Why stay in a relationship that is toxic?

 

Why Did I Stay? 

Why did I stay despite everything?  Many of us get into unhealthy situations because our partners held up a facade. I felt I had met my soul mate — that one special person in the universe just for me. It’s no surprise that I fell in love with someone like that! Scott once seemed perfect, but once I was married the relationship changed slowly over time due to children being born, job changes, and other major life changes.  Eventually I began to see a completely different side of him.  It was clear that I had married Dr. Jekyll and was living with Mr. Hyde, or the Supreme Being. The person who once seemed perfect became an angry, demeaning, demanding, and harshly critical narcissistic psychopath.  Sure there were warning signs from the very beginning, but I was in love and felt an obligation to stay. Plus the sex was off the charts.

For most people in abusive relationships, we carry around with us internal obligations that tend to make us want to stay in the relationship. One being the feeling of love for our partner. These feelings can persist and be very strong even when our partner doesn’t give or show us love in return.  We stay because of the few crumbs fed to us along the way with words of affirmation and/or actions along the way.  Like a carrot dangling at the end of a rope.  The second is a feeling of responsibility and obligation to our partner, our family, and even others beyond that. Our disordered partners often work hard to build up this feeling of obligation, hoping it will keep us locked in despite the way they mistreat us. 

I also stayed because of the way Scott’s manipulative behavior effected how I viewed myself.  He made me the victim, and my acceptance of that role allowed Scott to keep his control over me.  Scott projected his issues onto me, leaving a husk of the person I used to be, to feed his ego. I didn’t see through Scott’s ruses.  I didn’t call them out fearful of his repercussions.  I allowed Scott’s behavior to go unchecked by not actively taking a stand against it — and for good reason.  When I did stand up to Scott, he punished me, abusing me both verbally and physically.  I failed from the beginning to set proper boundaries. 

 Scott started the negative comments and hammered them home until I believed it entirely. When you start to feel so low and worthless, you genuinely believe that they are your best option. You believe that no one else will ever love or accept you because that’s what they’ve conditioned you to think – even friends won’t accept you. Because of that, you fear the thought of being alone (one of my greatest fears).  You think no one else will fill the gap in your heart that has been pried wide open with manipulation and malicious criticism. You fear that all the insults and criticisms were true. I let harsh words and his poisoned opinions rule my thinking. 

Alienation was also a major factor why I didn’t leave. While living abroad for ten years having three small children including one with special needs, I just couldn’t pack up and leave. We moved so frequently it was easy for Scott to alienate me from friends and family that supported me. I was also alienated financially, having given up my career to support him in all our moves.  We relied solely on Scott’s income. My career was long gone.  I was terrified at the thought of getting a job having been out of the workforce for so long with my skillset being significantly outdated, or so he made me believe.  

The rest was fear, plain and simple.  Fear of the unknown and Scott’s continuous threats I’d heard so often:  if I ever left, he would leave me with nothing and ruin my relationship with the children.  Scott did exactly that.  But I did survive, and I hope that our children will one day come to understand his illness and forgive me for staying as long as I did in a toxic relationship that ultimately dragged them into the middle. 

We often stay in abusive relationships for reasons that are healthy, even though the situation isn’t.  Scott projected his insecurities as a detached parent onto me making me question my sanity and parenting abilities, the very thing that mattered to me the most. Then there was my internal conflict to keep the family unit intact for the children.  But soon I realized while my vows were pulling me in one direction, the need to care for myself and my children in the other direction had to be my priority. I had to save myself and my spirit if I was going to take care of our children, stopping this dysfunctional modeling, hoping they would learn what a healthy relationship is eventually. 

When we think about making major changes in our lives, our thoughts naturally go to the world around us. We not only want to do what is right in principle; we also want to do what others will approve of. I guess one of the things that surprised me most in my educational journey was how strong this feeling was for me. I was always a people pleaser, needing validation and social acceptance. I hated being alone. I was really carrying around a strong feeling that an awful lot of people would judge what I did, especially living in such a small community. Even writing my book/blog, I worried what others may think knowing what happened behind the closed doors of our seemingly perfect Facebook life. 

