Victims of narcissistic abuse know that divorce doesn’t stop the abuse; in fact, it often escalates when a victim finds the courage to separate herself.
How can women find strength, hope, and healing – even when their narcissistic abuser continues to harm?
Anne, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, explores this question with June, a member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community. June shares empowering and raw truths about navigating the difficulties of divorcing a narcissist on the BTR podcast. Tune in to listen and read the full transcript below for more.
Divorcing a Narcissist: Expect Different Abuse Tactics
When preparing to divorce a narcissist, a victim can preemptively expect and plan for new abusive tactics to be used against her. Because the marriage is ending, the abuser may realize that he can’t hurt her in the same ways he always has, and so he will find different ways to leverage his power and control to keep making life miserable.
For June, this meant that her ex-husband became more covertly abusive in both harming the children and dragging her name through the mud:
The abuse has gotten worse because now it is directed towards my children. Now it is directed within the community. Now it is directed in different ways that are so much harder to prove.June, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community
What Kinds of Abusive Tactics Can I Expect?
While there is no end to the horrific acts that abusers may use against victims, here are some common ways that narcissistic abusers covertly harm victims during and after divorce:
- Gaslighting the children
- Calling CPS on the victim for made up concerns
- Fighting for full custody by making false allegations about the victim’s parenting skills or mental health
- Turning the victim’s family, friends, clergy, and community against her
- Stalking the victim
- Calling, emailing, texting, and visiting the victim under the guise of parenting
- Ignoring the children’s needs
- Emotionally, verbally, and psychologically abusing children
- Keeping the victim’s property hostage
- Releasing private information, photographs, or other private material about the victim to humiliate her
Any one of these acts is enough to cause significant trauma to a victim. It is imperative that every victim of narcissistic abuse have a safe network to rely on.
Understand That The Courts Don’t Understand Narcissistic Abuse
A lot of the family court professionals and judges have really been desensitized. They hear horrific cases of abuse, so when a dad can’t get the kids somewhere on time or can’t return their clothes, it just doesn’t register with them as the abuse that it is. It is abuse because we feel it.June, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community
Tragically, court systems simply don’t take narcissistic abuse seriously in most cases. Children are harmed, women are victimized, and communities ultimately suffer, because narcissistic abusers are allowed to get away with their abusive behaviors.
Preparing For Court When Divorcing a Narcissist
It isn’t fair or right that women are often dismissed, ignored, and blamed for the abusive behaviors of their ex-partner in court. But it is reality.
Preparing for court is especially important for every victim of narcissistic abuse. Some ways that women can prepare include:
- Using a divorce professional who understands narcissistic abuse
- Hiring a legal team that is trauma and covert abuse-informed
- Reading Lundy Bancroft’s books
- Joining the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group to discuss your plan and ask questions
Divorcing A Narcissist Can Be Expensive
One of the most disturbing aspects of divorcing a narcissist is that the narcissistic abuser will do everything he can to exploit the victim financially.
Often, this means that the actual divorce and custody battles can last months or years. This can become a huge financial burden for victims.
I’ve probably spent close to $100k trying to get divorced. I’m still not divorced. That is the reality of divorcing a narcissist. That is the reality.June, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community
What Can I Do To Prepare For All This Garbage?
Understanding the realities of divorcing a narcissist can be overwhelming and terrifying. Here are seven tips from June for victims of narcissistic abuse:
- He’ll lie about anything. Be prepared to prove reality, but only if you have to.
- He’ll paint a picture of you that is unrecognizable.
- He’ll most likely get what he wants in court, and then he’ll exploit it.
- He just wants to win, use that to your advantage.
- Build your community and get to know the ropes.
- Develop good coping skills and engage in self-care.
- Document everything.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Narcissistic Abuse
The fear, trauma, and grief that accompany narcissistic abuse are unlike any other. Women who are going through the trauma of divorcing a narcissistic need support.
That is why the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets every day in multiple time zones. Join today and find a safe community where you can process trauma, share your story, ask questions, and make meaningful connections with other victims who get it.
Remember, you are not alone.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
We’re going to continue our conversation with June today.
A lot of times, on this podcast, we have a victim come on to talk about her specific situation or what happened in her specific church, but these are issues that happen in all churches, in non-churches, in therapy offices. I just want to make it clear that this podcast is not pro-divorce.
BTR Is Pro-Safety
This podcast is pro-safety so I’m trying to bring up all of these different safety issues, things that women need to be aware of, things that victims need to be aware of, so they can learn how to clearly spot abuse and set boundaries around abuse, and hold those boundaries until the abuse has stopped.
