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As family lawyers, we know that when people are undergoing a separation process, they are never at their best. Clients often remark that they are seeing a side to their former spouse that they never knew existed. This is normal, especially since separation is an emotionally challenging and exhausting process.

However, occasionally we come across clients whose former spouse is being more than just difficult or emotional. Sometimes we see individuals who are truly vindictive and who will fight to the bitter end, even if it means leaving both parties – and often the children too – in financial and emotional ruin. These individuals may suffer from “narcissistic personality disorder”.

The word “Narcissism” comes from a Greek myth where a beautiful man named Narcissus was so in love with himself that he fell into a pond of water while staring at his reflection and drowned. However, narcissism is not the same as being selfish or self-absorbed; it is a personality disorder that is far more destructive.

Individuals with a narcissistic personality disorder have an unhealthy, inflated sense of their own importance. They constantly need to be the centre of attention, and require endless admiration and affirmation of their own worth. At the same time, they are unable to empathize with anyone else and are very dismissive of anyone else’s emotions or issues. Furthermore, individuals with a narcissistic personality disorder believe that they are never at fault for the bad things in their lives. This can lead them to be emotionally, if not physically, abusive, as they constantly blame and put down their partners.

In the context of a separation or custody dispute, we generally see the following issues when dealing with a spouse with narcissistic personality disorder:

1. They will not cooperate: to them, they deserve everything, and the other party is a villain who deserves nothing.

2. They will use any tactics necessary to get their way: this may include eliciting pity or guilt, scaring the other party, or using other controlling behaviour.

3. They may alienate children: they want the children to love them and only them.

4. They will do things that hurt themselves if it means also hurting the other party: this may include destroying jointly-owned property, or dragging out the litigation process to drive up legal fees, instead of settling.

5. They are unable to see when their actions are hurting their children: they only know how to act in their own best interests, which can often be counter to those of the children.

6. The evidence rarely supports their side of the story: this is because they often exaggerate, twist the truth, or outright lie to support their position.

7. They cannot take criticism: and anything bad in their life is the other party’s fault.

It is important to recognize that even if your former spouse exhibits one or more of the above, it does not necessarily mean that he or she has a narcissistic personality disorder. However, it is important for you and for your lawyer to understand how your former spouse is acting in order to come up with the best plan to resolve your family law issues.

For more on how to deal with a partner with narcissistic personality disorder in a matrimonial dispute, keep tuned for my next blog when I’m going to suggest the Top 5 Tips for Dealing with Ex-Partners with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2021 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

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