real life

'I was a victim of narcissistic emotional abuse. It took me 12 years to recognise it.'

This post deals with abuse and might be triggering for some readers.

“Yes, I slept with her,” he confessed.

“I’m so sorry,” he said as if a simple apology would clean the slate and the mountains of baggage that silently sat between us.

The woman he spoke of was one he claimed for years was just a friend, his close “friend,” the one with whom he had crossed all the invisible lines.

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Turned out he had not only stepped but leaped over, the physical lines as well.

His sense of entitlement and lack of true remorse toward me or his close friend, the husband of his partner-in-crime, was chilling.

I shouldn’t have been shocked. In hindsight, it was obvious. But, there I sat shell-shocked as if the sky was falling directly over my head.

I had conveniently convinced myself there was no way he was capable of doing that to me. I had already lived through this trauma once as it was unfolding, and now here I was, nearly two years later, being forced to relive it all over again, albeit with a whole new layer attached.


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Denial is an incredibly powerful force.

And, I realised at that moment that I had been groomed for years to fall right into its trap.


His quick wit and gregarious charm were what initially drew me to him. His ability to draw a crowd, the way he lit up any room, and his uncanny ability to instantly make me feel at home as soon as I snuggled up against his chest were what hooked me for good.

We were together for six years before we tied the knot. His zest for life provided the perfect complimenting puzzle piece to my introverted nature. He was carefree to my caution. The yin to my yang. The Rachel to my Ross.

His vivacious character was just that — a character. 

His magnetism attracted fans wherever he went, and I excitedly joined the crowd. The curtains immediately went up as soon as others were present, and the show would begin. My husband always the star. 

The laughs came easily for him, and the jovial undertones he would derive from every setting made him the life of the party.

He was always at his prime when he was the centre of attention.


An expensive wedding, the addition of two kids, and twelve years later, I began to wonder what path led me to this painful place. How I had ended up at this fork in the woods where every breadcrumb led to a trail I had no desire to walk.


When had this gone so wrong?

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Two months before the wedding I had spent the previous year planning, my fiancé made the abrupt decision to quit his job to start his own business. There was no discussion. No planning.

Needless to say, the decision wasn’t mutual.

“This is my lifelong dream. Why are you trying to quash it?” he would ask. “Where is your faith in me?”

My anger at his one-sided, impulsive decision quickly melted into guilt.

“I’m so sorry I ever doubted you,” I would respond.

A year and a surprise newborn later, I had easily slipped into the role of codependent caretaker. His dream wasn’t all it was made out to be. I found myself earning the only household income with no choice but to go back to work full-time after our daughter was born.

We were barely living from my one paycheck to the next. Any financial discussions quickly turned to arguments over my supposed nonsupport.

A strange mixture of resentment and guilt settled over me.

This would become the norm for years to come.


In the years that followed, I found myself a single parent inside a two-parent household. My days consisted of going to work, picking up my kids from childcare in the evenings, and then waiting for my husband to magically reappear.


There’s nothing lonelier than feeling alone inside a relationship.

He began spending more and more hours at the very job that couldn’t put the bacon on the table. Perhaps it was this fact alone that led him to stumble through the door highly intoxicated long past dinner and kids’ bedtimes more and more frequently.

At times, it was easier when he wasn’t around. The minute the front doorknob would turn, the focus would shift to his needs, his tone, and his unpredictable mood. 

We would all immediately jump up to cater to him in an effort of self-preservation. His need to be centre of attention knew no bounds.

Everyone walked on eggshells around him.

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Continuing my role of caretaker in an increasingly unevenly weighted relationship, I made excuses for his behaviour, shielded my kids from the pain of an absent or raging father, and defended him against the whisperings of others.

When I would raise concerns, the conversation would inevitably end with me as the one apologising.

His skill at turning every argument on its face to claim victimhood was unlike any other.


He was the master of justification, rationalisation, minimisation, and projection. 

For years, I heard that my controlling tendencies held him down. And, it was the small grains of truth in those statements that held me hostage and kept me a passenger, straight-jacketed to the crazy train.

Ironically, his stonewalling, use of the silent treatment, and instant defensiveness at the first hint of criticism kept him in control of all of our communication.

There is no communicating without another willing participant.

At some point, I learned to swallow my anger and simply stay quiet.

He always won the game by silencing me.


The moment we said “I do,” my husband began referring to me as “his wife”. 

I always hated it and didn’t quite understand why. Twelve years into our marriage, I realised it was because it didn’t make me feel like a person, like an individual with her own feelings. Her own needs. As if I was a property with no sense of autonomy. As if I was nothing but an extension of himself. An extension of his possessions.

Just another object piled in the heap of his collection of expensive cars, toys with wheels, and fancy electronics.

Gradually, I became yet another object by which he defined himself.

Years later, I realised his nondescript terms of endearment for me — “honey” and “love” — were just transposed to another warm body.


I may have had the title, but I didn’t have the full copyright.

The sad thing was, he didn’t love either of us for who we were as individual people. He loved us for how we made him feel about himself. It never had anything to do with either of us.

It was always all about him.

I was incapable of hiding my pain as his affair was occurring. It was more than clear that I was unravelling. As I blamed myself for what I couldn’t be, I lost an immense amount of weight, I cried myself to sleep more days than not, and I dug myself a six-foot deep hole of depression from which I was unable to emerge.

He had me right where he wanted me.

Pinned down and unable to stand up long enough to walk away.

On some deeper level, I knew this was a physical affair. But, according to him, I was overly sensitive, too anxious, and too overbearing and jealous to allow him the “friendships” that anyone needs for survival. After years of gaslighting, I stopped trusting my own intuitions. Years of confusion led me to not only stop trusting him.

But, to also stop trusting myself.

After all, aren’t we supposed to be able to place all of our trust in the person who says he loves us the most?

I no longer loved myself enough to be connected with my thoughts and my true feelings.

As it turned out, I was right all along. 


I now realise it didn’t matter what I did. It didn’t matter who I was. It didn’t matter how much I loved him. His inability to regulate his self-esteem from within caused him to rely on gathering validation from any and all external forces.

I was enough.

But, I would never be enough for him because nothing would ever be enough for him.

I was never going to be able to fill the bucket when there was always a hole in the bottom.


Forever attempting to elicit that empathetic response for which I was searching, I incessantly talked about my feelings and needs. As usual, I got no response.

Even though I was talking to a brick wall, my stubborn act of futility only caused me to shout louder.

I was living an existence that rendered me forever unheard.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Eventually, I thought writing or mediating through a marriage counsellor would squeeze the lifeblood of the turnip that was my husband. Every once in a while, I would catch a glimpse of vulnerability and what looked like self-insight. All over again, it would ignite that compassion I felt for that lost and traumatised boy I saw in the adult figure I slept beside each night.

I gobbled whole the few fleeting breadcrumbs of validation and love he would throw in my direction.


I was starving for true intimacy, and it showed.


That’s the catch with narcissistic emotional abuse. Our captor gives us just enough hope with which to hang ourselves. We cling to those moments that give us cause to believe things might change. That they might be different one day. That we might cross paths again with that person we originally fell in love with.

Except that person was a character. An act.

And, the curtains are now drawn shut.

What I didn’t want to see was that he was incapable of loving me in the way I deserved because he didn’t love himself.

I could clearly see him for who he was, but he couldn’t see me standing right in front of him.

Because to him, I was invisible.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished here with full permission. For more from Kelsey Jane, read here. 

If this post brings up 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. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

Feature image: Getty 

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