Divorcing a Narcissist

Written by Angela Atkinson

Divorce is always difficult and life-altering. When you’re divorcing a narcissist, there’s a whole other layer of manipulation and controlling behaviors involved. And, as painful as it is, it is less uncommon than you’d hope.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), almost half of all marriages end in divorce. If you are planning, experiencing, or have recently gone through a divorce with a narcissist, there are things you should know about starting over.

How Divorcing a Narcissist Affects Your Health

Research tells us that while most people are resilient after a divorce, surveys indicate that 10-15% of divorced people find it very difficult to manage to start over. If you’re dealing with a narcissist during divorce, you’re probably in that 10 to 15%, sadly. This means that your divorce was or will be quite traumatic. You may be feeling stuck, confused, lost, and abandoned.

Mental Health and Stress Issues When Divorcing a Narcissist 

You might feel like dealing with narcissistic abuse for as long as you have could leave you without the skills to cope with loss and start over. And you would not be alone in that feeling – as it turns out, we have seen thousands of narcissistic abuse survivors struggle through divorcing a narcissist. You might suffer from increased anxiety, depression, and a variety of symptoms related to C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) related to narcissistic abuse in your toxic relationship, both during and after the relationship.

You might also feel excessive stress that can lead to additional mental and physical effects. Due to the rejection you feel during divorce, you might struggle with even deeper mental health and emotional wellness issues. In a study published by Ovid Technologies, researchers found that oxytocin, a pleasure hormone associated with social bonding, may have protective health benefits. A separate study published in the American Journal of Science showed that the brain areas that sense pain are also activated with social rejection.

And, according to one researcher, dealing with your parents’ divorce as a child increases your risk for divorce. This makes sense for narcissistic abuse survivors on a deeper level, as a large percentage of narcissistic abuse survivors are also the adult children of narcissists, according to my own research and experience.

The Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS), which measures the relationship between life events, stress, and illness, tells us that divorce is rated as one of the top stressors – and this is just general divorce – not necessarily divorce involving a narcissist. Divorce is topped only by changing jobs in the list of stressors. Other top stressors include moving to a new place

Physical Health Issues When Divorcing a Narcissist 

Divorcing a narcissist can be all-consuming, but it’s very important that you put yourself and your health first if you’re going to survive this safely. If you’re not careful, divorcing a narcissist can have serious physical health ramifications. Not only could your brain health be affected in surprising ways, but you might even die earlier than you would have otherwise. A study published in the Association for Psychological Science journal shows that people who are separated or divorced have a 23% greater mortality rate than married people.

With that being said, ongoing narcissistic abuse is known to cause mental and physical health issues that might even be more profound – and divorce may be the first step you must take in order to begin to heal yourself from the long-term trauma you’ve been dealing with. In any case, when you’re dealing with divorcing a narcissist, you’ve got to take good care of yourself.

Research tells us that staying physically healthy and mentally positive are the most effective ways to overcome the health risks associated with divorcing a narcissist.

Starting Over After Divorcing a Narcissist 

Staying mentally positive can help you overcome challenges and be resilient when starting over after a divorce. You can do some basic things to help yourself be resilient.

  • Do your research
  • Let yourself feel
  • Get professional help
  • Self-care
  • Practice coping skills
  • Embrace challenges

Research is a really easy way to empower yourself during any stage of a divorce. I always say that knowledge is power, and that is definitely true when it comes to divorce. There are many amazing self-help books you can read that are specifically related to overcoming narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships, including some on divorcing a narcissist (see our favorites here), a variety of narcissistic abuse recovery support systems you can engage, and professional legal resources available to help emotionally, mentally, and financially.

Learn What Other Narcissistic Abuse Survivors Have Experienced in Divorcing a Narcissist 

Since divorce with a narcissist might be more common than you’d expect, there are many others who have survived it. Their stories, ideas, and advice can help you start over. See some narcissistic abuse survivor stories here.

