Dating after an abusive relationship.  

One of the scariest things after leaving an abusive relationship was dating again.  I knew my track record in love was bad.  After all, my ex had almost killed me!  I’d ignored all the warning signs when I met him.  I only saw what I wanted to see and denied the rest.  Look how that turned out!  So, I didn’t have huge faith in my instincts or my judgement.

But I was successful in love after that.  I remarried.  I am still with him now.  He brings out the best in me and I in him.  And I am certain we are going to grow old together.  So how did I not fall into the same trap?  How did I not go head first into the next abusive relationship? Like many people who’ve suffered abuse do.

Two things.   First, as I’ve talked in more depth about earlier, I knew I had to look deep into why my self-esteem was so low.  To understand why not all my emotional needs were met as a child.   And to learn how to fill that void of vulnerability.  To nurture my inner child.  Only once I built my self-esteem would I attract a man who would treat me as worthy.

The second thing was a revelation to me.   I want to share this as I know there are many others for whom this might help.

I’m engaging with many victims and survivors of domestic abuse online. Many are like I once was, terrified of dating again.  Or in the early stages of a new relationship.  Unsure if they can trust their judgement and scared of another abusive relationship.   I know the feeling.

One posted some text messages from a guy she has recently met online.  In them he calls her his ‘baby girl’ and his ‘princess’.   She feared, as she hardly knew him, that this might be a red flag.   Yes. Without question. This is a warning flag with bells on.   Why?  Because she hasn’t even met the guy yet.

Love-bombing is a typical narcissistic trait.  They smother you with attention at first.   Tell you that you’re the only one for them.  They promise you a wonderful life of marriage, babies and growing old together.  All within weeks of meeting.  When we are lacking self-esteem and vulnerable, this is music to our ears.  This fills that hole we feel inside.  Narcissists instinctively spot our weakness and are experts at filling it with words they know we want to hear.  My vulnerability was feeling not good enough. Unlovable.  So he told me I was the love of his life.  Better than anyone who had come before.  The one he needed.  It sucked me straight in.

Once we’re drawn in deep enough, another side appears.  Now they need to bring us down a peg or two.  They tell us we’re ugly, stupid. That no-one else would want us.  That we’re spoilt brats, sluts or bitches.  Or we’re having affairs they’ve imagined in their heads.

My ex revealed his true self early on with his actions.   He showed me warning signs.  Whilst he told me he loved me one minute, he’d erupt in anger and disappear for days the next.  He’d suggest I wear different clothes, or that he didn’t like my friends.  Get jealous if I even looked at another guy.  But I made excuses for his behaviour.   That’s because I was projecting onto him who I hoped and wanted him to be. Rather than seeing him for who he was.  The man he was revealing to me, but whom I was choosing to be blind to.

I was seeing only the things that confirmed my dream of a wonderful life with him.  Denying those that were screaming at me that this relationship was no good for me.

I have a lot of mantras that I swear and live by.  (I’ve created a whole new category for them on here).  Here’s another one:  watch not what they say, but what they do.   As I have said before, love is a verb not a noun.   You show someone you love them by treating them as loveable. By treating them with respect.  And another mantra: if it sounds to good to be true, it usually is.

Going back to those text messages.  If we do watch what this person is saying here.  Listen to his language.  My ‘baby girl’ can be beautiful in a loving relationship.  My husband often says the same to me.   But in someone you’ve never met?  Clang.  Warning bell.  It sounds more possessive to me.

‘My Princess’ – again, in the right context, those words can be lovely.  But before having even met?  Or even in the first few weeks of being with someone?  It reminds me of how narcissists put you up on a Madonna-like pedestal.   You are the one who is different to all the others (read: whores) who came before.  You are special.   In the early days I was.  I believed it too.  But then I had to live up to that. When he later cut me down and accused me of not being that perfect Madonna, I did all I could to prove I was worthy of his love.  To be that person again. If I could show him I was still that special one, then perhaps that was all he needed to change and I could fix things.

Don’t do as I do. Don’t project onto someone else who you hope they’ll be in the future.  Or the dream you are imagining in your head.  See them for who they are now.   Watch what they are doing and telling you.

The same is true for when you meet someone who is good for you, like I did with the man I am married to now.  At first I was so scared of my track record.  I started seeing signs that weren’t there.  I was projecting onto him my fears that he was another abusive man.  Not just sitting back and observing the man he was showing himself to be.   I pushed him away.  I caused drama.  I was trying to end it before he left me, which I was convinced was going to happen.   I am lucky he stuck around!

Once I started to let go.  Once I stopped projecting onto him and watched not what he said but what he did.  Then I saw he was a good man.  He showed me he cared for me.  He didn’t smother me with possessiveness.  He treated me kindly.  He didn’t swing from adoration to abuse.  His actions complemented his words.  Both showed me respect and treated me as worthy, not worthless.

It is possible to break the cycle and find a healthy long-term relationship after an abusive one.  Just don’t project onto them.  Stay still and read the signs. Watch what they do.  Listen to the language they use.  And if it is all too good, too full on, too fast.  If their actions don’t match their words.  Then for me, that’s a huge red flag.   I’d steer well away from that one.  Trust me, it’s better to walk away sooner, rather than later.  The further down the road you go with a narcissist, the harder it is to get away from them.

Are you back on the dating scene again?  Seeing red flags?  Let me know in the comments below.

Are your relationships – past or present – good enough for you?  Do you deserve better?  Try my FREE QUIZ to find out!

Written by Vivian McGrath

Vivian McGrath is a TV Executive Producer who makes documentaries for major US, UK and Australian broadcasters.  She is also a survivor of domestic violence.  Her book ‘Unbeatable (How I Left a Violent Man)’ – her story of surviving abuse to finding success in love and life – will be published soon.  She hopes this blog will help others to become strong, fearless and successful too.  Find out more about Vivian Here.

44 thoughts on “Dating after an abusive relationship? Watch not what they say, but what they do

  1. I am back on the dating scene but with the same guy who I kicked out of my life 3 years ago for unacceptable behavior. I felt that I even needed an order of protection to feel safe. He has since gotten sober and cleaned up his life and started a company and made amends with his children. It’s amazing how fruitful his life is. We’ve been seeing each other now for 6 months. There are still signs that indicate he has some addictive traits (over spending, over planning, over working) but they all seem just part of his personality. He sees a shrink for medication and goes to AA. So why can’t Iet my guard down? I feel like will go on to live a successful life but I also feel that we are an addictive combination. I change my mind about him every other day!

    1. Quite often people who are abusive also have addictions to alcohol and/or drugs. It is not the cause of the abuse, but they can go hand in hand. I can imagine you will be on guard, as even sober the addiction remains and it can often transfer to something else, as you say. Let go of trying to control them and focus on you. Remember to put your needs and wellbeing first (this is not selfish, because if we can be the best we can be then we are the best for another person and the relationship). Your self-esteem is paramount. Just trust your gut and heed any warning signs and don’t deny them. And then try to relax in the knowledge that if it’s meant to be it will be and enjoy it if it is working for you and bringing out the best in you. If you self-esteem is high then you’ll be okay. Because if you find it’s not good enough for you and your wellbeing, then you’ll have the strength to say this isn’t good enough for me.

