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Freeing Yourself From Narcissistic Shackles
Thursday, May 4, 2023

Ego. This is what you will be dealing with if you are divorcing a narcissist. Indeed, their ego is likely the main reason you choose to leave them in the first place. The word “narcissist” is something we hear often. This type of personality is generally defined as one with an idealized, grandiose image of themselves. They are, in essence, in love with themselves, if not obsessed with this inflated self-image, as it allows them to avoid hidden yet significant feelings of insecurity. It also allows them to avoid accountability. Such delusions of grandeur require a great deal of work, and this is where the dysfunctional (and potentially destructive) attitudes and behaviors come into play. 

This is not a subject I bring up idly. I have recently been dealing with an opposing party who is a narcissist, and dare I say, a sociopath. I have dealt with narcissists many times during my career, but this one really got me thinking. My client is a psychologist, and when I observed her soon to be ex manipulating, triangulating, and gaslighting to the extreme in mediations, hearings and in repeated emails, she explained to me that was the standard behavior of a typical narcissistic personality. What I saw was a person who was overtly grandiose and outwardly arrogant, while at the same time expressing a need for both admiration and sympathy, as well as commanding an overall obsession with themselves with no regard for others. It was then I discovered there was a science behind the madness. What I had dealt with before in my career, I understand now more completely.   

By divorcing the narcissist, you are delivering a massive blow to their sense of entitlement and self-worth, and again I say, to their ego. That ego needs to be fed, and the narcissist will do so by attempting to exert control over you. The narcissist simply cannot be wrong, as being wrong is of no interest to a person who has an insatiable need for praise and admiration. Divorcing such a person is an egregious insult to them. This can bring out the worst from the worst. 

Likely before your divorce, even if you expressed yourself in silence, the narcissist can, to some degree, know that you can see their inadequacy, their insecurity. By leaving them, you are judging them, or at the very least criticizing them. They will not have it. Once the reality sets in that you will no longer be the fuel for their ego, the narcissist may very likely attempt to exploit someone else in order to hurt you. There are three major routes a narcissist will take in their attempts to control you. Hopefully by understanding these tactics, you can avoid falling victim and remain focused on the task at hand, which is leaving this type of person to fade well into your past.

Manipulation

Manipulation is the most common and more general tactic that a narcissist will use to achieve control. Narcissists view their partners as possessions that are under their power, and they expect their spouses to provide adulating behavior throughout and even at the end of the relationship. Manipulation is emotional abuse, and you may experience just how low a narcissist will stoop if they feel they are losing control over you. 

Quite often, these manipulations are enacted by way of jealousy and guilt, or even both simultaneously. A narcissist may try to create situations which will generate jealousy in their spouses and thus acquire power and control in the relationship, or perhaps to enact revenge on their spouse for the very slight to their egos that is divorce. If this is done by spending more time with a new girlfriend or boyfriend, or spending more time (or money) with children, no matter what, one thing is certain: the narcissist is only interested in building up their own sense of self-esteem.

Guilt is another major form of manipulation. In a divorce, the narcissist believes that you are showing a lack of sufficient gratitude, or flat out showing them disrespect. Even at the best of times, narcissists have no qualms about twisting their spouse’s words or actions in such a way to make their adversary feel guilty or regretful about something where there is simply no reason to feel bad.   

Manipulation is not bound by rules or set guidelines to follow, and such tactics can go off the rails in any way the narcissist may see fit. I have personally witnessed emotional tirades, such as a narcist frequently proclaiming “I love my kids” in order to manipulate and generate a desired emotion. A good lawyer can see though these behaviors, however, a judge who may not have had introductions to this personality may not. This is how a manipulator may play matters into their hands. 

I have experienced a narcissist not paying fees, even if ordered to do so by a judge, and even after follow-ups for payment, eventually declaring “I have other expenses at this time,” or “I do not like this judge,” which is somehow sufficient reason for the narcissist to not follow a court order or not pay fees at all. Fees will not be paid because they are “special,” and the rules do not apply to them for that reason. Anyone else would be embarrassed by such behavior, yet the narcissist is incapable of feeling embarrassed. That is impossible. The manipulator is only interested in themselves, not common sense, let alone following court orders. 

