It was a dark and stormy night. Well, actually it wasn’t. Maybe sometimes. But it was a dark and stormy life.
I was born into narcissistic abuse. My mother was highly narcissistic, but I had no idea that there was a name for it or a diagnosis. I just knew that things were not right. And if I tried to work through it, I would be punished in spades. I learned very early on that the only thing I could do was stay under the radar. And I did. For pretty much my entire childhood.
Life didn’t get better as I grew up. It got worse. I was more controlled as a teenager than I was as a child. Things happened that to this day I still cannot write down because of the sheer humiliation involved. But I don’t focus on those things. I have learned to thrive in spite of them.
I remember in high school being forbidden to go to church because my mother wouldn’t be able to control who we (my two sisters and me) talked to or what we did while we were there. We could go to school. And that was it. It was a small Christian school. My mother thought that she could control what we did there. And she sort of could. But there were some teachers who could see what was going on. They took me under their wing.
Table of Contents
School: My Saving Grace
Those teachers couldn’t necessarily do much. If they tried to step in, my mother would have squelched anything they tried to do to help me. They didn’t know about the narcissistic abuse, let alone know what that was. But they knew things weren’t right. And they showed me love at school. They went out of their way to be kind, gave me latitude to do what I wanted. I rarely did school work at school. I did it at home in my room every night to escape the life I had at home. When I was at school, I could read, take walks outside, draw, paint, or craft in other ways. And I was editor of our yearbook in my later high school years. I had plenty to do that I wanted to do.
Note: the reason I could have such freedom and not have to be in class was because our little Christian school was not normal in the way it did classes. There were no teachers lecturing us. We did all work from out desks, reading and then filling out the books. Once we finished them, we took a test and then moved on to the next book in the series until all twelve in each subject were done for the year. Because all work was student-driven, I could do what I wanted at school as long as my work was done on time.
The Dark Horse of High School
My senior year of high school, a new boy showed up. He was a year behind me and eight months younger than me. Everyone thought he was amazing. He was kind and smart. And he was godly in a place that no teenage boys were. Except that he wasn’t any of those things. We were all fooled.
All the girls were swooning. And because I wasn’t even remotely pretty or outgoing, I remember thinking he was the perfect guy but I had no chance. One girl actually asked me if I was going to pursue him since all the other girls were (including her). Instead of taking up her challenge, I said I wouldn’t pursue him. But if he liked me, then I would love the chance to get to know him more.
To my surprise, he started talking to me one night after driver’s ed class. And we kept talking. After about a month, we were official. He was my first boyfriend. I had said I wasn’t dating or getting married and having a family. I planned to have a career and be my own person for life.
Missing All the Red Flags
The red flags were there even in high school. He doted on me when it benefited him. He ignored me the rest of the time. But because I was raised in a home that also didn’t relate to me in a healthy way, I didn’t recognize it the way I needed to. I did recognize it. But I had no idea what narcissistic abuse really was or what degree of damage it could do, especially long-term. I simply thought it was wrong for me to expect too much.
At one point, I did get frustrated with the way he was treated me and did a little experiment with my best friend. At that time, I was feeling like our relationship was all my work and none of his. So during recess, I decided I would stay in the library with my best friend. I would see if he realized I wasn’t around and come find me. Of course, he never did. For the whole rest of the day, he never came. But he did spend the rest of the day with the girl he was actually infatuated with.
That should have been my cue to walk away. But when I confronted him about it (it was actually the weakest confrontation ever), he easily excused it away. And I fell for it.
He ended up dumping me hard after about 6 months. No explanation. No closure. I didn’t handle it well. I was devastated. For the next year and a half, we were on-again, off-again.
The College Years
When I first graduated from high school, I went to a very strict (read oppressive here) Christian college. I was only there for one semester because my dad had lost his very lucrative job overseas and it took a bit to get back on his feet. So I went back home and worked for a year to earn enough money to go back to school.
The Roller Coaster Begins
During this time, my on-at-the-time boyfriend decided in the summer of 1988 to go to Bible School that fall. And he wanted me to go with him. I couldn’t go in the fall, but after discussing it and agonizing over finances, I decided I could meet him there and start in January.
