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.