All I knew that day was that I was so deeply in love with him and utterly convinced he was good for my life. I thought he had my best interests at heart and so I thought everything he did and said was just to improve our relationship and make us better people, both individually and as a couple.
I couldn’t see why this was happening. As the argument began and the twisted confusion of what I know now was gaslighting then silent treatment commenced, I didn’t understand that he wanted me to be unable to speak or think intelligently.
The argument that took place was so convoluted that I honestly cannot even remember how it started or what it was about.
I can give you an example of the types of things that happened but if you’ve ever been there you know the phenomenon and bizarre experience of abuse amnesia. I know that it was related to a delayed departure going hiking. He would string out leaving for hours and hours to any event while my time Was spent sitting waiting completely ready for hours. The recollection of the argument was something like this:
Me: Will you be ready to leave soon?
Him: Yes, I told you I’m getting ready.
Me: We were supposed to leave two hours ago! It is going to get dark before we’re done hiking. Can you please hurry?
Him: I’ve already told you I’m getting ready! You push and push and push… what’s the matter with you? You were completely disrespectful.
Me: I’m just trying to get out of the house so that we can have a nice time together.
Him: Well you’ve completely ruined all chances of that with your pushing and your rudeness.
From there it escalated into a whirlwind of gaslighting that I can’t even recall. It was completely taken off-topic and changed into how (he claimed) I was hurting him and not being polite to him and how my pushing is doing nothing but create issues and that I have a problem with needing drama and I push things so that we have a horrible time.
It escalated to him completely unpacking his bags that he took two hours to pack for hiking. That further escalated into a silent treatment and absolute shut down of communication including any physical contact at all.
When I tried to plead with an apology so that things could de-escalate the matter only worsened into completely devaluing me for my absolute “insubordinate rudeness.”
This then escalated into demanding another apology and when that apology came it was not enough.
At a certain point, the rejection and devaluing was so great that I collapsed onto the floor sobbing.
I was thinking, “How can a quick easy outing turn into this? What did I do wrong?”
Looking at it isolated like this, it seems like I should have just walked away – but as you know, the trauma bonds at this point are so great and so intense that this seemed completely like it was rationally my fault.
He needed me as I was, a sobbing heap of mess on the floor.
It was necessary for me to be broken to the point of unintelligible mutterings and desperation. The truth of the minor issue lost into this devastating flurry of projection and blame-shifting left me physically ill, unable to see straight, feeling like the world had fallen out from under me and sadly this was not the first time and would not be the last.
At some point, I found my way to my car, unable to drive because of my tear-filled vision and shaking. Emotions bounced all over the place—bewilderment, anger, fear, confusion, hurt.
My body’s reactions to the stress were so overwhelming all I could do was sit curled in a ball. I felt like I was going to pass out.
My head was spinning. Where had it gone so wrong? What I had I done to cause all this?
In my state of mind, I couldn’t find the logic or the level-headedness I so desperately wanted.
While I didn’t realize it, my survival coping skills set in and with it the numbness to protect me from more hurt.
I went back to what I knew and began to question myself. Certainly, it had to be my fault, right? I was wrong. Maybe I didn’t make something clear? Maybe my tone raised a bit and I wasn’t aware of it? So many maybes.
But one thing I knew for sure: I had messed up and I had to be the one to fix it.
How could I fix something when I wasn’t even sure what went wrong?
As these thoughts ran wild, my phone alerted me to a text. It was a friend who wondered what I was doing. I’m not sure she expected the response text, but am very grateful it was her who got ahold of me that day.
I sparingly told her what happened. Being a good friend, she didn’t simply sympathize, she asked me to describe the argument from the beginning so we could get to the root of the problem.
As I began to share bits and pieces, I was still in such a state of shock that I was shifting into autopilot mode. That numbness was helping me want to forget (or block out) how cruel and painful his confusing words and silence was.
I ended up calling her. I hoped that maybe if I said the words aloud it would all make more sense.
As we talked, I tried to recall as best I could how the conversation turned so heated so quickly. If I’m being honest, I’m not sure how much was truly relayed to my friend that day, but I do think I conveyed how unprepared I was for the backlash.
Little did I know, this was the point. My turning point. I finally finished getting it all out, sat there, waiting for her response.
In that loving and bluntly honest way real friends have, she stated, “That sounds like emotional abuse.”
For a second time in such a short period, I sat in my car, stunned. Disbelief fought against the realization that maybe she was right. One part of me wanted to deny it from the rooftops. Another quieter part of me found its voice and confirmed what I already knew was 100% true.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m the type of person who looks for solutions and so I began to seek out the truth.
For the next several years I spent every free moment I could spare learning about narcissism. I needed to understand why I had become so codependent.
What was it that tied me to him or attracted both of us to each other in the first place? I wanted to know just how much destruction a toxic person could wreak on someone’s life. I also wanted to learn about empathic people’s natures and why they are so enticing to toxic people.
I gained a lot of knowledge but that wasn’t enough. I knew I had to apply what I’d learned so I could heal and recognize any signs (red flags) in future relationships. I needed a new normal.
For perhaps the first time in my life, I had to take myself seriously. Knowing is one thing, acting and creating resolution is a whole other concept.
I began to work on my thought patterns and changing them to healthier ways of thinking.
Through my self-work, I noticed patterns in my life (past and present) with abusive relationships. I could see their toxicity permeated through what I believed was love.
There were so many tears and many more affirmations during those years. I knew what I had learned at the hands of my narcissist wasn’t the only truth out there and that a better life was not only possible, but actually attainable. The path to healing is another long story and perhaps better suited for another article.
While the work took longer than I might have liked, I don’t regret a moment. You see, while you only read the bare bones of that day, I hope you see that I no longer feel that pain and confusion.
I’m no longer devastated. As I worked to gain knowledge, something wonderful happened. What started as one of the worst days of my life began my journey to today.
It was my catalyst to a better life. As I gained knowledge, I also gained compassion for people who have lived through this insidious abuse. As painful as that day was, it led me to my life’s work. Which led me here, to you.
- Next: Visit Lise’s bio page or schedule a coaching session with her.
- You might also like to read Angie Atkinson’s personal story, right here.