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How to Handle Narcissism in Divorce
Posted in Divorce on April 11, 2023
Even under the best of circumstances, when married couples agree to part amicably, divorce is a difficult, upsetting experience, but when one spouse in a divorce is a narcissist, the process becomes even more distressful. Understanding how a narcissist works can help you navigate the process and the emotions associated with narcissistic behavior with a better strategy for accomplishing your goals despite the manipulation, gaslighting, and sabotage you’re likely to encounter. A narcissist doesn’t tolerate losing and can’t bear having their inflated feelings of self-worth threatened—divorce and the resulting division of assets and child custody judgment can be a double wallop to a narcissist’s ego.
What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
According to clinical psychologists, narcissism is a recognized psychological disorder. A narcissist has an unrealistic idea of their own importance and an exaggerated expectation for admiration. Like many personality disorders, narcissism is a spectrum, but most narcissists experience troubled relationships because no one can live up to their need for constant attention, admiration, and deference to their opinions and will.
Marriage to a narcissist is difficult, and divorcing a narcissist is even harder, especially since they may see every single asset you keep during Colorado’s “equitable division of property” laws as a loss and losing is unacceptable to them.
How to Carefully Navigate Divorcing a Narcissist
Divorce exposes a narcissist as less than perfect since they were not able to sustain their relationship and their spouse is able to walk away from them—a public insult to an inflated ego. This may make the narcissist more likely to lash out and increases the likelihood of a contentious, high-conflict divorce. The best way to handle a divorce from a narcissist is to use the following specific tactics to counteract their tendencies to exploit the process as a means to gain the attention and point-scoring that they crave:
- Work with an attorney with experience representing clients with narcissistic personalities and be sure to explain the situation
- Have your lawyer and/or a mediator present for all negotiations
- Resist taking any bait that would potentially lead to a confrontation
- If you’ve experienced any abuse from your narcissistic spouse, ask your attorney about obtaining a restraining order
- Only respond to communications from the spouse when necessary, and keep all responses to their texts, emails, and phone calls brief and factual
- If your spouse has a clinical diagnosis of narcissism it can be used as evidence in court
Finally, it’s important to know that a long-term relationship with a narcissist can deeply impact your own emotions and leave lasting scars. During and after the divorce process, it’s important to prioritize your own self-care by leaning on supportive family and friends and seeking professional counseling.
Therapy Options for Recovering After A Relationship With a Narcissist
Navigating a relationship and then divorce with a narcissist is exhausting. You may find therapy helpful if you choose a clinician with experience treating spouses of narcissists. Some recommended therapy options include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for help learning to promptly address negative thoughts and reframe them into a positive
- Family therapy to address emotions and conflicts within the family dynamics
- Group therapy to speak with others with similar experiences
While the divorce process is always a difficult and emotional experience, there are more than the usual emotional and legal pitfalls when dealing with a divorce from a narcissistic spouse. By lining up support through family, friends, counselors, and an attorney experienced in this type of personality disorder, you can get through the difficult process and emerge with a new sense of dignity, strength, and purpose.