How NOT to Be a Victim (No Matter What Life Throws at You!)

“Let me introduce you to the victim advocate,” offered the policeman who had arrested my husband the day before.

 

I stopped short. That was the first time that word – victim – had ever been applied to me. I certainly felt victimized. My partner of sixteen years had just abandoned me with a text message, stolen all of my money and then committed bigamy. Yet even though I was still in the acute phase of suffering, I startled at the application of the word “victim.”

 

Because even though I had been hurt, I did not want to see myself as a victim. Although it felt good for the pain and unfairness to be recognized, the term also made me feel minimized. That word embodied weakness in my mind and I wanted to feel powerful. It spoke of a lack of control and I wanted to be the one to drive my life.

 

I did not want to be a victim.

 

But for a time, I was.

 

In the beginning, I spoke about what was done to me. I looked for resolution and justice from outside sources, hoping for an apology from him and a conviction from the courts. I embraced my pain, feeling justified in holding on to it. Meanwhile, I demonized my ex, removing all semblance of humanity in my view of him.

 

There was a certain comfort in accepting a role as a victim. I garnered sympathy and commiseration from those around me. I had limited control and limited responsibility. But those same conditions that sheltered me also confined me.

 

As long as I saw myself as a victim, I would remain one. As long as I was limited by my past, I would remain a prisoner of what happened.

 

When the desired justice from the courts failed to appear and the hoped-for apology never came, I was left with a decision to make: I could either bemoan the circumstances or I could change my response.

 

I chose the latter.

 

I used the following ideas to help shed the guise of victim and make myself the hero of my own life:

 

Rewrite Your Story

 

When we are harmed, we often feel powerless, as though we are simply being led through someone else’s story. One of the first steps to renouncing victimhood is to take control of your story. Rewrite it. Reframe it. Narrate it. Change the perspective. Take yourself out of the role of victim (done to me) and put yourself in the role of hero (I did…). Write it or tell it until you believe it.

 

Pick up a pen and write your happy ending.

 

Create Purpose

 

Whatever happened, happened. There is no changing the past. But you can use the past to create something better in the future. Find some anger about what occurred and use that as fuel to drive you to create something better. Look around and see others suffering and use your experience to render aide. Use your rock bottom as a foundation for your life’s purpose.

 

You have the power to create something wonderful out of something terrible.

 

Make Changes

 

When unwanted change is thrust upon our lives, it’s easy to feel hopeless. Learn to recognize the potential hidden within and use the opportunity of uncertainty to create change of your choosing. There is no better time to release what no longer serves you and to embrace new beginnings.

 

When you’re rebuilding your life from the ground up, you have the power of choice and the wisdom of experience. That’s a powerful pair.

 

Find Gratitude

 

One of the powerful and difficult exercises that can empower the victimized is practicing radical gratitude. Face what has caused you the greatest pain, the most suffering, and write down why you are grateful for it. It is an amazing reminder of how much our thoughts rather than our circumstances are responsible for our happiness.

 

When gratitude is your wrapping paper, everything is a gift.

 

 

You are only a victim if you imprison yourself. Release yourself from the shackles of your past and let your spirit soar.

 

 

 

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The Unintended Consequences of Overreacting

One of the characteristics of a good marriage is that it is a safe space for both parties. Ideally, it becomes the sanctuary where you can take off your armor and feel comfortable wearing only your thin and vulnerable skin. It’s the place where you don’t have to pretend, where you can say what you feel and be loved for who you are. It’s where the tough conversations happen and wild emotions are tamed in the interest of the team.

I failed my first husband in this regard.

I went into that marriage scared. Scared of losing him. Scared of being alone. Scared of being unlovable. Scared of the consequences of adult decisions. And scared to face my own fear.

And the result of all this fear was that I didn’t create a space where he could feel safe expressing his own doubts, his own worries, his own fears. I unintentionally communicated the message that he wasn’t able to be open with me because I was too afraid to sit with the uncomfortable feelings it would stir up in me. I went into the marriage feeling abandoned – by my dad and by my friends who had died way too young – and my ex quietly assumed the role of reassuring me that I wouldn’t feel left again.

And so when his own crisis hit, when he began to feel less-than and unworthy and scared, he didn’t feel like he could turn to me. Instead, he turned inward. He tried to drown his shame in drink, he covered his fears with lies and the whole time, he kept me feeling safe. Secure.

I never told him he couldn’t talk to me. I never belittled him or questioned his feelings.I never lied, never raised my voice and never responded with contempt.

I thought I was doing my part to create a safe space for him.

But I wasn’t.

I didn’t give him the freedom to say the hard things without facing the entire brunt of my emotional burden. It must have felt like opening the car door only to fear being flattened by an oncoming eighteen-wheeler. Safer to simply keep the door closed.

I thought I was a good wife because I tried my best to lift him up.

But I wasn’t.

I didn’t understand that, rather than focus on him, I could do more good by focusing on me. By addressing my fears and my reactions, I had the power to help shape the very nature of our marriage, to make it a safer place for both of us to be open and vulnerable and to remove the burden of my emotional well-being from his shoulders.

