Several years ago, I was living a somewhat normal life. I had a ‘vanilla’ girlfriend, T, who knew nothing of my dark side and for the most part, I didn’t give that side of myself much attention.
But soon, I would find myself getting deeper and deeper into an abusive relationship. It begins, and progresses so subtly. The abuser slowly changes your perception of reality, shifting your boundaries of normal behavior. Its only after you come out of it that you realize how much that person had altered your perception of reality.
The abuse was mostly emotional, but sometimes physical. I didn’t know what ‘gaslighting’ was at the time, but now I do, and there was plenty of it. She could get me to doubt my own eyes and ears, and ultimately, my own sanity. She could take me to a place where I would hurt myself and she didn’t have to. She would break me down, convince me that I was a bad person, and I would be weeping and hitting myself in the head as she watched.
Since then, I have learned that she is a textbook narcissist. T is superficially charming, and was able to get my family and friends on ‘her side’ if needed. She was a master of emotional manipulation. She would threaten to kill herself over seemingly minor disagreements. Obviously, I took this very seriously, at first. Then it began happening a lot, and she would sometimes recover very quickly and say that of course she would never kill herself. It became clear over time that this was just another tactic she used.
She craved conflict, and since I am a very non-confrontational person, she had to go out of her way to create it, which may have legitimately angered her! We would go through periods where we would be seemingly normal and happy, but then things would change. I walked on eggshells around her, but the tension would build until she finally blew up, and then all focus would be on her and the chaos she created. I often just tried to hold on until the storm passed.
The end came one day during a particularly terrible storm. The tension had been building, and I made some off-hand remark that gave her an opportunity to create an argument based on an improbably interpretation of what I might have meant. She screamed at me, berating me, I calmly asked her to leave my house but she either wouldn’t, or a few times she left, only to turn around and come back into the house to tell me ‘another thing’ that she hated about me.
Finally, as I was sitting in a chair crying, with her standing over me yelling at me, she got quiet. She wound up her arm and the next thing I felt was the heal of her hand hitting me in the temple. Then she said "I’m going to kill myself now" and stormed off. As I was sitting there trying to make sense of what was happening, I heard her close the bathroom door, lock it, and then I heard a pill bottle rattling.
If I had been thinking clearly, I would have remembered that all I had in the medicine cabinet was aspirin. But I wasn’t thinking clearly. She was going to kill herself, and I had to try to save her. I kicked open the door–so far the only time in my life I’ve had to try that–and saw her standing by the sink with the closed aspirin bottle, somewhat stunned that I had kicked the door open on her. When I saw the bottle and realized this was just another hoax, I told her that I couldn’t continue with the relationship, and she had to leave. The storm passed and her spell over me was finally broken.
For a while after that, T kept close tabs on me by email, text, social media, etc. She would get angry if I didn’t respond quickly enough. I wasn’t sleeping much, trying to sort out all of my emotions, and I told her that I was dealing with a personal issue (I didn’t say it was her) and may not be able to be in much contact with her until I resolved it. That did it. She must have guessed it was about her, or there was some other reason, but she blew up again, this time from a distance. For the next four days, I received dozens of texts, and several very long email messages a day, berating me, telling me what a terrible person I was and how I ruined her life. She threatened to kill herself in a Facebook post, and as she was Facebook friends with my sister, my sister saw this and was alarmed. I tried my best to ignore all of it. But finally, as she was running out of steam, I did respond to her and asked why it was that when I said I was going through a very tough personal time, she had to make it all about her?
I now understand that I was trying to discover a logical explanation for illogical behavior. Logic didn’t matter to her when she wanted to create conflict, and creating illogic itself created conflict. She would say something in one breath, then deny she said it in the next. She and I were operating under a very different set of rules. I never had a chance against her.
She wasn’t the first narcissist I have encountered. She wasn’t the first to emotionally manipulate and abuse me. She wasn’t the first woman who thought she had the right to hit me when she was angry. Looking back, my first encounters with gaslighting were with my mother. Then there were girlfriends, and an ex-wife who was quite good at these tactics. I see now that over time, I have been with ever increasingly abusive women, culminating in T, my last long term girlfriend described above.
Once I realized this pattern, and that it was growing strength over time, I had to face the fact that I both attracted these women with my behavior, and I also sought them out. Every abusive relationship shifted my belief of what is acceptable in a relationship just enough for the next woman to pick up where the previous one left off, and then move me further still. And although I had always had submissive sexual fantasies, in all of my abusive relationships, I kept that secret hidden. And, I didn’t understand the relationship between my submissiveness and the abuse, an insight that may have helped me.
Maybe if I had started those relationships with a different understanding, that we would have an unequal relationship in which the abuse would still happen, but we would both be satisfying our separate needs? I don’t claim to fully understand these things still, although I am learning. Starting an FLR, in which abuse is already on the table, might work. That is what I am trying to find out.
I need the abuse now. I have probably always needed it on some level. I know I will find it, and it will find me. I have been trained and over time, I have become better, more capable of enduring abuse. I want more, even if it kills me.
I have tried to live alone with these feelings, to protect myself from myself. But this need is so strong. For whatever reason, I need a strong woman in my life controlling me, and I am obsessed with finding her.
As for T, I try to have compassion for her. She had an abusive childhood herself and she became a sick person as a result. She must be constantly unhappy and unable to have meaningful relationships. That must be worse than the abuse she perpetrated. Does she abuse people to try to make them feel as bad as she does?
In the end, neither of us were very aware or honest about what we needed in the relationship.