Triangulation

Triangulation is a tactic narcissists use to align others against a partner when going through a divorce. The others that could be used against you vary, but often they would be children, friends and family, or more broadly speaking, your “community” that exists on social media. 

Ultimately, a narcissist’s goal is to destroy a person who has slighted their ego. Unfortunately, the narcissist is not above using his or her kids to help them in their endeavor. Through triangulation, a narcissist could reward a child, often through lavish attention, if they can get the child to side with them. However, if a child does not side with the narcissist, then that child could be treated in a passive-aggressive manner, or perhaps guilted or punished emotionally in some way. Children are regarded as an extension of oneself to the narcissist, almost like another arm or leg, an extension of the body and, therefore, the self. If the child (or the spouse) is not cooperating the way the narcissist wants, it is as if their own foot is not doing what it is supposed to do. It is infuriating to them, and thus comes the berating, name calling, acting out, and so forth. The narcissist has only one person in mind at the end of the day. 

By infiltrating your friends or support community, a narcissist may have the opportunity to exploit a friend who may not support the divorce idea, and can play the “victim” role by preying upon friendships or good times of the past. The narcissist can also attempt to control perceptions, and attempt to make you the villain by evoking sympathy for themselves. This can be done through social media as well. Triangulation can work in that realm as it provides the narcissist with a platform to play the victim, or manipulate perception to play into their favor and not yours, either through postings or photographs with kids or family members, anything that will help create the illusion that they are the victim. The image has to be portrayed publicly, thus hiding the truth of how that person actually is privately. 

Triangulation is particularly brutal as this tactic so often involves personal attacks, along with the pain arising from the exploitation of loved ones. I have seen this method used even against the lawyers representing the narcissist’s spouse. Anything from personal attacks, or misstating what was said, to ascribing thoughts or feelings to a lawyer that the lawyer simply does not feel are forms of narcissistic ammunition. A lawyer can be blamed and attacked in any number of ways in order to get the client to walk away, hire someone else, or not have a lawyer at all. This only creates more doubt, which is what the narcissist wants. 

Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a common practice utilized by narcissists that has been gaining more recent awareness in psychological studies. Interestingly, the term is derived from a 1944 movie, Gaslight, which is a psychological thriller film in which a man manipulates his wife to the point she believes herself to be going insane. The purpose of the gaslighting tactic is for the person seeking power to make the victim believe they could be or are wrong, if not to make them question their own perception of reality, or to doubt their own credibility. 

Some gaslighting examples within a divorce proceeding may include a spouse denying the truth of something they said, questioning the spouse’s memory or account of a conversation, minimizing emotions, or accusing another of overreacting, staring in deliberate confusion, or often simply denying the truth of what was actually said or done by either party. The arrogant goal overall is to confuse you so that you are more easily controlled. Sadly, the options a gaslighter has are endless. 

The only recourse one has against a narcissist’s gaslighting tactics are to realize that is exactly what is happening. Once you recognize you have or are being set up to be gaslit, it then becomes more difficult for your estranged spouse to exert control. However, this failure can make them more dangerous, and you must be prepared for potentially even more emotional abuse and controlling devices. 

Moving On and Forward

It is more than just difficult to have a relationship with a person who manipulates, gaslights, or triangulates (or all of the above). It is impossible. A narcissist, like a sociopath or psychopath, lacks empathy, and their selfish behavior can lead to an exceptionally traumatic experience in divorcing them. Though it likely took you a great deal of time, you did muster up the courage to leave them. Continue to believe in yourself, and know that you are not alone. Others have dealt with these nightmares and came out the other side better and happier people. This is only one chapter in your life, however awful. 

Ultimately, the narcissist will only succeed if you give in to their behavior, whichever tactics or psychological maneuvers they wish to employ. They want you constantly agitated, swatting at the air with their manipulations, wasting your time, wasting your money, and potentially driving you to the point of physical and mental exhaustion. Once you are in the know, then you are in the know, and the narcissist cannot stop you from moving on, from healing, be that from new goals and dreams, new hobbies, new friends, and the “new” belonging to you and not to an emotional abuser. In time, you can breathe clearer air and find a more meaningful and fulfilling life without them.

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