Betrayal Is Domestic Abuse

by | Abuse Literacy

What is domestic violence

[Betrayal] needs to be addressed from a focal point of domestic abuse. Within that context is the only way to appropriately approach this type of situation without re-harming, or re-traumatizing the victim of the chronic manipulation.

Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery

Women who have been intimately betrayed by a partner, whether through a sexual or emotional affair, pornography use, or other sexual acting out behaviors, are victims of domestic abuse. That is why it hurts so much.

How Does Betrayal Affect Women?

The effects of betrayal trauma can be debilitating. Physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual consequences may include:

  • A loss of self-esteem
  • Sleep difficulties and irregularity
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Loss of faith in spiritual beliefs

There are many more symptoms of betrayal trauma. But just this short list alone shows how deeply betrayal impacts victims.

Help For Unhealthy Responses To Betrayal

Tragically, many victims do not have the support and safety that they need to make healthy decisions while they are so deeply entrenched in trauma. Some behaviors that women may engage in to numb the pain include:

  • Using alcohol or drugs
  • Uncharacteristic sexual behaviors
  • Self-harm
  • Harsh behaviors toward children and others
  • Changing appearance for a reaction from the unfaithful partner

Empowerment through education, support, self-care, and boundaries can help women begin to respond in healthy ways to betrayal trauma.

Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Domestic Abuse

At BTR, we know just how excruciating betrayal can be. The unrelenting heartbreak. The loss of trust. The crushed dreams. However, there is hope.

Our BTR.ORG Group Sessions meet daily in every time zone and offers victims a community of other women who understand trauma and want to heal.

Full Transcript:

Anne: Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.

Our BTR.ORG Group Sessions are intended to help victims of emotional and psychological abuse and sexual coercion in the form of their husband’s pornography use or infidelity. We have over 21 sessions per week for you to choose from. You don’t have to wait for an appointment, you don’t have to leave your home, you can join from your closet or your parked car in your garage. We’d love to see you in a session today.

Rate the BTR Podcast

For everyone who has given this podcast a five-star rating and perhaps even a review on Apple podcasts or other podcasting apps, thank you so much. If this podcast has helped you when you rate it, you help other women find it, so your ratings make a big difference. Here’s a five-star review that we received on Apple podcasts: I had stumbled across BTR in the chaos and fog after discovery. I was hesitant at first, unsure online support was for me. When I finally booked an individual session, it was life-changing. In one session the BTR coach gave me resources and helped me put words to what I had been experiencing: abuse. Anne’s podcast and BTR posts have kept me going, keeping me grounded in reality, helping me know I’m not alone. I only regret not diving in sooner when I was trying to make sense of it all. Safety should have been my initial priority. No matter what your spiritual background or where you are in the mess that is betrayal, this is a must-have on your list of self-care resources. 

Thank you so much for this review. I really feel supported when I read them and appreciate it. And also, every single one of these reviews helps isolated women find us, so that means a lot. 

The Covert Phase of Abuse

Anne: So, on page 10 of your white paper, you say the ongoing behaviors and conditions that take place during the covert phase cause serious psychological, emotional, and relational trauma. You talk about what that can cause, but this is during the covert phase. I, of course, speak in a gender-segregated way on my podcast because we only help women who have been abused by men at Betrayal Trauma Recovery. Not saying that women can’t be abusers, but in this covert phase, the woman doesn’t know what’s happening, right? She doesn’t understand that she’s actually being abused, but it can still cause her serious psychological, emotional, and relational trauma, which I think is so fascinating. So, can you talk about how these things can cause this trauma even if she doesn’t know what is happening? 

How Abusers Hide the Secret Sexual Basement

Dr. Minwalla: Yes, so there are really three concepts here in the covert phase. One is what is the impact on someone who’s living on top of a basement and is absorbing lies, gaslighting, cover stories, explanations that aren’t true about time and where someone was, having gut instincts that are conflicting with what they’re seeing around them or being presented around them. That can be lies by omission and very undetectable types of integrity abuse that are very subtle, and it can be years and years of straight-up really obvious overt lies and gaslighting and manipulations. 

