btr.org

What Do Abuse Victims Look Like?

by | Abuse Literacy

Too often, we expect abuse victims to look a certain way:

Downtrodden, economically-dependent on their husbands, and submissive.

The truth?

Abusers don’t discriminate. So what do abuse victims look like?

Take a look out the window: women of all shapes, sizes, religions, ethnicities, and levels of education can be victims of abuse. There is no one abuse victim prototype.

Leslie, a successful doctor with multiple degrees, is a victim of her ex-husband’s horrific abuse – and she’s on the podcast sharing her story. Read the full transcript below and listen to the free BTR.ORG podcast for more.

Financially Successful Women Can Be Abuse Victims

I’m strong and independent; I run two hospitals, I’ve got six degrees. I’m not being abused.

Leslie, Member of the BTR.ORG Community

Financially independent women may have difficulty accepting that they are being abused. Because they are well-educated and respected in the workplace, the discrepancy with the way their abusive husband treats them at home may cause them to question reality and create a disconnect in their ability to identify as a victim.

Financial Abuse is Real For Financially Successful Women

Interestingly, financial abuse is a very sad reality for women who are breadwinners in their families. This form of financial abuse may occur when:

  • The abuser refuses to work and/or contribute to family expenses.
  • The abuser uses the victim’s earnings to fund extravagant expenses and/or abusive expenses (dating apps, pornography, drugs, alcohol, etc).
  • The abuser takes the victim’s paychecks and diverts them to his account.
  • The abuser demands a portion of the victim’s paycheck and refuses to account for where the money goes.
  • The abuser attempts to sabotage the victim’s career.
  • The abuser promises to earn an income but either cannot hold down a job or doesn’t try to secure a job.
  • The abuser forces the victim to be the breadwinner then makes her feel guilty for doing so.
  • The abuser places an expectation that all expenses are the responsibility of the victim.
  • The abuser is constantly resetting the time horizon as to when the financially playing field will be leveled.
  • The abuser refuses to contribute to daily household tasks while the victim is working to support the family.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2w-VKY9DO58

“But I Thought I Was Smart”

Many victims berate themselves for “allowing” themselves to be abused.

They say things like:

  • “But I thought I was smart!”
  • “How could I be so stupid?!”
  • “I don’t look like an abuse victim.”
  • “I don’t deserve resources for abuse victims – I should be able to get myself out of this.”
  • “I was stupid enough to get into this, I need to get myself out of this.”

Victims who have the capacity to earn a living can be extremely hard on themselves.

If you have experienced financial success, you are just as valid as any other victim of abuse – you deserve safety. You are entitled to every resource available to victims.

BTR.ORG Is Here For You

In BTR.ORG Group Sessions, we love, believe, and accept you – no matter what.

Join today and find the community that will support you on your journey to healing.

Full Transcript:

Anne (00:00):
Welcome to BTR.ORG. This is Anne. I have a member of our community on today’s episode. Her name is Leslie. Leslie is a successful doctor who was caught in the throes of a horrendously abusive relationship. All of our listeners get that. One of the purposes of having her on the podcast today is to talk about how abuse does not discriminate and how difficult it is for maybe successful or well-spoken. And all of you are like that, right? All of the listeners are like that. I’m like that. We maybe didn’t recognize it cause we didn’t identify as victims, but also no one else would identify as as a victim. And so we really wanna dig into that today. So welcome, Leslie.

Leslie (03:53):
Thank you. Thank you for having me on. I greatly appreciate it. I hope that my story is able to help others. There were many dark times that I never thought I would get to the other side, but here I am. I am not only surviving, I am thriving like you.

“I Sound So Much Different Now Than I Sounded When I Started”

Anne (04:07):
Now that I’m really thriving, the podcast sounds so much different than it did when I started. So if those of you who are listening, if it’s a little bit difficult or you’re like, don’t talk to me about the light at the end of the tunnel, I’m never gonna feel good. My life is over. Uh, Leslie and I have been there. Yeah, and if you want to hear what I sounded like at that stage, please start listening at the beginning of the podcast chronologically. So go back to the first episode and listen from the first part till now, and you’ll actually hear this very real-time recovery over the past six or seven years, which is a fascinating, uh, study in abuse recovery because I sound so much different now than I sounded when I started. And I’m sure that you have that same experience, Leslie, of, of like life being wonderful now. But when we say that, I just wanna acknowledge that many of our listeners when we say that will just be like, ugh, I don’t want to hear that. That’s not possible for me.

