When you first met your narcissist, you probably once viewed him as a majesty who could give you the keys to his fairytale kingdom. His charm, wit and charismatic personality won you over, because you so badly craved a prince charming to save you. Conversely, your needing a prince charming is exactly what attracted him to you, as it gave him the opportunity to validate his narcissistic fantasies of himself, that he is, indeed, a fairytale prince.
But now that you’re married, your prince charming has turned into a monster, and his once magical kingdom is now your inescapable cage.
Two things may happen: You will stay in the marriage and endure many more years of abuse, to the point where your low self-esteem tells you there are no other options. Or, you will have had enough and decide to divorce him.
The latter (in which you divorce him) may be the first time in your life where you are setting boundaries. You have come to the conclusion that you deserve better and you refuse to tolerate bad behavior.
But this one victorious act of boundary setting is what makes for a potentially horrific divorce. Few victims are prepared for it, and their lack of preparation can cost them thousands of dollars in attorney fees, leaving them broke and emotionally drained.
To divorce your narcissist, you must prepare well beyond your average divorce between two people with irreconcilable differences. You must get inside his head, and understand what triggers him.
Narcissists, according to Ross Rosenberg, author of The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us, have a huge fear of abandonment. So the very essence of divorce triggers his deepest fear, giving way to narcissistic injury, which is a perceived threat to his self-worth. Once the injury occurs, narcissistic rage then ensues, which is then excreted into the entire divorce process.
“All of their rage, hatred and contempt, which was perpetrated on them in their childhood, is projected onto the person who is fighting against them,” Rosenberg said.
During divorce, when you set boundaries and figuratively say, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ the narcissist experiences a windfall of rage and hatred that goes far beyond anything they’ve experienced. They’re fighting more than you can actually see.
When you first express to your narcissist your desire for a divorce, he may first appear cooperative. He may suggest marriage counseling (despite years of you begging for it), but because it’s his idea, he agrees that it might help. He may calmly discuss separation, allowing you to call the shots and make suggestions on new living arrangements. But his friendly candor is all just a ploy to keep you within his reign, hoping that your guilt and your silly “momentary lapse of reason” will make you back out.
But if you press on and file for divorce, it’s game on. He will make you “pay.”
So before you hit the “go” button, be sure to:
1) Find an attorney who is NOT a narcissist: How can you tell? Narcissists have little empathy for people who are victimized, especially in a marriage. If your attorney seems apathetic to your issues, and you find them defending your spouse more than supporting you, that’s a red flag that they will ultimately find you pathetic and fight little on your behalf.
2) Set up your own bank account: If you don’t have one already, create an account that has enough money that can pay for attorney fees and other divorce expenses. When the divorce process begins, be prepared for your narcissist to move money, and claim there is none to give you.
3) Become your own forensic analyst: Get copies of past bank statements, capture every bank account number you have, get copies of past tax returns (you can easily get these online), investigate your shared computer records including spread sheets, online transactions, etc.
4) Define what “winning” is to you: fighting over assets in divorce can be an uphill battle that is never won. But as Rosenberg puts it,
To win, is to get out of the divorce alive. A narcissist can be willing to go completely bankrupt just to destroy someone. Objectively look at the disorder, outside of your emotions, and then come to a conclusion, what can you actually win?
If you remember the focal point of his narcissistic injury — his fear of abandonment and threat to his self-worth — you will be well-prepared for the battle ahead. The key is to not respond emotionally and let it drain you. “Observe, don’t absorb,” advises Rosenberg, which means to observe their behavior as a disorder, and don’t absorb it as a literal or personal attack on you.
If you mitigate for his drawn-out narcissistic rage, and know that he may attempt to destroy you, you will less likely feel bullied or defeated. “If you’re forewarned,” says Rosenberg, “like a hurricane ready to create disaster, you will be less victimized by something you expect.”
Lindsey Ellison is a women’s divorce coach, who specializes in helping women break free from their narcissistic partners. While this article is written about women divorcing their narcissist, it is not meant to exclude the female gender from being a narcissist. For readability, one pronoun is used, but this entire article can be applied to the opposite gender as well.
This article is part two of a two-part article on divorcing a narcissist (the first article can be found here.)