If you have been reading my essays for a while, you know that a year ago this month I had my name legally changed back to the original issue. I thought about it for a long time and struggled with the typical question of having a different last name than my children, but finally decided that if I were to ever get remarried, it would be different anyway. I had my married last name for almost 27 years and my entire professional life was connected to it, as well as my personal identity. Interestingly enough, I was not the least bit uneasy about changing it once I finally made the decision and when the judge granted my petition, I felt almost reborn. The more C.C. continued to push, control, threaten, intimidate and otherwise detract from my life, the easier it got to de-identify with that name. Not only was I removing myself from him, I was removing myself from being correlated to his father’s family… a joy in itself, I assure you.
We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be.
The only problem is that there is so much other stuff, typically fixations with how people perceive us, how to get more of the things that we think will make us happy, and with keeping our weight down. So the real issue is, how do we gently stop being who we aren’t?
The divorce and name change were only the beginning of finding my identity. For my entire adult life, I had been ‘his’ wife and then my daughters’ mother. More than just the typical identity crisis experienced when overwhelmed by motherhood, the abused partner spends so much time living for the abuser, trying to anticipate his or her every need and whim, that the core of who you are becomes deeply hidden. I know that over the years my dreams and desires became completely voided by the need to put his first… not out of a sense of martyrdom or love, mind you, but out of a need for survival. If he wasn’t “happy” then the abuse increased.
My Identity Became Completely And Inextricably Linked To His
In reality, my identity is extremely different from what I put on as the front for my life. I became very serious and somewhat hardened, while still friendly and typically of good humor. I lived on the defensive all the time, and took many things personally that were not meant that way. I am naturally outgoing and generous, but I sometimes overcompensated for my situation by being overtalkative or too generous, wanting someone to reinforce me as a human. On the rare occasion when I would open up to friends about the reality of my life, such as in my Emmaus Reunion Group, I quickly became ashamed of my emotional honesty, and felt as though I was burdening them. I worried constantly about what other people thought of me, not because I have a big ego, but because I wanted someone, anyone(!), to value and approve of me.
The horrible dance of abuse with a malignant narcissist and sociopath meant that anytime I received acknowledgement or accolades or achieved something in my life, it was immediately dismantled by him then forgotten. How in the world do you not remember when your spouse has received the distinction of being an invited trainer for a regional convention, speaking to over 700 people? Is it really forgettable when your spouse is profiled in a major market newspaper for running an excellent assisted living facility for the elderly, and is interviewed on local radio because of it? Isn’t it supposed to be part of the deal to cheer for your partner when they are up and console them when they are down? Not for the narcissistic abuser! Nothing I ever did was “good enough” and anything I did “wrong” was treated like the book of Revelation had come to pass.
The Perfect Mask
It’s also very hard to deal with the pretty front the abuser puts on for others in order to hide their real identity. People think they know who he/she is, when in reality, they don’t have a clue. C.C.’s co-workers and “friends” see a guy who volunteers for things and seems to have a good sense of humor. They never see his darkness or the terror he can wield over those he controls. They have never seen him throw a large power tool across the yard because he made a mistake while building the children’s playhouse or seen him put his fist through a wall in the garage. They have never had to sit with their infant wondering if he will actually come home after getting angry about something minor and squealing out of the driveway for the 20th time like a rebellious teenager. They have never been belittled or mocked by him, or had him tell them how horrible they make his life. They have never suffered the embarrassment of having to make excuses to leave a much-anticipated party because he was too angry and selfish to be there. In fact, many people who think they know him have likely never heard him say a cross word to anyone.
This is where narcissistic/sociopathic abusers absolutely excel. They are phenomenal actors for the outside world in order to cover for their hideous behavior toward those they are supposed to love and protect. The fact that they put so very much energy into fooling outsiders is what makes them even more dangerous. Do you know how much work it is to put on an act all day, every day, in order to keep up appearances? It would almost be easier if he was just a jackass toward everybody. An abuser typically will not behave badly in public because no one else has to tolerate it. The abuser’s family, though, is expected to suck it up. Think about this: would your boss put up with you for long if you called them names or made fun of their vocabulary or called them fat and unattractive? How long do you think “friends” would hang around if you did nothing but dump on them all the time, use them for whatever you could get, then get angry when they didn’t deliver on something you think they should do for you? Do you think you’d be a very popular person if a friend came to you with a dire problem and you responded, “Same shit for 20 years, Bob”?
Once the Narcissist Discards People
When C.C. got sick of his job at Federated Systems Group, where he had gotten his start in information technology, he went looking for another job. He had done decently at FSG, for the most part, but was impatient and just didn’t like anything in his life. When he landed a job at General Electric, it was a step up in both pay and technical responsibility and I was excited for him. I decided it might be fun to have a little cocktail party and invite co-workers from FSG in addition to what few friends we actually had to celebrate this professional move. Know how many people came? Zero.
While at FSG my ex worked with a lovely girl named Helen who was from England and was living in the US with her husband and young son. I really enjoyed talking to her and we mused about things like the differences in language. Like how she would instruct her son to put on his “trousers” while her husband said “pants”. When Helen received my party invitation, she called me and was her typical friendly but honest self. She wanted to know why my then-husband was “being such a prick to everyone in the department”. “Everyone is ready to tell him to sod off because he’s being such a complete aaaahshole.”
Turns out, he had begun treating people he worked with like garbage, being rude and angry the whole time he was at work and she was the only one with the backbone to say anything about it. Seems he got full of himself when he landed that new job and developed a short-timer’s attitude, thinking there would be no repercussions. Well, he didn’t keep any “friends” from that job and I cancelled the party, making some dumb excuse to get everybody off the hook. Was I surprised that he acted that way? Not even a tiny bit. It is typical of him in that when he feels he has no further use for you, or if he reaches a point of being unhappy/angry at his job, all bets and social graces are off. I never heard from any of them again, either. I was “the prick’s wife”.
Reclaim Your Identity!
Identity is something that many people struggle with at some time in their lives. Survivors of abuse lose themselves in the identity of the abuser as a means to survive daily living, then we must go through the painful process of learning who we are once we have liberated ourselves from the abuse. It is a process that many people cannot complete on the first, second or sometimes multiple tries and we end up sucked back into the abuser’s world.
Not this time for me, though. I am Aubrey… I am loving, smart, kind, generous, friendly, warm, and many other adjectives that he never allowed me to entertain. I am no longer “his” anything… except survivor.