Anyone who has dealt with a narcissist knows they are not harmless people who openly express their admiration for themselves, which is often the perception. There are actually different kinds of narcissists but being emotional vampires is what they all have in common – they feed off the emotions and reactions of their prey. Being in a relationship with a narcissist is like being a caged bird. It’s psychological captivity. For the narcissist, you cease to be a person in your own right with your own thoughts and feelings and instead become a puppet in their games. You are theirs to play with and discard as they wish. Narcissists will destroy someone’s life, claim to be the victim, and then portray their victim as the villain and discredit them should their target have the audacity to stand up for themselves and tell their story. I know because it happened to me. However, you can set yourself free from their cage, as I have been able to.
In the UK we’re now heading into our sixth week of lockdown due to the coronavirus, also known as the pandemic COVID-19. I am lucky to be in a safe place, isolating with a lovely man who is kind, funny and mature. We are having a lot of fun together, keeping each other entertained, but we also give each other space when we need it. However, as I have written about in other blog posts, I am still being cyberstalked by my abuser, my ex/boss, two years after leaving him. He persists in finding ways to try to contact me (cleverly finding ways that I cannot block) even though I have for the last year, privately and publicly, repeatedly asked him to stop. I last asked him to stop contacting me at the end of March. I have now given up asking. He has never respected my boundaries and like a true narcissist – he is a covert narcissist – he continues to just do what he wants (scroll down to read 12 Things You Should Know About Covert Narcissists). The most recent contact was yesterday (this post was written in April but there has been contact throughout May 2020). Fortunately, this has been going on for so long I’ve become desensitised and indifferent. I’ve finally developed narcissist immunity. Better late than never. The best strategy when dealing with a narcissist is to not engage – oh, if only I had known this five years ago when he first began messing with my head and emotions – and after discussions with my hugely supportive solicitor, our plan is to keep ignoring him rather than pursuing legal action, which I think would be beneficial to no one and seems to me to be the kindest response to an ongoing undesirable situation. Many victims spend years trying to get narcissists to take responsibility, to take accountability, for their actions, for the damage they do, but you will be wasting your time. The narcissist never genuinely feels that they have done anything wrong and they will blame their behaviour on you. The best response when dealing with a narcissist is no response. Starving the emotional vampire and walking away is the only way to reclaim yourself.
Being in lockdown with someone 24/7 means that someone else has been able to see first-hand my ex/boss’s attempts to contact me as they’ve happened, what he does and how he does it. For the last six weeks there has been a noticeable increase in the frequency of unwanted contact; he has been contacting me almost daily. I’m not really sure why when he’s been getting no response but I suspect he is hoovering due to low narcissistic supply, exacerbated by lockdown. I continue to keep a record of all contact and screenshot evidence as mentioned in my post Gaslighting Survival Guide.
My own situation has made me think about those who have been forced into lockdown with their abusers. My ex/boss does not know where I am, I no longer reveal my current location publicly either on my blog or Instagram on the advice of the police and my solicitor to protect myself and others in my life. This means that I am safe. Only people I trust have my phone number, email address, and can interact with me on Instagram. Others are much less fortunate and I worry about victims of abuse being trapped in unsafe situations, without access to their usual support networks. There are some amazing support accounts on Instagram that could perhaps offer guidance and a source of strength during this difficult time. I have certainly found narcissistic abuse Instagram accounts personally useful. Here are some suggested accounts for anyone who needs them:
For example, I can relate to this recent post from @melanietoniaevans:
I recently read that a narcissist’s worst nightmare is an educated empath. That’s absolutely true. Once you educate yourself and know what you are dealing with, it becomes easier to see through the manipulative behaviours. When you see who the person really is – not the public image they like to portray – and understand the insecurities that drive them, it makes it easy to walk away. Educating yourself is the key to setting yourself free. If you recognise that you are dealing with a narcissist, get away from them and sever contact with them if possible – this is unfortunately difficult to do when you have children with them and leaving them can become a painfully complicated situation with children being used as pawns within manipulative games. You have to completely disengage as any attempt by you to reason with them, or any reaction from you, either positive or negative, just feeds their need for narcissistic supply and sustains the emotional vampire. Accept that nothing you do will fix them or change them and cut your losses. Understand that you are not to blame for their abusive behaviour. Move on, heal and going forward, only invest your time in people capable of treating you with the love and respect you deserve.
My wish for everyone at this uncertain and challenging time is that you are in a place where you feel safe and loved. If that is not the case, my heart goes out to you and I encourage you to follow support accounts on Instagram and other social media sites, if you can, until you are able to access your support network (friends, family etc) and face-to-face counselling if you need it. There is help out there. Please know that you are not alone. Sending love.
Note: To protect myself and others in my life, my solicitor has advised me not to reveal my current location or workplace. I can confirm that I’m safe, well and happily getting on with my life. I will also not reveal the identity of my ex/boss. He knows who he is and all that he has done. As of May 2020, my ex/boss continues his attempts to communicate with/contact me, though he has been warned that my solicitor will proceed with legal action if he does not stop. I would like this chapter to finally close so we can all move on in peace…
Watching the movie ‘Bombshell’ the other night, it got me thinking about the way women are often vilified when we have the audacity to say the things out loud that others don’t want to hear and the strength that it takes to stand up for yourself against vehement opposition. I can relate, though my situation was not as straightforward as the workplace sexual harassment presented in ‘Bombshell’ and unlike in the movie, there has been no ‘victory’ at the end of this story.