Leslie (05:05):
I agree. I agree and I feel that, you know, there were so many groups that I had initially joined for support and everything and you know the stories that were being told and you know, you look at them, they’re all so similar but different in their own ways. And then you do see the people who have started to work on themselves and change things around. And you do believe that that could never be you again. I lost myself so much within that whole abusive relationship that to think that I could ever climb out of that, it was hard to think that I could do that.

Leslie’s Abuse Story

Anne (05:43):
I agree. I I’ve been there before. So Leslie, let’s start at the beginning of your story. Tell me about the beginning of the abuse. Did you recognize your husband’s abusive behaviors at first?

Leslie (05:55):
Looking back, yes, I probably did. He was my um, second husband. My first husband was my high school sweetheart. Unfortunately we lost him to mental health issues back in 2015. So I was at a very vulnerable time when I had met my second husband. And I think he knew that and I think he used that to his advantage. I would’ve never dated him. He was a coworker that I had worked with a few years prior to that that you know, just kind of an acquaintance and we connected on Facebook and I would’ve never dated him like cause that wasn’t the spot that I was in in my life. But of course, you know, he came in on his white horse and shining armor and all that stuff. And when I look back now, can I see every single red flag? Yes, yes. I most definitely can. However, in the throws of it, I used every excuse in the book of why those red flags were not red flags.

When We Make Excuses For The Abuser

Anne (06:58):
So at the time you were making excuses, but were you also giving what you thought perhaps were valid reasons, like maybe had a traumatic childhood or exactly, maybe this is just new and were working on our communication skills. What types of reasons did you put around it or excuses did you use only because you didn’t know it was abuse, only because you were not educated in abuse? My guess is back then had you been educated, you would’ve known what you were looking at. So it’s not like you were like dumb or anything like that. You just did not know what you didn’t know.

Leslie (07:31):
Exactly 110% and it actually took a long time and we’ll probably get to that point where I’ll explain when the light finally came on and somebody said to me, you do realize this is domestic violence. Correct? But when we first started out, he was six years younger than I was, he was 40, had never been married. I had been married for 27 years. Three kids, fairy tale marriage, you know. So when we kind of started talking, I kind of saw him as a person who was totally enmeshed in his family. His family like had swallowed his life. I obviously being a doctor, it’s my job to fix things, you know, and I see broken things and I try to help them fix. And so I would say to him, no, this is not okay. You know, your family treating you this way is not okay.

“There Were So Many, Many Things That I Could Rationalize Away”

(08:28):
And that was a huge part of the red flags that I didn’t see in the beginning was the whole enmeshment, the traumatic childhood that he had. He had a sibling that was the bipolar sibling who, you know, the whole family always focused around. He was the youngest in the family, so he kind of got forgot along the way a lot at the time. And so there were so many, many things that I could rationalize away. And of course, you know, it was always, he hadn’t been any stable relationships because he had never met anyone like me. That was one of the wonderful lines that he always used, you know, and how everybody always cheated on him. I just hooked on to all that hook line and sinker and could see all the trauma and enmesh and everything that was going on within the family dynamic. So I didn’t realize until much laborer, you know, that trauma bond, I’m sure everybody in this group has either watched or knows about “Maid”. And I will tell you, it took me a long time to get through that series.

Anne (09:37):
Maid is a series on Netflix. I highly recommend it. It is triggery, especially depending on where you are in your healing process. But there are a lot of super important principles that they bring up and they cover all of the basics.

Leslie (09:54):
They do. One of my friends recommended it to me and she said, I probably shouldn’t have recommended it so soon. I was still really fresh and it took me a long time to watch it. But all those red flags that I didn’t see and I continued with the relationship, we were actually in therapy before we ever got married. My 18 year old daughter. I mean there was one point where she was just like, mom, what are you doing? You know, I mean I just couldn’t see it. And so it was just one of those things where it became, you know, years of being pushed down. And then I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019.

