Category: Abuse

Categories:

Alienated Parent

Alienated Parent

Over a Year

We sat together to share some food.

Our first meal,
my two sons and I,
in over a year.
Minutes, hours, days.
Weeks, months,
a year…

I don’t want to get myself caught,
caught on the side of fear,
counting, counting,
the figures feel real.
Though, as much as time hurts,
we all know it can heal.
Being alone in those many dark days,
not knowing when I will see you and you again.

I turn to knowing,
our connection,
our bond,
my son, my son.

Every other child I see that is around the age or height is you and you.
It’s too easy for parents to cause shame with blame,
forgetting that a child’s life is not a game.

To write these words and say something like this doesn’t seem true.

It isn’t the real me,
or the father I am for you and you.
Now at this table, this moment for us,
we create and hold our own rhythm,
an environment we trust.

So rather than always counting the days, the months, this year,

I’ll send my breath upon the wind,
and you, and you, and you, will hear.

Dejan

Dejan

I was being emotionally and physically abused by my partner. I am not one of those guys who would be typically seen as a victim: I am nearly 2 metres tall, strong, athletic, enthusiastic. However, recently I have lost a significant amount of weight; I barely laughed anymore.

From time to time, our mutual friends tried to reach me, but I never answered my phone. What they didnt know is that my girlfriend made me erase all our old friends from the contact list.

On more than one occasion I had to leave the house and sleep on my friend’s couch.  I was afraid of her — she punched me so hard, resulting in my losing a front tooth.

Just over Christmas, my girlfriend’s brother gave me a Christmas present — a calendar depicting attractive women dressed as Santa’s helpers. It was supposed to be a joke. But my girlfriend got so upset that she made her brother leave the house along with my friend. She ripped the calendar into pieces.

I should have just left her.

But the issue is that we have a baby together and I am a devoted father — so I stay and suffer. I also fear her — she can do anything and everything to destroy me if I dare to leave. She has told me this on multiple occasions.

I fear losing my child. I love my child.

Because let’s be honest, who believes men nowadays? Courts don’t — children are given to mothers even when the mothers are neglectful.I am trapped, like many men out there. I won’t report the abuse because I feel embarrassed, and I know that they won’t believe me even if I report it in my country.

Society just can’t accept the truth that perpetrators can be wives, girlfriends, the closest ones. Anybody and everybody! Society doesn’t want to see and acknowledge that some women can be vicious and dangerous.

I just kept going along with everything she says and does.

She made me install a tracking app so she can know exactly when I am in the office and when I will be coming home. But after a few months, I decided it would be best just to stay and try to work from home — to please her.

My work performance has dropped. I was belittled and humiliated on a daily basis. Once I gathered up the strength to tell her that I was leaving her; she pulled the most ruthless card out on me — she threatened that if I leave, I will never see our child and that she would report me for physical abuse.

That’s when I knew that I must act.  I now make recordings of her harassment and keep records of the frequent, belittling phone calls and text messages.

You see, she is in the charge of the money. She is on maternity leave and is reluctant to go back to work. She would rather spend money on manicures, pedicures, Pilates, and expensive handbags and make-up. She checks bank statements every night, just to make sure that I didn’t spend any of “her” money on something that she would not approve of, such as a kebab.

To help me capture the abuse, my closest friends came together and bought me a special baby camera. The camera will provide evidence of everything that I have been experiencing for months – and will show that all this abuse happened in front of a little baby. Hopefully, that will help me when the time comes to act.

Who would the system believe? I hope someone believes me. I hope I will be able to see my child. I hope I will become a survivor.

Nico

Nico

I’ve been through a lot, like many others who have unfortunately dated, married, or had children with narcissistic women. The fact is that narcissistic women are some of the most dangerous creatures out there. But I managed to escape the abuse.

Just after New Year’s Eve, with help from my family and friends, I was evacuated from this abusive relationship. It was hard for me to leave her, especially since we have a baby together. But I had no other option.

Let me rephrase this – I had two options: either I would stay and continue to suffer, or I would leave, suffer, and suffer even more and then slowly heal, stand back on my feet, and be there for my son.

I chose to be there for my son – to give him an example of a healthy relationship.

Currently, I am in very bad shape, like many who have been emotionally and physically abused by narcissists. I started therapy, I thought of suicide, I thought of going back to her, I thought of going forward. Currently, I am living in my mother’s home.

The apartment that I bought is empty and I am unable to pay the mortgage – she robbed me of all the money. She wants the apartment to be sold and the money split evenly. She hasn’t invested a single dime into the apartment, and we were never married. But she still demands it. Legally, she has no right to demand any money that she hasn’t invested. “I will fight you until the end of my life if you don’t give me what I deserve!”

She asked for spousal support as well. She never answers my texts or emails. She even ignores the emails from the lawyers. She calls to shout and bully me, because she knows that everything that she writes down on paper could be potentially used against her. But if only the system worked this well. I don’t have many options.

