s Battle is to increase awareness of Cluster B personality disorders (Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder) and their impact upon shared parenting and the Family Court System which includes Judges, CPS workers, Guardian ad Litems (GAL), Parenting Coordinators (PC), therapists and attorneys. Education on Cluster B disorders will allow these professionals to truly act in the best interest of the children. Please consider a donation to help with our efforts.

History of One Mom’s Battle: In 2011, One Mom’s Battle began with one mother (Tina Swithin) navigating the choppy waters of a high-conflict divorce in the Family Court System. Since then, it has turned into a grassroots movement reaching the far corners of the Earth with chapter all over the world. In 2014, One Mom’s Battle achieved non-profit status which will allow the group to take their mission to the next level. Tina’s books, Divorcing a Narcissist and The Narc Decoder: Understanding the Language of the Narcissist can be found on Amazon.

Divorcing a Narcissist: Advice from the Battlefield (Foreword)

Divorcing a Narcissist: Advice from the Battlefield (Foreword)

Front coverby Rebecca Davis Merritt 

People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (or other Cluster B personality disorders such as Antisocial and Borderline) emotionally abuse those in their daily family lives. This emotional abuse is a form of domestic violence affecting the other parent, children, extended family, and institutional settings (school and family court) have to deal with this abuse. Narcissistic parents will harm their children even if they love them because their impaired empathy and hypersensitivity to real and imagined wrongs causes them to blame the other parent, to lash out at people they perceive to not be on their side, and to do everything in their power to convince the family court system of their superiority over the other parent. Narcissists vary in their abilities to hide their abusive side in the presence of esteemed others; those with better impression management skills are more successful in their court battles. If Narcissists gain primary custody of their children they usually move toward alienating the children from their other parent, delighting in not following parenting time guidelines or court documents.  If they do not gain primary custody they generally moved toward painting the other parents as responsible for their estrangement from the children instead of acknowledging behaviors directed toward the other parent and children have made the children distrusting of them and skeptical of spending safe time with them. The narcissist will try to use parental alienation by the healthy parent to convince the court of the need to switch custody.  Such a switch places the children in a consistently emotionally and/or physically abusive environment. The Narcissist “gaslights” the children and other parent, trying to convince them that the other parent is at fault for everything, cannot be trusted, and that the children MUST obey and support him/her at every moment.  Phone calls or Skype parenting time with other parent will be heavily monitored, children will be coached, and contact will end if they misspeak.  Clear guidelines need to be placed in parenting time documents regarding no monitoring of electronic parenting time, no confiscation of tablets or phones used in this communication, with sanctions outlined for violation.

Tina Swithin, is a dynamic individual with a mission to increase awareness of narcissism and its impact upon shared parenting and divorce among the judges, CPS workers, Guardian ad litems, Parenting Coordinators, and attorneys handling divorce and custody cases in our family court systems. Her Facebook group is viewed by thousands of people navigating the treacherous courtroom terrain associated with leaving a narcissist and protecting their children from narcissistic rage, gas lighting, and emotional abuse. Her online community is a village of survivors united in problem solving and making positive educational and dynamic changes in the family court system.  Tina and her village hope to get court personnel to realize that one disturbed individual can create and maintain high conflict divorce cases inundating the court with years of unnecessary grievances while tasking the economic and psychological resources of the unaffected parent.  The demand upon the court’s time created by vengeful narcissists could be lessened if court personnel could identify patterns associated with Cluster B personality disorders, recognize the need of a thorough psychological evaluation for such people, understand the need for clear sanctions (including making the disturbed parent responsible for legal representation bills of the other parent), and take timely steps to protect children and the other parent. It is my fervent hope that Tina’s books will make their way into the courtrooms of every family court judge as well as all domestic violence agencies.

