But I Can Change

BUT I CAN CHANGE

“But I can change.”

A phrase so often said by some of our kind. You will, more likely than not, have heard this sentence at some point during your entanglement with us. Usually it is uttered as part of a Preventative Hoover when the narcissist sees that there is a considerable risk that you are going to depart the Formal Relationship and in so doing threaten the provision of fuel from the chief source. It also makes an appearance as part of the Initial Grand Hoover to draw you back in, should you have managed to take those first steps towards escape. You will hear it in Benign Follow-Up Hoovers although following the effluxion of time you are more likely to hear the cousin, namely, “But I have changed.” Occasionally it appears within the devaluation phase, following an unpleasant episode as part of the further manipulation to keep you bound to the narcissist and providing fuel. Accordingly, its use will occur at different parts of the narcissistic dynamic.

To some, the sentence contains the magical words that the empath is waiting to hear. The empath’s inherent desire to fix, to heal and to repair longs for that acknowledgement by the narcissist that they can alter their behaviour, make new and fresh choices, learn from the mistakes and choose a better path. The declaration of a willingness to change is welcomed by certain empaths and they selflessly accept this statement, believing that all people have some good within, that it is a case of recognising this and applying a different approach.

To others, the words are welcomed but with caution. Perhaps the devaluing behaviour has been so deep and savage that the recipient is wary, fearful of their hopes being raised too soon. Their inherent desire to see change, for the good of both people in the relationship wants to agree, to grab this offer with both hands and see to its implementation, but dare they hope that it can be done? Indeed they can, for in that moment, as the cool, hard logic of caution makes its presence felt, it becomes overrun by the soaring emotional thinking that cries out – “He has realised. He knows he has done wrong. He wants to make amends. He wants to change.” The emotional thinking brings forth those twin sisters of pressure – Hope and Guilt. The empath, chained to the concept of hope, sincerely wishes that  the person that they love will change and become a better person. Guilt also weighs in, whispering, “What if it is genuine, what if he can change and you do not give him a chance, what a bad person you will be for doing that?” The emotional thinking will win out.

Rarely will this protestation of being able to change go unheeded. Rarely will the opportunity not be given to the narcissist who states that this can be done. It is only the informed, those who can apply their cool, hard logic and resist the rising tide of emotional thinking who can repel the allure of those enticing words. For everyone else, they are drawn into allowing the narcissist a further opportunity to keep they, the victim, in place.

Yet, who is it of our brethren who issues this plea? What is meant by it and can it really happen?

You will rarely hear it from the Lesser Narcissist. He sees no reason to change. He or she does as they want. If he smashed up the house or physically attacked you, well it was your fault that it happened and once the ignited fury has abated, the best you will get is that the reset button is pressed and nothing is said about the previous behaviour. The statement of change might be issued if the Lesser faces a fuel crisis and in absolute desperation it is blurted out in order to prevent the cessation of his primary supply but come the morning after, the intention will have evaporated and any suggestion of change will be rejected. The crisis has been averted, the wound healed and fury abated and the entitled Lesser is not going to make those changes, not when of course it was your fault along.

If reminded of his intention, he will brush it to one side, telling you he will look into it, that he is busy with something else at the moment but you can talk later, that he has to go to work, that he has someone to see and you will be left dangling. He will not return to the discussion about making a change or seeking help and fearing a further explosive episode you do not press further and there the matter is left.

You will rarely hear it from the Greater Narcissist. He sees no reason to change either. Oh, we know what we do but that is borne out of necessity and it is what must be done. Our needs, superior to yours, require this behaviour and if you cannot accept it, well we can easily find someone else who will, because, after all, we are the prize, the champion and the ultimate, so it is your loss. The Greater will not issue this plea as a Preventative Hoover or such like to stop you leaving. True, he will not want his primary source to escape. This is a matter of fuel provision but often more of pride and superiority. After all, the extensive fuel matrices of the Greater school ( see The Fuel Matrix – Part Three ) means that even if the primary source had the audacity to escape he has plenty of other sources to turn to in the meanwhile. He will however not want to suffer the wounding of this primary source escaping and will want to stop it, but he will use charm and threat to achieve this, not the plea that he will change. It is beneath him.