Just before he left for Bible School, he visited me at work. He let me know that he wanted the freedom to start dating people, just in case he met someone. And I was stupid enough to fall for it and still plan to meet him there in January.
Sure enough, he met someone soon after he got to school. Honestly, it wasn’t a surprise. But he didn’t tell me until just before Christmas break. So, while he was writing me like everything was normal and I was sending him care packages with gifts, he was giving the gifts to his new girlfriend and laughing about it while he gave them to her. (She told me about that a year or so later.)
Once I found out about the new girl, I decided to stick to my Bible School plans. I had already invested a lot of time, effort, and money. And I thought it would still be a great year to spend on my relationship with God. That part turned out to be absolutely true. It was one of the best years of my life. My relationship with God and knowledge of the Bible flourished.
But I’m getting ahead of myself! Over Christmas break, my ex boyfriend’s new girlfriend dumped him–hard. He came to my house to tell me. He also told me he wasn’t going back to school and had just decided to enlist in the Navy that morning. And he had done it.
That was enough for me. I had always told him that if he went into the military, I would not date or marry him. So I gave him a kiss on the cheek for goodbye and sent him away. And then I went to school a few days later.
My New Life at School
It felt good to be away from my home. And I was even feeling good about my decision to finally walk away from my boyfriend. I was enjoying my new life. But it wouldn’t last long.
After a couple of weeks, my boyfriend started calling. This was before cell phones, or even personal phones in dorm rooms. There were two phones at the end of the hallway. They were always in use. And there was no privacy.
For the first few calls, I was never in my dorm. I would get messages from the girls that answered the phone. And inevitably, they would all be swooning about his voice or his words, or something. He definitely knew how to be charming. And he always used it.
I wasn’t very excited to talk to him. I had moved on. Finally. But after a couple of weeks, he finally got through when I was there. We talked for about a half hour. He said he missed me terribly. And that he had made a mistake in ever breaking up with me. I wasn’t going to fall for it again though. I was determined. He kept insisting he was a different person. He had changed his ways. And he realized that I had always been there for him. He admitted he had squandered our relationship and now wanted to make it up to me.
I still said I couldn’t date him. And he said he wouldn’t get off the phone until I said yes because he was going to make it all right. He said the right words. And I gave in. I agreed to go forward cautiously. By the way, have you noticed that me “falling for” his words and actions has been a recurring theme? Unfortunately, it would be the same for the next 30 years.
My “New” Old Boyfriend
This time I took things slowly. That was easy to do because we were several states away. He was in boot camp, then A school, then prototype for nuclear power proficiency. We wrote a lot of letters and talked on the phone. He said everything he knew I wanted to hear. And I thought he was being sincere because I was.
He came to school to visit in the summer of 1989. And instantly, there were more red flags. He still had difficulty making big decisions. There was one in particular that rocked my world. He had decided to change church denominations to one that was vastly different than what we had grown up in. And this time, I stood my ground. I told him I would not follow him down that road. He was welcome to go that way. But just not with me. By the end of that week, he had decided that he did not want to go down that road but wanted to marry me. I should have seen that red flag a mile away. But I didn’t.
We couldn’t get engaged yet because we were both finishing our respective schools and not local. But we knew it would be soon. So we set a wedding date, set up the venue, and hired a photographer. I graduated from Bible School 3 months later and went home for the holidays. And we got engaged on Christmas Eve.
After college proved to be a difficult time for me. I was stuck between the power struggle of my mother and my fiancé.
Right after Christmas, my fiancé and I were going to his parents’ 30th wedding anniversary party. His mom would be picking me up. He would be bringing me home after. I had on a dress that I had bought while at my sister’s house for a visit right after I graduated. My mother didn’t like the dress. But my father said it was fine. My mother’s response to being contradicted by my father was to say that if I left the house with that dress on I would find my bags packed and on the porch when I got home. I was 20 years old and back from living independently at college. The dress wasn’t even remotely inappropriate. So I decided that this time I wasn’t caving. If she kicked me out, so be it. I was over it.
