Recovering from Personality Disordered Abusive Relationships

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I ran across some excellent posts by Dr. Tara Palmatier today on her website Shrink4Men. She’s chosen to focus on helping men deal with personality disordered women and the destruction they cause. Most of her writings apply very similarly to women who have been in relationships with personality disordered men. If you’ve been in a relationship like this or know somebody who has, please take a look at her website and pass it around.

Can a Target of Personality Disorder Abuse Learn to Love Again?

Dr. Palmatier’s article Can a Man Who Was Emotionally Abused By His Narcissistic or Borderline Wife or Girlfriend Have a Relationship with a Healthy Woman? struck a personal chord for me for I wondered the same thing for a long time. Today I know the answer is yes, but for a while I wondered if I would ever be able to trust another woman again.

Parental Alienation and Distortion Campaigns

After my ex initiated her divorce by false accusations strategy, I realized within days there was no turning back even though I was terrified of what psychological damage she would do to our children given what she had done to me. Because she is such a destructive liar and there is no way to be safe and secure in a relationship with a person like this, the only sane option was to go ahead with the divorce. She had already started her parental alienation and distortion campaigns years earlier. The false abuse allegations were just a more extreme and evident version of her past behaviors.

I was aware of the parental alienation because I saw the results of it in our youngsters. They repeated nonsense hostile comments towards me, parroting the hostilities from their mother combined with friendly smiles. Think of your kindergarten age child telling you that he hates you because you’re a bad father in his mommy-talk language and then asking in the next breath, with a smile on his face, if you’d like to play baseball in the backyard now because it was so much fun when you did that together last weekend. It’s incongruous and a sign of an alienating parent working over the children but not having succeeded at embedding the hatred into their psyches just yet.

The distortion campaign, however, is something I didn’t realize had started earlier even before our children were born. Only years after the start of the divorce am I starting to come to a full realization of how she defamed me for many long years before I became aware of it. She told mutual friends and her many boyfriends with whom she was apparently having secret relationships about how horrible I was, apparently justifying her infidelities with claims that I was an abusive monster.

I’ve shown some of the email exchanges between her and her boyfriends and her and me to my psychotherapist. To a trained and experienced psychologist, her behaviors are not unusual. For example, she twisted and distorted a simple civil disagreement without any vulgarity or insults that I expressed in an email to her into claims that I was “attacking her” and “abusing her” in emails she sent shortly later to her boyfriends, family members, and mutual friends. This is typical of personality disorder victims. There were grains of truth to what she wrote. Yes, we did have an argument and my email to her was about that. But most everything else was distortion and exaggeration. I had to flip back and forth between the emails to be sure I wasn’t missing something as the way she described it to others wasn’t at all what I had written.

Can You Feel Safe in a Relationship?

It is realizations like these that made me question whether relationships can ever be safe. Intellectually, I knew that her twisted psyche was the result of child abuse and perhaps bad genetics and not everybody else would act like that. But emotionally, it was both hard to disengage from the shock over her betrayal and worrisome that I might end up in another relationship with a destructive personality disordered woman. That’s a very real risk for those of us who have had these relationships, but the reasons vary. Some are prone to repeat PD relationships because of emotional abuse during childhood, others because they are “rescuers” who want to help somebody they see in emotional need. Either way, the outcome is bad.

I had missed having emotional companionship for years, something my ex could not offer most of the time due to her psychological problems. Having just discovered what Borderline Personality Disorder is, I realized that it explained the course of our relationship and the behaviors both of us showed towards each other. The disorder fit her to a T, and the “non-BP” behaviors many people show in response to mistreatment from a Borderline fit me, too.

Being Abused Alters Your Personality

It may be self-evident to those of us who have been in relationships with Borderlines or Narcissists and have had time to learn about this personality disorders that our personalities were warped by their abuses. Over time, we became afraid of emotional exposure. Too many times we have made the mistake of opening our mouths to say something that a “normal” person would not take as an insult only to find that it triggers a fight, even a rage. It is like these people are addicted to violence and conflict, and they will interpret almost anything as a reason to initiate a hostile or violent reaction. “Just leave me alone” became a mantra for me. Letting ourselves be abused and controlled became the norm because trying to resist it resulted in even more turmoil. We learned to be the puppets of our abusers, and to accept it.

