Divorce from a narcissist will keep you miserable, sleepless, panic-stricken, and crazy until you develop this crucial mindset:
Radical Acceptance is a mindfulness principle. It means you accept reality, as painful as reality is at this moment. Your reality is that the narcissist in your life is fundamentally incapable of giving you what you need. Expecting otherwise will just cause you more suffering: not only is the narcissist psychically beating you up, but you are also beating your head against the wall.
If you’re divorcing or divorced from a narcissist, you may be unpleasantly surprised that your life feels more unmanageable than it did when you were married. Your ex has turned into a terrorist: he (or she) alleges that you’re an unfit parent; threatens litigation to get you to back down; tries to turn your kids against you; tries to get full custody (he may not even want it, but getting it would be the ultimate revenge); and creates all kinds of drama in an attempt to prevent you from getting what you thought divorce would bring you: the ability to move on with your life.
Does Radical Acceptance Mean I Give Up?
Yes and no. Yes, it means you give up the struggle to make reality different. No, it means you take back your power, which is the opposite of giving up. You may feel that your narcissist ex has you trapped, but you have much more freedom than you think. When you adopt a Radical Acceptance mindset, you will learn to:
- Stop defending yourself.
- Stop trying to get your ex to see your point-of-view.
- Stop expecting your ex to compromise or mediate (mediation generally fails because narcissists lack empathy, reciprocity, and flexibility, all traits required for a successful mediation).
- Stop expecting your ex to respect your boundaries, the court order, and your children’s right to have a healthy relationship with you.
- Stop expecting your ex to act in the best interest of your children.
- Stop expecting your ex to take even a smidgen of accountability for anything other than what goes right with the children.
- Stop expecting your ex to “get over it.”
Once you stop expecting your narcissist ex to suddenly morph into a reasonable person, you will probably feel relieved. You will no longer waste energy trying to will reality to be different. You can then shift your intention to the positive things you can do.
- Continue to set boundaries (even if your ex ignores them). Your ex doesn’t get to run your house. You don’t even need to let him in your house (this may require revising your court order, but it’s worth it). Explain to your ex that your kids will not be taking his calls during dinner time (hide the phones if you need to). Wait a day before responding to incendiary texts and emails. Parent your children the way you think is best, despite what your ex tells you to do.
- Develop a policy for electronic communication. Counter cyber-bullying by limiting your ex’s access to you. Unless it’s an emergency, there is no need to respond to every histrionic email and text. Once a day should be sufficient. When you do reply, don’t hit “send” right away. Wait for your blood pressure to return to normal and then draft a brief response that focuses on facts and logistics. When you feel the urge to defend yourself or lash out in retaliation, disengage. Why are you getting riled up by someone who is, at least in relation to you, crazy?
- Take regular divorce vacations. Implement a no-divorce zone in your life. Don’t do anything divorce-related — including texting or emailing your ex — after a certain time, say, 9 p.m. This will help you get a good night’s sleep. Don’t talk about your divorce 24/7 with your friends, especially if you want to keep them. When you catch yourself arguing with your ex in your head, first acknowledge that you’re ruminating, and then shift your focus to something that has nothing to do with him (or her).
- Nurture your healthy relationships. It’s common to feel depressed and anxious when divorcing a narcissist. But don’t let these feelings consume you and cause you to isolate. The best antidote to depression is to stay connected to people who care about you. Good friends make you feel good about yourself, which will help put your ex’s opinion of you in perspective.
- Practice self-care. Take whatever healthy steps you can to sleep and eat. Go to therapy. Take medication if you need to. Exercise. Eat small meals. If you get paid vacation and sick time at work, use it. Do something creative, which will shift your focus from Divorce Gloom to things that are life-affirming.
- Have a sense of humor. It’s hard to get through life without a sense of humor. Read or watch something that makes you laugh. Hang out with friends who crack you up. Having a sense of humor won’t change your ex, but it will help you disengage from his antics.
- Focus on what’s going well. No matter how bad things seem, there are people out there who have it worse. Keep a gratitude journal and write down one thing everyday that you’re grateful for. Writing down little things — a hot shower, ten fingers and ten toes, a comfortable bed — can be surprisingly powerful because you will begin to realize how much you have going for you, and how much you’ve been taking for granted.
Few of us, if any, dwell in Radical Acceptance 100% of the time. Cultivating that mindset is a daily practice. But over time, this mindset will give you what your ex never can: serenity, personal power, and the ability to enjoy life as it is today.
(Photo by Ben White via Unsplash)