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In 2021, it seems as though everyone’s ex has narcissistic personality disorder. In fact, with the way NPD is discussed, you may infer that a person doesn’t develop NPD, or display symptoms, until the divorce process begins. According to the DSM-5, a person can be diagnosed with NPD when they have “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following” :

  • Grandiose sense of self-importance
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  • Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions) 
  • Requires excessive admiration.
  • Has a sense of entitlement
  • Is interpersonally exploitative
  • Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

Where Do Personality Disorders Come From?

Personality disorders often stem from deeply rooted childhood trauma; they involve stable, longstanding, and inflexible traits that negatively impact a person’s life. Symptoms of personality disorders do not just appear when relationships become strained, or the divorce process begins. Personality disorders often begin presenting symptoms in young adulthood, and symptoms are not easily treated. If your ex really does suffer from narcissistic personality disorder, they are unlikely to change without professional help.

If My Ex Doesn’t Have NPD, Why Are They Acting Like This?

It is also possible for a person to have traits of narcissistic personality disorder without actually having a personality disorder. Divorce can bring out the worst parts of even the kindest people. Many people react to such highly emotional situations by doing things they wouldn’t normally do. It is possible that your ex is acting in extreme ways because they are struggling to cope with the end of the marriage. 

Diagnose of NPD is challenging:

Only a licensed professional can technically clinically diagnose someone with narcissistic personality disorder, which is why the national percentage of people with these diagnoses is much lower than what the actual percentage probably is.  Therefore, even though your spouse may never get an actual diagnosis, you can develop a working theory to decide if your spouse fits the criteria or factors of NPD.  This better helps you prepare to tackle this behavior, set boundaries to protect you/your children, and prepare yourself emotionally for the fight.  

Moving Forward:

Dealing with a spouse who has NPD can be exhausting and extremely stressful.  However, if you follow these steps, you can take control and better equip yourself to deal with it:

  1. Recognize the problem
  2. Break free 
  3. Communicate clearly
  4. Be accountable but don’t expect anything in return
  5. Pick your battles
  6. Move on

All the factors are described in detail in my book, “No One Dies from Divorce,” Chapter 6: Divorcing a Narcissist.

When Your Ex’s Narcissistic Traits Have Damaged Your Marriage:

If your marriage has ended due to an ex’s narcissistic traits, you are not alone. CoilLaw helps myriad couples find peace through advocating for you through the divorce process. We are highly trained and experienced in high-conflict divorce and helping you not get steamrolled by exes with personality disorders. If you know you need to start the divorce process, CoilLaw is just a phone call away.



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