What I have learned, you can too

Story of Working Single Mom Style

I cried today. At work. Twice. Once in front of HR. This is cringeworthy stuff and today I did it. Just a few days ago I had a good ol’ sobfest in the bathroom at work as well– doing the obligatory praying that no one walks in to use the bathroom for something so trivial as peeing. So at which point did the official title fairy come down and hand me my “pathetic” badge? To discover my official title perhaps we should dig into the details a bit.

Women, it seems, are NOT allowed to cry in the workplace. Ever. It’s weak. It’s awkward for your coworkers. It’s off-limits. If a woman is okay with donning the “weak” title they may be permitted to cry if their dog has died (as long as it was cute and you always showed everyone pictures) or if you accidentally cut your hand off with a bandsaw. That’s about it. And you have to be the stereotypical weak woman whom the management can refer to as the “girl up front” and will never, never rise enough to break the glass ceiling, much less even attempt it.

I cried in the workplace because I was tired of being weak. My coworker had asked as soon as I walked in that morning, “Did you let [the boss] know that you won’t be in tomorrow?” and that started my brain rolling. I realized that I was fed up and at a loss at being trampled on, used, and considered the weak one. I realized that I would not be in at work tomorrow because I was going to stay home with my son and because of that I would not get holiday pay. But it gets even more infuriating.

My job had actually been very, very flexible with me. When I went to them and said I needed more work they set me right up with a new position for me and now, nearly a full year later, I was still choosing my hours so that I could be home when the kids were not in school. During the summer I worked second shift sporadically so that I was only going in when my husband had the kids. No one else in the office worked second shift. And I was strong. I told them what I could work and only worked then and I got my work done, never missing a deadline, never having any quality issues. But one day, on a fluke day that I was able to, I came into the office during the standard work day, and was called to my boss’ office. “We need someone to work full-time,” he told me. “We need someone consistently here during the day,” he said. “If you can’t do that, we have to let you go.”

Over the next few days I processed and churned and my then far from weak persona came up with a proposal. I had three demands: 30 hours instead of forty hours a week during first shift, a few extra weeks vacation than a normal fresh hire, and I would start when the summer was over. The thirty hours got me leaving two hours early each day so I could still pick up my sons from school, the vacation time made sure we could still travel and do fun things, after the summer was over was so my kids could have one more year of what they are accustomed to before having to adjust to being official latchkey kids.

I told my coworker my plan and she was excited. She had worked there over thirty years and was so happy with me she was glad I was finding a way to make it work so I could stay on permanently. She began talk of being able to retire when it was time, leaving things in good hands.

I emailed the proposal to my boss. He said no.

They wanted a forty hour week. He said they were very, very happy with my work and made it clear that they had no issue with my performance and recognized that I always, consistently got more work done than anyone else on regular time, but he told me no. He told me they would keep me on through the summer, a few more months, so that I could train my replacement: a young, fresh-faced woman who was just ending a temp position… in my boss’ wife’s department.

I couldn’t cry then. I wouldn’t cry then. I was strong. I didn’t need this job. I was allowed to state what I needed and they were allowed to say no and do what they thought best for the department, no matter what their reasoning. I would be fine. I met my replacement with a smile and trained her with all the gusto that I put into any of my work. I was strong.

But a few days ago I cried in the bathroom. Over about a month training went well but my own financial issues were rocky, to say the least. My riding mower broke (after a few attempts at self repair) eventually revealing that I needed several hundred dollars to replace it. My car had an issue I tried to fix by dumping nearly a thousand dollars into it and then, less than a week later, the transmission died. Then my dryer began to squeal. The water hose on the back of the fridge started spraying water everywhere. My oldest son wanted to join soccer and my youngest wanted to learn to play an instrument. All this and my job was ending. My business needed growing but I can’t put the work into advertising and finding clients because during the day I am at this other job. And, in the midst of all this, my husband tells his lawyer that I am capable of making more than four times what I am currently making (and several tens of thousands of dollars more a year than he even makes) so that is why he shouldn’t have to pay any support whatsoever.

So I’m was waivering but I was still not weak, I could still be considered strong. I tried to figure out in my weariness how to make lemons into lemonade and realize that maybe a lump sum up front to go back to school is better than trying to expect a monthly payment from my husband. I got my feet under myself just a tad and talked up how I’m going to pull things together so that I don’t have to rely on the support at all. He doesn’t want to pay? Fine, he can just less pay up front and be done and I would go back to school and move into a better life not needing his support.

A few days ago my trainee signed the official paperwork that she was past the probation period and keeps the job. Over and over I overhear, “Congratulations! So glad you’re staying!” Then I hear her tell them how great it is and how she realized that this job would be better for her than even going back to school because of the benefits and the experience.

Me. Bathroom. Sobbing. My husband wouldn’t agree to the lump sum anyway. He’s insistent on paying nothing at all.

Later that night I got a bill from my husband for half of the high-end school supplies he bought for the boys without telling me. I start to argue but just end up telling him I’ll pay whatever because I can’t weather another fight.

All that is shoulder slumping but today the full extent hit me. How I was the one getting cheated. Today my coworker reminded me to let my boss know I wouldn’t be in the day before a holiday. When you don’t work the day before/after a holiday, you don’t get holiday pay. EVERY time a holiday comes around the kids have something going on where I end up not working the workday before/after. It does not matter that almost EVERY holiday this last year they have spent with their dad or that I would happily work on the actual holiday itself instead of sitting home alone except the company is closed so “our employees can spend time with their families.”  Most of the time the day I am taking off is their dad’s day to be responsible for the kids anyway, but he NEVER takes off. He is perfectly fine just leaving them alone in his apartment all day when they don’t have school while he goes to work.

And the kicker? We work at the same place. My husband is livid that I am still working there and he has been looking for other work, (with my phone number on his resume so I get the calls, no lie) because he hates it there but loves to complain more than he hates to actually move jobs.

I want to work there. My husband doesn’t. Yet he gets to keep his job, gets full benefits, makes his schedule and travels the way he wants to so he can lie to the court that he “needs” a certain placement schedule, and yet whenever he doesn’t have the kids he lives in a hotel and gets all of his expenses paid for by this company and recently he even got upgraded to the latest iPhone through work (which is also a paid expense for his department.) And I am losing my job because I want to leave two hours early every day to do a thing that he would never consider doing: keeping things consistent for our kids and having an available parent say to them through actions that they are a priority.

