How to negotiate when divorcing a narcissist

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Whether you are in a legal battle with a narcissist, divorcing a narcissist, or have a family member, friend, boss, parent, child or sibling who has strong narcissistic tendencies, it can be maddening to negotiate or otherwise deal with them — even if you love them.

This post will help you understand the narcissistic personality, and how to stay sane, ethical and calm when one is in your life. If you’re divorcing a narcissist, here is what you need to know:

What is a narcissist?

“Narcissism” has become the go-to word when describing the personality types that are characterized by selfishness, entitlement, validation-seeking, and lack of empathy. In today’s society, we hear the words ‘Narcissist’ or ‘Narcissism’ tossed around casually to describe the people whom we find obnoxiously pompous and arrogant. Although these descriptions may be accurate, these individuals might actually be living with what clinicians have identified as Narcissistic Personality Disorder. 

Definition of narcissism

In order for an individual to be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder as defined by the DSM-5, he or she must meet the following criterion: 

Characteristics of a narcissist

1. One must have a significant impairment in personality functioning: 

a) Identity functioning


b) Self-direction functioning


2. One must have a significant impairment in interpersonal functioning: 

a) Empathy


b) Intimacy 

In addition to the above traits, one must also exhibit:

Antagonizm through either:

a) Grandiosity 


b) Attention seeking 

Not only must these traits remain stable throughout time but also across various environments.

This person’s behavior mustn’t be understood as normal by his or her surrounding community and/or culture and mustn’t be caused by a medical condition and/or drug use/abuse. 

Although most narcissists never actually get diagnosed by a mental health professional with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, one can usually figure out if someone they know is a narcissist if the individual exhibits at least a few of these characteristics:

  1. Delusions of grandeur
  2. The need for constant praise and admiration 
  3. Sense of entitlement leading to arrogance and haughty behaviors/attitudes 
  4. Exploits others without feeling shame and/or guilt
  5. Devalues others in a plethora of ways
  6. Lacks empathy
  7. Envies others  

Now, you’re probably thinking how awful it must be to be in direct contact with someone that exhibits the above characteristics; however, the worst is yet to come. 

There are those too who exhibit displays of both Narcissism and Antisocial Personality Disorder. We call these individuals Narcissistic Sociopaths.

Clinically, one must meet all the DSM-5 criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder in addition to all of the criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder in order to be diagnosed as a Narcissistic Sociopath. 

The DSM-5 criteria for Anti-Social Personality is as follows:

  1. An individual must exhibit a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others. 


  1. Must show at least 3 of the of the following behaviors/traits: 
  • Repeated failure to follow social norms resulting in grounds for arrest 
  • Engaging in deceitfulness (lying, using aliases, etc)
  • Impulsivity and not planning ahead; moving around constantly
  • Irritability and aggressiveness 
  • Reckless disregard/concern for the safety of other people
  • Chronic irresponsibility reflected by a continued failure to maintain a job, finish school, stay on top of financial commitments
  • Lack of remorse about hurting others (indifferent/rationalizes)


One must be 18 years or older and have had evidence of conduct disorder by age 15. 

Similarly to narcissists, most narcissistic sociopaths never actually get diagnosed with either of the above disorders. So, we have gathered a list of characteristics that compile the Prototypical Narcissistic Sociopath so that you can steer clear of them:

  • They often have criminal records or have engaged in criminal activity yet believe they are exempt from the moral code
  • They are often climbing the corporate ladder
  • They are nearly always on the quest for acquiring positions of power
  • They are often hard to spot because they are often: 
    • Polished, Well-dressed, Charming, & Successful 
    • Taking part in philanthropy/charity (solely for the validation it gives them)
  • They can be physically and/or emotionally aggressive/abusive 
  • They nearly always exhibit validation seeking behaviors
  • They rarely apologize and even more rarely feel guilty or remorseful
  • They believe they are invincible and behave accordingly 
  • They are always self-serving
  • They try to control everything and everyone around them

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What percentage of the population is narcissistic?

From Medscape:

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is present in 0.5% of the U.S. population and in 2-16% of those who seek help from a mental health professional. NPD is found in 6% of the forensic population, in 20% of the military population (the actual disorder as well as narcissistic traits), and in 17% of first-year medical students.

