Reader’s Choice: Narcissistic Partners

Hi there!

I recently received a question from a reader regarding narcissism and narcissistic partners.  I initially intended to reply to her privately, but as I thought about my response, I realized that there was enough "meat" here to share in a post to all.

Reader asks:

"Christie Brinkley seems to have been in the news a bit lately with her divorce. I have been struck by her comments on a narcissistic partner, and wonder since I think that is the case with my ex, how often it is that one spouse is a narcissist and what can be done to get through to one rationally. Is there any hope of co-parenting with a narcissist?  Any thoughts or comments on this celeb. case would be helpful. Thanks!"

My response:

Narcissists are very nasty people but charming too.  A lot of them end up in divorce because no one can worship them enough, and all the air is theirs, not their spouse’s. 

No divorce lawyer should be without her copy of "DSM-IV" (aka Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition).  According to this "bible", written by the American Psychiatric Association, the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder is as follows:

"A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance

2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

3) believes 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) requires excessive admiration

5) has a sense of entitlement

6) is interpersonally exploitative

7) lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

8) is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

9) shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes"

The DSM-IV goes on to indicate that narcissistic personality disorder is relatively rare ( "from 2%-16% in the clinical population and less than 1% in the general population" per DSM-IV).  I am sure lots of just plain selfish, non-empathetic people get classified as narcissistic, but it doesn’t make them any easier to deal with in a co-parenting situation.  I think you are going to have to realize that only you will put your kids first.  I don’t know if your divorce is over, nor do I know what the actual issues are; but I have found parental coordinators very useful, particularly when one parent is excessively difficult.

Additionally, here is the recent news on Christie Brinkley that sparked this interesting question.