In October 2015, I agreed to a consensual relationship with my married boss. Yes, you read that correctly. Consensual and he was married. I told you it was complicated. I did not know that he was married when I met him but I did know he was married when we began the relationship a short while later. He was the initiator, beginning with flirtatious work emails, progressing with sliding into my FB DMs and later, asking for my phone number to chat on WhatsApp as FB was apparently not as discreet for him. After being called to his office for a work chat, he told me he had been happily married for 16 years and he was not leaving, but he had feelings for me he wanted to explore. At the time I was touched by his honesty. I know now it was manipulative bullshit, designed to get what he wanted without appearing to be an arsehole. That is the moment I entered into a relationship that took me a long time to get out of and nearly destroyed me. We agreed we would take things slow and thereafter messaged constantly. I struggled with the morality of the situation, disappointed with myself at being involved with a married man. For that reason I refused to sleep with him but we did kiss in his office. In a hot and heavy moment, he asked me to take things further but I declined. I was stupid to get involved with him but not stupid enough to do that – not with my married boss in Dubai, where adultery is illegal. We were off and on for years. One of us would get an attack of guilt, usually me, and end it. There would be periods of not speaking which probably would have led to the end of the relationship had we not worked together, but when you are seeing each other almost daily, within a few weeks, one of us would begin messaging again. It was an emotional affair. I was pestered for more intimate moments, with him messaging to ask if I was still at work as he wanted to see me but I never allowed myself to be in a room alone with him again without other people around to make sure we didn’t cross the line. I was loyal and faithful to him, and always understanding of his personal situation. I respected the times he couldn’t chat as he was with his family. I didn’t call him. We WhatsApped when in work then switched to work email out of work hours to ensure we weren’t caught. There was no intent to cause harm to his family or his marriage. It is a situation that should have fizzled out eventually with no consequences.
However, we worked together and over time, our personal relationship became toxic, which negatively impacted our professional relationship. He allowed his personal feelings for me to impact the way he treated me as a colleague and it is for that reason I reported him to our CEO and eventually went public. No one should tolerate working in a toxic environment. In the beginning when our relationship was good, he was very supportive of my teaching career aspirations. He was complimentary, encouraging, and spoke highly of me to others. I was on track for a promotion and he told me I was obviously next in line. But then there were times when he would bring his personal feelings into the workplace. For example, he would get upset with me if he thought I was being flirty with male colleagues and there would be some sort of punishment – a snarky WhatsApp or refusal to reply to messages. I had to speak to male colleagues for work but he would watch me when I was speaking to them, making me feel uncomfortable even though I was doing nothing wrong. Then there was the time we had a huge row as I had told him I wanted to end the relationship. A few days later, I needed professional support for a work matter but he completely refused to support me. Had that been any other colleague, he would have supported them. When I spoke to him about it, he admitted that he was upset with me due to our row, he thought I would know that, and he knew he had gone too far on the spectrum by not supporting me at all when he should have. Unfortunately this was not a one off. It became a pattern in the relationship. If he was upset with me, he would find a way to punish me at work and would undermine me to students, parents and colleagues. I felt I always had to keep him on side and please him to be able to work in a happy environment and progress in my career. In the final year I worked for him, there were work matters I needed his help with. He would give me advice, tell me he had my back, but then he didn’t. Contradictory statements were made which caused conflict between myself and my colleagues. He threw me under the bus with parents when there were issues. Nine years working in a school with excellent results for the subject I led gave me a certain amount of autonomy. In the final year it all changed. The quality of my work was questioned. I was told I had become difficult to manage and unsupportive of the kids – anyone who was not a yes person was perceived difficult to manage and I worked tirelessly to support my students. I had gone from being the golden girl on track for the top – called a ‘passionate and inspirational teacher’ by a school inspector in my final year of teaching – to a problem that needed to be forced out. I was only a ‘problem’ because I knew my boss was not the good guy devoted husband and father he likes to portray to the public and I’m a strong woman unafraid to speak her mind. The constant rows and perpetual mind games (gaslighting) I endured from my ex/boss took their toll and I had a breakdown, leaving Dubai for a week to get my head together. He had done something particularly cruel and when I asked him to leave me alone at work, he didn’t. I felt trapped. Like I was being smothered with no way out. The only way I could get some space was to leave for a week. He was full of apologies, knowing he had gone too far, but something had broken in me and I knew I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to go back to finish the year for the kids I taught and to get the money I was owed to be able to go travelling – my ticket out. I resigned, intending to leave at the end of the school year and make a new life for myself. I didn’t make it through the year. His behaviour didn’t change, no matter what I did privately to try to sort out the situation between us. I was desperate for it to stop. For three years I kept my mouth shut (only confiding in a few close friends) and put up with his manipulative and controlling behaviour at work. I considered reporting him when I still worked for him but he is a very popular man and I didn’t think I would be believed, though I had collected evidence (emails, Whatsapps, a voice recording) throughout the relationship in case I needed it; I knew by getting romantically involved with my boss I had put myself in a vulnerable position and one day I might need to defend myself. I was right.
