Narcissistic Personality Disorder


Article by Melissa Needle

Photography by Chris Lynch

Divorcing a Spouse with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Ending a marriage can be emotionally and financially draining — and even more so if your spouse has narcissistic tendencies. People afflicted with this mental condition have an inflated sense of importance coupled with an excessive need for admiration and a lack of empathy. Often, a narcissist enjoys the fight and takes action to engage in litigation and revenge. When faced with divorce, a narcissist will have a “win” mentality, making it likely that your case will be a high-conflict battle. Arming yourself with a strategy to protect yourself and defend against a spouse who is willing to go to war is critical to a positive result.

What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Narcissistic personality disorder (“NPD”) is one of several types of personality disorders. NPD is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.

Narcissistic personality disorder is found more commonly in men. The cause is unknown but typically involves a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Symptoms generally include an excessive need for admiration, disregard for others' feelings, an inability to handle any criticism, and a sense of entitlement.

The most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists nine criteria for NPD, but specifies someone need only meet five to clinically qualify as a narcissist:

  1. Grandiose sense of self-importance
  2. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  3. Belief they are special and unique and can only be understood by or should associate with, other special high-status people or institutions
  4. Need of excessive admiration
  5. Sense of entitlement
  6. Interpersonally exploitative behavior
  7. Lack of empathy
  8. Envy of other or a belief that other are envious of them
  9. Demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes

Signs that indicate you could be married to a narcissist

  • Always feels entitled
  • Constantly violates and criticizes the persona boundaries of others
  • Has an over-inflated ego
  • Dominates every conversation
  • Uses manipulation to get what they want--even at the expense of others
  • Uses Gaslighting to gain advantage and leverage
  • Manipulative
  • Makes promises and does not keep them
  • Lacks sincerity and empathy
  • Pretends both affection and emotion
  • Obsessed with impressing others and their physical appearance
  • Blames others
  • Exaggerates everything
  • Comes off as a know it all
  • Extremely impatient

What to Expect When Divorcing a Narcissist

Narcissists are characterized as having a deep sense of entitlement, being manipulative and taking advantage of those around them. They are unlikely to be reasonable at any point during the divorce process. Common behaviors they may exhibit can include:

  • Failing to provide discovery — A narcissistic spouse will often fail to turn over important financial documents, hide assets or conceal other crucial information.
  • Lying under oath — It’s common for narcissists to distort the truth. They may lie during discovery or in testimony. Generally, it’s best to avoid contact with a narcissistic spouse altogether during the divorce process and communicate solely through your attorney.
  • Using the children as pawns — Despite what is in your children’s best interests, a narcissist may battle you over child custody or visitation and may attempt to alienate the children from you. (see Parental Alienation Syndrome)
  • Refusing to mediate or negotiate — Since narcissists thrive in high-conflict situations, they will usually be unwilling to come to terms amicably. They are more likely to drag out the litigation process and portray themselves as the victim.

Gaslighting in Divorce and Custody Cases

In the context of a contested divorce or custody case, gaslighting refers to a parent who uses a pattern of extremely convincing lies to manipulate others (e.g., family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, police, judges, lawyers, child protective services, and the court system itself) into questioning the sanity of the targeted parent.

Unfortunately, “gaslighting” tactics are too often used by spouses who act in bad faith and maliciously push “hot buttons” to manipulate and antagonize reactions from co-parent targets so that the police or child protective services can be engaged in moments of weakness and unhelpful or unflattering behavior, can, in turn, be added and accumulated on the record.

Ironically, these cases can evolve with a focus that revolves more around the overreactions of the targeted parent than the bad faith actions of the manipulative parent. Unchecked, the end results of a such cases can be unfair and paired with the possible alienation of the children from the targeted parents.