  2. I am so con-fn-fused. I was beat all winter with every abuse but physical, as even tho we were split, we cudnt move apart. So he just continued the abuse, altho escalated. I left emotionally in July, moved into the kids rm in Oct.
    After getting my head back together, in Feb, I met someone. Took it very slow, took a break for awhile of a few wks even, back in March. This guys sweet, spent money on me, did not push me in any way physically, didnt attempt seducing me, wasnt saying ILY like a stupid crazy person, etc. We talked ALOT mostly. Went on dates but mostly talked n talked.
    When I had a free nite, I would ask him to meet up with me N He Would.
    We got somewhat sexual, mostly just heavy kissing.
    The past few weeks tho, hes backed way off. Never available (he wks third shift, cares for his crazy dad n crippled mom, has bad insomnia). When we do meet up, hes all ily, ily. I want a relationship with you, yes. Affectionate.
    He used to txt me that he missed me. No more.
    No more gm txts.
    No more im thinking of you txts.
    Doesnt keep his word. Japped out on me Wed nite, which is the only nite i have a sitter n he well knows. P.r.o.m.i.s.e.d. to see me Thurs, japped out again. Flipped out when i tried to rationally talk with him. I think hes ignoring me??
    Um yes, you ARE. I dont think it.
    Today he was actually gonna come see me before wk tonite. Its too late to go do anything before he has to go cuz he once again, didnt go to bed n has to sleep some before wk. It would just be a make out session, sick of that. I told him Im busy today n wont be back till too late.
    We’re supposed to go to a park tmrw with my kids.
    I know he wont show. He ll jap out again. I truly know this.
    Is even this guy a narc? Somehow I missed it again??
    In case ur wondering, we havent been intimate yet becuz of a couple reasons, hes not punishing me for no sex.
    I wonder if hes married. No shyt. Even tho I know damn well hes not. He ACTS like it now tho.
    I hate men.

  3. I’m so sorry to hear what you have been through Jamilla. I think the most important thing is to watch what they do… If there is a big disconnect between what they say and do it is a big red flag for me. So, if they say ILY yet constantly avoid you etc. then that to me is a warning sign. Your confusion is because what he is saying is not aligned with what he is doing.

    Please put yourself first. You and your wellbeing are what matters most. Ask yourself: is this behaviour good enough for me? Is he treating me with kindness and respect? Is this relationship bringing out the best in me? Set healthy boundaries. And if he breaks them, then question whether it is a healthy relationship. One that will give you long-term happiness.

  4. When I was 18, I married an abuser (he was 30). We were only together a year and a half, but we have a child, so his controlling and threatening behaviors followed me until she turned 18 a few months ago. I remarried at 24 for the wrong reasons (my child was diagnosed with a serious illness and I wanted to be able to stay home with her. Husband #2 was abuser light, as I like to call it. His abuse was far more insidious because everyone liked him, so it felt like I was the crazy one. Anyway, after 10 years of marriage I walked away. I also spent time in domestic violence counseling, reading books, educating myself, etc. I dated a few men that just didn’t really work out, no big drama, just not a good match. Then I met my current boyfriend. I had no idea such closeness and healthy communication existed. It’s been a true revelation. However, there are things he does that remind me of my first husband and I can’t get away from it. We’ve been together 2 years, we’ve spoken openly about it, and it has decreased in frequency a lot. Most other men don’t remind me of him at all, but because of the way they’re both very sensitive (the ex used it to play the victim and manipulate me, my new boyfriend shares his feelings and we work through it), I am really struggling. We’re taking a break right now because I can’t get it under control. We’ve done a few counseling sessions and definitely need more, but sometimes I truly wonder if I shouldn’t cut my losses and find someone who doesn’t trigger this reaction in me. Thoughts?

    1. Hi Kate, I am so sorry you are struggling and that you’ve experienced abuse in your relationships. But you should be proud of yourself for the courage and strength you found to say it wasn’t good enough. That is a really big first step. Yes, healthy communication and closeness do exist, I felt the same as you when I found it the first time. It’s incredible. I think the reason you are struggling is that you are focussing on him and his behaviour and how it makes you feel. And on the relationship itself and not where you need to be. Which is on you. I have a series of online video courses that I call START WITH ME for this reason. For us to understand it we are in a healthy relationship or not. Why we attract those who hurt us, or dysfunctional relationships in the first place. How not to have our happiness depend on others, we have to really look at ourselves. Why we have low self-esteem (because when we do we attract those who treat us as worthless or go into dysfunctional relationships), where it comes from in our childhoods and how it manifests in our relationships. It’s a complex process and it took me years of working on me, which then allowed me to have a healthy relationship. I suggest that you need to start with you, irrespective of any relationship. I’m not trying to do a sell job on you, but I do think my courses will help you as I walk you through step by step how I changed my mindset from victim to survivor and then went on from survivor to staying strong. The first one (Victim to Survivor) really helps you understand if the relationship you are in is a healthy one or not. The second one (Survivor to Staying strong – which I am launching soon) digs deep into why we go into these types of relationships and why it’s so painful to leave them. How to break the cycle and not repeat the negative patterns, that impact on us having healthy relationships. And why we still struggle and find it hard in new relationships that are healthier. If you want to find out more, this is the Victim to Survivor course – If you’d like to join the waiting list then you will automatically here more about the second course, when it comes out. If not, keep reading through more of my posts and watch my videos as I go into this in various ones of these as well. I hope that helps. (Sorry, it’s quite a complex answer, so I’m not sure if I’ve been able to make it make sense when simplifying it).

  5. Hi I was in an abusive relationship with for three and a half years, he was emotionally abusive and physical a couple of times. I took the necessary time to heal and also to seek counselling. Unfortunately the aftermath of this relationship was horrific and caused major tension with one brother and my grown son. They held a lot of anger with me over staying in this relationship.

    Recently I met a mutual friend and we started dating. We got on well had a lot in common and he was very attentive. He was keen, always texting and wanting to met and treated me well. He knew my ex I felt I could trust him and I told him on the second and third date just a brief outline of the stuff that went on. Needless to say he finished it saying that I was not ready for a relationship and that he was not ready to hear these things. He said he also was not ready for this himself and he did not need the pressure of making me happy.

    Now I really liked him, he made me laugh and I felt comfortable in myself but I always had this fear of been hurt. I am ready for a relationship but I know I should not have to explain my past. I have decided to go back to counselling after this because it threw me for six and it knocked my confidence a lot.

    Did I make a mistake confiding in him? Was it too soon? could we have gone on if i had left these details out. But another voice in my head keeps saying if he was a strong person he should have been able to deal with it and accept this is the person i was. I was perfectly happy before I met him, I was in a good place and I felt good about myself. I know my happiness is down to me not him. I just feel that my judgement and trusting nature let me down and I should have known better than to divulge this information.

    1. Hi Julia, please do not blame yourself for his reaction. We are not responsible for other people’s behaviour. The voice in your head is correct. A strong and healthy person should be able to deal with this and accept you for who you are. Trust your instincts at all times, that is what that voice in your head is. Try not to analyse it in the form of ‘if I did this differently, then he would have reacted differently’… we should not change who we are or our behaviour to try and keep another person happy. I am so glad that you were in a good place and able to be happy within yourself. And that you’ve gone back to counselling to get that confidence back. That is the most important thing… to focus on you and your wellbeing, not on someone else. Once you are strong in yourself and have good self esteem, the rest follows. It will come. You will find someone you can trust in the future, I am sure of it. You are taking the right steps.

