How To Divorce a Narcissist and Win: Part 3


The Complete Guide to Divorcing a Narcissist is a seven part series. How To Divorce a Narcissist and Win is part Three. See below for links to the remaining parts. Strategies for divorcing the narcissist. How do you outsmart a narcissist in a divorce? Hiring the right lawyer to deal with a narcissist spouse. “Flipping the script” on the narcissist. How to beat a narcissist in court. How to Make a Narcissist Panic and Lose Control.

The concept of “winning your divorce” is an opaque objective at best. Just ask any experienced family lawyer. Every client has unique goals based on individual values, needs, and priorities. Given some narcissists seek to win personal validation and vindication for every wrong ever committed against them, “winning” becomes a moving target.

Some divorcing spouses come to their lawyers with specific goals to make sure, at all costs, the other spouse doesn’t win. Other divorcing spouses simply want to be protected from the bullying they know is coming. Whether they say it out loud or not, some narcissists want their spouses to suffer for suffering’s sake. Some narcissists just want to watch the world burn.

Most of us will cross paths with individuals exhibiting some narcissistic tendencies, such as over-inflated opinions of entitlement and self-worth. Although these traits might make the person annoying, the American Psychiatric Association offers additional criteria before the untoward behavior rises to the level of mental disorder.

Acknowledging minor personality flaws to get along with an otherwise normal individual is nothing at all like divorcing a spouse with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or NPD. Day-to-day married life with a narcissist is often difficult, but divorcing one? Divorcing the narcissist can be profoundly challenging and costly – emotionally and financially. Mental health therapists often suggest counseling to help ameliorate the unique stresses associated with divorcing the narcissist. Definitely consider it.

The notion of winning a divorce conflicts with most states’ public policy. Whenever and wherever possible, family law proceedings are intended to engender cooperation and settlement between parties with their attorneys’ assistance. The narcissist’s mantra – never give in no matter how inconsequential the dispute – is antithetical to the process of settling disputes through mediation, negotiation, and collaborative divorce.

Be ready for obstruction from the narcissist at every turn, along with refusal to mediate or negotiate in good faith, even on issues where spouses generally agree. The narcissist has to win even if he “cuts off his nose to spite his face” in the process.

Strategies for divorcing the narcissist

Strategies for divorcing the narcissist.

Strategies for divorcing the narcissist.

No doubt, divorcing a narcissist is going to be a challenge. If you have children, then you need to accept that you’ll be dealing with your difficult ex-spouse for the rest of your life in what can seem an “endless” game.[i] Still, there are strategies to help you mitigate the effects of the narcissist’s crazy making chaos. Let’s go through them.

  1. Do your homework

Get your documents in order. Read everything you can about your state’s divorce laws. Make every effort to never be blindsided on the legal aspects of your divorce. Negotiating from a position of strength requires understanding your documents, information, and evidence. Because the narcissist’s pattern is to garner support by manipulating information and twisting facts, be sure to verify everything he or she provides. Keep good records, too.

  1. Plan carefully

When divorcing a narcissist, especially one with money, you need a good game plan. You better believe your narcissistic spouse will! Are you the one wanting a divorce? Then it’s probably best you keep secret your plan to leave until you actually move out, find an attorney, and file for divorce.

Narcissists are plotters. They can be very sneaky when they want to be. If you tell your narcissist spouse you want a divorce, then he or she may kick you out of the house, clean out the bank accounts, cancel the credit cards, refuse to allow you to see the children, and make false allegations against you in an attempt to have you arrested. That’s not hyperbole.

Engage your experienced family law attorney as soon as you can.  Don’t wait.  Get the advice you need.  Early mistakes can be difficult to overcome, putting you on your heels and making you feel trapped.  Never rely on what an Internet article or YouTube video says, even this one!  Every case is unique.  There are always exceptions.  That is why your lawyer must first learn your values, needs, and priorities and then advise you accordingly.

  1. Build your emotional support team

Early in the divorce process, contact your family members, friends, and other sources of emotional support. You will need to build your legal, financial, and emotional support team. Share your story. Ask for help. Keep them updated, but always be careful not to share too much. Why? Because your narcissist spouse may be trying to gather information from those closest to you. Chicago family lawyer Steven N. Peskind warns of potential treachery:

Narcissists are very treacherous legal adversaries. They will convince your friends and family that they are the victim and you are crazy. Many are adept at the ‘poor me’ routine. And it may work for a while. Rest assured: true friends and loyal family members will see through the facade relatively quickly.[ii]

Mitigating the impact of the narcissist spouse on court proceedings begins with hiring a divorce lawyer who fully appreciates the complexity of the situation, is proactive, and is a tough litigator. Do not make the mistake of believing that everything will be fine with the divorce filed. The narcissist will make this a tough river to navigate. For an outcome that truly sets a better life-course after the divorce, build your legal, financial, and emotional team wisely – and with purpose.

