If you’ve been with a narcissist, you know the pain and self-doubt you used to feel, which is one of their tools—to make you feel like you are imagining things. You watch them in action, the charisma or showmanship that still dazzles others, but you recognize it for the con game you’ve now learned it is. You’re looking forward to taking the long view to this experience, when one day you’ll look back and see its opportunities as ones that connected you deeply to your inner and outer growth.
For now, though you’ve got to survive the journey. Before we go into the must-knows when divorcing a narcissist, the particular things and behaviors you can expect, let’s look at the definition of one.
A quick definition of a narcissist
A narcissist is an ego-centric person. As Psychology Today describes the disorder,
“The hallmarks of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) are grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration. People with this condition are frequently described as arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, and demanding. They may also have grandiose fantasies and may be convinced that they deserve special treatment. These characteristics typically begin in early adulthood and must be consistently evident in multiple contexts, such as at work and in relationships.
People with NPD often try to associate with other people they believe are unique or gifted in some way, which can enhance their own self-esteem. They tend to seek excessive admiration and attention have difficulty tolerating criticism or defeat.”
You probably know it well, your partner’s narcissism; how he* overlooks other people’s feelings and may even get a ‘kick’ out of their suffering. Narcissists possess a twisted and unhealthy form of self-love. Self-love is a beautiful, positive thing. Yet, to a narcissist, self-love is expressed in a very destructive and self-deceptive way that impacts their personal, professional, romantic, sexual, and family relationships. And the impact can have horrendous effects on those around them, their victims.
Whether you’re living with or divorcing a narcissist, you’re certainly a victim of narcissistic abuse. There is nothing fair, balanced, or loving, being married to a narcissist. A narcissist is manipulative, only concerned with “Number 1,” and incapable of forming real and sincere emotional and spiritual bonds of connection.
7 must-knows when divorcing a narcissist
Your narcissist is magnetic and extremely manipulative.
Firstly, remember that the narcissist chose you because they could sense your gullibility and kindness. To the sane and normal person, choosing a partner one can exploit and feed off of is ludicrous, but, to a narcissist, it’s the norm. Your positive traits of kindness, empathy, integrity and morality are seen as weaknesses, not strengths.
Yet, there was a magnetic quality that drew you two together. This was their charm.
Narcissists are incredibly charming at first. There is truth in the saying “opposites attract;” anyone capable of empathy and genuine compassion and care can arguably be seen as the opposite of someone with strong displays of narcissism.
Furthermore, you feed them. You feed their ego, their narcissism and their motivations for wanting to inflict pain, suffering or sadness on another. Of course, you aren’t responsible for their behaviors or feelings—it is your natural self that feeds their narcissistic personality. Any positive or lovely quality you possess is fuel to their out-of-control and destructive fire…
Your narcissist also requires you to keep their illusions in play. Illusion is a word strongly associated with narcissism and something which you unconsciously play into. Delusion is also accurate. A delusion is essentially an idiosyncratic belief, recurring thought, or impression that contradicts reality and is rooted in some sort of mental imbalance or faulty perception. A narcissist needs this not only to thrive, but to survive. Their whole reality is dependent on it. And they achieve this through the fear, intimidation, and hurt they cause to you (and others).
Essentially, your purity of thought, hope, and trust that there is beauty and goodness inside of them perpetuates their ‘thriving,’ thus making your true nature the perfect match to their manipulations and hidden motivations.
So, when it comes to divorcing them you need to be prepared.
You must know when you’re divorcing a narcissist because their personality traits and behaviors will emerge and come out in full force! Your narcissist will either try to appear more charming, or he’ll use manipulation tactics to seduce you back into his web. Gaslighting will almost certainly be prevalent.
Your narcissist will gaslight you.
Oh yes, you will be gaslighted. It is a sad truth, but coming to terms with this is the key to your well-being and sanity. Narcissists are so deceptive and manipulative that they can use your honesty and authenticity. They grow stronger and more powerful in their convictions and illusions because of them.
Your positive characteristics are like sparks to their manipulative qualities, making you an easy target. The more sincere and humble or kind you appear, the more they will try to exploit you. Even your friends and family might believe a narcissistic partner over you—your narcissist is that convincing!
Gaslighting, if you aren’t already aware, is making you appear crazy, wrong, or “evil.” Ultimately, they will twist and distort reality, including real events, to make things appear as if you are the narcissist or the one at fault. It can be a deeply painful experience.
The way to deal with this is to stay centered and aligned to your truth. Trying to expose them as a narcissist will only create more negative energy for yourself; narcissists thrive off emotional manipulation. So, keep things purely practical, i.e., stick to practical facts and events.
When divorcing a narcissist, don’t expect any empathy or compassion.
Connected to the emotional aspect of divorcing a narcissist is the tragic fact that they lack empathy and compassion. We know this can be very hard to accept.
“Surely all humans are capable of compassion?”
“I’ve been married to this person for years, how could s/he have so little respect for me?”
We are sorry to share that the narcissist doesn’t care. They are selfish and self-centered. The expressions “magnetism” and “fueling their fire” have been shared, but they need to be shared again. It can be hard to believe that raw, vulnerable, and sincere qualities like empathy and compassion could ever be catalysts for inflicting pain, or that your lover and partner of so many years can feel joy and happiness from your despair. Unfortunately, emotional manipulation, intimidation, and trauma are traits the narcissist excels in.
