'Narcissist' - "narcissistic supply - like an addiction for the supply of attention"

We are seeing far more clients seeking advice in matters involving ‘Narcissism’ and ‘Coercive Control’, particularly where they have researched online to see if their partner or ex-partner falls into one of these abusive categories or has the traits of a diagnosable disorder. For them, that would clearly explain the reason for the abusive behaviour they have suffered. The important question is, can this be spotted before separation so steps can be taken to deal with it and help avoid difficult, protracted, and expensive litigation? How do you deal with this abuse post separation?

The signs of narcissism

The first hurdle is to recognise the narcissistic behaviour, whether from your partner, or even yourself! Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a diagnosable personality disorder, the symptoms of which can be appropriately summarised in the acronym ‘SPECIAL’:

Superiority and an inflated sense of self-importance
Preoccupation with success, power and even beauty
Constant need for admiration and praise
Inability to accept criticism and projecting blame onto others
Lack of empathy

A key issue is ‘narcissistic supply’ which is like an addiction for the supply of attention and admiration which the narcissist craves, and which fuels the narcissistic behaviour. The supply could be positive or negative, whether it be adoration or even fear.

‘Coercive control’ is where a person repeatedly or continuously engages in controlling or coercive behaviour (using force or threats to do things they are unwilling to do) towards another person. This has now been criminalised.

How to deal with a narcissist

The second hurdle is the narcissist accepting there is a problem, as it defies their beliefs and image of themselves. Professional help from a Psychotherapist will be needed, the disorder cannot be cured or treated with medication. Therapy has been proven to improve the behaviour, and frameworks can be established to maintain healthy boundaries.

Unfortunately, many relationships with a narcissist lead to separation due to the impact of the relentless and abusive behaviour of the narcissist on their spouse. This is most commonly covert emotional abuse but can also manifest in physical abuse. Be prepared for this abuse to potentially
continue after separation, especially where children are involved, and be mindful that they could be weaponised against you. This can lead to ‘parental alienation’.

The Court’s intervention and use of professional experts in proceedings can get to the bottom of these issues, if the position is intractable. Oftentimes even when a settlement is reached, the perpetrator will seek to continue the abuse by exploiting or not following the terms of any agreement. Your position will need to be presented to the court in the most effective way, so it is vital that you seek specialist legal advice and representation.

Our specialist team will support you to ensure that any court order is robust and sufficiently detailed to provide for all eventualities that an abuser could otherwise take advantage of.

Gain the edge

It is vital to seek early advice from a lawyer experienced in dealing with narcissism and other forms of domestic abuse, which our family team can offer. We have 73 years of combined experience dealing with the most severe forms of domestic abuse and criminal violence cases and are highly
experienced in cases involving narcissistic behaviour.

Recognising that you are dealing with a narcissist and understanding their traits can give you the edge when dealing with disputes concerning children, or in divorce, as you will better anticipate the position they will take. Having this advantage could help resolve disputes sooner and in advance of court proceedings which will also avoid the costs of litigation. If you suspect you are separating from someone that exhibits narcissistic traits, contact us to see how we can help you.

Our UK Top Family and Private Wealth Team

We have 13 offices nationwide, covering a wide array of legal services. Our family team is well placed to advise clients with modest assets, to high-profile individuals looking to protect wealth through nuptial agreements and those separating with complex asset structures.

Freeths has specialists for international matrimonial matters and those complex international cases involving children. Our accompanying Private
Wealth team specialises in advising wealthy individuals and their families, business owners, landowners, and trustees. We work alongside our clients’ wealth managers, tax advisers, accountants, corporate finance advisers and land agents to provide a joined-up service of the highest quality.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

Related expertise

Get in touch

Contact us today

Whatever your legal needs, our wide ranging expertise is here to support you and your business, so let’s start your legal journey today and get you in touch with the right lawyer to get you started.


Get in touch

For general enquiries, please complete this form and we will direct your message to the most appropriate person.