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:

The debts

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.

The lies

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.

The gaslighting

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”.

The affair

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?”.

Involvement of police and other agencies

Carol had called the police several times and social services had some previous involvement with the family. This is a tell-tale sign of a desperate parent trying to get help for themselves and their children, usually without success as the narcissist always talks a better story and is able to manipulate professionals as well as their family.

Other agencies can equally be involved by the narcissist who likes nothing better than a drama, so it’s not necessarily indicative of which of the two is, in fact, the abusive partner.

Isolating her from her friends

When Carol tried to negotiate with Jay to have friends come to the house, he refused to agree to give her privacy stating that he must stay in the room the entire time. Carol lost all her friends as a result of his behaviour and threats towards them, and her family did not know what was going on.

Jay changed his car from an automatic to a manual, which Carol no longer had the ability to drive, and took her off the insurance, which was another tactic to isolate her.

Loss of her own identity

Carol said she didn’t call the police before because it was not the Indian way – but as Jay was quick to point out, she was not Indian, although he was.  It’s not unusual for a woman to be completely taken over by a man like this, who never stops telling her what she is and what she isn’t, until she has completely lost herself in the relationship.

Sarah says: “Mum didn’t have a business career like dad. She didn’t know how to form legal arguments. She was just a mum losing her health whose partner ran her into the ground and convinced everyone in her life she was the enemy and she had no one she could lean on. She had started taping him but was trying to find a legal forum to share them with us because she didn’t want to share without approval and that never happened.”

I say: mother knows best (even when father tells her she doesn’t). If you feel something is right go ahead and do it, don’t wait for approval. However, I’m not sure that making the children aware of their father’s lies in this case would have helped:  they were clearly terrified of him and controlled by him and it’s unlikely they would have done much differently as a result, although maybe they would have felt a little less confused.

Financial control

When he went away to India, Jay gave money to his 11 year old son instead of to Carol. It seems all she had for herself was the child benefit which she did well to hang on to, as I’m sure he would have tried to talk her into handing it over to him. In response to her allegation that he refused to provide them with sufficient bedding, Jay states that Carol and the children were never cold. This is typical of a narcissist to know how someone else feels better than the person knows themself … although by the time he’s finished they often really don’t know how they feel.

The failure to give instructions

I wrote several letters asking Carol how I should reply to things and how she wanted to proceed, but didn’t receive a response. However, when I asked her to attend a conference with counsel in London she was able to get herself there without a problem.

I now understand that people who have been traumatised by abuse are not able to make decisions or have clarity about where to go next. However, if you give them simple instructions e.g. go somewhere at a specific time, they are able to respond to that. It would be a little easier now when we all have mobile phones, but Jay refused to allow Carol to use the home phone to call me when she asked, so she had to make calls from a pay phone or the neighbours’ house. His solicitors then accused her of seeking to delay matters.

The failure to follow legal advice

Poor Carol just couldn’t do what both her barrister and I were telling her she needed to do to protect her children and herself. And I could not understand why she wouldn’t: I’d never heard of trauma bonding or Stockholm syndrome. Now I realise she had him in one ear and me in the other – and he was shouting louder and longer and she’d long been brainwashed and totally controlled by him.

This is very similar to how Sally Challen was controlled, which I’ve written about here

So, even if I had been more aware of what was really happening, would it have changed anything? I doubt it, because I think it would have been impossible for Carol to leave – even if Jay wasn’t threatening her that she would lose custody of the children. There simply wasn’t the awareness of abuse and coercive control that there is now, nor the help for it.

If she came to me now I might recommend a therapist who understands narcissistic abuse (although there don’t seem to be too many who really do) or maybe David Kilmurry. He’s a psychologist and hypnotherapist who one survivor told me is “really compassionate about victims of domestic abuse. His advice and hypnosis helped me beat the family court system. He also does a special rate for victims as he knows money’s tight. He’s very honest, and doesn’t insist you do lots of sessions with him. In fact, he says one session is usually enough in most cases. I went back to him a couple of times more, as I felt I needed more, and he gave my son a confidence and assertiveness hypnotherapy and coaching session, which has definitely worked! I’ve recommended David to other survivors, and they’ve had positive results too.”

The narcissist always wins

I wish I could report something more positive from this whole sorry tale but, as is most often the case, Jay managed to manipulate everything to go his way. Much of the legal case I dealt with was about who owned how much of the house and it’s unclear from the papers remaining whether this was ever resolved. What is clear, however, is that they both continued to live in the house and, when Carol’s mental health was failing, Jay took her to his own solicitor (rather than back to me) to make her will. This left everything to him, rather than to her children as she wanted. Jay continues to live in the house to this day.


I will continue Sarah’s story next month, which will be about how she and her brother coped, how social services and the court got it wrong, and how their childhood has affected their lives.