Shell Shocked

shell shocked

I remember when I was  kid there was an old guy (probably he wasn’t that old, I was just really young and he was, well……… shell-shocked. he would wander through town yelling at people to “get down!!”, swear a lot and in general scare the crap out of anyone in his vicinity. I know he sure scared the crap out of me but I also felt sorry for him and he gave me a very real fear of war, to the point of having nightmares about my father and brothers being taken off to fight.

My dad told me he was “shell-shocked”, saw too many horrible things during the war and his mind just snapped and left him in his own hell, for the rest of his life fighting a war with the demons in his head that wouldn’t let him forget. People staring at him, pointing, laughing. Who knows the horrors he saw, what he was still seeing when he was running through the streets crying to get down. i often wondered what was he like before he went off to fight? Had he been a handsome young man full of confidence with plans for the future, did he have a wife, children? What was it that eventually made his mind snap? Was it a slow process? or did it happen instantly?

Like i said, I ended up with an irrational fear of war and still can not watch war movies, I don’t find pain and suffering entertaining in the least and I think most wars are fought for the wrong reasons and it somehow gives people the right to treat other people like animals, worse than animals. All of a sudden the “enemy” is deserving of totally inhumane treatment and people who would never hurt anyone as a civilian find humor in humiliating a prisoner of war or torturing some enemy soldier who is only trying to stay alive like the rest of them.  I can’t stand on my soup box about war because I have never been there, I just know what I read and see on the news, the atrocities our own soldiers commit, we the civilized world.

Life with a narcissist is not that much unlike fighting in a war, on uncharted territory, never knowing what to expect, if the enemy is going to appear and kill you or torture you. They compare living with a narcissist to being a prisoner of war, where all your rights are taken away, you are punished for thinking the “wrong” thoughts, where food is rationed out and you are never sure who the enemy is. Where you are “reprogrammed” and beliefs you have held your whole life are wrong, the other person is right and until you accept that your beliefs are wrong you will be punished. It is much easier on you if you abandon your belief system and adopt theirs, even if you don’t believe it, if you just pretend, they may be less cruel to you.

Where they pit one against the other, try to get the prisoners to rat on their fellow prisoners, just like the narcissist pits two women against each other. What an evil trick and so clever, get the victims arguing among themselves and they won’t be able to stage a revolt, they will be so busy spying on each other, distrusting each other they will leave the abuser alone. It has been a common tactic for centuries; but I suppose there have been narcissists for centuries also.

If the narcissist can keep the people who could bring him down fighting among themselves he is safe.

The narcissist is the exaggeration of everything a regular human being is, he is the same as you and I but with no filters, no boundaries, no conscience to keep him in line and he knows that it is human nature to want to believe the worst in people. For whatever reason, it seems people generally love gossip, and if it is reputation destroying gossip, all the better; it makes millions of dollars for the Inquirer and other Gossip mags every day.

It is hard to believe that all narcissists are smart enough to do it on purpose but they all seem to follow the same MO so who knows.

The scenario goes something like this;

They treat the victim like crap BUT don’t dump them, they keep them trying to fix the relationship and keep sending mixed signals so the victim is so busy trying to save the relationship they don’t have time for anything else.

Behind the victim’s back the narcissist is paving the way for when he leaves; telling people that the victim is being unfaithful, treats them like shit, doesn’t do anything around the house, is demanding and generally a bitch. The narcissist is gathering his army around him, collecting his “team” and winning the sympathies of everyone who will listen, careful to always be the victim and to act like he really hates to say bad things about the victim and to make people think he really loves the victim and has tried everything he can think of to keep the victim happy.

(I remember a few months before we split I was picking James up from work and his buddy who worked with him, gave me a CD of love songs and told me to listen to them. I forget who it was now but at that time the singer had a really touching love song out. I sat waiting for James to get off work listening to this CD and crying my eyes out. I was not the one who should have been listening to the tape, I knew James must have been complaining about me to him. I knew I was on my way out the door, I didn’t try to defend myself to the guy. I thought I will just carry on being myself and the people who matter won’t believe him.)

