Dear Chump Lady,
First off, I want to say thanks to you, CL, and everyone. Your site has helped me get confirmation of what I need to do — leave my NPD-cheater. I’m laying low while I get my ducks in a row, and it’s been hard to have hardly anyone to talk with about this crazy situation. This blog has been my gateway to clarity; invaluable support from others who have been through this before.
Your “How to Go No Contact” advice is particularly apropos. My divorce will begin in the near future and I really need my game plan. I’m sensitive and tend to get overwhelmed in the moment when my STBX rages, guilts, gaslights, etc. But when I have guidelines ahead of time, I am strong!
I have a big, big question, though: Is no contact the only way?
My soon to be ex (STBX) is a rage-a-holic NPD. Once he feels “rejected”, he declares war. That’s bad for my kids, and for me. If he sees divorce (and possibly wage garnishment, restraining order, etc.) as rejection, we may be in for trouble.
What kind of trouble? It could be just lots of empty threats, air-raid siren style. It could be the common tactic of him verbally bashing me in front of the kids and fucking with our parenting schedule. Maybe pulling me into legal battles. Or accusing me of being an unfit parent, or some other nonsense meant to hurt me.
What has he done in the past? He rages, smears, and, at his worst moments, verbally bullies the kids and me. Once, he drove drunk with one of our kids in the car, despite protests from onlookers. He has beat up his own dog, in front of us. He collects guns and plays violent video games (endlessly). He uses guns at his job and has them loaded and handy all the time. Enjoys getting into fist fights. He scored a 7 out of 10 on the Mosaic test. Statistically, I will have the two highest factors for spousal violence — I’m leaving my husband and I’m pregnant — double the risk! I don’t want to over-think this, but I feel like I need to be smart. I read your post on leaving violent exes, and it wakes me up to what I may be facing. I don’t think he will get physically violent (yes, I will make sure I’m safe physically) but I’m really hoping it doesn’t come to that. It hasn’t yet.
Here’s why: He has a *lot* going for him — a good job, parents whose opinion he (sort of) respects. A good reputation, at least on the surface (his affair is still secret). He hasn’t physically hit any of us (yet). He’s never held a gun to my head or anything. So that is good. There are boundaries that he hasn’t crossed because he knows he would get in trouble. When he rages, I wouldn’t put it past him to cross these boundaries (like when he drove drunk with our kid) but normally he doesn’t. He still sees himself as a great husband and dad. Deluded, I know, but that’s how he sees himself.
So, back to the question: What about feeding him some kibbles? Just enough to prevent the narc from declaring all-out war?
I don’t mean relationship-love kibbles. No way. I mean kibbles like “You’re such a great father.” Things regarding the kids, like “I’m so glad you sent the support check this month, it helps us out so much. We would be lost without you.” Gag – I know. But apparently narcs respond well to this stuff.
I’m not talking about chatting endlessly with him. Just short, concise emails, as in “The kids will be ready for their visit with you on Sat. By the way, ___ said she loves you and you’re the best dad ever.” End of email. No engaging in his drama, no spackling. No sharing details of my life, or his. Brief, short sentences with essential kid/house items plus an extra sentence of “kid kibbles” thrown in.
BTW, my love for him is *completely* dead, so there’s no danger of me wanting any relationship with him. He is toxic with a capital T. I saw way too much of his lies and cheating to ever want to go down that road again. Despite the fact that I want to hold him down and have “cheater” tattooed on his forehead, I think I can muster the emotional strength to feed him some kid-kibbles, *if* it has even the slightest influence on discouraging him from declaring war (scheduling-fucking, general meanness, or otherwise) on me and my kids for the next 18 years.
He has every reason to think that these kibbles are genuine. In reality, all I want to do is cuss him out – for the affair, for the lying, for all the bad treatment. It would relieve this emotional constipation and I bet it would feel really good to get it off my chest. If I didn’t share kids with him, I would have done this already. But as of yet, I haven’t. Not once. Not even on Dday. I was calm as a saint. During (false) R, I did the pick-me-dance and then once I found out he was still lying/cheating, I started making my exit plans, quietly.
I know I can’t control this situation, or him. But apparently narcs are suckers for kibbles, so maybe this is worth a try? What is your experience with this?
