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Chloe

Age at interview: 32
Brief Outline: Chloe met her partner via a local exchange forum website. Their relationship developed rapidly, Chloe fell deeply in love and the couple moved in together. Following an escalation of manipulative and controlling behaviour over nine months, Chloe became a virtual prisoner in her own home, fearing for her life and her sanity. Two years ago she escaped with the help of friends, and is getting support from a specialist domestic abuse agency. She is receiving counselling for PTSD and feels that her recovery will take a long time. (Video clips played by an actor.)
Background: Chloe is a 32 year old single white British woman born in South Africa. She lives on her own in a council flat. She works as a Holistic Bodywork Therapist but was unable to work at the time of the interview owing to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which developed in the aftermath of an abusive relationship. Chloe is single with no children.

More about me...

Chloe fell in love with a ‘charming’ Peruvian man, enjoying his constant attention and desire to spend all their time together, despite her early ‘gut instinct’ to keep away. She now knows that, using her business website and a local exchange forum, he had ‘watched her and researched her’ for some time, so that he knew ‘exactly what she did’.

Chloe describes feeling incredibly happy and her friends and family being ‘charmed’ by her partner, later finding out that those who felt otherwise did not speak up. Over time, Chloe began to notice how his ‘pretty mask kept slipping’. Early on, Chloe met and got on well with his ex-wife and four year old son, but over time she found it increasingly difficult to go out to see friends and family as her partner was jealous and created reasons for her to stay in.

When the couple moved in to a rented house together, Chloe endured ‘extreme manipulation of the mind’ by a man who stayed home all day. She describes an ongoing internal battle between her ‘gut instinct’ to get away from this man and her desire to make the relationship work. Sometimes her partner would open up about his difficulties in relationships, giving her hope that things would improve. All Chloe’s behaviour was observed. Her partner obsessively locked external and internal doors in the house and although Chloe had access to the keys, she had to ask for his permission. Any trip outside the house, even to the shops, was timed and followed by a ‘thorough grilling and intimidation’. She became very isolated and her therapy business suffered, as her partner met and vetted all her clients as they arrived, so that they ‘dropped like flies’.

Her partner did all the cooking and fed Chloe on poor quality food. He ‘worked this up’ until he fed her only on food she was allergic to and nothing else, which led to her losing weight and becoming ill and weak. She became fearful of his interest in and practice of voodoo. She finally had a ‘light bulb’ moment when she recognised that her partner was playing a ‘manipulative game’ and that her life was in danger. She ‘played along’ for a while until she was able to get a secret message out to a friend, who picked her up at a pre-arranged time using an invented cover story.

Two years have passed since Chloe escaped but the trauma of her experience has long-term consequences. Following an initial sense of relief, she developed symptoms of PTSD and has lost trust in herself and in others. She hopes that through gradual healing she will be able to put her experiences to positive use to inform her therapeutic work. (Video clips played by an actor.)
 

Chloe’s partner timed her if she left the house and his behaviour put her therapy clients off so that her business folded (played by an actor).

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I’d want to go to the bank and he would say, “OK, where are you going?” He’d check with me, he’d be really checking, you know, like staring me in the eye and just checking that that’s where I’m going. And I’d have 20 minutes to do it in.

And what would happen if you were longer?

It would just be, well, he would grill me anyway when I got in, whether I was longer or not. If it was longer then it would just be that more thorough grilling and, you know, like real intimidation.

Were you able to keep your therapy work going in this new house?

I was supporting all of us in the new house. And no, he hated me seeing other people, giving other people attention. Looking after anyone other than him, including myself, was not allowed. So my clients would arrive, he would be sitting behind a curtain behind a door basically, and vet everyone who came in, and stare them down basically as, you know, as they’d walk in through the living room and I’m taking them to the therapy room. The atmosphere, people just dropped like flies.
 

Chloe’s partner wouldn’t allow her in the kitchen and fed her foods that he knew she was allergic to, so she became weak and unwell (played by an actor).

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And something else he did early on was, “I’ll cook for you.”

I was like, “Oh how sweet, a man who cooks for me, hmm.” And then it became, I would try and make something and he’d say, “My woman doesn’t go in the kitchen.” I thought, “That’s a bit strong. But if you still want to cook, that’s fine [laughs].” But that came to the point where he because I used to eat very well, because I knew from my own body what I was allergic to and what I wasn’t, and what I functioned well on. He noticed that early on, did this whole, “My woman doesn’t cook,” and then he said, “I notice you have allergies,” and then there was a whole presentation of how [laughs] if you cut everything out that you’re allergic to your allergy gets worse, which is true. You can become intolerant entirely of things. So he said, “Let’s introduce them, you know, so you don’t become entirely intolerant.” And I thought, “Yeah, that’s good grounds, you know. You know, maybe my way was a bit too extreme,” so I allowed that.

By the time we got into the other house it was, “My woman doesn’t cook,” and everything I was fed was everything I was allergic to. So my physical health deteriorated, like I couldn’t think straight because my body was full of stuff that it can’t handle.