Once the abuse has stopped, whenever that is, it could be ten years after the divorce, or it could be while you’re still married to the person. It could be at any time. I don’t know when that’s going to happen, but once the abuse has stopped, then you can ease up on your boundaries, but safety is the most important thing. That is why we cover this stuff.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group Can Help You Learn To Set Boundaries
If you are interested in learning about your level of safety, learning about how to set boundaries, becoming stronger with a community of other victims who are going through what you’re going through and having words to describe what’s happening to you, please join Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group.
Narcissistic Abusers Want To Control You
Okay, we are going to continue talking to June now. This is a continuation of our conversation that we had last week. If you have not listened to all the previous episodes (here and here), please do that first, then catch back up with us here.
June: It’s very important, I cannot stress this enough, it is so important for women in this situation to do research on divorcing a narcissist. A lot of these guys that have porn issues, infidelity issues, they have narcissistic issues as well. You do not see that until you cause such a narcissistic injury that that comes out. I often say, when I was married, I could manage this behavior. I could manage him a little bit because I kind of knew how to work around these things.
Anne: Yeah, I’d say the same with me, managing it.
Narcissistic Abuse Just Gets Worse
June: Yes. A friend told me, when I was going through this and being severely abused every day—verbally abused, physically abused, physically intimidated, emotionally abused, spiritually abused—she was aware of the situation, she even said to me, “Just make sure that you know what is in your future, because it can and will get worse.”
At the time, I thought there was nothing that could be worse than going through this constant and daily abuse every single day. I mean I felt like I was losing my mind. I didn’t know which end was up. I didn’t know reality. I had such a FOG (fear, obligation, guilt), that I was really not a healthy person.
Now, I begin to see kind of what she was talking about. Yes, the abuse has gotten worse because now it is directed towards my children. Now it is directed within the community. Now it is directed in different ways that are so much harder to prove. It’s like if you went into court, do you think a judge is really going to care that he sends your kids in rags?
Post-Separation Abuse Is Devastating
June: The judge that I went to, he would say, “Get out of here.”
Anne: Like, “Why are you so judgmental?” or whatever. That’s not the thing that I think is abusive. The abusive thing is stealing my clothes and not respecting anyone’s time. You know, all those things, and he has plenty of money, he could buy them boots or whatever, but he doesn’t.
Deal With A Narcissist During Divorce By Understanding That Courts Will (Probably) Not Help You
June: Right, and the thing is that, I feel like, a lot of the family court professionals and judges have really been desensitized. They hear horrific cases of abuse and, when a dad can’t get the kids somewhere on time or can’t return their clothes, it just does not register with them as the abuse that it is.
It is abuse because we feel it. We know that these things are purposeful because he knows no one is going to care. He knows I care because I can’t afford to go out and buy a new coat every time that he forgets to return theirs.
Anne: Exactly. Well, you’ve got a doctor for a soon-to-be ex. I have an attorney.
“That Is The Reality Of Divorcing A Narcissist”
June: Yes, and going back to your original point, that is very much within their realm and playbook of abuse and narcissism. They know what they’re doing, and they not only know but they exploit that in a way that, sometimes, is unbelievable. It’s unbelievable. I do feel like things have gotten worse.
Anne: And that’s financial abuse.
Expect Financial Abuse During Divorce
June: It is financial abuse. It’s legal abuse. It’s everything. Things have gotten worse, but the difference is that now I’m not in that constant state of abuse in my own home, so I can deal with this other abuse. Now I feel like I can function. I am a functional adult. I’m not only surviving but I am thriving despite all of this other abuse. It’s horrible abuse, still, but I’m able to handle it.
Anne: You’re not finished with your divorce yet, but do you have some tips for our listeners? I want you to start way back with listeners who are not thinking that divorce is in their future. Even listeners who are thinking, “No, he seems to be understanding what I’m saying, and he seems to be getting better.”
How To Deal With A Narcissist During Divorce
You and I both went through a phase where we thought things were getting better. “He understands.” I’m not saying that listeners who are in that phase are going to get to the divorce phase. Maybe he will continue to improve and, if so, both June and I are very happy for you. That’s great. We wish that would have happened for us, and it didn’t.
Let’s start there. Even for women in that phase, what tips do you have about what is coming and what to expect and things that you wish that you would’ve known?
June: It would have been very helpful for me to know that, really, the natural progression of these cases, when they are taken to court, is that, if a dad goes back and asks for more time that the court will, oftentimes, just give him a little bit more time. Like I said, my situation was that there has been all of this bad behavior and I thought, “Surely, he’s not going to be rewarded with a big change.”
