Austin was an outgoing, happy, athletic, and personable young man. He spent some time in Argentina on a break from his university studies. Once back at home, he met an Argentine girl, Marcia, on Facebook--through mutual friends. They hit it off. They spent countless hours on the phone. The online relationship seemed a little intense and he started to feel somewhat suffocating. After a while, Austin decided to break up with Marcia; but then, on a trip to Argentina the following summer, they met up and decided to pursue the relationship. She told him how much she had been hurt that he had broken up with her previously and he felt like he owed it to her to give her chance. He was infatuated with her and was very flattered that she wanted and needed his help. He returned to the United States and the relationship progressed very quickly. They video chatted for hours each day. They started discussing the possibility of marriage. Marcia convinced him that she couldn’t stand to live in Argentina anymore and that she wanted to come to the United States and be with him.
In October, Marcia came to the U.S. on a student visa to learn English and to be with Austin. Their relationship, which was somewhat contentious from the beginning, became more intense as they now spent all their free time together. Austin assured his family that he and Marcia just wanted to get to know each other better in person. However, within weeks, they announced their intent to be married. His family was quite worried. The relationship didn’t seem right and had moved too fast. Something seemed off. Austin did not seem happy. His pre-existing manageable depression had become much worse. His normal, happy, easy-going personality was completely changed. He was failing his classes and even admitted to having suicidal thoughts. His parents talked him into withdrawing from school, so that they could bring him home, hoping he would heal and get a break from the relationship. However, just a week after he came home, Marcia convinced him that she needed to be with him, so Austin bought her a ticket to join him at home over the holidays. During this time, Austin did everything he could to make things work with Marcia. However, he constantly felt torn between pleasing Marcia and just relaxing with his family. Austin confided in his family that he saw several red flags and that the relationship would probably not work out.
Picking Up Speed
The relationship moves very quickly. Proclamations of deep feelings and desires for exclusivity or a label follow. It can feel overwhelming, but also incredibly romantic and flattering. You’re constantly texting and talking to one another; it’s like you can’t get enough! The relationship feels intense, but you excuse it because it’s love – or so you think.
After Christmas, he tried desperately to get some space from Marcia and move into a different apartment further away from her. However, she insisted that he move into an apartment with a private room right across the street from her apartment. When he resisted, she became upset, extremely sick and suicidal. She told him that she needed him to be closer to her in order to take care of her. He relented and took the apartment against his own will, against the advice of his family, and against his better judgement. Because he had a private room, she practically moved into his apartment and spent all of her time with him. He was unable to get any break from her without offending her and making her angry.
Whenever he would try to slow things down or attempt to break up, she would appeal to his empathetic nature and make him feel terribly guilty. She constantly had “nightmares” that he would abandon her, after which she would cry all day and make him promise to never leave her and to always take care of her. Austin, who was naive, trusting, and sincerely wanted to help this girl , couldn’t seem to get out of the relationship. The dynamic she had created by coming to the U.S. without friends or family, made Austin feel completely responsible for her every need. He did not know how to leave her without becoming an awful, horrible person. What decent man would abandon a helpless girl in a foreign country? He was trapped.
Austin tried to break up with Marcia on multiple occasions. But because of intense feelings of guilt and fear, he felt unable to end the relationship. Marcia had made him feel completely responsible for her well-being and convinced him that he would be a terrible person if he left her. He also feared her anger, retaliation, and punishments. He was caught in a vicious abuse cycle and saw no way out. Their fights escalated. He was embarrassed to talk about the fights to anyone because he saw how unhealthy the relationship was and felt humiliated that he was allowing the abuse to continue. As long as he did exactly what she wanted, there was peace. But if he did anything that upset her, a huge fight would ensue. He became desperate to avoid her fights at any cost. The fights left him completely exhausted, defeated, alone and extremely depressed.
No Space Allowed
At first, it’s sweet how protective they are of you and how they get a little jealous of the idea of you with anyone else. But then the protectiveness and subtle jealousies turn into possessiveness. They start to get paranoid, and they begin to require that you are always accessible. Any time that they text or call you, they expect you to answer right away. They’re always questioning your whereabouts, who you were with, and what you did. They make excuses to justify their mistrust or dislike of a classmate, friend, or family member. They rationalize their behavior by claiming that they worry about you and are concerned for your safety. The intensity of the relationship starts to feel more like smothering, with your partner growing more and more attached. In the process, you begin to slowly lose touch with friends and family, and the relationship becomes overwhelming and exhausting.