So today I cried.

But did I really cry because I was weak? No. I cried because I wasn’t strong enough for myself, my kids, my husband, and my boss. Not strong enough does not automatically mean weak. It just means that there is too much pressure.  

Sometimes we simply can’t take the pressure off either. Sometimes the refrigerator will break and we can’t tell it, “Not today.” Sometimes an angry and vindictive abusive spouse will take advantage of you. Sometimes something will happen at work that simply doesn’t benefit you. On those days, it’s okay to cry in the bathroom. It’s okay to feel the injustice and mourn what you’ve lost, are losing, and will soon lose.

Maybe when you’re crying someone else will come in, just thinking they need to pee, and will catch a glimpse of reality. It may seem messy, but it’s reality. If that happens you have another adventure. Will that person be standoffish or understanding? Will they be judgy or comforting? Will you have the opportunity to practice dealing with an unhearing world, or will you have the opportunity to be supported by a caring world? Who knows. That’s what makes it an adventure.

But if you go into the bathroom at work and find someone crying you can be that second person. You can show some compassion and help change a society that often negates emotion. You can wait with them and hand them paper towels from the dispenser to dry their eyes. Because sometimes things are just hard for all of us and you won’t be able to know all the ugly details about that other person, but they need to feel like it’s okay to cry so you can show compassion when they need it. You can know without even knowing.

Oh, and when I cried in front of HR? I felt like such a loser when I couldn’t hold back the tears, but she was one of those compassionate people. She made sure I got paid the holiday pay. Looks like everything will work out. There is hope. Things will be okay.

Story of a day keeping things together

“I don’t get the point of that movie.”

I raised my eyebrows, “Okay,” and put on my teacher voice. “If you had to guess, what do you think the point was?”

“Um… music?”

Inside I was tired and already crying. I did not have the strength to take care of myself but I had to teach this boy. I couldn’t just tell him because he wouldn’t understand. I had to teach it.

I started working around the room, feigning just enough disinterest to not scare him off. “Well, for starters, it’s an underdog story. Do you know what that is?”

“Is that a story about a competition?”

“No, not really, though it can be. An underdog story is about someone who you don’t think will do well but they work hard and you really want them to do well.”

“Oh, every movie is like that. That makes it boring.”

Internal sobs.


Being married to a narcissist means years and years of explaining empathy and not having yourself heard. Being discarded by a narcissist means having to rip yourself away from the person you love, realizing that he can’t love you back. Having kids with a narcissist means you may be in serious pain but you have to continue in the pain because you don’t have time to heal.


We had been separated 8 months and the pain was still very hard, especially on certain days. This was the first time my kids and I had come up to the cabin after their dad had taken things. There was no dining room table. The central part of the whole place– home to big meals, game nights with the neighbors, and puzzles– was gone. It was a big void and a glaring signal that our lives will never be the same again. Plus, on the way up the alternator on my vehicle had gone out leaving us stranded and alone over an hour away from either home or the cabin after garages had closed. We had to depend on the kindness of strangers and got in several hours later than expected the night before.

I was emotionally wiped. I looked forward to a distraction, so I got the movie “War Dance.” It’s a documentary about a group of orphans from the northern part of war-torn Uganda who travel to the capital where they participate in a traditional African dance competition.

I loved it for many reasons, one being that it helped me understand that my own problems are not the only ones out there. These kids were true underdogs. One child at fourteen had to take care of her four younger siblings. One had been a child soldier and had been forced to murder innocent people. One was now being taken advantage of by her aunt and blamed herself for her parents’ deaths. Those kids have it so hard but they are living their lives and living them well despite the hopelessness of their situations. I felt hope. But then…


“I don’t get the point of that movie.”

I no longer had to explain or try to justify my empathy to my narcissistic husband, but here I had to explain to my son and he HAD to get it. How could he not get it? I gave him the basic rundown of the story and how I felt about watching it. I was teaching him emotional vocabulary. He shrugged his shoulders.

I didn’t think I had to go here, but I guess I had to take it to the next step. “C’mon kid.” I thought, “Make the connection. FEEL something.”

“Don’t you remember?” I said, “Don’t you remember the dancing?”


At this I think a bit of the pain showed up on my face. How could he forget? So I started explaining to him. “Many people have a hard time understanding a story when it is so much different from theirs. When everyone looks different or they live differently sometimes people have a hard time even realizing it’s real. It doesn’t feel real. But you’ve been there. You’ve seen it. You know it’s real. You saw the dancing and how important it was.”

I started to recount our travels. You see, we had actually BEEN to places like Uganda. My kids should be more prepared to have empathy for Africans than most. We went to three African countries two and four years ago. We saw people practicing traditional African dance complete with fur covered shields for a graduation celebration. We went to a village where, since they knew we were coming, they DANCED us in. They were singing and dancing in a small mud hut when we arrived and they took us by the hands and smiled and danced with us in that rhythmic, close to the earth sort of way. My youngest sat on the dirt floor with all of the kids in the village. We sat and listened as they told us their stories of turmoil. They were horrific stories. We went to a women’s prison where they were singing and dancing and little kids were wandering around, living the only life they had ever known because their mothers were in prison. We went to churches in Africa where the dancing was loud and long and important to them. I pulled up the pictures on the computer. “There you are. Remember?”

“Remember,” my internal voice begged, “you HAVE to remember!”

This smiling woman is dancing with my son while the kids clap out the rhythm. Her husband was murdered 20 years ago and she now shares a village with the murder’s family. Her pain was so real but her heart is so beautiful after forgiveness. Her heart is visible when she’s dancing and the beauty shines through her smile.  I love this picture.

In my attempt to get the kid to make a connection and experience empathy, my own soul just cried at how much he should get it, but wasn’t. He sat disinterested and ambivalent. “Huh.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t remember.” It was only a few years ago. Those trips were some of the most deep and important things we had ever done and it didn’t register. What did I do wrong as a mom that this didn’t sink in?

Conversely, why is how their dad acting taking control? Why is my son acting like this? He almost seemed proud of his ambivalence. Since his dad was gone he seemed almost eager to take his place. It was as if I felt him saying, “Mom is emotional and acts crazy sometimes. Someone has to point out to her how stupid her views are. I can’t even admit to remembering anything because she has to understand she doesn’t matter.”


I sighed. No point in pushing. You can’t force it. I can just pray that it’ll sink in later.

“Let’s go make cookies.”