Expect The Abuser To Lie About You
Be prepared for them to paint a picture of you that is, literally, unrecognizable. He got up there and lied about many things, said all of these things about me not caring for the kids or the kids being dirty, and all of this other nonsense. You know, that’s very hard. It’s very hard to hear. It’s very hard when I feel like so many times, I have literally been the bigger person.
I have told him where we’re going to be, invited him to the kids’ events, made sure to save a seat for him. I’ve been very aware and doing the emotional labor to include him in those things, and to have that used against me is horrible. It feels horrible. It’s a betrayal on its own.
Deal With A Narcissist During Divorce By Meticulously Documenting Everything
After this last court date, as I said, I was in shock. I was in some trauma because I know what the lack of boundaries would do to my husband in this situation, and it’s only going to get worse, so that was very hard. If I had expected that a little bit more, I think it would have been a little bit easier.
You talked to me right afterward and I was pretty distraught. Now, I’m feeling okay about it. I feel like I’ve gotten some good coping skills and that documentation is going to be huge.
The other thing that I learned is that documentation is key. It is paramount. You have got to document everything. That can be a challenge sometimes. One thing that I’ve learned, that has helped me immensely wherever I am, is I use the BTR boundary log.
“Keep A Timeline”
That has been great. Any time there is some kind of an issue, like the kids not getting somewhere on time, an offhanded comment, him swearing at me, him forgetting to return one of the kid’s items and refusing to go get it or whatever, I just write that down and that is my log.
Any attorney will tell you that you have got to start doing that. It can be very hard to present those things at court. The way that you document your evidence is very important. Keeping a timeline of those things in real-time is huge.
Another thing that I’ve learned is that I think that, a lot of times, the narcissistic ex is really in the mindset of winning. This is about winning for him. I don’t think that he really wants the kids, because he is asking for 50/50, and mind you he hasn’t gotten it, but he keeps asking and asking.
“I Think This Is About Winning For Him”
I think this is about winning for him. It’s not that he actually wants to have the kids part-time. It’s that he wants the appearance. Like I said, on the dating site it says that he has them 50/50. Sometimes, I think that you can use that to your advantage.
I am aware of a situation with some research that I did of a woman who allowed her ex to say that he had 50/50, when in reality it wasn’t, and he didn’t actually want it. He just wanted to be able to say that.
Anne: Just to say it. Exactly.
June: However you can make that work and use it for your benefit, I think is important.
Anne: Before you move on, I want to restress that. That you might get really upset in court about, “Oh, they’re saying this thing and I don’t want that thing to happen.” The reality is, once that paper is signed and the divorce decree is done, what actually happens may be very different.
Deal With A Narcissist During Divorce By Understanding That They Want To Win AND Appear Perfect
You might think, “Oh, I got everything that I wanted,” or, “I didn’t get anything that I wanted.” In reality, it might not even function like that. I’m not saying put 50/50 in the divorce decree, just note that what they really want is the appearance of things.
If they are saying things but it’s not actually affecting the way you and your kids live, for heaven’s sake, let them say it. I just wanted to stress that because that’s a type of battle that is not worth fighting and it’s a win-win because they get to live their lie and you get to getaway.
June: Yeah. That’s exactly right. Part of me thinks that once we get the divorce finalized and we divide property and everything like that maybe things will calm down a little bit. I’ve often said I can deal with whatever crazy schedule we have. Whatever he’s going to do to me for the amount of time that he gets the kids every month then fine. 75% of the time I have peaceful, and that’s everything.
Divorcing A Narcissist Is Traumatizing
That’s another tip that I want to share. Please build your community, engage in your self-care and get to know these ropes. I can’t stress that enough.
If I had the choice not to go through the court system, I would do that because this has been traumatizing. It is awful. It makes you feel victimized again and again and again. I feel like the narcissist really preys on that.
Anne: I agree. The court system tends to work better for them than it does for the victims. Mostly, because the victims are telling the truth and the narcissist is willing to lie about anything.
Deal With A Narcissist During Divorce By Being Prepared
June: Yes, and sometimes I find myself almost shocked at the stuff that they would lie about. It’s almost so obvious that you don’t think they would lie about it, so you don’t think that you’re going to have to prove it wrong. I mean, why would you ever think that you would have to prove reality? With a narcissist you do.
Anne: Yeah, and if you can get away with not proving it by not getting in the argument about reality in the first place, that’s the best-case scenario because you’re never going to win with them. There is no way they’re ever going to be like, “Oh, yeah, you presented all these facts. Okay, good point.” That is never going to happen.
June: Yeah, so now that we’re done with custody, I have asked my husband if it is possible at all for us to just reach a settlement in terms of the divorce and property. I filed on grounds, and in my state, grounds go to fault. I did file a fault divorce as opposed to a no-fault divorce.
