This is why I write about narcissistic abuse and childhood sexual abuse.
This is why I’m writing a book.
This is why I’m preparing a Ted Talk.
It’s not obsession with the past.
It’s not “I can’t get over it.”
It’s real and it affects far too many people on this planet. Shining a light is the only way, and many women I know who have gone through or are going through hell can’t shine a light.
I can and I will.
I received this beautiful message from someone I haven’t seen in 20 years:
“Hi Kiersten, not sure you will remember me but I worked with you years ago....Anyway, I was sitting with (name) and she texted me your blog. Wow...I want you to know that you are a truly beautiful person, to me you just always used to light up the room! Thank you for your posts. I read through them one by one and the dirty John post the other day. They have helped me tremendously know that I’m not a fool. Mine was more subtle...he slowly ticked away at my confidence over the years until there was no self worth left. You are right about weaker individuals preying on stronger ones, not sure why it gives them power. I’ve been out of the marriage (x) years now ...looking back the number 1 thing I tell people is I can see colors again...I had stopped seeing colors until one day about 3 months away from him...I walked outside and the bright colors about mowed me over. I never want to go back to that gray. I’m at peace and have so much happiness now and realize being thankful for life is such a blessing. I just wanted to send a little thank you your way....💋 Xo”
Easy silence that you make for me
It’s okay when there’s nothing more to say to me
And the peaceful quiet you create for me
And the way you keep the world at bay for me
On our drive to the anything-but-quiet Vegas Market furniture show, I rediscovered the song Easy Silence by the Dixie Chicks.
I turned to Scott and said, “this is how I feel about you.” Before our separation, I wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint this one particular aspect of our relationship because for 18 years, I didn’t know what the opposite felt like. I thought all relationships came with easy silence.
We can literally go anywhere together and there’s a natural sense of ease. Conversations are easy. Laughter is easy. Silence is easy.
When you endure emotional and verbal abuse, you likely get punished with silence. It’s one of the universal tactics that hurts the most. You don’t quite know what you did to set him off, and most times, the initial way he’ll punish is with silence. There’s no talking about what happened. There’s only silence and stomping out, at first. Then, either the I’ve-come-back-to-yell-at you-yelling begins or a barrage of angry texts pummels you until you are all out of tears and strength.
Even now—a year after I climbed out of the trenches—there are times I find myself triggered when I wrongly perceive Scott is being quiet on purpose, which I cognitively know is something he doesn’t do. He’s not that guy, but still my chest tightens and I hold my breath asking if he’s OK. He reassures me he is and I exhale. And he hugs me.
While my knee-jerk triggered reaction to silence has lessened quite a bit, it still hasn’t completely evaporated. Apparently, it takes time to heal from narcissistic/sociopathic abuse.
Shannon Thomas, author of Healing from Hidden Abuse, says “leaving a relationship with a narcissist sociopath or psychopath is never going to follow the traditional recovery time for a breakup. Often a survivor of a toxic relationship will question why it takes so long for them to heal and feel whole again. It takes much longer than a normal break up because recovery from psychological abuse involves completely rebuilding self-worth, restoring normal adrenaline levels, and finding an inner strength not previously know. All of that takes time.”
Scott helped create an easy silence for me—one I will never take for granted. And one that I know in the not too distant future, I will never question.
Can you hear that? It’s beautiful silence.
And the peaceful quiet you create for me
And the way you keep the world at bay for me
P.S. I wrote this in the car on the way back from Vegas in the silence of the drive. When I read it to him, he teared up and said he didn’t fully realize why I had been asking him if he was OK when he was quiet.
P.S.S. About 5 minutes later, we were laughing and singing the song “Jump” by the Pointer Sisters. I love this man.
Throughout my own personal journey and in getting to know others who have endured narcissistic and sociopathic abuse, I've come to learn that "playing the victim" is a hallmark of folks who emotionally and verbally abuse others.
