He just became increasingly mean to me, to the point that I thought something was seriously wrong with me. I started going to a therapist because I thought, ‘What is wrong with me? I am nothing.’ Every day, he found something wrong with me. He would tell me how horrible I was, just horrible things.
Diane, victim of narcissistic abuse
Narcissistic abusers condition victims to blame themselves, isolate from others, and believe that they deserve cruel treatment.
When women learn more about narcissistic abuse and how to find safety, they are better able to see through the abuser’s manipulations and begin their journey to safety.
On the free BTR podcast, Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, speaks with Diane, a victim of narcissistic abuse. As Diane shares her devastating story of being victimized by a narcissistic abuser, she empowers women to become educated about abuse and trauma and start seeking safety. Read the full transcript below and listen to the free BTR podcast for more.
Narcissistic Abusers Make Victims Feel Inadequate
For so many years, I thought it was me and that I needed to be better and I wasn’t enough, and I was always trying to live that standard.
Diane, victim of narcissistic abuse
A powerful tool in every narcissistic abuser’s kit is the subtle use of manipulation to make victims feel inadequate in every way.
Because of the abuser’s manipulations, many victims feel like they are:
- Terrible mothers
Understanding that these deeply hurtful beliefs about oneself are universal among victims of narcissistic abuse may help victims understand that they are not what their partner says or implies they are – in fact, they are usually the complete opposite.
Victims of Narcissistic Abuse Feel Exhausted
Because of the self-centered nature of abusers with narcissistic tendencies, victims are sucked into a universe where the abusive partner is at the center, and their life becomes about appeasing him.
Often, narcissistic abusers will play the victim/martyr in order to ensure that victims are so focused on the abuser’s feelings and “needs” that they simply don’t have time or energy to practice self-care or identify the abuse.
I was in a cycle of trying to make him happy while giving more and more and more and taking less and less and less from him.
Diane, victim of narcissistic abuse
One way to identify that you are in a victim to a narcissistic abuser is to ask yourself these qualifying questions:
- Am I exhausted and fatigued regularly?
- Do I suffer from poor sleep/sleep disturbances?
- Does my partner wake me up to talk/yell/have sex with me?
- Do I spend a large amount of time calming my partner down/fixing things that he is anxious about/working through relational issues with him that seem to go in circles?
- Do I feel like I don’t have time or energy for self-care?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be a victim of narcissistic abuse.
Narcissistic Abusers Are Master Manipulators
I have two master’s degrees. I should be smart enough to see this, but you don’t. You don’t realize it, because they’re master manipulators. He makes the world fit his needs, and I was totally okay with that. I just went along with it.
Diane, victim of narcissistic abuse
Tragically, victims often berate themselves for not identifying the abuse sooner in the relationship.
It is important for all women to understand that narcissistic abusers are master manipulators who understand exactly how to manipulate each victim. By falling prey to his manipulation, you are not stupid, weak, or codependent. You are simply a victim of a manipulative abuser.
Victims of Narcissistic Abuse Can Practice Self-Compassion
When women experience this insidious form of relational abuse, they often fall into severe trauma. This can manifest in many ways including:
- Physically (sleep disturbance, exhaustion, eating issues)
- Emotionally (mood swings, intense emotions, numbness)
- Spiritually (confusion or loss of faith)
- Mentally (depression, anxiety)
For many victims, even getting out of bed each morning feels like a Herculean feat:
Any amount of just staying alive every single day was making it through.
Diane, victim of narcissistic abuse
Victims who practice self-compassion, patience, and self-care will find the journey to safety and healing much easier.
Choosing to allow yourself to experience the painful feelings associated with trauma will help you overcome, in time, the debilitating effects of your partner’s abuse.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Narcissistic Abuse
At BTR, we understand the depth of misery that a narcissistic abuser can put his victim through.
Victims of narcissistic abuse deserve a safe place to process their trauma, speak with others who understand how they feel, ask important questions, and connect with other victims.
