Divorcing a Narcissist

Many people exhibit some narcissistic qualities, but full-blown narcissistic personality disorders afflict only about 8 percent of men and about 5 percent of women. Marriage to a narcissist is tough, but divorcing one is tougher, according to Sara Parker-Pope of The New York Times.
Marriage to a narcissist becomes a high conflict test of endurance for the victim spouse and children. Anyone who has dealt with a narcissist or other high-conflict personality knows that they are the masters of projection and dishonesty. They love to project their own fictions and falsehoods onto their victims, and in a divorce a narcissist can become particularly vicious.

A narcissistic personality disorder manifests itself differently with each person. The Mayo Clinic say a narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorders believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.


Dr. Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist, says narcissistic individuals are able to lie in such a convincing fashion. “Since narcissists believe that the world revolves around them, or that it should, they think they can reinvent reality and no one should question them. Even though they know that what they’re writing or saying is really stretching the truth, they think that they are so clever about it that they will fool the recipient into going along with them,”
 says Dr. Lieberman.
Dealing with a narcissist isn’t for the weak. Charming and charismatic at the onset, crossing a narcissist brings forth a furry that few people are equipped to deal with. This interaction leaves the sanest person questioning his or her own sanity.

Narcissists may engage in what is called “gaslighting,” a term used for a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun to favor the abuser. He or she may present false information with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity. The abuser may deny that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, or stage bizarre events with the intention of disorienting the victim. The term comes from the 1944 film Gaslight, in which a husband attempts to drive his wife insane.

When dealing with a narcissist, it is very important to build a foundation from rock — the rock that comes from knowing what is the truth.

“[I]f you’re dealing with a narcissistic personality disorder, you’re dealing with somebody who does not have the ability for empathy or to emotionally tune in to their partner or their children. They come into the relationship with this charming and very seductive beginning. But that turns into emotional warfare. Narcissists are people who lack empathy, who are not accountable for their behavior. They set up their world so it’s about them. They exploit others for their own gain,” according to family therapist Karyl McBride. McBride is the author of a guide for people trying to extract themselves from narcissistic relationships — Will I Ever Be Free of You? How to Navigate a High-Conflict Divorce from a Narcissist and Heal Your Family, which is featured in this month’s Well Book Club.

“If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, you eventually discover you are there to revolve around them and to serve them. You can only imagine the shock that happens for people when they get seduced into something they think is the best thing that ever happened to them and it turns into this kind of relationship,” McBride says.

A relationship with either a full-blown narcissistic personality or even people with a high number of narcissistic traits become traumatic experience for the victim spouse and the children. When the victim spouses files for divorce and decides to leave or even thinks about leaving, the marriage becomes an even bigger nightmare. Victims have to deal with family law and custody evaluators and therapists and judges and the courts. “If you divorce a narcissist, it’s not going to be a normal divorce because if you leave the narcissist, they never get over it. They seek revenge, and the court system is an incredibly great platform for a narcissist.” Narcissists thrive in turning a divorce in what Parker-Pope calls a “playground.” -– “where they can just continue the battle with the partner and continue to seek revenge, and that’s what happens.”

The narcissist does not get over a divorce. Other people are hurt and angry and eventually recover and get over it. The narcissist continues to blame the partner and harm him or her. They do it by these long, extended, contentious divorce cases that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

People with full-blown narcissistic personality disorder don’t seek help. They’re not introspective or in touch with their own feelings, and they blame everyone else. They are difficult to treat, and they don’t seek treatment. If they do, it’s only to tell you how often everyone else is wrong.

Marriage to a narcissist reaches a point where the victim spouse sees that the high conflict of the marriage is causing emotional damage the children, and he or she makes a decision to leave. The victims in these relationships get physically sick, and they become exhausted from having to revolve around the narcissist and they feel like they can’t do anything right.

In a divorce, the narcissist uses children as tools. “Kids have a hard time going through a normal divorce. In these high-conflict, contentious divorce cases, this becomes a child’s life. It’s evaluators and therapists and court cases. Children are caught in the middle of all that and deeply harmed by it.”

“Narcissists don’t make great parents, but they use the children as pawns because they know it’s the most important thing to their partner. It’s not that they necessarily want to have time with kids, but it looks good for them to do the Disneyland-parent kind of stuff. The children are the best tool they have to get back at their partner.”

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