So, all of that integrity abuse, whether it’s subtle and hard to detect or whether it’s pretty overt and pretty extreme and significant and easy to detect in terms of lies or gaslighting or victim-blaming, how does that shape somebody slowly over time looking at it through the lens of complex trauma shaping? And so, I might have described this in other podcasts, it takes a little time to describe but basically, complex trauma shaping is any pattern of harm over time where the victim can’t escape or is disempowered. That slowly starts to shape their emotional world, their thought system, their sense of self and esteem, how they’re viewing and relating to the abuse, how they’re viewing and relating to the abuser, how they’re relating to other humans, period, and how that shapes the meaning of their life. 

Complex Trauma Shaping

So, there are the six ways that people are shaped by harm that is very slow and progressive. I kind of describe it as drops of water on a rock. So, if we look at this term, complex trauma shaping, and we look at integrity abuse, what if somebody is living on top of a basement for 20 years, and they’ve been lied to and gaslit and manipulated and had all these little, tiny integrity abuse issues going on their entire 20 years? How does that shape somebody emotionally, their thought system, their sense of self and self-esteem, their relationship with the abuser? And that’s really a question that needs to continue to be researched and answered, but the consequences are probably really significant, and the shaping of someone can be really significant. 

The second thing you want to think about specifically is the second brain or the enteric system. Now, this also requires quite a lot of description, but if you study neuroscience, neuroscience has identified neurons, brain cells, that literally go from your primary brain to your what they call the second brain which is in your gut, in a place called the enteric system. And there’s still so much we need to know about the second brain, but it has been identified and part of what it may be responsible for is detecting threats in the environment and sending signals around survival to the primary brain. So, it’s a very delicate system of being able to survive and detect something’s wrong and then send healthy signals so that the person can make survival attempts and respond accordingly. It’s kind of like a little antenna, if you will, in a very delicate system. 

“Do I Believe My Second Brain or Do I Believe My Partner?”

If there’s a secret sexual basement, probably automatically the human beings second brain is going to start to feel threat, it’s going to start to activate, it’s going to start to send messages, and now it’s going to be confusing for the brain because they’re going to be getting signals something’s wrong, something’s off, something doesn’t feel right. I feel like I’m somehow being threatened, and the abuser is pretending there’s nothing wrong. They may not be saying anything but they’re still pretending there’s nothing wrong. So, they’re creating a situation that’s now confusing the primary brain, and the primary brain now has to choose do I believe my second brain or do I believe my reality and my partner and what they’re presenting?

And putting someone in that situation, into that forced choice is going to be damaging, and if that happens for 20 years, that might be 20 years of a person ignoring their survival instincts, and now they have a very damaged, eroded relationship with their second brain. And that’s a huge wound in the covert phase, and that might be way before discovery. They’ve already had a very, very crippled relationship and an erosion with their second brain, which then took away their survival instincts and how to support and survive and navigate threats in the environment. It’s like one of the most important psychological functions we have is our relationship with our second brain.

When Clergy, Therapists, & Others Enable Abuse

Anne: It’s so interesting during this covert phase that if they reach out for help, maybe from a couple’s therapists for example, maybe reach out for help from clergy, that they get the opposite of the thing they need. Instead of saying look, your alarm system is going off. You’re trying to survive here. They say, he’s such a good guy. Let’s try to improve your communication. 

So even from helping professionals, the injury persists, and they’re injured even more but they don’t even know they’re being injured. I mean, I can’t stress that enough, because people will say well, why don’t women get out of abusive relationships? My answer is always because they don’t know they’re in one. And they’re trying to get help and that helping professional isn’t helping them see the abuse. They’re basically enabling the abuse.

Clergy-Induced Trauma

Dr. Minwalla: Yes. Now, you know, I’m not familiar, but I think you’re educating me because, you know, you refer to helping professionals but specifically the clergy. So, it sounds like, are you saying that there’s a common experience of turning to the clergy and getting certain types of feedback?