The evening before two men, instead of going home after their workday, took the time to work on my vehicle and replace the alternator for us. Then they refused to take any money. I was going to be going back through where they worked the next day so I decided we would make some cookies as a thank you and drop them off at their store. I planned on making a big batch so the kids could have some as well.

But my kids groaned in response to making cookies. “I don’t want to.”

I gathered my strength again and plastered on some fake enthusiasm. “Well you get to you lucky ducks! C’mon out here and let’s do this. We need to say thank you.” More groans.

My smile faltered but I pointed my face the opposite way. No weakness. C’mon mom. You can do it.

I set the kids on jobs. One reading the recipe, one gathering ingredients. They drug themselves sulkily about their tasks but kept going. We took turns mixing and I looked into the bowl, “This looks like it needs a special mixing. Who wants to mix it with their hands?” Sly smile. Opportunity to get sticky cookie dough all over their hands? If that’s not the way to cook with kids, I don’t know what is.

“Nah.” I got from both.

My attempts to keep positive was wearing thin. Inside I was so tired. “Well,” I said, “looks like I will just have to do it. Here, hold my wedding ring while I wash my hands and do the dirty work.” My son grabbed it and dropped it on the floor. He picked it up and dropped it again. “Be careful with that. It’s very special.”

I washed my hands and opened the cabinets to grab the cookie sheets. I froze. Time stopped. I stopped breathing. Long blink. No cookie sheets. My husband had taken the cookie sheets. My brain moved slowly, I could use the… no baking dishes. He had taken the baking dishes too. Nothing was left that was safe to go in the oven. My son dropped the wedding ring again. A tear dropped down my face. My internal sobs showed up on the outside.


This is one day out of so very many. Not every one is so hard. Some are harder. And I don’t know what the answer is. Single parenting has many challenges including not being able to call in a partner when you’re tired and overwhelmed. Some days you cry in front of your kids over a stupid thing like not having a cookie sheet. It is quite the underdog story.

As the spouse or ex-spouse of a narcissist you are the weak one, trying, however poorly, to compete with the strong, confident one. You may know the true side to your narcissist but maybe everyone else, including your kids, thinks that he’s just so terrific. Sometimes it’s just you, seeing the true story, who knows to root for the underdog. You know you have a long way to go and so much to overcome, but when you do it will only make the story that much more glorious. It will only make your smile that much more beautiful.

But today you cry and that’s okay because you are not a narcissist and know to feel badly about the injustices. It is sad and that’s how an underdog’s story starts. You’re just in the midst of it.

Mediation: Seven tips for getting what you need from an abuser

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.

Mediation: Six protective tips for working together with an abuser

Divorce is a difficult process. It’s made all the more difficult when you are divorcing an abuser.

One of the hallmarks of the divorce process is the dividing. Everything needs to be divided and once papers are filed, the courts turn to you and effectively say, “So you two—tell us how you are dividing your lives into two.” What this then means is that you have to communicate in order to decide what to tell the judge.

When the hallmark of your relationship is that your voice is not heard, your opinions are mocked, your communication is broken—this can be terrifying.

All of the conventional wisdom is that abusers should be left and narcissistic abusers especially should not be contacted. (Called specifically, “No contact.”) How frustrating is it when you are searching everywhere for answers and the answer always is, “go no contact” and yet the court is saying “work it out.”

For years I tried to get my husband to go to counseling. I knew our communication was broken. I always ended up in tears and broken and he always used communication to attack, condemn, and bully. When he finally said we would go I was so excited. Finally a third-party would be there and could keep things balanced. I was wrong.

Emotional abusers work on the assumption that they are always right. Depending on their level of disorder this means that not only may a third-party not help, it may make it worse.

My husband went into that counseling session with a litany of wrongs I’d done against him. He used the space as a platform to proclaim loudly and proudly that I was the source of all that was wrong. As ridiculous as I knew many of his complaints were even at the time, it did not stop him from seething with “righteous” indignation at my flaws for an hour and forty-five minutes during an hour-long session. It was a terrible, terrible experience and I never wanted to do that again yet he had filed for divorce and now the court and our lawyers were saying, “Gotta go to mediation and communicate so you can split your lives.” So again I had to go into a setting with him where his opinions were asked of him and he was ready to respond. It was like I was placed in front of an oncomming bus that I KNOW is not going to swerve.

Now, my husband had a legally sanctioned and encouraged platform to explain why he was best and right and how I was 100% at fault and wrong. The first thing he did was attack and I was triggered. I cried and fell right into our pattern. I tried to defend myself but he started running circles around me. The mediator, not there to repair our marriage but to help us decide how to split us, stopped his attack but by this point he was a half a dozen points in and she just wanted to move on. So, unable to defend myself, I just started the meeting half a dozen points behind. So now I was triggered AND the power was unbalanced. What a mess. I was labeled the “emotional one” and accusations of acting emotionally and eschewing sanity seemed realistic.

I believe you find so little online about mediation with a narcissist (the most common type of emotional abuser) because no one has good news. It’s easier to say, “go no contact” with a small note that you may have to have contact because of kids. Well I’m going to give you more—I’m going to tell you all the tools I learned to cope. I pray that if you must go through this, you can go in wiser at the beginning than I did.

#1 Know it will suck. Even with all the wisdom it will stink. Know this and give yourself grace. While you’re at it give grace to the mediator and your abuser too. It will not go well and everyone will make mistakes. Expect it and embrace it even. It does not help to have unrealistic expectations. Things will be okay and you can do well even amidst the suckiness.

#2 Detach, detach, detach. This is so difficult and yet it is so helpful. You are emotional for a very good reason (see number 1) and you have a right to be sad, angry, defensive, accusatory, hurt, etc. However, feeling any of these feelings in this moment is not only useless, it’s damaging. Feel the feelings… later. In the moment though you must do everything you can to detach. This is the trapeze act and is not the time to focus on the fact that you’re scared of heights. Here are some tips to perform this death-defying act:

  • Be the investigator/reporter. Be the person behind the pen. Don’t look down and see how far the fall is. Don’t look at your abuser and see how he perceives you. Take notes. Be an outsider gathering information. This can come in handy when you’ve forgotten everything later because of that lovely fight/flight/freeze response. This can come in handy when you’re talking with your lawyer later. But the main point is just to keep looking at the page and to keep your hands busy and distracted. Don’t worry about taking good notes. Scribble, “I like tacos” over and over again if you need to. These notes are just for you. No one needs to see and you won’t be graded. Just stay occupied.
  • Be the curious observer. Pretend that your abuser is a lion. He is dangerous and his roar is terrifying. You are looking at him and taking it all in there, just a few feet away. But you’re not on the open savanna. You are behind the foot-thick plexiglass at the zoo. It’s an amazing sight but he can’t hurt you so you can just watch and marvel at this creature.
  • Be the doctor. See your soon-to-be ex-spouse as a patient in a mental institution. You are the doctor. Does a doctor go in to the patient who thinks he’s the Queen of England and tell him over and over that he’s wrong? No. The doctor is kind and calm will try to help the patient come to that realization when the time is right and after medications are balanced right. Now is not the time to force a fix on the patient. Now is the time to be compassionate, knowing you’re right and he’s ill.

