Tuesday, 30 August 2011
When I first discovered the extent of my soul mate’s betrayals, I honestly thought that I would die from the pain. It was excruciating. Not just emotional, but physical as well – I’m quite sure that I actually felt and heard the sinews snapping as my heart ripped in two. The days were horrific and the nights were torturous – nightmares haunted my sleep, and when I awoke I found myself still caught in the murderous grip of a ghastly and terrifying dream. But there was no escape. For this was no dream. It was my reality. And, like it or not, I had to deal with it.
Why Had This Happened To Me?
No matter where I went, no matter what I did, no matter who I talked with, I could not get away from the daily torture that had suddenly become my reality. I admit that there were times when the pain was so bad that I actually considered the alternative to living. I have never been so desperate – and I have never felt so alone. And the worst part of it was that nobody seemed to understand what had happened – least of all me. I had given everything to my husband, and I loved him with all of my heart, all of my soul, and with every nerve cell and fiber of my being. Where had I gone so wrong? Why did the man I loved treat me so badly? How could I have been so blind?
The questions ran round and round my head – taunting me, poking at my wounds and eating away at my confidence. Yes, I judged myself over and over again, much more harshly than even the meanest jury – and it hurt. It hurt like hell. People would tell me with the best of intentions that things go wrong in even the best marriages. They assured me that I would eventually pull through. They promised that I would heal and they even dared to venture that one day I would find love again. But I couldn’t hear them – I wouldn’t hear them. I convinced myself that mine was no ordinary marriage. I told myself that I had been lucky enough to find true love – and stupid enough to ruin it. That my husband was one in a million. That I’d never ever feel so safe and so loved ever again. Oh yes, my mind did a really good job on me in the beginning!
For me, the turning point came some ten weeks after he vanished from my life the evening I discovered his betrayals, when an old friend emailed me with the suggestion that my estranged husband was in fact a sociopath. I was in bed at the time, another restless night, bloodshot puffy eyes and the heavy heart that had become my constant companion. The email had arrived on my iPhone – I had never heard the word sociopath before and I started to get curious. I quickly found Dr Hare’s checklist and my eyes widened as I ticked off just about every point. A few minutes later I found the Lovefraud website, and was both horrified and relieved to find out that I was not alone. As I read the countless stories from people, just like me, who had also been lured and conned by a heartless sociopath, I started to believe that perhaps I could wake up from my living nightmare. Knowing that it was not me who had been stupid, realizing that I had been a deliberate target, and understanding that I had found a place where people shared my experiences and empathized with my pain, I took my first faltering steps on the slow road to recovery.
It’s Personal Now
I’m not saying that it was easy – far from it in fact. But from that moment I decided to keep focused on the fact that I had not been dealing with a ‘normal’ person. I distanced myself from the last connecting emotions that were binding me to him, and concentrated instead on my own feelings. I knew in that moment that in order to heal myself, I would need to confront my own emotional patterns – many of which were still subconscious. I would need to venture in to the parts of me that I had locked up and hidden away. To open up old scars I thought had healed long ago – and to take a long honest look at who I was and how I had become such an attractive target.
From that moment on I became a friend to myself. The self-berating stopped – as did the vulture-like questions that had circled me for so many weeks. No more did I question why this had happened or what I had done to deserve such a cruel betrayal. Instead I focused on how I could move myself through the pain and re-claim my life. In a very short time I even dared to start considering what sort of life I’d like to create for myself – going in to great detail about how I would feel once I’d achieved it. I didn’t think about how it might happen or what I might need to do – nope, I just focused on how I would like to feel. I even managed a laugh when I realized just how divorced my chosen feelings were from the ones I was currently experiencing!
That was when I realized that, against all my best intentions, I alone had been keeping myself a prisoner in my misery. Yes, you read it right – the gatekeeper, the warden was not him at all… it was ME. Because I’d kept on torturing myself long after he had gone.
So I had a choice. To support myself through what I knew was going to be a difficult journey, or to keep asking myself hurtful questions that only served to keep me stuck in my suffering. I chose the first option.
Dealing With The Practicalities
At that time I was absolutely penniless. I had closed our business, I had no work and to top it all I was strapped up in a full leg-brace because I’d had an accident and torn the cruciate ligament in my left knee. I couldn’t drive, I could hardly walk, and I had no idea how on earth I was going to survive – let alone support my son. But I focused on the things I knew that I could do – and one of the first things was to re-claim my home. I threw out anything and everything that reminded me of him, and I put up all the photographs and ornaments that I’d hidden away because he hadn’t liked them. I hobbled around the village and collected fruit from the trees, teaching myself how to make jams and chutneys that I knew I could give to friends for Christmas presents. I kept firmly focused on the idea that I was taking control of my life – of who I was and of how I chose to live – and my internal mantra became “everything I need is already within me” so that, even though the bills were coming thick and fast, I refused to be overwhelmed. I kept on top of my finances by selling everything I didn’t need on Ebay – it’s really quite amazing what some people will buy! It’s true that one person’s rubbish is gold to another – thank goodness!
