How Can We Protect Children from Personality Disorder Parents?

Reader’s Question

What is your advice on how to help children overcome parents who have MSBP, Narcissistic Disorder, and Histrionic Disorder? They no longer live with said parent but have contact through chats, and websites. They are old enough now so they see what the parent is doing and are hurt by the continuation of abuse. What can we do to help them protect themselves, and how or what services can we find to help them with this as well? Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

Psychologist’s Reply

I’m assuming by MSBP you are referring to Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP) or Factitious Disorder by Proxy. Both diagnoses reflect the intentional creation of medical and/or psychological signs or symptoms, typically in children from 18 months to 6 years of age, by a parent to assume the role of sickness.

The parent or parents involved in the conditions you list are considered to have Personality Disorders. A Personality Disorder (PD) is a long-standing pattern that involves many attitude, behavior, and emotional components. I have written an introduction to personality disorders on this website. I’ve also described the relationship traits of a PD (Identifying Losers in Relationships) and reactions from victims who are involved with a PD (Love and Stockholm Syndrome).

Continued contact with their parents will place them at risk for continued abuse. Individuals with personality disorders lie, deceive, excuse, blame and manipulate others. They view every contact — email, website, phone, etc. — as an opportunity to manipulate others for their purpose and toward their selfish agenda. For this reason, each contact may find the parent explaining why they are not to blame for whatever happened or prompted their departure. Each contact may be very confusing to the children, almost at any age.

Depending on their age, children can be educated about Personality Disorders by reading about them in my article or a variety of other sources. At that point:

  • Recognize that as a child, they didn’t cause their parent/parents to have a Personality Disorder. As children, they are also not responsible for crimes/abuse created by the PD parents. PD parents will actually blame their children for their incarceration as abusive parents — as in “You (child) are why I’m in prison. If you had been a good child I wouldn’t have beaten you!”
  • Accept that every contact can be psychologically dangerous for the child. For this reason, children (even older ones) should provide minimal personal information to the noncustodial PD parent. Provide the same level of information they would provide to neighbors at the grocery store — progress in school, playing sports, etc.
  • Healthy individuals with a personality disorder in their family or social circle must keep the PD individual at a safe emotional distance. Try not to accept their excuses, their promises, and their attempts to use guilt.
  • The children should focus on their future and what will eventually be their new family. Even when they become adults and have a family of their own, they will still need to protect themselves from a parent with a personality disorder. The reason…Personality Disorders always consider all relationships on “back burner”. They will continue to contact past victims from time to time to see if the victim is still available for abuse or more manipulation.
  • Encourage the children to share with responsible adults the comments and manipulations used by the PD parents during those email or other contacts. The actions of Personality Disorder can range from disruptive and abusive to criminal. For this reason, the entire network around the children needs to remain on alert.
  • As responsible adults caring for the children of a Personality Disorder parent, don’t make excuses for the behavior of the PD parent. Healthy people tend to encourage understanding and support, recognizing that a grumpy co-worker is going through a difficult time — that kind of thing. That approach will actually support the behavior of a personality disorder who is manipulating for acceptance. Making excuses for a PD parent creates more problems for the children than allowing them to see and recognize the behavior for what is actually is…abusive and manipulative.

Children can also be assisted by individual or group counseling. Some communities have “victims of abuse” support groups. You might contact your local mental health resources to identify other sources of support.

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