CNM 026: Keys To Leaving An Abusive Relationship

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Due to the popularity of her last episode and the number of questions I receive about leaving abusive relationships, I wanted to have Kim back on the show. This time, she shares exactly what it was like falling in love with a narcissist, realizing it was toxic, and then getting out of the marriage with custody of her son.

After Kim went through all of this, she started researching, writing, and coaching empaths, codependents , and HSPs (highly sensitive people) on how to separate from narcissists.

Near the end of the episode, she describes a bootcamp she put together to help people achieve just that.

So, here’s the interview…

Interview With Kim Saeed

Brian: Hello Kim, thank you for joining us back on the show again.

Kim: Hi Brian, thank you for inviting me. It’s going to be a great pleasure to be back on your show once again.

Brian: Your first episode (CNM Podcast Episode 9) was so popular that I wanted you to come back on and focus more on your personal story so we can get to know your better, and then we’ll talk about some other things towards the end.

Question: For starters, I wonder if you would let us into what your life was like when your relationship started with your narcissistic abuser. How did it begin?

Well I met (the person) who is now my ex when I had just received a promotion at a bank I was working at in the area. I had just gotten promoted to branch manager and I was helping his parents with some things. They’re from another country, so their accent is a little hard to understand for most people, but I was able to understand them. Anyway, I met him through his parents, and that’s how our relationship started. He started coming into the bank to see me, and I was actually going through a separation at the time.

Anyone listening may have read that they (narcissists) target you when you’re in a vulnerable period in your life, and that’s what happened. I was feeling a little vulnerable because I was going through a separation. I mentioned that to his parents, and so they introduced us and everything went from there.

Question: Quick question. Since you were on the tail end of a relationship going through a separation, did you happen to experience any abuse in that relationship as well, or was this relationship the first time?

This was the first time. The marriage I was ending at the time was actually not bad, it’s just that we had grown apart. To answer your question, there was no emotional, mental, or physical abuse in that previous marriage.

Question: Back to this relationship then… When you first met, how did he sweep you off your feet?

He was extremely charming and had this really sweet demeanor. At the time when I first met him, he was so sweet and polite, very different than most of the people I was used to dealing with. He even had an innocent element, almost like he was inexperienced in relationships, and I found that endearing. That’s how he swept me off my feet; he would give me gifts, and be really sweet and charming, which I now know is “love-bombing” but I didn’t know that at the time.

Question: When you did start to get the hints that things weren’t so rosy and he wasn’t the wonderful man he portrayed himself to be?

We hadn’t been seeing each other very long when I went to visit him one day, and I was quite shocked when he came to the door and had a hickey on his neck. He tried to convince me I had given it to him when I knew it wasn’t true. That should have been a red flag right there, but as many of us do I kind of swept it under the rug for whatever reason.

I guess I was really vulnerable at the time. He told me, “I’m ending a relationship, and I need to let her down easily.” And I went along with all of that unfortunately.

Question: How long into the relationship did you start to notice these kinds of signs?

As the relationship progressed, I didn’t realize at the time I was being conditioned and groomed. He started triangulating very early on in the relationship, and I had never really experienced that before. I had never really had to compete for someone’s attention or affections. He kept assuring me he was ending this other relationship.

I have since learned that it’s a scientific fact that when someone seems unavailable to us, or they seem indifferent towards us, we’re actually more attracted toward them. That was part of it, but the other part was triangulation; he was making himself appear really sought after, that other women wanted him. So I had this sort of primal urge to try to be the number one woman in his life, wanting him to leave his other girlfriend. That’s how it started. I didn’t realize at the time that it was triangulation, but in hindsight that’s what it was.

Question: When you say “triangulation”, are you referring to the competition that he set up (between you and the other girl)?

Yes. I also learned that he continued to see this other woman behind my back for some time.

Question: Let’s fast forward to the part where you’re noticing these things again and again. Maybe they started out small, things you could tolerate. But at what point did you say, “Enough is enough. I’m in danger. I need to get out.” When did you start to feel that way?

Well, it was a long process. I ended up marrying him, and we were together about 8 years. During those 8 years, there was a horrific amount of verbal abuse, betrayals, triangulating between me and his other family members, etc. I don’t know that I can really articulate the depth of trauma that I went through during the 8 years I was with him, but I did eventually end up securing my own apartment without his knowledge. I ended up moving out during a silent treatment that he was giving me.

But I did try leaving before that many times unsuccessfully. I also tried going to therapy because I didn’t realize what was happening to me. I was feeling anxious and panicked all the time, and fearful. I could barely even function day to day, and couldn’t understand why I was going through that. I always ended up going back even though I kept trying to leave him.