When my fiancé’s mom came to pick me up, we were in the kitchen getting ready to leave. My mother, again posturing, came out and said in front of my future mother-in-law that if I left the house with that dress on my bags would be packed and on the doorstep. My mother-in-law looked at her, then at me and said, “That dress looks absolutely beautiful on you. If your bags are on the doorstep when you get home, you can come live with us.” She had actually had this same conversation with me regarding wearing makeup. I could see it for the control and narcissistic abuse that it was. But I was just biding my time until I would be out of the house and trying to maintain some autonomy at the same time.
And with that, we left for the party. We had a wonderful evening. Then, sure enough, my bags were on the porch. And that night I moved into my own room in my in-law’s house.
Surrounded by Narcissism
Life was pretty good for a couple of months. And then one of my future sisters-in-law left her college and came back to the house. Her dad made her a room that she could call her own. But she was very angry that I was in the house and in the room she would have had. And she wanted me out. She ended up giving her parents an ultimatum that if I didn’t leave she would. So her mom, my future mother-in-law, sat me down and told me I had to leave. For the last 4 months before I got married, I would have to live in my parents’ house again. (By this time, my mother was begging me to come back home so she could help with the wedding–and by help I mean control.)
For the time that we were in the same house, that sister spent most of her time contradicting everything I said, correcting grammar that wasn’t wrong, and criticizing and belittling everything about me. And both she and my ex made a point at that time of telling me that she believed I was taking her brother away from her by marrying him.
I would tell my fiancé about it, but he would always say because he didn’t see the confrontation, there wasn’t anything he could do about it. And of course, she was always careful (as was her older sister) to make sure to attack me when nobody was around to witness it. And it happened every single time either one or both of them was alone with me. There were constant insults hurled at me about how lacking I was and ignorant. It was Mean Girls in real life.
To this day, I wonder why I was so easily able to recognize the gaslighting and emotional abuse coming from my ex’s sisters but excuse his gaslighting and narcissistic abuse.
The Rest of My Engagement
For the next four months, I worked really hard to stay under the radar. I wanted to avoid the narcissistic abuse as much as possible, not even realizing that I was walking right into more narcissistic abuse.
My fiancé also continued to do little things behind the scenes. I excused them all. None were that significant. Which kind of reminds me of the saying “death by a thousand paper cuts.” It seemed so unimportant at the time. And I always excused it as he didn’t realize or didn’t mean to do it. Who am I to be so demanding? The more little things he did, the more I excused him and thought that I would just love him better so he would learn to really love me.
And then we got married.
Nothing really significant happened at the wedding. It would have been hard because both my mother and husband had to show people publicly what good people they were. But the honeymoon kinda changed my world.
On our first full day at the resort, everything seemed to be fine. We had breakfast delivered to our room and started slow for the day. Then we walked the grounds and played around. We found a ping pong table. And I kept beating him. Really really bad. He was starting to get upset. So I said I would keep it more in the middle of the table so he wouldn’t have to work so hard. And you would have thought I had said he was the worst ping pong player in the world. It wasn’t even really about making it easier so he wouldn’t lose. It was more about us being able to volley the ball back and forth without having to go chase it.
And honestly, in reality it wasn’t a significant fight. On its own it certainly didn’t seem abusive. It really wasn’t. Recounting it doesn’t trigger me nearly as much as significant abuse would. But what it did was set a precedent that I would have to be very careful of what I said from here on out. Most of what he did to us was not narcissistic abuse on the surface. He always made sure to be able to explain it away as innocent. And I would always give him the benefit of the doubt. But from here on out, everything could and would be misinterpreted. And used against me.
My Newly Married Life with a Narcissist
We settled into our new life pretty quickly. In the first month, I started working but then he didn’t want me working anymore. I didn’t have a problem with it because I loved being a homemaker and spending my day making my home better and building my new life. I was also having some physical issues and two months later was pregnant, so working would have been out of the question. My pregnancies were all very difficult, so I would have been limited in what work I could do.
Some things started coming out here and there. I was rarely allowed to have a coherent thought on my own. And he had more than enough to keep himself busy without me. He would get off work early and go play basketball. Five or six times a week. More on that later.
My reality was changed almost immediately after we were married. He would say things and I just couldn’t understand why.
