real life

'I left my narcissistic husband. 10 years later, he accused me of child abuse.'

Content warning: This post includes discussions of domestic violence and suicidal ideation that might be triggering for some readers. 

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.

Covert narcissistic abuse is a dangerous form of non-physical domestic violence. Its tactics of coercive control and manipulation have shattered my family, leaving my oldest daughter emotionally broken and on the brink of suicide, and my youngest daughter and I barely hanging on.

For over 14 years, my ex-husband has waged a hidden war against me using emotional and psychological abuse and coercive control. Hidden because the tactics are so covert. Only myself and a few close friends have witnessed the persistent and calculated pattern of destructive abuse. It is like stealthily drip-feeding poison into a healthy garden, slowly but surely killing it.

My garden was my children and I, once dancing, colourful and sunny. We were so close; we used to joke we were the Three Musketeers. But slowly the poison crept in until now, one of my daughters has had an emotional breakdown which my abuser, her father, has deviously used to alienate us completely. My other daughter, who still lives with me, is torn between her father and sister, and me, her mother.

Watch: Coercive control is a deliberate pattern of abuse. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

For my abuser, it's the pinnacle of more than a decade-long campaign of abuse. Since we separated 14 years ago in 2009, his aim has been to destroy me, knowing that losing my children would do it.

If this seems unfathomably cruel, welcome to the world of narcissistic abuse. As a victim-survivor, I can only tell you it is this and more. It is also a very lonely place to be. Unless you have experienced it, it's hard to understand, almost unbelievable to contemplate. It has taken me years to find the words through the solitude, trauma and emotional anguish. My turning point came when I discovered narcissistic personality disorder. I joined a support group and saw my story in so many others. At last, I wasn't alone.

My living hell truly began when my ex-husband and I separated, although he was always controlling throughout our marriage. When it ended, I experienced the 'narcissistic discard'. I didn't know it by that name at the time. I just went from wife one week to mortal enemy the next and was distraught at the utter callousness and cruelty. After over a decade and two children together, how was I not even worthy of a conversation, closure, or common decency in disentangling our lives?


I discovered that our relationship was never built on mutual love and respect. It was built on my ex-husband's need for narcissistic supply – attention, validation, importance. So, when I didn't provide that for him anymore, he simply cut me off and went looking for someone who would. For him, it was as emotional as throwing out a shirt that didn't fit him anymore.

Typical of a narcissist, he tried to blame our break-up on me and played the victim. I was aghast after spending years putting up with his self-centred, controlling and arrogant behaviour. How could he even say that? In the lead-up to our separation I was subjected to days at a time of his 'silent treatment' and aggressive stonewalling when he did speak. And so, I tried to get through by yelling. That's when he started to gaslight me by spinning the narrative that I was unstable because I reacted loudly to his silent abuse. I started to believe him... it was only my sense of right and wrong that has saved me.

But he never let go of the narrative that I was 'unstable' or 'crazy'. Similarly, for years after they divorced, he always referred to his first ex-wife as 'the psycho'.

He has the gift of the gab, exaggerates to his own end in almost every breath and believes his own lies. 

From the moment we separated, the children were brainwashed into believing their father was the victim and I was the crazy, unstable one. The poisonous drip filled with manipulative propaganda was released in subtle doses. He relayed to them I caused the marriage break-up, which had devastated particularly my oldest daughter, and told them emotional and financial sob stories. At just six years old she said to me, "Daddy told me that he just decided that he wasn't going to argue with you anymore. That's why he didn't come back. You're mean to daddy."


He 'let slip' subtle pieces of one-sided information like 'mummy got the car'. To them, this was a big-ticket item and at this age, they didn't know it was part of a court-ordered financial settlement. Even though we shared custody 50:50 on all school holidays and the children spent nine days with me, and five days with him each fortnight, this wasn't enough and for years he coached the children that this was unfair to him. In truth, custody had been court-ordered after two family reports by a psychologist who thankfully noticed his controlling behaviour. She gave me full control of the children's medical wellbeing and a few extra days a fortnight to try to give me some autonomy and reprieve. 

My ex-husband felt he had lost in the Family Court and lost control. For a narcissist, this is untenable and unforgiveable, and I paid the price as the long-term pattern of control, manipulation, gaslighting and bullying escalated out of control. He used the legal, child support and child safety systems to intimidate and undermine. I lived in a constant state of fear about what he would do next.

