abusive friendship

The pain of cutting even abusers from your life

The other day, I was reading a post on Jonsi’s blog–a new post, which is rare on her blog because she has been moving on from her own experiences with narcs, and her blog (unlike mine) is dedicated to the subject.  I came across this in the comments:

“…seems that most of you want to totally end the relationship with your parent.”

No, there’s not an AC on the face of this earth that WANTS to “totally end the relationship with (our) parent.” Permanent estrangement from a parent occurs after YEARS of attempting to remediate a relationship marked by an abusive, predatory, parasitic, demanding, manipulative “parent.”

After years of relentless exposure to an emotional and/or physical terrorist, the AC accepts REALITY. It is a long, painful process of letting go, moving on and recovering from the effects of growing up Cluster B Parented.

Estrangement does NOT come about because the parent “may” have made “a few mistakes.” We are born hard-wired to bond with our primary caretakers. –Tundra Woman, Blog Post Comment

A couple of things came to mind as I read this:

First, it explained why–even though I often witnessed or heard from Richard about Tracy’s abuse of her children–they still got so excited to see her after spending time at my house.

Here and in other places, I have read about children’s natural tendency to love their parents, even abusive ones.  Tundra Woman demonstrates how hard it is for children to grow up, realize they’ve been in abused in some way, and break away from the Stockholm Syndrome and the abusive parents.

Maybe some who have been severely traumatized can easily let go, but as I’ve seen on these abuse blogs, for many, it is a long, difficult process, with many attempts to change things.

It also explains why Tracy did not cut her own parents out of her life, even though her own abuse was learned at their hands.  When you do this, you’re left without a mother or a father.  No Mother’s Day.  No Father’s Day.  No one to rely on.

This also tells me that when Tracy thought a gauge of whether she abused her kids, was if they loved her, that her gauge was totally faulty.  Of COURSE they loved her.

That’s why they, too, will be in deep pain when they grow up, finally realize how she emotionally/psychologically/physically traumatized them, and break free.

And also when they remember how Richard could beat up small children and nearly choke the life out of one of them, and break free from him as well.

Second, it reminded me of my own friendship with Richard.  It may not be family, but friendship is still your “chosen family.”  I chose him as my brother.  I trusted him, and had no idea he was a narcissist and an extremely abusive, dangerous father.

As late as spring/summer 2010, I still thought he was a good guy and father–but that fall, he strangled his daughter.  I thought he was a beautiful person with a big heart–but no, he was reflecting myself back at me.  His true character was evil.

I had no idea his wife was a narcissistic borderline, not the kind who hurts you and then regrets it, but the kind who hurts you without remorse.  He was a special friend to me, my spiritual mentor, my best friend–but the reality of his character was hidden from me for years.

I never would’ve been so close to him if his character had been clear to me early on.

Even with a chosen family, it is a long, hard process to accept reality and let go.

I still, at times, wish that Richard were not a narcissist, that he would recognize what he’s done and repent at last.

I certainly did not WANT to totally cut him off from my life, but felt forced to because he was enabling Tracy’s abuses of me and others–and because she forbade any friendships with Richard which she did not approve.  (Yes, she was not only abusive, but extremely controlling and isolating.)

Also, over time, I began to realize how he himself had been emotionally and psychologically abusing me.

I also am a shy introvert with NVLD (sort of like Asperger’s), who is far from the family and friends I grew up with, and has trouble making new friends, so I often feel isolated–making the loss of any friend a tragedy.

I have new friends now, but none at the level of trust and sharing I was with Richard.  My old friends are like this, though, even if they are far away from me.

I thought I finally found that Best Friend right here in town with whom I could chat on the phone, see in person every week, watch movies with, rely on, help out.

Then he turned out to be a narcissist who never really cared about me, but only about what I could do for him, and discarded me because of his wife’s insane and irrational jealousy.

However, it is extremely frustrating to try to make new friends in this town, and then read on Facebook about parties they did not think to invite you to, or listen as they make plans right in front of you without asking you along.  It’s like high school all over again, and it’s frickin’ rude.

It also explains why it’s hard to let go emotionally from a friend, when you’re not exactly surrounded by alternatives in a town which has a reputation for being closed to outsiders.

So I still end up relying for emotional support and social time on friends who live an hour or more away, and all our family is even further.

I never regretted the loss of Tracy.  But as I review old posts to re-format them, check the links and stick the posts on the front page for new life, I remember how deeply I regretted losing Richard.