I wrote blog post ‘How To Date An Arsehole’, to get him to realise what he had put me through, to hopefully get him to stop (the original version included more specific details about the relationship). As a result of writing that post, I lost my job and home. I had to leave Dubai immediately to avoid arrest (for using inappropriate language and contravening the moral values of the UAE). I told the company we worked for why I had written the post and that I wanted to make a formal complaint about my ex/boss. He needed to understand that his treatment of me had been unprofessional and it’s not OK for a boss to abuse his position of power by mistreating a colleague due to an inappropriate relationship. I was asked to write down some details, ‘though you might feel differently about making a complaint once you go travelling’. It was clear from the get go I was being manipulated and fobbed off. I sent a long email attaching some screenshots that proved the inappropriate nature of our relationship, giving specific dates, details of incidents, and names of people we worked with who knew about the relationship. I was told by HR to ‘trust us to deal with him’. Despite the fact I had had to leave my job immediately after being suspended, I was open to agreeing to a fair resolution for my complaint. An apology from my ex/boss and his resignation (not necessarily immediate – I would have agreed to him working an extra year to wrap up his affairs) would have suitably dealt with the situation. However, no one called me. No one followed up my complaint. I was expected to shut up and go away. I didn’t. I stopped protecting him, for the sake of his family, when I realised he had lied and scapegoated me to keep his job.
Operation Cover Up went into action to try to stop me telling inconvenient truths and to let my ex/boss get away with all that he had done. Unknown to me at the time, there was a plan in place for his progression within the company and me opening my mouth was problematic. I was threatened with defamation (though I can prove what I’ve said), I was lied to (told they would deal with him) and I was forced to sign an NDA. To stand up for myself and protect other women, I blogged about my experience and publicly proved there had been an inappropriate relationship. He was excused and promoted; I was villainised just for telling the truth. It was all my fault apparently.
People hated me for going public and the online abuse has been horrific. They don’t seem to understand the ordeal that I have been through since I met this man. Getting involved with him was the biggest mistake of my life and all attempts to deal with him privately always failed. Even when I went public, he continued to find ways to contact me, and try to manipulate me. I didn’t even sleep with this man yet the relationship proved disastrous to me. I refused to suffer in silence and I will not apologise for that. It’s one thing to go through a bad relationship; it’s quite another experience for the person you loved to exploit his position of power and damage your career because you don’t want to be in a toxic relationship with them anymore. No one is above accountability. The relationship began consensually but it was not consensual by the end. I emailed him privately to ask for closure in July 2019 but I didn’t get it as I have written about in blog posts Dear Dubai Ex: Closureand Locked Down: How to Set Yourself Free from a Narcissist
So how did this story end? My ex/boss kept his job and he is still married, living in Dubai, like he has done nothing wrong. As of May 2020, he continues his attempts to communicate with/ contact me. On the day he first declared his feelings for me, he told me he ‘prided himself on appearing to be a good husband and father’. Note the use of the word ‘appearing’. Despite all that he put me through when I worked for him and all that he has done since I left, I can say with certainty that he is a loving and protective father. I hope his daughter is never treated by a man or an employer the way he treated me. Perhaps then he would understand why I fought so hard to stand up for myself and be heard, and why I blogged about the emotional abuse in our interlinked personal and professional relationship to help others who may be in similar situations. After a year of travelling, I am settled in London (*see note above) and have changed career from teaching to hospitality. No doubt his version of events is very different to mine. Evidence speaks for itself. Meeting with a police expert in cyberstalking/ coercively controlling relationships and a solicitor in the UK was a game-changer and confirmed for me what I always knew – that I was right to speak up and take a stand. I was brought up to have integrity; taught that when you do something wrong and cause harm to others, you have to take responsibility for that. I have made mistakes in my life and I own them, making apologies when necessary. Decent people don’t lie and talk their way out of situations they are responsible for or scapegoat other people. I am only responsible for my actions, not the actions of others. Everyone has the right to work in a safe workplace free from abusive behaviours and discrimination. If that is not your experience, speak up for yourself and for others. Even if you don’t get a ‘victory’, like we see at the end of the movie ‘Bombshell’, living your life free from abuse, knowing you told the truth, is the real victory.
The world needs to stop treating women like villains when they tell truths that are inconvenient. Stop expecting us to be good little girls who shut up and go away just because what we have to say does not suit your agenda. Don’t silence us with NDAs before listening to us; we will only shout louder to be heard. I rest my case.
NOTE: Instagram feedback on this post has been amazing! Sorry to hear that so many of you have gone through similar experiences. My heart goes out to you and I appreciate all the positive comments. Take care.
Trigger warning: this post discusses coercive control in relationships, emotional abuse and gaslighting.
There is a difference between someone who just likes to get their own way all of the time, i.e. a selfish f**cker, and someone who is coercively controlling. Many relationships have one partner who tends to take the lead but sometimes their need for control can go too far. This blog post discusses warning signs that your partner may be too controlling, and may indeed be coercively controlling. Coercive control within relationships refers to a spectrum of behaviours that puts one person in a position of dominance and control over their partner. When thinking about coercive control, you may have an image of a man who controls finances within the relationship, won’t let his partner spend money without his consent, won’t let his partner go out without him, who dictates everything his partner does, makes all the major decisions in the relationship, who verbally and/or physically abuses his partner. That’s not necessarily the case although many such men – Romantic Dictators – unfortunately do exist. According to Evan Stark, 2007, Coercive Control. How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life. New York: Oxford University Press, ‘Not only is coercive control the most common context in which women are abused, it is also the most dangerous.’ Like I said, a spectrum of behaviours constitute coercive control. Coercive control is a form of emotional abuse and it can have a serious detrimental impact on your mental health, your wellbeing, and your whole life. That was certainly my own experience.
