It’s time again for “Dear Wendy Updates,” a feature where people I’ve given advice to in the past let us know whether they followed the advice and how they’re doing now. Today we hear from “Muted Voice,” a woman who wrote in nearly ten years ago (!) asking how to tell her husband of twenty years how deeply unhappy she was. He was verbally abusive, he never helped with childcare or domestic chores, and she was ready to leave the marriage – she even had an apartment picked out to move into – but didn’t know how to do it. “I have a history of not standing up for myself and I have tried a few sessions of counseling, but can’t get past whatever block is inside my mouth, throat, or head. I’ve read somewhere about cognitive therapy for assertiveness and have been researching therapists in my area (hey, it’s a step in the right direction), but I’d really like to hear from you and your readers about how they may have extracted themselves from similar situations.”
Ten years later, find out whether she was ever able to extract herself from this unhappy marriage.
My son and I are both in therapy, and we’re 800 miles away from a man who is truly a narcissist (undiagnosed, of course – he doesn’t see the point of therapy). We are communicating via e-mail only (which is one of the boundaries I set and am maintaining a hard line on).
There is no more love there for him. Emotionally, I am truly and permanently done. There are still details to work out, and I am still on anti-depressants as well as on anti-anxiety meds when needed for panic attacks (caused by his outbursts). But the really good news is that I’m beginning to feel happiness again! I’m starting to see how much my confidence had suffered and my self-esteem was non-existent. I managed to get up the courage to run with my son, and we are now surrounded by family and friends and lots of love.
I’m beginning to actually look forward to the rest of my life. I know I stayed way too long (and am working through this with my therapist). I just wanted your readers to know that if they are in similar circumstances, there is still hope. There is life after some pretty horrible verbal/emotional abuse. And you might be surprised that your friends are just waiting to hear from you and will rejoice with you when you get out. I have reconnected with many friends over the past month.
Anyway, thank you for being there for me then, and please keep up the great work you do to help people! You’re awesome!
I’m so so glad you were able to leave your abusive, unhappy marriage and get yourself and your son to a safe place. How wonderful that you’re reaching out to old friends, are getting therapy, and have access to medication that works for you! I’m celebrating your new beginning and really touched you shared this with me; thank you. Wishing you many good things on your path forward.
If you’re someone I’ve given advice to in the past, I’d love to hear from you, too. Email me at [email protected] with a link to the original post, and let me know whether you followed the advice and how you’re doing now.
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ktfran June 29, 2021, 10:28 am
Oh, this update made me tear up. I’m so happy for you LW and I’m glad you finally found the courage to leave and make a new life for yourself. Good luck on your future happiness!!
Don’t ever beat yourself up for not leaving sooner. I’m sure it’s hard. You needed to do it on your time and when you were comfortable doing so.
LadyClegane June 29, 2021, 12:53 pm
I’m really happy to hear this update from OP. I hope her family’s life only continues to improve.
I have kind of a broader question this update made me think about that I’m hoping some of you can help me with. I have heard a lot of questions to advice columns in the last I would say five years or maybe even decade that diagnose somebody as a narcissist, psychopath, Etc. This feels like a new thing to me. Is it? Why do we do it?
I’m being serious and not at all sarcastic here. I’m wondering what the value is in these diagnoses. Isn’t it enough to just think someone is a jerk or impossible or too angry or whatever and respond accordingly? I’m genuinely curious about whether others think this clinical language is on the rise in layman’s conversations and what the reason/benefit might be? I get us talking about mental health/wellness/etc with somewhat greater comfort nowadays, but armchair diagnosing others isn’t that. Or maybe I’m imagining this is a broader trend?
Kate June 29, 2021, 1:33 pm
I think because there are markers of narcissistic or psychopathic behavior, narcissists and psychopaths won’t usually get a diagnosis, but they prey on other people, and it’s important for people to know if they might be dealing with a narcissist or sociopath so they can take the right actions to protect themselves.
Kate June 29, 2021, 1:35 pm
These conditions are WAY different than being “angry” or a “jerk” in terms of their danger to you and how you deal with them.
Kate June 29, 2021, 1:57 pm
And, final thought, if the psych community was able to come out and say Donald Trump was a malignant narcissist based on their observations of his behavior, and the media had taken this seriously in 2015/16, we could have avoided 5 years of abuse. The media was treating him like “a jerk,” but he was much more dangerous.
LadyClegane June 29, 2021, 2:39 pm
My point is that in my opinion thinking about someone’s actions and how they make you feel is more important than diagnosing them with something sprcific, but the culture seems to be trending another way and I wonder why, particularly when the average person doesn’t have a good handle on exactly how such diagnoses are made. I’m wondering why this seems to be the way we (I feel) HAVE to talk about people rather than just being accepting we don’t agree with their behaviors.
Obviously I was being reductive by saying jerk/angry to save time. And I don’t know how we got to trump so I’m not even touching that.
Kate June 29, 2021, 3:09 pm
Respectfully, I disagree. I think if someone’s a psychopath, it’s very important to be aware of what you might be dealing with. And I think it’s totally okay for someone’s therapist to be like, look, this person sounds like a narcissist or sociopath, and here’s how you should think about them and deal with them. Because they are completely different from a regular person who might be an asshole.
anon4this June 30, 2021, 8:39 am
I agree wholeheartedly with Kate. When my therapist discussed what her guess at a diagnosis would be for my ex, I took that to heart. She was right that divorcing him was WAY more difficult than divorcing your average garden variety ‘assh*le.’ It also prompted me to take great care with my personal safety. Her warnings turned out to be warranted and I’m grateful for her ‘non’ diagnosis.
