(I wrote this article as a submission for a book which was an anthology about trauma in the punk rock community. Should it ever get published I will mention it here.)
Have you ever wished someone dead? I have. Not from spite mind you. That’s a temporary knee-jerk emotional reaction. The wish of which I speak comes from something deeper. It stems from a need of what feels like survival and a sense that you won’t be allowed to heal without the separation of six feet of dirt between you and someone else. It is derived out of helplessness rather than malice.
Two years prior to developing my morbid desire, I was blossoming full speed ahead…assuming, for a moment, that flowers can achieve speed. I was living in a new state with a new job and for the first time in my life I was openly queer. Not that any of these things feature in this story mind you. I’m just saying that it was one of the best times of my life.
Then I started dating someone and things plummeted downward as I found myself in an emotionally abusive relationship. Nowadays, I prefer to avoid talking about the abuse I experienced. It’s not that it triggers me. It’s just that my need to have others know my trauma is becoming increasingly unnecessary for me.
Nonetheless, here is a brief description of my experience with a few examples so you can better understand the type of behavior I endured and the steps in my recovery. My hope is that this will help people if they have been through this, or if they haven’t, to help them support someone who has.
The person I dated used control and emotional abuse as the cutting edge of their blade. I was kept from my friends and given the third degree if someone messaged me. My social media had to be replete with mentions of her and yet, I was absent from hers. The writings for my blog were often examined to pass her censor. Eventually, she tried to turn my friends against me. There was also the continual attempt to control me with money which she actually said entitled her to special treatment in return. She was fond of taking gifts back each time we broke up.
Our breakups, of which there were many, generally happened as the result of an emotional tantrum when things didn’t go her way. This was all my fault because as she stated “I just made her so mad sometimes.” When we were apart she would use any means she could to reunite us. Usually this consisted of letting me know there was a ticking clock, by taunting me with who she was dating or having sex with next.
A surprising number of times she was able to get herself admitted to a hospital in order to bring me back to her side. For example, her explanation of one hospital admittance was that someone had slipped a date-rape drug into her drink, she couldn’t tell me the guy’s name and said that the police went to his house, but forgot to handcuff him so he got away. I guess he disappeared from existence after that. Sometimes she would use the truth to bring me back. Once she admitted that she broke me and put me through hell. She said that if I went through that without leaving then she could finally trust me. You know…as if I was the problem.
She was very good at claiming to be the victim of the very treatment she was administering as part of her gaslighting strategy. For instance, one morning I said I didn’t want to have sex and wanted to wait until later in the day. This upset her, as it always did, and when she didn’t relent I went ahead and had sex for the “good” of the relationship. Afterwards, she would say that she only had sex because I wanted to. This was a common tactic of hers. It didn’t make any sense, but it didn’t have to. She got the behavior she wanted and was able to cast herself as the victim. It was a win-win scenario for her, meaning it was a double loss for me.
Whenever I would stand up for myself she would tell me I was mean. I didn’t know if this was true or not. At this point, my reality had been supplanted by hers. The distortions were palpable and I just couldn’t trust my thoughts anymore.
During our penultimate breakup she used the opportunity to tear asunder anything that I had left. She had me removed from the staff of a pro-women’s cycling team, something which was near and dear to my heart. I was also pushed out of where I lived as she began dating/having sex with my roommate. At her behest, most of our “mutual friends” walked away overnight.
Searching for support, I created a social media post about what I had endured. In response, I heard that she issued her own post to insinuate that I perpetrated some type of sexual impropriety upon her. She deleted it soon thereafter, but perhaps I should have been happy to finally make it onto her Facebook page for a couple of hours.
She made her emotions my responsibility to manage correctly. If I couldn’t then there was hell to pay. It was exhausting because, whether good or bad, it was all toxic. I was on the verge of a mental breakdown from living like this. Hell, in retrospect, I was probably living in the middle of the breakdown.
Over the course of approximately two years with her, I had experienced a gradual wearing away of my logic, goodwill, and self-respect. It was a dissolution of self that resulted in me feeling empty. I saw the shape I was supposed to recognize as my body but nothing inside felt like me anymore. Even the outside seemed changed, the shine had left my eyes and I looked worn and defeated.