Upset that he kept on postponing marriage and realizing that her constant threats were losing their effectiveness, their fights escalated and Marcia continued to threaten to leave him. Austin started to feel some hope that things would end. However, these threats were only a ruse to assert more control over Austin. Marcia had no intention of leaving Austin. She desperately wanted him to marry her. She had been pressuring him into marriage ever since they met. As he tried to create more space and draw some boundaries, Marcia feared that things were not going as planned and that Austin wanted out of the relationship. At this point, she became pregnant. However, before she knew that she was pregnant, she confided in Austin that even if they decided to break up, that she still really wanted a baby to take back to Argentina with her. To Austin's utter dismay, her pregnancy test came back positive! This put Austin into a depressive tailspin. He was absolutely distraught. After finding out that she was pregnant, Marcia admitted to Austin that, deep down in her heart, this (the pregnancy) was what she wanted all along.
Now that she was pregnant, Austin decided that he had no choice but to marry her. So, he contacted his family and they started to plan a low-key wedding. However, unbeknownst to his family, the relationship continued to deteriorate and the fights became increasingly violent. They would yell and scream at each other. During these fights, Marcia would often stand in the doorway and not allow him to leave. If he tried to leave, she would threaten to call the police, either threatening to charge him with abuse or telling him he wasn't mentally stable and that she had to intervene for his own safety. The fights were constant. When he ignored her or didn’t answer her accusations and questions, she would often slap or hit him. At the end of these fights, he usually was left sobbing in fetal position or hitting his head against a wall.
She kept him under constant surveillance. If he wasn’t with her physically, he had to check in with her constantly on his phone. If he didn’t respond to her texts within 10 minutes, she would start questioning him and accuse him of being unfaithful. She always checked his phone when he returned home to see who he had texted, called or messaged. She used her pregnancy and the baby as a tool to completely control him. It didn’t matter that he had no money, she expected him to pay for her schooling, her housing, her food, her clothing, and everything else she wanted. If he resisted, she accused him of being heartless and not meeting her needs and the needs of his unborn baby. She informed him that he owed her an especially expensive engagement ring because he had once broken up with her and hurt her feelings. He ended up over $10,000 in debt because he gave into all her demands and had lost all his strength to resist her. He reached an all-time low. His family was extremely worried and tried desperately to reach out to him, but whenever she found out that he had communicated with them, she punished him severely. So, out of necessity, he continued to stay isolated from his family and friends.
Invasion of Privacy is a Sign of Emotional Abuse
Spying, snooping, or requiring constant disclosure. A controlling partner typically feels that they have the right to know more than they actually do. Whether they keep their snooping secret or openly demand that you must share everything with them, it is a violation of boundaries from the get-go. Perhaps he or she checks your phone, logs into your email, or constantly tracks your Internet history, and then justifies this by saying they've been burned before, have trust issues, or the old standard: "If you're not doing anything wrong, then you shouldn't mind showing me." It's a violation of your privacy, hand-in-hand with the unsettling message that they have no interest in trusting you and instead want to take on a police-like presence within your relationship.
Marcia was extremely jealous and constantly monitored and controlled all his communication: his texts, his emails, all his social media, his phone calls, and even his browsing history on his computer. She often went to work and class with him to make sure he didn’t look at any girls. When she noticed that he had looked at a girl in Biology class, she refused to let him attend that class without her. He stopped going and almost failed. She wouldn’t allow him to study on campus for fear that he would talk to girls. She incessantly suspected him of wanting to cheat on her and if he looked at a girl, she would punish him by throwing things at him, hitting him, yelling at him and guilt-tripping him. She berated, threatened, accused him, and made him feel worthless.
At times, his family would try to reach him through email or text. They expressed love and concern for him with a hope that he would see how toxic this relationship was for both of them. Marcia intercepted these messages and became furious, which would result in more fighting. She punished him by making him feel like a terrible person for having contact with his family. She expressed hatred and anger towards his parents and siblings. At one point, during a fight, she took his family picture off the wall and tore most of their faces out of the picture. She often told him that she wished she could punch each of them in the face. It got to the point where he would pretend to hate his family in order to appease her anger and avoid any contention. In order to avoid these awful fights, he stopped responding to his family’s texts, emails, and phone calls.
Cutting you off from friends and family
This can happen so slowly that you almost don't notice it. An abuser knows that friends and family aren't as emotionally invested in this relationship as you are and will try to talk you out of it. The objective is to make you feel alone and dependent on your abuser.
This often comes in the disguise of "wanting to spend more time together, just the two of us." The abuser will disparage all of your friends with cutting remarks about them, trying to make you question your relationships.
Controlling Victims with Threats
Abusers know no bounds when they emotionally abuse their targets. They reach into their arsenal of tactics to keep us bound to their abusive ways. One such tactic is the use of threats.
And not just any threat. Abusers know just what will make us react. Many abusers use the manipulation tool of threatening suicide or self-harm to keep us tethered to them.
