Divorcing a Narcissist: Strategies and What You Can Expect
When you are divorcing a narcissist, you will face many challenges and complications that are unique to the situation you find yourself in. It is crucial that you have a knowledge and educated advocate who can help you navigate the inherent struggles of battling a narcissist. Let our team at Pingel Family Law be on your team in this process.
Why is divorcing a narcissist so difficult? A Narcissist’s central personality traits – a lack of empathy, a tendency toward interpersonal exploitation, desperation for drama and attention, tend to go into overdrive as he or she tries to defend against the shame they feel from a failed marriage. As you know, a Narcissist feels entitled to do anything to “win” at all costs. In combatting a Narcissist, it is crucial to a positive outcome that you learn what you are likely to expect and have a team with prepared and successful strategies to protect you and your children.
1. Narcissists don’t “get over” their anger, feelings of shock and betrayal. Even if they were the one to file for the divorce, if you have shut off emotionally, you appear to be resolute in your decision to move on with your life, you are finding some calmness and peace, you are, and always will be (in the narcissist’s mind) a reminder of something in his or her life that failed. As you likely know, admitting or accepting failure is often more than a narcissist can bear. A narcissist tries to “get even” or not admit or accept the failure by dragging the litigation process on often as long as possible, frequently creating unnecessary and unreasonable events, excuses and even creating fake illnesses or other premeditated plans to prevent a conclusory court date from occurring.
2. When you divorce a narcissist, expect that he or she is going to make every effort to use your children as pawns in the “game” that he or she believes they are playing. When Narcissists hurt, they want everyone around them to hurt, sadly. They don’t consider the cost or the innocent nature of the children, they simply want to lash out with hurt. A narcissist is likely to engage in efforts to obstruct your relationship with the children or interfere or harm the relationship. They want the children and the world to view you as the “bad parent.” Minor miscommunications or misunderstandings will often be blown out of proportion into abuse or neglect allegations by the narcissist. Most efforts at co-parenting with a narcissist will fail as narcissists have an inability to view the situation from the perspective of the children and their needs.
3. Narcissists will create unnecessary drama for no apparent reason, at times. Of course, the narcissists need for endless attention and the “win at all costs” philosophy only serves to fuel these behaviors. Generally, people divorcing narcissists end up with a high-conflict divorce situation. Some classic narcissistic behaviors include such things as excessive bad-mouthing (not only to the children, but to mutual friends, acquaintances and even to your support system of family and friends), cyber-bullying or social media campaigns against you, threats, attempting to interfere with your relationship with your children and turning minor issues into multiple motions, court hearings and the like. Narcissists characteristically will try to blame everything on you. A narcissist will not be successful in co-parenting therapy because even after months of personal work, he or she still cannot self-reflect or acknowledge that they created a single problem or issue. Expect that you will always be the one to blame in the mind of the narcissist and there is no way for you to prove your innocence or even re-characterize the narcissist’s view point of you.
4. Narcissists lack conflict resolution skills. Working through conflict requires a basic self-realization that other people deserve a basic right for respect, their own point-of-view and that there are many ways to solve or compromise a problem or issue.
How Can I Divorce a Narcissist?
The common ways that family law professionals and divorce problems try to help spouses work through conflict simply will not help in situations where you are divorcing a narcissist. A narcissist does not recognize rights and boundaries and does not believe that compromise or coming to a fair middle ground is even a consideration. A narcissist believes that you are a doormat and should continue behaving as such (as you likely spent some period of time acting as such prior to the decision to end your marriage). Here are some of our best suggestions and tips for surviving your divorce with a narcissist:
1. Don’t try to defend yourself. You are wasting your time even trying. Narcissists love to engage you in disagreements and arguments, simply don’t go there with him or her! There is no successful outcome to trying. Trying to defend yourself will only invite a new round of anger and attacks. When you are required to communicate, keep the communication simple and straightforward- just facts, and a specific question or need. Do not get in the habit of justifying your requests or communication or giving regular apologies or the narcissist will continue to exploit that in communication with you.
2. Maintain boundaries. You must routinely and consistently maintain the boundaries that you set up or a narcissist will try to push your boundaries. For example, once you get a court order in place, consistently follow it to the letter of the law without wavering. When responding to communications, take a reasonable amount of time, don’t feel pressured to respond and communicate immediately.
3. If your ex is oversharing information with the children, it’s okay to share some information. This does not mean you need to express information about how you feel about your former spouse, but sharing some basic responses and facts may be appropriate, depending on what your spouse has shared or told to the children.
4. Don’t take your former spouse’s behavior or statements said about you or to you personally. Narcissists try to blame others for their own insecurities. Thus, when you former spouse raises a variety of allegations about you, don’t take it personally. Remember, what your former spouse thinks of you is really not your business.
5. Don’t take advice from friends and family about divorce situations. Often what they have gone through in not dealing with a narcissist is going to be day and night from what you are dealing with. Their advice about getting mediation scheduled or trying to find areas of compromise is not going to be effective in dealing with a narcissist.
Practical Tools for Divorcing a Narcissist:
1. Hire an attorney who is familiar with dealing with narcissists and has strategies to address the unique circumstances that you will face in divorcing a narcissist. An attorney who has dealt with narcissists will be able to offer you strategies to deal with their typical battle tactics including focusing on moving your case forward to a trial date so that your former spouse does not engage in a cyclical and non-ending legal battle to unnecessarily run up legal fees.
2. It’s important for you to document everything. Narcissists lie and often have trouble keeping track of their lies. If you will keep careful records an maintain documents, you will be able to prove your former spouse’s lies and uncover them in court.
3. Learn to maintain drama-free communication. If your former spouse is frustrating you, take some time before responding in kind. If you are having trouble keeping the emotion out of your communication, enlist a trusted friend or family member to review and edit the emotion out of your communications. By disengaging from the emotions, a narcissist will not have anyone to engage in the battle with them.
4. Remember to take care of yourself. Dealing with a narcissist can be exhausting, physically and emotionally. Develop great self-care routines, including exercising, eating health, sleeping, spending supportive time with friends and family and seek out therapy or the assistance of a medical doctor if processing through the situation becomes too much for you.
In order to make sure that dealing with your narcissist former spouse does not take over your life, you can set boundaries. As long as you respond at reasonable frequency, such as once every twenty-four hours, you don’t need to be available at all times of the night and day to respond when the other spouse has a question. If you set aside one hour per day to engage in communications, complete court paperwork, correspond with your legal counsel and the like, it will not feel like dealing with your narcissistic former spouse is taking over your life. Enjoy the other 23 hours of each day with happy and supportive friends and family and working on the future you are trying to create.
Are you dealing with a narcissist in your divorce or other family law matter? Our attorneys at Pingel Family Law have the experience and skills required to minimize conflict and provide you strategies to get through your divorce or family law case process. Please contact us today to schedule your consultation at (816) 208-8130.
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