As someone who owns mistakes—and owns them very publicly at times—the victim mentality is a hard one to understand. I grew up with two loving, stable parents who taught my sister and I to take responsiblity for good and bad. For awhile, I thought maybe this victim play was part of the psychosis but the more I've come to learn, the more I understand it's very calculated.
For example, publicly the abusive person will project an image that he or she is a deep feeling, deep thinking person who rises above. Behind the scenes, they are lashing out in ways that chill the average person. Somehow, whatever has transpired is someone else's fault. They are the victim who is enduring abuse. I've written about this concept before in more of a general way in "Flip the Script" where I talk about how even my psychologists were warning me to expect nothing less from a man who is a pathological liar and serial cheater.
There's always a new group of flying monkeys and groupies to appeal to, so this particular tactic of prophecizing victimhood works well in doing just that. After all, as caring human beings, most of us react to sad stories with concern and empathy in our hearts. They know this.
Someone who has cheated his way through two marriages with countless women (while telling everyone but his wives that he was in an open relationship), stolen money from clients in the furniture and interior design industries, stolen designs, stolen company merchandise, harassed women who started to speak out, and used the same predatory tactics (love bombing, promises of tantric massage, same songs, same lines etc) to seduce women young and old is not the victim, but he plays the role well. This is what I've experienced personally, but many of the women I've spoken with could basically just copy and paste this particular paragraph about the person who was in their life, changing only industry info.
This story is all too common. My advice is if someone immediately starts telling you about all of the bad stuff that happened to them in childhood and beyond (aka, creating a wounded attachment set-up), take a huge step back. Don't fall for the very convincing victim story.
Playing the victim is truly role of a lifetime for narcissists/sociopaths.
Over the last year, roughly ten people have told me to look into the story of Dirty John, after they realized what I'd lived through from 2014-2017. I have NO idea why it took me so long to check it out. Yesterday, I googled "Dirty John" and watched a Megyn Kelly segment.
My jaw dropped open.
The similarities are striking. The way in which John connected with unsuspecting women—online, of course. The post "love bomb stage" isolation his second wife said she endured. The women who came together to support one another. The lies and cover-up—always having an explanation for everything.
The rage he felt when he was finally being exposed.
If you haven't checked out the podcast or story, here's a link to the story in the LA Times:
I found myself remembering moments where I, too, chose to believe R's tales over written evidence. Recently, I even accidentally found an email reply (that I was blind copied on) that he crafted to his wife (whom he was separated from) because he was trying to put in writing what a great guy he is/was. In reality, she called the cops on him because he was screaming at her, denying her food, trying to kick her out of the house, and threatening to tell a different story to immigration because he knew she hadn't received her green card yet but was in the process at the time. This was 2015. He was still living with her at the time out of necessity and apparently making her life hell.
I read the email and I cried. How could I not believe her? How could I believe his twisted tale about her "overreacting because he opened her mail and she called the cops." The truth was all right there!! She spelled it out so clearly and even said, "...I understand this email of yours is your usual tactic to put lies in writing so that you may some day use them and present them as truth to your convenience. You are a cheater, a liar, a manipulator of the truth...."
I could have tried to help her. I could have saved myself and my family two more years of pain and abuse but I was still not wanting to see that what she was saying was real. And I was 'under his spell' which is common in these types of relationships.
I will forever regret not believing her from the moment I read her words in that email (and then blocking the email from my mind). I didn't even remember it until I "accidentally" found it in a sea of messages in my inbox almost three years later. To say I was guided to it is an understatement. I was meant to see it again and feel the gravity of it all.
In the Dirty John story, the newest wife's family hired a private detective to drum up what the hell was going on with John because they suspected he was a fraud. They delivered damning evidence to her and she took it to John. He then took her to a lawyer who lied and said, "John is the victim, here. None of this is real." Thankfully, she did eventually come to know that what they shared with her was VERY real and she went into hiding. Of course, the story ends with him coming after her daughter with a knife a year later in the parking lot where she worked. Thankfully, her daughter ended up being able to save herself and in self defense, killed him with his own knife he used to attack her.
