Trigger warning: Domestic abuse
Dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic relationship has been difficult on so many levels. For so long, I was ashamed to admit that I had been in a relationship like this. I always said I would never be that girl. But I was. I ignored all the red flags. Every single one of them. I forgave him when I should have left, and when I finally did, I was embarrassed that I had stayed so long.
I have been reading a lot about narcissistic behavior as a way to understand and heal from the trauma I went through. There have been a few terms that really connected due to their familiarity.
Gaslighting: to manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.
Love bombing: an attempt to influence a person with lots of attention and affection in a short amount of time and pressuring them for a quick commitment.
Hoovering: to use any means necessary to get you back under their control, often by promising to change their behavior or saying that they have already changed dramatically.
At the beginning, he had this way of making me feel like I was the only person he had ever loved, like we were destined to be together—soulmates. He always knew what to say to draw me in. But it was all an act, a persona he used to pull me in, to make me fall in love with him before his masks started slipping and I could start seeing the real person underneath.
But I ignored the signs. He started his head games and I just played along. Everything was always so subtle; I never knew what was happening. I didn’t see it at first, but looking back now, I can see all the little manipulations. How he separated me from friends and family and secluded me so that he could have complete control. How he pointed out all of their flaws and told me that he was the only one who really understood me, that they could never care about me the way that he did. How he broke me down with his constant criticisms and insults. If there was anything I did that he didn’t like, he would tell me it was stupid. If I didn’t think the same way as he did about something, he would tell me that I was stupid. He told me I was too slow, too stupid, too ugly, too tall (yes, he had an issue with my height at 5’5″). He took away all my confidence in myself. He told me how to dress, how to do my hair and makeup, who to talk to, how to walk, and how to spend my time.
He always needed my full attention and didn’t like me doing anything that wasn’t about him. He was extremely controlling and wanted me to spend all my time with him or thinking of him or doing something for him. If he was playing video games, I needed to be watching him, not reading a book or doing something on the computer.
But he was always testing me and pushing me to my limits to see what he could get away with. He was trying to mold me into the girl he wanted me to be—obedient, compliant, and constantly seeking his love and approval. I was always doing whatever I could to make him happy, but it never seemed like it was enough. I put all my time and energy into him at the expense of my own happiness, and he couldn’t care less.
He was constantly forcing me into things that I was uncomfortable with and telling me that, if I didn’t do what he wanted, he would find someone else who would. So I would give in, and he still cheated. I always had suspicions, but it took a long time to finally get confirmation. I couldn’t comprehend that the same person who needed me so much could stray outside of our relationship.
But when I felt like something was off, he made me feel like I was the crazy one for thinking about it, even though it happened again and again. The first time he admitted to cheating was only because he knew he was going to get caught and wanted to come out ahead. And when I found out, he would lie and say it was the biggest mistake of his life and that it made him realize how much he really loved me. Or he would make it my fault, that somehow I was lacking, and because of that he needed to seek it out elsewhere. And like an idiot, I believed him over and over again.
He couldn’t even cheat outside our circle. It always seemed to be girls that were around to remind me of his mistakes over and over. And I was expected to just get over it. I blamed them, and while they weren’t completely blameless, it was him that I should have been mad at. But I didn’t know how to love and hate him at the same time. I just kept thinking that if I could be better, if I could do everything he wanted me to do, he would finally love me back the way that I wanted him to.
I couldn’t even talk to another male without being accused of impropriety, but I was the crazy one for being suspicious when he actually was doing it. When I stayed on campus for my first year of college, he picked me up every weekend and every night that I didn’t have class so that there was no chance I could meet anyone else or make new friends. I had to wait by my phone for him to call me every night. But if I wasn’t there, he would flip out. My life needed to be all about him, but it was no big deal if I couldn’t get in touch with him, which was usually when he was with another girl.
I just kept becoming more and more unhappy and unsure of who I even was. Every day I thought about leaving, but I couldn’t actually walk away. Even when things started escalating to being physical. We couldn’t fight anymore without me getting shoved or punched in the arm or leg, just hard enough to make his point. I always thought I would never be one of those girls who stayed with someone like that, but I did. I was naïve and in love.
I never feared for my life, but I was in an abusive relationship, and that was hard to admit. Even now I have a hard time admitting that’s what it was. I always told myself that it wasn’t actually that bad or that it was my fault. I felt worthless, like I could never do anything right. I cried myself to sleep all the time. I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong. Everything I said started a fight.
I kept thinking of how it would be if I left, how much happier I would be. But then it felt like I was throwing away the last few years of my life. I wanted to fix things, to fix him. I kept posting cute photos of us together and telling everyone how happy we were, trying to hide how bad it was. I thought that if I stuck it out and kept trying, he would come to his senses and realize how much I cared and how wrong he had been. If I could just figure out how to handle him, we wouldn’t fight. But that was never going to happen.