The only time you might hear these words uttered by the Greater Narcissist is purely because he sees the opportunity for more Machiavellian behaviours through manipulating his victim by engendering false hope. He will see the opportunity to increase his trade craft through agreeing to engage in therapy. He will see it not as a chance to change, but rather an opportunity to learn more about himself (and why not, since he is such a fascinating creature), understand more about his ways and indeed take on the challenge of therapists and the like. If he agrees to changing his behaviour and enlisting external advice and assistance he will also lay down terms and conditions for this occurring in order to further his own agenda. You will however never hear the Greater Narcissist use the phrase “But I can change” as part of some desperate plea.

Accordingly, this leaves us with the school which uses this manipulation often, far more often than the other schools and that is of course the Mid Range Narcissist.  The Mid Ranger uses this manipulation for the following reasons:-

  1. He sees him or herself as a good person. Their perspective means they genuinely regard themselves as decent people and therefore since they are decent, they will, well, do the decent thing and look at making a change;
  2. They regard themselves as giving and they are prepared to make that sacrifice if it means saving the relationship;
  3. They consider themselves to be something of a tortured soul, they have “their demons”, there is something eating away at them and they wish to address it;
  4. They need to be saved and you are the person who can save them. They lack the pig-headed arrogance of the Lesser or the sneering superiority of the Greater.

What is behind those driving factors?

  1. The narcissistic perspective. They consider themselves the one who does good and it is other people who cause the problems, but because they are SO good they will prove that by addressing the issues which have been raised. This is not because they actually believe there is something wrong with them in terms of culpability but rather it is actually an opportunity for them to show the world that they are good and it is other people who are the problem.
  2. This is the victim perspective coming to the fore. The world is a horrible place and no matter how much they try to help others, the world keeps trying to bring them down but that doesn’t matter because guess what? They will rise above it and they will be the one who takes one for the team, who makes the sacrifice and does so for the greater good.
  3. This is the victim perspective once again. They do not see that they are disordered. They do not recognise that they manipulate. They are incapable of doing so because they have no insight or awareness. They do however regard this whole concept of being a ‘tortured soul’ as a magnificent device for drawing fuel. Sympathy, concern and compassion all come flowing. This is not an acknowledgement that there is anything wrong with the Mid Ranger but rather he blames ‘the demon’ (whatever that might be) because blame-shifting is a key defence mechanism and blaming you, the neighbours, the weather or an intangible concept will all work for him.
  4. This is the victim perspective once more but also all part of the sympathy grab for attention. The Mid Ranger wishes to draw pity and compassion but then also be revered, for he is the fallen hero who has been saved and is then able to rise once more, in the magical thinking that plays out in his mind.

The Middle Mid Ranger and Upper Mid Ranger have sufficient cognitive function to realise that their behaviour causes a problem. This is where many victims (understandably) are fooled into thinking that the narcissist is actually showing insight (indeed this often causes them to either think that the narcissist is not a narcissist, or that he is but he can actually change) . The MMR or UMR may acknowledge that his actions cause hurt and problems, however, he or she will never accept ownership of the hurt and problems. For instance, they might say,

“I know that when I disappear for a few days you are worried sick, BUT I need space because you are always pestering me.”

“I understand that you are hurt when I say certain things BUT I am under pressure at work at the moment and you aren’t helping when you question me about why I am home late.”

They can see the consequence but they will not own the consequence. They are configured not to do so.

As is always the case, the uninformed victim accepts the third party explanation as the cause of the errant behaviour or self-flagellates and the victim blames him or herself. So the cause of the problem is regarded as pressure at work or the pestering of the victim.

The Mid Ranger will state he can change and moreover he will also act on the declaration which again sows the seeds of false hope and ensures the victim remains in situ and providing fuel. This is just a further part of the manipulation.