“Everyone In The World Has Some Kind of Childhood Trauma”

Anne (10:48):
Can we back up real quick when we’re talking about like, you’re seeing enmeshment, right? You’re seeing Oh yeah. These things. I wanna point out that healthy people can come from enmeshed families, right? Yeah. And so you might meet them and they might say, Hey, I love my family, they’re pretty cool, but I do have to set some boundaries because my mom’s a little whatever, but she’s wonderful and I love her and these are the boundaries I set and it works. Okay. Something like that is maybe what a healthy person would say when you meet someone if they lead with, these are my wounds and so I need help rather than these are my wounds and so these are the boundaries I’ve created, this is how I navigate this. Um, I think that’s definitely a red flag because all of us, everyone, everyone in the world has some kind of childhood trauma.

(11:44):
They all have shame, they all have everything. Right? Exactly. And healthy people are like, I felt shame and so I went for a run or I felt shame so I called my friend or I felt enmeshed. So I, I just want to point out that like that is never a reason. If that’s you, if, if you’re listening to this and you’re saying, well my husband, he comes from this family that you know, blah blah blah. And so I’m working with him on this, I want you to think about all of the people who also come from a family like that and they’re not like your husband.

Leslie (12:17):
Exactly.

“I Know Someone Else Who Went Through That and They Don’t Act Like You Do”

Anne (12:17):
I think the answer should be to look at them sort of with a dead pan face and say, so I know someone else who went through that and they don’t act like you do.

Leslie (12:26):
Right? Right, exactly.

Anne (12:28):
It feels very cold and not compassionate. But the truth is healthy people are able to use their experience to improve and to become more and more healthy over time. Yes. And that’s not what we’re witnessing with abusers.

Leslie (12:45):
Exactly. And, and I did get him into therapy probably nine months into our relationship because he had never been in therapy in his whole entire life and he used those to check the boxes. And it wasn’t until we got into a couple’s therapist who started calling him out on a lot of things, that the relationship became even more rocky, more abusive. He was more emotionally abusive, getting in your face. The one part I do love in “Maid,” the series is when she says, but he’s never hit me. And that to me, when I listen to that, that hit me to my core because I said the same thing. Well, he’s never hit me. It’s not abuse, he’s never hit me. You know, I’m a strong independent, I run two hospitals, I’ve got six degrees, I’m not being abused, you know? And so the mother-enmeshment, I mean I was the one who was researching everything. I was the one who was always finding, trying to find answers. You know, first time I caught him with porn was probably the first year we were together. He had probably over 50,000 pictures on his phone of naked women of all ages, which ended up escalating into many other areas of, you know, finding him on dating websites and you name it.

TW: Child Sex Abuse Material

Anne (14:16):
So when you say of various ages, um, here at BTR we don’t use the term child pornography. We use the term Child Sex Abuse Material cause that’s what it is. Right. So did you also find that on his phone?

Leslie (14:28):
They were very young looking. Yes. And then actually that was his MO was younger women and he actually later on in my journey with him when we kind of identified a potential sex addiction. But honestly at this point, now that I’m at where I’m at in my life and in my journey, I think that he just went along with that diagnosis, went to a very expensive inpatient treatment center for three weeks, checked all his boxes because he knew that was the only way he could stay in in the marriage. But yet continued to exhibit all the behaviors. When he came out, he ended up getting fired from his job for sexual harassment of a younger person, younger than 21.

Trauma Mama Husband Drama

Anne (15:18):
I’m gonna take a break here for just a second to talk about my book Trauma Mama Husband Drama. You can find it on our books page which also has a curated list of all of the books that we recommend. My book Trauma Mama Husband Drama is a picture book for adults. So it is the easiest way for you to explain what’s going on to someone who might not understand it. It’s also just a good reference for yourself because it shows what’s happening with very telling and emotional illustrations as well as infographics at the back.

