No Bruises:  Recognizing Emotional Abuse 

This article is a special guest article by Josephine O'Rourke. If you are in an abusive relationship, please seek help.

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He will search and find this blog because, after all this time, he still stalks me. He’ll call and email the publisher, comment on the thread, and lose his mind trying to clear his name. He will jump through hoops to prove he is an amazing guy and that I am a cheating, ungrateful, “crazy” ex-wife.

How do I know? I know because this is his ongoing pattern of behavior and this is what narcissistic emotional abusers do. It is textbook. It is predictably unpredictable. It’s infuriating. In fact, as I write, I text my therapist friend and tell her I can never publish this under my real name. The backlash is too impactful. 

At one time in my life, the claws he had dug into me ruled my world. In retrospect, it is easy and difficult at the same time to see how I found myself in such a situation. The dichotomy of an emotionally abusive relationship keeps you torn between bliss and hatred. One day you feel like a princess and the next, not worthy to take up space on the planet. The feeling of being stuck became so unbearable that I knew I had to dig deep and find the courage to leave when I started googling ways to end my own life. “Can an overdose of Ambien kill you?”  “How many Xanax needed for overdose?” “What drugs are lethal with …?”

The aftermath of my internet searches was terrifying and shameful.

I needed help and only asked him for it. The response was a blank stare. I did not want to tell my therapist as I feared too many things were at stake, so I found ways to cope.  My coping strategies lacked reason and responsibility and mostly involved alcohol and other risky behaviors. Occasionally, I was able to gleam sparks of joy from being with family and friends which carried me to the next day.  Mostly, I lived in silent pain. 

I am not writing this for pity or revenge. I am writing this because I believe so many people are in this type of relationship or being pulled into one because he/she seems too good to be true. They may be already immersed in the relationship and feel stuck, confused, shameful, and crazy. 

I am telling this story because covert narcissistic emotional abuse is difficult to recognize. There are typically no bruises or scars to validate that this is, indeed, an abusive relationship.  Every woman on the planet should know the signs for herself and teach her daughter as if her life depends on it—because it does.

Identify These Early Red Flags: 

My Ex is Crazy! 

Covert narcissists hide behind a shield, quickly leading their next prey to believe that they have been severely mistreated by a lineup of “crazy” exes.  The crazy ex story is a common one that provokes pity from his/her new love interest. The “feel sorry for me” game begins an early bond with the new lover that later turns into emotional bondage.  

Love Bombing

If it feels like too much too soon, it is.  Love bombing is when a person lays it on heavy in the beginning phases of a relationship.  Over-the-top acts of kindness, talking about the future in very early stages, and insisting on meeting family before you are ready.  The love bombing stage of the relationship for the narcissist is crucial because this is the time he/she sets a new love interest up for what “could be.” 

As time passes, it is common to fondly look back on the person you believe is in there somewhere and long for the loving behavior to return and stay permanently. It never does.   

Must be nice to be…

Another bonding technique is the use of what abusers may perceive as personal deficiencies, or “lack of” to gain further sympathy.  They may say things such as “Women only go for bad boys; never good men like me.”  “Must be nice to be tall, dark, and handsome. Maybe if I was, the nice guy would win for once.”  Take notice that these types of statements deflect personal responsibility from his/her own behaviors in relationships. 

This language leaves the emotional abuser seemingly helpless that he/she has no control over what it takes to be a good partner since “women” cannot do the right thing by choosing the “nice guy.” This most likely leaves the new love interest feeling sympathetic, wanting him to finally experience real love. After all, he is a nice guy, right? He told you so and so far, has displayed extraordinary acts of kindness and service. 

Gaslighting

The term gaslighting is being more frequently thrown around on social media. “Gaslighting is an insidious form of manipulation and psychological control. Victims of gaslighting are deliberately and systematically fed false information that leads them to question what they know to be true, often about themselves. They may end up doubting their memory, their perception, and even their sanity. Over time, a gaslighter’s manipulations can grow more complex and potent, making it increasingly difficult for the victim to see the truth.” 1 

A common gaslighting tactic that I commonly experienced was being told “I am just joking. You can’t take a joke,” following an insult or underhanded remark. After questioning the statement and intent, he would lash out with something like, “I used to know this girl that was funny and could take a joke. What happened to my girl? I want her back.”  These types of statements left me questioning my own instincts.  I began to wonder if I could no longer recognize when I was being insulted. My judgment was skewed.  

The Cycle of Abuse

Abuse works in cyclical patterns, wanning from bliss to misery and back to bliss.  If you think you experience cycles of narcissistic emotional abuse in your relationship, start paying attention to the signs.  As the abuser begins to feel threatened by any number of life issues, he/she will begin to become anxious and heightened and the victim resumes the walking on eggshells phase.  Because the narcissist cannot be wrong or threatened, he/she will begin the abuse pattern.

Mine came in the form of verbal, sexual, financial, or social abuse, as he identified tailored acts of punishment that targeted my known weaknesses.  Then the twisted game begins. The abuser turns the victim’s behavior against them and claims to be the one being abused. The “poor me” antics continue.  The victim caves and apologizes and the narcissist prevails.2

In my case, this led to a new phase of short-term love bombing in which I was once again the irreplaceable princess that deserved the best in life.  

I spent years knowing something was wrong, but thought it was me. 

My friends and family thought he was an amazing guy, even going to the extreme of calling him “a saint.” In front of others, an emotional abuser will put on their “Sunday best” behavior. The wolf in sheep’s clothing.  I went to numerous counselors until finally, a therapist recognized it for what it was. She recommended a book called The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans. I told her that I could not have this book in my Amazon purchase history or in my home.  She copied a chapter of the book so I could read it without him seeing it.

I saw my marriage in every word. I became enthralled and purchased the book on Nook so I could read in private on my phone.  In the pages of that book, I saw that my “crazy” was not mine. I started to feel more clear-headed and make meaning of his previously inconceivable behavior.  Unfortunately, it took five more years and a lot more anguish before I walked away. 

Final nudge

It took a final nudge over the proverbial cliff and my best friend (that has never told me what to do) to say, “get your shit and get out this week while he is traveling!” Driving away with the moving van in the rearview mirror while he was out of town was one of the most terrifying and liberating moments of my life.  After that day, he never knew where I lived and was granted very limited access to my life until I could finally completely shut him out.  More than 3 years have passed, and he still occasionally finds very creative ways to attempt to punish me. His antics no longer break my spirit. I stand unphased in my own truth. 

I have grown exponentially since that day. Importantly, I have learned why I chose him and why I stayed. It has taken a painstakingly amount of self-reflection and therapy to organize the insight and implement new ways of thinking and choosing.  If you think you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, I urge you to seek help from a counselor.  Life is too short to endure the responsibility of someone else’s neurosis.  You deserve freedom, peace, and happiness.  

 

  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/gaslighting
  2.  https://pro.psychcentral.com/exhausted-woman/2015/05/the-narcissistic-cycle-of-abuse/

 

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