text by NATACHA CALESTRÉMÉ
photography by TORBJORN RODLAND
Natacha Calestrémé is a French writer and director specializing in energetic reset therapy. Her latest novel is Les Blessures du Silence (The Wounds of Silence, 2018).
How is it that some manage to enjoy balanced, constructive relationships, while others choose complicated, even toxic partners? And what if a theory exists that explains such destructive behavioral patterns so clearly that it could set you free?
Physical violence between lovers is deemed newsworthy. What’s less talked about, yet affects all of us in one way or another, is verbal violence. This plague is a silent one: it erupts behind closed doors, out of sight, and leaves no physical trace. It is one person’s word against the other’s.
When we are dealing with humiliation, the silent treatment, endless put-downs, and other rejections, the advice from therapists is that we must “learn how to say stop.” “Stand your ground,” they say. And yet, as countless stories attest, the two protagonists, despite the evident toxicity of their relationship, will almost inevitably fail to separate. One serves as executioner, the other as victim. Some will succumb to depression (as their sense of self-worth declines), disease (as their autoimmune system collapses under stress), or even suicide (when they can no longer see a way out).
The term “emotional dependence” is often used to explain this irrational attachment to a person whom we know weakens us, who renders us unable to act for ourselves or to react calmly to him or her. Without this other, we are lost. One person loves a lot, and the other less, it would seem. There’s an imbalance: a winner and a loser. But once we’re able to recognize our addictive behavior, are we then able to put a stop to it and move on in a different way? On the contrary, it acts like a curse and can even result in total abstinence from love. After experiencing sentimental carnage, people often decide that they’re done with love forever.
The death of a close friend led me to conduct a two-year investigation into the effects of conjugal harassment. At the time of the tragedy, I found myself wondering why I hadn’t understood the gravity of the situation and never found the words to help her leave — and, more importantly, why she hadn’t found the courage to get out before it was too late. In the 21st century, I learned, one can die of exhaustion after years in a relationship. Very quickly, certain qualifiers — namely, perverse manipulation or narcissistic perversion — emerge. These terms have become fashionable and so overused that as soon as one person complains of a selfish, mean, or self-serving attitude, the other is labeled “perverse.” Clarification is needed. We’re all manipulative to some degree. To laud an object’s beauty in front of someone else is to imply that we would like it as a gift. This is not, however, perverse manipulation. There is perversion when acts are committed (wittingly or not) on a regular basis in order to harm or destabilize the other. A repeated desire to harm is key.
Such pathological relationships generally begin as idylls, in the manner of fairy tales. This should set off alarm bells from the start. Things are too good to be true. This preliminary lure stage is destined to distort — forevermore — the foundations of the relationship. We will later cling to those first moments (which can last several months) as we might to a first shot of heroin. They are but temporary illusions, however, for the mask soon slips. Humiliations ensue, as do ambiguous remarks, known as paradoxical injunctions: “That’s a pretty jacket. Too bad you’re so skinny.” Compliment or put-down? We’re not sure.
After the waking dream, followed by the harassment, comes the silent treatment. Not answering our questions is convenient. We have a chance in two of being wrong. And we’re wrong whatever we say or do. We feel abandoned, rejected, misunderstood. The fourth stage of perverse manipulation consists of isolating the victim. This is essential, as the executioner drives away all those who might sound the alarm. This is done by criticizing family members and friends, one after another, on the basis of our own confidences — the secrets we shared early on because we felt we could trust the other person. If someone in your life withdraws from everyone else, take heed: he or she is undoubtedly suffering at the hands of a perverse manipulator. A dark threshold is crossed when the narcissistic manipulator incites the victim to quit working, to stop earning money and thereby lose the financial means to leave when the day comes. In the final stage, the manipulator deprives us of sleep by making noise or wanting to talk as we prepare for bed. Disease, depression, and even suicide follow. The brainwashing is such that some wonder whether they are, in fact, the victim or the executioner. To answer this, a strong clue is to observe which of the two never experiences self-doubt. Narcissistic perverts are convinced that they make no mistakes. They are never wrong — everything is someone else’s fault.
Even after this deep study, three questions remain unanswered: why don’t those whose eyes are open to their own ordeal still fail to leave? Why do some who succeed at the most difficult part (leaving their executioner) inevitably return? And why do so many of them end up with other manipulators as friends, lovers, or colleagues? Most believe that these victims are weak, hypersensitive, masochistic, or addicted to evil (nastiness is reassuring, they argue, because familiar). I’ve even heard it said that this is in the very nature of twin flames or soul mates: a love so powerful that it belies serene expression. None of these theories helps in any way because, once again, they court resignation: “I lack the willpower. I’m psychologically fragile or doomed to suffer in love.” This is a pernicious sentiment because it validates the other’s denigrations: everything is our own fault.
There had to be another explanation, and I was determined to find it.