I can get in more debt and pay her off but that won’t save me from her. I can fight her forever and get in debt again. Or I can just let the bank and the government take the apartment and then wait for the government to demand money from both me and her. Ironic.

“How do narcissists always win?”

They don’t. It is us who let them win. I left. So many other men haven’t and are stuck in the loop of abuse. I got out, physically.

Now it’s time for ME to get out emotionally and that will take time. My narcissistic ex took everything from me. She only left me one thing — a positive pregnancy test on the kitchen counter as a message. It devastated me.

Luckily, I planned my escape a month in advance. I didn’t expect her to turn out to be as cruel as she has shown herself to be. I still didn’t see my son. I am trying every day to get to see him.

How did I escape safely?

  • I planned and never hinted that I would be leaving her. I packed all the important documents that I needed and moved them to my mother’s house.
  • I spoke to people such as friends, family, and therapists about my situation.
  • I saved up a little amount of cash, so I could survive until the next payroll.

Soon she will realise what she has lost, and she will be an enraged narcissistic single mother who will go around telling lies about me. But I will still be around for my son.

Carl

Carl

Once, I believed cheating was one of the few acts which were never justifiable under any circumstances.

Life challenged that belief (and many others) during my divorce: my ex-wife had not limited herself to only one man for over ten years, whereas — thanks to my single-minded focus upon my marriage over the seventeen years that it lasted — when it ended, I found myself with few friends and even fewer potential romantic partners.

In my naivete & blind devotion, I discovered an important truth: bestowing undeserved loyalty upon another is the same as betraying yourself.

Amid the enforced social isolation of 2020, before I had even heard of the concept of a “trauma bond,” I suffered through its invisible riptides pulling me further away from shore. Before I understood the neurophysiology behind the addiction to toxic love, I shamed & scolded myself for being weak-willed & spineless: why could I not break my thoughts free from their orbit around the ever-engulfing sinkhole of her inverted existence? After nearly three years of wasted effort, I had established unequivocally that everything I poured into that void inevitably vanished as if it never existed.

Yet, my money, energy, & time flowed down the drain with maddening predictability each time her tendrils brushed against the edges of my awareness. So many nights wasted in unnecessary self-loathing, so many days lost to the unsolvable labyrinth of circular, pointless debates, the universe expanding & contracting around conversations that somehow left the cosmos with less substance than it had before these words were added to the ether, chained together in sentences that clung to each other as they drowned in an ocean of incomprehensibility, each one giving rise to the next before it slipped away, spawning like litters of blind, tailless agouti mice doomed to propagate a flawed reality… it all could have been avoided if I had simply known & accepted the facts.

The best way to break a trauma bond is by establishing a bond with another; in fact, I would daresay that until one finds an alternate source of connection, it’s almost as impossible to maintain No Contact with one’s abuser as it is for a widowed spouse not to grieve for their lost love. Humans are undeniably wired to be social animals: oxytocin — the hormone released during moments of bonding & intimate connection — is a required building block for our brains to form serotonin, which is best understood as the brain’s “resilience” hormone: serotonin is what gives us the ability to persevere through difficult times while maintaining our faith, optimism, & hope. If we are disconnected from a tribe, our survival instincts will compel us to return to any relationship — even an unhealthy, disordered, & harmful one — rather than risk the dangers of solitude.

Ten thousand years of evolution cannot be resisted: no organism can be expected to act in a manner contrary to its survival consistently. Our ancestors lived to pass down their genes because they chose the tribe over the individual; when winter comes, the loners & outcasts are the ones most likely to perish.

Dopamine is the hormone behind motivation, purpose, passion, drive, and reward. When love loses its luster and sweetness turns sour, we must find something new worth living & striving for to fill our sails through the turbulent voyage. When past idols are revealed to be false, it is more important than ever to find something to take their place, lest we fall victim to hopelessness & despair. What better thrill could we ask for than the succulent temptation of once-forbidden desire?

I do not doubt there will be many that will find my message disgusting or immoral. Most likely, the majority who do will be those who are fortunate to have never known the unique agony of a traumatic bonding to a toxic relationship. The stoic souls who dare to endorse its wisdom with a clap or two have likely had their vanities & illusions stripped away by their own experience with the hell of which I speak.

To those who will hear, I do not hesitate to speak with clarity & conviction. Go forth and actively seek a new fountain; do not be too quick to build a new home around it, but do not let shame, guilt, or social mores entrap you in a place where your soul cannot thrive. Find a new lover, I say, and use the headiness of that illicit love as a springboard from which to launch a new and better future.

You deserve to be happy, and your abuser doesn’t deserve your loyalty.

Edhar

Edhar

Mr. Perfect, I am not, nor ever will be.

