To James’ girlfriend, either present or future.
You are not hard to love. You aren’t broken. You may feel and think it now, as he drips poison in your ear every waking minute of the day, via text, e-mail, memes, and posts on Facebook designed to make you question whether they’re aimed at you. Malignant whispers, his unerring conviction that he’s right, righteous, a saver of souls.
Dealing with trauma doesn’t mean you’re broken. You don’t need fixing. You don’t have faults. You’re whole already even if you don’t feel it. But he’ll make you believe you’re sabotaging things when in actual fact he’s deliberately triggering you. Sometimes in subtle ways. Other times he takes the sledgehammer approach. And when you crack under the pressure and finally retort, he’ll tell you that you’re the abusive one – this is a classic tactic used by people such as him. He’ll tell you that your mental health issues, which make you feel like you need to spend time on yourself or spend time alone, are causing you to abuse him, to neglect him, and that his constant demands are just a normal part of a healthy relationship, that your attitude is too ‘single girl’, that you’re guilty of solipsism if you try and enforce a boundary, any boundary – but he doesn’t believe that boundaries are necessarily healthy between two loving people. Initially, you may have agreed, believing that what he meant was trust and communication are important. But what he meant is that he’ll have what he wants, when he wants it, and that you’re to be altruistic and give that to him, because that’s what love is and hasn’t he done enough for you by now? You should be grateful, and make sure to show him, repeatedly, how grateful you are. Woe betide you if you don’t read his mind and ‘know’ when he’s in ‘pain’ – how could you not know this? Clearly, it means you’re too preoccupied with yourself, and not paying enough attention to him.
Just as you’re relaxing to go to sleep, perhaps reading a book to unwind, you’ll be expected to stroke his back to help him drop off. Or to massage his leg. Or cuddle even if you don’t want to. Not doing any of these things is obviously a sign of neglect, even if it means that you have to sacrifice sleep or sanity to do it. Every time you relax, he’ll place some sort of demand on you. You’ll get tired of this, but you won’t understand why – these are normal things aren’t they? It’s unreasonable for you to feel like you’re being put upon all the time, he’s a disabled man and can’t look after himself properly, he’s in pain so needs your care. You’ll beat yourself up and berate yourself for feeling that way, you’ll feel like a thoroughly awful person.
Perhaps he’ll try and get you to do something in public, or do something to you, that you don’t feel comfortable with. But it’s perfectly normal for him, babber – you’re just repressed.
He’ll say that certain of your behaviours are fine, but if those behaviours ‘stray too far into abuse’ he won’t tolerate it. And when he says ‘stray into abuse’, he means that he won’t allow you to disagree with him, or say no to anything, and if you begin to challenge his self-appointed authority in any way, he will assume his default position and cry victim. He’ll tell you that he won’t allow you to abuse him and will threaten to leave, which will scare you because you feel like you’re in love with him when in reality you’re trauma bonded. He’ll make you feel like losing him is worse than anything, even worse than losing a parent, a child, a beloved pet. Or perhaps you’ll be the one to say that you aren’t happy – but suddenly his back hurts, or he’s tired, and he needs to be looked after in some way, bringing the attention back to him, and he’ll make you feel bad for contributing to his pain by trying to express your own.
He’ll move goal posts on a whim, and you’ll follow rules that you didn’t even know existed, rules that will change and shift so that you feel like you’re standing on quicksand. You’ll make excuses for him – because of the tale of woe he’s told you about how he was abused by his parents, by the care system, by other women, by girlfriends. Someone who didn’t have a proper upbringing and wasn’t loved can’t be expected to understand how to act ‘normally’ and with care and compassion regarding the words he chooses to use – he is blunt and without consideration because he never had anyone to guide him, right? His rudeness is just him being forthright, the ‘no bullshit’ approach. He’s the guy who shakes things up, the new sheriff in town.