Let’s talk about the pornography addiction recovery part of it for a minute. When you kind of went down that road for a minute, did anyone in that space or at that clinic tell you that you are an abuse victim? Was abuse brought up or that this is an abuser?

Going Down the “Sex Addiction” Rabbit Hole

Leslie (16:36):
I had caught him multiple online affairs, things like that. And we were at our last straw. We were seeing a couple’s counselor and the last time I had caught him before we decided to give him this new label, I said to him, uh, he, we were talking and he goes, I don’t understand what’s wrong with him. He keeps getting caught. He knows what he is got to lose. And he goes, it’s almost like he has an addiction or something. And I go, well is there such thing as sex addiction? And of course then me with my, you know, analytical brain started going and researching everything. We started going down that path. We did start with CSA counselors, which stands for Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist. And he had one, I had one, he did end up doing one of the very well-known programs out in Los Angeles. It was during his intake where his intake manager had called to speak with me trying to get a background on my situation with him. That was the first time she finally said to me, you do realize what he is doing is domestic violence.

The Issue With The “Pornography Addiction Recovery Complex”

Anne (17:49):
Oh, I’m so glad to hear that because most of the time when people go down the pornography addiction recovery route, they don’t hear the word abuse. Nope. And so I agree that is amazing that they said that and I’m really like happy about that. The other issue is, um, here at BTR.ORG, now people, some people don’t agree with us, in fact a lot of people don’t agree with us, you might not agree with us, is pornography addictive? Sure. Do people compulsively do these things? Yeah, I prefer to define it as abusive behavior rather than an addiction because I think that gets to the heart of the matter. And so the whole pornography addiction recovery complex that does not view this as this man is an abuser, it concerns me greatly because I do not think they’re addressing the correct thing.

I think once you got rid of the abuse and the entitlement and the like using people and consuming people, which is all abuse, my theory is they would not be so interested in consuming humans. If the underlying abuse was addressed, but it’s never addressed. It’s just try not to look at porn and try not to have affairs which doesn’t address the misogyny or you know, any of these other serious issues that that need to be addressed. Not just on this individual level but obviously societally. Can you talk about that for a minute?

Addressing The Issue As Abuse Rather Than Addiction

Leslie (19:15):
I 100% agree with that. The two CSAT counselors that we were working with, his and mine, they were two different ones. Mine actually had been married to a sexual addiction abuser and she divorced hers. The other one that my ex had seen, she had stayed with hers. So it’s actually interesting to see the dynamic of what they brought to each of the therapy sessions when I would try to say, but he’s working so hard, he’s doing X, he’s doing Y. And she’d say yes, but did he do it all the times he was supposed to this week? Did you have to initiate it? How many temper tantrums did he have? How many times did he get in your face this week? How many anger management issues did he have this week?

Anne (20:03):
Did she ever call it grooming? Did she ever say, Mmm, well he’s checking boxes. That’s also called grooming. Did she ever bring that up?

Leslie (20:12):
She didn’t. She didn’t. But I’ve read that and the whole trauma bonding thing.

The Manufactured Relational Tether

Anne (20:17):
Can we talk about trauma bond for a minute, Leslie? I’m not sure if you’ve heard our episode about this. I made up a different term for it. So, because I don’t like the word trauma bond because it just feels like that you actually maybe have a bond or something. I don’t know. I didn’t like it. And that doesn’t mean that it’s not useful to you. So if, if trauma bond is useful to you and it helps move you forward and get to safety, like continue using it. I didn’t like it cause it felt like a lot of women, um, feel stuck, right? They’re like, but I’m bonded to this person through this trauma. Yes. And so the term that I invented, and we have a video on this that is amazing. So I’ll put that in this episode. So if you go to our website and find this episode, the video will be in there. I call it the manufactured relational tether.

Leslie (21:01):
Actually, I think I’ve seen that.

Anne (21:02):
The reason I call it that is because you think you’re bonded to them, but they are not bonded to you. And they have manufactured this tether to keep you coming back and coming back. And the reason they’ve manufactured that is to keep you stuck. And that video really clearly shows it. Do you remember that video?

Leslie (21:21):
Yes, I do.

