Divorcing a Narcissist: What to Expect

Published on: 20 Oct 2021

Narcissism, or narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), is a personality disorder that results in someone having an intense, inflated sense of self-importance. A person who exhibits NPD typically needs more attention than anyone else around them, and they often have a striking lack of empathy for others. 

Beyond this, they often have trouble with relationships. As a result of that deep need for undying admiration, a person with NPD  can easily find their relationships unfulfilling due to the dynamic of their behavior with their partner. These struggles typically trickle into every  of their life. Work, relationships, school, even finances may all be affected by narcissistic personality disorder. Divorcing a spouse who exhibits narcissistic personality disorder can be difficult in the best circumstances. It can be downright daunting more often than not. 

Knowing what to expect and how to divorce a person with NPD will help alleviate some of the stress you may endure during the divorce process. Understanding their narcissistic traits, behavior, and motivation will help prepare you. If you’re planning on divorcing someone who exhibits these traits  in the near future or are currently in the process of divorcing one, read on.

Narcissistic Behaviors You May Face

There are a number of classic narcissistic traits and behaviors that are typical of anybody with NPD. You may see your spouse display some of the following behaviors.

  • They’re often resistant to changing how they behave, even when it’s largely a part of the issues they experience in their life as a result. 
  • They’ll blame everyone around them for anything difficult that happens. 
  • They’re generally very sensitive to even constructive criticism or perceived criticism. 

Someone who has been diagnosed with NPD may see any type of disagreement, fight, or tense situation as a personal attack against them. Some of the most common behaviors associated with narcissistic personality disorder include:

Manipulative behavior

People with narcissistic personality disorder are extremely manipulative. They’re concerned with getting their way, regardless of the cost or who they may hurt.

Lack of empathy

They lack empathy. It’s hard for them to understand that the behavior they’re displaying is hurting others. 

Intense focus on winning

Individuals who exhibit NPD are often so concerned with winning, they can be willing to put their partner in a vulnerable position. This is especially true if they feel like their partner is trying to reason or disagree with them. 

Wildly exaggerated or grandiose sense of self-importance

This is more than simply being arrogant or vain. Their grandiose feelings are both unrealistic and unattainable. People who exhibit NPD  believe they’re too good, too special for anything they perceive as average. They think they can only be truly understood by others who are special like them.

Tendency to live in a fantasy world of delusions

A person who has been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder will live in somewhat of a fantasy world. Because their feelings of self-importance aren’t based on reality, they support their self-view with almost a magical sense of thinking. Their disordered sense of reality is based on self-deception. They often show extreme defensiveness and rage towards anyone who challenges them. Note that this is a protective stance they take to protect their unrealistic view of their world and how they are perceived in it. 

Overwhelming sense of entitlement

They often feel like they should get whatever they want, regardless of what their demands are. Additionally, they have high expectations that those around them will reward them. If they’re denied anything, their immediate reaction may be outrage. 

Craving near-constant admiration and complementary praise

People who exhibit NPD often feel they are lacking enough admiration, praise, and reward and seek it out regularly. They surround themselves with people who are able to give it to them. Relationships tend to be one-sided, with the person who exhibits NPD craves and demands attention, while struggling to give it in return.

Often intimidates and bullies others

As a defense mechanism, persons who exhibit NPD put others down or  intimidate people around them. It’s a maladaptive way to create a sense of power. They struggle with understanding and executing healthy interactions, and often feel threatened by what they perceive to be challenges of their authority or sense of self-importance. To counteract the perceived threat, individuals who exhibit NPD, often attack, bully, name-call, and threaten.

Exploits others around them (without shame, guilt, or remorse)

As a result of a deep lack of empathy, persons who exhibit NPD aren’t able to identify with the feelings of the people around them. They may use people to their advantage without intentionally knowing it. They are often unaware of how detrimental their behavior can be 

Which Type of Narcissist Are You Divorcing?

