You may think your ex is crazy. I got one better.
I first noticed something was amiss when I didn’t answer his text right away. I heard the “ding,” but that day, I didn’t leap to the phone as usual.
He’d swept me off my feet for sure. He was charming, gracious, and funny; he endlessly complimented me and called me a goddess. He showered me with gifts and praise. Having been a kinda ugly girl growing up, and not a materialistic one, I was both unused to and uncomfortable with the attention, but also entranced by it.
Could someone really find me so special? To love me so easily and readily?
Hate to burst your bubble, but love at first sight doesn’t exist. It’s called infatuation, and engineering it is a common technique of psychopathic abusers.
The honeymoon had faded a bit. He was a bit too much, too in my face, too entitled to my attention. I could sense the rage summering under the surface, the face of an angry man just behind his super-chill dude/lover-not-a-fighter mask. I ignored the ding.
They draw you in with big promises and excessive displays of affection to use your brain’s own endorphins against you. It’s called lovebombing, and it will make you feel super-duper in love and like you can’t live without the person.
I hadn’t even wanted a serious relationship, but something-something-love-finds-you-when-you-least-expect-it. And I did love him. I just needed a break.
But suddenly a flurry of dings came, and I had to check. The messages shocked me. “Where are you? Why don’t you answer?! Are you cheating on me! You fucking whore!”
Even though you feel this way, it slowly dawns on you that the reverse is not true. You feel such a strong new love for this person, who then dotes on you or disses you depending on their mood. They say things to you that you can’t fathom a loving person would say. And yet, their lovebombing is so strong, your brain attempts to resolve the cognitive dissonance. You wonder if you did something wrong. You want to be understanding, loving, and compassionate. Surely love means sticking it through, right?
I responded with what I thought were calming words, assuring words. But he decided they were words of denial, and continued calling me a slut and a whore. I put the phone away.
Hours later, the text came, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, please forgive me.”
Other people usually don’t witness the worst moments. They may see surface ripples of your relationship’s turmoil: you two snipping at each other in front of friends, him passive-aggressively hitting on your gal friend in front of you as she eyes you with discomfort. He knows full well what he’s doing. He just doesn’t care. Psychopaths lack or have low empathy, but they understand it in other people. It makes some psychopathic individuals seek out drama as a form of entertainment.
I took him back after listening to a long explanation of his traumatic past relationship and how scarred he was, that he was “scared how much he loved me,” that he was truly, deeply sorry.
You feel perpetual whiplash, like watching an ever-more-hellish tennis game, with him changing the position of the net every few seconds as the court becomes filled with gag-inducing smoke. Soon, you don’t know which way you’re supposed to look and you feel like you can’t breathe. It consumes your entire day, wondering and worrying what’s happening with him. If you’re with him, he’ll turn on a dime from loving and fun to hateful and terrifying. He’ll lie to you, spinning yarns about his travels out West, his old pets, the time he saw a friend die. When you bring up one of these things, he’ll give you a withering look like you’re an idiot and say, “I never said that. That never happened.”
If you try to cut him loose, he’ll show up at your door and make an enormous scene. He’ll find you when you’re out with friends and show up to mock you and rage at you, try to turn your friends against you, pull a gun on people around you. You try to defuse the situation by talking to him privately, and he says the cruelest things you’ll ever hear. He’s done enough digging in your life that he knows things you never told him. He’ll turn your shame into fodder for his sadistic rants about you. And he’ll make it public. He’ll make posts on his Facebook about how you’re on drugs, cheating on him, drunk out of your mind. You’re getting constant messages from mutual friends. The worst ones read, “He’s really having a hard time with this. Can you go easy on him?” He’ll send you messages threatening suicide; when you drive to his house to check on him, he’s got cameras going ready to collect evidence that you’re “stalking” him. Then he backpedals and says he is just having a hard time.
You simply can’t get him out of your life.
We spent the night together and it was amazing, totally mind-blowing. I felt like the text exchange was just a snag. A misunderstanding. I was a good and loving person. It would be stupid to throw away something magical over a misunderstanding.
Morning came. He turned to me and said he’d had a dream about my good male friend Jim, that his late father had told him to advise me to stay away from Jim. I was taken aback by his gall and unnerved by his apparent belief that his dead father spoke to him through dreams. I said I wasn’t going to dump my friend.
The rage came, harder than it ever had before. He towered over me in my bed, calling me a whore and a slut. I began to shake and cry, unable to process what was happening. “Oh now you’re going to fake being upset, huh? Try to make me out to be the bad guy, huh? Fucking stupid little girl,” he ranted.
“Get out,” I begged. “Please leave me alone.”
He didn’t. I don’t remember what all he did. I remember being shoved against the wall, his hot breath on my face, his hands menacingly hovering above me. I remember thinking that pure hatred was embodied in his voice, pouring out his eyes. I remember that he did not hit me, a fact he would lord over me later. As hitting was the criterion for abuse, he wasn’t abusing me, he said. Sadly, police agreed. Without physical evidence, I had no recourse.
He finally screamed “Fuck you! How dare you do this to me?!” and marched out my door. I leapt to my feet and frantically turned the bolt lock. Not two minutes later, he was pleading with me to let me back in. “I’m sorry,” he moaned. “I’m so sorry.”
As things get worse, you feel less and less able to escape. He’s brainwashed you in a sense, constantly whispering that it’s your fault, that if you just behave better, things could go back to the way they were. You still feel love for him, because the effects of lovebombing haven’t worn off. You feel betrayed by your brain. You can’t forget him because he’s inserted himself into every aspect of your life. He adopted your hobbies, your hangouts, your friends. He copied your existence, in a sense, and silently plants seeds of discontent among your circles. Suddenly, things aren’t the same anywhere. Every place, every face, seems unfamiliar. You sense that people in your life think differently about you. You feel nervous about leaving your house because you don’t want to see him, but you also know he’s watching your house. Small, strange gifts regularly appear at your doorstep.
You think about seeking a restraining order, but your lawyer warns you that in your state, restraining orders are in place only two weeks, and then you’re required to state your case, with the abuser present, in front of a single judge, to gain a permanent injunction. A single opinion can mean life or death. Literally. Your chance of being seriously injured or killed grows exponentially if the judge doesn’t grant the order and your abuser decides to retaliate.
The time finally comes when you feel you can make a move. You know it will be hard. You have to leave everything behind. You have to drop out of school, change jobs, change phone numbers, move to a new place, ignore your mutual friends, ignore your hangouts, forget your hobbies. You block him on all channels of communication and you make a promise to yourself to never contact him again.
He contacts you, though, through friends who continue to blow up your phone. They talk about you. Your reputation suffers. You get weird glances from acquaintances you run into at the grocery store. You sit at home and cry a lot. You can’t watch any movie or listen to any song that reminds you of him. You can’t begin to afford all the therapy you need, so you sit in silence a lot and wonder at the eternal questions:
What went wrong?
What did I do wrong?
Disclaimer 1: This piece is based on my experience, but my experience may not describe yours. Anyone can be an abuser or a victim. If you feel unhealthy or unsafe in your relationship, please call 1–800–799–7233 or visit the National Domestic Hotline website. Remember that escaping is not only difficult but dangerous, often leading to retaliation. Make a thorough plan of action with someone you trust completely before attempting it.
Disclaimer 2: Not all psychopaths are violent or abusive; however, many abusers have narcissistic, sociopathic, or psychopathic tendencies. Such cases of abuse are called psychopathic or narcissistic abuse, and can occur in any type of relationship. Understanding the nature of these disorders can help many victims unlearn the self-blame and codependency inflicted by the abuser.
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