  6. It’s been six months since I left my ex. We were in a lesbian relationship. She was emotionally and physically abusive, at one point she tried to kill me. I lied and covered it all up. I’m seeing a therapist now but I still haven’t been able to tell my family and only a select friends. I kept going back to the relationship, even though she abused me and my daughter, and even begged at one point, seeing her happy online with a new job with an ex girlfriend. I felt ashamed of myself for reacting and going back when I was moving on. My ex has threatened me not to tell anyone what she did to me. Today I saw her in the village I live with another woman. I felt safe here that she would have no reason to come to the village but she has. I’m terrified and can’t move on

    1. I’m so sorry Steph to hear your story. As you say, domestic abuse crosses all lines – gender, religion, sexuality etc. I am glad to hear you are seeing a therapist and hope he/she are helping you. Please don’t feel ashamed. You are not to blame for this. No one deserves abuse. But I know how hard it is too. Having someone you love almost kill you is such a shock and it takes time to process and recover. I don’t believe cover things up are is necessarily the way to go. Particularly if she starts stalking you. If this escalates I would report it. Record all dates and times etc. Even photograph it. Stalking needs to be taken seriously. No one should live in fear like that. If she does keep turning up to intimidate you, you can also speak to the Paladin National Staling Advocacy Service. They are brilliant at helping those affected. I have their number listed on my DV resources page of this blog. It was set up by a woman who has been instrumental in changing the laws in the UK to make emotional abuse or coercive control deemed a crime. Surround yourself with family and friends who love you and validate your self esteem. Stay safe x

      1. Hi Steph. Your story is a carbon copy of mine. Are you sure we weren’t with the same woman? lol. I saw the red flags right from the beginning of our 16 month relationship but ignored them. We were so on again / off again it made my head spin. In between on rare moments she was beautiful, kind, tender. I excused most of her bad behaviour because she was severly abused as a child which created depression among other things.3 weeks ago she cracked and tried to kill me. It is so horrific, so hurtful. I believe she will try and find me. I have gone complete No Contact but she got hold of my new number [ changed it twice ] and came to where I’m staying but didn’t see me. I was a complete wreck for 2 weeks then this last week I began self therapy to heal the hurt inside me and to sort out why I allowed myself to put up with so much abuse. Look after you first. Sit down and remember the things you used to like before you became an extension of your ex. Hang with good people but make YOU your own best friend. I know it’s hard babe but don’t continue to let her affect your life. You are better than that. Good luck with everything. Try not to be afraid. You are free, she is a slave to her own lack of personality and empathy x

        1. That’s so beautifully said Mich. It’s so good to hear you broke free of this toxic relationship and recognise the only way to heal is to focus on you, heal inside and learn to love yourself. This is also the only way to break the cycle, not go back to them or into another abusive relationship.

  7. Vivian,

    I got out of an abusive relationship earlier this year back in May. It was hard. Aside from it being long distance, it weighed very heavily on top of the abuse. I was physically, mentally, and sometimes sexually abused by my partner. It feels like he never left. Like he won. I still struggle with memories of how amazing it was in the beginning and slowly started to get worse later on in the relationship. I wonder, how can someone that has hurt someone so bad, be able to move on without any guilt or resentment? My ex was divorced, unhappy with himself, insecure, jealous, and very controlling. Every through miles away, he still had a way to keep me from seeing friends, family, and miss out on events. I sometimes hate myself for never leaving earlier. I wanted to give it a chance in hopes that he would change, as he said he would. But it just got progressively worse. He was much older than I was, 6 years to be exact. Had plans to get married and have kids, but I didn’t want to be with someone that I was scared to be around because that’s not love.

    I left him and moved on. I’m seeing somebody new and he is amazing. I haven’t felt butterflies in a long time and lives within my city instead long distance. I still have reoccurring thoughts of my past because it hurts and I want to heal. I have trust issues because my ex made me nuts and insecure. However, this man is someone I want to hold on to and see what comes out of it. I just don’t want to reciprocate old behavior from my past because of what my ex did. I’m worried because I don’t want to scare him away. He’s aware of what I went through. I just want to be happy.

    1. Hi Cindy, sorry to hear what you have been through. The most important thing is you recognise that this is not love. It is about control. They can move on like that, usually with a new ‘supply’ – the next person whom they can control and abuse. As awful as that means a new victim, be thankful it is no longer you. I am so happy you have found someone who sounds like they may be good for you instead. Just take one day at a time, trust your instincts and as long as what he does aligns with what he says you’ll be okay. I tried to push my new partner away as emotional availability scared me. So, I know how scary it is at first. But little by little, with my wellbeing at the forefront, I was able to trust again and build a lasting, loving relationship. It is possible. Just be you. Don’t modify your behaviour to anticipate him and his reactions. If he accepts you the way you are, with your past and all, then that’s great. A healthy man won’t be scared by that. But, if you start to see the red flags, don’t ignore them. You deserve to be happy and will be if you put you first and trust your gut always.

  8. I have been in a relationship, it was LDR, so not physically abuse but emotionally. Always took me for granted, not appreciating my efforts. Even didnt show any efforts towards our relationship. I just walked away without saying anything

      1. Hello Vivian, I have not long come out of an “abusive relationship” we have a young daughter together too , I keep going through phases of feeling it never happened like I’m the one that caused it all to thinking I’m making it all up in my head to thinking it’s real,

        We were together 2 years..I should of noticed really when we found out I was pregnant he was quick to try and get me to move where he lived give up my flat leave my family behind .. missed that sign , like an idiot .
        But I noticed when I moved over to where he was from things changed,

        Like hed totally switch emotions , one minute he’d be cuddling kissing me looking after me and next he’d be totally ignoring me or talking to me like I mean nothing , me f try talk to him and he’d punch walls and get shouty,

        It got worse after I had my daughter , he started losing it more , didn’t like me sitting with my freinds , kept saying they were lying to me they were fake my mum didn’t care that’s why she was happy I moved away, I said something he didn’t like he’d say “if you don’t fucking shut up! I’m gonna flip” then he’d try kick me out of out house with our daughter – “I’m not fucking going it’s ook r homeyou can’t get rid of me , it would get to the point where I’d have to leave because he’d start smashing my daughters stuff up throwing her bag at me with her in my arms , it got so bad on 3 occasions, 1) where he was belittling me to our daughter calling me pathetic I was good at the door and I told him he can’t say things like that to her , he said oh fuck off” and slammed my arm in the door and mimicked my actions , 2nd left my daughter with my freind had to go get some things for her , he ended up getting right in my face put his arms on my shoulders screamed in my face , shoved me and started smashing everything up . I don’t see what went so wrong ? What did I do ?

        3rd one- is got up one morning and my next door neighbour (close freind) asked me if I wanted to go out , I felt like I had to always ask him if I could go see my freinds( but at the time I thought it was normal) so he said yeah whatever but As soon as I went he locked me out of my flat went out and because he had seen my freinds male freind he instantly accused me of doing something with him, I ended up staying with my freind because the texts were coming thick and fast and I didn’t. Want to go back to it , I asked him to leave the next day , he said can he say good bye to my daughter I said yes just not in the house cos I don’t wanna argue , next min I know his mums ringing me saying can she see her o took my daughter down she instantly took her out of the car seat with out permission , wouldn’t let me touch her hold her, his mum or him , he was going to take her he tried to take my baby girl , paraded me in the street begging for my baby, trying to grab me and screaming st me when I finally got her out of the car,

        My anxiety is so high now ,
        Still feel like I caused it all ,
        Still feel icolated,
        Can’t sleep
        Keep replaying and zoning out to memories of things that have happened mainly to do with him trying to take my angel ,
        I now live in a refuge .
        Stupid thing is I miss him and feel like he’s the only person that understands me yet I’m petrified too .

        Just feel like all I do is let my daughter and everyone down . What do I do ?

        Feel totally drained .

        Hope I get a response but I doubt it ,

        . S .

        1. I’m sorry to hear what you have been through Susie. The first thing is you are NOT to blame for any of his behaviour. We are not responsible for other people’s actions and behaviour, only they are. Nothing you said or did differently would have changed him either. His actions are abusive and he alone is responsible for that.

          This is the most difficult time, when we first leave an abusive relationship. What you are going through is like withdrawing from an addictive drug. You will feel anxiety, depression, anger, loneliness and all number of emotions that have been suppressed for so long. Especially as you’ve numbed yourself for so long to survive. It is a painful and confusing time.

          What happens in these relationships is we develop what is known as a codependency on them. That one minute having them being loving towards us, the next seeing their abusive side, starts to wear our self-esteem down. We get to the point where the only person who can make us feel good about ourselves is the same person who is hurting us, which is what you describe.

