In this post we covered some basic defensive tactics when you have to go into mediation with a narcissist or other kind of emotional abuser. We recognized of a painful truth—any communication with an emotional abuser can be difficult, even damaging and having a third-party is the room won’t necessarily help. Their emotional abuse can easily shift to the new set of circumstances. Mediation is a convenient place for an emotional abuser to jump on his self-righteous soap box, put on the boxing gloves, box you in. Expect it and be ready.
But not only do we need to have tools to defend ourselves, we also should be in offensive mode as well.
Let’s not forget that the reason we are in mediation is to come to an agreement. Now is the time to try and get the physical things you need from your abuser.
It helps to keep a few things in mind:
#1 Realize you have every right to ask for what you want. He may have run the show for a long time, but this is divorce and that means that things are splitting into two people—and you are one of those people! This is not the time to just hear what your soon to be ex-spouse thinks, believes, and wants. More than likely you’ve gotten enough of that while you were married to write a volume of books on his beliefs and wants and how he wants others to behave (a big book for the basics and each separate text for all the adjustments and changes and inconsistencies through the years.) You have a right too. 50% of the right, in fact. Now is your chance to legally and officially have an opinion and your opinion will be heard.
#2 Don’t attach your wants and needs to his wants or needs. Your desires should stand alone. They are your thoughts, not extensions of his thoughts. For example: He says, “I should have the kids every Christmas.” Your answer should not come out as, “Well then I want to have them every Fourth of July.” Imagine if he had not started asking for every Christmas, would that still be what is right for your new family arrangement? Think on your own.
#3 Don’t think of it as a me vs. him competition. You are not there to challenge and disagree with everything he says. Perhaps the situation above happened, “I should have the kids every Christmas.” You had thought about it and realized that he did do special things every Christmas with the kids and you’re Jewish anyway so Christmas is not that big a deal to you. It’s okay to say, “Sure, sounds good.” Even if you think they are coming from a place of argumentativeness and anger, try to ignore the emotion and just focus on what is best. He’s used to controlling you by telling you what to do. He’s still controlling you if you just automatically go against what he’s telling you to do. The point is to make your own choices regardless of what he says.
#4 It’s okay to delay responses. Phrases like, “Let’s circle back to that.” or “I don’t know, let me think about it.” or “Can we discuss this later?” are all okay and good responses to some things. Keep a clinical eye on your brain. If it is becoming flooded, triggered, or overly emotional s-l-o-w-t-h-i-n-g-s-d-o-w-n. The point is to give your brain time to process things fully and this is the exact time where your brain will want to freak out and jump to conclusions and react instead of thoughtfully respond. Give yourself time.
My husband told me that I should wait near the kids’ school for the two hours between when they got out of school when he got off of work on his placement days. My brain screamed, “No! I don’t care if it’s a long drive for him, why should I be helping him at all? Not going to do it!” I asked to circle back. Later, coming back to it myself instead of being prompted, I told him it would be fine. I would wait for him. In the time I gave myself, I had realized that making my husband drive an extra half an hour meant making my kids ride an extra hour. They would hurt more if listened to my initial gut desire. We learned for the time to enjoy the local library for homework time.
Notice that just like the #3 tip, my husband asked for selfish reasons (he didn’t want the extra drive time) but I was able to look at it from the outside a bit and chose to do it his way for good reasons. I didn’t go opposite everything he said just to prove that he’s wrong. If you give yourself some time to think though things clearly, you can make choices that are best and not simply reactionary.
#5 Plan ahead. One of the most interesting phenomenons I didn’t expect in my mediation was what happened with the homework requirements. Our mediator would send us home after a session with homework of what to research and decide. Every single time my narcissistic husband did none of it. I’ve heard and know that a narcissist will want to win everything, but somehow my husband didn’t do the smallest of tasks to actually help himself. I think this is two-fold. First, someone told had him to do it and he’s a slave to no one. Second, he already knows everything there is to know so what’s the point in any extra work?
And it’s not just mine; I’ve heard it said about other narcissists. They phone in the actual real stuff and just fill in with emotion. Your strength will be that you are wise enough to know you don’t know enough and you take the time and effort to figure it out. Know everything about what you want and research it and document it and be ready.
I was ready for a huge fight over the high school choice for our eldest. I knew my husband didn’t like the area of town where my choice of high school was. When the time came he had not put any thought into it and, even after being assigned the research as homework, he came back in two weeks with no information. The choice defaulted to me because I knew. I didn’t even have to refer to my notes I brought but since I had them, I got what was best for our son. You don’t need to wait for the homework to be assigned. Plan. Be ready.
#6 Use facts. Those who emotionally abuse do it because they know emotion, because in fact that is all they are. Their emotion is translated into their own version of truth. Their strength comes from being so staunch and factual in their delivery of their emotional version of truth. “It’s all her fault” is not a fact, it’s an emotion presented as a fact.
Victims have the huge benefit of having the actual truth on our side. If we can present the actual facts, the reality of the situation quickly becomes clear. Don’t engage in his smear campaign presented against you based on emotion. Just give the facts. Just be ready and don’t be surprised because at this point he WILL lie. When I got to this point over and over it threw me for a loop every time– “he just said what?” He’s lied in the past to himself and to me but these were brand new ones, blam, thrown down as truths. Don’t bother with discussing lies but use the tips presented in the defense post. If you engage every lie he gets what he wants, round and round accusations and blame and emotion. Don’t engage with his emotional truths. Only discuss actual truths.
It may be hard to understand what actually constitutes a fact you can use when you have been gaslit to believe his type of facts. Think about numbers and be cautious of any superlatives. Stay away from words like: never, always, greatest, worst, kindest, meanest, etc. If you want to include a clause about bedtimes and he insists there is no need because he always has them to bed on time a bad response example is, “you always let the kids stay up too late!” instead try, “the kids’ bedtimes are 8:00 and 8:30 and last week I got texts from them after 9 on two different days.” There will be excuses and most likely lies at this point but you’ve presented facts that he can’t argue.
Use tip #6 to plan out your facts. Write down and research your own emails, photos, text messages, etc. to back up as many facts as you can. Just have them ready. Don’t lambaste him with them as soon as he walks in the room. Just have them ready in case you need them. What you don’t need could be helpful later.
#7 Fight clean. I get it. I do. After years of always being the loser, always succumbing to his desires, a chance to be heard can be intoxicating. Picture a kid, always picked on, finally getting in a good solid punch. In his excitement at finally standing up for himself he impulsively throws a punch to the groin. It will not end well. The truth is you’ve been trained what strength looks like and if you conform to that idea of strength you are like him. You have a different strength. Your strength comes from truth, not from ugly emotions like contempt or pride. So watch yourself. You will start to be heard and finally get a say but don’t gloat. Don’t use the opportunity for a smear campaign. Don’t try demanding more just because you feel you’ve finally got the upper hand. Wise as a serpent, innocent as a dove my friend. Be wise as a serpent but still innocent as a dove. We aren’t like them. We are kind. Don’t lose that.
Mediation is crazy tough but it can be a very good thing. This process starts when we are not ready but we can find that we were ready all along. Being abused has left us broken but it is amazing to find it has also made us strong. Draw on your strength. Mediation may be the road to get us to a much healthier place.
If your situation requires you to be in mediation, walk into it with your head held high. When you move forward the cloud of fear lingers behind. Keep moving forward, slow and steady, and you will get where to need to be. We are cheering you on.