Anne: Absolutely. Our community is interfaith and inter-paradigm. So, we have agnostic people here and atheist victims, but I’d say the majority of our listeners are religious. And one of the reasons why they’re so traumatized is because they feel like their intuition, or some of them would call it the Spirit or something, right? They go into clergy for help, and instead of getting help, they are getting abuse by proxy from their clergy who, I’m not saying that the clergy is bad necessarily, they just don’t understand what is happening. And so, they give the classic religious answers like love, serve, and forgive, which is the opposite of what someone would tell a woman if they felt like there was a threat. So, they don’t perceive the woman as actually being in harm’s way, they perceive her as being a little like, well, you know, the answer to this is to not be judgmental, to turn the other cheek. The classic Christian platitudes that are helpful in non-abusive situations, but in abuse situations are very, very dangerous. I’d say that’s across the board in every religion that we see.

“Why Are Women Turning To Men To Respond To Deep Questions About Intimacy?”

Dr. Minwalla: I can validate the dangerousness of that, and I find it extremely disturbing what you’re saying because, first of all, why are women turning to men to respond to deep questions about intimacy, fidelity, sexuality, when a big part of my model is all this unconscious, biased, harmful messaging that boys and men are socialized with, and we all suffer for? And one of the ways we suffer is huge blind spots on sexual entitlement and violence towards girls and women. And so, just the institutional setup of women turning towards men on pedestals as if they have something to offer them. I have a real problem with that setup. I just don’t think it makes sense. It’s not very logical. It’s not very scientifically sound. If you know so much about how masculinity is developed and underdeveloped and where there are real deficits in how masculinity manifests, then I just really don’t see how that would be a safe or appropriate setup to have in general. Men advising women on issues that they probably have huge blind spots about and then because of those blind spots end up and invariably are going to be highly damaging and re-traumatizing to women, and probably perpetrate many types of sexist, misogynistic, and harmful scripts unconsciously, just because they’re the traditional scripts.

Gender Pathology & Abuse

Anne: Thank you for saying this. I realized that when I was talking about both men and women growing up on Earth, that our two Earths are very different places. So, I realized after I said that, I was like wait a minute, like the way that we interpret Earth is so different and also the messages that society gives men are so different than women. So, do you want to go into that piece a little bit? I think that you hit the nail on the head, that it is dangerous to go to someone who is unaware of the abuse for help, who also is part of the abusive system, unknowingly. I mean, many of these men are really trying to be good people. I’m not trying to say they’re bad, but because of their scripting and other things, it is a dangerous place to try and get help. But you mentioned gender pathology and how this system is enabling the abuse and harming of women. Can you talk more about that?

“Most Perpetrators of Having a Secret Sexual Basement Are Men”

Dr. Minwalla: Well, the deceptive sexuality, it’s a specific type of abuse problem. It’s an abuse disorder, deceptive sexuality, having a secret sexual basement is an abuse problem. And it’s a specific type. It’s a type of abuse that we would put under the umbrella of gender-based violence. Why? Because it’s a type of abuse, that based on your gender, is going to be a very relevant factor. If you’re a woman, a girl, or a woman, a female, you’re probably going to be a victim, and most of the perpetrators, not all of course, but most perpetrators of having a secret sexual basement are men. So, there’s something around gender where the men are creating the basements and the women are the victims and finding them. That’s indisputable, and anyone who deals with these issues will see that gendered pattern, at least right now, and traditionally.

So, there’s a certain type of abuse. It’s a gender type of abuse, it typically is going to mean that the male is going to be the abuser and the female is going to be the victim. And we live in a society where nobody calls this type of abuse, abuse…yet, right? So, the idea of having a secret sexual basement doesn’t automatically register as an abuse problem in anyone’s mind, including professionals, treatment professionals, clergy, nobody thinks a secret sexual basement equals abuse. So, given that reality, why as a victim of deceptive sexuality, or an abuser of deceptive sexuality, why would you turn to the gender that has the problem?