          I am so glad you out of this relationship. No one deserves violence or emotional abuse. It is not a healthy relationship and it is no good for you or your wellbeing. The most important thing now is for you not to play over all the tapes in your head as to what he said or did, or what you might have done differently. You need to take your focus off him and your relationship and put it where it belongs, which is on YOU.

          You also need emotional support and help to get through this difficult time, not just physical refuge. I urge you to contact one of the FREE domestic violence helplines I have listed here:

          They will be able to point you to the right counselling or support group. You can’t do this alone. I did this and it was invaluable to me.

          These posts might also help you to understand his behaviour and codependency:

          Please get help and support and take one day at a time. Stay strong.

  9. Thank you so much for posting this.. I have broken up with a guy and lately I began to wonder if he was emotionally abusive but I brushed it off because didn’t want to believe it. After reading this, I realize he did exactly the things you described.. told me to wear different clothes, didn’t like my friends, called me names that made me feel awful, and imagined affairs I was having. Thank you for helping me realize this and now I can avoid getting into another relationship like this by watching for early warning signs.

    1. Ian so glad it is helpful to you. The red flags are all there. We just have to be still and observe them. Also trust your gut instincts. They are there for a reason. I am happy you are part of my Unbeatable community. I also have closed Facebook support group you can join if you like. There are others in there who have been through what you have all supporting each other. Stay strong. You deserve better.

  10. So, I just left a very emotionally abusive marriage with a personality disordered person and addict. I recently went on a date with a former old friend and felt hyper aware of what she was saying. She’s really fun to be around but made a few remarks about me being the “most girly man” and laughed jokingly. She also made a few small comments about my appearance. It felt and appeared to be jokingly and she later got close and said I was “extremely handsome” and she really wants to get to know me. These signs seem similar to my ex but idk…

    She explained that she usually dedicated into relationships and lives spending a lot of time together and staying connected. I mean, I’m okay with this cause I’d rather that then “I’ll talk to you next week” kind of stuff, but I feel very unedge. Her demeanor was to cuddle, be affectionate, and very passionate but those words made me feel triggered…should I just better explain my history with her and attempt to get a better understanding?

    1. I would absolutely trust your gut instincts and that feeling of being triggered. Our instincts are there to give us warnings. We need to always heed them. If you know her well and feel comfortable enough to share your past relationship with her, then you could possibly do that. But make sure if you do so, you set clear boundaries as to what is acceptable to you or not. If there is any sense she uses this knowledge against you or her actions are not aligned with what she says, then ask yourself is this person good for you and your wellbeing? Perhaps consider some time alone too. Sometimes rushing from one relationship to the next without time to focus on ourselves and healing leads us to repeat the same negative patterns. Focus on you, build your self esteem and date only when you feel strong in your sense of self worth and are able to maintain strong boundaries. I hope that helps?

  11. How did you move past the pushing your now-husband away, creating dramas, and projecting fears onto him? I am noticing my fears and traumas are leading me to act very oddly in a new romance, and I am worried I have destroyed what could be a great relationship based on this. It sounds like you went through something similar… I am just wondering what helped you move through it… Thank you for this post!

    1. It took time. I continued to go to a support group for a number of years, even after I met him. This was to help keep my focus on working on myself and to get support from others who’d been through what I had and were further along than me (we didn’t have the internet then). I read self-help books. But the most important thing I learnt was to watch not what he said, but what he did. He was kind, loving. He didn’t just say nice things, but do them. I started to realise that if what they do and say are aligned, then you can trust they’re okay. Narcissistic types say wonderful things, but do the opposite. I also learnt to let go and not try to control. It’s hard to do and it makes you fearful. You can’t control another person or anything around you. Let go, work on yourself – so that you can be the best you can be (after all, then you’ll be better for anyone else or a relationship) and trust that if it’s meant to be it will be. Yes, they might leave you, but there’s nothing you can do about that either. Just be still, watch what they do, and trust it will be okay. If you’re still and not trying to create drama or control, you’re more likely to see the warning signs. If you see them, then walk away. Sounds simple, I know. But it’s true and it gets easier and easier. Time is your best friend.

  12. I was in a relationship three years ago when I had just turned 17 with a boy who was four years older than me. Age never really meant much to me back then (I live in a very loving home with very loving parents – I have a big brother but he lives upstate) since, in the beginning, it was a very sweet and innocent romance. However, it didn’t take long for things to turn sour. To this day, I still kind of put the blame of what happened onto myself. I still think what happened is my own fault and what I’m going through now is my own doing…

    It all started with us hardly seeing each other. I always tried to make an effort to spend time together, but he never put in as much of an effort to try himself. We lived far apart, you see, so meeting up was always difficult, but that also made the days we COULD see each other more special in the beginning in my eye. That’s how I had always thought couples went about things – wanting to be together and spending as much time together as possible. Well, apparently, he did not feel the same way.

    It always seemed like he had some kind of excuse to not come see me or cancel our dates. It was ALWAYS something. I thought, at the time, well…at least we talk everyday…Yeah. Talk. “Talk” is a stretch, when I use it in this context. We texted and such, yes, but his messages always consisted of very short, curt replies of “yeah” “okay” “love you too” after we got together. Prior to us becoming a couple, we had had lots of lengthy messages and enthrawling conversations, but it all died after we got together. Granted, he texted everybody like that – with curt, short replies – but still. The only times he DID write more were when the messages were explicit in a sexual nature.

    Now comes when things got really bad…I was young. I had gotten together with him right after my birthday, so I was hardly even 17. I had no idea what the hell I was getting into, really, but it was a relationship – my first one – and I was excited to do all these new things with a person who “cared” for me. On one of the few times we met up, he groped me during a kiss. I didn’t know what to do, I panicked. I had tried to push his hand away, but admittedly…I am really submissive, so he just kind of took my apprehension as bashful enjoyment, I guess? And had gotten cocky about it and just kept on, so…I kinda just let him, thinking that was how relationships functioned.

    Please, keep in mind, I am Christian and I believe in personally waiting until marriage to have sex. I want to wait for the man God has planned for me to meet before doing something so intimate and special with someone, and this is something I had told the boy I was with from the very start of our relationship. I warned him that I was not going to sleep with him because of my beliefs, and at the start, he was okay with that, from what he told me.

    Anyway, after that happened, things just got worse and worse by the day. The only thing that really seemed to matter to him in our relationship was this sudden sensual air it had gained after that day he touched me. I didn’t know how to turn things around, and admittedly, the sensual air was also a bit exciting whenever things were good and happy between us. I remained firm that I would not sleep with him, but the sensual air remained. However, it was suffocating how prominent it was in the relationship. The only time he would bother to speak to me extensively was when it was something sexual in nature. Admittedly, I was blinded by the idea of love. I know now, with my age, that what I felt for him was not love. What I loved then was the idea of being in love. Because of that, I was blinded and always made up some excuse in my head for his behavior and just sort of played along with the conversations. Sometimes, honestly, I would even initiate them because it was the only way I could get him to actually talk and say more than just “yeah” and “okay”.

    When it came to meeting in person, however, I just wanted affection. I always have, still do and always will crave and desperately require affection. I need lots of attention and care to make happy in a relationship, because to me, family, friends and loved ones are EXTREMELY important. My dream is to have a loving, nurturing family when I am ready, and I need someone who will love me as much as I love them to do this. So, naturally, whenever we met in person, I just wanted to spend time together. Yes, I admit, we had some kisses here and there that were a little more heated than need be, but overall, I just wanted to be loved and paid attention by him. However, once again, all he really raged on was lust.

    It never got to the worst extreme, thank God, for I was never raped or anything, but he did try to do other things over clothes to me and forced me to do things over clothes as well that I just was…blatantly not okay with. I have always been submissive, now more so than ever, but even back then I had asked him to stop when things got too scary to me with the physical stuff to continue, but…he never really listened and never stopped until something interrupted us. Still, even then, I tried to make excuses for him. He never loved me, he only cared about the sexual side of the relationship, but I still wanted to believe things weren’t broken despite them obviously never even having been whole to begin with.

