To a narcissist, divorce is more than a failure; it’s an ugly black mark across a carefully polished façade. Because a narcissist cannot tolerate anything less than perfection, his or her dysfunctional coping strategy is to place all the blame for the break-up at your feet. It doesn’t matter if your spouse was the one to initiate the divorce. Your mere existence is a reminder to the narcissist of having “failed,” and for that, you must be punished.
If you don’t have children, and will forgo alimony, you will most likely be able to sever your relationship with your narcissistic ex once your divorce settlement is finalized. If you do have children together, understand that you could be the target of the narcissist’s wrath until the kids leave home, and possibly after. Paying spousal support can also serve as fuel for a narcissist’s rage.
Even the divorce process itself may be affected by a spouse’s narcissism. Generally, divorce involving a narcissist is at greater risk for becoming drawn out and highly conflictual. In these situations, it is imperative to seek out a divorce attorney experienced in dealing this personality type.
You must be clear-eyed about what you are going to face during your divorce. How else should you prepare? Here are five ways to protect yourself when divorcing a narcissist.
Accept that narcissists don’t “get over it.” Psychologically healthy people move through anger. They’re able to put their own feelings about their ex aside in order to have a positive co-parenting relationship. They understand that fueling a high-conflict environment damages children. Narcissists, by definition, are incapable of empathy. They think only about their own needs, and in the case of a divorce, their need is to transfer their shame onto you. To steer clear of the head games narcissists frequently play, explore the possibility of meeting with a therapist or counselor. A trained mental health professional can teach you coping skills for dealing with any emotional barbs that come your way.
Be Prepared for Bad Mouthing. The Narcissist may trash you to anyone who will listen: your kids’ teachers, the nanny, the pediatrician, the postal carrier. While you should realize that these attacks are the narcissist’s projections of her own sense of failure, and you shouldn’t take them to heart, it’s a good idea to be proactive, especially if you are going through a custody battle. Make sure you build relationships with teachers, doctors, babysitters, and therapists so they can see for themselves that you don’t have three heads, and that you’re an involved parent.
You Are Now the Hired Help. You are not a co-parent; you are a nanny, a maid, and a chauffeur. Especially if you are the one receiving child support, the narcissist may treat you as if you are in his employ and must follow his instructions. Failure to comply with the most nit-picky demand will often result in recriminations, the withholding of child support, and letting the children know on no uncertain terms what he thinks of your shoddy parenting.
It is this kind of behavior that makes “getting it in writing” so important when going through a divorce with a narcissist. If you are recently separated, for example, an oral agreement for the narcissistic spouse to pay child support could easily get ugly. Having a court order in place can help avert the manipulative behavior of withholding payments.
Bad Boundaries. A narcissist doesn’t accept limits. She believes that everyone else is an extension of herself. She can’t bear not being in control of every nanosecond of the children’s lives, and she’s terrified that they will love you more than they love her. Her attempts to regain a sense of control lead to dramatic boundary-busting. She may try to run your household and intrude upon your time with the kids. She may call and text your children several times a day when they’re with you. She will try to wear you down, so be firm with your boundaries: she doesn’t get to tell you what to cook for dinner and there’s no reason the kids need to talk to her more than once a day.
In light of this kind of behavior, explore with your attorney whether getting these kinds of rules and boundaries written into your divorce agreement and/or child custody order would be appropriate in your case.
Also, learn about the difference between a narcissist who is annoying and a narcissist who has crossed the line to harassment or stalking. In these cases, remedies such as taking out a Temporary Restraining Order may be necessary to keep you and your children safe.
Cyber-bullying. Narcissists love electronic communication. This means the emotional abuse he dished out during the marriage gets to continue via nasty texts and e-mails now that you’re divorced. Although it’s tempting, try not to get defensive or respond in kind, as this will just fan his flames. Instead, make your responses as brief and factual as possible, and try to limit your communication to no more than once a day.
If he cannot rein in his cyber-vitriol, you may need to block his number or use Our Family Wizard, a court-ordered e-mail program designed to tamp down the hostility. Likewise, if your former spouse’s behavior appears to rising to the level of cyberstalking or cyber harassment, a restraining order or other law enforcement intervention may be necessary.
The key to managing a narcissist is to anticipate chronic bad behavior. You won’t be able to change your ex, but you can learn what to expect so you can mitigate the damage.
Are you dealing with a narcissist in your divorce? Our attorneys have the experience and skills required to minimize conflict. Please contact us to schedule your initial attorney consultation.