As if a divorce isn’t painful enough, the process can become even more ugly and drawn out when one of the partners is a narcissist. Unlike others who eventually come to terms with their hurt and pain, narcissists are can wreak havoc by continuing to blame their partners and create long, contentious divorce cases and custody battles that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Dr. Karyl McBride, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Denver, specializes in treating clients with dysfunctional family issues. She has also treated many adult children of narcissistic parents in her 30 years of practice. As a follow-up to her book Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing The Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers, she recently released Will I Ever Be Free of You? How to Navigate a High-Conflict Divorce from a Narcissist and Heal Your Family.
In this installment of “Take 5 Q&A,” Dr. McBride discusses why some people are drawn to a narcissist and the challenges of being involved with one.
For more information about Dr. McBride, go to http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/
Though I was never married to a narcissist, I have certainly dated men whom I believe fall into the category. What is the telltale sign that someone is a narcissist?
I believe the cornerstone of narcissism has to do with the lack of empathy and the inability of the narcissist to tune into the emotional welfare of their loved ones. This causes significant problems for love relationships and parenting. Without empathy, I think it is hard to love. Victims of narcissists do not feel loved or valued but rather feel they are there for the narcissist and what they need. I am not as concerned about the common understanding of narcissism that defines a narcissist as someone who is boastful or arrogant. It is much deeper than this and much more harmful.
In your opinion, is it at all possible to have a relationship of any sort, whether it be marriage or dating, with a narcissist?
I think a relationship with a full-blown narcissistic personality disordered person or even a person with a high level of narcissistic traits makes it very difficult to have a meaningful or reciprocal relationship. It can be superficial or what I call the “civil connect,” but having expectations that one’s feelings are cared about sets people up for pain and disappointment.
Do you feel certain people, depending on their personality and upbringing, are more prone to become involved with a narcissist?
I think people who are raised by narcissistic parents are the most vulnerable. It is what they are used to and we are attracted unconsciously to the familiar before recovery work is completed. There can be an unconscious desire to master the trauma from childhood in not feeling loved. Other factors that make people vulnerable to narcissists are the following: past failed relationships, loneliness, lack of self-esteem or self-respect, body image issues, starting to date too early after the last relationship ended, and seeking status or materialism in relationships rather than love, mutual respect, and emotional honesty.
In your book, you described a divorce with a narcissist to be particularly difficult and traumatic. Why is that so?
This is a book of information and hard to answer in short, but narcissists have a fragile self-image and have deep abandonment issues at their core. If they are left or abandoned, they don’t get over it and typically seek revenge rather than deal with their own feelings. This causes protracted court hearings and fighting in court where the courtroom becomes their theatrical stage to win at all costs and to get back at the person who left them. Typically, divorce adjustment takes about three years for most people to feel back on their feet again in most areas of their lives. For the narcissist, it is never over. The worst part is that if children are involved they are often used as pawns for the narcissist to hurt the partner. Very sad and traumatic for all.
You also discussed the importance of being an empathetic parent and teaching kids about feelings. Can you explain how parents can do a better job of this?
Because the opposite of narcissism is empathy, the non-narcissist parent has double duty to teach and show the children empathy. This is best done with empathic parenting where the children feel seen, heard, and important and their feelings are tuned into. Empathic parenting is very nurturing and loving and children raised by empathic parents will know themselves and their feelings and find it easier to be authentic adults.