One of Dr. Palmatier’s readers wrote to her with a question that reminds me of how I felt:

(from Can a Relationship with a Narcissistic or Borderline Wife or Girlfriend Change your Personality?)

Question: Today, after 23 years in an abusive relationship with a woman suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder, I find myself at a crossroad; leave now or live the rest of my life in misery. Sounds easy, but I, for the life of me cannot find the strength and courage to make the right decision, even though I clearly know what it is.

. . . I have been in this abusive relationship for so long, I am no longer able to discern reality or normalcy. I live in such an evil, chaotic environment, that I can’t think straight.. . . Thanks to you and your website, I finally have the answers to the unknowns that have haunted me for 20 years. Knowledge is power and you have given me the power I need.

I asked my parents to read the blogs as well to assist with their understanding, as they may be involved in some capacity with the process of my leaving. After reading your response, my Mother ask if I would write to you and request your opinion related to the transformation of one’s personality and behavior when they are exposed to an abusive partner for as long as I have been. She says that when I was young, I was extremely independent and resisted anyone who tried to control me. I was my own person and thought for myself. Although I was a good kid for the most part, I apparently gave the authority figures in my life difficulties. Is such a drastic personality transformation common, and how does it happen?

Jim

I realize now, looking back on the long hellish years, that I was being traumatized by the abuse. I developed depression, anxiety, sleep problems, and many hallmarks of post-traumatic stress disorder. Sometimes I questioned my own sanity. It was hard to reconcile my clear memories of being angry at my ex but staying quiet and avoiding her with her accusations that I had been violently yelling and screaming at her when so far as I knew, I had locked myself in the bathroom to get away from her.

Dr. Palmatier compares it to brainwashing, and I agree with her:

It’s sort of like what happens to a prisoner at a POW camp. A BPD/NPD woman basically brainwashes you into believing that she’s a saint, that she puts up with you, that she’s the victim and you’re the bad guy. If you receive these messages on an endless loop, eventually, you’re going to start to believe it.

Also, her rages, tantrums, verbal attacks, mood swings, blowing hot and cold with her affection, and tear-filled, “poor me” dramas are so convincing, you begin to wonder if maybe you are a jerk. THIS IS ALL PROJECTION and PROJECTIVE IDENTIFICATION.

Protect Yourself With Evidence

Like many personality disordered abusers, my ex tried to suck me back into the marriage after she was losing initial battles. The courts and many others didn’t believe her false accusations, and she wasn’t getting sole custody of our children like she wanted.

I thought and still think her strategy was to get me close and go for the kill shot. It wouldn’t take much to do it. This is why it is so important to never, ever be alone with somebody you think may have a personality disorder if they have used false allegations against you. The more objective witnesses around, the better. Consider engaging in continuous surveillance on yourself at all times, at least until you’re reasonably sure that other people are understanding that your ex has a few screws loose and they won’t gobble down her lies like ice cream and pie.

It may sound extreme and paranoid, but even with that level of surveillance you are still in danger from false accusations. It’s especially true of the abuse / violence allegations that usually result in men being treated as guilty until proven innocent. If you can’t prove that you didn’t smash in her front windshield of her car with a baseball bat last night, you’ll be assumed to have done it if she accuses you. That she did it herself to blame you is something that most people, given their ignorance of BPD, will not believe. Being able to prove where you were, who was around you, and having photos, videos, or other bits and pieces of evidence (store receipts, credit card bills, etc.) to prove that you were 50 miles away at a gas station after having gone to a movie when it happened may end up being what keeps you from the persecution of having a permanent restraining order slapped on you, being treated as a criminal, and costing your career if you work in the military, law enforcement, medicine, or anything to do with children.

