Portrait of a serious man with half his face in the shadows Visual concept for family law blog: Dealing with Narcissists and Other Personality Disorders in Your Divorce

Divorce is never easy, even under the best of circumstances. But when you are divorcing a narcissist or someone with another personality disorder such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), divorce can be a living nightmare. You’re trying to get out with as little harm to yourself and your children as possible; they’re trying to punish you for leaving and make you suffer as much as they can. These goals are obviously incompatible, so divorcing a narcissist is almost always a long, nasty, exhausting battle.

If you are wondering if your spouse is a narcissist, or how to escape their web, you can learn more in our article about how to handle divorcing a narcissist. Unfortunately, divorce isn’t always the end of the campaign to make you pay, especially if you have minor children. That means that your narcissist ex will be in your life for years—perhaps forever. You need to be prepared to deal with their actions while moving forward with your own life.

You’ve Divorced a Narcissist—Now What?

If you have made it through the divorce process, congratulations. You may feel as if you have just collapsed on shore after swimming away from a flaming shipwreck through shark-infested seas, while carrying your children on your back. The good news is: you survived, and you can move forward. The bad news is: getting out has depleted and disoriented you. You are not sure what is safe or who to trust. Here are some steps you can take to regain your strength and confidence.

Seek Counseling.

If you haven’t already been working with a therapist, get one. This may seem as if it’s playing into the narcissist’s assertions that you are “the crazy one” in the relationship, but it’s not crazy to seek therapy during or after a divorce—it’s smart. Therapy will give you not only a safe place to talk about your experience, but an objective perspective to help you examine what you have been through, and a “toolkit” to help you deal with the narcissist’s tactics such as gaslighting and emotional blackmail.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which one person tries to cause the other to doubt themselves, their memory, and even their own sanity. That makes the victim easier to control. While gaslighting is a behavior often associated with narcissists, it is also frequently observed in BPD and other personality disorders.

Establish Boundaries.

When you are divorcing someone with a personality disorder, or dealing with a narcissist in the aftermath of divorce, boundaries are essential for your self-protection. Narcissists thrive on controlling the dynamic between you and keeping you off balance. Setting boundaries is a way for you to regain control of your life and protect your peace. Remember that boundaries are not rules for other people, but decisions on what you are willing to put up with. In other words, not “You can’t talk to me that way!” but “If you continue to call me names, I’m going to end this conversation.”

You should expect that setting and maintaining boundaries will, especially at first, be infuriating for the narcissist. It’s likely that they will ignore your boundaries and push back against them in hopes of wearing you down. If you continue to enforce your boundaries, this behavior will eventually get better (though it may never disappear entirely). Both your attorney and your therapist can help you identify appropriate practical and personal boundaries.

Expect and Prepare for Conflict

There may be no real way to avoid conflict with a narcissist other than by doing exactly what they want, and as you have learned, that is no way to live. While ongoing conflict exhausts and depletes most people, narcissists and those with other personality disorders may feed on it. Much of their behavior may feel calculated to provoke you into an emotional response. If you take the bait, you’re off to the races.

An attorney who is accustomed to dealing with narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and histrionic personality disorders (known as Cluster B personality disorders) can help you craft strategies for dealing with the inevitable conflict that arises when dealing with a narcissist. For instance, getting sucked into small, meaningless battles can drain your energy when it’s time to stand firm on something that matters. Your attorney can help you understand when and how to pick your battles.

Co-Parenting with a Narcissist

Your greatest fear when divorcing someone with a personality disorder may not be for yourself, but for your child. You may have learned how to deal with a narcissist husband or wife and shield your kids from their behavior, but what happens when you are co-parenting with a narcissist, and you are not always present to protect your children from your ex’s damaging words and conduct?

Maintain a Concrete Parenting Plan

Assuming you were able to craft a decent and detailed parenting schedule in your divorce, then it is important to stick with that parenting plan, even while maintaining a certain amount of flexibility. When dealing with a narcissist, too much flexibility can be dangerous. Prone to gaslighting, narcissists are often heard to deny that they said or agreed to something, or to insist that you promised them something you did not.

For that reason, it’s smart to include concrete language in your parenting plan about when and where the children will spend time with each parent, how the children will be transported, where they will be dropped off and picked up, who can provide child care, etc. If specific terms about start and end times, transportation, and communication were not drafted into the divorce decree, they should be worked out with the other parent in writing with clear, straightforward language. The less gray area there is in your parenting plan, the less room your ex has to manipulate its terms.

Document, Document, Document

One antidote to gaslighting, and other forms of manipulation, is documentation. That way, when your ex says you agreed to one thing, or failed to give them important information, you have receipts to the contrary. At Mundahl Law, we often recommend the use of electronic co-parenting tools such as Our Family Wizard for communication. These tools can date and time-stamp communications, prevent editing of earlier messages, and can also be shared with attorneys and judges. As an added bonus, communicating with a narcissist ex through a co-parenting app minimizes their opportunities to manipulate you.

Focus on Your Child

As frustrating as your ex is, it is important to keep your negative feelings about them away from your child. A child wants to love both their parents, as flawed as they may be. That doesn’t mean you need to pretend that your ex is a better person than they are, but avoid badmouthing them to your child.

Also, recognize that your child needs to have love, compassion, and empathy modeled for them—and that the narcissistic parent may be incapable of doing it. Tell your child often that you love them, hug them and show them affection, and assure them that they can tell you anything without judgment. By making a conscious effort to model loving behavior for your child, you help to insulate them against their other parent’s narcissistic behavior.

To learn more about dealing with a narcissist both during or after divorce, or to get help divorcing a narcissist, contact Mundahl Law at 763-575-7930.

Categories: Divorce