You definitely need an understanding support system during this trying time. Yes, friends and family may be of some help. But the manipulative behavior and emotional drama of the narcissist is not always well understood. Seek out people who are familiar with NPD and the toxic effect of narcissistic abuse, such as a support group, psychological counselor, or social worker. Your children may need emotional counseling as well.

  1. Set firm boundaries and stand your ground

Narcissists believe their needs are more important than anyone else’s. They believe they’re more intelligent than everyone. And they believe it’s unacceptable for anyone to disagree with them. Narcissists have no boundaries and no respect for the needs of others. No, you cannot make your narcissistic spouse respect your boundaries or care about your needs. Yes, you can refuse to allow the narcissist to cross your boundaries. You can control what behaviors you will and will not tolerate.

Psychologically healthy people can be reasoned with and are willing to make compromises. By contrast, the narcissist going through a divorce will likely have an all or nothing attitude and will typically refuse to negotiate. Consequently, mediation may not work well with narcissists. They are too controlling to tolerate a fair outcome.

In many states, mediation is required before going to trial.  Many experienced family lawyers encourage mediation even if it is likely to be unsuccessful for several strategic reasons.  You can make a settlement offer.  If the narcissist fails to negotiate in good faith, you’re heading to trial anyway.  Might as well get that out of the way.  Plus, you can be seen as the person pressing forward.  That, in and of itself, shows you are unafraid of trial.  Any time you and your lawyer are seen as seizing control of the divorce process, it can be frightening to the narcissist.  Keep moving forward.  This may help give you the negotiating leverage you need for the favorable settlement.

Many victims of abuse find strength in counseling with a mental health professional.  Expect the narcissist to push back against the boundaries you set. If you want to stop the cycle of abuse and disrespect, then you must be firm, stand your ground, and refuse to allow it. You and your divorce lawyer will need to stand tall in order to ensure your narcissist spouse does not take advantage.

  1. Limit direct communications

If you don’t have children, then direct communication with your spouse may not be necessary once you’ve hired a divorce lawyer. So long as you keep your communications brief and factual, email and text messaging can greatly reduce the stress of dealing with the harassing narcissist spouse.

Email is one of the best methods of communicating with a narcissistic spouse. For one, each party has time to think before responding. Because the communications are written, email may also eliminate some of the narcissist’s abusive behavior since there would be concrete evidence that could be used in court.

Text messaging is another good way to communicate with your narcissistic spouse since it’s also in writing. You will need to forward these text messages to an email account and to your lawyer so that there is a record of the communication.

Limiting direct communication during your divorce to email or text messaging, whenever possible, will help you maintain your composure when your narcissistic spouse tries to bait you.

  1. Discovery

The narcissist spouse may have a genuine psychological need to be deposed in order to “officially” and “on the record” tell his or her story before settling. So let the narcissist tell his story. Let him talk, talk, and talk some more. Experienced family lawyers know how to take advantage of such opportunities. In fact, they welcome them. Although they’re an expensive discovery tool, depositions may be necessary for real progress to be made towards settlement.

Is the narcissist refusing to provide full disclosure of all financial information and documentation? Have a serious discussion with your lawyer. Always perform a cost-benefit analysis of your options. There may be hidden money and income.

How do you outsmart a narcissist in a divorce?

Knowing how narcissists operate is the first step in outsmarting them. More than anything, your narcissistic spouse wants to manipulate and control you. Although a licensed counselor or therapist trained in divorce with a narcissist party may help you develop specific coping techniques, what follows are a few general examples of how to thwart the narcissist’s manipulations.

Example 1: Simply agree.

The narcissist accuses you of spending too much time reading cookbooks, but never enough time cooking. Instead of reacting, simply agree and shrug it off. Don’t let it affect you at all. A reaction only validates the narcissist’s behavior, so don’t give it to him.

Example 2: Keep your true objectives a secret.

Use the narcissist’s predictabilities as leverage. You don’t want the house in the divorce, but your narcissistic spouse assumes you do. This motivates the narcissist to insist you can’t stay in the house because he wants it. Without giving away your true feelings about the house, use the narcissist’s demand as leverage to get something else in settlement. And when you get what you really wanted, keep that knowledge between you and your attorney.

Example 3: Harness your power.