Initial New Relationships

I spent a lot of time learning about BPD and myself after the start of the divorce. It didn’t take me long to start dating again. I met several really nice women. Given how I was preoccupied learning about BPD and figuring out how to defend myself from my ex, psychology was always a frequent topic of discussion. I found out that a lot of people have families with histories of fairly serious mental illness, something that I didn’t understand previously. I had thought that depression was about the extent of most people’s exposure to mental illness. I learned to find out as much about a potential romantic partner’s families as possible and as fast as possible. People who have ongoing good relationships with their families, even if there has been some history of mental illness or abuse, are less likely to be personality disordered. Of course this is no guarantee, but at least it helps improve the odds somewhat.

For a while, every new relationship I had ended up failing due to my problems with my ex. Women are fearful of a person like her. When they find out how much damage she caused and continues to cause, they start to think about how frightening it would be to live as a target for years as most of them have no experience with such a dire situation. Yet I couldn’t hide what was going on because to do so would be unethical deceit to manipulate another person by failing to mention such critical information. They have a choice, and generally they choose to leave to protect themselves from my ex.

Hope May Come from Another Personality Disorder Abuse Victim

My most recent relationship is going really well. I met a woman who was abused by an ex-husband who probably has a personality disorder, maybe Narcissistic Personality Disorder. She and I had a lot of common experiences, and she very much understood the pain I was in and still am in given the conflicts habitually started by my ex.

It took a while to shake the feeling that I’d be victimized again, but after spending so much time around her and seeing how she behaves when she gets angry, upset, etc. and how it is nothing like my ex did, I’m reassured that this relationship is going to work long-haul. I highly encourage you to find out what it is like to argue with a person before you do anything with them (marriage, conceiving children, etc.) that could result in a long-term commitment.

Another reassurance factor is that she’s gone to a lot of psychotherapy sessions with me. Although the focus is on helping me recover from the abuse from my ex, having my girlfriend there helps the two of us understand each other better. I think it also has helped her some to discuss her problems with her ex-husband, but fortunately they were only together for a short time compared to my experience. It also gives a reference point for my therapist, a clinical psychologist with lots of experience dealing with divorces involving personality disordered abusers. The therapist thinks very highly of her, another major reassurance that I’m not unknowingly falling into a bad pattern again.

So there is reason to have hope. Even though the psychological damage I’ve suffered has been severe and it may take me years more to recover, I’ve learned a lot from the miserable experience. For one, I’m trying to carefully apply my learning to helping my children understand what is happening without engaging in counter-alienation against my ex. Furthermore, writing about what I’ve learned is a way for me to reflect upon my learning and experiences and to help others get through such miserable times with less pain. I hope that this will save at least a few people from some major grief that might have otherwise been too much to bear.

Further Reading

Telling Your Nasty Ex About BPD or NPD May Hurt You

Borderline Personality Disorder and Parental Alienation Involve Similar Abusive Behaviors

Extreme BPD / NPD Behaviors Are Internally Triggered

Relationships and Divorces with Someone Who Suffers Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Mother, Miserable Father

How to Spot a Girl with Borderline Personality Disorder

Can a Relationship with a Narcissistic or Borderline Wife or Girlfriend Change your Personality?

Traumatic Love: Is Your Narcissistic or Borderline Wife or Girlfriend Making You Sick?

25 Signs your Narcissistic or Borderline Wife or Girlfriend is Traumatizing You

Can a Man Break the Cycle of Emotional Abuse After Being With a Crazy, Narcissistic or Borderline Wife or Girlfriend?

Can a Man Who Was Emotionally Abused By His Narcissistic or Borderline Wife or Girlfriend Have a Relationship with a Healthy Woman?

  1. john
    October 26th, 2010 at 19:07 | #1

    I stumbled apon your site by accident and would seriously like to say thank you for sharing your experiences. Like you I had the misfortune to enter a “relationship”with a woman who I would say without any doubt has a personality disorder. We were together for 13 years and the last few years were absolute hell. The blaming, the distortions, the gaslighting, the lies drove me to a deep depression.