I felt shame and embarrassment; I never thought I would get divorced, no matter what Scott did to me.  I had to work hard to get a handle on this. In reality, people didn’t really care. The negative judgment from others really isn’t there. The thought that I am a good mother because I kept my family unit intact needed to be set aside, replaced with thoughts that are centered in more basic ideas. “I am a good mother” because I care about my children. Now I have the courage and ability to hopefully be a role model to my children. I want them to also be free from their father’s manipulation to truthfully assess the goodness of their lives. I am a “good person” because I love and care for myself, my children, and for others.  

It’s time to believe.

Believe . . .

To accept (something) as true; feel sure of the truth.  

Hold (something) as an opinion; think or suppose.  

Believe in yourself, your intuition, your courage, your strength, your future.

 

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My Lightbulb Moment

It was the last day of our Florida vacation.  I was running late.  All five of us, Scott, our children, and I, were crammed into a small hotel room with two double beds and a blow-up mattress. Our kids varied in age from twelve to twenty-one, and we were all ready for some space. The kids were in the hotel room and everyone was fighting and arguing. Our two oldest children were speaking to me like Scott always does — with complete disrespect. They learned it from him.  Or maybe I should say they never learned respect from him.  Then, I snapped.

I couldn’t breathe.  I was in tears and trying to keep my temper intact.  

Maybe it’s a panic attack?  

I don’t know.  I’ve never had one before.  

 “I‘m not feeling well,” I told Scott when he entered the room with his drink in hand, stepping over luggage and strewn clothes everywhere. “Something’s wrong.”

It was Scott’s responsibility to plan our anniversary dinner that evening, which turned out to be dinner with our kids and his mother and her husband. Our marriage counselor had suggested we take turns planning a date night, and it was Scott’s turn that night on our anniversary. I wasn’t expecting any grand gestures, but I was hanging on to hope by a thread.  I hoped that Scott would make an effort, knowing I already had one foot out the door.  I had met with the YWCA Domestic Abuse Advocate a few months earlier after Scott had beaten me — again.  I had also met with someone at the Personal Protection Order (PPO) office and had also considered filing assault and battery charges at that time.  But Scott professed his love, actually admitting he was wrong for the first time in our nearly 30 years together. I believed him.  

Earlier that day, our family had decided to take a trip up to Captiva Island to enjoy our last day of vacation at the beach.  I was exhausted having tried all week to make our family vacation a happy and memorable one.  It wasn’t easy.  I was hoping to end our last day of vacation on a positive note.  

On our way back to the hotel after the beach, Scott and Lindsey, our daughter, were arguing.  I tried time-outs, but tempers continued to flare. Cooper, our youngest son, was in tears in the backseat of the car as Scott and Lindsey got louder and louder.  In an attempt to divert or stop the argument, I suggested that Scott pull over at a nearby beach. I said that I wanted to search for driftwood, hoping we could all just breathe. Scott agreed, and our daughter, grateful for the reprieve, joined me.  

After we got out, Scott decided that he didn’t want to stay. He sped off with a sting of gravel spraying in our faces.  It was a blistering hot afternoon, so we waved the cloud of gravel dust from our eyes and headed down a narrow path to the beach, with the understanding Scott would be back in an hour to pick us up.  I was hoping that would give everyone enough time to calm down.  It was a small beach, just under and around a small bridge.  There was parking for a handful of cars.  You couldn’t walk far and there wasn’t much to see as we ventured out, but I thought there may be a few pieces of driftwood, as it was an outlet to the ocean.  There were a few other people hanging out, fishing or taking in the sunshine.  Lindsey and I wandered awhile, then took a few pictures — she wanted a couple good photos of herself from our vacation.

Hot, tired, and thirsty we were disappointed that Scott never returned as promised, as it was now well-past an hour. I repeatedly called him and got no answer. Two hours later, needing a bathroom desperately, I called his mother. I asked her to tell Scott we were ready to be picked up.  Scott was not happy. Not only had I called his mother, but he was going to miss happy hour at sunset on the last day of our vacation.

 Okay.  

Now back in the hotel room the five of us were getting ready in a mad dash. We wanted to be on time for our anniversary dinner with his mother.  I was last in the shower with only a few minutes to throw myself together, thanks to our teenage daughter. The kids were being disrespectful and argumentative with me.  Instead of defending me and correcting their behavior, Scott jumped on the bandwagon with them. 

That’s when the light bulb came on.  That one defining moment was like the final drop of water into a billion drops collected over time that creates a flood.  The gates opened and there was no stopping it.   For the first time I dialed in and listened — listened to my inner spirit who was screaming with fire, fury and frustration.  Moved by such an extreme feeling of discontent I knew I had to do something.  Fueled by powers of prayer, I had a moment of clarity.  It was crystal clear.