Married to a narcissist husband or wife?

A large aspect of the conversation about narcissism is in response to the consequences caused by involving oneself in a romantic relationship or marriage to a narcissist. Although most narcissists exhibit similar qualities, there are some gender differences when it comes to Narcissism in relationships.

Excessive care for one’s physical appearance is found in nearly all narcissists; however, narcissistic women usually use their appearance to gain superiority and often adjust their physicality through plastic surgery to do this. Although, to an extent, this is true for men as well, males usually use their appearance as a way to manipulate a situation to gain a specific desired outcome. Both men and women will use their appearance to threaten infidelity in relationships.

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Narcissistic men vs. narcissistic women

While both men and women use seduction tactics as a means of obtaining control and narcissistic supply, narcissistic men typically use charm to seduce a potential partner while women use their bodies and sexualites to do so. Women often use sex and withholding sex in relationships as a way to devalue their partners while men are seen engaging in sexually abusive behaviors (as listed above) more often. 

Another difference you might find between narcissistic men and women in relationships is when dealing with money. While narcissistic men are often found striving to gain and keep an endless amount of money and power, narcissistic women will be found enjoying excessive spending. In relationships, narcissistic men are more often found controlling their partner’s access to money while narcissistic women might be found financially abusing their partner through maxing out credit cards, depleting funds, etc.

You will usually find narcissistic men exhibiting more aggressive behaviors in relationships while women are found using more covert devaluing tactics. Of course, there are exceptions. 

What are the effects of being married to a narcissist?

Healthline outlines 12 signs of Narcissistic Victim Syndrome, which include:

  • Feeling isolated
  • Feeling helpless and freezing
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Feeling like you always are doing the wrong thing
  • Feelings of anxiety, depression and being unsettled

Can a narcissist ever really love you?

Writes Elinor Greenberg Ph.D.:

“It is actually highly unlikely that your narcissistic partner is even capable of real love, let alone feels it towards you past the beginning of your relationship. People with narcissistic personality disorder are not equipped to experience and show love in the sense that most of us mean it.  The narcissists that I know lack the capacity to deeply appreciate the authentic self of another human being. 

They do not really care about their mate’s happiness or welfare except as it affects their own. And, they are rarely willing to sacrifice anything in order to make their mate happy. The only happiness that they are really concerned about is their own.“

Narcissism in divorce

Are you getting ready to divorce a narcissist? Divorcing is difficult regardless of whether there is the presence of a personality disorder, but when you are divorcing a narcissist or any high-conflict personality, you are in for an all-out war. When you’re divorcing a narcissist, you are either for them or against, so once the divorce starts, you are the enemy. 

The narcissist will have a plan — and it’s not what your plan is. Your plan will be a reasonable outcome that takes as little time as possible, where you’ve spent as little on attorneys as possible. The divorcing husband or wife’s plan is to smear you, make you squirm, use the court system as a sword, and take you down.

Can you divorce a narcissist?

Yes, people divorce narcissists every day. In fact, with the right support and tools, it is possible to divorce a narcissist without losing your money, kids or mind. You will wish you had these tools when you were married to the narcissist!

Divorcing a narcissist is almost always more complicated, expensive and painful than a typical uncontested divorce, in which you can easily settle outside of court, with minimal cost and time. Similar for collaborative or mediated divorce options.

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How does a narcissist husband or wife react to divorce? 

The loss of control brings out the worst in narcissists.

How does a narcissist feel and act after divorce?

Especially if the other party initiated the divorce, a narcissistic husband or wife will feel out-of-control, powerless — and enraged. This is when someone with narcissistic tendencies will really start manipulating, trying to control and otherwise destroy the other party.

How to divorce a narcissist — successfully

Here is how to successfully divorce a narcissist:

  1. Have a plan ready to execute before you tell your husband or wife you want a divorce:
    • Prepare a new place to live
    • Have your own cash money saved
  2. Hire a divorce attorney
    • Decide what parenting plan you want
    • Take your time to learn how to negotiate with a narcissist and win — to save yourself countless dollars, untold sums of stress and the potential to lose everything.
  3. Tell them in person that you are divorcing them as you walk out the door, or pack up in the middle of the night or while they are out of town, and have them served with divorce papers the next day. Do not give them a chance to manipulate you.