    We have been apart for 5 years now and only now do I feel I am getting my life back on track. The abuse has not stopped, but I have maintained only the minimal contact required when I collect or drop off the kids. She has found this frustrating and has repeatedly complained, even through her lawyers, about my “behaviour”at these times which consists of a polite but steadfast refusal to engage.

    I have endured the lies and accusations against me but whenever I bump into an old friend who tells me they cannot believe some of the things they have been told about me I simply remark that nor can I and ask that they do not even tell me what is the latest accusation. Unlike you I have not had the courage to even try dating yet. My self-esteem is still too damaged to summon up the confidence to even ask a woman out, coupled with he suspicion I now feel towards any female.

    I have now moved to a new town, made new friends and whilst I still feel a bit raw and defensive I truly am starting to feel like a social human being again.

    My ex is now going through a “lets be friends for the sake of the kids” phase, smiling to my face whilst at the same time (the kids tell me) doing everything in her power to turn them against me and cause problems in my relationship with them.

    The real reason for this post however is to let other readers know that not all of this type of behaviour can be excused or blamed on child abuse. I find it very unlikely that my ex was abused as a child. If anything it was the exact opposite, despite being born in a relatively poor and deprived area of London she (along with her brothers) was fed from birth a steady diet of you’re the best, you deserve more. When they brought a painting home from school they were told by their deranged mother that it was the best picture in the world and they were going to be famous artists. When she was learning to play the recorder she was going to be a world famous musician – you get the picture. At the same time she was never made to do any homework because this would have upset her. My ex has grown up believing she is capable of a multitude of “creative” careers, but has been held back by the responsibilities of motherhood etc. My (unspoken) belief is that she has not got the intelligence, ability or perseverance to actually manage anything in her life apart from hitching a ride on someone elses coat-tails.

    So there is the thing that has puzzled me for a long time-how can such opposite upbringings bring about the same type of behaviour in the adult? You explain the cause of their sudden attacks and rages as fear of childhood abuse being repeated, but why would my ex display exactly the same type of behaviour?

    • October 27th, 2010 at 01:37 | #2

      John,

      The question about why a person who was not abused would act like a Borderline or Narcissist is a good one. It’s possible that the “deranged mother” didn’t obviously abuse her children but did do a lot of emotional invalidating of her children, leading them to feel like their feelings are not acceptable or not understood. Emotional invalidation is widely regarded by psychologists as one of the contributing factors to the development of BPD and related personality disorders. That combined with genetic predispositions may cause a person to react poorly when she or he is not getting want is wanted. Such people may develop similar manipulative and controlling behaviors using lying and other tactics to get what they want, even if they were never obviously abused.

      Overly praising a child is destructive. It may not be viewed as abuse in any traditional sense, but when you build up a child’s personality with lies and distortions that is likely to cause problems for the child, even if it is not maliciously intentioned, for instance the desire to not make them feel bad or to make them feel special. Putting too much emphasis on accomplishments can create a great fear in children that if they are not accomplishing amazing things, for their parents have been telling them they are amazing way too much, then they will no longer be loved. This could lead to such children developing counterproductive adaptations to avoid appearing to fail. Blame the failure on somebody else, it was that teacher who lost the homework or the brother or sister who stole the wallet or some other excuse for what they did wrong.

      A year or so after I wrote the article on which you are commenting, I wrote one entitled American Parents, Family Policy, and Courts Contribute to Poor Student Performance which discusses some of the reasons for children’s poor school performance. One of the causes is overly praising a child. This teaches them to be fearful of taking risks, looking like they made mistakes, trying new activities, and anything else that could jeopardize this continuing praise that such children may come to associate with parental love. Such troubles are described extensively in recent writings by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. While the article discusses mostly examples in the US, it applies to other cultures, too. In fact it discusses some examples from Chinese culture that show how Chinese parents are often more reasonable and effective dealing with their children’s shortcomings than American parents.