Question: When people are involved in relationships where they’re not being treated very well, and even being abused, they get a lot of flack from their family members because it seems so illogical. When you were experiencing this, how did he keep you there? Surely if he would have said something abusive to you on the first date, you probably would have said, “I’m done.” How did he do this to you and still keep you in the relationship?

It’s good that we’re talking about this now. When we did our first interview a long time ago, I wasn’t really aware of all the elements involved. Since that time, I’ve learned that a lot of it is neuroscience. A lot of it has to do with brain chemistry, biochemicals that are secreted when we’re going through the ups and downs of these relationships.

To answer your question, it was basic intermittent reinforcement. I’ve written about this many times. If a person were mean to us 100% of the time, it would be very easy to leave them. But because of the intermittent reinforcement, we actually become addicted to being discarded and then being hoovered. It activates the same pleasure centers in our brains as gambling, drugs or alcohol, so there is an actual addiction that forms. But what makes this worse than addiction to alcohol or drugs is the trauma bonding that goes along with it. There’s a very powerful cocktail happening. Anyone who hasn’t been through this wouldn’t understand why a person would stay with someone who is mistreating them and abusing them physically, spiritually, or financially.

One of things I would say to the listeners is don’t try to get everyone to understand, because they’re not going to understand. To an outsider looking in, they’re going to think ‘this person has really low self-esteem, I don’t know why she’s staying with him’, etc. They’re not going to get it. That’s why the best thing you can do is go to people like you and I, or other people in my field, or a counselor who specializes in narcissistic abuse, because other people simply won’t understand. Luckily, we have some resources we can reach out for that can explain what’s happening.

You can’t use your cognitive mind to rationalize what’s happening, because most of it is happening on the subconscious level; the intermittent reinforcement and the trauma-bonding that makes it so hard to leave. A lot of people never do.

Question: What do you mean when you say being “hoovered”?

My ex loved to use the silent treatment, and most people listening would probably understand what that means; the person ignores you and shuns you for a period of time which can be anywhere from a few hours up to a few weeks or months.

During that time, because we’re being rejected, it activates the same centers in our brain as physical pain. Because of that, and because of the trauma-bond that has formed up to that point, we’re just dying for the narcissist to make contact and come back to us again. When they do, it is a rush of euphoria. It’s like sniffing a line of cocaine – that’s how good it feels. Again, it’s activating the same pleasure centers, so you get addicted to that feeling of being discarded and being accepted again, having the narcissist reach out again – that’s the hoovering.

And that might look like them sending a little emoji on your mobile after a while. Sometimes it’s a little more sophisticated. Maybe they’ll come back and cry and say they’ve made a mistake. They give us hope, and it’s that hope that keeps us stuck in these relationships.

Question: You spoke about why it can be difficult to leave an abuser and why some people try to do it multiple times. How many times did it take you to get out, and how long did it take from the time you decided until you actually did it?

I’d say 10-15 times. But I didn’t have all the resources that we do now, so I don’t want all the listeners to think they need to look forward to this or plan on reconciling with the toxic individual that many times. I don’t want to plant that idea in peoples’ heads. I do want them to realize what’s going on; why the urge to accept the narcissist back in your life is so strong. The hardest thing anyone will ever have to do is to go No Contact, and keep up No Contact.

Everyone says how difficult it is, and not only emotionally, but if you are in a marriage or you have children or share a business, it does make it even more difficult. There is going to be a long journey between actually going No Contact and getting to a place of peace in your life, but even with all of that turmoil in the middle, it’s still work it.

Question: In your case, you did have children with him. For some of the people who might be in the same boat, what was it like navigating the divorce and sharing custody? How did you go through it; what was it like in the courtroom and so forth?

It was a difficult time. I ended up having to get a restraining order against my ex. This was during our custody battle, and there was the risk that he would take my son back to his country. I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone (I don’t want anyone to interpret this as legal advice), but I violated my custody order. I didn’t let my son go with his dad for quite some time.

But I’ll tell you what was really a turning point for me. In the beginning I felt completely helpless; I was scared that he was going to take my son, and scared of the whole process. Would I really be able to win anything against this man when it came to my son?

What I want people to understand right now is, if you suspect that you are married to or involved with a narcissist, do not expect that they’re going to do the right thing. Even if they pretend that they’re willing to do the right thing, or if they give the appearance that they’re in the middle of doing the right thing, you’ve got to understand that it’s all a charade.

