Survivors’ Stories

Anna’s story 

I no longer care what Sean thinks of me and I can’t tell you how good this feels. We split up three years ago and share two amazing children and for this reason, there is no escaping the contact I have with him anytime soon.

Sean is a covert narcissist, not out there and open about how vile he is. In a lot of ways I think I’d prefer the overt abuse, it’s more honest somehow, not this horrible pretence at being reasonable but with a willingness to dig the knife in at every opportunity. He has fooled a lot of people with his subtle hostility towards me that’s always dressed up as concern. He fooled me for quite a while too. But even when I’d worked out his game and understood the tricks he was playing on me, even when I’d left the relationship, I was still trying to prove myself to him. I still wanted him to acknowledge that I am a good mother, still trying to win his approval and doing my best to show him I was putting the children above my own needs. Of course, he always cruelly withheld any approval, and continued to make very subtle, almost under the radar of conscious detection digs at me. None of my efforts paid off, and I was doing more with the children than I’d have liked, always conscious they may pass information on to him.

When I think about it it seems crazy that I’d been trying to win the approval of a man who had abused me so badly. But there is something pretty hideous about having your mothering skills trashed, and I’d been so desperate for acknowledgement that I wasn’t the selfish mother he made me out to be that it didn’t occur to me that to hope to win approval from an unreasonable man on a subtle campaign of hate against me was destine to fail.   

My lightbulb moment came when a friend asked – “Why would his opinion of you ever matter to you, aren’t you beyond being concerned?”  

This made me think and very quickly conclude that of course, he would never give his approval, his behaviour was not based on reason, only on his need to abuse me. Why on earth would I still be hoping for his approval?

I found this revelation liberating. I was able to relax around the children. I’ve since realised that always putting them first isn’t necessarily helpful to them – my needs matter too and they need to know this. Reading his subtle little digs in the handover book no longer wounded me – “Anna, could I please ask that you make sure our children are provided with nutritious school meals, Lucy tells me you’ve sent her with crisps, we’ve discussed this before and you know I don’t approve.” Comments such as this would have had derailed my day, made me feel that I’d failed and been lazy, but not anymore. Sean no longer has the ability to wound me, his comments don’t hurt, his accusations feel irrelevant to me. I’ve taken away his power to hurt me, and all with a small adjustment in my thinking.

I know that I can’t control Sean’s behaviour, only mine. Whatever he says to me will only wound me as much as I allow it to. I visualise him as being surrounded by a cloud of poisonous fog. This fog used to drift my way and make me feel ill, I allowed it to by being too focused on him, but not anymore.