To an outsider, it may have seemed like nothing.  So what?  A crappy day; dinner with the mother-in-law; no roses.  Big deal.  But inside, it was the culmination of years of abuse.  My heart and soul were screaming.  It was time to protect what little I had left of myself.  It was fight or flight — the physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival. 

The very foundation of our marriage was broken.Living in my comfort zone was easy.  But as I sat there on the creaky, old hotel bed, I felt like I was buried in a pile of rubble, unable to breath.  The walls were crumbling around me.  No longer able to detach and deny, I accepted the truth.  My reality.  With this discontent rising up like a kettle about to blow, I knew that something had to change.  I had to change.  No more brokenness.  No more abuse. I needed to rebuild my life, not just for me, but for our children.

Not wanting the kids to see my distress, I told them to go ahead to dinner with Grandma and her husband without me.  I wasn’t feeling well and went into the bathroom and wept.  Scott knew I wasn’t ok, but it was apparent that I didn’t matter to him.  

“Suit yourself,” he said, leaving to take the kids to dinner. 

Now, I know that Scott is a narcissistic psychopath.  The universe is all about him and how things affect him.  But I didn’t know that then.  That night I gave Scott many opportunities to help me keep US together – a last-ditch effort to show me he could be different. That he could still change my mind and save the marriage.  Was I overreacting?  I didn’t think so.

A short while later, Scott texted me, “There’s a wait for the table.  I can come get you if you’re finally ready?” 

Again, I explained, “I’mnot ok.” I really wasn’t.  I couldn’t catch my breath and felt like I was going to faint, breaking into a cold sweat.   I knew what I had to do.  Scott only got angrier.  How dare I stand him up on our anniversary; in front of his mother, no less!

“I can’t believe you’re acting like a child.  What am I supposed to tell my mother?” he said angrily. He wasn’t worried about me.  It was all about him.  

That’s when I knew I needed some space. I couldn’t fathom getting back on the plane the next day with Scott and kids bound for home. 

So, I told Scott, “I’m leaving.”  

 “What do you mean?  You’re over-reacting, being selfish.  You’re making a big deal out of nothing,”  he texted. Something I’ve heard all too often.

 “I need some space, time to think,” I replied.  He didn’t respond like some might, begging me to stay or making any effort to be reasonable.  

Instead he said, “You’re a terrible wife and mother.  How dare you abandon us. You need help, you’re a crazy bi**h.”  That was it.  My proverbial last straw.I collected myself as best Icould, packed my bags, and called an Uber driver, letting the hotel room door close behind me.  quote 8

Narcissistic Psychopath for Dummies

This is my first blog – as part of a series where I share my journey as I struggled to break free of a Narcissistic Psychopath.  I hope others, like me, will learn to recognize that YOU are NOT the crazy one.  Believe in yourself and a happier future.

The Narcissistic Psychopath for Dummies

I was everything my ex-husband, Scott, needed me to be. Scott picked me because I was a caring, loving person that he could exploit. I was brainwashed, manipulated, and orchestrated into an intricate web, which fed Scott’s insatiable need for control to mask his own insecurities. Gradually over time, Scott defined me. He told me who I was, what to think, how to feel.  As the years passed and my struggles continued, I suffered mental anguish, anxiety, and emotional pain.  I lost confidence.  I had self-doubt.  I was depressed.  I began to have problems sleeping, and the stress took its toll on me physically.  I became a husk of the person I used to be. 

Finally, I acted on my truth.  I stood up for myself and my children.  When my doctor asked me if I felt safe at home and I couldn’t answer “Yes,” I knew it was time to make a change for my mind, body, and spirit. I took my marriage vows seriously; however, my biggest obligation was to our children. To properly nurture and care for them, I had to be whole and functional.  With the abuse over the years, and because Scott was an uninvolved and detached parent, I felt a strong obligation to stay in the marriage for their sakes.  It got to the point where my vows were pulling me in one direction, and my need for safety and sanity pulled me in another.  I had to make a choice:  Either I keep my commitment to Scott, losing my peace and possibly the ability to properly care for our children, or I care for myself and my children, first and foremost. 

