Hi folks! If you recall, my last blog was focused on a CLE I attended earlier this year, “Managing the Two Most Common Personality Disorders: How to develop an effective strategy for your settlement negotiations,” presented by Dr. Mary Alvarez, PhD.

I wrote about my takeaways regarding one of the most prominent personality disorders that we see in many of our contentious divorce cases, Borderline Personality Disorder. I figured it only seems logical to begin the discussion around the personality disorder that can so often be coupled with Borderline Personality Disorder: Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Narcissists are everywhere these days in family law, whether formally diagnosed or perceived. The prevalence of true narcissism is estimated to be roughly 1% of the population. There is a spectrum, and some people show a higher existence of traits than others. That being said, it is a hot topic currently in the industry and it makes sense to delve into it more.

• Personality disorders: A Quick Refresher.

As a quick refresher, personality disorders are deeply engrained patterns of behavior that deviate markedly from what is considered the norm. There are ten main personality disorders but typically there are only two that are pervasive in high conflict family law cases: Border Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

• Narcissistic Personality Disorder: How does it look? What are the distinguishing characteristics? And where does it come from?

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is often distinguished by observed patterns of feeling little to no empathy, feeling special, having a grandiose sense of self (“no one is like me and very few people will understand me”), inability to take responsibility, the need for perfection (as defined on their terms) at any cost, conflict-oriented, and the need for attention and adulation. Narcissistic Personality Disorder stems from a similar group of variables as Borderline Personality Disorder, including: genetics, history of abuse, and often either extremely permissive parenting (neglect, little to no rules, no accountability) or authoritarian style of parenting (excessively critical, detached emotionally, harsh, and many rules). They can show up as arrogant, controlling, emotionally labile, angry, confrontational, and unable to see another’s perspective. It is important for us to understand these behaviors and use our knowledge and tools to manage and find control when chaos is ensuing.

• What does this look like in the law world? Why do we care?

Specifically, those who have been diagnosed as a narcissist, or those with perceived traits, struggle with aspects of the lawsuit regarding negotiations and communication. For example, in mediation, you may find litigants with narcissistic features making unreasonable demands and unwilling to negotiate or compromise. Often, these individuals have a need for control and power. Narcissistic individuals can appear entitled, rigid, and also tend to embrace confrontation. It is important we help manage behaviors and emotions well, and it is important to know where these behaviors come from so, we can positively impact a client’s case through awareness and management.

• How can we mitigate some of these issues that show up in Narcissistic individuals and represent our client well?

As your elected team of experts, it is important for us know you well enough to know what makes you tick, or what be triggers for you in heated situations, so we may address stressors that need not arise and achieve your goals as successfully as possible. In that same vein, it is equally, if not more important to assess how an opposing party in our client’s case might become triggered in a high stress environment. As experts, we work to integrate these considerations into any communications we have with the individual with perceived narcissist tendencies and can tailor fit proposals, settlement offers, correspondence, mediation offers, and a myriad of other aspects to capture the needed message and bringing an additional level of understanding and technique to the equation. As noted, the motivation behind utilizing these strategies is to have a comprehensive understanding of our client and an opposing party, so we may customize any approach to our client’s specific needs, goals, and personal situation at any given moment.

• Help us help you.

As your skilled team of professionals here at Maples | Jones, PLLC, we are constantly researching techniques, educating ourselves, and working to improve our firm to better represent you. Your job, as our client, is to fully equip and arm yourself with as many tools as possible to help move your case down the trajectory you desire for yourself and your family. Some very important tools in your toolkit are self-disclosure and honest communication. The more you can share with your attorney and paralegal – about the history of your case, the way each of you think, the way each of you emote, and how you each handle high conflict situations – and the more information we have from you, the more we can create a custom strategy to achieve your objectives. When you enter litigation, or any obstacle in your life, do your homework. Reflect some on the type of person you are and how you show up, both in the best-case scenario, and the worst. Figure out what is important to you and even what is important to the opposing party. This helps us create an approach that considers as many variables as possible. The more information we are given, the quicker we can potentially find common ground and achieve a better outcome for all involved. And THAT’s a win!


Written by: Ashlynn R. Acosta