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.

 

 

 

When someone tells you they’re a jerk – BELIEVE THEM.

You’re out on a dinner date, and s/he says with a magnetic smile, “Some people say I’m the jealous type, but I’m just really passionate when someone is as attractive as you are” and you smile back, thinking Oh, wow, they think I’m attractive. But really you should be having a hard time finishing your dinner because of the HUGE RED FLAG FREEBIE that Jerkface has just draped across the table.

When someone tells you they’re jealous, or weird about money, or crazily specific about how their partner should wear their hair, what is the appropriate response?

a) Think to yourself: Oh how sweet! They’re so honest and self-aware.

b) Start problem-solving because you are the one person who can fix this about them!

c) Get back on Tinder right after you cut this date short.

The only appropriate answer is “c.” For those of us who were groomed to answer “a” or “b” whether through family, or church, or even just society it can be hard to understand that a relationship does not equal a project. A relationship is not about “making it work,” or deciding you can deal with something. The right way to be in a relationship is to like and respect the life you have made for yourself and then select someone who will work just as fiercely as you have to protect that life.

A healthy relationship is about choosing a worthy, whole person who enhances what you already have and who you already are.

My Jerkface was certainly not going to do that for me. In fact, it seemed his goal in life was to systematically destroy everything I created for myself, including my personality. And he pretty much warned me that he was going to do this but I didn’t believe it. He gave me a frightening preview but instead of picking option C above, I picked B. Instead of thinking, This guy just told me that he will control who I see and what I wear, I thought, This guy’s last girlfriend did this to him, and I’m going to fix him with my unconditional love. 

That didn’t happen. What did happen was something you probably experienced yourself or are still experiencing now, if you’re here on this site. What happened is that I lost my friends, my career, and myself.

So how do you recognize when a jerk is telling you upfront that they’re a jerk? Listen for phrases like these:

My ex just didn’t understand me. But I can tell you’re different.

Some people think I’m an angry person, but really I just care so much.

I think that when two people really love each other, they don’t need anyone else.

I can already tell – the way we feel about each other is really special.

I‘ve always been really particular about how my dates look (or what they wear, or how they talk) – and I think you’re perfect. 

This isn’t sharing. This is testing. This is how Jerkface determines if you’ll be a willing victim.

Summary: Jerkfaces let you in on their dirty little secrets at first. Believe them when they tell you they’re going to be trouble. A normal date will consist of talking about favorite vacations, hobbies, pets, or life goals. Really. It won’t be Jerkface briefly taking down the narcissist’s mask, testing you, seeing if you’re going to be a good victim.  Decide in advance that you won’t be. 

***

Recommended reading:  spotting a narcissist on the first date. Also: Myth: Relationships are HARD.

Lies Jerkfaces tell to get you back.

Post too long? Just scroll down for the summary.

On this blog, I talk quite a bit about leaving Jerkface. What I don’t usually talk about is that I “left” him many times only to return to him, essentially volunteering for more of his crap, before truly leaving him. I even “left” for a month somewhere in the middle of our marriage and his biggest concern was that it was near the holidays and how he was he supposed to explain me not being there with his family at Christmas?

So why did I go back? Why do any of us go back? We aren’t wired to abuse others so we have an almost impossible time understanding the motivations of abusers. We can’t believe someone we love and who claims to love us would really not care that they’re hurting us.

When a Jerkface has lost control of you (e.g., when you leave), s/he is all about getting that control back. That means Jerkfaces will say or do pretty much anything to get you back in their clutches – including pretending to understand your pain, promising never to hurt you again, even volunteering to go to therapy.

What kind of a person has to promise (multiple times) not to treat you like garbage?

And there you are – exhausted little you with dark circles under your eyes, missing the sad little love crumbs Jerkface sometimes throws your way to keep you hanging on through all the crap they deal out – FINALLY hearing the words you’ve longed to hear. They gently brush your hair behind your ear, look into your eyes, and beg you, please baby, come home.

And you do, right? I did. Over and over. I went back. And it WAS better. For a month, maybe. A week or two at times. Sometimes he could barely be nice to me for a couple of days – especially at the end. Why? Because he didn’t really love me. He loved controlling me, feeling superior to me, taking from me. He enjoyed watching me tiptoe around his cold, unpredictable anger, trying to charm him with kind words, a spotless house, gourmet breakfasts. What a joke. As if my pancakes – delicious as they are – could transform a Jerkface into a loving partner.

Jerkfaces LIE. They will say and do anything to get you back in their control.

