Couple fighting

Surviving a Divorce From a Narcissist

What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Everyone can be a little bit self-centered. After all, a healthy self-esteem and sense of worth can motivate people to accomplish remarkable things. However, when a person’s sense of self is so delicate and exaggerated that it disrupts their ability to maintain close relationships with friends, family, and spouses, they might have a disorder.

According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), “narcissistic personality disorder” is characterized by the following criteria:

  • An inflated sense of self-importance
  • Fantasies of immense success, power, intelligence, or beauty
  • The belief that one is special and can only relate to, or associate with, special people
  • Craving and needing admiration
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Manipulating others
  • Arrogance and lack of empathy
  • Envying others or thinking that others envy them

Most people, when being honest with themselves, can relate to these criteria to a small degree. However, when these characteristics result in serious disruption in normal behavior, narcissism becomes a disorder. This article uses the term “narcissistic” to refer to those who have a narcissistic personality disorder—not those who display reasonable amounts of self-importance.

A Narcissist’s Response to Divorce

Narcissists have a particular and somewhat delicate perception of the world and where they fit into it. When something shatters this perception, they can lash out dramatically. When narcissists are confronted with the notion of divorce, they can lash out at their former spouse, children, and others. While many divorcees can accept that their marriage is coming to an end, the narcissist may never come to terms with a divorce, often resenting the former spouse and blaming them for their self-esteem issues and unhappiness.

A Narcissist’s Response to Child Custody

The skewed perception of a narcissist can wreak havoc on post-divorce family dynamics, especially when it comes to custody. For “normal” divorcees, it is natural for them to reflect on their ending marriage and ask, “What did I do wrong?” In contrast, narcissists blame their former spouse for their “failed” marriage.

When minor children are involved, they might be very susceptible to the narcissist’s outlook on the divorce. As a result, there is a significant risk of what is known as “parental alienation”—when a parent turns their children against the other parent using disparaging remarks and manipulation.

A narcissist’s almost addictive craving for admiration may motivate them to vie for their children’s affection. To the narcissist, divorce and custody become a game where they must come out as the victor. In the narcissist’s mind, victory also means ensuring their adversary’s loss. As a result, their winning children’s favor won’t be enough for the narcissist—they also need their children to hate the other spouse.

The narcissistic ex will try to figure out what their children don’t like about their former spouse—such as restrictions on “screen time,” socializing with friends, and eating junk food—and align themselves opposite their spouse’s parenting approach. A narcissistic will be sensitive to what makes their children unhappy about the divorce and emphasize that they would not have to go through the hardships of divorce but for the other parent’s actions. A narcissist might have a frightening ability to accomplish parental alienation discretely because they sincerely believe that their ex is to blame, imprinting their unique brand of logical reasoning to support this belief onto their children.

Dealing with the Narcissist

A narcissist seems like a nightmare to deal with during a divorce. However, there are ways to deal with them to minimize the negative impact on your, your children, and others.

  1. Keep calm: Narcissists are sensitive to public perception, and probably understand it well. They might do something to inflame your rage, counting on an outburst from you. A well-timed outburst—in front of the court or a custody evaluator—can have negative repercussions that may reverberate throughout divorce proceedings. Although easier said than done, try to always think before responding to a narcissist to avoid being baited.
  2. Keep thorough records: Narcissists sometimes have a skewed perception of reality, often making their account of facts unreliable. Your best defense against narcissists is to lean on this apparent weakness by maintaining a comprehensive record of facts and documents that will establish the truth while impeaching their warped perception of reality.
  3. Be honest and reasonable, yet assertive: A narcissist’s obsession with “winning” may force them to attack you, sometimes with factually questionable claims or outright lies. To deal with such attacks, it's best to calmly counter their assertions with reasonable and balanced interpretations of facts—seceding fault when they’re right, yet firmly defending yourself when they’re wrong.
  4. Empathy: Empathy is a useful tool in any divorce. However, since narcissists often lack empathy, demonstrating your ability to empathize can result in drawing a distinct line between you and your former spouse in the eyes of the court.
  5. Coordinate with your attorney: An experienced divorce attorney has probably dealt with more narcissists than they can count. However, it is essential to share your insights into your ex’s personality with them so they can prepare an effective strategy.

Retain an Attorney from Moshtael Family Law

If you are facing a difficult divorce with someone who exhibits narcissistic behavior, you should consult an experienced attorney at Moshtael Family Law. We will zealously advocate for you and your family’s rights to make sure your former spouse does not transgress your interests.

Call our office at (714) 909-2561 or contact us online to schedule an appointment about your dispute today.

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