Gaslighting and spite

Hi, I haven’t written for a long time, I guess as I’ve been recovering after splitting up from my narcissistic, passive aggressive ex.  It was a long, long relationship, which has taken me a long time to get my head around.  I just couldn’t see what he was doing- but i could feel it.  A colleague recently asked me whether I was looking for another relationship?  And also what has caused me to end my marriage after such a long time.  I’m typing, so you can’t sense my fingers trembling and the butterflies in my stomach, just because I started talking about him. I hate it that it all comes back; I suppose a flashback or PTSD reaction.  And he’s dead now so I really don’t have anything to fear from him (unlike before, when I was quite sure he’d run me off the road given the opportunity).

I struggled to explain to her what had led me to my final decision.My difficulty is that it wasn’t any one big event, not an affair or physical violence, but a million small, hurtful ones.  People can easily understand a big problem.  Neither was it a difference in values or ‘what we wanted in life’.  No, it wasn’t civilised nor adult and certainly not reasonable.

My difficulty in  explaining is that he appeared to wage a war of attrition, using as weapons hundreds of tiny hurtful events.  If I try to explain to people, each of those actions of his sound too trivial and insignificant to bother with, just mere irritations.  And I guess they were.  Again and again and again…..so, maybe we just couldn’t get on?  Just couldn’t see eye to eye, so not really anyone to blame?  After all, relationships do involve compromise and some adaptation to the other, and human beings aren’t perfectly behaved. But no, I don’t believe this was the case.  For a long time I tried really hard to see it like that, to accept my part in the dynamic.

So what is the explanation?  He was emotionally abusive. There,  I’ve said it.  Where are my scars or the evidence?  I have little evidence and the scars are only internal (oh and financial!), including my hypervigilant amygdalla.

So what am I saying?  I’m aware I’m rambling anxiously and feeling tearful (always a sign for me).  How can I justify it and should I accept some blame?  I’m certainly not perfect myself, was my bad temper also abusive?

So bear with me if you choose to, through a million (give or take) small hurtful issues that I am calling ABUSE.  Rightly or wrongly.  I’m probably repeating myself from previous blogs too, which illustrates that it’s all come up again.

For four years in a row, he offered kindly to take me out for my birthday (without me suggesting any celebration at all).  Various different scenarios but he always ended up working very late and keeping me hanging.  Well, these things happen, we’re grown-ups, right?  He generally got caught up late only 3-4 times a YEAR, it was very unusual just always on my birthday.  In fact, on any occasion important to me he would generally only turn up at the very last minute without time to wash and change.  He wouldn’t miss anything of course, because then other people would notice…

One year (only) he bought his father an Easter card and egg but ‘forgot’ me because, he said, he intended to go to the specialist chocolate shop for a special one.

He was always extremely polite and pleasant always and avoided confrontation.  Nice, eh? People would envy that.  He never asked me how I was or how my day went, was disinterested in my wellbeing and somehow never spent time with me.  I was alone.  When we had blizzards or floods, he was indifferent (unlike all of my colleagues’ husbands) as to how I would get home safely.  It was impossible to discuss anything with him that had any depth or meaning in our lives although we could have trivial conversations and could get on well on holiday.  He fobbed me off with ‘I’ll need to think about it’ but there was never, ever a decision except occasionally to just say ‘no’ to my suggestions without any alternative being given.  He was cold and unaffectionate unless he wanted sex and slept with his back to me in bed. He was however, warm and loving towards  his parents and eager to help them with their household chores.  I found out after we separated that he had always told them that I was horrible and controlling him (I wish!) and that he was extremely unhappy throughout the entire marriage.