“It’s An Entitlement That Wants to Keep Being Entitled”

And knowing that all institutions and everyone around you don’t see it as abuse yet, why would you then go and somehow think that they have something to offer? I just don’t understand that as making any logical sense. So, it’s really not to disparage or put down anything related to the clergy or to men. It’s just really a true part of the model and what the model is trying to say and shine a light on, which is the way we’ve been socialized as men is a big underlying factor. It’s a big underlying factor that’s unconscious. It includes sexual entitlement. It’s a big reason why people act out. It’s a big reason why they’re abusive in this specific way, and why they build basements. It’s also a big reason why we don’t call it abuse. It’s that there’s an investment in not calling it abuse because it’s an entitlement that wants to keep being entitled. So, men and masculinity who have the power, there’s a lot of investment in not naming or seeing this clearly as abuse so that it can continue.

Anne: I totally agree. And it’s my life’s mission, and yours too. So, I’m so glad that we are allies in this to educate people about this, so they know what they’re truly dealing with.

Dr. Minwalla: And clergy or anyone, including myself, like who are we as men to get up on pedestals and start preaching about intimacy, sex, and intimate partner violence or abuse? I don’t think any of us are. I approach things with humility, and I think that most men should start in a place of humility, and that would include getting off a pedestal.

Anne: Amen. Is that what I say to that? Amen, brother.

“What Pedestal Are You Standing On?”

Dr. Minwalla: Yeah. Hallelujah. Like, who are these guys? I want to talk to them, like who are you? How did you assume that you are, I mean, there are just so many questions that you’re somehow connected to God in a way that we’re not? That you can get on a pedestal and start interfering with people’s abuse situations? Based on what education? And that you’re so entitled to start preaching and fiddling and intervening in people’s lives. What pedestal are you standing on? That’s my question to them.

Anne: Yeah, it is a huge problem in every religious situation. The thing that I find interesting is that they asked that same question of me, who are you to say these things? And you know, what my response always is? I’m an abuse victim, and I represent thousands of abuse victims. To that, sometimes I get well, you don’t know better because you’ve been traumatized. So, my trauma has also rendered me illogical apparently, in their minds. It’s fun, it’s a good time. So, I just stand up and I say, I’m Anne, that’s who I am. I’m Anne.

Finding Empowerment Despite Clergy Abuse

Dr. Minwalla: Yes, and it’s so important. It’s actually such a global human phenomenon what you’re talking about, about religion, men, power, and the entitlement and righteousness in that position. Very dangerous, toxic, and needs to be challenged? Yeah. On what basis can they stand on this pedestal? I don’t buy it. I’m not in it. I will challenge that pedestal in standing up there, and I’ve had a lot of clergy that are patients, right. So, let’s just pull the robes off and see the truth. None of these men deserve to be standing on any kind of pedestal.

Anne: Agreed. And I think for some faiths, the way that they’re set up is women feel like they have to choose. They feel like well, I either follow my faith and therefore must sort of submit to this abuse or I have to leave my faith because there isn’t enough room in there to be like, no, I can have my voice. I can still believe in the things that I choose to believe in. I can still believe in God, or you know whatever she feels like she wants to believe in, and also say, but I don’t have to listen to my local leader who is telling me I need to have more sex. I don’t have to listen to this. I don’t actually even have to go in for help for this. I can pray and I can lean on God, and I can do these things without this human intermediary who might be harmful to me.

“Any True Helper Is Humble”

Dr. Minwalla: Any true helper is humble. Anyone who’s going to really help trauma or trauma victims, or abuse victims has to be standing on humility at first and foremost. It’s a big part of my training. If we were talking about treatment, this would be one of the foundational educational pieces, which is the role of humility in approaching trauma. It’s absolutely essential as a therapist. You are powerless in overcoming and healing and fixing trauma. Humans heal themselves from trauma, therapists don’t. They can help but there’s a humility in how much you can really intervene and do something because trauma by definition is overwhelming.

Trauma Mama Husband Drama

Anne: I am going to take a break here for just a second to talk about my book, Trauma Mama Husband Drama. Our books page 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.

And now back to our conversation. 