My last two relationships have been with men who liked to be in control and get their own way. In the first relationship, with a man I have referred to in other blog posts as Mr Control (How To Date An Arsehole, The Cat’s Whiskers), the last few months of this two-year relationship made it clear that I had dodged a bullet when he ended the relationship (as he wanted to be single). Only with hindsight did I recognise just how controlling he had been, and how much I had compromised myself within the relationship to keep the peace. Though I felt the usual sadness experienced after a break up, I was able to quickly pick myself up and get myself back out there… walking straight into a relationship with another controlling man, who I will refer to as The Boss, as he was indeed my boss at work. The difference is The Boss was coercively controlling and getting involved with him was the biggest mistake of my life. As I had had a relationship with a controlling man before, why was I not able to see the signs sooner to avoid getting involved with yet another man who likes to control? The answer is the charm offensive. Defined as ‘a campaign of flattery, friendliness, and cajolement designed to achieve the support or agreement of others,’ I was charmed into the relationship, and my love blinkers prevented me from discerning his true nature and just how catastrophic this relationship would prove to be. Coincidently, Mr Control and The Boss shared the same birthday but they also shared other traits too. I obviously have a type – handsome, highly intelligent, ambitious, witty, charismatic men. Both men were emotionally intelligent, able to engage in thoughtful discussions, and could be supportive and considerate when they wanted to be. As happy as I was at times within each relationship, neither relationship could ultimately go the distance once I realised the different ways they tried to manipulate and control me. I’m an independent strong-minded woman and although I will make compromises for the sake of a healthy, happy relationship, I will always naturally rebel against efforts to control me unnecessarily. I want to be in a relationship with an equal, a loving partner, not a dictator who expects to always get their own way and punishes when you don’t toe the line.
My relationship with The Boss is a long and complicated story that I have blogged about extensively since I left him in April 2018. You can read about it on my About Me page and various blog posts such as How To Date An Arsehole, Gaslighting Survival Guide and Dear Dubai Ex: Closure. Our relationship took place in Dubai, a hypocritical Middle-Eastern city where everything is skewed in favour of men and the rights of women are a joke. As such, he got away with professional misconduct and emotionally abusive behaviour. Controlling and coercive behaviour is an offence in the UK. The law recognises the harm that the cumulative impact of controlling and coercive behaviour can have. It is an offence if the behaviour has a serious effect on the victim, i.e. causes serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on their day-to-day activities. For example, two years in to the relationship, there was an incident in which The Boss did something that he knew would hurt me to punish me for chatting to a male colleague at a staff party. I was so devastated, I instructed him to leave me alone, and to go through my line managers if there was a work issue to be dealt with. The Boss ignored my request, summoned me to a meeting in work to tell me there had been a silly complaint about me. He pretended he had done nothing wrong, that I had not requested to be left alone, and tried to manipulate me into compliance by telling me he had my back, implying I should be grateful for his support. This is a textbook example of gaslighting and was not the first time he had caused conflict with his unacceptable behaviour and then tried to manipulate me back in to submission. Unfortunately two years of dealing with this kind of behaviour had taken its toll, I had a breakdown and left Dubai for a week during term time to try to get my head together. I did go back for the kids I taught but I was broken. I managed a couple more months but he pushed me too far and eventually I spoke up to put an end to the situation. This relationship negatively impacted my mental health, my physical wellbeing, my relationships with others and my career. Far too many things happened in the relationship and post-break-up for me to discuss in this post; I’ve only ever shared as much as I felt I needed to to be believed, and to help others who may be in similar abusive situations. The point of this post is not to ‘dish dirt’ but instead to highlight what coercive control is.
Some warning signs of a controlling partner to watch out for:
being love-bombed at the beginning of the relationship – over the top gestures, excessive compliments. This is the charm offensive used to sucker you in. Both Mr Control and The Boss did this with me.
wanting to be with you all of the time. You feel flattered that they want you by their side all the time but it’s just their way of taking you over. Ensure you have time for yourself and your friends. Mr Control ended up isolating me from my friends because we spent so much time together and he didn’t like my friends.
messaging constantly – you may like the fact they want to chat so much but they may be checking up on you, monitoring your activities and who you are with.
telling you what to wear, how your hair should be and what your weight should be. Not OK.
critical comments made with the intention of making you feel stupid, that make you feel not good enough, that make you feel as though you are in the wrong even when you’ve done nothing wrong. I remember being sent this classic when I joked I only got a smile emoji back in response to a long WhatsApp comment. The Boss replied, ‘A smile is a good thing and something you used to appreciate.’ Ouch. That told me.
encouraging dependency – when they imply that only they understand you, only they ‘get you’, so you get used to going to them for support. I once turned to The Boss for support in a professional matter, only to find out later that he had been the one who had caused the issue and had thrown me under the bus despite telling me he had supported me. It is not uncommon for victims to become overly-dependent on their abusers – it’s akin to Stockholm-Syndrome.
mind games – telling blatant lies or going hot and cold to play with your perceptions/emotions.
lack of respect for boundaries – they may not respect boundaries you set and will instead just do what they want regardless. For example, not giving you space when you ask for it. If you end the relationship, they may ignore your requests to be left alone. They may prevent you from leaving the relationship if you express a desire to end it and manipulate you into staying.
jealousy and possessiveness – they monitor who you chat to or spend time with. They may monitor your social media, to see what you post and who likes or posts comments. They may monitor phone calls, WhatsApps, emails etc, or even track your whereabouts using apps. They may insist that you share your passwords with them. They regard you as theirs, a possession.
