Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex Challenges Abuse Survivors 

September 8, 2014 Kellie Jo Holly

Description of A "Toxic Ex"

A toxic ex is any co-parent who creates a loyalty conflict for your child(ren). Loyalty conflicts occur when your child believes they must choose one parent over the other.
A toxic ex will do things like:

  • Restrict or hinder communication and/or contact between you and your children.
  • Talk badly about you to your children.
  • Erase and Replace You (This phrase comes from Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex and means to ". . . erase you from your child's heart, mind, and memory and install someone else . . .").
  • Undermine you.
  • Persuade your kids to not trust you and urge them to betray your trust (the "divide and conquer to maintain control" routine).


Abuse Survivors: Beware of Being A Toxic Ex

Co-parenting with a toxic ex challenges abuse survivors to improve their communication skills and emotional reactions quickly or risk losing their children.

Abuse in your former relationship is a factor in predicting whether you will experience the effects of a toxic ex. It is true that your ex will not change because the relationship is over. However, it is also true that you will not change just because the relationship is over. You must be diligent in improving your communication with your children because if an abuse survivor (like you) is not careful, you could become toxic, too. If you left the relationship because your ex abused you (and/or your children), you have to accept the fact that you could unintentionally damage your relationships with your children if you continue to react to abuse in the same manner you did during the relationship. The cycle of abuse includes two people; as one of those people, you must come to terms with behaviors you wish to change in yourself.

Any parent could consciously or subconsciously create a loyalty conflict. According to Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex authors, the most likely reasons a parent creates a loyalty conflict include the emotions of:

  • Jealousy
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Sadness
  • Loneliness
  • Anger
  • Narcissistic injury (in which case one parent protects their sense of self by devaluing the other parent)

Notice that all eight of the emotions involved could describe abuse survivors' emotions, either pre- or post-separation. Yes, you could become a toxic ex for real instead of in your ex's imagination. More than likely, "narcissistic injury" will not apply to all abuse survivors. However, if you mix the seven other emotions together, it is possible to come out with a coping mechanism that looks a whole lot like "narcissistic injury" (If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it may as well be a duck . . .).

How to Cope with Loyalty Conflicts Caused by Your Toxic Ex

Coping with loyalty conflicts means you must:

  1. Put your initial emotions to your children's loyalty conflict on the back burner.
  2. Communicate effectively with your child both when they act out and during peaceful times.

Don't Display Your First Emotions to Your Child

As a survivor of abuse, hearing your child say things that sound like they came directly from your toxic ex's mouth could cause you to react as if your child were your ex. Remember that your ex is confusing your child either on purpose or by accident. If your ex abused you, it will be easy to jump to the conclusion that they're confusing your child on purpose. While this may be true, it doesn't matter at this crucial juncture in parent/child communication. The authors of Coparenting with a Toxic Ex emphasize that the other parent's motivation is no longer your concern. Why? Because your child feels angry or is under a false impression. Your child's well-being is your primary concern; you can run some subtle damage control later, if you must. If your child feels angry or confused in any other situation, you most likely handle their emotions gingerly. You seek to find out the cause, empathize with the emotions to calm the child, then discuss the wound. Don't allow your ex to further hurt you or your child by reacting any differently to the loyalty conflict. During loyalty conflict situations, your child needs stable parenting, not the puppet-on-a-string behavior your abusive ex may evoke.

Make Effective and Loving Communication Skills Omnipresent

Effective communication trumps any other show of love you can give to your child. Remember that effective communication with your kids must be present when they're acting out and when you're having a great time together. It's imperative that your children hear from you when they're behaving well, behaving badly and everything in between.

"Good parenting" boils down to communicating with grace, and it is not always instinctual. As an abuse survivor, you may have picked up some bad communication habits during the abusive relationship. Let's be frank: there is much to unlearn when it comes to communication skills after you've survived abuse. Unfortunately, leaving your abuser does not automatically improve your ability to communicate with your children. It takes time and knowledge to get to a point where both you and your child feel respected and loved. If you want to pick up some quick tips for loving and effective communication, I highly recommend that you grab a copy of Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex: What to Do When Your Ex-Spouse Tries to Turn the Kids Against You. The authors give concise examples of how you can quickly get a handle on kids in crisis, and that will set you apart from your toxic ex in their hearts and minds in no time.

Information in this article comes from the book "Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex: What to Do When Your Ex-Spouse Tries to Turn the Kids Against You," by Amy Baker, PhD and Paul Fine, LCSW.

