Between You & Me…

Divorcing a Narcissist, Part I

June 3, 2021
If you thought getting divorced from your typical disgruntled spouse is fraught with nail-biting, weight-loss and hair falling out, you’ve never divorced a Narcissist. Not just any narcissist, as there are basically three sub-types, but the really dangerous ones. They’re called Malignant Narcissists, sitting shoulder to shoulder with antisocial personalities on the narcissistic continuum. These individuals possess a high degree of psychopathy with components of sadism. It’s not pretty.

Let’s be clear. All humans have shades of narcissism. As we should love ourselves, be proud of our accomplishments and act as our own exuberant cheering squad. This means we have an intact ego and carry a stable and healthy amount of self-esteem.

What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Someone diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) has the following traits: little self-identity, poor emotion regulation, a feeling of superiority, intolerance of others’ opinions, a sense of entitlement, an inability to appreciate others, a lack of empathy, disregard for others’ needs and a truly desperate, insatiable demand for positive attention and the approval of others. This last bit they seek is termed “narcissistic energy.”

the scales of a narcissist on one side and 3 people on the other

Because their egos are fragile and their self-esteem so heavily guarded, a narcissist’s thoughts and therefore behaviors are heavily armored protecting them from their own self-loathing that’s at the very core of their being. Deep within they experience a profound sense of emptiness brought on by early childhood trauma like psychological abuse and neglect, both of which are experienced as emotional pain. Because of these traits narcisissts are highly toxic individuals to be around.

The Worst of the Worst

If those character traits aren’t horrifying enough it’s time to sit down. Dealing with a malignant narcissist is nothing short of a living nightmare from which you never awaken. If the basic traits of NPD aren’t challenging enough, those of the malignant type have the potential to destroy marriages, families, businesses, communities, even nations (think Donald Trump and the cult of personality). They possess what some experts call the “Dark Triad.” Machiavellianism (manipulative attitude), narcissism (excessive self-love), and psychopathy (lack of empathy). They justify their socially and morally aversive behavior, including illegal exploits for personal gain, a sense of entitlement, distrust of others, and denigration of those around them as “losers.” They’re dishonest, pathological liars and present a strong face of grandiosity.

If marrying a malignant narcissist doesn’t destroy you, divorcing one will complete the job. It very well may be the most difficult thing you’ve ever done in your life. Bar none. I would know. I divorced one and by the end was a mere shell of myself.

But wait! There’s hope. We humans have more resilience and drive than we ever thought possible. Especially when our life is literally on the line. When pushed to the very limits of our sanity, we have the potential to become our very own heroes. I know I’m mine, and honestly I never was until put to the test. We surprise ourselves.

HELP! What Can I Do?

So what can you do? In terms of the actual process of divorce start with the more practical things like doing reconnaissance and pre-planning. Surreptitiously organize yourself, assemble and copy all appropriate documents like insurances, bank account information, property deeds and titles, personal investments, retirement accounts, etc. Remove any valuables and jewelry, including your engagement ring and put them in a safety deposit box in your name only. Take care of any special mementos or personal artifacts, those are the first things to go missing as they’re often the most precious belongings you have. Open a separate bank account and get a credit card in your name only. Finally hire one of the many capable Divorce Coaches out there if feasible and if you’re not already seeing a therapist don’t walk, run to make an appointment with one.

Put together the best team.

 

You’re going to need all the support you can get. Assembling the best team possible, one which understands NPD and all its drama, real and otherwise, will be better equipped to understand your many fears and in the long run maybe even save you money. If for one moment you think you should mediate and try to divorce amicably, drop that notion immediately unless you’re hell-bent on losing it all, along with your peace of mind.

