So, after my divorce, I fell stupid in love with a guy who is psychologically incapable of empathy. I believe strongly that he has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I consider his treatment of me to have been emotional abuse.
He went after me hard (Narcissistic Personality Disorder Relationship Cycle #1: Idealize, also known as Love Bombing). He wooed me. He drew me pretty pictures and talked to me on the phone for hours. I knew he was in a relationship. But pretty soon he told me that their relationship was over and how she was terrible for, you know, asking for things.
He told me he loved me far too early. He asked me questions about my life. He picked up on the particular pain of my losing my father when I was a teenager. The particular pain of other parts of my childhood. The pain of my still-raw divorce.
I was so over the moon that I had found My Person, you know? I didn't stop to notice red flags, and there were many. He wasn't on good terms with any of his exes. And boy, does he have a lot of exes. He didn't have many friends. His rare emotional outbursts seemed odd, like he was acting and not doing a particularly good job of it. His words and actions didn't match. I felt crazy and sick all the time. He took no responsibility for anything going wrong.
Then, he had the girl he would replace me with all lined up. (NPD Cycle #2: Devalue) And the fun began for him. (NPD Cycle #3: Discard). My personal favorite episode of emotional abuse was his telling me to my face that he felt celibate and needed to fuck any other woman but me, moments after he told me I should use my book advance money to buy him a motorcycle.
OY GEVALT! WE'VE GOT A MALIGNANT NARCISSIST ON THE LOOSE IN PORTLAND, FOLKS!
Since publishing my essay "The Cardigan" last January, I've gotten quite a bit of mail from other women who have been through similar emotional violence in relationships. About how their partners came onto them oh-so-strong and romantic in the beginning and showered them with affection and gifts, only left to untangle the damage caused by gaslighting, namecalling, and cheating (the word "polyamory" doesn't make cheating not-cheating, fwiw). Like me, they went through protracted periods of self-blame and self-doubt, until they were able to find the words "narcissist" and "emotional abuse."
Recovering from narcissistic abuse is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life.
I try to answer all the letters I get, because I truly believe that telling our stories is the only way to untangle the mess these narcissists make in your head. I did not coin the term "soul rape" to describe what it feels like to be emotionally violated by someone I loved, but that's what it felt like. When that flew out of my mouth one day, I knew what I had been through was more than "just a break-up." He caused injury to my brain.
Talking to the woman who came before me, (who is completely awesome and a very talented writer, by the way) and finding out that the same had been done to her was key to my recovery. Therapy, anti-depressants, and supportive and loving friends all played a role, but the turning point for me was hearing other women's stories, and seeing how similar they were to mine. That was the game-changer for me as I fought to pull myself out of PTSD and panic attacks and the sick brain our abuser left me with.
If you're in the throes of a relationship that is confusing you, making you feel unappreciated or accused of things you didn't do or controlled or sick to your stomach, my advice is GET OUT. To quote one of my abuser's other exes: RUN FOR THE HILLS.
If you feel like the term "soul rape" applies to your feelings, find a therapist with experience treating victims of narcissists (Narcissistic Victim Syndrome is a new addition to the DSM-V and something your mental health professional should know about--if not, find another therapist.)
READ THIS STUFF:
Nine Ways to Break Up and Not Be Friends (supposed to be humor but all examples of gaslighting)
Nine Ways to be Accountable When You've Been Abusive. (I never expect that our abuser will hold himself accountable, but this is a well-written piece on where to start if you do want to take responsibility for causing great harm in the lives of others when that harm has been brought to your attention.)
Simultaneous Wounding & Complex PTSD (how narcissists poke your wounds and tender spots while creating new ones).
"On Gaslighting" (another great piece on gaslighting, the topic that never stops!)
The writing of Nora Samaran is smart and healing. My favorite piece by Nora is this one, which argues that emotional abuse is also physical abuse, as emotional abuse has a physiological response that alters bodily systems.
REMEMBER: YOU DID NOTHING WRONG.
IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT.
YOU'RE NOT INSECURE OR MANIPULATIVE OR JEALOUS OR CRAZY.
YOU ARE NOT THE BROKEN ONE.