I met with a woman, I will name “Annika,” (a favorite pseudonym of mine), who told me some details about her life story with men. She gave me permission to write about her story here. I am going to write this in “first person,” as if it were a memoir. She is not a client and, I say this, so if my clients are reading this, they won’t think it is their story. I am breaking this up into different parts. I start with this aspect of her journey: coming back from being in a trauma bond after the break-up with a covert narcissist.
For over a year, he love bombed me. I should have known when he resisted, at first, the idea of being boyfriend and girlfriend. I should have known the first time he told me I was beautiful, he prefaced this by saying “I want to tell you something but I don’t want this to go to your head.” I should have known when I texted him that I was almost hit by a car, and he wasn’t very empathic. I should have known when he defended his female friend, over me, about some lies she had told. I should have known, the first time he argued with me and spent 30 minutes on a video chat, rambling about something very small and insignificant, I can’t even recall what it was. I should have known when he seemed to be mirroring me and saying what he thought I wanted to hear. I should have known when, at first, he seemed to want to do so much for me and then months later, began to pull back and give excuses. But, I didn’t. Each incident was slight and I excused it off as not being such a big deal. Nothing was earth shattering such as: he didn’t hit me, as had happened in the past, with a man. We rarely argued about anything and this seemed nice. I was used to lots of arguments with men. Although, with those men, it was a two-way conversation. With him, it was one – him and then I would apologize.
I did notice that he was very responsive in bed. We had the most amazing sexual chemistry. I was able to be raw and more authentic than I have been with others and, ironically, this was because I thought I could trust him. This alone, became a fantasy of love that I responded to so willingly. It became a reason for me to question my own instincts. Mainly, I was walking on eggshells. I could see it was difficult to bring things up with him. He couldn’t handle anything in person. In emails, or that video chat, this is where he did not seem to empathize with me. He could never do anything in person, except be silent. I found myself acquiescing, to keep him from being angry or being silent. Even though he had only been angry the one time, I felt early on, that I needed to worry. I also, did not want to give up this great sexual chemistry that we had. The way he spoke to me in bed.
When he left me, I felt as if he had raped me. I fought the emotions in my head and would go back and forth with “did he even love me?” was it possible for him to love me? If he didn’t then he was taking advantage of me with all of his lies. Then, I would remember his love bombing moments and feel that he did love me and that I was confused. These brief moments of reality, I would become angry by what he did and in those moments, I felt raped mentally, emotionally, and physically. This is the best way I can describe it. Those racing thoughts that kept swirling around in my head. This repetition drove me nuts during this unhealthy time period.
I would re-read his emails. More than 2000 during this time. Early on, he became upset when I didn’t respond to an email. This triggered me into responding asap, without even giving it a thought. The emails drove me backwards because I couldn’t find the hints. I had to look so hard to see something; I hadn’t “read between the lines.” However, I began remembering the feelings that came up for me, when I read what he would say – at that time. I remember that his words seemed to have a different meaning, that I couldn’t interpret on the original read. Now, I can. Now, I can put it all together.
The break-up was him trying to gaslight me over the dumbest story I have ever believed. My gut instincts told me within five minutes he was going to lie to me. Yet, I was so shocked at his behavior, his inability to listen to me, how the story kept growing and I couldn’t seem to keep my wits about me. I was balling on the phone. Then I would have moments where I tried desperately to compose myself and ask questions. Then, he would answer with more lies and I continued collapsing like a big baby, regressing into a childlike sense of fear and illusion.
Post break-up, he would not talk to me at all. In fact, he ended the relationship without saying “We are over.” Instead, he said, in response to his gaslighting, ”I will never speak to you ever again.” The trauma bond began. I suffered in silence for month after month. I felt like I was going through a manic episode. I could not eat for months, more than a piece of toast or oatmeal. I lost 15 lbs very quickly. At the same time I wasn’t sleeping, yet I would go to work on this high as if I had. It literally went on for over six months. I couldn’t even say when it ended. I liked being thinner, I felt very good about the way I looked but I also worried, how much more will I lose? I think this is when I began to take in food a little more.
