Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Cassie's Story - Letters To Myself

Late again, things have been happening. Firstly, here is the new cover for Letters, which I love. What do you think? I'm currently running a free promotion for Letters, so go check it out.

And here's this weeks Cassie:

It was Saturday night, and I was going to dinner at Matt’s house. Mark was at a sleepover, to be picked up at 10 am the next morning. I had a stomach full of butterflies, a head full of doubts and fear. I dithered over what to wear for far too long. What did one wear on what may be the most momentous night of her life? How did one approach such a night anyway?

I was pretty sure it should not have been so prosaic as the message I eventually sent to Matt – Dinner at yours Saturday night? I’ll bring the wine.  

This of course gave no hint as to why I wanted to come over, no clue about the eureka moment I had experienced. So naturally Matt’s reply was laidback and casual. Sure, steak ok?

There were a few more to and fro messages, but not once did I give any hint about anything. As far as Matt knew this was nothing more than one of our regular dinners, where one of us cooked, the other brought the wine, we chatted and watched a movie and then the evening was over.

And maybe it would pan out that way, if I lost my nerve. So I spent an age trying to select the right clothes. I was going for relaxed, casual, but sexy and meaningful. And I suck at choosing clothes like that. Well is there any sort of an outfit that could convey such meaning? Not in my wardrobe anyway.

Eventually I settled on a loose and floaty skirt and a close fitting button through top. I left a few buttons undone, but then remembered an episode from my past life with Nathan involving a button through dress (which I now no longer own – the dress or the life). In a fit of disgust with myself I discarded the entire outfit and chose instead jeans and a simple t-shirt.

Studying my face in the mirror while I ran a brush through my hair I had my second change of mind, and removed all of my make-up. This was Matt, he was more used to seeing me without make-up than with it. And I didn’t want our relationship to be based on superficial things. Then I decided I was being pretentious and reached for the make-up bag again, but on seeing the time put it down.

I left the house without the wine and without feeding the dogs. I got partway down the footpath towards Matt’s house before the pitiful whining from the dogs reminded me. So I went back, fed the dogs and let them out into the back yard. At the front gate I remembered the wine and went back for it. Halfway to Matt’s house I realized my phone was at home and went back again. With Mark being at his friend’s house I needed to be contactable. Phone safely in my bag I reached the front door before turning back to get the wine which I’d put on the counter when I picked up my phone.

By the time I made it to Matt’s house I was flustered, hot, and late. He opened the door with one eyebrow cocked in enquiry.

“Everything ok?”

“Yep, just forgot to feed the dogs.”

Matt followed me as I went into his kitchen.

“You forgot to feed the dogs?”

“Yes, then I forgot my phone and almost forgot the wine.”

I waved the bottle of red wine in his general direction before putting it on the counter and opening the drawer where he kept the bottle opener.

Matt stood still, watching me. I wasn’t looking at him but I could feel his eyes on me.

I fumbled with the bottle opener, almost stabbing myself in the hand with the corkscrew. Matt came over and took it from me, efficiently opened the bottle and poured the wine. All the time I stood watching his hands, unable to look at his face. I felt like a gauche schoolgirl, a foolish teenager in the presence of her crush.


Matt handed me a glass and picked up his own.

“Cheers,” I replied. “Dinner smells good.”

“It’s almost ready, take a seat while I finish up.”

I sat on one of the kitchen stools and studied the deep ruby colour of the wine in my glass, swirling it gently to make waves on the surface.

“Ok Cassie, you’re weirding me out. What’s going on? Why are you forgetting things like feeding the dogs and why can’t you look at me?”

I sighed, met his eyes and felt a blush race under my skin, threatening to blow off my ears. Matt’s eyebrows rose, he studied my face, captured my eyes with his. Whatever he saw he chose not to pursue, to my relief. Instead he began bustling about dishing up our dinner.

Handing me my plate he indicated his back deck. “I thought we’d eat outside tonight. Is that ok?”