What I didn’t realize and most victim’s don’t realize is you are in a war with the narcissist, you have always been the enemy and he is carefully and strategically plotting to destroy you. It sounds melodramatic, like something out of the movies and all victims are still clinging to the hope he will “snap out of it” and most definitely they can not fathom him ever lying about them or trying to destroy them; after all you have stood by them through thick and thin. You two have a special bond and love that would never allow him to hurt you like that. You know him, better than he knows himself and you know he could never slander you or try to destroy your reputation.

You have broken up before and you know he will eventually come back, begging you to forgive him, you two always get back together somehow. he always misses you as much as you miss him, you really do love each other, if only you could get through to him, make him understand why you are suspicious, prove to him how much you love him; if he would stop trying to sabotage the relationship, the two of you could get on with loving each other. But the relationship has become one break up after another, it is just the way you are now. You don’t even really believe him anymore when he tells you it’s over, because he always gets in touch somehow.

And then it happens, or it doesn’t happen; he doesn’t call, he doesn’t want to come back, he has met someone new and you are nothing more than garbage to him. You are shell-shocked, you walk around like a zombie, you hear the horrible things he is saying about you, telling everyone that you did to him all the horrible things he did to you. You can’t even defend yourself because everyone believes him and you were so loyal and never told a soul. You can’t believe all the stuff you tolerated and forgave, how you loved him unconditionally and he is in love with someone else and is calling you the psycho bitch; just like he used to call his ex to you, and say you were nothing like his ex. NOW, you are the ex.

All the things you tolerated in the name of love suddenly take on a whole new meaning, they become abuse, not misunderstandings, you realize he never really loved you, he was using you, you are hit full in the face with reality and it knocks the wind out of you, you are reeling, you wander around, the walking wounded amazed that the world is still revolving when you want to die.  People expect you to work, talk, function and you can’t form a sentence, can’t think a coherent thought, your mind is flooded with pictures of him and her, all the times you thought he was cheating and he denied it and called you crazy. The birthdays he ruined, the things you lost in the name of love, and no one understands and you can’t find the words to explain what you are feeling. You are broken and feel you will never be able to put the pieces together again, you don’t even know where the pieces are or what they were, who you even were before you gave away everything you stood for. You are shell-shocked.

Like that old guy from my childhood, your mind turns against you, you dream about the narcissist, he invades your thoughts every day all day, you feel you are losing your mind, that you have no control over your own thoughts.

As with the war vets of the First World War, the victims of a narcissist have many of the same symptoms, staring blankly into space for hours, unable to form sentences, some victims are literally unable to move, shake, cry uncontrollably, have erratic mood swings from depressed to anger, physical ailments appear, headaches, insomnia, eating disorders, problems with memory and even physical movement can be impaired. If you look at a War vet, a shell shock victim their eyes speak volumes about the evil they witnessed. There are not a lot of pictures of me from the time i was with James, but the ones I have seen, my eyes are dead, no sparkle. My mom mentioned also about a year after I had left; that there was life in my eyes again.

And, as with the war vets, PTSD, another name for Shell Shocked; is not fully recognized or understood. It is seen as the sign of a coward , even as a play for sympathy, and a weakness of character.

It has been 100 years since Shell Shock was first diagnosed in the troops fighting on the front line, the military is finally accepting PTSD as a serious consequence of trauma and is treating and trying to compensate their vets. Society is still a long way from recognizing it as a very real injury and disability victims of domestic abuse suffer and to expect a victim of abuse to “just get over it” or “put it behind you and move on’ is unrealistic and actually causes more harm than good. Well meaning people will say things without thinking, in a genuine attempt to help the victim and can send the victim into a relapse or add to the abuse person has already suffered.

Not only does there need to be more awareness about domestic abuse, there needs to be more awareness about the lasting repercussions of prolonged abuse and continual trauma, walking on egg shells and fearing for your life; living day-to-day never knowing when the other shoe will drop, never allowed your; feelings, freedom, thoughts.



13 thoughts on “Shell Shocked

  1. Sally Carter

    Again, Carrie, you are right-on. PTSD is so under appreciated as a disabilitating condition. A person cannot recognize its development, either. Our society payers a high price for this, too. Any soldier who has seen combat is susceptible as are victims of emotional/physical abuse to thes horrible symptoms. Sometimes it is not as obvious as the old soldier. It can be carried as a quiet demon that slowly kills its victim’s soul.

    Those reader identifying with any of these symptoms can have hope. There are successful treatments available. The work is not easy, but a lifelong reward.


