"Will I Ever Be Free of You? How to Navigate a High-Conflict Divorce
from a Narcissist, and Heal Your Family"
by Karyl McBride Ph.D
A Book Review by Thurman W. Arnold III CFLS
"Help! I think I am married to a narcissist! He (she) is destroying my life, and the litigation and lawyer's fees seem endless. He lies about his income, he's hidden our assets, he's breached every fiduciary duty I've read about, and he tells our children how terrible I am and that he will take them from me at all costs! What can I do?"
I get that email a lot, or one substantively like it, and I meet people who are, or are facing, a likely narcissist in impending divorces on almost a weekly basis. It is a serious problem, and not just for the spouse or domestic partner of said narcissist - it's a miserable experience to serve as their attorney too! Because narcissists explode, and shower everyone around them with their selfish toxicity, including parents, children, friends, acquaintances (especially acquaintances it seems, if they make the initial mistake of listening to their tales of self-imposed woe), mental health professionals, Judges who must decide their cases, and their own divorce attorneys - not to mention the unfortunate counsel who comes to represent the other side. I can tell you from personal experience that representing a narcissist as a client makes you feel like you need a brain enema, or some army of Ebola doctors to enter your skull and scrub it clean from the inside out. And your association with them is almost sure to end badly, because they will find every excuse to blame you as you watch them blow themselves up despite your firmest and most heartful advice, or cheat you of your fees, smear your reputation, and maybe sue you to boot! (The narcissist is convinced the best defense is an insane offense).
Ugghhh! I beg you gentle reader to consider, once you come to suspect you are dealing with a narcissistic spouse or client in what WILL become a high-conflict divorce situation, that it is time to head for the exits because this story seems to have only one ending. Narcissists cannot, by definition, bear not to have their way even if they exhaust every resource that belongs to you, or them, and like the Terminator "they never stop." They simply can't. Of course, if the narcissist is your spouse, you will find yourself locked in mortal combat and there is no easy way out of that mess. Find the best attorney you can, but first ask them if they understand this personality type. (Unless you fear your retainer will double - get a quote before you add this disclosure? If you are a family law attorney, this should be a screening question?).
I've come to reflect upon this topic because Karyl McBride, PH.D has recently completed her second book, titled above. Her writings really resonate for me, particularly given my experience with a narcissist now-former client in recent times, with whom I am trapped in a fee dispute while he continues to terrorize his spouse and children (who won't talk to him) with his next attorney. (Narcissists are serial clients).
Karyl was kind enough to interview me, among many others, while she was gathering her data for "Will I Ever Be Free of You?" and to provide an advance copy. (More later about a question we each might also ask ourselves, "Could I be a narcissist too, or merely a kindly egoist?").
Her work is being released in February, 2015. I highly recommend it to divorce and family law litigants, their family members, and to their attorneys and MHPs. Because you will be asking - "Am I crazy, or is it them?" It is a relief to know it is them, and even more so to come to find some strategies that will help you cope with your role as a planet caught by relationship gravity too close to an unending supernova. Moreover, if you are not a spouse or domestic partner who is coupled with such a person, by law or blood, it may help you to refuse the conversation or engagement with the narcissist in the first instance, or early on (even no matter how much money they might throw at you to enlist your aid).
As Karyl notes in her Introduction, her book is divided into three parts: "Recognizing the Problem," "Breaking Free," and "Healing from the Debilitating Impact of Narcissistic Relationships." Which is nice because this isn't a book to read from cover to cover as much something to flip through and take all in in no particular order. I promise you that if you are involved in some way with a true narcissist, nearly every page will sound familiar. In fact, certain sections may scare you as the truth of your relationship reality dawns upon you. In that sense, your read will be a bit of a roller-coaster, as you inevitably arrive at the shore of "Holy Crap, what do I do?" For that reason it is not a book for the feint of heart, but ultimately what makes us wiser makes us stronger, neh? As you become immersed in these awakenings, you may not be able to put the thing down, and your heart may even race a bit.
To give you a taste, if you aren't already convinced you need to order Karyl McBride's book from Amazon at once, here are some of the chapter titles to illustrate what she promises, and delivers: "I'm Married to a Narcissist: Stay or Leave?" While the answer would seem simple - run! - it isn't. The narcissistic will not want to let you go. "What Is Best for My Children: Help With Divorce Decisions." You owe your kids the support they need to not turn out to be like their father (mother), but good luck on this one - I have many times witnessed the children of narcissistic parents treat their mom or dad terribly, to the point of excluding them from their lives for no rational reason; little monsters in training. "The Divorce Process: Court Warfare". If you found this website, sorry to say you are likely already in a high-conflict divorce! Karyl does provide excellent pointers for triaging the situation, however. "Getting Help: Troops to Defend You." This is imperative if you are to survive this experience, but possibly not intuitively obvious without Karyl's guiding you to the recognition of the importance of a support web. "Post-Divorce Combat: Raising Your Internal Defenses". Did I say they never stop? And "Moving On: The Armor of Healing." This is really the most functionally interesting part of the book, but understand that it requires you to "do the work". After all, as I love to say, because it tends to be true, "the key fits the lock." While narcissists are often seemingly highly functioning and even highly attractive people (early on), if you're married to one you likely have issues too.
Which brings me to the question I must answer. "Am I too, (gulp), a narcissist?" After all, I have this sometimes self-promoting website. I have a high opinion of myself. I am a freakin' lawyer.... (oops, so is the former client referenced above - Sueprise!) Well, I won't reveal all, but I will tell you that she provides checklists and dozens of examples that will help you consider yourself as well as your "other", and so decide. But at the end of the day, I believe there are defining characteristics that will inform your inquiry - the chief among them being compassion, a genuine sensitivity to the suffering of others, and a heartfelt desire to help heal or relieve it. That part of the human experience is absent in the true narcissist.
Karyl's book is subtitled "How to Navigate a High-Conflict Divorce from a Narcissist, and Heal Your Family", and she means her work to be a book of dawning recognition and a vehicle of hope. For me, she has succeeded very nicely. It is published by Atria Books (New York) and is to be released on February 10, 2015. To get your copy fast, click the link below!
Oh, if you are a woman chained to a parental narcissist, consider buying Karyl's first book: "Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers"! You can have it in your hands by Kindle in 5 minutes!
As always, good luck out there!
Author: Thurman W. Arnold III CFLS