The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in every time zone and offers women the validation, support, and compassion that they deserve. Join today and begin your journey to healing.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
I went to an event the other night, and I saw an old friend. She and I went to college together. At that event, I learned that she had been through the same thing that all of us have, who listen to this podcast. I am going to call her Diane. I have not heard her story yet, so to all of our listeners you will be hearing it just as I’m hearing it after not seeing her or having contact with her for what has it been 20 years?
Diane: Yeah, 20 years exactly.
Anne: Okay. Welcome Diane.
Diane: Thank you. I’m so happy to be here with you.
Anne: When we knew each other in college, you had a one-year-old daughter?
Diane: Yes, she would be 23 now because she would have been 2 ½.
Anne: We graduated together in Education and we were going to become teachers. We both did become teachers. Let’s pick up there, because that’s the last time I talked to you.
Survivors Of Narcissistic Abuse Didn’t Know They Were Being Abused
Tell me about your relationship and what you were going through, after you graduated from college. Did you know, at that time, that you were in an abusive relationship?
Diane: My story is kind of funny because I was with the same man for 23 years. Right after I graduated from college, I had another child and then we actually got divorced. At that time, I did not know of his addiction or what was happening with him. Then, we actually got remarried.
I remarried him because he came back to me and then we were together for another 17 years. In the last two years, I found out everything. For that entire 17-year period, he was a sex addict and he had multiple things going on, but it didn’t come to a head until about a year and a half ago.
Anne: Let’s talk about your first divorce from Ed. This is what, two years after we graduated from college?
Diane: Yes, definitely.
Anne: Okay, so, at this time, what did you think was the cause of that first divorce?
Diane: What’s so hard about all of this is I thought it was me. For so many years, I thought it was me and that I needed to be better and I wasn’t enough, and I was always trying to live that standard. Now going through all these things—I saw you and I was like, “I’m so happy. I wish I would have found your podcast and your website a year ago,” because it’s been a journey of hardship for a long time just this last year.
But, that first time, he’d actually had an affair, but I didn’t know that, so I just thought it was me. Then, when he came back to me, I was like, “Oh, I’ve changed, I’m better, I’m good.”
Anne: So, he said, “I’m leaving you. I’m just not happy in this marriage. You’re just not good enough, or whatever,” and he takes off. Meanwhile, he is lying to you, manipulating you, and abusing you because of the things he’s telling you aren’t true and he’s putting you down on purpose to hide his own stuff, right? You don’t know any of this. Two years after the divorce he comes back and says, “I messed up. You are amazing.”
Diane: Honestly, now I look at it and it was love-bombing. Totally like, “I love you. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me. I want to be a good dad to our kids.” Of course, I was like, “Yes, I want to save my family. I want him to be the dad he can to my kids.” I thought, “Oh, yes, he’s changed. I’ve changed. We’ve grown up a little bit.”
Then, we got back together, and we proceeded to have two more kids. Throughout this time, it was always that borderline of “I need to be better. If I was thinner, if I am cleaner, then he’ll be happy.” I look at it now and think, “What was wrong with me?” But I was in a cycle of trying to make him happy while giving more and more and more and taking less and less and less from him.
Narcissistic Abuse Doesn’t Have To Be Physical
Anne: Let’s talk about the abuse that people, generally, recognize as abuse and then we’ll talk about the abuse that’s hidden. In terms of the obvious abuse that everybody is like, “Oh, that’s abuse.” Was there any physical violence or screaming and yelling in your face or punching walls or anything like that that was happening?
Diane: He was never physically abusive to me, in any way, that way, but he would get in my face and make me feel like, “Why’s the house so messy?!?” Kind of belittle me in front of our kids and things like that. He was never physically abusive to me.
Anne: Okay. Then, you didn’t know for these 17 years that you were in an abusive relationship, right? You didn’t know you were being lied to and manipulated and gaslit, on purpose, to hide his own stuff?
Diane: No, I didn’t. I look at it now and I’m like, “How did I not know?” It’s crazy to me!
Anne: I haven’t known you for 20 years, but I knew you 20 years ago, and you are smart.