Examples of Gaslighting
We both had a collection of cassette tapes (how many of you don’t know what those are?!). His were removed from their cases and thrown randomly in a bin. Mine were in alphabetical order neatly organized in a slotted case. It was super easy to find something and put it back. Except he wouldn’t.
For instance, he would take the Chicago tape out of the cassette player, then get the REO Speedwagon one out of my collection. Then he would put the Chicago tape in the REO Speedwagon case instead of the Chicago one. Soon, they were all messed up and it would take me sometimes 5+ minutes to find the one I wanted.
I spoke to him about it a couple of times. He kept saying it wasn’t a problem. I would then explain how much longer it takes to find it when it isn’t in the right case. The second time I mentioned it, he got angry and told me there is no right or wrong way to put away a cassette tape. I tried to answer by saying that a library or grocery store couldn’t survive by not putting things back in the right place. He just got angrier. I gave up. It took me over 20 years to realize all of those circumstances were just ways to get to me. But I never would have thought that at the time. I had never been familiar with someone who changes your reality in that way.
Speaking of which, have you seen the movie, Gaslight? I watched that movie with a group that was working through the book, The Gaslighting Recovery Workbook, and we could not believe how much it resembled the lives we had lived.
In our household, these weird events happened almost daily. For almost 30 years. My thinking became so cloudy that by the time we got to counseling, my pastor and counselor say I was practically a shell of a person. And I had no idea.
How Having Kids Changed Things
When our first child was born, I was so looking forward to raising her together. It was my ex’s idea to start having kids. And he had always said he wanted to be more involved with his kids because his dad never was with him.
Even from the start, that was not the case. He spent nearly the entire time I was in the hospital playing basketball. I was the only mom in the neonatal ward without the dad there taking care of his family.
Once we started having kids, one of the things that changed was that the kids got dragged into the gaslighting and my ex had more people to be his target.
He expected the kids to make him the center of the world as much as he expected me to. And for the most part, they did, especially when they were younger.
Unfortunately, some other bizarre things came about too. I have always kept my cash on or in my dresser. That didn’t really change when I got married, because it was just my husband and me living in the house. But for whatever reason money would go missing. It never even occurred to me that it could be him. We also had company frequently. And money would go missing, usually when there was company. It didn’t make sense that so many people would steal, especially when nobody was really in my room.
Why Would the Kids Do That?
When the kids were able to walk, money went missing constantly. And my ex’s answer was that it was the kids taking it. Except that they were 1 and 2 years old. They had no reason to take the money. I bought everything for them. They had no reason to want the money. And they probably couldn’t even see the top of the dresser. That continued all the way to child number eight. But somewhere along the line, he decided not to even hide it anymore. He would just take the money in front of us and announce that whoever left it deserved to lose it for leaving it where it was.
The same thing would happen with video games. Certain games would disappear. When the kids would ask him once he got home from work if he had taken them, he would answer that he didn’t know, but that it could be in his dresser or he may have taken it to the thrift store. He always knew but was just messing with the kids.
I have to say, they were much better than me at keeping a clear head. Maybe because they hadn’t been dealing with it for 30 years. There were so many other stories like this.
And as the kids got older and harder to keep under his thumb, the abuse turned from emotional and spiritual to physical.
Don’t Tell Mom!
Another regular occurrence around our home was that my items would be thrown away or destroyed and my ex would laugh and tell the kids, “Don’t tell Mom!” Of course, they would at their first opportunity.
One of the most prominent examples of this was my landscaping. He would move his truck through the backyard to unload mulch or other things. And he ALWAYS ran over my hosta beds. They would be destroyed for months, often until they came up again the next season. I would ask him to please not do it again and he would say he had no choice.
Finally, one day I went out and measured the distance between my hosta garden and the greenhouse next to it. It was nearly 12 feet. I told him how wide it was and said if he can park his truck in a parking spot, he can certainly navigate it between the hostas and the greenhouse. My hostas never got run over again. But other stuff in the yard was destroyed, usually just by mowing through my gardens.
He also regularly cut down my bushes and shrubs. It was usually the gardenias, peonies, snowballs. And every time he would tell the kids not to tell me. Except they did. And I could see even if they didn’t tell me.