I had been gradually put in an increasingly smaller box throughout my time with her. Once we were ultimately separated, the box was gone but I didn’t know if I could bring myself to stand upright and occupy the space I needed.
The question that loomed large was, how do I come to terms with what I’ve been through and become me again?
Like a plane crash that never hits the ground. 1
The first thing that gave me some unexpected healing was a general understanding of just who the person was who abused me.
I had read about narcissists and I knew some of the traits fit her, but I still wasn’t immediately convinced. What markedly altered my thinking was an article I read about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from being in a relationship with a narcissist. Ironically, I figured I could read this without repercussions. After all, that wasn’t me. I didn’t have PTSD and she wasn’t a narcissist.
I was woefully mistaken on all fronts. I quickly realized that the article was essentially a description of how I felt and who I was at that point in time.
I don’t want to go into what a narcissist is exactly, because while it is illuminating, such a description takes me too far from the topic of healing. Suffice it to say that a narcissist is not someone who is merely arrogant. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a deep-seeded, mental condition for which there is no cure or treatment. If you’re interested, I would recommend reading a few good articles written by actual therapists, if for no other reason than to be able to identify and stay clear of folks like this, but I digress.
As I learned more about narcissists, I began to critically question what she told me versus what I had experienced – two things which were nearly always at odds. I went back through the entire relationship and reprocessed what had happened devoid of the narrative she had told about herself.
Each time I found that her actions consistently painted a shockingly accurate picture of her identity. It turns out she was a person who was controlling, yet emotionally out of control, insecure, unreliable, untrustworthy, cruel, and so on and so forth.
I had been struggling to reconcile a construct with reality. It is no wonder that I didn’t know what was real anymore. I had been lied to from the beginning. She had mirrored my beliefs and ethos in order to attract me. I wanted to believe that fairytale so much that I refused to see the actual words on the page. Gradually, I found my mental dissonance was gone. It all finally made sense. I had been in an abusive relationship with a narcissist.
I want to iterate that I don’t think it is overly important to identify an abuser with a personality disorder to begin the healing process. Narcissist or not, it wouldn’t change what I have learned. The revelations that began my healing process weren’t about a label or a mental diagnosis specifically but from the realization that I was the recipient of toxic behavior generally.
Why someone is an abuser is their problem to figure out in therapy (not that they will genuinely seek help). It is far more important for you to realize that what you experienced constituted abuse and that you didn’t/don’t deserve it.
I don’t want to know you, I don’t think we should talk anymore 2
She wanted to remain friends, but even thinking about seeing her was a trigger. My heart would start racing, the past came rushing back and I would get a warm, flushed feeling that washed over my body. My fight or flight impulse took over and I would descend into a state of panic.
I couldn’t keep going like this. There was no chance of friendship with someone who treated me with such utter contempt. She will always seek to manipulate me. A narcissist isn’t going to change. Therefore, I have to.
I broke off all contact. I didn’t clue her in that I was going to do this or make any other pleas for space. That would have given her the opportunity to go off the emotional deep end and make my healthy decision a problem for me. I had already been through enough of that. Instead, I just checked out.
I accepted that going no contact wouldn’t stop her from violating every boundary for which I had previously asked. It was never meant to. The point of no contact isn’t to guide someone else’s actions, it is to guide my own. It was a way for me to break the cycle of abuse. It worked on all fronts.
All the letters that she mailed anonymously, taped to my vehicle during the night, or sent digitally went unread and straight into the trash. I didn’t need to read them. I had read her writings before and I knew it would be a mixture of positive and negative; something a narcissist does best. She would say, I hate you, I love you, I’m so happy without you, I miss you, you’re a liar, you were right, I never want to see you again, and oh yeah . . . we should grab a beer sometime.
Nah, I’m good. I’m actually painting my nails that night.
As it turns out, therapists recommend no contact for those who were in relationships with a narcissist. Lucky for me, I instinctively knew that no contact was the only way forward. I couldn’t be subjected to manipulation and abuse while expecting to heal. Well, perhaps that was possible but there’s no way I was going to put myself back there. Since there were no ties that needed to be kept for the good of anyone else (i.e. children or family) I severed any and all contact.
This distance also had to be permanent. Reaching out to her or returning communication is tantamount to giving her permission to treat me the same all over again. I would be implicitly saying that I put her before my mental health and safety.
