I often write about narcissism because it is a common theme in family law. These are just a few examples and tips that I provide to my clients who find themselves divorcing a narcissist.
1. Don’t accept the narcissist’s version of history
Even amicable divorces rarely bring out the best in people, and it becomes easy to question, “did I ever really KNOW this person?” Narcissists misrepresent themselves from the get-go. As hard as it is to accept that the person you loved may have been lying to you all along, it’s important to go back and revisit what you thought you knew about your spouse to adequately prepare for court.
2. Don’t get sucked in
A Narcissist will lie, even in Court. Learn to limit conversations with them. Focus on your kids.
Your ex might contact you to bait you. Learn to answer emails only if they are absolutely necessary, such as logistical questions about vacation time or drop-offs, and keep them as brief, firm, and business-like as possible. The best way to strip a narcissist of their power isn’t by arguing and feeding into toxic and dysfunctional cycles — it’s by refusing to engage at all.
3. Don’t fall for the narcissist’s script
Every narcissist has a pattern: if you look closely enough and it is generally one of diversion.
It is incredibly difficult to unravel a narcissist’s script, particularly without being accused of being “high conflict” Dismiss accusations to remove the Narcissist’s power.
4. Don’t expect the court to solve the problem for you— but make sure you have someone who does
Unfortunately, there is no magical solution to a broken legal system. What you can do to prevent re-victimization, however, is ensure that you do not look for validation of your experiences from a court. Instead, it is vital to have a solid support system in place with a designated person (preferably who has dealt with a narcissist) who can listen to you, hear you, validate your experience, and remind you that it isn’t your fault.
5. Don’t assume your abuse ended along with the marriage
One of the most frustrating things about divorcing a narcissist is that the abuse they inflict leaves serious damage, even after the divorce wounds have healed. Plus, since most abusers ramp up their abuse when their spouse tries to leave, the separation is often the most traumatic part of the relationship. This can leave the abused spouse reeling while the abuser is calm, collected, and methodically planning their every move. If the victim isn’t careful, it’s easy to play directly into their hand.
It is important to recognize that you are still being actively abused during the divorce, and as such, it is not possible to fully heal from the abuse. When victims acknowledge that the abuse is ongoing, it can help them refrain from making large life decisions and instead focus on stabilizing everything from their finances to their emotions. This emphasis on creating self-care routines and positive habits can bandage the wounds until the divorce is over and more active healing can begin.
6. Don’t expect a narcissist to co-parent
Although the legal system may glorify co-parenting, it is important to recognize that any attempts you make to co-parent with a narcissist will be demonized or used as a weapon. Rather than giving the narcissist power over you, keep your life completely separate and communicate only when required.
You do not need to throw joint birthday parties, celebrate holidays together, or even participate in activities jointly. Recognize that your children are best served by maintaining clear boundaries.