So. It’s Valentine’s Day.
I’ve realized it can be a sensitive day for many people, regardless of relationship status, and can sometimes bring just as many negative associations and emotions as holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. Yet there hasn’t been as much discussion around the depression or anxiety that can befall people around Valentine’s Day as there is around the other holidays.
There are likely at least two reasons for this.
First, Valentine’s Day is perceived as a light-hearted holiday, even frivolous by some. If it is taken less seriously in the first place, then any pain suffered by someone is likely to be taken less seriously as well.
Second, people who experience negative emotions around it are often perceived as just being bitter or jealous. Everyone is supposed to pretend to be happy on Valentine’s Day. If they are in relationships, they are supposed to pretend to be in a happy couple. If they are not in relationships, they are supposed to stifle their grievances for one day, and let the “happy couples” celebrate. Any complaints are perceived as envy– either of those in relationships by singles or those in “better” relationships by the attached.
For the record, I love to see happy couples, and I hope and expect to someday be in one.
I do want to spend a few moments, however, providing a safe space here for myself and other people to talk about what Valentine’s Day feels like for people who have been or are in abusive relationships, specifically relationships with narcissists who use it as one more weapon to distort reality.
Valentine’s Day can be triggering for those coming out of abusive relationships with narcissists because it is a day specifically dedicated to the very emotions the narcissist distorted to gain the trust of their partners and violate them.
Now that I’ve been in no-contact for several months, patterns around this day have become quite clear to me. It’s interesting to note that despite the fact that it is dedicated to love and relationships, the day itself was always a fraud he used in his overall illusion.
Here is how it worked in my relationship.
- Devaluation and Discard. Starting huge arguments just before or on Valentine’s Day was not uncommon. I have mostly negative associations with the day in our relationship because of these arguments, as they were some of the worst. They occurred over alleged misunderstandings and things for which I was blamed and for which I had no actual culpability. I felt very confused about how they became so destructive, as he was vicious during these arguments and all plans were completely ruined.
- Hoovering And Future-Faking. He also used Valentine’s Day, sometimes the exact same ones around which he had started arguments either just before or after, to try to entice me back. If the day was coming up, he would use it as an excuse to get me to see him again, telling me he wanted to spend “one more Valentine’s Day” with me. He’d mention grand plans: gifts he wanted to give me, trips we would go on, lavish restaurants at which we would eat.
- Triangulation. If he was giving me a silent treatment or I didn’t want to spend the day with him, he made comments letting me know he had others to spend it with, or he would post comments on Facebook to indicate a disengagement between the two of us and that he was “single now” and ready to include someone else in the plans he had supposedly had ready for me.
- Control and Harassment. If Valentine’s Day passed during a silent treatment, I was subject to endless questions and jabs about what I had been doing with other men during that time. Nothing I said was ever believed and having a specific date for which people tend to go on dates, express their feelings for one another and give romantic gifts fed his imagination and allowed him to persist in harassing me with his extreme jealousy.
- Deflection and Guilt. He liked to say I didn’t appreciate anything he did for me–as if being grateful for times he was good to me canceled out abuse and gave me no right to speak up. Valentine’s Day gave him a specific day he could point to so it eliminated any vagueness on his part and gave him more ammunition. When he made Valentine’s Day special in any way, he threw it back in my face or brought it up in front of other people. He would mention it and then say I was selfish, never happy, or liked to cause problems, if I, for example, brought up a new lie he told me when he claimed to be earning back my trust.
Because of how Valentine’s Day was treated in our relationship, I don’t have a lot of positive associations with it. Here are the emotions that I’ve cycled through today:
- Anxiety. Remembering what it was like to be in the middle of that: knowing how much I wanted to make him happy, but also having the competing need to be a person with my own feelings and needs and not being allowed to have both.
- Anger. Remembering how hard I tried to make him happy, and how much of myself I lost and was expected to keep losing, and how much he blamed me even as I was losing myself and it still wasn’t enough.
- Envy. Wondering if he changed and he’s treating someone else better, which would mean either I taught him something or it had something to do with me.
- Acceptance. Knowing in my heart it’s not true because the pattern started before we even met and was continuing when I wasn’t even around.
- Relief. I feel glad knowing I don’t have to go through this anymore.
- Guilt/Uneasiness. I feel bad for being glad I’m not mixed up in this anymore but that it’s still going on and I can’t do anything about it.
- Resignation. I know I can’t do anything about it. I also know it’s time to focus on myself.
- Hope. I’ve been on this journey for awhile now, and I know that I’m going to come out of the other side a better person and that there will be a healthy relationship for me down the road when I’m ready for it with someone who can accept the love I have to give them.
I do think all of these emotions are normal and healthy, but I’m proud to say I’m at a place where they don’t run my life. I’m living my life and letting them flow in and out as they come. They’re in my background as I’m doing what needs to get done, attached to these memories I never should have had in the first place, because I was with this person who was disordered.
And that’s what I keep reminding myself. I am looking toward the day where they will be in my distant past, but today I am taking extra care of myself he never did, and being kind to myself in the way he never was.