Divorcing a narcissist may prove more difficult than you might think. While many people may assume that a narcissist couldn't care less whether or not a spouse initiates a divorce, the truth is that clinically narcissistic people are actually quite insecure and may react much more strongly than people who are not narcissists.
Narcissism is widely misunderstood. While many people think of conceited, egotistical people as narcissistic, the truth is that a clinically narcissistic person is someone who masks his or her severe insecurity by presenting a facade of self assuredness that appears to everyone else to border on arrogance. The cockiness presented by narcissists may fool people into believing that there is no timidity or self-consciousness present, but this is far from the truth.
Narcissism is a personality disorder. As with most personality disorders, there is a varying range of the severity of the disorder. When divorcing a narcissist, you may experience a variety of issues depending largely on the severity of your soon-to-be ex-spouse's disorder. It is also important to note that people with narcissism are more likely than the general public to have additional personality disorders, particularly depression, and substance abuse. A stressful situation like divorce may prompt the narcissist to fall into depression, begin using (or increase the use of) alcohol or drugs, and may result in increased erratic behavior as a result of any other personality disorders present.
What to Expect When Divorcing a Narcissist
While there can be a definite pattern of behaviors in narcissists, remember that narcissists are individuals and therefore there is no surefire way to predict what behavior will arise as a result of a divorce. In a very broad sense, however, you can expect some of the following experiences when divorcing a spouse who is a narcissist:
- Expect hurtful words. People who mask their insecurities by presenting an egotistical character may have a tendency to lash out when feeling threatened. Having a spouse initiate a divorce is a threatening occurrence when faced by someone who does not feel much self-worth, particularly when the person stakes his or her identity on being in a marriage.
- Erratic behavior may occur. A person with any clinical mental disorder may experience an increase in mental problems when faced with a high degree of stress. So if your soon-to-be ex-spouse has always been somewhat aggressive, an increase in aggressiveness may be on the horizon. Likewise, if your soon-to-be ex-spouse emotionally withdraws when faced with stress, a divorce may prompt him or her to further withdraw emotionally.
- A narcissist may cling to you. If he or she does not want the marriage to end, there is a good chance that he or she may inappropriately react and try even harder to keep you. If your soon-to-be ex has always been a bit of a charmer, there is a good chance that you will experience an increase in this behavior as he or she desperately attempts to keep you.
- Drug or alcohol use may appear or intensify. Narcissists may have a difficult time dealing with their feelings, and as a result may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with the divorce. This can be a compounding issue, especially if your future ex is aggressive or has other personality disorders present.
You may experience some of these issues, all of these issues, or none of these issues with your estranged spouse. A clinical diagnosis of narcissism is no guarantee that a person will act a certain way, but is merely a label based on past behavior.
Divorcing a Conceited Person
A very small minority of people who display conceited personalities actually qualify for a clinical diagnosis of narcissism. If you are divorcing a person who is conceited, yet who is not actually a narcissist, you may encounter surprise from your spouse that you would actually initiate a divorce. You might also encounter a situation where he or she pretends to not care -or truly does not care- about the end of the marriage.
Divorces can be difficult to navigate, and can be made worse by dealing with an ex-spouse who never puts anyone else's feelings first.