It starts out with big promises. He is charming, says the right things, buys you flowers and oil pipelines. He tells it like it is and everyone seems drawn to him, enamored even. This initial wooing is called a “love bomb” and you are his target.
You’ve been hurt in the past and he knows exactly what to say. He’s chosen you for a reason. He’s unlike anyone you’ve ever loved and at first you believe that to be a good thing.
As the months go by and the orange layers peel away, you begin to have questions. But those around him are so engaged, steadfast, loyal, so you wonder, “Maybe it’s me? Maybe that thing in my gut telling me this isn’t right, is actually wrong.”
You decide to stay and suddenly the red flags blow away like a dandelion in the breeze or a bird into a giant wind turbine.
Friends comment on social media how happy you look as your cheeks ache from fake smiling. You pose for the photos and wear the outfits he deems suitable, not too sexy, but attractive enough to adorn his arm. If you look at anyone else, even scanning a room or talk to another man, you’re accused of cheating. You have to be loyal at all times but may never question him. Those are the rules.
You find yourself defending atrocious behavior. It starts out small, little insults masked as humor. He tests you to see how much he can get away with, but after a while the little insults become character bashing. You stay because you believe this is not really who he is.
When you argue, he replies, “It’s a joke! Don’t be such a snowflake. Don’t be such a bitch. All guys talk this way.”
You think, “Maybe he’s right. Maybe this locker room talk is acceptable.”
The world tilts upside down, so to adjust you start walking on the ceiling. Eventually living upside down becomes normal.
It’s a slow transition. At first it is shock, then disbelief, then numbness, until all actions are justified and eventually condoned. He is skilled at making you believe you are the problem. It’s not him. It never is.
You voted for this, you brought this into your life. You are invested, physically, financially, emotionally, spiritually. You are complicit, aligned with his behavior and abandoning him now would reflect poorly on your character, not his.
Admitting this is wrong would mean that something in you is faulty, that you are unable to discern truth from fiction, right from wrong, good from evil. You shouted from the rooftops it was GREAT!
He buys you theatre tickets for your birthday to your favorite show. He brags about it on social media. Tons of likes! What a great boyfriend! Hashtag lucky lady! Tickets in hand, big smiles. But on the day you are to attend, he takes the tickets away and says you don’t deserve them anymore. He goes alone, comes home and pushes you against the wall because you ruined his evening. You made him go alone. You take a bath and sob and wonder how in the world you got to this place. You agree with him in a way, “What is wrong with me?”
He spoils you with nice dinners but punishes you afterwards for enjoying it. He calls you a gold digger. You tell him you’re fine with inexpensive meals, that you’re happy to cook and camp and live simply. But he doesn’t want to. He wants 5 star accommodations but shames you for going with him. You should know your place. You are not in the top 1%. You are not a Mar-a-Lago. You are a Motel 6. You are lucky and owe him everything. You would be nothing without him.
You walk on eggshells. You give praise because praise is the only behavior acceptable. He only asks for your opinion because he knows at this point, you’ve come too far to disagree. He’s groomed you. Loyalty is everything and you are loyal to the end.
He lies of course, but that’s just him. It isn’t really hurting anyone. Image is the most important thing and who are you to stand in his way? Even if he is deeply flawed, we’re all sinners, right? Even though he doesn’t ask for forgiveness, that’s okay too. He says if you ever say anything negative about him, he will sue you and take everything you have. He has already destroyed your self-worth so you believe him.
And then one day you see the playback, clarity hits, the red flags, the lies, the promises, the orange layers peeling down in fast forward to something rotten and vile and you think, “How could I not see? How could I have been part of this awful thing?”
You finally say, “This wasn’t me. Isn’t me. I just didn’t know.”
You realize it is okay to walk away. It is okay to accept that you were fooled because you are not an awful person. He was. You believed a lie. You believed a lot of lies. You believed someone who spent a lifetime perfecting the art of the lie. It’s not you. It’s him.
For a lot of us who have experienced emotional abuse in our past, these past 4 years have caused PTSD and depression as we relive the nightmare with every article, newsfeed and watching, like our lives, our country fall prey to a narcissist.
Trump’s discourse, demeanor, humiliation of anyone who disagrees with him, his isolation of supporters and complete need for loyalty is all too familiar. We lived it personally, not just politically. It was not just in the White House but in our house.
Now, we leave. We move on and know from this point we can recognize the red flags, the fake promises, the grooming, the emotional abuse and we will never stand for it again. We are better now. Great was never great. But the future will be.