It is acute pain.  It is not easy.  Even when an abuser’s character becomes clear to you, whether biological or chosen family, you don’t WANT to give this person up.

This is why it’s so hard to break yourself of this person.  If it were easy, if there were no pain, there would be far fewer abuse blogs on the Net.

And one more lie from Wormtongue falls crashing to the ground (gaslighting)

I posted this on Facebook the other day.  I post it here as an example of how abusers gaslight you–but that you must not believe it:

Just had a Writer’s Club meeting on journaling/diaries. Also mentioned was the treasure trove of a deceased mother’s letters: both to and from people, because she saved drafts of the letters she wrote.

We were encouraged to keep journals of our lives, to save letters.

It was healing and affirming for me: I have saved journals and letters to/from people ever since I was a kid.

It’s a record of my life, a place to vent and sort out, a place to remember.

My letters to people record things I have done and thought, while letters from friends are to be treasured, not tossed out like trash. The letters are all part of the journal.

I am an introvert who needs to reflect.

I have always admired Laura Ingalls Wilder, but knew that I could not write memoirs like hers without keeping records.

I also want to have this record in case my memories fade in old age.

One day, my ex-friend Richard found out about this. So publicly on his blog, and then the next day in person, he called me “creepy” for saving all my letters. Tracy even made fun of me for it!

Then there was Shawn from college, who scolded me for keeping a diary. He said that important memories should not be written down. He also psychologically abused me, so I think these people were just scared of what might be in my journals.

As I heard today (and already knew), my archives/journals are perfectly normal–especially for writers–and encouraged. The saving of memories is considered valuable, whether for yourself or for posterity.

I must drain the poison of psychological abuse, not allow myself to take any of it to heart and spoil this wonderful thing I have always loved to do.

My friends said things like, “I do the same thing,” it’s beautiful to save letters/journals, who cares what other people think about what you do with your own life.  The president of the club wrote, “Nicely said, Nyssa.”

And THAT is what real friends say to you.  They encourage you, don’t try to tear you down.  Even if they criticize you, you can tell they have your best interests at heart.  Many times, good friends have criticized me, but they are still my friends, and I realize why they said what they did, even if I disagree.

Maybe once in a while a good friend has indeed been too harsh, but this was a rare event in a normally loving friendship, so I can let it go–and it does not repeat itself.

In the cases of Richard and Tracy, and Shawn, the “friendship” was abusive, so the attacks were repeated, whether covert (little things said or gestures that shake your confidence) or overt (rages, angry criticism).

It also demonstrates to me just how entrenched I was in Richard’s narcissistic web.

Somehow he had me so anxious to have his good opinion that when he’d gaslight me like this–tell me some normal behavior (for writers/introverts/NVLDers/Americans/Christians) was “creepy” or “wrong” or “offensive”–it would devastate me.

I would resist and feel the need to defend myself, while some small part of me would think, “What if he’s right?”

But right here is a perfect example that no, he’s NOT right.  That he did NOT have my best interests at heart, that he and Tracy were trying to warp my mind.

I post here so that others can see a real-life example of gaslighting, recognize it in their own lives, and resist the lies of Wormtongue.  Don’t let those lies hamper your resolve to get away from the abuse, or work their poison in your mind long after the abuser is gone.

For an excellent fictional example of what abusers do to your mind, see Lord of the Rings: Two Towers, and how Wormtongue spun a deceitful web around a king, until the king was emotionally crippled and unable to fight.  This is what your own abuser is doing to you, so slowly you don’t notice it.

Even now I sometimes feel the effects of all the Wormtongues I’ve encountered through the years.  But over time, their webs are disintegrating and falling away, leaving my mind clear and able to recognize what they were doing.

I no longer feel the need to defend myself in my mind against Richard and Tracy calling me “creepy” for saving my letters.  There is no need, because what they said was absolutely ridiculous.  If I could haul them in front of the Writer’s Club, they would get thoroughly chastised for spewing such rubbish.

Different kinds of abuse–same feelings: How Mark Driscoll reminds me of Tracy, Phil, and others

One reason why I read blogs and articles of all different kinds of abuse, is that I find the reactions of the abuse victims are the same everywhere.

Of course you’ll have differences here and there: Being molested by a parent is not the same as being psychologically manipulated by an ex-boyfriend, for example.

But everywhere you find the same common themes: loss of trust, hurt, pain, confusion, longing for the abuser to acknowledge the abuse and make up for it.

