‘He proposed in a big, elaborate way in front of my family. I was terrified. I didn’t know how or when, but I knew my life was over. I had to make my move.’ Woman escapes after decade-long abuse

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“A little more than a decade ago I was a strong, independent, single mother with lots of friends and a loving family. My life was good. In fact, it was pretty great, except that I felt I was missing one thing. I longed for a partner with whom to share all of life’s special moments. Since the father of my daughter and I separated, I had been happily single for many years. As a working, single-mom, I didn’t have much time or worry for dating or finding a man.

Courtesy of Amy M.

Around the time my daughter was ten years old, I started to consider dating again. I did feel a little lonely and wanted someone in my life. I was in my early 30’s and ready to find love again. Seemingly right on cue, I ran into who I’ll call Mark.

Mark and I actually had a little history. In our early 20’s, we ran in the same clubbing scene, knew the same people, and found ourselves at the same parties. Mark and I were hardly what you would call friends, just slightly more than acquaintances. But there was definitely a mutual attraction. Mark had dark hair, baby blue eyes, and a devilish smirk that I would later grow to dread. We spent an evening catching up, his eyes sparkling and my heart skipping beats. At the end of the night, he asked for my number.

Our first date was the very next weekend, our second date the weekend after that. Our third came the next, and so on. Mark and I couldn’t get enough of each other. I was falling for him, hard. Our courtship was passionate, intense, and fast. And two months into it, it all came to a screeching halt. Mark betrayed me and I stepped back from the relationship. I was shocked and I was hurt, but I was glad it happened sooner than later. That should have been the end of my relationship with Mark, but, it wasn’t…

After a few weeks apart, Mark reached out by sending a beautiful bouquet of red roses and heartfelt card. He owned up, apologized, and, truth be told, I was already in love with him. How could I resist? And this was just the beginning. The beginning of a pattern of betrayals, followed by blow-ups, make-ups, forgiveness, and a life of perpetual walking-on-eggshells. The cycle of abuse had begun.

Courtesy of Amy M.

I was oblivious that Mark was conditioning me to accept his abuse. The silent treatments, the outbursts, the name-calling and affection withholding were all imputed on me. I was blamed for everything wrong in our relationship, I was responsible for his actions, and I was punished for my noncompliance.

Looking back now, I can see the warning signs were there from the very beginning. The thing was that I had never seen an emotionally abusive relationship before. I didn’t know what emotional abuse was; I didn’t recognize the red flags waving right in front of my face. He was so masterful at convincing me that the abuse was my own doing and the negative thoughts were in my own head. I quickly began to believe I was worthless. He told me I would never have another man as good as him, and I believed him!

The scariest part was that from the outside, our relationship looked perfect, and aside from the silent treatments, name calling, and belittling, it was. We were a good looking couple, young and vibrant. We had a wonderful social circle and took luxurious vacations. No one knew, including me, that I was insidiously being trained to accept abuse so horrible that my hair would later start to fall out – literally.

It was established fairly quickly, within the first year, that I was at fault for everything wrong in our relationship. He constantly accused me of cheating, lying, and conspiring against him, of which I did none. I was not allowed to have a social life outside of his approved friend circle. He would routinely get drunk and pick fights with me, and at first I fought back, as would anyone with any semblance of a backbone. But I soon figured out this only made him angrier and far worse to deal with, so I began to curb my tongue and hold back my tears to avoid his wrath.

I tried to understand why he was so angry. I tried to change my own behavior as to not trigger him. I tried talking to friends and family but no one had answers. I felt very confused. The name calling was horrible and relentless; I was called the B-word, the C-word, and everything in between. And as bad as the name calling was, the silent treatments were far worse. I could take the horrible names, and after a while I had become somewhat immune to his verbal diarrhea. His silence though, that was unbearable. His disdain and contempt told me I was not worthy. I was unlovable, I was deeply flawed, and I was lucky to have him, because HE would still love me, despite all of that.

He conditioned me by treating me with love and affection one minute, and then abruptly starving me of it the next. He said I earned his punishment by some small err of my human ways and I no longer deserved his love. The more he withheld his love and affection, the more I craved it. I chased him, apologizing for whatever invisible infraction I had made and begged for his love.

Days would turn into weeks where I was abandoned and ignored. I’d be so confused and distressed, messaging him frantically and asking him to please explain why he was angry. I was asking what I had done wrong and how could I fix it. I was never, ever in the hundreds of times this happened, given answers. Only when he decided I had served my penance would he talk to me again, but not before verbally berating me for my sins. Only then could I be ‘forgiven’ and he would reluctantly take back my ‘pathetic piece-of-shit ass’. Only then would my suffering end.

Courtesy of Amy M.

All the while, this played out right in the faces of our family and friends and nobody ever saw it as the abuse it was. He was rarely called out on his bad behavior and I continued to think the problem was me. I tried my best not to anger him; I lived in a constant state of fear. At any moment, for any reason, I could be yelled at, stormed off on, and be subjected to a several-weeks-long silent treatment. In my effort to appease him, I gave up most of my friends. I spent less time with my family. I missed countless weddings, birthdays, and reunions and somehow he was able to convince me it was all my idea. I stopped communicating with anyone who was not in our immediate friend group, isolating myself, and becoming even easier to control and manipulate.

