I’m writing this blog for the millions of survivors of domestic violence. There is so much shame survivors feel about having been abused. The culture makes it worse, sometimes. We get asked questions like “ Why didn’t you leave sooner”, or “ Why didn’t you tell someone “, or, “Did you report it to the police.” Another good one is, “ Why didn’t you fight back”? That one’s my personal favorite. The truth about domestic violence, and what leads up to it, is much more complex. I want to explain it, from my personal experience with it.
When I met my ex, I was 24. He was much older, charming and charismatic. At that point, I had no experience with NPD ( Narcissistic Personality Disorder), or Malignant Narcissism, ( a combination of NPD, antisocial personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder, and sadism). One of the first things NPD people do, is called “ love bombing”. They focus on the object of their attention like a laser. They pursue, they charm, they flatter. It’s somewhat surreal, having someone focus on you so intensely. He started courting me aggressively. Within the first month of seeing me, he told me he loved me. He was going on a trip to Paris with a friend. He asked me to go with him. At that point, I had been overwhelmed by how fast he was moving, so I declined. When he returned, he had brought me gifts, and told me how much he missed me. He was married. I explained that I was not comfortable moving forward with a married man. He told me that he knew I was the woman he had been waiting for, and was going to get a divorce. I told him that I didn’t believe that. Within two months he began divorce proceedings. Within four months he had moved in with me. The whole experience was happening at light speed. The love bombing was constant.
Gradually, I began to relax, to trust him. I tried to overlook certain aspects of his personality, the control issues, the hints of paranoia. He started to make recommendations about my wardrobe, all under the guise of helping me. I took his possessiveness and jealously as a compliment at first. It became progressively worse over time.
The first time he hit me was just after we got married. I was sitting on the floor, sorting through some books in our sitting room. He asked me to move, and I was engrossed in what I was doing, and said I wanted to finish up. He casually backhanded me across the face, with enough force to knock me flat. I was in shock, literally. I remember that first time like it was yesterday. I was weeping, lying there. He pulled me up, and into the bedroom. And then the gaslighting started. “ You made me hit you. If you had done what I asked, I wouldn’t have had to do that”.
Let me explain a little about gaslighting. It’s a term used to describe a technique to get someone to question their own reality. It’s very common with narcissists. They flip everything around. In the beginning, it’s effective. When you’re in shock, the switching back and forth from love bombing to gaslighting is a nightmare. It’s almost impossible to process. This is one of the things that paralyzes us. As that continues, the abuse/Love dynamic becomes a fact of life, turning into PTSD.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is neurological. It is a permanent change in the brain from severe trauma. It is coupled with adrenal exhaustion, with a constant hyper vigilance. It’s not something that you’re even aware of, at first. Living with someone with NPD means that you are constantly aware of their moods, and are trying to manage them, just to keep yourself safe. The loss of self is subtle, and gradual. Considering a way out is not an option in the beginning, because you’re still in love with your partner, and initially, the gaslighting is working. It’s all your fault.
This is what most people don’t get about abuse. If they did, they wouldn’t ask the stupid questions they do. They don’t understand PTSD. They don’t understand gaslighting. They don’t understand the gradual loss of self-trust, or the constant fear. The despair.
As time went on, the violence escalated. It became life threatening. ( My ex was violent with numerous people, my stepchildren, the staff in our restaurants, customers, anyone who he was angry with). After twelve years, I knew I had to get out, or he would kill me. I won’t go into details, to avoid triggering other survivors. Suffice it to say, watching “ What’s Love Got To Do With It”, Tina Turner’s life story, was an eerily accurate reflection of my life.
My experiences changed me, yes. They are why I’ve chosen to dedicate my life to working with survivors of sexual abuse, domestic violence, and abuse of all kinds. I try to educate people about the aftermath of abuse, and that healing is possible. I also understand what’s happening in this country in a way that someone who has not been abused can’t. I was married to a man very much like Trump. Malignant narcissists believe they are above the law. They manipulate everyone around them. They are sociopaths with no conscience. People get taken in by them, attracted by the force of their personality, their money, their charm. It’s only their spouses, their children, that are exposed to the truth of who they really are. Being in a relationship with one of them gives you psychic whiplash. I understand the bewilderment of an entire country. The question “ How did this happen to us” has been asked of ourselves, as survivors, as we came to sanity, after years of abuse. I grieve for the country, as it struggles with denial, hopelessness, fear, confusion, and gaslighting. All survivors of domestic violence know this story. And I can promise you, if the country doesn’t divorce Trump, it will only get worse. In an abusive relationship, denial is not your friend.
I stand for survivors everywhere. I stand for the country, and what it’s going through. It’s really hard to look at the truth for some people who have never healed their own experiences. Those are the apologists, the enablers that we’re seeing now. Or, they themselves are offenders. And are abusing the country, as well. It’s one or the other.
For those still in abusive relationships, I understand. Don’t let anyone shame you. Don’t beat yourself up. Try to tell someone who is a safe person for you. Carl Jung said “ I am not defined by what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” Healing is possible. You are stronger than you know. And despite the gaslighting, recognize that it was never your fault. I got out. You can, too. I’m sending love and light to survivors everywhere. Blessed be, Reverend Judith Star-Medicine