All the time that I was doing the practical stuff, I also went deeply in to my emotional healing. I read and re-read all my self-development books (Louise L Hay’s “You Can Heal Your Life” being a particularly old and trusted favorite), I scoured the internet for positive stories, and I learned all I could about sociopathy. I devoured stories that inspired me – personal, honest accounts from people who had overcome difficulties, as well as stories from people who had been through a similar set of experiences as my own. I chose my friends, and only spent time with people who energized me, refusing to deal with the mood-hoovers who threatened to sap my positivity and bring me down. I ate healthily and I made sure to get out and about as often as I could – I became quite the expert at shuffling along on my crutches!
It was by no means straight forward, and I fell at many hurdles along the way. But I remained focused and determined – and always gave myself credit for even the tiniest of steps. And slowly, slowly I started to heal. I was open, honest and gentle with myself at every step of the way. When, some days, I didn’t feel like getting out of bed, I would stay there. No guilt, no beat-up, just the acknowledgement that my body was telling me to rest. When I felt overcome with emotion, I would let it happen. Never again was I going to stay quiet or bottle up painful feelings that just needed to come out. So, yes, there were times when I encouraged myself to shout, sob and wail until I was exhausted. Times when I let myself sink in to the pain and hurt – knowing that each time I did so another part of me would heal.
And it worked.
Slowly slowly I began to re-connect with myself. Little by little I started to re-claim my life and bit-by-bit I once again dared to start dreaming. I began to like the reflection I saw in the mirror, and I made sure every day to be thankful for all the good things that were around me – even if on the bad days the only thing I could find to be grateful for was the fact I was still breathing! I stuck loads of messages of support around my home – some from friends, as well as messages to myself. Everywhere I looked there were reminders that I AM ok, that I AM loved and that I AM surrounded by friends who care. In the process I lost some friends, made some new ones, and deepened connections with many old friends who happened to re-appear in my life. I blessed the daily miracles that were helping to transform my life and I re-awakened my belief in magic.
Where I Am Now
Today, two and a half years on from that soul-defining evening when I discovered the truth, I am chuffed to bits to tell you that my life now is better than I could ever have imagined. My business is once again up and running (better and more profitable than ever it was when I ran it with my ex!), I have lost 25lbs in weight (the fat is just melting away), I am authoring here on this site, I have just landed a book deal with an international publisher, and my social life is richer than it’s ever been before. I am happy, content, safe and hugely excited for the future.
So I’m here to tell you that you CAN make it through. If I can do it, then you can too. I’m here as living proof that the human soul is stronger than we think – and that we CAN heal, no matter how devastating or overwhelming the damage might seem at the time. As I said, I experienced many moments when I thought it would be better to die – and, in a way, I suppose I have ‘died’. Because when I look back now at the person I was when I was trapped in such a toxic relationship, I simply cannot recognize myself. And now, as I review the journey I’ve taken since then, I am filled with pride and love for myself for achieving so much. Yes, maybe the old me died – but it’s been worth it, because now I am living in paradise, and I know the best is yet to come!
I hope this has been helpful – I would be happy to answer any questions so please feel free to email me email@example.com.
With much love and blessings to all.
Tuesday, 23 August 2011
Like so many of us, she fell in love with a practiced charmer. A man who was the life and soul of the party, good looking, funny, kind and witty. A man who couldn’t do enough for her. A man who made her feel like a princess. Her friends thought he was wonderful, but it was only when she was alone with him that the mask would slip and the cruel tentacles of destruction and abuse wormed their way in to her soul. Again, like me, she just didn’t see it at the time. And, like me, Beatrix’s response whenever her husband did something ‘out of character’ was always… “It must be me! What am I doing wrong here? How can I make this better?”
From my experience, most targets are by nature caring loving souls who choose to nurture others. When we first meet the sociopath he or she seems to be “just like us” in more ways than we’ve ever experienced before. We feel in-tune with them. We understand them. And they understand us as well – it is like heaven on earth, and we feel more connected, more loved, more special than even our wildest dreams would have allowed us to imagine. How lucky we are to have found such a perfect match! They seem to mirror everything that is important to us – our deepest hopes and our highest values, as well as empathizing with our darkest fears. No wonder we fall in love so completely! No wonder that our in-built response when that same person appears to be suffering is to ask what we can do to help. I, for one, rarely questioned anybody’s motives, least of all the person I called my soul mate – why would anyone be showing me anything but reality?
There is a huge amount of truth in that old saying “we don’t know what we don’t know” - something I now recognise as a trap that I fell for, hook line and sinker. Believing my eyes and ears to be fully open at the time, I simply could not comprehend or begin to imagine the true devious nature of the beast because that nature didn’t exist within ME – thank goodness.