But be careful here and don’t allow anyone else’s experience overshadow what you are going through. How you feel may be different from what others have experienced, and my friend, that is completely okay. You are not required to relate or to do anything because of anyone else’s experience. Divorcing a narcissist is difficult and painful and the experience, as well as the healing, is going to be completely individualized for each person who experiences it.

That’s why it’s so important that you give yourself time to process your feelings instead of bottling them up or pushing them aside. One of the biggest mistakes I made in my own recovery from divorcing a narcissist was not allowing myself to take the time I needed to grieve the relationship. I thought that because I was “out,” things would just immediately get better. And in some ways, they did – but I needed to take the time to mourn the relationship.

Things to Avoid When Divorcing a Narcissist 

Going through narcissistic abuse is, on its own, an extended trauma in your life. Pile divorce on top of it, and you’re looking at a whole new level of concern. It is never easy, and we all make mistakes in the process. But if you are at all able to avoid the following, you will be doing yourself a big favor when it comes to your narcissistic abuse recovery process (not to mention the process of moving on after your divorce).

  • Avoid doing anything, especially making life-changing decisions, out of desperation. Always take time to THINK before you act, even if that means you refuse to make any decision related to the divorce on the spot. Get away from the narcissist and take some time to think in a stress-free zone.
  • Don’t allow the narcissist to treat your children as negotiation or manipulation tools. Do your best to keep any kids you have out of discussions that do not involve custody or the business of raising them. Stay calm and only focus on FACTS when you must communicate about the children. Try to keep your emotional energy to yourself during the divorce – at least when it comes to the narcissist and their flying monkeys.
  • Don’t share everything on social media. Be careful with how much you share about your divorce and/or your soon-to-be-ex on social media. Rather than posting on your persona page, consider joining a private online narcissistic abuse recovery and/or divorcing a narcissist support group.
  • Be careful to avoid developing or resuming bad habits or addictions. This one is harder, but while occasional indulgences might not hurt, long-term bad habits can be hard to break. Focus instead on what you can do to make yourself and/or your life better in this process. So, rather than eating ice cream every day to feel less stressed, or having a glass of wine (or three), maybe you could add in a stress-relieving walk or a daily meditation session. (Or if you’re like me, your walk can BECOME your daily meditation!)
  • Avoid becoming a hermit. Divorce can lead to social isolation. Don’t get back together with your ex or date anyone available out of desperation or loneliness. Try socializing with friends or using your time for medication and self-care instead of engaging in risky behaviors. I suggest you wait a minimum of one year beyond the finalization of your divorce to allow yourself to have plenty of time to heal.

Divorcing a Narcissist When You Have Kids

If your divorce will involve children, you might be interested in getting this free toolkit designed to help you smoothly transition into being a single parent.

Get the Help You Need When Divorcing a Narcissist 

You should not be going this whole “divorcing a narcissist” thing alone. There are plenty of resources available to you, whether you’re looking for one-on-one coaching narcissistic abuse recovery coaching, one-on-one divorce coaching, a support group, or even a therapist. In any case, it definitely helps to talk to someone, be they a coach, counselor, or another mental health professional during a divorce. In some cases, you might even be lucky enough to have a friend or family member who is willing to listen and who may understand.

Since divorce is one of the top life stressors, don’t take this lightly – your health is essential, and NOT getting the help you need can put you at unnecessary risk. Even just talking out your problems with a friend can make a difference and allow you to develop resilience.

Remember too that self-care should have a space on your priority list. While there may be practical issues to manage, like living arrangements and dividing property, do not forget to make time to allow yourself to heal. You will need to practice your coping skills to start over and seeing a professional can help you build the resilience you need. Embrace the challenges of starting over with the knowledge that you are creating a new, different, and better life for yourself.

Divorce is almost never easy, and narcissists make it miserable. At times, it may feel like your whole world has changed, and that’s because it has – but my friend, that can be a very good thing if you allow it to be. Point your eyes toward your future and start intentionally choosing what comes next. You can take charge by starting over with an intentional mindset with focused and specific goals as you move forward. You might even want to consider strategizing your own personal “comeback” with one of our coaches.

Resources for Divorcing a Narcissist

 

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