I remember the first time I tried to really ponder the concept of outer space. I was eight or nine years old at a summer camp, and we were all laying on our backs inside a beautiful planetarium, the ceiling illuminated with thousands of stars imitating the night sky. The speaker was first pointing out various constellations, and then in more general terms talking about how far away everything was from Earth…and then talking about how space itself has an edge. I had no issue with how vast space was. My issue came when the speaker was asked by another camper what was beyond the edge of space. He said, quite simply: nothing, or at least nothing we know of at this time.
My mind exploded as it attempted to process such a concept as ‘nothing’. I literally couldn’t comprehend it. Of course I understood the words that had come out of that man’s mouth; I knew what ‘nothing’ meant. My brain just couldn’t then apply the words to a concept that made any sense, instead insisting there had to be SOMETHING beyond the edge of space. A white picket fence of sorts separating it from the next ‘thing’ that would be called something else. That’s just what my human brain needed. Barriers and fences and labels and borders. It’s all I as a human being could understand.
The more I contemplate the relationship I had with my abusive ex Randall, the more my brain hurts in the same way it does when contemplating the proverbial edge of the universe. While I am intelligent enough to understand logically what a sociopath, a narcissist, and a psychopath is…it’s unbelievably challenging to actually comprehend what it means that the man I loved so much experiences little to no real emotion at all, and to accept the notion that any good memories or loving moments I had with him aren’t real. That any declarations of love, or times when we were laughing, or instances where he’d snap a picture of me and then put it on his phone as the screensaver…none of it was real for him. Not like it was for me.
It can be hard to accept that fact, particularly since the love I felt for him was so intense, passionate, and deep. It’s painful to contemplate just how one-sided the whole thing was. But accept it I must; and anyone who is recovering from abuse out there, even if the abusers weren’t actually narcissists/sociopaths/psychopaths, must accept this reality as well. It’s part of the healing process, and also, as my therapist has pointed out numerous times, one of the ways we can avoid becoming entangled with such people in the future.
Randall was that proverbial “bad boy with a heart of gold”…or at least that’s what I thought. Someone who’d had a hard childhood, and just needed to be loved enough to be saved from all the bad habits and the emotional and mental scars he’d acquired over the years. But that’s all a lie. There is no saving someone like Randall, in large part because he himself doesn’t see anything wrong with his behavior. Ultimately every bad thing he’s ever done (sans a few things here or there) he finds ways to excuse and/or justify. I watched him do it.
I’d call it his ‘magic trick’ each time he tried to pull it off. He’d apologize for things in the heat of the moment, particularly if he got caught, and he’d seem extremely sincere. But if you gave it enough time (sometimes weeks, sometimes months, sometimes over a year) he’d always ultimately come around to insisting that it was understandable/justifiable to have behaved the way he did.
Even the affair he had with Blanche that ended Round 1 of our relationship…he’d always verbally said he was incredibly sorry for what happened, but at the same time, by the end of Round 2 when our relationship was rapidly deteriorating as his abuse became more and more intense, he was starting to say things like “My relationship with her was more real, like we actually had a family together, her, me, and her girls, whereas you and I were long distance, separated by hundreds of miles and only seeing each other a few times a month”. Statements like that were intended to A) justify what he’d done, and B) wound me by saying that somehow the relationship I’d valued so much hadn’t been as real to him.
(And it’s complete bullshit, might I add; long distance relationships are just as real and meaningful as having a relationship with someone who lives down the street. My feelings for him were strong, and I was loyal. He was the problem, not me; I just wish I’d been able to recognize that sooner instead of thinking the problem was with me not being good enough for so long. Constantly trying to ‘measure up’ and gain his approval.)
Those justifications were because he didn’t feel things the way a normal person does. All the things he did – all the affairs and the lies and the STDs he gave me and the offenses he committed and the hurtful things he said – were because he didn’t feel love like you or I do. For me, to hurt someone I love leaves me feeling in pain too; but he didn’t seem to miss a beat. And as I look back, it really was calculated carefully; which moments he was loving and which moments he wasn’t. When he needed something, he turned on the charm. When he needed others to view him in a positive light, he was over-the-top sorry, sometimes even crying he felt so bad about what he’d done. When I wasn‘t measuring up to his standards in some way, he turned cruel in order to punish and whip me back into shape. And ultimately he’d come around to insisting what he’d done was justifiable and the wounded party (in this case me) needed to just let it go and move on.
Everything was clearly planned out with a cold detachment that demonstrated while I was caught up in the throes of passion, he was carefully playing a game of chess. I was just one more pawn in his game. And that hurts. That really, really hurts.
Which is why I have to just let it go. Whether my brain can really wrap itself around such a concept or not…I have to accept it as fact. Same as the concept of the edge of the universe. Maybe I don’t think about it too much any more, because my brain doesn’t need to hurt any more than absolutely necessary (neither does my heart)…but that doesn’t make it any less true. Accept, and then release. It’s a simple concept, harder to actually pull off; but in the end it’s rewarding when you succeed.
Some days I’m there. Other days I’m not. Just have to keep trying until it ultimately sticks. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes that’s the most productive thing we as humans can do.
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis. To learn more or to work with her personally, contact her through her website for a free consultation.
**Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities