TRIGGER WARNING: Emotional abuse, depression, self-harm and narcissism focus.
I suppose I was an easy target really; low confidence has been a theme in my life since I can remember. Bullied all through school, which started with a teacher calling me ‘the fat girl in year 6’ in assembly. Things like that stick with you, the little comments through the years, even from people who probably don’t realise the harm they do but they chip away, and each dent never really gets straightened out.
Mental health battles really began in secondary school, which is when my self harm began too. All hidden from anyone I knew of course. I helped others with their struggles but failed to acknowledge and care for my own, that coupled with a difficult home life at that time took its toll and soon anxiety and depression were keeping me company far more often than I’d like. I wasn’t and have never been suicidal which the professionals I have had dealings with are always surprised by. Despite my struggles, I love life, I love my family and my friends and my job, the thought of death is something I struggle with. I often wake up in the night panicking about when I eventually lose my parents and how I will cope.
Unfortunately, with these kind of low self-esteem battles it often makes you easy pickings for bullies, narcissistic personalities are attracted to the weak, the easy to manipulate. I suppose it is easier to break someone down when they are already halfway there themselves. So, when I met my ex, I was fresh out of a very damaging relationship with my first boyfriend, fighting with my parents, fairly broken and probably desperate for someone to pick me up and rescue me.
To start with it was fine, the usual teenage romance, intense and obsessive. We rarely argued but when we did it was always my fault, something I had caused. I did not really notice at the time and just accepted it. I put the relationship on a pedestal and did whatever was needed to keep it there, but this was the start of my manipulation. I do not know if narcissists are even aware of their behaviour most of the time, it’s their normal I suppose, even though it’s so totally soul destroying for the victims.
I never noticed the abuse until the relationship broke down completely and I had no fight left. You see narcissistic behaviour and emotional abuse is exhausting to deal with, it takes every scrap of energy you have to cope with it. When it ended, I was empty, I was so incapable of making a decision myself that I would spend ages staring at the supermarket shelves not even knowing what to buy. My brain was full of fog, one that took months to clear. Emotional abuse starts so slowly you do not even see it coming, the mental injuries are so severe and long lasting. By the time you notice emotional abuse it’s too late and the damage is done. It turns you into a shell of a human.
The arguments we used to have were not really arguments. It would be him yelling all the things I had done wrong, everything about me that was inadequate or that he didn’t like, and I would just cry and take it, accepting the blame for everything probably because I just had no fight left. Every apology was loaded…’ I’m sorry but if you hadn’t….’ never actually a clear apology. The threats of suicide to try and make me change my personality or to manipulate me to make a decision I did not want to. The breakups that were followed by an offer of repair as long as I made the compromise that he wanted me to. Each speech would start with ‘we could be fine if you…’. The sly digs that would chip away at my confidence disguised as jokes that apparently, I could not take. I was too sensitive, too obsessed with things, too friendly with people I knew, too loud, too big, too ugly, too embarrassing to go out with. I was completely wrong all the time and yet made to feel grateful that I had this person in my life because well, who else would want someone as awful as me?
Family dinners and gatherings with friends were spent with nervous glances to make sure I hadn’t overstepped my mark, inevitably I would do something that he didn’t like, and the silent treatment on the way home and the following evening would be met with a barrage of abuse as soon as it was time to go to bed. I’d lie there paralysed listening with tears streaming down my face and when it stopped I would lie awake all night trying to process what had happened and how I could fix my behaviour so it didn’t happen again. But it did, often. I spent so much of my time and energy making sure that nothing would rock the boat. I remember sleeping on a tiny sofa with a cluster feeding new born so that we wouldn’t disturb him, it wasn’t worth the repercussions if we had.
The promise of presents and lovely things that would then be dropped or taken away because I didn’t deserve them. Birthdays ignored for the same reasons. A Christmas present was once sold to someone else right infront of me. I remember lying to my friends about what I had received because I didn’t want them to know he hadn’t even said happy birthday to me.
When the final break up happened it was over a big sacrifice I was being asked to make, I had fought my corner well and stood up for myself for the first time in a while. Not something that pleased him. And when the inevitable ultimatum came I just had nothing left to give, he had taken every scrap of my energy. I now had a baby to fight for too, it wasn’t just me anymore. I had someone to fight for and fight I did. And so it was done, although I didn’t realise what had actually been happening for a couple of months. I remember sleeping the longest I had slept in years after it was over, I was so exhausted from all of it.
I remember a friend sending me some information on emotional abuse and narcissistic behaviour. It was like a light had been switched on, finally things made sense! The diagnosis of generalised anxiety disorder and complex post traumatic stress disorder that followed this weren’t too much of a shock to me. I have adapted over the years we have been apart and now, after a lot of reading, therapy and support from the amazing people I have around me, I can deal with him in the right way.
The damage the relationship did have had long lasting effects. I am so incredibly lucky that now I am in the most wonderful NORMAL relationship. But I am still battling demons on a daily basis. My partner is the most patient, understanding and supportive and we are slowly undoing the damage we can, together. My relationships with my family and friends have never been stronger and I am so grateful to those who stuck by me through it all.
If any of what I have said sounds familiar, there is help out there for people in a domestic abuse situation. I know its so hard but it’s not too late to get out and things can get better, they can be so much better.