    I tried with all my heart to make the relationship work. I had been set in my mind that things would get better, that we would be happy, and hopefully our relationship would last many, many years. I wanted more than just the physical, but he clearly did not. In the end, he was the one who left me – how ironic is that? He left me through text message, telling me that “everything had been a lie from day one”.

    To this day, I still get triggered flashbacks of the things that happened. The sound of zippers, certain words and phrases, certain actions, certain kinds of touches…they all bring back memories. I have gotten W A Y better over the years and am in a much better and happier place emotionally speaking as of now, though – it used to be much worse. Today, I am happy. Today, I don’t feel ghost fingers on me anymore. Today, I am able to feel comfortable alone. Today, I can actually face my past instead of cowering away from it and trying to make my mind block it out all together. Earlier this year, I told my mother and brother about what happened. My father still doesn’t know and I don’t really want him to ever know, not because I do not trust him or do not think he would understand, but because I just…I don’t think I can sit there and recount everything that happened to him and be able to handle it myself. However, it was good to finally talk to them about it. I was able open up that bottle I had kept hidden inside for so, so long. I had discussed what happened with friends in the past, yes, but the relief I felt confiding in my family was far greater than that of just my friends.

    So, I was able to make it through, yes, but it IS still there and I think it always will be. I still blame myself for it, because it feels like I was just the enabler. If I had just said something and listened to the voice in my head that told me what was happening was wrong, maybe none of it would have happened. As much as I had healed today, I am still terrified of trusting a man again with my heart, body and soul.

    I really want to. I really, really do. I KNOW not all men are the same. I KNOW good men exist and they are out there, searching for good women, too, but…I’m just so scared. I am so damn terrified what happened once is going to happen all over again – and I don’t want that to happen. I don’t want to be taken advantage of and disregarded…I want to be loved and cherished, but sometimes, it really doesn’t feel like I am worth it and like anybody would really give much of a damn to be with me in a serious, committed relationship.

    There was this guy who had been real sweet to me last year during Christmas time. We had met and had an instant connection, and the conversations we had were wonderful, enthrawling, genuine and real. I felt, for a while, maybe it was finally my chance to try again…! He had asked me out in a sheepish way, and when I said yes, he got so excited! It was adorable! But when our date night came, something happened with work and he was unable to go, so we rescheduled for the following week. No biggie. Life happens! This was okay to me, because even so, he still kept up with me and tried to talk to me…That is, until Christmas came around. Our date was before Christmas, so I kinda expected it would not work out that day, but I kinda gave him my own test.

    That day, I didn’t message him. I didn’t ask if anything was happening, because I wanted to see if he cared enough to do so himself since the last time it was something we both worked towards together. Turns out, he didn’t and the day passed without a peep. I got fed up and decided to give the silent treatment as well and still I heard no peep from him even up to New Years Eve. Well, when the clock struck 12, I decided to try again and give him a last chance.

    I sent him a message for the new year and awaited a response…but nothing. Nothing ever came, so I just kinda…let it go. For six months, he had gone AWOL and I just kind of continued with my life. I assumed he lost interest or found someone better, and thankfully, I had not gotten too emotionally attached, so I was okay. I was happy continuing my life, but then this passed summer, right on out of the blue, he messages me again. Six. Months. Later. There was a sudden spike in interest, he found me on my social media and messaged me through there as well, but I just sort of ignored him.

    I felt guilty for it, but it felt…odd. Why would he disappear for six months when we were hitting it off at the start just to pop up out of nowhere again and not even address why he left to begin with in his message? It felt strange and scary – awfully familiar to my past, so I hardcore ignored. I ignored while on my end, I had panic attacks thanks to my mind coming up with elaborate, ridiculous conclusions of what could be possibly going on.

    I guess, with all that rambling, all I’m trying to say is…I admit I have no idea how to start over again. I want to, I so desperately want to, but I’m still scared. I want to find someone who will love me as much as I love them, I don’t want to be alone forever, I’m sick of being alone, but the possibilities scare me away from anybody who may genuinely try with me. I feel I’ve become cold and distant in the dating and love game just to save my heart the aching, but I don’t want to be like this anymore. I want to meet someone who will be able to find out who I am deep down in my core and love me for it. I don’t know where to begin…I wish this were easier to cope with. I keep telling myself I am still young, I am only 20 years old, but the nagging fear of eternal loneliness continues to pester…

    Please, do you have any advice on how to make an aching, affection-deprived heart comfortable with being alone for a while until the good one comes?

    1. Dear Brielle, I’m sorry to hear your story and what you’ve been through. You are so young and you will be okay. You will find love and it can be a healthy relationship. But first, the most important thing is for you to focus on you, more than looking for a relationship right now. You need to heal and work on you.

      There’s a lot in this that I’d like to address, so hopefully I can do so clearly. Firstly, you are not to blame for any abuse, be it emotional, verbal, physical or sexual (which is what you went through). I believe you may be suffering some PTSD or Post traumatic stress disorder, as a result of this too. I urge you to consider seeking help in understanding this relationship via a confidential counsellor or support group. I have listed free, anonymous helplines that can help refer you to the right person or place here:

      You describe him in the beginning as cancelling dates, not showing much interest. He was showing you the sort of warning sign that he was not going to be there for you, possibly not even that interested and definitely not someone who would care for you and your emotional needs. But you made excuses for this. You were too also too afraid to say no when he pushed healthy boundaries and behaved unacceptably towards you sexually. He used you for sex. It is true we can be blinded by love. As you yourself say, you were confusing sex for love. The good thing is you know now that what you felt was not love. This relationship was not healthy.

      Again, I am not saying any of this to blame you, but to try to explain. All of what I have just described above suggests to me that you have a low sense of self-esteem and self-worth. You say you ‘just wanted affection’. You ‘crave and desperately require attention’. So much so that you tried to make a broken relationship work. When he wasn’t giving it to you, you craved him more. That was the driving factor, even when he was no good to you and sexually abused you. This is what is known as codependent behaviour. When we become addicted to someone who is emotionally unavailable to us. Even though they hurt us, we need them to make us feel good about ourselves. Particularly, after they’ve hurt us.

      I’m glad that you see this is not a healthy form of relationship or what love is. That is the first important step. But what appears to be happening now is that when you meet someone new, you are focussing all of your attention on them. Rather than you. In fact, your entire happiness depends on them and how they behave towards you. It doesn’t come from within you.

      You are also trying to control the situation – by testing them, as you say. You are projecting onto them what you hope and believe they should be, rather than letting go and allowing them to be who they are. If they don’t respond or react how you think they should, then all your fears come to the surface. What is driving this, is that same desperate craving for attention and affection. You need them to make you feel happy, good about yourself, loved and wanted.

      I would suggest you take your focus off them. We can’t control anyone or anything else around us. In fact, if you try to control a healthy person who has a good sense of self-worth, you might end up pushing them away. Instead, try to understand why you have a low sense of self-esteem, which I believe is the reason for this craving for affection. If we have a high self of self-worth and sense of self-esteem, then we will be more likely to be able to let go. We won’t need to control anyone who comes into our life. We will focus on our needs and well being, take responsibility for our actions and behaviour. And let others be who they are, responsible for their own behaviour and actions as well.

      It takes time. But it’s important to love yourself first. Only then can you love someone else in a healthy way. Only then can we allow them to love us in a healthy way as well. So take time and get support to learn how to do this. Read books on self-love and how to build your self-esteem. Once your self of self-worth is strong, you’ll be able to let go. When you start dating again you’ll be able to be still, not projecting onto them, or needy and craving them to fulfil your needs. You’ll be able to set healthy boundaries if they start showing warning signs they are not good for you. To say no if they push through them and walk away. If they don’t love you, you’ll be fine too. You’ll know it wasn’t meant to be. You are enough with or without a man. You’ll know when the right one comes your way, but be fine alone too. I hope this all helps?