Things weren’t any better on the inside of the house. Items always went missing, both mine and the kids’. It was usually small insignificant things. But it was all the time. When he was removed from the home, all of that stopped.
Dad: Missing in Action
When my oldest son was around 5 years old, he started asking why his dad wouldn’t play with him. I said I didn’t know, but told him to just talk to his dad about it. I was sure if he told him he wanted to play more, he would be happy to do it.
A couple days later, my son came back to me and told me his dad had yelled at him when he approached him about spending more time. I said he must have misunderstood and I would talk to his dad.
I did when he got home from work that day. And he yelled at me too. He said he was fine and nobody needed to be telling him what to do with his son. I was so taken aback that I didn’t know what to say. Years later I realized this narcissistic abuse tactic is done on purpose to shut the other party down at the first statement. He did it for years. And it always worked.
As the Kids Grew, So Did the Narcissistic Abuse
For many years, he coached the kids’ in sports. It was a family event. But it was the only time he paid much attention to the kids. And he was still playing the doting dad in public. But as the kids got older, they didn’t enjoy him coaching them. As usual, I would try to smooth things over. Sometimes it would work. Usually it didn’t.
Over time, he lost interest even in sports with his kids. But by that time, they didn’t mind. I took them to their practices and games. And they were happy with it.
Also, by the time the kids were older, they started refusing to ride in the car when their dad was driving. Car rides with dad were silent. Nobody talked because nobody knew what random statement would set him off into another tirade.
He didn’t mind not driving the kids around. I found it a perfect opportunity to catch up with what they were thinking about and feeling at the time. And usually when my kids were in the car with me, they were talking my ear off.
By the end of his time in our home, my ex wasn’t going to kids’ sporting events, recitals, parties, family trips, or any other event. He was living his own life.
My Married Years With the Narcissistic Abuse
For all of the things the kids dealt with over the years with their father, he was doing just as much to me. But it was behind closed doors. Most of the time, even the kids didn’t know what he was doing. He was very good at keeping his voice down as we were hidden away in our bedroom. It was well secluded from the rest of the house. And instead of yelling, he would “hiss” his words at me, usually through clenched teeth. It shut me down fast, just like it was meant to. He knew I wouldn’t rock the boat. He knew that from day one.
I knew things were really wrong. Almost from the start. I would try to talk to him, but he would get angry, say everything is fine, and move along. Additionally, he had such a stellar reputation publicly that even if I did say anything I doubted anyone would believe me. Plus, I had all of these seeminly insignificant things happening. It sounded petty for me to complain. And it was all that way by design. But I wouldn’t figure that out for many years and not until he forced me into counseling to “make me obey.”
Our family was always the last priority because he had to appear so sacrificial to everyone else. For the first 10 years we didn’t have Christmas on Christmas day because he would take someone’s shift at work so they could be with their family. Finally, I said, “When does your own family get a chance?” He did change that the very next year. It was one of the few positive changes he made for us.
Family Takes Second Place to the Job
I had already mentioned that every Christmas for about 10 years my ex would work on Christmas Day so another sailor could be with his family. And for the first few years I think that was awesome. But at some point, it should have been his family’s turn. Unfortunately, he needed to praise of his sacrifice more than he needed to be with his family.
It was the same with just about anything at work. He would take the jobs that cost more time away from home. His work days regularly ranged from 14 to 20 hours, getting worse as he got further into his career. He would say he needed to do that to make rank. And to a degree he was right. But once again, his family never caught a break.
This continued into changes in duty station. He would always take the most demanding jobs, even when he knew it would hurt his family. By the time we got to about 20 years of marriage, I said I would like him to pick his duty stations based on more family time and less work. By this time he had maxed out at E-9, the highest enlisted rank.
He had said that once he made that, he would no longer have to work long hours or overnight shifts. He would be the first one to leave the ship and not the last. And he could have breakfast with the family and leave for work later. None of that ever happened.
The End of the Line
We had a critical turning point right after our 20-year anniversary. My ex was up for a new duty station. We live in the Hampton Roads area and he is a Nuclear Mechanic, so we would just transfer to another local ship in the area rather than move away.