The narcissist’s grandiose sense of self-worth has to be validated externally through others. Without other people to draw from, or tap into, the narcissist has difficulty generating internal feelings of value. However, you do have this internal sense of value. You need to focus on it, cultivate it, harness it, and concentrate on being strong and steady.

Don’t expect a narcissist to change

            As with many things in life, there are rules in divorce. There are dos and don’ts, many of which seem counter-intuitive. Some are written down, but many are not. For each situation, those rules may shift or change depending on your particular circumstances.

This is where a family lawyer with the experience to handle a narcissist comes into play. Read what your lawyer gives you to read. Each day, dedicate time and effort to learning these rules and “what happens when.” A lot of emotional energy and head space will be needed, so plan for it. Eat right. Exercise. Avoid over-committing to anyone and everyone except your children.

Your family lawyer should know the written and unwritten rules. Some rules may depend on your particular judge’s biases and values. Make a list of questions for your attorney. Expect direct answers and ask your lawyer not to sugar-coat anything with optimism. In this situation, you need realism.

Sometimes merely surviving means you must return fire and go to court to resolve a dispute. When dealing with the narcissist party, family law attorney Mark A. Chinn of Jackson, Mississippi, offers this recommendation:

Be aware that the narcissist is grandiose and has no empathy for the plight of other people and cannot be dealt with from the standpoint of pursuing a fair and just result. He has to ‘win.’ Make sure that neither the lawyer nor the client are drawn into the personality traits of the narcissist and do not take personally the condescension or criticism he will levy, because he thinks he is superior. A strategy must be developed to bring the narcissist to trial or settlement without getting side-tracked by reactions to his personality. Be aware of the personality, but don’t respond to it.

Hiring the right lawyer to deal with a narcissist spouse.

Hiring the right lawyer to deal with a narcissist spouse.

Hiring the right lawyer to deal with a narcissist spouse.

Hiring the right attorney to deal with a narcissist spouse is key. Finding divorce lawyers specializing in and familiar with narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is worth the effort.

Extrication from the clutches of a narcissist means finding a divorce lawyer who can handle opposing that personality type in court. This advice goes beyond mere suggestion. Hiring the right attorney to deal with narcissistic types is paramount under these circumstances. To an extreme narcissist, one’s very existence and reason for being are on the line in what must be a battle for divorce. This is no exaggeration!

Because narcissists have difficulty maintaining relationships, separation and divorce are not rarities for them. Understanding negative behaviors associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder is difficult for most rational people to fully grasp. So much of it is self-destructive. Know who you are dealing with.

The demands characteristic of divorcing a narcissist require an attorney trained for the challenge. Family law attorney Melissa J. Avery in Indianapolis, Indiana, makes this recommendation:

Look for an attorney who has experience working with mental health professionals and who understands various personality disorders and how they affect a party’s behavior during litigation.

Choose a litigator with ample experience representing clients against opposing parties who land on the NPD spectrum. Experience can make all the difference. The attorney must be prepared for court with spear-and-shield and a strategy to thwart every errant legal maneuver. You need to assume every issue will be contested.

What makes divorcing the narcissist so challenging? Rarely will the narcissist give in or give up on any issue raised in the divorce. A narcissist spouse will fight even small and minor points to the death.

Search for a divorce attorney who is current with the literature regarding symptoms reflected on the narcissistic scale. An attorney who understands the clinical diagnosis of NPD by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist. Ask the attorney direct questions and expect direct answers.

People with NPD are sometimes called “malignant narcissists.” They require special handling in divorce. The divorce attorney needs sufficient knowledge to anticipate the legal maneuvering certain to come from the narcissist party – lawful or unlawful, sugar-coated or abusive. First, the divorce lawyer will need to understand what motivates the narcissist spouse. Second, the attorney must vigilantly out-maneuver the opposing party’s tactics while simultaneously protecting the client from post-divorce manipulation. Especially if there are minor children!

Experienced attorneys who practice family law exclusively are far more likely to be prepared to handle litigation challenges. When hiring a divorce attorney, “select a lawyer who has the highest standing in the legal community,” notes attorney Mark Chinn in Jackson, Mississippi. “These credentials will be obvious to the narcissist who thinks that he can only associate with the ‘Best.’”

Look for family lawyers who are active in local, state, and national family law bar organizations. Experienced family lawyers often present seminars at professional conferences on how to deal with difficult opposing counsel and parties. Not surprisingly, these topics frequently include working with and opposing divorcing spouses with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

For more discussion, please see Finding a Divorce Lawyer Who Can Handle Opposing a Narcissist.

“Flipping the script” on the narcissist

So, the narcissist wants a divorce trial. Good! Prepare to flip the script!

