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How to Successfully Maneuver the Minefield of Divorcing a Narcissistic Parent

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Divorce is a complex and difficult process in any situation, but when you are divorcing a narcissistic parent, the situation becomes even more challenging, sometimes seemingly impossibly so. Narcissists, who often have inflated egos, manipulative tendencies and disregard for other’s needs (including the other spouse and the children involved) can turn a divorce into a high-conflict battleground.

In order to best battle a narcissist, you need to understand “who” they are at their core. What are they characterized by?

There are common and consistent traits that narcissists are characterized by. Some of the common traits include:

  1. Grandiosity and excessive/unreasonable self-importance: the narcissist holds an inflated sense of their self-worth, believing that they are better than everyone else and are entitled to special treatment.
  2. Lack of Empathy: they struggle to understand or even realize the importance of caring about the emotions and feelings of others, including the effect of their behavior on their children;
  3. Excessive Need for admiration: they require constant praise and validation, frequently manipulating circumstances and situations to achieve the praise and positive reinforcement they crave;
  4. Arrogance and envy: the narcissist is excessively envious of others successes and achievements and will often belittle or diminish them if they feel that another person is going to get more attention or admiration than they feel they are or will receive;
  5. Exploitation: they are willing to use others for personal gain, advantage and manipulate situations for a perceived advantage;
  6. Sense of entitlement: they believe that they are always entitled to special treatment and privileges and often refuse to follow rules or boundaries due to their entitled special treatment;
  7. Haughty and arrogant behaviors: they will often display arrogance and condescending behavior towards others around them, especially in circumstances where it is not deserved;
  8. Extreme aversion to criticism: the narcissist cannot tolerate criticism or negative feedback often resorting to anger, defensiveness or other deflective tactics;
  9. Living in a fantasy world: narcissists often live in a fantasy world where they believe the outcome of every situation is that they are always right and no matter what the circumstance, it is impossible for them to believe that they deserve any blame or fault;
  10. Devaluation of others: they will often belittle, particularly related to people over whom they believe they have a perceived power advantage, such as their children;

By recognizing the package or narcissist behaviors, it often becomes much easier to anticipate their expected behavior and develop intentional strategies to counter their expected behaviors effectively.

What are some potential challenges and how should you prepare to address them?

Narcissists routinely employ tactics designed to manipulate the divorce process and the information being conveyed within the divorce proceedings.

One such tactic is known as a smear campaign. Through this tactic, they attempt to damage the other person’s reputation by spreading lies or misleading half-truths to friends, family, work colleagues and even the court. How do you respond to this? You document everything. You should write down and keep a log/journal notes of all negative communications, whether those occur through emails or text messages. Providing your lawyer with the evidence/documentation to counter the narcissist’s behavior is one of the best combative strategies available. Yet another responsive strategy is to focus on maintaining a positive reputation. By building and. Maintaining positive relationships with your support network, it ensures the lies and half-truths from a narcissist are not believed to begin with.

Another strategy a narcissist will often engage in is one of emotional manipulation. The narcissist will use guilt, fear or even emotional blackmail to pressure their former partner to concede to their demands. How do you address this? By developing strong, consistent boundaries. Don’t display emotional responses to their behaviors. Recognize their behaviors for what they are. Focus on exchanging factual information vas clearly and concisely as possible. If it is becoming difficult to deal with the behaviors of a narcissist, seek professional support through a trusted counselor to help build your emotional resilience and ensure that you have developed healthy coping mechanisms.

Some narcissists direct their strategies toward focusing on control. These narcissists attempt to control every aspect of the divorce or family law litigation, including finances, dictating custody/parenting time demands and even making the former spouse feel that the narcissist continues to be in control of his or her personal life. This behavior can be overcome by hiring a strong, experienced family law attorney who has experience in handling divorces against narcissistic individuals. Additionally, by educating yourself about your legal rights and how you can use the provisions of the law to create and maintain boundaries, you will be able to limit the narcissist’s power and control.

Another frequently used strategy by narcissists is triangulation. In this process, a narcissist tries to pit you and your support system against one another or even you and the children against one another, with a goal of trying to maintain control through emotional manipulation. You can combat this strategy by prioritizing open and honest communication and avoiding any communications that may be perceived as negative toward the narcissistic party. You can also combat this behavior by empowering your children to understand and be aware of manipulative behaviors and assist them in being able to clearly articulate their needs.

What is one strategy that overcomes all of the manipulative tactics a narcissist may attempt to engage in?

The strategy is simple. It’s often called gray rocking and it is an intentional strategy of detaching emotionally from the narcissist. If you employ this strategy, you attempt to minimize communication by limiting interactions to essential or required parenting matters. You maintain a strategy of being neutral to everything. No matter how extreme the narcissist’s behavior is or what they do or say, you simply don’t allow them to see you having any type of emotional reaction to it. If children are involved, you should focus on building safe, supportive boundaries with interactions for children.

Beyond implementing this strategy, many people dealing with a narcissist get through a difficult legal process by focusing on their own self-care. Self-care strategies can include seeking professional support with a therapist or life coach to provide coping mechanisms to manage your emotional reactions to narcissistic behaviors. Another self-care strategy involves building a small, tight support network of unquestionably supportive people that you can rely on and count on. Additionally, focusing on health daily habits such as meditation, exercise, eating health and getting sufficient sleep is often a very productive resource to minimizing emotional reactions to a narcissist. Finally, continually reinforcing health boundaries and saying no to a narcissist’s efforts to push or move those boundaries is often an excellent, empowering self-care strategy.

How Do you Deal with A Narcissist in the Legal Battleground?

When you move forward with divorcing a narcissist or seeking protective child custody modifications against a narcissist, having knowledgeable, experienced legal counsel is crucial to successfully navigating a difficult legal landscape. Make sure your legal counsel is experienced in both, high conflict litigation and in dealing with a narcissist. An experienced family law attorney will come to the litigation process prepared with strategies to combat the likely tactics that a narcissist will use through the legal process to try to delay, divert and frustrate the efforts you are making to protect yourself. Documentation of the narcissist’s behaviors is a key success strategy! Maintaining records of financial documents, communications, and instances of manipulative behavior toward you and the children will be crucial to proving what you are claiming. As you prepare information and documentation for your family law attorney focus on facts, not emotional responses. Your lawyer needs facts from you to best represent you. Finally, mentally prepare yourself for delays in the process. Often one of the most successful tactics narcissists employ is prolonging and frustrating the process. There are some legitimate and reasonable-appearing methods that they can accomplish this. The legal system prioritizes the best interests of the children. By focusing on being stable and providing the best, loving, nurturing environment for the children, you can strengthen your position in custody negotiations and outcomes.

If you are going through, or anticipate going through a divorce or other family law case with a narcissist, put our knowledge and experience to work for you and your children. Call Pingel Family Law today at (816) 208-8130 to schedule your consultation!

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