Planting the seeds of self-doubt
Yet this presents us with a fascinating paradox. Because when the sociopath shows us the mirror – the care, the charm, the understanding, the love that we fall for, we naturally take it as read that this is who they really are – because that is precisely what they want us to believe. Yet on the other hand, when they show us their manipulative, devious, abusive true self, we automatically think “It must be me. I must be doing something wrong. What do I need to change?” because we are deliberately led to accept that we are somehow responsible. Their lies and manipulation, their denial and their blame of others mean it’s never their fault. So, not only are we trapped because we are caring people, we are also trapped by the deliberate cloak of deceit that is systematically and skilfully wrapped around us so that we don’t notice the hug turning in to suffocation. Because that hypnotic ‘hug’ starts causing us to question our self-belief, gradually and deliberately eating away at our confidence so slowly that we don’t realise it’s happening – until it’s too late. And all the time the smiling assassin purposely tells us that it’s never their fault… therefore, it stands to reason that it must be our fault… doesn’t it??
I’d like to make it absolutely clear that their ‘bad stuff’ is NOT who we are. The bad stuff is who they really are. It’s not a ‘bad hair day’ or a ‘hiccup’ or a ‘minor malfunction’ – no, on the contrary, it’s the true essence of what lies at the core of the facade they present. They are not suffering from anxiety. They’re not grumpy, nor are they the victim of a deprived childhood. It’s not that you did something wrong, or that you simply don’t understand their pain enough. It’s none of those things.
When they use denial as a weapon, we start to question our sanity – we’ll say to ourselves “well, perhaps I was wrong, perhaps I DID misunderstand or misread the signs”. When they choose blame we’ll likely respond with acceptance. “Perhaps they’re right” we might think. “How could I not have seen that, it must have been be so clear. How could I get it so wrong with this person I love so deeply? I should have known better. I’ll try even harder” And so the twisted cycle of methodical asphyxiation continues.
Remember they are masters in their techniques of manipulation – they have had to become that way to appear normal. To live and breathe among us without being detected. But they are only techniques – they are not real emotions. The book “In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding And Dealing With Manipulative People,” by George Simon, has been a huge help in helping both Beatrix and I to identify and understand these methods in more detail.
I remember when my ex showed his true colours for the first time a few years ago. When I found him out that time, he convinced me that he was in the middle of a breakdown. He persuaded me that he had felt unloved by me, and that as a result he had done things he bitterly regretted. For me, because his behaviour had been so out of character from the person I knew and loved so well, I decided to believe him. I’m no pushover, but I reasoned that he deserved a second chance – our ‘ideal’ marriage deserved a second chance. After all, everybody makes mistakes don’t they? Nobody is perfect all the time?
So, yes, the pain and shame ran deep when I found him out the second time. When once again he demonstrated the same sickeningly callous levels of cruelty, and then just disappeared when he knew the game was up. I can assure you that my inner critic went in to full flow at that point! How could I have been so stupid? How could I have believed his lies? How could I not have recognized the truth the first time around? But the fact is, I couldn’t. I couldn’t because that way of being was (and is) alien to me. These days I have learned the hard way that not everyone comes from the same place of loving that I am proud to acknowledge I possess within myself.
Now, of course, I realize that the heartless creature I saw then was actually the real person. Now I understand that the man I loved so dearly was the fake one – but back then I didn’t know the difference. How on earth could I have even begun to understand that I was in the grip of a callous predator who didn’t give a damn about me or about my son? How could I possibly know that the practiced mask of love and kindness he showed so freely was just that – a mask. A skillfully crafted facade designed to fool anyone who crossed his path.
What about recognizing the positives?
Which brought both Beatrix and I to ponder the next question – how come both she and I only interrogated ourselves when our partners were behaving badly? True, we assume that the ‘bad stuff’ is a passing phase, because after all, that is not the ‘real’ person we fell in love with. But along with that, surely, comes a peculiar and fascinating wake-up call. How come we didn’t stop and ask ourselves the same set of questions to find out how we might be affecting all the loving behaviours? How was it that at no point did we think to ourselves “It must be me” when they were showing their good (false) side?
Because, the truth is, that WAS and IS us all along. All the sociopath can do is mirror who and what we already are – because we are everything that they are not. Which is what makes us so attractive in the first place. And from my current point of view (granted with the benefit of hindsight and a good deal of distance from the nightmare) I reckon that the person I was, I am, and always have been, must be pretty darned special. I’ve reasoned that if all I was seeing was a skillfully mirrored reflection of who I am, and if what I saw caused me to fall head over heals in love with the man who was reflecting me, then surely it stands to reason that I must be a good person?
If the reflected kindness, love and attention he showered on me was enough to mask his deception and manipulation for more than ten years, then surely it stands to reason that I have to a pretty strong character who has a whole heap of love to offer? Of course I recognise that I’m one of the lucky ones, because I am now coming from the place where I am free – so I understand that what I am saying may be somewhat tricky for anyone who is still feeling trapped to take on board. But I invite you to consider the following point because I believe it could be an important tool to help with escape and healing.
We can ALL heal
My point is this. I now believe that for all of us who are on this journey of recovery – whether or not we’ve yet managed to escape the nightmare in reality – a massive amount of strength can be gained by holding on to the assumption that ALL the good stuff we were/are being shown is indeed who we really are – it’s our soul, our essence, our being. The more we acknowledge that the sociopath doesn’t have these qualities, the more we can remember that they can only achieve them through reflection. I believe that by accepting the idea that “it must be me” whenever the sociopath shows us kindness, appreciation or love (and any number of other ‘good things’) the more we can shift our responses and reclaim our power. Even now, I often choose to look back on my own experiences and I think to myself “Yes, he was often really kind, considerate, loving and caring. Oh ho! It must have been me! That’s the kind of person I must be!”