  2. kim

    carrie all i can say is your post has summed it all up i feel shell shocked and too weirdly alert like something is going to happen thats bad fight or flight i did well recently but must admit today he took me to a hospital appointment about my chronic pain he sort of tried to be nice but underneath made me feel like he had done me a great favour because he missed work i felt too ill to get there on my own he said will you let me in the room i said no it is not his right to be in there with me he said so you just used me as a cab i am petrified of hospitals and he knows that just couldnt go alone he took me for lunch made me feel bad because i had no money to pay my half so i had the smallest thing on the menu im being honest i sort of felt like i had missed going to nice places with him but it felt a bit awkward he still thinks i should change i cant help having a debilatating condition but he can help how he reacts to it never mind he said lots of narc things makes me feel like hes doing me a favour by being a so called friend i slipped back a bit into the passive roll but pulled myself out i feel i am still treading too carefully even though i tried to convince him i am my own person now and will be myself its so hard carrie i need to be more independant i know i dont feel the same about him and cant trust him back to having hardly any contact and healing myself i think i feel lonely and need to try and make friends i am ill and very shy but will plan when i feel stronger it is like a war i am definately shell shocked very good analogy brilliant post thankyou xxx


    1. Carrie Reimer Post author

      Kim, maybe you just need to be a little bit lonely for awhile. making new friends is hard when you are feeling so low but turning to the narc is not going to help in the least. A support group might be what you need, other people who can relate to what you are going through, where you don’t have to put on a front. I know it is hard!! believe me I know, I felt shell shocked, just numb, yet emotional, i could sit staring into space for hours at a time, I had to remind myself to blink and breath. But you will get through it, you will. and the sooner he is out of your life bringing you down and making you feel guilty or “less than” the faster you will feel better.
      Every contact you have with him, whether you realize it or not because you are so accustomed to the way he treats you; brings you down again, puts doubt in your mind again. whether you had money for lunch, he took you to the hospital, you need to change, all of that is CRAP!! does he even hear himself? are you REALLY hearing what he is saying?? take yourself out of it for a minute and look in as an outsider, a casual observer, what do you think of the way that man treats that woman?? would you want to be treated that way? your daughter treated that way? What would you say to that lady who is second guessing herself; would you say to her,”Look sweetie, i don’t know you, but i know this; you can do a whole lot better. let me take you to the hospital. you don’t need this loser.”


      1. kim

        you are right carrie today i thought about some of the things he said 2 things in particular he said he is not activly looking for another woman but if it happens and another thing he said we could be really good friends like jerry hall and mick jagger he preceded to say but she is a confident woman who has her own life and they just get together he was meaning that i dont have confidence or my own life this is putting me down in a subtle way giving me false hope that if i get better then i am worthy and he would want me again but i only realised this today i am not so gullable anymore what he doesnt realise i am firmly sticking to my boundaries i will never have him back because i know i will never fit his unrealistic plan i am not fitting into his needs or wants anymore i have definately changed inside i can never forget what he did and will keep working on my own strengh i said i will only be myself now and i know he will never be understanding about my illness or my feelings he phoned me today to say he wanted to come round or go out at the weekend he is pusshing his luck this isnt going to happen today he told me about his problems again as well i have stayed calm throughout need to keep my distance even though i am a bit alone im not playing into his hands anymore they try and mess with your head i do feel now though from learning about his disorder and the support on here i am getting my own mind i expect him to change at anytime hes playing mr nice guy and realising what hes lost i think but its too late ive been through too much and treated badly he makes the excuse he was stressed i was more stressed and distressed theres no excuse for bullying thankyou for your sound advice carrie im on the way xxx


  3. T

    Yes totally accurate needed to hear this today…also…the narcissist can appear calm even amiable while the victim is crying and upset…Society then seems to favor the narcissist and their lack of emotion while denigrating the victim as being emotional or God forbid…crazy.


