The shift from, “I’m worried about my husband, he uses porn. This is annoying, it hurts me,” to, “He is abusive,” that is one of the most traumatizing shifts in paradigm. But, once that shift in paradigm happens, I think women are getting stronger at being able to be like, “Okay, so this means I really need to set boundaries because all the love, service and forgiveness is not going to help the situation out.”Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
At BTR, we are not pro-divorce or pro-marriage: we are pro-safety. Women’s safety is the highest priority of every resource at Betrayal Trauma Recovery.
When a victim of betrayal and emotional abuse is making the decision to leave her abusive partner, she may wonder if she is allowed to divorce, or if it is socially acceptable. In this podcast episode, Anne interviews Caroline, a member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community. Caroline’s abusive husband refused professional help and his abusive behaviors escalated as Caroline set boundaries. Divorcing her husband brought Caroline the degree of safety that she needs. Read the full transcript or listen to the podcast to learn more.
Understanding Reality Can Help You Feel Confident In Your Decision
Being educated about what narcissistic behaviors are is super important for women so that they can know, “Oh, that was not a man being completely and totally in love with me. That is love-bombing. That’s about them, not about me. This is an unsafe situation. I need to take a step back.”Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
When Caroline read a Betrayal Trauma Recovery article about gaslighting, she began to identify her husband’s behaviors as abusive.
Many women spend months, years, even decades, trying to discern what is happening in their relationship.
As women become educated about abuse and trauma and seek to live in reality, and not the abusive partner’s sham of reality, they are better able to make safe and healthy decisions.
Accept Mourning and Grief As Part Of The Process
When victims leave their abusers, they may feel confused at the sadness and loneliness that they experience. Paradoxically, they may also feel a great deal of relief and even joy at the safety that they experience.
Women can accept mourning and grief as part of the process of divorcing an abuser, and can love themselves through it, regardless of the complicated feelings they experience.
A lot of the mourning is because you do see their potential. Somebody told me, while going through my divorce as I was having a lot of confusing and conflicting thoughts about my decision, because you feel like such a relief and, at the same time, you really miss them, and you are mourning the loss of that potential in that person. You can see it so clearly, after spending time with that person.Caroline, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community
Victims of Emotional Abuse and Betrayal Must Put Their Own Safety First
When women begin to contemplate leaving their abusive partner, his behaviors may escalate. It is of the utmost importance that victims choose their own safety over “fixing the marriage”. If he is going to change, it isn’t because of anything that you do or don’t do. When women can accept that their actions have nothing to do with the abusiveness of their partner, they can set and maintain boundaries that keep them safe, in the marriage and after the divorce.
Our job is to keep ourselves safe so that if and when the person does decide to change, we have not been continually harmed through their either non-changing, or their process of change.Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Betrayal and Emotional Abuse
The best thing that happened was that my coach helped me to identify my core values, that all my decisions should be made based off of those core values that we established. It was very explicit that BTR is not an advocate for divorce, but that we should also make sure that we’re in a safe situation.Caroline, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community
At BTR, we strive to help women establish everything that they need for safety in every aspect of their lives. Sometimes this means that victims will choose divorce. Regardless of a woman’s choice, BTR stands beside her through our supportive resources.
The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in every time zone. Join today and receive the support, validation, and community that you deserve as you begin your journey to healing.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne. I have Caroline on the podcast today. She is a BTR client who recently got divorced. We’re going to talk to her about her experience and what she went through and how she’s feeling now.
Anne: Welcome, Caroline. You’re in this post-divorce situation. When people ask you why you got divorced, what is your response?
Caroline: Although I knew about my husband’s pornography addiction from the beginning, I didn’t know what that entailed. In the end, he refused to get help, refused to get treatment. It wasn’t because he used pornography, but it was because he did not want to get help, even refused to believe that there was a problem with pornography use.
How To Handle The Questions About Divorce and Abuse
Anne: When you say that to people, do you think they respond well, or is it a triggery experience to have to talk about it with people who are wondering why you got divorced?
Caroline: It’s definitely a panic zone because you don’t know how people will react. Some people are very educated on pornography addiction, and others aren’t. They believe that it’s normal. The reactions vary. It’s only been in the past few months that I’ve felt like I can actually say the word pornography, when I’m talking about my divorce.
