“The best revenge is massive success.” – Frank Sinatra
Divorcing a Narcissist? Break Free and Heal Your Family – Part 1
On this day, she’s feeling worn down, helpless and nearly defeated.
As tears are rolling down her cheeks, she talks about her two young children who are struggling. She wonders out loud, “If only I had stayed in that marriage, maybe I could have saved my children from his abuse?”
Her story is that she left her marriage to save her very soul. In hindsight, she admits she didn’t expect it to be this challenging. Naively, she believed her narcissistic ex would treat their children better. She thought his abusive treatment was only for her.
WHEN YOU DIVORCE A NARCISSIST, IT WILL BE TOUGH ON YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN.
Why? Because divorcing a narcissist is not like getting an ordinary divorce. Knowing that your children have to spend time away with the narcissistic parent without your being there to protect them can produce tremendous feelings of guilt. You may question your original best intentions.
Given this, do children experience any benefits when you divorce a narcissist?
In her book, “Will I Ever Be Free of You? How to Navigate a High-Conflict Divorce from a Narcissist and Heal Your Family,” Karyl McBride, Ph.D., talks about six real benefits your children will receive:
1. You’ll be taking your child out of the daily conflict.
2. You’ll have an immediate opportunity to create a healthier home environment.
3. You’ll have more time with your children than you would have if you’d given top priority to a needy, narcissistic spouse.
4. Your child will be taken out of a home environment dominated by a narcissistic parent. Even if you’re unhappy with the custody agreement, your child will have a greater opportunity to spend time with healthier people.
5. You’ll now be able to show your child a healthy role model for relationships, starting with healthy parenting.
6. You will likely discover that your children are relieved.
In terms of your children’s best interests, getting a divorce is a judgment call.
When divorcing a narcissist, your expectation might understandably be that the conflict will end. When it doesn’t, and you witness your children now bearing the burden, you can feel retraumatized yourself. You will benefit most by learning to trust your instincts.
Trust your feelings and your instincts. You must make yourself healthy and whole to be there as a support for your children.
HOW DO YOU GET STARTED?
- First, construct a vast support network for you and your children.
- Hire a qualified attorney who knows how to deal with narcissists.
- Have a therapist for yourself and one for your children, preferably experienced in treating recovery from divorce and narcissistic abuse.
- Involve your children’s teachers and school counselors.
Next, work through the 5-Step Recovery Model*
Karyl McBride, Ph.D., has developed a 5-Step Recovery Model to help you heal and break free from narcissistic abuse. McBride details it this way:
Step One: Acceptance and Grief
The first step is to accept that your partner has a disorder that cannot change. Once accepted, you can begin the process of grieving over disappointed expectations, and start letting go of the past and make room for better hopes and feelings.
Step Two: Psychological Separation
If you’ve been pulled into the narcissist’s web and a distorted reality, you lose your solid sense of self. You internalize messages like you’re not good enough, or you’re not worthy of love.
Start journaling. Whatever your ex-told you about yourself to diminish your self-worth, identify those beliefs and journal arguments and evidence against them. For example, if your ex-told you that you’re not attractive, journal about the things you like about your appearance. List compliments you have been given over the years.
Step Three: Becoming Your Authentic Self
You might be wondering who you are? Now’s the time to rebuild and refine your identity.
Here are some suggestions to help you get started: Make an “I Am” list (a personal favorite); Make a collage of all the different aspects of you; and make several lists – of your values, interests, talents, and passions. You will rediscover yourself, I promise!
Step Four: Dealing With Your Ex in Recovery
As you begin to shift on the inside in your recovery, you will feel more centered and whole. You won’t crumble as quickly, and you won’t be as vulnerable to manipulation.
Now you want to practice staying in your authentic self and not reacting. Resist allowing any false guilt your ex-tries to trigger. Validate your feelings and work on trusting yourself. Listen to your intuition.
Step Five: Ending the Legacy of Distorted Love
An important step is to work on ending the legacy of distorted love in your life.
Take some time to be on your own before jumping into a new relationship. Spending time with yourself is worth it!
If you’re lonely, seek the comfort of friends and family. Once you’ve got your recovery in progress, you’ll be setting yourself up for a brighter future, healthier relationships, and you’ll be better able to help your children.
As Frank Sinatra so wisely stated, “The best revenge is massive success.”
Massive success is achieved through your dedication toward healing and recovery for yourself and your children. It is never giving up, even when you’re feeling tired and knocked down. Keeping the faith that you will break free, one step at a time. It’s the ability to actualize a healthy way to live and love.
In part two of this series, we will take a look at how you can heal your children with empathetic parenting.
Hi, my name is Jamie Daniel-Farrell. I’m a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice in Westlake Village, CA. Specializing in divorce recovery, I’ve helped many individuals heal and recover from narcissistic abuse and trauma. If you could benefit from support, please reach out at 805-444-4968.
*Work through this recovery model with the help of an experienced therapist.