When I go to that place in my mind’s mind and shame that young woman for not having the courage and wisdom to tell the man she once loved, “No, I will not forego my power and allow you to strip me of my self-worth,” I remind myself of Maya Angelou’s counsel: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” She also states that “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time,” and I’ve learned to do better. I watch and I listen. For instance, on a first date, he boasts about being an asshole, okay–block. Another first date and he rebukes me for ordering wheat and cracking my knuckles, so I double up on the wheat and crack away. Another first date and he assumes a first kiss is a gateway gesture to ass play. Another first date and something just felt off about his friend flying out to visit him, so I asked, “Is she your lover?” I am watching and I am listening, and when something doesn’t settle and that muddy feeling in my gut thickens, I use my words, take action, or most often, ignore their messages on social media. It would seem that doing better would make it easier to recover from a narcissistic abusive relationship, but surprisingly, that’s not always the case. Once in a while, that shame monster makes an appearance and scolds me like a child, “You did know better. You were too afraid to do anything about it.”
According to the The National Domestic Violence Hotline website, a victim returns to her abuser an average of 7 times before finally leaving. Insider journalist Lindsay Dodgson writes that leaving a narcissistic abusive relationship is probably one of the most difficult things a person will ever do. A narcissistic relationship always begins with a swarm of love, affection, sex, gifts, and/or attention. You believe you have found your soulmate. Then one day, and in my case, 6 months later, it suddenly stops. The love supply runs dry. In the next phase, the person begins to manipulate and demoralize you, and more than likely he had been doing that all along, but you were too intoxicated by love, so you ignored all red flags and dismissed them as quirky personality traits or cultural mannerisms. Because the love supply suddenly stops, you raise questions and objections about his aggressive and caustic behaviors, and that’s when the gaslighting begins. We are all susceptible to lapses of memory or confusing dates, names, places, or particular incidents while sharing a story. The narcissist uses this universal human trait against you to question your sense of reality, and at times, accuses you of being crazy. The best indicator for determining whether someone is gaslighting you is whether you wish you had a recorder for every fight. I didn’t have a recorder during our weekly fights, but I would replay our fight 100 times in my mind so I could catch him on his lies. Obviously, that never worked. The worst part of being gaslighted is that you do lose your sense of reality. Your best friends assume that you’re going through the normal tribulations of a relationship, but they nor you have no idea that you are psychologically broken and need someone desperately to validate your version of reality. The gaslighting and abusive behaviors are always followed by another dose of undying love, sex, affection, gifts, and/or attention. At this point, your nervous system is no longer in a state of panic and feels safe and secure once again. Within days or weeks, the toxic behavior returns, another dose of love and seduction, more toxic behavior, more broken pieces with no one, not even yourself, to put it all back together. I went back to him 5 times.
Leaving a narcissistic abusive relationship was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life, but almost nearly as difficult has been the process of piecing back together every jagged piece of myself. I didn’t want to go back to the person I was before that relationship. I wanted and deserved more for myself. The healing process has not been easy. At times, I suffer from symptoms of PTSD. Sometimes, I listen to self-help podcasts or read books on abuse and shame myself for not doing better. Other times, I try to convince myself that maybe it wasn’t so bad because we did enjoy love and laughter at times, which, I realize, is a form of self-gaslighting. Although the healing process has been long and arduous, I could not have undergone this process without the counsel of my dearest friends and therapist. I am doing better–living a daily practice of self-love, meditation, yoga, tango, quality time with friends and family, cooking, writing. And I know that I’m not to blame for the abuse. I know that it wasn’t my fault. I know that I was too afraid to acknowledge the red flags and let go of what felt like Love and it’s okay to be afraid and make mistakes. I want to believe that I will do better next time, but I really don’t know.