I thought that I was doing the right thing by ignoring my fears of loss.

But I wasn’t.

Shoving those feelings aside didn’t mean that they were not there. Instead, they became a quiet hum, the perpetual background noise that would rise to a scream anytime it was provoked.

In all the lessons from the end of my marriage, perhaps one of the most important has been learning how to be okay with the idea of loss. To be okay staying with the uncomfortable feelings without erupting into a panic. To be okay hearing the hard words without internalizing them or catastrophizing them. And to make every effort to be calm even when my now-husband is expressing things I would rather not hear.

Because part of making marriage a safe space is to create an environment where each person can feel permitted to speak without excessive consequence. And that ultimately comes down to taking care of your own emotional wounds and narratives.

I still struggle sometimes with not overreacting. But like with anything, practice makes better. And life seems to give plenty of opportunities to keep learning.

 

A quick note here on responsibility – I am not excusing my ex husband’s decisions. What he did was oh-so-very-wrong in every way. I did not make him cheat, lie and turn to addiction. His choices and actions are his responsibility. My role is to look at what I could control, how I contributed to the environment that allowed his actions to occur, and address those things. I can’t change the past, but I can learn from it and keep trying to do and be better.

 

 

Finding Your Strength Through Your Victim Impact Statement

At the gym yesterday, there was a man near me who was using his headset to have a phone conversation. Hearing the one-sided discussion about inane business matters made me irrationally angry. I kept trying to tune him out, to let the music and other voices drown out his, but my attention kept being drawn back to him.

Science has studied this phenomenon and has confirmed that we find one-sided conversations particularly distracting. It’s proposed that this is because our brains detest a void and so they are working overtime in an attempt to piece together the missing part of the exchange.

I partially credit this fact with my obsession of having my voice heard after abandonment. It felt like an important conversation, interrupted. He said his piece and my brain was desperate to fill in the response. When all of my attempts at establishing a dialog were ignored, I became desperate to be heard.

I was first asked to write a victim impact statement by the district attorney’s office in association with the bigamy charge. I actually had to have my mom help with the first iteration, as I was not yet able to articulate the extent of the emotional, financial and physical fallout of his actions.

I was more prepared for the second impact statement, part of the required documentation by the IRS for Innocent Spouse Relief. As I composed the statement, I imagined I was speaking to my ex-husband. As I detailed his egregious acts, I started to feel a little better as my reply to his side of the conversation was recorded. And when the federal government validated my response by grating me relief, I felt even better still.


 

Not all victims are recognized by the legal system and given the opportunity to compose a victim impact statement. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t choose to write one yourself.

When you have been victimized, there is a power imbalance at play. You feel like you’ve been disregarded, disrespected and even dismissed. A victim impact statement is a way of taking back some of that power. Of saying, “I have a voice and my voice matters.”

An impact statement both highlights the injustices committed and describes the impact that those acts have had upon you. It gives you the space to say, “What you did was not okay and it hurt me.”

Being victimized often carries with it some shame. Abuse flourishes when people are too scared or too embarrassed to speak out. By writing your statement, you are saying, “I have the courage to speak up and take a stand against your behaviors.”

And finally, composing a victim impact statement can be the first, critical, step of taking ownership over your own life again. It’s a way of saying, “You hurt me, but you did not silence me. You harmed me, but you cannot stop me. You tried to keep me down, but I will rise again, stronger and even better than before.”

 

 

In some ways, this blog and my books have become an extension of my own victim impact statements. My way of refusing to be silenced.

Seven Strategies a Covert Abuser Uses to Create Convincing Lies

Unless you’ve been there, you simply cannot understand how well a covert abuser can lie. The stories are so cunningly crafted and so expertly delivered that even the professionals can be fooled. It’s one of the harder – and more frustrating – parts of emerging from this type of relationship, as you feel like nobody else gets what you went through or even believes what you are saying.

These manipulators all seem to follow common scripts and utilize similar tactics. These are the ones that I repeatedly see:

 

1 – They Choose Someone With Integrity

My ex knew from the beginning that I’m terrible at lying. In fact, I’m so bad at it that I would make him say “no” to an invite that we weren’t interested in and it was his role to return items to the store because I was too uncomfortable to say that it didn’t fit instead of, “It’s ugly.”

Covert abusers seek out honest people. They look for those with loyalty and integrity. Those positive traits are exactly what the abuser needs because those people will believe the best about their partners and don’t readily assume deceit.

 

2 – They Stay Close to the Truth

When my ex was in Brazil on his honeymoon, he claimed that he was working a car show. The exact same show that he worked the previous year. It was only later that I discovered that this particular dealer was no longer even a client of his. But I no reason to doubt his claim at the time, as it fit neatly into my expectations.

The best liars stay close to the truth. Not only does this make their stories more plausible, it also makes it more difficult for them to get their storylines mixed up. They may give you partial truths, leaving out critical information. Or they may replace certain facts while keeping the basic tale consistent.