I took the plate and preceded him outside. “Sounds good,” I threw back over my shoulder.

Matt’s back deck had much the same view as mine – the bushland backing onto all of our houses. The remnants of sunset tinged the sky with pink and orange, while the birds – and bats – were flying overhead, returning to their roosts and in the case of the bats, heading out for the night.

Barney was beside himself with excitement at having people and food outside in his domain. He ran around in circles for a while before coming to lie underneath the table, waiting for titbits.

The outdoor table was already set, it only needed the fat pillar candles to be lit, which Matt did before sitting across from me. He smiled, a sweet smile that pierced my heart.

“You look lovely tonight Cassie.”

I found that hard to believe, flustered and make-up free as I was.

“I don’t think so, but thank you for saying.”

Matt studied me over his wine glass, his expression unreadable.

“Tuck into dinner while it’s still hot.”

Feeling uncomfortable under his ‘police stare’ I did just that. Dinner was delicious, the early evening air was balmy and the wine proved a good choice. As the meal progressed I relaxed, and by the time we were carrying our plates back inside I felt much more normal.

“Cheese?” Matt pulled a selection pack from the fridge and started arranging it on a board.

“Thank you.” I poured the last of the wine into our glasses, and carried them through to the lounge room with Matt following with a fresh bottle and the cheese.

We settled into his comfortable lounge, Matt putting the cheese onto the coffee table where we could both reach it.

“Do you feel like watching a movie?”

“Something light, I don’t want to think too much tonight.”

“Let’s see if there’s any comedy or action on.”

Either sounded good to me. My main purpose for coming here tonight was still unspoken and I had no idea how to broach the subject. Half my mind was worrying at this and I didn’t have enough left to figure out a complicated movie plot.

Eventually we settled on a light comedy and sat back to watch it. I was too distracted to give it my full attention, something that did not go unnoticed by Matt.

“Cassie, you haven’t been yourself all evening. Want to tell me what’s wrong?”

I stared at him, movie forgotten. Where to start?

“Cassie? Did something happen today? Did Nathan bother you?”

“No, nothing like that. Almost the opposite really.”

“Then what?”

“I had a good session with Sue the other day, and that night I realized something that’s changed the way I think.”

Matt put his wine glass on the coffee table and leaned towards me.

“What does that mean?”

I shrugged, unsure of how to say it. “Well, I finally understood that I can never have a simple friendship with Nathan, that he will always have an agenda beyond that.”

“Go on.”

“And I understood that he’s been controlling me still, even after all this time.”

Matt reached for his wine, took a healthy swig.


“And I figured out that I’ve been feeling guilty about what happened in the marriage, and feeling I don’t deserve anything good in my life. And that I didn’t know how to have a good relationship. And I was afraid Nathan would still be able to control me, and would destroy any new relationship I had.”

“And you still feel that way?”

Overcome by shyness, awkwardness and fear I stood. “Can we go outside for a bit?”

Matt said nothing, just picked up his wine and mine and led the way out to his deck, where we were greeted by a joyous Barney.

Matt sat down in a long bench seat off to one side, indicating that I should join him. He handed me my glass as I sat and I took a mouthful, taking some time to gather my thoughts. The heady scent of the night scented jasmine wafted in the breeze.

“I can smell that jasmine at my house, but it’s much stronger here. It must be close by.”

“It is, it’s over there in the corner.”

“It’s yours?”

“That’s why it’s in the corner. You were going to say Cassie, do you still feel all those emotions about Nathan and your marriage?”

I stared at Matt, struck by the parallel of the jasmine playing a part in both my breakthrough thinking and this conversation now.

“That’s why I wanted to see you tonight Matt.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Cassie's story - Letters To Myself

I'm a day late for Cassie, sorry guys. I've been sick with a horrible cold, and it's summer here. The body has a way of letting down defenses when stressed.

Did you read the last blogs about narcissism? If so you will understand why Cassie is having such a difficult time allowing happiness into her life. But she's been working on herself, maybe one day she will have that happy ending.