Be calm. Be patient. Be strategic. You’re in the game, so play the game. When your experienced family lawyer tells you, “The best way for a case to settle is to prepare for trial,” trust your lawyer. This is what flipping the script on the narcissist looks like.

Chicago family lawyer Steven N. Peskind discusses why flipping the script against the narcissist spouse is a solid strategy:

[F]rom my experience, your concerns about your ‘charming spouse’ wooing the judge are usually unfounded. Most deep narcissists fall apart when under pressure or on the witness stand. Few can withstand the pressure of being confronted.

Whenever possible, prepare for both a trial and settlement at the same time. This subtle yet important strategy communicates that you lack fear. You will not be intimidated. You will endure.

Regardless of what happens during your case, never act like you’ve lost or even care about losing. Your narcissistic spouse revels in your suffering. Never give a narcissist the satisfaction. Build your emotional support team. Share your frustrations with them and only them. If you need someone else, then hire a clinical psychologist who is exceptionally well-versed in divorce court procedure to help you steady yourself.

Control is always a major theme with narcissists. Good! This can be turned against them, too! You must learn which aspects of divorce you and your lawyer cannot control – then ignore those aspects. What can you do? Plan your work. Work your plan. Focus on what you can control.

Anyone can have a bad day. Your goal? Limit the bad days to as few as possible. Up or down, emotional swings are the enemy. Do what you must to fight that enemy with all of the strength in your heart and soul. All the while, never let the narcissist see you overreact. If you make a mistake, own it and keep moving forward.

How to beat a narcissist in court

How to beat a narcissist in court

How to beat a narcissist in court.

Your experienced family lawyer will help guide you. But rarely are the lawyers going to make the difference in the divorce by “making the right moves on the chess board.” Experienced family lawyers will likely tell you how success is most often based on avoiding bad decisions. In some situations, defensive strategies make more sense.

Here are some of the very best strategies and tactics for beating the narcissist in court:

  1. Read everything.

Learn, learn, learn. Information is power. Knowledge of the process reduces fear. Understand what comes next. Do everything possible to avoid surprises.

  1. Accept what you cannot change.

You cannot change your judge. You cannot change the opposing counsel. You cannot reduce the narcissist’s anger. You cannot force the narcissist to accept a reasonable divorce settlement. However, you can do everything possible to improve and increase your relative negotiating leverage.

  1. If your lawyer recommends hiring a particular expert witness early, do it.

Your goal is to gain as much negotiating leverage as possible. The right expert witness early in the divorce could make the difference down the long road.

  1. Understand the role of your lawyer.

Your legal team makes recommendations. You make decisions. Batch your questions by writing them down as they pop into your head. Ask for appointments to meet with your experienced family lawyer to ask your questions.

Understand, just because your lawyer does not immediately respond to you does not mean your lawyer is not engaged in your case. Learn how your lawyer prefers to communicate with you. Some lawyers cannot have daily email exchanges. Some may prefer scheduling telephone conferences. Others may be more comfortable holding in-person conferences once every week or two.

  1. Intellectually and emotionally prepare for making tough decisions.

The road ahead will be difficult. Keep a level head, intellectually and emotionally. If you need help from your emotional support team, ask for it.

  1. Documents matter.

When the narcissist spouse digs in, refusing to exchange discovery voluntarily, you must dig in, too. If your lawyer needs to go to court to compel production of information and documents, don’t worry. This is common practice in divorce.

One of the best ways to prove a narcissist is lying is with documents. Tax returns, financial statements, and loan applications have been the weapon of choice in crushing many a narcissist. Subpoenas are the tool to help you overturn important rocks, so you can look for what’s hidden beneath. Details matter.

  1. Choose your battles very carefully.

Every battle will be difficult and hard fought. On conserving resources, Indianapolis attorney Melissa Avery offers this advice: “Don’t feel the need to defend every minor allegation made by your spouse. Save your attention and resources for the things that matter most to you.”

  1. Be conservative with money in anticipation of court proceedings.

Litigation is expensive. All too often, the narcissist’s goal is to pressure the other spouse into giving up after exhausting all of their financial resources. Be ready for this strategy.

  1. When narcissists refuse to negotiate, relax.

This is a common tactic. Talk with your experienced family lawyer about your options. As a counter-tactic to encourage settlement, many experienced family lawyers will strongly suggest scheduling and preparing for trial. This counter-intuitive advice is often concerning to rational, normal persons. But it’s true.

There are a number of tools and procedures your family lawyer can exploit to advance the process towards trial. Trust your lawyer on this, even when it may not make complete sense. You are paying your lawyer for his or her experience and judgment in such matters.