It's mind-blowing to me that there are so many con men out there and social media fuels the fire. When asked what one take away was from their story, John's first wife and second wife both said, "do your homework and take your time with romantic partners." I think about this for my kids and all of my friends who are currently dating. I've always trusted everyone with blind faith but I don't do that anymore. And I'm teaching my kids to be discerning and trust their instincts.
Doing your homework and listening to your intuition will protect you from being involved in a similar Dirty John story. I can say from the countless emails I receive, the thousands of social media pages for survivors, and the Dirty John story, these tales are not few and far between.
They are everywhere.
It's a quiet, poisonous epidemic and discernment (homework + intuition) is the antidote.
Ah, Facebook memories. You pop up reminding me that two years ago, I was working on a film in Chicago, living through one hell of an abusive "episode."
Even when I wrote this blog (below) back in July 2017, I was still uncovering the truth of the relationship I was in for three years. I had only spoken with one woman at that point but it was enough to validate what I felt all along. (So many more including family and colleagues would come forward later.) It was enough to make me see that all of the accusations and such were really just projection on his part. He was doing what he was accusing me of doing. I think this is super important for anyone who is in or recovering from narcissistic/sociopathic abuse. Flip what they say around and you'll have the truth. I didn't know that back then.
This particular memory of abuse is one that will probably always haunt me because I was so confused. So hurt. And so groomed to do exactly what I did: smooth and appease. Being called "sick" is just one of the many "terms of endearment" hurled at me over a three-year period.
FLASHBACKS OF ABUSE
July 27, 2017 (originally published, updated on 8/1 with his response)
R's response to this post:
"You are sick Kiersten. And you were sick in Chicago. And you're sick from the abuse you suffered as a child not any from me. And the blindness from your parents for their own facade all your life. Being sick does not make you bad. But it sure keeps you blind. And, you've lost the only one with the insight, guts, and the true love enough to tell you. You've surrounded yourself with only enablers. Truth needs NO validation. What happened in Chicago got to anger on both sides. And you helped big time! Just as you did all along knowing each button to push, when calm loving truth showed itself, you RAN again to projection and blame....
With love only,
Original Post on 7/27:
Since publishing my post about having an affair, I have been touched and overwhelmed by the number of messages coming in from women who've lived through similar relationships. I'm so grateful to connect with all of you—knowing I'm not alone is so comforting.
Turns out, several of us followed the same path: repressed memories of childhood abuse started to surface and shortly thereafter, we were diving head first into relationships that tested our very being. It's remarkable to see how we've literally drawn abusive scenarios to us in order to heal from the repercussions of childhood abuse we couldn't face until we were adults.
As I'm processing all of this and moving forward with my life, I keep having flashbacks to specific moments in the relationship that were so confusing to me despite the repetitive nature of our interactions. The pattern was predictable: I would do something he didn't like, I would hear about it from him, we would fight, I would blame myself, and finally, I would block it from my mind and move on. And the cycle would continue.
For example, we were in Chicago for an entire month for a work project, and early on, I did the unthinkable. I left the door unlocked to the dorm room we were calling home. I felt safe and comfortable on our floor alongside other professionals we were working with on the project. I'm pretty attuned to my spidey senses and I truly didn't feel any threat. Anyhow, one night, he went out with one of the other guys on the crew, and I stayed back to relax in the room and watch TV on my laptop.
He came back to find that I had not locked the door. I could feel the tension and judgement immediately even though he wasn't using harsh language or yelling. I wanted to rewind to a couple hours earlier when he was so happy to have me there. Then, he decided to go take a shower and tested me—he told me he was going and apparently the test was me locking the door after he left the room. Of course, at this point, I was still not feeling like it was that big of a deal so I didn't turn the lock. If I had realized it was a test, I would have baracaded the door. All I could think was that he was going to be right back. Surely, he must have meant lock the door when he's not anywhere nearby. The door opened and it became very apparent he was NOT happy. Over the next few minutes, much of what was said was in a condenscending tone. This was becoming pretty common because he is eight years older than me so naturally, I am the idiot.