All of those scenarios help you detach and observe instead of reacting in the moment.

#3 Create new dialogue. Your relationship has established routines that leave you broken. Sit down and write out what you will probably hear and how you will respond. The shorter the better. You will find certain phrases powerful, easy, and useful in many situations. These phrases include classics such as:

  • “I don’t agree.”
  • “That is a personal issue and doesn’t need to be discussed here.”
  • “My feelings haven’t changed”
  • and my personal new favorite, “No.”

All these phrases are best used as stand-alones. Don’t say:

  • “I don’t agree so explain it to me again so I can understand you.”
  • “That is a personal issue and doesn’t need to be discussed here and I will get a response to you later this week.”
  • “My feelings haven’t changed since the last time we discussed this but let me explain it to you again.”
  • Or “No, no, no, what a jackass you are to think that.”

Let them all be said as facts, not as ramps to the emotions.

#4 Practice, practice, practice. Your new dialogue is short and easy but it can be terribly hard to remember in the moment when you are in the throes of unhealthy communication. It sounds stupid but practice saying them in front of the mirror. Especially “no.” No is a powerful word and no two letters can be said in so many different ways. Practice a strong, compassionate no. Don’t use it clumsily or in a reactionary way. I like to think of my no’s as an answer to a question. Your abuser may say, “Your parents have the kids so often and they’re trying to turn them against me!” Think that he said, “Do you think your parents are using their time with the kids to turn them against me?” Voila! A simple “no” works great. Just answer the question. The only way to have it ready to go when the time comes is to practice. My counselor helped me write out and practice “I will not concede. I get taken advantage of when I do. I will stick to the court order.” I only used it once out loud but with practice I had it in my head before the mess of the second meeting began and it made a huge difference.

#5 Bite your tongue. And I mean literally as well as figuratively if you need to. While you are biting remind yourself this: it is much more effective for your abuser to show his true colors than for you to out him. If you try to rip off the cover you can be seen as an attacker and your abuser WILL jump on that. (Mine jumped on that with me even when I wasn’t attacking him. It’s like he was waiting for it and when it didn’t happen he just launched anyway at the tiniest thing.) Plus, no one likes a tattle-tale. While he is tattling about you, let him and don’t respond in kind, no matter how right you are. Interject your “I don’t agree”s and “no”s and a simple head shake from time to time but less is more. The more you find yourself disagreeing with your abuser, make your responses that much smaller and quieter. DON’T ENGAGE. THIS is what will make it clear to the mediator what the true situation is. Don’t call him a narcissist or even say he is acting like a narcissist. Let the mediator see it themselves. When you don’t react like he’s used to, he will have to ramp up his triggering and while he’s busy spinning his wheels his intentions will become more and more obvious. I know it’s hard and it seems so foreign but just sit and let him.

#6 Plan for after the meeting. With all these stifled triggers and emotions you will feel very, very, very drained. I’m not exaggerating; it will be ridiculously hard. Although it seems odd to be more worn out than an athlete after a big game when all you did was sit and work on keeping your mouth closed, it will happen. After that first meeting I learned to try to arrange meetings on days when I did not have my kids and arranged instead lots of post meeting self-care. I gave myself time to nap, to call a friend, to go for a walk. Each time you will need less recovery time but plan anyway. That way when you’re in the meeting you will know that soon you can let it out. You can face the emotions, it’s not that they don’t matter. They matter very, very deeply. They are just wasted on him and whatever his reaction, it will only make things worse.

All of these are the defensive tactics. Right at first it’s all you need. Once you have gathered information in a detached and quietly staunch kind of way, you can move to asking for what you need.


Narcissist: definition and example

I’ve finally gotten to the point of being comfortable calling my husband a narcissist. It’s hard because calling people names is mean. But it’s not mean to call him a man, a father, an employee. He’s a narcissist just as much as he is any of those things. Because it’s perceived as negative I still hesitate to say the word in public but once I fully understood what it was, I was comfortable calling him one privately, because it fit. No more, no less. It’s who he is.

The internet is full of definitions but here is my super simple version:

A narcissist is someone who, in his or her heart, thinks he or she is God (and they are not.)

It’s that simple. There are variations and different levels of narcissism, sure. In fact, I believe we ALL have a certain level of narcissism even, and especially, those abused by a narcissist. (Don’t run away, it’s okay and I will explain later.)

So what does “god” look like?

They make the rules, they are right all of the time, if you disagree you are sinful. They are to be honored and respected by all those lower even if they don’t make sense. They can be a benevolent god bestowing kindness on those underneath them, or they can be a vengeful and angry god demanding performance. Often they are the former earlier in the relationship but will switch back and forth and slowly become more vengeful and angry more and more often further into the relationship. But it’s true, they were narcissists the entire time.

So what does this “god” do?