Anne (21:22):
What did you think of it?

“They Just See This Awesome Person; They Don’t See What Goes On Behind Closed Doors”

Leslie (21:23):
I thought it was awesome because I saw so many things, like people who saw like our relationship from the start to the end, if they know now that we’ve divorced, they are just shocked. They’re like, oh Mike, you seem like such an amazing person. He brought you flowers every day. I hate flowers now. Just an FYI. To me that is a huge trigger because when he would be trying to hook up with someone and get caught, guess what he did? Brought me flowers or he was abusive that night. Guess what he did the next day? Brought me flowers. You know? So flowers to me are a huge trigger, but those are the, all the outside things that they manufacture to everybody else so that nobody will believe your story. Nobody will believe because they just see this awesome person, you know, they don’t see what goes on behind closed doors.

(22:20):
They don’t see the reactions. The reason that I bring up my breast cancer story, that was when I first really was starting to say, okay, I think that this is just not going to work. But then I found out I had breast cancer, I’ve got three grown children who don’t have their own father still alive. And I was like, and now I’m gonna leave them motherless. I cannot fight him and fight for my life. So I decided that that all would go on the back burner while I fought for my life. I feel like that gave him a little bit more leeway to continue that whole, you know, keeping me down more and more and more. And it wasn’t until after I’d been through the chemo, been through the double mastectomy, had been through months and months of CSAT counseling. We had done a therapeutic separation.

Shifting From Reconciliation to Safety

(23:19):
Once I got out of the situation, I woke up one morning, looked and looked in the mirror, and I just didn’t recognize the person that was looking back at me anymore. I was just like, wow, you would never in a million years allow this ever, ever in your life. How are you allowing this now? And that was when I really started to take my power back. And that’s when I started kind of the change of not necessarily working toward our reconciliation, but working more on focusing on myself and what I needed. And if that happened, then it happened. And if it didn’t, I was okay with that as well.

Anne (24:07):
Well, and let’s talk about the, the disclosure and all that stuff. I think that is insane when you’re looking at abuse. In an ideal world, which never happens, um, it does happen here at BTR. That’s why I love BTR. It’s, it’s an amazing oasis of truth. But what should happen is the second you go in there and it’s hard because it took you forever to figure out they were an abuser. So, you know, why is a therapist smarter than you? They’re not right. You, you have six degrees by the way. Can you just list your degrees real quick? .

Leslie (24:40):
So I have, um, a bachelor’s in nursing. I have a master’s in nursing with family practice. I have a master’s in nursing in, um, neonatal. I have a doctorate. And I just went back with for a neonatal fellowship that I just finished last year.

Therapeutic Disclosures DO NOT Bring Safety to Victims of Sexual Coercion & Abuse

Anne (25:01):
And you’re an MD. And you run two hospitals. So Leslie is no dummy, people. So if you, if you are like, why didn’t I see it? Why didn’t I know what was going on? And then Leslie is so smart that she starts researching things and in this case, no good deed goes unpunished, right? Because her research actually kept her in the abuse longer accidentally. Right. It’s not your fault. I’m, I’m not saying that, but because it wasn’t like abuse out of the gate, it’s like sex addiction, it’s maybe childhood trauma. It’s some other things. You, you go in and you’re given this like let’s do a therapeutic disclosure, let’s wait for a minute before you wanna separate because we wanna try and save the marriage or other things that perhaps a CSAT would tell you if you went to church or when you went to church. How did he present in a religious setting?

Leslie (26:00):
I was raised by a Catholic father and a Baptist mother. So they never agreed on religion. So I kind of found my religion later on in life. It was always kind of funny to me that he would say how Catholic he was. He went to a Catholic high school, his family went to church every Sunday, da da da da. But none of the things, all the lies, all the abuse, the stealing things that he would do that were immoral, just never added up to what a good Christian would do.

