Betrayal
Trauma
Recovery

Why 12 Step Harms Betrayal Victims

by | Abuse Literacy

You are amazing. You are loved. You deserve respect!

Many betrayal victims want to know how they can feel better. They want to know how to “fix” the marriage.

Some ask if they should attend 12 step groups for partners of sex addicts to help them in their healing journeys.

At BTR, we believe that women need and deserve safety first. 12-Step programs help individuals overcome personal defects. They do not protect women from abuse. Boundaries protect women from abuse.

Learn why 12 Step harms betrayal victims.

Betrayal Victims Deserve Safety

At BTR our first goal is safety. Boundaries are the only way to create that safety. So we aren’t going to tell a woman at this point to take a deep breath and “accept the things she cannot change” because we do not think that women should be okay with abuse while they “clean up their side of the street.”

Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery

Anne Blythe, the founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, speaks openly about her participation in a popular 12-step group for family members of sex addicts on the free BTR podcast and in the full transcript below. She explains that while the principles taught are helpful in self-improvement, they are not beneficial for a woman who is in currently being abused or has just escaped from an abusive relationship.

Betrayal Victims Deserve Empowerment

When a woman first discovers she has been lied to, that she is being abused, manipulated, and so forth, we at Betrayal Trauma Recovery don’t feel like it’s the exact right time to say things we often hear at a 12 Step meeting such as, “You need to clean up your side of the street, ” or “You need to learn to accept the things you cannot change.” I say this because when taken out of context or when these values or principles are applied incorrectly, they lead women to become stuck in the abuse cycle.

Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery

Abusive men blame-shift their abusive behaviors onto their partners. “If you lost weight/were more attractive/gave me more sex/kept the house cleaner, etc, then I wouldn’t need to use pornography/have affairs/yell at you/hit you, etc.”

The concept of looking at herself and trying to fix herself is familiar to abused women: they do it all the time. To go from an abusive marriage to a 12-step program that encourages her to look at herself and fix herself, is more or less keeping her stuck in the cycle of abuse.

Is 12-Step Ever Recommended For Betrayal Victims?

Once they know how to set boundaries, once they realize they are victims, and once they realize these things are happening, the woman may recognize there are things she has to work on that has nothing to do with her spouse (either current or ex). She may find that in relation to the unhealthy abuse she has been experiencing, she herself has chosen unhealthy behaviors, and this may also be something she wants to look at.

Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery

In short, it may be helpful for a woman to join a 12-step self-improvement program after she has established a long period of safety in her own life. This means that she is living in an abuse-free environment and is processing trauma in a healthy way.

What Help Is Available to Betrayal Victims?

When professionals tell victims to “look at themselves” and see what they did to cause the abusive behavior of another person, this is simply a disguised from of victim-blaming.

Victims cannot control, cause, or cure the abusive behaviors (including pornography use and sexual acting out) of their partners. This is essential for victims to understand. When therapists and other resources counsel in opposition to this truth, they are enabling abuse and harming women.

When looking for a professional, if they suggest there is anything that you can do to stop the abuse besides boundaries–such as being kinder or communicating better or explaining your feelings–we would not recommend that type of therapist. This will just keep a woman in the abuse cycle over and over again. We believe this is unethical; it’s why APSATS was started–so that the professional teaches there is nothing the woman did to cause it, there is nothing she can do to change it, and she needs to establish safety for herself. This is the first line of defense when going to a coach who is APSATS certified. This is our philosophy at Betrayal Trauma Recovery. All of our coaches have this philosophy.

Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery

Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Betrayal Victims

At BTR, we understand how difficult it is to find empowering, knowledgeable, and empathetic resources to guide women through the gauntlet of emotional abuse, into personal power and freedom.

Support is essential. The Betrayal Trauma Support Group offers the community and validation that women need as they begin their journey to healing. Join today.

Full Transcript:

My Current Struggle With Triggers And Anger

I want to do an update on how my own personal recovery is going.

I mentioned on a previous podcast that I am in my angry stage. For a long time I was just super sad. Now I am very angry. It’s mostly being triggered by my children, which I feel terrible about. They are immature because they are 8, 5, and 3 years old. They are children! For example, I’ll say to my son, “You need to do this.” He’ll ignore me and walk around so I’ll tell him again and he’ll continue to ignore me. Then I’ll say again that he really needs to do it and he’ll argue that I didn’t tell him to do it before. I know he is lying and that he heard me. This really triggers me as it’s the same types of things that happened with my ex. This feeling that I’m saying something but it isn’t registering, he isn’t hearing me, he isn’t taking me seriously. It’s very similar to what happened with my ex.

Addict Behavior Is Immature

Last night I was talking to a friend and she said, “You know, this is very common with all children. He’s not acting like an addict.” I told her that wasn’t actually true because addicts act like five year olds! They are immature. So basically I am face-to-face with the same types of behavior of my addict spouse. Except that for 3, 5, and 8-year old children, this is appropriate behavior. They are learning how to tell the truth. They are learning how to listen and interact with people. This is appropriate for an 8-year-old but NOT for a 40-year-old man! Not at all!

