CNM 027: Before and After a Toxic Marriage with Patricia

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In this episode, we make another effort to tackle a very difficult problem – leaving a relationship with a narcissist.

About 20%-25% of the visitors on this site indicate they’re looking for help leaving an abusive relationship. So we’ve recently put together several resources, including How To Leave An Abusive Relationship: A Guide To Getting Out In One Piece, CNM Podcast Episode 26: How Kim Seed Left Her Abusive Marriage, and this latest episode with one of Kim’s students, Patricia.

Patricia’s abusive relationship didn’t happen until later in life. She never saw it coming, and didn’t think she was the type of person to whom this could happen.

That made it all the more surprising when her husband started mentally, emotionally, and physically abusing her. And almost as bad, since he was a master manipulator he was able to convince the people from whom she tried to get help that she was the crazy one.

Here’s the interview…

Interview with Patricia

Brian: Hey Patricia, welcome to the show.

Patricia: Thanks Brian.

Brian: Absolutely. I want to jump right in with the first question. We’re here today talking about the “before and after” of your getting free from a toxic relationship. I want to start with the “before”.

Question: Can you tell us about what your life was like beginning at the point when you realized that you were in a toxic marriage?

That’s a good question and a hard one because the realization happens over time. The whole nature of a relationship with a person with a disorder, is that they have done a lot of work to condition you. These are all things that I know now that I didn’t know then. They condition you and manipulate the situation to confuse you. So realizing something on a normal day to day basis is very different than having a realization in a relationship with a person like that.

You do a lot of self-doubting. You’re being gaslighted. You’re being blamed and criticized endlessly when the abuse is in full swing. Then there are periods of time where it seems normal, and you’re sitting thinking, “Did I imagine all that?”

I think the realization part of it happened over time. It was gradual. His whole family seemed to vouch for him. They were very prominent people in the community, very nice and intelligent people. He has a professional career. I didn’t see it coming at all and I think that’s true for a lot of people.

When you do start to see the signs and realize the situation you’re in, by that point you are pretty far in. You’re pretty entrenched because there’s been a lot of conditioning going on. Very subtly, you start not being able to get together with your friends as you usually do.

There were a few signs that were explained away by him and his family that he had a very rocky marriage of 25 years to a woman with bipolar disorder, and that it was him being post-traumatic. He had a lot of insight into that. He was very intelligent, was able to speak about all that.

I thought I was in good hands, and thought I had a partner for the rest of my life, and I was very wrong because it turned out to be a 3 1/2 year marriage of utter chaos, drama, abuse including physical and verbal.

It was critical comments of what I was wearing or how I looked. He accused me of flirting with family members. I had fallen in love with this man. He was a big lovable teddy bear; gentle, well-spoken, we had fun together.

It was not one of those situations where you are swept off your feet or lavished with gifts or anything like that. It seemed real, it seemed normal. It felt like love, like he cared. So over that 5-year period, to start to see the cracks was just devastatingly heart-breaking.

They call it “the mask slipping”. It’s chilling, because what you see underneath is a person who has no ability to love or have empathy, and you realize that you have been in an intimate relationship with a person who could seriously hurt you not only emotionally and psychologically, but physically.

The whole thing is chilling, and when people are being gaslighted, a lot of people look in from the outside and say, “Why didn’t you just leave?” Believe me, at that point you are caught up in a cycle that the strongest and most intelligent people, men and women, have a very hard time breaking. You are addicted like you’re addicted to strong narcotic. And when you finally do go no contact, it is as if you are withdrawing from strong drugs.

Question: When you decided that it was time to get out of the relationship, how did that go? Did he try to plead with you stay in? Did you have a temptation to go back to him after you left? How did that all go down?

I think there’s just a lot of psychodrama that goes on when you’re in a relationship like this. You are confused and sleep deprived because they purposefully wake you up at all hours of the night; it’s part of the tactic. So you’re not operating on all cylinders.

When you get in a situation, you do the best you can to survive it. For me, I did leave when there were physical threats or violence. The thing I became acutely of aware of was that if I called the police it was very likely that he would accuse me of abusing him. I later confirmed that. I tried to videotape on my phone an incident as it was happening, and he quickly saw that I was doing it, and started screaming as if I had hurt him, the big man that he is. It was like he would revert to being a 4 year old. It’s sociopathic.

I know these things now, but I’ll tell you that during that period of time I had no one to turn to. I was isolated. I was barely getting to work, to a job that I’ve been working at for 27 years. That’s the hardest part actually; talking about not having a person to turn to because everyone that I tried to turn to, somehow he charmed them into helping him and it made the relationship go longer, and it made the abuse worse.

