There were three things that happened that made me finally sum up the courage to be able to walk out of my own home on the day I left my narcissist partner. It’s not that I hadn’t felt those emotions before, it is just that they were so much stronger than before.
First, I had woken up twice that week realising that it had been a quiet couple of days and all seemed too quiet. Not only was I worrying about what might happen next and trying to think of how to avoid it, but I found myself missing the ‘adrenaline’ of conflict. That was horrifying.
Then it was a conversation – snatched when I took our dog out for a quick walk – with my daughter who said: “I know you had told us that xxx is struggling with their mental health and that all will be ok in the end, and we try to understand. But I really miss you so much. I’m frightened for you.”
And then when I found myself sitting on the grass in the middle of a field crying my eyes out, not knowing how I got there, not knowing who I was and ashamed of the ‘thing’ that was sitting there sobbing. Then I knew that, after all the years of lying awake at night wondering what to do, how to change this situation, what the risks were of being ‘tough’ and saying ‘get out’ or of me leaving the ‘home for life’ that I had bought before this relationship, there was nothing that could be as bad as staying in this incredibly toxic, destructive and body, mind and soul-destroying marriage with a narcissist.
So I rang my dearest friends (again) who said “Come now, just drive here or we will pick you up. Don’t go back to the house.” Quite rightly they insisted we told the police I had left and why, detailing some of the recent emotional and financial abuse that I had been suffering to ensure they had a record; but also because we were in lockdown. Yes, lockdown may have made things worse but it was not the cause of the final decision I made.
I lived with my friends for three months and I was like a zombie, totally overwrought, exhausted, emotional and frightened. Frightened of myself as well as what the person I’d left might do and what might happen. My grown-up children were amazing – tried so hard to be non-judgemental and not to show how much they had hated what they saw going on, but quite clear that it was right to leave.
I had to stop working as we had worked together; everyone was shocked – but it was clear they saw more than I appreciated. I fretted about ‘losing’ my step children, which I realised was inevitable but I felt I could not explain to them fully without hurting them too much and could not put them in that impossible position torn between us; their parent would expect their loyalty. As adults, my view is that they need to work it out for themselves and one day, I very much hope, to understand and re-establish contact with me. I’ve tried to show them I still love them just the same.
Classic behaviour by my ex followed my departure: desperate pleas to get me to go back, promises of change and counselling being received so they finally understood what they’d been doing wrong; appealing to my friends and family; saying how hard it would be for me to be alone, offering everything they could but also subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) pressurising. I had friends listen in. I recorded conversations. I got a solicitor. I spent hours – days (and nights sometimes) – writing stuff down, looking at figures, considering options, constantly trying to predict what they would do, wondering what my future would look like.
By this stage though, I was not going to be persuaded to go back. I knew the truth. I knew they could never change, whatever they promised. I knew the patterns of behaviour. I had learned so much more about narcissism by then that I realised that their excuse of being ‘mentally ill’ (PTSD, Attachment Disorder diagnoses) was not the primary reason they behaved as they did. They had always wanted to control, wanted the fights, wanted the power; they even admitted to being addicted to the adrenaline of volatile relationships.
I accept that their behaviour was made worse by their troubled upbringing, but fundamentally the traits were always there. That was clear from very early on in our relationship, looking back and also remembering what others said in their family. Yes, there was apparently awful abuse in their younger years, but I should have seen the signs when they spoke about how they turned that around and ‘used’ the perpetrators by learning how to control them. Or how they enjoyed certain aspects of relationships – past and present – in an abnormally intense way.
How did it take me so long to leave? How did I reach that breaking point? And how might someone reading this realise earlier and be brave enough to make what has to be the hardest decision for the partner of a narcissist, realising the likely consequences?
The lessons it took me years to learn were many. I could never prove to them that my love was secure and sufficient so that they did not need to control me in order to feel safe; and I could never succeed in ‘changing them’ or helping them to find ways to change. I’d tried, believe me I’d tried – to get them to see that life could be good together and that trust – the one thing they claimed they sought from/with me, was something they had from me already – until they started to destroy me and everything around me.
I knew they had to want to change. But all I heard them saying was that they did not want to – would not; it was me who had to change to understand them and show them that they were the most important thing in my life.
Over that last year or so, ever since once of the biggest emotional challenges in my life, the loss of a beloved close relative and the subsequent increasingly horrendous behaviour of my partner, the difference was that I was starting to say ‘no’. Or I would say that I understood if they felt a certain way, but that I did not agree; or I would not support a decision that they were making related to our joint business; or that one day I would be doing something that they tried to ‘ban’ – like attending my daughter’s wedding or ‘being a grandparent’ should the time come – whatever they said or did to frighten or stop me. I had started to ‘rebel’.
