I have recently learned about the story of Ruth Ellis, the last women in the U.K. to be hanged, and I couldn’t stop my fascination with that story. For those of you who don’t know, Ruth was 28 years old when she shot dead her on-again-off-again lover David Blakely in front of a pub in London. She proudly admitted her responsibility and accepted her sentence with dignity, writing a letter of apology from prison to Blakely’s mother stating that she still loved him and would die loving him. At first glance, a deranged, scorned, bunny boiler of a woman, right? Well, look deeper and you uncover a textbook case of a person driven to insanity by the appalling mind-fuckery of a narcissist. The case is really well depicted in the 1985 movie Dance with a Stranger
Ruth Ellis: A text book victim of a narcissist
Ruth Ellis was pretty much a textbook victim of narcissistic manipulation. She may have appeared strong and confident on the surface, but when you look into her life story, you discover a chain of horrid abuse and betrayal going back to her early childhood, which without a doubt must have created an extremely fragile, wounded and traumatised internal psychological landscape, the perfect soil for a narcissist to sink his poisonous claws into.
So what had happened in Ruth’s life prior to meeting Blakely that made her so susceptible to falling pray to his insane games? Ruth, born in 1926, had an abusive father who regularly raped her sister and attempted the same with Ruth. At about 15 years of age, during the Second World War, Ruth stumbled on her first toxic lover – a married Canadian soldier, who obviously pretended he was unmarried and impregnated Ruth, promising to marry her when the war ends. The war ended, the soldier disappeared, never to come back. He first sent some money for the baby’s upkeep and then went completely silent. Ruth eventually learned he already had a family back home (well, you’ve got to love these men, don’t you?).
From a dysfunctional working-class home, Ruth was struggling to make ends meet and eventually discovered that hostessing in gentlemen’s clubs (a somewhat more polished brothels) paid much better than regular jobs. She met a guy named Ellis, whom she married briefly and who turned out to be a violent alcoholic. And then she met Blakely.
Trauma bonding with a narcissist
So here was Ruth, a child abuse survivor, used and tossed aside by her first love, finding out that throwing one’s self-respect out of the window actually pays bills better than honest work. But what was it about Blakely that knocked her over the edge?
Narcissists trap their victims through something that is called love bombing, or the pedestal phase. If you were abused as a child, if you never felt loved, wanted, cared for and good enough, you are absolutely primed to get addicted to the narcissist because of the love bombing. And so did Ruth. In Dance with a Stranger, Rupper Everett portrays Blakely as a very effective vulnerable narcissist. You almost want to give him a cuddle too. The mixture of this lost boy charm, which likely taps into the caring side of a woman, with the intense ‘I can’t live without you’ blah blah, is the perfect kryptonite cocktail for an emotional trauma surviver to get hooked on. As child abuse victims, we long to feel wanted and the narcissist provides an ample illusion of that. For us, the love deprived creatures that had grown up on an emotional desert, completely starved of positive affection, the narc’s love-bombing is like a shipwreck survivor’s first meal after weeks of starvation. It’s delicious. Since as child abuse survivors, we have not seen what healthy love looks like, we mistake the intoxication caused by the love bombing for love. And then the devaluation sets it. The devaluation phase tears down the castle of illusions built up during the love-bombing phase. While during the love-bombing phase, the victim feels seen, loved and worthy, the devaluation brings back the toxic abusive messages we had been receiving in our childhood. We are suddenly not good enough, not worthy, absolute trash. This triggers deep desperation stemming from the childhood wounding, which, we think, only the narcissist can relieve, and in the short term, that is unfortunately true.
And so Ruth allowed Blakely to return after every abandonment, after every slap he had given her, completely losing her sense of reality in the narcissistic mind-fuckery that inflamed her childhood trauma. Eventually, he shunned her, refusing to talk to her, after yet another round of empty promises and future faking.
Shunning, the most cruel form of psychological abuse
Shunning, ostracising, stonewalling is the cruelest form of psychological, emotional abuse, which is, actually, completely legal because it’s invisible. Psychological studies exist that show that being shunned by someone who is significant to you and to whom you are emotionally bonded is much worse than being yelled at. The person who yells at you still acknowledges your existence, the person who shuns you completely annihilates you. You are trash, you are not worth their time, their respect, their attention. Nothing. It’s soul killing and narcissists do it in the final, discard, stage of the ‘relationship’.
And so Ruth, who unfortunately relied on unhealthy coping mechanisms such as booze and having an alternative boyfriend, flipped big time. The rest is history.
Never seeing through it
The saddest thing about Ruth Ellis’ case is that she never managed to see through the mirage. She died believing she loved David Blakely, never realizing that he had never shown any love for her. Love is about care, empathy and kindness not using others for sexual or any other convenience. It’s sad how common it is for men to behave like that and for their female victims to then get branded crazy.
Everytime I walk past that pub in front of which Ruth shot Blakely, I think about her. She is one of us. Narc survivors. I am trying to image an alternative outcome of her story. Could she have somehow turned it around? Could she have built a life for herself from which she could essentially show asshole Blakely a middle finger without having to murder him and by doing that, destroying herself too?
Ruth lived in a wrong era and didn’t have many resources. But I’m glad that her story, at least, has been interpreted fairly, not in the style of toxic, narc-enabling misogynist ‘Bunny Boiler’ tropes of films such as Fatal Attraction, which, interestingly came out only two years after Dance with a Stranger.
I too have been born in the wrong era as I have a history of narc abuse and then my narc boyfriend tried to kill me with his car. The police refused to investigate because I didn’t get his number plate. For seven years I have been in a court case with Alliance insurance because the police handballs me to them to cover the hospital bills. It has been seven years of victim shaming and blaming. I am grateful for learning how to go on the internet because I won’t die not understanding. Unfortunately though the police, mental health and the legal field all refuse to understand. I guess I can be grateful that the will not physically hang me but the certainly have mentally. Thankyou for sharing this story and I will try and find the movie to watch it but I do really struggle with nightmares now. We all need to raise the awareness on a life destroying mental disorder that goes under nearly everyone’s radar
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I am really, really sorry to hear what you’ve been through and are still going through. Yes, I agree that the legal system frequently enables abusers. They know how to weaponise it. I hope you have some form of human support. ANd I cannot agree more with your last sentece. Yes, raise the awareness is exactly what we need. I am nearly 40 years old and I feel I am only now starting to live life on my terms rather than just scrambling to recover from what others inflicted on me… It doesn’t feel fair.