My Side, His Side and … the Truth?

narcissist lie

One of the more infuriating responses I’ve received when others have heard my synopsis of my ex-husband’s actions that led to the divorce is, “Well, you know how it is. There’s your side, his side and then, somewhere in between them, there’s the truth.”

After I swallow my scream, I try to respond with a well-meaning and polite-sounding, “That’s so awesome that you haven’t met anybody like him. I hope you never do.”

In general, I am a huge fan of the concept that there are facts and then there is the way we perceive the facts. And those perceptions can be very different. Give two people the same fictional book and they will not only interpret the characters’ actions in different ways, they will likely build mismatched views of the protagonist’s appearance.

Yet the text is the same.

And that’s where I have a problem with this phrase being applied to the circumstances surrounding my divorce.

Of course my ex-husband is entitled to his own opinion. But he is NOT entitled to his own facts.

Which is exactly what he was doing.

When he told the police that we had been divorced for years, I highly doubt that he was simply expressing some metaphorical feeling that he was keeping under wraps. As he recorded my salary on the financial disclosure as a third more than it was, I don’t think it was because he’d viewed the numbers in a different way. And when he described how his “workday” was going while he was on his honeymoon, I struggle to believe that he was really under the impression that he was working long days on the trade show floor.

Those are facts. And there are thousands more where those came from.

And those facts don’t care about feelings – his or mine.

Now, when it comes to the particular climate of the marriage that acted as fertile soil for those deceptions to grow, I’m sure we have our own opinions and perspectives. I would have loved to have been given the opportunity to hear his side. To try to understand where the unhappiness resided and to learn more about his interpretations and outlook.

But I was never given that chance.

So all I have is my side, my best guesses at his side and the facts.

And as for the truth? I’ll never know.

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Look Out For These “Red Flag” Phrases

I’d never do anything to hurt you.

This is naive at best and a manipulative distraction at worst. In any meaningful relationship, the occasional hurt is unavoidable.  Toes are carelessly stepped on, harsh words erupt before they’re caught and actions are misconstrued to have an alternate meaning. Hurt happens. And it’s what happens after that matters. Instead of a promise to “never hurt,” look for somebody who will be willing to learn from the unintentional injury and try to do better going forward.

In the more malevolent case, this phrase is used as a numbing balm that conceals the sharpness of the knife pressed into your back. It claims that your best interest is at heart, when the reality is that your heart is being shredded without your knowledge.

 

You deserve better.

When somebody makes this claim, listen. It may be that they have been far-from-honest with you and they are admitting that you don’t deserve that betrayal of trust. Alternately, they may possess a low sense of self and they feel that they are not worthy of you. Although not malicious, this is also a warning sign because an insecure person will bring unhealthy needs and patterns into a relationship.

Ideally, a relationship inspires both people to be at their best because they want their partner to have the best.

 

You’re my everything.

Talk about a whole lot of pressure. If you’re someone’s everything, they are looking to you to meet ALL of their needs. And not only is this stressful, it’s also impossible.

It’s healthy and natural to be the most important thing in each other’s lives.  But those lives should also be filled with other friends, interests and supports.

 

Your happiness is more important than my own.

Sounds good, right? But think it through. First off, this would require a perfect reciprocity to pull it off, both partners neglecting their own well-being in exchange for cultivating their partner’s happiness. Furthermore, nobody else has the power to make you happy or unhappy. That has always been – and will always be – an inside job.

Ideally, each person takes full responsibility for their own happiness and understands that by attending to your own well-being, you’re in turn nurturing the other person as you present your best self and refrain from making impossible demands that they make you okay. You want your partner to be happy and you strive to support that, but you also recognize the limitations of you can provide.

 

You made me…

Just no. You cannot make somebody do/feel/think anything. You are responsible for your words and actions. The other person is responsible for their reactions. It is up to them to communicate clearly and instate boundaries if needed. Then, the ball is back in your court to respond to that information.

This phrase is a favorite one of abusers, as they manipulate their partners into believing that it is all their fault. Even in milder cases, these words are an indication that the person shirks responsibility for themselves and is more likely to point fingers than make changes.

 

I can’t survive without you.

Again with the pressure. This is commonly used to tether a person to a toxic relationship. It’s hard to leave when you’re told that your leaving could have dire consequences for the person that you (presumably) care about.

But that burden is not your to carry. If you need to leave, you need to leave. Your responsibility is do so in the kindest, clearest and cleanest way possible. What happens from there is not on you.

 

You’re my soulmate.

This one sure sounds romantic. But there’s a dark side to it. If you’re placed on the pedestal stamped with the title “soulmate,” you do not have permission to be anything less than perfect. A successful relationship of any duration requires a growth mindset that accepts that perfection is an illusion and sees mistakes as opportunities to learn.

 

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.

 

 

 

Seven Strategies a Covert Abuser Uses to Create Convincing Lies

covert abuser

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.

Five Empowering Ways to recover From Gaslighting

The Importance of Finding Your Truth After Gaslighting

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.