Diane: Well, I’d think so, right. I have two master’s degrees. I should be smart enough to see this, but you don’t. That’s something, whenever I talk to people. I’m like, “You don’t realize it, because they’re master manipulators.” He makes the world fit his needs, and I was totally okay with that. I just went along with it.
Anne: How did you find out?
Diane: My ex is a military person, so we had moved to a new duty station. At this point, I thought, “Oh, good. This is our starting over. We’re going to renew. We’re going to be a better family.” At that point, he started dating somebody else.
He just became increasingly mean to me, to the point that I thought something was seriously wrong with me. I started going to a therapist because I’m like, “What is wrong with me? I am nothing.” Every day he found something wrong with me. He would tell me how horrible I was, just horrible things.
At that point, I was like, “What is going on with me?” It wasn’t until my daughter, the daughter we talked about, she looked at me and she said, “Mom, is dad having an affair?” Then, I started looking at different things and that’s when I found out. I found out that he had been.
Narcissistic Abusers Will Lie To Protect Their Secrets
When I first found out, he told me it was an emotional affair because I looked at the text messages and I found text messages. He told me there was nothing physical. Then I thought, “Okay, well, I’m going to be better and I’m going to love him better,” that kind of thing.
About a month later, I found he had been using a different app and there was a text from the girl who said, “I’ve been so spoiled lately, and I haven’t woken up next to you. I can’t wait until we do it again.” I confronted him and, then, the world fell apart because he was going to be better, he was going to love me blah, blah, blah. I fell apart for a little while.
Anne: How did you find out about the additional abuse and betrayal from the whole 17 years? Did it just start coming out or was it something that you started piecing together?
Diane: Both, actually. What happened is I just became a super detective. Looking through emails, looking through everything, and I started to see this pattern of things where he’d be on porn sites. I just never believed that was really happening, I guess.
Then I found that he’d been on dating sites. He’s military, so every time he was away from me, he was dating, he was sleeping with other people, he was doing all these things, and so I confronted him. I think, at one point, he finally felt better, for lack of a better term, he had verbal diarrhea.
I still think there is probably stuff I don’t know, which I’m kind of good not knowing, but from that first divorce until this divorce he had been with multiple partners and multiple people, doing whatever he wanted to do basically.
To Survive Narcissistic Abuse Just Try To Survive
Anne: When you said, “I fell apart,” what do you mean by that? I’ll tell you what I did. I sat on the couch and ate buckets of popcorn. I gained a ton of weight. I watched a lot of Netflix. I watched every episode of “The Good Wife,” which by the way, is the perfect show to watch when you’re going through this. What did your “falling apart” look like?
Diane: My falling apart, I actually went the other way. I did not eat for, probably, four months. I lost 30 pounds. I just, again, internalized that it was me. I think about it, that abuse had been such a cycle of “I’m not enough, so I’ll be better. I’ll show him how much better I am. I’ll show him that I’m better than anybody else he would choose” kind of thing.
On top of all this, there was one extra component in there, I found out that my mom had a brain tumor three days after I found out about the affair he’d been having this whole time. It was like my whole world exploded.
I could not sleep. I couldn’t eat, and I was just cycling. My therapist calls it future-tripping, but I would be like, “Oh, I need to do this. Oh, I need to do that better.” I did not read a book for six months. For me, that was crazy. You know, I’d get two sentences in and just cycle again. It’s hard.
Anne: That’s not crazy. That’s totally normal. We graduated in teaching English, so everybody knows, we’re both readers, right? Yeah, so the same thing happened to me. I completely stopped reading. I couldn’t read.
I would try and I couldn’t do it, which is part of why I decided to start podcasting instead of just blogging because I was like, “Victims can’t read. They can’t process information, but they can listen.” That was one of the reasons I did a podcast instead.
Diane: You’re so brilliant. That was exactly what is necessary.
Adding Trauma To Trauma Makes Survival Difficult
Anne: So, yeah, you’re losing weight and you can’t read. Really quickly, what happened with your mom?
Diane: My mom actually passed away on May 2nd. This all came out March 3rd and my mom died May 2nd. So, it was trauma on trauma on trauma. This is my least favorite story to tell but I have to tell you.
