Divorcing a Narcissist

divorcing a narcissist Dhanu Dhaliwal Law Group

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There’s a famous scene in Breaking Bad where Walter White displays what a true narcissist at their worst can be like. When his wife, Skyler, tells him he’s in over his head in the illegal drug business, he scoffs at her: “I am the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot, and you think that of me? No! I am the one who knocks!” The show also portrays an extreme example of how difficult divorcing a narcissist can be. 

Skyler tries throughout the show to divorce Walt, only to be met with unreasonable, aggressive behavior from Walt, like throwing an entire pizza pie on her roof or kidnapping their daughter solely out of spite.

Though any court would find it completely reasonable to divorce your husband because he became a meth cook, many people find themselves in a similar position to Skyler.

Narcissists can drag out the process of a divorce or fight for unreasonable outcomes that only benefit them. They can also behave in ways that don’t make sense to a reasonable person. 

If you are divorcing a narcissist, it can be difficult to contend with this, and a long and combative divorce can become expensive very quickly.

Thankfully, your spouse isn’t the world’s greatest meth cook. And even better, the divorce lawyers at Dhanu Dhaliwal Law Group have experience dealing with narcissistic spouses who make the process of divorce difficult. 

We can help you get a better outcome in your divorce from a narcissist without dragging it out longer than it needs to be. So give us a call at the number above or fill out our contact form below for an initial consultation.

What is a Narcissist?

The word “narcissist” is often used loosely in day to day conversation. We usually understand a narcissist as someone who is self-absorbed or as someone who thinks they’re better than everyone else. 

While these are common attributes of a narcissist, narcissism is actually a mental disorder. The disorder is characterized by the pursuit of gratification from vanity or an “egotistic admiration of one’s idealised self-image and attributes” (Wikipedia).

Narcissism varies in degree from person to person. Some narcissistic people are just very confident and self-sufficient. Others manipulate people they’re close to or even get enjoyment out of the suffering of others.

Scott Barry Kaufman, an American cognitive scientist and writer explains how narcissism works in his article “How to Spot a Narcissist:” 

“It is only at the extreme end of the spectrum that narcissism becomes a disorder, often because toxic levels of vanity, entitlement, and exploitiveness are on display.”

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

At the highest end of the spectrum of narcissism is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). NPD is a mental disorder that affects mostly men—up to 75% of the people diagnosed with NPD are male according to Psychology Today. NPD is one of the least identified disorders because these patients are least likely to believe they have a problem. They’re also the least responsive to conventional psycho therapeutic treatments.

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-V), to be diagnosed with NPD a patient must display at least five of the following behaviors over a period of time:

  • has an exaggerated sense of self-importance—has feelings of entitlement and self-centeredness and exaggerates achievements and talents
  • preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence, or ideal romance
  • believes they’re special and can only be understood by other special people or institutions
  • requires constant attention and admiration from others
  • has unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment
  • exploitive—takes advantage of others to meet their own needs/reach their own goals
  • lacks empathy—cannot recognize others’ feelings and needs
  • often envious of others or believes other people are envious of them
  • grandiosity—shows arrogant behaviors or attitudes
  • Only a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist can diagnose NPD, but you don’t need a medical degree to know whether your spouse is narcissistic. The major distinction between someone with NPD and a narcissist is that the narcissist isn’t necessarily mentally ill. Someone who displays several of these traits, but falls short of having NPD, may be a narcissist.

In the end, a formal diagnosis isn’t going to make a big difference in how you respond to a narcissist versus an NPD. In both cases, the same strategies can work to your benefit. 

How does a narcissist behave during divorce? 

Allan N. Schwartz, Ph.D. explains that “narcissists are experienced as obnoxious because they feel superior to others and see nothing wrong with that. They have little or no empathy with others’ feelings, conditions, situations, or plights and have no difficulty exploiting people in order to get what they want. They have no awareness and no insight into what they do, and as a result, they feel no shame or remorse.”

Other common traits of narcissists include:

  • short-term relationships—they don’t have many long-term relationships, unless a partner is willing to put up with bad behavior for a very long time.
  • they’re more attractive and likable at first glance—they’re considered more stylishly clad, cheerful, and physically appealing than those scoring lower in narcissism: Narcissists get away with bad behavior because, at least initially, they’re so charming.
  • language and demeanor is geared toward maintaining power—tactics include bragging, refocusing topics of conversation, talking loudly, and showing disinterest by “glazing over” when others speak.
  • they quickly lose their charm if threatened—this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde trait is often the first clue to their true character: They get angry when rejected or if they perceive criticism, often overreacting to small slights and punishing those who don’t support thir grandiose image of themselves.

Individual Therapy and Marriage Counseling

Spouses of narcissists often seek individual therapy for help with feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression brought on by years of narcissistic abuse—and this may be when they first discover they’re married to a narcissist.

Because narcissists feel very little guilt or remorse over their own conduct, they’re likely to blame their spouses for marital problems and resist counseling. Those who fall on the lower end of the spectrum might be open to therapy.

Whether you want to save your marriage or you’ve already filed for divorce, it’s a good idea to speak to a mental health provider to get emotional support and guidance about how to approach these difficult conversations with a narcissistic spouse. 

Don’t expect a narcissist to follow any agreements that aren’t in writing. Your spouse may deny or try to revoke oral divorce agreements you’ve made. For example, your spouse may agree to custody arrangements over the phone, but later claim the phone call never happened. You should insist that all divorce-related communications and agreements are made in writing.

Assume your spouse will display these behaviors at every encounter so you aren’t surprised or confused by this conduct. The more you can mentally prepare for your spouse’s gaslighting, the less it will affect you.

Hire Professional Divorce Attorneys when Divorcing a Narcissist

Even if you’re able to establish boundaries around communication and meetings, you should hire a family law attorney to handle some or all of your divorce case. 

It’s also essential to speak to a mental health professional that can provide guidance on how to deal with a narcissist and avoid becoming unnerved during your divorce.

The attorneys here at Dhanu Dhaliwal Law Group are experienced in handling cases that involve narcissistic behavior. We can help you get through your divorce and find the channels that you need for support and counseling. 

Give us a call at the number above, or contact us through our form to get in touch with an experienced divorce lawyer today.

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