The other day, I read this account of narcissistic abuse and a smear campaign at Mars Hill Church:

My Story by Jonna Petry

Her husband was a pastor with the church for a time, until he was abandoned and smeared by Mark Driscoll.

In this and in other stories I’ve read about abuse at Mars Hill Church, I was struck all along by things that sounded very familiar, in my own experiences with narcissistic abuse, from exes (especially Phil) and from Richard and Tracy:

  • A person/place who at first seemed like God’s gift to you.
  • Pressure to conform.
  • Shunning someone you are told is bad.
  • Abuse and getting kicked out for questioning, disagreeing, speaking up about problems.
  • A person who throws tantrums and verbally abuses you for the slightest offenses, even when the offense is only in his own mind.
  • A smear campaign.
  • Others encouraged to shun you.
  • A kangaroo court in which you have no real chance to defend yourself.
  • Others put through the same abuse if they stick up for you.
  • A “conference” which is meant not to hear your side or your grievances, but to coerce you into agreeing that the abuse against you is justified.
  • A refusal of the abusers to admit they’ve done anything wrong.  As Driscoll and his henchman wrote to Jonna and her husband, “We still believe we have done nothing wrong.”
  • Begging others to help, but no one will.
  • Discovering this abuse is a pattern, that it neither began nor ended with you.

The hurt, pain and confusion as you long desperately for reconciliation:

In shock and heartbroken, Paul and I tried desperately that first half-year to bring about some level of reconciliation.

We so longed to be restored to our friends, to have our name and reputation exonerated, and to have peace in our relationships.

This had become our family that we loved and served and ministered to as our own dear children and as brothers and sisters. These were our dear friends.

How could they do this to us? Words do not adequately describe the shock, horror, betrayal, and rejection we felt. The weight of the loss was excruciating.

The PTSD and shaking of faith:

During this whole season since the firing and the months that followed, I was emotionally and spiritually devastated.

I was often tormented by fear. I had nightmares and imaginations of someone trying to physically harm Paul, me, and the children.

If Mark had had ecclesiastical power to burn Paul at the stake I believe he would have.

I literally slept in the fetal position for months. I stayed in bed a lot, bringing the children in bed with me to do their schoolwork.

I became severely depressed and could hardly bring myself to leave the house except when absolutely necessary. I cried nearly every day for well over a year thinking I must soon cry it out, right?

But, the sorrow was bottomless. My faith was gravely shaken. How could a loving God allow this?

Later it became clear that I had typical symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression and that these reactions were common in someone who has experienced spiritual abuse.

Spiritual abuse occurs when someone uses their power within a framework of spiritual belief or practice to satisfy their own needs at the expense of others. It is a breach of sacred trust.

Christians are commanded by Jesus to love one another. When that is projected, articulated, enjoyed and then treacherously betrayed, the wounded person is left with “a sense of having been raped, emotionally and spiritually” not by a stranger, but by someone who was deeply trusted. (See Recovering from Church Abuse by Len Hjalmarson)

At the beginning, Jonna wrote,

This past summer I saw the movie, “The Help,” and a seed of courage was planted in my soul. One of the last lines of the movie:

“God says we need to love our enemies. It hard to do.  But it can start by telling the truth. No one had ever asked me what it feel like to be me. Once I told the truth about that, I felt free.”

This story is an earnest attempt to speak the truth in love that freedom and new life may flourish.

At the end, she wrote things which encourage me to continue telling the story of Richard/Tracy–and express the same hope I hold, that one day my abusers will recognize their abuse and change:

In Acts, Chapter 20, the Apostle Paul pleaded with the Ephesian elders to pay attention and guard the flock.

This admonition, along with the mounting stories of abuse and misconduct coming out of Mars Hill Church, has added to our conviction.

We believe that to remain quiet now would be unloving and disobedient to God. As my husband stated earlier–if we fail to remember our history, we leave it for others to re-write. And, unfortunately, some of that has occurred.

And, in Mark’s own words from his book, Vintage Jesus:

“People are not perfect. As sinners we need to be gracious, patient, and merciful with one another just as God is with us or the church will spend all of its time doing nothing but having church discipline trials.

“It is worth stressing, however, that we cannot simply overlook an offense if doing so is motivated by our cowardice, fear of conflict, and/or lack of concern for someone and their sanctification.

“In the end, it is the glory of God, the reputation of Jesus, the well-being of the church, and the holiness of the individual that must outweigh any personal desires for a life of ease that avoids dealing with sin biblically.