What happened is my ex was very, very careful. He didn’t want anyone to know about what he’d been doing. One of the reasons is he’s military, but he was also very manipulative. If you go through narcissistic betrayal, he obviously wanted everyone to believe how good he was.
He came to my mom’s funeral and acted all the part of loving and everything else, and then we buried my mom. Literally, it had been two hours, and he came to my house—because at this point, we weren’t living together—and asked if we could discuss the terms of our divorce. In front of my children. Two hours after I buried my mom.
That was the icing on the cake. I was like, “No. As much as I’m hurt, this is my boundary, you need to leave.”
Anne: Time and time again, women come on the podcast to share their story and I’m so amazed at the horror, and I call it horror. Like, the jaws of hell were gaping after you. I’m sure that’s what it felt like, right?
Diane: So, so much. That phrase came into my mind when you were talking.
Anne: Mine, too. I just felt like hell was trying to swallow me whole and I was just holding on by a piece of dental floss.
Diane: So true. Any amount of just staying alive every single day was making it through.
Anne: I’m so sorry about your mom. I’m so sorry.
Diane: I’ve said many times the divorce was fine. It was losing my mom that was so difficult. If you lose your spouse, you know you lose a marriage, but you usually have your mom to go to or vice versa if you lose your mom you usually have somebody to depend on, and I felt like everything was gone all in one.
I learned so much in this year. I tell people all the time, and people come to me—and everybody has a story, we all have these traumas that we face—and I just say, “Be patient with yourself.” I don’t know how many times I’m like, “I just want to feel better. I want to be better today.” Just be patient with yourself and be kind to yourself because it’s going to take a little while.
Anne: When did you start realizing that it wasn’t you? When did you start realizing, “Wait a minute, he’s been an abuser the entire time”? When did you start waking up to that reality?
Diane: I think, when I really did is when my mom was sick. My mom had a brain tumor but what happened is called carcinomatous meningitis. She had cancerous meningitis, so she was fine on April 1st and she passed away May 2nd, so it was four weeks, really fast. I had come back home and was trying to help, but it was still about him.
I’m going through this trauma, and all of this, and he was still trying to protect his image. At that point, I was like, “Wait a second, this isn’t me.” It wasn’t about my kids losing their grandma, it was just he had to be safe. He had to protect himself from anybody thinking badly of him.
That was my first kind of indication, but it took me a long time to really just go, “Wait, I have worth. I’m okay with who I am, and he’s been trying to destroy me for so long.” But I’m not going to lie, even some days I still just feel like, “Wait, what’s wrong with me?” Then it’s like, “Wait, no that’s the manipulation. I need to stop and be okay. I’m okay.”
To Survive Narcissistic Abuse Recognize That You Are A Victim Of Abuse
Anne: Yeah. How would you describe your clarity now, after a year has gone by?
Diane: My ex is with his girlfriend that he left me for. I think about it and I just want to grab her and be like, “Listen, this is going to happen. This is what he’s doing. He’s love-bombing you, he’s gaslighting you, he’s going to use you until there’s nothing left.”
Then I have to step back and be like, “That’s my clarity.” I can see that, but there is no way that she’d be able to see that, and she would just say, “Oh, she’s just some crazy ex-wife trying to warn me here.”
I can see that for me, and I can see it for my kids and that’s what’s so hard because he still does it to my kids. He manipulates them and I just have to step back and be like, “They’re going to have to realize it for themselves, as well.” But it still hurts. I can see it and it’s very clear, but there’s still those elements that sometimes it does still affect me, and it still bugs me, but I’m happy that I am where I am now.
Anne: Yeah. Your oldest daughter is the one who tipped you off and said, “Maybe Dad is having an affair.” Have you guys talked about it since? Why did she say that? How does she feel about it?
Diane: We actually just moved out of state. She is trying to escape the cycle as well because she’s finally realized that the reason she saw it, is because she saw how changed he was. She had grown up with this dad who was so genuinely interested in her and then, all of a sudden, she didn’t mean anything to him either.