He had a choice between two jobs. He went over all of them with me by email. Although he was equally qualified for all three jobs, one of them was significantly rougher on family life at a time that we had decided needed to be a priority after years of neglect. The vast majority of his time for the next three years would be away from home if he took that job. So he emailed me that he would take the more family-oriented job instead. I was happy about his decision.
And then a half hour later he emailed to tell me he ended up taking the other job. My head was spinning. I couldn’t figure out why when he had told me what he was doing he would have done the opposite, especially knowing that it would bring more harm to our family.
I never got an explanation. And I was so upset because I realized that once again I had been fooled by him saying what I wanted to hear and then doing what he wanted to do regardless of the consequences.
That was the beginning of the end for me. I told him I now realized that the kids and me would never be important enough for him to change his agenda. And that while I understood I was his wife, my world would no longer revolve around him (it shouldn’t have to the degree it had anyway). His response was that since he was going out to sea within a couple of weeks for several months, couldn’t I just pretend everything was okay? And with that, I just stopped trying to talk to him about it. I now knew it would do no good.
Hitting the Breaking Point of Narcissistic Abuse
This was actually the turning point in our marriage. And the point that things spiraled downward at lightning speed. Once my ex knew I wasn’t playing anymore, it became his mission to “make me obey.” I didn’t respond well. As a Christian, I thought I had to stay married to him forever. So I still cooked and cleaned for him and maintained the house. And the kids and I lived comfortably in the house while he was gone. But I interacted very little with him. By this time, there was literally no good conversation or meaningful time between us. But as I increasingly refused to interact with his toxic behavior, he got increasingly angrier that he couldn’t get me back under his thumb.
He turned me into the first pastor. That pastor sat and listened to us for a couple of sessions. On the second one we needed to repeat everything because he said he couldn’t remember what we talked about the first time. But upon listening to our issues (my ex’s constant manipulation and lying), he looked at me and said it sounds to me like he is doing the very things he is accusing you of. He kind of passed it off as funny. And then he recommended we get counseling because he felt the issues were above his pay grade. He wasn’t wrong. But at that time we didn’t go to counseling.
It was another year before my ex moved on to the next pastor. The one we talked to previously had moved to part time and this new pastor was installed as the senior pastor. Again, we started talking. And again, my ex knew all the perfect words to say and verses to quote that made it sound like he was a godly wonderful husband that just couldn’t understand why his wife would be doing this to him.
At one point in the conversation, I just spoke up and told the pastor that if I just stopped bucking against my husband, then everything would be fine and he would be happy. Life could “go back to normal.” He just looked at me like, “Okay, then do it!” A couple of years down the road, he told me that he finally realized what I was saying and that it meant I would be submitting myself to his continued abuse. And for years after that, he frequently brought that story up to show that sometimes people are so fooled by abusive husbands.
We Finally Made it to Counseling
Because our pastor felt our issues were way over his head, he also recommended professional counseling. My ex decided we should go to the agency that our former pastor had recommended previously. So we did. At this point, I felt like my life was “over.” I was going to get buried under counselors who would be fooled by my ex’s grandiose display of Christianity.
I do remember just before leaving for counseling, we were in our room getting ready. He said to me that if I was the one that was wrong I should fix whatever it was they told me. And if he was the one they determined was wrong, then he would fix whatever they told him. I’m not sure why, but for some reason I believed him. Maybe because he believed it at the time because he also fully believed that I was 100% at fault for everything that had gone wrong in our marriage.
So we went. I was grateful that she was very kind from the start. She asked a lot of questions, so we didn’t have to come up with things to say. I was so glad for that because at that time I had no words that I could initiate.
But something happened in that very first session. I realized that she could understand me. She would ask a question, I would answer it, then she would repeat my answer back to me to make sure she understood. Except that when she repeated those answers back to me, she worded them so much better than I could have. It was like she had been in my home all those years, watching all of our lives play out.
It still took many more months before I was comfortable enough to fully trust her. But I was thrilled that someone seemed to be understanding me after all those years.
Note: Later, my counselor would refer to the day I got dragged into counseling to be placed back under my ex’s thumb as the best worst day of my life. I thought I was going down, I was actually finding my place of rescue.