I started to cry (as usual) and pleaded with him to understand that I didn't feel any threat. It was so innocent; I thought I was safe. Should I have locked the door? Sure. Did I think it would end up with us in a massive fight? No. I never for a second thought I was committing the crime of the century.
Over the next 24 hours, I was an emotional mess. I was first told by him, "You WANT the other men to come in, don't you?" which was then followed by the silent, angry treatment. This stage means no discussion but lots of huffing and puffing, stomping, doors slamming, and just general disdain for me. We went to sleep in different beds. The next morning was worse, much to my surprise. I thought by sleeping on it and calming down, he would see things from my side.
He did not. He left the room in a huff. I couldn't take it anymore—I had to get out of that room, too. I left and took a walk before we were supposed to start working on the project together that morning. I saw his car on the street perpendicular to the one I was on. My heart stopped. He pulled up, parked the car, and walked towards me with so much hate in his eyes. He said, "Kiersten, you're sick." I was devastated. How could he perceive me this way??!?! How could he think that I purposefully left the door unlocked because I wanted other men to come in? That's just not me. It's never been me. I'm a rape survivor, for crying out loud!
I told him I was going to look for flights home. I was a mess. That morning was one of the worst days of my life. I'm sure I looked like I'd not slept yet I had to keep it together to do the job I was there to do. We went to work and sometime during the day he came to me and said he didn't want me to leave. I felt relief but also fear. I was now walking on massive egg shells. I wanted so desperately for it all to just go away. After things calmed down, I literally just blocked it from my mind. Something I didn't realize I knew how to do.
In my old life, this same scenario would have been handled like this, if at all: "Kiers, hey, so I know you probably feel pretty safe in this building, but maybe we should lock the door just in case." I would have responded, "You know, you're right. Better to be safe. I'll do that from now on." End of story.
What I've come to realize about this incident and so many more is that it mimicked the abuse I endured as a kid. While I wasn't sexually abused, I was being emotionally abused and chastised. And what did I do? I did everyting I could to please him and plead with him, admitting it was all my fault for not locking the door. I felt so ashamed and wondered if maybe, subconsciously, I was wanting men to come in like he was saying but I didn't realize it. My physical body was giving me different signals. I was sick to my stomach (upper stomach where your power center/solar plexus resides) with the inner knowing I am not who he was suggesting me to be nor was I looking for attention.
Was it Little Kiersten groundhog day? I sure as hell didn't want to think that. I just wanted to swallow the blame and move on to the happy, Facebook-postable days that I knew would come if I just kept my head down and let him work through his anger. I was the idiot who didn't turn the lock, afterall.
For years, I would hear comments from him about me not using the correct lock, or "I sure as hell hope that when I'm not there, you lock the f*ing door."
Looking back, I should have left Chicago right then and there. I found a flight but I didn't leave because I didn't understand what was happening to me. All I knew was that I loved him and I hurt him, and I wanted to make it all OK.
I continued to take the blame over and over again, just like I did unknowingly as a child. It was so strange to be in a situation like this because the Kiersten I knew wouldn't put up with abuse. Even when the guys at the CNC shop tried to pull one over on me regarding pricing, I would call them out. And when I was on the TV show Shark Tank, I stood up to producers and Sharks when they tried to get me to do things that went against what I knew was right. I truly couldn't understand why I felt compelled to keep trying to please him and to immediately feel ashamed. I'm happy to report the subconscious repetitive patterning stops here.
Let's just say if the pattern was a dorm room, I've shut the door on it, LOCKED it, and burned down the whole damn thing.