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Walking Away After 30 Years of Narcissistic Abuse

by | Betrayal Trauma

Walking away after decades of narcissistic abuse? Chances are you’re experiencing grief. Fear. Anger. Loneliness.

The spectrum of emotions that victims of covert abuse experience over decades of cruelty is almost impossible to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it. Vicki shares her story poignantly in this vulnerable unfolding of her painful journey of 30 years of abuse on The BTR.ORG Podcast.

Vicki’s story, like many others, begins with the deceptive allure of Prince Charming that soon morphs into a domestic climate where walking on eggshells becomes the norm. Tune in to the podcast and read the full transcript below for more.

This episode is Part 1 of Anne’s interview with Vicki.
Part 1: Walking After 30 Years of Narcissistic Abuse (this episode)
Part 2: This is How You Know It’s Time To Leave
Part 3: My Emotions in the Aftermath of Abuse 

Are you in a multi-decade long relationship with an abuser?

Many victims find BTR.ORG after years, even decades of abuse. Some experience deep feelings of shame and self-loathing for “staying so long”.

At BTR, we understand the complexities of relationships, of identifying abuse, and how difficult it can be to make the decision to leave once you do identify abusive behavior.

Initially dismissing her husband’s alarming behavior as the byproduct of external hardships, it was also very difficult for Vicki to identify that she was experiencing abuse.

You are safe here.

You will never experience judgment or pressure here at BTR. We understand that each situation is unique and each individual knows her own situation best.

Consider attending a BTR.ORG Group Session today – a safe community where you can process your experiences is often a good place to start your healing journey.

Full Transcript:

Anne (00:01):
Welcome to BTR.ORG. This is Anne. Today we have a member of our community on today’s episode. We are going to call her Vicki. She is going to be sharing her personal experience and what she has been through. So welcome, Vicki.

Vicki (01:38):
Hi. It’s great to be here.

Anne (01:41):
I don’t know if great to be here. Is <laugh> the exact right way to put it, right?

Vicki (01:47):
Well, if it’s gonna help anybody, then yes.

Did you recognize your husband’s abusive behaviors?

Anne (01:50):
Yes, yes. What you’ve been through is terrible. But a lot of victims who come on the podcast to share their experience, find it as like a step on their journey to peace in that they’re able to like really share their story with a community of women who get it and that can benefit from it. So we’re really grateful for you taking the time to share today. So let’s start at the beginning of your story. Did you recognize your husband’s abusive behaviors?

Vicki (02:24):
At first, no. I mean, of course at first he was Prince Charming, you know, so there wasn’t anything to notice at first. But then very shortly after we were married, I started noticing things that I was like, Hmm, I’ve never seen that before. Where did that come from? But this went on for months and years, without me being able to say, wait a minute, that’s not okay. That’s totally abusive. So definitely did not recognize it.

Finding ways to live with “strange” (abusive) behavior

Anne (02:58):
How did you define these? I’ll just put in quotes, strange behaviors or things that you were like I don’t feel good about that. How did you define that behavior at the time? What reasons did you give?

Vicki (03:10):
Well, I just thought that he had a lot of bad things happening to him through no fault of his own. So he was really discouraged and it made him touchy. And so in my mind I was just like, well, after all, this behavior’s understandable since, you know, he’s so demoralized because of these tough breaks he keeps going through and, and you know, I just like excused it. And you know, later I found out that all of the things that I called tough breaks were literally just consequences of his choices and behaviors.

Anne (03:45):
But you didn’t know it at the time?

Vicki (03:47):
Oh, no, no, no, no, no. He kept everything so covert, <laugh>, and hidden from me.

Anne (03:57):
Okay. Yeah. Let me guess. Was one of them that getting fired from a job?

Always everyone else’s fault…

Vicki (04:01):
Oh yes. That was definitely one of them. On more than one occasion, he went through 10 jobs and every single time it was because there was a quote, departmental restructuring, or his boss was a horrible jerk or something like that. It was definitely not due to behaviors he was doing on the job, on company time with the company computer <laugh>.

Anne (04:25):
Right. <laugh>.

Vicki (04:27):
It was definitely not that.

This is how abusers control the narrative

Anne (04:29):
I mentioned on another interview recently that the situation usually begins for them in their head with what other people do in response. It doesn’t start with them. So they do something wrong. You know, they use porn on their work computer and then their boss starts treating them badly, maybe because they’re like, you’re a bad person. When I say badly, I’m putting that in quotes. Like, you’re not a good employee, you’re going to need to leave. And that’s where they start the story. The story starts with my boss started looking at me weird and treating me bad and not giving me projects, and then he fired me.