Here she is:

Dear me,

I think, finally, I understand me – a little bit. Am I the ‘me’ I could have been if I hadn’t fallen in love with Nathan, if events of my life hadn’t led me to him? Or is it because of what happened with him that I am the me I am now?

I shook my head, impatient at my convoluted thinking. This letter was about what I was learning about myself, not how I got here. At least I think it was. My deeper self always surprised the shallow surface me. I focused on my pen again.

I believe I am a good person. I did the things I did with Nathan out of self-preservation. I behaved the way I did because I was lost within the relationship, lost trying to fix it, to make it right, to make things the way they were. I was lost trying to find the Nathan I married, but that Nathan never really existed.

At least, that Nathan was the one he could have been, if he didn’t have his problems, if his brain worked the way it should. But it doesn’t, and it never will. I tried to understand, I tried to be the person I thought he needed me to be. I lost myself trying to understand him, trying to use reason with a person for whom reason has a different meaning – one nobody else can understand.

I finally learned that to use reason with someone who is unreasonable means insanity for the reasoned one – the unreasonable one carries on, not even realizing the damage he has caused. I finally understand that I have been carrying the repercussions of that with me all this time. I was not completely free, even though I thought I was. I was still tied, just a little bit, to Nathan. Still carrying the guilt with me over the failure of the marriage. Still thinking I could have done something to change things, something to make it right, something to fix it. Still thinking that I could find a way to reach him.

And, all this time, feeling that I do not deserve a good relationship because of the things I did. Feeling the guilt, feeling the shame. I feel shame for my actions, shame for what I did and who I became. Shame too because I was not strong enough to leave. It was Nathan who left. If he hadn’t, would I still be struggling along in the marriage even now?

That is what has stopped me from moving forward with Matt. I did not see clearly what was happening, I did not have the strength to change it. As he did all through the marriage it was Nathan who controlled what happened, and for months after it was Nathan who was in control.

And, when he wanted us to be friends, I let him take control again, and again when he manipulated me into inviting him to my New Years Party. Still Nathan in control with me the foolish puppet. So how, knowing that, can I ever trust myself to start a new relationship? How, knowing that, can I ever believe that I can stand up to Nathan, to stop him from controlling me, to stop him from sabotaging my new relationship if he wishes to?

I put down my pen, picked up my wine and took a sip, my mind still on the words I had written. This afternoon, after leaving my appointment with Sue, I had felt so light and free. Now, after writing this letter to myself, that lightness had gone.

Not wanting to reply to myself yet I went out onto my back deck and stood in the moonlight, sniffing the warm night air. The delicate scent of a night scented jasmine floated on the breeze. I loved the idea of a plant that released its scent only at night. I had no idea who owned it, someone in the street I supposed.

All was quiet, the dogs were snoozing in the laundry and Mark was in bed. I looked up at the sky, dotted with stars and only the faintest wisps of cloud here and there. It was a beautiful, peaceful night. But not inside my head. I sighed, sniffed the jasmine again, and went back inside to finish my self-imposed task.

Dear you,

You are being too hard on yourself, on us. You are not still trapped in Nathan’s web. You are free. Today you recognized so much about yourself and your reactions. You recognized what was happening with Nathan and now that you are aware it will not happen again.

You said yourself, Nathan always has an agenda and you cannot be friends. You know he was manipulating you, so he won’t be able to do it again. You can get past this, and you will.

You know now what you want from a relationship – what you want and not what you think you should give. Your self-esteem has grown, your strength has grown, your belief in yourself has grown. You know you deserve a real relationship and happiness in your life. You know that the failure of the marriage was not your fault.

You are a good person, you deserve happiness. You know this now. And, Matt is a good man who understands what you went through and who will support you and help you as you adjust to a proper relationship. A real relationship. Matt will help you stand against Nathan if you need to, he will help you in all things, as you will help him.  