She wasn’t enough, and so he had started to change on her as well, so she was wondering why. Now, she’s not part of his life because she doesn’t believe any of his lies anymore, so he is just mean to her. She wanted to escape, that’s why she moved out of state because she wants to be away.
It’s totally affected her because she questions her worth. She knows she’s good, but she still loves her dad, and that’s what is so hard. He’s still my children’s father and they want a dad. That’s just the weird thing we’re working through right now.
Anne: That’s what I’m working through too. It’s super, super, super hard! I watch my kids go with him every other weekend. Really, what the kids mean to him is they make him look good. They make him look good at church. When he goes to the grocery store everybody smiles and says, “Oh, you must be such a good dad” or whatever. When they don’t mean anything to him outside of the context of himself.
Diane: Exactly. That’s exactly right. My oldest can see that. My oldest is 23 and my next daughter is 20 and then I have a son who’s 16 and a daughter who’s 12. My 12-year-old still hasn’t seen it, but my older kids can see that. They’ve accepted that fate.
Anne: What resources did you use to come out of the fog? It sounds like you went to therapy.
Diane: Yeah, my therapist has been awesome but, specifically in therapy, I use EMDR, which has helped me so much, and then—it’s called Lifespan, just different therapeutic techniques. I love support groups.
When I first started, I actually used support groups on Facebook because I needed somebody who had been there, and that’s why I’d said I wish I would have had this site, because I would have loved it. Those are the big ones.
One thing I tell people all the time is that, when you have trauma it’s like breaking a glass. Those little pieces of glass go into every other memory. If you see a Coke can and, all of a sudden, you start to cycle, and you have this trauma memory and you’re like, “Why did I have that?”
Being able to understand that, really, the trauma that we face is like PTSD. It’s broken. There are parts of us that are so broken that we need to fix the whole. It’s not just like fixing this one little memory. There are so many memories, there are so many pieces of glass embedded somewhere else. You have to go through this. It’s been a good journey for me.
Anne: Are you still teaching?
Diane: I am. I am still teaching. I teach high school English and then I actually did my MBA, so I teach marketing as well.
Anne: Of our graduating class, one of us is an administrator, who is divorced and remarried. There’s you, who has an MBA, wow. Myself, who runs Betrayal Trauma Recovery, and there were a few other women that we hung out with and they’re such strong women who have been examples to me and who I’ve seen around over the years.
It feels like, and it’s not the case because I haven’t seen you in 20 years, but it feels like I have this extended support system of women who love and care about me and understand.
Diane: Yes, I would agree. I felt the same way. I saw you and I was like, “Oh, my heck!” It was like no time had passed.
Anne: I’m impressed with women all over the world who are doing this, who are sharing their stories, who are opening up, who are coming together to stand up against abuse. I think it’s cool, too, that the poor victim who your ex is dating right now, she is a victim just like we were, right.
My ex is also dating someone, and she seems amazing. She’s got four kids and seems super cool. She was victimized by her first spouse. He left her for someone else and he was a porn user, and now my ex is “explaining it to her and helping her through it and helping her understand porn addiction.” I actually met her, and she said, “I just love that he’s such a relationship expert.”
Diane: No, don’t do it!
Anne: I told her, which she didn’t believe me, I said, “You’re currently in an abusive relationship with a man who’s lying to you and manipulating you and grooming you for abuse.” Actually, I proved his point because she thought, “Wow, she’s really intense and off the rails.”
I can imagine, if they get married in 10 or 20 years, we’ll be friends, right, because at that point she’ll be like, “Oh, thank you for trying to warn me. I’m so sorry.” She might say something like, “I’m so stupid” or whatever, and I will say, “No, you’re not. You’re great. I love you. You were victimized just like me.”
Diane: And it really is. I think that about my ex’s girlfriend. We probably would be awesome friends, if it wasn’t this situation, and I feel that for her too. I know where she is because of, especially, that love-bombing and that grooming. You just feel so impressed with that person and love them so much that you’re willing to do whatever.
I would never hold that against her either. I feel like, “Okay, yeah, in ten years, you’re going to see I wasn’t crazy. I’m not the crazy one. I’m not the one who caused this, and you’ll understand.” I’m sad too because I would never wish that on anybody.
