I have a reliable and simple plan for gaining and maintaining your sanity. I call it the No Contact Rule. This was not my idea nor did I implement it for myself, but I have become a firm believer in its effectiveness.
Sounds like I am recommending it but not using it? (Do as I say not as I do.) Well, not quite…
It was not my idea in that there were many articles that I read declaring this to be the only way to handle the post-divorce situation with a narcissist. Actually, it was the only way I could handle the pre-divorce situation as well, but I will get to that in a bit. It was also not my idea in that it was very strongly suggested that I do this. Actually just shy of demanded by people who cared about me, but the point is this: I could not have implemented it on my own.
Name calling seems to be a common means by which narcissists like to keep their victims in line. This form of attack is an attempt to invalidate you. My former husband was no exception to this tendency. While calling someone mean is not technically name calling, this was a pet adjective of his. If I did not let him have his way, I was mean. If I did not respond the way he was hoping I would, I was mean. If I spoke the truth, even in love, to him, I was mean. I was mean a lot. Whether it was this constant negative feedback I received, or my upbringing, or my belief that all attempts to communicate should be responded to, the no contact rule did indeed feel mean.
It was very hard for me to do this. When I left and went to my parents, I talked to him every day. I even stayed on the phone with him when he drove home from work and walked into the house alone for the first time. I cried with him. I stayed on the phone for at least two hours and talked to him many times on the way up. With this constant stream of communication, I was allowing my marionette strings to stretch 900 miles. I still lived in fear of his reaction, tried to appease his anger and make him as happy as I could without actually coming back home. I rode the roller coaster of each day’s emotions. When he was up, I was up. When he was down, so was I. This roller coaster went up and down daily. It was draining me and I was emotionally and physically exhausted.
My family told me, my friends told me, my counselor advised me: cut off communication. But it felt so mean, I couldn’t do it. A month or so after being gone, I finally got to the point where I was able to. It was the second most difficult decision I had made up until that point. The first was leaving. I look back now and thank God for the persistence and patience of the people who loved me and for the wisdom he gave them. I can say this without any uncertainty. If I had not followed this rule I would still be in my cage. And I would be so much worse off. I shudder to think of how bad things would be now.
I fell. I broke the rule. I couldn’t keep it sometimes. But through persistence and insistence, my friends and family would not let me get away with it. They were patient but firm. Here is why. If you were under the control of a narcissist you are in danger for a long time of going back to your former way of thinking. I will be honest, as much as I hate it, I am still not completely out of the woods yet. I still have those tendencies to switch back to my old way of thinking sometimes. There are times I recognize it for myself, but sometimes I need to have it pointed out to me.
You cannot get away from the toxicity of an abuser by staying in contact with them. You just can’t. But sometimes communication is necessary, especially when there are kids involved. This is where email comes in. Email gives you time. Time to think. Time to respond. Time to think about your response and revise as necessary. Email is perfect. But communication is not always necessary. For instance, not all communication needs to be responded to. Another trick in the abuser’s arsenal, falsely exaggerated issues that require “immediate” response, unnecessary details and desperate attempts to keep the lines of communication open, these are all tactics to get you talking and off your guard. They are attempts to get you back under their control.
There is a way to get around this as well. My friend who is quite tech savvy came up with a solution. He changed a setting in my gmail account so that I did not receive any of my former husband’s emails. They all went to him and my dad. From them, only necessary information that I needed to respond to was passed on. I was saved all the rants, love-bombing, and Jekyll/Hyde abuse. They would not even tell me what he said, not the good, bad or the ugly. Just business. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for this.
Like an addict in a rehab facility I was completely cut off from my “drug.” My only withdrawal symptom was worry. I was worried about making him angrier. Over time that faded and was replaced by the knowledge that he did not actually possess the power that I felt so long imprisoned by. This rule was the key to my freedom.
They have now started forwarding the emails to me. This helps them continue to keep tabs on his communication and I always check my responses with somebody. It is a two point check system and a safety net.
If you research this you will find this moratorium on communication advised over and over again. I am not saying it is easy. It was quite hard in fact. Regardless of the abuse, the hold they have on you is very real. Have a friend who is abused? Implement this for them. Insist. Compel. Do whatever you can to help buffer them from the continued abuse because near or far it is still abuse. They will need you to be strong for them.
Abused? You need to do this. It is not mean. It is not unkind. You need to protect yourself and heal. You cannot get healing while you are still surrounded by the cloud of toxicity this abuser exudes.
Implement the No Contact Rule. You will be so glad you did.