Here at Atlanta Divorce Law Group, we’ve had the opportunity to work with many clients who are divorcing a narcissist in Georgia. Because there is a spectrum of narcissism, some situations may be more extreme than others; however, we’ve learned through our interactions and experiences that there are some underlying psychological characteristics of a narcissist that are common across the board. Because this personality type often creates conflict, chaos and heartache during the divorce process (and throughout the marriage as well), we feel it’s imperative that our team has a good understanding of this type of personality as it helps shape the way we approach a divorce case to minimize what could otherwise be a long and drawn out process with the inherent expensive and emotional toll that comes with it. We want to share this knowledge with anyone that is considering, or in the midst of, divorcing a narcissist.
Going through a divorce can be challenging, but divorcing a partner that suffers from a personality disorder such as narcissism can be far more difficult. Like most psychological disorders, individuals can fall anywhere on the narcissism spectrum and range from simply exhibiting narcissistic traits to a clinically diagnosed narcissistic personality disorder.
The concept of narcissism has existed for centuries and stretches as far back as ancient Greece. The idea of narcissism was made famous through characters in poetry, but the term itself stems from the Greek character Narcissus and was coined by Sigmund Freud in the 1900s.
According to the Mayo Clinic, individuals with narcissism commonly exhibit symptoms such as:
Since individuals with narcissistic symptoms or a diagnosis of narcissism disorder have a tendency to become more aggressive during separation and divorce proceedings than someone without, it is critical for the narcissist’s spouse to seek assistance with filing a divorce. During cases involving a narcissistic spouse, because negotiations can easily spiral out of control, it is especially important to seek competent and zealous legal advocacy from experienced divorce attorneys to protect your future, financial security, the children involved, and your interests.
It is important to keep in mind that narcissism is a spectrum. Not all individuals who portray narcissistic traits are narcissists in the clinical sense. There are also healthy and unhealthy forms of narcissism. For example, a healthy form of narcissism may allow someone to be resilient and self-confident, while an unhealthy form like “malignant narcissism” is an illness and often involves an extremely abusive, self-focused and manipulative person who victimizes their loved ones either intentionally or unintentionally.
Gad Saad, Ph.D. and Psychology Today contributor, shared his opinion about famous people that may have some form of narcissism based on their behavior. He said that individuals with this personality disorder or symptoms of it may become famous, or infamous, because they tend to be fueled by their narcissism and seek public adoration, wealth, and power. Dr. Saad believes that Oprah Winfrey, Jenny McCarthy, and Madonna are celebrities that may be narcissists. Adolf Hitler, Ted Bundy, and OJ Simpson are also believed to be narcissists.
While narcissism is usually diagnosed accurately, it can also be misdiagnosed based on the method of diagnosis. For instance, some health care professionals use a questionnaire that consists of more than 40 questions, while others use a single question about whether a patient self-identifies as a narcissist. These types of diagnostic tools, while they may be highly effective in some cases, are also prone to being less effective in others and can sometimes result in misdiagnosis.
Although not all high-conflict personalities are narcissists, they often are. And if they aren’t, there may be some other form of mental illness at play. Those who struggle with this personality disorder often need absolute control over a situation and are unwilling to compromise. Individuals with narcissism are also extremely willing to use manipulation and even one or more forms of abuse in order to try to control the situation.
For instance, a narcissistic individual will call, text, or email their spouse or children frequently, demanding to know their whereabouts at all times. A narcissist may also withhold financial support or even seek to control the spouse or children when they are visiting other people to assert control from a distance by insisting that certain locations or visitation with extended family are off-limits.
Additionally, people with this personality disorder require a tremendous amount of emotional validation from those around them, and if they are no longer getting it from their spouse, they will likely seek this validation from their children. This may lead the narcissist to feel highly threatened by the children spending time with anyone other than themselves, such as the other parent, extended families, friends, or even a parent’s new partner.
Moreover, narcissists do not have a capacity for empathy or remorse and are unable to accept blame or believe something is their fault. As a result, people with this personality disorder are not capable of acknowledging their spouse is still the same person they have known all along and that their relationship has changed. Rather, narcissists tend to view people in extremes, and they essentially view people as either an angel or a devil; there is no in-between.
Thus, when someone married to a narcissist is no longer available to pander to their emotional needs and has ended the relationship, the narcissist will essentially turn on that person believing they have been wrongfully abandoned. They will likely place all the blame on their spouse and view them as someone horrible who has betrayed them.
Unfortunately, the legal process cannot change the way a person behaves. Narcissistic individuals will always be high-conflict and bring drama and even manipulation and abuse to the legal process, making it extremely difficult for divorcing parties to move forward in a civil manner. However, it is important to find a way to move forward with a divorce and find a way to co-parent in this type of situation.
The best way to move forward when divorcing a narcissist is to create a parenting plan that provides buffers to create boundaries and insulate the children from the conflict. If you are in a marriage where you feel your spouse is indeed a narcissist and/or the changes of there being a lot of conflict and potentially resistance should you divorce, we encourage you to find out your options and strategize a plan should you decide to proceed. Our firm’s tag line is “Happily Ever After Divorce” and while it may seem hard to see right now, with the right plan and approach, it is possible to achieve that goal. Call us today or complete the contact form on this page to explore the best path forward for you and your family.