Narcissism isn’t an illness, it’s a personality disorder—and one you can’t fix, says Paulette Rigo, a certified divorce coach and author of Better Divorce Blueprint. So, what do you do if you find yourself looking to get divorced from someone with those tendencies? How do you protect your mental health? We chatted with Rigo and Meaghan Rice and Cynthia Catchings, both therapists at Talkspace, to find out.
Divorcing a Narcissist? 3 Rules to Follow for Keeping Your Sanity Intact
1. Do Not Engage (Or At Least Right Away)
Love bombing, triangulation, gaslighting—these are just a few of the 36 repetitive patterns and behaviors that you can expect from a narcissist. If you are on the receiving end of these actions (and trying to divorce the narcissist deploying them), you have to do everything within your power to not be triggered by their attempts, says Rigo. “In other words, don’t throw fuel on the fire,” she explains. “Understanding the tactic they repetitively use to bring you down makes it easier to modify your response and divert their behavior so it is less harmful and less difficult for yourself.” Phrases like “I hear you,” or “Everything is going to be OK,” on repeat can help validate a narcissist without instigating them. “If your ex is texting or calling you to attack you for something you did wrong, do not respond immediately,” adds Catchings. “Narcissists say abusive things to get a reaction from you, so stay calm and use short answers.” When they no longer evoke a negative reaction from you, they’ll have no choice, but to move on.
2. Prioritize Building Your Community…and Self-Care
This can range from family and friends that you can rely on for support as well as resources that can assist with navigating the harmful types of interactions you’ve come to expect from a narcissist. “It’s all about creating a protective boundary between yourself and the narcissist,” says Rice. This can mean finding a therapist who specializes in relationships, narcissism and trauma. “You want someone who understands conflictive divorce and narcissism and can help you regain your self-esteem and confidence and help you set realistic goals to protect yourself and your loved ones,” per Catchings. Self-care is also a critical part of getting through this time. “Do not forget to practice self-care. Be intentional about doing things you enjoyed before the issues started—find a hobby, eat and sleep well, and mainly, talk to yourself with love,” she adds.
3. Get a Court Order for a Co-Parenting App
One tactic that narcissists tend to lean on during a divorce is a smear campaign, i.e. they take a seed of truth and fabricate it into a negative scenario that makes the other spouse or parent the evil perpetrator of the marriage. (“It’s all their fault!”) Rigo—who also offers a course dedicated to navigating a divorce from a narcissist—recommends combatting this by getting your attorney to file a motion to help with communication. “Two co-parenting apps I love are Fayr, which is quite affordable at $79 a year, and Our Family Wizard,” she says. “Both come with a tone meter that won’t allow you to hit send on a text message if it doesn’t have a proper tone, so it prevents the victim from lashing out and getting angry and it stops the narcissist from abusing their ex. It also holds up in court.”