LOOKING at her reflection in the mirror, Ronia Fraser didn’t recognise herself. Ashen skin, hollow eyes, emotionally drained and dead inside. Even her trademark vibrant red hair had turned to grey.
Working as head of finance for a global music business, the now 39-year-old appeared to be “living her dream life” abroad, but inside she was a wreck.
Ronia, who now lives in Hastings, was in the depths of a narcissistic abusive relationship with Jack*, which only lasted a few months but left her broken and suicidal.
Narcissistic abuse is one of the most common and most dangerous forms of abuse, which remains largely unacknowledged and misunderstood.
Ronia, who’s now an award-winning narcissistic abuse recovery coach, tells Fabulous: “Abusers are incredibly skilled at causing deep damage in a short space of time.
“I didn’t see it coming. I had a great job, a nice house and was living in the sunshine. I was very successful. I loved my life and truly felt on top of the world.
“The only thing I didn’t have was a boyfriend. But I was OK with that. I wasn’t desperately looking for someone.”
All that changed when Jack was introduced to Ronia at a party. She says: “At first, he did nothing for me. It wasn’t like I thought ‘oh wow, that’s the man of my dreams’. He wasn’t my type at all.
“But we met up again the next day and within two days, he had become my everything.
“He’d say all the right things, shower me with compliments and make me feel like the most precious woman in the world. No-one had ever been so into me before and for the first time I felt seen, heard and understood.
“I fell in love very quickly and very hard. I knew nothing about narcissistic abuse back then, I just thought he was amazing. I couldn’t believe my luck.
“Looking back now, it’s ridiculous. He had nothing going for him, not even a job. My friends couldn’t understand what I’d want with a guy like that.
“I was the one who always had all her s*** together, then everything started to fall apart.
“This wonderful man I had fallen in love with completely disappeared. It was like he had taken a mask off.
“He’d ‘go missing’ and stop responding to my texts or calls. At first I was sick with worry, thinking something had happened to him. In reality he’d be with another woman.
“In time, he made sure I knew he was spending time with other women who were much more deserving of his love. My anxiety went through the roof and my self-esteem plummeted.
“We would go out and drink a lot, which in hindsight made it so much easier for him to take me down. I’d blackout and he’d tell me stories about things I’d supposedly said and done, saying what an embarrassment and disgrace I was.”
Mind-controlling substances like alcohol and drugs often play a big role in narcissistic relationships.
Ronia says: “I’d think ‘there’s no way I did or said that’. But because you can’t remember and you have no reason to doubt that person, who supposedly loves you, you start questioning your reality.
“Everything Jack adored about me when we first started seeing each other, he suddenly despised. He’d attack my identity, achievements, values, beliefs and everything that was important to me.
“I became ‘too difficult, too serious, working too much. Too crazy, just like his ex’. Within a couple of weeks, I went from being highly-functioning to not functioning at all.”
He’d leave me crying and hating myself, making sure to place a knife or box cutter somewhere close by for me to find. That was when I realised that I had to get out now because if I didn’t, I’d not survive another four weeks
At the same time, Ronia’s friends started distancing themselves, because she had turned into a self-confessed “crazy person”.
She says: “I was being really irrational and erratic. I would start arguments, behaving so out of character. It was like I was watching myself but there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t control my emotional pain.
“It was just too much for my friends. They tried to talk me out of the relationship, but I wasn’t listening. No matter how much they tried to help, I kept going back and nothing ever changed. Looking back now, I understand why they left, but it was so hard.”
Ronia says being a narcissistic abuse survivor is a very lonely endeavour.
She says: “When I looked in the mirror, either I saw a stranger or nothing at all. I felt like I had died.
“I had developed a profound sense of self-loathing. Jack made sure I knew nothing I did would ever be deserving of his love, affection and commitment.”
Ronia realised she was in real danger when Jack started to leave box cutters or knives behind every time he left the house, to tempt her to use them.
She says: “It would always follow the same pattern. There’d be a fight and he’d break me down emotionally, then leave me crying and hating myself, making sure to place a knife or box cutter somewhere close by for me to find.
“At one point, I asked him to stop doing it because I’d use them on myself. He just replied ‘oh don’t be silly’ and continued doing it.
“That was when I realised that I had to get out now because if I didn’t, I’d not survive another four weeks.”
Ronia, who had tried to leave before, adds: “Narcissistic abuse is very complex – involving emotional blackmail, brainwash and the tactical erosion of your identity. You lose yourself and you’re often unaware you’re being abused.
“You become incredibly weak and an addict. You simply run out of strength to leave. There are often threats involved too.”
Ronia’s red flags for narcissistic abuse
- Blowing hot and cold: One moment, they’re the most loving person, the next, they’re really distant and cruel. And it can change at any time. You never know who you’re dealing with. It’s like Jekyll & Hyde, a mask coming on and off.