There are countless stories and informative articles on this site that aim to educate all of us about the dangers and real behaviours of sociopaths. So I am confident that, little by little, more people are waking up to the idea that not everyone plays by the same caring rules that come so naturally to the majority of us who are on this planet. Little by little we can begin to recognize that which we are not – and, little by little reduce the need for others to have to experience the pain before they understand.
Of course, I don’t know how easy my recommendation is going to be for anyone who is still having to deal with a sociopath on a daily basis – as I said, this particular realization only came to me after I had broken free. But I believe that every and any thing that helps us to reclaim our power is another step forward in liberty, healing and recovering our lives. I always say to myself and others – if it works, use it. If it doesn’t, don’t. Bit by bit we’ll find out what helps, and bit by bit we’ll re-connect with ourselves.
So here is my message. Every time you notice something ‘good’ in the sociopath, say to yourself that “It must be me” – because at the end of the day, we must be ourselves in order to become free. I am liking the mantra that is now running around inside my head:
“It must be me, because I MUST BE ME…!”
We CAN heal, we ARE healing, and by sharing our experiences with each other here, it means we’re in the right place. Right here, right now, we can become united in our experiences, understanding and support for each other.
I hope this is helpful – I welcome your feedback. With love and blessings to all.
Tuesday, 16 August 2011
I know from some of the personal accounts here that many of you will be familiar with this sort of experience. I also know that (for me anyway) it took a colossal amount of courage and discipline to break the cycle that had trapped me for so many years. To those who don’t understand, it may seem a small thing to write an open message to somebody who has caused so much pain. “Well” they might think “that’s the least you can do! If I were in your shoes I’d have done a whole heap more!” Typically well-intentioned but uninformed fighting talk from people who don’t understand the power that such a debilitatingly cold grip can have over somebody. Yes, even over the normally feisty people that most of us are. As I’ve said before, I believe that we must already have been strong and feisty – why else would we seem such attractive targets?
I wrote this particular piece a year after I discovered the truth. I had already come a long way in my healing by then – but knowing how much further I am today, there was still a way to go at that time. I hope you find this article helpful.
“I know you’re out there… I can feel you now. And I know that you’re afraid… afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell how it’s going to begin…”
That is one of my favorite quotes from The Matrix, and my ex and I used it to open a training session at a large conference to teach managers the rudiments of coaching. I am using it now because I know for sure that this blog is now being read by my estranged husband. So I thought I’d say hello in a style that would be sure to grab his attention.
Yes, it’s true… once I found out he was watching me I seriously considered shutting the blog down. I fretted over the notion that perhaps it might give him some kind of sick hold over me again. Once again I felt the fear. The humiliation. And yes, the familiar feeling of him standing over my shoulder. In some ways peculiarly comforting (better the devil you know?) but in the most part frightening. I was shaken. For the first couple of days it was hard for me to make any sensible decision as once again the nagging questions started swirling through my brain. “What if he can get to me again? What if he’s been watching me all the time? What if he decides to suddenly make an appearance?”
And then I decided to stand proud. I decided that I have nothing to hide. And I also came to the conclusion there’s nothing that he can do now to hurt me. He’d already done everything within his power – and he’d failed. Because I’m free. You see I am not afraid anymore. This blog is MY voice, it’s MY journey, and it’s MY truth. And the truth will always out in the end.
I can’t begin to guess his reasons for suddenly taking such an avid interest in what I’m doing. After all, he hasn’t given my son or me a backwards glance since the very day I found out the truth about him. And yes, I’ve been through hell and back in the days and months that followed. At times it has felt as though I have been trapped inside my own matrix, and insanity has felt never less than a heartbeat away. I had loved him with all my heart and with all my soul. I believed he loved me too, you see, and the shock at discovering the depth of his betrayal and deceit was just about enough to kill me.
When I first discovered the truth, I didn’t know where to turn or whom I could trust. I worried that perhaps everyone else had known what was going on. I felt ashamed and stupid for not seeing what had been going on right under my nose – for years – how could I have been so blind? I couldn’t sleep. Some days I could hardly breathe. The pain was indescribable, and my days were spent wading through treacle and trying to keep my head above the quicksand that was threatening to drag me down in to the abyss. My son and I both stuck together like glue, and together we worked our way through the mire. Together we made sense of a tortuous situation that forced us to realize that our family life had been nothing but a sham. A recognition that seems so inconceivable, there are many people who simply couldn’t (and still can’t) take the whole truth on board. The public tarring and feathering I’ve talked about before, when trying to convince people that the caring soul they thought they knew is actually a cold heartless creature who never gave a damn – either about me, or about his ‘friends’, the very people who still can’t accept the facts.
And throughout those first weeks and months I missed him. Terribly. Heart-wrenchingly. I missed his touch, his smell, his voice. The smile and the face I knew and loved so well. The way he would hold me. The way our bodies just seemed to fit together so well. The way he walked. Even the noise he made when he cleared his throat – I always said I could pick him out from a mile away just from that sound!