The problem was that Scott had distorted my sense of reality over the years through shame, guilt, and intimidation — to make me believe that, at some level, I was an unfit parent and couldn’t live without him.  I believed that by keeping the family intact I was doing what was best for our children.  This would have made sense in a healthy relationship, but ours wasn’t even close. I tolerated Scott’s abuse and my isolation, even allowing him to damage my relationship with our children over the years – the same children for whom I had stayed in the marriage to nurture and protect. 

But I didn’t realize Scott was the sick one, nor did I consider the impact that our modeling had on the children until my “light bulb” moment. Children learn to do what they live with.  In a severely dysfunctional home like ours, our children learned dysfunction.  We were unable to co-parent as long as Scott dominated the household and alienated me through his manipulation and brainwashing.  This made it nearly impossible to have a full and healthy relationship with my own children. 

In the end, it finally came down to safety.  Our home was not emotionally safe for me or the children.  My obligation as a parent was far more important to me than the obligation of staying in the marriage merely to keep the family “intact.”  It was time to break free and set a new and better example for my kids.  I knew Scott would continue to turn them against me.  I only hope that I didn’t wait too long to act; that someday they will see the truth and learn to identify and enjoy healthy relationships. 

I knew divorcing Scott would be difficult.  But there was no way I could have anticipated or prepared for the level of discord and calculated manipulation that Scott aimed toward me to ruin me and my relationship with my children, along with the threats of poverty.  I had married a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  It was during this process that I discovered Scott truly is a psychopath. 

What is a Psychopath? 

A normal relationship might use love and trust as its currency, but a relationship with any psychopath has a wholly different purpose. They use you, benefit from you, and thrive off of controlling you.  They lack a sense of empathy, a conscience, and guilt. Scott presented himself with a flawless veneer. Every now and then, between the good moments, you would catch a glimpse of his true self, blowing up at a person or impatiently smashing something.  This is who he truly is.  It’s in those instances that I slowly learned that a psychopath wants to inject chaos, anxiety, and insecurity into your life.   

Half the time I didn’t know right side up.  A psychopath is frightening for many reasons as they are incredibly sharp and intelligent. They’re calculating, capable of planning ahead, scheming, and concocting plans that leave most normal people confused. Psychopaths understand exactly what they’re doing to you.  Match that with a charismatic personality such as Scott’s who was then the perfect salesman, showman, and entertainer.  Scott was very successful in his company position. In social settings, the party started when he arrived.

Of course, Scott was smart; he realized the need to keep up appearances. His need for social status to accomplish his goals was one of the few things that held him back from being even more ruthless and devastating. Scott possessed many masks, all of which hid his true self, reminding me of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Scott was toxic and abusive, always overstating his ability to be kind and compassionate to hide his true character. 

I learned during my divorce that I was dealing with a completely unpredictable human being with zero conscience.  Zero empathy.  Zero remorse.  While the normal person understands the ramifications of divorce, the psychopath sees it as only one thing:  a game to win regardless of the costs.  No matter how much money it took, no matter how it affected his children’s lives, even when he lost his job in the process, Scott had to win.  Mix that need for power and control with a self-absorbed ego, and you get a Narcissistic Psychopath. 

What is a Narcissist?

A narcissist is a person who is completely and overwhelmingly absorbed in themselves. They are the center of their own universe, and they carry that belief into how they interact with others.  What is difficult to assess in the beginning is that narcissists can seem very nice, generous, charming, and caring.  Then slowly, as their masks slip, things begin to change.  They will morph into a black hole of need, demand, and criticism.  The list of things that can upset them continually grows until you’re walking in a minefield, trying not to be punished for offending them. 

A narcissist will commonly choose someone who was raised to be co-dependent as prey. Co-dependent people tend to be nice, sweet, reasonable, and eager to please.  That was me. They can be taken into the narcissist’s sphere because they don’t see what is coming, and they don’t believe people can be toxic and cruel for no reason.  Most people don’t know how to defend themselves against a chronic and malicious controller.  They just can’t see the hurt coming and, over time, are destructively conditioned to take more and more of it until they start to think they are the “crazy” ones.   