Sulking and punishment – they go cold on you when upset with you and may do something to retaliate, to punish or let you know they are displeased with you. This is where fear comes into play – fear of letting them down, or fear of losing your job for example. I felt I always had to please The Boss to ensure my career was not impacted; in the end I lost my job when I spoke up about his behaviour. This was, however, a blessing in disguise.
All of the above can appear to be ‘low-level’ behaviours but they are used to control and assert dominance; over a period of time, they can have serious consequences for victims. Controlling men do not like it when you do not do as you are told, if you fail to comply with their wishes and demands, or if you stand up for yourself, and they will find ways to regain power and control. As confident as these men can appear to be, the need to control often stems from their own deep-rooted insecurities. They may fear that you will leave them so they chip away at you, to make you feel that no one else will want you, or may even tell you that no one else will love you as much as they do. Some men treat women like trophies to make themselves appear more desirable or successful. You may have to look and behave a certain way in order to be ‘good enough’ to be with them. Coercive control has absolutely no place within a healthy relationship. Unchain yourself from anyone who tries to control you, who stops you from being yourself, who makes you unhappy, and does not enhance your life.
Now fully back in control of my life, I am passionately committed to educating others about coercive control. Victims deserve to be heard and believed and I have spoken up on behalf of so many women who may not recognise that they are experiencing coercive control, or feel too afraid to speak up themselves. I didn’t know what coercive control was until I had counselling and I’m glad I can use my blog, and Instagram, to share my experiences to highlight the issue and encourage others to set themselves free.
*Trigger warning: this post discusses Gaslighting and emotional abuse.
As someone who has experienced the detrimental impact of being gaslighted and fully recovered from the trauma, I would like to give some tips to help those who suspect they are being gaslighted by someone in their life, whether that be by a parent, a colleague, friend or romantic partner.
The psychological term Gaslighting originates from the 1944 film Gaslight in which a husband manipulates his wife into believing she is going insane. It has come to describe psychologically/emotionally abusive behaviour that has the intent to cause the victim to question their memory, their perception, and doubt their sanity. Why would someone want to gaslight someone else? To gain power and control. It tends to happen slowly, over a period of time, and can be absolutely devastating to the victim. It certainly was for me. I felt like a shadow of who I was by the time I found the strength to leave the relationship with my ex. During the relationship I became anxious, needy, snappy, paranoid, couldn’t sleep, and cried all the time. I felt as though I couldn’t think straight which impacted my ability to do my job, made worse by the fact that my ex and I worked together and he was in a position of authority over me. He would only support me professionally if our personal relationship was in a good place and even once admitted that to me. He was a compulsive liar but he insisted he never lies. Many times I saw him do things with my own eyes but when confronted, he appeared nonplussed. He could be so convincing he would make me doubt myself. Even when presented with evidence, he would argue to the contrary. He drove me to a breakdown. Relationships with co-workers and friends were negatively impacted. The blog post I wrote to get him to stop led to me losing my job. This is why gaslighting and emotional abuse need to be taken seriously, with abusers held accountable. You can read more about what Gaslighting is here 11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting
What should you do if you suspect you are being gaslighted?
Do your research. Read about gaslighting techniques or talk with a trained professional so you are informed about the behaviours to watch out for. Once I knew what to look out for, I was able to keep a record of the things that happened whilst still in the relationship. The record helped to prove that my relationship with my ex was not healthy and was also valuable during counselling sessions.
Don’t be naive. Always remember that you are dealing with a very clever individual who is adept at manipulation. Simply talking to them and explaining your concerns is going to be ineffective. They will persuade you that you are wrong, convince you that they’ve done nothing wrong, and possibly say phrases like ‘You know I care about you, how could you think I would do anything to hurt you?’ Or ‘I’m disappointed you think that I am capable of that.’ They know how to turn things on you, to make you feel guilty and question yourself. Many times my ex did things that were unacceptable but after calling him out on his behaviour, I would often end up feeling bad and apologise to keep the peace.
Keep a record and collect evidence. An online diary that only you have access to could be safer than a written diary that could be found and read by the abuser. I created a Google Docs online diary and wrote down everything that happened in the relationship that I identified as being a gaslighting technique, or anything that was unacceptable to me – blatant lying, manipulative phrases, when his actions didn’t match his words, things done to deliberately confuse or wound etc. For evidence, I collected emails, regularly saved transcripts of WhatsApp conversations and took screenshots. You are always in a position of strength when you have truth AND evidence on your side – even if no one wants to listen/believe you. Knowing you have proof in black and white will make you feel more certain about what happened and make it easier to explain it to others if necessary.
Share what is happening. If you have other people in your life that you trust, try to tell them about things that happen. For example, I did share some incidents with trusted friends and showed them messages. However, no one knew the full extent of the emotional abuse as I kept so much to myself. When I did eventually speak up, it was hard for people to believe me as they didn’t know everything that had happened and they didn’t get that it wasn’t just one event; gaslighting is a collection of manipulative actions and behaviours over a period of time.
Trust the evidence, particularly when dealing with gaslighting within a romantic relationship. When you love someone, it is natural to want to believe them and trust them so when they start to gaslight you, you make excuses for them. This allows them to continue to get away with abusing you. If your gut instinct is telling you something is off and you don’t like how someone is making you feel, pay attention to that and trust the evidence. If you speak up about their abuse, they will discredit you and make you appear crazy – but the evidence will speak for itself, making them look foolish. At the very least, you will know that you are right when others try to tell you you are wrong.