When Clergy Pressures Victims To Forgive

Anne: In light of this, abusers often feel entitled to receive, many of them from their clergy right, to receive immediate forgiveness and have their victims no longer mention their trauma. So once the secret sexual basement has been discovered or disclosed, then they make at least a pretense of being apologetic and this pretense to clergy is very believable. Clergy is like, great that they’re repentant. Sometimes they’re caught and they just have to act like that. So, do you have any advice for victims who have an abuser who’s claiming to be repentant, and they’re pushing their wife to forgive? And also, you know if they’re being pressured by clergy that they need to forgive?

Dr. Minwalla: Yeah, I think the question is really when these situations happen, it sounds like you’re saying a lot of victims are being told to forgive and being told to forgive very early in the process. Is that right, Anne?

Anne: Yes. Yes, they’re being told to forgive. They’re also being told to love and serve because that is the solution.

“Premature Forgiveness”

Dr. Minwalla: Okay. So, this idea of forgiveness, I love the term premature forgiveness because that’s what a lot of people are actually striving for is premature forgiveness. Forgiveness is a very advanced later down the road stage of healing that may or may not ever happen. So, to focus on it before you’re at that very advanced stage is premature. Really, the word doesn’t even need to be brought up for quite a while since it’s so advanced, and any mention of it really is premature in terms of an expectation of this type of trauma and abuse situation and particularly a victim who’s struggling with this kind of trauma. 

I have three things I’d like to maybe highlight in response to that. The first thing is, it’s not going to work, period. It’s not scientific. If someone has been in a car accident and they have broken bones and they’re hemorrhaging and there are all kinds of injuries, to tell them to just get up dust off, and keep walking isn’t going to work. So, you can say it, you can try to demand it, you’re not going to have success and the outcomes are going to be really poor. So, the idea of telling an abused spouse to just get over it and forgive prematurely isn’t going to work. You’re just setting yourself up for disappointment and a lot of continued reactivity trauma and symptoms, just like somebody who’s been in a car accident. So, it’s not going to work. So, it doesn’t really make sense scientifically. 

Demanding Forgiveness is Avoiding Accountability

The other thing is, it’s a demonstration of continuing abusive psychology. When someone’s telling a victim to get over it and move on, what they’re really communicating is, I don’t want to be held accountable. I don’t want to grow and learn from this event. I don’t want to do the work that’s required to not repeat it. I want to bypass that, and I want you to collude with that, and I want you to join me in that collusion of avoiding all that work and pretending like it’s not going to happen again. If they don’t do that work and really hold themselves accountable and learn from the harm that they’ve caused others, they are highly likely to repeat it. And what they’re basically telling the victim is, I don’t care enough about this issue, and I don’t care enough about what I did, and implicitly, I don’t care enough about you to do the work, and I’m going to hurt you again. That’s really the message when someone says to the victim, the perpetrator says to the victim, move on and get over it. It’s they’re basically saying I don’t want to be held accountable and I’m going to do this again. 

Demanding Forgiveness Reveals the Abuser’s True Nature

It’s a very revealing way to respond to a victim, whether it’s the clergy saying that or whoever is saying that, it’s very revealing and that’s how I would interpret it as, oh, okay; you don’t want to do the work and you’re not invested in that. You want me to join you in skipping over that and pretending like you’re somehow better or the issue is resolved. There is no resolution until the perpetrator resolves the issue that he has. 

And then the third thing is, when you have this kind of advice for this type of victim, especially if you have, let’s say in your example Anne, you’re talking about clergy in the church and institutions. These are powerful, powerful institutions and people, often male I’m assuming, and so it’s a continuation of domination, control, power, patronizing, harmful, and abusive. All of those things, and why is that so important? Because having a secret sexual basement is already a covert form of domination and control. So, to go to help and then have your helpers continue to dominate, patronize, and try to control you by telling you not to have your reactions and instead to suck it up and move on or forgive or try to somehow manipulate how you’re supposed to be instead of what you’re experiencing is already a really harmful approach for the victim. So, any type of feedback like that, whether it’s clergy, non-clergy, anyone, anyone who’s telling a victim to just move on and get over it is really perpetrating on them for all the reasons I just articulated.

