If he keeps calling you crazy…?
Your soon-to-be ex is hurling insults at you left and right, and refuses to take any blame for your soon-to-be split. In the name of knowing your enemy, you might be wondering: Are you divorcing a narcissist—or just a first-class a-hole?
Okay, first things first: True narcissism is “a disorder centralized around a person’s inflated sense of self-importance, grandiose beliefs and behaviors, and a severely underdeveloped or complete lack of empathy,” says Gin Love Thomson, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and self-help memoirist.
Narcissistic personality disorder is an actual personality disorder that a mental health professional can diagnose using criteria from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V), Thomson says.
So yeah, it’s not exactly the same thing as just being a self-absorbed jerk.
So how do you know if you’re divorcing a narcissist? These signs might clue you in:
1. THEY TAKE EVERYTHING PERSONALLY.
“Narcissists are very sensitive—they personalize everything,” says Brandy Engler, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles.
For example, if you’re not in the mood for sex because you’re exhausted at the end of a huge day at work, a narcissist would likely make it about himself, saying you don’t love him or aren’t attracted to him. “They are not capable of staying with the narrative that the issue is caused by an external factor,” Engler explains.
2. THEY INSIST THAT YOU’RE CRAZY.
Narcissists are notorious for not taking responsibility for their behavior—and pinning the blame on those around them. They’ll often make you feel “as if you’re the one with the problem by deflecting any sense of responsibility while keenly inundating you with harsh and often fabricated criticisms,” Thompson says.
A split from a narcissist will often take on an “I” narrative as opposed to a “we” narrative, adds Engler. As in “I am the victim,” instead of “we both contributed to the breakup.”
3. THEY DON’T BELIEVE THEY NEED TO WORK ON THEMSELVES.
For most people, a major life event like a divorce is a moment for self-reflection. No matter how wronged you may feel, a healthy person will still examine the role they may have played.
But narcissists can’t take constructive feedback, says Engler. “They are most concerned with being right or demonstrating that they are an ideal partner. They are not open to listening to how they actually come off to others or open to change,” she says. “They are not going to own their flaws and try to grow.”
4. THEY WERE DOMINANT DURING YOUR RELATIONSHIP.
“In a relationship, the narcissist often feels the need to be in control of the significant decisions, as they generally feel superior to their partner,” says Franklin Porter, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in New York.
Narcissists tend to believe that their way isn’t just the best way, but the only way, he explains. That self-centered mindset often extends to sex. “They are likely to be all about their own pleasure, with little regard for their partner’s,” Porter says.
5. THEY LASH OUT VICIOUSLY.
Sure, during a divorce you might say things you wish you could take back. But narcissists tend to take this to the extreme. “There is a phenomenon referred to as ‘narcissistic rage’,” says Thompson. “Unexpected and sudden rage is expressed by a narcissist when their self-ascribed sense of grandiose worth is threatened.”
This can be particularly concerning if abuse has been an issue in the relationship, she adds. “Their methods of manipulation are failing them and this creates unknown territory which can lead to exaggerated episodes of lashing out and attention-seeking behaviors,” Thompson explains.
6. THEY’RE ICE COLD.
On the flip side, a narcissist may seem abnormally cold and callous during a divorce. “If the relationship is ending and the narcissist ended it, they may feel at ease,” Engler says. If the relationship is no longer serving her and her grandiose sense of self, he or she may seem like they don’t care about your split, because frankly, they don’t, Engler explains.
7. THEY’RE NOT WILLING TO COOPERATE.
Even though a divorce is about the end of your partnership, you ultimately have to work together to make it happen. If your partner is being aggressively uncooperative during the divorce, that can be an indication of narcissism.
“In the instance of divorce, the narcissist will likely be uncooperative, if not combative,” says Porter. “They may even be aggressive in their desire to ‘destroy’ their partner in a divorce proceeding.”
Don’t expect a lot of compromises, he says. “Narcissists will attempt to control the proceedings, either aggressively or passive-aggressively, by stalling or being unresponsive.”
8. THEY HOLD A GRUDGE FOREVER.
Even after the divorce papers have been signed, narcissists tend to carry grudges longer than the average person, says Thompson. When you’re dealing with a narcissist, it’s all about them.
So, if your ex is waxing eloquent to all your friends about how he’s the victim months after your split, that might be a sign. “They can spend literal hours talking about themselves to those who are willing to listen,” says Thompson. “A narcissist will often speak negatively about others to create an air of superiority.”
Suspect your ex fits the bill? Don’t feel bad. “Narcissists are experts at charm,” says Thompson. “It’s not until after you’re hooked that it becomes evident.”