When my emotions are triggered, sometimes I yell at the people I love, and it takes me several minutes before I give them the apology I immediately know they deserve. My sense of humor is occasionally offensive & immature.

I’ve been known to fart in the car after hitting the window lock to punish my sons for not doing the dishes the night before. I constantly forget the birthdays of friends I have known since I was five.

My omelets still fall apart in the pan one-third of the time (okay, two-fifths).

But I am Mr. Sincere Effort. My grandfather always said, if something is worth doing, it is worth doing right, and I applied this mantra to my marriage. I didn’t excuse myself from the domestic responsibilities. I did the grocery shopping & the cooking. I made the arrangements for holidays, birthdays, camping trips, vacations, & special occasions. I bought the picture frames and hung the family portraits in ascending chronological order along the staircase in our home. I did my best to make decisions together, to view marriage as a partnership of two equals, and always create an environment where my wife felt comfortable speaking her mind. I valued my wife & my family and did my best to express that in every way I could.

I took breaks when I had to, made mistakes because humans do, and sometimes pouted more than a grown man should, but I was always authentic & sincere with my words & my actions. I wore my heart on my shirtsleeves. When she spoke, I truly listened; when she felt, I truly cared; when she smiled, I rejoiced; when she cried, my world stopped. If my wife told me she wanted something, she got it. If she said something wasn’t right, I changed it.

I never placed any other woman above her; I told her she was beautiful and that I loved her as many times each day as I could, and I sought out as many different ways to show her as I could. I was quick to forgive, slow to give up, and the first one to give in & apologize after a disagreement.

Everything I owned belonged to her, and everything I did was for her. Throughout our divorce, I continually told her, “I have no problem with you getting half; I was planning on giving you everything for the rest of my life.”

We had numerous conversations where we had agreed if ever we did get a divorce, we would conduct ourselves with dignity and mutual respect — not to disclose each other’s secrets, to share custody of & responsibility for our children, and to allow each other the freedom to find happiness with another person. I kept those promises even after she broke them because, to me, they were promises I made to myself — not to her. Too late, I realized that silence only benefits the abuser. When deciding whether to disclose something personal, I have learned to ask myself whether remaining silent or being honest would be more harmful to myself and others… once I applied that rule, it became readily apparent that remaining silent about her abuse & her lies is no longer tenable.

I was so loyal to her, I betrayed myself.

Until the end, she knew that she was still my first choice, and I would have done anything she asked — if only she would commit to the only two things I ever asked of her: to be faithful. Looking back, I’m ashamed of how weak & desperate I appear; while living through it, I saw it as exhibiting Christ-like forgiveness, turning the other cheek, and responding with love no matter what.

If any of the chances I gave her had resulted in her making that commitment and saving our family from brokenness, it would have been worth any potential loss of pride. I didn’t care about what the world thought of me… until she started to turn the world against me. It was only once I accepted that our relationship was doomed from the start that I began to regret all that I had invested into it.

It’s easy to cast judgment once we know all the facts and how things end; it’s not so easy living through it, hating yourself for loving someone who is no longer the person you loved, burying yourself deeper into the delusion as the reality of your situation becomes ever darker & more terrifying.

I went from a world where the most beautiful woman in the world was my ideal lover & my best friend forever to a world where I had sacrificed my dream job, my career, my potential, my wealth, my friends, my reputation, and two decades of my life for nothing. Knowing firsthand the pain of divorce, the shame of admitting to being abused by your intimate partner (particularly as a man, where showing weakness is emasculating and a loss of one’s very gender identity), the devastation caused by a narcissist’s smear campaign and the difficulty in rebuilding one’s life from the ashes, I no longer question why people find it difficult to leave abusive relationships.

When she cheated on me, I tried to understand why and asked what was wrong with our relationship rather than condemning her for seeking to have her needs met outside of it. I prayed for the strength to forgive her and struggled through the grieving & the healing that I had to do without her because I believed it would be worthwhile if it resulted in our family remaining unbroken. I kept a hopeful heart, and gave second chances when I should not have, out of hope, love, & loyalty.

Her on-again, the off-again affair had lasted over twelve years by the time she chose to take advantage of the trust shown to her by myself & my parents and engage in illicit, overtly sexual, & clandestine conversations with her lover while on our family vacation, after promising it was over and pretending to send him a message ending things between them once and for all. She had heard me say repeatedly that I did not want to be with someone who did not want to be with me. If she wanted to be with him, then I was willing & ready to work together with her to divorce in a manner that placed the least possible amount of stress upon our finances and our children.