The Mid-Ranger may become more attentive, does not dole out silent treatments, removes the manipulations and stops sulking for a few weeks. This is a Respite Period and he has implemented this because when you said you would not leave, you became painted white again because you did what he wanted. You succumbed to his control and your gracious behaviour provided fuel. The golden period returns and this is what powers his altered ways. It is not because there is any recognition that he must change because it hurts you. The alteration is because you have done what he wanted, thus his split thinking makes you ‘white’ once more and this is what keeps the devaluation at bay, but only for a while.

Naturally, the unwitting victim, having seen changes effected (but not knowing the real reason behind it) is conned into thinking that these changes can happen again and therefore when the plea “But I can change” is made at a later time, the victim is swamped by hope because it happened before (thus it can surely happen again) and thus the cycle continues.

If you return to the Formal Relationship through an Initial Grand Hoover or a Benign Follow-Up Hoover you are painted white once more and the golden period returns, creating the illusion of changed behaviours. Until it tarnishes in due course.

The insidious manipulative manner of the Mid Ranger means that these changes come in many forms. He will alter his actions at home. He will cease the affair shelving the IPSS as your Respite Period Golden Period draws him back to you. He will help out, he will show that inkling of charm once again. He will of course herald his new-found redemption to third parties because this will garner fuel and maintain the facade and of course accords with his complete conviction that he is a good person. This will also provide him with ammunition to hurl at you at the appropriate time, in that he made the changes and if things have faltered it has to be your fault then.

The Mid Ranger will readily attend therapy sessions. This allows him to do several things:-

  1. Show you he is willing and a good person;
  2. He can maintain the facade, “Dawn wanted me to go to therapy and because I love her so much it was the least I could do.” (now tell me how wonderful a husband I am).
  3. He will use the therapy sessions to advance his own agenda. Often the victim will not know what is discussed owing to confidentiality. Therefore the Mid-Ranger, convinced of his own goodness and lack of culpability, will manipulate the therapist  (and will do so convincingly most of the time). Thereafter, the Mid Ranger will tell the victim that actually the therapist said that the victim is the abuser and that the narcissist is the victim. This might be true, an exaggeration of the observations of the unwitting therapist or a lie. Either way, this will leave the victim undermined such is the conviction of the narcissist. Ally that with the fact the victim has seen some changes, their own eroded self-worth and reduced critical thinking and it comes as no surprise that the victim is confused or even believes what the narcissist is saying.
  4. The narcissist can hold it over the victim. “I did as you asked and got some help. They told me there is no issue.” (Now you owe me and I am going to ensure I extract that debt from you repeatedly).

The desire to change is motivated by entirely different reasons than you realise and this desire is not genuine. The change is short-lived, never permanent and any and all behaviours associated with it, no matter how genuine they appear, no matter how earnest the pleading, no matter how many tears are spilled (and the Mid Ranger will turn on the waterworks) it is all part of the manipulation.

They cannot and will not change.

Grasp that understanding so that when you hear “But I can change”, cool,hard logic prevails and you resist the allure of hope. People are inherently optimistic. Empathic people even more so, but the dark side of this hope is vulnerability and our kind and in particular the Mid-Ranger count on that and exploit it.

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43 thoughts on “But I Can Change”

  1. I hate to compliment you HG but this is your best article about the Mid-Rangers. I’ve read them all and up to this day I couldn’t figure it out whether my ex is a Mid-Ranger or the Greater. Now I know 100% he’s just the Mid-one. Thanks so much! (Go to hell)

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    1. Sure is. I’ve been waiting for him to shed more light on this class. Never heard him talk about MMR and UMRs before.

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  2. My recent midranger never said any of this… I was the one that needed to change into something I wasn’t apparently… as we know, nothing will resolve

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  3. Very very good HG.
    “Hope and Guilt (HG) the twin sisters of pressure”.

