Dear Avalanche: “I feel emotionally battered”

Sarah is struggling to escape a traumatic two-year relationship with a charismatic man. This intelligent woman feels she has lost her voice and her ability to maintain boundaries. Can you offer advice to help her close the door to him, permanently?

*** Sarah’s story has been published with her permission. Names have been changed to protect her identity ***

Sarah’s story

I seem to have found myself in a ‘relationship/friendship’ with a man and I can’t seem to escape from the dynamic, which continues to cause me much pain, suffering and trauma.

I met this man a couple of years ago. At that time my marriage was coming to an end. When we met, this man came in very seductively and powerfully. He talked of how our meeting was ‘cosmic’, of the powerful connection we shared and so on. He is charismatic, powerful, charming, funny and we seemed to get on well.

The whole experience was really intense and I believed that he was very into me. But I never felt quite secure. I felt anxious much of the time and coupled with a difficult home situation I felt quite overwhelmed.

He started to blow hot and cold. He’d be all intense and then withdraw. At the same time he’d tell me he couldn’t make commitments, about his problems with his ex-wife, that he liked to date lots of women and so on. But I thought we had a real connection, I thought I was different.

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Newton’s Third Law

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Newton’s Third Law

The push/pull dynamic seemed to intensify. He’d make plans, then pull out, couldn’t make plans, was available then unavailable. Then suddenly, with no warning, he completely cut me off. By this time I was a complete nervous wreck and hardly able to eat. Unfortunately I suffered a nervous breakdown and my trauma was badly triggered. I attended a clinic for trauma for several months.

Then out of the blue, I got a text. We resumed contact. At this time, I still put him in a pedestal and thought he was a great guy. I thought we were friends and hoped that we’d reignite the ‘relationship’.

We had a brief period of sexual contact and ‘going out’. Though we never had full sex – he withheld that from me. But though the sexual part ended through mutual decision, he wouldn’t leave me alone. Suddenly he’d be everywhere I was, texting me and being really nice, even inviting me to his place overseas.

Dead roses

Photo by blueskygirl

Abruptly, his manner toward me changed when he met a woman. It seemed as though he didn’t want me around, I felt belittled in public by his comments, he wasn’t available, he was quite dismissive. He told me the relationship was over – but he’d still call me and we’d talk.

Then he asked for my help with a project of his. Somehow I have been unable to refuse his requests for help and have ended up doing things for him – including helping out with his project and lending him a lot of money.

I have tried to break away numerous times but when he contacts me I can’t hold a boundary. During this time he has lashed out at me several times. Called me a c**t and heaped quite a lot of abuse onto me. He never says sorry for these outbursts, instead I say sorry. It’s all so upside down. My self esteem has taken such a battering that somehow I haven’t been able to stand up for myself, though in every other situation I am capable and intelligent.

The characteristics of this relationship are:

  • I feel like a passenger in his life. He’s not interested in me really.
  • He has regularly used the threat of cutting me out of his life whenever I speak up or challenge him.
  • Everything is my fault. I am to blame for everything that has gone wrong because I am ‘difficult’.
  • Refuses to talk through any conflict. If I try he puts the phone down on me or says I’m ‘going over old ground’.
  • Has once threatened to call the police on me, though I had done nothing! I said sorry! It’s crazy! I always end up pacifying him. It seems easier.
  • Seems to have lots of secrets. Everything’s very vague. He has recently, or maybe I just realised it, started lying about where he is or even what country! It’s all a bit shady. Whenever I ask direct questions he gets really angry.
  • If I express even the slightest need he gets angry with me. But he depends on me a lot for practical and emotional support.
  • Everything is on his terms. As long as I comply then things go smoothly. But if I ‘step out of line’ I can be on the end of some severe anger which is extremely hurtful.
  • Constant criticism about me and my behaviour, I am the sick one. But I am never allowed to refer to or have any feelings about the impact his behaviour has on me. If I do, I am cut off. It’s my fault though because I’m ‘sick’.

I have no voice in this relationship. It’s all about him. I cannot say anything. I have become scared of his anger and threats. I’ve suffered so much hurt over this. And yet, when he’s ‘nice’, he seems so genuine. I think he’s trustworthy. I feel hope.

“I seem powerless… my self-esteem is so skewed”

I’ve broken off contact a few times and received a lot of anger. But when he contacts me again, I seem powerless not to respond.

It’s ruining my health, my spirit, my well being. I feel emotionally battered. My self-esteem is so skewed that I feel grateful when he accepts an apology for something that he has done! I feel relieved that he wants me in his life. I must be special to him if he wants me to do things for him. I used to think that I was the only woman, his special friend, but I’m starting to suspect that there are a few of us for different purposes; sex, friendship etc.

