This article offers some basic information about narcissist behaviours and how they can affect your divorce process. to consider whether a male or female lawyer the right tools and experience in dealing with such spouses.
Dealing with narcissists during divorce (or separation) is frequently a very stressful and exhausting ordeal. Experts are quick to say “The only thing harder than being married to a narcissist is divorcing one.” 1
This underlines the find the right lawyer for you who is experienced in dealing with the facade, manipulation and tactics of the narcissist spouse the process of divorce. Even their own lawyers can be fooled by them.
There are major characteristics that set aside a narcissist from the rest of the population: (1) they lack empathy or compassion; and, (2) they fail to take any responsibility for anything they do wrong. Most of them, it is said, do not even have a conscience.
Is every ex-spouse who displays bad or immoral traits a true narcissist? Likely not. There are people who lie, cheat, steal, stalk, are mean, possessive, jealous or insecure, but combination of negative qualities, even in their totality, does not automatically add up to someone being a narcissist.
As will be summarized, there are many shades of narcissism, and most fit within the spectrum of disorders. There is even a Narcissism Spectrum.2
Yet, it is important to be reasonably sure, if not certain, that your ex-spouse is a narcissist before you begin your separation, or before you tell them you are leaving them. It is imperative to because charting the course of your divorce depends on it.
Narcissism has become a household term these days, especially with social media, but it is more complex and nuanced than people think. It should not be confused as a mere cliche. In divorcing a spouse who is suspected to embody the traits of a narcissist, you don’t need to have a medical degree to know; you do know – you have been married to them, and that is why you are leaving!
You need a lawyer who understand the nuances of this personality disorder and who has strategies for dealing directly with it. I will get to some of these below, but first a simplified overview.
Secret Sociopaths – Narcissism 101
“Narcissistic personality disorder” (NPD) is a clinically diagnosed personality disorder characterized by grandiosity, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy toward other people.3 It is important to realize that this personality disorder is also linked to other personality disorders (Bipolar, Borderline personalities, psychopathy). As it is often said, narcissists come in many shades. They are often hidden in plain sight.
It is no secret that “narcissism” is a form of personality disorder which can be either or both classified as a “psychopath” or “sociopath”, which are clinical diagnosis listed in the DSM. What is most alarming, but increasingly recognized, is a statistic that Dr. Northrupe cites from a combination of US Studies, which is that in people are c of narcissist.4 More bluntly, she projects that figure onto big city populations, which translates into millions of everyday people among us all. This is not to sound fear-mongering but rather to point out that we need to do a better job of spotting them before we start dating them or marrying them.
Psychotherapist, Dr. Matt Lundquist says “These are people who operate in ways that don’t conform to societal norms and who are not capable of typical human emotions – what we historically call sociopathy.” Some experts say that sociopaths are hot-headed whereas psychopaths are cold-blooded. Moreover, some experts say that sociopaths can be somewhat capable of empathy and thus even more deceptive to spot.
Narcissists usually embody a God-like complex and have an overbearing sense of – thinking they are so great that they do not have to follow the same rules as other people. They exploit or take advantage of others for personal gain. They require constant feeding of their egos. They pit people against each other to get what they want. They manipulate by playing on fear and anger employing threats and lies. They present their assumptions as facts. Incredibly, they will also break professional boundaries and are prone to taking great risks, usually by having affairs on their spouses, secret spending habits in plain sight, and l and with a completely straight face.
If they can lie about cheating on their spouse, they can sure lie about their hidden finances and their ability to deceive courts, judges and their own lawyers about their finances.
Many exes look back and question themselveas I too trusting or plainly stupid? At the time of separation, it usually becomes apparent to the empath spouse that they were completely naive their overall financial picture. How many bank accounts did we have? Which institutions were they at? Where the documents relating to the Lines of Credit? What is the true balance of the mortgage on our family house? Whose name is on the title anyway? Who financed and who owns the family SUVs? Other vital considerations include tax returns for the past three years, house insurance, vehicle registrations, valuable antiques, art and jewelry, family photo albums, heirlooms, china, investment accounts, timeshares. Not only that, but the vampire’s non-payment of certain bills on joint lines of credit, or joint credit cards may have killed your credit score. How do I borrow again to get out of this mess?
