Mental Health Issues of Borderline Personality and Narcissism in Custody Litigation

May 1, 2023
Louis Sternberg

Mental Health Issues in New York Custody Cases

Studies have shown that the presence of personality disorders, such as narcissistic personality disorder and borderline personality disorder, is associated with a significant increase in the likelihood of marital conflict and divorce.[i] Such mental health issues frequently arise in New York divorces.

Narcissistic individuals and especially narcissistic parents possess a strong sense of entitlement and lack empathy for others, as they are hyper-focused on serving their own needs as opposed to the needs of the children.[ii]  They also tend to have fragile self-esteem, but they developed a strong set of defenses to protect it.  For example, if a narcissistic individual were to receive even the slightest criticism or suggestion of failure, they would deploy their defense mechanisms, which include rage and contempt, to combat the strong feelings of humiliation, worthlessness, and emptiness.[iii]

Narcissists and Custody in New York

Custody litigation involving narcissistic parents often produces unending conflicts that unfortunately prolong litigation and make otherwise simple matters more complicated than otherwise necessary. In addition to global issues such as religious upbringing or medical decision making, a narcissistic parent will fight over minimal differences in visitation, overreact to real or imagined slights, and seem to ignore their children’s need for stable and secure relationships with both parents, seemingly blind to the effects their behavior has on their children and unable to think beyond their own emotional needs. [iv]

Similarly, an individual with borderline personality disorder, or BPD, is not able to manage stress effectively.  They fail to take personal responsibility for their mistakes, and tend to point the finger at others, including their own children, for their failure to manage that stress.  This can place the spouse and children of a BPD individual at increased risk of physical and emotional abuse as they become the targets of the BPD individual’s episodic rage, suicidal behavior, and even homicidal behavior.[v]

At the Law Office of Louis L. Sternberg, we have experience dealing with these and other types of personality disorders in family law matters including divorce, custody, orders of protection, and child support.  Call for your free consultation today.

[i] Disney, K. L., Weinstein, Y., & Oltmanns, T. F. (2012). Personality disorder symptoms are differentially related to divorce frequency. Journal of Family Psychology, 26(6), 959–965.

[ii] Bishop, J., & Lane, R. C. (2002). The dynamics and dangers of entitlement. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 19, 739–758.

[iii] Morf, C. C., & Rhodewalt, F. (2001). Unraveling the paradoxes of narcissism: A dynamic self-regulatory processing model. Psychological Inquiry, 12, 177–196.

[iv] Donner, M. B. (2006). Tearing the child apart: The contribution of narcissism, Envy, and perverse modes of thought to child custody wars. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 23(3), 542–553.

[v] Stobie, M. R., & Tromski-Klingshirn, D. M. (2009). Borderline personality disorder, divorce and family therapy: The Need for Family Crisis Intervention Strategies. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 37(5), 414–432.