Can you heal from abuse? What do I do after leaving my narcissist? What does a healthy relationship look like? These concerns cross the minds of over 20 people every minute; over 28,800 people every day. And the sad fact is, we still don’t talk about it enough. Healing from Emotional Abuse isn’t a bandaid situation. But it doesn’t have to be a five year process either. Millions of other survivors around the worlds entire lives have been impacted by their narcissist. Yours doesn’t have to. To show you how to live a free, confident and peaceful life, your host and Founder of the Healing From Emotional Abuse Philosophy, Marissa F. Cohen.
Welcome back to Healing From Emotional Abuse. Where we talk about anything related to narcissistic abuse in a very raw and candid way. The whole point here is to bring awareness to the topics of domestic violence and sexual assault. I want everyone to know what people go through, and the different topics and coping skills that relate to narcissism, and narcissistic abuse and sexual assault so that you can be more understanding and aware of people and friends and family members who experience it, and how you can better help.
My life mission is to help survivors who are leaving abusive relationships or have already left abusive relationships find healing. I want to help you succeed and be the champions of your lives. Take your life back and take your voice back.
Today I just wanted to share a bit of my story, and how I’ve gotten to where I am now from the experiences that I’ve had.
My first boyfriend in college started off by being kind and he was charming, and he was funny. We were on the student government together. Every single day he’d bring me snacks to my desk, and we would put our feet up on my desk and watch Glee and eat snacks. It was fun and he made me feel special and loved. And I was thrilled because he was my first ever relationship, and that’s what I wanted. I wanted someone to coddle me, and be kind and funny and thrilling. It was thrilling. It wasn’t thrilling like we were on a roller coaster. It was thrilling like this is what I saw in movies, and this is what I always dreamed my first relationship would be like, and it was really happening.
So, by the time we were official for three months, he did a complete 180 and had become verbally abusive, emotionally abusive, psychologically abusive, and sexually abusive. It started off by him telling me that the things I was saying were dumb or stupid. And then my opinions were stupid. And then, everything I did and said, and believed and wanted were stupid. One of the things that he told me was that I was never going to be independent. That I’m always going to depend on a man, specifically him, for support financially and emotionally, because I was a piece of crap. And I would never amount to anything.
After he would say things like that, it’s not like I had the foresight to say, “Hm, he’s wrong. I’m not going to be like that. I’m never going to be like that.” At this point, he had fulfilled my dreams and what I expected from a boyfriend. And I had grown to love him and respect him so much throughout the first couple weeks and months, that by the time that it was getting really bad, I didn’t even see it anymore. I thought and felt that everything he had said and done to me was because he loved me and respected me. And he wanted me to be better. I thought that it was all out of love and respect, because that’s what I gave to him. I thought that this was his way of showing love and respect to me.
At this point, it was a little bit passed Christmas. I had become such a shell of a human, that was experiencing horrendous bouts of depression and anxiety. The thought of going to school, getting up in the morning, showering, brushing my hair, were all feats. And they were things that I needed to overcome every single day. I was still on the student government, I was still the face of the student government. I had all of these responsibilities and things I needed to do, on top of working two jobs and taking six classes.
So, it’s not like I had a lot of time to wallow. I just had to figure out how to pretend that I was not this broken shell of myself. So, everyday I’d go to school. And everyday, people would talk to me, and talk to me and approach me, and he would demean me and it just never got better.
And I thought, “He loves me, and he is doing this because he loves me. I just wish he wasn’t hurting me. I wish he wasn’t saying these things and I wish he wasn’t doing these things. But he must be doing it for my benefit.” And all I could think about were the good times. How at the very beginning, we’d sit at my desk and watch Glee. And how he took me on these beautiful dates to these amazing restaurants. How he took me for a walk on the beach, and held my hand, and made me feel so special. And said all these beautiful things to me. That’s what would go through my mind every single day. All of these horrible things that were happening right now must be coming from a better place because he’s still that good person inside. There’s still that goodness in him, and those experiences that we had. And occasionally we would go on beautiful dates, and he would say beautiful things, and we would do fun stuff and he would be nice. But it just got worse and worse. With everything that I let him get away with and everything I didn’t stand my ground on.
