*Trigger warning: if you come from a story of domestic abuse, please read with caution and make space for self-care. Just because you have started this post doesn’t mean you are required to finish it.
I’ve been thinking about saying some really hard things lately.
It gives me pause to consider how much power there will be in the words I will use and in the way I will use them, but it’s time. and I can be brave. I mean no harm, but I will tell the truth.
I am recovering from narcissistic abuse
Narcissistic abuse is a form of abuse that becomes complex trauma in the body of the person harmed. Complex trauma is sustained after chronic and repeated abuse and typically within a specific relationship to the person harmed. I experienced sustained psychological, emotional, financial, sexual, and physical (however relatively minor) abuses from my partner of nearly 20 years. Let that sink in…I was in a consistently abusive relationship for two decades, nearly two-thirds of my life and all of my adulthood to this point.
Parts of me have not been well, I am fighting for my very existence.
In case you don’t know what narcissistic abuse is, let me show you what it looked like in my world and what it might look like in yours or in the life of someone you know.
Tactics my abuser frequently used:
- Gas-lighting: a form of mental abuse where the perpetrator puts the victim in a position of questioning their reality; this ultimately disrupts the ability of the victim to trust themselves
- Bait-n-switch arguing: a confounding way of doing conflict that leaves a person completely disoriented
- Emotional blackmail: disproportionate anger and intimidation
- Physical posturing: aggressively holding their frame in a stance meant to intimidate, threaten, and scare
- Blame shifting: persistent unwillingness to accept responsibility and putting the full burden on the other person
Become familiar with these terms, noticing them might result in you saving a life.
It’s easy to look at this list and recognize the abuse now, but being in the midst of it created massive blank spaces in my reasoning. Even now as my abuser continues to use these tactics against me, and after all of my therapy, training, and time away from him my default is to react the way I was trained to; it has been a massive retraining of my mind and body to align myself with truth in order to combat his behaviors. If you were to hear him now, he would insist that I was the abuser in the relationship because I fought too.
To be completely honest, this is confusing as hell because there were times that I did fight back: my tongue can be extremely sharp, I did slam that door, I did scream at the top of my lungs, I did rage against him. I have a sense of shame that accompanies those memories. I am imperfect to the core. The difference is, I have to remind myself, that I did so in utter exasperation after being backed into a literal corner where I could find no other way out. I was never able to hurt him, though he turned my arms black and blue. I could not scare him away from me, though I was often left in a heap of terrified shock, hyperventilating through my tears while he mocked me. I never started a conflict this way, and no matter what tools I tried to use to end it he would use against me. His favorite game was to run intellectual circles around my mind, chasing out and bending truth for his gain.
Church Plays a Role in Victimizing the Victim
I didn’t know about narcissistic abuse nor its deplorable intricacies until recently. I was never taught how to see the warning signs and certainly never how to walk away. I was primed well to normalize the poor behaviors of my abuser by my abuser and by my religious belief system. Having grown up in the church I had learned language and expected patterns of behavior that would reinforce my acceptance of harm. I was taught that submissiveness, meekness (long-suffering), and turning the other cheek were glorifying to the Lord. Not a single person identified to which lengths, nor the circumstances that this should be applied; rather, these admonishments were simply given as would-be evidence of a striving, godly person. I was taught that to reject such pursuits of “Holiness” showed within me an unbending, strong-willed anarchy. It was all backed by God-breathed scripture, so even if I knew to fight against what was happening I would only be showing an abject disobedience. Whatever was happening to me was surely a sign of my unrepentant heart anyway, and likely a clear sign that I had not fully accepted Jesus. Do you hear that? I was accepting abuse as punishment from a god that required my obedience, and any evidence of pain and suffering was surely him sending me a message to lay down my own will, to do better praying, to contain a quieter disposition…
If you are the church, and you are reading this hear me clearly: CHURCH STOP.
I misused scripture against myself in accordance with the teachings of my church, whom I still sincerely believe teaches from their mindset of biblical responsibility albeit without being trauma informed and protective. I am in no way blaming the church, but I am saying that I believe they should have done better.
I learned a specific brand of patriarchy there backed by biblical literature that further confounded my fragile identity. I felt I was left to either fight blindly and alone against a complete structure seemingly backed by the God of the universe or accept the majority of responsibility for the harm I was enduring. It seemed to make more sense that I might accept a full measure of fault rather than come up against everything I knew up to that point.
When a person is being abused AND has to prove themselves it is a never-ending conundrum, one narrative reinforcing the next in a cyclical death spiral.
The abuse I have suffered has caused my brain to go into overdrive to protect itself from death caused by sustaining injury after injury. My brain has at times shut itself down preferring instead to become listless. I have needed a lot of help to revive my mind, I have so much further yet to travel in this reclamation of my life and those of my children.
I have sought specific trauma counseling, I have become educated. I have been through many dark nights of the soul. I now know a lot about the signs and symptoms of abuse that I didn’t all those years ago. I still wish I had known that I was worth more. I wish I had said yes to the discomfort of fighting for myself. I wish I had told the truth. I didn’t do those things for myself then, but I do know. I’ve learned how.
I divorced that person last spring but my healing, our healing, has just barely begun. We are clawing our way out of this pit and we are struggling. Although there are beginning to be slightly more days that the proverbial sun does shine. Days that I can hear a new laughter emanating from the bellies of my children who are also re-learning their own new rhythm of life. Someday I will write about the story of just after our abuse, for now I think this is all I can handle letting through.
I used to think that being divorced was the very worst possible thing that could happen to me, to us, to my kids. Let me tell you: IT ISN’T. I know what isI have heard it said of my abuser, “We love him.” If I ever hear this again, I will not keep my tongue. You do not get to love the person that wreaked havoc in my home and who has nearly irreparably harmed my children and be in relationship with me. I will require you choose and if you cannot, I will simply choose for you.
I am recovering from narcissistic abuse.