It's time, it’s really time to start your life again. You are free of Nathan, free of the guilt and free of the shame. My advice to you, to me, is to call Matt.

I put down the pen and stared at my own words. Even though I had written them they still seemed like they had come from someone else. And yet, if Saffron had asked me for advice – if she had been me – it was exactly what I would say to her.

I pulled a face at myself. Well duh, of course it was exactly what I would say, it was me who said it. This writing to myself was sometimes a bit schizophrenic.

I filled my wine glass and went back outside. Nothing had changed, the soft breeze was still warm and still scented, the stars were bright, the only sound that of the crickets. All that had changed was me.

I thought about my words to me, the words of my higher self to the self still struggling with life. Did I dare to believe myself? That sentence struck me, filled my head. Did I dare to believe myself?

If I didn’t believe myself what would happen? I’d be stuck in this circle, going around and around until even Matt gave up and found love with someone else.

If I did believe myself what would happen? Possibilities, changes – that’s what would happen. I would move forward, I would change, the future would happen but not on Nathan’s terms. No, if I believed myself, if I believed in myself, the future I wanted would open up to me, on my terms.

I felt dizzy. All that I wanted was mine already, I just had to reach for it instead of pulling away. Surprising myself (spontaneity is not my thing), I spun in a circle, my face up to the sky. I felt, in those moments, at one with everything, at peace with everything. I felt free.

Spin over – without a drop of wine being spilled in case you were wondering – I went back inside and picked up my phone. He was on night shift so would not get my message until tomorrow morning, but I was sending it anyway. My decision was 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Why I am Still a Basket Case

Welcome to part two of this blog on Narcissistic Victim Syndrome. This syndrome is not officially recognised, but many therapists and psychiatrists have patients presenting with the symptoms. 

Narcissistic abuse victims express feelings of humiliation and shame, for a variety of reasons including the things they have done to please the narcissist. Often these things, especially in the narcissist with an underlying condition such as a sex-addiction (in Cassie’s case), are against the nature of the victim and cause cognitive dissonance. Once they break free of the relationship they still have to deal with the feelings of guilt over things they did during the relationship.

Stockholm Syndrome is common in victims of narcissistic abuse. Stockholm Syndrome is where the victim identifies with the abuser and has strong emotional ties to him/her. It occurs in hostage situations, where the hostage is placed in grave danger by the capturer, and then shown small kindnesses over a period of time.

The narcissist controls the victim, essentially building them up and tearing them down again. It is done so often that it causes a complicated co-dependency that is difficult to break. This is why victims keep boomeranging back to the situation they are, at the same time, desperate to be free from. 

In the course of my research I came across an article which cited quotes from people suffering from narcissistic victim syndrome. The quotes were taken from a book entitled Narcissism Book of Quotes: A Selection of Quotes from the Collective Wisdom of over 12 000 Individual Discussions. The book itself came from an online forum. Some of these comments are listed below.

  • "My N husband] is not exactly malicious. He doesn't set out to hurt me just for kicks. . . . He hurts me as little or as much as it takes to achieve his goal: to make me dependent on him . . . obey him, give him all the NS he demands. . . . So, while his primary goal isn't to hurt me, it becomes a goal if that's what it takes to get NS out of me." (NS – Narcissistic Supply)

  • "Narcissists install a mental filter in our heads a little bit at a time. Before we know it, everything we do, say, or think, goes through this filter. 'Will he get upset if I do/say/think this? Will he approve/disapprove? Will he feel hurt by this?" 

  • “They screw up the issues so we get confused. Then they reprioritize everything for us by getting angry, so we have to look at them first, we think and we worry about them first. It becomes all about them. Everything else, especially ourselves and things once important to us, become [secondary].” 

  • "We cannot accurately predict what response we will get on any given day. And without the ability to predict—without a stable system on which we can rely—we wind up tying ourselves into knots trying desperately to please and walking on eggshells hoping to avoid this unpredictable wrath" [and the narcissist's over-reactive rage is a theme prevalent in so many of these comments]. 