  • Bestow/withhold It is in their power to either bestow or withold attention, affection, sex, finances, presence… anything really. Whatever they have to contribute, you are either honored to have access to or denied based on their judgment call.
  • Assign He decides for you is right for you. You can be assigned a job in the relationship based on your skills, his lack of skill, or even just how good it makes him look. Early on he usually depends on flattery to get you to take your assigned jobs.
  • Tax If you do well, he gets a cut. Maybe it’s a literal cut of the money but it can also be a cut of the recognition. This is what a trophy wife is. She is great, he gets the praise.
  • Demand Not only are duties assigned there is a RIGHT way to do it. These gods bestow grace for only so long and then punishment would be given for not meeting the demand. Often the demand and/or punishment would shift and be inconsistent. This is gaslighting.
  • Receive praise Narcissists love being told they are right, superior, or attractive. If you go too long between praises watch out for some type of punishment. Each narcissistic god has a different area they feel they need praise for. Not all narcissists are hyper-focused on looks like the original Narcissus. In fact, a covert narcissist can need recognition for being so humble or put upon. They will moan or sigh until you notice how difficult it must be for them. Some narcissists need to be recognized for their generosity. They will be so giving. This was my narcissist. He was exceedingly generous with time, talents, or money—when it suited him. When he doesn’t think he will get the recognition he deserves or if it serves his purposes more to be in control, he is not generous at all.
  • Judge If something is right or wrong depends solely on his perception and this is true about everything. Everything. If he lets something act in a different way it is because he is benevolent and kind. It is also common for something that has been clearly defined as wrong to be switched to clearly right or vice versa, whenever it suits the narcissist. (Again, gaslighting.)

So why do those abused display a level of narcissism?

Narcissists know how to take what they feel is owed to them. (i.e. everything)  When you regularly have things taken from you by a narcissist you learn their skills and you can start using those skills against them to take back. Sometimes we even take those skills into the outside world and start taking all we can get because we are left so broken by a narcissist. This is not okay, we should not manipulate or put down people for building our own self-esteem but everyone struggles with at least some of this from time to time.

For example, when I am the most late in the mornings, trying to get out the door, I am the most snappy and rude to my children. When I feel the most drained and powerless, I am most likely to grab power from those nearest and weakest.

And this is the entire existence of the narcissist.  

Do you remember the parenthesis in my definition? They are NOT God. When you think you are God but you are not God you always feel horribly powerless. You feel you have the right to say you want something NOW and yet it doesn’t arrive unless you go and actually pour the water through the coffeemaker. This earthly existence with no powers for a god is a horrible feeling. When a narcissist feels powerless (i.e. all the time) he is most likely to grab power from those nearest and weakest.

In the end narcissism is a sad and lonely personality disorder. If you find yourself in a relationship with a narcissist it’s most likely because you have a huge propensity for empathy—the one thing the narcissist doesn’t have. You meet her needs because her needs are so great. And even though she is not God (and never will be) her need to feel she is God keeps her so broken. Gods cannot be broken so a very tough outside shell of confidence overlays an interior of… emptiness.

If you are pouring your empathy into a narcissist you will be pouring forever.

The GREAT news

There is a God and He does NOT look like your husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend. This God really does deserve all honor and praise. He has assigned who you are and has every right to punish you for everything he has judged as an offense… but He doesn’t. This God, as big as he is in the demanding territory, is just as big in the caring territory. He has more love and tender care than you could ever begin to imagine. He knew we couldn’t satisfy our duties. He knew we could never be good enough for Him so He provided the way Himself so we could be good enough.

Don’t let a narcissist in your life be your god. Like I did. It will only lead to emptiness. The true God will fill you up and He is the only one capable of filling up that narcissist in your life as well. Please, be safe and leave that job to the real God.

photo credit: One Way Stock <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/60141638@N06/8557792607″>Hello My Name Is Narcissit</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Gaslighting: definition and example

A popular term you will hear in relation to emotional abuse is “gaslighting.” It may be a confusing term because it’s based on a kinda antique movie but it is used to describe a very common (if not the #1) problem with emotional abuse. Very simply it’s making the victim think they are crazy.

The term is based on a 1944 movie called “Gaslight.” In it a man marries a woman, not for love, but for access to search and steal her deceased aunt’s prized jewels. Naturally no woman would agree to this, so he puts on a show for her. He acts loving and caring and then when she notices inconsistencies he lies and covers it up by making her think she’s crazy.

He leaves the house at night (and she’s not invited because she’s so “ill”) and sneaks back into the house through the windows in the attic. When he turns on the gas lamps in the attic, all of the house’s lights dim for a moment because they are all on the same gas lines. (See, kinda antique, right?) It was a major clue to the wife that something was up but she had been taught not to believe her own eyes, only her husband’s truth. He did sneaky stuff to solidify his truth as the accepted one, like move things around the house or put things in her purse and act like she was stealing things from him and just forgetting about it. Pretty sinister stuff. It’s pretty harsh to use a term based on this movie about someone you love, isn’t it? I thought so.

I thought so because I think I kinda gaslit myself.


I remember the time I realized the beauty of the phrase, “well maybe I misunderstood.” I was a teenager and I found great power in the art of letting things go. In a disagreement with my sister about what color the car was that just passed? Let it go! Don’t necessarily give in but give her the ability to think she was right; “Maybe I didn’t see it right” and voila! Argument over! No need to argue anymore.

Let’s be clear, when I was a teenager that realization was healthy and good. We need to be able to not take ourselves so seriously. We need to be okay with not always being right. We need to be able to be wrong or at least let someone else be right.

So I took this healthy and good realization out into life and it helped my relationships. If something wasn’t worth being argued over, I didn’t. I admitted that I could be wrong and moved on. Things were great.

But things in my relationship to my husband quickly got one-sided. When things are one-sided, small shifts grow massive over time. Times I used the “maybe I’m wrong” trick turned into “remember, you were wrong.” The times I said, “maybe that is the best way” became, “that is always the best way.” Not good.


An emotional abuser isn’t gaslighting to steal jewels, he’s trying to steal being right. When you have to be wrong so often in order to let someone be right, you start to think you’re crazy, unworthy and less than.

Every day being separated from my narcissist has led to more and more realizations of things he stole from me. More accurately, maybe there were many things that I gave away to him that I shouldn’t have.

Here’s an example: chili. I believed I couldn’t make good chili. Every time I made it my husband put it down. I just didn’t do it right. In my early wifey days I originally made chili with just tomato juice, burger, and chili beans. He said it couldn’t be called chili, it was too runny to put on a hot dog so it was more like soup. So I tried a different recipe. Something else was wrong… over, and over and over again… over years and years. Sometimes there was a specific complaint; sometimes it was very vague or just a look; sometimes he gave me a compliment… with a negative twist on the end. It was all very unsteadying. This was gaslighting and the result was complete.

I. Fail. Chili. After years he still would tell others I didn’t know how to make chili, it was “more like soup” even though I had long ago ever stopped making anything remotely runny. That didn’t matter. The thievery was complete. I was incapable of making chili and everyone, including me, knew it.