The point isn’t so much what specific lies they tell you but that whatever they say to get you back is a lie. Do they mean their lies? Maybe some do. At the time. But does it matter? What matters is that they never keep their promises. What matters is how they behave, how they treat you, how you feel and who you are in that relationship. Are you physically and emotionally safe? Do you trust them with your life, your thoughts, your secrets? Are you able to truly be yourself without any fear?

When Jerkface is throwing you those pretty promises, you need to know that s/he  does NOT truly empathize with you and is definitely NOT ready to be an equal partner. So when you’re feeling lonely in your un-airconditioned apartment, or that dirty spare room in your friends’ house, or the shelter, and you’re missing the beautiful home you shared with Jerkface, tempted to go back to because this time it will be different, remember: it won’t. Jerkface is lying to you.

Summary: I know it’s hard to believe Jerkface is actively lying, but think about what happens after Jerkface gets what they want (control over you). Do the changes last? Are you living happily ever after yet?

Related: The worst things Jerkface ever said to me.

No one else has to like it or understand it.

Too many words in this post? Scroll on down to the summary at the end.

When I was with Jerkface, I tried so desperately to make him understand why I didn’t like being told I was fat, or stupid, or why it was unfair when I made more money that he could buy whatever he wanted but I could not. I wanted him to look at me lovingly and nod, and say:  yeah, babe, I get it – that makes sense. I’m so sorry. Did he ever do that, in our 6+ sad years together? Nope. Not once.

More surprising, a therapist actually tried to convince me I hadn’t spent enough time trying to fix this horror of a marriage and that I should keep working on it. But at this point, I’d spent hundreds of nights crying and even wandering the neighborhood in my robe at 1am like a crazy person (long story), lost too many friends, and had let Jerkface get rid of any cute clothes I once had, so even though I was 29, I looked and felt 49. No, scratch that. I felt dead. Ancient. And on really bad days I didn’t feel real.

There are not two sides to the story in an abusive relationship.

When I was finally ready to leave Jerkface, I was READY. I’ll talk about the details of how I left in another post, but for now let’s just say I left him a note and never came back. Some of my friends and coworkers – and definitely that weirdo therapist – felt I should have confronted him, given him a chance to respond, talked it over with him. But I knew myself and I knew him and that situation was never going to work.

My goal in leaving Jerkface was to LEAVE HIM and never get pulled back in to the abuse, the sadness, the emptiness, the shame that was our marriage. My goal was to protect myself – not to give him the opportunity to have a heartfelt chat and hear his side of things. There aren’t two sides in an abusive relationship. We didn’t disagree. We didn’t see things differently. He abused me for years, and I finally, finally decided I didn’t deserve to live that way.

When you’re being treated badly, you get to do what you want, the way you want it, in order to get your life back.

Would it have been better for me to tell him face-to-face that it was over? Maybe. I don’t know. What I know is that I couldn’t do it. I had nothing left. And he was scary. And you know what? I learned something really, really critical from doing a very important thing imperfectly: no one else needs to like or understand anything you do. Let that sink in. No one else has to approve, or agree, or weigh in at all.

How easy it is for people to tell you what you should do and how you should do it. They’re not the ones who have to sleep in that bed, next to that person who insults you, frightens you, dehumanizes you. They don’t have to get up and look in the mirror and face another day of fear and shame.

When you’re being treated badly, you get to do what you want, the way you want it, in order to get your life back. If it helps, you have my permission. But you don’t need it.

Summary: I left Jerkface a note when I left him forever. But some people felt I should have talked to him instead. Why? What good would that have done? When it comes to leaving an abusive relationship, no one needs to like or understand anything you do. If you don’t like the way you’re being treated, that’s all anyone needs to know. 

 

 

Myth: Relationships are HARD.

Oh, this is a long one. If you’re in a hurry, just scroll down to the summary.

It always surprises me how many people proudly trot out this old chestnut. They wear their misery like a badge of honor, proud of what they’ve endured, anticipating the moment they get to chastise you for wondering if it really has to be so hard. “Of course it’s hard, honey,” they admonish. And shame on you for daring to question if life has to be so painful all the time.

This damaging myth was no doubt started because so many people made bad decisions (or were subject to someone else’s decisions) about who to spend their lives with, so they had to console themselves with this sad philosophy. But you don’t have to do this. It’s not the 50s. There are options now. You can choose to be with someone who makes your life easier, not harder. You can also choose not to be with anyone and make your life easier that way.

The real truth: BAD relationships are hard.

Good relationships are easy because you’ve chosen a person you actually like as they are right now and you’re not compelled change them. And your person feels the same way about you. How nice that is, being with someone who delights you, who delights in being with you and never asks you to compromise who you are to make the relationship work.

