3 Steps for Leaving Jerkface

You’re getting there. You’ve started to see that Jerkface isn’t a normal person with a normal heart. It feels like their relationship with you is a game, a lie, a selfish arrangement. You wonder if they’ve lied to you just to keep you trapped in their web. And you may finally have had enough.

Congratulations. You’re getting ready to take your life back. And this post is here to help. The leaving part is easy when you have the below three things in place. But these must be in place before you pick a date, or you risk being pulled back into the evil.

These steps are less about the tactics of finding an apartment and financial 101, and more about the emotional preparation you’ll need in order to get out and never go back. 

Step 1: Understand Jerkface will never be sorry or care about you the way you need to be cared about.

They’re not just selfish, or controlling, or demanding (though they certainly may be those things too) – they’re ABUSIVE and they’re never going to change for you.

Once you can acknowledge that at their core, a Jerkface is content to be a Jerkface and has no intentions of being a real partner, you stop trying to do the impossible and change them through your love and kindness.

You decide there are better ways to live your life and share your gifts. You’re done.

Step 2: Understand that you don’t owe Jerkface an explanation or even a warning that you’re leaving forever

Even though you’re done, you may think Jerkface at least deserves to know that you’re leaving them or possibly even to know why. They don’t. They don’t deserve anything from you. For once, this is about you. This is about you taking your life back.

Jerkface has proven that they do not have your best interests at heart, that they will cajole, lie, promise, threaten to make sure you never get what you need.

Why bring this person in on this decision, when they’ve shown their top priority is to sabotage it?

The day I left Jerkface, I left my apartment as if I were going to work, but instead I went to my parents’ house and waited until I knew he would have left for work. Then the great escape happened. I didn’t give him a single sign that I was done. I didn’t call him, or hint, or tell his brother. I simply left him a note.

I knew from years of horrible experience that trying to explain myself resulted in three things: 1) me crying, 2) me coming back, 3) me apologizing to him, and I was done with those things.

When regular (non-abusive, non-narcisisstic) people wrong you, of course you try to work it out with them. Those people care about you and coming to a shared agreement. Jerkface does not, cannot, will not do that.

Pretending that is possible is harmful to you. You must put yourself first. You must protect yourself and your mission of having a happy life. Talking to Jerkface about why you’re leaving puts your ability to leave at risk. They will use your discussion to twist everything around so that you end up staying and even apologizing.

Oh, and by the way, once Jerkface knew I was actually, truly done with him, he didn’t even care that I had left him. Once he knew the usual tricks and lies would be lost on me, the mask came off and I saw how little he had ever cared for me — if at all. The first time I talked to him on the phone after I’d left, all he said was, “Ok, so we’re getting a divorce now?”

Step 3: A support system so that you never go back.

If this one has you in despair, don’t worry. Maybe you’re an introvert. Maybe your Jerkface has alienated you from your friends and family. Maybe you don’t have a job. But you need some sort of support system, and it doesn’t have to be massive. Start with Twitter communities, shelters, hotlines, books. Something. Anything so you understand three things: 1) you’re not alone, 2) you will get over Jerkface, 3) other people have done this and so can you.

Maybe your support system is just a set of rules and activities: no contact, applying for jobs, getting on Twitter, journaling.

Maybe you have friends who can take you in. Maybe you have a good job and can find your own place. The point is, there are so many ways to successfully leave Jerkface and never go back. You just need to be honest with yourself about weak spots and get in front of them before Jerkface does.

Here are some great posts that can help you leave Jerkface forever:

Books to Get You Through: The Empath’s Survival Guide from Divorcing a Narcissist

The Abusive Marriage – What Happened to Me? from Backbone Power

No Contact Absolute and What It Means – Leaving a Narcissist Family and the Life You Once Knew from No Contact Survivor

A Moment that Changed Me: Having the Courage to Leave an Abusive Relationship from The Guardian

Readers who have left abusers: please comment and share if you’re so inclined. Your experience can help someone get their life back!

What “You don’t deserve this” really means

When I was with Jerkface, people would often say to me, “Oh, honey, you just don’t deserve to be treated that way.” On the surface, that made sense, but for some reason, I stayed with Jerkface and let him abuse me for years. It took me many more years to realize that in order to stay with someone like that, somewhere inside I believed that being treated that way was exactly what I deserved. 