Yet she consciously and with undeniable intention chose to deceive me, to violate every agreement we had made, to weave a false narrative that presented her as the victim rather than as the instigator of the illicit activities that had occurred behind closed doors in the privacy of our bedroom. When her deception threatened the financial stability of our family, the professional reputation I had spent a decade and a half nurturing. The educational opportunities available to our sons, she chose to remain silent rather than confess to her crimes… sacrificing her children and the man who had loved her selflessly for nearly twenty years rather than accept any threat to her perfect self-image. It was then that I began to understand the true depravity of narcissism: once someone has sacrificed their most valuable possession — their inner child, their light, their divine spark, their soul, their True Self — on the altar of their ego, there is nothing they will not sacrifice.

When she falsely accused me of being abusive, having not yet learned this lesson, I was beyond shocked & hurt. The most unbelievable thing of all to me, however, was how quickly her false accusations were accepted as factual, despite numerous, well-documented evidence of her alcoholism, drug use, affairs, false statements, and mental health issues — including attempting to seduce an on-duty police officer while severely intoxicated, just moments after falsely accusing me of abusing her.

As much as I attempted to view the situation with detachment from my perspective & consideration of their points of view, I found the incompetence & bias exhibited by the local police department to be simply staggering… not to mention the ease in which they were able to subvert the process of justice to serve their agenda and avoid ever being called out for their grossly unprofessional and in some instances criminal misconduct.

It’s considered to be in poor taste to question the statements of a woman claiming to be a victim of domestic abuse, so no questions were ever asked of her. It’s disrespectful to accuse a police officer of lying, so none of their lies were ever called out in court. All the evidence that did not support what they wanted to believe was ignored, and their imaginations filled in the gaps in their knowledge with reality so twisted & far from the truth that it says more about their demons than mine.

When I found out later from someone who worked in the county corrections department that one of the officers had gotten divorced after his wife caught him in bed with another man and that another officer’s wife had shown up at the hospital covered in bruises a few months after giving birth to triplets (everyone in the department knew what happened, she told me, yet the officer never suffered any consequences for beating his wife), and that the police chiefs in the surrounding community all considered the head of that department to be chauvinistic, arrogant, and impossible to work with, the pieces started falling into place. What we refuse to see in ourselves, we see in others.

All I have left is truth, love, and hope.

The truth I cling to as a drowning man to a piece of the ship that failed to hold together against the storm and left him adrift in a dark & uncaring sea.

The love I have for my sons keeps me getting out of bed when I feel I have nothing left to look forward to, happiness is a shore upon which I will never rest, and all my dreams are now forever out of my reach.

And hope…

Well, I hope that I am wrong.

I do not share this in hopes of receiving sympathy or pity.

My motives in writing this are purely selfish… to be able to look at myself in the mirror.

To hold my head high when the world wants me to be ashamed.

To say that, come what may, I spoke my truth.

To grow more confident in telling my story and to defy the fear and the voice that would have me fade silently away, leaving it all unsaid.

Fuck that fear.

Fuck that voice.

And fuck narcissists.

JoeX

JoeX

I once pushed my wife out of the car. This might trigger an emotional reaction, especially from someone who has been a victim of abuse. You might be tempted to conclude I am an abuser, a monster, deserving of punishment, in need of psychiatric evaluation & counseling, and my opinion is not worth hearing.

That I had made several respectful requests for the hitting & hurtful words to stop, warned her repeatedly that I was losing my patience to tolerate her behavior, and informed her that if it continued, I would pull over & ask her to get out.

Does it matter that when she chose to continue, and I pulled the car over, I gave her time to exit, only resorted to physical force when she refused to exit & continued attacking me and made every reasonable effort to avoid causing any injury to her person & belongings in the process?

Perhaps you would still be disinclined to excuse my actions; after all, I was not in any real physical danger. Would your judgment be as harsh were the genders reversed? Would a woman in my situation be considered to be in real danger simply on the basis of the man’s superior size & strength, or would she be judged the same? When does defending oneself from abuse cross the line of reasonable self-defense to become criminal behavior, and is this line drawn differently for men than it is for women?

I ask these questions because they still trouble me to this day. After driving away, I broke down in tears.

I studied dozens of books & scientific papers on abuse, focusing in particular on the idea of reactive (or responsive) abuse. What I learned caused me to conclude that I could no longer continue my efforts to reconcile our separation due to the toxic dynamics of our relationship. It led me to file for divorce despite how deeply & sincerely I still loved this beautiful but deeply-flawed woman, as I had for eighteen years.

The truth that made me realize the only possible victory lay in giving up was this: no matter what I did, there was no potential positive outcome. I could not force her to be respectful or rational. I could only either endure the abuse — in which case my soul would continue to wither & die a slow death — or act to stop it, in which case my reactions would be used against me to justify her twisted narrative in which she was the victim. I was abusive, controlling, unfaithful, perverse, addicted to drugs & alcohol, violent, & mentally unstable.

