'My Client Was Murdered—These Are Signs of Narcissistic Abuse Everyone Should Know'

A message appeared on my phone screen: Michaela Hall had been murdered.

It was June 1 last year. I was in my office reviewing a world panel of domestic violence specialists I had hosted when her brother informed me Michaela's partner had killed her the evening before. Just months ago we had been working together.

After I heard the news I couldn't even bear to look at her file. I thought, "I'm really sick and tired of this." Nobody seems to know what to do about this sort of abuse.

Michaela was lovely. She was so kind and generous, she just met the wrong person.

Michaela Hall
Michaela Hall, a beloved mother of two and successful flight attendant, was murdered by her abusive partner inside her home in May last year Michael Padraig Acton/Peter Hall

For as long as I can remember I've wanted to help people. Growing up I wanted to be a priest, but as I entered my teenage years I became a believer in science. I come from a difficult family background. By the age of 17, I had run away from home and was living in the back of a friend's car.

I had recently recovered from meningitis, but the virus had damaged my hippocampus, which is a temporal lobe essential in learning and memory. The local library became my sanctuary as I taught myself how to read and write properly again, all while homeless.

One freezing day, in the early hours of the morning when the humidity on the inside of the car windows had frosted over, I had an epiphany. I realized I didn't have to live like this and I could do anything I wanted with my life, and I wanted to help people. I found a basement bedsit to rent and set to work getting my education diploma while working in hospitality.

I worked in bars and restaurants while studying constantly. By the age of 23, I had gained my diploma and I began teaching English, Math and Computing around the world. Whilst living in Sydney I was given the role of pastoral carer of students at the college I taught at. I knew then my calling was to help people overcome trauma.

After moving back to the U.K. I decided to study clinical psychology. By then, I was a father, caring for my daughter single-handedly the majority of the time. I knew it was going to be a hard ride. I worked four jobs while studying at University of Dundee and working at the Dundee Royal Infirmary. We made it work.

Ten years ago I realized that I wanted to help those affected by narcissistic abuse. I was advising a client who was stuck in a cycle of toxic partners. For years, I had repeated similar patterns in my own relationships. I worked through it with personal counseling. I recognized that my kindness could be abused and that I needed to start implementing personal boundaries. It changed my life.

I first met Michaela Hall on February 15, 2021. Her family was desperately worried about her and had asked me to meet with their daughter. When I first saw her I knew she was a beautiful, lovely soul. But my initial thought was: "How did you get to this point in life?"

I knew she had been beaten before I saw her, but the extent of her injuries was shocking. She had black, bulging eyes and she could hardly talk. Michaela was in an abusive relationship with a man called Lee Kendall. At the time she was still entrapped by him.

She had gone to visit him at his home in Plymouth. He had beaten her and dragged her around the room by her hair. He had kicked her on the floor and punched her until she was unconscious. She got the train back to her bungalow in Cornwall, but the next morning she wouldn't press charges. She thought she could rescue him, that he was a nice person behind the violence.

Victims of narcissistic abuse are often codependent on others. Michaela was totally loyal to her partner. She stayed because she was obsessed with him. Love is different from obsession. Love is when your kindness is reciprocated.

Narcissistic abuse can happen to anyone. Michaela was a first class stewardess on a high-profile airline. She was a beautiful woman, who had her act together. She was from a lovely family.

Anyone, male or female, can get hooked in this type of relationship. We all have foibles, we all have insecurities, we all have weaknesses. Just because someone appears put together and powerful on the outside, it does not mean they cannot be abused.

When considering whether you're in an abusive relationship, think about whether you are being controlled. It doesn't matter whether you're in a heterosexual, homosexual, or transgender relationship. Even if you're having an affair. Are you being controlled?

If you are being controlled, if your partner is trying to isolate you, if you are being accused or blamed for everything, that is a sign of narcissistic abuse. If your partner drops a cup in the kitchen and you run in, clean it up, and apologize for that, you are in an abusive relationship.

Like many victims of narcissistic abuse, Michaela never wanted to leave the relationship. She thought she loved him. The motivation of change is the most important part of leaving someone abusive because the relationship is like an addiction.

During our first session, I said to Michaela: "You don't have to work with me, I can only see you if you want to make changes." She said: "Well something has to be wrong because I keep on doing this."

Michaela loved Lee and she thought she could rescue him. Throughout our sessions, my message to her was: "We really need to help fix you, we can't fix you by fixing him."

So, how can a victim leave their abuser? What is on the other side? Usually, those who successfully leave are those who realize there is someone who will value them outside of the relationship. Leaving an abusive partner without someone else to rely on afterward is a really tough course. You have to really work out the motivation to leave permanently.

Michael Padraig Acton
Michael Padraig Acton is a Consultant, Psychologist, Legal Consultant and Author. Michael worked with Michaela Hall in the months before her death Michael Padraig Acton

Many people go back to bad relationships, they go back because they have hope their partner can change. It's difficult to unhook from an abuser when you're a kind person, and being kind, living a hopeful and positive life, is what abusers hook on to.

Experiencing domestic violence or being codependent is nothing to be ashamed of. Countless people around the world are in toxic relationships.

We need to educate families, friends, and all services on the front line, including teachers, police, hospital staff, and lawyers, on how to understand the experience of being in a cycle of a relationship addiction. They need to know how the cycle of change works.

Laws are different throughout the Western world, but in my opinion, the power must be taken away from the victim to prosecute abusers.

In Michaela's name, I am campaigning to change the law in the U.K. so the state can prosecute violent perpetrators irrespective of the victim's wishes because I believe if they had in her case, she may have been alive now.

The drastic, brutal murder of Michaela Hall is unusual. The majority of people being abused waste their lives being emotionally or financially controlled in some way.

Narcissistic abuse is very rarely physical. It always starts with a victim being fabulously swept off their feet, followed by a constant drip of insidious abuse. Victims are demeaned and gaslit to the point they don't trust reality. They hope desperately for change, in love with the idea of how their relationship could be rather than how it is. After 30 years of working in this field, it still infuriates me.

I cried for Michaela. It was a very brutal end in which she suffered hours of abuse. I was devastated, but I was angry. It made me more motivated to do something. We need real change to tackle narcissistic abuse.

Michael Padraig Acton is a psychologist trained in clinical counseling and systemic therapy, who specializes in working with victims of narcissistic abuse. He is the author of Learning How to Leave: A Practical Guide To Stepping Away From Toxic & Narcissistic Relationships and is currently campaigning to implement 'Michaela's Law' in the United Kingdom.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Monica Greep.