Dealing with anyone who has a narcissistic personality disorder can be difficult. Dealing with a narcissistic partner or spouse during a divorce can be a nightmare.
First, let’s start by defining narcissistic personality disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic’s definition, “Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
A narcissist is an expert at reinventing reality to suit them, to constantly fulfill their needs, and to make others conform to their wishes and way of thinking. Anyone who has dealt with a narcissist knows that to question them and their distorted truth, or to outright disagree with their imagined world that they believe revolves around them, can release a fury unlike any they may have dealt with before.
In Mark Banschick’s article, “Narcissism: The Personality Disorder You Do NOT Want to Marry!” for divorcedmoms.com, points out some character traits of this personality disorder.
- Exaggerated sense of one’s talents and importance
- Fantasies of great romance, great insight or great achievement
- Excessive need for admiration and attention
- Powerful sense of entitlement – can rationalize selfish acts as perfectly normal
- Tendency to use people as objects
- Lacks true empathy, but often can feign empathy quite well
- Easily hurt – and easily injures others (sometimes badly)
- Obsessed with oneself
- Lacks capacity to be self-critical
Banschick also states, “In the world of divorce, for instance, a Narcissist may simply drop the marriage because ‘the love was not good enough’ and then get outraged that his wife won’t just go along with it.” And, “Once he cuts bait, how she ends up is not his concern – relationships are ultimately chess pieces to be moved around.”
Sadly, a true narcissist is not likely to ever consider themselves a narcissist. If they are seeing a therapist, often when the therapist disagrees or questions the narcissist, the narcissist will declare that therapist incompetent and even end the therapy. Narcissists are unable to take responsibility for their behavior or examine their flaws when they do not believe they have any.
Emotional numbness can be a characteristic of a narcissist. They may not experience love and closeness in the same way. Seeking thrills as a way to feel life is common with this personality disorder. Empathy for others is not something a narcissist is capable of, though they may be able to feign empathy if it gets them what they want. Their focus is always their own best interest.
Linda Martinez-Lewi, Ph.D., writes, “Narcissistic personalities are master manipulators and control artists.” In her article for thenarcissistinyourlife.com, “You Scream — Narcissist Accuses You of Losing Control,” Ms. Martinez-Lewi goes on to state: “Break this cycle of abuse by first recognizing and understanding the true nature of the narcissist. This personality is deeply ingrained and very unlikely to change. The narcissist with all of his self absorption is consciously unaware of his internal psychological processes.”
The narcissist has earned its own character trap according to Cathy Meyer, Divorce Support Expert, in her article for divorcesupport.com, “What is a High Conflict or ‘Malignant Divorce?’” in which she explores Banschick’s theories of what constitutes a malignant divorce. The narcissist “probably had some narcissistic tendencies before the divorce. Now, your ex has regressed into a more severe form of narcissism. With the divorce, he completely dismisses any of your needs, or all the years of devotion and mutual companionship that you had built together.”
You may ask, “Why would anyone marry a narcissist?” Karyl McBride, Ph.D., on psychologytoday.com blog, in her article “Help! I’m Divorcing a Narcissist,” states, “Why one would marry a narcissist is a no-brainer. They can be charming, enticing, engaging and easily put on a show in the beginning of relationships. They are out there for you to fall in love with. You will only know the reality as you get to know them better over a period of time.”
So what do you do if you fell for a narcissist and want to end that relationship or marriage? According to Lindsey Ellison, a divorce and breakup coach, “Divorcing a narcissist may be the toughest fight of your life.” She offers some helpful pointers on how to manage when battling a narcissist.
- Take your time.
- Listen, ask questions.
- Itemize the issues that are important to you.
- Identify the end goal.
- Ask the right questions.
- Play devil’s advocate with your case.
- Don’t hire the overaggressive, “pit bull” lawyer.
- Don’t focus on who they are, but what they’re doing.
- Be reasonable at all times.
If you’re married to a narcissist, they have most likely controlled you and the marriage at every turn. It’s a hard cycle to break, the emotional abuse is toxic and often leads you to believe it is you, not them, who is broken. Once you’ve decided to divorce, you need to learn how to stop reacting emotionally to the narcissist; pushing your buttons empowers them. But be forewarned, take their control away and they may respond with rage.
Knowing this, you must always keep the safety of yourself and your children in mind. The narcissist will not see their anger as anything but just, they will consider themselves the victim, not you or your children. Don’t allow past behaviors — there are usually warning signs of what they are capable of — numb you to recognizing the risks. Get answers, seek help, and be safe.