My relationship with Scott wasn’t unlike the old tale of a boiling frog that goes something like this:  If you place a frog in a warm pot of water and slowly increase the temperature over time they don’t react or realize it until they end up getting cooked in the boiling water. Whereas, if you placed a frog into a boiling pot of water, it would immediately jump out.  By letting the small and seemingly harmless wrongs slip, it could overtime, add up to deadly. Scott was bad for me.  I just didn’t realize it until I nearly boiled to death.  Once I made the conscious decision to jump out of the pot in order to survive, I wished there was a guide to which I could have referred – How to Divorce a Narcissistic Psychopath for Dummies. 

I thought I was prepared. In hindsight, I was naïve.  A narcissist will take control by any means at hand. The entire basis of Scott’s case in this divorce was to prove me mentally unstable and an unfit mother.  I was neither, but over the years my marriage to Scott had me doubting myself and questioning everything I previously held to be true about myself and the world. The psychological warfare I endured both during the marriage and through the divorce was crushing.  Here’s a list of what I learned in my battle with a narcissistic psychopath: 

How to Divorce a Narcissistic Psychopath for Dummies:

  • Keep a journal and record everything – this is SO important. 
  • Get the BEST lawyer – even if the cost seems too high. I paid for his. 
  • File.  DON’T TELL ANYONE, not even your friends, until they are served the papers. 
  • You want to be the Plaintiff. Attorneys will say it doesn’t matter, but it does to a narcissist, and I believe it will sway a judge.
  • Stash money away. You can bet they have — and planned it many years ago. 
  • Hide anything that has value BEFORE you file. They will try and take those things.
  • Spend now, ask forgiveness later.
  • Lock up everything.  Files, journals, your car, your purse. 
  • Change all your passwords. 
  • Buy a burner phone. 
  • Open a new and private email account to communicate with your family, friends, and attorney(s). 
  • Get a good grip on your finances and record every expense. 
  • Do not believe ANYTHING they say – EVER. 
  • Demand a psychiatric evaluation. 
  • Breathe.  You will waste many tears and have many sleepless nights. 
  • Take the case to trial.  I should have. 

There were so many times I said to myself, “I can’t believe Scott did that!”  I couldn’t have anticipated his actions.  It was impossible to wrap my head around how a person could do such inconceivable things.  I was a faithful wife for 27 years, sacrificed my career to support his, and gave Scott three amazing children.  I was a good mother and wife.  No, I was an amazing mother and wife.  How could I have been so blind, so dumb?  Nearly 30 years went by in a blink. 

I was mad at myself for not seeing it sooner and angry at Scott for everything he did and would do throughout the entire process.  The hardest part of the divorce was learning to forgive myself and accepting that it wasn’t all my fault.  I had been brainwashed, manipulated, and controlled by the best of the best; I was the boiling frog.  I could never have foreseen what Scott would put me through in that year, and even if I had, I couldn’t have done anything differently. Scott gave me no choice.  Everything I did was in reaction to his actions.  I didn’t have time or space to plan any offense of my own; I was forced to continually play defense and play his game. For Scott it was all about winning.  Over the following year, Scott would do whatever it took to win, conquer and destroy in our own version of War of the Roses.  This is what happened, and you may expect when attempting to divorce a narcissistic psychopath: 

What to Expect When Divorcing a Narcissistic Psychopath:

  • He will sabotage your relationship with your attorney (I had three). 
  • He will break into your room and your car. 
  • He will steal your files and journals. 
  • He will hack your personal files and email accounts. 
  • He will stalk you. 
  • He will place hidden video cameras in the house to watch your every move. 
  • He will stage dozens of events designed to get you arrested and jailed. 
  • He will commit forgery. 
  • He will perjure himself without any thought for, or fear of, the repercussions. 
  • He will physically attack you. 
  • He will go on a vacation rampage.
  • He will hide money. 
  • He will call your friends and family. 
  • He will call you crazy, delusional, and mentally unstable. 
  • He will never accept defeat and will fight literally to the bitter end (even over something as trivial as used gift bags!). 
  • He will never leave you alone. 
  • He will turn the children against you. 

When I told my friends I was writing a book/blog, I would reference the old movie War of the Roses, explaining that I was writing the modern sequel, only no one dies in the end. Throughout the following blogs I will be drawing from my personal journal of my daily struggles and discoveries during my Year of Thorns.  I’ve also referenced the 17 Emotional Manipulation Tactics of the narcissistic psychopath that I learned to identify in my path to recovery.  This was an important tool in my research to understand what happened to our family while we lived with someone with a severe personality disorder, and the challenges I faced throughout the divorce process. 

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