What To Look Out For
Narcissists will use a plethora of tactics: stirring the pot, creating division, sabotaging, attacking the messenger, emotional plea bargaining, and illogical arguments, to name a few.
If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, the most important lesson to learn is that domestic violence is about power and control. In the years leading up to my divorce, I never felt able to articulate what was happening. I had no real experience with narcissism or emotional abuse, or even knew that there were people in the world who, despite telling you that they loved you, would actively be working in a concerted effort to make your life miserable. I felt so naive.
When you divorce a narcissist, you have to be careful.
Read everything you can about narcissism. Educate yourself and get a plan.
I had to read in secret, and looking back, it was dangerous for me to have the material in the house, but the book The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to recognize it and how to respond, by Patricia Evans, probably saved my life. I read it from cover to cover in one day while my ex was at work. I couldn’t stop. I devoured it. It was the first time I felt validated and had words to describe the life I was living. I still have a copy of her book on my shelf, and I sent one to his mother (who had been abused by her husband for 40 years) and one to his sister the day after the divorce was finalized. Her book opened my eyes and gave me a voice. Her words helped me to plan a way out. She says in her introduction that,
“ many had tried every avenue, every approach, to improve their relationship: explaining, overlooking, asking, begging, individual and joint counseling, living their lives as independently as possible, meeting their own needs, not asking “too much,” settling for less and less, being undemanding, being understanding. Nothing seemed to work.”
I had tried everything. After I read her book, I knew that I had had enough.
There are many books available on narcissism. There is A TON of information on the internet to help you navigate through the experience, but I don’t see how her book could ever steer you in the wrong direction. I love having her book on my shelf. I feel gratitude to Patricia Evans for her insight and clarity. I always will.
Changes In Behavior
My ex-husband would act completely differently when we were around other people. I knew early on that I needed to be around other people as much as possible, especially at the house. The only time I really had to worry, was when we were alone. I kept a journal that listed times and dates of abusive behavior. This was important for me because narcissists intentionally muddy the waters.
Generally, in an abusive relationship the abuser will deny the abuse, and often there is no one to witness the abuse because it happens behind closed doors.
If the abuse happens behind closed doors, then one has to make the assumption that the abuser knows that his behavior is not accepted by society. The realization that your husband knows what he is doing is wrong is probably the hardest hurdle to step over, but once you know in your heart that his behavior is intentional, and that he is doing it in secret, your options narrow down pretty quickly. I knew I could never remain married to someone who behaved this way.
If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, your relationship is an illusion. The quicker you realize this, the better. GET OUT! Do not delay divorce proceedings. There is no reason to continue in the relationship hoping that your husband will someday suddenly understand what hurts you. Your efforts to explain and bring mutual understanding and respect to the relationship will fail. If there is no goodwill in your relationship (or only goodwill from one partner), the issues you are having can never be addressed. Many women insist on trying to “make it work” for WAY too long. Just trust me, they will not change, cut your losses and move on.
Harassment is governed by state laws, which vary by state, but is generally defined as a course of conduct which annoys, threatens, intimidates, alarms, or puts a person in fear of their safety.
With a detailed journal and any documented evidence, a narcissist can hardly not break this law.
Once you start to expect change and set limits, the abuse will likely get worse.
A narcissist may (most likely will) engage in harassment or abusive tactics. You must not allow him to deter you. The best option may be to plan privately without him knowing.
After your research, you may know that you are planning to divorce. I would be wary of discussing a divorce with your husband until you have taken some time to make your escape in the safest manner possible. Anything you say or do that can be construed as confrontational (which is pretty much everything) will be used against you.
Common abusive tactics:
- Verbal abuse disguised as jokes
- Blocking and diverting
- Accusing and blaming
- Judging and criticizing
- Name calling
- Abusive anger
Manipulation through silent treatment is one of the many tactics a narcissist will use against you. My ex did it all the time when he didn’t get his way. I looked up the definition. Silent treatment is defined as: a refusal to communicate verbally with someone who desires the communication. It may range from just sulking to malevolent abusive controlling behavior.
My ex would do this for days at a time (weeks sometimes) until I caved in to him. At the end, I knew I was filing papers in a few weeks and just let him do it, but you do need to be careful because it can escalate.
