Bodies in the Basement Blog Series: Recovery

The majority of fellow survivors I’ve spoken with are parents. Of the ones who have left their abusive relationship, many report the same abusive behaviors continuing even long after the divorce is final. The abuser simply takes a different approach and attempts to use the cover of “best for the children” or, worse, uses communications about the children as a way to control, harass, argue or otherwise abuse the former partner. Somewhere in the mix, parents end up wanting to “win”, but in different ways.

The abuser looks at “winning” as a punishment to the former partner who finally had the strength to end the relationship. The abused partner can fall into several categories, which my observation has been can occur in stages. I’ve seen friends go through the “if you do this, then you won’t see your kids” stage or the “if he doesn’t pay me, he’s insane if he thinks I’m letting him have visitation”. You might know some of them, too, or have been one. This is punishment thinking and leads to absolutely nothing but pain for you and for your children. Fortunately, I have never felt that way and simply take my cues from my children about what kind of relationship they want to have with their father. I have great confidence in my own parenting and in my daughters’ ability to see, over time, who their father really is. I worried myself half nuts for the first year or so, trying to “get” him to be more proactive in his parenting, but he was never interested in more than just scratching the surface and it just gave him excuses to call me “controlling”.

Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths.
When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.
– Arnold Schwarzeneggar

The abuser looks at “winning” in a whole different way; through the eyes of a narcissist. From a great article titled Co-Parenting, Narcissism and Emotional Abuse of Children During and After Divorce, by Deesha Philyaw:

The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism

  • Shamelessness –Shame is the feeling that lurks beneath all unhealthy narcissism and the ability to process shame in healthy ways.


  • Magical thinking – Narcissists see themselves as perfect using distortion and illusion known as magical thinking. They also use projection to dump shame on others.


  • Arrogance – A narcissist who is feeling deflated may reinflate by diminishing, debasing or degrading someone else.


  • Envy – A narcissist may secure a sense of superiority in the face of another person’s ability by using contempt to minimize the other person.


  • Entitlement – Narcissists hold unreasonable expectations of particularly favorable treatment and automatic compliance because they consider themselves special. Any failure to comply will be considered an attack on their superiority and the perpetrator is considered to be a “difficult” person. Defiance of their will is a narcissistic injury that can trigger narcissistic rage.


  • Exploitation – Can take many forms but always involves the exploitation of others without regard for their feelings or interests. Often the other is in a subservient position where resistance would be difficult or impossible. Sometimes the subservience is not so much real as assumed.


  • Bad boundaries – Narcissists do not recognize that they have boundaries and that others are separate and are not extensions of themselves. Others either exist to meet their needs or may as well not exist at all. Those who provide narcissistic supply to the narcissist will be treated as if they are part of the narcissist and be expected to live up to that. In the mind of a narcissist, there is no boundary between self and others.


A friend asked me what is the worst possible outcome of the Contempt Action my ex-husband has filed against me in his effort at abuse-by-court. I answered that it would cost my children and me some money. Big deal. Does it take away anything important from me or my wonderful daughters? NO! It does not take away our wonderful relationship, our safety, our happiness, our growth or our sense of peace. It does not undo the things I’ve accomplished or suddenly leave me without all my amazing friends and family. It doesn’t make one iota of difference in the brightness of our future. We would lose positively nothing of any importance. However, one thing you can be sure of when dealing with a narcissist, if you give them enough rope, they will hang themselves with it one way or another.

What Is Game? What Is the Win?

Since sharing the truth with them, more friends have come out to me to tell me how their husbands figured out my ex’s game a long time ago. Most of these guys go to my church and I thought those were the ones he really had fooled! On the contrary, it seems the vast majority of them figured out his “using game” a while ago. I don’t mean any disrespect at all to the ones who are still attempting to be friends or at least friendly with him, because that is certainly their prerogative and I don’t fault them for it. I’m simply amazed that these people who I thought were completely buying his good guy act were absolutely not. Unfortunately, I fear it will only be a matter of time before the ones who are trying to still be friends with him will realize that they are simply being used, manipulated and pandered to in an effort to continue his narcissistic cover-up. I don’t want to see them hurt because they are truly good people.
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In any event, it seems that a lot of emotional abusers are the same kind of ultra-competitive personality as my ex-husband has always been. In fact, he can be so competitive and aggressive that my children purposely did not play any sports until after their father moved away because he was so hard on them. On one visit last year when my younger daughter was playing soccer, he got up from the sidelines and walked down to the end of the field and started pacing. I couldn’t figure out why. Then my older daughter said he commented that the coach “wasn’t doing his job”. It’s 8-year-old rec league, for heaven’s sake! As in, learning and having fun! It was the only game that I ever saw my daughter not have fun on the field.

Remember that when you are dealing with your abuser you will need to have a clear idea for yourself of what you consider a “winning” outcome. Revisit Check Your Motivations and Know What Drives You if you need to refresh on these ideas. In the meantime, remember to fight the right battles for the right reasons and in the right way. Don’t cause yourself more damage by getting sucked into the abuser’s game.

After all, haven’t you fought enough losing battles already? Know what “winning” really means to you and live it!

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Aubrey Cole

Aubrey Cole

I survived a quarter century of psychological, emotional, economic and sexual abuse. When I got out, I vowed to help others do the same and founded the Emotional Abuse Survivors Network project in 2012. Now, I offer hope and healing to others on their journey as they rediscover themselves. My forthcoming books, Bodies in the Basement and Define Winning, chronicle my experiences, escape, and recovery. There is nothing so special about me that others can't emerge and thrive.
Remember that when you are dealing with your abuser you will need to have a clear idea for yourself of what you consider a “winning” outcome.

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