And then comes the pandora’s box of hidden debt that was systematically concealed for the past many years. And so it goes. The endless surprises that await a departing spouse can have a huge impact on the course of the divorce proceedings and perhaps your level of determination to fight for what is rightly yours and .
For these reasons, experts offer a few survival tips before you leave your spouse.
Adopt a strategy. Take stock of what you have before you leave. Secretly start copying all financial records, making a secret list of your collective holdings. Start stashing valuable heirlooms and items at your friends or family’s houses. If you have the advantage of this foresight, do some pre-divorce stealth work and get a leg up on the journey that awaits you.
Get family and close friends on board. Document every detail. Change your passwords. Meet with the bank manager confidentially. Find your supportive friends or family members. Get a good counsellor. ‘Think out loud’ with your support network; be open to brainstorming with those who know your well. Collective thinking can be so empowering.
Expect Challenges if you divorce a narcissist.
Over the years in my family law practice, I have seen this ‘song-and-dance’ play out so many times in the context of adversarial divorce proceedings. Shortly after you pull the pin, you can expect that they will cut off all the money.
Throughout all stages of divorcing a narcissist, they remain self-righteous, as if they are the victim rather than the perpetrator. Some of the most common tactics narcissist routinely uses include:
- steering the conversation to irrelevant, focusing on insignificant details as a means of deflecting from core issues
- delaying hearings, seeking adjournments, not showing up
- endless excuses for non-compliance with interim agreements
- trying to get you to give in prematurely
- verbal abuse scar tactics
- lie about their finances or fail to make full disclosure of finances
- pedalling false realities and confabulations which create mind traps
The Vampire and the Empath
Dr. Christiane Northrupe in her best selling book, writes a about the interplay between the Vampire (Narcissist) and the Empath (Victim) in romantic relationships. Her book addresses the imbalances in such relationships, especially between spouses, hence the illuminating metaphor, the Vampire and the Empath. In her findings, she says unsuspecting empaths often open their hearts, bank accounts, and bodies in order to ‘help’ these vampires heal their so-called wounds, which actually don’t exist. This is not because the empath is a foolather, it resultperfect storm of the empath’s desire to be a healing force and do what’s right in the relationship, combine with the predatory skills of the vampire.5
Dr. Northrupe also says that until quite recently, energy vampires (narcissists) have been largely unrecognized and undiagnosed by society in general, and by the medical and legal systems in particular. Again, this highlights the need and role of experienced family lawyers.
As in my many years of family law practice, the patterns are routine and predictable:
- self-righteous and never wrong,
- they deflect blame,
- they portray themselves as the “true victims”
- they blame their spouse for everything,
- they don’t care about anyone else’s emotions, even their own children,
- they badmouth their spouse to family and friends, teachers, caregivers, sports coaches, other parents, or anyone who will listen,
- they gaslight their partners,
- they see a never-ending fight with multiple court applications as a way to maintain their control and power over you,
- they may blatantly threaten you, or something precious to you,
- resist counselling of any kind,
- they are delusional and often confabulate,
- refuse to provide financial disclosure or any financial support, and or
- they try to exhaust your ability to fight them.
Now, couple these characteristics up with the fact that the empath spouse is usually so invested in a partner or spouse – even a toxic one – that they have lost their objectivity. What is real and who is wrong, what is really going on here is a mind trap.
In addition to the above-mentioned characteristics, a narcissist also employs gaslighting to have his or her own way. For those who are not familiar with this term, is explained by Dr. Keith Campbell, in The New Science of Narcissism, “as the act of manipulating someone into questioning their own sanity and memory by sowing seeds of doubt about a memory or feeling.” 6
An Introduction to Gaslighting 101
This method of manipulation is used by narcissists to gain power over their spouses and make them (or others) truly question their own reality. Gaslighters’ mastery of these tactics tend to wear their targets down over time. Slowly and steadily the empath spouse feels their self-worth even further and begin
s to question their own sense of reality. These tactics include:
- tell blatant lies
- deny they ever said or did something, even if you have proof
- use what is near and dear to you as ammunition
- their actions don’t match their words
- after a bad act, they compliment you or use positive reinforcement – as a calculated attempt to keep you off-balance and persuade you that they aren’t that bad after all
- project their own actions or thinking onto you
- align people against you and tell you that people close to you believe you are crazy – this makes you feel like you don’t know who to trust or turn to
- tell you or others that you’re the one who is crazy
- tell you that everyone else is a liar
- manipulate or intimidate you through posts on their social media profiles
Your spouse may use some or all of these schemes during your divorce – they may lie to you, to the kids, the teachers, the principal, sports coaches, daycare providers, and especially to the lawyers, mediators, and even judges. They will deny whole conversations or events that you know happened or relied upon, and or fabricate complete stories that are fantastical.