  13. I just want to say that your forums has helped me tremendously!

    My daughters father was very abusive to me as well, and I was with him for a year and three months. In the beginning he did show signs but I just wanted it to be something else. The emotional abuse happened in the beginning-calling me names etc. also claiming to not like my friends and on top not like my “lifestyle” it got worse when I was pregnant he was slapping me in my face, however it wasn’t bad to him because it’s not like he did it everyday as he would say. Before my baby shower he would repeatedly slap me until my eye was black…he was crying so I did feel like he cared….however when my daughter was born I could see the cycle repeat as he would downplay everything I felt making it seem like I exaggerated.

    The aftermath of it all is me trying to ease the pain because I know for a fact he has moved on and it hurts because all I can think about is “you are treating her better…” While I was left with the abuse…my brain goes back and forth on how he will be different with a different mate…he would always say I wasn’t Latin enough ( I’m black) and his women is now Latin…it hurts and on top saying I should date my own kind….he messed me up so mentally that I’m trying to get right for my daughter and to embrace myself again to not put myself in a box that he wanted to create for me.

    I will love if you respond but if not for whoever is reading this you are not alone!!!

    1. Thank you so much for your support and encouragement, Naomi89, this is why I keep writing. I’m sorry for what you’ve been through and what you describe is that classic abusive cycle, including how we downplay it, feel more sorry for them than the pain they cause us etc. I know it hurts when we believe they have moved on and are treating the next person better. Firstly, I’d say, thank God it’s not you anymore. What he was showing you was not love, but control and abuse. You deserve better. Secondly, I’m not as convinced as you are that the pattern won’t be repeating with the next girl he is with. Abusers don’t tend to do this randomly and with just one person, it is a pattern of behaviour that repeats. It might help for you to read this as your fear of this is not just yours alone:

      I would urge you to focus on your healing, rather than still focussing on him. You need to put you first now. Whilst you are putting all your energy into fixating on his new relationship, you are wasting the energy that you could be using to build your self-esteem and sense of self worth. That will teach your daughter what a great role model you are as a mother. Self-love is the greatest thing we can learn and teach our children, in my opinion. Everything else follows from there – how to set healthy boundaries, say no when we see warning signs early on and walk away if someone treats us badly and so on. You don’t have to do this alone. There are many support groups out there and free anonymous helplines. They can point you in the right direction. You can find them here: I also have an Unbeatable FB Group you can join where there are others who have been through, or going through what you have and can offer their experiences, wisdom and support. You can find us here: Stay strong and thanks for writing to me x

  14. Hey Vivian, I just found your page and thank you for doing such an awesome job! I am a bit sad tonight as I just started a potential relationship with a new guy and he has ended it because I divulged about my abusive ex (i have a non molestation order against him due to his verbally abusive behaviour) and asked that I call him a different name in front of my daughter so that it wouldnt get back to my ex. I just wanted to be honest with him but despite a real connection between us, he said he can’t handle the risk to himself if said ex threatens him etc so he wants to finish things. I am a bit devastated- I hadnt even decided if this new guy was ‘the one’ for me and it feels sucky to be rejected like this and triggers all kinds of feelings of low self worth. It also makes me super angry with my ex for making me ‘damaged goods’ and scared for how I will fare in the future. I’m 43. I feel like time is running out for me to find someone decent. Maybe this guy just wasn’t really right for me though? It worries me that I am totally overlooking potential red flags about him, such as the fact he was contacting me contantly and seemed really keen (up until tonight that is!!!) and would rather focus on this being about me not being worthy.
    I would love some insight from you, however brief. This site definitely resonates with me!
    Thanks, C

    1. Hi Chandra, thank you for your kind words, they are much appreciated. Sorry to hear you are sad and feel rejected. My advice would be to let go. If it’s meant to be it will be, if not, it won’t. We can’t control anyone else but ourselves, so the best thing to do is keep focussing on your self-worth and finding ways to build that up. This will allow you to maintain healthy boundaries and be able to not only see warning signs, but say no, if someone crashes through them. You say yourself you may have seen some red flags with this guy. Trust your instincts. Perhaps this wasn’t meant to be? It is not to late for you. It’s never too late. Surround yourself with friends you trust and love you. Look after yourself first and it will come. x

  15. Hi Vivian, I have spent hours online researching narcissist and personality disorders trying to find answers to 3 1/2 years of an emotional roller coaster ride. Was it me? Did I not give him enough? Was I not understanding enough? He sucked me in with wonderful, sweet and loving words. He put me at the top of his priority list. He made me feel beautiful, special, and of course the love of his life. We had so much fun together, each day was a new adventure, and of course he wanted to marry me sooner rather than later. He was so passionate, affectionate, and attentive. Making sure each need was met, from sun up to sundown. From tea in the morning with breakfast to footrubs at night before bed. But the minute I suggested a little space, which I thought was healthy, he immediately packed his bags, walked out, sent me long texts telling me that I must not love him enough if I was pushing him away. I immediately tried to convince him that because we didn’t live together he should spend some time at his place, not that I didn’t want to be with him. He walked in and out of my life for over 3 years, 8 months of those were with another girl, because he said he didn’t know how much I loved him. Each time he wanted back in, it was always some form of a grand gesture. Like he was putting on a show for everyone to see. He’s smooth, handsome, and so good with words, and I’m so mad at myself for believing in him, for promises that never happened, and for feeling broken. Just 2 weeks ago he professed that he wanted a life together, and 2 days later was with someone else. I made sure he knew how much he hurt me, but I realize now that it was all a game to make himself feel better. I appreciate any words of wisdom, being 53 and feeling like a complete loser is not where I thought I’d be. I feel alone, I try and stay busy, but just wondering why he moves on so easily and I’m left empty and alone? I was such a vibrant, strong woman before I met him, and I just want that back again. Thanks so much for listening!

    1. This man is no good for you and only wants control. It is all about him and how he feels, not your feelings or wellbeing. Try not to blame yourself, as these types of people are highly manipulative and want and need us to take the blame for their behaviour. He can move on so easily as once a Narcissist has got what they want and need from you, or if they sense they’re losing control of you, they move on to their next ‘supply’. The next vulnerable person they can exploit and manipulate. It is a repeating cycle and pattern. You are better off away from this as it is not a healthy relationship or form of love. You need to take your focus away from him – he’s taken enough of your energy and power – and put it back onto you. You are not a loser and it is never too later. But you need to put you first, above anyone and anything else. I would suggest you get help and support as breaking this cycle and getting over these emotionally abusive men is difficult. We feel that strong pull back to them or we go into another abusive relationship and repeat the pattern again. I’ve listed resources here: I also have online video courses that may help you understand what you went through and why. And how to get over him and move onto a healthier, happy life. You’ll find more about them here: There is life after, I promise. You can turn your life around. Just start with you, the power is within you. Take it back from him. x

  16. I was in two abusive relationships for a total of four years. The physical abuse came later in th second relationship and i am so grateful for my friends for supporting me and helping me out. I am now older and with a guy, but it seems too good to be true. I know his ex and her best friend is one of my good friends. She said he always treated her like a princess and spoiled her. He always does that for me too, but im scared hes just doing this to keep me around. Were at the age where marriage is realist. Ive met both his parents and they are caring and adore me. He makes sure we have date nights every week even when he works close to 48 hours. It scares me because i dont spend as much time with my friends anymore and that was a warning sign i shouldve noticed in my past relationship. I dont know if im just justifying this because me and my friends are all full time students and work so its hard for our schedules to line up or if im falling into an abusive controlling cycle. I still talk with them daily and have facetime calls with them regularly. Or am i just justifying my obession with him?