When The Victim’s Anger Becomes the Issue, Rather Than The Abuse

Anne: One of the things also that is said, I would say more by clergy than say therapy in general, but there is that in therapy, that anger is wrong. The victim’s anger is like that’s really the problem because he’s repentant, apparently because he said he’s repentant and he said he’s never going to do it again, so why is she so angry about it? So, they’re actually more concerned with her anger and her, you know, perceived hate of him or whatever, than they are about the fact that she has been victimized. 

I’ve been really thinking about society too, and the way that they label women to like, demonize women by saying she was angry. Like these angry women or feminazis, or you know, whatever word that they use to basically disenfranchise female anger. And I’m like wanting women to really embrace it. So, can you talk about that, like how anger can be helpful to victims, how it can help them set boundaries, how it’s a normal response to what they’re going through? Because if they weren’t feeling angry, something would really be wrong with them. Maybe not. Maybe some of them feel sad. I’m not trying to say they have to feel angry, but it seems like such a normal healthy reaction to being victimized when you’re harmed that I’m just so confused about why society has decided to disenfranchise women in this way.

“Anger Is One Of the Biggest Symptoms”

Dr. Minwalla: One of the symptoms of trauma is alterations in arousal and reactivity. One of those alterations in arousal and reactivity is rage, anger, that is a normal symptom of trauma. When people are traumatized, one of the symptoms is dysregulation, emotional dysregulation, neurological arousal, and reactivity. Anger is often extremely common, especially with this type of abuse, deceptive sexuality, and finding out a secret sexual basement is underneath your home. It’s not like a natural disaster, betrayal plus the trauma, which actually induces rage and anger automatically when there’s betrayal involved. So actually, a secret sexual basement is high octane, anger-inducing, just as a normal human reaction. And you see it all the time. Anger is one of the biggest symptoms that victims of deceptive sexuality experience, rage and anger. So, it’s absolutely normal and should be expected and should be framed and conceptualized that way.

Anne: Do you think one of the reasons why men have decided that female anger is so troubling is that anger helps women actually take action, and they’re more afraid of their actions? Disenfranchising their anger is also sort of taking the fuel out of their fire so that they’re sometimes unable to actually take action to get themselves to safety? Whereas if they have that anger in them, they’re able to actually you know, get up off the couch and start taking actions that the abuser is not going to like.

“Anger is Useful; Anger is Normal”

Dr. Minwalla: Anger can be highly adaptive. There’s a reason the anger is there. Anger we know can fuel so many positive health-promoting responses. So, everything you’re saying is correct. Anger is useful. Anger is normal. Anger is to be expected. Now, whenever you have a dominant group that has power over another group, and you often have violence and abuse and forms of harm from the dominant group towards the less powerful group. Anytime in that situation, the victim expresses justified rage or anger, that’s often pathologized and used to discredit the victim. That their reactions to the abuse are now used to discredit and try to silence and pathologize and deflect, and that’s a lot of what integrity abuse is. It’s a lot of that trying to deflect and turn things around. 

In these situations, let’s say in the clergy, where the abuser’s repentant and the feedback is saying, you know, hey, they’re looking repentant. What’s your problem? You know, making the anger in the victim the problem. One thing that’s really important is in an abuse situation, right, and one thing I always say is, it’s the behavior, not the words that have any relevance in the healing and in what’s going to be beneficial for everybody in terms of healing. And so, if the abuser is saying I repent, the real response should be let’s see that in your actions. And so, humility is remorse demonstrated through behavior. And that’s the kind of advice that would be appropriate. It’s okay, you’re repentant. Let’s see your remorse in your actions for six months, and then we’ll meet again.

Anne: Yeah, or even you’re repentant, let’s see how your victim is feeling.

Dr. Minwalla: In six months, based on your actions and how you’ve been treating her. Right. So those would be the kind of normal, appropriate, helpful responses. Not look, he’s repentant, what’s your problem?

“Clergy Has a Tendency to Believe the Man Over the Woman”

Anne: Yeah. I think the other issue that’s super interesting is the clergy cannot perceive, and some therapists cannot perceive, that they’re being lied to, and they’re being groomed, and they can’t perceive that this is an act to manipulate the clergy too.

