Not a Casserole Widow™: The Beating.
Updated: Oct 30, 2021
“I hit myself. I was so distraught and confused that I slammed my fist into my own thigh.
The first punch didn’t stop the pain in my heart, so I hit my thigh again, harder, and began to feel a bit of relief. I did it again and again. Alternating thighs.
That was a pain I understood. One side of me was afraid I would cause permanent damage to my thighs, but I didn’t stop. And the other side of me had no idea why I felt this was the only way I could expel the emotions surging through me.
I’m not sure I could have enunciated the connection at the time- I just knew there was an unexplained darkness in me. What was wrong with me?
The next morning, I looked at the bruises beginning to develop on my thighs. You could actually see images of knuckles on my thighs.
This was year 1 of the 18 years of my marriage. I learned quickly that I was the one who was crazy, who couldn’t communicate, and who didn’t appreciate all the blessings he brought me.
What was wrong with me?
It was weird. You know, I had never, ever had trouble talking to anyone before I met him. I was even voted 'Most Likely to Succeed' in high school.”
She looked at me. “Do you think I’m mental? I mean, this is weird, right?”
I sighed. Some days my heart aches more than others for my clients.
I responded, “Did you ever hit yourself before or since you left the marriage?”
Realization flashed in her eyes. “No. Never. I don’t even recognize that woman. She was like a caged animal.”
I give her a thumbs up. "That is a perfect analogy. You know something is wrong, but you just can't put your finger on it. I'm not going to diagnose your x, but have you looked at Covert Narcissistic abuse? It is kind of like a vampire silently sucking the life out of you. You know you are getting weaker but you have no idea why."
She actually looks relieved. "Exactly. Tell me more!"
(I could go into a long discussion about whether we as a society overuse the phrase “narcissist” thus undermining the severity of the abuse for those actually in a narcissistic relationship, but I will save that for another blog.)
I explain the basic three phases.
1. The first phase is love-bombing.
You feel like you have met your soul mate. You can’t believe how many things you have in common with the narcissist because they are so very talented at mimicking their victims. You receive gifts, trips, calls- he is entirely focused on you. He’s a brilliant listener. You wonder if you have just met the dream guy. This phase typically lasts from 6 months to a year.
2. The second phase is the devaluation phase.
This is a little trickier- he uses small criticisms covered in sugar to throw you off. “You don’t really want to eat there, do you?” “I can’t believe you would think that about me.” “Why don’t you want to be with me instead of your friends? Marriage should be about us first.” You end up questioning your own motivation. But, right about the time you think you are a total loser, he brings you flowers, offers you a trip, or gives you love notes. This reminds you of the months of love bombing in which he told you how special you were. Your body experiences the feelings it initially had in the beginning of the relationship.
Your choice is to believe either: he is a really mean guy or a nice guy who is having a bad day. Most choose the latter. The intentional blend of love bombing mixed with devaluation keeps the victim completely confused and in a fog. This phase can go on for years.
3. The final phase is the discard.
Sometimes you see it coming and sometimes it is unpredictable. When the victim begins to notice she is not the person she used to be and starts to take her life back, the narcissist realizes she no longer supplies him with the gas he needs to survive. This is the phase in which the mask is removed from the narcissist, and he openly expresses hate and disdain towards his victim. The victim now sees a different entity instead of the original "person" in the initial love bombing stage. However, this stage can be confusing too. The narcissist will flippantly intermingle love bombing and devaluation during the discard.
While the typical, sensible solution is to completely go "no contact" with the narcissist, most victims cannot because they may have children or joint property with the narcissist.
My client and I process this for a while in our session. She recalls conversations and experiences in which she always thought she was insensitive or lacked communication skills. She begins to explore her life, before her marriage, to see who she really is. What makes up her core?
For me, personally, this story caused me to pause this week. I allowed myself to reminisce about some memorable events in my youth. What was my core? Who was I?
I was the kid in 3rd grade who kicked boys in the shins because I thought I was supposed to torment them. (I’m not proud of this one!)
I was the kid in 3rd grade who skipped recess one day to hug a friend who failed 3rd grade when the teacher refused to console her.
I was the kid in 5th grade who slapped a girl for berating her sister. I’m sure the slap didn’t hurt, and I have never hit anyone since. But she was wrong.
I was the kid in 7th grade who, while evaluating where I stood with my peers, ignored a girl wanting to sit next to me on a church trip. My mother (one of the chaperones) saw my horrible behavior and gently told me I was behaving abominably. I recognized it and we spent the rest of our high school years being close friends.
I was the kid in 9th grade who tried out for cheerleading, made the JV team, enjoyed the socially “elite” status but quit when I couldn’t relate to the other girls on the team.
I was the kid in 9th grade who also drank herself into a stupor and got placed into a “Just Say No” group with her best friend. Yes, I kind of said “no” after that.
I was the kid in 10th grade who hung out at McDonald’s with my girlfriends smoking and drinking coffee in the morning before school (sorry, Mom).
I was the kid in 10th grade who loved being with the artsy fartsy kids exploring poetry and the dark depths of my soul.
I was the kid in 11th grade who hung out with my buddy who had a 1970’s van and a keg in the back, talked about politics, and tried to understand the universe.
I was the kid in student council, who managed the boys’ varsity soccer team, who managed the boys' varsity tennis team (I’m not stupid!) and acted on the Shakespeare English team.
I was the kid voted "Friendliest" in high school.
And then, I lost me.
I listened to what the world thought I should do. College, marriage, marriage, marriage, family. (well- probably not so many marriages but you get the picture.)
And now, at 52, I am looking at me. Who am I? What is my core? And I know.
I’m a tenacious, vibrant, eloquent, humble, driven survivor. I can stay up all night talking about what leads people to do what they do. I love watching psychological thrillers. I love dancing to 80's music and I crank Pat Benatar when I'm alone. I have seasons when I know I can't talk to anyone because I'm flat on the floor of my closet sobbing, asking God to have mercy on my pain.
I am not ok with women’s identities being removed from them-
Whether it is a partner who has an addict for a husband, or
it is a partner who has an abuser actively destroying her.
I just can’t stand it.
This is part of my core. And I won't allow it to be stolen.
I want women to be enthusiastic about who they are.
What is hiding in your core?
"Connect to your core, and you'll find strength. Act from your core, and you'll move mountains."
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Kim Hansen, MA-Counseling, BCC, CPC- APSATS