Tina developed her expertise and knowledge the hard way – marrying and divorcing a narcissist.  I (Rebecca Davis Merritt); developed my expertise the easy way, years of graduate school, obtaining the Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, working as a professor at Purdue University for more than 20 years where I taught doctoral students how to assess, diagnose, and treat individuals with personality disorders. My skill set included a good understanding of the dynamics driving Cluster B personality disorders.  When a family member married and divorced an individual with these dynamics I observed the damage experienced by children when the court is slow to recognize the severity of Cluster B disorders and fail to protect promptly children.  Court often assumes both parties are equally to blame for creating and maintaining a high conflict case, so the unaffected parent is treated as skeptically as the narcissistic parent.  This is confusing to the unaffected parent who often listens to the narcissist spouting lies in the courtroom and describing self as the most devoted, caring parent.  The courts may eventually recognize the need to take action and protect children of narcissistic parents but the slowness to take action results in prolonged emotional abuse during crucial developmental stages.  Thousands of men and women in the family court system are battling with a narcissist, their children are not being protected, and the court may grant primary custody to the narcissist who is able to glibly lie and manipulate in court.  Narcissistic parents voluntarily delinquent in child support will cry in court as they protest their undying love for their children and yet judges will fail to recognize the discrepancy between courtroom statements and their behaviors outside of the courtroom brought to the courts attention (not paying child support when they have the ability to do so, emotionally and/or physically harming the children, stalking/threatening the other parent etc.). When unaffected parents become anxious or depressed from dealing with the narcissist’s abusive behaviors, they may be deemed psychologically unstable, placing them at risk of losing custody to the abuser.  When their children report emotional abuse by the narcissistic parent, the courts and CPS too frequently conclude that the unaffected parent is alienating the children from the narcissistic parent.  It is a challenge of immense proportion to set and maintain appropriate boundaries within the family and within the family court setting with narcissists.  A careful reading of Tina’s book Divorcing a Narcissist: Advice from the Battlefield (ISBN-10: 0615986344) will help the unaffected parent increase their coping strategies and skills in dealing with a narcissist and helping their children recognize when and how to set boundaries with their narcissistic parent.  This book will also be a valuable resource for all those participating in family court as it will help them develop an understanding of narcissism and its impact upon families and the court. Finally for those just learning about narcissism Tina’s first book “Divorcing a Narcissist: One Mom’s Battle” (ISBN-10: 0615720552), “Divorce Poison” by Richard Warshak (ISBN-10: 0061862162), and “Splitting” by Bill Eddy (ISBN: 1608820254) should be useful.

NOTE FROM TINA: I thought it was very important to share this message and I encourage you to share Rebecca’s words with attorneys, GALs, social workers, Judges, etc.  Thank you for being a part of this amazing little village.


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Seeking a Private Forum for advice, inspiration and support? Join Tina and the Lemonade Warriors in The Lemonade Club!  For information, please email Tina@onemomsbattle.com

Seeking a Divorce Coach for your high-conflict divorce and custody battle? Contact Tina Swithin at www.tinaswithin.com

Seeking insight, encouragement and advice while divorcing a narcissist? Tina Swithin’s books, Divorcing a Narcissist: One Mom’s Battle” and her new book “Divorcing a Narcissist: Advice from the Battlefield” are available on Amazon or through Barnes & Noble. Learn how to set boundaries, navigate your way through the divorce and see the narcissist for who he/she really is. You will learn to forgive yourself and you will begin to heal.


Divorcing a Narcissist: My Safe Haven

Divorcing a Narcissist: My Safe Haven

Cloud HeartMy church has become a safe haven for me over the past four years.  Last year, on February 19th, 2012, Seth created a huge scene by showing up to the church and the morning ended with him yelling at me and the girls in the parking lot and then lying about it in court.  Traumatizing.  In court, it became his church and then he denied his outburst which left the girls in tears.  Our court paperwork now says that Seth cannot attend my church.

I wasn’t raised in the church and only began going four years ago as my marriage was ending.  My pastor is a young, down-to-Earth, surfer guy who makes me laugh and touches my heart every week.  Aside from the spiritual aspect, he makes me want to be a better person.  We’ve recently been in a series which hit home for me over the past six weeks but yesterday’s service was one that provided me hope as I enter this latest round of the custody evaluation. The message was “Running long and finishing well” and it described three hurdles to the various races of life being depleted, disillusionment and distraction.  A couple of the main points centered on concentrating on your purpose and finding your focus to finish strong.

Sometimes I feel like the person crawling to the finish line.  I have worked so hard and the evaluation is right in front of me yet I feel so depleted by the bumps in the road that I am crawling.  I need to concentrate and focus on finishing strong for my daughters.  I can do it!!!  I can!  I can!  🙂

On another note, one of the things that I often struggle with is how my blog and my book —this part of my life, matches up with the direction of my church.  To be honest, I didn’t know if they would support what I am doing.  I was recently asked by one of the pastors if I would be interested in leading a divorce group at the church.  Me?  Lead a church group?  The thought terrified me and I declined.  Then, a few weeks ago I took a class at church on finding my purpose– we took personality tests, skills tests, etc and I was amazed to see that what I am already doing aligned with a portion of the worksheets: lead and encourage others going through divorce.  The class was exactly what I needed.  The insecurity about how the church would feel about my mission evaporated.

If those things didn’t tell me that my church would support my cause, I was smacked in the forehead yesterday with the reality that they are already supporting what I am doing– and I had no idea.  I met a woman in church this week that I’d never spoken to before.  She was sitting behind me on Sunday and introduced herself as someone who understands my struggles and just bought my new book— it turns out that she also divorced a narcissist.  She went onto say that she suggested my book to the church counselor who had already read it and is going to buy copies to loan out to people that she counsels!  My first thought– Oh great!  I used the “F word!”  in my book 🙂  Gotta keep my humor!

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Click the link to purchase Tina’s new book, “Divorcing a Narcissist- One Mom’s Battle.”  You will find insight, red flag reflections and strategies on how to survive (and thrive!) while divorcing of co-parenting with a narcissist. Tired of panicking at the site of a new email from the narcissist in your inbox? Learn how to decode the emails and see them for what they are. You will learn to forgive yourself and you will begin to heal.