“Sometimes God in his providential love for us allows us to be involved in dealing with another’s sin as part of our sanctification and growth. It is good for us and for the sinner, the church, and the reputation of the gospel if we respond willingly to the task God has set before us.”

What happened to us was very wrong. The way it was publicly described by Mark and the elders at the time was completely exaggerated and deceptive. The way the media and blogs have since reported on it has many holes and errors. Now it is open and plain to everyone.

If Mark and the organizations he leads do not change, I fear many more will be hurt, Mark and his family included.  To not speak is to not love or care and shows no thought or consideration for those who have been wounded and those who will be in the future.

We are witnesses. There is a pattern. There is a history. There is an ethos of authoritarianism and abuse.

Mark is the unquestioned head of Mars Hill Church and the Acts 29 Network. His elders have no way to hold him accountable. Those under him likely fear him and want to garner his favor so they don’t dare say nor do anything that might anger him. This is tragic.

Perhaps at some point, with enough outcry and exposure, Mark will come to his senses, own his harmful behavior, and get the help he needs to change. I hope so. Our common Enemy can make terrible use of our weaknesses and blind spots.

Our Lord’s harshest words were for leaders who used their status, power, the Scriptures, and God’s people for their own self-aggrandizement. Surely this is not what Mark meant to do.

We are all in this together, no matter what kind of abuse we suffered, or from whom.

We did not deserve it, and need to learn and remember this.  We need to put the responsibility for the abuse, and our subsequent hurt and pain, where it belongs–on the abuser–and take none for ourselves.

And we need to NOT look at each other and think, “I got it worse than you, so why should I bother with your story and pain?”

We also need to learn from each other, take courage from each other to speak up and tell our stories, and heal each other.

Cribbage, Richard’s ongoing legacy, and long live the Forum

We just got back from a cribbage tournament run by one of our friends here in town.  Fun, fun, even though I don’t know how to play, and just spectate.  But it’s social interaction, gets me out of the house.  Because yes, even introverts need to do that, though not as often as for extroverts.  😉

The trouble is, Hubby keeps fearing that our friend is a narcissist, and believes he sees the same patterns as with Richard and me, only now Hubby is the target.  But I knew this guy years ago, before we reconnected through Facebook several years ago; I don’t think he’s a narc.  I think that Hubby is just nervous of it all happening again.

But it shows how abusive friendships can scar you.  Even though Hubby wasn’t the target of the abuse, he still is jumpy, fearing that it’s happening all over again with somebody new.

Meanwhile, I keep looking for signs that it is NOT like that at all, because this is one of the people I opened up to about the Richard/Tracy drama, giving him their names, and I want to be able to trust this is a good, kind person.

I want to relax and enjoy the friendship, not keep this wall around myself that I built up back when everything blew up in July 2010.

Another bit of news: In my Richard/Tracy saga, you will find occasional references to the online “Forum” where we met, run by Todd.

This is not the real name of the forum, of course.  This forum has somehow been connected to some of the most significant events of this past decade for me:

I met Richard and Tracy there, I met Todd there, I posted my religious questions there, Richard led me to Orthodoxy, Richard moved his family to my town, then Tracy abused me and Richard betrayed me, leading to a spiritual emptiness and depression.

So yeah, that’s some big stuff there–and it all goes back to the Forum, because that’s where I met Richard.

Anyway, the Forum has been up since 2002, has gone through several incarnations (one of which Richard screwed up as vengeance to Todd), and yet it’s still around.

There aren’t that many people left there, but we’re this core group that just doesn’t want to let go of each other or the Forum.  Todd was going to shut it down, but discovered that it means too much to us, so it’s staying up.

Awwwwww, how sweet….

Fighting the Darkness: A little thing that made me almost tear up….

Richard once called me his “dear, sweet Nyssa,” so I called him “my dear, sweet [his old Forum handle].”  Back then we were still dear, close friends, or at least, he made me think so.  (Whether any of it was ever real, or just him playing me for narcissistic supply, I now seriously doubt.)  But it was a special name, held dear in my heart.

I have another Forum friend, made in 2011 when I needed support after the abusive friendship ended and I found out about Richard’s criminal case.  He came on the Forum during the couple of years I was away from it (2009?-2011).  Just now, in a comments thread on one of his many Facebook posts, he called me his “dear, sweet Nyssa.”

It caught me off-guard.  Now somebody else has called me this.

It was bittersweet: opening old wounds in one way, but healing in another…..

[Update: Unfortunately, this friend died during the first wave of COVID, in April 2020 while he was living in China and unable to get back home.]