Vicki (05:05):
Right. And I have no idea why.

“He was mean and impatient and would rage constantly”

Anne (05:07):
Mm-Hmm, <affirmative>. Yeah. It usually starts after what they’ve done in the beginning of how someone else is responding to their behavior. But what about his behavior toward you? Was it still just like that? Can you talk about how you felt about his behavior toward you?

Vicki (05:24):
He was just mean and super impatient and would just rage constantly. And I recognized that it was harsh or overreacting or having a tantrum, but I didn’t say that to him because if I did, I would’ve gotten punched. Then that did happen. And yet I didn’t recognize that me needing to carefully avoid being punched by, you know, keeping my words at a minimum and not defying him, I, I didn’t recognize that me needing to avoid that was abuse. You know? So if you said to me, does he physically abuse you? I’d be like, no, no, because I knew how to keep him from doing that. So like when I tried to call him out on inappropriate behavior, he would yell, shut up. You know, and, and sometimes I didn’t shut up, you know, no, I’m not gonna shut up. That’s not okay. And of course, since I didn’t shut up, then I would get know the warning that what was gonna come next. And so I, I would shut up.

“I just thought it was him having a bad temper”

Anne (06:30):
Did you recognize that as abuse?

Vicki (06:33):
No, I just thought it was him having a bad temper. I did not ever identify that as abuse.

Anne (06:41):
Physical abuse never happens without emotional and psychological abuse.

Vicki (06:45):
It was much more severe than anything physically.

“The threat [of physical battering] is ‘keeping you in line'”

Anne (06:48):
So you’re being emotionally and psychologically abused for sure. Which you don’t realize you’re also being physically abused, which you don’t realize. Especially because you are being so abused, you’re doing exactly what he wants. So he’s resorting to the physical abuse less because he is threatened you with it. So the threat is keeping you in line enough, I guess.

Vicki (07:13):
Yeah.

Anne (07:14):
But nobody else in your family knew about it or they didn’t recognize it as physical abuse either?

Vicki (07:19):
My extended family, no. My children, yes, they all knew.

Anne (07:23):
Okay.

“As soon as anybody started getting onto him, we would move. He would uproot us immediately.”

Vicki (07:24):
But yeah, like, like I said, all of my neighbors, church members, family members, they just looked at us. What a cute ideal family, you know? They’re so great. They’re such a nice couple. That’s all they saw. And we would move so often that I never had a support group in the neighborhood and all they would see was the surface stuff. But as soon as anybody started getting onto him, we would move. He would uproot us immediately.

Anne (07:54):
My ex did that too when we were together. We moved six times in five years. I think he knew people were onto him. Maybe, I didn’t know that. But I think he did. I think that is a certain type of abuser does want to move frequently because they want to make sure that they can keep that mask on. Right. Yeah. So he was one of them. In terms of church, was he a like upstanding, I, I’m using, I’m putting this in quotes. Yes. Did the church view him as a upstanding member? Like did he get leadership roles?

Vicki (08:27):
Paul was in a leadership calling. He wore his suit and tie like a badge. That was his disguise. He had most of the people, most of the time completely fooled. I, looking back now, I can see sometimes how people reacted to him. And I’m pretty sure there were some people that didn’t fall for it, but I did until the very end the fog started lifting.

Discovering secret pornography use

Anne (08:55):
Were you aware of porn use?

Vicki (08:57):
Not until after I left. It escalated to a point where my adult children did an intervention and after that my daughter took me to a therapist that she had been seeing and he said, you know, your husband is a porn addict, right? And I was just like, no, that’s no way. He’s so opposed to that. He thinks that’s just a terrible thing. And he’s like, no, no, he is really? So we had two computers and my son, who is a programmer, ran programs and found, deleted files and there was evidence on both computers. And I was just like, are you kidding me? <Laugh>. So then, yes, doing all of the back research, I realized how many lies I had been told the whole time.

30 years of abuse

Anne (09:49):
How long was your marriage?

Vicki (09:50):
It was 30 years almost.

Anne (09:52):
And when did you get married? How old were you?

Vicki (09:54):
I was 19. Yes. I got groomed from day one. He used a very tricky tactic to <laugh> make me think he was Prince Charming.

How did Vicki “manage” the abuse?