I’m so sorry you’re dealing with that freak! My experience with scary narcissists is that the best defense is a good offense. The most progress I made getting away from mine was laying low and then just sucker punching him. (Not literally). When I finally decided to leave, I did a mental calculus. Whenever I openly, like in therapy, said I was going to leave, he raged at me. Towering rage, cursing me out, etc. (And that was with a witness). At home, he was scarier. He’d get drunk and “sorry” and then threatening. I learned from that — don’t tell him. Just DO IT.
So for months I kept my plans on the down low. I bought a house while in “reconciliation.” I started moving my things out on the sly. And then when I moved, I got some friends, three movers and a van, and packed and vacated a 3000 square-foot house in under four hours. Turned off the utilities, didn’t leave a forwarding address.
My neighbor later told me that night she could hear his yelling and cursing next door, when he walked into an empty house.
There were other times in the process, that I pulled my punches. I felt bad for him. I was afraid of the consequences of his anger. I didn’t use all my power — I let him talk me out of several consequences, like a protection from abuse order. Those appeasements set me waaaay back. What worked? Focused energy on getting out and staying no contact. And exposure (we’ll get back to that).
You may think you can placate a narc with kibbles (“kids think you’re great”), but for narcs, there are never enough kibbles. If you only tell him the kids think he’s terrific, he’ll want you to add, “Don’t you think I’m wonderful too?” No matter how much kibble you give, he’s devalued you as a source (oh, you would say that). He’ll enjoy the kibbles, of course, but they aren’t shiny, bright new kibbles. They’re his baseline kibbles that he thinks he deserves ALL the time — and now you’re leaving and taking away ALL the kibbles and just leaving him SOME of the kibbles? How DARE YOU!
So, I think the kibble strategy is flawed. Don’t fool yourself in thinking you can manage him. People have gotten eaten by grizzly bears using that logic. The point is — you ARE going to leave him. And he IS going to lose his shit about that. You can’t disguise your ultimate intent — and that’s going to freak him out. There aren’t enough kibbles to not make feel the lose of control when you leave.
Another problem with the Kids Think You’re the Best Dad Ever kibble strategy is that narcs will twist things. Your narc may be litigious and have zero problem using those words against you in the court of law. A man who beats his dog and leaves a lot of guns around is a man you may want to argue isn’t the best influence on your children. Therefore you want ZERO affirmation on the record that you think he’s the “best.” Or the that the kids prefer him, adore him, etc. IMO, instead you need to be documenting for the court how frightened your kids are by his rages and any ill effects they may be experiencing (troubles at school, bed wetting, etc.) You need to document when he beats the dog, or intimidates you with his arsenal. That’s the kind of telling detail that matters in court cases. Don’t sugarcoat it. Use it.
Ack! So how do you leave Mr. Scary if you can’t use kibbles? You surround yourself with support. That’s how you do it. Tell everyone — your lawyer — your women’s legal resource center — your shrink — your pastor — what you are dealing with. And then you make a plan to escape to a safe place — your parent’s, or a friend, or a rental. Don’t get isolated — reach out.
You need a lawyer experienced in high conflict divorces, who knows about dealing with personality disorders especially. IMO, if you’re going to threaten exposure of the affair, to his folks, to his employers, you need to let your lawyer communicate that threat to his lawyer. As in, “We’d like to depose Miss Skankypants on Thursday the 24th” kind of thing. You’re dealing with explosives here, and that stuff is better left to professionals.
I know leaving one of these wingnuts is very scary, but people leave abusers every day — and you can too! Just don’t do it alone. Get professional support. Expect that he’ll get threatening and then face that fear and know what you’re going to do. Have a plan. He threatens you? Immediate protection from abuse order. No contact letter from the attorney. He pulls shit, the consequences need to be powerful and immediate.
Narcissists are bullies. And they care a lot about their image, so IMO your greatest weapon is exposure and a public fight. Going on the offensive works as well, because they never, ever expect it. You? That lesser being? Who is an extension of me? YOU have agency? It totally disorients them, and while they’re in that fog, that’s when you throw your punch — hard.
Just like you can’t nice them out of the affair, Duck — you can’t nice them out of divorce, either. They aren’t nice people.