The above e-card pretty much describes my ex to a tee (except maybe the commitment issues)–and for the purposes of this blog, I have named him Michael (not his real name).
Another blogger and survivor of narcissistic abuse described living with a psychopath as analogous to the frog in boiling water–a frog if dropped in a pot of boiling water, will jump out, but if the water is slowly heated with the frog in the pot, the frog won’t notice the increase in temperature until it’s cooked to death. That’s what life with a psychopath is like. The relationship always begins great (though there may be red flags we choose to ignore) and slowly, like the boiling frog, becomes abusive. As the victims, we may even mirror the abuser’s psychopathic behavior, doing things and acting in ways we’d never dream of if we were not in that relationship. Another blogger describes this phenomenon very well here in this blog post about mirroring.
So to get to my story.
For the first year or two after we got engaged, Michael and I seemed like the perfect couple. Michael doted on me, bought me gifts and flowers, constantly told me how much he loved me, and continued being very romantic and attentive even after the wedding. We took a couple of short vacations (because we both worked full time) and had a wonderful, romantic time. The fact Michael acted like a bit of a know it all seemed a minor annoyance–it was just one of those little foibles all married people have to deal with in their spouses.
There were a few red flags though, but at the time they didn’t seem serious so I blew them off. One red flag was the way he was about money. At the time we met until shortly after we married, he made little money, but somehow had a lot of credit cards. He charged all the gifts and dinners to plastic, and then couldn’t pay the bills later, so he’d ask me to loan him the money since at the time I made more than he did. It occurred to me I was essentially buying my own gifts, and that included our wedding rings. Soon we were deep in debt and all the credit cards maxed out. The monthly fees exceeded what we were able to pay each month, so we had to juggle a lot of other bills and use other credit cards to pay the ones we were maxed out on. It was almost impossible to keep up–the credit cards weren’t even usable by this point since all we could pay was the interest. We were able to save nothing.
Another red flag was his meanspirited sense of humor. He loved to play practical jokes on me, and sometimes this meant “playful” physical abuse, and I don’t mean consensual S&M or bondage during sex play. I’ll give an example. One winter night after a snowstorm we were walking home from the local bowling alley (we didn’t have a car and since it was an urban area, we didn’t need one) and suddenly for no reason, Michael pushed me into a snowbank, and when I tried to get up, he was laughing hysterically and did it again. At first I laughed with him, but I really didn’t like it–and then he did it a third and fourth time. Now I was getting mad, and he just kept laughing and telling me I looked cute when I was angry. Then he smushed snow in my face, and continued even after I told him to stop. There wasn’t any anger in this “play,” but I realized later on this was really a form of bullying disguised as “humor.” Although his sadistic sense of humor wasn’t usually physical, Michael thought he was extremely funny and through our entire marriage would deliberately do things he knew would irritate me and didn’t know when to stop. He had absolutely no respect for boundaries. As a person with autism, I hate loud sudden noises, so he’d deliberately make them. Or keep clicking a pen. Or play his music (most of which I disliked) at the highest volume just to annoy me. Telling him to stop was useless–he’d just play it louder or continue whatever he was doing that set me off. I remember once, several years into the marriage, I finally told him he just wasn’t that funny, and he flew into a narcissistic rage and screamed that there was something wrong with me because “everyone else” found him hilarious, and I just had no sense of humor. Oh, the gaslighting was off the charts with him. But it would get worse. Much worse.
Three years after we married, Michael started drinking again. We had met in an AA meeting (something that’s not recommended) and he’d completely abandoned it (I don’t think he was serious to begin with). And he was a mean drunk too; when he drank any pretense of kindness or civility disappeared and he became a raging maniac. At first his drunken rages didn’t include hitting me, but he’d break things and scream and call me every obscene name you can think of. Neighbors had to call the police on two occasions, and both times I told them it was nothing; everything was fine, and they left. After these drunken rages, he’d usually fall into a drunken stupor and sleep it off. In the morning, he always love bombed me, apologizing profusely and begging me to forgive him. I know his “remorse” was a pretense, but at the time I believed his lies. We’d make up and be all lovey dovey again for a few days.
I was doing fairly well as a medical editor and book reviewer in those days, but the company I worked for folded in early 1991. The timing couldn’t have been better because just before the lay off was announced, I had found out I was pregnant. I was thrilled–unlike some survivors who never want to have children of their own, I wanted them badly, and a big reason I did was because I wanted to give a child the love I never had growing up in a narcissistic home. So anyway, the layoff worked for me because Michael by this time had been promoted and was making a very good income (though we certainly weren’t rich), AND the publishing company I had worked for was owned by a much larger firm that was generous and gave me severance pay for an entire year, as well as maternity leave. This perfect storm of events meant that I’d be able to be a stay at home mom and not have to put my child in the hands of strangers while I worked.