Chili is not something to stress over. In the real world you say, “Maybe I got it wrong” and move on. Yet years of “maybe I was wrong” somehow got me pushed over into “I am wrong” territory. Even without my husband here to give a single negative glance, I don’t trust my chili. He stole my ability to make chili although it would be more accurate to say I actually can make more variations of chili than most people. But that is what gaslighting does. The abuser takes your own healthy ability to not take yourself so seriously, turns you around, and lets you believe you are wrong. Crazy even. The craziness comes in when my brain says “I can make so many variations of chili and often it’s tasty.” But my heart says, “Maybe I can’t make chili.” They don’t match up. Can I make chili or can’t I? Second-guess. Ruminate. Argue. Give in, give up. Fight for self-esteem. Suppress. Years go by adjusting responses to make things work. Things shift, change, and you are an inconsistent mess. You no longer trust yourself and somehow you miss the key player who was there all along. You only know you don’t trust your own self anymore.

And it’s not just chili. All of life is a game; a game the abuser must win at all costs. She spends years and years gathering your cards. “Chili? I’m better than you at that. Give me the chili card.” “Child-rearing? Oh that’s mine.” “I’m a better dancer.” “Oh no, don’t try buying clothes for me, I clearly have the better fashion sense.” “I pick the best cars because I know the best features that matter.” “You can’t be trusted with the money.” Snatch, snatch, snatch. It may take years for her to artfully get a certain card from you (by gaslighting) but she WILL get it. Big, small, she gets them all. A gaslighter is stealing being right. And it starts by letting you give them as many cards as you will without a fight. In my case: “Well, maybe I was wrong….” Our generosities are used against us.


In the movie the woman is finally clued into the reality and she snaps out of it and walks away tall, vindicated. In reality I think that would be pretty rare. Either you turn away empty and broken, (so few cards left) or, like in my case, my husband turned and walked away tall throwing all the cards in the air saying, “I don’t wanna play anymore, you’re cheating anyway.” And I’m left on the ground gathering what’s left of who I am after it’s been marred up by being in his hands so long.

However, any of those endings are better than begging for your own cards back all the while trying to hide the cards you have left so she doesn’t try to take them too.

If you think that you or someone you know is the victim of gaslighting, get help! Gaslighting is a me vs. you game and CAN’T be played with more people. Let people tell you AND BELIEVE THEM that you have a good fashion sense, that you’re a good mom or dad, that your contribution to the chili scene is valuable. Talk to a therapist and let them help you rebuild your deck. It’s dangerous to get so low as an emotional abuser would have you go.

I don’t believe that all emotional abuse relationships HAVE to end in separation or divorce but you do absolutely have to learn how to share cards to have a healthy relationship. Cards should be regularly and freely exchanged back and forth, given from both sides and never taken without a sincere apology later when you realize your goof. (Hey, we all get a little snatchy from time to grumpy time.)

Often, by the time gaslighting is recognized patterns have settled in that need outside help to view and correct. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. When it comes to gaslighting a little help will go a long way and people are willing to help. Gaslighting is just shifting reality so that the abuser wins. With someone else to help hold down reality where it belongs, gaslighting can’t happen.

And let’s not forget this little extra gem we learned: appreciate that when you turn on a light, the rest of them aren’t affected. Yay, building code advancements!


photo credit: @lattefarsan <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/99312118@N07/9434562706″>Övergiven</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Realizing Emotional Abuse

“When did it start?” “How long has he been like this?” I get these questions a lot and I can’t say. I guess the real answer is forever. Abuse is inherently sneaky. No one is going to be in a relationship with someone hits you in reaction to your meeting handshake.

I think the more important question is, “when did you know?”

Even that question is sketchy. For a long, long time (forever?) things seemed… off. It was more about the confusion I had. As things went on more and more things simply did not add up. I spent years and years trying to understand and now I realize that I was actually getting there. But I didn’t feel like I was actually getting there. I felt like I was getting further away. I felt crazier.

I had more questions than I ever had answers and now, in hindsight, I realize that that was me actually starting to get it. I was starting to get it because, in truth, there was no “it.” It didn’t make sense because there was no it. Every time I hit a dead end I circled back and tried a different angle. As I dug and dug, each time reaching a non-answer, I kept finding myself with less and less ground. I built supports and took on enormous amounts of blame because I was the only one working.


I had some friends who, with great amounts of alarm and concern for me, made sure I got to the local women’s center. I was a shell of a person yet still digging away. Why can’t I please him? How come when I go to my therapist to fix me she only wants to talk about my marriage? Why do I keep not being good enough for him? Am I self-sabatoging? Sure, he says incredibly hurtful things but he has a right to his opinions. It’s my part to show him grace. And plus, I am flawed, he has a point. Around and around. That was my brain. I was stuck. It was all that was left.

I still existed. I still went to work, got the kids to school, I still did everything I was supposed to but internally I was always on the loop: Why can’t I please him?…

I spoke to the advocate assigned to me and I cannot describe her, maybe one day I will be able to. All I can say now is she was unfamiliar but yet I was drawn to her. She spoke little but when she did I was both revolted and drawn to her words. It was cognitive dissonance like I had never experienced before (and I had experienced a lot!)

She said, “here we call those people abusers. Is it okay if I refer to him as your abuser?” My insides fought. NO! YES! I glanced into her eyes. She was so kind! I quickly made a compromise with myself. I will let her call him an abuser. It’s what she knows because those are the types of people she always works with. I will know the truth… but to please my conflicted thoughts I didn’t clarify what that truth was. I just decided I would allow her to call him my “abuser.”

Through the rest of that surreal conversation my insides fought. I cried in pain. I revolted at the thought of putting any blame on my husband. I tried to be strong and make purposeful decisions. I was there to get advice on how to leave him. I was there to appease my friends and prove I didn’t belong there and I really just needed to stay with my husband. I was in turmoil.

And even though I had experienced extreme amounts of turmoil in the past several years, although I had cried myself to sleep time and time again for years and years—nothing I had experienced before was like this.

The situation was so bizarre to me I felt split in two. I was like I was sitting at the table crying and I was also standing in the corner watching myself. The crying self I was very, very familiar with. The watching self bluntly pointed out what she saw as she watched this “movie.” “Wow, that’s what an abused woman says.” My crying self heard that statement and cried harder and tried more to defend him and the more she defended the more the watching self shook her head, “Wow, she’s really lost.” All the while the assigned advocate and my friend both sat with me lovingly caring… and my friend started to become an advocate and my advocate started to become my friend.