However, he fought tooth and nail against any decisions I made unilaterally, despite the fact that that was the only choice I had.  He was unco-operative, ignored any plans and resented any attempts to budget or keep within our income.  I pointed out that we couldn’t afford to continually buy wine but it appeared relentlessly in our shopping  trolley.  And cigars.  This was apparently not his responsibility, it was my duty to keep the money straight without any control over his spending.  if I objected, he simply said I needed to spend less on the children (and trust me, I didn’t have much to spend on them). He also, as I discovered after our divorce, doing extra ‘private’ cash in hand calls and keeping the money back for himself.  That was not our arrangement and every penny of my salary went into the joint pot until  I separated my finances from his. I paid every bill and arranged every single bit of paperwork.  Once, he was supposed to look after his father’s bills whilst he was away and wrote cheques from our joint account.  I only knew when all of our own bills bounced and we received half a dozen letters from the bank!  I guess a spiteful revenge for something but he merely pretended to be ‘confused’ about the issue.

Oh, I refused to do his work accounts on the basis that I was already doing everything around the house and garden and our finances on top of a full time job.  He was working as little as he could get away with, 2-3 hours per day.  He seethed whilst he had to do his own accounts, that’s probably it.

He was, I felt, disrespectful, for example coming to bed in his dirty work clothes.  I objected and he agreed, in couple’s counselling (i.e. visible to others) but would then still wear them to bed whilst reading and sigh heavily, saying he’ll take them off to go to sleep!  Other peoples’ toilet germs were on those clothes!  I commented once that our kitchen sink (cream coloured) was beginning to age and we’d need to be careful about staining it – not a criticism, in fact I’d left some recycling in there leaving a stain that had needed to be bleached out- the next day, he decided to cook dinner (he never cooked) and left the sink splattered with tinned tomatoes. I daren’t discuss any difficulties with him as I was simply telling him how to get to me.

Oh, meals!  He wanted to eat very late and, when I suggested eating earlier with the children on weekdays, he didn’t object but just never turned up from work in time although strangely was always home early when he wanted to go fishing.  I discovered, when he was working only a couple of hours a day and I suggested he put the dinner on, that he was arranging calls for 4pm to ‘look busy’ and avoid the work.  If he had any responsibility given to look after the children, he ‘forgot’ to collect them from school or left them unattended in the house whilst he pottered in the garage – although he said he’d only been a minute, I didn’t believe him but how could I prove it? He said I was paranoid.

He lied and lied.  It was difficult to challenge as firstly, I don’t tend to lie much and assume others don’t, so I can be a bit gullible. And if challenged, he simply laid further levels of lies on top so he rarely got caught out.

He had ‘depressions’ which went on for weeks when he didn’t get his own way, I struggled with this as he seemed really, really sad at times and I felt I ought to support him but wised up eventually when he miraculously bounced back when asked to go fishing and when I eventually suggested I couldn’t do any more and it would be healthier to separate.  Boom! depression gone. I didn’t fall for that again but I think this just angered him more- not that anyone would know he was angry.

He ‘forgot’ to pass on telephone messages from my friends, despite the fact that we all took messages all day for him when he went self-employed and there was a pad beside the phone. My friends were often hurt that I hadn’t returned their calls as he had certainly taken a message (he said). It seemed more likely to them that I had forgotten rather than that he was being malicious, after all!  Eventually I threatened that I would refuse to take his business messages the next time I heard from a friend that I missed a message.  He stopped doing that but I’m sure he got me back somehow… I was always watching my back.

On weekday mornings he stayed in bed until after I had gone to work but on weekends he leapt out of bed at 7am and threw the curtains open whilst I was fast asleep ‘Oh, sorreee, where you asleep? I thought you were awake…’

My favourite TV programme didn’t record for some unknown reason although I’d watched the light come on before I went out.  My possessions we accidentally broken, disappeared or treated casually, such as chucking his keys onto my new laptop- he was a very tidy person and always hung them on the hook usually.  It was an ‘oversight’ – why on Earth would he do that on purpose?  My clothes were stretched on the line or washed mixed in with deep colours when he’d ‘kindly’ offered to help out.  He was indignant, he’d tried to be ‘helpful’ and I was always having a go at him.