When Clergy Get Involved (And Harm the Victim More)

Anne (26:41):
So my guess is even though you didn’t go for help in the clergy route, and a lot of women do, right? A lot of our listeners have tried to get help from clergy, from their pastor or their bishop or their rabbi. They have gone to get help and they are more abused in the process because the clergy does not know what they’re looking at. And they might be abusive themselves, number one. They might be steeped in misogyny and also they may really like him. I, I think that’s actually probably the biggest problem is that they know the guy and they think he’s a great guy. And so they’re like, what are you talking about? Because a lot of clergy responds pretty well when they don’t know the man. Like if they listen, they’re like, wow, that sounds abusive. How can we help? But if they know him, they were gonna believe him over you.

(27:27):
So it’s good that you didn’t try to get help from clergy. Cause my guess is that would’ve also been traumatic. But let’s focus then on the trauma that came from therapy. From like basically prolonging the abuse, not really calling it out, not recognizing it for what it was they did eventually. And then you started wrapping your head around it, which was great, but the process of the years of therapy that you went through and really somebody not being like, look, this is abuse, this isn’t addiction, this isn’t this, you don’t need to go through a therapeutic disclosure. You don’t need to have ’em take a, you know, whatever. Like right. He is abusive. You need to separate yourself from the harm and watch at a safe distance and not worry about managing.

The Moment that Leslie Chose Her Safety Over Her Relationship

Because if you start managing an abuser, then that is just like basically fertilizing the ground and being like, here, groom me. Right? Check the boxes, do your grooming thing. And um, then the grooming just escalates as well as the abuse at the same time. Most victims, they are wonderful, amazing people. And so they go to the like classic relationship principles first. They go to love, serve, forgive, help, be helpful. When do you start realizing that being a supportive, helpful spouse is working against you?

Leslie (29:00):
I think honestly it was when I realized I had totally lost myself. I was not the person that I was, I wouldn’t engage in activities. I wouldn’t go out with my friends anymore. There were so many things that gave me joy that I would not do anymore just because I just existed. I was the major breadwinner. He did not work, he couldn’t hold down a job. And my breaking point for the first time we separated was we were actually in the car dealership getting him a new car cause his lease was up. And I looked over and he was actually on Tinder making a hookup while we were in the car dealership buying him a new car, he moved out. And that was a very explosive time. We tried to navigate through that. And even our couple’s counselor, a couple months into it finally had a meeting with me and he said, Leslie, how do you feel about a divorce and dating again? Because this is not okay.

There is No “WE” In an Abuse Dynamic

Anne (30:15):
Sorry. It’s interesting the words you’re using, you’re saying we, you’re using the word we and stuff. I think that’s really interesting because what happened in reality was that he’s an abuser, right? And he’s really losing control at this point. So he’s trying to like reassert control here, which is why things are escalating. And we as a couple are not working on anything. But because your perspective is “we” even now talking about it, I think it’s really interesting that victims still maybe like looking back, think, well “we” were trying, or you know, when that was never happening in the first place.

Leslie (30:54):
It was, it was only me, you’re 100%, right.

Anne (30:57):
Yeah, because you, you’re in the relationship, you have a relationship, but they don’t have a relationship with you. We’re gonna pause the conversation here. So join us next week to hear more of my interview with Leslie. If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. And until next week, stay safe out there.

You May Also Like

Patriarchy Harms Women: Here’s How

Patriarchy Harms Women: Here’s How

Have you been raised in a high-control religion, or other system that enables abuse? Learn about how patriarchy has harmed you and begin seeking safety.

2 Comments

  1. Jackie

    I agree, therapist even CSATs never call it ABUSE!! That is the issue!

    My ex went to the well known LA clinic for Sex Addiction and the Famous “Ranch” Sex Addict Rehab NEVER called it ABUSE!

    Reply
  2. Jackie

    I agree, therapist even CSATs never call it ABUSE!! That is the issue!

    My ex went to the well know LA clinic for Sex Addiction and the Famous “Ranch” Sex Addict Rehab NEVER called it ABUSE!

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

9 Steps Checklist

The checklist
EVERY WOMAN NEEDS

 

Receive the printable 9 Steps to Safety and start making your way to emotional safety TODAY.

Check your inbox for the checklist from Anne from Betrayal Trauma Recovery. We know this checklist can change your life, just like it's changed the lives of thousands of other women!