Photo by antwerpenR

Photo by antwerpenR

I have not been able to be present in my own life, be a present mother to my children. I have got through and suffered innumerable trauma cycles. You may think, ‘Why do you keep going back?’ And I don’t know the answer. I can’t seem to say no. Now I don’t know what’s right behaviour or wrong behaviour. I’m scared of him and ashamed of it.

I want so much to break out of this and to get to a place of perspective and indifference where he has no power over me anymore. I’m trying but I find it hard to maintain the boundary. If he keeps contacting me and I don’t respond I feel I’m being ‘mean’ or cold.

I’ve done lots of therapy around this. I know the true me is really very strong and powerful. I still keep faith that I will get out of this abusive relationship. I know I have it in me.  I really am glad I shared. Any perspective would be gladly received.

Torn heart

Photo by Kiomi

Avalanche: It’s hard to ‘give up’, but the only real choice

From your descriptions of this man and your relationship, I picked up major red flags which could point to narcissism (not wanting to commit to you, but wanting to maintain his side supply), emotional violence, gaslighting (telling you that nothing is his fault, it is yours because you are crazy), trauma-bonding, hoovering (invading your boundaries).

It sounds like you understand that this man is toxic (lots of kudos to you for reaching that stage, by the way!), but you are struggling to break free completely. I understand how hard that can be. It is hard to ‘give up’ on someone in whom we feel we have invested so much. I think we, as women in particular, feel that when we give so much and do so much for another person, we will one day be rewarded with the love and appreciation that we deserve.

“Abusive individuals never reward investment”

Unfortunately, with abusive individuals, this ‘payout’ never comes. That’s because their view of relationships is essentially warped – they don’t see it as reciprocal, give-and-take, but rather a twisted power/weakness balance. They are so deeply insecure that they are like an emotional black hole – they try to cram the void inside themselves with someone else, they try to prove their power and importance by demeaning, controlling, destroying another person.

Much as we try to ‘save’ this person, to demonstrate our worth, to get them to recognise that what they are doing is wrong, their abusive behaviour will not stop. Their mentality rarely enables them to accept responsibility and take action to resolve their issues.

In truth, only you have the power to improve your situation, and you can do that by closing the door on this man forever.

I believe you already realise this, because you have tried to cut him out of your life. A big well done to you for that! Now don’t give up! In my last abusive relationship, it took me several serious attempts and countless smaller attempts before I was able to get free. Check out my post on some of the steps I took to make sure I didn’t go back.

Upraised fist

“No Contact can give you space to assess”

Of all these, I think the most important to you is No Contact. It is so very important because it would give you thinking and breathing space, it will set a boundary in which you can start a your recovery process without the chaos that this man deliberately creates for you.

You describe feeling “mean” or “cold” in ignoring him. That’s a natural way to feel. I felt exactly the same way, especially since my abuser was the father of my child. But, I eventually realised that leaving the door open to contact was giving him more opportunities to grind me down, to weaken my resolve, and to suck me back in to the avalanche of abuse.

In the end, as a mother like you, I refused to allow him to destroy my child’s life. Maintaining No Contact was one of the hardest things I ever had to do in my life, but it worked.

Now, I say that my son (just a baby when I left) saved my life, because what I couldn’t do for myself, I did for him. I’m able to be fully present in my child’s life, and I feel so much stronger and fulfilled for having made the break. If I can do it, so can you.

I’m so happy that you see that strength in yourself, and that you have built the self-awareness that you have. You have already made so much progress in your journey. Please keep going, onwards and upwards!

Handful of stars

Photo by xJasonRogersx

What’s your advice to Sarah? How did you make a permanent break from a toxic, painful relationship? Did No Contact work for you? Hard as it was to let go, what did you gain from doing so? Please share in the Comments!

© Avalanche of the Soul, 2013-14


9 responses to “Dear Avalanche: “I feel emotionally battered”

  1. Wow, I have been there. I know how Sarah feels. The best words of advice to her is to learn everything she can about this by talking to others that have been there. She will then see that she is not alone. She will start to see that there are other “crazy” guys out there that hurt the girls they are supposed to love, and then maybe she will start to get mad about this. Knowledge is power. Start to find yourself again Sarah. Learn what makes you happy and don’t need him to make you happy. Then you will realize that you are important and special and that you shouldn’t have to deal with this type of behavior. Don’t lie to yourself thinking that he will change. He didn’t for his ex wife and he won’t for you either. There is so much of life out there to grab. Be happy and don’t let others steal your joy. Do it for you and for your kids. And then go out and help others learn from your experience. This encourages you, each person you help. Meghan