Educating yourself on narcissistic personality disorder can help you prepare for what you may encounter during the stages of divorce and after. Understanding how the mind of someone with NPD  works, and the behaviors that they’ll engage in to try to manage and control the situation, can allow you to navigate the process in the most healthy ways possible. Step one in learning how to divorce someone who exhibits NPD  is understanding what behaviors and personality style are most prevalent.

The grandiose narcissist: 

Someone who exhibits grandiose narcissism believes they’re very important or that they have a very high status. They’re usually overly concerned with appearance and how things look. They won’t accept being talked down to or disagreed with. Self-image and prestige are paramount.

Through the divorce process they may likely perceive many of your typical actions as being extremely insulting.

The vulnerable narcissist:

Person’s who exhibit traits of vulnerable narcissism often have low self-esteem and a staggeringly low self-image. They’ll try to make you feel guilty and may  try to manipulate you into changing any position or stance that differs from their own. This will become especially obvious as your intentions to leave become more clear. 

Within the divorce process , they may try to make you feel bad or guilty about hurting them. Keeping in mind that this is part of something they struggle with will help you stay on track with moving forward with actions that feel healthy to you.

What You Can Expect

A divorce can be messy and taxing, but understanding the response you’ll likely receive as you begin the process can help you prepare. 

Rage

People who struggle with NPD tend to react with rage to what’s referred to as narcissistic injury. This is in response to any perceived threat to their self-worth. Any time they feel that their true self might be exposed, a common response is rage. 

Rashness

By confronting issues in your marriage and moving forward with a divorce, your partner’s self-esteem may feel  threatened. Their response may be swift, drastic and harsh. 

Vengefulness

Individuals with NPD often become very upset and even enraged if they believe they’re being taken advantage of, manipulated, or insulted. If they feel they are being manipulated or taken advantage of, they may become angry and want to retaliate.

Tips For Learning How to Negotiate With a Narcissist 

There’s no quick and easy trick to negotiating or learning how to divorce someone who exhibits narcisissm. Try not to expect that someone who struggles with narcissism will be able to empathize or think in the same way that you do. 

  • Go in prepared. Disagreements will be difficult, and the reality is, you may need to simply end a conversation if it starts to turn violent or aggressive.
  • You’ll need to establish boundaries very early on. Be excruciatingly clear about your position. Every time your partner begins to disagree or argue, or if you feel the familiar manipulation strategies starting to come into play, restate your position calmly and clearly. You can remind them that you will not argue with them. If erratic, angry, manipulative behavior continues, it’s OK for you to end the conversation and walk away.  

Getting Support With Divorce Counseling

Divorce therapy can help as you’re learning how to cope with divorce. Moreso, it can be especially helpful as you learn how to approach all the difficult conversations surrounding separation or divorce with a spouse who exhibits NPD. .

Thus, working with a skilled therapist can be very effective. Since people who struggle with narcissism are practiced and often leverage manipulation and bullying, their toxic behavior can feel confusing when you’re arguing or fighting with them.

The right therapist can help you: 

  • Establish boundaries so you can better understand and identify the ways your partner is trying to manipulate you.
  • Understand how to negotiate some of the insults you’ll likely be hearing.
  • Separate reality from lies and manipulation to avoid post-divorce depression.

Define your own position before you present it to your partner. Since they are so skilled at confusing the point or manipulating an argument to gain the upper hand, a good therapist can help you dissect and clarify all the points. This way, you feel stronger and more confident going into the discussions.

Sources:

1. Smith, M.A. M, Robinson L. Narcissistic Personality Disorder – HelpGuide.org. HelpGuide.org. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-disorders/narcissistic-personality-disorder.htm. Published 2020. Accessed September 13, 2021.

2. Mitra P, Fluyau D. Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556001/. Published 2021. Accessed September 4, 2021.

3. Berger, MD F, Zieve, MD, MHA D. Narcissistic personality disorder: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Medlineplus.gov. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000934.htm. Published 2020. Accessed September 4, 2021.

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