    1. I’m so glad you are out of that abusive relationship. My advice would be to take it slowly, step by step. Don’t project onto him either way. Focus on you, not him and your wellbeing, every day. Try to let go and enjoy his company. If it’s meant to be it will be, if not, trust your gut and walk away. Always watch whether his words and actions align.

  17. Hi Vivian. I am 24 years old and finally left a 2.5 year long emotionally/verbally abusive relationship about a year ago. Words cannot even describe the isolation, depression, self-loathing and dark places that consumed my previous bubbly, well-liked and happy/confident self before I met this boy at the end of my freshman year of college. I finally had the nerve to end the years of misery over summer break going into my senior year when we were apart and he let me a long, abusive voicemail that I had on record to listen to repeatedly. I swore off boys and after a few months I finally lost the weight gain from the bad relationship and felt good about myself again. Right around this time I met a love-bombing man child on Tinder who swept me off my feet with his over-embellished compliments and constant flattery (I hadn’t heard anything like this from the ex for years). We immediately began an extremely intense and fast-paced relationship which I finally realized was toxic, controlling and manipulative 6 months later. The ending fight for me was his disgust at my decision to testify as a witness in my roommates rape trial. A previous victim myself, this was a very brave decision and I felt responsible because I introduced her to her rapist while bartending and watched them leave together at the end of the night when she was heavily intoxicated. He demanded I didn’t testify and that was it for me.

    This all ended as the school year finished and I returned to Chicago for summer break finally feeling empowered in my newfound singleness. I didn’t miss my recent ex and was feeling on top of the world. I reconnected with a high school acquaintance a few weeks later and never really processed how much shit I had just been through in my past two relationships.

    In retrospect I think that my excessive drinking and partying all summer were coping mechanisms for me. This boy and I were beginning to like each other and spend time together but my walls were way up and I was loving my new dominant and “taking no shit from anybody” persona that seemed to attract men unlike ever before. Still, I convinced myself that I actually was this tough “cool girl” who couldn’t catch feelings and played games with him all summer. He played games too and when I returned to my fifth year of school in August we finally opened up to each other about how much we liked each other. we started visiting each other every weekend and began dating in late September. Things occurred over the summer in our “too cool to like each other” facades that I brushed over and I think as I got more comfortable with him, they started to fester inside of me. After we admitted our feelings and became exclusive, I still thought the worst in him even though he was showing me through his actions his care and commitment to me. I convinced myself it was a love-bombing tactic to get me swooning and he would break my heart shortly after. I made up scenarios where he was just using me for sex and didn’t believe him when he claimed to have a crush on me years back in high school. I was even mean at times and one time I insulted his cooking thinking it would give me the upper hand in our game of who cares less (I genuinely thought he didn’t care at all). I nitpicked everything he did looking for a true red flag that would justify all my paranoid thoughts. I literally could not find one until we had a drunken fight in mid-October when I was visiting Chicago. We both literally blurred out the actual conversation we had but I remember getting really offended when he said something about my “ambition” or “lack thereof” which was something I literally spoon-fed him into saying. The next day I told my sister about the fight and she convinced me to cut ties right then and there and I literally did, especially considering how hard I was trying to maintain this “new Lee will never take shit from a man AGAIN” persona. But in a horrible, drawn out, projection shit show drama that was just awful. I was trying to convince myself beyond the shadow of a doubt that the decision I made so abruptly was right. that this great guy was in fact a manipulative, lying, low-life, love-bomber drug addict. I spent so much time in the following weeks trying to convince myself of this that I lost complete touch with the actual situation before this breakup even happened. In a fucked up way, my bold ending of the relationship was some sort of vindication to myself that I could pick out the first sign of potential abuse and actually run away before wasting more years on another bad apple. I felt like I had grown from the experience and was a professional at flagging abusive qualities before things got worse. I got so carried away in these delusions that it took me almost a full month to come out of it and we rekindled while I was home for Thanksgiving Break. Nothing major happened and we avoided a lot of big elephants in the room as we were generally unsure of how to act. When I was home for three weeks over Christmas break we really reconnected and I felt closer and safer with him than I had actually felt before the Dramatic Dumping a few months back. I was even more secured with him by his efforts to win me back despite my irrational and impulsive dumping decision. No one had ever done that before. The 2.5 year long abusive relationship I was in ended with my leaving him and him scoffing at me thinking I could do any better.

    It is now the end of January and since winter break, I have fallen so deeply in love with this man and our time together has been the best and most magical experience I have ever felt. Unfortunately, two weeks ago, after a night of drinking, we discussed the time we spent broken up and he admitted to having slept with one girl and I admitted to sleeping with two guys. In the heat of the moment he ended it with me on the principal that I could so cold-heartedly break his heart and then go out on the market looking for other guys before returning to him. This was far from the case and the next morning he came to his senses and begged for forgiveness for so harshly ending it. I genuinely told him not to worry and the pain his 24-hour break up caused me could not even bear the pain I caused him when I dumped him back in October. Two weeks passed and things were back to normal until he texted me today after seeming distant all day: “I know I love you but I don’t trust things will ever work out for us” and told me he still couldn’t wrap his head around the thought of me viciously dumping him and then going out to sleep around. I can’t even count the number of times I have apologized to him and I think about the pain I caused him literally every day with disgust. I deleted all the screenshots and evidence and am trying to block it from my memory because I want to focus on our future not our past. I think in doing this I never really told him what really caused me to act the way I did and it had nothing to do with him and EVERYTHING to do with me.

    the extent of my toxic relationships that have severely fucked with my ability to trust and see a genuine good in a romantic interest (I now see a therapist weekly). I don’t know how to communicate to him (without coming off like an unaccountable whining victim) that I have deep rooted issues that I am trying to work on and I genuinely didn’t dump him to be evil. How should I go about doing this? I figure it is worth a shot and if he can’t understand after that then maybe it wasn’t meant to be but I really don’t know how to go about doing this.

    1. Thank you for trusting me with your story. You have been through a lot, I’m sorry to hear this. It is difficult to relearn an entirely new system of coping mechanisms and not to sabotage relationships in which we fear this emotional connection (not being used to it). But you can. It takes time and it’s good to hear that you are not only aware of your reactions, but also getting support to work through your issues. The only thing you can be is honest. If he is someone who can accept you for who you are and not be scared off by this, then it’s meant to be. If he can’t then perhaps this is not be to be and not the time for this relationship. Having time alone is important too, to focus on you and heal. Put you and your wellbeing first at all times. I’m glad you are here.

  18. Hi Vivian,

    I was in a verbally abusive relationship for 3 years that ended 2 years ago. I have always been a little shy and had some fluctuating self esteem issues, so I guess I was an easy target and fell for my ex pretty quickly because of his grand gestures and constant attention. However, slowly but surely over the first year of our relationship things transitioned to him criticizing me, not liking my friends, insulting my family, being controlling etc. But for some crazy reason I still loved him through it all. He always managed to make me forget all the bad stuff and make me feel wanted and that we were a family. Anyway, things got worse and worse and I finally woke up one day and decided I had had enough. I ended our engagement and moved out.

    Fast forward 1.5 years later and I finally started feeling semi-normal again and met a really great guy that seems nothing like my ex. He’s a little shy like me, but super sweet, easy to talk to, supportive, etc. We’ve now been together for about 9 months but about 1 month ago something changed. I know I’ve been over analyzing our relationship from the beginning because I’m so worried about making the same mistakes again so I think that’s part of what happened. But last month I started to have crazy anxiety and started doubting our relationship. I’ve never had anxiety issues in the past so I’m really struggling with how to deal with it. The feelings come and go, and for the most part when I am physically with him the feelings are much less, but when I’m alone with my thoughts sometimes I think terrible things and want to end our relationship. The anxiety is starting to bother me in other aspects of my life – its hard to concentrate at work, I’m feeling less happy and excited about life. I don’t think I really want to end it because he’s amazingly great. I’m just so confused and don’t want to push him away just because I’m scared. I started seeing a therapist but so far it’s not making too much of a difference. How do I get through this and find some clarity?