The weekends were the hardest for me. I would hibernate for the longest time and not go anywhere. It was hard for me to listen to “our music.” If I did, I would start sobbing. I cried rivers that would fill up my back yard. It would start Friday night, when I left the office and end Monday morning when I would seem to “wake-up” from the illusion. But then, every new song on the radio would seem to be telling me something. That I should wait, or I should hold on, new songs seemed to be created just about us.
I wrote him letters, that I never sent. I wasn’t going to lose my self-respect by chasing after a man who had treated me so dishonorably in the end. I wrote them to keep in my mind, what I would say “when he returned.” The letters went on for over a year. I saved them in my computer. I even tried to delete them several times but then raced back to re-install them from my old files on my backup. Once, a year after we broke up, I even wrote a real letter and put stamps on the envelope. I couldn’t put it in the mailbox though. I ended up shredding it. I finally did delete them all but wrote one last letter which I have held on to. It helps me to look back on it from time to time to see where my head was at.
He had left nice things at my house. I wanted to return them but didn’t feel it was my duty, to him, after all the cruel things he had said to me, in the final moments. I was actually afraid to drive to his home. I was afraid of how he might treat me. He had made threats to me in that last call. He once told me that an ex “lied” about him abusing her physically. I always wondered if he ever did. He never really answered my question when I asked him point blank. He also carried a weapon. I always felt I could trust him with his guns but now I wasn’t sure about anything. I didn’t even know if I could trust myself. How would I act if I ever saw him again? Would my anger come out and would I provoke him in some way?
When I think of all the whining he did about other women in his past, I now wonder if maybe what “they did,” were really things “he did” to them. Much of what he told me they did, he had done to me. This was one of those instinctual moments I had, before he broke up with me. I even recall saying once to him “I feel like there is some secret aspect to you that I don’t know yet.” Those words haunted me through the entire trauma bond experience. That and wondering what he had actually done to the others. What was the real story? He was good about not giving out last names of his victims. This way, I couldn’t look them up if I wanted to. One of them died. One of them had his last name but he made them out to be such a horrible person, I just didn’t want to get caught up in more drama. This was my battle and my lesson to learn.
I have never heard back from him. For many months, I kept hoping and dreaming that he would take responsibility for what he did. That he would apologize to me. Even though I knew he was gaslighting me, I hoped so much, that his story was true and that he had not made it all up. That the person he used in the story would come back and tell him it was all a lie. Every romantic show I watched, I used to keep blinds on my filters so that I would imagine him doing what the character did.
I also began to realize, as the months wore on, he must have moved on in his life and was with other women. I tried telling myself “But they are his new victims,” then I would contradict myself and, I would imagine these great women he was now with. I would imagine the stories of things he might say to them, like he said to me. This made me crave him so much more. Its a Patsy Cline song, that only she could have understood.
I could see I was falling apart emotionally and tried so hard to stay strong. My friends and family became a supportive structure; I didn’t realize I had. I think they felt sorry for me, which I hated but endured because I really needed it. Now, looking back, I see how silly I was to be so captivated by a wounded man. To put so much hope and thought into a man who was extremely disrespectful – to me – to women. I have been vulnerable with men in my life, but this seemed to really take the cake. And, even though I have known terrible men before, they always seemed to return and try some feeble attempt at apologizing or at least communicating. I have never known a man to be so ruthless and so uncaring. I had never known someone to do the silent treatment or “ghosting” as they say these days. I had never been gaslighted in my life. When I read things online, I am not even sure if he wasn’t a psychopath. I feel like, in retrospect, he was very clear of what he was doing all along.
Yet, no matter what articles I read about covert narcissists or gaslighting or trauma bond online, I still nurtured this fantasy in my head. I still yearned for that man, I thought I knew. I still imagined that he would come back and be “that man,” all over again. That there would be some likely story to explain what he did and why he did it. I heard apologies in my romantic TV shows and movies and heard some good rationales. I wanted this to be the case. I wanted so much, to not be alone again.
Thank you for sharing. Very powerful article that allows many of us to access some of the unhealthy parts of an intimate relationship that are easy to overlook until it is too late.
Hi Joy, I appreciate your comments. I do believe Annika’s story is one that helps people understand the trauma bond and how easy it is to slip into. It can impact anyone, no matter what their degree, professional status, or income. When you hear the rest of her story, it will all come together.
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Being a survivor myself I could relate to almost every word.
I am glad it was helpful to you.