How I Used Numbers to Escape a Narcissist

How I Used Numbers to Escape a Narcissist

May 17, 2024

This story contains descriptions of abusive relationships. If you are experiencing abuse in your own relationship, please know you are not alone, and there is help available. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at (800) 799-7233. You are worthy of safety and respect.

Ten years. A decade spent navigating a psychological minefield with the man I refer to as “Voldemort” because even the utterance of his name repulses me.

During my time with him, I calculated every word and every action in a constant and humiliating dance to avoid his wrath. But even after escaping that carefully constructed reality, a part of me remained trapped in the shadows. It was a silenced voice, yearning for freedom, to reclaim the pieces of myself I'd left behind.

Years later, a conversation with a dear friend cracked open the dam of silence. It wasn't a dramatic confrontation but a simple question laced with concern: “How did you find the courage to speak out?” The question hung heavy in the air, a challenge fueling an unexpected source of strength. At that moment, the voice that had been dormant for so long stirred, urging me to reclaim my narrative.

I will never forget the insidious fear that coiled around me, a constant serpent squeezing the laughter from my throat. The terror that gripped me whenever the familiar slam of his car door shattered the evening quiet was a trigger, a jolt that sent a surge of adrenaline through me, preparing me for the battle ahead. His manipulation tactics were a cruel symphony – a combination of gaslighting that twisted reality until I questioned my sanity. He expertly crafted emotional manipulation and psychological barriers to prevent me from exiting the relationship that convinced me that life without him was impossible. But this story isn't about him; it's a public declaration of healing, a testament to the strength it takes to deconstruct such a manipulative web.

For many trapped in similar situations, breaking free seems like an impossible dream. They convince you they're irreplaceable, slowly trapping you with intentional maneuvers that weaken you. It takes immense strength to break free. For me, after many tries, one terrifying fight became the wake-up call I needed.

This is the story of that night.

I: A Rude Awakening

How his narcissist rage almost killed me

A loud jolt shook me out of my deep sleep. The slam of the front door echoed through the house, disturbing the midnight quiet and filling me with unease. I immediately recognized the telltale signs – the stumble in his gait, the sickening smell of stale alcohol clinging to him like a shroud. Voldemort was home, and with him, the familiar dread that now marked our moments together. 

“Look at this damn bill!” he roared, throwing a crumpled piece of paper on the nightstand. His bloodshot eyes burned into mine. “Why can't you ever keep track of anything?” My mind raced, desperately searching for what I had done to cause this sudden outburst. But the fog of sleep and confusion made it impossible to grasp any memory that might appease him.

Anyone in a relationship with a high-conflict personality knows the drill: you have to manage their moods, no matter what. Sleep, rest, anything resembling a normal life – are irrelevant. Their needs reign supreme. But this time, I felt a determination I didn’t know I had. No, not tonight. I wouldn't play his game. I said nothing, leaving his questions hanging in the air like heat-seeking missiles that would never find their target.

The situation turned violent quickly. Before I knew it, his hands were on my throat, demanding I apologize for the fabricated slight. In a surreal, detached way, I seemed to be looking down at myself, feeling the life force draining from my body at the hands of the man who vowed to love and cherish me. The more I struggled, the tighter his grip became. With horrifying clarity, I saw how close I was to a tragic ending. 

I feigned unconsciousness, and mercifully, he released his hold. Terror choked me. The man I once knew, the one with a gentle gaze that had captivated me, was now a terrifying stranger with narcissistic rage eyes…cold and lifeless voids. The caresses that once brought comfort now rained down as blows. His once-loving voice spewed venomous words fueled by fury. At that moment, I realized the relationship was dead, and worse, it could kill me.


II: The Mirror

Shattering the cycle of narcissistic abuse

The second his grip loosened, I bolted to the bedroom, slamming the door and locking it behind me. My reflection in the mirror barely registered as my own. My hair was a tangled mess, and my eyes were red and puffy from tears. 

But the most jarring sight was the handprint circling my neck, a grotesque reminder of the violence I'd just endured. The imprint of Voldemort's fingers, stark against my pale skin, was a brand, a symbol of ownership.