So I’m seeing that these immature, age appropriate behaviors from my very young children are triggering the trauma of the same exact behaviors from my immature addict lying ex-husband who is almost 40 years old. This continues to come up for me. Previously in my parenting, I have been relatively patient and kind and understanding. So this is an entirely new place for me. I am working weekly with a coach right now, taking a 6-week break while I do so. Then I will check in with my therapist. I’m working the 12 steps to really focus in on these behaviors and help me with them.

12 Step And Betrayal Trauma Recovery

I want to do an update about the 12 Step Program and how we view it at Betrayal Trauma Recovery. When I first began podcasting, I was attending (and continue to attend) a 12 Step Betrayal Trauma meeting with SA Lifeline, which I love. I now attend monthly. For 18 months or so I, attended weekly. We do not talk a lot about 12 Step on Betrayal Trauma Recovery because the 12 steps don’t fit in with the trauma model. This does not mean they aren’t both very beneficial. Nor does it mean I would discourage someone from attending a meeting. It has helped me immensely to draw closer to God and improve my life and to change. I’m so grateful for this.

Telling You To Work On Your Contribution To The Problem, While Still Being Abused, Is Counterproductive And Unethical

When a woman first discovers she has been lied to, that she is being abused, manipulated, and so forth, we at Betrayal Trauma Recovery don’t feel like it’s the exact right time to say things we often hear at a 12 Step meeting such as, “You need to clean up your side of the street, ” or “You need to learn to accept the things you cannot change.” I say this because when taken out of context or when these values or principles are applied incorrectly, they lead women to become stuck in the abuse cycle.

Boundaries And Safety First

Once they know how to set boundaries, once they realize they are victims, and once they realize these things are happening, the woman may recognize there are things she has to work on that has nothing to do with her spouse (either current or ex). She may find that in relation to the unhealthy abuse she has been experiencing, she herself has chosen unhealthy behaviors, and this may also be something she wants to look at. At BTR our first goal is safety. Boundaries are the only way to create that safety. So we aren’t going to tell a woman at this point to take a deep breath and “accept the things she cannot change” because we do not think that women should be okay with abuse while they “clean up their side of the street.”

In defense of 12 Step, I think they believe this as well. When a person is new to recovery and 12 Step, it can be common to believe that if they focus on themselves they can make things better. When in reality they are still being abused. This is one point I wanted to discuss today. Why we don’t completely promote 12 Step. It’s not because I don’t personally work the steps, because I do. We believe that it is unethical for professionals to tell a woman to work on herself in the face of abuse.

Choosing The Right Professional For Your Healing

When looking for a professional, if they suggest there is anything that you can do to stop the abuse besides boundaries–such as being kinder or communicating better or explaining your feelings–we would not recommend that type of therapist. This will just keep a woman in the abuse cycle over and over again. We believe this is unethical; it’s why APSATS was started. So that the professional teaches there is nothing the woman did to cause it, there is nothing she can do to change it, and she needs to establish safety for herself. This is the first line of defense when going to a coach who is APSATS certified. This is our philosophy at Betrayal Trauma Recovery. All of our coaches have this philosophy.

You Are Amazing And Deserve To Be Treated With Respect

In Lundy Bancroft’s book Why Does He Do That, he asks: “How can I support a woman who has been abused?” The author’s advice is what we use and recommend everyone use. That is to tell the woman she is amazing, she is strong, she has not done anything wrong or anything to deserve it, and she deserves to be treated with respect. We truly believe this about you.

At BTR we believe there is nothing pathologically wrong with you. You are a healthy person who is sometimes reacting in unhealthy ways to abuse, which is completely normal! All of us go through a phase of this. A phase of denial, of not understanding what is happening, of anger, of sadness, of depression. These are the normal, healthy reactions to abuse. It’s all part of the phases of healing.

From my personal experience, if you are wondering if you should get a betrayal trauma recovery coach, or join a support group with an APSATS coach, or if you should join a SA Lifeline group or a S-Anon meeting, you will find your way. Personally for me, my healing includes both. A SA Lifeline betrayal trauma meeting and working with a coach and therapist who understand betrayal trauma and abandonment grief. They understand abuse recovery. With my therapist and with my coach there has never been a time when they have suggested that improved communication skills or more love or forgiveness could have stopped the abuse from occurring. This has been so validating.

My Goal Is To Heal But I’m A Work In Progress

My goal in working with my coach and therapist and by continuing to work the 12 Steps is that eventually God will heal me and I will be better. In the meantime, I have to learn new tools so that when I am triggered I can keep my children emotionally safe so they know they are loved and cared for. I really appreciate your support. My betrayal trauma recovery journey is still in process. There are days that are really hard. The other night I ate potato chips for dinner. I couldn’t bring myself to do anything else. It’s not easy and I’ve been doing this for two years now.

