Tagged: separation

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.

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.