    1. Hi Abbey, sorry to hear you are feeling this way. I tried to push my husband away too, as I wasn’t used to a man who was emotionally available to me. It is difficult at first, I know the feeling. The most important things to remember are if his actions are aligned with his words – he treats you kindly as well as being kind – then you can trust the relationship is a healthy one. Secondly, anxiety and insecurity can be linked to a lack of self esteem and self worth. Not feeling good enough or that you deserve it. A fear of abandonment – which leaves us to sabotage the relationship in a way to end if before they do (which is what we imagine is going to happen). The number one thing to work on is building your self esteem. Find a therapist who helps you with this, read every self help book you can find. Join a support group. I have a closed FB Group and those in there are supportive and help each other when they are struggling. It might be helpful to you too. You can find it here: I also have online video courses that might be of benefit: All the best.

  19. Thank you Vivian for writing such a clear message around abuse and how it can really impact us. My heart goes out to all that have or are facing abuse.
    I have been a woman for four years and like you, I saw the signs much similar to what you saw and those signs turned into the reality I was living. After being left by my ex-fiancee (we had grown apart and I don’t feel we nurtured the relationship and took it for granted) my self-esteem was low and I focused on what I wanted her to be, not what she was, not to mention the sex and chemistry has been amazing the entire four years. After a year she also started giving me ultimatums to propose to her. My trepidation increased. Deadlines to propose came and went. Tantrums and more abuse (emotional and slight physical) sprinkled with love actions. I was torn between love and fear. Loving a woman I knew had the capacity to be thoughtful, kind, and a good friend and fearful of a woman who seemed capable of the worst treatment I have ever received from another person. I also became someone I didn’t like…anxious, fearful, impatient, tired, worried.
    I decided I no longer would live with her. I realized that I am the keeper of my safety and peace, through maintaining healthy boundaries. This was six months ago. Afterward we had one month no contact. We have both gone to counselling and when she and I started seeing each other again on a regular basis, the message from her was ‘I’ve learned from my mistakes, I feel horrible for how I treated you’, ‘I never dealt with some bad things that happened to me and I took my emotions out on you and I am sorry’. ‘But I still have a deadline and I can’t wait around for you to forgive me’. ‘Either you take me as I am now or leave’.
    I was open about how I have become disconnected and it would take some time to build back the trust that was lost. During the past few months I have tried, and we’ve had some happy times. There have also been relapses on her end.
    I can’t shake the feeling now that since I have experienced what she is capable of, I can’t trust her to be an emotionally safe person to be with. Yet, I question myself…’did I give her enough chances’, ‘what if I just put a ring on her finger’, ‘she’ll feel more secure’, ‘Am I holding the past against her’.
    I want her to be happy and I told her yesterday that I think I am just wasting her time since I feel uncomfortable thinking about married life with her. So she left and I think we are over.
    Meanwhile, I am 44 male, never married, no kids, wondering if I’ll find a normal, loving relationship that can be the foundation of my life.

    1. Hi Stephen, I’m sorry you’re going through this. I love what you say about you being the ‘keeper of my safety and peace’ and that is so true. Putting a ring on her finger will not change her. I made the same mistake and learned the lesson the hard way. We can’t change another person. We can only change ourselves. Listen to what your gut is telling you about the relationship right now. Don’t base any decision on what it might be like in the future (if she changes). Can you accept her unconditionally for who she is right now. Is that good enough for you and your wellbeing. Does she bring out the best in you and you in her? Will you look back one day with regret? Put yourself first. Look after yourself and be the ‘keeper of your safety and peace’. It is not too late for you. It’s never too late. I’d say given you’ve never married and have no kids you’d be fairly eligible for a lot of women! You’ll find it. But take time to work on yourself first and build your self esteem, so that you can always set healthy boundaries. Thanks for writing. It’s also helpful to show that men can experience abuse in relationships too. Take care.

  20. Hi Vivian ,

    Just wanted to thank you for your writing and excellent advice for those out there who are going through or recovering from abuse. Reading through the comments on here also has been an eye opener.

    I’m trying to recover myself after finally ending a 2 year abusive relationship with a narcissistic addict. He would do things like name calling, fits of rage, throwing furniture, punching things, threats towards me and also would have psychotic episodes where he would hear voices and see things that aren’t there. He would make up wild stories that were total lies and He would threaten to kill himself frequently when ever he didn’t get his way on something and was very good at making it seem believable that he would actually do it. He would explain in fine detail how he would kill himself and how it would be my fault. This happened frequently and it wasn’t until I finally left that I realised how much it has actually damaged me.

    I can’t sleep more than 4 hours every night. I have crippling anxiety and guilt for leaving him that effects my every day life. Every time I’m around anyone who is drinking, even if it’s just them having one glass of wine, I freak out. (His episodes were almost always brought on by alcohol). Meeting new people I freak out wondering what they want from me.

    I know I’m probably overreacting but I really don’t ever see myself trusting anyone again. How long after your relationship did you start to see progress with recovery?

    Thanks again

    1. Hi Elle and thanks for your kind words of support. I am so glad you are out of this relationship. When a person like this threatens to kill himself, you are also at great risk, as many will kill you first and then themselves. If he has mental health issues / delusions that are not being treated, that certainly doesn’t help.

      Alcohol and / or drug addictions often go hand in hand with those who are abusive in relationships. But, although they may exacerbate it, they are not the cause of violence or abuse. They are responsible for their actions and accountable for them.

      It took me years of work on myself to recover. It starts with you, which means taking your focus off you and working hard on building your self-esteem, understanding why you were vulnerable to a relationship like this etc. There’s no way around this, but it is worth it. My life changed as a result of this in the most incredible ways. I would do this, before you start dating again. Otherwise you risk repeating the pattern in another abusive relationship.

      I suggest you might try Al-anon, which is a brilliant support group for wives, families and friends of alcoholics. I went to this, long after I left my ex. It helped me so much and was the beginning of my recovery. I also read every self-help book I could find.

      It also sounds like you may be suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), which does happen after relationships like yours. You may consider getting help and support for this too. I’ve listed domestic abuse helplines here:

      Take time to heal and recover. You will find someone you can trust, but it starts with loving yourself first. I hope this helps?

  21. Hi Vivian,

    I’m finally healing myself from an extremely abusive relationship I was in nearly 7 years ago. After much self-love and nurturing I’m finally in a place where I know I’m capable of being in a loving relationship. I’m curious, did you ever talk to your husband about your past? I feel like it would be necessary to give insight to emotional triggers and fears however, I’m scared that doing so would just cause him to treat me with caution, or worse, to avoid me. If you did discuss your past abuse how did you go about it? Was the conversation successful?

    Thank you,

    1. Hi Ash. I’m glad you’re well on your way to recovery now. Yes, I did. It was difficult not to as I had a child with my Ex and there were many complicating factors re access etc at first, that I was going through when we met. I can’t quite remember, but I guess probably I revealed things little by little over time when the time was right, rather than dumping the lot on him early on. He knows much of my past, although I never went into gory detail or extent of it, as I knew it upset him to hear how I’d been hurt. For the same reason he’s told me he won’t be able to read my book when it comes out soon, which I respect. Don’t hide your past. If you want someone to love you in a healthy way, then that is unconditional and for who you are, warts and all. If they reject you because of it, then perhaps they’re not meant to be? At first I tried to push my husband away, I was scared of emotional availability and closeness (I feared abandonment)… it took time for me to let him in. But he accepted me for me and gradually I was able to trust and let go. If you have a good, strong man, I would hope he’d be able to do the same.

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