Divorce is hard - really hard. But if you are left reeling by the heartless behaviour of your ex, who seems to wish to annihilate you on every level, you could be dealing with a narcissist. And even if they’ve hidden their true identity throughout your marriage, the mask will definitely drop in divorce. 

Divorcing a Narcissist

Divorcing a Narcissist

So, have your views and feelings been invalidated and your boundaries overstepped? Have you been exploited, compared to others, guilt-tripped and demeaned? If you’ve left them, are you worried you might be lured in again by their charm? Were you painted as the unforgiving, unreasonable perpetrator in couples therapy, your spouse the innocent victim? Have you been subjected to immense, unforeseen rage? Been bombarded with ranting, accusatory messages? Are you shocked at how little empathy they have for you, who they once claimed to love? Are you scared?

One in 20 people are estimated to have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, although the vast majority will never be formally diagnosed. But why is separating from a narcissist fraught with problems? Underlying the superiority and entitlement is actually a person with very fragile self-esteem. They construct a ‘false self’ (often a larger-than-life persona) to hide behind; an armour which is kept intact by validation from others to prevent them having to face their own low self-worth. This requires constant attention (called ‘narcissistic supply’) in the form of adoration, drama or conflict.

In divorce their armour is breached and their imperfect life exposed, causing ‘narcissistic injury’ which triggers ‘narcissistic rage’. As uncontrollable rage pours forth, a true narcissist will try to destroy their ex - financially, mentally, spiritually - even weaponising the children against them. Narcissists lack empathy – although they can appear to feel another’s pain, they actually can’t care - not about you, the children, not even about the enraptured new partner they’ve speedily seduced. Expect allegations, badmouthing and insistence that the children live with them. And expect bystanders, duped by their charming false persona, to blame you for the acrimony.

Although a narcissist will behave terribly in divorce, they will behave predictably, and finding a divorce lawyer from the outset who fully understands NPD is essential (at present, only around 25% do). The right lawyer will be able to protect you from the narcissist’s emotional, financial and legal abuse; will recognise their need to believe they have ‘won’; will pre-empt their damaging behaviours and will save you your sanity and thousands of pounds. 

Divorcing a narcissist requires acceptance that no ‘justice’ will be served - you cannot ‘win’ in the traditional sense. But through the wretchedness comes an opportunity for learning, growth and authentic relationships. This fight will take momentous courage - but it will, in time, be worth it. 

Here are Supriya and Karin’s top tips on Divorcing a Narcissist.


- Find a lawyer who fully understands narcissistic personality disorder 

- Consider Hybrid Mediation to try to avoid the expense and delays of court 

- Also consider arbitration as a quicker, cheaper, fairer way than court to find a resolution 

- Employ a specialist narcissistic divorce coach 

- Cut off communication with the narcissist, or at least minimise it to email only

- Learn about the ‘grey rock’ method of communication

- Refrain from discussing your breakup on social media


- Tell your spouse that you suspect they are a narcissist

- Undertake normal mediation or the collaborative practice as a method to avoid court; this will play into the narcissist’s hands, wasting time and money

- Respond to all your narcissistic ex’s accusations in attempt to set the record straight; you will simply be providing them with narcissistic supply, making matters worse

- Expect to be able to stay friends with your narcissistic ex

- Tell anyone other than your closest confidantes and your lawyer that your spouse is a narcissist

- Mention narcissism in court

Dr Supriya McKenna and Karin Walker are the authors of 'Divorcing a Narcissist - the Lure, the Loss and the Law' and 'Narcissism and Family Law - A Practitioner’s Guide’. They also host the 'Narcissists in Divorce’ podcast which is available to download on most audio platforms. For more information, please visit: www.narcissistsanddivorce.com

RELATED: 10 Ways to Spot A Narcissist By Wendy Walker

Not everyone who looks in the mirror too long or brags about his or her accomplishments is a narcissist. Some people are just arrogant and self-centered. A true "narcissist" is a person who suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (“NPD”). And, contrary to their confident exteriors, narcissists actually have fractured, fragile egos - typically from early childhood abuse, neglect or trauma. What we see on the outside is the façade, or alter-ego, which they have created to protect themselves from the pain of feeling inadequate and vulnerable. Here are some ways you can tell if someone in your life has NPD...

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