Can mediation with a narcissist work?

Experiencing a relationship breakdown can be difficult at the best of times, but when it involves separating from or divorcing a narcissist, things can be especially challenging. There’s an old adage which says the only thing harder than living with a narcissist is separating from one!

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Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a mental condition characterised by a lack of empathy, an inflated sense of self-worth and a need for attention and admiration. When attempting to reach an agreement through mediation on important issues such as parenting arrangements, spousal maintenance, or property & finance distribution, it can be very difficult to negotiate with a narcissistic individual.

The good news is that experienced mediators will be able to recognise narcissistic behaviours, and work in such a way that ensures that both parties are given a fair opportunity to give their side of the story and express their wishes.

The first step in the mediation process is a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) which is an individual confidential meeting between just you and the mediator. You can tell the mediator about your concerns about your ex-partner’s behaviour and the mediator can outline your options and help you assess if mediation is going to be an effective and helpful route.

If you are concerned that your ex-partner shows signs of narcissism and could potentially disrupt the mediation process, read on for tips on how to mediate with a narcissist.

What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)?

In psychological terms, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition that leads the individual to have a heightened sense of self-importance. Many mistake narcissism for a sense of self-love – but for people with narcissistic personality disorder, this is often far from the reality.

In fact, it’s fairer to say that people with NPD are often in love with an idealised, grandiose version of themselves; and in most cases, this behaviour allows the individual to deflect from deeper feelings of insecurity. This uncertainty of their self-worth means that people with narcissistic personality become easily upset or aggravated by criticism.

It is common for people with NPD to seek attention and admiration from others, and they may lack elements of emotional empathy that allow them to care about or understand other people’s feelings.

As a result, mediating with a narcissist can come with challenges. Mediation sessions require two things that people with NPD are likely to find difficult; self-reflection and a willingness to compromise and see the situation from different points of view.

Recognising a potential narcissist?

In order to identify a potential narcissist, it is important to understand the signs and symptoms of narcissism. These include:-

  • An inflated sense of self-worth
  • Excessive sensitivity to criticism
  • Need for excessive admiration
  • Concern for themselves above everyone
  • Desire to win an argument, come what may.

These traits can make it more difficult to negotiate with a narcissist, as they will be more interested in their own personal gain than in reaching a fair solution.

Challenges in mediating with a narcissist

Mediation offers an opportunity to reach an agreement on important issues such as child custody, financial and property distribution, and other divorce settlements. Resolving disputes can be difficult at the best of times, but mediating with a narcissist can come with its own unique challenges.

There are several ways that narcissists might complicate the process. These include:

  • Difficulty compromising: a person with narcissistic tendencies may be more likely to see mediation as a competition that they must win, rather than an opportunity to negotiate and find a solution that works for both

  • Playing the victim and needing to be in the right: to a narcissist, it’s important to come across favourably. Narcissistic individuals are more likely to try and distort the reality of the situation so that they are the one ‘in the right’, twisting the truth into a version that suits their intended outcomes. The story might change from one session to the next, and the truth is rarely a fixed entity.

  • Gaslighting: as well as distorting their own reality, a narcissist may attempt to distort the other participant’s reality, feelings and recollection of events. This is what’s commonly referred to as gaslighting. Narcissistic individuals will likely try to do this by convincingly telling the other party a different version of events to what they believe, or to how they might feel. The individual may even try to gaslight the mediator by attempting to undermine their experience or professional knowledge.

The good news is that professional mediators are aware of these challenges, and are trained to work around these issues.

Tips for mediating with a narcissist

  • Let the mediator guide the session: when mediating with a narcissist, it is important to keep things straightforward and focused on the issue at hand. It is important to be firm and assertive, as narcissists will attempt to sabotage any meaningful progress and manipulate the situation for their own benefit. The mediator is trained to keep the session on track and divert any unhelpful conversation back to the main point, so remember to let the mediator guide the session knowing that the mediator’s only interest is to help you both reach an outcome that is mutually satisfactory. A mediator who understands what makes a narcissist tick can help give the narcissist what he or she wants - the sense that they are winning - while at the same time giving their victim the opportunity to find a fair solution that allows them to escape the toxic relationship and move on with their life.

  • Avoid interaction outside of mediation: Narcissists thrive on drama so will want to keep the fight going, so you need to do everything you can not to engage. That means not agreeing to discussions outside the mediation, not replying to texts and not reacting to behaviour which will be trying to provoke you into taking up the cudgel and once again resuming the battle. It will be hard work, but by declining to get involved in these kinds of antics will mean the narcissist will start to understand that the only venue for discussion is the mediation session. By doing so, the mediator can maintain boundaries and encourage a positive and productive process.

  • Stay calm and focused: avoid letting them provoke you or disrupt your thought process. The mediator can help you stay focussed and on track so that you can tackle the issues and eventually reach an agreement that is fair for everyone involved.

  • Know when to stop: narcissists are on a spectrum of NPD. If your ex-partner suffers from mild or moderate NPD, then mediation may well be a viable option, but if your ex-partner suffers from severe NPD, then mediation is unlikely to be successful in the long run. But mediation may still be a good place to start, as it can provide a less expensive way to obtain all the financial information that you will need in order for you and your solicitor to work out what a fair settlement might look like. But be realistic. If progress is not being made over a number of mediation sessions, do yourself a favour and start court proceedings. The advantage of the court process is that it imposes a timetable and structure that both parties have to stick to. Additionally, the Judge can sanction someone who fails to do what is required of them.

Finding an experienced family mediator

Mediation First is a completely independent and award-winning mediation service. Our mediators are very experienced and can help you move forward with a range of family disputes, including divorce, relationship breakdowns, sorting out a financial settlement, child custody, and other issues. Turn arguments into agreements with the help of Family mediation.

Get in touch with our team today to find out more about how we can help you. Complete our online contact form, call us on 0330 320 7600, or email us at