When a relationship is hard, it’s not a relationship – it’s a project. My relationship with Mr. Jerkface was so much work that I dreaded Fridays and looked forward to Mondays. If you’re in a bad relationship, you know what I’m talking about. Work should not be your respite from your life at home. It should be the other way around. But when you’re in a relationship with a Jerkface, life is upside down.

Here’s what I wish someone had told me when I was with him: your relationship is hard because he actually doesn’t love you. He CAN’T and he WON’T. Love means being true, real, and vulnerable, and Jerkfaces are scared to death of those things. Jerkfaces don’t want to be vulnerable. They want to have power and control.

Does that sound crazy to you? It would have to me, but it is absolutely what I needed to hear, even if I didn’t believe it right away. It’s so hard for us to understand the Jerkface mindset because we’re nice people who want to help. We believe love conquers all. We believe we’re different and that our love for Jerkface will make him or her feel safe.

Maybe some of you will succeed with this. People can change. IF they want to. But watch out for Jerkface saying you’re part of the problem because you complain about their behavior and that’s mean. That’s not mean. That’s normal. Objecting to being treated badly is not an example of you abusing them back.

Objecting to being abused does not mean you’re also an abuser.

When you’re in love with a Jerkface, what you’re usually arguing about is usually not where to go on vacation or which grocery store to go to tonight. YOU’RE ARGUING ABOUT HOW JERKFACE TREATS YOU. Right? The fight you had last night – was it because s/he said you’re starting to get fat? Was it something about your choice of words, or did you dare to laugh too loudly? And then when  you ask to be treated with kindness, you’re a jerk, right?  Well, despite all the complicated mind games that probably ensued in your last argument, no matter what Jerkface says, nothing you did or will do warrants abuse. Nothing.

Don’t you want to be in a relationship where you argue about music or chicken fingers instead? Don’t you want to dread Monday like those other people who aren’t getting pummeled emotionally or physically all weekend? It’s not a fantasy. Or at least it doesn’t have to be.

Summary:  If your workweek is more enjoyable than your weekend, you might be in love with a Jerkface. Relationships aren’t hard. Bad relationships are. In an abusive relationship, you’re arguing about how Jerkface treats you. In a normal relationship, you get to quibble over silly stuff like dirty feet on the yoga mat.

 

Newsflash: Abuse isn’t logical.

In a hurry? Scroll down for the summary.

When I was with Jerkface, I twisted myself into an emotional knot mostly every day, trying to make him understand that I just wanted him to treat me with kindness. Every time he told me I was inconveniencing him by having the flu, or asked me why I dared to spend $7 on a shirt at Goodwill, or accused me of not loving him because I wanted to have dinner with a friend, I would desperately try to explain why those kinds of insults or accusations were hurtful to me because I – LOGICALLY – figured that if only he knew and understood how much pain he was causing me, HE WOULD STOP.

But guess what? Jerkfaces aren’t logical. You can’t reason with them, because they aren’t reasonable. They see the world differently than we do. In their world, there are only winners and losers. And if they aren’t “winning,” as in one-upping you and making you cry, then guess what? They’re “losing.” It doesn’t make any sense to us, because it’s not logical. But to them, in their messed up jerk brains, this is how the world works.

The Jerkface version of give-and-take is: You give. They take.

So when you approach Jerkface all reasonable and grown-up-like, you’re thinking, ok this is a give-and-take. I’ll give a little and s/he’ll give a little and then I’ll take a little and s/he’ll take a little, and it will all balance out. But see, the Jerkface version of give-and-take is like this: You give. S/he takes. Always. Forever. In fact, while you’re thinking, “If I share my feelings, then s/he will share too and then we’ll finally understand each other and the pain will stop,” Jerkface is thinking you just showed all your cards and now s/he KNOWS how to get under your skin for the rest of your miserable lives together.  

If you’re new to this Jerkface stuff, you might still think that this couldn’t possibly be true, that YOUR Jerkface is different and you have the magic touch to fix what’s broken through your patient, undying love. I hope you’re right. I really do. Maybe your Jerkface isn’t truly a Jerkface and is just temporarily in pain and can be rehabilitated. I would love for that to be true and for you to be able to dismiss this post and this site and break through their pain and live happily ever after.

But if you eventually realize your Jerkface is really a Jerkface, you’re not alone and you don’t have to feel bad anymore. Keep coming back to this site. Go to a meeting. Write your own blog. Read some books. This one  about verbal abuse saved my life. And remember: you’re not crazy. You’re just not a jerk.

SUMMARY:

You can’t reason with a Jerkface. When you give, they take. When you share your feelings, Jerkfaces use your confessions against you. You are playing a different game. You want to compromise and reach a mutual understanding. Jerkfaces want to WIN, and in order for them to win, someone has to lose. Guess who that is?