Ploys For Attention
All of the above tactics are used in order to elicit a response from you. Bide your time and let all of it go. Allow the Narcissist to win any battle he starts right now. Stick to your plan, set a date to file, and then execute.
Keep a journal. Since narcissists will lie and deny abuse (especially after you have filed), it is imperative that you document abuse when it happens. I had to be careful not to have it found, but I had a journal at first, and then after the divorce a spiral notebook listing the day, the time, and any event that occurred. Put in as much detail as you can, and if you are afraid, include the details as to why.
If you have kids, and a custody battle is looming, then it becomes an easy choice to do right by them. A narcissist has little to no empathy and will use the kids as pawns to get what they want. You must counter that with impeccable and predictable stable behavior. If you do get abuse on tape (especially if the kids are involved), ask your attorney to have a court approved transcription made of the tape to give to the judge before court.
Don’t React To Their Behavior
If you can tape or record any abusive behavior it will be illuminating in court, however, for this approach to work, you must live by the following mantra: TAKE THE HIGH ROAD EVERY SINGLE TIME. I cannot stress this enough. The narcissist is trying to elicit a response from you. DO NOT GIVE HIM ANYTHING HE CAN USE AGAINST YOU. This becomes easier the moment you learn that he wants you to lose control. Don’t give him anything that can be used against you in court.
Allow The Narcissist To Win
There are ways to respond to a narcissist. Once you have set boundaries, and especially after you have decided to divorce (either known by him or not), the best defense is to disengage and allow the narcissist to win. Everything you do in goodwill to help the relationship will be undone.
Limit Contact & Set Boundaries
Set limits and establish boundaries. All verbal abuse violates your boundaries.
Have no unnecessary contact or conversations with your soon-to-be ex. If you must have contact, try to have contact via text or email (more evidence of abuse if there is any) and keep in mind that there are harassment laws about unwanted contact.
DO NOT PLAY. I cannot stress this enough. If your soon-to-be ex violates the law, you absolutely MUST file a police report and start a paper trail with the police in your city. The crime must be reported in the city where the event takes place, so I was in and out of police departments in the cities around our home until he realized that I would not back down. There is nothing you can do to change his behavior, but one of a narcissist’s weakest links is that they don’t want to be “found out.” If you are diligent about taking the high road, and making sure to file reports every single time a crime is committed, it is just a matter of time until he is in trouble with the law. Let me repeat…the quickest (and in my view only) way to significantly improve your chances of being free of him is to nip it in the bud from the get-go. I simply told him that any time he broke the law I would be filing a report. That is what I did. I recorded conversations, used video on my phone, anything and everything at my disposal and legal, I did.
Get A Divorce Attorney
Get a counselor and/or lawyer who is experienced with narcissism. Advocate for yourself and make sure your attorney (and your counselor) is educated on the characteristics of narcissistic behavior. There are some benefits that come with being the one who files (another reason to be careful with what you tell him). When you file for divorce, often they are given some time to vacate (my ex had two weeks to find somewhere to go, so the kids and I had to stay elsewhere during that time); have a plan in place, and be careful with what documents you leave at the house. I had all of our birth certificates, and important documents with me for the two weeks we had to be out of the house.
When you file for divorce (or after he has vacated the premises), there are a few things to do at once: change the locks at your house (my ex refused to leave and I came back after two weeks with the sheriff -to enforce the decree- and a locksmith), and go to the police department and tell an officer that you are nervous about the situation and ask them to come over and look for weaknesses into your home. NOTE: be kind to your police officers. You may have to deal with them. You need them. They want to help, and they do help. They are your ally, treat them as such.
Prepare For The Long Haul
You may need to open a personal bank account in your name before you file. I also moved over the little savings our children had at the time and put them in my name until the custody battle. I did not want him to drain their accounts. He tried two days after I filed.
A narcissist will not go down lightly, so it will be important to be organized. Keep a three ring binder going with all court documents and your journals.
Lastly, and this is the most brutal, if you have children together, your diligence must never end. You are in for the long-haul. Start good habits early, and maintain.
When I went through all of this years ago, I felt such a sense of relief in knowing that there were people in the world who knew what I was going through. Unless you have experience with a narcissist, it is extraordinarily hard to explain what it is like. You have a right to feel safe in your relationships. If you are reading this, know that once you start taking the steps you need to, and begin to reclaim your life, you will become more whole. Behavior is a choice. Choose to live the best life you can.