Leave the situation. I stayed far too long in a relationship that I knew was harmful to me because I loved him. Put distance between you and your abuser. With distance from both them and the manipulation, over time you will gain clarity and the strength to fight back/ move on. You have a right to be happy. You have a right to good mental health and healthy relationships. You have a right to remove anyone from your life who harms your wellbeing and negatively impacts your life. Life is too short.
Recovery after gaslighting can be slow but you will get there in time, with assistance. I can’t recommend counselling enough to help you process everything, heal and move forward in your life. Today I am in a good place mentally and emotionally thanks to removing myself from the abusive situation and receiving amazing support. I have a completely new life now. I’m living in a different country and I am so happy I was able to get away. I hope that my writing encourages someone else to find the courage to positively change their life, as I have. There is life after being gaslighted and you can go on with your life much stronger for overcoming the experience.
*Trigger warning: this post discusses emotional abuse.
Identifying emotional abuse within a relationship is not about blaming, being a victim, and remaining powerless. It’s about empowering those, like myself, that have been in unhealthy/abusive situations and giving them a voice and the tools necessary to heal and move forward.
Speaking to a trained counsellor, like I did, can be invaluable in enabling you to articulate your experiences and then put steps in place to take back control and overcome the abuse/toxicity encountered. Recovery can be a slow process but having fought my way to the good place I am in today, it is definitely possible.
In my relationship with my ex, these were the aspects of the relationship that I identified as being emotionally abusive (comments on the screenshots give some examples of the behaviours I experienced as not every part of the description strictly applies):
I was shocked when I read through the list to see so many behaviours that I had dismissed, made excuses for, and basically allowed within the relationship because I loved him. I don’t think he consciously realised he was being emotionally abusive until I blogged about our relationship – I hope not anyway – so discussing the issue openly, and acknowledging that unhealthy/abusive behaviours have occurred – however difficult that can be – is the first step to healing and to change. Your partner has to be willing to do the work, but if they refuse, then you should put your needs first, protect yourself and leave the relationship.
Help is definitely available – look online for support groups in your area and make an appointment with a doctor/counsellor/therapist (whichever you feel most comfortable with). Many people find talking to friends about their experiences helpful but it can be hard for them to fully understand, particularly if they are friendly with both you and your partner, so a trained professional can be an excellent objective person to speak to whose only goal will be to support you. Don’t feel too ashamed to ask for help when needed.
*Trigger warning: this post discusses gaslighting, narcissists, and emotional abuse.
Early in 2018, I was reading an article online about gaslighting when I had a profound realisation. The sense of clarity I experienced was so strong, I felt sick to my stomach. Gaslighting is a tactic people use to gain power over someone and used in romantic relationships, it can be highly effective and completely insidious. The penny finally dropped. My ex was a narcissist and throughout our involvement, he had used a range of gaslighting techniques on me to keep me attached to him and to try to control me. This realisation was an absolute shocker to me and was the catalyst to me fighting my way out of the relationship and finding happiness away from him.
Handsome, clever, charming and witty, we connected immediately. I was flattered when he began pursuing me: asking for my phone number, sending me flirtatious work emails, DMing me on Facebook. We messaged constantly, always watching out for each other, and it felt like us against the world, with shared jokes and confidences. I would light up with joy whenever I was around him. I could feel when he walked into a room, even if I couldn’t see him. It was like the air changed. I’m very empathic, an ‘emotional sponge’, so I’m sensitive to others’ moods and emotions and I’m an emotional person – I wear my heart on my sleeve and don’t hide my emotions. Apparently empaths and narcissists are frequently drawn to each other and it is not uncommon for relationships between the two to become toxic, as it did in our case. From what I’ve read, the attraction arises because narcissists thrive on being given attention and like to be worshipped whilst the empath loves to give and tends to be too forgiving, letting the narcissist get away with poor behaviour. Narcissists feed off the emotions of empaths and empaths will often give until they have nothing left, leaving the empath drained, which is why such relationships can be very damaging to empaths in particular. As long as the narcissist gets their own way, it’s all good. If you challenge them in any way, point out flaws or try to stand up for yourself, that’s when the trouble starts. He met his match in me.
A few months into the involvement, there had been a couple of red flags, such as hot and cold behaviour (often rapidly changing between the two), his actions not matching his words, and some sharply worded messages (a sudden slap in written form), but he always had an explanation and I was in too deep by then to see that the gaslighting had begun. To me his good qualities outweighed the aspects I didn’t like, he was very persuasive, and I was accepting and made excuses for him because I loved him. We are all human, flawed, irrational, and contradictory sometimes. My friends were worried for me and advised me to leave the relationship. However, I can be incredibly stubborn. I will always follow my gut instinct and do what I think is best. Unfortunately, in this situation, I completely ignored my gut instinct and continued with a relationship that was ultimately to prove highly toxic and harmful. In the last year or so I was aware that the situation wasn’t good for me and was negatively impacting my health but I couldn’t seem to break away. This is where the gaslighting had worked its magic.