Although never formally diagnosed, my now ex-wife demonstrated every sign of having a cluster-B personality disorder, most likely amorous vulnerable narcissism with borderline & histrionic features. I did not arrive at this conclusion lightly. While it has allowed me to understand her choices better & to have compassion for her, it does not absolve her of her responsibility, just as her abuse does not absolve me of mine. H

Within the social context exhorting us to “believe the victim,” there is no need to verify the facts, ask my version of events, or consider why I might have done what I did. When there is never an excuse for a man to use physical force against a woman, false accusations are believed to be so rare that they never happen, and women are seen as non-aggressive, vulnerable, & fragile.

When a woman uses physical force against a man, we assume she must acting in self-defense or he must have done something to deserve it, and we dismiss it as harmless or even humorous. It’s not like he’s not in any real danger, anyway, we reason—ignoring the truth that the invisible scars of emotional abuse no less real and cause long-term harm. Words can destroy lives almost as completely as fists, yet a man being abused elicits mocking laughter & indifference while we rise to the defense of a woman in a similar situation.

Taking advantage of this attitude in our society, immediately following this incident (despite having no injuries), my wife proceeded to contact the police & local domestic violence services, inform her friends & family members of what I had done, and post about it publicly on social media.

Yet I could not help but ask myself, was my silence helping or hurting the situation? Was it better to remain silent and let people assume my guilt or speak up, knowing I would come across as defensive & making excuses for what would be seen as an inexcusable act?

Even with the whole story disclosed, I do not doubt some would still see me as the guilty party; I should have continued to endure the verbal abuse for another twenty minutes until our destination.

Looking back upon the situation rationally, it is easy to see this as the reasonable course of action; after all, twenty minutes doesn’t seem that long. When emotions are taken into account, when one truly puts oneself in the shoes of the victim, perhaps then we can find more compassion for why they reacted the way they did.

When you are in a situation that you never thought you would be in, you find yourself reacting in ways you never thought you would.

Explaining my side of events did not seem worth exposing myself to further attacks & condemnation, for I knew there would be those whose opinions & conclusions would not be changed by anything I said. From the moment the accusation was made, I had forever lost credibility with those who had been raised to believe that — regardless of the context — a man using physical force against a woman was never okay. I could understand their perspective; it’s a belief that has been instilled in us from a very young age and one I had myself internalized, which — along with my idea that abuse was a gender-based crime of which only men could be guilty — created the circumstances that allowed her to verbally, physically, psychologically, financially, & sexually abuse me for the eight years before our divorce, all while gaslighting me into believing that I was the abusive one in our relationship because of how I reacted to her tirades.

Encounters with police & domestic violence services only reinforced her version of the situation; when I presented to the police station on my own accord with recorded evidence of her abuse, none of it was even reviewed, and I was thrown in jail. At the same time, my abuser received support, compassion, & sympathy.

Indeed, there are not two sides to abuse — so many “choices” I made were coerced under the threat of severe emotional suffering — but the gender biases held by the local courts & police ensured that my attempts to explain only brought more condemnation down upon me. A man complaining about his “hurt feelings” elicits no sympathy, only scorn.

This is the ultimate catch-22; we say the answer to male violence is teaching men to respect women, to manage their emotions better, and to learn to find healthy outlets for their expression. Yet when women demonstrate open contempt towards men, they are seldom called out for misandry. When men show vulnerability, they expose themselves to scorn, invalidation, & loss of esteem, with no sources of comfort, justice, sympathy, or compassion. We say there is never an excuse for a man to hit a woman… but a woman can attack a man publicly without reproach, tear his world apart with words, break his heart with infidelity, and ruin his reputation with false allegations… and rather than being held accountable, she is likely to be believed without evidence & even applauded for her “independence” and for “striking back against the patriarchy.”

Because of the lack of training & expectations of how a victim “should” behave, false allegations from a skilled female manipulator are likely to be believed, while real victims are likely to be doubted, and so victims of both genders end up re-traumatized.

I cannot speak for female survivors of abuse, although what I lived through has given me a deeper sense of empathy & understanding of their plight. My experience has inspired me to share my story and do what I can to raise awareness of the struggles men face — and how being seen as “privileged” often means these issues are not taken seriously. Men are not allowed to defend themselves, vilified if they leave (and punished with the loss of their children, should they have any), and seen as weak if they show emotion or reach out for help.

As for me, redemption remains an elusive, forlorn hope. There is no judgment that can be imposed upon me more harshly than the verdict I handed down upon myself. Perhaps I will always be haunted by guilt over the time I once pushed my wife out of a car.

Jo_shua

Jo_shua

A young child is born. Nature has seen fit to equip this child with an incredibly adaptive & effective system for recalling every experience they have ever had, summarizing all of this information, and delivering it to their consciousness in microseconds: this system is called emotion. However, like every system in the human body, it is prone to dysfunction & failure when subjected to more negative input than it can withstand.