At one point I actually went back to one of the therapists we saw and told her exactly what has happened since then. I told her to please get information about this and do everything you can to help the people that you serve because this situation went on far longer than it should have because I reached out for help and I wasn’t helped.

Question: Did you find anything out there that you did find actual value and support from during this time?

Yes. It was all-consuming to me to find help and to figure out what to do. I was afraid, real fear had sunk in. So I read everything that I could read. I Googled everything I could Google. There were several books on verbal abuse. There’s a book called Why Does He Do That which is actually very descriptive of a situation with a person like this, especially an argument.

It takes two people to argue. In a situation with a person with a disorder like this, it’s called “word-salad”. They try to confuse you and gaslight you to get you to think that you’re the problem, and that you set this all up while they’re just sitting there trying to get along. Books like that helped me.

There was another book I got on an audio program about how to deal with a person with Narcissist or Borderline Personality Disorder. That was the first book that told me what I was dealing with. As soon as I heard it, I thought, ‘This is it, this is it!’ That particular book actually tries to help you stay in the situation; how to deal with the person and get along with them.

But clearly this situation was only getting worse for me, and I wasn’t getting help. So I just kept moving forward with information. For me, unfortunately, I didn’t get Kim Saeed’s program until 6 months after I separated from him. I was on a website for people that are intuitive and empathic, and a woman on there was actually a member of the bootcamp. She sent me the link and I pulled it up and looked at the information, and I started it that day.

I was going through some pretty severe situations during that 6 months of separation, including the withdrawal symptoms from trauma-bonding. It’s horrific. You think you’re dying. You don’t even know what’s happening to you.

If you don’t have this information, you have no idea that all of a sudden you’re in a full on panic attack and you don’t know why. You can’t breathe, you’re hyperventilating, and you’re about to faint. I had to drive myself to the hospital. All of what I did is just not recommended. Don’t get a car with a panic attack.

So I signed up for the bootcamp. And I will tell you, it’s why I am able to speak up right now. I can’ say enough about it. The information is put into an incredibly beautiful framework, that, as traumatized as I was at that time, for the first time in that whole 4 1/2 years of hell, I felt heard. I felt understood.

I was shocked to know that there’s a whole community of people that are going through the same thing that I did. I thought I was in some totally bizaar Twilight Zone that no one was ever going to believe. The therapists weren’t even believing me or listening to me. How am I ever going tell anybody about this?

Well, I’m reading this information and it has the exact terminology for what I went through that I never heard. It’s a community of lovely, compassionate, caring people that have had there lives completely ripped apart by people like this, and they continue to deal with it, especially if they have children.

Question: When it comes to the bootcamp, it sounds like the community was a great piece for you. What do you think is the most valuable part of joining Kim’s bootcamp for you?

It’s the whole package. It’s a framework for step by step how to go No Contact, how to stay No Contact, why it’s important not to continue contact, because that’s the hardest part of it. You are bonded to a person who is abusing you, and without help to do that and information to understand what’s going on with you, I don’t know how I would have completed the process. I wish that I’d had that information several years sooner, I really do.

Question: There’s so much information out there on Google. I thing there’s a notion that, “You can find whatever you want on Google if you look hard enough. Everything’s already out there.” Do you feel like there really was unique information that you got from being part of the bootcamp?

Oh my gosh, it’s completely different. There is a lot of information out there on narcissism. A lot of what I read during those years of being in the relationship didn’t match up. The information was not exactly it. I knew when I hit the information that described what I was going through; it was clear to me. And that came from the bootcamp.

Some of these other sites seem to go an and on about the behavior of narcissists, and there’s not a lot of information in there about how to heal and separate yourself from the person, what to expect legally and how to deal with your children’s issues surrounding all of those.

Luckily for me, this man wasn’t my daughter’s father, but she was very traumatically affected by all of this. We are still trying to recover our relationship. There are people that lose their relationship altogether with their children because of these people. It’s men and women that are affected by it.

It’s been a short time; we’re talking June of 2017 that I started the bootcamp, and look at where I am right now (this interview was recorded in February of 2018). I credit them for all of this, I do. Kim’s leadership is very empowering to the people in the bootcamp. At no point do you feel like this is all about her and her ego, nothing like that.