I still feel in progress. I definitely feel more happy and peaceful than when I started. I definitely feel safer. My safety level has gone from 0 to 10. I feel supported and loved. The things I struggle with now are financial issues, parenting issues. Things that will be difficult for a really long time. There is no quick fix with betrayal trauma. I think this is part of where the anger comes from. I feel like I’m left dealing with the consequences of my ex-husband’s terrible choices. Not just for the night he sprained my fingers and was arrested–but from before we were married and he lied, from when he chose to watch porn and continued to decide to lie to me and abuse me and to manipulate rather than live in the truth.

Sudden And Unexpected Contact In My No-Contact Ordered Life

There is something interesting that happened this week that shows how much I have changed in the past two years. My ex showed up for our kids’ parent teacher conference. It was my appointment that I scheduled. (He looked on line at their account and found out when it was.) When I took my 8-year-old into his classroom for the meeting with his teacher, my ex was sitting right there! I did not want to sit in a meeting with him unless the first thing out of his mouth would have been, “I have made 9 years of terrible mistakes, one right after another, and I now understand how my actions have harmed you, and this is what I am going to do to make restitution, and this is how I am going to continue to make living amends to you until you feel safe.” Unless this was the first thing out of his mouth, I could not bear to be in his presence. I could not abide any small talk.

So I told my son that I wasn’t expecting his dad to be there but he should go ahead and talk to his teacher with his dad.

I would take his 5-year-old brother to another meeting and then we would switch. So I took my 5-year-old to his kindergarten meeting and as I was walking out, my ex came in. I walked straight up to him and said, “You need to make your own appointments.” He looked at my face and, either he isn’t very smart or he was lying, he said, “Oh, I thought the school sent this for me and I didn’t realize it was your appointment.”

Staying On My Side Of The Street

My gut told me this wasn’t true so I told him this was my appointment and he needed to make his own from now on. I left and we switched kids. He brought our son back to the other room and as we were leaving, I didn’t acknowledge him but told my sons they could get their books from the book fair and then we would head home. I was just going to leave. My ex said, “Wait, wait. You’ve been coming to my appointments.” I told him this wasn’t true. He then brought up an appointment from last year with our son’s preschool…which was false. I did not show up for my ex’s appointment. I told him that if he wanted to argue about it, he could email my dad who we have third party contact through so that I can be safe. And I walked off.

My ex then put his hand on my shoulder and said something like he hopes that someday we can get along. I told him something like, “You have hurt me so much. You filed for divorce. You abandoned your family. Unless you admit your abuse and admit the things you have done and clean up your mess, we will never get along. You need to leave.”

Change Can Happen And I’m Proof

It was amazing because I said my piece. I asked him to leave and he left. Which was a miracle. I didn’t want a fight in front of the kids. This is what I need in order to get along with him. Anything less than this I will not tolerate, because I do not “get along” with psychopaths or “get along” with people who lie continually to my face or to other people about what I have done. I don’t “get along” with people like that and I’m never going to. I don’t choose friends like that. I avoid them at all cost which is what I am doing with him. That I was able to speak and not break down, and not start screaming and yelling, and really going into it, and really giving him the “what for,” the fact that I could say a short statement and ask him to leave, is a sign to me that my recovery is working.

God’s Will, Gratitude, And Hope

Now what I need to work on is the ruminating that happened over and over again afterwards! I wondered about using different words. But really what I did was perfect for the time and in line with God’s will, even though I am second-guessing myself. I still have work to do but I love that I saw progress.

I’m so grateful for the changes that have taken place in my life. I’m thankful for the friends and family and professionals in my life that have facilitated my growth. I’m also grateful for you for being here with me through my recovery journey. I hope we have many years of beautiful recovery together. That as all of us women across the world become more and more healthy, we can be a great change for good in the world.  I hope that all of us together can find peace and friendship and safety.

Support Betrayal Trauma Recovery

 As you know, Betrayal Trauma Recovery is a non-profit and we operate on your donations. We would really appreciate a donation from you!  

If this article is helpful to you, please comment below. Every comment increases our ranking on search engines and helps women in isolation find us. Your comments help women to know that others are experiencing similar situations.

Until next week, stay safe out there!

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2 Comments

  1. R hansen

    BTR is the very best assessment of any therapy I have found to understand porn abuse and all of the characteristics that come for a sex addict. And the damage they do to a spouse and family. It’s so sad so many of us have lived in this year after year having no idea how to explain it or knowing what is “ normal” most of us have not had 3-4 different marriages to compare it with. So our one marriage is all we know. I love the information, the encouragement and the blessing of finding this group. I have shared it with many already and will continue for I know others are hurting.

    Reply
  2. Sandi

    I totally get the part about not wanting to engage in “small talk” it is irritating to me. I see it as my partner attempting to give me the illusion of care and concern when he never treated me this way during the marriage or it was conditional. Since he physically and emotionally left the marriage, it feels like a massive contradiction to me in real time. I feel like I am saying (in my head) ” wait, what…?” It is so strange.

    Reply

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