And when he suggested that he was going to see this other girl but keep me around in case it didn’t work out, I was devastated. Even though I insisted that I wouldn’t be a backup plan, I cried every day. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t enough. And he kept me on the hook the whole time, using the same tactics that he had at the beginning, making me think I was special and that he couldn’t live without me while also telling me all the ways this new girl was better than me and flaunting his new relationship in my face.
I didn’t want to give up the six years of my life that I had spent with him building what I thought was a future. When he realized that the new girl wasn’t going to bend to his will the way I did, he told me he just needed time to get it all out of his system before we got together forever. But how was that fair to me? I had to just sit there and watch him flirt and lust over every other girl, and I was the crazy one for getting upset about it. It became too much, so I moved home, but still spent half my time with him when he didn’t have other dates. He kept trying to control me by telling me how lonely he was when I wasn’t there.
But as soon as I told him that I was going to see someone else, considering we weren’t together, he wanted to be everything I wanted. Now he wanted the kids and the wedding and the family and the life with me, if only I didn’t go on this date. The whole time I was out, I had to ignore his constant and persistent calls and texts. But his control was so complete that I still went to see him after my date. Just being out with someone who wasn’t him showed me that I didn’t have to settle (even though my rebound turned out to be just as bad, at least he helped me to see that).
The more I started distancing myself from him, the more messages I got telling me I was wrong, that he deserved another chance among the millions of chances he already had. Still telling me that I was being stupid for not recognizing that this time was the time that he had finally changed. That I was the one throwing it all away. But he was telling me all of this while he had other girlfriends. He used tears and insults and every trick he had. It was all about power and control.
When he started getting serious with a girl he called a “mini version” of me, he tried to rub it in my face and make sure I knew how cute she was and how she did all the things that I had done for him. Even when he knew I was engaged to my now-husband, he told me to give him one more chance. Instead, I went no contact and haven’t spoken to him since. I always thought we could be friends, but he made that impossible.
Reading back on some of those messages between us makes me nauseous because I can see how ridiculous it was that I even gave him the time of day. I didn’t deserve what he put me through. I didn’t deserve the games and the heartache and the years of hating myself. And he doesn’t even care about the effect he had on my life. I’m sure once he knew that I was gone for good, he just moved on to the next victim, most likely using our years together to gain sympathy for himself, making me the bad guy who wouldn’t give him another chance to prove himself. I’m just another one of those girls that he used to tell me jokes about that didn’t mean anything to him, a small piece of his history that he pulls out when he needs to explain why he does the things he does to the next girl.
It’s hard to even look back and remember how big a part of my life he was. It seems so long ago now. I’m still haunted by the words he said to me and the emotional pain that I felt. Always feeling like I wasn’t good enough, that I was broken, when it was him that was the broken one. I still have a hard time trusting. If someone is mad, I always assume that I did something. I am afraid to set boundaries and say no to people because I don’t want them to leave me if I do. I overcompensate for my loss of control by trying to control all these little things that don’t matter. He messed me up in ways that I can’t even begin to articulate. And he probably doesn’t think of me at all anymore.
The whole situation still makes me crazy. I’m not sure if it’s because I never got any real closure or because I never really got to let it all out and tell him exactly how much he hurt me and how much his actions still affect me. Or maybe it has to do with the fact that there are people that I know that have no idea what he did to me. The idea of people thinking that he is a decent person bothers me for reasons I can’t even explain.
He gets to keep living his life while I sit here still full of anger. Seeing a photo or anything that makes me think back to that time can trigger weeks of nightmares and uneasy thoughts. It’s not fair. It will never be fair. And I am just going to have to deal with that. Part of me hopes that he could change and find his own happiness someday, but a bigger and louder part of me hopes that he never gets to be truly happy, that these girls keep eventually seeing through his façade and leave him alone and bitter forever. That he never has the happiness that I do now. I want people to know the true monster he is under that charming smile and dimples. I want people to know how he hurt me emotionally and sometimes physically. How he scarred my heart.
If any of this sounds familiar, just know that it’s not too late. It’s hard, but you can leave. It’s never too late to start over. Your happiness and mental health are more important than whatever reason you come up with to stay. I’ve been there, and I understand the tug of war in your head between wanting to work it out and wanting to get out. But you are strong and you can do it—just reach out for help.
I know there are people that will tell me to just get over it. It happened so long ago now; I should be past it. But unless you’ve been in this situation, you can’t understand just how hard that is. I’m still dealing with the after effects and the complex post-traumatic stress. Therapy and talking about it have helped, but it’s not as simple as just forgiving and moving on. I have moved on from him, but the trauma is still there. It doesn’t mean that I still love him, it just means that I am still healing.
It basically comes down to the fact that he treated me terribly and he should know that. But I’m not betting on any kind of changes from him. He is too set in your ways and can’t even see what he was doing to me and any of the other girls he has hurt. For seven years, I thought I was worthless, paranoid, crazy and now I know I’m so much better off. Peace out, asshat.