Once, I was a few weeks overdue for the children's six-monthly dental check-up and received a reprimanding letter from his lawyer – one of many I received over the years for similarly petty actions. He formed a company and hid his income, to the point I was paying him child support, which was eventually overturned after a protracted investigation. This was one of three occasions where I had to fight for fairness in the child support system, which he continued to manipulate.


For me, his most heinous act was reporting me for child abuse. I broke. It hurt me so much I just cried and cried on and off for days. I contacted Child Services immediately, telling them I would never abuse my children, and that I was being supported by a local domestic violence service for coercive control and the other abusive tactics my ex-husband was using. They reassured me that malicious reporting by vindictive exes happens all the time. That helped, but it didn't make the pain go away.

I was told he reported me for emotional abuse. The unstable and crazy narrative had reared its head again. I had yelled at the children, which, like most parents, I had. By about the age of 10 and 12 they were becoming difficult and disrespectful, as their father had very subtly trained them to be. I was always the disciplinarian and he the 'fun dad' who never yelled at them or insisted they do chores around the house.

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After being reported for child abuse, something in me changed. Soon after the first report, an incident occurred where I insisted my younger daughter go to school although she begged me to stay home because she hadn't done her homework. She messaged her father to collect her from the bus top after I had dropped her there in her school uniform. I could no longer conceal my anger at this type of behaviour and no doubt my children relayed this back to him. Similar incidents kept occurring. He would swoop in and 'save' the children from reasonable discipline or consequences set by me. It was like he would throw hand grenades skilfully timed so the children would see me explode in anger and disbelief at his version of 'co-parenting'.


Looking back, armed with an education on narcissistic abuse and coercive control, I can see the deviousness. Over the years, the abuse he directed at me had been skilfully concealed. I had not told the children about Family Court, our financial Court Orders, about his legal letters berating me for minor parenting issues or that I'd been maliciously reported for child abuse. After years of silently 'copping it', when I finally cracked and voiced my anger at their father, it was there to see during that period.

But my girls and I remained very close and as they reached their mid-teens, from my perspective they were free to live at either home. My oldest daughter chose to live with me and my younger daughter chose to divide her time between homes. I heard nothing from their father as there was little contact between us at this stage, so assumed he was on board. After many months of this, my youngest daughter chose also to live with me, which infuriated him.


Life got a little easier, as the abuse lessened, especially as I now had a new partner, and the children weren't switching between homes. But it was short-lived. A narcissist never gives up... he had simply been lying low, waiting for an opportunity to pounce. It came eight months ago.

But after my older daughter left school, she fell into a hole of depression and anxiety. She didn't know what she wanted to do with her life and was struggling with friendships. The conflict she experienced growing up has no doubt played a significant role in her poor mental health. Although often invisible, it was always palpable in our lives. She has seen a psychologist on and off for years and was currently taking anti-depressants. She was also having issues with my partner. They'd enjoyed a happy relationship for several years, but more recently they had argued and were at odds with each other. Still, she managed to lead quite a normal life, working and going out to concerts and festivals.

Eight months ago, all was well at home, and I went away for a week to visit friends. My oldest daughter said she was going to take a road trip with her father. My gut churned, but I could only say, "Have a lovely time." My gut feeling was right. In the space of a week, he turned the relationship between my daughter and I upside down. We went from being close and loving, to nothing. When they got home, he took her to a new psychologist, who both refuse to allow me to contact.


He capitalised on her anxiety and mental health issues and brainwashed her into believing that I am the source of it – projecting all of his abuse onto me, even telling my daughter that I am the narcissist. She has moved out of my home to his – after screaming at me that she is suicidal - and will not speak to me. My youngest daughter remains with me, but he is desperately trying to alienate her from me.

He has played the long game – 12 years in total - with no laws to stop him. His tactics, straight from the narcissists' textbook, have succeeded in alienating my daughter from me. At the expense of my daughter's mental health and relationship with her mother, he feels triumphant. Yet he will never be diagnosed or own up to this vicious and damaging personality disorder because in his own twisted mind he is perfect and justice has been served.

Over and over, the similar stories of horrific covert abuse are echoed in support groups around the nation. There is nothing more satisfying to a narcissist than victory and they don't care who they hurt to get there, not even their own children.

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

Feature Image: Getty.

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