12 Manipulative Mind Games Narcissists Play That You Need To Know About

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couple going through divorce

No matter how you cut it, going through a divorce is painful. But divorcing a narcissist can create a level of agony that would make the cruelest medieval torturers proud.

While you can have a lot of different problems divorcing a narcissist, the biggest one is that, in the beginning, you almost always get played for a fool. You believe your divorce can be “amicable” or that your narcissistic spouse will be “reasonable.” So you act accordingly.

Then you get slammed.

Before you become collateral damage in your narcissistic spouse’s power play, it’s best to understand the kinds of mind games you’ll need to survive when you’re divorcing a narcissist.

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12 Manipulative Mind Games Narcissists Play You Need To Know About

1. The blame game.  

Narcissists can’t accept responsibility for anything negative that happens in their lives.

To the narcissist, everything that is, was, or ever will be wrong with your marriage is your fault.  Your divorce is your fault (even if your spouse was the one who cheated and/or wanted the divorce). The more you try to prove that you’re right, the harder your narcissistic spouse will fight to prove that you’re wrong.

2. Snake charming.

Most narcissists can be amazingly charming … when they want to be! Since many of them are very accomplished, highly driven professionals, they usually present themselves well in court.

That puts you at a tremendous disadvantage in your divorce. You may lose in court time after time until the judge finally realizes that your narcissistic spouse may not be as wonderful as s/he seems.

3. “You’re out of bounds!”

Narcissists don’t respect boundaries.

They have no problem walking into your house uninvited when they pick up the kids. They will show up late, drop the kids off early, or blow off their parenting time altogether if it suits them. They assume you will be there to pick up the slack with the kids when they are busy with other things. Unless you set firm boundaries, in writing — and enforce them — your narcissistic spouse will walk all over you in your divorce.

4. Gaslighting.  

Narcissists will tell you they are going to do something that they know will make you crazy – like telling you they are going to take the kids to Disneyworld for Christmas, even though it’s your year to have the kids with you.  

When you run to court to get the judge to stop them from going, they deny they had any such plans. They make you look like the crazy one.

5. Truth or dare.

To a narcissist, “truth” is relative. They will say and do whatever they need to make themselves look good, or to make you look bad. If you make the mistake of believing that once they are in court and sworn to tell the truth they will actually do that, they will walk all over you.

You will be standing in court with your mouth gaping open in disbelief as they lie to the judge — and the judge believes them!

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6. My way or the highway.

Narcissists can’t be wrong. Ever.

If you disagree with your narcissistic spouse, s/he will either paint you as a fool or explode in a fit of rage. Even though they are quick to judge, criticize or ridicule you, if you try to do the same thing to them, they will either throw a temper tantrum or accuse you of abusing them.

7. “Gotcha!”

Part of what makes dealing with a narcissist so crazy-making is that they are masters at convincing you that they’ve changed. After acting like a lunatic, they will suddenly treat you with apparent kindness and concern. Then, as soon as you forgive them and start to believe that they will now do the right thing, they immediately revert back and take advantage of you. Gotcha!

8. Rules? What rules?

The narcissist thinks that rules don't apply to him/her.  

If you get a court order your narcissistic spouse doesn’t agree with, s/he simply won’t follow it. S/he won’t pay support or follow a parenting schedule. S/he will do any number of things that s/he is clearly not supposed to do in your divorce. Then, if you confront him/her, your narcissistic spouse will either deny that s/he violated the court order or will have a million excuses justifying his/her behavior.

9. Shapeshifting.  

Narcissists have an uncanny ability to morph into whatever form they need to take to get sympathy, attract attention, or stay in control. If you are strong, your narcissistic spouse will become weak. S/he will appear to be the victim of your “abuse.” If you are weak or co-dependent, your narcissistic spouse will paint you as lazy or incompetent.

What’s even more frustrating is that as soon as you change yourself, your narcissistic spouse will change too. Trying to pin your spouse down is like trying to tack Jello to the wall.

10. Hide and seek.

Because narcissists have such fragile egos, they typically project onto others the negative traits that they have themselves.

They can’t admit to themselves, or anyone else, that they could ever be anything less than perfect. When you’re going through a divorce, you can expect your narcissistic spouse to accuse you of lying, cheating, manipulating the kids, or abusing them. In short, they will accuse you of doing everything that they are doing.

11. The drama dance.

Narcissists LOVE drama! They enjoy creating and spreading negative emotions. It puts them in the spotlight, makes them feel powerful, and keeps you off-balance.

That’s part of the reason why going to court with a narcissist is so disastrous. Courtrooms are a narcissist’s playground! If you are divorcing a narcissist and you believe that your divorce will be easy or amicable, you’re deluding yourself.

12. Winner takes all.  

To narcissists, divorce is a game. Not only is it a game they have to win, but it’s a game you have to lose.

If doing that costs every penny you have, your narcissistic spouse is okay with that. If “winning” means destroying your children’s lives, your narcissistic spouse may be okay with that, too. Because of their “winner take all” attitude, reaching a reasonable settlement with a narcissist is usually either extremely difficult or totally impossible.

But you CAN survive a divorce with a narcissist!

While no divorce is ever painless, if your spouse is a full-blown narcissist, your divorce can be especially toxic.  Yet, forewarned is forearmed.

Even though you can’t control or change your narcissistic spouse, you can take steps to protect yourself and your kids from the worst trauma. Doing your best to stay out of court and manage your expectations are great first steps.

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Karen Covy is a divorce advisor, lawyer, and coach. To get more divorce advice from Karen, check out her website here.

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