I was on my third read of Femmes sous Emprise (Women Under the Influence or, more literally, Women Under the Grip) by Marie-France Hirigoyen, a doctor specialized in psychiatry, and poring through my notes from interviews I’d conducted with energeticists, when things finally began to make sense. When we receive a serious injury, our body protects us. It generates endorphins to keep us from suffering and our heart from faltering under the pain. With physical violence, our brain does the same: it protects us to keep us from going mad. As psychiatrists speak of it, we are stunned: petrified, unable to react. Dissociation follows: we observe what’s happening as if standing outside of ourselves, foreign to our own body. The third phase is mental flight: we are unable to reflect or think normally. What medical practitioners call “mental flight,” energeticists call “loss of soul.” It’s an intriguing term, but what exactly is the soul? The seat of our consciousness, our vital energy, our self-esteem, our self-confidence, our thoughts. Our crucible deprives us of all that. In alternative forms of medicine, this mental flight manifests as a loss of energy, which, in turn, opens a void within us. And the vital energy that escapes is absorbed by the perverse narcissist. At first perplexed, I soon discovered that psychiatrists speak of an “unconscious vampirization”: executioners repeatedly destabilize their victim because by weakening and denigrating the other, they feed and sate their flagging selves with the illusion of reburnished self-esteem. In sum, this was the same view of things, differently expressed. Could science explain, rationally, the loss of energy that ensues from perverse manipulation? Philippe Bobola — a physicist, biologist, cancer researcher, anthropologist, and psychoanalyst — explained to me that our body is made up of billions upon billions of molecules; each molecule is made up of several atoms, and an atom is 0.0001% matter (the nucleus and electrons) and 99.9999% space. He further explained that, according to quantum physics, this space is filled with energy and information. It was stupefying! Our body consists of almost 100 times more energy and information than matter. It now became conceivable that a shock could alter our constituent energy. This theory validates the notion of a loss of vitality, which all victims feel.
It’s one hypothesis among many others, but it suddenly made sense. The irrational attitude among victims had, for the first time, an explanation. We can, at last, respond to the three unanswered questions. We refuse to leave, even after opening our eyes to the toxicity of the relationship, because the other holds a share of our energy. We cannot leave our own selves behind. We’ve left our executioners, but we come back to them because we unwittingly hope to recover the energy that they’ve stolen from us. Lack, the traditional theory of love, according to which we cannot do without the other and will return despite the perils, is confused by victims with the parts of their soul that a manipulator has taken away. We are no longer in love with the person. We are irresistibly drawn by the share of our energy that the person has deprived us of and that our body tries desperately to tap back into. Our visceral attachment to the person who is destroying us is an illusion, resulting from secondary effects and ceaseless destabilization. Despite our suffering, then, the energetic grip upon us takes on the appearance of absolute, indestructible love.
The hypothesis of energy theft also explains why we constantly fall in with other toxic people. We reflexively blame our bad karma or ineluctable fate. Indeed, this is the sole domain where experience can effect no change, or almost: many tell of having spotted all the signs of perverse manipulation in another and having still failed to say “no” to a relationship. Being able to spot manipulators does not prevent us from meeting more of them because neither mind nor spirit nor willpower is in play. The thing occurs, in spite of ourselves, at the core of our every cell. This loss of soul — of energy — opens a divide, a void, which makes us detectable by perverse narcissists … and terribly attractive. Entering into this void (created by the energy theft during a previous narcissistic manipulation), new manipulators intuitively and unconsciously sense that they can manipulate us at their leisure. In short, as long as we have not closed the wound and recovered our energy, we are likely to encounter other toxic people. A further consequence of this energy drain is that victims will do what they can to counter the loss with the means at hand: alcohol, sugar, fatty foods, drugs — all the addictions that boost the body artificially. This opens us to criticism, which, in turn, feeds the other’s argument that the problem comes from us.
Dissociation, mental flight, and stunning do not occur only in cases of perverse manipulation. Do we not hear war veterans or survivors of rape say, “I lost part of my soul there”? During my research, I realized that a simple shock sufficed for loss of energy to manifest. I found a strong clue to this in all the people who never feel the grip of such manipulation in their family but suffer harassment after a painful event. Grief, a family move in childhood, the loss of a pet, the arrival of a little brother or sister, an accident, an unjust slap, groping, vexing or humiliating words heard repeatedly in childhood — any of these can provoke a dispersion of the soul. If we later encounter a harasser or a perverse manipulator in love, friendship, or our professional lives, it means we’ve lived through one or more events that have opened a void within us. And this void makes us detectable to toxic people. A child is being harassed? Look for the manipulation among those around him or in a shock that will have occurred just before the child became prey to executioners. This sort of thing can turn into a stroke of luck when it happens to adults because it can open their eyes to a childhood wound that has yet to heal.
Fortunately, it is possible to recover this energy and never lose it again. In my book La Clé de Votre Énergie [The Key to Your Energy], two of the 22 protocols I propose can help bring about such energetic resets. I delve into the subject by suggesting we get rid of our emotional burdens. The important thing is how we feel when we come into contact with those who are close to us. If we feel lost before the incomprehensible attitude of a companion, then we have lost energy, and the companion is feeding off it. If we feel drained by a companion’s humiliations or bouts of silence, then the person is siphoning off our energy, and we are losing our vitality. If one of our parents used to criticize us constantly, purportedly for our own good, and repeatedly humiliated us, and we stood petrified before this attitude, then we were indeed stunned; dissociation and mental flight did indeed take place, and loss of energy with them.
Should we bear a grudge against such people? Let us not fail to consider the pain that they, too, might have lived through to have lost part of their soul. At any rate, it’s high
time to recover it. In becoming whole once more, we repair the lineage. I provide examples from medicine, from therapists, and from doctors who have put these protocols for energy reset into practice and succeeded. It’s never too late to retake all our energy, grab the reins of our future, and achieve liberty in love.