Content warning: this article contains description of emotional and domestic violence
Although there were red flags in our relationship from the start, I ignored them.
When Adam* teased me for having a flatter chest, being less pretty and less adventurous than his ex-girlfriends, I saw this as me needing to up my game. When he questioned why I had never watched porn and when he coerced me into a threesome with his mate, he reasoned that he was fun and I was frigid.
I bought his excuses then, just as I bought them when he quit one job, then another, blaming his colleagues. I thought he was ambitious, not incapable of holding down work.
I also confused his control for charm. He’d boast about his achievements, but stop me from speaking about my successes, explaining how he was trying to prevent me from appearing arrogant. Slowly, surreptitiously, he began to manage most aspects of my existence. He didn’t like where I lived, or where I worked. Looking back, I know it’s because I was a success and he wasn’t – but soon he pressured me to quit my job, and follow him overseas for another pie in the sky project. By the time that failed too, Adam had succeeded in isolating me from the people and profession I loved. I was dependent on him.
Of course, it wasn’t all bleak. If it had been, I might have seen the relationship for the disaster it was. It was a rollercoaster. We travelled extensively, had epic sex, partied hard, had a busy social life which revolved around his work and friends, where he would show me off as though I was some kind of trophy. Our break-ups were intense, our make-ups even more intense.
“Our break-ups were intense, our make-ups even more intense.”
When I got pregnant because my pill had failed, Adam insisted I have an abortion. I was intimidated, isolated, and insecure – but from the moment I discovered I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to be a mother. When I refused, he insisted we get married – he didn’t want a ‘bastard child’. Blame the hormones, the fact I was far from home, or his insidious coercive control, but I agreed, and married him shortly before giving birth.
When our baby was five months old, my new husband physically assaulted me for the first time. Witnessed by a passerby, Adam threatened me, saying if I told anyone he would lose his job. When he assaulted me again, he told me no one would believe me.
I imagined leaving Adam many times. But his words had burrowed into my brain. I believed what he said: that I was deluded, a bad mother, that he was the only man who would ever love me, that I would never survive without him. I remember the exact words he hissed at me the night I decided to leave, and how in that moment I realised if I didn’t escape soon, I might never leave alive.
I escaped with my baby and my life – but although I survived, his abusive narcissism continues to take a huge toll on my existence. Because my leaving him undermined his control, Adam has sought to destroy me since. His behaviour has taken a toll on my new marriage, on my health, on my friendships and my relationship with my children.
When I became pregnant for the second time, he began alienating our child from me and my family, telling them I was having the new baby as a replacement. There were days when I heard his exact words being echoed by our child. I know our child loves Adam as a father, but it’s hard to see him weave a web of lies and false promises; hard to see him project his narcissistic tendencies on to this vulnerable being; hard to see how this might hurt our child’s ability to form healthy relationships in the future.
“His behaviour has taken a toll on my new marriage, on my health, on my friendships and my relationship with my children.”
For my part, I was recently diagnosed with PTSD, a diagnosis I took a long time to seek out because of the shame Adam had made me feel and because he had sought to paint me as insane when in fact he was largely responsible for my mental ill health. My PTSD symptoms include acute anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, as well as a catalogue of other physical and psychological symptoms. I am jumpy and distrustful. I catastrophise situations and worry whenever I am away from my children that something awful will happen to them. By the time I accepted the diagnosis, I was making a recover and I knew my PTSD was largely a result of the hurt he caused me. If Adam had broken my leg, it would be his fault not mine. I also know now that the legacy of domestic violence can take an extreme emotional toll on survivors, and it makes me sad that this is not recognised more widely.
Healing from something like this takes time, especially since many of the decisions I have made in my personal and professional life were informed by the traumas Adam inflicted on me. I know my recovery will take time, but I also know that Adam has controlled me for too long and now I am taking back some control after living for far too long under the shadow of my narcissistic ex.
Tess Mills is a journalist, writing under a pseudonym. *Names changed for anonymity.
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