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Navigating Divorce with a Narcissist: Strategies for Success

28 Dec

Being married to a narcissist is hard, divorcing one is even harder. Here is how to avoid the pitfalls and walk away in one piece.

Man looking in to a broken mirror

If I had a pound for every time a client has confided in me about divorcing a narcissist, I'd be well-off. The term "narcissist" is often thrown around casually, but it's crucial to understand that it's more than just a buzzword – it's a personality disorder. But why does this distinction matter?

In my role as a divorce and co-parenting coach, I've witnessed how divorce can bring out the worst in people. Their behaviours can become irrational, self-centered, and even extreme. This often stems from fear and a defensive mindset. As we navigate divorce, conversations with friends and family can shed light on situations, making it important to distinguish between a true narcissist and someone hurting and lashing out.

Understanding Narcissism

A narcissist is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "a person who has a condition in which they are only interested in themselves and what they want, and have a strong need to be admired and a lack of understanding of other people's feelings."

Dealing with a narcissist during divorce is uniquely challenging because they seldom acknowledge their issues, making seeking help or diagnosis unlikely. Consequently, marriages may break down, and it's often the spouse dealing with the narcissist who seeks assistance.

Traits and Behaviours of Narcissism

Narcissism exists on a spectrum, and healthy aspects like confidence and self-sufficiency can be beneficial. However, extreme narcissism is marked by toxic vanity, entitlement, and exploitativeness. At the far end of the spectrum lies Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), which predominantly affects men. To diagnose NPD, at least five behaviours from the following list must be exhibited over time:

  1. Exaggerated self-importance and entitlement
  2. Fantasies of success, power, beauty, etc.
  3. Belief in exclusivity with special individuals or institutions
  4. Constant need for attention and admiration
  5. Unrealistic expectations of favorable treatment
  6. Exploitative tendencies for personal gain
  7. Lack of empathy and understanding of others' emotions
  8. Envious of others or perceiving envy from others
  9. Grandiose and arrogant behaviours

Dealing with Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic used by narcissists to gain power and distort reality. Common behaviours of gaslighters include blatant lies, denial of actions, using personal information against you, inconsistency between words and actions, strategic compliments, projecting actions onto you, isolating you from others, and branding you as "crazy."

Understanding these behaviours is essential to prepare for potential gaslighting or other tactics during your divorce.

Tips for Divorcing a Narcissist

  1. Expect Challenges: While amicable divorces are ideal, they often aren't feasible with a narcissist. Underestimating their tactics can lead to exploitation. Seek legal and emotional support early on.
  2. Choose a Strategic Solicitor: Find a solicitor who can take on the situation without fueling unnecessary drama. Avoid those who thrive on conflict.
  3. Work with a Coach: Emotionally cope with the toll of dealing with a narcissist. A coach experienced in narcissistic personality disorder can provide tools for managing your divorce.
  4. Build a Support Team: Narcissists may try to manipulate others against you. Gather a supportive group who know the truth to counteract their tactics.
  5. Document Everything: Narcissists lie frequently. Keep written records to document the truth.
  6. Opt for Mediation: Narcissists thrive in court environments. Mediation or Collaborative Divorce may be better choices.
  7. Allow Them "Wins": Let your narcissistic spouse feel victorious in certain aspects. Maintain a balance between their victories and your needs.
  8. Choose Your Battles: Not every fight is worth engaging in. Prioritize what truly matters.
  9. Set Clear Boundaries: Establish healthy boundaries during the divorce. This is especially vital if co-parenting follows.
  10. Prioritize Self-Care: Divorce is a marathon. Take care of your physical and emotional well-being. Seek professional help and surround yourself with a supportive community.

Facing a narcissistic divorce is no easy feat, but with the right strategies and support, you can emerge stronger. Remember, you're not alone, and there's help available.

Wishing you all the best on your journey.


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