During that meeting I never said anything specifically bad about my husband. I just talked about how I felt and that was enough for an outsider to see the truth. This bothered me. How could someone judge my husband as an abuser without his perspective? I knew that he was so confident that he was right to be upset with me. How can his perspective be understood with him not there?

My friend looked at me and said, “Do you think that he is sitting somewhere crying over the state of his marriage like this?” I froze. I knew from loads of training what my husband liked and didn’t like. I was trained to know all his possible reactions to any possible thing. In that moment, with that specific question, I realized that he didn’t really care about our marriage. He didn’t care that I was crying because in all of his inconsistent reactions, he never cared if I was crying. He didn’t care about our marriage because he never did anything to fix it. He only gave feedback on why it was my fault when I brought the issue to him. He took great offense at how I had wronged him that got us to this state in our marriage but he never actually DID anything.

And as my crying self paused and looked up to take in this question, my watching self came over and put a caring hand on her shoulder.


And although nothing made sense, it all added up. It all added up to nothing. The answer was nothing. At the bottom of my problem was that my husband was empty. He had put it all on me because I was the only thing he could put anything on. He couldn’t blame himself because nothing was there. He was GOD and because he was NOT God everything that didn’t add up (which was everything) was someone else’s problem. And the person who was there, the person who cared the most, the person who did the giving… was me. He needed more ego and he took it from me. He needed a scapegoat and there I was. His problem became mine because I was the only person who could handle a problem.

The truth was that I was actually exceedingly strong. I had been taking on all of my flaws and issues as well as his. No wonder I was starting to crack.

I was reduced to crying in a domestic violence center because, as horrifying as it was to me, it fit. We’re all broken people. Everyone has flaws. Whether someone hits you or not, if they expect to put all of their flaws on you, that’s abuse. It hurts you.

The advocate called him an abuser. Even though he never laid a hand on me. My husband was an abuser. They knew this because I was sitting there deeply hurt because of him.


Did I fully understand all of this then? No. But it was the start. It was when I started to feel the truth. It was also when the watching part of myself actually got a voice. She cares about the crying self but she’s much more purposeful, cerebral, and honest really. I suppose she’s the one who’s writing now. It’s good to have her back.

What It’s Like To Leave: life will get better, right?

I don’t know if things really got that much worse at the end or if I was just starting to see more clearly what had been happening all along. It was probably both. An interesting aspect of ending abuse is that it actually gets worse at the end. I think that I was slowly coming out of the fog instead of doing it quickly like the standard suggestion for escaping abuse (i.e. have a bag pre-packed and ready, have money set aside and then, when it’s not expected, go, go, go!) Unlike the cold-turkey abuser quitter, who is wise enough to hide somewhere safe when things get worse, I was experiencing the uptick because I was still there.

I was also becoming more cognizant of how unhinged a lot of it was. Note: I said “more cognizant” and not just “cognizant” because I still couldn’t wrap my head around how crazy it was. It just seemed off. I couldn’t understand why he was so upset and disgusted with me because I didn’t follow politics and news like he did (and he did at a fanatical level.) I didn’t understand how even after double-checking locks on my vehicle they always seemed to be unlocked and how he was always the one to catch that I had left my own vehicle unlocked. (I got lectured several times a week.) I couldn’t understand why I seemed to get in trouble because I had friends. (He literally complained during a counseling session that people liked me. He said it as an insult. “I’ve seen it, they will write her notes about how great she is!” Apparently thank you notes were not acceptable for me to receive in his reality.)

I saw it more because I was getting help. I had told some people and they were speaking truth to me. Finally, I heard what I thought was true the whole time but still didn’t see as truth because he had me convinced I didn’t know what I was talking about. (I was an unsecure, uninformed, well-liked idiot of course. He had proof. He’d seen the thank you notes.) At this stage it’s most important, I am sure of it, that you only talk to people you trust. These people should be those that won’t hurt you (there’s enough of that going on, thank you) and that you know to be stable, reasonable people. I trusted their viewpoints, not just because they aligned with what I expected to be truth, but because their lives testified to it.

Important note: Sometimes well-meaning, truly good people can still give bad advice. Not everyone can really understand and may say things like, “just try to do one thing a day to make him feel special.” They don’t understand, it’s not their fault, they just don’t understand. It’s like telling a woman who’s had her arm broken because she served her husband a cold dinner, “just make sure you heat it up in the microwave when you hear he’s home from work. Do you need a microwave? I’ll buy you one.” This is a kind, well-meaning, giving, load of truly hurtful crap. Recognize it as such, thank them for caring and move on.

I also saw it more because it really did get worse at the end. Every little thing seemed to provoke offense. I don’t know if he ever was really offended or if it was just some excuse to mete out punishment. There was always some reason he found that he shouldn’t have to be kind to me. One of the offenses at the end was that I had picked up his phone and turned down the volume on the advertisements (being clear that I would turn it up for him again when the advertisements were over.) He spent 10 minutes on this issue in the counselor’s office. Everything I did was offensive to him and worthy of his self-righteous anger.

There is a reason the standard advice is to flee. The realization by an abuser that their power is gone is often answered with a temper tantrum. It makes sense really. It’s what they’ve done before but just now on the biggest-scale production level. Telling you you’re stupid or worthless without them, whether by the actual words or action, is what has made you stay so long in the first place. So it makes sense that their natural reaction is more of the same.

If their temper tantrum doesn’t work the next tactic is usually a wild swing opposite. Next comes the apologies, the gifts, the compliments. I’m so sorry, this stage is totally fake. There’s nothing a battered woman (or man) wants to hear more than words that show her or his partner cares. The horrible part is that he or she doesn’t. I really am very sorry. I wish this information wasn’t true. There’s a reason that you will see it everywhere concerning abusive relationships, it really is fake.