  • I learned that 'kicking you when you're down' is a standard characteristic of the N

  • "Why don't we go? For any combination of reasons. Take a look at the 'you' before or at the time you started going out with the N—and the 'you' later on. Never was anyone less equipped to get out by that stage—your self worth is in the gutter, you feel a failure, a deep sense of being a nothing—the things the N said to you, the insidious drip-feed of negatives, their behaviour that says so much about how little they respect or care for you. Then of course we really do have to face some of the nastiest [thoughts]—the what ifs, the depression, the self-hatred (how COULD I have put up with this . . . what must he have thought of me, knowing I allowed him to do these things), the loneliness, sense of failure."

A word from the founder of this forum, a self-confessed narcissist.
(From the article titled The Vampires Bite: Victims Of Narcissists Speak Out) 'The controversial Dr. Sam Vaknin, creator of this forum on narcissism and himself a self-confessed NPD, (Narcissistic Personality Disorder), has written profusely—at times, brilliantly—on the subject. In his article “Pseudologica Fantastica,” he freely admits:'
 "I lie. Compulsively and needlessly. All the time. About everything. And I often contradict myself. Why do I need to do this? To make myself interesting or attractive. In other words, to secure narcissistic supply (attention, admiration, adulation,gossip).”

Living with a narcissist at the extreme end of the spectrum is living in a war zone. The emotional and psychological effects are profound and long lasting. As a personal aside, I suffered a huge dive into the black hole when I returned to Australia after an almost two year absence. It’s why I can’t stay here. Just coming back to the same country threw me into the pit of despair. It took almost two weeks to haul myself out and I hadn’t even returned to the same town, only the same country. I had another mini-breakdown on returning to the same town. I don’t believe I will ever fully get over this. That is how deep the effects are for most victims.

So, to get back to Cassie. Many of the people who have read Letters To Myself are suffering at the hands of a narcissist, or have managed to get free but are still dealing with the after effects. I have had reviews and feedback from these people saying they wish they had found my book sooner. It offers hope, that there is a way out, and it shows that they are not alone. This is why Cassie is staying authentic. As a victim, she is still struggling to move forward, to believe in herself despite all the positive changes she has made in her life.

The end of the relationship is not the end of trauma. If you are a victim of a narcissist do not despair. Be kind to yourself, know that it takes a long time to recover and if you need help ask for it. You are not weak, you are strong, so strong to have come this far. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help even if it is a long time since the break. True strength lies in knowing when help is needed, and asking for it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Narcissistic Victim Syndrome

Those of you who read  Letters To Myself will know what Cassie went through during her marriage, or at least at the end of her marriage. Reading her story continuation on this blog you probably understand why she is so ambivalent about what seems to be a great relationship with Matt. I decided to write a blog post to explain what is going on with Cassie. It will be in two parts, today's dealing with what Narcissistic Victim Syndrome is, and tomorrow's going into the syndrome in more depth. 

What Cassie is still dealing with is the aftermath of living with a narcissist as extreme as Nathan, not forgetting his other personality disorders. It changed her, took away her self-confidence and even her sense of identity. It made her unsure of her own mind, still struggling to overcome coping mechanisms such as dissociation from her emotions. It made her indecisive and disbelieving of her own worthiness in terms of personal happiness.

This, sadly, is a common condition in partners of those with narcissistic personality disorder. It has a name, Narcissistic Victim Syndrome. People suffering from this syndrome are diagnosed with depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

Symptoms of CPTSS include:

  • An inability to control emotions

  • Dissociation (cutting off awareness of deeper emotions and feelings)

  • Blanking out or losing memories

  • Difficulties with sense of identity

  • Physical symptoms such as indigestion, palpitations, panic attacks

  • Difficulty in forming new relationships

  • An inability to trust

Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Reliving the traumatic event(s), over and over, through memories and nightmares

  • Sleeping difficulties

  • Lack of concentration

  • Anxious and fearful

  • Avoidance – avoiding places, people, thoughts, feelings, activities and anything else that raises memories of the event(s)

  • Feeling emotionally numb, and dissociation

People with Narcissistic Victim Syndrome typically present with a combination of these symptoms. It takes a lot of work and a long time to recover, a lot of people are never the same again. I would say - and this is my own personal opinion based only on my own experience and that of others I know – that most sufferers are never the same again.