Anne: You mentioned that you knew about his pornography use while you were dating, or before you got married. Did you see any other red flags?
Caroline: As I was thinking about post-divorced, I was incredibly surprised at how many red flags there actually were. I think I just refused to see them. One characteristic that I’ve learned, through BTR, is that addicts are narcissists and the term gaslighting.
What Are Some Red Flags of Abuse?
Some of those narcissistic traits were that our dates were always extremely lavish and expensive. It seemed that he just had untapped funds. From the get-go, date one, he wouldn’t give me hardly any time alone, always had to be around me, knowing what I was up to, surprise visits. He would fake sick at work just to come see me. It felt like he almost forced himself into my life.
I was flattered at the time thinking, “Wow, this guy really likes me. He’s so cute. He’s got all this money. He’s got a good job,” but now I see it as him being controlling and insecure and practicing those narcissistic traits. He was a strong member of his church up until a few months before we met.
He had a lot to say about his inactivity in the church and a lot of excuses how he was being treated unfairly. He undermined his parents while still having them in the palm of his hand. He constantly sought praise and validation down to the littlest things. If he wiped off the counter, he would say, “Hey look, look what I did. I wiped off the counter,” just fed off of what other people thought of him constantly.
Is Narcissistic Abuse Easy To Spot?
Anne: I want to make a clarification there. I would not say that all porn users are narcissists, meaning they might not all be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. However, I do think that porn users exhibit narcissistic behaviors, whether or not they’re diagnosed. I think that’s probably what you’re saying.
Anne: I was just thinking about my ex. He contacted some people in my life, because he was trying to get information about filing taxes before we were divorced but while we were separated. He said things like, “I love Anne so much. I need to make sure that I do this for her,” and just went over and above how amazing he was for filing the taxes.
He really felt like he needed tons of praise for just every day normal things that, literally, he had to do. If he wouldn’t have done it, he would’ve been breaking the law. It’s like, “You’re not going to get a ton of praise for filing your taxes. Every single person has to do that. I don’t know why you’re the hero for filing taxes.”
What Are Abusive Narcissistic Behaviors?
Being educated about what narcissistic behaviors are is super important for women so that they can know, “Oh, that was not a man being completely and totally in love with me. That is love-bombing. That’s about them, not about me. This is an unsafe situation. I need to take a step back.”
Which, what woman wouldn’t want to be love-bombed. That’s what we see in romantic comedies. Our culture tells us, “When you meet the right person, these amazing things will happen.” That amazing situation is meant for a romantic comedy, it is very similar a narcissist love-bombing.
Caroline: Yeah, exactly.
Anne: That’s what you experienced there, yeah. Now, when you look back, do you realize, “Wow. Here is a very sick person. I didn’t realize how sick he was. I got manipulated and pulled into that alternate reality that he lived in,” or do you see someone that you thought had the potential to be an amazing person and chose not to?
Why Women Stay In Abusive Relationships
Caroline: I saw a lot of potential in my ex-husband. Mainly, I saw him becoming like a voice against the addiction and influencing so many people, especially the youth. I saw him mastering his personal wellness and becoming a spiritual giant and cherishing me as his wife. I really saw him and I creating a family and becoming a mother, and him becoming a father.
He talked about all sorts of different things when it came to the family and being a major influence and support to his own mom, who is a widow. I think he had many opportunities to face his addiction and many opportunities to get help. Many times, where I saw authentic reaction to what he was doing, sadness for what he had done.
Then, the next day it would be like that realization never happened. I definitely believe that he knew, to a degree, what was happening and what was going on. In the end, I feel like he almost hated himself. Then, that was where a lot of the praise and the validation had to come through to make up for that. A lot of the mourning is because you do see their potential. Somebody told me, while going through my divorce as I was having a lot of confusing and conflicting thoughts about my decision, because you feel like such a relief and, at the same time, you really miss them, and you are mourning the loss of that potential in that person. You can see it so clearly, after spending time with that person.