From an early age, the child endures neglect, abuse, & random, unpredictable behavior from its caregivers: moments of tenderness & kind words interspersed with violence, vicious insults, & withdrawal of affection, with no apparent correlation between the child’s actions and the resultant treatment.

The child’s emotional system cannot integrate with the rational conscious mind; the developing intellect cannot make sense of the conflicting input. At times, the child feels affection, comfort, & love from one caregiver or the other; but other times, the child feels hatred, abandonment, & pain from that same caregiver. Yet evolution has programmed one thing into the child: being abandoned by their caregivers means death. Regardless of how poorly one or both caregivers treat the child, the child feels an imperative need to maintain a positive relationship with them; this need will diminish as the child matures, but so profoundly is it written into the core that it will never truly fade completely.

If one or more of the caregivers are primarily physically available, but emotionally distant or neglectful, with only occasional episodes of emotional and/or physical abuse, the child may be more likely to develop people-pleasing behaviors, anxious attachment strategies, & hypersensitivity to the emotions of others, seeking ways of soothing his or her fears of abandonment (and thus death) by attempting to influence the emotional state of the caregiver(s). If the caregivers are physically absent and/or chronically abusive (physically, emotionally, and possibly sexually), the child may attempt to placate their caregivers at first, but when this proves ineffective, they may switch to avoidant behaviors, essentially giving up on influencing the situation and seeking only to avoid the risk of rejection & abandonment by not becoming overly attached in the first place.

However, by avoiding meaningful attachments to caregivers, the empathetic system of the brain — the mirror neurons, the right supramarginal gyrus, the anterior insula, the anterior midcingulate cortex, the somatosensory cortex, & the right amygdala — fails to develop. These systems are not only involved in empathizing with others — they also help us to empathize with our future self. If we cannot picture how we will feel in the future, we tend to appear impulsive & unreliable to others, making decisions that will ultimately lead to negative outcomes for us simply because we cannot fully grasp the pain our future self might experience as a result of our actions, nor can we put ourselves in the shoes of the people who suffer as a result of our choices and fully experience their discomfort as if it were happening to us (this resistance to empathetic identification also applies to the past self, leading to minimalization or denial of the impact past traumas & experiences).

The brain changes constantly throughout life, but never more rapidly than it does during infancy & childhood. While it is possible to remodel learned behaviors & reactions, it only becomes progressively more difficult as they are reinforced over time: the more a person learns to rely upon certain coping mechanisms, the more resistant they become to changing them. Furthermore, the brain on its most simplistic level is hardwired to seek out pleasurable & positive experiences, and avoid painful & uncomfortable ones. Developing empathy through shame is thus practically impossible — you’re trying to convince someone who does not fully feel the experiences of others or their future self, who is conditioned to avoid discomfort, to change their behavior by imagining themselves in an emotionally-painful state: of course they are going to minimize even the small amount of discomfort they are able to empathetically experience, and with such insignificant motivation, they have no real impetus for change.

The systems of the brain responsible for cognitive empathy (recognizing emotion) are different than the systems involved in true empathy (not just identifying how a person is feeling, but actually feeling what they are feeling).

Ask a narcissist to identify how a person is feeling, and they will have no difficulty doing so; their cognitive empathy skills are well-developed from years spent determining how to influence the people around them in order to get what they want. But ask them to experience the same emotions as that person — to feel happiness watching another person receive a promotion, or sadness watching a person as they lose their job — and they may exhibit signs of confusion, apathy, or frustration… or, they may simply pretend to feel the same way. Short of hooking them up to an EEG and measuring their brain activity, there is no measurable way to determine if they are actually sharing the experience or merely pretending to, and there is no tangible intrinsic motivation for them to do what is hard versus what comes easily: the pleasure they are able to empathetically experience, just like the discomfort they are able to feel, is greatly reduced.

Intrinsic motivation could be increased by asking an individual to attempt to experience positive feelings by watching someone close to them enjoy a positive experience. With avoidant attachment styles, however, a person is unlikely to develop strong social bonds, because intimacy triggers strong fears of rejection and leads to them pulling away. Thus, even the people closest to them are kept at arm’s length. When no one is truly “close” to us, and we are continually safeguarding ourselves from the prospect of losing them, we cannot increase our motivation for developing our empathetic abilities and thus our ability to recognize our spiritual, energetic connection to everyone & everything in existence… thus guaranteeing chronic feelings of emptiness, loneliness, & dissatisfaction, no matter what we do.

However, narcissistic behavior continues to serve the demands of evolution — keeping an individual alive & functioning long enough to reproduce, even after they have experienced severe, prolonged emotional and/or physical trauma. From the cold, calculating perspective of genetic survival, it is an effective tool. If it will ever be possible to rehabilitate pathological narcissism, it will require an honest, unemotional appraisal of how it develops, why it persists, and what practical methods might help restore the neurophysiological foundations of empathy in narcissistically-disordered individuals.

