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How Does a Covert Narcissist Act During a Divorce?

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Divorce is inherently challenging, but when your spouse shows signs of covert narcissism, the process can become much more complex and emotionally draining. Unlike overt narcissists who display their grandiosity and need for admiration openly, covert narcissists present a subtler form of self-absorption and manipulation, often masked in displays of vulnerability or introversion, which makes their behaviors harder to recognize and predict, particularly in the high-stress context of a divorce. Recognizing these traits early on can prepare you for the challenges ahead, better equipping you to protect your interests and well-being throughout the divorce process.

Initial Reactions from a Covert Narcissist

Initially, a covert narcissist may outright deny that the divorce is happening and try to pretend that they didn’t see the divorce papers. You should always have your divorce papers officially served, so they can’t pretend their way out of seeing them. This strategy from a covert narcissist isn't just a refusal to accept the end of the marriage but a calculated attempt to delay proceedings and manipulate their spouse into questioning their decision. It's a form of control, aiming to reassert their influence over the situation and their partner.

Covert narcissists are masters at playing the victim, too. This dishonest tactic serves multiple purposes: it garners sympathy from those around them (including mutual friends, family, and possibly even legal professionals), manipulates the narrative to paint themselves as the wronged party, and attempts to isolate their spouse socially and emotionally.

Legal & Financial Manipulations

One common manipulation strategy used by covert narcissists in divorce is to conceal assets and income to influence financial-related agreements, such as property division, spousal support, or child support. This manipulation can take many forms, from transferring money to secret accounts to undervaluing businesses or property they own. The goal is to present a false picture of their financial situation to reduce any financial obligations they may have towards their spouse or children post-divorce.

Covert narcissists are known for exploiting the legal system to their advantage, using it as an extension of their manipulative behaviors. They might file frivolous lawsuits or motions to harass their spouse, question their spouse’s character or parenting capabilities in court to undermine them, and leverage legal communication as a way to maintain contact and control. Such tactics not only drain the emotional and financial resources of their spouse but also aim to tilt the legal outcomes in their favor by portraying themselves as the victim or the more reasonable party.

Another distressing tactic used by covert narcissists is the deliberate use of delaying techniques to prolong the divorce process. Covert narcissists may repeatedly change lawyers, fail to respond to legal documents promptly, or insist on unnecessary negotiations for the sole purpose of dragging out the divorce. The goal is to exhaust their spouse both emotionally and financially, create an ongoing sense of uncertainty and conflict, and provide the covert narcissist with a prolonged sense of control and engagement in their spouse's life.

Emotional & Psychological Tactics

Beware these emotional and psychological tactics used by covert narcissists in divorce:

  • Gaslighting: Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation aimed at making the victim doubt their own perceptions, memories, or sanity. Covert narcissists might deny past events, question their spouse's recollection of conversations, or suggest their feelings are unfounded or overreactive. This tactic can erode the victim's self-confidence and make them more dependent on the covert narcissist for their version of reality.
  • Mental manipulation through fabrications: Covert narcissists often create and spread falsehoods about their spouse during a divorce. Such fabrications can range from exaggerating situations to outright lies about the spouse's behavior, intentions, or mental health. The aim is to discredit the spouse in the eyes of friends, family, and legal professionals.
  • Using children as pawns in custody battles: A particularly unsavory tactic involves leveraging children to gain an advantage in custody arrangements and inflict emotional pain on the spouse. Covert narcissists may attempt to turn children against their other parent through lies or manipulation. Keep in mind that such parental alienation is forbidden by family law courts. If it can be proven that a covert narcissistic spouse intentionally tried to use their children as pawns in their “divorce game,” it can backfire and convince the court to rule against them.
  • Isolating the spouse from others: Covert narcissists strive to isolate their spouse from support networks, including friends, family, and sometimes even access to financial resources. By controlling communication or spreading misinformation, they aim to ensure their spouse lacks the support or resources needed to challenge them effectively.

Strategies for Coping & Protecting Yourself

The importance of having a solid support network cannot be overstated when you are divorcing a covert narcissist. Friends, family, and professionals who understand the dynamics of divorcing a covert narcissist can provide invaluable emotional support, advice, and practical help. This network serves as a buffer against the isolation often attempted by covert narcissists and offers a reality check against the gaslighting and manipulation that may occur.

You should also set clear boundaries and limit communication to necessary topics, such as those related to children or legal proceedings. Once you hire a divorce attorney, you should insist that all communication goes through their law office, so you aren’t directly vulnerable to the manipulation tactics that they will likely try each time they contact you.

Lastly, don’t forget to document interactions, agreements, financial transactions, and any form of harassment or manipulation attempted by your spouse. Covert narcissists are known for twisting facts and denying previous statements or actions in subtle ways, so having a detailed record can let you more easily identify and react to their tactics. Keeping all records organized and accessible can also provide evidence to counteract any false narratives presented by the narcissist.

See How Gill Law Group, PC Can Help

At Gill Law Group, PC in Orange County, California, we can handle divorce cases involving spouses with narcissistic personality disorder or the traits of covert narcissists. If you need to divorce someone who is a covert narcissist, start by finding a reliable and honest support system in our legal team. Our commitment to providing both legal and emotional support can allow you to face the challenging journey of divorcing a covert narcissist with more confidence and renewed hope for the future.

Call (949) 681-9952 to request a complimentary consult with our divorce lawyers today.