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How The High-Conflict Co-Parent Creates Sibling Rivalry



Do arguments between the children feel out of control and never-ending? If so, chances are one of your biggest concerns as a co-parent may be figuring out how to stop and prevent sibling rivalry. Unfortunately, this isn’t always an easy feat – especially if you have a high-conflict co-parent in the mix. Although not every issue stems from this behavior pattern, there are certain narcissistic parenting traits that can increase competition amongst siblings and intensify conflict.


To gain insight into why these issues arise, it helps to learn more about what narcissistic parents do – and why they do it. In this post, we will explore how high-conflict co-parents create feelings of envy in their children and thrive on turning siblings against each other through frequent fighting over emotional support or resources.


1. They Need To Be The Center Of Attention

The true hallmark of a high-conflict co-parent is their need to be the center of attention. Manipulative and domineering, narcissistic parents tend to use their kids as pawns in a game of competition and one-upmanship, constantly pitting siblings against each other to reinforce their own superiority. This kind of parenting not only deprives children of the attention and affection they ought to receive from a healthy caregiver – it can leave lasting psychological scars well into adulthood, such as feelings of low self-esteem, insecurity, and mistrust. Children are often deemed “good” or “bad” based on the approval of the high-conflict co-parent. This approval rating keeps the children vying to be labeled “good” and doing whatever it takes to be the golden child. As difficult as it may seem, choosing not to engage in these petty rivalries is essential for protecting vulnerable children from the damaging effects of growing up with a narcissistic parent.


2. They Triangulate

Narcissistic parents often triangulate their children, creating an unhealthy form of competition between siblings. When it comes to triangulation each person has a role: the victim, the villain, and the rescuer. This behavior pits one child against the other, setting them up in a rivalry that can lead to resentment, mistrust, and anger. Triangulation may take various forms depending on the parent's needs or desires; the relationship between the two kids may become adversarial, or one child may be manipulated into taking sides against the other. While triangulation often allows the narcissistic parent to maintain control over both children and solidify their power in the family dynamics, it does nothing to improve subsequent relationships among siblings and can cause long-lasting emotional damage.


3. They Play Favoritism

When it comes to a high-conflict co-parent, favoritism and rivalry play a major role in the way children are treated. Parents with narcissistic tendencies often view their children as an extension of themselves and try to shape them into what they want them to be, disregarding the individual needs of each child. Consequently, they become more inclined to give attention, love, and privileges to the one child that best reflects their values or ideals while ignoring or minimally engaging with the other children. This can create a competitive environment among siblings which leaves those at the receiving end feeling neglected and deprived of affection and attention. Without adequate guidance and understanding, this ongoing tug-of-war may result in long-term feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem in kids.


Additionally, a narcissistic parent will elevate one child while belittling the other, causing them to develop jealousy and a feeling of inferiority. This can lead to one sibling having entitlement issues and a lack of empathy, while the other sibling may become overly caring and sensitive in order to gain favor. The competition that develops between siblings then perpetuates an inappropriate power struggle dynamic long after children leave the household - this may negatively affect relationships for their lifetimes.


Understanding the dynamics at play is vital in helping you counter your co-parent’s projection of insecurities onto the children. This can be done by teaching the siblings mutual respect and treating everyone fairly in your home. It can also help repair their relationship and see the dysfunctional dynamic being created in the other home.




4. They Set Expectations

Narcissistic parents can have a deep and lasting impact on children, often expecting them to live up to unrealistic standards that the parent cannot themselves meet. Such extreme expectations can lead to constant rivalry between parent and child as well as siblings as the children struggle to meet their parent’s unreachable goals. Furthermore, any hints of rebellion from the child can be met with several forms of criticism from the narcissistic parent, ranging from disapproval and belittling to outright punishment or manipulation.


By always putting children in competition with one another in order to accomplish perfection, narcissistic co-parents harm their children’s self-esteem and destroy their natural curiosity and inclination toward growth. Overall, narcissistic parenting can put children in dangerous psychological states that only serve to further damage already strained relationships between parents and their children as well as the sibling dynamic.

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5. They Separate Children

Narcissistic parenting can have far-reaching consequences on children and their relationships. Oftentimes, narcissistic parents play siblings off one another, taking only one child for parenting time, to go shopping, or to special events and activities, thus creating a sense of competition for attention and approval. This can lead to distrust among siblings as they compete for favor with the parent. This type of parenting also sets up an environment where children have unhealthy views of what they should expect in terms of relationships with others. When a child is repeatedly used as an emotional pawn in this way, it becomes difficult to form balanced attachments and reciprocal relationships as they grow into adulthood.


If you believe your children are being pinned against each other to fulfill your high-conflict co-parent’s deep-rooted insecurities, then we would love to begin supporting you in helping your children develop a loving bond through family coaching or co-parenting coaching. Being siblings ourselves, we cannot imagine not having each other in our lives and your kids shouldn’t have to choose between a parent and sibling relationship either.


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