If you want to divorce a narcissist and win, I highly suggest you check out the course, SLAY Your Negotiation™ With a NARCISSIST with Rebecca Zung

It’s the only course designed and delivered by an attorney who has dealt with, and beat thousands of narcissists The 4-hour crash course includes videos, bonus materials help you change the power dynamic with the narcissist and gain control.

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How to negotiate when divorcing a narcissist

SLAY is the method for winning:

  • S stands for developing a super strong STRATEGY. This means having a clear plan that you will stick to with the support of your attorney, therapist and loved ones. With a strategy, you are less tempted to fall into the controlling behavior of your ex.
  • L stands for the invincible LEVERAGE you will need to create which will ultimately motivate and incentivize the narcissist to want to resolve the case. 
  • A stands for how you will ANTICIPATE what the narcissist is going to do and be two steps ahead of them. Narcissists are a dime a dozen, and by reading books, taking this course, speaking with experts and those who have gone through divorce with a narcissist, you will know exactly what to anticipate, and devise and stick to your strategy.
  • Y stands for focussing on YOU and your case. The narcissist will try to make the divorce about THEM — their feelings, their financial situation, their relationship with the kids, their career.

Agreeing to equal parenting time and no child support can quickly diffuse much of the debate.

Narcissistic family

A larger part of the global conversation happening surrounding narcissism, is how they act in romantic relationships; however, narcissistic family members can do just as much damage as romantic partners- especially since they are often harder to escape from! 

Narcissistic parents

The below characteristics are often exhibit by narcissistic parents:  

  1. Parents use children to live vicariously through: parents might use children to make own hopes dreams come true
  2. Marginalization
  3. Grandiosity and superiority
  4. Superficial image
  5. Manipulation
  6. Inflexible/touchy
  7. Lack of empathy
  8. Dependency/codependency
  9. Jealousy/possessiveness 
  10. Neglect 

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Narcissistic siblings

Narcissists come in all shapes and sizes. If a parent can be a Narcissist, then surely a child can as well. Due to the close proximity, siblings often find themselves being the target of their narcissistic brother or sister. The behavior in this dynamic looks no different than in other relationships, as Narcissists exhibit similar behaviors across their different environments.

Siblings of narcissists often find themselves being subjected to emotional, verbal, physical, and sometimes even sexul abuse. Due to the Narcissist’s need for validation and admiration, parents are often manipulated by the narcissist so that their abusive behavior is never caught on to – leaving the sibling victim even further isolated and devalued. 

Due to the complexity of family dynamics to begin with, having a Narcissist as a family member can often create a deeper sense of trauma to the individual that is being exploited by the Narcissist.

Signs of narcissism: How to tell if someone is narcissistic

In addition to meeting some or all of the above characteristics that make up Narcissists and/or Narcissistic Sociopaths, common narcissistic behaviors are as follows:  

Narcissistic behavior

  • Love Bombing 
    • Gift-giving
    • Excessive verbal affirmation 
  • Devaluing
    • Name-Calling
    • Withdrawing
    • Stone-walling
    • Gaslighting
    • Emotional appeals
    • Empty promises
    • False flattery
    • Flying monkeys/triangulation
    • Dehumanizing
  • Conversation hogs, talking about all of their achievements, etc. 
  • They don’t have any/many long term friends
  • They think they are right about everything
  • They panic if you try to leave/break up with them 
  • They lash out if you do leave/break up with them 

If someone you know exhibits some or all of these behaviors, you are more likely than not dealing with a narcissist. 

Narcissism personality test/quiz

Outside of the DSM-5, there are other diagnostic tests one can take in order to see where on the spectrum one might fall in regards to narcissism. Some of these tests might be given by a mental health professional in order to properly diagnose while others are less clinical and more readily accessible to the public.