Let The Crazy Stuff Begin
There is a saying that once you start marital counseling it either gets very good or very bad verey quickly. In our case it went from bad to worse in record speed.
For the first few sessions, I didn’t really say much. My ex did most of the talking, but he was pretty accurate about our circumstances. He was actually quite proud of the things he was doing, as though they were benefits of exercising authority over me. He didn’t seem to understant that the things he was talking about were not acceptable behaviors to do with or to your wife.
Even when the counselor tried to talk him through those things, he didn’t seem to understand it was wrong. Well, that was they way he communicated it. I think he knew very well what he was doing. In order to hide what he was doing behind closed doors, he had to know it was wrong to hide it. But if he kept denying that he realized that, nobody could call him out on his behavior.
After a couple of months of counseling, the sessions pretty much just turned into recounting whatever were the biggest arguments of the week. He was careful with most of what he did around the house. But the gaslighting went through the roof.
For instance, one time after work he and I were in the car alone. I don’t remember where we were going, but I had told him that earlier I saw a terrible article online. It was about a police officer that beat up a homeless lady for apparently no reason. He immediately said there had to be a reason. I said the article said he didn’t and even if he did, it was still a horrific thing to do. His answer was that surely the cop had a good reason for it. Maybe he was just having a rough day.
That was one of the last times I even tried to make conversation with him. No matter what I said he would counter it with anything just to discredit me–no matter how ridiculous.
Physical Abuse of the Kids Increases
There were questionable things that happened through the years. I felt they didn’t warrant contacting the authorities. For the privacy of my kids, I won’t go into great detail here. But I will recount a couple of incidents that ended up going public between court hearings, counseling sessions, and meetings with our church leadership.
The kids didn’t talk when their dad was around any more than I did. We never knew what would set him off. If he even bothered to listen. Often he would ask the kids a question and as they started to answer he would just walk away as though they were never talking.
Once my ex made a joke about Taco Bell being “Toxic Hell.” Soon after, the kids were joking with him about it in return. He didn’t say anything to correct them. He just walked up to them and slapped them in the face. The face slapping happened several times for different reasons.
Once, one of my daughters was making some bacon for herself and me. (She was about 15 at the time and allowed to get whatever food she wanted.) She took it out of the oven and plated it. My ex went into the kitchen just as she finished. He asked her what she was doing. She told him because there was no reason for there to be a problem. Without warning, he slapped the plate out of her hands and onto the ceramic tile floor. The plate shattered into tiny shards. Then he told her to eat the bacon out of it. She ran out of the kitchen and into her room.
At this point, the kids wanted nothing to do with him. They wouldn’t ride with him in the car. And they wouldn’t engage with him in the house.
Walking on Eggshells Around the House
By now, about a year after counseling began, the house became so toxic that the kids and I stayed in my room when my ex was home. During the day, we lived in the house normally. We would eat early, and then for the evening we would hang out in my room or go out somewhere for the evening.
One thing we did was hang out and play games at our church. We played tag, hide and seek, instruments (violin and piano), and sometimes brought our video game consoles. We also brought food from time to time so we could have a dinner/party night. It kept the kids distracted from what was really going on.
By the time we got home, he would already be asleep so we could settle in for the evening without worrying about rocking the boat.
Happy Birthday to Me
About six months after counseling began, our counselor texted me and asked if I could meet with her alone that night. It was my birthday. She had no idea. And I was sure that this was the night that she told me it was time for me to just obey my husband and give up my fight. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Once I got there, she explained to me that she knew exactly what was going on. She knew she needed to get him out of the room so I could start to talk about and deal with my real issues, not the ones he kept making up.
She said that they couldn’t know for sure without testing, but had I heard of narcissism. I had just read an article about it recently. But I had no idea the degree or danger that narcissism posed. I was about to find out.
In the meantime, because he didn’t listen to or interact with our counselor in healthy ways, he was reassigned to a counselor that was also a former sailor in the Navy and a pastor. Everybody’s hope was that he would have enough repoire with this new counselor that it would help him get through his struggles and learn to be emotionally healthy.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. But I was able to start seeing what safety looked like and started to gain some independence in my world.
To be Continued…
Check back soon as I continue writing this very difficult story.