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Are You Dealing with a Narcissist in Your Divorce

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Lee and Terry

A client of mine, “Lee”, was married to someone we shall call “Terry.” Terry was the CEO of a medium-sized company and was well-known and well-respected. Terry was highly skilled at dealing with people in the business setting and came across as competent and confident. Terry’s goal was to accumulate tens of millions of dollars and to hang out with celebrities. Terry was extremely bright and throughout childhood was honored for impressive intellectual achievements. Terry could be a bit arrogant and looked down on Lee.

Whenever they had a fight, or even a disagreement, Terry could never accept what Lee thought was Terry’s share of the responsibility. They tried going to a marriage counselor, but when the therapist tried to point out to Terry’s role in the conflict, Terry was sure that the therapist didn’t know what he was doing.

Terry liked to bask in approval and admiration. Terry often sought out and was surrounded by emotionally needy people. This dynamic seemed to feed Terry.

For Lee, it was frustrating to be in a relationship with Terry who never seemed to fully engage in the relationship and seemed to have one foot out the door. The other thing that concerned Lee was Terry’s risk taking behavior that Lee thought of as thrill-seeking. Lee was glad Terry wasn’t addicted to drugs or alcohol, but in Lee’s opinion was an “adrenal junkie.” Lee was also concerned about Terry’s relationship to the children. Terry enjoyed being the “fun parent” but when it came to discipline, setting limits, or being a role model for responsible behavior, Terry wasn’t interested.

The marriage of Lee and Terry eventually ended in divorce. It was a tough divorce. Terry was reluctant to give Lee and the children financial support. Lee needed the support because during the marriage Lee had put postponed career advancement to support Terry.  When Lee tried to make Terry understand, Terry showed little empathy. To Terry, since the marriage was over, it was time for a “clean break” and to be free to move on with life.

If this sounds familiar and you would like to speak with me about your case, I can be reached at 303-530-7080.

The Technical Definition

Does any of this sound familiar? You may be dealing with a narcissist. It is more common than you think. Here is what the DSM-IV says about “Narcissist Personality Disorder.” (The DSM-IV is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders put out by the American Psychiatric Association.) A word of caution here.  Once you pin a label on someone, it tends to shut the door on continuing to understand them more deeply and distracts you from seeing their behaviors as misguided attempts to meet fundamental human needs.

“A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

Believes that he or she is ‘special’ and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

Requires excessive admiration

Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or how own ends

Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.”

So what are the 11 Rules for dealing with a narcissist?

1) As I say on one of my CD’s, don’t expect an elephant to fly. That is, don’t expect a narcissist to act like someone who doesn’t have this disorder. Do Not expect empathy. The narcissist is not capable of it.

2) The focus is always on their own best interests. In negotiation, frame the outcomes in terms of what works for them.

3) Don’t base your self-esteem on their opinion of you. In a sense, other people do not fully exist for the narcissist.

4) Don’t believe their confidence. Underneath the bravado is a wounded being who is so scared they can’t let other people in or dare to consider their faults.

5) Carefully assess your role in conflicts. The narcissist will try to lay it All at your doorstep. Examine for yourself what is really yours and what is theirs. Narcissists “project” blame onto others. If you take on too much that is called “introjection.” Consider that is it Not You!

6) Have pity for them. Their inability to take responsibility and examine their flaws keep them tragically Stuck.

7) Narcissism has elements of emotional numbness. It’s hard for the narcissist to experience the joys of interpersonal love and closeness. Admiration always implies emotional distance. Expect the narcissist to seek thrills as a way to feel life.

8) It’s a good idea to get agreements in writing. If, down the road, the narcissist decides that the agreement doesn’t suit them, there is a risk of their backing out.

9) A parent’s narcissism can be tough on children. On some level the children can feel that this parent is not really there for them. Often it is more subtle, the narcissist’s world includes the children as an extension of themselves. As the children mature and challenge the narcissist, they will become less interested in the children, or even hostile towards them.

10) Understand that it is extremely difficult for a narcissist to make use of psychotherapy. The therapist is in a tricky position: the moment the therapist disagrees, confronts or questions is the moment the narcissist will have trouble tolerating the therapy and often declares the therapist incompetent.

11) Distinguish between immaturity/self-centeredness and narcissism. It’s not likely that a narcissist will wonder whether they are a narcissist!

Sat Tara Kaur Khalsa, M.S., L.P.C. Copyright 2007 303-530-7080 divorce-success.com


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