Marcia constantly threatened Austin. She threatened to leave and never let him see the baby,. She threatened multiple times to abort the baby, to place the baby for adoption, to call the police and have him arrested, and to commit suicide. At one point, she held a knife to her wrist, threatening to kill herself. She also sat on the balcony and threatened to jump, saying that the fall would most likely abort the baby and that he would be at fault. She also continuously threatened to break up with him, but never did. Austin felt completely trapped, like there was no way out. He often fantasized about running away and just disappearing from all contact. He also repeatedly thought about escape through suicide.
As the fights continued to escalate, Austin 's depression continued to worsen. At the end of these fights, he became so distraught that he felt the need to dull the emotional pain by hurting himself physically. He often banged his head against walls and furniture. His intent was to become unconscious, hoping to wake up and find that the nightmare would be over. He often slapped his face over and over, and would even demand that Marcia slap him because he felt like he deserved even more pain. After these episodes, the inside of his mouth would be injured and bloody. At one point, after a fight, he punched concrete so hard that he broke his hand and needed surgery. Being a collegiate athlete, this ended his ability to compete that season. He started getting sick from the stress. He lost weight--more than 30 lbs. He sunk into a deep depression. He was having more and more thoughts about ending it all and committing suicide. He felt trapped in the relationship and didn’t know how to get out.
Victims can develop powerful bonds with their abusers. Some signs are: 1) believing that being treated badly is normal 2) fighting all the time with no resolution 3) complaining about spouses, but defending them in public 4) loss of free will (knowing it’s important to leave, but being unwilling to make any changes) 5) being in love with fantasy and not facing reality 6) continued attempts to change an abusive spouse with no significant results.
- Constantly criticizing what you do, say, or look like
- Shaming or blaming you for your behavior, either subtly or implicitly
- Calling you names — even when you ask them to stop
- Humiliating you at home and in public
- Threatening you or those you care for if you don’t do what they want
- Threatening to hurt themself if you don’t do what they want
- Using ultimatums to get you to do or say what they want
- On the flip side, withholding communication or affection from you if you don’t do what they want (e.g., giving you the silent treatment)
- Logging into your email, phone, or social media profiles without your permission
- Discouraging you from spending time with other people, going to work or school, or other necessary appointments
- Controlling your finances or other assets
- Deflecting blame or their responsibility for any of the above actions, leaving you to feel like you’re the one at fault (aka, gaslighting)
Things finally got so bad, that he realized that marriage was not an option. Five days before the scheduled wedding, he postponed it and never rescheduled. His first break happened when she decided that she wanted to return to Argentina for the summer to be with her family and to have the baby at home. She had told all of her friends in Argentina that she and Austin were already married. Marcia decided that Austin should accompany her to Argentina as soon as school was out and that he would stay down there for a while, pretending to be married to her, and then return to the states and earn money for them until he returned to Argentina in the fall. This plan worried everyone who knew Austin ...his family, his religious leaders, his counselors, and his friends. Everyone felt like he should not go down to Argentina . There was a real concern that he may not return. There was also a good possibility that he might commit suicide, given his serious depressive episodes. Even Austin was worried, for a good reason: Marcia had repeatedly joked about tying him down and not letting him return to the U.S.
He realized that he needed to get out of this relationship. As much as cared about this child, he saw that this relationship would be a terrible situation for a baby. He knew that it would be better to not marry and break up; than to marry, have an abusive and violent marriage, and then divorce. He called and told his family that he wanted to end the relationship and that he did not want to go down to Argentina . His family was relieved that he had finally reached out to them. However, Marcia checked Austin's phone that evening and found out that he had talked to his family and had then deleted the call log. The fact that he had called home enraged her and a fight ensued. He called his parents during the fight, not knowing what to do. Marcia was furious with Austin and started hitting him, giving him a black eye. As she was attacking him, Austin pushed her away in self-defense. She accused him of hurting herself and the baby. Austin was sobbing, not knowing what to do. One of Austin’s sisters stopped by his apartment and tried to help him, but her presence set Marcia off again. Marcia threatened to punch her. Marcia also told Austin that if his sister didn’t leave, that she would become so upset that she might have a miscarriage. After Austin calmed Marcia down and sent his sister away, Marcia made him promise once again that he would never abandon her and that he would go down to Argentina with her. She told him that it was his duty as a father of the child. Austin gave into Marcia's demands and threats. He told his sister that he was sorry, but that he had to go to Argentina .