Why Narcissistic Abuse Is So Difficult To Recognize
It’s so hard, because you want to take them by the shoulders and shake them and tell them, “Hey, I believe in you. I see you. I hear you. I love you. You’ve got all this untapped potential right there, if you would just take it, it’s right there.” You can’t make anybody do anything. They have to be the ones to decide and actually admit, and then take the steps that are needed to recover and go into healing.
Anne: In the meantime, our job is to keep ourselves safe so that if and when the person does decide to change, we have not been continually harmed through their either non-changing, or their process of change.
Caroline: One thing that Sarah, from BTR, my coach, helped incredibly with was that boundaries should be set in those instances. Before, I just thought marriage was this free-for-all when it comes to each other’s feelings, because, “Well, we’re married.” But she taught me that boundaries are good and that they need to be set, even inside a marriage, in order to keep yourself safe.
How Do Boundaries Help With Narcissistic Abuse?
Anne: Especially when you’re married to someone who’s making very sad choices. What do you wish you would’ve known earlier in your marriage?
Caroline: I wish I would’ve known that pornography addiction fuels other addictions and behaviors. That it’s never just, “Oh, I look at porn, and then my day goes on and my life goes on.” I wish I would’ve known more the emotional and physical consequences of that addiction. I wish I would’ve known to ask more questions through our dating life and be very specific and unafraid of the answers.
I wish I would’ve known to put my needs and desires as a priority, and to have this lesser sense of urgency when it comes to getting married, but that it would be okay to just take our time. I think another big thing for me was that I didn’t need to settle, just because he was showing interest in me. Instead, I wish that I would’ve realized that I could have everything that I want in a man and that I deserve the full package.
What Constitutes As Abuse Within A Relationship?
Anne: At BTR, when we say the full package, what we mean is someone who is not abusive.
Caroline: Yeah, isn’t that ironic.
Anne: We’re not looking for this like, “Oh, he is a professional soccer player, and an ex-Navy Seal, and he has a million-dollar business.” No, no, no, that’s not what we’re talking about. We are talking about a man that we can partner with, who is not abusive.
Caroline: Yeah, for sure, just somebody that’s on the same track that I am. I want a lot out of my life.
Anne: Let’s talk about your age for a minute. We’ve had women on the podcast and BTR clients who range from all different ages and all situations. Caroline, how old are you?
Caroline: I just turned 22.
Anne: How long were you married?
Caroline: Three years, almost to the day. I was 18 when I got married.
Is It Possible To Heal From Narcisstic Abuse?
Anne: And no children now, right?
Caroline: No kids, nope.
Anne: What active steps are you taking now to heal from the trauma that you experienced from being married to an abusive man?
Caroline: One of the biggest things that has helped me heal through my divorce is affirmations. I have them posted all over my apartment. Just small things that help remind me of who I am and where I want to be, and that divorce does not define me, or that it wasn’t a failure either. I’ve also found it super helpful in the last little bit to share my story. There’s so many people my age who have been married for one to three years that are finding themselves in the same place.
In the neighborhood that I grew up in, there’s between two years younger than me and two years older than me, there is 11 of us that are married, and six of us are now divorced. It’s been super helpful for me to reach out to them and just talk to them and converse with them. That’s been super helpful.
How Pornography Is A Form Of Abuse
Anne: With those six, I’m assuming pornography was part of the equation?
Caroline: Six of them are now divorced due to pornography and one because of complications with homosexuality.
Anne: One thing I find very concerning right now is that young people are thinking that, if they talk about it, that they can somehow avoid it. That has not been my experience. In fact, for the thousands and thousands of wives I’ve talked to, many of them had a lot of conversations with their boyfriends and fiancées about pornography.
Pornography users lie. A conversation about it, or asking the right questions is not going to lead us to the truth, usually. The only thing that will lead us to the truth is observing their behaviors and getting really in touch with, “What do I need? When do I feel safe? Who am I?” being in our own recovery space so that we can observe those unhealthy behaviors in someone else.
Why Abuse Is So Hard To See
Anne: For example, a lot of people think, “Well, if I am open and I’m kind and I don’t shame the person, then it will give them a better opportunity to tell the truth.” I think that is the wrong way to go, because we’re still trying to “help” that person or manage that person. They, literally, need to be able to be honest, regardless of whether their wife or girlfriend is angry, is happy, is sad. Their honesty cannot should not depend on the way that their wife reacts.