    I logically know you are right. I am quite often betrayed by my treacherous heart. I am the Mulder of my world, I just want to believe. I am starting to realize that I am actually a good person. I inheriantly look for good in others. I give second, third, fourth chances. I always help or assist. I think once I understood the narcissist, then the focus shifted to asking myself about what you write of empaths. I learn more about me now and why I am the way I am, than I actually care about why my dealings with narcissistic individuals occurred in the first place!

    So thank you for the continued reminder that emotional thinking is bad. Logical thinking is good. *needle scratch* Wait are you covertly building a narcissistic army? Aligning us to your way of thinking?

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  4. Great article. This exact thing happened to me when I tried to leave. He started therapy. And boy oh boy can midrangers cry. It used to get me every time!! I relished the tears. These articles make me literally laugh sometimes how accurate they are. His sister would say “he has demons”. Yes, yes he does. Do midrangers feign being suicidal for attention? Mine threw that out as well. Although he did try to hang himself as a teenager (this was true and validated by his family).

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      1. I suppose you start and then fail, although it is one of the most effective means of committing suicide.

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      2. It is most effective way & I can’t help but think the above comment (ajo) regarding failed attempt, was intentionally failed. Narc behavior comes out prevalently in teen years ( as I know now)… I believe it was possibly an intentional failed attempt… just an observation

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      3. Ms B C☆
        My son just had a patient in the ER that literally tried to hang herself with a clothes hanger on the shower curtain rod……she fell and called 911. Imagine that call coming in and the lengthy explanation she gave my son. Hilarious but not? Nobody gang up on me for finding humor in a failed suicide attempt, she just really wanted some dilauded.

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      4. Any suicide attempt should be taken seriously. Heartbreaking to see anyone attempt to take their life narc or nonnarc. Life is so very precious. I feel so badly for those that feel this is the only way to escape their pain 🙁

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      5. Miss brown…i disagree taking your life is the wrong choice. We had a successful suicide by an acquantance and no one had a clue what he was going thru otherwise so many wouldve been there for him. He left behind a new wife and his two sons devastated. Theres other options and suicide should never be one of them. In situations of people in agony dying of a terminal disease i do feel differently. Its a very personal opinion. Suicide leaves many scars and devastation behind.

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      6. Yes indeed, we all have our personal opinions due to our personal life experiences!

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      7. Supposedly the belt he was using to hang himself broke. He was just 13 and had just been placed on anti-depressants (hence the black box warnings!) because he was writing dark suicidal notes to his parents.
        His sister said he was also suicidal when his wife left him and took the kids (I believe it as all narc supply was cut off and his perfect fake world crumbled and he was exposed as a cheat). She said his eyes looked psychotic like no one was home.
        He went suicidal the night I found suspicious emails from his now IPPS. The first thing his sister said to me when I told her he was suicidal was “do you think he is cheating?”. Now I see that it was probably all a distraction. He was extremely depressed around me from that point up until my discard. I was worried sick about his mental health. Now I know he was going to work and flirting with my replacement and coming home to act depressed around me. He told me he was “sick”. Right he was!
        Ms Brown, would love to chat more about when narcs “come out of the closet”. From how people describe him and how he described himself, he was a nerdy, backward Christian virgin when he was in highschool and got married. His traits seemed to appear around his first affair, which I feel gave him confidence that he had enough appeal to get women. This is also confirmed by his ex wife. Do you have any articles on when narcs begin to act like narcs? His sister said he threw tantrums as a kid and once punched her in the face when he was 8 yrs old. But he was the perfect student, athlete and was homecoming king 🙂

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      8. From what you say, it sounds like he was exhibiting sociopathic tendencies as a child along with narc tendencies manifesting in teens… the “golden child”…I am no expert, just schooled by experience. I would ask HG to direct you to more specifics to find understanding and answers to your questions….

