Narcissists and Abusers are Bullies during Divorce

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Uggh. I got bullied this week by my narcissistic X2B, and I’m feeling like the little kid on the playground. It stinks. But it happens a lot with abusers and narcissists.

“Narcissists will bully their way through life and relationships, while appearing as if they are living the ideal life. Adult bullies rely on a “massive denial of reality” to maintain their lives.”  James F. Masterson, M.D.

Bullying can be done in a lot of ways. With the narcissist and abuser it is likely to be repeated, intentional acts designed to enforce power and control over you or others. They may do this by intimidating, coercing, criticizing, accusing, or using words to hurt you. Narcissistic bullies are typically loud, pushy and overly-aggressive, and they make decisions by bulldozing you. See the synonyms in the definition of “bully” above. They perfectly describe the narcissist and abuser.

Because the narcissist lacks empathy for others, they amazingly feel no anxiety about the consequences of his or her bullying actions. They don’t care if they hurt your feelings, exploit you, demean you, or manipulate you. With a narcissist you can never count on them to have empathy—ever.

So knowing that my X2B is a bully, I limit our communication strictly to the children’s logistics. I understand the concept of “no contact” with an abuser, but when there are children involved it’s simply not possible. However, everything unrelated to the children’s logistics goes unanswered, no matter how inflammatory. (More on communicating with an abuser or narcissist!)

But abusers can still find an awful lot to bully and abuse you over when it comes to children’s logistics and custody issues. Because they are control freaks and hate losing their power over you, they will create things to argue over when it comes to custody time, co-parenting decisions, returning the children’s personal effects, and child-related expenses.

For example, this week I offered to let my X2B take the kids to get ice cream during my parenting time to hear about their first day of sports practice. Instead of just graciously accepting the offer, he immediately tried to set his own terms for getting ice cream, insisting on an outing that would last a certain length of time.  I did not agree. The kids and I had a full day planned, and I had offered a “quick trip to get ice cream”.

15 emails later, and with increasingly antagonistic language, he was outside our home texting me. He had ignored my emails saying “That doesn’t work for us. Let’s just forget it” or “Pls. contact your lawyer”, and he was there to pick up the kids anyway. But we were not home. I stuck my ground. But in the emails I got bulled, blamed, name-called, projected upon, lectured, and accused of being difficult and uncooperative because I was not agreeing with his terms. During my parenting time.   

Yes, it was only 45 minutes additional minutes that we were arguing over. And I’m sure I would have agreed to his request if it had been made in an even slightly friendly way. But I’ve found that if you consistently let the abuser or narcissist bully, dictate, and then “win”, (which is really the whole point of their arguing, is to “win”), then it trains them to keep up the pattern of bullying. Because it works. Typically my X2B keeps pushing, pushing, pushing, and I eventually give in to his demands because I’m exhausted, confused, or fear saying “no”. To stop the pattern, one has to stop playing the game. When possible, stop letting him “win” when there is bad behavior.

“We know from studies of bullies that every time you give in, you lose power and put yourself in the situation of being bullied again. Every time you allow or accept a narcissist’s bullying, you are creating a worse situation for yourself—and reinforcing the bullying behavior.” Marsalis Fjelstad Ph.D, LMFT

So each time an issue comes up that we disagree over, I have to weigh the cost. If I agree to his demand, the communication will be over quickly, but it may set a custody precedent that is unacceptable. If I disagree with him, like I did this week, the emails back and forth will take up a lot of my energy and bandwidth for the day.  It is an exhausting waste of time. But sometimes I disagree with my X2B it in order to make a point, usually either an interpretation of the custody order, or to demonstrate that I’m not going to give in to his autocratic demands. (NOTE: Before I get to 15 emails, I’m now learning to email “I have stated my position and will not discuss this issue further. Thx.”)

Remember, with a bully you may feel powerless, but you DO have options.  Al-Anon reminds us to detach and remember our choices. You have the power to leave the room, to end the conversation, to say “no” when you mean no, to not engage, to step back from insanity rather than diving into it, to take action to protect yourself (which may include calling your lawyer or the police), and to turn to God for help with whatever you are powerless to change. I recommend if you are in the middle of the interaction with a bully to pause, take a deep breath or a short break, and remind yourself of your options and choices.

When the interaction is over, when the emails have ceased, when the bullying has stopped, I have to either move on or regroup. If it was a normal “bad” interaction, I remind myself that this is nothing new/there are no surprises here/this is who he is/this is my reality, and move on with my day.

If the interaction was particularly horrible, I take a deep breath, drop my clenched shoulders, and turn all the bad energy over to God and talk to Him. I tell him I just got bullied by a very mean person. I tell him what hurts. I tell him I’m angry. It stinks, really stinks. I ask for wisdom and strength. I practice gratitude by thinking of something I am grateful for, no matter how small. I recall scripture like Psalm 37:

“Do not fret because of evil men Psalm 37

He knows. And He cares. I rest in His love. I let it nourish my hurting, broken heart.

I remind you that dealing with a bully is challenging, but it is unfortunately part of what the narcissist and abuser does during divorce. It is reality. Don’t be surprised or blindsided. Make good choices. Keep your integrity. You WILL be OK. You will make it to the other side. Remember to breathe and pray. Detach with love. Be good and kind to yourself, dear one.