You can also find Kellie on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and her books on Amazon.

APA Reference
Jo, K. (2014, September 8). Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex Challenges Abuse Survivors , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 24 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

Gabrielle Schutte
April, 27 2016 at 12:42 am

My toxic ex has turned my children away from me and now they completely hate me.
He took me to court so many times, trying to say I abused my own children, when it all got too much, and I tried to commit suicide, he then took me to court to say that I would kill my kids and my children.
After this he told the children that I abandoned them, when all I did was fight year after year to keep them in my life.
The children now see everything I do as manipulation and also day I have a vendetta against their father.
I have never said a negative weird about their father to them, but apparently I'm the bad one.
I can't believe he has done what he has done, I was so blind believing him when he said he would never stop me from seeing the kids.
I wish I had not have reacted badly to him years ago. Things are just going from worse to hopeless.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Jo Holly
April, 27 2016 at 10:32 am

Nothing is over. Trust that what you taught your children before parental alienation will remain in their minds. Their father does the same thing to them that he's done to you, but he uses a different method. Eventually, when the soft touch stops working, he'll be an ass to them too. And they'll see. Trust in that.
Continue to not say a bad thing about their dad (probably court ordered anyway). Instead, when you do get a chance to speak with them, educate them about bullies. Their dad is a bully and it won't take long for them to see it.
You're in my thoughts. Your kids need their mother, so don't give up hope. Don't give up.

Linda DeSimone
November, 20 2014 at 4:42 am

My toxic ex turned my 5 children against me even when the idea to divorce was his. The relationship was extremely abusive, something kids just don't understand. The minute he left, my adult children abused me in unspeakable ways. A lot of arguments occurred all in defense of myself, I tried to explain the deception, the lying, the hitting, the belittling, the degrading, but they refused to listen. They thought it was ok to spit in their mothers' face, and they thought it was ok to pour a juice box over her head. They still feel no remorse, nor do they understand right from wrong. Linda G.

Sandra Cobban
September, 20 2014 at 5:27 am

Well,difficult write...
I love to write!
I had a bf not live in...alcoholic...put up 5 damn yrs...
Why one normalized citizen may ask?
Cos I've bipolar I felt no one else would love the stuff we do as female rapid cyclers ( private) he put up w ( so I densely thought)
Condensed version...
I learned this guy was really toxic to the max.....kicked his sorry arse...
For the last time..took awhile to REALISE yes I'm not going to die single....
He was actually contributing (@ unconscious level on my behalf) to increasing my triggers/ symptoms.
Not how I see real,true love..nope.
So,yes it took time,awhile it'd been 5 yrs...
Interestingly though we live close vicinity,I know a friend of his ( more on my side..)
Said he hasn't seen my ex in ages....neither have I.
I'm still going about my routine,at first thought now I can't shop
Thing I'd,you've gotta remember you've as much right on earth as Mr Ex...
Have a plan in case you do run into him,mine?
Walk right away,avoiding any eye contact don't talk....what's there to say?
Stand up.
Date when your ready,if like me,you choose not to,whatever floats your boat.
Most of all,time does really heal,but it won't if your texting,calling etc.....
Move up & on to a better life,you deserve it as well as I .
Pets help lots too,unconditional LOVE....

September, 17 2014 at 1:14 pm

I have been experiencing this for years since my divorce. Now I have a name for it!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

April, 9 2018 at 9:44 pm

My fiancé and I have been dealing with the most toxic ex wife for the past 6 years. She uses their child as a bate to torure him, she withholds and opposes everything he wants to do with the child. She blocks phone calls and trips despite having a parenting plan order from court. She accuses me on an ongoing basis of child abuse. I just started seeing a therapist for all the anxiety and trauma she has caused us. She has personality disorder but not getting help. She uses gas lighting and emotional threats to brainwash their 7 year old girl. She coaches her to lie all the time. Their daughter constantly lies for her mother to survive!!!! No body helps. All professionals, lawyers, social workers and parenting coordinator, take his money and don't do anything to get her help because they don't want to touch the mental health issue.... it's a suffocating and toxic situation for the child and all of us because one selfish person that needs to get help refuses to get help...she needs to move on and leave us all alone.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

October, 23 2018 at 9:02 pm
I’m going through the same thing as identical as you described. I’m looking for anyone who has an understanding of this.
My story is identical

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