Anne: She told me, “Yeah, he’s really explaining to me that it wasn’t my fault. That I had nothing to do with it.” I’m like, “That’s great, but then he’s blaming what happened with him on his ex?”
It was a fascinating thing, where she doesn’t understand that she’s living in this alternate reality. The other thing I said to her was, “It doesn’t matter, no matter what happens, I will always care about you. I will always be concerned for your safety and hope that you can see the truth.”
I do hope that. I just think of all the women who have been victimized by lies, pornography use, and manipulation. It’s heartbreaking, and I’m so sorry.
Diane: Oh, no, thank you. You’ve always impressed me with everything. Even when we were in school you were just such a go-getter and so amazingly talented and so, when I saw this, I’m like, “This is your mission.”
You see such a need here because there is. There are so many of us just struggling. For the last year, it’s been me on a mission searching for help in so many ways, and that you’ve assembled this, is amazing to me, because we need it.
Anne: Yeah, when we were back in college, I never said to you, “I want to teach people about porn or abuse” did I? I was like, “Let’s talk about Anne Frank. Let’s do our Anne Frank lesson plans,” right?
Diane: I know. Multi-cultural studies, yes!
Advice To A Victim From A Survivor Of Narcissistic Abuse
Anne: We’ve all been through a lot. If you could go back in time and tell the 20-year-old Diane, when we’re in college, if you could Bill and Ted yourself in the phone booth, what would you say to both you and me? If we were sitting in the library studying?
Diane: I think the biggest thing would be to trust your instincts. Because, lots of times, I felt like something was off and I felt like it wasn’t me, but then I would trust his words. I would trust the way he treated me, and I would believe that something was wrong with me.
I would say, “Trust yourself. You are so unique and wonderful and, honestly, you are worth everything. Don’t let anyone ever take that away from you.” We turn into mindless people, thinking that love is just perfect and everything, as we believe these lies, but instead just trust yourself and know that you are powerful.
Obviously, we didn’t see that it was abuse, but stop the things that are happening and have boundaries. Those are my two big things: trust your instincts and have boundaries. Don’t just give up your power.
Anne: Well, the cool thing is you’re still teaching, so you can teach your students about consent and misogyny and truth. I’m teaching in a different way now, through podcasting.
Every victim, who is able to see the truth and set boundaries and get to safety and also hold perpetrators accountable, right. I’m holding my perpetrator accountable. You’re holding yours accountable through, “I’m not going to interact with you anymore.”
Every single one of us who gets to safety and maintains boundaries makes the world a safer place and that’s super cool.
Diane: I love that. Exactly right. Your example of doing this is so powerful too because it makes me go, “I can do this.” The next person that we can talk to, that we can help, it just makes us that much stronger.
Anne: Well, you’re awesome Diane. I admired you back then when you were going through college with a two-year-old daughter, it was amazing. Now. here we are 20 years later, so when you get back to town, we’ll have to go to lunch.
Diane: I would love that. Thank you so much, my friend. Seriously, you’re amazing and I’m so grateful for your work and just your friendship. You’re amazing.
Anne: Most likely, along your journey to healing you have connected with friends, old and new, who have been through this. If you have not already, will you please let them know about the BTR podcast and about btr.org. We are making a big difference. Educating women about this type of abusive relationship and how to set boundaries and get to safety.
I really appreciate every single one of you who share our podcast episodes or follows us on social media. All of us working together to educate the world about this will make this world a better place.
Although listening to the podcast is so helpful for many women, we have so many people who send emails in and messages and reviews on iTunes that tell us that this podcast has made a huge difference in their life.
For as many women who listen to the podcast, there are also women who actually need to talk with someone who is safe and that’s why we created Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group. If you have not seen the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group session schedule, go to btr.org, click on Services, and then Daily Support Group.
If that schedule works for you, you can get into a session within the next 24 hours and talk to one of our BTR coaches and other women who have been through it. One of the most important things for healing is to connect with women on a real deep level face-to-face, so our live Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group will help you.
Until next week, stay safe out there.