One of the most toxic people you will meet in family court is the narcissist. When it comes to a divorce case, the narcissist will often be pitted against a person with very low self-esteem. Narcissists are usually the cause of that low self-esteem as they have eroded their partner’s self image through a variety of means throughout the marriage.
In court, the narcissist will present as confident, calm and certain while his victim often appears stressed, frustrated, and not at all confident. The victim may be willing to give up almost everything just to regain her own life back. She may not feel that she is a fit mother for her children, as the narcissist has made sure that she feels unfit.
Dealing with someone who suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) in the family court system is a daunting task. It is not going to be easy, but you can make a conscious decision to be a survivor rather than continue being a victim. Knowledge is power and being educated, and prepared, can mean the difference between winning and being victimized again.. The trick to beating a narcissist in court is twofold in nature.
FIRST: Catch them in a lie when they are on the stand.
But, you must have absolute, incontrovertible proof of the lie, proof that is admissible in court by rules of evidence or by unassailable testimony. When confronted with the impeaching evidence, narcissists will react with fury, more lying (which will be visible to everyone except them) and will actively discredit themselves.
SECOND: Your counsel should structure the cross-examination of the narcissist so as to allow the narcissist to magnify his or her grandiose self. Sometimes it is enough just to let the narcissist be himself or herself.
What To Expect?
Narcissists are often vindictive and they often stalk and harass. There are two ways of coping with vindictive narcissists:
1. Frighten Them
Narcissists live in a state of constant rage, repressed aggression, envy and hatred. They are paranoid, suspicious, and scared. Frightening the narcissist is a powerful behavior modification tool. If sufficiently scared – the narcissist will disengage, give up everything he was fighting for and sometimes even make amends.
For this to be effective, you have to identify the vulnerabilities of the narcissist and strike repeated, escalating blows at him until he is deterred.
If a narcissist is hiding a personal fact- use this to threaten him. Drop cryptic hints that there are mysterious witnesses and recently revealed evidence. The narcissist has a very vivid imagination; let his imagination do the rest. The narcissist may have been involved in tax evasion, malpractice, child abuse, or infidelity – there are many possibilities, all of which offer a rich vein of attack. If done cleverly, non-emotionally, in an escalating manner – the narcissist will disengage and disappear. You don’t have to do much except utter a vague reference, make an ominous allusion, and suggest a possible turn of events. The narcissist’s imagination and paranoia will do the rest for you.
It must be added that all these activities have to be pursued legally, preferably through the good services of law offices and in broad daylight. If done in the wrong way – they might constitute extortion or blackmail, harassment and a host of other criminal offences.
2. Lure Them
The other way to neutralize a vindictive narcissist is to offer him continued Narcissistic Supply until the war is over and won by you. Dazzled by the lure of Narcissistic Supply – the narcissist immediately becomes tamed, forgets his vindictiveness and triumphantly takes over his “property” and “territory”. Under the influence of narcissistic supply, the narcissist is unable to tell that he is being manipulated. You can make a narcissist do almost anything by offering, withholding, or threatening to withhold Narcissistic Supply (adulation, admiration, attention, sex, awe, subservience, etc.).
Tips to Survive and Thrive in Court
- Equip yourself for the legal battle: Many communities offer free divorce workshops, support groups or clinics through the courthouse. Spend a day in the courtroom to which you were assigned and familiarize yourself with the Judge or Commissioner’s style, the courtroom procedures and to the strategies used by attorneys.
- Prepare: Prepare for the reality that many of your friends will fall for the narcissist’s smear campaign. Because the general public is not educated in NPD, many will fall prey to his evil tactics. Remember that you too once believed what you were told by him. Narcissists will not accept that they had any part of the demise of the marriage. Take the high road and eventually, the narcissist will show his true colors to everyone.
- Document everything: Keep a daily journal for the day-to-day occurrences and write down every event, no matter how big or small. An example would be: “Documentation: August 15, 2013 — Failure to Show for Visitation” or so on.
- Get organized: You need to find a system that works for you. While there are a variety of ways to stay organized, the most common is the binder method. Have a binder for each year and keep things in chronological order.
- Eliminate or limit communication: If you can’t eliminate communication, keep it short and unemotional. While zero contact is best when ending a relationship with a narcissist, it is impossible if you have children together. Set personal boundaries and do not deviate from them. Not even once. Narcissists feed off of control, intimidation and eliciting emotions. Do not satisfy their twisted and selfish hunger by giving them what they are requesting.
- Practice acceptance: You need to accept the fact that you will never win in the mind of a narcissist. You will not be able to change their distorted thinking regardless of how many times you remind them of the real version of the story. You need to accept that you are not dealing with a rational person; acceptance is the key to moving forward.
- Maintain composure in court: Stay composed and focused and keep your emotions for outside the courtroom. The narcissist will project all of the problems and their shortcomings onto you. Respond to false allegations calmly with credible, factual information. Do not get caught up defending every minor allegation no matter how tempting it may be to set the story straight. This is the time to choose your battles wisely. It is very easy to get upset while listening to the testimony due to the dishonesty and manipulations. Listen calmly and take notes. Do not allow yourself to get sidetracked and angered. Stay focused and stay calm at all times.
- Make reminder notes: You need to remind yourself that you are dealing with a narcissist. If needed, write yourself a post-it note that says, “Reminder: I am dealing with a narcissist” and stick it to the front of your binder. Do not expect a narcissist to follow the law, rules or protocol of any kind. Expect lies, vicious attacks, bizarre behavior and the unexpected.
To summarize, the best way to handle a narcissist in court is to play it cool and let them hang themselves with their own rope. Narcissists will make outrageous claims and big demands. Let them swear and bluster… the worse their behavior is, the better it is for you.
Play it cool, show the court and the judge how rational and healthy you are, and how demanding and bullying the narcissist is. Most judges are excellent surveyors of human nature and can see narcissists for who they are.
Remember, though, when all is said and done, family law courts are usually not interested in the emotional aspects of your divorce. Most states are “no fault” divorce states; despite the fact that judges are people and have emotions, typically they are interested in numbers and custody issues. Judges are experienced at ignoring all the drama, but if you can get a narcissist to lie under oath, they will lose their credibility with the judge.