Catch Me If You Can...
Some relationships just aren't meant to be, and the best thing you can do is cut your ties as quickly as possible, according to Amanda Somberg.
©2008 by Amanda Somberg.
You've seen them. They're everywhere: in the office, the classroom, down the street. They're charming, self-assured, the perfect catch. They know just how to talk to and seduce you, and when they ask for your number, you pinch yourself with glee at your good fortune.
They seem like the perfect boyfriend, and in the beginning, they are attentive, thoughtful, generous, and kind. You become enamored and are swept off your feet. Although you may hear murmurings from friends or family that he seems "too nice" or that they just "have a hunch about him," you brush aside their comments. You only have eyes for him, and in those eyes, he's "the one."
The relationship moves quickly, and he makes you feel chosen and special, as if the secrets he shares are only between you two. He seeks your sympathy, telling you woes about his hard life and the many people who have taken advantage of or hurt him. He might even speak disparagingly about his "crazy" ex-girlfriend or ex-wife, and you swallow the one-sided character assassination without question.
But for all of his perfect manners and perfect smile and perfectly attentive demeanor, this perfect catch hides a tremendous secret: Beneath his polished and smiling façade is a predator, the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing. He will turn on you only after you are "caught," either legally in a marriage or when he senses your heart has been surrendered. He will disguise his true nature until it's too late, and by then, you will have given up your dreams, your savings, your youth, and your heart to this man. You will have believed the flattery and promises of endless love until you are older, wiser, and emotionally or physically crushed by his controlling and abusive ways.
The secret he hides from everyone is his cruelty and coldness, which eventually transforms from subtle to overt psychological, verbal, and physical abuse. At home, he erupts with rage whenever you make the slightest suggestion or request, and he blames you or the children for all of his failures and problems. He's no longer kind but arrogant, and he's never, ever wrong. Our narcissist has no empathy or time for you or the children anymore, preferring instead to live a moody life of self-imposed exile succumbing to addictions such as work, alcohol, drugs, or affairs.
Once so seductive and attentive when you were dating, his demeanor becomes aloof and uncaring after you're trapped. Sex becomes a one-sided affair if it was ever mutually satisfying to begin with. Other times, he becomes uninterested in sex for any reason, leaving you feeling frustrated and unwanted. As time progresses, he may even get you to participate in sexual acts that you feel ashamed or embarrassed about.
Eventually, the good times stop altogether, though he might tease you with an occasional "splurge" somewhere, or a genuine kindness. These arbitrary glimpses of the man you fell in love with will only serve to tighten the handcuffs which bind you to him. Much like the psychology of slot machines, these small, occasional payoffs will keep the unsuspecting gambler glued to her chair.
Eventually, you cannot deny the lies, which are second nature to this man, the wolf. He lied all along, but you didn't want to know it or couldn't see it before now. He plays mind games with you and your children, denying he's doing so. It's subtle at first but amazingly effective. You, destabilized and questioning your own sanity, are slowly being driven mad.
The abuse continues. It always does if you stay. He starts berating you for your cooking, your mothering skills, your appearance. Hitting, slapping, and punching are not far behind. By now, you see a pattern: to the world, they see his mask, but you must live with the man. With a sneer, he'll say "Just try and leave me now. No one will ever believe a word you say."
When you leave if you can leave you're faced with an imposter who has hidden the money, isolated you from family and friends, and driven a wedge between you and your children. His explanations are rehearsed and twisted, painting you as the instigator, the psycho, the money-grubbing bitch. He is a formidable verbal foe with his credible and plausible explanations of every interaction you've ever had, and you find yourself on the losing end of every session with the couple's therapist or with well-meaning family members.
His attorney is just like him: smooth, slick... a crusader for his client. But the wolf doesn't care about you or your children, although he portrays himself as the long-suffering husband who throws up his hands and exclaims to others "Look at what I have to deal with."
The wolf only cares about one thing in his relationship with you, and it is winning. He will do everything in his power to destroy you in the process, to extract vengeance upon you and the children for "abandoning" him and asking him to change his abusive ways.
When you turn to the court system for relief, there will be no help forthcoming. A judge will never believe you, the true victim of the wolf's controlling abuse. The wolf is polished, calm, unruffled. A pillar in the community. Although he's lying through his teeth, it's second nature to him, as he's been practicing it for years. You are either fragmented and depressed from the psychological and emotional abuse or enraged that this man is harming you and your children. Either way, you come across as exactly the crazed, paranoid harpy he has created.
The wolf gets away with all of this because his charisma, magnetism, and deceit sways judges, therapists, custody evaluators, and mediators. Emboldened by his success, he bullies and abuses you even more. And he'll never stop until you have paid dearly so dearly for leaving and rejecting him.
* * * * * * * * *
It is tempting for lay people to think that this man is a figment of my imagination, but I assure you he's very real. Malignant narcissists and sociopaths prey upon the kindest and most tender women they can find, for they know these women will never suspect how evil and devious people can be. Women who fall for these men are good-hearted, slightly dependent and suggestible, and patently unable to see the sociopath until it's too late. They're willing to be groomed over time to accept responsibility for every problem that goes awry in the relationship, from the wolf being late to the wall being pummeled.
In my upcoming book about narcissism, I discuss these wolves, how they are created, how to spot them, and how to get out if you're living with one.