Yes, there was certainly a time when I would never have wanted him to know the pain and destruction his actions have caused. There would have been a time when I would have wanted to keep everything quiet. I’d have chosen to keep the smile on my face and carry on as normal – keeping the shame and hurt to myself (and for myself). Damage limitation and all that malarkey.
And yes, I’ve questioned whether there can be any threat to me with him now reading my stories. Perhaps he’s smirking. Perhaps he’s sneering with a warped sense of pleasure as he prides himself at having had such a hold over me. Perhaps he takes some kind of sick kick in reading my stories of soul-searching and struggles as I learn to make sense of my shattered life.
So yes, the questions have been running around and around my head, and I have thought long and hard about what I was going to do. And I’ve decided through it all that I’m sticking exactly where I am. For I have decided that I am now safe from harm, and am finding the courage to start living the life of my dreams. So I decided that that this blog, my story, my life is just that. MY life. And I’m never going to shut up, bow down, hide or apologize ever again. I did that for far too long.
And you know what? Now I’m glad of all he’s done – because despite his best intentions, I am emerging stronger and wiser as a result. I’m glad of the opportunity to clear out ALL the old shit I had been carrying around. Not just the rubbish I’d accumulated over 11 years with my so-called soul-mate, but also all the other emotional baggage I hadn’t realized I had been holding in my psyche.
Yes, I’m GLAD I fell to my knees, and I’m proud of myself for doing so. For it was MY strength of character that allowed me to go there – not HIS perceived power over me. So, as I said in a previous post, thank you ex-husband. Thanks for leaving just enough of a trail for me to find you out. Because had I not discovered the truth about you, perhaps I would never have broken free. I know for certain that I would be in a very different place right now. A place that I don’t even care to consider.
But now I AM free – I’m free from you and your cold heartless deceit. You can’t touch me anymore, and you pose no threat to me either now or in the future. Because now I know for sure what it’s like to feel secure. To feel loved. To feel inspired to dream big and have the self-belief to follow those dreams. I’ve started now, and nothing and nobody can stop me. So go ahead, feel free – read and weep. Because you’ve already lost.
So to you, dear ex, as I said in the beginning: “I don’t know how this is going to end. I’m here to tell you how it begins…” For I HAVE changed, and life will never be the same again.
Tuesday, 9 August 2011
Then comes the underlying implication that you must have been extremely gullible – stupid even – not to notice the signs. “If what you’re telling me is true, then they must surely have been so obvious – how could you possibly not have known? Surely you must have realized something was wrong?” And so it goes on… It’s exhausting, and each time becomes a public tar and feathering, as you are forced over and over again to explain exactly how you were so stupid to let somebody else put you in this position.
This is why, I believe, there is an unspoken code of silence among the vast majority of people who have suffered through any kind of abusive relationship. Whether through a partner, parents, siblings, friends, bosses, colleagues – the list is endless, as are the stories and perceived seriousness of the abusers’ misdemeanors. Different accounts, different histories, different responses. But the pervasively malignant feelings of disgust and self-hatred that become lodged deep within the victims seem to be the same. A universal sense of shame that permeates to the core, no matter the circumstances.
Not long after I made my discovery, I re-connected with an old friend I hadn’t seen for many years – to protect her privacy I’ll call her Beatrix. Our children had grown up together. We shared similar professional interests. We shared a healthy caring friendship. It also turns out that we shared another bond that only came to light as we continued talking. She had also been married to a charming sociopath – in her case it had been for 20 years, double my own sentence.
Our husbands had got to know each other while we still lived in the UK and they had done their level best to break our strong bond of friendship. For a few years it seemed they had succeeded, but now we are closer than ever. Ironically it is that same destructive behaviors of our respective husbands that have made it possible. Because since we found each other again we have been able to share our stories. Compare our experiences. Help each other through the dark days. Encourage each other to notice some of the deeply ingrained responses we sometimes fall back in to as a habit following years of deliberate conditioning. We know what it’s like. We understand the pain and indignity. We can identify on levels that people who haven’t been through such an experience could never possibly understand. Because we share the common bond of survivors of abuse – and at first, we thought that very few people would ever be able to empathize. We were wrong – and I’d like to explain what I mean.
Towards the end of 2009 I read a powerful book called The Bigamist, written by best-selling author Mary Turner Thomson. Taken aback by the punch of her story about her marriage to a sociopath, together with the striking similarities in our backgrounds, I decided to introduce myself by email. She called me on my home phone less than three days later, and straight away we chatted with the ease of old friends, as though we’d known each other for years. Right from that very moment I felt the unspoken connection of recognition with her – she knew what it was like. She’d been there. I didn’t have to explain. She instinctively knew, and though we didn’t say it at the time, there was an instant bond created between us.
