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What are common behaviours to look out for of a narcissist during divorce?

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The term “narcissist” originates from Greek mythology. Narcissus was known for his good looks, where everyone who gazed upon him fell madly and helplessly in love. Unfortunately, when he caught his own image reflected back at him in a pool of water, he too fell in love with it, and was transfixed by himself for the rest of his life. This turned out not to be too long, as he pined away and died, turning into the Narcissus flower, commonly known as the daffodil.

It is rare for family solicitors to deal with anyone who has been formally diagnosed as suffering from narcissistic personality disorder. But then, by their very nature, narcissists seldom recognise they have a problem, let alone seek a diagnosis, so it is extremely common complaint amongst divorcing couples. This article considers the common behaviours to look out for of a narcissist during divorce and how best to navigate the process.

Common narcissistic traits

Most of us show some narcissistic traits, it is part of being human. But if your relationship has been infected by a narcissistic personality, it is unlikely they will stop their behaviour simply because you are divorcing. If anything, their conduct will probably worsen.

There are many degrees of narcissist, but most include a desire to win at all costs, a lack of empathy, a refusal to accept anyone else’s opinion or never being in the wrong. This can take a toll physically and mentally, both during a marriage and a divorce.

How do I identify narcissistic traits during the divorce process?

Some of the particular issues faced when dealing with ex-partners who demonstrate narcissistic personality traits include:

  1. Controlling behaviour

A narcissist loves being in control and undermining their partner’s confidence or pushing them away from their support network into their waiting arms is classic behaviour. A narcissist will try to delay the ending of the relationship because they thrive on control. Even if the end of the relationship is inevitable, they will stall and delay the process, which, for them, has the added benefit of increasing costs and possibly the ability of their partner to fight the case.

Deciding to separate or divorce is a huge step into the unknown when you are accustomed to dogged reliance on a narcissist. Sometimes, a narcissist is at their most dangerous when they realise the control, they spent so long building, is slipping away. Although it is their very behaviour that has probably significantly contributed to the breakdown, this is not how they will view it. They are likely to place the blame firmly at your feet, so you should be prepared for these emotional attacks.

  1. Lack of empathy

Narcissists rarely see anything from some else’s point of view unless it benefits them to do so. The long-term effect of having your opinion disregarded or constantly being told you are wrong, should never be underestimated. It impacts on your ability to breakaway and have confidence in your own decision-making abilities. Divorcing a narcissist means taking the wheel yourself and making decisions that will affect your future security and independence. This can be frightening if you have been controlled by a narcissist, but you should be ready to embrace this change.

  1. Manipulation

If you have children together, co-parenting can be extremely difficult because the other parent is always ready to provoke an emotional reaction. So parenting with someone who lays blame, creates issues where there are none, and lacks any empathy for the effect of their behaviour on those around them, can be problematic going forward. It may not even be possible to co-parent your children, so you should be prepared to accept this possibility.

It is not uncommon for narcissists to use their children as bargaining chips. They may use potential child arrangements to manipulate their partner into making certain decisions.

  1. Sense of entitlement

Narcissists often feel entitled to whatever they want. In a divorce, this may translate into matrimonial assets, money, property, or even the children.

  1. Gaslighting

This type of manipulation makes you question your judgment or perceptions. Narcissists may attempt to gaslight their ex in a divorce to force them to question their feelings or memories of certain events.

  1. Financial abuse

Narcissists frequently use their control over finances to manipulate their partner by making it hard for them to cope financially, both during and after a divorce. They may also have used this tactic during the marriage.

  1. False accusations

Many narcissists are not afraid to make false allegations about their partner during a divorce to paint themselves in a better light.

What strategies can I use to handle narcissistic behaviour in a divorce?

Knowing how your ex may behave in a divorce can help you form a strategy to help you get through the process. Below is a list of coping strategies on how to deal with a narcissistic partner during the divorce process:

  • Setting boundaries – by establishing clear boundaries early in the divorce, you should be better placed to protect your emotional and financial wellbeing
  • Maintain your mental health – a counsellor or therapist will help you develop effective ways of communicating with a narcissistic ex. They can also help you manage your emotions throughout the divorce and provide a sounding board for worries and frustrations
  • Resist calling out the narcissists behaviour – narcissists are not known for their skills at responding to personal criticism. Calling attention to their behaviour during the divorce may make things worse and encourage them to retaliate. It may be sensible to report the behaviour to your solicitor who can send a letter, if necessary.
  • Measured communication – keep your communication with a narcissist brief, informative and firm.
  • Listen to your solicitor – and not your narcissistic ex-partner. Someone who has controlled you for years, will not stop now. Interacting with you about legal matters via text message, for example, is designed to undermine your confidence in your decision making with your legal advisers. When you have agreed a course of action, stick with it.
  • Prepare your funding and get your paperwork in order – divorcing a narcissist may take longer and cost more than otherwise. Responding quickly to requests from your solicitor, and doing the leg work to gather information where possible, will really help to keep costs down.

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