Once they recognised some clearer signs that I saw through their behaviour and I also stopped reacting to the threats of suicide or illness, and that I expected our relationship to change – however much help we both needed to achieve it and however many battles we had to get through – they started to see a bit of strength coming through in me.
The Smear Campaign
Then they flipped to destruction. Total personal, family and professional (work skills) destruction. Before then, it had mostly been about them, how much they were suffering and had suffered, how badly they struggled with their PTSD and other issues; I should understand why they were like this and fit around them. Then we would be happy.
The existing behaviours grew stronger, but with the added impact of far more personal, emotional abuse. Constant undermining, criticism, belittling of me and my (dead) parents, my adult children and my friends. Constant pressure to do or not do things related to our finances. Constant ways of manipulating me into situations that made me feel bad, wrong or a failure.
Even more than before, they stopped me seeing my friends, my family, doing the things I loved, often blaming their ‘trauma’ and because I needed to understand that if I truly loved them, I did not need my past, or my friends, or even my family, as they should be enough. I should let go of the past. And the physical symptoms of their ‘illness’ came through increasingly – so I became a carer when all is said and done. Then they had me. The control was so powerful – I was drawn into that fear that they needed me as otherwise they were a danger to themselves, so I had to be there for them all the time. I was committed to caring for them because I had loved them. Once, long ago.
Now I was scared to leave them because of the likely consequences of constant threats of suicide and the impact on their young adult children who were always vulnerable in so many ways – even if neither they nor their parent realised it – as well as financial loss and risk to my very own home that they had gained rights to. I wasn’t sure I had the strength to do it.
Through it all, I put on that brave face to the outside world – most of the time. I kept working and delivering good results. I tried to support my children. I certainly supported theirs – I wanted to. I paid for lots of things. I looked after our home. I told those that knew more, that I still hoped that the counselling that my partner had started to get would help and we’d be ok. I think I knew I was pretending; I just didn’t know how to stop the snowball rolling.
Ultimately, I knew I was losing myself and feeling such shame in how weak I was to allow it, but also so frightened of the consequences of standing up for myself. They were shouting, hitting walls or throwing things more often. And I would dissolve into a crying, shaking mess of frustration and exhaustion from never, ever being able to get them to understand what they were doing to me, to our relationship, to our respective children from previous marriages, to our future. Even spelling out that I was not able to live like this and could take no more. All ignored.
They thought they had broken me sufficiently that I had no choice and nowhere to go.
So the circle was created and as a person who wants to give, to care and to help others, I was an easy target. If any of this rings true to you, please give yourself some compassion and understanding. Trying not to blame myself for the mess I got into – or for the consequences of leaving – is still the most difficult thing I am trying to come to terms with.
Eventually I felt strong enough to leave my friends’ home; I really believe it is important to have people around you at this time of crisis and they were incredible. I rented a flat nearby, as I had offered for my ex and their son to stay in the home that I bought outright but handed half over to them when we married. They had demanded I do so ‘to show my love and commitment’ so they ‘felt safe’. I got legal guidance and advice from people who understood narcissistic relationships. They all said ‘go the legal route’ as they understood I could not face being in a room with my ex, or even on the phone with them any more; and that the word or ‘commitment’ of a narcissist in such situations was unlikely to be trustworthy. our respective children from previous marriages
On the occasions I went to go to my home to collect belongings, I could just about cope with the verbal abuse and emotional blackmail while there, but as I walked away my thumping heart beat even faster, I became tearful, I started shaking. Even if I just heard the voice, or saw a photo.
My brain went into overdrive wondering what they would do next, what was going to happen to my house, whether they would try to take as much from me as they could. Ultimately, I knew they would: they wanted to punish me financially, take what was important to me and be as awkward as they could in the process. The desire to ‘punish’ is very real: I learned once again never to trust their word but always to expect them to keep that control somehow and continue to hurt where they could.
Sleepless night after sleepless night; BUT it got better.