Now that it’s been almost 10 years since I’ve been married to a normal, non-abusive man, I think I may be able to clear this up for those of you who hear those words, understand them, but still have no idea how — or if it’s even possible–to escape the abuse.

When people say you don’t deserve to be treated that way what they really mean is that most people do not treat other people the way that a Jerkface treats you.

It is hard to believe, especially if you grew up where you were abused by siblings, or parents, or teachers. Or all of the above. But it really is true.

There are those of us who grew up with abuse at home (or church, or school, or all of the above) but still want to be in loving relationships. And there are others who grew up with abuse who went to the dark side and are looking for people like us to treat badly. These people literally test us out to see what we will put up with. But when they try these tricks on people who know they don’t deserve it, they don’t get very far. 

For those of us who don’t understand there’s an alternative to abusive behavior, it can be hard to believe there are people out there who simply will not stand for it.

After a bad first date, they’ll never see that person again. If someone insults them, they won’t try to understand why. Instead of deciding this damaged person needs their love and assistance, they decide it’s just not worth their time.

When we grew up being treated badly, we had to work with it. We had no choice.  However awful, that was our home, that was our family. We had to find a way to try to cope. We looked for a way to fix it.  We tried to find a way to rationalize it away.

These behaviors that serve us well as children, that help us cope and get through a bad situation, do not help us when we’re older. They hurt us.

Abusers give off signals. If you are not used to being treated badly or have learned that you don’t deserve to be treated badly, you’ll say, “I’ve seen this before, and I’m just not interested.” But if you haven’t worked through your past, this behavior will seem normal to you. You think, “Oh, I’ve done this before. I know how to work with this. I may even be able to help this person.”

We actually believe that it is our job in life to contend with people like this, to try to make things better for them, maybe even to fix them.

Believe it or not, most people do not put up with this crap. Healthy people see that behavior, and they just aren’t interested. Their first thought is that the problem lies with the abuser, not that the abuser is their problem to fix.

A healthy relationship is not a project. A relationship is something that gives you good things. A relationship adds to your life, instead of bringing you heartache or a lifetime of trying to change who you are, how you talk, or how you dress in the hopes that Jerkface will stop treating you badly.

So when people say, “You don’t deserve to be treated that way,” it’s a very simplistic / glib way to say, “This is not what a relationship is about.” And as someone who used to dismiss that because it just didn’t make sense to me, let me say that it really is true.

There really are people who want a relationship that doesn’t revolve around hurting you. 

If you’ve never experienced a relationship like this, you can absolutely be forgiven for not believing that you don’t deserve the abuse. If you’ve never experienced anything other than abuse, how would you know?

But please do believe me. It doesn’t have to be like this, and for so many people (even people who have been abused for years) it isn’t like this anymore. Join us on the other side. It’s much better here!

You might like these other posts, too:

Newsflash: Abuse isn’t logical.

But I can’t leave! I still love my Jerkface!

Stop being nice to Jerkfaces

I’ve written before that a Jerkface is playing by different rules than you are. You can sum it up in a single sentence: You’re trying to make something work and they’re trying to win. In this model, you are guaranteed to lose.

The very rules you’re playing by are rigging the game in Jerkface’s favor. 

When you’re dealing with someone like this (narcissistic, abusive) you need to set aside your common decency. You need to forget everything you’ve learned about being a loving human, including that people deserve to understand where you’re coming from and that they need to be treated with kindness.

If you’re concerned about being a cruel person, consider this: When you are in a relationship with a Jerkface YOU ARE UNDER ATTACK and you need to respond as such. This is not a relationship of equals. You do not have the same goals. Therefore your rules need to change as well.

For example: If you’re ready to leave Jerkface? Don’t tell them. Afraid of what they might do? Don’t admit it. Does something they do make you feel particularly bad? Definitely don’t tell them about that, because instead of doing it less, I promise you they will do it more. Especially when you are feeling your worst.

They will trot out all of your confessions and use them against you to make you feel worthless. Particularly when you need some comforting.

If you’ve never known any different, which was the case with me, it is hard to understand that this dance of abuse does not qualify as a true relationship. Believe it or not, in a real relationship, when you tell your partner to please not do something or that you are sad because of something they did, that person will not use these things against you or do the things you dislike even more.

I know I’ve said this before but: This is not okay. This is not normal. This is abuse. You’re probably a very nice person who thinks that everyone deserves a chance and that if you just love Jerkface enough you can fix them.