    1. Carrie Reimer Post author

      T, if a person was not so emotionally distraught and destroyed by the narcissist it is actually rather fascinating how quickly they can switch from being a crazed raging devil’s spawn to this calm, rational, amiable, regular guy who is bewildered by the victim’s reaction. I wish I could have somehow taped him and how totally whacked out he could be one minute and so normal the next. it really is quite a talent they have, A normal person can not switch personalities like that. For a while I did think James has multiple personalities, he even changed in his physical appearance. It is not just their lack of emotion but their ability to turn the emotions on if need be. James could cry at the drop of a hat. I don’t know how he did that, he would have made an excellent actor. They usually “over act” the part though. They act innocent better than an innocent person because they have no guilt, a normal person who is innocent will still get nervous if accused. Like if I go through a drink driving road block I will still be nervous even though I haven’t been drinking. A narc could be drunk and not look the least bit nervous because he doesn’t feel guilty.


  4. Julie

    I don’t know if this qualifies as PTSD but even one year later I still CANNOT walk down his street. I just can’t. Even when driving through town, when I know I’m getting close to it, I brace myself, I have to turn my head away or look the other way. I remember a year ago when I started in therapy, my therapist asked why was it so important for me to remain on good terms with this man, and I replied because I want to walk down his street without cringing dammit. Now I can’t even drive by that street without feeling this massive anxiety. It’s uncanny how we all feel the same stress symptoms, to varying degrees maybe, but still, we all have that common bond. Thanks Carrie, for another insightful post.


    1. Carrie Reimer Post author

      Julie, I think it qualifies and is quite normal. My ex’s new woman lived in Surrey, we had lived in a small town adjacent to Surrey. After we split I moved to a town about an hour away but still had to go into Surrey to do business. After I found out about his new woman and that he had moved in with her in Surrey I had a hell of a time going to Surrey, I became hyper vigilant, afraid I would see him somewhere and he started showing up where I did business every once in a while so I never knew when he would pop up. I eventually started doing business locally and lost money because of it but I could not handle going into Surrey everyday, the stress was killing me and I was always tempted to drive by where I thought he was living, or I would think I saw him when I didn’t. It just wasn’t worth it.
      That was over 4 years ago. He moved from surrey in early 2013 and I STILL hate going to Surrey, I still get nervous, anxious and can’t wait to get out of there. It is a trained response, our brains automatically revert to what it knows, and as far it knows we should be anxious. It isn’t even valid any more but it is all about conditioning and automatic reactions. As time goes on and I have gone into Surrey more and more, the reaction is less strong and I imagine someday I will have no reaction at all. It was the same when I moved back to Mission, that was where James and I first lived together. I had a hell of a time with ghosts when I first moved there, but after living there again for 2 years, I have new memories of the place and can drive through there no problem. But the first few months were full of memories and anxiety.
      Give yourself time, you don’t ever have to go down his street, don’t force yourself, you don’t have to prove to yourself or anyone that you can do it.


  5. Joyce M. Short


    You are so right about the need to identify the downside of toxic love to the mainstream of society. Often, as I defend Sexual Assault by Fraud laws to the public, I’m derided by people who simply fail to see the devastation that this behavior causes the victim. Your post is Spot-On! Well done!



  6. Rosi


    Your post is definitely pinpointing precisely what I believe most of us have been going through.
    Whether some are already aware of it and some not yet, it is basically prior to educate ourselves
    to become more and more aware that each symptoms we display makes sense, it is what they call “normal reactions to abnormal events” and in my opinion this contributes to give us back our sense of sanity.
    whether in the past there were lots of terms describing more aspecific types of syndromes named more phisycally such as “shell shock” for war vets, “railway spine syndrome” for survivors of train accidents (a term I’ve learned few years ago from a song by Radiohead “amnesiac” which I immediately related to PTSD), or Stress Response in the first text od DSM,
    they are all talking about the same: constellations of psycholgical and physical symptoms in response to one or more or frequent trauma experiences.

    Thank you for posting,
    hugs, ciao.


    P.S. if you’d like to learn more maybe you’ll find interesting this link

    PPS: to Kim, I’ve read on the net that the so called “spine injury syndrome can cause fibromyalgia.


    1. kim

      this is interesting rosi thankyou for sharing this i will ask my doctor i did have an epidural put in the wrong space in my spine they said at the time i could have been paralised i had a terrible headache couldnt lift my head they had to take blood from my arm and fill the space with it this was when i had my daughter i was only 24 i felt better after they did this but years later developed fibromyalgia i dont know if this was the cause initially thankyou for this insight i know stress also makes it worse i get all sorts of symptoms thanks rosi xxx



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