As an aside, there was one unexpected outcome from this decision. Going no contact was relatively easy. Granted, it wasn’t always so. Just seeing the messages and letters she sent would trigger me and that was difficult; it was an encroachment into the mental space that I was trying to establish. It took over a year for her to stop harassing me. Even so, there wasn’t as much drama as before. Not only had most avenues of harassment been severed during previous breakups, but refusing to engage her on those that remained kept the drama lower than usual.
All I wanted was a Pepsi. 3
Since what I went through was abuse, I knew I had to answer some hard questions about myself. The red flags were numerous and furiously flapping in the wind. So why did I stay? How had I contributed to my predicament?
I want to exercise caution here. I’m not saying that the abuse I received was my fault. It wasn’t. However, there is no denying that I should have avoided this relationship from the beginning. Yet, I failed to sidestep tragedy. I had to understand why this happened so that I could avoid making this mistake again.
I discovered two reasons. The first was that I was hopeful. When the treatment wasn’t abusive it was agreeable. I had hoped that if we could eliminate her poor behavior that we could have an amazing relationship. I could give her the steady love that she said she had never experienced. I was sure this would calm her and make her see a stable future with me. All she had to do was get past her insecurities.
What I learned from this is that I am not accountable for fixing someone else. No one is. It doesn’t matter if you are a psychologist, a romantic partner, friend, family member, or write self-help books for a living. There is no one who can heal someone else’s trauma. That work falls to the afflicted person. Trained professionals can obviously help, but ultimately the work still has to be done by the actual person seeking counsel. My narcissist wasn’t seeking help. That’s a red flag in its own right. Regardless, the takeaway is that I am not someone else’s savior. In case you need to hear it, neither are you.
Furthermore, a relationship with a narcissist is always going to fail. It’s never going to be healthy. This is because one person is looking for trust and love and the other is looking for a supply of endless attention and control.
This realization allowed me to release any notion that somehow the relationship didn’t get to be all it could be. It actually became the only thing it could ever be and no amount of hope and stability on my part was ever going to change that.
I’ll save my best for someone else. 2
The second thing I learned about myself was the hardest truth to internalize. I valued my vulnerability and openness so much that I entered into situations where I knew I shouldn’t be. In truth, I was low-hanging fruit for the first manipulative, ego-driven maniac that wandered my way.
Verdicts seem to waver on whether narcissists pick those close to them for their positive qualities or for the ease of which they can be manipulated. I think it’s both.
Someone who is living authentically is a beacon that others want to be around. This light will attract a narcissist just as it does anyone else. They too want to be around that energy. This energy and attention a person can give a narcissist is dubbed “the supply” and it’s all they crave from others.4
When that energy becomes too much for a narcissist, such as when a person outshines them or won’t be reduced to the capricious whims of the narcissist, they will try and find a weakness in order to reduce the other person. This means a narcissist will seek to destroy the very beauty to which they are attracted. They will then often criticize the victim for no longer being the person they once were. It’s the paradoxical world in which narcissists live and subject others to. If narcissists can’t produce the effect they want then they often dump the partner and move on to the next supply.
As I mentioned, I valued my openness and vulnerability. I used these traits as a key vehicle for personal growth. That wasn’t the problem as much as the fact that this was all I valued for my development. I had no counterbalance and unknowingly left myself open to harm. It’s all well and good to be empathetic, compassionate, open, and vulnerable. Those are the good things about me that I treasure and I will keep those traits. What I needed was boundaries.
Being vulnerable without creating and enforcing healthy personal boundaries is a form of self-harm. Boundaries are also equally important for self-growth. It is not my responsibility to give unconditionally to those who cannot reciprocate in a respectful and self-aware manner. Setting boundaries when necessary, guides me in a way that feels more centered. I am not a customer service representative for toxic people.
This is why narcissists irrationally explode when someone they are controlling wants to set a boundary. Healthy boundaries are a form of self-care and narcissists know that this choice will automatically exclude them or seek to reign in their behavior in a way they cannot tolerate.
I was forced to pick between healthy boundaries and a relationship for far too long. The only reason that choice was presented to me over and over again was that I kept making the wrong decision. My toxic partner always required concessions to my emotional health. Conversely, me choosing a healthy boundary would have only needed doing once. The relationship would have ended over my choice and I could have gone about my life secure in knowing I had stood up for what was right.
