Hey healthy mamas!
Welcome to the 38th episode of the Healthy Mom After Divorce Podcast!
Everything shared on this podcast is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be taken as mental health or legal advice. Please contact a mental health professional or legal professional for specific questions related to your situation.
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My mission at Healthy Mom After Divorce is to educate women, particularly mothers, who are survivors of domestic abuse, more specifically narcissistic abuse and coercive control, about the realities of divorcing high-conflict people and co-parenting through post-separation abuse and beyond.
By spreading awareness and destigmatizing abuse, we create communities of enlightened survivors who break generational cycles of abuse and, in turn, raise empowered, healthy children.
These children, our children, will be the foundation of a future shift away from present-day toxic belief systems around traditional family structures towards safer, healthier and child-centric familial, cultural and societal systems.
As we learn about the very predictable patterns of these types of predators, we’re better able to teach our children what toxic individuals look like and how to spot them early on. We’ll also be better able to teach them about healthy relationships and how they look and, more importantly, how they feel.
But it’s not just about our kids. If you ended up in an abusive relationship once, there could be things about you that made you more susceptible to this type of person in the first place, maybe from your family of origin or adverse childhood experiences or just not understanding what to look out for.
The more we learn, the more we can protect ourselves and teach our children how to protect themselves from the toxic relationship dynamics of narcissistic abuse and coercive control.
Narcissistic and coercively controlling patterns of abuse are scary but there is good news: they are very predictable. And with predictability comes the ability to prepare, look for patterns and respond in ways that keep you safe.
The best way to stay safe, and to teach your kids to stay safe, in future relationships is recognizing these patterns of abusive behaviour early on. And the beauty of it is, these people are usually very easy to spot if you know what you’re looking for.
On this episode, I’ve broken down the things you can do to help spot these toxic and abusive people early in a relationship into 3 parts.
First, learning the predictable patterns of behaviour, which also includes learning the language of abuse.
Second, setting boundaries, which can be the single, most effective way to tell early on if someone will treat you with respect going forward.
Third, listening to your instincts.
#1 – Learning the predictable patterns of abusive behaviour and learning the language of abuse
So the other day, I saw a video on TikTok from a creator with a lot of followers. Like over a million which is an insane amount.
She was telling a story about meeting someone on a dating app and was in the early stages of a relationship. The video was basically her recapping the first 4 or 5 dates with him with video clips spliced together, taken either before or after a date.
In the video, she talks about how fast the relationship is moving, how she’s totally smitten, how he’s going over the top with flowers and dates and gifts, how they’re spending a lot of time together, how he’s heavily courting her sort of an old-timey way.
And the comments on her video are almost all positive. ‘I’m so happy for you’, ‘I’m glad to hear there are still some gentlemen out there’, ‘It’s sounds so amazing’.
And I get it. She’s very popular and seems like an absolutely lovely human and I have no doubt people want the best for her.
But, unlike those commenters, when I watched the video, I didn’t feel all warm and fuzzy inside. All my spidey-senses started tingling.
When I hear someone talking about a new relationship this way, I get very uncomfortable. And the reason that is is because I understand the typical patterns of behaviour of a toxic person.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this guy is for sure an abuser. But what I am saying is if I was her, I’d be taking it really, really slow just to be sure because what she’s describing sounds very familiar.
And the reason it sounds familiar is because what she’s describing sounds a lot like step 1 in the narcissistic abuse playbook: love bombing.
Love-bombing is what every survivor will describe when they recount the beginning of their relationship with their abuser.
Now as I discuss this, I’m going to refer to the survivor with she/her pronouns and the abuser with he/him pronouns for consistency but like I’ve said before, this happens in all forms of relationships.
If you listen to survivor stories, you’ll hear recounts of the early stages of the relationship that sound like this:
– lots of over-the-top romantic gestures on his part
– the relationship moved very quickly. And if she ever tried to slow it down and express her concerns, he would either push back or say he understood, but then change nothing
– he bought her lots of gifts, especially ones that felt inappropriate for the stage of the relationship
– he talked a lot about being ‘soul mates’ or said things like ‘I’ve never met a woman like you before’ or ‘You aren’t like the girls I’m used to dating’
– he insisted on spending every minute together, to the point where she started to do nothing else with her free time
– he asked a lot of questions because he was so interested in her
– he was in constant contact with her, checking in, constant texting and phone calls that lasted hours
Survivors basically report a whirlwind romance where they barely had a minute to breathe to take any of it in. They report feeling like this person was exactly who they’d been looking for their whole lives.
In this love-bombing phase, these types of abusers will also do something called future-faking. Survivors say that he talked at length about their future, the life they were going to build together, the kids they would have, the places they’d travel, the promise of a future that she always wanted.
Survivors report being impressed with how charming and charismatic he was, how he made her feel like she was unbelievably special, how he put her on a pedestal and was amazed by her, how he could not imagine his life without her.
This is called idealization and it’s another crucial, and effective, tactic by an abuser in the love-bombing phase.