If a targeted parent feels like they are a victim of gaslighting or that they are being alienating from their children and as a result feel either angry and frustrated, it is critical that they not act on those feelings. Nothing is more important that maintaining focus, control and composure from the outset. Overreactions can be used and viewed as “evidence” of the targeted parents alleged mental instability in a future divorce or custody action.  

If you are prescient enough to identify early warning signs, your best course of action is to engage the services of an attorney who is familiar with gaslighting and/or the behaviors related to parental alienation in a divorce and custody case. 

Expect to hear about parental alienation syndrome when divorcing a narcissist

Even though Parental Alienation Syndrome (“PAS”) is not recognized by Connecticut Courts the actions, the behaviors of the both the alienating and alienated parent can significantly impact your divorce -- especially with respect to your custody and parenting plan. As always with respect to matters of Child Custody, the best interest of the child come first. And specifically, by statute, Connecticut Family Courts must consider sixteen statutory factors consider by Connecticut Courts Child Custody matters.

It is important to note that PAS is not included in the American Psychiatric Associations Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Parental Alienation Syndrome refers to a disorder that arises primarily in the context of Child Custody when one parent tries to separate their child from the other parent as a form of punishment or vilification. Specifically, it is a disorder that refers to the child’s campaign of denigration against the targeted parent, where such campaign has no justification or basis in reality and instead is manufactured by the bad faith behavior of the parental aggressor, gas lighter, or narcissistic parent

Parental alienation syndrome develops in children who demonstrate a hate, fear, and rejection the targeted parent as someone undeserving of having a relationship with them.

Cases involving Parental Alienation are very complex. These cases involve detailed testimony from expert clinicians and family therapists. It is essential that you involve legal professional who are knowledgeable, experienced, and familiar with the dynamic and extreme issues involved in these cases so that you can build and control your narrative.

Useful Tips to Survive Divorcing a Narcissist:

1.   Communicate with your spouse only through lawyers — This can be difficult if you have children, but if possible, this results in the best outcome. It prevents the narcissistic spouse from manipulating and controlling you. A narcissist can be charming and that does not necessarily end just because there is a divorce. If you must talk to your spouse directly, keep conversations centered only on specifics related to the children and not about custody or parenting plans.

2.   Document everything — This is an excellent way to record the facts. A narcissist tends to view things from a very different point of view. Narcissists are also very persuasive and charming. Documenting interactions between you and your spouse, your children and your spouse, you and your children and any other relationships or interactions that may reveal a narcissist’s true nature could prove to be a very helpful tool in a divorce from a narcissist.

3.   Stay focused — A narcissists’ self-centered nature tends to drive and frame the divorce case. Knowing what is important and not becoming distracted by chaos created by the narcissistic spouse is critical to surviving the process and for a positive outcome

4.   Take the high road — Refrain from engaging with a narcissistic spouse in a manner that reflects negatively on you. The narcissist is looking to engage their spouse in a battle. This type of behavior is what the narcissist thrives on. Do not give the narcissist spouse what they want. Respond with as few words as possible.

5.   Consult with an experienced divorce lawyer to develop a comprehensive strategy — Your narcissist spouse will not divorce quickly and quietly. A Connecticut divorce attorney who is familiar with this type of personality --who will not only fight for you but fight wisely -- is essential to your success.

Although divorcing a narcissist will present you with emotional and practical challenges, it is important not to let them distract you from your objectives. You need to stay focused, put your head down and concentrate on the things that are most important to your long-term success, health and well-being. Taking a cool approach to problem solving is the best way to deal with an irrational litigant.

Needle | Cuda: Divorce and Family Law actively serves the towns and communities between Greenwich and Westport, CT. Attorney Melissa Needle has practiced in lower Fairfield County for over thirty (30) years and has extensive experience with high conflict divorce and custody cases, complex property division, and high net worth divorce. Narcissitic Personality Disorder, Gaslighting, and Parental Alientation Syndrone are frequently involved and very common themes in her case work. To schedule a consultation please call (203) 557-9500 or NeedleCuda.com

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