A highly intelligent, sassy, accomplished, strong woman and certainly nobody’s fool, Mary and I have since become firm friends . We call ourselves ‘soul sisters’ because we know what it’s like to be deliberately targeted, deceived, manipulated and controlled. Soul sisters who know how it feels to realize that what you thought was true and lasting love was nothing more than a sham. Soul sisters who understand the shame and indignity of having to face the truth – as well as the on-going difficulty in convincing well-meaning friends and family that you haven’t lost the plot.
Beatrix and I talk about this regularly – as do Mary and I, together with the many other survivors I’ve met over the past couple of years, men as well as women. As a result I’m convinced that there IS a code of silence. And along with the silence is the instinctive yet unspoken point of recognition whenever one survivor meets another. After just a few words, the nod of acknowledgement passes between us – sometimes without the need for any further discussion or admittance. We just know. And judging by the number of survivors I’ve met in my daily life since I became free, there must be millions of people who walk around in silent pain, people who are still bound by chains of humiliation and self-loathing.
Control and manipulation tactics are common strategies employed by abusers. Basic yet exceptionally powerful, this form of power play isolates people from the people who support them and undermines their confidence to the point where they can no longer think or act effectively. Believing they are the under-dog, the target is then no longer in control of their own life. The tactics used by abusers will vary depending on their experiences, their level of skill, their targets, and their focus.
A corporate sociopath, for example, will typically be exceptionally well-versed in smooth language, subtle body gestures, and impeccable manners. A street thug is much more likely to use physical violence. Encounters with the latter will almost certainly leave you with bruises and perhaps broken bones. Encounters with either of them will leave you with a broken spirit and emotional scars that may never heal again.
When I was working as a Louise L Hay trainer in 1997/1998 I was always deeply touched by the intensity of guilt and shame regularly expressed by workshop members as they bravely shared their stories of mistreatment. Stories that, in some cases, had been kept secret and buried for decades. Having the opportunity to finally tell the truth of what had happened to them was a huge relief. As it turns out, it was also the easy bit – the hard bit was gently helping them to accept and forgive themselves for what had happened. Yes, you read right – the most difficult part would be helping them to find a way to forgive themselves. Not the other person or people, or even the situation – but themselves. To rid themselves of the shame and self-loathing for allowing such a thing to happen to them in the first place.
From my own experience, my first feelings of shame were when my sister and I were thrown out from our guardians’ home when I was 18 and she was just 13. Our uncle’s treatment of us was absolutely appalling – but I felt that I’d somehow failed. That it was MY fault. To make matters worse, because my guardian was a well-respected, charming, highly intelligent and very successful professional man (and yes, I now consider him to be a sociopath) nobody wanted to believe my account of events during the 22 months we lived there. It didn’t matter that my sister and I had done nothing wrong – far from it in fact. But, as with so many ‘victims’ I turned the anger and hatred in on myself. It took me many years to come to terms with what had happened and to finally forgive myself.
This experience, ironically, has proved to be one of the most useful lessons I could ever have learned. Not only has it helped me to move others through their own destructive patterns in my professional career, it also helped me explore my deepest held personal beliefs and thereby to heal fast and fully following the discovery of my ex’s betrayals.
Back to my friend Beatrix for a moment. She is now reclaiming her life – but it’s a long road. Last year was her first Christmas of freedom from a man who, to the outside world appeared charming, charismatic and witty – the life and soul of the party. A familiar story? Since escaping, Beatrix has forfeited a number of her friends who simply refused to believe that this charming man could possibly be guilty of the monstrous things she has accused him of doing. Abusers, as we know, can be very skilled. Although there may not always visible external injuries (in some cases, of course, the physical wounds speak volumes) the non-visible damage to self-esteem and self-belief can be severe… even life threatening – or worse in some cases. Beatrix told me what an important time Christmas has always been for her. How for more than 20 years she’d religiously do everything within her power to make the most of the festive season – and how, every year, her husband would equally religiously take great delight in destroying her. He’d criticize her for spending too much or too little. Complain about the tree being too big or too small. Whine about the fact that there were too many or too few parties and house visits organized that year. Consistent, deliberate verbal abuse… the psychological blows always accompanied by a Judas kiss or squeeze on the shoulder together with the assurance “But you know I love you!”
Abuse of any kind is a killer. The resulting silence is perhaps even more of a killer. It strangles people. This is why I’m so passionate about speaking out. Self-loathing eats away at confidence. It is malignant, oppressive and relentless – and in some cases it claims lives. That’s why I believe this site is such an incredibly helpful resource for all of us who’ve “been there, seen it and got the tee-shirt” – and that’s what I am referring to in the title of this article.
My own decision to break the silence was a massive step up in my own healing. The frustration I experienced when trying to explain what had happened to well meaning friends was always surprisingly difficult and at times frustrating to the extreme. I found myself once again thrown in to the old humiliating pattern of seeking approval and acceptance – a ridiculous state of affairs since I had done nothing wrong. And neither, by the way, had they. It was just that they couldn’t understand – exactly like Beatrix’s friends who decided she must be insane.