The woman staring back was a stranger – a shell of the person I once was. Outwardly, my life unfolded like a carefully curated social media post, a picture-perfect tableau splashed with vibrant filters that hid the cracks beneath the surface. The truth, however, was a relentless performance, a highlight reel of curated moments strung together to create the illusion of a perfect existence. I clung to the hope that one more self-help book, one more desperate attempt at normalcy, would somehow thaw the icy prison around his heart, transforming him back into the Prince Charming who had stolen my heart. He had vanished without a trace, replaced by this terrifying monster.

That night broke the spell. The sobering truth settled in: this wasn't a relationship; it was a life-or-death gamble. How had something so beautiful crumbled into such a toxic nightmare? Trapped in the cycle of abuse – tension, explosion, empty apologies followed by love bombing, then silent treatment, then a fragile calm – I'd become trauma-bonded to Voldemort. This cycle is often recognized as the narcissistic abuse cycle, typical of high-conflict personalities

Trauma bonding, I learned later, is a psychological response to chronic abuse. The intermittent periods of affection create a confusing mix of fear and hope, making it incredibly difficult to leave. This pattern is often referred to as intermittent reinforcement, which fuels the abuse cycle by alternating between reward and punishment. Voldemort had a charming and successful persona he presented to the world and was a master manipulator. He had hijacked my thoughts, turning them against me with subtle criticisms and gaslighting. In a narcissistic relationship, your partner focuses on their own needs and desires, with little to no regard for yours. They thrive on admiration and control and often use manipulation tactics to keep you feeling insecure and off-balance. 

But staring at my reflection, bruised and battered, a steely resolve ignited within me. I would escape. I would live.

III: The Power of Numbers

How to negotiate with high-conflict personalities

A crumpled receipt fluttered to the floor as I carefully reviewed the household budget. It was a mundane detail, yet it triggered a memory of my father, my greatest champion. He always said, “Kid, if it can't be quantified, it can't be controlled.” This resonated deeply. Voldemort, for all his bluster, was a creature of habit, predictable in his chaos. Numbers, however, were his Achilles' heel.

Papa's words echoed in my mind. He suffered a debilitating stroke when I was only 25. Suddenly, I was left to navigate the treacherous path of untangling myself from the trauma bond and life I'd built with Voldemort.

Numbers became my lifeline. My first step was to gain a clear understanding of our financial situation – how a separation would impact our cash flow and my ability to support myself and my young business. Digging into our expenses, I was hit with the brutal truth of Voldemort's vices and the staggering cost that burdened our family. Seeing the black-and-white reality – the amount of money and time hemorrhaged at bars – solidified my resolve. His attempts to convince me he was working crumbled in the face of those stark financial records. He was too deep in his addictions, beyond my reach. Therapy later helped me understand that saving him was never my burden to bear.

Facing the monetary realities shattered my initial hope of being able to stay in the house. As a couple, we could manage the mortgage, but on a single income, it was simply out of reach. This was a bitter truth to swallow. That house had become a repository for my love as my feelings for Voldemort waned. It was where I poured my energy and dreams. Even today, a pang of longing hits me when I drive by. It was a beautiful haven, yet a place where darkness seeped in. Ultimately, letting go of the house allowed me to build a life that was financially secure and true to myself. But reaching that point of clarity required a cold, hard look at my future finances.

To quell our mutual anxieties and prioritize facts, I crafted a financial report outlining the realities of our future separate lives. Having grown up surrounded by engineers, I understood the power of documentation. The report was meticulously backed by bank statements and valuations. Empowerment came from handling this myself, collaborating with Voldemort (working towards a common goal) instead of against him. My aim was to untie the knot, not create new entanglements. He functioned best in a business-like environment, so I strategically appealed to that side of him – the logical Tom Riddle (Harry Potter fans, I see you!). Lord Voldemort, the sadistic villain who thrived on misery, would remain dormant.

The divorce report streamlined our discussions, keeping us focused on the logistics of separation. Without it, emotional tangents and conflict would have inevitably derailed the process. Fighting was a non-starter for me. I was a cornered animal desperate for escape, but I held my ground, letting the data speak for itself. Suppressing my emotions and focusing on facts facilitated a swifter resolution.