Dr. Minwalla: Oh, so these guys don’t have any training in how to be a clergy person and deal with just normal human life? Isn’t that what they’re supposed to be doing?

Anne: You would think, but no. We’ve talked to women of all different faiths that when he goes in and says oh, I know you know, I feel bad, whatever, they literally don’t have on their radar, wait a minute, this is all an act for them to avoid accountability and avoid this. So that’s another issue is they don’t realize that they’re dealing with a wolf in sheep’s clothing. They think they’re dealing with someone who was kind of a wolf but now look at him; he’s a sheep, come on. The woman is freaked out and scared and also like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, you don’t understand. But it seems like clergy has a tendency to believe the man over the woman and they just can’t perceive that they’re being lied to or that they themselves are being deceived.

When Clergy Believes the Deceptive Abuser Over the Victim

Dr. Minwalla: So, let’s just think logically. Okay, the problem at hand is somebody has a deceptive compartmentalized sexual reality, otherwise known as a secret sexual basement. So, the word deceptive means this problem is really about deception. So now you go for help. You’re the helper and the person who’s been deceptive, you’re going to automatically believe them when you’re sitting with somebody whose problem they’re coming to you for is lying?

Anne: Yes. That is exactly what’s happening.

Dr. Minwalla: That doesn’t sound logical to me. You would assume okay; your problem is lying. Then maybe I should be at least somewhat aware that lying might be happening now or there might be a certain shading of the truth right now or manipulation, so that would be kind of 101, Clergy 101.

When Abusers Use Triangulation To Turn Clergy and Victims Against Each Other

Anne: Yeah, but they don’t get that training. And I want to call out my listeners here right now too because I hear a lot of stories where the women will say to me, he told me this. Like they’ll say, well, he went in to meet with his pastor, and this is what happened, and the pastor told him this. And I’m like, okay; but the woman doesn’t think, wait a minute, he could be lying to me about that entire conversation. She doesn’t realize that her husband might be lying to her about what the pastor said. So, a lot of the information that we get is what the addict or abuser says to his victim about what happened in that meeting. So, we also don’t know that the pastor really did say those awful things. Maybe it could be that the pastor didn’t say anything like that, but the abuser decided, hey, this is how I can really get some power here. I’m going to also tell her that the pastor is on my side.

It’s so complex, that a lot of the time when wives will tell me well, he told me he didn’t sleep with a prostitute. And so I’m like, okay. Well, the answer to that is, this is someone who is deceptive. So, I actually don’t know what the truth is. It could be the truth, or it could not be the truth. But because deception is such a huge part of this, it’s something that even the victims themselves don’t take super seriously sometimes.

Why Would Anyone Assume the Abuser is Telling The Truth When He Has an Integrity Abuse Disorder?

Dr. Minwalla: And that’s why saying very clearly okay, we have an integrity abuse disorder, and this is what it means, and here are the characteristics of it. And so that’s reality. That’s what we’re looking at, and to not forget that or go into denial or any of these other strategies would be extremely important for treatment and being clear. And of course, even clinically, you’re talking about the clergy, that happens clinically too. We can’t just assume that whatever the abuser says is true. As a clinician, you know, you might want to pick up the phone and talk to the partner with a release yourself if the partner has questions about what’s been said, but you wouldn’t rely on the abuser to be the reporter of your own clinical interpretation, because you would assume that he might lie, and the partner would assume that he might lie. So, these are all clinical considerations that are really common, which is to not assume that whatever is being said by the abuser is the truth. Why would you assume that when someone has an integrity abuse disorder?

Anne: I think that’s really the heart of it, and you nail it on the head. That this is an integrity abuse disorder. It’s so complex, that just listening to your husband when he says I’m so sorry, yeah, I did sleep with this one woman, I’m sorry. That you’ve got to realize that like, your reality or what he is presenting as the reality, even with some let’s say trickle disclosure or some small things that he might say in order to manipulate you into thinking he’s telling the truth. It’s a very complex situation and I’m very, very concerned when victims tell me, yeah, he said this, and I really believe him without truly understanding the depth of his deceit or his ability to deceive.