Breaking the silence is a powerful step to take. For me, I decided to write about my journey in a very public way when I started my blog. Fed up with trying to make myself heard by friends, I gradually found the confidence to express my inner thoughts and feelings to a growing audience of like-minded people. A process I found to be extremely cathartic. And my stories seemed to help others as well.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not asking people to speak out or share their stories in such a public arena as the manner I chose. I’m simply inviting any of the silent people who have been there too – or who are still there in some cases – to know that you are not alone. I’m inviting you to reach out to the constantly rising number of people who understand. I realize, of course, that some may still choose to stay silent. And that’s ok. As I said earlier, the code of recognition is often a silent one – but at the very least it IS recognition, and that’s all it takes. It’s the relief of knowing that at least one other person understands and is on your side. And if you’ve kept things hidden away, known only to yourself until that point, well surely by finding just one like-minded person you’ll have doubled your team in one fell swoop.
As I write this, I am reminded of a comment made on this site by one of our members, who kindly shared the Latin roots of the word “person”. The word literally translates as “through sound” which denotes “can be heard” (thank you to libelle – much appreciated!). So I got to thinking – all of us here are human beings, people who can and should be heard. A person, by definition can be heard. We are all people who have something to say. We are the people who can break this unspoken code of silence.
One small step, that’s all it takes. One by one we’ll find each other. One by one we can join hands until we reach around the world – maybe further. Together we can stand strong, and put an end to this destructive cycle of abuse and shame.
I, for one, am determined to keep banging my drum and inviting others to join the crusade – because I know that together we can speak out. We can link our different stories and our unique voices together to create a harmonious choir. And together we can produce the sweetest sounds as our voices sing out around the world – warning new targets of the dangers, and inspiring deeper healing for those who already know.
Tuesday, 2 August 2011
Okay… I started by talking about my ‘responsibility’ and so this week I have chosen to write about my take on the meaning of the word.
Before going in to that in any detail, I’d like to start off by saying that I believe all of us (yes ALL of us) already have the power to heal. I get the feeling though (certainly from my own experience) that many of us have forgotten that we have a huge inner resource of strength and power. I acknowledge that through our relationships with abusive people, our inner strength can be pushed down, boxed, manipulated and damaged to the point where we believe we really are useless and powerless. That we’ve become the small weak person the sociopaths would have us believe. That we end up thinking “well, he/she was right all along. I’m worthless. They’ve won”
And I’m here to say that I believe this is simply not the case. I’m aware this may appear somewhat controversial, but I invite you to consider the notion that perhaps it is BECAUSE of our inner strength that the sociopath was attracted in the first place? That, perhaps, it’s BECAUSE we have love in our hearts and a strong soul they wanted to possess and control us? After all, assuming that’s the case, then we already have – we’ve ALWAYS had – the very things that they can never EVER attain for themselves. So now it’s up to us to reclaim ourselves – to find a way where we can stand up tall and proud, and become the person we truly are. That, at least, has been my take during my journey, and I’d like to start sharing some of the techniques that have helped me along the way.
So let’s continue with the word ‘responsibility’. For many, the word invokes heavy or burdensome connotations. In my leadership training groups for example, delegates often tell me that they feel a weight on their shoulders, or a need to behave in a certain way so that they can fulfill the serious expectations that responsibility carries with it. They perceive it as a load, something they have to carry – so the word itself, therefore, can often have negative associations. And I think that’s a shame… I also think it’s untrue.
I’m sure you can imagine the scene when I bring this up with leadership groups. I will often be met with a room full of suddenly the folded arms and a series of harrumphs as delegates hunker down for a battle. “What?”they’ll grumble “We are leaders! We have to bear the burden of responsibility! It’s not easy you know!” And this is where the training starts.
The same as I do with these groups, I would like to invite you to explore another perspective. One that, in my opinion, can be a much more empowering way to look at what responsibility really means.
Let’s imagine, for a moment, that we can break the word in to two – “response” and “ability”…. Meaning ourability to respond. Or, if you prefer, our choice as to how we are going to respond to a situation. It’s our opportunity to re-consider our actions, rather than coming back with a habitual or emotion-driven response.
It’s like this, you see. I often witness people telling me that “it’s his/her fault” or “my boss is to blame for my unhappiness in my job” or “my family makes me feel bad” or “that psychopath ex still makes me boil with fury”. You get the picture?
I believe with all my heart and soul, that the more we place the ‘blame’ on another person or situation, all we are doing is giving away our own power. We can shout and roar as much as we like – or mumble and whisper, it doesn’t really matter. My point is that while we continue to focus outside of ourselves we are blocking our own ability to develop. The result is that instead of moving forward, we remain stuck in the very place we say we don’t like!
Imagine, for a moment, that you are pointing your finger at someone – or something. You’ll most likely have your index finger pointing out, with the rest of your hand curled in to a loose fist shape. All your frustrations are directed outside of you along that one finger. Don’t get me wrong, it may well feel good to do that… but at the same time, I’d like you to consider where your other fingers are pointing. Who are they pointing to? Who, therefore, might we be forgetting during a (justifiable) outpouring of frustration? Yup, we’re forgetting ourselvesin the matter.
Again, at this point, my leadership groups will often become even more agitated “What, you’re telling me that it’s MY fault? That I’M to blame?” Of course, this is not the message I am giving them. But they have become so wrapped up in their frustration at whatever situation it is we’re discussing, that they find it difficult to move beyond that point. As I said earlier, they remain stuck.