Phew!  Thank you for listening.  I feel better!   I think the answer, when someone next asks, is simply that he was abusive.  I can’t prove it!  No visible bruises. And maybe I was delusional or paranoid. But it didn’t feel like that.  This was my reality.

 

 

 

 

20 thoughts on “Gaslighting and spite

  1. Yuck. And I mean that from the part of heart that despises this kind of thing in a big way. I’m not going to get into it much here but I’ll support you in that this is one of the most lingering abuses, because it’s so contrived, purposeful, weak and controlling. Honestly. And it is hard to explain or “prove” when it’s happened. Just makes you sound crazy…and they know that too 😶

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  2. I relate, but get this, I did at some point have visible bruises and call the police and he put on the “charm” and convinced a room full of cops that I was delusional and that what they were seeing in the pictures could hardly be called bruises. We simply both had a “scuffle”. And according to him anyway, they all laughed at my expense. I wouldn’t be surprised. He could talk his way out of a police raid while holding a machine gun aimed at them.

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    • That is a horrible thing to happen, not only being abused but being invalidated too. I don’t have words! I think it’s common that the calm, ‘charming’ man comes across as more reasonable than the distressed, ‘hysterical’ woman but I would hope that professionals would see through that.

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  3. PS, I relate as I’m still struggling. It comes in rounds. Mine is still alive and once in a while he pops himself into my life in some way, at least he attempts to but I don’t allow him. But then I have a full week of nightmares. The brain is a CRAZY thing when it’s stuck in PTSD. I’m going to seek counseling and also I saw on Dr. Phil that there is a way to set your brain back through the 5 senses.

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    • Thank you. I think it’s gone and then it comes back! Although I’m much more self-aware and conscious that these feelings are from the past and not current. I LOVE Dr Phil, he’s my Guru! I’ll have a look, thanks. I find ranting in my journal helpful too.

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  4. Reading this post of yours was another reminder of how similar these men are. I am still with mine due to having minor children at home and my health throwing up obstacles in fighting for and winning custody. It’s not too many more years, but I sure hope I can make it.

    I wish I could just highlight and underline the many, many places what you have written could be applied to the situation in my home, too. I know what it is that makes you remark at the end that maybe you were delusional or paranoid. I have been there. I am still there many days. It is not you. It is not me. We are not perfect, I am sure, but they are crazy making and that is what you feel. I just wish this were somehow illegal. How can they do something so devilish, so destructive, so soul-murdering year after year and get away with it? I’ve just been through weeks of almost daily wrangling over financial things (he added financial abuse to his repertoire a few years ago) and I am exhausted, breathless, weak, on the couch. He is almost energized and out and about socializing left and right and having a good time. Today I feel so drained – vampirically drained – I am going to have to make dinner in stages while resting in between.

    I can’t resist pulling out some quotes from what you wrote and adding my “same here” to your voice:

    “…narcissistic, passive aggressive ex”

    “I just couldn’t see what he was doing- but I could feel it.”

    “…the butterflies in my stomach, just because I started talking about him.”

    “…it wasn’t civilized nor adult and certainly not reasonable.”

    “…he appeared to wage a war of attrition…”

    You said, “For a long time I tried really hard to see it like that, to accept my part in the dynamic.” Me too. I didn’t have to try; it came naturally because of my religious upbringing. Mine is a religious abuser as well and I grew up with that so I was an easy target. This made the first two decades very easy for him as I totally took all the guilt. He was the hero, the martyr. I was the sinner, the horrible wife at home that the saint tolerated. I finally saw the light after almost two decades and that really made the abuse come to the surface. When I started pushing back and his old ways didn’t work in the same way they had for so long, he had to move to techniques that weren’t as smooth and polished for him and the children started seeing who he really was beyond a shadow of a doubt – though they even picked up on the subtler things long before I allowed myself to consciously admit them.

