Things to know when you are divorcing a narcissist
Divorce is hard enough, but harder still when your ex-partner is particularly self-centred and not very empathetic. If you think you are divorcing a narcissist, this post is for you.
The Myth of Narcissus
According to various Greek myths, Narcissus was a proud, beautiful young hunter who spurned many admirers. In one instance, he rejected the advances of a mountain nymph by the name of Echo. After being rejected, Echo became so heartbroken and lovesick that she evaporated into nothing but an echo of her own voice. Nemesis, the Goddess of Revenge, witnessed this and decided to punish Narcissus for his supreme arrogance. After luring him to a river to quench his thirst, he happened upon his reflection in the water and fell madly in love with what he saw.
However, upon realising that such beauty was just his reflection and could not reciprocate his intense feelings, he burned himself from the inside out. (Hence why the flower of the same name has petals that go from orange inside to white outside – like a fire). Some sources say he fell into the river and drowned. Others say he suicided. Either way the story is told, it didn’t end well for him.
Based on this myth you would think narcissism is an excess of pride and self-importance. These are certainly aspects of it but this personality trait is far more complex, and quite frankly, very problematic. A large number of our clients come from relationships that have been weakened by the narcissistic behaviour of one or both people, and the reality is that dealing with other parties with these traits in a family law context can be incredibly taxing and difficult. That’s why we think it’s important to know what you’re up against if you are separating or divorcing from another person with some particularly self-centred traits.
What is “narcissism?”
an inflated sense of self-importance, grandiose beliefs and behaviors, and lack of empathy.
Narcissism is a loaded word that is easy to throw around, especially when someone is being a bit selfish or stubborn. But it’s important to think of it as existing along a spectrum of egocentricity i.e. how self-or-other oriented you are in your everyday life. It’s a capacity we all have and we all find ourselves somewhere on that spectrum.
What are common narcissistic traits?
Narcissistic behaviour exists on the end of the ‘Me’ side of the spectrum, and can show itself through various things like:
- Superiority: Believing you’re better than other people; Fantasising about success and achievements; Expecting special treatment and adoration.
- Self-Obsession: Expect to be the centre of attention or focus at all times; thinking people are envious of you; Expecting unquestioning compliance with demands.
- Apathy: Having no interest (or ability) to see things from others points of view;
- Manipulation: Blatantly using people for personal gain (money, career advancement and/or social status); Gaslighting behaviour; Never apologises; “Flips the Script”.
- Deflection: Thinking every bad thing that happens to you is someone else’s fault; Extremely sensitive to criticism; Refusal to self-reflect.
You may recognise some people in your life when you read this. You may even see yourself in some of this list. That is entirely normal. In fact, we are all capable of being narcissistic at various points in our life. Some would argue a bit of self-centeredness is essential for survival.
According to available research, only a tiny percentage of the population are actually pathologically narcissistic – with estimates ranging from 1-5% of any population pool. However, this doesn’t mean average people aren’t capable of narcissistic behaviours. When these behaviours cluster together, and become sustained over long periods of time – like they might do in a relationship – this can become very problematic.
So, what is it like divorcing a narcissist?
Many people have written stories about divorcing a narcissist, and their accounts largely match what we see when clients come to us with similar circumstances. In our experience, highly narcissistic people in divorce and separation are often:
- More likely to go to trial,
- Have an “in it to win” attitude, at the expense of what is in everyone’s best interests,
- Make things very personal, and
- Can be very difficult to co-parent with.
Divorcing a narcissist can be a lot to deal with on your own. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The right team of family lawyers can help you minimise these negative effects, and help you grow stronger than before.
Please call us now on (08) 9381 0208 or fill out this form to schedule your first 30-min free telephone appointment. We are the family lawyers whose clients come to us for experts that understand the complexities of not just family law, but family life too.
If you want to read more about people’s experiences in divorce and separation with a narcissistic person, you can find some very comprehensive and personal accounts at Psychology Today, Ravishly, and Women’s Health Magazine.