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Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Simon Howden

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Simon Howden

One of the greatest keys to my healing from abuse has been the search for knowledge and comprehension. The more I understand the dynamics of what happened, the more I am able to let go of the self-blame, the sense of loss and the accompanying chaos and confusion.

This morning I read an excellent post by Army of Angels, a blog I follow and have learned much from. The writer used ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’ to outline the process via which the strong ‘self’ she’d developed over the years was systematically deconstructed by her abuser, leaving her at the bottom rung of the psychological ladder. Using her template, I’ve followed the events that led me personally to that same point.

Full credit must go to Army of Angels for bringing to my attention such an insightful healing tool and I encourage you all to follow her example. The original post can be found here: http://armyofangels2013.wordpress.com/2014/08/03/narcissistic-abuse/

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Maslow’s theory, it basically states that as part of our development, each human being must pass through a series of stages that reflect a set of needs that must be met before we are able to move onto the next stage. He suggests that if our needs for a particular stage cannot be met to an optimum degree, we will be unable to move forward with the process of psychological maturity. We will become stuck. To put it in layman’s terms, a person who is consumed by hunger and lack of adequate shelter cannot even think about his self-esteem needs (confidence, self-esteem, achievement, respect by and for others).

My abuser systematically destroyed me (temporarily) in the following, chilling manner.

Self-actualization:
Before we were an item, I worked as a personal assistant for a psychologist. I loved my job! Every day was interesting – I met people who have been through incredible life experiences and have suffered the most devastating of mental health issues. It was pure privilege to work with people who had schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, bi-polar disorder, major depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder from exposure to war and other disasters. I was also studying a counselling diploma with the intent of working in the field. My employer believed in my ability, paid for my studies, and offered me a position as a counselor within her practice upon completion of my studies.

My ex had other ideas however, and blinded by love, I blithely went along with his plans, believing I’d be able to complete my studies in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, he asked me to leave my job so that I could concentrate my energies on his children, damaged as they were by the suicide of their own mother. He also insisted I drop my studies while we completed the necessary renovations to our property. As I have a chronic illness, I have limited reserves of energy and we both knew I’d find it impossible to juggle study, family commitments and renovations. I wanted to pace the renovations more slowly so that I could continue to study part-time, but my husband was adamant.

Long story short – I was never able to complete my studies because of disease progression brought about by his abuse, accompanied by changes in course structure that required me to begin my studies over again, right from the first module, something that would have been avoided had I kept up the pace. It was too much. I was left with no job, virtually unemployable.

Esteem:
This was the area in which my abuser excelled. I have previously written about the continuous humiliation, shaming, blaming and degradation I suffered at his hands. Every opinion and attitude I held dear was construed as me ‘shoving’ my ‘f…ing values down his throat’; every time I disagreed with his decisions about the household or finances, I was ‘f…ing psycho’, ‘f…ing twisted’, ‘f…ing sick’ (crippled, a nut-job, crazier than his first wife…fill in the blanks with every degrading term you can think of, and I was it. Don’t forget to add his looming over the top of me drunk, shouting and glaring with hatred.)
He took my two greatest vulnerabilities – my childhood abuse and my neurological condition – and shamed me regularly about how inadequate I was because of them. I was a burden on his family (because I didn’t agree with his over-indulgence and irresponsible parenting), and caused their continued suffering (because I expected such unreasonable things as the girls refraining from dripping their menstrual blood down the bathroom walls and for the 11 year-old-boy to refrain from blowing his nose into his hands and smearing it all over the furniture, and to please not put his hands down into his sweaty butt-crack and try to wipe it on my face – unreasonable of me in the extreme, I know).

The crazy-making games were more insidious still. He would say something or agree to something during a discussion, then deny the conversation had ever taken place. My cognitive issues were his greatest ally; his best-formed weapon against me. He too easily convinced me that my ‘brain doesn’t work properly’, and that I misunderstand everything he says…and then of course, will I ‘even remember it in the morning?’ I lost all trust in my own reality.

