Posted On: February 7, 2010 by Michael Roe

Divorce and the Narcissistic Personality

Through the years, I have been involved with divorce and custody cases that involved elements of unhealthy narcissism. My friend and colleague Billy Eddy's book, Splitting speaks in detail of the difficulties dealing with litigants with NPD and BPD. I am often consulted on cases involving BPD and NPD in custody cases.

Psychologists are fascinated by narcissists, both why they are attractive to healthy partners despite on some level recognizing their dysfunction, and because they embody so many paradoxes. Extreme narcissists inevitably reveal their true nature to those around them and are eventually rejected. So why don't healthy people (and the narcissists) learn?

The charming narcissist:

To find out, social psychologist Mitja Back and university colleagues decided to investigate (Back et al., 2010). They asked 73 freshman students who had never met before to introduce themselves to the rest of the class, one by one. Each person was rated by all the others on how likable they were as well as being videotaped for later analysis. After the session all the students filled out some questionnaires, amongst which was an assessment of narcissistic personality traits.

Here are the findings:

1. Narcissists were more popular at first site. Self-rated narcissists were initially more liked by others than non-narcissists.

2. Participants liked narcissists' sense of entitlement most. Of the four aspects of narcissism they studied, leadership/authority, self-admiration/self-absorption, arrogance/superiority and entitlement/exploitativeness it was the last of these that most predicted liking.

3. Narcissists look, sound and move better. The reason narcissists were popular is because they used more charming facial expressions, a more confident speaking tone, wore more fashionable clothes, had more trendy haircuts and were funnier.

Naturally all these effects only hold true in the short-term. Narcissists are usually soon found out and shunned since few people will put up with a self-absorbed, authoritarian, arrogant, exploitative partner.

Divorcing a narcissist, or person with traits of BPD, creates enormous challenges, especially in disputed custody cases. My practice has dealt with these challenges for many years, and if you have questions about divorcing someone with NPD or BPD, please contact my office.