Wondering what to expect when divorcing a narcissist? You’ll likely encounter the same issues you had during your marriage — only on steroids! Read on to learn what these problems look like once you begin the divorce process, and how to solve them.
Problem: Projection. Narcissists exhibit a defense mechanism known as “projection,” meaning they project their own flaws onto others. For instance, if they lie to get their way, instead of thinking to themselves, “hey, my lying is causing trouble and I should figure out why I do it and stop it,” they will instead accuse you of being a liar. Narcissists are obsessed with appearing perfect, so the only way they can live with the reality of divorce is to blame the end of the marriage, and any problem that happens after it, on you.
Solution: When divorcing a narcissist, expect to be the target of blame. Do not to take it personally. Your narcissist lacks the self-awareness necessary to take accountability for their part in problems. If you can compartmentalize this behavior and refuse to react to it, you remain in control.
Problem: Inflexible thinking. Your narcissist probably has a rigid worldview: anyone who does want they want is fabulous, and anyone who has a different opinion is some combination of stupid, evil, and crazy. The narcissist’s inflexible thinking can slow the divorce process because they have a hard time seeing alternatives and being willing to compromise. Because divorce is a destabilizing process, expect the narcissist to become even more rigid in reaction to big changes.
Solution: Don’t waste your time trying to reason with someone who’s incapable of being flexible. Instead, mentally prepare yourself for a difficult divorce, disengage emotionally from the narcissist, and keep your boundaries.
Problem: Seeing themselves as the victim. Even if the narcissist initiated the divorce, they will see themselves as the star victim of the world’s most important drama. The legal process gives them an opportunity to act out their pain and self-righteousness to as many people as they can ensnare: family law professionals, therapists, social circles, relatives, babysitters, children, and anyone involved with the children. If you react emotionally, you will give the narcissist what they want — attention, and the satisfaction of knowing you’re upset.
Solution: Start thinking of the narcissist as a tantruming child and respond in a calm, rational manner, or walk away and don’t engage.
Problem: High-conflict communication. The previously listed narcissist traits — blaming, inflexible thinking, and melodrama — manifest in high-conflict communication. The narcissist has easy access to you via emails, texts, and voicemail, so they will use those avenues to torment you. Expect threats, lectures, demands, put-downs, and emotional outbursts. If you try to reason with the narcissist, they will feel unheard and invalidated, and pummel you with more vitriolic correspondence.
Solution: No matter what crazy things your narcissist says to you, do your best to keep your responses concise and informative. If needed in extreme situations, avoid contract and/or have your attorney be a go between on anything except emergency communication about your children.
Problem: Triangulating children. The narcissist sees their children as extensions of themselves. That means their children must believe they are The Perfect Parent and dislike you as much as the narcissist does. Being the melodramatic, high-conflict person that they are, the narcissist may bad-mouth you to the children and even try to get the kids to side with them against you. This behavior can make for a thorny co-parenting relationship and potential custody battles. Don’t expect the narcissist to evolve and learn to put the children first.
Solution: Accept that you may not ever have an amicable co-parenting relationship and focus on being the best parent you can be. Explore parallel parenting as an alternative that gives you both greater boundaries — and breathing room.
While divorce from a narcissist is challenging, knowing what to expect will help you chart your course to a meaningful life away from this controlling individual.
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