No, the point I am making is to recognize that for the one finger that’s pointing away from us, we have three more pointing back at us. This hand gesture invites us to consider what else we can do in any given situation. It’s a reminder that we have more control than we often think. Three times the power. Three times more choices available to us. Because we have the opportunity to decide exactly how we are going to respond at any time – it’s just up to us to make the most of it.
OK, you may be thinking, that’s all well and good, but what does that mean to me? How can that help me in my situation? Or, as some delegates insist on telling me at the beginning of a training course “Well, it’s different for me you know!” Of course it’s different for them – it’s different for us all. And that, paradoxically, is where it’s also exactly the same. Because each and every one of us is unique.
It’s true, we can’t necessarily change the behavior of another. But we can always change our own behavior. And by changing our own behavior, well, then we’ve broken the communication dance of which we find ourselves a part. I’ll explain what I mean. Imagine you are going to shake somebody’s hand. They will give you their hand and you will shake it – because that’s what’s expected. That’s the automatic response, the well-rehearsed ‘steps’ that we’re used to dancing. Now this time, imagine instead that when you go to shake that same person’s hand, you pull away at the last moment. What happens to that other person? They will have to do something different, because you have broken the dance. Do you see what I am getting at?
For me, quite early on in my healing, I decided that I would have a different response to matters every time I felt hurt, confused or downright furious at the situation I found myself in. I chose to ‘break the dance’. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t come easy. But with practice, I discovered I felt freer and lighter as a result.
I acknowledge that my next statement is likely to prove controversial, but I decided that I would consciously choose to thank my ex for his actions, rather than dwell on the pain and suffering. I decided that each time I was hit with yet another debt, or more evidence of his betrayals, instead of automatically pointing the finger I would instead stop, get myself still, take a deep breath and ask myself “what can I do to feel better? How can I use my own power to make a positive difference to this situation?”
That’s when the learning happens. That’s when my brain searches for other alternatives. That’s when I look around my surroundings and realize that I’m still alive. I have my son. I have food on my table. I no longer have to pander to his demands – I am no longer the squashed manipulated woman I had been for far too long. And all of a sudden I can start to feel grateful. Grateful that he’s gone. Grateful that I have the opportunity to rebuild my life – for me. And, as I said before, it usually ends up with my thanking my ex. It doesn’t mean I forgive his actions. Neither does it mean that I feel any compassion for him. It DOES mean that I’m free from the pain – and that is a gift to myself.
It’s not easy – I’ve said that before. To quote the phrase ‘better the devil you know’ it often seems easier to stay with the old habits. Those same old habits that keep us stuck. Change and healing takes determination – and when things don’t go quite as planned we can get discouraged. But how do we resist the temptation to dwell on the difficulties? To fall back in to the gaping hole of misery? I believe the solution is to identify a ‘space’ where we can feel good – if not good, then at the very least a bit better! For me, I often use music to help me change the way I feel – two of my regular song choices have been Labbi Syffre’s “Something Inside So Strong”and Nina Simone’s “I Got Life” (with the accompanying video to a yoghurt advert). I also write to change my mood. One of my best friends goes out to tend her garden, another turns to cooking, and another takes himself out for a walk. What we do doesn’t matter in the slightest – it’s just about finding something, anything that can help us stay on track to achieving our end goal. To heal and to reclaim our life.
As I have said many times on my blog, this is NOT about him, it never has been. This is about ME. Since discovering the truth I have refused to allow him to impact on my journey – no matter how hard he may have tried to hurt me, I simply will not let it happen anymore. I can always choose my own responses, no matter what is going on around me – and most of the time that is exactly what I do. Yes, there are times when I forget, and there are many more times when it’s been hard work to find an alternative. But with persistence, focus, and a determination to create a better life for my son and myself, most of the times I get there.
For all of us who have been hurt by someone else, the most important thing is to remember that we DO have the power to do something about it. We CAN change the way we feel, and by doing so we change our immediate experience and increase our ability to heal. Perhaps our biggest challenge is simply to acknowledge that fact. As I said earlier, I am convinced that we must already have demonstrated our inner strength to attract a sociopath in the first place. Does that mean we should now hide our light under a bushel? Does that mean we should now stay in the fear and pain? Or does that mean we should reclaim who we are, fan the flames of passion and become even stronger than we were before? Surely that’s the best revenge against those who tried to put us down in the first place, isn’t it?
So next time a proverbial ‘hand’ is offered to you, are you going to shake it automatically? Are you going to continue with a habitual response? Or are you going to move your hand away, step back and take control of the dance? It’s up to all of us, of course, to choose the route we take – not just sometimes, but all of the time.
Incidentally, once my leadership groups grasp the sense of what I mean, I am always met with a room full of calm and smiling faces. They feel safe in the knowledge that responsibility is something they’ve always had – it’s just that now they know how to use it more wisely.
I hope this has been helpful – I welcome your thoughts and feedback.
Until next week, love and blessings to all my new friends here on Lovefraud!