How did you get into an abusive relationship in the first place? Here’s what I’m guessing happened. You weren’t feeling too great about yourself and then someone came along who made you feel like you were special. They made you feel that they loved who you were.
So, you started to find a sense of specialness – that you really had not had before – in their eyes and on their lips.
Of course, you being you, you felt deeply grateful for their love and approval and did everything you could to give it back to them.
Because they had made you feel special, you made them the most special person in your world and put them on a pedestal.
The Law of Diminishing Returns
Unfortunately, the law of diminishing returns soon kicked in.
Everything that you did for them started to meet with less love and approval. Instead, they started to point out to you the various ways in which you fell short of their expectation.
Worse still, they never limited themselves to a single niggle – as in, “You know, once in a while, I wish you/we could just…”
Anything that they objected to in you was instantly transmuted into a Major Character Flaw.
In my own case, if His Royal Highness’s gourmet meal was not ready to serve the moment he walked through the door, there was no question of trying to see how we could think it through – constructively – together to arrive at a solution that would meet both sets of needs.
How the character assassination works
Instead, HRH threw a right royal temper tantrum and launched into a character assassination.
I had failed to have his dinner ready for him, apparently, as a result of a fatal character flaw. I was,
- a) too lazy
- b) too incompetent
- c) too stupid
- d) too selfish
- e) too uncaring
- f) too thoughtless
This (abridged) list was a multiple choice from which HRH could select as many grievances as he chose.
The point about this is not to talk about how HRH behaved when his creature comforts were not instantly satisfied. It is to show you the mechanism whereby abusers vilify you.
Every time that something you do – or don’t do – fails to meet with the abuser’s 100% satisfaction, they perform a character assassination on you. You are “too” this or not that “enough”.
You cease to be a whole human being with a broad and individual array of strengths, frailties, quirks and qualities.
Instead, you become substandard, inadequate and a failure. And it all happens because you “commit a series of crimes” essentially of the magnitude of failing to get the dinner on the table at the magic moment!!
If, when your abuser starts their character assassination routine, you don’t down tools and leave, you end up listening. You end up believing that all those things that are wrong with you is the sum total of who you are.
Of course, it is incredibly painful to hear about all the things that are “wrong” with you. Plus, it feels horribly unjust.
So, what do you do?
You ask yourself this question,
“Why would they even say that if it wasn’t true?”
Unfortunately, instead of going looking for a legitimate explanation – it warms the cockles of their little, wizened, abuse heart – you work on the principle that it must be true.
So, you own the awful labels that an abuser pins on you.
That is where it starts.
How you identify with the labels
The longer you are around the abuser, the more wounded you become and the more you see yourself in terms of the labels that your abuser pins on you. You actually identify with the labels that the abuser’s labels.
You end up with your sense of your own identity so horribly eroded that you totally lose sight of yourself.
Then, when the relationship finally ends, all that you feel you have is a list of toxic labels and inadequacies.
You feel as if the only truth that you have left is the truth of what you have been through.
Your pain ends up feeling like the only thing about you that is real.
You tell people about what you have been through in the hope that they will give you enough validation for you to feel validated and seen.
Unfortunately, most of the time, things don’t work out that way.
Most people get uncomfortable being obliged to listen to your feelings and what you have been through. So, they tell you to “move on”.
When people tell you to move on
The well-intentioned but ill-informed ones worry that they won’t be helping you if they allow you to get stuck in victim mode.
The less caring and compassionate ones – whose sympathies, not uncommonly, lie more with the abuser than the person abused – tell you to “put on your big girl panties” and get on with it. These people just want you to get back to the way that things were and revert to playing a small – but useful – part in their lives.
So, there you are, at the worst time in your life, surrounded by problems of every order. Plus, you feel a weight of expectation to “move on” and let go of the only part of you that feels real – the pain of what you have been through.
Not that you could just move on from there, even if you wanted to.
Accepting and processing your pain, in your own way and your own time, is an important part of healing. Having that pain acknowledged is essential.
While you can’t always get other people to acknowledge the awfulness of what you have been through, it is very important that you do just that. As compassionately as possible.
Your pain has shaped you
You see, that pain has shaped you. It has lessons to teach you – specifically about how to protect your life and your feelings more effectively in the future. You will incorporate those learnings into your future self.
As for your past self, that self that you were before you ended up in thrall to an abuser, she is currently in hiding, licking her wounds.
Every part of who you once were will emerge from this awful period.
However, you will not be the person that you once were. You will be a wiser, richer, stronger version of yourself.
That pain – that is not the entirety of who you are – is actually sculpting you into the new, more complete version of yourself that you will become.
Life is a constant process of becoming.
Unless you are an abuser, of course.
Abusers don’t ever fundamentally change. Mostly, they get worse. Occasionally, they moderate and tweak their toxicity in the service of their agenda. At best, they consciously tone down the abuse – while retaining the option of turning it right back up, when desired.
Pain hones you
But you have the opportunity to blossom and grow.
Your pain is a vital part of your truth. It sculpts you. But it does not define you. You are so much more than that.
Every time that pain hones you a little – or a lot – further, it can feel like there is nothing left of you. Still, the essence of you, that is, the best of you, never fades away, never disintegrates. But it can take a while until the newly honed you is unveiled to your own eyes.
Be as patient with yourself as you can be in tough times.
Don’t ever give up on yourself.
Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.
The 5 Simple Steps to Healing from Narcissistic Abuse
Over the next 5 days, I'll send you some lessons and tips that I've found have really helped women to heal from narcissistic abuse. Starting with the basics.