 

3 – They Provide Plentiful Details

My ex walked into the kitchen with a MacBook box under his arm. And apparently with a story under his belt. For the next thirty minutes, he detailed how there was a raffle at the job fair (yes, he was unemployed) for a computer. He initially didn’t want to enter, because he didn’t think he’d win and he didn’t want to receive the endless ads that accompany such events. Finally, he said, he decided to throw his card in before he left. He was already in his car, three intersections away, when his phone rang and he learned he won. Except, years later, I found the charge for that very computer on a credit card statement.

Good fabricators use details to make their stories more believable and to distract from any implausibility. They use their words to paint a picture and to envelope you in its imagery.

 

4 – They Elicit Your Sympathy 

On that same Brazil trip, I received a short voicemail where my husband told me he had been stricken by food poisoning. He sounded terrible and, even more worrying to me, he sounded concerned about his situation. Unable to get through to him, I began to panic. For the next two days, I was so consumed with worry for him that I hardly thought of anything else.

Covert abusers like to make you feel sorry for them. Because as long as you’re sympathetic, you’re not suspicious. Additionally, these manipulators really do often see themselves as the victim and believe that life has not been fair to them.

 

5 – They Utilize Supporting Evidence

After my ex’s arrest for bigamy, I found a copy of his car insurance card in the center console of his vehicle. There was only one problem. The space where my name was on the electronic copy of the PDF, was blank on his card. He had Photoshopped my name off my card so as not to arouse the suspicions of his other wife.

Good manipulators do not only rely on words. They will use evidence, either gathered or fabricated, to support their claims. They understand that a little goes a long way here. If you have “proof” of one piece, you’re more likely to go along with the rest.

 

6 – They Employ Distractions

When interest rates dropped in the mid 2000s, we had agreed to refinance the house. He brought the paperwork to my work and had somebody cover my class so that I could sign the papers. All the while I was signing, he was trying to engage me in a conversation he was having with one of my coworkers. I was so distracted by the environment and the circumstances, that I never realized that the paperwork didn’t specify the terms that we had previously discussed.

It’s an old trick, but an effective one. When you’re busy looking at one thing, you can’t focus on another. Deceivers are experts at this technique and they make sure that you’re always looking exactly where they want you to. And then they take advantage while you’re gaze is turned elsewhere.

 

7 – They Use Gaslighting 

 

Once my ex was arrested, he turned the gaslighting up to “high,” claiming that we had been divorced for years and that I was just having trouble accepting it. He painted me as vindictive and greedy and “impossible to live with.” In other words, he tried to make me look crazy in an attempt to escape from his lies.

Covert abusers are experts at, “You didn’t see that” and “I never said that.” By making you question yourself, you get so lost that you refrain from questioning them. And even when they are caught, they will continue to lie and deny. After all, at some point it became their most fluent language.

The Importance of Finding Your Truth After Gaslighting

It all hit me when I saw the bank statement.

For the prior thirty hours that had elapsed after my former husband disappeared with a text, I was still making excuses for him. He must be depressed. Or acting impulsively. He’ll come to his senses soon and we’ll discuss what’s going on. I still believed in him.

And then I saw the bank statement.

Days before, I was with my dad and his wife almost 3,000 miles away from my home when my debit card was declined at lunch. Shocked and concerned, since my calculations had the balance well into the black, I texted my husband. He seemed to as surprised as I was and told me he was pulling up the account on his computer as we talked since my flip phone wasn’t up to the task.

“Oh, crap,” he grumbled, “Southeast Toyota did it again.” Only there were a few more expletives involved. He went on to explain that they had pulled his car payment out of the account four times that day, an apparent glitch in the automatic payment system. “Let me call you right back.”

Twenty minutes later, he phoned and related the news that Toyota would fix the error and return the funds but that it would be three business days before they were available.

It just so happened that my husband disappeared three days later.

After making my way back across the country and into the shell of my marital home, I pulled up the joint checking account (after resetting the password that he had apparently changed).

Southeast Toyota had never made an error. My husband had made a choice.

My card was declined because my recent paycheck went towards buying another woman’s engagement ring.

And that’s when it hit me.

Anything that I thought was real through my husband’s words or actions was suddenly suspect.

And somehow in the midst of his fiction, I needed to find my own truth.

 

Gaslighting surrounds you with lies, trapping you in web of deception and clouding your vision of your own reality. Make no mistake, even with no iron bars and no locks on the doors, gaslighting is a trap. The prison is initially woven from the words of another, yet it eventually keeps bound by your own beliefs.

And that’s the true danger of gaslighting. Because even if the one responsible is removed,  the web remains. And that’s when the work of clearing away the debris and finding your own truth begins.

After gaslighting, your vision of your world and even yourself is clouded and distorted. Over time, you have begun to rely less on your own senses and beliefs and more on those of another. You doubt yourself, question yourself. Do I believe this because it’s real or because I’ve been told that it’s real?

Removing the gaslighter from your life is only the first step in recovering from this type of emotional abuse. The next step is evicting them from your head. Only then can you begin the process of rediscovering and trusting your own truth. Here are five empowering ways to begin this journey.