The Walters Gilbreath, PLLC Blog

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

by Jake Gilbreath on April 7, 2019

1. Personality Disorder in Divorce

As divorce lawyers, we get told all the time “my spouse has a personality disorder.” While some lawyers may roll their eyes at this, it’s actually often the case that in high conflict litigation one of the parties does indeed have a personality disorder. After all, often times that’s the very reason the divorce or custody case is conflict – one of the parents has a disconnect from reality or sees the world in a certain, harmful way, and the other parent is left trying to protect his or her children. Be sure to read our Ultimate Guide to Personality Disorders.

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2. Common Personality Disorders in high conflict divorces / custody cases.

The most common personality disorders we see in divorce are:

  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder
  • Anxiety Disorder

2a. Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Not that dissimilar to Borderline Personality Disorder. Narcissistic Personality Disorder has several disturbing characteristics that are harmful to families and children. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM V), the criteria of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder are:

  • A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by the presence of at least 5 of the following 9 criteria:
  1. A grandiose sense of self-importance
  2. A preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  3. A belief 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
  4. A need for excessive admiration
  5. A sense of entitlement
  6. Interpersonally exploitive behavior
  7. A lack of empathy
  8. Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her
  9. A demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes

According to the Mayo Clinic, Signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder and the severity of symptoms vary. People with the disorder can:

  • Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Have a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration
  • Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerate achievements and talents
  • Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people
  • Monopolize conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior
  • Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations
  • Take advantage of others to get what they want
  • Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Be envious of others and believe others envy them
  • Behave in an arrogant or haughty manner, coming across as conceited, boastful and pretentious
  • Insist on having the best of everything — for instance, the best car or office

At the same time, people with narcissistic personality disorder have trouble handling anything they perceive as criticism, and they can:

  • Become impatient or angry when they don't receive special treatment
  • Have significant interpersonal problems and easily feel slighted
  • React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior
  • Have difficulty regulating emotions and behavior
  • Experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change
  • Feel depressed and moody because they fall short of perfection
  • Have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation.

Recognize any of these symptoms? It is not surprising that these symptoms can cause problems in a marriage and problems in parenting.

2b. What problems can a narcissistic personality disorder cause in a marriage?

Again, we’re not marriage counselors. But we certainly represent a lot of clients married to narcissists! But here’s the problems we hear from our clients:

  1. Lack of empathy;
  2. Fits of rage;
  3. Control of one’s spouse; total lack of trust;
  4. Adultery;
  5. Cutting off the other spouse from finances;
  6. Keeping secrets;
  7. Distant relationship from the children;
  8. Constant criticism of the other spouse;
  9. Workaholic;
  10. Alcohol or drug problems;
  11. Sense of entitlement in the marriage;
  12. Refusal to see the other spouse’s point of view; and/or
  13. Gaslighting their spouse.

It is sad to see what this personality disorder can do to a marriage. If untreated, it will destroy a marriage and destroy a family. For more resources, check out this book: Married to a Narcissist.

Topics: Child Custody