Love and Belonging:
I was never directly forbidden to stay in touch with friends and family. He was much sneakier than that. Instead, he didn’t pass on the dozens of telephone messages that stated my loved ones’ wishes to see me, to catch up, to come and visit. Friends and family have told me, since the demise of our relationship, that they tried dozens of time to contact me…that they had spoken with my partner. I received, in my estimation, about 1% of these messages. I didn’t have access to the home phone because we, the parents, lived in a separate parents’ retreat close to the main dwelling. We had no landline there (and no mobile coverage) so I relied on the step-children and my husband to pass on messages. I later learned that a number of people ‘gave up’ on me because I never answered their calls.

Even more ugly was the hostility expressed towards my adult daughters when they visited. My step-children (not little children at the time, but aged between 11 and 21) would disappear into their bedrooms as soon as my girls arrived, coming out only to eat, then disappear again. One, in particular, would visibly sulk. All offers from my family to take them on outings, to tutor them through their school subject difficulties, to do their hair etc, were rejected outright, without explanation. My husband thought this was fair enough because ‘after all’, he said, ‘they didn’t ask for any more sisters.’ Charmed, I’m sure.

Needless to say my home soon became a place my own children felt unwelcome.

Still more ugly was the treatment doled out to my grandchildren, who suffered relentless abuse from their newly-acquired uncle and aunts. Mostly they hid it from the adults but my grandchildren and I are very close. They tell me everything. My stepson also slipped up on occasion, not knowing I was close by and listening to him bellow at my precious granddaughter, ‘YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO BE HERE. I HAVE MORE RIGHT TO BE HERE THAN YOU. HOW DARE YOU TOUCH OUR FOOD. YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO CLEAN UP – IT’S NOT YOUR HOUSE. GET OUT OF THE COTTAGE!’ Talk about his father’s son! When I reported this to my husband, wishing to discuss it and work towards family harmony, I was met with the ridiculous accusation that I was making it up and wanting it to seem as though the children were fighting over me.

And so my oldest daughter refused to let her children stay with me, something they’d been doing regularly since the day they were born.

Isolation successfully accomplished.

Safety:
Once again, my ex-partner was clever enough not to directly threaten my safety in a physical way. However, I was emotionally and psychologically ambushed so often that I became extremely traumatized, having to be hyper-vigilant in case something I said or did set off a grenade-full of abuse without warning or reason. It was exacerbated by the fact that not only did I have to be wary of my partner, I also had to be wary of the ever-suspicious eyes and ears of my step-children – all of them displaying passive-aggressive behaviour and just waiting for the opportunity to see me suffer. My doctor, talking to us about the state of my adrenals (not great), ‘eyeballed’ my husband on two separate occasions, telling him that the stress levels must be kept down. To use his words, ‘We’re not at panic stations yet, but we’re not far from it.’ The high levels of stress and abuse continued unabated, and my health deteriorated accordingly.

Add to this the threats of abandonment and the occasional refusal to ensure I got the medical help I needed, and it’s easy to see why I felt as though I lived in occupied territory.

Physiological:
While I was never denied food or money, I was sleep-deprived through emotional distress and by the inevitable loud snoring of a drunk by my side. It was also an unspoken agreement that he should initiate all sex, with the consequence for breaking that agreement being my emotional and physical rejection. This one was so deep-seated that I believe it operated on a subconscious level; he literally couldn’t perform if I was the one to approach him first. I experienced it as just another control measure.

And so I found myself at the demise of my relationship – discarded and deconstructed to the point where I was operating solely in survival mode. I am still homeless because of his continued refusal to allow me access to the property, and because of his delay tactics regarding property settlement. But I’m striding back up that ladder again, determined no one will ever knock me back down again.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/xedos4

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/xedos4

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