Mediation with narcissists will never work.
Experts loudly warn not expect a narcissist to follow any verbal agreements or to agree to any fair custody arrangements. They will most certainly not be forthright with their finances for the purposes of divorcing.
During divorce proceedings, these vampires spouses will often suck their ex-spouse into believing something by promising a compromise or a code of conduct and then turn around and do the complete opposite. This is also sometimes called post-separation abuse. They will not compromise or settle. They want to win – and it is a game for them.
For these reasons, essentially, negotiations or mediation can be futile and often be a complete waste of emotional and financial resources. Many experienced lawyers who deal with narcissists assert that it is better to apply those resources by going straight to Court proceedings. It seems that Court Orders with sanctions and consequences do work. When the full force of the law hits their pocketbooks, they do back down. And, most often, that is what it takes to reach fair conclusions in such divorces with narcissists.
If you are not forceful and extremely blunt with the narcissist they may want to drag any court process or proceedings out. After all, they thrive on holding you in a prolonged state of uncertainty. This is how they perpetrate their power and control you. It is all they have left, as they know you are pulling away from them. Many senior legal counsel advise that best to let them prolong the court processes – to move them along quickly and decisively.
What can also be so frustrating is that narcissists are often seen as charming and charismatic. In the case of males, “they are dangerously magnetic cads.” In the case of they can be “overbearing and over-controlling mothers”. Dr. Bob Palumbo, PhD, with 35 years of experience, says that some are so very charming that even he, with all his experience and knowledge, can be taken in by their charm.7 The good news for divorcing couples is, that because they believe their own lies and the subjective evidence created by their mind traps, they are prone to coming undone in front of . Good family lawyers know how to set them up for exposure of their lies before a court of law.
Fortunately, seasoned are familiar with these types of people in their courtrooms. right, the narcissist does not do well on the stand. When they are properly exposed, their lies collapse like a card.
It is important for all of us to know this, especially when we consider our legal strategies and getting oral evidence before a court of law. If they lie and get caught in front of a judge, it is a game-changer. Once their credibility is in tatters, their case goes out the window.
According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, (DSM-V), is a mental disorder that affects mostly men – up to 75% of people diagnosed with NPD are male.8
Layperson tool kit to spot your vampire
To borrow a slimed-down tool-kit from an American attorney and legal writer, Lina Guillen, who uses DSM-V for lay personal analysis for evaluating her summary of traits can be seen as follows:
Accordingly, to be diagnosed with NPD a person must display at least of the following behaviours over a period of time:
- Has an exaggerated sense of self-importance – has feelings of entitlement and self-centredness and exaggerates achievements and talents
- Preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence, or ideal romance
- they are special and can only be understood by other special people or institutions
- Requires constant attention and admiration from others
- Has unreasonable expectations of favourable treatment
- Exploitative – takes advantage of others to meet their own needs / reach their own goals
- Lacks empathy – cannot be compassionate or recognize other’s feelings and needs
- Often envious of others or believes other people are envious of them
- Grandiosity – shows arrogant behaviours 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 isn’t necessarily that they are mentally ill. Someone who displays several of these traits, but falls short of having NPD, may still be a narcissist.9
It seems, that all narcissists somehow fool almost everyone around them into thinking they are so great and easy to get along with. The question is how does one spot the difference between a person who is authentic and charming and one with this veiled mental disorder?