Not only did I go through this myself, but I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of coaching clients at this point. There has never been one single case of a narcissist doing the right thing when it comes to custody. If you’re listening to this podcast right now, that includes the person that you are dealing with. No one’s toxic partner is any different. Now, this could manifest in many different ways, but I just want people to give up the hope or belief that the narcissist will accountable, decent, moral, and will do the right thing. You’ve got to fight for your own rights.

It’s better to not discuss things with the narcissist one on one. You want to let a mediator or your attorney handle it. Don’t make any verbal agreements. Don’t write things down on a piece of paper. Go straight to the attorney. To be honest, because of the depth of trauma that I endured emotionally, and because of the stalking and the harassment, and the restraining order, I did end up getting a court advocate from my local domestic violence shelter, who helped me tremendously to prepare for court. I have mentioned that to people along the way, and many people are afraid to do that. They’re afraid to solicit the assistance of a domestic violence center. Not all centers across the United States really recognize emotional abuse. Luckily, the one in my area did and they helped me tremendously. So I always tell people to give it a try.

If you need to get a restraining order, just go ahead and do it. Don’t waste a lot of your time. I know how difficult this is, by the way, because I was literally sick and nauseous the day I filed the restraining order. But I just kept telling myself, “This is for my son, and for my future.” It’s really a matter of survival. Just do what you have to do, and deal with the emotional backlash after you’ve done it.

Brian: By the way, I do have a resource to help people find shelters in their area, and I will provide links to any resources we discuss on this podcast at www.codependencynomore.com/session-26.

Question: In retrospect, after going through that whole process, is there anything you would have done differently?

Yes, there are a few things. For anyone who’s going through a custody battle and getting ready to finalize the parts of your agreement, you have to be very specific.

I got really sucker-punched the first time we went to court because the agreement was very vague. I was under the impression that we were going to settle the custody battle together, and then I showed up to the court room by myself, and he showed up with his attorney. This is very common by the way. Don’t agree to settle it with the narcissist, because more times than not they will show up with representation.

Aside from that, you want to be very specific about days that the narcissist can call or come by to visit the kids. Your attorney may try to encourage you to be a little bit more flexible, but if you can, be very specific. For example, this person can call our child on Wednesday nights at 7:00pm.

The other thing I would do differently is do not make your mobile phone your primary means of communication. That’s the worst thing anyone can do. I don’t care if you own your own business, or if you have kids. What you need to do if you really want peace and quiet in your life, is get a landline, and insist that the narcissistic individual only contact you through your landline. The mobile phone is going to be a source of continued drama and chaos and misery if you don’t make that rule up front.

Question: Whether you have children or not, let’s say you’re out of the relationship. We want to understand what happens afterward. So the questions are, how long did you wait to start dating again, how do you know when you’re ready to date again, and how do you make sure you’re not going to end up with another abusive person once you’re gone?

Those are excellent questions, Brian. I recommend people do not date again for at least a year after ending a toxic relationship. That is assuming you are doing daily healing work. I made the mistake of entering into a relationship too soon, and guess what, I ended up with another narcissist. And I’d say 85%-90% of the people I have worked with have done the same thing where they’ve ended up dating too soon and ended up with another narcissist. It happens all the time.

If you’re not healed enough, you’re not going to recognize it; you’re going to fall for the love-bombing again because you’re so used to being mistreated, verbally abused, told that you’re not attractive and no one’s every going to love you again, that when someone starts love-bombing you again it feels real, like you’re being rescued. But it’s all going to backfire on you. So I would recommend waiting at least a year.

And how do you know if you’re ready to date again? That is going to be different for each individual depending on the amount of time they’ve spent working on their healing. A lot of people think, “I’ll just keep busy, go to the gym, join this Meetup group.” Those are all great ways of starting a new life, but those are not going to heal you. When I talk about healing work, I mean really getting down to the core of your trauma. For one thing, you really can’t heal completely unless you get some kind of trauma therapy.

In addition to either working with a therapist or coach, you’re going to need to incorporate a few different healing modalities if you’re going to address all the trauma and healing that needs to be done. So if you’re feeling lonely, like you’re ready to start dating gain, if you’re doing it out of a feeling of loneliness then your’e not ready.

Question: This seems like a good time to discuss something you’ve created to help people who are walking in the same shoes you’ve been in. Would you like to let the listeners know about the bootcamp that you’ve put together?

Absolutely. Well, I’ve gone through a lot of experiences myself, and worked with coaching clients for several years now. And I’ve realized that although a lot of my clients’ circumstances were different and varied, the healing process itself is often the same.