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  5. He doesn’t talk about changing when I threaten to leave. He talks about it during the hoover.
    He told me I was the only one that could change him the first time he hoovered me. But not right away, he introduced that after few weeks that we talked. He walks in my life very gently, unnoticed. Just few talks here and there and then the talk about changing, like it’s an aknowledgment, not a plead to me or a request. It comes across like a thought he holds about change. As if I am the only woman he can associate with the idea of changing. That’s a true temptation for me. I feel like it’s up to me to help him. I feel like I have something positive to build on. This is how he got me the last time.
    This time…he said he’s been working on changing, all alone. He said he accomplished much in this new path but he’s not ready for a woman yet. But he will. He wants a real relationship, a mutual understanding, trust and faithfulness. And he will stay alone till he’s ready to give that to a woman…because he doesn’t want to hurt anybody anymore.
    So now I am the one that is waiting but he may not choose me. He didn’t say I will be the one. He said he needs time and then he will start dating again to find the right one.
    This could be false or true, I don’t know. I hope for him that’s true. But what about me? Nothing changed for me.

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    1. DTL — “he’s not ready for a woman yet” is just saying what you want to hear. During the discard, my ex narc said his being with someone else “wasn’t going to happen for a long time.” Ha! He’d been grooming my replacement for weeks and was with her before the door had slammed behind him as he walked out on me. Don’t buy the bullshit.

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      1. @recoveringnarcoholic Mine did the same!! Did he discard you to “find himself and get better”? I’d love to find someone with the same story as mine. I didn’t have devaluation until I exposed him. He kept the compliments flowing while he acted depressed and secured his new IPPS.

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    2. False!!! I heard the same speech. He just wanted to keep me around and keep me thinking well of him. He already had a new IPPS lined up. These men CANNOT be alone. Don’t fall for it!

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      1. point on… They say that, but in reality can not/ will not ever be alone! Went through this, but most pronounced in the midranger… he discarded & ended formal relationship, stated “he shouldn’t be with anyone and wants a divorce” mind you, same thing over and over for 13 years… I told him, in unemotional manner (no fuel) that he was too needy to be alone…. and went n/c

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      2. Ajo — His stated reason for discarding me was that we “didn’t want the same things,” but the truth was a lot more complicated than that. My devaluation was very long and gradual (about a year and a half), and while in retrospect I can see exactly what was happening, I didn’t see it at the time until almost the end, because his behavior toward me — while certainly not “golden” anymore — never became dark and abusive. He cares too much about what everyone thinks of him. He even tried very hard to get me to continue thinking he was wonderful even after he dumped me like garbage and came out of the closet with his simpering skank.

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  6. Excellent article, HG. I think you know my narc ex personally. The best line is, “They can see the consequence but they will not own the consequence.” I’m sending this to Mr. Mid-Ranger’s daughter, who knows he’s a narc. I’m sure she’ll find it as familiar as I do.

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  7. This is interesting.

    My Upper Mid-Ranger tells me that he sees things differently now, that he knows how much pain he caused and that he is sorry. He (seemingly) accepts responsibility for what he did, but immediately minimises what happened by saying ‘that’s just life’. That is simply not good enough! I am not interested in excuses! Lastly, he states his wishes and determines the conditions regarding any future contact.

    It tears me apart to read such messages… because you are reminded of what you thought you had, who you thought this person to be. He was the world to me. The One. I don’t know how to recover from that, perhaps that’s not possible. But I can see through him now, and I remain silent.

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    1. Stick to your guns, Matilda, and recovery will come. At least that’s what I tell myself. One thing I’ve found helpful was achieving a complete separation in my mind between the man I thought he was (whom a part of me will always love) and the man he turned out to be (whom I will always despise). They’re two completely different men. And the one I loved is dead. He hasn’t gone on to someone else. He never existed; still doesn’t. Therefore, he’s dead.

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  8. I’m definitely with a lower. Not once has my N ever admitted fault. I’ve always been the one to take the blame, say I’m sorry, say I’ll work on myself, the relationship, be better, etc.