When leaving someone like this, I had to be aware the effect the narcissistic injury would be. It was defcon 5 level bad. When he got all stalkery with my therapist (?!?), she straight up said he was the worst she’d seen in 30 years of practice. I was and am forever grateful for her warning.
(Ethical therapists are not allowed to diagnose folks they can’t evaluate and one huge trait of narcissists is they refuse therapy and diagnosis).
CZ June 29, 2021, 3:17 pm
We now have fairly precise measures of different types of mental illnesses. When you can look at a psychiatric checklist of abnormal behaviors and see that you or someone you know has many of the same behaviors, this knowledge gives you power. You can now make choices based on actual knowledge not just general terms like “jerk” or a “bad person” or “has a bad temper”. Knowledge IS power.
Miel June 29, 2021, 3:20 pm
On one hand, there is a lot of armchair diagnosing, and and the vast majority of those “diagnoses” are probably wrong since actual antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder are very rare within the population.
On the other hand, it seems like all sorts of behaviors that were seen as somehow “acceptable” in the past are now being discussed more frankly, which is helpful. So people being emotionally distant, doing “the silent treatment”, people lashing out, calling out names, being controlling, lovebombing, “hot-and-cold”, passive-agressive, gaslighting… All these things are being talked about more and instead of saying “well, all relationships need work and if you love your partner enough you should put up with it”, we say “that’s BS! You deserve better! MOA!”
Which is great, but I feel like as we examine those bad behaviors, we start finding similarities and patterns, and diagnoses that explain things… even if those diagnoses are wrong.
Noticing “my husband gets into a rage when I point out he was wrong about something” could just be an anxious attachment style combined with an upbringing where rage and anger were modeled, but it’s also a symptom of narcissistic personality disorder… Well, either way, you don’t deserve to be treated this way, your husband needs therapy, and receiving support from people who have been in the same situation probably feels great. It’s just that “victims of NPD” is more easily googled than to say “I know NPD is very rare so instead here’s a list of things my husband has done in the past, anybody relates?”
LadyClegane June 29, 2021, 6:20 pm
LisforLeslie June 30, 2021, 6:39 am
I respectfully disagree that these conditions are rare. You’re talking about diagnosed by a therapist versus the total population. That requires a person to actually visit with a therapist, repeatedly, in order to confirm a diagnoses. And people with these conditions do not believe they need therapy, especially those with NPD, because that would imply they are not perfect.
When we start to talk about our experiences and see the patterns we can see that people aren’t that unique and these traits are on a spectrum. Is everyone who shows a narcissistic trait a narcissist? No. And certainly malignant narcissism like TFG who can’t for one minute accept he lost the election because “he doesn’t lose” is rare. But knowing that you’re not crazy – that these behaviors can be classified, categorized and shown to be part of a larger pattern helps people frame the issue and apply proven methods to defuse, distract and extract themselves.
Hazel June 29, 2021, 3:46 pm
So very glad you escaped in the end and had friends waiting for you to reconnect. Wishing you all good things for the future. Eventually this will fade and other things will become far more important, you will I hope not live in the shade of the past for long.
Muted Voice June 29, 2021, 7:59 pm
Hi, original poster here. My husband engaged in the long game. At times flattering me, and other times calling me horrible names. I never knew what I’d be greeted with any day. I could never do enough for him, I could never be enough for him, and when he started treating our son like a slave and calling him names, I knew it was time to get out. My thoughts and feelings never mattered. He’d ask me my opinion on something, and if it didn’t match his, he’d tell me all the reasons I was wrong, calling me stupid. But God forbid if he were ever proven wrong in anything.
“Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.” (Mayo Clinic definition).
My husband had no compassion for anybody. He never took responsibility for anything that went wrong in his life, in our marriage, or with his jobs. Everything was always someone else’s fault. His behavior cost him several jobs, several clients when he started his own business, and then it cost him our marriage. But if you were to talk to him, everything in our marriage was my fault. His business didn’t work out because I refused to quit my job and help him with the business. One day I was a wonderful mother, the next day I was an awful mother.
From everything I’ve read, narcissism stems from abuse and/or neglect during childhood, and believe me, I’ve been doing a ton of research in the past 5 weeks. He had a horrible childhood, a horrible mother, and while I can be sad for the little boy, I can no longer be all there is for the man he became. I spent 27 years of my life trying to be a better wife and a better mother. He refuses therapy because, in his opinion, it is an utter waste of time. He has alienated everybody who ever cared for him and anybody who ever loved him. But he sees no problems with his actions.
The Dear Wendy community has been helpful to me during my struggle, and I so appreciate it. I lived the past 10 years in a state of anxiety and fear. Just coming and reading about the struggles of others, and some of the amazing advice you folks give has helped me to finally find my voice. I am no longer muted, and my son and I are both being treated by professionals for PTSD. So thank you everyone, and thank you Wendy especially.
LisforLeslie June 30, 2021, 6:45 am
I’m glad that you’re in a better place now. It’s clear you’ve started your research and can see the patterns and techniques meant to keep you on your toes, off balance and disoriented as a means of control.
Remember you have one tool in your arsenal that scares the crap out of your ex: you know who he really is. You know that behind that facade is a scared & hurt little boy. Because you were together for so long, you know things that he let slip in the vulnerable moments. I’m not saying to use that as a weapon, but it probably keeps him up at night.
MaterialsGirl June 30, 2021, 11:23 am
I’m so happy that you left. It’s really hard, but as someone who also was formerly married to a person as you describe your exhusband, I know how difficult extracting yourself from the mind game is.
Best wishes to you as you heal