There is somewhat of a formula that goes into healing from narcissistic abuse. Some of those things include acceptance, and learning to stop clinging. A lot of us get into these relationships because we may have insecure attachment styles. That is part of the reason we feel needy, insecure and clingy, especially after being mistreated by a narcissistic individual.

So I created a bootcamp from an outline that I’ve used with my one-to-one coaching clients because even though they were experiencing great progress, I was only able to help one person at a time. I thought, ‘Why don’t I just put together a program based on my coaching practice, and make it available to anyone who needs it?’ And so that’s what I did. There are 10 modules in the bootcamp, and they help hold you by the hand as you navigate the first couple of months of detachment. And not everyone that joins the bootcamp is ready to leave right away, and that’s okay. I tell people to go ahead and start this even before you’re ready.

Because of the trauma-bonding and the fear of the unknown, a lot of people are afraid. I know what that feels like, I’ve been there. And I’ve used my experiences. Not only did I incorporate the outline I use with my coaching clients, but I also reflected back upon my personal experiences and came up with the bootcamp curriculum.

It does lead people through acceptance, how to detach the right way. And Brian, your own module us in there about helping people learn about their own individual coping schemas. There’s a guided meditation in there exclusively for bootcamp students that you won’t find anywhere else. I really spent a lot of money on that because I wanted to make it very effective, and I’ve gotten great feedback on this meditation.

For anyone who doesn’t know me, I do promote and advocate the use of guided meditations quite strongly because if it weren’t for guided meditations I wouldn’t be here today. That’s all I had when I first left.I didn’t have any therapists who knew about narcissistic abuse. I had to create my own stumbling path, and if not for guided meditations I’m not sure I’d be here.

Even aside from the powerful curriculum which has been lauded by my colleagues in the psychological community and been shared in non-profit women’s shelters, the bonuses are awesome.

There’s a private Facebook group which helps you connect because reconnecting with other humans is an important part of recovering. We really have fun together in there. There are music-Monday’s, fun-Friday’s, they’ve done a book club, and even a holiday card exchange. This is really not something you’re going to find in any other private group in this field.

I also have some workshops in there. One is how to stay safe from your ex, in regards to having your electronic devices spied on. There’s a special workshop in there on how to do No Contact the right way. It includes information on modified contact if you share custody. So there’s a lot of really powerful information and exercises to help you get started with your new life the right way.

Brian: Thanks for describing that. For anybody who’s interested in that, I am an affiliate of Kim’s program. I believe in it very strongly, and it’s the best resource I have found to help people break free from a toxic relationship and stay out. So, if you’re interested, you an go to endmyrelationship.com. As an affiliate, I do earn a small commission if anybody does decide to purchase through my link, so I like to be up front about that. Thanks for telling us about that Kim.

Question: While we get ready to wrap up the conversation, what other pieces of advice have we not discussed yet that you would like to share about getting out of an abusive relationship?

I think trauma-bonding is really the biggest issue that has to be overcome. It’s letting go of the hope that things will finally change, and letting go of the hope that the narcissist will change and finally do the right thing. That is a very strong indicator that you’re trauma-bonded because you know you’re being abused, you know that the person is going to hurt you again deep down, and yet you find yourself not able to leave.

And now that we have neuroscientists involved in this field, we understand that it does affect the brain. It affects our body’s biochemistry. Staying in a toxic relationship has all kinds of detrimental outcomes, including changing your brain’s structure. It shrinks your hippocampus and enlarges your amygdala.

I have worked with extremely intelligent clients who lost their ability to read a paragraph. I’m not saying everybody is going to experience this; I’m just saying this does affect people in different ways. Staying in a toxic relationship is dangerous. It does reduce your longevity and subtracts years from your life. I’ve worked with people who have lost everything – I’m talking doctors, attorneys, business owners who have become so dysfunctional, not only did they lose their careers and homes, many of them lost custody of their children. Even though it’s difficult to leave, I think people need to get to a places of understanding it’s a matter of survival.

If you do have children, I advocate trying to leave because otherwise it’s going to affect their futures if we stay in that toxic environment. We sadly end up perpetuating this epidemic that’s happening right now. The biggest piece of advice I would have is that if you suspect you are in a toxic relationship and that you’re dealing with a narcissist, get all the support you can so that you can leave.