Abuse in relationships can take many forms. I am fortunate that I have never been in a physically abusive relationship or been called derogatory names by a partner which people typically associate with abusive relationships. However, today there is greater awareness of emotional abuse and the impact that can have. Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse. An insightful article about gaslighting written by Stephanie A. Sarkis can be found here 11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting. Gaslighting can happen to anyone. I’m a smart girl but he completely suckered me in. I definitely experienced the blatant lies, being told things to appease me that weren’t true, promises made that he had no intention of keeping, and manipulation. He was also possessive and would watch me when I was chatting to other men; he was prone to jealous sulks if he thought I’d been flirting with them and there would be some sort of retaliation as punishment. When you get involved with someone you make yourself vulnerable and in a healthy relationship, the other person will take care not to hurt you or do things that they know will cause you pain. In my relationship with my ex, there were times when he did things to deliberately hurt me if he was displeased with me. I could also suddenly be ignored either in person or he wouldn’t reply to messages – withholding affection was used to control and assert power over me – as he knew I hated being ignored and that it would drive me nuts if he was cold and distant with me. To stand up for myself and give him a taste of his own medicine, I would then do the same back to him as I knew he also didn’t like being ignored. I knew exactly what to say or do to provoke him – you get to know each others Achilles heels when intimately involved – though most of the time I tried very hard to please him. I had to take him off my Facebook three times because of things he posted; he removed me once – when I posted I was going on a date to annoy him in response to him going cold on me once again. After the first year I had to block him on Facebook for good. We were always falling out and making up; like trying to stand upright on shifting sand, I felt constantly unbalanced. He never seemed to understand my side and would often emotionally invalidate me, dismissing my feelings and being defensive if I tried to explain how his behaviour impacted me.
I am an honest, direct, person and I think it’s important in relationships for you to be able to communicate openly and honestly without fear of retribution. When I did call him out on the things he did, he would often turn it back on me, make me feel guilty, telling me it was my fault I had misinterpreted something he said, implying I was over-sensitive. Some of his behaviour just didn’t make sense – once I was sent a sharp email and a sweet WhatsApp message at the same time and another time I was sent a kiss emoji but then blanked by him when he saw me. I was always trying to puzzle him out. At times it wasn’t OK how he treated me but if I complained the situation between us was toxic, a headf*ck, and I wanted out, he would become indignant, calling me nasty and abusive, and sulk. If I asked for space, I wouldn’t get it. Rather than seeing that I was trying to do the right thing for both of us (who wants to be in a miserable relationship with frequent conflict?), it was like he felt how dare I not want to be with him and he had a ‘F*ck her, I’ll do what I want’ entitled attitude. For some reason, he just couldn’t let me go. I was an uncontrollable force of nature that he wanted to control. It changed me as a person over time – I became anxious, needy, snappy, paranoid, couldn’t sleep, and cried all the time. My relationships with others, friends and work colleagues became negatively impacted. Eventually I had a breakdown. I couldn’t take anymore. My head and heart were totally f*cked by the time I ended the relationship for good.
So many people stay in toxic/emotionally abusive relationships because they think if they just love the other person enough, it will get better – especially if the other person promises that it will, like my ex did with me – and it can be incredibly difficult to leave the relationship. It’s painful to walk away from someone that you still love, even though you know the situation between you is doing neither of you any good. The good news is you can break away if you are strong enough and believe that you deserve better. Of course I had moments of nostalgia after I left when I missed him, especially if I heard songs we shared, but I also felt a lot of anger towards him for everything he had put me through. Toxic relationships can bring euphoric highs and lots and lots of bonecrushing lows. The drama can be addictive and you tell yourself that you must really feel strongly for each other if you keep going back to each other. That’s not true. It’s just a bad habit. An abusive cycle that can be broken. On-and-off relationships are NOT healthy. Can’t-live-with-can’t-live-without relationships are NOT healthy. Relationships are not always easy but they shouldn’t be painful or harmful or bring out the worst in you. No one who really loves you would ever use gaslighting techniques on you to manipulate and control you, to punish you or make you stay in a relationship with them.
If you are in a toxic/abusive relationship, do yourself a favour. Detox your life. Block them and commit to withdrawal from your relationship addiction. Get counselling if you need it – this has been invaluable to me, allowing me to articulate my experience (to hopefully help others) and has helped me to let all the anger go. Focus on self-care and doing the things that you love, and in time you will find that you are so much happier without the relationship in your life. You know you are at that point when you glow – people keep telling me that I look happy and I am. No longer gaslighted (or should that be gaslit?), I’m lit on life with my arms open to embrace all the possibilities/opportunities coming my way.
Note: I originally wrote this post to set myself free from an emotionally abusive relationship and to hopefully help others recognise that they may be involved in an unhealthy situation with a narcissist, male or female. The main problem with narcissists is that despite how charming and considerate they can appear (when they want to), they only ever really think of themselves and they always think they can do whatever they want and get away with it (they are so persuasive that is often the case). Once involved with them, it can be difficult to extract yourself but narcissists are incapable of loving you more than themselves regardless of the sweet-nothings they say. A relationship with a narcissist can be very damaging so watch out for the warning signs and protect yourself. Trust me, life without having to deal with a narcissist is much happier. Take care.
