Divorce with Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Part 2


The Complete Guide to Divorcing a Narcissist is a seven part series. Divorce with Narcissistic Personality Disorder is part Two. See below for links to the remaining parts. What does narcissistic personality disorder look like? What do narcissists do when they lose control in divorce? Why do narcissists thrive on conflict?

Individuals exhibiting severe narcissistic traits may have what is called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). A personality disorder is a pattern of abnormal thinking and behavior that interferes with the person’s ability to function in relationships and in other areas of life.

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5),[i] defines NPD as a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts. Divorcing the narcissist unintentionally opens the door to even more of this behavior. You need to understand the following:

What does narcissistic personality disorder look like?

Looking at the DSM-5, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is indicated by five or more of the following nine standards:

  1. The person has a grandiose sense of self-importance.[ii] For example, exaggerating achievements and expecting recognition as superior without actually accomplishing those achievements.
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty, or perfect love.
  3. Believes he or she is “special” and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special people or institutions.
  4. Requires excessive admiration.
  5. Has a sense of entitlement. For example, has unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment or compliance with personal expectations.
  6. Is exploitative and takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.
  7. Lacks empathy and is unwilling to identify with the needs of others.
  8. Is often envious of others or believes others are resentful or envious of him or her.
  9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors and attitudes.
What does narcissistic personality disorder look like?

What does narcissistic personality disorder look like?

The prevalence of NPD in the general population is about 1%. However, within the clinical population, the prevalence rate is between 2% and 16%. Between the sexes, men are diagnosed with NPD about three times more often than women, or 18% in males compared to 6% in females.

Comorbidities Associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Comorbidities associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder include major depressive disorder – present in 45% to 50% of NPD patients, bipolar disorder – present in 5% to 11% of NPD patients, and substance abuse disorders – present in 24% to 64.2% of NPD patients. These comorbidities should be taken seriously. Because of their seriousness, a toxicology screen may be useful in excluding drug or alcohol abuse as likely reasons for the pathology.

The causation of NPD as a mental disorder is complex and beyond the scope of this video. Having said that, development of NPD is frequently attributed to a dysfunctional childhood which may have included excessive pampering, extremely high expectations, abuse, or neglect. Genetics are also thought to play a role in the development of NPD.[iii] The severity of NPD varies from one person to the next as well. Some narcissists may show few NPD characteristics while others exhibit many or most of them.

Only a licensed mental health professional can give a personality disorder diagnosis. But you can protect yourself from narcissistic abuse before, during, and after divorce by gaining a basic understanding of NPD and how it affects a person’s behavior.

Narcissists thrive in high conflict situations, including high conflict divorce.

In 1941, during World War II, Winston Churchill gave a speech to a loyal English audience. Churchill’s words aptly describe the mentality of a narcissist spouse in divorce.

[N]ever give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in…[iv]

That singular mindset of the high conflict personality is the main reason why hiring a shrewd divorce attorney is essential. Expect the narcissist spouse to employ both overt and covert methods in order to never give in on any issue, great or small, large or petty. You need a divorce attorney with the specific experience and knowledge required to anticipate, identify, and counter the negative tactics certain to come from the opposing party.

Narcissists view every issue in the divorce – consequential and inconsequential – as a fight to the finish. The narcissist spouse isn’t motivated by the ins and outs of specific matters raised throughout the proceedings. It’s not about parenting time, or alimony, or who stays in the house, not really. It is the narcissist’s fear of losing control over you that motivates this fight to the finish.

What do narcissists do when they lose control in divorce?

What do narcissists do when they lose control in divorce?

First, they get desperate.  They will start by making negative comments about your attorney.  “He is not smart.”  “Your lawyer is not respected by anyone in the bar.”  “He is going to take all of your money and leave us with nothing for you.”

Narcissists will also try pushing every emotional hot button to regain control.  “You will never be loved.”  “I am the only one who will support you.”  “Don’t throw away our marriage.  Think of our children.”  When one button doesn’t work, he will move on to the next and then, the next.

The narcissist spouse’s objective in the divorce is to wear you down and keep you off balance. He or she will assert power and control over you primarily by manipulating the court system.

How do narcissists typically work to regain power and control in litigation? They file countless motions with little or no merit. They waste time, fail to respond, provide incomplete information, and cause delays. They make false allegations, file misleading documents, lie, or worse.

Why do narcissists thrive on conflict?

To a narcissist, winning is the only way to validate self-worth. Winning is the reason for living. The rationale for contesting everything in the divorce has little, if anything, to do with the children’s best interests, family support needs, or a more equitable property distribution. The narcissist’s personality thrives on conflict. Which means there is little incentive for the narcissist to settle any aspect of the separation, even if tangential and insignificant.

What’s more, the narcissist has to create a lot of drama in order to remain the focus of attention and stay in control. For the narcissist spouse, every aspect of the case is an individual battle that must be fought. Remember, winning is validation to the narcissist. Winning is everything and everything is about winning.

Experienced family lawyers understand that not all battles must be fought in order to win a divorce.  As a philosophy, “winning at all costs” can be a weakness.  From a strategic perspective, you and your attorney need to be ready to seize opportunities to exploit that weakness.  Be patient.  Moments will come.  Timing is key.

View more of our series, Complete Guide to Divorcing a Narcissist:

  1. Stages of Divorcing a Narcissist
  2. Divorce with Narcissistic Personality Disorder
  3. How To Divorce a Narcissist and Win
  4. Financial Strategies for Divorcing a Narcissist
  5. How to Negotiate a Divorce Settlement with a Narcissist
  6. Divorcing a Narcissist with Child Custody Disputed
  7. Divorcing a Female Narcissist

More resources on Divorcing a Narcissist:

  1. Divorcing the Narcissist – Our original post describing the clinical definition and general introduction.
  2. Financial Abuse, Narcissists & Money: A Divorce Lawyer’s Perspective – Mason’s popular video sharing his experiences and thoughts.
  3. Divorcing a Narcissist: Six Family Lawyers’ Advice – Six nationally recognized family lawyers discuss their experiences and advice.
  4. Finding a Divorce Lawyer Who Can Handle Opposing a Narcissist – Mason’s thoughts on what divorcing spouses should look for.

End Notes:

[i] https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm

[ii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556001/

[iii] Narcissistic Personality Disorder DSM-5 301.81 (F60.81), H. Okoye, MD, MBA, MS-Epi.

[iv] https://www.nationalchurchillmuseum.org/never-give-in-never-never-never.html

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