Stated another way, when someone continually refuses to take responsibility and be accountable for their emotions and actions, there are only two ways forward. The first is to simply accept their toxicity and make the burden yours, therefore normalizing the behavior and beginning a pattern of abuse. The other is to call them out, hold them responsible, and in the absence of change, walk the fuck away (preferably in slow motion as the building explodes behind you).
All the chaos is dragging me under. 5
The discoveries I have heretofore discussed came to me fairly readily and I assumed I was on the path to being completely healed. Then something blindsided me.
I found that even two years free of abuse, I was still having some of the same thoughts and behaviors resurface that I did while in the toxic relationship. My brain had essentially been rewired in response to my past.
Allow me to give an example. A couple of years ago I began a relationship with someone which has blossomed. However, I was self-sabotaging the relationship. If you remember, I intimated that my abuser faked her way into being admitted to the hospital on numerous occasions in order to bring me back to her side, literally and figuratively.
When my current partner found themself in the hospital I became triggered and distant. Truth be told, I momentarily ended the relationship. After all, that was the pattern I was accustomed to. My partner’s legitimate hospital stay made me realize that there are going to be unexpected triggers that crop up from time to time. This is to be expected, but what I do with these thoughts and behaviors is vitally more important than the fact that I’m experiencing them.
With the narcissist, talking about difficult topics or feelings was not accepted or allowed. I would suffer some type of punishment from my desire to have a mutually introspective moment. I learned not to bring difficult topics to the forefront. Admittedly, that is the wrong way to handle key mental health moments, but at the time I was in survival mode. I demurred from having my needs met because I was trying to avoid the narcissist’s vengeance and hoping to center myself in that ever elusive moment of calm.
Contrast this with my current partner who strives to be emotionally aware and present in our relationship. The result of this, as it turns out, is that we can talk about the most difficult topics and they do not seem difficult at all.
Accordingly, we discussed the fact that illness and hospital stays had come to be traumatic for me. I told my partner that during my harmful relationship I was in a perpetual state of emotional exhaustion from the day to day bullshit I had to endure. On top of that, during breakups when I was still seeking calm, I would have my empathy used against me to be manipulated into the position of caregiver in order to achieve my abuser’s ulterior motives.
This ability to talk with my current partner reinforces what a positive and healthy relationship should look like. I am learning not to act upon my impulses and that in most cases, just talking about them with my partner is enough to cancel out my fears. Because of this, an illness or hospital stay no longer triggers me. I am now able to be present when I am needed.
For the first time since that traumatic relationship (and in some ways for the first time ever), I realize that love is calm, not nervous fear of losing someone. Love isn’t about shouting, or storming out of the room, or employing the silent treatment. Love isn’t about posturing and overcompensation. That’s all the result of insecurity. Love is about feeling comfortable and secure enough to sit down with someone and talk about each other’s truths and difficulties. Love is about being with someone and acting in a way that does no harm. Love is reliably showing up for each other in a way that can be counted on in the future.
I’m not saying that a relationship can heal me or that it can heal you. This is not a story about being destroyed by one person and being healed by another. As I mentioned, that healing work needs to be done by me alone. Rather, this is just a way of saying what a benefit it is to find someone who prioritizes my emotional health as much as I do theirs. This coupled with my willingness to take responsibility for my emotions has been a help in my recovery.
As an important aside: people are fond of saying that a person has to love themself and heal themself before another person will love them. I think when people have been through an abusive situation they might have a tendency to believe this. I’m here to tell you, as English punks may say, that this notion is complete bollocks.
I think the intention here is probably well meaning. I hope what these people are trying to say is that self-worth comes from within. That isn’t what is happening though. They are saying that you, me, and everyone else cannot be loved until we love ourselves. The truth is, you are worthy of love and capable of being loved despite not having every corner of your emotional house squared away.
Plus, there are some issues that can only arise from being in a relationship. I could have stayed single for 4 or 5 years until I thought I was healed and happy, but I would have never have encountered a partner going into the hospital to know that I had a hidden trigger. Trauma responses that form in a previous relationship often surface in a subsequent relationship, not while you are single. If you feel it’s important to remain single for a time then by all means do so, just do not think you cannot be loved as you are.