I have not had a single incident of a narcissistic individual changing their ways. I know there are some experts out there who claim that narcissists have the ability to change, but I’ve never seen it happen. I like to joke, Brian, that its like the legends of Big Foot and The Loch Ness Monster. People talk about their existence but no one’s ever really seen it happen. So the narcissist is never going to change, and that includes your narcissist. So, it’s about coming to a place of acceptance an asking yourself,

“Do I want to live this way for the rest of my life?” And if you have children, “Do I want to keep my children going through this, and affect their futures?” Guess what happens with kids who grow up with a narcissistic parent? They’re either going to grow up to be codependent themselves, or narcissistic.

Question: Quick follow up question to what you said – what about the person who’s considering everything we’re discussing and wondering whether they’re in a toxic relationship and how they can tell. Is there a place you can point them to go figure that out?

There are some tests that will let you know. Robert Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist is a good one. There are many online quizzes you can take. I would not recommend, though, sharing your results with your partner or friend, or whoever it is that you believe is narcissistic. If the checklist indicates that the person is a narcissist, that’s one good indicator.

But I also tell people to reflect back on their relationship climate. How do you feel as a result of this relationship?

Typically, in a normal and healthy relationship you’re feeling nervous and unsure in the beginning because you don’t really know the person that well. But with a narcissistic relationship, it’s going to get worse as time goes on as opposed to settling into a sense of comfort and feeling good about yourself. A person who cares about you and loves you is going to help you grow as an individual and support you. So if that’ not happening, then you’re probably dealing with someone who possesses some level of dysfunction or is at the very least, unhealthy.

Don’t focus too much on the title of “narcissist” or insist on diagnosing them as a narcissist because that label is not necessary. It’s all about how the relationship makes you feel.

Question: Are there any final thoughts that you would like to leave us with?

Yes. I just want people to understand that I know how difficult it is to think about leaving a toxic relationship. I can say at this point in my own healing journey that I’m actually grateful that it happened to me because it forced me to heal all the internal wounds that I had. Not only from that relationship, but the ones that I had collected even before I met the narcissist that I had in my life.

I had hit rock bottom, and I had no choice but to turn inward and realize that the narcissist was triggering my wounds and I kept thinking he was going to help me heal them. What happened was that he brought them to the surface and made them worse.

My life now is better than it’s ever been, better than it was before my narcissistic relationship. Because of the healing work I’ve done, I’m thankful for the experience.

Brian: It’s very inspirational to hear the story straight from you, a person who’s been able to attract millions of people to work at this point, and help so many in the process. So thanks for coming on the show and helping people understand your personal struggle, and also offering some ways they can get help. We’ve loved having you back on the show, so thanks again for being here, and we’ll look forward to talking to you again in the future I’m sure.

Kim: Thanks again Brian for having me back. It’s been a lot of fun, and I look forward to working together again in the future!

Resources Mentioned In This Podcast:

Time to hear from you!

Did you learn anything from this interview? Is there anything else you think listeners should know? Comment below if so!

7 Comments
  1. What did I learn?
    Discarding and hoovering. Discarding is painful and confusing and real. Hovering reminder is important. Because when leaving an abisive relationship it’s a guarantee that you will feel “NOT OK” and will feel tempted to go back to the abusive relationship to quick fix that “NOT OK” feeling. In those moments, I remind myself what’s “right” and that’s the protecting the mind and the soul. Therefore, it’s ok to not ok. It’s normal
    To feel uncomfortable as it is growth. It can be comparable to going to war, and returning home after war, ppl need to readjust. And that takes time. Taking each hour at a time.

    What did you learn?
    Mobile devices and disconnecting from them helps.

  2. The story of meeting the narc is exactly the same. I’ve been with him for 8 years and married one. There has been so much hurt and abuse over those years, I eventually felt suicidal. I did move out of his house but kept going back, even after getting my own place. I’ve had my place since August 2017 so not that long. I’m in the process of getting a counsellor and trying to function as a normal person. I’m going to be seeing my family doctor next week and will be open about my situation, I’m not sure if I will get any advice or help with some direction. I know I can’t do it alone, I’ve been trying it that way for a few years and has gotten me right back to him. I’m in need of help!

  3. I have been researching covert narcissism. My ex was extremely kind & loving. I continually thought “if it seems too good to be true. Then it probably is just not true”. He was the epitome of “totally non-confrontational”. Once things started to unravel, his silence & ignoring was torture. The worst were answers like, “ I am indifferent about you, or I am uninspired by you”.
    It’s tough for me because, at the start he treated me like I have never been treated before. With overwhelming love & adoration! It really felt good. I was totally & blissfully in love. I have been good about no contact, as there are no children, or got that matter any ties whatsoever. I enjoyed being treated the way he did. I don’t understand how it could have been so fake?????