- False promises: Their actions never match their words. ‘I’m going to pick you up’, ‘we’ll do this’, ‘I’ll be there at six’, ‘we’ll go on holidays’, ‘we’ll move in together’, ‘I’ll leave the other woman for you’… None of it ever happens
- Walking on eggshells: There’s always something wrong with everything you say or do and no matter how much you adjust to try to please, it’s never enough. As a result you become anxious about everything around them.
- The ‘crazy’ ex: Usually they have a whole list of ‘crazy’ ex-girlfriends. Eventually they’ll start calling you crazy and you’ll be the latest addition to the list. Remember, no-one acts crazy for no reason.
- Love bombing: You get overwhelmed with compliments and flattery at the start of the relationship. If something seems too good to be true, it’s probably because it is.
- Skipping stages: In a normal relationship, you get to know each other slowly and trust is earned over time. Your partner has to and will prove to you that they are worthy of your love and trust. In a narcissistic relationship, everything happens extremely fast and within days, you’re willing to drop everything for them.
- Silent treatment: They disappear for days and weeks on end without warning, not replying to any texts or calls(‘ghosting’), leaving you worried and incredibly anxious about what happened and what you’ve done wrong.
- Gut feeling: Every single survivor knew that something was wrong right from the beginning but overruled it, because they desperately crave to be loved. Your intuition is your biggest gift, trust it.
At Ronia’s job, everyone was oblivious. She’d still work 60+ hours a week, running the finance department as if nothing was wrong.
She says: “It was like a split person. In my professional life, everything was fine. And in my personal life, I was barely existing.
“Work was how I kept my last bit of sanity. I had a very healthy self-belief and self-respect. I knew I was very good at what I was doing, and nobody could take that away from me.
“Narcissistic abuse is something that can happen to anybody. And more often than not, it’s the women you’d least expect who are affected.
“I wouldn’t normally take s*** from anybody. But even smart powerful women can find themselves in these situations. At the end of the day, we all want to be loved.”
When Ronia realised she might seriously hurt herself, she escaped back to the UK.
She says: “I quit my job, sold everything I owned and ran for my life. I left behind my dream because I knew if I didn’t, I wouldn’t survive and I really didn’t want to die.
“I hid away for two years. Narcissistic abuse wasn’t really a thing back then, so it took me a while to realise what had happened.
“I was barely functioning. My anxiety was so bad, I couldn’t even go grocery shopping anymore. There were triggers everywhere. I became scared of going to sleep, because of my nightmares.”
Ronia started therapy once-a-week, but her mental health didn’t improve.
She says: “My therapist was absolutely wonderful, but she didn’t have the right tools to help me.
“Eventually I got really frustrated with the lack of results My therapist encouraged me to explore different things like acupuncture, tapping and breathwork.
“I had nothing left to lose at that point. If I hadn’t found anything, I would have died and to tell you the truth, I would have been OK with that.”
She went all in, on a mission determined to find something to reverse the damage. Once she did, , she was complex PTSD symptom-free within 5 months
She says: “I finally stopped obsessing over that person and what he’d done to me and shifted the focus onto myself and my healing. The impact was instant.
“But there is no magic wand that will make all of this go away, you have to put the work in. I did the work on myself first, then started helping other abuse survivors in 2017.”
Ronia trained in all the modalities which helped her – including personal development coaching, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), hypnosis and Havening Techniques.
She says: “I modified them specifically for healing from narcissistic abuse. Even though the trauma is complex, the recovery doesn’t have to be.”
After five years of working with clients one-on-one, Ronia has developed a proven roadmap to narcissistic abuse recovery and is one of the leading experts in her field.
She says: “Just because this has happened to you, it doesn’t mean your life is over. With the right tools and the right support, you too can heal from this.”
Ronia is an award-winning Trauma Recovery Coach & Clinical Hypnotherapist and one of the leading experts for narcissistic abuse recovery.
*Jack is not his real name.
How to get help
Women’s Aid has this advice for victims and their families:
- Always keep your phone nearby.
- Get in touch with charities for help, including the Women’s Aid live chat helpline and services such as SupportLine.
- If you are in danger, call 999.
- Familiarise yourself with the Silent Solution, where you call 999 and press ‘55’ if you can’t safely speak.
- Always keep some money or a bank card on you, including change in case you need a pay phone or bus fare.
- If you suspect your partner is about to attack you, try to move towards an exit if you are inside the house and get your phone in case you need to call for help.
- Avoid the kitchen and garage, where there are likely to be knives or other potential weapons. Avoid rooms where you might become trapped, such as the bathroom.
Women’s Aid provides a live chat service – available every day from 10am-6pm or email email@example.com
SupportLine is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 6pm to 8pm on 01708 765200. The charity’s email support service is open weekdays and weekends during the crisis – firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also call the freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247.