Ultimately, what is important is that you are willing to do the heavy lifting in order to solve your emotional difficulties and not make them the responsibility of others. If you are willing to heal then that can happen while single or while partnered. You are lovable either way.
And eternity, my friend, is a long fucking time. 6
As I sat down to write this piece, I had recently come to a conclusion that may be too soon to hear for some people affected by a narcissist and perhaps overdue for others. I had horrible things done to me. These things were done by someone who, make no mistake about it, is the personification of guiltless evil. And yet, here I am.
Why should I let someone so bereft of human decency and moral compass affect my entire life? The answer of course, is that I shouldn’t. I allowed this person into my life and they willfully and knowingly visited trauma upon me for two years. I have lived in fear for an additional three years. That is enough. They don’t get to scare me for the rest of my life. I do not give them that power. I don’t have time for childish, selfish nonsense, to derail who I am. The idea of her is approaching a state of total irrelevance. That’s exactly where I need to be.
I know what I went through is a serious matter and in a lot of ways it did temporarily destroy me. I also know that abuse is not a laughing matter. I was lucky that I did not experience physical abuse. However, there are times when I recall the outlandish meltdowns of my former partner and I have to admit that now I find it rather comical. Seeing what I went through as the product of an emotionally immature person has made me realize how silly I would be to let this affect me any longer. This too feels like healing.
I’m out of clever lines, I guess this is goodbye 7
I began by asking a very grim question about wanting someone dead. I’m thankful to say I no longer feel this way. Mine is still a story of partial recovery, but even partial healing is better than where I have been. Currently, I feel as if I’m about to break through to another level of well-being. It’s an odd feeling, kind of like a bubble that is building and about to burst.
None of what I have discussed here will resolve my past, it’s not meant to, that’s an impossible feat. I know I can never get back to exactly who I was before my trauma and anyway, I don’t want to. How I felt then was just as situational as how I feel now. I am better for having gone through it and come out the other side still full of empathy and with an improved understanding of who I am and what I deserve. I find myself in a much more centered position than I have ever been. I will take all of this and keep building the new and beautiful me. After all, I stood up for myself. I got out. I survived. I will thrive.
As we part, I want you to know that the road to recovery often seems dark because we have been driven underground. You will begin recovery within the dark tunnels of your psyche. There is nothing wrong with being here. It is where all self-searching journeys start. It allows you to see whether the foundation of everything above you is secure or if it needs rebuilding. It is work that is necessary to know who you are.
In this long dark tunnel, you can’t always see the light at the end. You may bump along the walls as you go, but it’s the going that is the most important part. Eventually, a dot appears in the black. It’s not a light at the end of the tunnel yet, but this infinitesimally small dot represents hope. As you get closer you bump into the walls fewer times and your path begins to straighten as the light becomes an increasingly blinding force. You are on the precipice of a simultaneously intimidating and exciting self-discovery.
You will emerge into the light basked in warmth with an appreciation that can only happen because of where you have been. The world now opens up before you. When you look back into the tunnel you will see black, but it is self contained. It is now the light which envelopes you. Where you venture from here is up to you. May all your dreams come true. I love you.
About the Author
Jeremy got his start writing philosophical and sociological articles which led to a desire to help others. He is currently writing at the blog Sex Love & Ire (sexloveandire.com) and working on a few books to help people live meaningful lives.
1 – Alkaline Trio, “Nose Over Tail,” recorded 1998, Asian Man Records,
track 4 on Goddamnit, 1998, https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5FIxAb_QdhY.
2 – New Found Glory, “Happy Being Miserable,” recorded October 2016,
Hopeless Records, track 4 on Makes Me Sick, 2017,
3 – Suicidal Tendencies, “Institutionalized,” recorded February 1983, Frontier Records,
track 6 on Suicidal Tendencies,1983,
4 – Lancer, Darlene. “The Concept of Narcissistic Supply.” Psychology Today.
August 7, 2021. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/toxic-relationships/
5 – Four Year Strong, “Brain Pain,” Pure Noise Records, track 6 on Brain Pain, 2020,
6 – Bad Religion, “You,” recorded June 1989, Epitaph Records,
track 10 on No Control, 1989, https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=2s7paN4AHpE.
7 – Face to Face, “Farewell Song,” recorded 2020, Fat Wreck Chords,
track 12 on No Way Out But Through, 2021, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/