I want to stop for a second and really reflect on this. Have you ever had an experience like that? Where a friend or a boyfriend or significant other or family member treated you in a way where you didn’t truly understand what they were doing was narcissistic and abusive? But it made you feel bad, you just justified and rationalized it? Think about it. Because that’s something that all survivors of narcissistic abuse go through. It’s really important to keep that in mind when you’re working with or talking to or helping survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, emotional abuse and narcissism. Not seeing those red flags and justifying those behaviors is very common.
On January 15, 2010, the ten year anniversary is coming up, I remember we were at his house and his parents and his brother were downstairs, and we were upstairs in a hang out room. We were watching a movie and the movie ended and I said I need to get ready to go. I had about 15 minutes before I had to leave to be home before my curfew.
He suggested we go and cuddle for 15 minutes before you go. “I really want to spend that time with you.” And that was something that we’d done before. We cuddled, and laid in his bed. And we’d lay on the couch. It was fun and familiar. And those were the quality moments that I rally loved with him.
So, we went into his room, and we got on his bed, and he said, “If we’re going to cuddle, I want to cuddle naked.” It was weird, but it wasn’t out of the ordinary. It was something we’d done before. He justified and we justified it as, the skin-on-skin contact is so much more beautiful.
At this time, I was a virgin. I had never done anything before. I think I made out with one guy, maybe two guys before him. But that was it. I’d never done anything else. So, he knew that I was not ready for sex. We had had that conversation, to the day, one week before that I wasn’t ready. And we’d been together for almost three months and I was still a baby.
So, we were laying in his bed, naked, cuddling, and then before I could even blink, he had flipped me onto my back, held my hands above my head, and he began to have sex with me. It was so shocking that I couldn’t breathe. And it was like time had stopped, and everything in the world was frozen. And I couldn’t move, and I couldn’t scream. And I couldn’t do or say anything. I didn’t even realize it was rape until about 6 months later.
I don’t know how long it went for, all I know is I don’t think I breathed the entire time, and when he stopped, he rolled over on his side and I was still laying on my back, and I was shaking. He was panting like he had just done all this incredibly difficult work. I just rolled over, looked away from him and started crying, and I couldn’t stop crying for an hour. I couldn’t make words. I think that was the first panic attack I ever had. I was gasping for air, and I was just hysterical.
And he was just laying there rubbing my back, telling me that everything fine and I’m just being dramatic. That, “Sex is nice and that’s what boyfriends and girlfriends do. You have sex with each other. So what’s the problem?”
I ended up staying at his place that night because I couldn’t drive. I was hysterical. And I stayed in a guest room, but I didn’t sleep the entire night. I don’t even think I closed my eyes for more than 10 seconds at a time because I was very fearful.
The next morning, he took me out for breakfast, after his parents gave me a ton of crap about having had sex. And making the joke that he owes me a morning after breakfast. And all this stuff. I was mortified. So, we went out to breakfast. He further justified why what happened the night before was okay. And how I’m supposed to just keep doing it. Doing it more will make it better. But I didn’t feel anything. It’s not like it hurt. It just felt numb. So the problem for me wasn’t that it hurt or didn’t feel good. Or that I wanted it to get better, physically. The problem was that I didn’t feel anything physically, but emotionally, I feel torn apart. I remember sitting at breakfast and I was eating food, I was force feeding myself, but I just felt this big, gaping hole in my stomach that I couldn’t fill. I thought maybe eating more food would help, or having more sex would help. I didn’t know, because I didn’t know it wasn’t normal. There was no education about what it’s supposed to be like afterwards. What you’re supposed to feel and that these feelings weren’t normal.