Try To Resolve As Much As You Can Outside Of The Court System
A fault divorce, if proven, can influence the equitable division of property. At this point, now that it’s been two years, I am more than willing to forego that whole process and move on with my life, and not have to go through all of that to be able to prove grounds, and establish grounds and fault.
I asked him recently, actually, if he would be at all interested in coming to an agreement. We don’t have that many things to really divide up. I can’t imagine why we couldn’t come to some sort of reasonable agreement, which is what the courts would do anyway, really, divide everything.
Anne: Well, the reason why is because he’s crazy, but besides that, yes.
“Does He Not Realize What Is At Stake?”
June: Yes. He told me, “No, I intend to go through the courts for this.” The reason is beyond me, and I am still trying to figure that out, because when we start digging into affairs, adultery, abuse, cruelty, we will deposition people. That will be people from church, people from his old workplace, people from the community.
I imagine, that will bring up things that he probably does not want to see the light of day. I cannot for the life of me—I sat here and tried for about a week, to figure out what he is thinking and why on earth he would be wanting to do this. Does he not realize what is at stake?
I finally figured that because, to him, he feels so entitled and because, to him, he has really gotten rewarded for lying. He’s been able to come into court and just tell a completely falsified story and for it to kind of be taken at face value, for the most part. He really hasn’t felt the consequences of that.
Deal With A Narcissist During Divorce By Expecting Them To Act In Ways You Cannot Understand
I almost feel that his response was a peek into how delusional his thinking is and how entitled and untouchable he really feels. He has not felt the consequences of his actions, and I feel his response was really indicative of that. He doesn’t think there will be any consequences for that.
Anne: Do you think there will be? Are you more hopeful about that? About him having the consequences of the property settlement or, after what you’ve been through, you’re just like, “Oh, my gosh, it’s going to go bad too”? Well, it can’t go bad because the worst thing that could happen is that they divide up everything equally.
Anne: He’s willing to spend a ton of money to try and avoid the inevitable, really.
June: Exactly. That’s why I was like, “Let me just cut my losses and get out of this.”
Expect Your Abuser’s Entitlement TO Get In The Way of Self-Preservation
June: I don’t want to have to go through depositions. Do you think I want to sit here and go through all these women? I have no desire to do that, but because now I can see the writing on the wall and I can say, “Okay, if this is what you’re going to want to do then that’s what we’ll be doing.”
What I’m saying is I think, for him, it’s kind of a bluff game. I think, for him, it is more like, “Well, I’m going to make her so scared that I’m actually going to do this.” In my case, I don’t have anything to be scared about. I feel like that’s a very interesting point. Never, never underestimate reasoning with them.
I thought, for sure, that we would be able to reason in reaching a settlement. Especially when he has things like this at stake, but these people who have these narcissistic tendencies, sometimes their entitlement gets in the way of even their own self-preservation, if that makes sense.
Anne: Yeah, I agree, and they just make really poor choices. Wow. Well, we’ll see how it goes.
“We Are Healing More And More”
We’re going to have another update with June, after things are finalized and see how it went. We’ll see if he kept fighting it and then they just ended up splitting the assets in half, which is what’s going to happen.
It will be interesting to see over the years, especially with mine and June’s exes, because they’re very similar. They both are very professional. They’re both, supposedly, active in the church. They both show up in the white shirt and tie kind of thing. It will be interesting to see over time the consequences that happen.
The good news is, even if we don’t worry about them at all, which is hard because we’re still dealing with our kids, June and I are getting exponentially stronger and firmer in our boundaries and the safety in our home is increasing. We are healing more and more.
“Do I Feel Safe? Do I Need To Set Boundaries?”
We are finding more peace and safety in our lives, and that’s exciting. Any woman can find that even if your ex is not as horrific, or your current husband, who you are considering whether you need to set boundaries with or not.
Even if they are not showing these types of horrific behaviors, you still get to decide, “Is this something that I feel safe with? Do I feel safe? Do I need to set boundaries?” That’s why the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Community is so valuable to victims of emotional and psychological abuse and sexual coercion. This is the right place for you to bring up these issues.
BTR Respects You On Your Journey
Many of the women in our community are currently married too and have no plans for divorce. I want to throw that out there. We are not an organization that’s going to immediately say, “You have to get divorced,” because we’ve been through it and we’ve all struggled with those difficult decisions.
The person who knows best about her situation is the woman herself. You’ll always have the freedom and have our respect in your own journey wherever you are and with what you choose to do.
June, thank you so much for coming and sharing. We really look forward to checking in with you after the divorce is final.
June: Thank you. Yes, I look forward to coming back and giving you an update.
Support The BTR Podcast
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Until next week, stay safe out there.