(11:23):
So as he is using porn, without you knowing, I mean you’re knowing that you have to walk on eggshells in order to avoid abuse, not knowing that you’re being abused the entire time. Can you tell us more about the types of things you did to sort of quote unquote manage his abuse?

Vicki (11:41):
It’s really sad and I did not even realize this. It, it’s so funny because I literally would fantasize about him being dead and how easy it would be to raise eight kids all myself, with him being dead. Like, and that didn’t even clue me into something being amiss <laugh>. I don’t know, I, I would be like, why, why do I think that that’s so dumb of me? And I, I would justify it by being like, but he is just so tortured and it’s okay for me to not want him to keep having to go through this, you know, existence with it being such torture for him. <Laugh>. And yet he wasn’t being tortured at all. I was.

“He wasn’t getting all the stuff for free that he thought he was entitled to.”

Anne (12:20):
You were. He was just saying he was tortured from what, like he was abused as a kid or his dad didn’t love him or what?

Vicki (12:26):
‘Cause of losing jobs and not being treated like he was stellar all the time by every person in his sphere. <Laugh>,

Anne (12:38):
He wasn’t getting all the stuff for free that he thought he was entitled to. Right.

A domestic climate of walking on eggshells

Vicki (12:41):
Yeah. What I did that was so sad was like, I, I just had my kids like, okay guys, dad’s gonna be home. You know, everybody just has to not fight. We can’t have this, you know, and like I had them all like trained little walking on eggshell kids because they knew they would get, get hurt if there was any problem. And so all I did was spend my entire marriage making him have his life exactly how he wanted. I mean, I’d have the dinner on the table, whatever he said he wanted to do, we would facilitate that ASAP. There was nobody else was allowed to have a want or a need. If anyone expressed a want or a need, they got, oh, you’re so selfish. You’re, you’re so needy. You’re such a drama queen. You’re just on and on.

“Your strengths and your talents and your effort were exploited for an abuser.”

Anne (13:31):
Do you realize how capable you are and how amazing you are that you were actually able to do that? I hear women say this like, so I had dinner on the table and so I had this and this done. And I’m like, oh wow, you guys are amazing. Like I was the world’s most incapable victim apparently. ’cause I could not pull it off, you know? I am like so in awe of how talented and dedicated and just hardworking women are. And then saddened to see, and you too, right? All the lost time that your strengths and your talents and your effort were exploited for an abuser. And so that’s what the painful part is. It’s not that like you’re ashamed that you worked hard or that you’re ashamed that you are smart. There is a little bit of this shame I think that women carry once they realize that these really good things about them were exploited. But for the use of an abuser rather than for your own life,

Vicki (14:35):
Right.

Anne (14:36):
For yourself and that lost time, it’s like difficult to grieve.

“I hate that now my kids are struggling as adults because of their trauma from me.”

Vicki (14:41):
Yeah. And that’s the sad thing. Yeah, I’ve been safe for years, several years, and I’m still going through so much grief. Little things will trigger and just be like, oh, I just <laugh>. I hate that I was so gullible or I hate that now my kids are struggling as adults because of their trauma from me. You know? Instead of being like, no, you’re not gonna treat my kids like that. You’re out of here. I didn’t do that. It was like, okay, now you guys have to manage your behavior and not be a kid. It it was on them.

Anne (15:17):
Yeah. It is so painful. I’m so sorry. I want to like reframe it and be like, you were so strong and so brave. You were doing everything you knew how to do. You didn’t know anything else. If someone would’ve, an angel would’ve come down from the heavens and said, Vicki, this is abuse. Stop doing this. You would’ve done it.

Vicki (15:39):
I would’ve.

Anne (15:40):
Yeah. You didn’t know.

“I had to get permission from somebody that I believed had authority”

Vicki (15:42):
When someone finally did say that to me, I left. Like I never went back to the house once – after that I was done <laugh>. So I just had to get permission from somebody that I believed had authority, who happened to be a therapist. This was part of the intervention. This is what I realized. I, I was like, you’re mentally ill and you’re scary. I can’t live with you anymore. You’re gonna need to go get yourself into some kind of residential treatment program. I thought there was such a thing as that. I don’t know <laugh>, because you can’t come home with me in your current state of mind. And so he drags us down to this counseling office and just without an appointment, starts yelling at all the staff and saying, she won’t let me go home until I see a therapist. And there was thankfully a lady there who was willing to talk to him and she got him in another room filling out and take paperwork. And then she told me to run for my life. She said he’s not okay. Go. And that’s the last time I, I was with him. So I just had to have one person tell me that it was okay to go.

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