Amy believed that her troubles were over after a lengthy divorce from her narcissistic husband. The moment the papers were signed by the judge, she felt free, finally, from his tyranny in her life. But from her narcissistic ex’s perspective, things were just getting heated.
The last several years during the divorce were hell. She endured no financial assistance and lived on food stamps. She tried to get a job but he would block her attempts. When the kids would come back from visiting him, Amy would have to reprogram them from the lies and manipulation he was feeding them. So when the divorce was finalized, she wrongfully thought that things would get better. But she was wrong.
It was worse. She discovered that he was following her, random threats to her safety were made in a discrete manner, child services was called on her several times, and he found numerous ways to drag her back into court. Over and over again with allegations that were false and greatly exaggerated. Confused and frustrated, Amy reached out for help.
Why is this happening? Hands down, the number one question when dealing with a narcissist begins with ‘why’. The answer to the question is simple, yet highly significant. When a person keeps the reason to the question ‘why’ at the forefront of any attack, it becomes easier to discern and strategize the next move. The answer is because the narcissist was hurt.
What is the big deal with a narcissist being hurt? At the heart of every narcissist, there is deep-rooted insecurity that usually generated in childhood between the ages of 2 and 5. The shame and guilt that is associated with this insecurity were so overwhelming that the narcissist covered it up with grandiose beliefs about themselves. Anyone who comes close to exposing this insecurity, shame, or guilt is met with an all-out attack.
How does a divorce expose the narcissist’s hurt? (Drum roll, please) It feeds the insecurity that they are not good enough. A narcissist cannot be abandoned, they can only abandon. But sometimes even when they do the abandoning, they lash out at their ex. Basically, they are attacking first before they can be attacked. They are controlling the spin (borrowing a concept from politics) of the divorce to ensure that everyone knows they are the victim, not the victimizer.
Again, what’s the big deal? The narcissist has created a façade that they will protect with everything they have. So it is not beneath them to use whatever weapons are at their disposal (abuse, financial restricting, threats, and manipulation) to take down their new enemy (the ex) to protect their fort (the insecurity). For a hurt narcissist, it is all hands on deck and they won’t stop until they believe they have won. In their minds, they have been betrayed by the closest person to them, a former spouse.
How much winning is enough for them? Unfortunately, that depends on the type of narcissist a person is dealing with in this imaginary battle. Not all narcissists go for blood, some are happy to just have a divorce while others won’t stop until their ex is dead (literally or figuratively). In this case, past behavior is indicative of future behavior. If the narcissist didn’t stop their attack until someone they felt betrayed by lost their home, job, or status, then it is likely they will do this to an ex.
What can an ex do? There are several things an ex can do when they find themselves in this situation. Here are a couple of suggestions. Remember, these are done only when a narcissist has escalated and a person believes that their life might be in danger.
- Tell someone. It is really important that if a person believes their life is in danger, this should be documented somewhere. If it is possible to get a restraining order and/or notify the police, do so. If not, tell a professional such as an attorney or therapist that might be able to assist in the future. Be very selective about the friends or family that are notified because it won’t be advisable for this to get back to the narcissist. Knowing their ex is afraid, only feeds their ego and might empower them even more.
- Stop feeding the narcissist. Narcissists survive on a daily diet of attention, affirmation, affection, and adoration. Even negative attention (such as fear from an ex) is sufficient when hungry. So stop all positive and negative feedings in private. Steer clear of them and allow attorneys and other professionals to handle the narcissist. Sometimes this action alone stops the attacks.
- Feed the narcissistic ego. There is nothing the narcissist likes better than to have their ego fed. One way to disarm a narcissist is to feed their ego publicly. This can be done through family, friends, or even the kids. Make sure that the compliment is good and will be passed onto the narcissist. Several rounds of this might be necessary before the narcissist believes that they have won. Doing the previous step in conjunction with this step is also very effective.
- Allow the narcissist to be the victim. By giving ground in this simple area, the narcissist is weirdly satisfied. This can come in the form of an apology, acceptance for the failed marriage, or some type of public display. This is a very difficult task to do and should only be done as a last resort as the narcissist will walk away believing they have finally won.
- Observe and wait. There are some sneaky narcissists who appear satisfied with the previous steps but then continue to escalate in the future. Repeat the steps again to see if it works at first. But if it doesn’t, it is likely that the narcissist is actually a sociopath or psychopath. If that is the case, run. Run fast and far away.
Amy was able to deflect some of her ex’s attacks by following the steps listed. The most important thing she keeps at the front of her mind during an attack is that he is hurting. This allows her to maintain a proper perspective and counteract the attacks before they escalate.