Was your ex a narcissist?

A drop of self regard is natural and actually quite healthy . We teach others how to treat us, and if we feel good enough about ourselves to project self-confidence we are much more likely to achieve our goals. But it’s a delicate balancing act. At what point does self-confidence cease and self-absorption begin?

Wikipedia defines narcissism as a “personality trait characterized by egotismvanitypride, or selfishness.” Characteristics of the narcissist include, says the site:

*Self-absorption when interacting with other people

*Problems maintaining satisfying relationships

*A poor awareness of other people’s perceptions and perspectives and a failure to empathise with them

*Hypersensitivity to slights and insults, real or imagined

*An exaggerated sense of entitlement

Does that sound like anyone you know? Many people struggling in unsatisfying relationships or going through an acrimonious divorce come to the conclusion that their difficult, stubborn, self-absorbed ex is – or was – in fact a narcissist, dooming the relationship from day one.

Of course the narcissist can be a problem for both sexes, but perhaps this is slightly more of a female conundrum. Women, after all, are often more attracted than men to partners brimming with self-confidence and charisma, and those are two qualities found in many a narcissist.

Psychologists debate the precise causes of a narcissistic personality. No doubt a distorted childhood and unbalanced parenting play some role. But what about the here and now?

If you married a narcissist – and I think there a quite a few such folks around – they won’t take it well if you one day decide to divorce them. Perhaps you have grown tired of their selfishness and lack of consideration, but your request for a divorce will fray upon their sense of entitlement. Or perhaps they have decided to dump you and run off with someone else to create an exciting new life as they see it. In which case the true narcissist will see your pain and your demands for a fair settlement as an irritating hindrance rather than an inevitable consequence of their actions.

Either way, divorcing a narcissist can be a bruising experience. Emotions already raw from the split will be rubbed still rawer by the narcissist’s anger, manoeuvrings, and well…selfishness. They will drag their heels and do everything they can to try and circumvent court orders, manipulate your children and avoid full financial disclosure, dragging out the process for as long as it suits their interests. So be prepared for a long battle!

I would also tell anyone in such a position remember the Scoutsmotto. Be Prepared is always excellent advice and especially so here: be as prepared as you possibly can. Go along to every court hearing fully armed with financial paperwork, evidence and clear arguments. The best divorce solicitors can make a world of difference.

Finally, keep your emotions at a distance. Don’t get drawn in, or allow yourself to be provoked into angry outpourings. Easier said than done, I know! An excellent strategy is to avoid face-to-face communication with ex, and even the telephone. Email is minimal and to-the-point. It allow both parties to think about what they are saying and it provides evidence which is admissible in court!

One final thought: if you are completely convinced that your difficult ex-spouse was a narcissist and entirely to blame for the failure of your relationship, it’s just possible that you might be a narcissist yourself!

Photo by Jonas Merian via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

Marilyn Stowe

The senior partner at Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers with clients throughout the country, in Europe, the Far East and the USA.

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