There’s a lot of talk about narcissists, what I’ve noticed in my practice is that sometimes it’s not actually in our cyst but a psychopath on the other side of the equation. It’s really important to know the difference. When you’re divorcing someone who’s toxic, you want to understand what drives them so that you can strategize on how to manage your relationship with them. Especially if you have children together!
Narcissism and psychopathy are not diagnosable mental illnesses. They do have clear connections with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder, however. Think of these as behavioral traits. If we were going to talk about the human body, this might be the equivalent of being pre-diabetic. Your blood sugar is high and you’re at risk of being diabetic. When divorcing someone who has narcissistic or psychopathic tendencies, they’re at risk of being diagnosable.
Narcissists have a tendency to focus on themselves, to self-enhance. They have a strong motivation to maintain a positive attractive and successful image in the eyes and minds of others. Their far more likely to defend their image or reputation. And they’ll do it very aggressively even in response to minor threats or comments. They have extreme admiration for themselves. Any conversation with them is likely to focus on their successes either physically, professionally, or financially. Really in any area where they value themselves or see themselves as important in order to uplift themselves.
This condition is also characterized by entitlement and grandiosity. What you need to understand is that grandiosity is often grounded in low self-esteem. Being married to a narcissist is challenging because they will do anything to protect themselves from their own low self-esteem. Anything that you say or do that points at or triggers them to look at that self-esteem is going to be worthy of an extreme emotional reaction. Typically this is going to be explosive, and you will be the recipient of it. They’ll crush you as their enemy.
Being married to a narcissist can actually make them be vulnerable. They will reveal parts of themselves when they feel safe. They will feel safe as long as their image of themselves is not being threatened. If you’re with someone who has these tendencies but is showing up as not vulnerable or unable to be vulnerable, they may have psychopathic tendencies.
Psychopathy is far more dangerous to deal with than straight narcissism. Though it shares a lot of qualities of narcissistic tendencies, it is exploited in nature. While the narcissist simply wants to look good, the psychopathic individual wants to use others for their own benefit.
They have no aversion to harming others. Psychopaths view others as tools for their own use. They are far more likely to bully you, troll you, or take revenge at any opportunity. Psychopaths don’t do this simply for the joy of it, they do it to achieve an end. They have someplace they want to go and you are part of how they’re going to get there. Some have characterized this as ruthless selfishness.
Divorcing a Psychopath
If you’re divorcing someone with psychopathic tendencies, this is far more complex than simple narcissism. While the narcissist seeks to win and maintain their worldview of themselves, the psychopath seeks to crush and redirect.
In both cases, what’s going to work best is understanding where it is they want to go. If you have parented with either of these personality types, you’re legally joined at the hip with them. That means strategizing how to win while they feel like they’re winning as well is going to be your best option.
Being married to a narcissist or a psychopath is difficult because nobody chooses to lose. They don’t mind losing in court, they don’t mind the supervision of an authority like a judge. They simply don’t want to lose to you.
So What Can You Do?
The first step is to separate yourself emotionally from the other parent. You need to create safe spaces, spaces where you will not be bullied, you will not be manipulated, and you will not be abused. Spaces where you will not tolerate angry outbursts or expressions of rage.
Once you have created boundaries for yourself where you are limiting your experience of these expressions of narcissism and psychopathy, the next step is to forgive yourself and them. You’re going to forgive yourself for marrying them and having children with them. That’s simple cuz after all you love your children and you wouldn’t have them without the other parent. It’s not necessarily easy.
The next step is once you’ve forgiven them and yourself and let go of the past, it’s time to create a plan for the future and start striving forward with your children.
Protecting Your Children
Developing strategies and habits for your children will make all the difference here. These are going to be habits and strategies that help them to manage the particular behavior on the other side of the parenting equation. Never out the nature of the other parent to your kids. Teach the children how to handle the negative behaviors without finger-pointing. If the kids go to the other parent and say that you have outed them, it will be bad for them and for you. remain focused on the negative behaviors. You’re basically equipping your children for dealing with the other parent without singling them out.
If you haven’t done this before, it may be difficult to find your way through it. We’ve got years of experience dealing with both of these personality types. Please feel free to reach out for a complimentary call and we can help you figure out what your next steps are.