Dr. Scott Kauffman says that 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 their grandiose image of themselves.10
Narcissists are preoccupied with fantasies of limitless self-importance, success and power. They over-exaggerate their accomplishments, popularity, and social importance.11
Narcissists are hidden in plain sight. They are often powerful and successful people with no compassion and who will use any or every tool at their disposal to “win” Indeed, they are powerful and successful people who become American presidents. They will try and win at all costs, even to their own detriment. They almost always follow a scorched-earth philosophy. Make no mistake, their primordial objective becomes making life miserable for the person who dares to divorce them.
They will succeed in making life for their ex a living hell if a strategy is not adopted at the outset of the
Never expect them to run out of steam or back down. They thrive on running you ragged, winning at any cost, or seeing you punished for daring to go up against them.12 They will perpetrate false narratives against you. They will use their own children against you by lying to the or blaming you for their untold misfortunes.
I have repeatedly seen many of my clients who are divorcing (or separating) a narcissist become accustom to living with feelings of mental and physical exhaustion: of feeling ‘h, what’s next’ Not knowing what to expect – in fact, get used to expecting the unexpected. This creates an anxiety and apprehension. It can become a continuing or nagging feeling that never leaves the empath spouse. So, in effect, they live with this unnerving feeling each day.
What is more, narcissistic spouses are prone to making false allegations or lying in Court. Frequently, it is as if they truly believe their own lies. This is their tendency to confabulate: believe their own delusions or lies. Having seen this play out through the duration of their marriage, the aggrieved spouse often feels like just giving up to the bully point in fighting, going to lose. This vulnerability or hopelessness usually leads to unfair settlements or lope-sided bargains in the narcissist’s favour.
This underlines the need to hire a lean and experienced family lawyer. The tricks of the narcissist trade are even sometimes lost on their own legal counsel
, who believe everything their client is telling them, as if they are the aggrieved spouse. This leads down the path to an expensive divorce.
One obvious tip is to hire a lawyer who is experienced in dealing with narcissists. Divorcing a narcissist requires that you be prepared mentally, physically, tactically, morally and financially.
Beware, the process won’t be easy, but having helped many clients through it, I can confidently say that when you emerge on the other side, there is a new and calm horizon with a happier and healthier life for you. As many clients have reported first-hand to me, you will find normal again. And when you do, looking back, you will always wonder, how did I put up with that for so long?
Expect challenges if you divorce a narcissist.
There is much expert literature out there, and most of it is worth consulting for those who stand at the outset of the journey to get rid of ‘their narcissist The only thing harder than being married to a narcissist is divorcing one.
Some empath spouses do not have the stomach for the fight or will get only so far before they give up from fear, intimidation, and or sheer exhaustion. Some empath spouses even turn back and stay in the dysfunctional marriage because of the fear of confrontation. But, if you get the right professional legal help, you can make a plan that specifically suits your situation, which can include:
- establish boundaries around communications;
- make meeting places in public spaces;
- find a lawyer who is experienced in dealing with narcissistic exes – continue your search until you find the right legal counsel for you;
- tell your lawyer about the history of abuse right away;
- get your lawyer to take over most of the communications with your ex;
- consult widely, and find the right counsellor or mental health professional for you
- if your spouse is abusive, get help and seek a restraining order, if necessary
In closing, it must be emphasized, that if you are the empath spouse who is leaving the marriage (or relationship), you must understand you are not the problem and you never were. That you need to take extra special care of yourself and find your best strategy to get through the divorce. Find your professional support
s, get an experience family lawyer and make an appropriate well plan before you begin “the journey.” By realizing what you need to and staying resolute with your focus to get out from under the weight of the narcissist, by finding liberation and moving on with your life, you will be the winner.
Kit is an experienced lawyer with a unique background. He is an accomplished civil litigator specializing in family law. His extensive experience has given him a unique sense of compassion and patience.
1 How to spot a Narcissist, Scott Hoffman Ph.D.
3 Dr. Matt Lundquist & Dr. Akua Boateng; Dr.
5 Dr.Northrupe, page 10, Ibid.
6 Dr. Keith Campbell, Ph. D., The New Science of Narcissism, 2020.
7 Dr. Northrupe Ibid.
8 Psychology Today.
9 Lina Guillen Divorcing a Narcissist: Learn more about narcissism and how it may affect your divorce. 2017
11 Nicole Smith, Oct. 16th 2020: “the Ultimate Guide to Divorcing a Narcissist”