At this point, his family felt like they had no choice but to intervene. They saw that Austin was being forced, against his will, to stay in the relationship and to travel to Argentina . Austin and Marcia's flights to Argentina were scheduled for a Monday evening. On Sunday, Austin's other sister stopped by his apartment to check on him. She was very worried about Austin’s safety and mental state and feared that he could become suicidal with the way things had been escalating. When she arrived at his apartment in the morning, Austin and Marcia were already in an argument. Marcia was enraged that Austin's sister was in the apartment. Austin tried to calm Marcia down and appease her. Because it was impossible to get a message to Austin without going through Marcia, his sister spoke to him in Dutch (his family is fluent in Dutch). She told him how much his family loves him and that they were here to help. Hearing Dutch, Marcia became irate because she was excluded from the exchange. She yelled at Austin ’s sister and told her to leave. When both Austin and his sister tried to leave, Marcia pulled Austin back into the apartment and tried to push his sister out. However, his sister made it back in and sat on the sofa reassuring Austin that she was not going to leave. At this point, Marcia assaulted Austin ’s sister, hitting her on the side of her head and scratching her. Austin , frantic at seeing Marcia hit his sister, pulled Marcia off of his sister. This, however, made Marcia even more upset, and she accused Austin of being abusive and threatened to call the police. Austin , feeling crazed, manic, and distraught, was unable to control himself. He went into the other room and started punching holes in walls and destroying furniture. He then ran out the door, barefoot, into traffic on the street. His sister followed him out the door and called 911. The police arrived and Austin was taken to the hospital and was committed to the psychiatric unit. The hospital doctors saw his black eye (given to him by Marcia the previous day) and realized the seriousness of the abuse. He was admitted to the hospital, kept in isolation, and then transferred to a different hospital with a psychiatric unit.
A Narcissistic Abuser will Make Everyone Think that the Victim is the Crazy One
While the abuser appears to be calm, charming and likeable, the victim that he or she has psychologically abused and violated over a period of time may appear emotional, erratic or unhinged due to the effects of trauma.
Narcissists and those with antisocial traits learn from a very young age to mimic the emotions they need to fulfill their agendas; they present a very innocent, compelling false mask to the world, duping even the most experienced members of law enforcement and the court systems. This means they can show displays of empathy, remorse, and pity ploys to convince the court systems that they are the innocent party or that they acted out of intentions that were not entirely malicious.
Being admitted to the hospital was the break that Austin needed. His former confusion and anxiety turned into overwhelming relief at finally being separated from Marcia. While in the hospital, Austin talked with his family and asked that all communication from Marcia be blocked. He was so scared of the fights, the punishment, the control, and of having more depressive episodes, and realized that it was necessary to cut off all communication. He found that any communication from Marcia caused him to have major anxiety attacks. Because of this, his entire family blocked all communication with Marcia, except for texts with his sister.
Austin has had very little contact with Marcia since she returned to Argentina . However, he has come across hundreds of messages sent through every possible means of communication. He found messages on all his email and all his social media accounts. She sent voice recordings of herself crying. While he was in the hospital, she went to his apartment and wrote notes and hid them all over his belongings: taping them to the inside of his toiletries and clothes, writing on his toothbrush, writing with marker on towels and other belongings, and spraying her perfume all over certain items. In these messages, she continuously begged him to join her in Argentina , told him how much she loved him, told him how angry she was with him, told him how much she hated his family, accused him of abandonment, accused his family of controlling him, threatened legal action if he didn’t start paying money right away, and threatened to never let him see this baby, etc.
Austin was severely traumatized from this abusive relationship and felt it necessary to cut off contact with Marcia for a period of time in order to heal. He encouraged Marcia to place their child for adoption. He was worried about his child and wanted what was best for her. His greatest wish was for this baby to be raised by loving, mentally stable parents; a mother and father, who could offer her a better life. However, Marcia was adamantly against adoption. Austin is, of course, very sad about the situation. Because he cannot have direct contact with Marcia for a while, he realizes that he will only be able to have limited contact with his child for several years. Since Marcia and the baby live in Argentina and since Marcia refuses to relinquish any of her parenting control to Austin, the most he can do for the time being is to help support his daughter financially. It is a difficult, complicated, and sad situation. However, Austin hopes that he will be able to establish a close relationship with his daughter when she is a little older (and perhaps even get joint custody). He has a Brazilian family-law lawyer who will help him to regain his paternal rights. In the meantime, he is healing and very relieved to no longer be trapped in the nightmarish relationship with Marcia. He once again is able to feel joy and hopes for a bright future, both for himself and his daughter.
Why We Establish No Contact in the Context of Abusive Relationships
We establish No Contact for a number of reasons, including preserving a healthy mind and spirit after the ending of a toxic, unhealthy or abusive relationship or friendship. No Contact gives trauma bonds, bonds which are created during intense emotional experiences, time to heal from abusive relationships. If we remain in constant contact with the toxic person, we will only reinvigorate these trauma bonds and form new ones. No Contact also gives us time to grieve and heal from the ending of an unhealthy relationship or friendship without reentering it.
Most of all, we establish No Contact so that toxic people like malignant narcissists can’t use hovering or post-breakup triangulation techniques to win us back over. By establishing No Contact, we essentially remove ourselves from being a source of supply in what is clearly a non-reciprocal, dysfunctional relationship.