The minute you stop making excuses for his behavior, the moment that you realise that he’s completely in control of his actions, is the moment that you will begin to wake up, to emerge from the fugue of confusion he’s woven around you. You’ll begin to realise that he chooses his words deliberately and with care, with intent to verbally and emotionally maim you. The moment that you realise that every part of his traumatic history is a fabrication, that his identity is a charade, is like a floodlight going on in your brain. Suddenly everything becomes so clear. He’ll talk about feeling like you’ve never had a honeymoon period as a couple, and that wouldn’t it be nice if he could have a ‘proper girlfriend’, if only x, y and z would happen – he says this to all the girls.
Something he’s done before is to attempt to coerce a partner to make a public post on Facebook or some other social media platform. He tells them what needs to be said, probably insists on approving it before it goes live because he’ll say that in doing this you’re showing him something about how you feel. You’re showing the world, a public declaration of your love and your relationship.
But what he’s actually doing is making sure you publicly accept responsibility for the things HE is doing to YOU. He’s making you accept the blame for his atrocious behaviour. He will make you believe that those who care about you, who are worried about you, are actually against you, that they don’t understand your relationship and are just jealous of the bond you share, and he’ll try and twist you away from them. He’ll use his ‘expertise’ to convince you that they’re abusive, and he’ll try and tell you to cut them out of your life. Or he’ll belittle them, and try and make you feel as if you’re much better than them, manipulating you into discarding them. He’ll give you cards for your monthly celebrations of your relationship, containing messages which state that you need to be a team, that it’s you and he against the world, and that you need to be united. You might say to your friends that they can leave, unfriend you, whatever, if they don’t support you.
This behavior is designed to isolate you. He’s systematically going to try and remove the influence of anyone who cares about you, will remove the people who he knows can see him for what he is, because without a support network, you’re more vulnerable, and he can keep chipping away at you. If he can’t make you turn away from them, he’ll make them turn away from you.
He’ll also use you to become an extension of himself in other ways – the victim of a narcissist is a mirror, after all. You’ll be used as a public mouthpiece regarding DV and the evil of abusive women, how everyone denies their existence (this isn’t true though, is it? No one has ever denied that women can be abusive, that they can’t coerce and control. At some point you’ll understand that he’s just saying all of this to use as a smokescreen to cover up his own coercion and control).
You’re right. Some people do find the Daddy/Daughter thing awkward. Some people enjoy it. Others are indifferent. You don’t have to defend it publicly if it’s right for you. But I suspect there’s something more going on here. Because this isn’t just about a dynamic where he’s protective and caring. This is about him infantilising you, and it’s made you feel uncomfortable. It’s about making you feel that you aren’t an adult, to diminish you, to convince you that your experiences aren’t comparable to his, because you aren’t as old as him, or that he’s experienced far more than you, but you couldn’t possibly understand, you aren’t as mature as him, are you? Even though the evidence is to the contrary – his childish toddler-esque reactions to being slighted in any way are evidence of that. He’ll disparage some of the things you enjoy, claiming that they’re anodyne, or puerile. All of this will leave you feeling that you aren’t quite good enough, don’t measure up to him, so you have to keep trying to prove yourself to him.
It won’t be your fault if it goes ‘tits up’. Victims aren’t hard to love. Hard to understand sometimes, perhaps. But if someone makes you feel like you’re hard to love, you’re with the wrong person. Because when it’s right, love is easy. Sure, bits of the relationship will be a challenge – that’s normal – but overall, it shouldn’t feel like a daily battle. You shouldn’t cry constantly or feel like you’re walking on eggshells. You shouldn’t feel drained, and like you could sleep for a week every time you have a row.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that he’s redeemable. You can’t help him, he doesn’t want to be helped. You can’t fix him. He doesn’t think there’s anything to be fixed. He’s quite comfortable with being a monster because it’s something he chooses to be. He knows how malignant he is. Everything he does in public and on social media is for appearances because the Dark Knight of DV can’t possibly be a monster if he does all of this ‘good’, can he? The thing about heroes though – usually they don’t require praise and public affirmations, they don’t need to grandstand, glorify, to be grandiose about what they do and talk about it incessantly. They’re happy to do good deeds that go unnoticed. He does all of this to feed his ego, to prove to the world what a ‘good’ person he is, to screen his real purpose in life, which is to corrupt the souls of others, to match the corruption of his own.