A common group of symptoms in those with Narcissistic Victim Syndrome include:

  • Avoidance

  • Loss of interest

  • Detachment

  • Sense of a limited future

  • Sleeping or eating difficulties

  • Irritability

  • Hyper-vigilance (this comes from studying the narcissist closely to try to predict what behaviour to expect at any given time)

  • Flashbacks

  • Hopelessness

  • Psychosomatic illnesses (such as palpitations, panic attacks, digestion problems)

  • Self-harming and/or thoughts of suicide

Narcissistic abuse victims have learned to believe everything is their fault, and so tend to blame themselves for everything that happens, even post abuse. It is a difficult mind-set to change, once learned.

This is the bare bones of Narcissistic Victim Syndrome. Tomorrow I will go into more detail and also include quotes from other victims, to highlight how common this syndrome is. If you are identifying with any of the above please come back tomorrow to read the rest.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Cassie's Story - Letters To Myself

The victims of those suffering from narcissistic personality disorder are sometimes overlooked. At least, their ongoing suffering can be overlooked. The  mental abuse can take years to heal. This is why Cassie feels so uncertain and why she keeps vacillating. It's hard for her to trust herself, and hard for her to believe she deserves good in her life. 

Today's episode is a bit of a breakthrough for her:

“Did it feel like family to you?”

Sue was sitting quietly, notepad in her lap, pen held loosely in her hand. I was there for my regular appointment, and also because I was feeling frustrated at my own ambivalence since that moment Saffron had said those words in my kitchen on New Year's Day.

I turned the thought over in my mind (like I hadn’t already done this a thousand times in the past few days).

“It felt comfortable, like neither of them was a guest I had to entertain.”

“Is that your definition of family? That you don’t need to entertain them?”

I smiled, it did sound a bit strange repeated back to me.

“My definition of family has been me and the kids for a long time now. My thoughts about family keep going back to my marriage.”

Sue stared at me for a few seconds, before scribbling in her notepad. When she finished she leaned forward slightly. I mentally girded my loins, Sue leaning forward meant she was going to say something to shake up my world.

“Cassie, may I ask if you are feeling the ambivalence because of what happened with Nathan? Do you feel that you are not yet free of the effects?”

“You mean do I still feel connected to Nathan? Because I don’t. I felt no attraction or feeling of guilt when he tried to kiss me.”

“That’s kind of what I mean, and I’m pleased you have been able to put that behind you. But what I meant is a bit different. Do you still feel responsible for what happened? Do you feel that you are not worthy of a good relationship?”

We had discussed this topic before, I was sure it was the root of my ambivalence toward a relationship with Nathan. I stared at Sue, trying to understand my own emotions.

“I still have trouble understanding how I am feeling.”

“Yes, you dissociated from your own emotions, it was a coping mechanism. Cassie, you should not underestimate the depth of the trauma you experienced. I hesitated to diagnose Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, because you did not display all of the pointers - some, but I didn’t think enough at the time. Perhaps I was wrong. Now you have become stronger; you have learned so much about yourself. But, I think you are not yet fully healed. It takes a long time, you were a victim of mental abuse, a specific type of domestic abuse at the hands of a person with narcissistic personality disorder. Does this sound accurate to you?”

Sue paused to take a sip of coffee, watching the impact of her words on me.

