12 Important Strategies to Use When Divorcing a Narcissist

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Divorcing a narcissist? Welcome to the club. I’ve done it. I will say, taking this step is a bold move and not for the faint of heart.

You will need all the right tools to navigate the situation and come out with little to no emotional injury. Don’t worry; you will be prepped and ready to exit the marriage without unraveling.

We will go over what makes someone a narcissist and how their unhealthy innate traits are amplified during a divorce. Narcissists work overtime to keep the marriage solely to safeguard the benefits, not out of love for you.

They are also competitive and hate losing. Because of their massive ego, they want to determine when the marriage should end and on what terms

Blindsiding them with a divorce means you have the upper hand. Unfortunately, this activates narcissistic rage and causes them to make the divorce process as difficult as possible. “How dare you leave me? You will pay the price!” is how they think.

Here is where I’d like to caution you that you’re going up against someone who may lack a moral compass. Some narcissists will employ all kinds of manipulative tactics to regain the upper hand.

Reading this article will equip you with the information on what to expect. More importantly, you will walk away equipped with protective countermeasures for dealing with common issues when divorcing a narcissist.

What Is a Narcissist?

The term narcissist is used to describe a person who displays a lifelong pattern of behavior that aligns with traits psychologists identify as narcissistic personality traits. Not everyone who displays those traits may reach the stage of NPD.

A psychologist may diagnose a patient with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) after conducting a special clinical evaluation. Whether or not they have NPD, narcissists are difficult to interact with in social relationships. Marriage is not an exception.  

The nine narcissistic personality traits are outlined in the American Psychological Association (APA) DSM-5 manual used by psychiatrists to diagnose their patients. Below is a glance, which helps you put the narcissist’s behavior and reaction in context:

  1. They have an inflated sense of self-importance.
  2. They believe they are and act superior to others. 
  3. They feel entitled to whatever they desire.  
  4. They have an excessive desire for attention, admiration, and validation.
  5. They believe they are unique and deserve special treatment. 
  6. They show a greater lack of empathy than greater.
  7. They are more inclined to manipulate and exploit others for personal gain.
  8. They are inherently envious of others and believe others feel the same way about them.
  9. They continuously fantasize about having infinite power, beauty, and intelligence.

Because of these traits, narcissists are more prone to creating high-conflict and dysfunctional relationships. They operate from a foundation of low self-esteem, lack empathy and emotional maturity, and are willing to manipulate to get what they want

Types of Narcissists

There are different types of narcissistsThe five basic types are:

  • Grandiose (overt)
  • Vulnerable (covert)
  • Communal 
  • Antagonistic (argumentative/high-conflict)
  • Malignant 

Things are not black and white with narcissism. How narcissists behave and respond and the frequency of toxic behavior depends on what part of the spectrum they fall.

Narcissism occurs on a spectrum from low to high narcissistic tendencies. Also, one type of narcissist may be more inclined to manipulate others than another type.

Malignant narcissists show a higher potential to manipulate, exploit, and engage in harmful conduct towards others. During a breakup or divorce, for example, malignant narcissists may stalk online or offline, threaten or intimidate, or even use physical force.

What Is Divorcing a Narcissist Like?

Ending a marriage with someone who does not have narcissistic personality disorder versus divorcing someone who does are vastly two different scenarios. A narcissist is constructed to make your life as difficult as possible in everyday dealings.

The difficulty level skyrockets during a breakup or divorce. Things can get far more complex if children and assets are involved. 

The type of narcissist your soon-to-be ex is can make a difference in terms of how difficult it may be to get through the divorce. Based on the type, you can gauge how far they’re willing to go to control the outcome of the divorce.

divorce issue | divorce meaning | divorced meaning
Keep records of email and text conversations, and in-person conversations if necessary. The records can serve as evidence to rebut false claims by your ex. 

Divorcing a narcissist will mark the end of their reign of control over you. They are not going to simply walk away. They are not going to go down without a fight, and usually, it is a psychological war.

During a divorce, a narcissist tends to act more selfish and vindictive. You will likely see another side of the individual you may have never witnessed, leading you to question why you married them.

Divorcing them is highly triggering. It creates what is called a narcissistic injury, or an injury to their ego.