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My heart goes out to you Sarah. Your particular story in some of its detail is very very similar in many ways to my own. I find it both upsetting and comforting whenever I read or learn about another’s ordeal – comforting in the sense that I don’t feel quite so alone or so isolated but much more so upsetting knowing yet another person has suffered such terrible pain and anguish at the hands of another and that ‘another’ is often the one person that claimed they loved you the most. I left my ex partner and father of my two children almost exactly to the day 12 months ago. What a difference a year makes. I’m by no means living with a ‘resolved’ situation but I feel a sense of resolve and spirit and emotional strength I thought had gone for good. Surviving this has meant I’ve gained things I wouldn’t previously have had. So please have faith in yourself and faith that things can and will change if you let them. Also give yourself time for the situation to evolve. You can only go as fast as you’re ready to. A year ago I was 4 months pregnant with our second child, emotionally battered, psychologically damaged and confused, desperate not to mention totally and utterly heartbroken. Initially when I left just before new year last year my mindset was I still very much wanted the relationship to continue and wanted to fight in any and every way possible for a reconcilliation. Similarly to soul survivor I found the strength to leave not for myself but primarily because of my daughter. The situation at home was becoming increasingly volatile and increasingly violent and escalating in other ways such as he began to care less and less what our daughter witnessed. However in the weeks and months that followed my wanting to save the relationship and return to him never wained and if anything my resolve to sort out our ‘problems’ only increased. Somewhat ironically my inability to let go even marginally or enforce boundaries was partially but definitely bound up with my (misguided), not wanting to let go of my dream of being a family. I didn’t want to be responsible for denying or depriving my children and particularly my daughter the opportunity of a relationship with their father but further than that I didn’t want to abandon my family ‘ideal’. I would, as you describe, seek hope in any crumb of niceness he would sporadically show me. At best I ignored his abuse at worst I apologised to him for things he had done in a bid to placate him. No matter how appallingly he carried on treating me for much more of the time than he was pleasant, no matter that his words when they weren’t malicious, derogatory, vicious and cruel never ever married up with his actions. No matter how abusive he continued to be I pressed on continuing to show my care and commitment to him regardless. I organised trips out only for him to cancel last minute letting most importantly our little girl down or we would progress to actually spending the day together only for him to behave horrendously. On one particular occasion he called me a stupid f*!#ing b!*ch in front of our daughter and baby son all because I’d arranged a day trip out and after setting off it transpired the motorway was closed. In a fit of rage and after yelling obscenities at me and telling me chaos followed me around (yes to that if he meant him)! he tore up the hard shoulder to bypass the traffic. I mention that incident because after that I vowed never to travel in a car with him again. And surprisingly I stuck to it. That was the smallest of starts in me setting boundaries but it was the start of something that I could build on because it showed me I could have faith in myself after all. My feeling is that sometimes we don’t realise what our limits perhaps are because they ordinarily would or should never get tested to such an extreme. The further away you are from this man that is hurting you and the longer you are away from him are the things that will provide you with the best chance of protecting yourself. Physical distance will turn into emotional distance and there will come a point when you will prefer to protect yourself than pander to him. Apart from leaving my ex partner the other single most relevant thing I did for myself was read and research incessantly because eventually I found out about narcissistic personality disorder and in doing so I had a total eureeka moment. The truth sets you free as they say and though I realise he’s had no formal diagnosis I’m about 99% certain that this disorder is what he is suffering with. So for the first time I feel as though I’m no longer living in a confused fog whereby I don’t quite understand what’s happened to me. I think soul survivor is right to point you in the direction of the subject of narcissism and you may well find that what you learn provides you with invaluable insight and explanation as to what you’re dealing with and most importantly of all how to move forward. Research, reach out and above all don’t give up believing in you. I wish you love and luck in finding peace and a happy future that you truly deserve.

    Claire x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Claire – thank you very much for sharing your insights here. In particular, your point about physical distance turning into emotional distance is absolutely spot on.

      I’m so sorry that you had to go through all of that, but how proud you must be of all you’ve achieved since breaking free. Kudos!


  3. I would really suggest that Sarah speak with survivors of domestic abuse and also contact a domestic violence outreach center and get on board with an advocate or caseworker there. My abuse began a bit like hers as far as his behaviour is concerned, and it ended up with me running for my life, with my children under threat as well.
    A person who behaves like this has no boundaries, themselves, and does not hold any regard for anyone but themselves. So any abuse is permissible, for them. This sort of person is not safe to be in any contact with. She needs to run, maintain no contact, and keep it.
    There are tons of people out there who will help her. If any of her family or friends doubts her, she needs to understand that they don’t see the situation from the inside. Most of these abusers are master manipulators, and for sport.
    She can do it. If I got away, she can, too.
    Call your domestic violence/abuse hotline and start from there. Call whenever you need to. It makes a world of difference.