    “I have little evidence and the scars are only internal (oh and financial!), including my hyper vigilant amygdala.” Yep. My nervous system, my cells, the financial mess since he started abusing in high-gear in that department, and oh that hyper-vigilant amygdala. I feel so sorry for mine. It must just be fried. I can really relate to you here and I am sorry for your suffering. Since he drained our accounts and put our money in his name and I have to justify all the money I get that should be in our joint account, I am so easily triggered whenever I can’t find something. He also occasionally just takes something that he shouldn’t – something that is mine or here for the family’s use – he will just take it and it disappears. Between those two things – taking the money and taking things – now whenever I can’t find an important paper or some cash I had or any item really, my first gut reaction, which happens in a split second, is Did he take it? What else is he going to disappear with? How will I get it back? What will I do? I am in a sudden panic whether it is significant or insignificant – then I look harder and if I find it – I feel stupid and defunct and even guilty for thinking that about him. But he is the kind of person who would do it and has done similar and worse things. It is so messed up.

    “He was always extremely polite and pleasant always and avoided confrontation.” Same here. He loves to say, have a nice day – even if we are completely estranged. It’s so weird. He loves to call other men, “sir.” How are you doing, sir? What can I do for you, sir? How can I help, sir?

    “He never asked me how I was or how my day went, was disinterested in my wellbeing and somehow never spent time with me. I was alone.” More alone than if I were not married at all.

    “It was impossible to discuss anything with him that had any depth or meaning in our lives although we could have trivial conversations and could get on well on holiday. He fobbed me off with ‘I’ll need to think about it’ but there was never, ever a decision except occasionally to just say ‘no’ to my suggestions without any alternative being given.” Oh, wow, yes. Small talk. The weather. Politics. Updates on goings-on in the lives of people we knew. Anything of substance would get me “I’ll pray about that. I’ll ponder that.” I knew this meant the conversation was done and it wouldn’t be dealt with or come up again. If a decision absolutely had to be made and couldn’t be avoided any longer, I ended up having to technically make it while discussing it with him. Then in later arguments or verbal fights, those decisions I made were evidence that I was controlling, not submitting to his rightful authority.

    “He was cold and unaffectionate unless he wanted sex and slept with his back to me in bed.” I would fight back tears during sex and try to seem happy and into it, he would pleased and satisfied and then roll over right away after and go right to sleep, and then I could lie there and cry silently. Any attempts on my part to make the sexual relationship emotionally intimate or loving instead of mechanical were completely lost on him.

    “However, he fought tooth and nail against any decisions I made unilaterally, despite the fact that that was the only choice I had.” He uses that word – accuses me of making all kinds of unilateral decisions, behaving with autonomy – which is completely offensive to him. All the while, he makes unilateral decisions, he lives his life with the autonomy and independence of a bachelor. There are two sets of rules – those for him and those for me. When I push for a greater voice in a decision like what auto mechanic works on our family car, I’m “power-tripping” or “arrogant,” exhibiting “pride” as his expertise in the mechanical area is so far beyond mine that I shouldn’t think I have any right to push into this choice.

    “…it was my duty to keep the money straight without any control over his spending.” We had equal access to our family money, which he does earn, as I have been a stay-at-home mom, sometimes homeschooling off and on throughout the years, with a health situation that leaves me disabled. He wanted me to stay home with the kids. He had wanted me to homeschool in the past. When not homeschooling, we have had our kids in an expensive Christian school and I could not keep us out of debt. I just knew that once the kids were out of school, given his income, we would get out of debt and be able to build up savings pretty quickly. It was just a matter of patience if we wanted to be able to send them there. As I said, we both had equal access. He spent freely. I said very little to nothing about his expenditures until that last year and a half before he took the money. I had always paid all the bills. He showed no interest in knowing our financial condition. When I tried to talk to him about it, his eyes would go blank, maybe even glaze over, and he would tell me – don’t buy this food item at that store, buy it at this one where it is cheaper, all the while not dealing with other issues. So, I didn’t bring it up much. Then, suddenly, a few years ago, out of nowhere, he took all our family money and put it in his name and closed out our credit cards – one of which I had from many years ago while I was still employed. It was my card, that I had added him to, and he just closed it. He changed the address on accounts and had them start sending things to his office. He did this suddenly and announced to me and the children that he was taking over and would now be in charge of every purchase made. (He did have to soften this and I am allowed to go shopping, but he approves or disapproves the expenses). The debt was all my fault. I can’t be trusted. Because he drained the account, he bounced checks I had written that had not cleared. I had not bounced a single check our whole married life and now the money was not there for them to clear. I deserved this according to him. Since then, when bills have not been paid by him on time, sometimes even getting to the point of warning letters, he acts confused. They made a mistake. He will contact them and fix their mistake.

