In part 33 of Sex Love and Obesity, Peter had broken up with me and in the wake of his exit from my life, I had found a newfound freedom. I wish I could tell you that the moment Peter walked out the door everything was suddenly fine. But that’s not quite how it works. When you end up in a relationship with someone that is emotionally abusive to you, there are consequences you pay long after the relationship ends. While dating Peter, I never truly recognized I was dating a narcissist, I suspected it a few times, but I was never certain. It wasn’t until after we broke up, and I started experiencing symptoms of trauma bonding I began to understand what was happening to me.
Trauma Bonding is no joke.
Trauma boding is a powerful emotional connection that exists between someone who has been abused and the person that has abused them. It’s not something that either party does intentionally. It happens as a result of someone using fear, excitement, sexuality or emotional pain to bond you to them.
Peter had broken my heart. He had beat me up emotionally time and again. He’d convinced me I was worthless and that if the world knew all my dirty little secrets, nobody would like me. With Peter, I wasn’t sure about who I was anymore. Under his persuasion, I believed I was a fake, and a phony, and that somehow, I had lied and misrepresented who I was and what I was about.
The constant fighting between us was a repeat of a traumatic childhood of fighting with my mother. It was volatile and ugly. Peter had alienated me from most of my friends. He had emotionally manipulated me into living a life that almost completely revolved around him.
This is exactly how the cycle of trauma bonding begins.
When your world completely revolves around another person, when they hurt you, there is nobody else to turn to for relief. When Peter would hurt me, when we would get into horrible fights, I might stay mad for a little while. But when the anger subsided, I’d go talk to him to try to resolve it.
“Why can’t I be your escape? Why can’t I be your drug? How come you don’t turn to me and use sex to make yourself feel better instead of smoking pot, smoking cigarettes or drinking? Why can’t I be the thing that helps you de-stress?” I distinctly remember Peter asking me these questions. At the time, I thought he wanted to be my hero. I believed he wanted to make me feel better and help relieve my stress.
When someone hurts you, you expect them to feel bad about it.
But a narcissist doesn’t recognize that they have hurt you. If anything, you have hurt yourself. Nothing is ever their fault. They are perfect. You’re the one that is broken and damaged. When they’ve made you feel bad, and you tell them that they have hurt you, you’re mistaking them for someone who cares about your feelings and wants to do something to make you feel better.
At that very moment, you are arming the narcissist. You’re basically complimenting them on a job well done by telling them how good of a job they are doing at hurting you. On top of all of that, you are handing them a road map to your emotions. Showing them where your weakness is and telling them where to attack next.
Being in love stimulates the same part of your brain that is associated with addictions and drug use. As a result, when you are in a relationship that simulates an emotional roller coaster, chemicals in your brain alter responding to the cycle of trauma and relief. Additionally, the hormones, enzymes and amino acids that regulate emotional connections, pain, pleasure, happiness and sadness respond to the cycle of abuse and relief. This is literally your brain chemistry changing to help you survive the emotional trauma it is processing.
Loving a narcissist becomes an addiction like any other.
As someone who has suffered with obesity, I find it like a food addiction. I can vividly recall the nights I was sad, depressed and worried about my health due to my weight. I would handle these feelings by getting dressed, running to the corner market, buying a dozen candy bars, coming home and eating all of them. When I was done, I sat there regretting my actions, knowing what I had done just made everything worse.
Loving a narcissist had the same emotional cycle. We’d get into a fight; things would get ugly. I would get super emotional, he’d try to fix it by showering me with affection, reminding me he loved me, and of course, with make-up sex. Dating Peter was like dating two different people. He was the monster abusing me, and the knight in shinning armor rescuing me from himself. As much as I wanted to run away from the abuse. I stayed and kept going back for the relief.
From the other side of the equation, the narcissist has their own emotional addiction as well. The idealization of someone else. I didn’t understand this when Peter and I were dating. I had never experienced anything like it. Narcissists have a tendency to idealize the person they are interested in. In the beginning, this person is as perfect as they are. This is “the one”. This is their “soulmate”. As it is happening, nobody can tell them any differently. To them, this is the person that is going to make all their dreams come true. They are the perfect accessory, the perfect reflection of how amazing the narcissist is. Somehow, this person is going to fill the void inside them. This is the person they have been looking for all their life. This person is going to fulfill all their needs.
But Nobody’s is perfect.
In the realm of a narcissist, a person who truly believes that -they are perfect-, the rest of us are disappointment. As a result, the moment that a Narcissist realizes you are not perfect, it gets ugly.
At this point, you’ve let them down by not being able to be perfect. You aren’t the person they thought you were. How dare you have flaws, shortcomings, and even worse, needs.
