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:
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?
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.