    “I daren’t discuss any difficulties with him as I was simply telling him how to get to me.” Oh, yeah. I have to go around and around in my mind what to bring up and not bring up. I have to think through the information I give him, what he does with that kind of information, how it could be used against me later. It is exhausting, but when I don’t do this, I pay for it as he does do just that very thing and punishes me with things I have said and vulnerabilities I have revealed.

    He would ask me if I needed anything from the grocery store, then would “forget” the item on the list that he did not approve of.

    He would cook for me on occasion – like Mother’s Day breakfast in bed – and then add some strange spice that would absolutely ruin it so I couldn’t enjoy it.

    “He lied and lied. It was difficult to challenge as firstly, I don’t tend to lie much and assume others don’t, so I can be a bit gullible. And if challenged, he simply laid further levels of lies on top so he rarely got caught out.” Yes. Honesty is everything to me, and I married a liar. He professes to be a Christian and has from the start, so I also just assumed, Christians don’t lie, so he won’t lie. Boy, was I wrong about him. I do not lie at all if I can help it. Backed into a corner when someone asks me if I like a gift that I don’t, I will even try to say something that is not a lie. He lies like he breathes. Even when caught, he hardly admits it; he usually goes silent and stares. Once when I kept pushing back and he was caught in a big lie with no escape, he sneered at me and said, well, it was none of your business in the first place.

    ” My possessions we accidentally broken, disappeared or treated casually, such as chucking his keys onto my new laptop- he was a very tidy person and always hung them on the hook usually. It was an ‘oversight’ – why on Earth would he do that on purpose?” Mine would use something of mine or the kids and return it broken. My old-fashioned radio (one of those things that was just more mine than his), which I freely loaned to him to listen to a sporting event, returned without the back battery cover, which I noticed too late to ask him to find. My son’s tool, returned in unusable condition, broken in a way that literally could not have been an accident (and my son knows it, too).

    Yet, he wants to get along. He wants to have nice, pleasant conversations when he is in the mood and has time or is bored. He wants to play family board games and do family things and go to movies. He goes to church. He goes to prayer group. He goes to Bible study. He helps anyone who needs the kind of help he can give any time they need it. He is servant to neighbors, church members, co-workers. You name it. He is such a nice guy. Of course, they have never heard him tell me to shut my mouth. They wouldn’t probably believe it if I told them. Sometimes, I can hardly believe it. It must be my fault that someone so polished at being so nice could be driven to be so mean. He doesn’t have a problem with anyone in this whole world but me and now the kids because of me. I have turned them against him, according to him. Everything is my fault.

    Yet…there is no love. He does not love me. I do not believe he ever did. He does not like me. He almost never used my name. He never wanted to spend time alone with me – a family or social event, yes – but not relationship with me. Yet expectations of a wife were to be met. I was a scapegoat from the start. I was punished in little ways and big ways – psychologically, spiritually, emotionally – from the start. Anything that seemed off that I confronted was met with obfuscation. This is ABUSE. You were abused. I was abused. And I am still in it. I am very glad you are not. I so hope you can heal.