You’re not the “perfect soulmate” anymore. Somehow, *you* tricked the narcissist. Suddenly, you find yourself being accused of misrepresenting yourself. Being a liar, a fraud and a phony.
When you get to this point, the devaluation cycle starts. In their eyes, you’ve betrayed them. Because you’ve betrayed them, in their minds, it is perfectly acceptable to tear you down about it, and about any short-coming, flaw or imperfection they can find. If you fight back, trying to protect yourself, trying to get your own emotional needs met. You are the bad guy. You’re selfish, inconsiderate, you aren’t meeting their needs and their expectations. Nobody could ever meet those needs and expectations, they are way too high. But a narcissist will never realize that they have unrealistic expectations and standards of relationships.
The devaluation aspect of dating a narcissist almost destroyed me.
Not because Peter was so amazing, or my heart was so broken by him leaving. But because I had unresolved issues with self-esteem, self-worth and self-value. It was so easy for me to believe all the terrible things Peter told me about myself. I was so desperate for love, so co-dependent on being in a relationship, I didn’t need Peter to devalue me. I was devaluing myself by being with someone that was emotionally abusive. And if I’m being honest, Peter wasn’t responsible for that.
I didn’t need Peter to devalue me, I’d been doing that to myself for most of my life.
After Peter discarded me, I had to work on that. One of my biggest flaws is my eagerness to accept fault and blame. In my mind, everything bad that happens in a relationship is somehow my fault. I’ve been believing that ever since I was a little girl being abused in the garage behind my grandmothers house. I had to begin to learn the difference between accepting fault for the things I had done; staying in an unhealthy relationship because I was afraid of not being in a relationship at all. The eye opener for me was when I realized that a lot of the things Peter faulted me for, the things he had used against me, we’re issues he created, amplified or provoked.
For over a year …
Peter had beaten me up about the vices that I used as an escape method and a stress reliever. But when he wasn’t around me anymore, I wasn’t doing any of those things. Without the constant fighting and consistent drama, there wasn’t anything I was trying to escape from.
For over a year …
He accused me of caring more about running and exercising than I cared about him. When I gave up those things to make him happy and end the fighting, suddenly the argument changed to how I wasn’t the person I said I was because I didn’t use exercise as an emotional outlet, instead I was turning to drugs and alcohol. Within a few months of Peter being out of my life, I was right back to beating on a kickboxing bag to deal with my feelings, getting a sponsorship to run to Paris, and training for another half marathon.
For over a year …
Peter attacked me for being too career focused, for caring more about my career than I did about our relationship. He told me I was a shitty trainer, a crappy coach, and that if my clients and blog readers knew how I lived my life everyone would hate me. My belief in his perception of things pushed me into silence. I stopped blogging completely. However, just a few months after him not being in my life anymore, I was back to blogging. I was back to writing the truth, sharing the good, bad and ugly parts of my journey so that others might learn from them. Nobody turned on me the way Peter told me they would. In fact, my clients still give me outstanding reviews. My blog readership is higher than it’s ever been.
I had to remind myself of these things daily.
In order to help myself do this, I wrote post it notes and stuck them on my mirror. I surrounded myself with empowering motivational quotes and messages that reminded me of the qualities I was proud of. I learned to stop apologizing for every little thing I did.
It wasn’t easy. Working on myself was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
But with help from my therapist, I began realizing that none of this was about Peter. It was about me. Everything that had happened with Peter, happened because I allowed it to. I was so damn desperate to be loved, I was willing to accept anything; Even being emotionally abused, in order to achieve that. I had to work on loving myself, seeing my value, my worth and my strengths regardless of whether anyone else did.
I needed to break the trauma bond.
After Peter and I broke up, I wanted him to apologize. I wanted him to admit what he had done and say he was sorry. Somewhere deep inside, I wanted the opportunity to forgive him and I thought that I needed that to find my closure.
Eventually, I realized I didn’t need him to do that. What I needed; was to let go of it all. Forget it, forget him, move on and be happy. I had done so much to try to reclaim my power. I’d gone back to running, returned to blogging. And now, I’d told my story. I came and owned every dirty little secret he could ever use against me. Yet here I was, still needing him to accept fault in order to obtain closure. I was still looking to Peter to give me relief from the emotional abuse he had caused me in the form of an apology. That my friends, is a prime example of trauma boding.
As long as I sat there needing Peter for anything, I was going to be trapped in the trauma bond. It was that realization that finally lead me to begin searching for the strong, independent and self relying woman I knew was inside me. Breaking that trauma bond and finding myself was the only thing that was going to make things okay again.