She’s been through her own amazing story actually, and when you hear all of that you know that this is a person who understands what you are going through. It’s gentle support, encouragement, wisdom and empowerment. You can see each person struggle through their issues. You’re encouraged of course to find therapy if you can find someone who specializes in it, and to do all kinds of other self-care.

I can’t say enough about it. It was life-saving, literally life-saving for me.

Question: Since the time you joined, it sounds like you’ve benefitted a lot from being in the bootcamp. When it comes to the community you spoke about, there are also plenty of communities and groups you can be part of related to just about any issue out there. What do you think makes the community unique inside of the bootcamp?

It’s definitely that you feel like you’re heard, respected, in a safe place, and you’re understood. I had a hard time finding my voice in therapy as well as in the beginning of the bootcamp. I was encouraged to speak up. I was encouraged in every part of my life. I’ve developed friendships with people in that group.

We are not sitting and endlessly talking about, “My ex-narc did this, and blah blah blah…” It’s more like, “What are we doing to heal? What are we doing to move forward in our lives?” Of course, for newer people who are coming in, to encourage them to talk about the difficulties they’re having staying away from this person. A person with a personality disorder is never going to give up on this?

Once you understand this disorder, you understand that you are always at risk for contact, and you have to maintain boundaries. I’m a pretty easygoing person, and I’ve never had to stand up against something like this, especially with so much going against me; nobody believing or hearing it. It brought me back from questioning everything about myself.

Question: Speaking of talking with other group members about what you’re doing to heal (instead of talking about your ex-narcs), can you give us some examples of the things you’re doing to heal?

Oh yeah. In the early parts of it, the content in the modules of the bootcamp were very helpful to me. With your program on codependency, I soaked that up because I could see how there were a lot of things that I was doing responding to him that were very codependent. I try to stay away from labeling myself in any particular way, but I could see that things that I was doing were to try to pacify him.

Self-care went out the window during this relationship. Learning what calms you down, guided meditations; there are several of those also in the bootcamp. Learning about what your symptoms of PTSD are, what your triggers are during those times that you’re having difficulty. There are still days that hit me just as hard. You think you’re recovering and doing well, and then all of a sudden you’re back in that really negative place.

I did find a wonderful therapist. I’m so lucky and grateful. Again, I feel self-empowered. You don’t want to get in a situation where you’re running to somebody for help who’s telling you what to do. You have to give yourself your power back. Anybody you turn to for help has to help you do that. And that combination with the bootcamp, my therapy, and my own self care is helpful. Taking courses, even if they’re online because you don’t feel like going out and doing anything when you’re recovering from this. I’m basically an extroverted person, but sometimes I’m not so sure anymore.

The effect of all of this on me has been very dramatic. I get very triggered in a crowded situation. I’ve turned to that bootcamp more than once. Standing there in the middle of Target having a panic attack come on, and the only thing I could do was get on my phone and ask some people (in the bootcamp Facebook group) how to put one foot in front of the other and get out of the store. And there they were, totally helpful, even with humor. You feel like somebody’s there that has your back. It makes all the difference in the world.

Question: What type of a person do you think this bootcamp is best suited for?

Definitely somebody who has found themselves in a situation like this and is floundering to get out, wants to get out and stay out, and heal. In the beginning, maybe in finding out what the heck it is that they’re involved in. That would have helped me at the time, just to understand the situation because you’re blaming yourself. It’s been twisted on you to make it look like you’re the problem.

You’ll eventually understand that we’re all going through the same thing basically; different people all over the world. It’s male or female, non-discriminating kind of situation. I think anybody who wants to heal and to have a healthy life, better boundaries, and respect in their home would benefit. I can’t say enough about it. I’ve gained tremendously from being in it.

Question: Here’s a 3-part question – What are you focused on right now in your life? Do you plan on dating again in the future? If so, how will you know when you’re ready?

I’m focused on me in my life right now. I’m focused on recognizing boundaries with anybody that’s involved in my life because I’m basically starting over. I’m trying to heal the relationship with my daughter, and I consider myself to be in recovery. I go to therapy regularly as long as its helpful and as long as there’s progress. I have to pick up a lot of collateral damage that’s happened.

My job suffered greatly. I almost lost my 27-year job in the last 6 months because of the PTSD and forgetting to do major things. So I have to get a handle on that and on the symptoms, and being able to manage the triggers that come up.

When you talk about dating, it’s like, Brian, I’m somebody who has a bit of a challenge listening to a romantic song at the moment (laughs), so dating?! I don’t see that happening for who knows how long; I’m not going to put a time-frame on it.

