Irene endured a narcissistic relationship for almost two years. She spoke to us about how she managed to walk away and why, despite the harrowing situation, she is grateful for what she learned along the way.
"We hit it off immediately and it became very intense very quickly. He was everything I was looking for in someone — attentive, loving, romantic, funny and ambitious.
For six months we had weekends away, nights out, lots of laughter and romance. It really was a whirlwind and I thought, 'this is it, I have met the one I am going to marry here'.
And then the cracks started to show.
It all started to go wrong after a weekend away when we returned to his house where I found my pillow covered in make-up. When I asked him about it, he told me it was brick dust from work, and that my suspicions of there being someone else were very wrong ?— that I was very wrong.
I so desperately wanted to believe him so I put it to the back of my mind.
But then I had a message from someone who knew his ex-wife, who told her that he had been begging her to take him back.
The lies and deceit continued for many months ?— there were hotel bookings, dating sites and strange messages on his phone. The way he always hid his phone bothered me, but I was too emotionally invested to do anything about it at the time.
I thought I honestly could not live without him
Like typical narcissistic relationships, he'd twist things I said to make me feel that I was in the wrong along. It was pure manipulation, and I was too entangled in it to realise what was actually happening.
On my 42nd birthday, I had enough. I was fed up with the drama between him, myself and his ex-wife and I left him.
That was the start of my breakdown.
Foolishly, we continued to message, argue and even started dating each other again. I was very low, tearful all the time and the confusion over how I felt was pretty horrific. I knew what I was doing was not making me feel any better but I thought I honestly could not live without him.
He had made me so dependent on him that I hardly ever saw my friends. My whole life revolved around him and his needs. My needs were not important, not to him or to myself. This was co-dependency.
Somehow through all of this I managed to keep my job, but I was functioning at work in a very basic way – I was turning up and going through the motions but not really connecting with what I was doing.
I knew it was wrong for them to see their mummy a crying mess most of the time.
I started to research breakups on the internet. I began following some people who might be able to help. Going no contact was suggested a few times. I decided I needed to do that but I was so heavily dependent on him, I could never last more than two weeks at a time.
As a parent, I knew I was not functioning normally. My children were being affected. I knew it was wrong for them to see their mummy a crying mess most of the time. What's more, worryingly, suicide had also crossed my mind more than once.
The feeling that I would be better off not here anymore was strong, that no one would notice if I was gone and that my life was not worth living at this point.
It was soul-destroying and extremely lonely.
For the sake of my children, I decided enough was enough and that something needed to change. I knew I couldn't put them in the position of being without their mum.
So I made the life-changing decision to get a life coach. I stopped contacting my ex-partner.
It is amazing the difference it makes of just doing one thing for myself each day and by committing to doing basic tasks, such as cooking a meal or doing a food shop.
I started to feel stronger in myself - proud. I read books on personal development. Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod about morning routines honestly gave me the inspiration I needed to start living life again.
My focus remained on personal development. Then, last summer I started a 60-day challenge run by the American podcaster, Rob Dial.
It involved six pillars; No alcohol, exercising every day, a diet, visualisation, cold showers and journaling.
It made a huge difference to my anxiety and my mindset. The daily exercise, cold showers and journaling made a big impact on my positivity and gave me focus and a purpose.
I started getting insights into what I was thinking by asking myself daily questions such as how did I feel today, or what has gone well today and how could I have done things differently?
I became very reflective through this process and realised how driven I was. There was a sense of living again and my life being joyful doing things that made me happy.
This spurred me onto a new level of commitment to start my own business as well as my podcast One Dream One Vision.
I also started coaching leavers of the Armed Forces. It has been a big part of my life because I'd been in the Royal Navy in my early 20s. I knew I had an insight into the difficulties facing personnel leaving and how hard it can be to start all over again.
Starting all over again is what I've had to do. And it hasn't been easy.
For anyone else stuck in an emotionally abusive relationship, my advice is to get out and stop all contact where possible.
I'm very proud that my children now know their worth
If it is not possible due to children, then keep it to a very basic contact. Abusers survive on having contact with us and that feeds their needs.
Remember, we are worth more than the needs of someone like that. Life can be good again and it can be better, even alone.
Not knowing my worth was an issue that was there long before I met my ex, otherwise, I would have left him long before the abuse started. Loving yourself first and foremost stops you from being vulnerable to people like this.
I'm very proud that my children now know their worth and I make sure to teach them personal development skills daily. I am still learning along with them. By setting up my own business, I feel now that I have shown them the resilience and determination to become a better person, a better mum.
Image courtesy of Irene
Read more: The rise of the narcissistic and how to recognise the signs.