Lesley

Lesley

My childhood was one of abuse so frightening that I shut down emotionally to survive.  When I was 17 years old, my mother agreed that I could be married to a man, four years older than me, who had been my boyfriend for a year.  I wasn’t asked if the marriage was what I wanted, and I had never learned that I could actually have, or state, feelings about any situation relating to me.

Two days after the marriage my husband and I were sitting at home when he suddenly began screaming at me incoherently.  Grabbing me by my hair he dragged me out of the room, still screaming at me, and threw me outside, shutting the door behind me.  We were living with his father, which we did for the first nine years of our marriage, and it wasn’t until his father came home from work four hours later that anyone came to look for me.  I had crawled into the back seat of the car in the carport and was completely numb emotionally, unable to formulate any decision as to what I could do.  This set the pattern for our marriage.

As is often the case in such situations, my husband controlled who I could see, how much money I was given for the household needs and what was acceptable behaviour.  Anytime I transgressed, the screaming and throwing out of the house, whatever the time of day or night, was repeated.  I learned to walk on eggshells, saying little and doing nothing but what was needed to keep the family and house in reasonable order.  In fact, the only thing I had any control over was how clean the house was and how I could stretch what little money I was given to cover food and clothing for myself and our three children.  I also began living in my imagination.  I made up a family and lived their lives instead of my own.  During the day, with my children, I would be as present as I could manage, which was emotionally exhausting, and at night I would make myself stay awake, examining in great detail how the members of my imaginary family were dealing with each other.  They fought and yelled and punched and got drunk, but I could make them look at why they did this and how it was affecting them.  

I lived like this for 24 years until my children were adults, then I left.  That was 30 years ago and it’s only now that I’m learning to believe that that was my life, and the problems I’m having with coping with my emotions are due to not allowing myself to feel them through that time.

Josh

Josh

I never realized I was in an abusive relationship until several months after it ended.  Our first ten years together were the happiest years of my life; the changes happened so gradually, I never understood.  How long does a cucumber soak in the brine before it becomes a pickle?  Does it matter?  You can tell which is which by the taste.  

Trying to understand the transformation from bliss to abuse intellectually is, in some ways, impossible – because there isn’t any logic behind certain choices & events; just emotion.  And behind those emotions, there is pain, and there is fear.  Fear of loss.  Fear of rejection.  Fear of change.  Memories float to the surface unbidden, like bubbles of methane gas from long-dead, decomposing bodies of pre-historic creatures entombed in the black, noxious mud of a lonesome bog, flares of hope like will o’ the wisps luring me away from solid ground.  

“But, she loved me, once…”  No.  She loved what I did for her.  She loved my vision of her.  And I allowed what she did to me, because I was in love with vision I had created.  The good memories come on their own (why are those still the most painful?).  I have to struggle to resurrect the corpses of the traumatic engrams.  When she broke down the door, missing the head of our newborn baby by inches as I tried to shield him from her rage, I insisted upon counseling; we spent several weeks in the counselor’s office discussing my masturbation habits.  Her temper was hardly mentioned.  

When I told her that honesty & faithfulness were my core values, and she lied and said she’d never had sex with our mutual friend at the time, I should have known he was to be only the first of many mutual friends with whom she would betray me.  When she lied to the detective investigating the rumors of her inappropriate sexual relationship with her high school teacher, it was a dark foreshadowing of how she would manipulate the local police department during our divorce, culminating in the loss of my professional license for the crime of my acquiescence to her demands.  Yet I listened as she lied, I knew the truth, and I stayed quiet.  When she threatened to leave me, she knew she was violating a boundary that was very important to me; I knew how these threats could be used as a form of control & manipulation and had made sure it was well-understood since the beginning that this tactic was forbidden.  I moved her belongings outside my apartment building and locked the door.

Through the window I watched as she stood there, sobbing in the rain.  I had grown up in a world of loneliness, isolation, withdrawn affection, & unpredictable rejection; I knew that pain, and I could not stand to see another suffer in its freezing, desperate despair.  I didn’t hold my ground; I let her back in.  I participated in my own destruction, every step of the way.  By the time we got married, I had shown her she could lie to me, cheat on me, abuse me, and threaten me, and I would forgive her.  To keep her from hurting me again, I would offer her whatever she wanted.  My core values were sacrificed like offerings to a false god, burned to ash in desperate & futile attempts to appease her and avoid the pain of the betrayals that never stopped.  

As her secrets multiplied, I strove to be a model of transparency, honesty, and integrity.  In quiet, private moments, I wanted her to see me – but I soon noticed that every vulnerability I had revealed to her eventually became a target for her psychological abuse.  What could I do?  I wanted true intimacy; true friendship.  

