It’s Not Me, It’s You – dealing with a narcissist’s letter in family law 

This is such a hard subject to write about because a narcissist, as you probably know, is often found to be pointing the finger of blame at their target. They have more plot twists than a John Grisham novel and an Olympic-level aptitude for mental gymnastics. They have a capacity to turn any story, often of their own wrongdoing, into something they now say that you did. Blame is their best friend and personal responsibility is something they have never considered for themselves.  And that’s the difficulty many parents face in family court. 

For the target of blame, it’s sickening, angering, and undeniably confusing. There are many WTF moments where the pattern of the relationship appears before you on steroids. Everything they did is now said to be something you did. All the eggshells you walked across seem to have suddenly cracked. You’ve made the narcissist angry. A frightening prospect indeed.  

All too often Affidavits become character assassination. Instead of sticking to facts, they become weapons to tear the other parent apart. Receiving legal letters becomes so triggering your heart is racing before you’ve even opened it. And then there’s that constant nauseating feeling of this never going to end. 

I am repeatedly asked by parents for help in how to “overcome their lies”. It’s always hard to answer this. There is no magic panacea other than controlling the controllables. And that seems a big ask when it feels like you’re on a high-speed train and the brakes have failed. But the controllable elements are all within your grasp and the following tips should help you to pull the handbrake on before the whole experience leaves you feeling destroyed.

Receive but don’t read. 

When you receive triggering information by email, just sit with it. You know it’s there. You know it’s going to be awful. There’s no hurry to read it. Really, I mean this. There is no hurry. Even if all you do is wait five minutes, it will give you time to prepare yourself a little. This is especially true if you’re enjoying time out at the shops or having lunch and receive an email on your phone. (everyone remembers life pre covid lockdowns, I hope). Yes, you will have to read it eventually but sooner is not always better. This will feel really hard at first but you will get better at it over time. 

Read but don’t respond. 

Read the material once but don’t reply. Just scan it over and then shut it down and put it away for as long as you need to stop shaking. When you’re ready, go back to it. If you need to stop again, do. Reading what is tantamount to character assassination is extremely hard, so take your time and don’t feel the need to respond. You see, narcissists love a quick reply and we never reply correctly when we are in defensive mode. 

Reply but don’t react.

Don’t feel the need to reply to every threat and twisted-around point or every horrible dig they’ve made at you. Reacting too soon can lead to defensive responses that only give them more fuel. Reply only to what’s needed and save the rest in your knowledge bank now that they’ve shown you their cards.

See it for what it is. 

If there is one glorious element of a narcissist writing a letter, it’s that they often show their hand. If they’re not tempered through a lawyer, they usually make mistakes, drop themselves in the deep end and sometimes, if you’re lucky, they will hand you their case on a platter. They are demanding to be heard, so use that to your advantage. Ask yourself, what are they really saying in this? What have they given away? What’s their obvious strategy? It’s usually quite a lot if you can allow yourself time to process it with more interrogation and less defensiveness. 

I’m really sorry you’re having to endure this. These engagements can be very hard to manage and your emotions are bound to get ahead of you at times. Just try and remember these simple principles and buy yourself some time.



Parenting After Separation provides courses, family mediation and parenting coordination services for separating parents. We are here to help.