What sorts of things was he feeding you?

So wheat-y things, gluten things, starchy things, processed things, grains basically, they’re all things that my body didn’t respond well to, caused like breathing problems and things like that. He was so clever in what he did. So everything, all your supports, he went after each one, one by one until, and he did it so cleverly, until I was collapsing. I couldn’t see what he’d done. But when I did it was, “I’ve got to get out of here.”
 

Chloe’s partner isolated, manipulated and controlled her so she felt she could never leave the house for fear of punishment (played by an actor).

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We were only in that house for nine months.

Right.

Or maybe a little bit less than nine months. The pace that he worked at was just insane. It felt like years and years of, you know.

But it ended up to give you a sense of the manipulations he did when I addressed saying, you know, “I can’t even leave the house,” he was like, “What are you talking about? The doors are not locked. I haven’t locked you in, have I?” It was like he would turn everything around. So he hadn’t locked me in but he had me in such a mental state that I knew I wasn’t allowed to leave and I knew the punishment that would happen if I stepped over certain lines.

But logically he had everything set up that he could say, “What are you talking about? It’s all in your mind. There’s nothing going on here. The door’s right there. I’m not stopping you. I’m not holding you. I haven’t tied you.”
 

Chloe was only able to leave her dangerous, threatening partner with the help of friends in a therapy training group (played by an actor).

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I went to the bank up the road and I did not go into the bank, that was never the point. My friend lived round the corner from the bank, so I, I knew I had like 20 minutes, the usual 20 minutes if that’s the area I was going to. I ran to her house and knocked on the door and I was just, “Please, please, please be home.” No answer. So I sat on the wall and just let it all out and thought, “Don’t know what to do. No one’s home.” And I just thought, “Try again, try again.” So I rang her phone and knocked at the same time, and luckily she was home, she was just in the shower. So she let me in. And I didn’t want to alarm her too much of the situation, so I just said, “Please contact my teacher,” my teacher being the one who has taught me all my therapies and a lot of that stuff. Because I know she is a very strong person. She has a wonderful network, she can reach a net, basically, to be caught in from every angle, and it can be done very quickly. So [crying] she did that for me. And then I had to pull it all back together and go back. Why [laughs, crying] would you go back? But at the time it’s almost like I was so beaten down I didn’t realise I could just run, you know.

So she was someone you’d seen through that?

She was in the group, the group I was learning with. He hated me going to that. He wanted to, you know, as soon as I went he was like, “Hmm [deep breath] no, she has other people in her life for support. She might talk to them or…”

Was this like a weekly training or something like that?

Once a month.

Right hmm.

So of course these, these people saw me in the group and they took one look and went [facial expression of shock]. 

Right yeah.

Because of the physical change and the state I was in, walking around like a zombie basically.

And did anyone say anything to you?

They did, they tried to, very gently, you know. They tried to help as well when I opened up with little things. But they were being very, very cautious because obviously they could see a much bigger scale than what I could at that point. So together they were already waiting to jump in, which I didn’t even know [laughs]. So landing up on this lady’s doorstep, as soon as she opened the door she was like [whispers], “Oh finally.”
 

After a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Chloe was advised by her Support worker not to begin therapy until she was more ‘stable’ and had a fixed place to live (played by an actor).

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You mentioned when we spoke on the phone that you had PTSD diagnosed, when did that come about?

It’s fairly recent actually. It’s not, I mean I was struggling with anxiety and, well, what was labelled as anxiety and depression which turned out to be PTSD really. It was just kind of waiting for all the symptoms to pop up and just…

What help are you getting with that?

…at first I was not able to have any counselling or anything over this period because I – what they said to me was, “You need to be stable, you need to be safe to open up,” and I wasn’t, I was couch surfing.

Who was saying this to you?

The [Domestic Violence and Abuse agency] workers or?

It was, it was [Domestic Violence and Abuse agency] workers and anyone else I’d been referred to for therapy, [local charity] I think was one.

Yeah, yeah I’ve heard of them.

They were all saying the same thing, “We can’t open it, it’s Pandora’s box, you know, until you’ve got – you know, you’re too unstable basically to do this.”

Right.

Which was agony, because the box was already open. But they were right, because I was being triggered left, right and centre from not having a stable home. so I’ve been here three months, and we’ve just started opening that and I’ve had a few therapy sessions.

Right.

It’s kind of like finding the right therapy as well because…

Of course yeah.

…at the moment the therapy I’m having is for domestic violence.

Right.

It’s looking at, it’s also looking in the direction of self-harm and eating basically. Because I now have a very weird thing to do with eating: the extremes of eating healthy and, you know, eating the things that are [unclear] make you space out and go away. And it’s only the beginning of that so…

Right yeah, and that’s from someone with a speciality in domestic violence counselling, yeah?

Hmm so really I need the PTSD person. They cost about £95 a session.

This other counselling, are you having to pay for that or is it available?

That’s also through [Domestic Violence and Abuse agency]. So I can only be referred for that once I’ve finished what I’m doing. I can’t do two at the same time.