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  9. Very interesting article. It really gives me the clear distinction between the three schools. As of own experience ,my ex greater attended several couple therapies and now I understand that it was a matter of pride and superiority. He agreed to attend them( one for each year we were together) driven by the challenge of not losing “the battle”. Losing the battle for him was not losing me but the realisation that his manipulative techniques were not succeeding in keeping me. He was the most charming,caring,loving person during the therapies ..but he actually never said he wanted to change. Now I understand that he attended therapies in order to find more about me: my vulnerabilities,my fears,my desires,whatever he could use to keep me by reinforcing the addiction to him.To improve his manipulative strategies..
    He wanted to avoid losing the battle…the battle towards himself..his own battle…

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  10. Absolutely spot on, as ever HG. He promised to go to therapy for his issues, as did I. He discarded me finally because I wouldn’t move back in with him until we’d both done so. And in other shocking news…..

    The most powerful lesson I have ever taken to heart from your work is that he would never have changed. And he never will. No matter what he now promises, emotes and protests to the contrary. It was a mantra I repeated often in the early days after our split to keep propelling myself onwards when he was smearing me to all and sundry. It was a kernel of truth that I clung to.

    I once joked in the supermarket that he should try Johnson’s No More Tears shampoo, on the basis that maybe it would work for kids of all ages. He wasn’t best pleased ☺️

    Great stuff.

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  11. This is a wonderful piece. It really helped me get a grip on what level he is and why he is acting this way at the moment. I am currently going through an “I can change” period where there is a lot of talk but no action, at least not towards me. If anything, the therapy is making him worse. He even admits to manipulating the therapist and thinking she is an idiot. The worst part of it all, and I don’t know if anyone else has gotten here, is that even in knowing all of this, even in having gone through this for so long, I don’t actually need him to change. It’s more exhausting to see how fake the whole game is. I would prefer he just be himself (with appropriate public masks, of course, because he needs to remain socially acceptable.) I don’t mind who he is when he is being authentic, or at least as authentic as he is capable of.

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    1. Authentic self? That’s what I used to tell mine and I believed he was being as such. Although he didn’t have to “perform” as much for me as I am not into grand gestures…it’s sad to know his authenticity was still an act. They have no idea who they are absent of someone to mirror. He was just mirroring me. The real guy is a little angry boy.

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  12. Yep, this was on the lips of the ex-middy. Behavior over words!
    If someone is genuine, they apologize, own, and make those changes quickly. (Now, I got snagged a couple of times by those tiny changes, though no more!). Not this long drawn out, waiting until you are on the verge of leaving BS. It is rectified quickly with non-narcissists if the person cares for you.

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  13. I’ve read your book as well as this article and to be honest, as I am currently studying bsc psychology as well as having 2 narc ex’s, I find your work extremely interesting. I am, as I now am aware (only recently) an extremely high functioning aspergers lady as well as as an extreme empath; a lethal combination it seems when considering myself as a narc victim (the perfect prey). I spent my first marriage with a mid-ranger who would lock me in the house and stop me having any relationships outside of the two of us. He took my children away when I left, as he knew that they were all I cared about. They are now 15&14. I haven’t seen them in a year, he’s manipulated his new wife to take on the role as their mum and to turn them against me. My second is sexually driven, although not intelligent, good with words (a charmer). He beat me black and blue, raped me for years in my sleep and then attempted to kill me, making it look like suicide. I survived, obviously…….but then he took me to court for full custody of my daughter, totally manipulated social services and nearly won. He claimed I had mental health problems. He only gained 50/50 with my daughter. He already had another woman lined up when I left because of his attempted murder and rape. He got away with everything.
    I have survived…..I am more resilient than anyone could ever believe, I’ve survived attempted murder, continuous rape, character assassination, the lot…….and do you know what??? I’m still kind and caring and empathetic and giving…..I still want to help people.
    No matter what these narcissistic bastards do…..don’t ever let them ruin who you are…. don’t get angry or even….rise above it!!!
    And to the author of this article…..THANK YOU for giving me the tools to avoid getting in this situation again. May be there is light at the end of the tunnel for you……😊

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    1. Welcome on board Louise, I am sure you have much to share here owing to your experiences and you are welcome.

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