Narcissistic Influence and Gaslighting: Navigating Divorce with Resilience

By | September 25, 2023

Adding mental illness into the divorce mix often creates a level of toxicity few families can manage.  In this article, we’ll explore the impact of Narcissism and Gaslighting on divorce and how to navigate this challenging terrain with grace and resilience.  For other discussions of mental illness and divorce, click:  HERE.

Defining Narcissism

To understand its impact, let’s begin by defining Narcissism. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is characterized by a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. Individuals with NPD often exhibit a sense of entitlement and an exaggerated sense of self-importance.  Does that sound like your spouse?

In Virginia, mental health issues can significantly impact divorce proceedings. Courts have recognized the importance of mental health evaluations in divorce cases, particularly custody and visitation matters. This is particularly relevant when one spouse exhibits Narcissistic traits that impact not only child custody, but also property division and alimony.

The Impact on Child Custody

In cases involving Narcissistic traits, child custody can be a significant concern.  Virginia’s statutes allow for mental health evaluations where the mental condition of a parent is at issue.  The decision to invest financial resources into such evaluations must be carefully considered.   Narcissistic behavior, such as a lack of empathy or emotional instability, can raise concerns about a parent’s ability to provide a stable and nurturing environment, which, in turn, implicates the child’s best interests.

Your legal strategy must address these concerns while advocating for the well-being of your children (as well as your own).  Thorough documentation of the Narcissistic behavior and its impact on the children is crucial in making a compelling case.  Similarly, witnesses who can connect the symptoms of your spouse’s mental illness to his negative behaviors in the marriage are also useful.

Property Division and Alimony

Asset division and alimony can also be needlessly contentious in divorce cases involving Narcissistic spouses.  High-achieving, narcissistic individuals often have substantial assets and income, making the negotiation process complex.  Such spouses may be particularly prone to hiding assets or undervaluing assets’ worth.  Additionally, they may resist providing adequate financial support through alimony.  An experienced family law attorney must be used to counter these tactics with thorough financial analysis and legal expertise.

What is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a psychological manipulation tactic in which one person seeks to make another person doubt their own perception, memory, or reality. This term is derived from the 1944 film “Gaslight,” in which a husband manipulates his wife into believing she is losing her sanity by making subtle changes in their environment and then insisting that she is imagining things.

In the context of family law and divorce, gaslighting often occurs when one party in a dispute attempts to undermine the credibility and emotional stability of the other party, especially during divorce proceedings or child custody battles. Here are some key characteristics and examples of gaslighting in family law cases:

Denying Past Events: The gaslighter might deny that certain events or conversations ever took place, causing the victim to question their own memory. For instance, they might deny agreeing to specific terms in a divorce settlement, even if it was documented.

Trivializing Concerns: Gaslighters may downplay the concerns or emotions of the other party. For example, if one parent expresses worry about the children’s well-being, the gaslighter might dismiss these concerns as irrational or exaggerated.

Shifting Blame: Gaslighters often deflect responsibility for their actions by blaming the victim. In a child custody dispute, for instance, a parent might blame the other for any issues the children are facing.

Withholding Information: They might withhold important information or documents, making it difficult for the victim to make informed decisions. This could include hiding financial records during a divorce or not sharing medical information about the children.

Projecting: Gaslighters may project their own negative behaviors onto the other person. For example, if they have been unfaithful, they might accuse their spouse of infidelity without evidence.

Creating Confusion: Gaslighting often involves creating a sense of confusion and chaos in the victim’s life. This can be achieved by constantly changing the narrative, making it hard for the victim to keep track of the facts.

Isolation: The gaslighter may attempt to isolate the victim from friends, family, or legal counsel who could provide support or validation. This isolation can make the victim more vulnerable to manipulation.


In the legal context, recognizing gaslighting behavior is crucial for attorneys who handle family law and divorce cases. We support clients, help them document instances of gaslighting, and work to ensure their rights and interests are protected throughout the legal process despite these types of manipulation tactics.  Similarly, dealing with a narcissistic spouse can make divorce extremely challenging, but with the right legal strategy and support, you can navigate this difficult terrain.  If you are in the Fairfax or Loudoun County, Virginia area, and you or someone you know is facing a complicated divorce involving a these types of mental health issues don’t hesitate to reach out for expert legal guidance. As an experienced family law attorney, I am here to help you protect your rights and achieve a favorable outcome.  Remember, you don’t have to face this journey alone.

If you or someone you know is navigating the complexities of family law, consider reaching out to an experienced family law attorney like Jason A. Weis, Esq.  For further insights and legal assistance, don’t hesitate to explore other posts my website at or my firm’s website at



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