Religious Abusers Get Power By “Being Righteous”

Dr. Minwalla: Yes, Anne. You’re correct in this type of manipulation and continued deception and manipulating and gaslighting it does happen a lot. Even after disclosure and during discoveries and during disclosures. There are all sorts of things that guys say I’m going to take this to my grave, I’m not going to share this. It’s sort of run of the mill, that the abuser will continue to lie and deceive and manipulate at least for a while until there’s some real change. So, it’s to be expected.

Anne: In these institutions, a “righteous man” that’s how they get power is by being righteous. So that’s another level of deception right there. So, it’s not just the secret sexual basement, but they’re also showing up at church and giving talks in church or you know, like doing service or whatever they’re doing to maintain that power, which is super, super scary. Like these guys are like super predators. I think the religious dudes are like super predators. So, it is pretty scary, but it’s also hard to say to religious women who have been taught through their religion, that who you go to for counsel, for Godly counsel, is right. That they don’t have to do that because that’s what they’ve been taught since they were really young. That part of the way that they really can connect with God and hear God’s voice is by getting counsel from their clergy. So, to say no, you can just say no. I can pray, and I can get answers directly from God or directly from my Heavenly Mother or whatever you want to call that. I have the power to do that. I don’t need this man to help me out, is really important.

Understanding Religious Trauma

Dr. Minwalla: Yeah, and I think what you’re highlighting, and it’s a very challenging topic, is just how religion can be a form of complex trauma and abuse. And so, you’re naming the symptoms of that abuse. And so, then those symptoms and, belief symptoms let’s call them, not systems but belief symptoms, then intersect with this trauma and victimization. And now it’s created a whole set of complicated dynamics where the healing requires seeing abuse clearly and emancipating yourself from it, which really then is probably ultimately going to include seeing the abuse of your religion on yourself and emancipating yourself from those parts of it. And they’re going to probably just go together.

Anne: Exactly. Yeah. So, for somebody like me, who is actually a really devout person in my religion, but also really feminist. I’m Christian, right. So, I believe these tenants are but then I say okay, the way that this is interpreted or the way that this is being acted out, or the way that people are doing this is not what Christ intended. So, I just sort of formed my own ways of interpreting it to be able to live in these two spaces at the same time. And it’s okay with me, like, I’m okay with it. I look at Christ and I’m like, he loved women. He was like, always concerned about women. He was always making sure that he was caring for them and the first person that saw him after his resurrection was a woman. To me, I can read the scriptures and interpret them a certain way because maybe I’ve got this feminist perspective or something. But from my perspective, if I wasn’t able to do that, I would just be out.

When Your Religious Beliefs Cannot Coexist With Your Values

So, it’s hard for women who want to maintain their religion and also be like, wait a minute, but that means I have to give up these certain interpretations of things. And some women are just not willing to do that. So not only are they being abused by their husband and being abused by their clergy, but they’re also being abused, not abusing themselves, but disempowering themselves by their own beliefs of what those things mean or what they’re saying.

Dr. Minwalla: And those beliefs are symptoms of complex trauma shaping during their development, called religious training or whatever. Exactly. I appreciate you sharing that. You have a religious identity and a part of you that’s meaningful and you have a feminist ideology and a part of you that’s extremely meaningful, and you’re not really willing to choose one or the other. You’re going to find a resolution and do the work that allows you too so that you can be full in all of you. Wonderful, right? 

The intersection, we talk a lot about intersection these days. Race, ethnicity, religion, culture, class, you could even put trauma history, right. How did these all intersect, and how do we become whole human beings? And none of us have to deny who we are. The world couldn’t make room for who we are not the other way around.

Support the BTR Podcast

Anne: If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. Until next week, stay safe out there

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  1. Carolina

    It felt like you held my hand and walked me through it.. especially when u put the”compete” part.. and the chain of regrets that i had.. Not to mention alcohol addiction, ear piercings.. etc.Thank you!!

    • Anne Blythe

      I’m so glad it was helpful:). You’re brave and strong and you can have the peaceful life you deserve!! Hugs!!

  2. Lisa

    Thank you so much for this information, very helpful!


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