My previous life (as a solicitor) has come back to haunt me. I acted for Carol almost 30 years ago and Sarah, her daughter (now 38), has tracked me down. She wanted help to piece together what happened when she was a child as she still feels confused and conflicted by it, and she wasn’t able to talk to her mother about it before she died. She told me it’s ‘tough, because I’m choosing to relive my traumas’ and ‘as hard as this has been I’m glad I kept digging as the smoking gun that I suspected was there all along’.
I’m sorry to say that although I remember their names I don’t remember this lady, although I do remember most of my clients. I can only think that this case was so awful, or that I felt I’d totally failed to help Carol or her children, that I erased it from my memory.
Sarah sent me some of the court papers and letters I wrote to her mother, and this very sad story has made for painful reading. Although I knew Jay, her partner, was violent to her it’s now so clear to me that Carol was also suffering narcissistic abuse and coercive control. But I didn’t have a clue about narcissists at the time (and most lawyers still don’t) and coercive control was unheard of. I can only hope that I was kind to her as I know I wouldn’t have been happy about her failure to protect her children, and I wouldn’t have begun to understand why she couldn’t fight for them the way most mothers would.
These are the signs I can see now that I would have missed then:
So far as I can see, Carol only came to me because Jay owed a lot of money and one of his creditors had a charge on the house and was applying to the court for it to be sold. They weren’t married, which made it all more complicated.
Many narcissists have lots of debts (because they’re worth it and can talk people into lending it to them) and there were lots of charges on this property in addition to the mortgage.
It seems from the correspondence that Carol was obsessed by Jay’s lies, and that the only thing she was interested in was proving that he had lied: she even brought me tapes she had recorded of him. The problem was that the lies just weren’t relevant to the issues we had to resolve, but she seemed unable to focus on anything else.
I know now how much narcissists lie. As one of my clients put it: the lies trip off his tongue like butter off a hot knife.
And I understand how painful it must be, especially if the lies are about you. But I’d really like to understand why the lies are worse than all the other dreadful things narcissists do – in this case including “dragging her around by her hair, hitting her over the head with squash shoes, having his hands around her throat, and smashing glass doors in anger”. Not to mention turning her children against her and encouraging them to abuse her, just as he did.
It’s something I’ve noticed with current clients too, and maybe it’s because it’s in such stark contrast to their own honesty. Despite seeing how well the lies work for their ex in and around the family court, victims adamantly refuse even to bend the truth a little to further their own case and help their children.
If you’ve been upset or distracted like this by the lies and can help me to understand why they are worse than the rest of the abuse, I’d be grateful to hear from you.
I realise many of the lies are part of the gaslighting and no wonder lots of victims say they feel they’re going crazy. An example of Jay’s gaslighting is where he says Carol accused him of stealing her purse and the children later found it in her room, where he had no doubt put it, and then sent the children to look for it. It’s hard to imagine two children both coming upon one purse in a room they presumably wouldn’t normally be in, but I doubt I spotted that at the time.
The refual to take any responsibility
Narcissists are perfect and don’t do anything wrong (!) so never take responsibility. Jay blamed his son for letting a dog out during a visit by a friend of Carol’s with her daughter who was afraid of dogs. Jay said he was well aware of this and ensured that the dogs were kept shut in a room but, unfortunately, his son accidentally let them out and “I have been blamed for the incident ever since although no fault can be attributed to me”. And this despite saying elsewhere that “I am left with no alternative but to take a very active role in the children’s upbringing as Carol has all but washed her hands of looking after them”.
Carol accused Jay of having an affair with a lady called Nicki. Jay of course denied it, but I think a woman in Carol’s position would be slow to make such an accusation if they weren’t sure it was true. And narcissists are rather prone to having affairs so my question now would probably be “are you sure it’s only one?”.
A Mother’s Battle with a Narcissist
You might also be interested in reading the 'Legal Structure of Divorce' a two-minute guide to divorce proceedings.