The pregnancy went smoothly, and Michael surprised me because once he got used to the idea of a baby coming, he acted very attentive and supportive, even going to lamaze classes with me. Earlier he had said he wasn’t interested in having children any time soon, but the prospect of a baby as a reality seemed to change his attitude.
My son was born in October 1991. Michael was great with him, and he had stopped drinking again. So for a time, maybe for a year, it looked like our marriage might make it and we might be happy together. Michael still liked to play his sadistic jokes and annoy me to amuse himself, but I shrugged it off as something I’d just have to accept as part of who he was.
At first, Michael was a great father to our son. When Ethan was not even a year old, Michael surprised me by suggesting we have another baby. “A girl this time, Ethan needs a little sister,” he said.
I always wondered what he would have done if our second child had been a boy instead of a girl.
Molly was a more difficult baby than Ethan and more prone to illness, and by this time, our financial problems had gotten really dire. Without my job and with my severance pay long gone (I was doing some freelance editing and proofreading but it hardly paid anything) and with two young children to support, we couldn’t make our credit card premiums any more and had saved absolutely nothing. When it came to money, Michael was always extremely irresponsible, always thinking of what he must have RIGHT NOW instead of saving for the future. So we were forced to file bankruptcy which meant no more living on credit, which made Michael cranky. I was very stressed out and with a new baby who seemed to have all kinds of health problems (none severe, but Molly had terrible allergies like I had as a child, mild asthma, and a tendency to get high fevers) and a son who was late talking and made me worry he might have a hearing or speech problem (he didn’t), and a husband who snapped at me and our son constantly, we fought often. We were also in the process of moving from New York to North Carolina, which created its own set of problems.
Michael was dishonest and a thief but managed to get me to collude with him on some of his capers. Before the move, we had been renting the downstairs apartment in the duplex Michael’s mother owned. She lived upstairs and Michael had a key to her apartment. Whenever she’d go out, he’d go upstairs and search for any cash she had laying around. When I questioned him about it, he said she was too oblivious and stupid to even know it would be missing. I should have taken this as a red flag because eventually he’d do the same to me and our kids but instead I cooperated with him. My reasoning was that we were so broke it was okay and besides, it was his mother so it wasn’t really stealing. Oh, he had me so brainwashed. His mother (a narcissist herself) never noticed anything missing but her ugly behavior made the thievery justifiable to us.
Ethan, just two and a half, wasn’t speaking yet and as we moved from one state to another, he began to act very strange (my mother would have called it “spooky” behavior)–parroting “mama” over and over but not saying anything else, his face always pale and sad looking, and his eyes huge and dark. He looked so pitiful it broke my heart. His doctor said he was fine, but I knew something was wrong. Later on, I figured out what it was. In the process of moving, we had to save money by making several trips to North Carolina by U-Haul and car because we couldn’t afford a moving van to do it in one trip. Ethan saw our old house become emptier every week as things disappeared and it hit me like a ton of bricks one day after the move that he was too young to understand why everything was disappearing and he was afraid I might disappear too. In fact, years later, he told me he remembers this and that was exactly the reason why he acted the way he did.
Michael was becoming less and less patient with our son, but he showered attention on our daughter. It was apparent that Ethan was an extremely sensitive child just as I had been, and narcissist psychopaths like Michael couldn’t stand sensitivity. Ethan being male didn’t help either. Michael went from being a seemingly loving father to turning Ethan into his scapegoat. He made fun of him and put him down in front of others, calling him “stupid,” “little shithead” “crybaby” and other degrading names. He broke all Ethan’s beloved toy cars in a drunken rage one day and never apologized. I loved my son and hated seeing him being treated this way. It was exactly the same way my own parents had treated me! So I tried to defend Ethan from Michael’s rage and this led to some of the worst fights we ever had, where Michael tried to shift the blame to me for turning our son into a “wussy” and that he was just acting the way he did to toughen him up.
Michael was drinking again, much more heavily than before, and his temper had become violent, especially when he was drunk. And he didn’t apologize the next day anymore like he used to. His annoying habits escalated to the point he was unbearable to be around and he also started to talk in a very hostile way about everything and anyone, even when sober. This got worse over time. He was so full of hate, but I now know he always was full of hate. The earlier Michael hadn’t really been him at all. It was all an act.
