Are you divorcing a narcissist? Guest blog by Dr Supriya McKenna
‘Divorcing a Narcissist: the Lure, the Loss and the Law’ is a new book, which is a result of a collaboration between narcissism expert Dr Supriya McKenna and top UK family lawyer Karin Walker - and it could be exactly what you need. One of the authors, Dr McKenna, explains below.
Today narcissism is a buzzword - we use it to mean anyone who is bit vain, a bit selfish, a bit mean or a bit of a show off. But this undermines the seriousness of what true narcissism is - a real, diagnosable condition called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
It matters to know when you really are dealing with a narcissist, because they behave in very specific ways in divorce and separation and you (and your lawyer and/or hybrid mediator) will need to be one step a head of this type of behaviour. A real narcissist will want to annihilate their spouse in divorce - emotionally, spiritually, financially - in every possible way - even if it’s to the detriment of themselves and even the children.
What is NPD?
NPD is a condition characterised by low empathy, a sense of entitlement, and an addiction to trying to feel special, at the expense of others.
It forms in the early years of one’s life, as a result of the way in which the child’s brain becomes abnormally wired. This wiring occurs in response to an upbringing which was difficult for them growing up, and it leads to abusive behaviours towards others in adulthood which follow a very specific pattern.
Narcissistic abuse is largely covert emotional abuse -although there can be physical abuse too. It’s often subtle enough through a relationship to be difficult to spot, but in divorce, a narcissist will suddenly ramp up their abusive behaviours to almost intolerable levels.
It’s really important to realise that narcissism is a condition of low self esteem – although the person may look on the outside as if they have a rather inflated sense of self-regard, on the inside, they feel utterly worthless. Everything they do is geared towards not having to face how they really feel about themselves.
So what they do is they create a false, often grandiose image to present to the outside world, and then look to external validation to prop up this image, this false persona. And this is the key to understanding the condition – everything they do is to get this external validation, including abusive behaviours towards others. In other words, they create this false image of themselves for other people to believe in so that they can believe in it themselves, so that they can deny their own intrinsically low self-esteem.
A narcissist secures their external validation through attention, adoration, drama, conflict or instilling fear into others - and this is vitally important to understand in divorce - because the court is an arena which provides these in huge quantities. What’s more, the delays in the state funded court system will ensure that a narcissist will have ample time to cause chaos for their ex - all of which will allow them to thrive - whilst running up your legal costs and wearing you down emotionally. It may not be possible for all cases, but trying to resolve matters outside of the court is an essential first step, and Hybrid Mediation (a specific type of mediation, especially suited to high conflict cases) is the only form of mediation were commend, with excellent results where one of the couple has NPD.
In the UK psychologists, therapists and doctors don’t get trained in NPD, so don’t expect to be able to get a narcissist diagnosed here. Indeed, there’s actually very little you can do about NPD – it’s not curable, and narcissists don’t seek help for it because it suits them to be narcissistic – it allows them to exploit others for their own benefit – to them it’s a good thing. The sad reality is that it is up to victims of narcissistic abuse to recognise the patterns for themselves, because there is no other realistic alternative.
Here are some giveaways that you will have experienced during your marriage if your partner has NPD:
- Low empathy. Narcissists are not be able to consider your feelings, unless they get something out of it themselves. Did they look after you if you were ill, without expecting anything in return?
- ‘Love bombing’ - the start of most romantic relationships with a narcissist. Did you think that you had met your soulmate? Did they present themselves as the perfect person for you? Perhaps they showered you with gifts or spent every waking moment with you, or couldn’t be helpful enough towards you? Did the relationship progress at a much faster pace than a normal relationship? Did they put you on a pedestal and tell you that you were incredible? Was meeting them the best time of your life?
- The cycle of ‘idealise and devalue’. Once the honeymoon period was over did you find yourself in a continual cycle in your relationship where your partner blew hot and cold towards you, alternately being nice to you but then devaluing you? This cycle is a classic giveaway, and leads the victim to feeling addicted to their partner.
- Exploitation. All narcissists exploit others for their own personal gain in a variety of ways. Perhaps for money, perhaps so they don’t have to do mundane tasks, perhaps by taking credit for other people’s work - the possibilities for exploitation are endless due to a narcissist’s overriding sense of entitlement.
- Rage. Much more than anger, when the narcissist is low on external validation their false persona suffers an injury. Perhaps they’ve been left, feel slighted in some way, or haven’t got their way, or have lost at something. This leads to ‘narcissistic rage’ – it’s all consuming, and they see red. It’s not always a shouting, throwing things around kind of rage -it can be a chilling quiet sort of rage. Do you recognise this in your partner?
- Jealousy - Was your partner jealous of other people’s successes, whilst at the same time believing other people to be jealous of them? Were they jealous of you? Did they often accuse you of having affairs?
- Playing the victim - If things don’t go their way all narcissists do this, making their partner feel sorry for them, and they often ending up apologising to the narcissist themselves.
- Lying - the truth is whatever a narcissist says it is, at the time they are saying it. They completely believe their own lies, which is why they are so convincing. They don’t see truth as a fixed entity – it’s just what they say it is. The very essence of narcissism is based on a lie, the false persona, so you can see just why it is so easy for narcissists to lie about other things too.
- Gaslighting. This is a type of lying in which the narcissist denies a persons reality in order to destabilize them, make them question themselves and not trust themselves. The narcissist can tell you that your feelings are wrong, that your memory is wrong or that your perceptions are wrong.
‘Divorcing a Narcissist: The lure, the loss and the law’ combines professional expertise and legal know how and takes you by the hand to walk you through the difficult times ahead. It shows you how to recognise narcissistic behaviour and explains why the superficial charm of a narcissist is so alluring and why it is so difficult to break up. The book explains how a narcissist will manipulate the divorce processes and the professionals involved to wreak havoc during the divorce. It then sets out life-changing advice - both legal and emotional - on how to counter these manoeuvres so that the you can reach the other side ready to move on to your new life.
Former GP Dr Supriya McKenna is one the UK’s best known narcissistic personality disorder experts. She is the co-author, with top UK lawyer Karin Walker, of the bestselling layperson’s law book‘ Divorcing a narcissist - the lure, the loss and the law’ and also of‘ Narcissism and Family Law - a Practitioner's Guide. She also co-hosts a successful podcast with Karin - ‘Narcissists in Divorce - the lure the loss and the law’. You can find her at thelifedoctor.org or, with Karin, at narcissistsanddivorce.com. Supriya works directly with the victims of narcissistic relationships ,including in the area of separation and divorce, and (together with Karin) trains lawyers, mediators and other professionals in narcissism.