Love and Blessings,




Courage to Change, One Day at a Time in Al-Anon II

7 thoughts on “Narcissists and Abusers are Bullies during Divorce

  1. Beautiful blog, and very reassuring quotes by professionals. It is difficult enough to deal with the bully, and I find it equally challenging that folks do not realize, believe, or see the reality of the behaviors. Negotiating is a must with children, and impossible. Thank you for being a kindred spirit…and may your path (and mine) miraculously ease.

  2. Kit, dear friend, thank you for your thoughts. I agree that it is challenging, and for me personally, distressing, that the people around us “do not realize, believe or see the reality of the abuser’s behaviors.” Most abusers come across as incredibly charming and personal to others, so it can be difficult for the person who does not “have eyes to see” to see past the facade. A lot of my personal work has been (and continues to be) to let the crazy-making of that go. And instead focus my thoughts on healing, serenity and hope.

    The scripture I ponder at times like this include Psalms 34:15, 17-18 “The eyes of the LORD watch over those who do right; his ears are open to their cries for help. The LORD hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”
    Much love to you,

  3. I’m hoping and praying that you all can just put this behind you soon and not have to be subjected to such psychological and emotion torture. You are doing absolutely the right thing by standing your ground. If you’re being reasonable and he’s refusing to be an adult, then don’t give in! As the child of an abusive marriage, I can attest to the fact that your children are watching everything that’s going on. They’re learning about how to handle bullies by watching you. Every time you stand up for yourself and for them, you’re helping them to become stronger people. You’re helping them be less likely to fall victim to abuse as adults. God bless you, Melissa. Stay strong. Praying for you and your kids! Audrey

  4. Thank you, Audrey, for sharing your personal experience. I agree the kids are watching….which is one reason I decided to leave my destructive marriage after doing everything I could to try to repair it and stop the verbal/emotional abuse. The children were watching my X2B yell at me, show contempt, get upset about insignificant issues, glare and roll his eyes when I spoke, and twist the truth. They were NOT seeing a husband love his wife as Christ loved the church. They were seeing destructive ways of relating, and my fear was that they would grow up thinking this was “normal” and continue the destructive patterns in their own relationships.

    My children also saw me withdrawal, lose my voice, and lose my spirit. I was dying a slow emotional death. I wanted to live life, and live it abundantly (John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.) I wanted them to have a home of peace and truth and love. So as hard as it was to take action, I did.

    It has been a hard and challenging road. My heart has been broken. I have wrestled with guilt and sadness and fear. But I am grateful that God is healing my heart and giving me hope. I pray the same for the readers who are here on this blog, searching for answers and hope.

    Thank you again, Audrey, for sharing your thoughts and for your prayers.

  5. Thank you for that blog. It was very helpful since, I am in the midst of divorcing my narcissist husband. We are only able to text and I can relate to exactly what you have written. Communication is very challenging and so is going through this whole legal battle. It has been 15 months now since I left and very little has been done in regards to legal matters. This is due to my X2B delaying things and well being a narcissist. I agree with not giving in to his demands as painful and frustrating as it is. I gave it my all in the marriage and turned to God for strength and joy. My marriage was so toxic and unhealthy that I had no choice but to leave for the sake of my daughter and myself. I actually thought I was going crazy and had very little self esteem left. I seeked wise counsel and had support from family and friends. The only cloud that is looming around is that of my X2B. There is some research done on “Narcissistic victims syndrome” which is quite interesting and very similar to PTSD. Thanks be to God that my daughter and I are thriving now. The only thing to do is pray and allow God to fill your heart with his love and peace. I would not be where I am without Him.

  6. Hi there!
    I am still in a marriage with the above type. Sadly for me, I realized what happened to our marriage only last week when he pointed a finger at me and threatened me for having told his mum that she too had forgotten to remind me to book an appointment. My in laws stay with us and my father in law needs regular kidney function tests and a week ago I forgot to book an appointment.
    I was taken aback because I had not “told” his mum anything in any disrespecting way. But he took offence.
    BTW, have been married 24 yrs and have two kids, 21 and 17 yrs old and I am a working mom. But though such ups and downs have wracked my marriage all this while, I somehow never thought of his being a bully. But this last week threatening made me do a google search and arrive at the word “Bully”. And I realized what had been happening to us, to me.
    I have not spoken to him since last one week. The day it happened, I had even moved out to my son’s room but again a threat and I moved back to the bedroom. Now I realize, why I dont feel any love for him since so many years but have been tolerating him just for the kids sake. My daughter moved out to hostel a month ago and this last week incident set me thinking if I should file for divorce now that the kids are done growing. But my son still is at home with one year of college remaining so cant do it yet.
    Read a nice book by one Jonathan Fast “Beyond bullying”. Gives reasons for why it happens but would my hubby ever agree to read such a book or realize what he has been doing to me.I have left him twice earlier when he used to get violent(many years ago in 2001, again in 2008/9 but I never realized that he was bullying me into staying and pretending we have a great marriage until last week.
    Dont know what to do…am still thinking…

    • Dear anonymous,
      I read your comment and my heart grieves for you. I am so sorry you are in that difficult spot of realizing the truth of what is happening, getting out of denial, but not knowing what to do. I think those of us on the other side have all been in your shoes, and it is a hard place. But I want to encourage you – you DO get to the other side.

      When I was in your position, Leslie Vernick’s book and website blog was very helpful ( She encourages us to see the truth of what is happening, speaking up, and then standing up. That might mean moving out for a night to a hotel each time he continues to bully, after you’ve clearly told him you the behaviors you do not like and will not tolerate. (And charge the hotel to a credit card that he gets to pay for!)

      I hope and pray that you get clarity on the next steps in your journey.

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