Michael’s eyes now looked very cold, devoid of warmth or humanity. When he was drunk his face terrified me. In my earlier post I talked about my mother’s face as I saw it in one of my nightmares–a demon’s face with those solid black eyes. One night while he was slamming me into a wall I saw the same eyes and the same sneer. He looked positively demonic. I was beaten so badly I was taken to the hospital and then stayed in a battered womens’ shelter for a week along with the kids. I still loved Michael though, and one day picked up with the kids and went home in spite of the counselor’s pleas to get away from him.
The second time it happened I called the police and he went to jail for three months. It was very stressful trying to do everything myself including having to learn how to drive a stick shift, and since there was no money coming in with him in jail and we had no savings, the kids and I sank into poverty. I thought about getting a job, but then I’d have to pay a babysitter out of that, and the jobs in the area that were available weren’t very promising.
One day we got a phone call from Helen’s (Michael’s mother) neighbor, who told us she had fallen down the stairs at her house and broken her hip. She was in her mid 70s and needed someone to look after her. So Michael agreed to move her down with us so we could keep an eye on her, but not without swindling her out of all her money first. Using the charming demeanor I saw so little of anymore, he sweet-talked her into giving him power of attorney over the sale of her house, which wound up bringing in about $160K. Again, I colluded with him on this and didn’t tell him it was wrong what he was doing, even though I always felt deep down it really was. Michael even bragged to my father about how he “outsmarted” Helen, and that was the time my father said he began to realize how evil Michael really was.
So we weren’t poor anymore, but things got a lot worse. In fact, the money became the catalyst that really accelerated things. What was weird before became straight up surreal. Everything fell apart. And I began to lose my mind.
I made suggestions to Michael that we should pay off our house and all our debts, but Michael wouldn’t listen, saying because it was HIS money, I had no say in how it got spent. What he didn’t say was what he was really doing with it. We made a few home improvements, and purchased some medical equipment for his mother whose health was deteriorating and could barely walk anymore. We took a family vacation for two weeks to the beach. For a short time things seemed to get better.
One day I found an envelope on the floor of his closet that must have fallen out of one of his pants pockets. It was a bank statement. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw there was only 8K left–only SIX MONTHS after his shady windfall. I confronted him about this when he got home, and he admitted he’d been playing the stock market. He knew nothing about how the stock market works but he pretended he did. I remembered he’d started talking about stocks and bonds several months earlier, and a couple of times I saw financial web pages on the computer screen. Once when I asked him if he was playing the stock market he swore he wasn’t and assured me I shouldn’t worry. But he lied, and now most of the money was gone. None of our debts were paid and on our current income it looked like we’d lose the house too. He no longer had a job because he had quit when the money came in, assuming he’d get rich investing. He was so deluded and so was I, believing him. He spent the remaining 8K on lottery tickets, pot, and baseball cards. I kid you not.
Michael was back in AA now, but decided he could be in AA and smoke pot. He grew pot in our outbuilding and recruited my 8 year old daughter (who he used as his mini flying monkey and slave) to water the plants when I wasn’t around to do it (and of course I was completely clueless he was using our daughter this way). He continued to berate Ethan and never had anything nice to say to him. Michael had Molly wrapped around his finger (she was his Golden Child), and she was old enough that he began to use her to triangulate against me, and told her what a horrible wife and mother I was, undermining any authority I had. Soon Molly began to turn against me too. When I tried to discipline her, Michael would step in and say I was being mean and unreasonable, and sometimes even blamed me for not loving her enough. Talk about gaslighting!
Michael decided he wanted a dog (we already had one). I objected to this, because of all the work I already had to do, but Michael wouldn’t listen and brought the dog in anyway. He refused to discipline him, or housetrain him, and I was constantly cleaning up dog messes. When I complained he told me I was just an “animal hater” even though that was an absolute lie. My “animal hating” over pets he brought home without discussing with me first was a theme that would be repeated on several other occasions.
Helen was becoming sicker and Michael had another job (one that paid far less than the ones he’d had before); a nurse came in once a day to check up on her vitals but her daily care fell on me. She was a difficult woman and a narcissist herself, but she had Alzheimer’s and her mind was going. She could no longer walk without a walker and also had diabetes. Getting her to eat was frustrating to say the least. I was overwhelmed with my duties and dreamed of escape. But I was never mean to her the way Michael was. She frustrated me but Michael’s hatred and anger was off the charts. In front of the children he’d hit her and call her names, He didn’t care that they saw this; he said it was okay because “she was a horrible bitch.” It occurred to me that the fact he treated his mother like this meant he might someday treat me this way too (in fact he already did) but as always I believed (or wanted to believe) his lies. Eventually she entered a nursing home and Michael rarely went to visit her or let the kids see her. She died in 2002.