      In short, it is possible that non-abusive behaviors can push a child towards similar fears and anxieties that an abused child develops. If that occurs in a person with genetic tendencies towards a personality disorder, something that sounds possible given your description of your ex’s mother as “deranged”, then it might explain why she became a personality disordered abuser herself even though she was never abused in a sense that most people would recognize as such.

      Rob

  2. An Abused Parent
    March 30th, 2011 at 05:04 | #3

    If you’ve been abused by a sociopath for years and have mental health problems such as intense fear, depression, and anxiety that you can’t seem to solve, please consider that you may have been physically harmed by the abuse even if the abuser never hit you.

    There’s a kind of damage to the body due to long-term stress called adrenal fatigue. Many people who married a sociopath suffer from it and feel depressed, anxious, and hopeless because their adrenal glands are so badly damaged. There are tests that can detect this problem. Most doctors do not know about these tests due to poor medical education. Many victims of abuse suffer for years and their uneducated doctors provide little help because they do nothing to treat the damage to the body.

    Read more about these tests at Depressed But Antidepressants Don’t Work? Adrenal Fatigue or Neurotransmitter Imbalances May Be Responsible.

  3. January 25th, 2012 at 21:28 | #4

    Thank you for sharing your stories. just a quick question. I hope some one out there can help me. I am 5 years out of my relationship amd my NPD parnter is still trying to control and destroy me. I have tried everything but I can not get away. He is using our daughter now as his new way to hurt and control me. If I react, then he has won and the attacks and attept to control become worse ( it is as it you react it feeds his fire). If I don’t defend myself, he feels empowered as ‘He has won’. then he starts the whole circle again. I have no power to break his cycle of abusive. I have min contact, only via access visits every two weeks but it is hard going.
    Is there anything I can do or do I have to suffer until the child is 18?
    I would really appreciate some advice/

  4. September 16th, 2012 at 23:12 | #5

    He killed himself. He’d been there a long while before we sent the police looking for him. That bothers me the most. I think he did it the day we met to agree on his visitation rights. I loved him. I still love him. Reading your blog was like reading about my life. The aggression, being pushed to the limit, being hounded across the apartment. He would not let up. And I loved him. I still love him. I would like to think that there was a darkness in him, but he was not the darkness. I miss him very much. It’s been ten days since I learned of his death from the police. Ten days of hell. Stumbling on to your blog was a blessing. It cleared up so many things to me. That I was not abusing him. That I was not heartless. That I was not the monster he said I was.

  5. M.Leary
    December 30th, 2012 at 10:43 | #6

    PLEASE help us! My daughter was/is in a relationship with a man with BPD. She found out she was pregnant when she was going to leave him. She now has a 19 month old daughter. As I read the stories and comments I am starting to come to terms with some of the horrific abuse this disorder causes. Although he is undiagnosed, it fits him like a glove! My daughter did not tell us how bad it was until her daughters first birthday. When he would come home drunk, and smoking and refused to help get the party prep going, punching holes in walls and literally going bonkers. We thought it was due to business pressure as we have seen glimmers of it before and she had mentioned how his business would put extreme pressure on him! She tried to leave him right after that but ended going back since he had the purse strings and she was a stay at home mom. Now she came “home” the week before Thanksgiving and has been here since! As we as a family learn more and more of her abuse we are shocked at feel extremely protective of our daughter and granddaughter. My question to anyone out there is what can WE do to help! Yes, she does act like she has PTSD! And no one gets it. So it seems to others, like oh that’s her acting all dramatic! Which is the last thing she is! Anyone please please help with websites or any information that could help her!

  1. March 30th, 2010 at 02:45 | #1
  2. March 30th, 2010 at 20:22 | #2
  3. July 3rd, 2010 at 20:32 | #3
  4. July 3rd, 2010 at 20:32 | #4
  5. August 20th, 2010 at 01:09 | #5
  6. August 20th, 2010 at 01:43 | #6
  7. September 23rd, 2010 at 02:22 | #7
  8. October 27th, 2010 at 20:12 | #8

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