There is no fixing someone who does not think they are broken. There is no healing someone who enjoys causing you pain. 

If someone were to attack you on the street, would you say, “Oh, I’m so sorry, can we talk about why you’re doing this to me?” No. You would run, scream, or fight back. The abuse you suffer from Jerkface is the same thing. You are under attack by someone who professes to love you. In a way, this is so much worse.

At least the mugger or rapist on the street isn’t pretending to be your partner.

You need to set your niceness aside with Jerkface. It’s putting you in harm’s way. You need to put yourself and your well-being first, even if it is the first time in your life you have ever done this. If you need to get out, leave when they are at work.

Do not try to come to an agreement. Do not try to get them to understand your side. Those things will never, ever happen.

All they will do is talk you into staying yet again and use the fact that you dared try to leave as ammunition for the rest of your time together. They’ll never let you forget it. If you leave Jerkface (and of course I recommend that you do), get out and don’t ever come back. And don’t ever feel bad about it, either. 

You might also like:

But I can’t leave! I still love my Jerkface!

Newsflash: Abuse isn’t logical.

Is there life after Jerkface?

I HATE that I still think about Jerkface. It’s so much less than it used to be when we were married, but still…all these years later and there he is in my brain…Jerkface. Right now I am so angry at the years I threw away to be with that man – the money, friends, and opportunity I discarded because they didn’t fit into his crazy plan for our miserable little life together.

There are moments I suppose I will probably replay in my head, over and over again, for the rest of my life, trying to make some sense of what he said, trying to understand how I let it happen.

Sometimes I imagine myself shaking my head in pity and disgust and simply walking out as I should have done, as I wished I could have done but instead cried and begged forgiveness from him. Sometimes I dream that I escape while he is napping, or at work, or at his expensive week-long baseball camp that he was allowed to go on while I was tormented for wanting to see a friend without him for an hour or two. Sometimes I imagine disappearing into a stranger’s house while on vacation in Hawaii and telling them my husband is an abuser and then changing my name and living there in paradise forever. Without him.

Most days I don’t think of him. Most days I am too busy with my own real life, where I have the pleasure of “normal” problems like a dirty kitchen floor, a too-short haircut, or a sick dog. Those of us who were or are partners with abusers know – these run-of-the mill frustrations, annoyances, disappointments are a luxury.

On some level we understand that life can be hard and painful but abuse is something entirely different. It’s not normal. It’s not ok. It’s not just a disagreement.

We will probably be processing the trauma of our abusive incidents for some time still, but the further away we get from it, the less space it will occupy.When I first left Jerkface, I thought about him daily. After having been Jerkface-free for more than a decade, I now go weeks or even months without doing so.

I try not to judge myself for still needing to process what happened to me. But I still do wonder, what if…

As with meditation, I allow the thought to be there, I try not to indulge or deny. I let it happen and I move on. I think about what I should wear tomorrow, what I need to buy at the grocery story, who I need to call back. And when I step outside myself, I see how far I’ve come.

SUMMARY:

Most of the time I am a regular person with too much to do and too little time to do it and I forget that the way I feel now, the life I now live, was once a goal and a dream that seemed almost unattainable. Jerkface may still occupy a tiny space in my head, but he can never take what I now have away from me.

You might also like:

Why couples therapy won’t help (AKA – abuse is not a “relationship” problem)

Newsflash: Abuse isn’t logical.

 

 

But I can’t leave! I still love my Jerkface!

Every time I left Jerkface,  I was still in love with him. I know how hard it is to leave when you’re still in love with your abuser. Yes, being with him or her makes you feel sad, small, unappreciated, scared, and ugly – and maybe there are physical bruises too – but being away from Jerkface somehow hurts even more! How is this possible?

Enter the trauma bond, and yes, it’s as bad as it sounds.

According to this powerful post What Abusers Hope We Never Learn About Trauma Bonding, trauma bonding “…happens when you feel emotionally and physically dependent upon a dominant partner – who dishes out abuse and rewards so you believe that he’s all-powerful.”