I shifted uncomfortably. It still made me feel a little bit sick to talk about my marriage, to remember the details that can only be described as sordid. Not that I could remember all of them, another coping mechanism of mine was to blank out the worst parts. I still had no memory of what Nathan screamed at me in any of his rages, only of lying curled up on the floor at his feet. Only the dark, deep despair I felt. But I had enough memories to feel dirty every time I let them into my conscious mind. I sipped my own coffee, noting the tremors that shook my hands, evidence that I was feeling far worse than I was letting myself know.

“I believe I still employ dissociation. I don’t allow myself to feel anything deeply. Like now, my hands are shaking.” I help out my hands to show Sue. “But if you asked me I would say I feel a bit uncomfortable.”

Sue remained silent as I continued to process my thoughts.

“I think I still feel responsible, for the failure of the marriage I mean. I no longer feel responsible for making Nathan happy. Although,” I admitted as a ray of understanding lit up my mind, “I did have to stop myself from falling into that old habit when Nathan said he wanted us to be friends. And I guess I allowed myself to be manipulated into inviting him and Lucy to the party.”

I stared at Sue as another ray of understanding shone through the confusion that usually clouded my brain whenever I tried to think objectively about Nathan.

“Actually I fell back into the old patterns because I agreed we could be friends. But we can’t can we? Because Nathan will always have an agenda beyond that.”

Sue smiled, but remained silent.

“And I think it is my own feelings of inferiority that I have to overcome. AND, I am afraid of failure. I failed so epically in my first marriage, how will I cope if I fail in this relationship with Matt. Can I handle that?”

Sue scribbled in her book, looked up at me and made to speak but I overrode her – for perhaps the first time in our relationship.

“No, I didn’t fail in my marriage. Who could succeed with someone like Nathan? No-one, nobody could ever be good enough for him, nobody could ever feed his needs indefinitely. Every woman in a relationship with him is going to burn out. It was not my fault.”

As I spoke, with genuine conviction, I felt the weight of responsibility – the weight I didn’t know I was still carrying – lift from my shoulders. I could feel tears flood my eyes and tried desperately to blink them back in. Showing emotion in this way was always going to embarrass me.

Sue leaned forward, handed me the box of tissues that was always at hand.

“Cry it out Cassie,” she said softly. “What you suffered has changed you, perhaps forever. But you are strong and you are coming out the other side of this. Today is a breakthrough day. You have finally expressed your emotions about your marriage verbally, believed your words in your heart and you’ve let it go. Your tears are your release valve. So cry it out and let it all go.”

I half smiled at her through the tears, before indulging in a sobfest that I can assure you, dear reader, happens only rarely.

Once the tears stopped and I’d mopped my face and drunk some much needed, rapidly cooling coffee, I shared the other ray of light that had shone in my mind even as I sobbed. The mind never turns off does it?

“I employ dissociation with strong emotions, good and bad. My feelings for Matt run deeper than I’ve let myself acknowledge. That’s why I keep on vacillating like this.”

Sue smiled at me. “What makes you think this?”

I hate the way she makes me pull out my emotions and examine them.

“Because of how happy I am to see him, because of how he makes me laugh, because of how safe I feel when I am with him, because of how my body reacts to him. And because I can’t imagine my life without him in it.”

“What do you think makes a good relationship?”

Tricky questions today. “I think the most important thing to me now is mutual respect. Trust, friendship, attraction, sex of course. But not sex as the answer to everything or as the reason for everything. To feel equal in the relationship.” I thought a bit more. “To be able to state my opinion and have it listened to and respected as my opinion. To be able to have an argument about something without feeling like a bug under someone’s shoe for daring to go against his words, to be able to have a fight and it’s just a fight, not ammunition for a future rage or the spark for an instant rage. To have someone care for me as me and not as a useful verbal punching bag.”

I was on a roll now. “To be comfortable in each other’s company, and free to do other things with other people and it’s not a betrayal. To feel safe.” I paused, repeated it. “To feel safe. And, to feel like an individual, a separate person who is happy within the relationship but also, to be me. To be me, just me, and to be accepted and loved for who I am. To not feel like I am always wrong, always not good enough, always less important.”