Neither of us were faithful anymore. There was no marriage to speak of left. I’m ashamed to talk about this, but I’m leaving nothing out of this story. Anyway, one day when I was drunk and the kids were sleeping over at friends’ houses I had my boyfriend come over. He was a sneaky man and also turned out to be a psychopath (but I won’t get into that here). Somehow he found out about the pot plants in the outbuilding. A few weeks later I broke up with him because I felt guilty about cheating (and because he was as intolerable as Michael). To spite me he told the police about the pot plants. I was home alone when the cops came, and we were both charged with felonies due to the amount of pot found, even though I had never approved of the plants being there in the first place. In court my felony was dropped to a misdemeanor but Michael was stuck with a felony. When he found out it had been my lover who tipped the police, he went ballistic. I understood his anger, but he’s a world class grudge holder and to this day blames me for “giving him a felony” even though it was HIS idea to grow the plants and on many occasions I’d begged him to get rid of them.
In 2003 Michael brought in the flying monkeys. A couple at his job who had a daughter Molly’s age had been evicted and without talking to me first he invited them to move in, which meant Ethan had to move out of his room and sleep in the master bedroom and Michael and I slept on the couch (we had a three bedroom house). It was a huge upheaval and very crowded, but that doesn’t even begin to explain the horror about to ensue.
At first Rachel and Paul seemed very nice (actually Paul was, but he was an enabler and very weak). But soon Rachel took over the house, cleaning it top to bottom and redecorating it to her liking. She disapproved of the way I was raising my children and didn’t like the foods I bought for them (I didn’t feed them junk food, but it wasn’t “organic”). She threw away all the food I had and brought in all organic foods and would not allow her daughter or my children to eat meat or sugar anymore. Soon I found out she was colluding with Michael, who had “converted” to her way of thinking and several times I heard them talking about what a slovenly and careless mother I was. Rachel was hateful to Ethan, as was Michael. They bullied him incessantly. Ethan’s grades slipped and he became depressed and sullen. She called him gay and a sissy. She was alright to Molly, but I could see she was an extremely controlling mother to her own daughter who seemed terrified of her.
I became severely depressed and once I stupidly told Rachel I wanted to kill myself. I hated her, but there was no one else I could talk to and I didn’t dare talk to Paul because I knew I’d be blamed for flirting with him. Rachel smiled at me in a very strange way with a weird gleam in her eyes and said “after what you did to Michael, killing yourself would probably be a very good idea.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. She also blamed me for “coming on” to her husband Paul, even though I had barely spoken a word to him. Michael and her both called me a “whore who can’t keep her legs together” RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY CHILDREN. It’s not as if he’d been faithful himself.
I was almost suicidal and beginning to dissociate. Most days I’d sleep all day on the couch and only venture out if I had to. I was sick all the time and barely ate. I started to drink a lot and take pain pills. Rachel and Michael’s gaslighting and triangulating was unbelievably crazymaking and was finally taking its toll on my sanity, and of course they laughed and said I was just paranoid and crazy. I really don’t know how I survived this insanity.
One day I went out I drove at 90 mph not even realizing I was driving that fast, and by some miracle didn’t wreck. I got home and hid in the bedroom closet and stayed there for hours in a kind of catatonic trance. It’s hard to explain now, but I was so profoundly depressed I couldn’t feel anything anymore. I felt dead, like I had no soul. In fact I was living with an emotional vampire who was sucking all the life out of me. I was admitted to the psychiatric ward of the hospital and was there for a month, then continued as an outpatient for another two. They diagnosed me with Major Depression, PTSD, and Borderline personality disorder (this was later changed to Avoidant PD). To this day, Michael complains about “everything I put him through” by becoming ill and requiring hospitalization and that it was all just done to get his attention because I’m such a “drama queen.”
When I came home, Michael sat me down and almost immediately started crying. This surprised me because I hadn’t seen him cry in years. Then he dropped the bomb–Rachel and him decided I was “too sick” to live there anymore and a bad influence on the children, and I had to be out of the house in 30 days. Of course he said he didn’t want to do this but I was just too unstable (and selfish!) to be around children and oh, this broke his heart so much, boohoo. In my weakened mental and emotional state I went along with this and didn’t even bother to argue–even though I also wouldn’t be allowed to take the children. I was offered no financial help but he did say I could take one of the two cars. The crappy one. I left two weeks later. I didn’t want to miss my daughter’s birthday. My father paid for an attorney so I could file for divorce. With nowhere to go and no money, no job, and no friends or family willing to help me out, I was forced to move into a homeless shelter. So that was the end of the marriage. But my story’s not over yet.
I know this has been VERY long. I’ll stop here for tonight. I’m exhausted.