In addition to spotting the behaviors and characteristics of a Narcissist, there are several Narcissistic Personality Tests out there so that you can see where on that spectrum an individual might fall. Here are just some of them: 

  • Narcissistic Spectrum Scale 
  • Narcissistic Personality Inventory
  • Personality Diagnostic Questionnaire-4 
  • International Personality Disorder Examination

Living with a narcissist? Tips for dealing with a narcissist 

Living with a narcissist, whether it be a family member, romantic partner, roommate, or if you are married to a narcissist, is incredibly exhausting and painful. Narcissists do not change so the best way to free yourself from the pain associated with dealing with one is to get out. For good. If you are unable to do so at the moment, here are some tips to hopefully help ease your pain when dealing with a narcissist on an intimate, daily basis:

  • Remain calm and unemotional in front of the narcissist
  • Communicate with them as little as possible
  • Feed their ego (even if it’s the last thing you want to do), this will keep them calm and hopefully will keep them from acting out
  • Establish boundaries
  • Avoid the blame game 
  • Reset your expectations 

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Narcissistic Victim Syndrome: 8 signs you’re a victim of narcissistic abuse

If you have or are still experiencing any of the below symptoms, there’s a good chance you have been a victim of narcissistic abuse.

  1. Dissociation
  2. Walking on eggshells
  3. Sacrificing own basic needs to satisfy the narcissist’s
  4. Health issues/chronic pain
  5. Feeling like you can’t trust anyone or anything
  6. Depression and isolation
  7. Self-Sabotaging behaviors
  8. You protect the narcissist’s image 

If you think you might have Narcissistic Victim Syndrome, it is important that you seek legal and psychological help as soon as possible and get the support you need to leave your relationship. You are not alone. 

Narcissistic abuse

Often, the above behaviors evolve into what we call Narcissistic Abuse. Most narcissists actually end up abusing the people in their lives as they continue their never-ending quest for what we call narcissistic supply. 

The most common forms of narcissistic abuse are: 

  1. Devaluing: Common devaluing tactics listed above 
  2. Sexual Abuse (typically found in stages)
    1. Early Stage: Characterized by Narcissist testing his or her partner’s limits and gaining control of partner 
      1. Verbal assaults
      2. Jealousy rages
      3. Coercion tactics
      4. Threatening infidelity
    2. Pushy Stage: Where you begin to see how nothing is ever enough for the narcissist
      1. Inciting fear
      2. Selfish appeals
      3. Sexual withdrawal as a form of manipulation
      4. Destroying partner’s principles and boundaries
    3. Violent Stage
      1. Rape
      2. Degrading acts
      3. Sadistic sex 
    4. Exit/discard stage
  3. Financial Abuse 
    1. Withhold access to funds 
    2. Stealing from you and your family/friends
    3. Fraud
    4. Prevent you from acquiring assets
    5. Coerce you into selling/signing over financial assets
    6. Cancelling insurance without your knowledge
    7. Forcing you to give them access to your personal funds
    8. Put all bills/credit in your name 
    9. Max out credit cards and ruin your credit rating
    10. Shame you for how you spend your money

The above examples of narcissistic abuse are just a peek into the types of behaviors that one night use when abusing the people in his or her life. Narcissists will find every possible way to use and abuse their victims. 

Am I a narcissist?

In addition to assessing the personality traits outlined above, says you may be a narcissist if you have these qualities:

  • You like to be the center of attention
  • You tend to give unsolicited advice
  • You get frustrated with slow service or otherwise have a sense that you deserve special treatment
  • You are very ambitious
  • You are extremely competitive
  • You can turn on the charm and work a room
  • You hold grudges and seek revenge
  • You take advantage of people — your relationships tend to be transactional
  • You have an addiction — drugs/alcohol, shopping, gambling, sex, social media, video games

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Rebecca Zung is a family attorney recognized by U.S. News & World Report as a “Best Lawyer in America,” and author of the bestselling books, Negotiate Like You M.A.T.T.E.R.: The Sure Fire Method to Step Up and Win (foreword by Robert Shapiro) and Breaking Free: A Step-by-Step Divorce Guide for Achieving Emotional, Physical, and Spiritual Freedom.

Rebecca went from being a 23-year-old single mom of 3 (married at 19) and college dropout, to becoming one the most powerful lawyers in the country at the helm of a multi-million dollar practice.

Rebecca has been featured by Extra!, Forbes, Huffington Post, Newsweek, Time, Dr. Drew, NPR Talk Radio, Good Day New York and CBS Los Angeles.

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