I had no idea, and I had no one to talk to about it. Some of my friends had sex. But it wasn’t a conversation that I was wiling to have. So, I sat down with my mom the next day, and she told me sex is beautiful. And sex is something that you do when you love somebody, and that it’s okay. I didn’t tell her that it wasn’t consensual. I still didn’t tell her, and after that, I just didn’t want to hurt her. I didn’t want her to feel like she could have stopped it, because she couldn’t have. I didn’t know what was going on. He took advantage in a very vulnerable moment. So, I just went with it and said thank you very much. And I know that sex is a good thing. It’s a good thing to do with someone you love. Fine. Cool. Moving on.
I didn’t talk to anybody about it for the rest of the weekend. But the next Monday in school, I was in the office with a couple of my friends, and I had subtly brought up the fact that Dave and I had, had sex for the first time, but I didn’t really want to. And their reactions were explosive. It wasn’t “Oh my god, what do you mean?” It was, “WHAT?? WHAT IS GOING ON?? WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DIDN’T WANT IT?? HE HAD SEX WITH YOU ANYWAYS?!” And I just was terrified, and I withdrew. They knew him. I still loved him and I didn’t want anyone to hate him or get him in trouble. Again, I still didn’t know that what had happened was rape. So I didn’t talk about it again for about 6 months.
I want to take another minute to reflect on this. What do you think you would have done in my situation? If you were already very timid about something that happened to you, and very, very confused about a situation, and you had people getting really aggressive and loud. It’s a little intimidating. I’d like to know what you think you would have done or did do, in that situation when you had it or when you could have potentially had it. It’s confusing and scary. And one of the biggest fears is potentially being judged. So now, you’re being judged, on top of being overwhelmed. So what do you think?
Meanwhile, I continued to have sex with him over and over again, because I thought maybe it would get better and fill that hole in my stomach. And then the sexual abuse got worse.
He forced me to go down on him. That was a horrendous experience, too. And he blamed all of that on me crying after sex because it made him feel so bad and he felt so guilty for making me cry. So this was me having to repay him for hurting him, which was really manipulative.
About 6 months later, I was driving with my best friend, and we were jamming to Taylor Swift and eating candy. We passed this ice cream place we both really liked and she said something like, “If you love me, you’ll pull over.” And I just lost it. I fell into another panic attack. She had to grab the wheel because I couldn’t breathe, and pull the car over for us. I unloaded everything, and told her everything. And that was probably the smartest, unplanned decision I ever made, because she happened to be the perfect person to tell that to. She was calm, and she was actively listening. She let me say what I needed to say, and she wasn’t trying to solve my problem. She listened to me, and loved me and validated me, and told me that we will do whatever it takes to make me okay. And to help me get over this.
My best friend happened to be the perfect person to tell this to and speak to. Not only because she was so calm and understanding, but because she had experience in it. And she totally empathized with me and totally understood what I was going through. Who is somebody you feel that you can talk to without feeling like you’re going to be judged. Or without feeling like what you’re going to say is going to scare them. Think about that, because those people are so important to have in your life.
So the event happened on January 15, 2010. On March 15, 2010, exactly two months later, I broke up with him. We got back together and broke up again a week later, but the big one was March 15. And then, in July is when I told my best friend. So, there was a good amount of time where I was just devastated, still and not talking about it. But not dealing with him, either, in a romantic way.
I definitely took my trauma and ran with it in a way that was very unhealthy. I still had that big hole in my stomach, and having sex with him didn’t fill it, so I thought maybe having sex with other people would. So I started sleeping around. Not with randoms, and not with hundreds of people. But people I was interested in, I was much quicker to jump into bed with them than I would have been. Than I was initially and planned to be, growing up. I was always a person that was very conservative with my “self.” I didn’t go on dates with people I didn’t want to. I didn’t kiss people I didn’t want to. I never felt forced to do anything. I never felt like I needed the attention. And so that stuff never really bothered me. And that stuff really never affected me.
