Divorcing a Narcissist: What to Expect

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

Beyond this, a narcissist often has trouble with relationships. As a result of that deep need for undying admiration, narcissists can easily find their relationships unfulfilling due to narcissistic behavior. These struggles typically trickle into every area of the narcissistic person’s life. Work, relationships, school, even finances may all be affected by narcissistic personality disorder. Divorcing a narcissistic spouse 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 narcissist will help alleviate some of the stress you may endure during the divorce process. Understanding their narcissistic traits, behavior, and motivation along with the type of narcissistic spouse you’re dealing with and what the typical response will help prepare you. If you’re planning on divorcing a narcissist 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 narcissistic 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. 

A true narcissist will 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

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

Lack of empathy

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

Intense focus on winning

Narcissists 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. Narcissists 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 true narcissist 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 narcissists take to protect their unrealistic view of their world and how they are perceived in it. 

Overwhelming sense of entitlement

Narcissists believe they are special, and they expect to be treated as such by everyone around them. They 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 will likely be outrage due to narcissistic tendencies. 

Craving near-constant admiration and complementary praise

Narcissists need constant admiration, praise, and reward. They surround themselves with people who are willing to give it to them. Relationships tend to be extremely one-sided, with the narcissist demanding all the attention and giving very little, if any, in return. Occasional compliments will not satisfy the narcissist.

Often intimidates and bullies others

A narcissist frequently puts others down and intimidates people around them as a defense mechanism. It’s the only way they can maintain the sense of power they crave. They don’t know how to healthily interact with anyone or anything that challenges or threatens their authority and sense of self-importance. It’s important to note that these challenges are generally self-perceived, and typically not based on reality. To counteract them, the narcissist will attack, bully, name-call, and threaten.

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

As a result of a narcissist’s deep lack of empathy, they aren’t able to identify with the feelings of the people around them. They’ll quickly, and without any regret or remorse for their actions, use people to their advantage. These actions can be intentional, but narcissists are often blatantly oblivious of how detrimental their behavior can be. 

Which Type of Narcissist Are You Divorcing?

Educating yourself on a narcissistic personality disorder can help you prepare for what you may encounter during the stages of divorce and after. Understanding how the mind of a narcissist works, and the techniques that they’ll try to use to control you and the situation, can allow you to navigate the process in the most healthy ways possible. Step one in learning how to divorce a narcissist is understanding which type of narcissist you’re dealing with.

The grandiose narcissist: 

A grandiose narcissist 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. For a grandiose narcissist, self-image and prestige are everything. 

If you’re trying to go through the divorce process with a grandiose narcissist, they will likely perceive your actions as being the ultimate insult.

The vulnerable narcissist:

Vulnerable narcissists will play on your emotions. They often have low self-esteem and a staggeringly low self-image. They’ll try to make you feel guilty and will try hard 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. 

If you’re trying to divorce a vulnerable narcissist, they will likely try to make you feel bad or guilty about hurting them. Keep in mind, this is part of their manipulative ploy and narcissistic tendencies.

What You Can Expect

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

Rage

Narcissists 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 a narcissist feels 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, a narcissistic partner’s self-esteem will be threatened. Their response will be swift and most likely drastic and harsh. 

Vengefulness

Narcissists often become very upset and even enraged if they believe they’re being taken advantage of, manipulated, or insulted. If any of the manipulative or tactical ploys narcissists use against their partners are ever used against them, they’ll become very 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 a narcissist. Whether you’re divorcing a narcissist husband or a wife, do not expect your partner to be able to empathize with you or see your side of things. 

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 narcissistic spouse.

Thus, working with a skilled therapist can be very effective if you’re thinking about divorcing a narcissist. Since narcissists are so excellent at 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 narcissistic 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 narcissists 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.

To get the support you need, reach out to a licensed online therapist from Talkspace today.

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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