IV: The Escape Plan

Divorcing a Narcissist Without Losing Everything

I knew Voldemort would relish making this ordeal excruciating for me. It was a textbook narcissist move. They thrive on drama, wielding emotional turmoil like a twisted conductor's baton, orchestrating chaos to maintain control. The more I squirmed, the more satisfaction he would derive.

I refused to give him ammunition. I identified his motivators and crafted a proposal that catered to them. After all, a divorce agreement hinges on mutual acceptance. Finding common ground, even if distasteful, allowed me to work with this man one last time to secure my freedom. This was, undeniably, the most challenging experience of my life. Yet, I clung to the memory of what initially drew me to him – his sharp wit and intellectual prowess. Let's not forget the tall, dark, and handsome exterior. My own Prince Charming. Some fairytales, however, have bittersweet endings, not happily-ever-afters.

I was committed to avoiding further conflict. My goal was to orchestrate the unwinding of our shared life with as much efficiency as possible, given the inherent heartache. Having the financial data readily available ensured our conversations remained productive from the outset, preventing an agonizingly protracted process fueled by mutual animosity. I strategically initiated negotiations while he still perceived me in a somewhat favorable light before he entered the narcissist discard phase – a common tactic of casting their ex aside and quickly finding a new source of admiration. Maintaining a business-like demeanor was emotionally draining, but the alternative – a drawn-out battle fueled by his need to punish and control – was unthinkable.

I presented the proposal at our kitchen table, facts serving as a shield against his emotional outbursts. The plan addressed both our financial needs and outlined the division of our assets. To create the illusion of control, I presented two options, both acceptable to me, and invited his input. Knowing my financial bottom line empowered me to navigate the negotiations, ensuring I secured the resources necessary to build a secure future. The notebook and pencil clutched in my hand served as a clear message of my seriousness. 

After reviewing the report, Voldemort opted for the first proposal, and the house was listed for sale. For a brief moment, we reconnected with the people we once were, able to conduct ourselves with a modicum of respect. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

V: The Road to Freedom

When Leaving is a Matter of Life or Death

The escape nearly broke me – but staying would have been a death sentence. I forced my emotions aside, wielding reason and mathematics to architect my escape plan. 

My father's favorite saying echoed in my mind: 

“If it cannot be expressed in numbers, it cannot be expressed at all.”

The influence of our parents, for better or worse, is undeniable. Their words etch themselves onto our psyches. My Papa, ever the pragmatist, prepared me – even in his twilight years – for the inevitable day he would board that celestial bus, leaving me to navigate life on my own. His wisdom transcended his physical absence, guiding me through the abyss and ultimately empowering me to share my story.

Sharing my vulnerabilities online isn't easy, but my purpose is to empower others facing their own “Voldemort.” Leaving an abusive relationship is incredibly dangerous. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, abused individuals are 500 times more at risk for homicide by their intimate partner due to post-separation abuse. Having a plan and seeking help from the right people are crucial. 

If you feel unsafe at home, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233. Remember, there's no shame in asking for help.

For those outside of an abusive situation, here's what I learned: The first step towards a successful post-divorce life is understanding your financial landscape. Start by creating a realistic budget based on your actual living expenses, not hopeful estimates. Remember, garbage in, garbage out! Then, diligently list all your marital assets and debts. Ask yourself the hard truth: can you truly afford to keep the house on your own? Grappling with these difficult questions now will pave the way for a smoother transition to singlehood.


Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Divorce is undeniably challenging, and there may not always be ideal outcomes. Sometimes, you'll face two unpleasant options, but choose the one that minimizes long-term hardship. Let data be your guide. Facts can help you navigate emotional turmoil and make informed decisions. The process will likely be arduous and potentially unfair, but the reward – your freedom and perhaps even a whole closet to yourself – is ultimately worth it. 

Read more about how we can support you with our High-Conflict Divorce service, and if you're considering divorce and want to increase your confidence in the settlement process, you can book a free thirty-minute consultation. I'm here to share my hard-won victory and help you achieve a positive outcome.