The years were passing and they were filled with empty promises. Nothing ever changed. Every milestone that passed with promise of moving forward slipped by unnoticed. Mark did eventually propose to me on my 40th birthday in front my family and friends in a big, elaborate way. I was absolutely shocked, as was everyone there. After almost a decade together, he finally asked me to marry him. I was both ecstatic and terrified.

Courtesy of Amy M.

I thought, finally, we will be married and everything will be perfect. I believed he did love me after all. I thought the abuse would finally stop because I was lovable, worthy, and deserving of respect, deserving of marriage. Just two days after our engagement, I was yet again unknowingly served a verbal barrage of put-downs, foul names, and then abandoned and left to contemplate my transgressions.

There were never any talking things out or mature, adult-type conversations. Only yelling and ignoring in our relationship. When I tried to talk with him, I was met with a word-salad that would leave my head spinning, more confused than when we began, me on the defensive, and of course him storming off, leaving me to agonize with wonder of where he was, who he was with, and when he’d be back.

Despite all of this, I still loved him. Crazy, right? In actuality, I was trauma-bonded to him. You see, he would always eventually make up with me. He would return with copious amounts of the love and affection I longed for. I relied on him, and only him, to take the pain away. I learned how to behave to get him to ‘forgive’ me sooner and I practiced submissiveness to prevent and minimize as much abuse as possible. In doing so, however, I essentially enabled him to abuse me more. I placated him and taught him it was okay to abuse me with my subservient actions and my inability to set boundaries or leave the relationship.

Courtesy of Amy M.

As time went on, my love for him dwindled. I accepted there would never be a wedding and I became comfortable with that. I saw his behavior getting worse; the love and affection bouts were getting lesser, while the fighting and abandonment stints were getting greater. I had to find my way out but I was emotionally stuck. Physically and logistically, leaving him would be easy. We weren’t married, we had no children together, we didn’t even live together. But emotionally and psychologically, I had to break the bond to the man I had loved for ten years.

Leaving him would mean leaving my social circle, my very closest friends. I would have to start my life over with no friends, no apology, and no closure. I knew it was going to be the hardest thing I had ever done in my life, but I knew I had to do it. My physical health was becoming impaired. I suffered panic attacks, I had heart palpitations, I had chronic eczema, my hair was falling out, and my weight had ballooned to an embarrassing state. I didn’t know how and I didn’t know when, but I knew that my life, as I knew it, was over. It, and I, would never be the same again.

Right on cue, just before Christmas 2017, Mark pulled yet again, another silent treatment. Holidays and celebrations were his favorite times to discard me. On day 10 of that silent treatment, I made my move. I ended it with Mark for good. There was no dramatic breakup, there was no phone call or text messages. There weren’t even any tears. I simply blocked him. And after ten years, almost to the exact day, I liberated myself.

Not too long after the breakup, I began therapy. I joined a gym and got healthy; my physical symptoms vanished nearly immediately. With the love and support of my family and especially my, now adult, daughter, I began rebuilding my self-esteem and self-worth.

Courtesy of Amy M.

Through counseling, I learned that Mark almost certainly had a personality disorder (NPD), and what I was dealing with actually had a name – Narcissistic Abuse. I immersed myself in learning everything I could about this personality disorder and the abuse that goes along with it. Everything clicked. I was enlightened at last. I did lose my social circle and that’s still hard sometimes, but you know what they say about that – I guess they weren’t my real friends anyway.

Since leaving my abuser, I have delved deep into the world of emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse, the trauma it creates, and the healing and recovery process. I am reminded of the person I was before the abuse: a happy, kind, warm women with a big heart and a sense of humor. I had forgotten all about her. My free will has returned, along with my voice, and I feel it is not only my right, but an obligation to speak out about this hidden abuse.

I now dedicate much of my free time to helping others through my social media. It is my mission to educate, support, and encourage, other victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse.

Narcissistic abuse is a cruel and painful abuse to endure, but once you can recognize it and escape it there is hope and happiness on the other side.

It is said that abuse survivors are some of the most kind and compassionate people you will ever meet. And while I won’t speak for myself, I can say that I have met some of the most beautiful people in this healing journey who have uplifted and inspired me in the most heartening ways.

I am not bitter and I am not angry.

I am happy and hopeful and very, very grateful.”

Courtesy of Amy M.
Courtesy of Amy M.

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Amy M. of Toronto, Canada. You can follow her journey on Instagram here and YouTube here. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more from domestic violence survivors:

‘On the night of our honeymoon, I saw the DARKER side of my husband. My heart was beating out of my chest. He crouched down and whispered in my ear, ‘You… are NOT going to tell me what to do.’ I felt instant regret.’

‘She tried to warn me years before. ‘You’re crazy and a liar,’ I told her. We had nothing in common but our abuser. Desperate and alone, I told her my story. I’ll never forget what she did.’

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