With a Jerkface, your relationship isn’t built on mutual trust, respect, and enjoyment. It’s built on power and control, and guess what – Jerkface has both of those. Over time and a series of exchanges, you and Jerkface have agreed to a sort of crappy dance routine that goes like this:

  1. Jerkface treats you like garbage with their signature abuse style (verbal, financial, physical, some sort of combo)
  2. You protest to the degree you are able to/unafraid to
  3. Jerkface rewrites reality (gaslighting) and projects onto you (YOU’RE the abuser for complaining about being abused!)
  4. You feel crazy and bad so you apologize
  5. Jerkface rewards you (pick your poison: hot sex, a fancy dinner, confessions that s/he could never love anyone but you, jewelry, an ENTIRE day where they’re just so damn nice to you for once…)

The problem with this, besides that it completely sucks, is that it’s a sort of addictive cycle, especially for those of us who grew up in families where this seems normal.

The pain can seem to enhance the pleasure. The lows make the highs feel so much higher. But that’s an illusion. The bad times hurt so much that little crumbs of good times just feel SO GOOD in comparison. But you haven’t suddenly figured out how to make Jerkface happy. You’ve been starved for kindness. And Jerkface is just performing the next part of their evil dance routine and s/he loves that you fall for it EVERY.SINGLE.TIME.

You see, the “good times” are an essential part of the abuse.  I’m going to repeat that and be really obnoxious about it by screaming in allcaps now: THE GOOD TIMES ARE PART OF THE ABUSE. If there were no good times at all, almost no one would sign up for a relationship where you don’t keep your money or your friends or your favorite foods or clothes. If there were no good times, who would stay with someone who accuses them of being a liar and a whore and a stupid loser?

Without the honeymoon period of the abusive cycle, there would be no bond, only trauma. The good times create the bond – and that’s what makes it hard to leave.

Good times with your abuser doesn’t mean you’ve finally broken through and are going to live happily ever after. With a Jerkface, good times only mean one thing: bad times are just around the corner.

I know it hurts to think you’re being played, but it could be the one thing that helps you leave Jerkface for good. Real love doesn’t hurt like this. I know you feel like you can’t live without him or her, but you can. By the way, Jerkface doesn’t deserve a heads-up or a nice little chat to get on the same page (you will NEVER win that discussion and it will be used against you). If you have no resources or if you have kids and can’t just leave, reach out to your local domestic violence shelter.

SUMMARY: If leaving Jerkface seems impossible, blame the trauma bond – then GET OUT ANYWAY. The combination of abuse + reward creates an addictive, harmful cycle that can be hard to beat. But you can get out by focusing on facts, not feelings. You can still feel like you love Jerkface but leave because you love yourself more.

Related: No one else has to like it or understand it

Different bad is still bad.

In a rush? Jump down to the summary at the end.

Maybe you were with a Jerkface a few years ago, and s/he thought it was their business to monitor the clothes you wore and the friends you were “allowed” to hang out with. And even though it sometimes seemed impossible, eventually you freed yourself from that prison, maybe even moved to a new city, got a new job, and started over.

Then you met someone who loved your clothes and your friends but thought you were perfect – if you just lost a few pounds.

What an improvement! You can wear what you want, stay out with your friends, but just maybe don’t have seconds tonight. And maybe no beer when you go out. That’s doable, right?

Now when you get home from a night out with the besties, you’re greeted with “I love that dress, babe. But doesn’t it feel a little tight? I mean, you still look good but you know how much I love when your (whatever body part they pick on) looks (however they want it to look).”

On date night you start to order an appetizer, and you get a subtle little headshake from the lover and you think – Oh yeah, I probably shouldn’t. Or maybe a cute young thing walks by and your beloved says something like “Hey honey, s/he looks like you used to look 10 pounds ago, right?”

You get your nerve up and you finally start to question your sweetie, or tell them this stuff about your body makes you feel bad. But instead of saying “Oh, sorry – I won’t do that ever again.” (normal, non-abusive response) they tell you that you’re too sensitive. Or you don’t appreciate their help. Or (one of my favorites) you are the one who’s mean.

And eventually, whether it takes 5 minutes or a week – YOU end up apologizing.

Worst of all, instead of changing their behavior – THEY START DOING IT MORE OFTEN. (See my other post on how abusers use your pain to hurt you more.) What’s going on here? Plain and simple – your sweetie is a Jerkface. Maybe they aren’t possessive, and they never yell, and they wouldn’t dream of raising a hand to you. But abuse is abuse. You’re still being treated as less than a person. Your relationship is based on an unfair power dynamic.

When it comes down to it, you still don’t have permission to ask for what you want and need in this relationship.

