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What are the challenges of divorce mediation with a narcissist?

On Behalf of | Dec 20, 2023 | Mediation

The term “narcissistic personality disorder” has been attracting a lot of attention as people start to realize just how toxic someone with strong narcissistic traits (with or without a diagnosis) can be.

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to achieve a peaceful divorce from a narcissist. Because they are overly sensitive to criticism, have an overwhelming need to remain in control, suffer from poor emotional regulation and need admiration, they typically don’t respond well to reason. They want whatever they want – and they don’t care whether it makes sense or is even remotely fair.

Does that mean mediation is impossible? Is litigation inevitable? Not at all – but it does mean that you need to be conscious of how their narcissism can affect the process.

How mediation can become complicated

Mediation offers a controlled setting for active negotiations around child custody, the division of marital assets and debts and any issues of support. When you enter mediation with a narcissist, it helps to anticipate the following:

  • Gaslighting: Gaslighting is a narcissist’s favorite weapon. It involves denying reality (even in the face of evidence that is contrary to their claims) so fervently that their victim starts to question their own perceptions, feelings and memories.
  • Victimization: Narcissists don’t just “play the victim,” they genuinely believe they are the wronged party in any conflict. They lack the insight and self-reflection necessary to accept any responsibility for their actions.
  • Lack of compromise: Mediation isn’t supposed to be a game that involves winners or losers, but narcissists have a hard time approaching anything except from that perspective.

What does that mean for you? Generally speaking, keeping these issues in mind can allow you to take a strategic approach to the situation. You may benefit from the following tips:

  • Limit your interactions outside of the mediation session. Insist that your spouse only contacts you via written means (letter, text, direct message or email) so that you have a record of everything that was said.
  • Stay outwardly calm at all times. When you don’t show visible distress at whatever outrageous thing a narcissist is saying, you deprive them of the emotional reward they get out of the situation. The less you engage, the better.
  • Let the mediator direct the process. Mediators are trained professionals. They can spot a narcissist’s games, and they know how to direct conversations that are going off track back to something constructive.

If you’re considering divorce mediation with a narcissist, seeking legal guidance can help you decide if this is the right option for you.