Suffice to say, wolves leave clues that we can pick up on, and I suggest you never find yourself in their company if you can help it. The main clue is the "pity play," as discussed by Martha Stout, Ph.D. in her book The Sociopath Next Door. He always paints himself as the victim of evil-doers, crazy exes, maligned employees. Beware if you hear "the pity play" in your interactions or on dates. Nothing is ever their fault or responsibility, and if you stay, you will soon find yourself on the receiving end of his "blame game."
Another clue is his lying. It is inconceivable to the average person how easily sociopaths lie, but they are true con men and can lie with impunity. When confronted with a lie, follow the "rule of three," as Dr. Stout advises: One lie is forgivable. Two is circumspect. Three, you leave. Period. And don't leave a forwarding address.
The third clue is the abuse. You know you're dealing with a malignant narcissist a true sociopath with no conscience when these behaviors start. He not only lies regularly, but begins to "gaslight" you, a form of psychological abuse named after the 1944 movie Gaslight (rent it!). This type of abuse essentially destabilizes you and causes you to question your own sanity. He may say "I never said that" or "That's not what we agreed to," yet you remember otherwise. Wolves utilize this technique liberally, and let there be no doubt about it: he is consciously, actively, and sadistically tormenting you to drive you insane.
A fourth clue is the inevitable overt abuse: slapping, shoving, hitting...or worse. The cycle of violence so aptly explained by Lenore Walker outburst, honeymoon phase, increasing tension, followed by another outburst demonstrates that the abuse will only get worse, never better. Despite all of his promises to change, once the wolf starts leaving these clues, you must make plans to leave. The wolf will never get any better, no matter what he, your family, friends, and therapist say. There is no hope for rehabilitation. Even those who take full and utter responsibility for each and every one of their actions which is highly, highly unlikely they must prove their mettle over time.
Your best bet, indeed your only bet, is to leave. As a therapist, I am not in the practice of telling people the uncomfortable truths they must find out for themselves over time. In this case, I make a pointed and stern exception: get out.
But before you do, you must plan your escape, for the wolf will not take your perceived abandonment lightly. Your first step is to tell someone a close friend or family member the truth about your hellish existence with this Jekyll-and-Hyde of a man. In fact, tell several people. You will need their support and more someday.
Second, call your local women's shelter for advice. They have staff on-hand and low-fee attorneys who can discuss your options and give you practical guidance for you and your children. Do not think gaslighting, compulsive lying, and repeated affairs aren't abuse; they are. If he's acting in this manner, he's capable of so much more. You are in danger. Beware.
Third, begin writing everything down that the narcissist or sociopath says or does. This paper trail will come in handy when he starts portraying you as unstable or insane. It is also a method of catching him in his manipulations and lies.
Fourth, make copies of important financial documents, birth certificates, bank statements, deeds, and the like. Narcissists are known for stealing, hiding money, frittering it away, or otherwise financially decimating their mates. Find out where the money is hidden ahead of time so that you are not ruined financially. And set aside an emergency fund of your own should you need immediate access to cash.
Fifth, if you have children, decide whether it would be better to plan your escape when the children are older, say over age 12. Older children are able to assert their own wishes when it comes to custody disputes. If the wolf has already driven a wedge between you and your children, do not give up in despair. Point out the ways they are being manipulated. Catch him in his lies. Learn how to spot his twisting of every interaction, and call him on it each and every time. Moreover, get a backbone and don't knuckle under to his insistence that you are always to blame. Your children get traumatically bonded to their abuser whom they fear; don't allow this to happen on your watch.
Read everything you can get your hands on, especially "Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men" by Lundy Bancroft (a man who's worked with over 2,000 abusive men) and "In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People" by George K. Simon, Jr., Ph.D. In addition, read anything by Patricia Evans ("The Verbally Abusive Relationship," "Controlling People") or Beverly Engel ("The Jekyll-and-Hyde Syndrome," "The Emotionally Abused Woman"). Also, search the Internet for Sam Vaknin, Ph.D., an avowed narcissist who wrote his book "Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited" while standing up in a jail cell. He tells the honest and gut-wrenching truth about narcissists and sociopaths and how they think, act, and abuse others.
Start seeing a therapist or mental health professional. You will need support to help you cope with the daunting task of managing your emotions after being duped. If you have been abused emotionally and psychologically, you have been tormented beyond belief. Physical bruises and broken bones are visible to others; the type of secret emotional abuse he's subjected you to is an unending hell. You didn't deserve it, and neither do your children. Go figure out how to stop the cycle so you won't attract and date a wolf again.
If you have the funds, find yourself an attorney. Ask them these three questions to make certain they can spot and effectively deal with malignant narcissists and sociopaths: (1) Do you know what gaslighting is? (2) Do you work with survivors of domestic violence? (3) Do you know how to spot a sociopath? If they answer "no" to any of the questions, or cannot effectively explain to you what "gaslighting" is, find someone else.
The bottom line is this: avoid these men in the first place, and never have children with them if you can help it. Your life will become a nightmare, replete with heartache, loneliness, frustration, and pain if you stay. An unlucky few pay with their lives. Don't let this be you.
There is no harsher sentence than for a bright, well-educated woman to lose her sense of self because of a wolf. Equally tragic is the kind-hearted mother who can only watch while her children are being abused and hurt by their father. Because this goes on behind closed doors, hidden from the prying eyes of others, it is hard to detect and even harder to prove. To the outside world, he is the preeminent father, provider, and long-suffering spouse. The fact that no one believes you or the children is a torture that never ends.
If he seems too good to be true, he probably is, so stay on your guard, be smart, and don't get duped.
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