My first Jerkface (narcissist) controlled almost everything – my money, my looks, my words, and even how I held my fork – with a cool, calculated, and terrifying calmness. My second and last Jerkface (rageaholic) didn’t give a crap about those things but used rage and violence related to social situations so that eventually I was terrified to do anything outside of the house together. Completely different “approaches” but the net result was the same: abuse and control.

I felt like a total chump once I admitted to myself I’d chosen another of these toxic people but it did me no good to feel sorry for myself, and it certainly wasn’t ok to settle for a different flavor of abuse. It’s not ok for you, either, by the way.

I know it seems like everyone is a jerk in some way, and you’re already with this one, so might as well get comfy or go to counseling or whatever we tell ourselves short of deciding we really deserve better. It took me 5 years to leave Jerkface #2, so I wasn’t good at that leaving thing, obviously. Between the two of those abusers, I completely threw away my whole second decade.

Instead of building my career, or traveling the world, my 20s were the 10 years I chose to let two different people terrify, belittle, and torment me.

I’m not smarter than you, I didn’t have a great childhood, or money, or anything special – except some friends who helped me leave. If I can do it, you can do it. Really. If you’re still with Jerkface, just leave.

SUMMARY: Chocolate and vanilla seem really different, but they’re both ice cream. If you’re lactose intolerant, they’ll both make you sick. Same with Jerkfaces – just because one doesn’t yell, or doesn’t control your spending – doesn’t mean they aren’t abusive. Abuse is abuse, whether you’re old, young, gay, straight, bi, male, female, transitioning, rich, or poor. And you don’t deserve it.

Related: Myth: Relationships are HARD.

 

The worst things Jerkface ever said to me.

One night shortly after I left Jerkface for good, I was sitting alone in my dark little apartment in the fog belt of San Francisco, and I actually missed him. Why? Who the heck knows, although I suppose it was a bit of Stockholm Syndrome. I was appalled and bewildered because I had fought so hard to free myself from the hell of our marriage and had been thoroughly enjoying coming home after work and oh, just listening to music (shocking) or eating whatever I damn well wanted (gasp!) instead of hearing his voice, smooth with faux concern, slowly and systematically destroy me and what I knew to be real.

There was no way I was going to allow myself to go back to him in a dangerous moment of weakness.

So I made a Jerkface candy jar. What’s that, you ask? The idea was that any time I dared think of going back to him, I would make myself grab a strip of paper from that jar, remember an abusive episode, and deal with the reality of how this man treated me while we were together. And so I sat there cutting little strips of paper and writing every single horrible thing he’d ever said to me.

The only good thing about that candy jar was the sweetness of getting my life back and keeping it that way. To enjoy that sweetness, I had to create a painful, bitter record of the hate and destruction Jerkface brought to my life through his most dangerous weapon: his words.

Every time I thought I was done, more memories would surface, and I’d keep writing and folding and writing and folding.

I wrote for hours. I cut more strips. And finally, I had a horrifying archive of emotional abuse that was my marriage. For the next few months, whenever that illogical feeling of missing him would well up, I’d grab a strip (sometimes two or three), read something shocking, cry or shake my head or both, and realize I had saved my own life by leaving him.

Let me share three of my favorites:

  1. “If you look pretty, I’ll tell you. You don’t want me to lie and say you look pretty every time you think I look nice, do you? Honesty is important in a marriage.”
  2. “Oh that’s weird, look what happens when I squeeze your thigh. Do all women get these dimples, or is that just you?”
  3. “Just because you’re sick with the flu doesn’t mean I need to be up all night. Go sleep in the bathroom.”

Reading his words out of context, in my own writing, made me see them as the abuse they were.

It was easier to confront the abuse in the form of pen on paper because I wasn’t being confused by the masterful Jerkface spin, but honestly it was still traumatic. With even just four days since having seen him I’d reset my tolerance level enough that his words sounded really crazy and unhinged.

Summary: Getting to that realization – that Jerkface is the crazy one, not you – is critical. Do it however you need to. Leaving an abuser doesn’t need to be perfect. No one else needs to like it or understand it (read this post for more on that subject). You don’t need to love your new room or apartment (though I’m guessing you will love not being treated like garbage). You just need to believe no one gets to talk to you like that anymore – no matter how much they try to convince you otherwise.

***

Additional reading: Newsflash: Abuse isn’t logical.