Dealing with someone who suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the family court system is a daunting task that is made even more difficult if you are in pro se, or self-represented. I would personally rather be awake and un-medicated during a root canal if given the option of choosing one over the other. While each court room is unique, I happen to have lots of advice for those who find themselves in pro se. This advice is organically developed after spending the past four years acting as my own attorney in a hellish custody battle with someone who is an extremely high-conflict personality.
- Equipyourself for the legal battle: Many communities offer free divorce workshops, support groups or clinics through the courthouse. I encourage you to spend a day in the courtroom to which you were assigned. Familiarize yourself with the Judge or Commissioner's style, the courtroom procedures and pay attention to the strategies used by attorneys.
- Prepare: When it comes to friends and acquaintances, prepare for the reality that many people will fall for the narcissist's manipulations. Because the general public is not educated in Narcissistic Personality Disorder, many will fall prey to his or her evil tactics. Remember that you too once believed the stories that you were told. Narcissists cannot tolerate failure and therefore will not accept that they had any part of the demise of the marriage. Narcissists are known to run massive smear campaigns and you will be painted as the villain in their efforts to turn friends and family members against you. I have found that it is best to take the high road and eventually, the narcissist will show their true colors. It is inevitable.
- Document everything: This is one of the most important pieces of advice that I share on my blog, "One Mom's Battle." I recommend keeping a daily calendar-style journal for the day-to-day occurrences and things to notate. I prefer to document the larger items using a G-mail account which I keep specifically for divorce and custody items. An example would be: "Documentation: March 3, 2012 -- Failure to Show for Visitation" or something along those lines. I suggest keeping all documents and paperwork in binders divided by year with your daily calendar in front for easy access.
- Get organized: You need to find a system that works for you. While there are a variety of ways to stay organized, I personally use the binder method. I have a binder for each year and I keep things in chronological order. I also keep sample court documents with post-it notes detailing the instructions for each such as number of copies needed, dates of service and anything else noteworthy.
- Eliminate or limit communication: If you can't eliminate communication, keep it short and unemotional. While zero contact is suggested when ending a relationship with a narcissist, it is impossible if you have children together. I encourage you to set personal boundaries and not to deviate from them. Narcissists feed off of control, intimidation and eliciting emotions that they themselves are incapable of experiencing. 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 thought process regardless of how many times you remind them of the real version of the story at hand. You need to accept that you are not dealing with a rational, healthy person because acceptance is the key to moving forward.
- Maintain composure in court: Your job is to walk through the courtroom doors completely prepared. Stay composed and focused while reserving your emotions for outside of the courtroom. While in court, be prepared for the waters to get downright muddy. This is one of the narcissist's best weapons. The narcissist will project all of their problems and shortcomings onto you. Respond to false allegations calmly with credible, factual information but do not get caught up defending every minor allegation as tempting as it may be. This is the time to choose your battles wisely. It is very easy to get upset while listening to testimony of a narcissist due to the dishonesty and manipulations. Listen calmly and take notes. Make bullet points of items that you would like to address but do not allow yourself to get sidetracked and angered. Stay focused and stay centered 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, forehead or notepad. Many battles in history were lost simply due to the element of surprise. Do not let history repeat itself on your watch. Do not expect a narcissist to follow the law, rules or protocol of any kind. Expect lies, vicious attacks, bizarre behavior and the unexpected. Practice offense/defense and expect the unexpected at all times. Keep your playbook ready.
No one said that this was going to be easy -- they were lying if they did! -- but you can make a conscious decision to be a survivor rather than a victim. Knowledge is power and being educated and prepared has been life changing for me personally. Divorce is difficult enough but if you find yourself in pro se against a narcissist then you will need to secure your safety belt and use your oxygen mask as needed. Keep your playbook handy at all times!