  1. When the narcissist refuses to listen to his or her own lawyer, focus on your own case.

This can be an extremely frustrating part of divorce. You cannot control what the narcissist will or won’t do. Especially in relationship to listening to his or her own lawyer. Ignore what you can’t control. Pay attention to what you can impact.

  1. When the narcissist defies court orders, seek detailed advice from your experienced family lawyer.

How do you prove it? Which violations will annoy the judge? Not every violation of a court order is important, but some are very important and must be brought to the judge’s attention. Again, picking your battles wisely is a key consideration. Do your research. Contempt may be one tool available. When the narcissist violates the wrong court order, take advantage. Timing matters. If your lawyer recommends you take action, listen carefully.

  1. What to do when the narcissist uses your children as pawns.

This can be the most despicable tactic imaginable. Your children become collateral damage. Many a normal parent has observed how the narcissist “never thought twice about using his children as pawns.”[iii] This tactic is part of the narcissist’s standard operating procedure. Your suffering and the children’s suffering become one and the same. Talk to your experienced family lawyer about your legal options. Should you seek a court ordered temporary parenting plan? Ask the court to issue particular injunctions to curtail the destructive behavior? Request court-ordered family counseling? Ask the court to order an independent child custody evaluation? Ask the court to appoint a guardian ad litem? Seek advice from a consulting forensic clinical psychologist?  You have options. Learn them.

  1. Document everything.

Document, document, document. Memories fade over time. Learn what goes into a parenting journal. Write detailed factual summaries for your lawyer. Include everything important to you. You won’t always know what could be vitally important at a later stage of the divorce. Many lawyers are better at retaining information they read rather than having it told to them. Plus, what you write down can be used by your lawyer to prepare notes, motions, petitions, and memorandum. This is rarely ever a waste of your time.

How to Make a Narcissist Panic and Lose Control

How to Make a Narcissist Panic and Lose Control.

How to Make a Narcissist Panic and Lose Control.

To understand what causes a narcissist to panic, you need to know what “narcissistic supply” means. Because of some trauma or incident, often in childhood, this person sustained a narcissistic injury resulting in a lack of self-value or self-worth. Because the narcissist has no internal ability to generate a personal sense of value, he or she requires a steady supply of ego-fuel from external sources.

To keep operating, the narcissist needs fuel in the form of money, complements, prestige, attention, and control over others. When this fuel, this narcissistic supply, is reduced or eliminated, the narcissist fears running empty. Loss of narcissistic supply equals loss of control. And loss of control to the narcissist is cause for panic. That panic is directly connected to the narcissistic injury. The fear is deeply rooted and intense.

Will divorce cause a narcissistic rage?

In divorce, the malignant narcissist’s panic over loss of supply and control could turn into “narcissistic rage.” In such a rage, the narcissist pulls out all the stops to re-establish narcissistic supply. This is why hiring a divorce attorney with substantial knowledge of NPD is essential.

Be aware of the risk of narcissistic rage. Exercise caution. Yes, you could say or do something in mediation, for instance, or a deposition that effectively destroys your narcissistic spouse. But it may inflame your spouse’s narcissistic injury, too, inducing narcissistic rage. In that state of rage, your narcissist spouse will retaliate and double-down on every negative tactic in order to win by making you lose.

What throws the narcissist into a panic?

Narcissists panic when their tried-and-true control tactics fail or prove ineffectual. To pull away from the narcissist’s clutches and avoid triggering a panic-induced narcissistic rage at the same time, consider the following:

  • Narcissists are pathological liars.

When someone calls them out on a lie, they panic. They cannot handle being caught in a lie and being hit with the brutal truth.

  • Narcissists demand control.

When someone serving as their narcissistic supply actually stands up to them, they panic. They cannot allow themselves to be ignored or slighted. Any loss of control induces panic. If you push back, then your narcissist spouse will lie more, gaslight more, and intimidate more. This is to get you back under control, to get the narcissistic supply back up.

  • Narcissists need absolute cover.

Narcissists panic when exposed for the empty vessels they really are. When someone they respect might learn of their weaknesses, or learn the truth about them, they panic. Above all else, the narcissist fears being exposed as a coward, a failure, and a loser.

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] 13 Essential Tips if You Are Divorcing a Narcissist, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/tech-support/201605/13-essential-tips-if-you-are-divorcing-narcissist

[ii] Divorcing the Deep Narcissist: Get Out of the Boiling Pot! Steven N. Peskind, https://www.peskindlaw.com/divorcing-the-deep-narcissist-get-out-of-the-boiling-pot/

[iii] Divorcing a Narcissist, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-legacy-distorted-love/201810/divorcing-narcissist

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