Divorce is already complicated and emotionally exhausting. Divorcing a narcissist almost guarantees that your divorce will be more complicated, litigious and exhausting than probably anyone else you know.
How Can You Tell if Your Spouse is a Narcissist?
While narcissists are often portrayed as grand figures – Donald Trump, for example, or many sports figures and celebrities – narcissists in reality are more like scared children dressed up like kings or queens.
At the core, narcissists see themselves as superior and exceptional, but this opinion is not based on reality and is often not shared by others. While the world sees the narcissist as charming, charismatic, authoritarian, those closest to them may see the reality – the narcissist is scared, fragile and terrified of being alone. Narcissists build fantastic glass houses for themselves to protect their fragile feelings of inferiority and chase off anyone who would throw stones at their glass house with vicious attack dogs and hidden pits filled with spikes. It’s the only way they can maintain their feeling of superiority and self-worth, and provide some sense of stability.
Statistically, men are twice as likely to fall into the category of extreme narcissists than women, which helps to explain why in our practice we see mostly women who come to us to divorce a narcissist.
According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, there are three kinds of narcissists:
- Typical narcissists are grandiose, arrogant, attention seeking, with little outward signs of anxiety, and extraordinarily self-absorbed.
- Vulnerable, or “covert” narcissists are fragile, thin-skinned, inhibited, often distressed, hypersensitive to the evaluations of others while chronically envious and evaluating themselves in relation to others. Interpersonally these individuals are often shy, outwardly self-effacing, and hypersensitive to slights, while harboring secret grandiosity. Also extraordinarily self-absorbed.
- “High-functioning” narcissists are grandiose, competitive, attention seeking, and sexually provocative, while demonstrating adaptive functioning and using their narcissistic traits to succeed. Because of their high level of functioning, at first glance individuals in this group may not appear to have a personality disorder. This is the most dangerous and common type of spouse, since they are often more capable of entering into a longer-term relationship than the other types of narcissists but still have the competitive, destructive tendencies common to all narcissists. However, because these spouses appear “normal”, it often takes the court, and therapeutic professionals involved in the case, much longer to figure out what is really going on.
Common Relationship issues
Narcissists tend to have difficulty building relationships with their spouses and their children because genuine engagement with others threatens their fragile sense of self. Most relationships with narcissists are superficial because narcissists lack any genuine concern or understanding of the needs or feelings of others. This lack of understanding and concern forms the basis for the all out, winner take all approach to divorce that is so common when divorcing a narcissist.
Narcissists need the adoration of others to prop up their self-esteem and support their sense of self. When young, the adoration and natural tendency for children to defer to their parents supports the narcissists view of themselves. But because narcissists tend to be authoritarian and dismissive of the actual feelings and needs of children, narcissists struggle with parenting as the children get older.
As children get older and develop their own sense of self, and gain more exposure to other family dynamics, children begin to challenge the controlling, dominating narcissist parent. This often results in the children preferring not to spend time with that parent, which is then used as the basis for the narcissist to claim that the preferred parent is actually alienating the children against the narcissist. In the alternative, the narcissist will attempt to alienate the younger children against the other parent by undermining their authority, or causing the children to fear the other parent.
New relationships are also great at propping up the fragile narcissist – until the shininess wears off and the new person begins to see the narcissist’s true self. Some narcissists will have multiple affairs or more “superficial” relationships with escorts or prostitutes, while others will with withdraw and show no interest in intimacy at all.
Other narcissists who tend to withdraw socially also tend to refuse work that is “beneath them” or will refuse to work at jobs that are not seen as superior. These types of narcissist tend to be highly educated but unemployed, and tend to financially exploit their family or spouse due to their refusal to work.
Narcissists tend to behave in predictable ways during a divorce, and an experienced attorney can make all the difference. We will be writing more about this specific dynamic that is found in narcissists in future blogs. So stay tuned…