Yes, over the months it got better, because the relief of being away from the destructive words, the constant battles and emotional exhaustion enabled me to start being me again. To be able to work out right from wrong, to try to accept options and likely outcomes. And I got help that I didn’t know was out there, nor did I know just how badly traumatised I was. It was one of the policemen who spent time with me right back on the day I left, who was so clear. He’d seen and heard enough to say I was a victim of domestic abuse and I had every right to resort to criminal law. That shook me. But it definitely helped me truly realise it wasn’t just me. I’d struggled for so long thinking I was the cause, and forgiving behaviours due to ‘illness’. Even though my friends told me otherwise. It was the police and the solicitor who could give that professional, independent view.
The police helped me to set up some counselling through local resources which did help but I was incredibly fortunate when an acquaintance locally was brave enough to contact me – she had seen me out walking a couple of times in a terrible state – and said “I worked out what was going on and it happened to me. Talk to these people”. She put me in touch with The Nurturing Coach. The sessions I’ve had with Janine and guidance to understand both myself (vital) and the nature of the Narcissist, have been critical to my ongoing recovery. Sometimes it’s empowering just to ramble on about the past, the emotions, the frustrations, with someone who understands and is rational, unbiased and trained to assist but also gives ‘sane and sensible’ explanations and suggestions of things that help.
Even subconsciously, these techniques and ‘reminders’ help me every day. And always will.
But my ex had rights, whatever they had done to me and my experience with the law was that it is totally facts and figures-based and little credit is given to behaviours or to either party’s actual input to a relationship. Emotional abuse is still a highly complex and almost impossible thing to prove and likely to be too big a challenge for someone who has suffered it badly. So, you accept what is the law but try to get a solution as quickly as possible.
Once they know they are not going to get you back, all the promises, all the declarations are gone out of the window; they will want every pound of flesh they can get. They are clever. They will use every trick they have to control even the legal system as best they can or just be slow in responses; and to keep you wondering and waiting. They will say very little to others because of course they will only want people to know that ‘they have been badly treated and are only asking for what they are entitled to’. But I think that most people see through it in the end.
Get help. Tell people what is happening. Understand your options. Yes, get legal advice, but if possible, try to avoid getting into the full legal process and opt for mediation as it is SO much cheaper, less painful and less long drawn out. You can now find appropriate support/procedures to go through this route in a different way to ‘the norm’ to manage the challenges of dealing with the person you cannot bear to be near. If this really doesn’t work, then you can turn to the law. It is hard and expensive but does bring conclusion.
So: what are the magic words that help me through? Even now, over a year after leaving, every day I need to remind myself and try to overcome the negative and sad thoughts: integrity, trust, kindness, truth and love. I can hold up my head and say I have always tried to act with those words and beliefs in mind. But yes, I feel angry; yes, I often feel incredibly resentful that they can do this to someone, that they can destroy a person they claim to love and take so much from them in terms of not only money but self-belief.
If I had understood just how appalling and severe narcissism can be, I would have said ‘no’ before I got ‘buried’ by my ex’s behaviours. But hindsight is certainly a wonderful thing. If you are a person who has similar traits to me, then I have learned to accept that this is not a bad thing. I am loving and trusting – but I was not prepared with the knowledge to recognise my own character strengths and weaknesses, nor to understand the extreme character traits that make up the severe narcissist. I’m not a ‘youngster’; I reckoned I was fairly ‘worldly wise’, reasonably intelligent and had a strength of character and strong beliefs. But I was taken in. Never underestimate a narcissist.
The strength to act can be found – at some point in the rollercoaster life of being with a narcissist – but sadly it may take personal crisis to find it. It is better to cope with whatever else comes along than live a lie, live a life that is controlled and downtrodden. But I accept that I had a part to play in that. If I had not been vulnerable to such a character due to both my circumstances at the time, but also my nature as a person, I would have finished this relationship before it grew into a marriage. I was ‘caught in the net’ and I realised too late how much I was being manipulated from day one.
So yes – read, listen, research – but also know who you are. It’s important to acknowledge what is right for you. Know the character traits of different personalities in our complex world of human natures; be prepared. But do, please, keep believing that a loving relationship can exist and that life does go on. I’ve had years of anguish and I’ve handed over a lot of money to someone who had already taken so much in one way or another, in order to get my home and independence back, but I am far stronger and I am now surrounded by the people I love, doing the things I want and am starting to live my life again.
Above all I believe that if I can find the courage, so can you. I know my story does not involve young children, and that factor makes a massive difference to choices and timing and how you can get out, but I hope my words can help you believe it is possible.
Now I have Family, Friends and FREEDOM – they can never take these away and so I won; I won the very things they never wanted me to have.
This post was written by one of our brave and cherished clients. She hopes it will help someone get through their experience of a narcissist partner.