I did not want any barrier between her and knowing me fully.  But her alcoholic, abusive rages were becoming more & more devastating to my sense of self-worth, and I could no longer continue enduring her attacks without some form of protection.  Feeling I had no other option, I built a wall — but a wall made of glass — and I placed it around my heart.  I was not happy.  But leaving her was unthinkable.  I bargained and rationalized and denied, and in so doing, I lost my identity.  As her toxicity became my own and the damage to my personal & professional life elevated, I naively trusted in the truth to be my shield, little realizing the extent of the contagion growing inside me at that time; a mistake which would soon cost me dearly.

Trying to separate her abuse from what I am responsible for is like trying to wash the blood from clothing that has been fused to my skin by an atomic blast.  When the bomb went off, the glass wall around my heart imploded.  The pieces went everywhere but on her.  I lost my finances.  I lost my career.  I lost my dignity, and my privacy.  Most of all, I lost my innocence.  

This is victory, I remind myself, as I pick shards of rose-colored, blood-stained glass out of my heart, wash them off with my tears, and re-assemble them into a beautiful mosaic.  I won.  I beat the odds.  I survived a sixteen-year marriage to a narcissist, and its aftermath.  I escaped.  I’m free.  And I will heal.  Stronger, wiser, and happier than ever before.

Laura

Laura

I was raised with shame, so it followed that I would choose inappropriate partners as an adult.

I had split from my husband, and moved back home with my toddler to care for my dying father in San Francisco. He continued his verbal and emotional abuse, and this time it included my son, so I planned to leave once again.

At that time I had a semi-boyfriend, more like just an amusement to pass the time, but he was often drunk, drugged out of his mind, and mean, so I was eager to leave. I stupidly gave him an address to write me. My ex husband was kind enough to let me and our boy stay with him and his future wife until I got my own place, but a knock on the door changed all that. It was him, he had stalked me up to Montana. All sorts of bad events followed, including rape.

Fast forward a bit, I’m forced to stay in the homeless shelter, because he was causing trouble. He was always around the entrance, waiting for me to leave the building. One night, I had my son in the shelter for a visit, and when I left the building for some fresh air, my father-in-law rushed up to me and yanked my son from my arms. People were screaming: that guy stole her baby! My ex had passed a forged check at my father-in-law’s bar, so not only did he take my son, I was arrested at the same time and spent the night in jail.

The next day I was released and went to a homeless clinic held once a month. I was diagnosed with PTSD, depression, and pregnancy. I had no options left. My ex had run off to Nevada where his mother was to avoid jail. I contacted him, and in my condition, believed him when he told about how his mother was a pillar of the community, how we would have a place to live, furniture, how he would be going to AA, etc. I had lost everything, including my beloved son so I went.

I found myself trapped, held prisoner, locked inside a dumpy trailer with no running water in the middle of a freezing winter. He wouldn’t let me use the payphone to call my family. He told me the corner store thought I was a thief, so I wasn’t allowed to use the restroom there anymore. I was raped repeatedly. He refused to take me to the doctor, and began selling the furniture donated to us so he could get meth. He refused to buy food, preferring his beer and expired sandwiches donated by his mom from the store she worked at. By this point, I had lost all my friends, my family, my self-respect, I had no belongings, no money, nobody to help me. It was the worst experience of my life.

One night, he passed out early, and had left the front door unlocked. I escaped in my bare feet in the snow, running to the first neighbor I could find. There was a motel nearby, and one of the workers had a room, he opened the door and let me inside. I hid inside his garbage while he screamed “I’m gonna kill her!”. I was terrified. Eventually he left, and this amazing, kind stranger fed me for the first time in days. He let me sleep in his bed while he took the floor. I was able to shower for the first time in months.

The next morning, we called the police and they brought me to the local domestic violence shelter. My ex found the shelter quickly, so they gave me a bus ticket up to a different DV shelter, in a different state. By the time I arrived at the new shelter, I had stopped speaking completely and could only stutter or write my responses.

I gave birth to a healthy baby girl, by myself in the hospital (with doctors, of course). During my pregnancy, too many people told me to “get rid of IT”, but I chose to fight for my baby. My daughter knows that she saved my life. If she wasn’t inside me, I would not have fought, I would have died. Within 9 weeks of her birth, I had my own apartment and a job.

I was still in contact with my ex because he was after all, her father. But by this time, I knew to keep him at arm’s length. My daughter is 14 now, and has known nothing but peace, stability, and love in her life. I’ve already written too much, so I won’t explain how, but we have been safe and joyful living for the past 10 years. I do not regret my experiences, because they have made me more compassionate, more caring, kinder, and stronger!

I am in a good place now, and feel like I earned this safety after my lifetime of trauma. I finally learned to accept real love, I never had that before, and I’m grateful every single day for the life I have now. I am disabled, but I am safe and loved. I am financially poor, but my children have all their needs and even some wants met. I have a support system, I know people who like and respect me again, and I finally like myself as well.

There is hope, never give up fighting for what is right.