In my situation I was slowly getting my legs under me. I learned about boundaries and I started walking away from anger and accusations and closing the door. I felt I found a neat trick. Sure, he just got more angry more often (ramping up) but I could just walk away more.  Finally, I told him we would be separating in two weeks. Something strange happened almost exactly one week to that deadline. Something totally unexpected. He texted me that he would be coming home late from work and asked if I needed anything from the grocery store. Now this might sound benign to you, but this was HUGE! Seriously, this man had not done anything for me in so long that 1) informing me he was going to be late and 2) thinking about my needs, was enough to turn me into a caricature of a 19th century southern belle, “Oh dearie, the object of my affection has taken a likin’ to me. Catch me, I’m fixin’ to swoon!” Not to mention he told me the items he was buying from the store. He was letting me into his life! “I do declare! Do go on, honey…” Maybe the correct idiom here is that I was “happy as a dead pig in the sunshine” because this was our swing opposite. This was our version of the gifts and kind words. A few days later he asked me to go out with him and our kids shopping. Again, totally out of line with how he had been treating me. Seriously, this man would not make eye contact with me before this. When I came in a room, he would leave it. Me? I figuratively turned my head to see if someone else was standing behind me. He was really paying attention to me? Fiddledeedee.

But I was determined. I was healed enough to know that one or two kind gestures does not a healed relationship make. (It was later pointed out to me that these weren’t actually kind gestures but just actions of a reasonable human being.) If he can do it once or twice, he can continue to do it after we are separated and we can heal together and build a healthy relationship. I mentioned something along the lines of not wanting to buy anything special for the kids because we weren’t sure how things were going to go and moving it back and forth would be difficult. That was it. The normal human being spigot was cranked shut. It wasn’t genuine. It was just a ploy. As soon as he realized it didn’t work, that I was still planning on separating, he stopped.

The next stage of leaving an abuser, especially a narcissist, if they can’t scream or woo you back is to simply write you off. All of the sudden it’s like you never existed and none of your feelings, history, or rights matter at all. Just one week after I moved he filed for divorce. He wanted nothing to do with me. If I wouldn’t play his game, then no game for me. He did things like leave the kids home alone and go to work, even though I was available because I didn’t exist. He went out and bought the entire back to school list on his own (even though I had always been the one to do it) because I didn’t exist. (Neither did the kids apparently, they weren’t invited to their own back to school shopping.) No more marriage, no more wife, no more history. Poof. Gone in a flash.


Here’s something I’ve learned in Celebrate Recovery. When you are needing to make amends, the possible repercussions can get in your brain and keep you from making that step. Being vulnerable enough to admit you were wrong in order to say you’re sorry is terrifying. But I’ve heard testimony after testimony about this phenomenon and the general rule is, the worst-case scenario you’ve built up in your mind rarely comes to pass. Usually people are forgiving or even have totally forgotten or didn’t see how you had wronged them. Your fear was unfounded and in the end you have the freedom of being released of the guilt and shame of what you did to wrong the other person. Making the next emotional step and having a difficult discussion with someone is rarely as bad as you expect.

Through this whole post I’ve talked about the negative possibilities of breaking up (divorcing/separating/setting boundaries) with a narcissist. It surely sounds horrific and miserable. I’m here to say when it comes to an abuser, oftentimes when you are finally vulnerable enough to say, “I can’t do this anymore” your worst fears DO come to fruition. He really does spew hate, trivialize loving gestures into manipulative tools, and write you off as nothing. (Not what you were hoping for, eh?)

But, I’m here to tell you, in the end it’s still all worth it because in the end you have the freedom of being released of the guilt and shame.

Of course it’s not that easy. As the saying goes: it’s simple, not easy. To be honest, it’s hard to let the guilt and shame go sometimes, they were constant companions. There are also unfathomly huge waves of fear, insecurity, indecisiveness, and  loneliness.  So in my case my worst-case fears did come true. But I’m telling you, it’s worth it.

It’s worth it.

Believe me. It’s worth it. We’ll talk more later, okay? For now just know it’s hard but it’s worth it.

A Time To Reflect: recognizing the effects of emotional abuse

Timing is key. I looked at the clock, calculating time. I needed time for the oven to run a full self-cleaning cycle before I had to leave but I also had to get the birthday cake done. There was no leeway. Good thing I did have the brown sugar in the pantry as I remembered. I turned back to cutting the cherries to make sure I had enough to do along the edges of the cake as well. I had plans too for the full time the oven was doing both its baking/cleaning things and kept moving to make sure everything was done. When I left the house and locked the door, birthday cake under my arm, I gave a long sigh and squeezed my eyes together to block the uncomfortableness. No time for pain. Keep moving.

I got the kids from school and kept them busy until it was time to drop them off. I drove to my husband’s work and unlocked his car. I gave them quick hugs and handed the oldest the cake, “I bet he will really love this cake, it’s his favorite. Have a great birthday day with dad. Remember where the gifts are so you can surprise him?” He did. I quickly said goodbye, again driven by time. Any minute he would be out of work and I needed to be gone. I didn’t want to leave the kids alone but I needed to be gone. I drove away suddenly lost. I had spent so much time, so many years, devoted to trying to make my husband’s day. I didn’t know how to do anything else. Now what?

Emotional abuse is strange phenomenon. It can get you to a place where you are so controlled that, even when it’s just yourself, you play out the script. My husband’s birthday. I offered that he have the kids on that day although he had never asked. I took them to buy gifts, I wrapped and hid the gifts, I cleaned the entire house from top to bottom, I made his favorite cake. My brain had an alarm bell going off somewhere inside, long muted and muffled by the abuse. Somewhere my brain remembered how he treated me. My brain remembered that I had asked that I could be the one to stay in the house and he had told the counselor, “it’s MY house, it’s like I built it from the ground up with my own two hands!” Somewhere my brain put together that I was arranging flowers beautifying a table that I was not welcome to sit at. I had in fact made family dinners from scratch nearly every night for years and years and the truth was the dinners were accepted but I was only just allowed to sit and was now it was clear that I wasn’t welcome. I was no longer even allowed. The planning was done. I did all the juggling and preparing and made everything perfect but now that the time was here to appreciate the work and celebrate on my husband’s birthday I wasn’t allowed. So I was drifting. Lost.

Why do we treat each other the way we do? Why do people like my husband expect everything but are appalled at the idea of giving anything? Why do people like myself give everything but think deep down inside there must be a valid reason that we really do deserve nothing in return?

Why do we keep doing what we do and what makes us finally stop? And, perhaps most crucialy, how do we go on in life after the “stop.” Who are we without the businesses of trying to fill the black hole of shame with birthday cakes, clean ovens, and flower arrangements? Who are we?

That’s what this blog is about. I’ve been discovering that although my experience is just as unique to me as yours is to you, so many things end up the same. As we work though the questions we may just find a lot of the same answers.


photo credit: Ian Webb (jukebox) <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/14279070@N05/33343339856″>Time</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>