She’ll say he made her so comfortable that she shared everything about herself, her hopes, her dreams, her fears, her insecurities and her most sacred secrets.
Basically, survivors report having found the man of their dreams.
The problem is, none of it was real.
The gifts and the romantic gestures were not truly displays of affection, but rather bait and items that created a future debt owing from her to him.
The questions were not genuine interest in who she is, but rather a gathering of intel to use as weapons later.
The speed of the relationship was not evidence of true love, but rather a way to entrap and ensnare her before she knew what was really happening.
The spending of every minute together was not rooted in a real desire to be around her, but rather as a way to isolate her and keep her attention on him.
The constant communication was not borne of a love of talking to her, but rather as a way to keep tabs on her and control her.
Here’s the thing, though: not all relationships that move quickly are toxic. Not all people that fall head over heels for someone are abusers, not even close.
But how do you know? When you’re in the early stages, how do tell which kind of person they are?
#2. Set some boundaries.
And a good one to start with is asking to slow the relationship down.
Boundary setting is a sure-fire way to get valuable information about who this person is. Tell them you want to slow it down, and see what they say.
Do they push back, ask why, maybe act sad or behave in some other manipulative way?
Do they agree, but then continue with the gift-buying, extravagant date planning and future-faking, effectively saying one thing but then doing another?
Remember, there is virtually no risk with setting this boundary. And the only reasonable response is complete respect of this boundary.
If they don’t like it or don’t listen, it’s time to cut and run. If they’re unwilling to respect a boundary this early on, why would they ever respect them?
If they do listen and slow it down, meet you where you are, this is a very good sign. Someone who’s truly head over heels for you, truly respects you and really wants you in their life long-term will not get mad or ghost you if you ask slow it all down.
They won’t keep pushing you. They won’t keep giving you that uncomfortable, pit-in-your-stomach ‘does this make sense’ feeling?
Slowing the relationship down is just one boundary. There are many others you can try. Think of them as litmus tests for how this person will behave going forward.
If they won’t respect boundaries in the earliest phase of the relationship, when they’re ostensibly trying to impress you, imagine how they’ll do when the relationship encounters harder times.
Other boundaries could be requesting no more gifts or declining a date request to hang out with friends or saying that you’re not ready to move in together after 6 weeks of dating.
Then listen very carefully to the responses.
Are they warm, accepting and balanced? Or are they jealous, pouty and injured?
Are they happy to oblige, or are they disappointed?
These are the signs to pay attention to, which brings me to the third part.
#3. Listen to your instincts.
I’ll give an example. In the video I referenced earlier, the creator talked about this guy inviting her to a cabin in the woods he was staying at. I guess he was there because he was pet sitting, or something like that.
It was only their 2nd or 3rd date so she naturally had some reluctance. She even made a joke that the night would either be amazing, or he would murder her.
Now she said it in jest, but she said it nonetheless. I realize that the chances of being murdered are unlikely, but they’re not zero. And this joke came to her mind for a reason. Her instinct was sending her signals saying, ‘Hey… be careful. This seems a little fast’.
And she should have listened. Ultimately, I think the date went fine but what harm would it have caused for her to listen to that little voice and decline the invite?
Someone might say the worst-case scenario to her declining is that he’s not happy and breaks off the relationship, maybe he evens gets angry and calls her names. Or he just ghosts her.
If he did any of those things, I’m sure she’d be really upset, but is it really the worst case scenario? I don’t think so. In reality, she would have actually dodged a bullet with this guy.
Best case scenario, he says he totally understands and agrees to plan a date next week.
I’m reading an amazing book right now on listening to our instincts called The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence by Gavin de Becker. I highly recommend it because it really does shine a light on things we need to pay attention to. Our instincts are constantly sending us information, and it’s time we start listening.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that listening to your instincts means living in fear or dumping someone at the first sign of something you don’t like.
I’m simply suggesting slowing everything down, especially when you find yourself in a whirlwind of flowers and dates and gifts and all-day texting and deep conversations about babies and futures and worst fears… and you met him 2 weeks ago.
I’m just saying pause, be with your thoughts, listen to the little pokes your instinct is giving you, then try setting some boundaries. See what happens.
True love does not resist boundaries. It does not get angry when you ask for space.
It appreciates the life you have, the friends you keep, the passions in your heart. It is patient and kind and warm.
And if it feels like it’s too much or moving too fast or too good to be true, it’s likely all of those things.
Now even with all this information, these types of abusers are very, very good at convincing people to do what they want. So, please, don’t feel any shame around having been caught in one of their nets.
On the next episode, I’m going to go into the next steps a narcissistic abuser or coercive controller takes with the goal of keeping you in the relationship.
They’ve ensnared you with the love-bombing, idealization and future faking but that’s only the hook. It’s the bait, to catch your interest and make you feel feelings you’ve never felt before and want to keep feeling forever.
But it won’t be forever because once you’re hooked is when the devaluation begins.
Thank you so much for joining me today, healthy mama. Chin up and rose-coloured glasses off because today’s the day we see the world a little clearer than we did yesterday because healthy moms raise healthy kids.