    • threekidsandi – I’m really sorry to hear what you’ve been through, and I thank you for taking time out to share your experience and insights with Sarah. I totally echo your advice about engaging with survivors and professional support, because that helped me too 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh Sarah 😦 I feel for you and I hope that through you reaching out like this someone will say the words that make you realise that this guy doesn’t give a crap about you and doesn’t deserve for you to give a crap about him. He has very effectively made you addicted to him, and you are going to have a hell of a time making that clean break that you so desperately need. I spent three years with a terrible man who I gave everything to, I was fortunate that he just kept escalating and eventually, with some help from my family, I was able to get free of him. Even after that I would have taken him back, but after four weeks away from him I was able to look back and see that he would never change, he had zero respect for me, and he really was a terrible person. I have not seen him in just under three years, I now have a wonderful, genuine partner and my life is better than it ever could have been if I had let him keep walking all over me. These men (and there are plenty of them) will steal your soul, beat you down and make you feel like you deserve to be treated that way. He will get angry and he will escalate when you try to break free from him, but be prepared for that and see it as reinforcement of the special kind of scumbag he is. You are 100 times the person he is, and you deserve to be treated like a human being, not his plaything. I wish you all the strength you will need and all the future happiness you deserve. Do not give him any more chances to make you miserable. All the best 🙂


  5. First of all, I apologise for my English, it’s not my first language. My advice is simple. Be strong, and most importantly, speak up to other people. Listen to your family, to your friends, contact support groups: you have to understand that you have other options and that there are plenty of people out there willing to help you, if you let them. I felt ashamed and hummilliated and afraid of leaving my emotionally/verbally/financially abusive ex; I felt completely isolated and I wouldn’t dare to even mention the hell I was going through. I wasn’t even sure it wasn’t my fault after all; he had me convinced that I was an absolute trainwreck and he was doing me a great favour by not dumping my ass. Until one particularly rough day I accidentally spilled the beans at lunch with my family (he wasn’t there of course, he was working hard on isolating me by perpetually berating my relatives) and my mother wouldn’t stop until I had confessed the whole extent of the matter. It turned out that speaking up was all I needed to gather strenght and start the long and painful process of breaking free. I needed a little help, someone to point me the crazy before my eyes and offer me an alternative.
    I agree with has been said before, DISTANCE is what you need. When I gathered enough strenght to cut my ex off, my life started to change almost immediately. A lot of sleepless nights ensued; I felt scared, confused and miserable. It was terribly difficult to ignore all the texting, to block the hundreds of incoming calls, to delete the emails, to ignore all the reports that well-meaning friends told me about him, to throw away everything that remotely remembered me of him, but after a few weeks of separation, I started to get better. To feel stronger. To remember who I had been before him, who I actually am and can be again! And now months have passed, and I have proudly started to forget his face and to feel revolted by the mere memories of what I once considered an irresistible allure.
    It is possible, trust me, trus all of us. Change your cellphone number, change your email, block him from your Facebook page, move house, cut off any common acquaintances, avoid the places where you might bump into him. I guarantee that eventually he’ll just lose interest and vanish, because you’re very right: he doesn’t give a crap about you. He isn’t able to invest his precious time and attention in anyone, people are utilities that have an expiration date for him.
    Well, you know what? Your time has come to show this abusive piece of crap that he, awesome as he thinks he is, has no right to pollute the air an amazing, strong woman like you are breathes.
    My heart goes to you. I know you’ll break free, I believe in you. We all do.


  6. This is so much like my story. I am slowly coming out of the haze but it was not easy. He completely destroyed me but I just couldn’t understand why he would keep coming back when he acted like I was worthless and not good enough, nor was I even close to my replacement. He just kept saying we were “best friends” that he couldn’t imagine his life with out me, that we were soul mates, that he loved me etc etc.

    If any of those things were true, he would have never treated me the way that he did. He wouldn’t have made me cry and he wouldnt have just watched me fall apart with out comforting me. He would have broke it off in the beginning if he wasn’t interested in me. I’ve come to terms with the fact that he is not a healthy person and that none if this was my fault but, I still struggle with anxiety and hopelessness and the loss of my excitement for life..

    Hang in there. Go full no contact. And keep working on yourself. It gets better a little bit every day.


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