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  5. Pingback: ACoAs – Dealing with Disputes (Part 1) | HEAL & GROW for ACoAs

  6. I recently was befriended by a woman I admire. One day when I was in her place of business, she came up to me and asked me if I was a writer. I told her yes. She proceeded to tell me about her 27 year marriage which was full of abuse, mostly mental abuse. She said she saw the signs way before marrying him and yet she married him anyway, thinking he might change. He didn’t. In fact, they have 2 boys together. A few months ago, he came to her and told her he was going to divorce her. She said it devastated her but she realizes she wishes she had done it first. He was also passive aggressive. I can see her wounds, as I can see yours. She always has tears in her eyes. She wants to write about her pain in hopes it will help other women who are going through the same thing. She is stumped though from the pain in her heart. He always made her feel like she wasn’t good enough and so her confidence to write her story is not quite there yet. It’s hard to bounce back when we have been abused for so long, but from my own experience, I know you and her can and will come back 10 x’s stronger than you ever were before. Continue going to therapy and continue writing. Continue talking about it with your close friends because eventually the day will come when you realize you have survived probably one of the hardest things you’ve had to endure. Take time to heal, men can smell vulnerability a mile away and they will prey on it. If you are religious, find solace in your church or God, reach out to a best girlfriend who will show empathy and compassion or just a friendly ear to listen. Surround yourself with good people and drop those who want to criticize because that will only set you back. And treat your mind like a bad neighborhood, never go in there alone.

    Narcissist’s will always tell you it’s all your fault, that it couldn’t possibly be theirs. They are the most dangerous people. But trust me when I tell you, they will always get it in the end. They will not come out smelling like a rose, because their act can only be carried out for so long before others start seeing the real him. If you have a daughter, it may be a good idea to sit down with her and talk to her about the tell tale signs of how your husband treated you so she can avoid men like him or be able to spot them if she happens to date one. And if you have sons, educate them on the ways of your ex husband so they don’t become like him. Good luck and I look forward to reading about your progress!

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    • Oh thank you, how kind of you to spend the time to offer support and such good advice. We split in 2011, divorced 2013 and I am healing slowly. Of course, as usual I’m also relearning my lessons from childhood about being worthless

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  7. Hurt needs fresh air to heal and I a glad you have this safe space to let it out. I have been there too and it takes time for the layers of hurt, disappointment and trauma to release. You are doing great. Wrapping you in soft hugs. xXx ❤

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  8. I’m rereading this post. There is a line in here that I like where you say “I tried to find my part in the dynamic”. I’m now coming to a point where I’m trying to be okay with not having a part in the dynamic. My children won’t let me. They say mom you are at just as much fault as dad. I try to explain to them that I’m not. That he was mentally torturing me even though they didn’t hear or see some of the conversations. That all of the little “jokes” he made at my expense were just alcohol poured on cuts that already existed. It’s hurtful when you children think you were the problem.

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    • It is very hurtful. I apologised for my part in not setting better boundaries for him. My suggestion is to say to them ‘we’ll have to agree to differ’ or ‘that’s not my perspective’ and try to let it go. I think the injustice and invalidation is the hardest part! Unfortunately, without me being a buffer, my daughters came directly in contact with his incredibly selfish behaviour and soon learned for themselves. Unfair as your situation is, I hope your children do not have that experience too- but I doubt it. My thoughts are with you Cx

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  9. Thanks, sadly my children are very much like their father. VERY much. I feel so sorry for their future wives. I’m fighting with them over it but it’s like fighting with him again. I will never leave another woman to live this so whoever they marry, I’ve got her back.

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  10. Oh yes, there are SO MANY of us who dealt with narcissistic partners, spouses, or friends. My EX and I were married 39 years, and the hurtful mental abuse escalated, all disguised from the outside world. Finally his disgusting affairs were discovered and I couldn’t take it anymore. Of course, he blamed me. And yes, I feared for my safety afterwards, but now 8 years later, I’m free and happy and will never let anyone treat me like dirt. He can treat her like that now. It made me stronger and happier with myself. YOU will survive and you will get stronger and you will be happy because YOU deserve it. Sending hugs.

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