I looked Sue in the eyes. “I want someone who loves me for me, someone I can love in return without it being a competition.”

I paused, running my words back through my mind. “That was a lot of repetition wasn’t it?”

Sue smiled again. “Kind of. I think this is the first time you have thought about a relationship from your point of view. What you want as opposed to what you must give to make someone else happy, or to try to make someone else happy. Can you reduce it to one sentence? What is the most important thing to you, or the two most?”

What was the most important thing? “It’s two, but I think really it’s one. Maybe. I don’t know. To be loved, and to feel safe. But I think if you are truly loved by someone, you will also feel safe. Is that right? And respect, but again I think that comes with true love. I don’t think that anyone who truly loved me would ever seek to make me feel small, or to rage at me until I am so scared I block it out. I don’t think, in an equal relationship, in a true partnership, there is room for someone like Nathan. Because with Nathan it was not a partnership, it was a onemanship.”

Sue snorted in amusement, but her eyes were kind. “You can’t have a partnership with a narcissist, it’s all about them whether they play the dominant role or the victim role. And they can’t truly love, it’s not possible for them. It’s a sad and lonely existence for a narcissist. Cassie, I’m so proud of you. It takes courage to recover from the sort of mental abuse that you suffered. It takes years of work on the self to understand and accept what happened and to move on. I think you are ready to move on. You understand yourself and you know what you want – even if you choose a wordy way of expressing it!” She laughed when I looked aggrieved. “Like I said Cassie, I think this has been the first time you have verbalized what it is that you want from a relationship. Congratulations! You have put your marriage in the past, your (misplaced) sense of responsibility about it behind you. You have verbalized what it is that you want from a partnership and you have given a great description of true love.”

I wasn’t done worrying though. “But what if I enter into a relationship with Matt and I fall back into the old patterns? What if I don’t know how to have an equal relationship?”

“Do you think Matt knows how to?”

I didn’t hesitate. “Yes he does.”

“Do you think he will understand when you struggle, and want to help you? Do you think he will be patient with you and give you time to adjust?”

“Yes he will.”

“So what exactly are you worried about?”

I grinned, feeling a lightness fill my head. “I don’t know. Maybe the first thing I have to learn is how not to worry!”

Sue smiled again. “Cassie, the timing in this is your decision. You’ve told me that Matt is willing to wait. And he has shown you that he puts your well-being ahead of a, er, well ahead of his physical needs.”

“He did didn’t he? He could have taken me to bed on New Year’s Eve, or day or whenever it was by then. He didn’t. Nathan would have and not considered how I would feel. Matt put me first.”

I smiled at the thought, and then panicked. “But what if Matt always puts me first, aren’t I then the narcissist?”

Sue laughed, a full bodied laugh of genuine amusement. “Oh Cassie, only you could think that! Do you really think that will happen? What do you think happens in an equal, loving relationship?”

“Each one puts the other first. Not in a competition, but in true caring.”

“Exactly. You work together in a partnership with mutual respect and mutual love. Sometimes one is the caretaker, sometimes the other. When one is down the other picks him or her up. That’s how it works Cassie.”

“Kind of like a friendship, but with sex.”

It was my turn to laugh at Sue’s shocked look. “Don’t panic! I think I get it. But it is friendship isn’t it? You’re friends, lovers, partners.”

Sue looked at her watch, the raising of her eyebrows telling me it was likely past time for me to go.

“How did it get so late? We’re going to have to end it here Cassie. Are you ok to drive? Today was a big session for you.”

I picked up my bag, and threw my empty coffee cup and used tissue into the bin. “I’m fine Sue. I think I’m more than fine.”

“Come see me next week, if that’s ok with you.”

“I will, I’ll make an appointment on the way out.”

I paused at the door. “Maybe I’ll ask Matt to come over tonight.”

I laughed and sashayed out as Sue stared at me open-mouthed. I had been joking, but maybe, finally, now was the time to have a well overdue talk with Matt about our relationship.