OK.

So yeah, I’m actually pretty scared at the moment where I’m thinking this is not quite the right counselling, but I don’t really know what I need [laughs], you know, enough to just keep following and hopefully come to the right people.
 

Chloe’s sister helped her to leave and her parents supported her afterwards but Chloe had to limit her social contacts while she recovered from post-traumatic stress disorder (played by an actor).

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Right, so presumably your family didn’t have any inkling of what was happening to you?

My mother was going insane.

Oh yeah, because you’d had no contact with her for a long time?

She saw him for what he was the first time she met him. So her gut instinct was bang on. Everyone else kind of fell for his charm.

Right sure.

And because we’d had such little contact that they didn’t really have much reason to be thinking how bad that was. However, my sister’s very observant. So they’d been seeing, you know, little warnings, little things that may have been subtle to other people, but to them were massive cues of something’s really badly up, you know. So I managed to spin a web with him saying, you know, I got my sister to ring me in the morning, after deleting the messages, and saying, deleting the plans and, “No more, no messages, that’s it, that’s my window. Ring me in the morning.” So she rang me in the morning and I just, I told him, “My sister needs me.” I knew that was a dodgy thing to say because normally that would not get me out of the house, it wouldn’t. But I was persistent. I said, “She needs me. I’m going now.” And I grabbed my bag and I just chucked what I needed in that bag within five minutes and I didn’t even give him time to talk to me, because that’s how he does what he does.

And I was out the house and gone. And my friend was already up on the hill waiting for me. She was waiting and in the car, go, and off to my sister’s you know, no intention of coming back. It was just, “I’m out, that’s it.”

And it was incredible. I’ve never known something like the support I had it was just friends and family were just [whispers] amazing.

And, yeah, they’d all actually been waiting, even my family had kind of talked to each other and gone, “No, this is not OK.” So where I’d been thinking, “I’m completely alone. I can’t reach anyone. Nobody knows,” [deep breath] they did as well, in a way they did; they didn’t know the extent.

And how are things with family and friends now?

[Laughs] it’s been so good to see them. So at first, when I first got out, before the PTSD hit, I saw everyone as much as I could even though I was so tired, recovering. Now it’s a bit different because the anxiety has kicked in and the fears and mistrust basically. And the triggers, you know, anything can be triggered and I’m gone. So there’s a real game of being a hermit again. 

Very careful who I see, when I see them, as to whether I’ll be able to cope or not. I don’t drive, so going to appointments by bus is scary, you know. I don’t want to run into anyone who will trigger me. And at the moment I’ve just closed all that down and kept to my very core people, maybe like there’s about five people that I have come in and go, because I’m comfortable with them and I can trust them.

Is that a mixture of family and friends?

Yes my parents are amazing. Unfortunately my mother triggers me like nothing and I’m not sure why. Which is very, very painful for both of us because I don’t have control over my fight or flight when that happens. And she can be just helping me with shopping and it’s gone. And my dad has to say, “We leave now,” because I’m…

Very anxious or panic attack or?

…rage.

Rage OK.

Yeah, just blind rage. You know, like when you’re angry you get a space where you can decide how you’re going to respond and you can breathe. This particular trigger is not one where there’s that space and it’s just like animal. And I hate it, because I know she’s done nothing wrong [laughs]. She’s my mum, helping me, and here I am being this little monster [laughs]. So I don’t see very much of them at the moment.

You said you’re not able to work at the moment?

No, I’m not very good round people.
 

Friends and family did not mention their suspicions about Chloe’s new partner because she was so ‘besotted’ and ‘in love’ that they decided not to (played by an actor).

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But at that time you were really happy and?

I was incredibly happy. I’d never known anything like it so yeah.

And how about family and friends, had they met him, and people?

The few people who had met him, very briefly met him, it was not quite a long, you know, over a long few hours, it was sort of over dinner or something like that. And he did his usual sort of, you know, charming, charming thing. Most of them said, “Wow, you seem so happy. That’s, you know, and you both kind of sparkle and bounce off of each other, it’s amazing to watch.” And they loved that atmosphere. Later, speaking to them after we split up, some of them would say, “Ooh but there was a weird feeling, you know, there was something else, a gut feeling or a...”

Another friend who is a mental health nurse, he met him for like ten minutes and he was not OK.

Really?

Hmm, he didn’t say anything at the time. He was polite at the time and basically took himself away from it all. But later he, you know, he said to his wife you know, “I’ve seen enough people to know a personality disorder when I see one.”

Right.

And she was like, “Ooh,” because she was then in a space of, “Do I say something or don’t I say something?”

His wife?

Hmm, hmm.

You’re a friend of hers?

Yeah, good friends with both.

Did she say anything at the time or is it only now, recently?

She dropped some hints. But because I appeared to be so happy, she sort of thought, “No,” and she brushed it off.

Right, and how did you react to those hints? Did you also want to brush them off in that way?

I completely brushed them off because I was…

You were in love.

I was in love, I was besotted, you know [laughs]. I was completely gone, yeah.
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