Thus, one of the must-knows about divorcing a narcissist is that you won’t be receiving their kindness, courtesy or care, of any kind.
Your narcissist’s delusions and manipulations run deep.
More for your sanity, if anything, you need to be aware of just how deep your narcissistic partner’s delusions and manipulations run. Their entire reality is entwined with yours. Despite the callous, uncaring, and hurtful ways a narcissist conducts themselves, they still depend on you. You provide them with joy. A twisted and distorted joy, but self-satisfaction all the same! And they are also dependent on you socially. You give them a cover. This means you are their energy source.
Their career, livelihood, sense of self, beliefs and inherent narcissism are entwined with the love and care you have for them. When divorcing a narcissist, like any master manipulator, when you withdraw that love and put up healthy boundaries, they will become nastier.
There is great power in silence when divorcing a narcissist, so be mindful of this truth.
Silence provides space for truth and hidden things to come to light. Regardless of what is being said against you, the most effective thing you can do for yourself is to simply be silent. Do not engage. Do not react.
Know your narcissist’s final attempts for power.
Narcissists are the ultimate energy vampires. They drain you of your love, time, resources and integrity. The more self-loving you become, and the more you engage in self-care, the more vindictive and venomous their actions and words will be. The truth is, they have found your wound. They know your weaknesses, emotional and spiritual needs, desires and intentions in love.
Yet, they seek to infect your wound with negativity. Fortunately, you can overcome this with staying centered and putting up strong boundaries. Focus on yourself! This is especially true when divorcing a narcissist. Being connected to your own truth and light enables you to avoid getting dragged into their stories.
Also, aim to deflect their false stories and manipulative ways. Your partner has some unbelievably sadistic and destructive intentions. They also know you well enough to know your emotional triggers. Try taking preventative measures for your protection, just like preventative health care. Be conscious of the fact their personality is defined by arrogance and misplaced confidence. Their motivations are not birthed from purity, truth, real talent or beautiful qualities.
Never try to expose them as a narcissist.
This is the key to your long-term happiness and recovery. Narcissism is ultimately defined by emotional manipulation, and this implies that their self-constructed reality is formed from the mind-games and emotional tactics they use. In other words, if you “attack” or expose anything regarding their true character, from an emotional stance, you have already lost.
Remember: narcissists are master manipulators. They are also excellent storytellers!
It was mentioned briefly earlier, yet you should know just how important this “must-know” is. Going for the emotional route ultimately results in your failure: it feeds their gaslighting tactics.
The way you can stay centered and eventually attain peace of mind, clear karma, and cultivate the inner light you deserve is to focus purely on the practical.
When you’re divorcing a narcissist, respond to them with facts, figures, real events, and speech communicated without emotion. Emotionally detach, as—again—a narcissist’s reality is rooted in emotional manipulation.
Narcissists are not fair or just, and they don’t play fair. A narcissist will never play fair, so, as long as you know this, you can go about things in the best possible way. Assume the worst-case scenarios. Perhaps even put yourself in their shoes.
How would the worst person in the world spin things and try and play it to their advantage? What angles do they have on you? Take a step back and see the big picture, including all the negative, shadowy, and dark parts. You may be a kind, decent, and lovely human being, but the narcissist will pick the tiniest negative and amplify it for their own gain.
Your narcissist will be cruel to you and charming and kind to everyone else!
Narcissus, the son of the river God Cephissus and the nymph Liriope, is a mythical figure you should look to in order to further understand the implications of divorcing a narcissist. Narcissus is significant in Greek mythology as the man who loved his own reflection, literally. Women would fall in love with him, yet he only showed them indifference, disdain, and neglect.
He loved being admired but couldn’t ever reciprocate others’ affections—he couldn’t express sincere and genuine feelings or emotions. This Greek myth ultimately sums up why narcissists are so cruel. They need to appear kind to others to keep their illusions in play, but they also need someone to project upon and target. The cruelty you suffer is, unfortunately, the result of the love and adoration you feel; all of this is brought on and developed from their initial charm. It’s a sad and harsh reality to accept, yet the more you accept it and integrate the lessons from the story of Narcissus, the better you are able to heal and move on from the pain.
Like Narcissus, narcissists only love themselves as reflected in the eyes of others; so, in other words, the love you have for them sustains them. But they need to be loved and admired. They need people to believe them and their stories (emotional manipulation).
And this brings us to one of the absolute must knows about divorcing a narcissist. You are their target, their victim, and mirror for their games and deceptions. Your family and friends, the people you ultimately rely on for support, are their co-conspirators. Unconsciously!
You will need to develop relentless inner strength, emotional distance, and personal boundaries to heal from this. Self-care is essential.
We’ve shared the must-knows when divorcing a narcissist, but this is perhaps the most important thing to know. Your narcissist’s karma is not your karma. You are not responsible for your partner’s deceptions, ill-intentions, and pain-causing ways. Self-care and paths to recovery and healing can help to remind you of this simple truth. Caring for yourself will speed up the healing process, allowing you to live an abundant and blissful life, attract positivity in future relationships, and find partners on your wavelength.
Grace Gabriella Puskas is an author, wordsmith and Reiki Master teacher. She has trained & studied in a number of holistic, spiritual and complimentary therapies and health fields, and loves to inspire and educate through the written word. You can subscribe to Grace’s free poetry blog or discover her services by visiting her website.
Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.
*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse, your narcissist, as your “husband” or a “he.”