They perceive the breakup as you saying they are not good enough. Narcissists go out of their way to protect themselves from feelings of inferiority. It puts them in distress because it shatters their false image of self-importance. 

Narcissists’ Divorce Manipulation Tactics

Once they are triggered by a divorce filing, they go into that zone of narcissistic rage. At this point, they are not afraid to do practically any and everything to win against you in court and make you pay.

These are people who are more likely to engage in public campaigns, for example, on social media to smear your reputation. Putting you down and painting they as the victim are manipulative tactics to win allies. 

They are going to target people who know and trust you, such as your friends, family members, co-workers, and boss. They will try to make you out to be a bad person, a bad wife, and a bad mother. All of this has implications for the divorce court proceedings.

If they can influence others to view you negatively, then they get the upper hand and a better chance to dominate the divorce process.  

Here is a list of behaviors to keep an eye out for:

Legal Manipulation Tactics:

  • False Allegations
  • Legal intimidation/bullying
  • Prolonging the divorce
  • Using children as pawns
  • Hiding assets
  • Making false financial disclosures to manipulate financial settlements, such as alimony and child support
  • Flaunting court orders

Other Narcissist Divorce Manipulation Tactics

  • Parental alienation 
  • Sabotaging child visitation schedules 
  • Withholding or stonewalling
  • Manipulating email/text communication
  • Getting third parties to do their bidding
  • Smear campaigns to discredit you 
  • Lying about you to gain sympathy and support 

Considering these potential issues, you can appreciate why it’s necessary to have actionable strategies to successfully navigate the divorce.

12 Strategies for Divorcing a Narcissist without Losing Your Mind

Divorcing a narcissist is no ordinary feat. The process requires creating your own narcissist divorce defensive playbook. All the emotional and legal manipulation strategies the narcissists activate are a part of the narcissist playbook.

Their tactics are driven by the need to control money, assets, or children. They will try relentlessly to ensure you get zilch! 

With your defensive playbook in hand, you can change the game in your favor. Below are 12 practical legal and self-care measures to counter their tactics and protect your well-being, your children’s, and all other personal interests. 

1. Decide what you want

First, decide what you want out of this. Is it your freedom and sanity and nothing else, financial support, child custody, or child support?

Things will likely get more complicated with shared assets and children involved. After deciding what you wish, each component must be carefully assessed and planned for.  

divorced | narcissistic | narcissists
Now is the perfect time to launch into a high level of self-care. Pick any healthy activity to uplift your mind and body.

My experience: In my case, all I wanted was to recover myself. I lost my individuality, my self-esteem, my self-love, and my dignity during my marriage to my narcissist ex. All I bargained for was financial support to complete law school. I left everything else behind.

Of course, he contested the divorce. I counterclaimed and locked him into a position where he could no longer manipulate the situation.

I was successful in getting the court to grant me the divorce, instead of him. I’m sharing this to give you an idea of what you might be up against.

2. Create a game plan

Preparation is key and this requires a solid plan. Mapping out your end goal helps you visualize the desired outcome and what steps are needed to get there. Whatever your plan, there has to be a court proceeding to legally end the marriage.

This is where things can get tricky if the narcissist in your life is a master manipulator. They may go to lengths to prevent you from getting your desires. They take You vs Them quite personally during divorce. 

If you don’t have a plan, they will chew you up and spit you out like you mean nothing to them. It’s not easy; because this is the person you loved and cared so much for. Now they treat you as if you’re the enemy when your end goal is self-preservation.

3. Stay cool, calm, and collected

Divorcing a narcissist may be a period of turmoil. Your emotions may be all over the place. That’s okay. Divorce is emotionally taxing, and it takes time for your feelings to balance out.

This is also a prime time for narcissistic rage, as your ex is more than likely strongly triggered by your boldness to leave them.

Maintain a calm and confident attitude. Showing anger or distress will only make the narcissist feel powerful and encourage them to emotionally manipulate you. 

4. Document everything

Many narcissists are strangers to the truth. Add their ability to easily manipulate the minds of others, and you may find yourself in a place where others don’t believe your truth.