When I went to the dating website, I had never done that before. I thought, “Maybe that’s a better route to go. Maybe you get connected to somebody who’s a little more in line with your sensibilities, and boy was I wrong. In my situation, I don’t think that it’s a negative statement on dating sites in general, but you have to know about this so that you don’t fall into it again. You have to know the things to look for. I want to feel confident about that again.

My therapist won’t let me give up on the idea of dating altogether (laughs). There’s conversation already about that, and it’s sort of like ‘don’t rule out all of the good men in the world because of this experience, but heal from it and move forward’. But I don’t know, it’s gonna be highly scrutinized in terms of how I go about it, and I have to feel confident that I can recognize just what to look for.

I’m already kind of seeing it (narcissistic tendencies) just in people I work with, people that I deal with on a daily basis; I can see little bits of that kind of thing. But it’s a different thing altogether when it’s somebody that you’re intimately involved with.

I’m happy to be able to speak up finally because it is such a critical thing for people to know this. You have to become the expert on it in order to get out of it. For me, I faired much better than most people in the divorce process because some peoples’ lives are ruined right there, paying large amounts of money to get out of these relationships, and that’s just the financial hardship. Then you have to pick up the emotional pieces and everything else.

I would love to have a partner in life, friendships, and real people that I can trust. And slowly but surely I think that will happen. I am an outgoing person and I want that to come back. I don’t want to be triggered in the middle of the store.

Question: What would be your biggest piece of advice for someone who wants to leave a toxic relationship right now?

Well, definitely DO IT, because you are only going to be harmed by staying in it. People like this prey on your compassion, they prey on your empathy, they disguise themselves to look like you’re helping them. In the beginning, he told me that I was mending his broken heart, and I was making him be able to love again. The reality was a nightmare.

If you are not being respected in your own home, and you don’t feel happy to get up and go to work everyday or whatever it is that you do, and you don’t feel supported and encouraged then you need to do whatever you need to do to rectify that.

I’ll tell you, the cost on my health has been another issue, and I’m luckier than most. I got out a lot sooner by the grace of God. Some people I know are in these situations for years and years, and the cost on their health and everything is awful. It becomes a spiritual crisis, emotional, mental, psychological, everything is affected.

There’s research that shows the effect on you psychologically; the damage that’s done by remaining in an abusive situation. You hear me talking right now, but I can feel my anxiety, I’m stuttering, I don’t talk as easily as I used to, I have to really push to get the information out. This is all different for me. It’s how this has affected me. My memory is not as good. My confidence is shaky at best. It depends on the day. You’re going to be very very affected.

Whatever you’re reason for staying in that situation is, you really need to look at it. And whatever your fears are, you really need to look at that and get help, because it turns out that the fears you have are not as bad as you think they’re going to be in terms of why you can’t get out. You can do it, and there is help, and this bootcamp will definitely help you with it. I wish that I’d had it sooner. It would have saved me time, I know it would have.

Question: Before we wrap up for good, I want to know if there are any final thoughts for the audience that we haven’t discussed yet?

Gosh, that was a lot. I’m not sure that I do other than I’m glad that we’re having this conversation. I’m really glad that there’s interest in talking about it, because the last thing you want is somebody to feel like they are isolated in a situation like this. It’s only psychological isolation really. And so, I can see where that happened to me and how hard it is to trust anybody to get help with it. I understand that, and it’s really important that people who do get it reach out and help, and do something, whatever they can do without putting themselves in harm’s way.

Brian: That’s great advice. Thank you so much Patricia for coming on the show. We’re so glad to have you. I agree, this is something that needs to be talked about more and more, and there needs to be good solid information put out there. And I think you brought that to this conversation, so thanks for sharing a heartfelt personal experience. I know we’re not out of the weeds yet, but it sounds like you’re on the right track, and thanks for being brave enough to come talk about it.

Patricia: Thank you so much for the opportunity. I appreciate it.

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Did this interview help you in any way? Let us know in the comments!

  1. Thank you so very much I have been married for 27 years and separated for 2 1/2 years and everyday I am so bery lost and after listening to u wow I think I get it somewhat thanks you!!

  2. This issue (codependency) is the Foundation of addiction, I have attended A.A. For 10 Years, I’ve realized that NO ONE, I have met in this community self help program, has found This, They continue to use this disorder as the bases for what they think is (Recovery)these poor folks will perhaps never fully realize what’s going on, To this day it is NOT the discovery/recovery group at all

    • Co-Dependents Anonymous might be helpful for some.