But after this, I had this feeling, and I just wanted that feeling to go away. So that summer, I did my fair share of sleeping around and soul searching, and hurting people without meaning to. It was all about a self-discovery thing for me. And so, to anyone who I may have hurt that summer in 2010, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. It was a reckless summer for me.
So many people have, so many different responses to this type of trauma. Some people completely withdraw from society, or from the gender that hurt them; Or from friends and family. And just maintain that victim mentality, “Shell of themselves” lifestyle, which is really, really unfortunate. Some people develop eating disorders. Some people really get into a hobby. It’s so different for every person. There is a lot of overlap in drug use and alcohol abuse and sexual assault and domestic violence. There is homelessness. There are so many different outcomes. So being understanding of that and knowing that this is all a response to a trauma, is really important to be mindful of.
So fast forward through the summer. I went back to school for about a week, and then I got accepted into a program in Israel, where I was studying psychology overseas in a phenomenal school. And so I jumped on a plane and went. And I moved their. I ended up connecting with old friends. And started a relationship with this guy who ended up being my first love. He helped me completely rewire my messed up brain. He helped me relearn about healthy relationships, about learning to love myself again, what to expect from a partner, and toxic relationships. He helped me put myself back together.
After my year in Israel, I moved home and continued with that relationship with the guy from Israel. I was back at the school with my abuser for one more year. I was elected Vice President of the Student Government, and he was the Treasurer. So I was still his boss in the student government, and he didn’t like that. So he spent the whole year trying to make me look bad. Trying to undermine everything I was doing and saying. At this point, I was already empowered. I had this phenomenal boyfriend who was still my boyfriend and came from Israel to visit me. And it made my abuser really really uncomfortable that I was so happy and so strong and sure of myself again. The whole year had gone by, then one day in April, I was sitting outside reading, and Dave came and sat next to me. And he asked if we could talk. I told him I’d prefer not to, but I will. What do you want?
And he said, “I just wanted to tell you that I ruined you. And I’m so sorry for everything I did. I don’t know why I did it. But I am really happy that you found the Israeli guy. And I wanted to apologize and tell you that I’m really sorry for everything that I did to you.” And I said okay thank you. And that was it.
After that, we were fine. I forgave him. I didn’t forget, at no point did I forget, and I certainly wasn’t going to go back to him – I knew what I was getting with him. Plus, I was with somebody so much better. But it was my sense of closure. And i knew that it was okay to move on and not hold on to that anymore. And that was huge. Once you forgive, never forget, but once you forgive, you’re taking that power back from them. When you hold on to that anger and that hatred and that darkness, all you’re doing is fueling their power.
So the next year, I transferred to Rowan University in southern NJ, and the Israeli guy and I decided that our distance was too much, and we can stay loving each other, and in a relationship sort of, but we could date other people. It was something that we agreed on and something that we were both comfortable with because it didn’t seem reasonable that while I was in college and he was in the military to hold onto each other like that.
That was 7 years ago. Now I am safe. I wrote two (now 4) best selling books about my abuse, and other survivors of abuse:
Breaking Through the Silence™: The Journey to Surviving Sexual Assault
Breaking Through the Silence™: #Me(n)Too
The Ruhe Approach: Healing From Abuse
The Healing From Emotional Abuse Philosophy: The 3 Keys to Overcoming Narcissism
And I plan on writing a lot more. I have a ton of stories to share. I’m an open book. So ask me anything.
Thank you so much for listening to Healing From Emotional Abuse today. I think that these messages and these stories are so important to get out because our voices need to be heard. I would love it if you would rate and share this podcast with anybody you think that needs to hear or read this information.
Hey! If you enjoyed this podcast, you have to check out www.MarissaFayeCohen.com/Private-Coaching. Marissa would love to develop a made-for-you healing plan to heal from emotional abuse. She does all the work, and you just show up. Stop feeling stuck, alone, and hurt, and live a free, confident, and peaceful life. Don’t forget to subscribe to the Healing From Emotional Abuse podcast, and follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marissafcohen, and instagram @Marissa.Faye.Cohen. We’d love to see you there!