A preemptive measure is keeping records of all things they can potentially use against you in court. Keep records of email and text conversations, and in-person conversations if necessary. The records can serve as evidence to rebut false claims by your ex. 

5. Hire a narcissist divorce lawyer 

Divorcing a narcissist is a special kind of case. Hiring a lawyer with expertise in divorce matters involving a narcissist can lead to a more positive experience than hiring a non-expert. These lawyers have the skills to manage cases involving spouses with narcissistic personality disorder.

Practically all narcissists play by the same rule book, so they are predictable. Your lawyer will have no trouble navigating the manipulation tactics associated with your case. 

6. Secure an order of protection 

Some narcissists resort to intimidation and threats to drive fear or make you abandon the divorce. Some stalk or do things that make you feel unsafe. You can ask the court for a restraining order against your ex if you feel unsafe.

The order bars the defendant from coming within a certain distance of you. It also bars them from visiting areas you frequent, such as your home or workplace. They can be thrown in jail if they disobey the rules stated in the order. 

7. Create a safety plan

I’ve heard victims of crimes say a restraining order is “just a piece of paper.” Those who are predisposed to breaking the law, such as evil narcissists, usually have no respect for a protective court order.

Whether you have a protection order or not, a safety plan is a must. This is especially necessary if your spouse is prone to stalking or physical violence. Some use technology to monitor your movements, which makes the situation rather unsafe.

Here’s a website that offers professional guidance on how to create a safety plan.  

8. Set and enforce healthy boundaries

Healthy boundaries are limitations you set for yourself and your ex-spouse. Decide how far you will let them into your life. The dynamics of the relationship have changed, and so should their access to you.

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No matter how strong you are on your own, try not to risk divorcing a narcissist alone. Sometimes it takes a village to help you come out strong. 

Set boundaries to keep your children safe as well. Narcissists dream of having unfettered power and access, so putting up stop signs may enrage them. That’s their problem. Continue to remain calm while they do the whining. Stick to your guns.

Eventually, they will realize you are not a pushover. 

9. Make self-care a priority 

A marriage to a narcissist is typically a high-conflict relationship, regardless of the type of narcissist. Exposure to their never-ending demands, silent treatment, stonewalling, emotional blackmail, and other toxic behavior inevitably takes a toll on you.

Now is the perfect time to launch into a high level of self-care. Pick any healthy activity to uplift your mind and body. For some people, it’s art and craft; for others exercise, yoga, meditation, or journaling. Treat yourself to a few extra hours of sleep to improve energy and regulate your mood.

10. Activate your support network

Getting all the various types of support you can muster during this trying period can help ease some of the emotional distress. There’s something about having people who love and care for you around that makes you feel everything is going to be okay.

No matter how strong you are on your own, try not to risk divorcing a narcissist alone. Sometimes it takes a village to help you come out strong

11. Talk with your children

Divorce is messy any way you put it, narcissistic spouse or not. Unfortunately, it’s not practical to shield your children 100%.

While you may be emotionally mature and avoid certain conversations, the narcissist parent will likely disclose things non-adult children should not hear.

Start by selecting a safe space to talk with your children and help them process what’s happening. Decide what you’ll share depending on their age and maturity level. Children tend to think they did something wrong to cause their parents to split up. 

Remind them the divorce is not their faultOffer reassurance by letting them know everything will be okay.

12. Consider therapeutic Support

It’s great if you have friends and family rooting for you. However, therapy is an additional layer to strengthen you and help you put your experience and feelings in context.

Perhaps you can seek a therapist who specializes in helping patients who have experienced narcissistic abuse. Therapy is meant to be a safe environment where you receive emotional support and coping tools to help you move forward.  

Final Thoughts on Divorcing a Narcissist

Divorcing a narcissist is one of the most emotionally exhausting things you may ever embark on.

In fact, their psychological manipulation tactics during the divorce is a way of continuing their emotional abuse. For some, the divorce is the final chapter and will hopefully bring an end to the abuse.

Moving forward, you are equipped with strategies to maneuver your way without losing your cool or your sanity. Here is another great article on how narcissists deal with breakups and what to expect 11 Ways Narcissists Treat Their Exes (and How to React).

And if you're looking for more articles about relationships, be sure to check out these blog posts:

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