I’m sure we all have nightmare stories of dates gone awry and relationship disasters we could share but I feel fully qualified to offer my perspective on how to date an arsehole as it seems to come so easily to me. Some would call it a gift. For someone so smart and perceptive – I like to think so anyway – I have shockingly rubbish taste in men. I’m not ‘anti-men’ but I am a little over the fact that I seem to be a sucker for a certain type of highly intelligent narcissistic controlling manipulative man-child having encountered more than one in my dating lifetime. You would think with my track record, I would be able to spot them a mile away or have developed some sort of immunity (ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the ‘anti-arse’!) but sadly it appears that this is not the case. It can actually take me a couple of years to realise oops I’ve done it again. Once I’ve fallen for someone, I develop blinkers – or rose-tinted glasses if you will – and steadfastly refuse to acknowledge their flaws, continuing to make excuses for the poor way they treat me until I have some irrefutable evidence to the contrary: a Facebook message from another girl telling me she spent the previous weekend with my boyfriend who had told me he was having a lads weekend away, or making a concerned friend take a pregnancy test only to be told when the result was positive that the guy I’d been seeing for a few months was the daddy, or the flatmate who told me he had overheard me and my boyfriend having noisy sex the night before when it hadn’t been me who had stayed over… And each one of these guys I let talk me round and took them back – until there were further misdemeanours and they had to go. What can I say, I always try to see the best in people and no one really wants to acknowledge that they have wasted time on a douchebag. Speaking of douchebags, one ex tried to sleep with me a few weeks before he got married (to the girl he two-timed me with btw), he got knocked back, and then after he was married, he thought it was acceptable to send me a video of him pleasuring himself. It was not acceptable and when will guys learn that most women do not appreciate being sent dirty videos and dick pics? He is the sort of idiot the block button was invented for. Someone I definitely should have blocked and walked away from sooner was my married boss, who had the audacity to slide into my FB DMs to initiate an affair and arrange a rendezvous – whilst rocking a loved up profile picture of him and his wife. That should have told me all I needed to know about the kind of man he was but unfortunately not. I blindly fell head over heels into the ‘Dicksand’ (a definition for those of you who don’t know what this is: “It’s like every time the guy looks at you, you forget who you are and are like ‘ahhh’ and you get sucked into their world” – Rebel Wilson, ‘How To Be Single’… We’ve all been there). Biggest mistake of my life though thankfully, I was smart enough not to sleep with him. Two years after I left him, he is still cyberstalking me, even finding ways to contact me that I can’t block after I changed my phone number, email address and changed my privacy settings on this blog and my Instagram. He has ignored multiple requests to stop. Getting a hobby or doing nice things for his family would be far better uses of his time – hell will freeze over before I speak to that man again. Narcissists will cleverly try to talk you into getting what they want from you and before you know it, you find yourself doing all you can to please them to retain their attention and affection. They, in turn, demand more and more. It’s not a healthy or satisfying dynamic and you can end up feeling drained trying to fulfil their wants and needs, without your own being taken care of in return. Narcissists will dominate and absolutely suck the life out of you if you let them. You have been warned.
Mr Control was not a cheater that I know of (I have my suspicions…) but he was certainly a narcissistic man-child. He swept me off my feet, repeatedly told me he was in it for the long haul and then when the honeymoon period was over and we were in a rut after 18 months, he buggered off ‘to find himself’ – with another girl I should add! He had a way of reasoning with me that meant he just always got his own way and for a quiet life I let him. I always had to stand on the right side of him when we walked around holding hands for example. A small thing but illustrates the way everything always had to be on his terms. If he didn’t get what he wanted, if I didn’t do as I was told, he would sulk, be coldly dismissive or highly critical of me. I remember being told one night, out of the blue, during a romantic dinner that my breath had stunk that morning. His deadpan expression and tone of voice revealed he wasn’t joking. I felt like I’d been slapped around the face. It was the ultimate mood-killer but more than that, it was the disdain that wounded. This led to a row and he made me cry. I’ll never forget the image of him standing over me in a busy London street (he was tall, around 6ft 2 and I’m not, a petite 5ft 2) with a sneer on his face saying contemptuously: “Look at you, playing the victim”.
When we met he had made me feel on top of the world with his admiration and adoration. Friends were envious of the way he looked at me. He couldn’t do enough for me – buying in soya milk for me to have for breakfast, giving me lifts to work and so on. As the relationship progressed, all of that changed. It was so gradual and subtle I didn’t even realise what had happened until it was over and I’d had time to reflect. I had been love-bombed by a narcissist until he no longer required my attention. As he painfully knocked me off my pedestal, he started to make comments on my weight, asked why I didn’t wear low-cut tops or false eyelashes, made little critical asides that slowly dented my self-esteem. He isolated me from my friends, making no effort to get to know them whatsoever as ‘he had enough friends’, preferring us to spend time alone or with his friends. Looking forward to spending our first anniversary together, I had pictured being wined and dined and then presented with a thoughtful gift. Instead I was informed that he was going on a lads holiday that weekend – though he did put a surprise bouquet of flowers in my apartment to soften the blow. He just always did what he wanted and I was expected to accept that. When we were at the mall on my birthday, the last one we spent together, the only treat I had wanted that day was to get my nails done. After being told at the salon that I wouldn’t be able to get an appointment for an hour, he behaved like a sulky teenager, refused to let me wait for the treatment I wanted, insisting instead that I go with him back to his apartment as he “loved me and wanted me all to himself” – how manipulative and selfish. And it was him that ended the relationship. Hilarious! Throughout our relationship, I was not allowed to put a picture of the two of us as my profile picture on Facebook because ‘when it’s on the internet it is out there forever’ he said, though I found it very easy to delete all pictures of him from my page when we broke up…
You don’t need a guide on how to date an arsehole. Arseholes are everywhere. Just be a kind genuine person and they will hunt you out. I hope if and when that happens though, you are smarter than me and run for your life. After some of my experiences, I might have gotten quite cynical about the quality of men out there but I am an eternal optimistic, certain that there is a good man out there for me (or good woman – I’m open-minded) who will come along when the time is right. In the meantime, I shall stay happily single and play ‘dodge the dickhead’ along with all the other lovely single ladies out there deserving of being treated right.
So back to the title: How To Date An Arsehole. My advice: Don’t!