Next, set boundaries, disengage and refrain from any arguing, confrontation, or negotiating. This seeming disinterest wreaks havoc with a narcissist, malignant or otherwise, and disturbs their delicate equilibrium. Besides, when have any of these things ever worked anyway? Remember, just because he says it’s so, doesn’t make it so. That’ll ward against more gaslighting at which you already know he’s a pro. Steel yourself. Put on a full suit of armor. Once he feels threatened, fear and then rage grip him at an off the charts level as he can’t lose control. You must remain aware, at times even vigilant, maintaining your calm and never showing weakness. (Body language and expression work magic.)

Guarding Your Psychological & Emotional Health

THIS is paramount in your divorce battle and battle it is. In most cases malignant narcissists will pursue a scorched-earth litigation until the last man’s standing. Don’t become a hostage. There are some helpful things to keep yourself grounded and balanced allowing you to hear your inner voice and not the outside noise. After years of gaslighting, personal attacks and intense tortuous behavior, you probably don’t have all your wits about you. You may even become impulsive, paranoid (who wouldn’t when you feel your very life’s at stake!), reactive or maybe the opposite, hopeless, numb, depressed, all energy and verve depleted after years of torment.

Undoubtedly the most important skill to practice is Mindfulness. Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all before, “I can’t do meditation.” Guess what? Mindfulness is not meditation. In fact, meditation is under the umbrella of mindfulness. So what is it then? Being right here, right now in this very moment as it is. An awareness of what’s going on within yourself. It’s not necessarily a change in what you’re thinking and seeing but more a change in awareness of thought.

What do you do to practice mindfulness? According to Dialectical Behavior Therapy Founder Marsha Lineham, there are three things. Observe by looking internally and externally as though through a window. It’s noticing in its purest form. Describe only what you observe. Just the facts. And, Participate by being fully present in what you’re doing.

Okay, so How do you do this? Again, Lineham gives us three ways. Non judgmentally, not placing a value on something. No interpretation. One-mindfully, doing one thing at a time. Not multitasking. And, Effectively, meaning doing what works. Focusing.

In sum, it goes like this…

Observe without judgement.

Describe one-mindfully.

Participate effectively.

If this sounds complicated it really isn’t. In fact, one of the easiest ways to practice it is by doing ‘mini-mindfulness’ one-minute ‘sessions’ a few times a day.

Mini-Mindfulness Session

What’s this look like? For :60 seconds stop what you’re doing. Using all of your senses–sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, notice your environment. For example, If you’re drinking a cup of coffee, notice it’s color, taste, smell, sound, and texture on your tongue for 1 full minute. Now don’t be surprised that your coffee never tasted better, or worse for that matter. Amazing what paying attention gives you. Another example. Stop right in the middle of climbing the stairs. Now do the same thing as above with all of your senses. You get the picture. Three times a day is only 3 minutes. Certainly you can do that.

Practicing mindfulness takes you out of the negative unhealthy thoughts that loop around your mind like they’re on a conveyor belt. It enables you to keep your emotions in check, focus attention and ground yourself. You can now make wise and effective decisions which we all know we desperately need at this point in time. You can maintain your cool when negotiating as opposed to getting hot-headed and emotional and storming out in tears.

woman practicing mindfulness
The moral of the story is there’s NO winning with a narcissist, (nor with anyone else for that matter, it’s not a contest) particularly with malignant traits. The goal is to end a disastrous and even life-sucking relationship with as much of yourself intact as possible. The rest will come in time. The more you’re able to accept the situation and wear blinders until you reach the finish line, the more successful and relieved you’ll be. The goal is your (and your children’s if you have them) freedom with as little trauma as possible. Period. There is no retribution and there is no revenge.

In fact, here’s one piece of wisdom I’ll share with you that took me some time to learn: Give up on the fantasy of getting even. You can never, and I mean never, punish a narcissist anymore than they already punish themselves. Would you like to live in that head of theirs? I didn’t think so.

Mindfulness is the key to every other skill when dealing with an individual diagnosed with NPD. Until you can remain anchored in the present with your emotions under control, no other tool will work. Stay tuned for more of those tools.

** For the sake of ease the pronoun ‘He’ appears throughout although women are diagnosed with NPD as well.

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