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Illinois Divorce, Custody, and the Narcissist Spouse

Much of my work focus around complex and sometimes high conflict custody cases involving Borderline personalities, and other psychological disorders. With BPD custody cases, and many other cases, there are elements of the narcissistic personality. What characteristics define a narcisisist? A recent article, “Beware the Narcissist; Know the Signs,” by Heidi Stevens (McClatchy) offers a solid description:

“Narcissism is an epidemic in our society,” argues LIsa Scott, author of It’s All About Him: How to Identify and Avoid the Narcissist Male Before You Get Hurt (CFI, 2009). “Our culture breeds it.”

While it’s one thing to watch reality show contestants bask in their own glory for the sake of finding love, it’s another to find yourself dating such a character — man or woman.

So, how do you avoid such a fate? We turned to the experts for tips on sniffing out the self-obsessed.

The American Psychological Association identifies nine traits of narcissists, five of which need to be present for a Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) diagnosis:

• Feels grandiose and self-important for reasons not supported by reality.

• Obsesses with fantasies about unlimited success, fame, power or omnipotence.

• Believes he/she is unique and special and can be understood by and associate with only other unique or high-status people.

• Requires excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation.

• Feels a sense of entitlement.

• Exploits others without guilt or remorse.

• Is devoid of empathy.

• Tends to be envious of others or believes others are envious of him/her.

• Displays arrogant and haughty behavior.

The biggest red flag, Scott says, is lack of empathy.

“They’re unable to see that other people have feelings,” she says. “Narcissists only enter into a relationship to stroke their ego. They disconnected from themselves a long time ago in order to avoid feeling, so they need the outside world to validate their image.”

So, the whole relationship revolves around meeting the narcissist’s needs and wants, while yours go unnoticed. The trick to spotting lack of empathy, or any of these traits, for that matter, is penetrating a narcissist’s ego-shield — also known as charm.

“Narcissists are gifted manipulators who can sweep anyone off their feet,” Scott writes in her book.

That’s why it’s not enough to focus on someone’s early behavior. Focus on how you’re being treated throughout the relationship. Scott maintains that after the chase has ended, a narcissist’s true colors will show.

“He becomes demanding and angry, unaware that the other has needs or a separate self at all,” Scott writes. “He is not consciously mean. He simply finds it impossible to see others as independent entities.”

Individuals with BPD and NPD present with these traits, and these traits, when severe, make healthy parenting problematic. Children are independent entities that need care, nurturing and validation; parents with pathology have difficulty offering this kind of support to children. The needs of the parent trump those of the children,and when the children’s normal developmental needs frustrate the NPD/BPD, raging, criticism and other forms of abusive parental acting out can occur.

If you have concerns about BPD or NPD in your family or in your divorce case, visit my friend Randi Kreger’s site,, and contact my office for an initial consultation if a divorce or other intervention is needed to protect the developmental health of your children.

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