Anne: Right now, when people talk about pornography addiction, that kind of is floating around there that women have the responsibility to not be too angry, or not be too shaming, or not be too this or that. If they do it really great, then he will open up. That just puts the blame of lying on her still, where it does not belong. It is fully his responsibility to tell the truth, regardless of how she reacts.
How To Set Healthy Boundaries To Escape Abuse
Caroline: Yes, for sure.
Anne: BTR does not advocate for divorce. I did not want to get divorced. I felt very strongly that I needed to keep my marriage covenants. I felt very strongly that I needed to set boundaries to be safe. I was in that place of setting a very firm no-contact boundary and, also, not filing for divorce.
I’m sure that you’ve heard other people say, “Well, if you set these strong boundaries, then you’re going to end up divorced,” like it’s your fault, rather then you’re setting boundaries for safety, and if they choose to still abuse you, it’s still their fault that the divorce is happening. What do you say to people who might ask you, “Well, you’re divorced now, and you went to BTR, I guess BTR believes in divorce”? What would you say to them?
Caroline: Well, my first reaction is laughing because, before I went to BTR, I definitely wanted to make things work, but I was exhausted, and I had put off scheduling an appointment for a long time, because I was nervous, and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.
Safety Is The Most Important Thing When Dealing With Abuse
The best thing that happened was that my coach helped me to identify my core values, that all my decisions should be made based off of those core values that we established. It was very explicit that BTR is not an advocate for divorce, but that we should also make sure that we’re in a safe situation.
The decision did come from me. In fact, when I called my coach and told her, she was actually quite surprised that that was my decision.
Anne: Did you feel supported by your coach?
Caroline: Yes, I definitely felt support from her. The support came as helping to identify myself and work through and make progress, rather than, “You did the right thing, and you’re going to be so much happier.” It was, “You’re a strong woman. You can do anything that you put your mind to.” That said it all.
How Is Abuse Viewed Within Our Culture?
Anne: My experience with the domestic violence shelter, when I went, basically, everyone was like, “Okay, when you get divorced,” and I didn’t want to get divorced. I felt like, “These women aren’t listening to me. How can I get help in my situation? How can I get help as an abused woman with a pornography user in my home, when I don’t want to get divorced?” I felt very uncomfortable.
I think a lot of therapists, if you start telling them, “Okay, these are the real behaviors I’m seeing, they’re very unsafe,” therapists, or the domestic violence shelter, or other helping professionals, they’re like, “Well, your only option is divorce.” Then, clergy is the opposite like, “Well, forgive, love and serve, even if you’re being abused. Someday, maybe he’ll not abuse you anymore,” which is also crazy.
At Betrayal Trauma Recovery, I wanted to make it very explicit that we do not advocate for divorce because, somebody like me, when they come and they want to get help, and they want to get to safety, but they also don’t want to get divorced, I want them to feel safe here, because that’s what I needed and I could not find.
How Does Abuse Escalate?
I could not find anywhere that held a place for, “Yes, you’re being abused, and we understand you don’t want to get divorced.” Most places, it’s like black and white. They either have to deny you’re being abused, in order to save the marriage, or you have to get divorced right now, even if you don’t want to.
Caroline: After talking with my coach for the first and second time, we talked about boundaries. I came up with some boundaries that I was going to set with my ex-husband. Once the boundaries were set in place, things really took a different turn. It made him very upset, much more abusive. It’s a different side to my ex-husband that I never had seen. To me, setting a simple boundary, I saw his true colors.
Anne: Was it shocking to you?
Caroline: Oh yeah. I had never seen him react that way at all, just completely livid. He’d never really yelled at me like that but was throwing things. Just completely different than I had ever seen him before. This wasn’t a boundary of no physical contact.
What Are The Different Types Of Abuse?
We had been seeing a therapist who specializes in pornography addiction and the therapist told me that my ex-husband would have to make the appointments from here on out, because, at that time, for months and months, I was the one that was making the appointments and taking him to the appointments.
The therapist said, “Nothing’s going to change until he wants to do this.” The boundary that was set was, “You need to make your own appointment to go see this therapist.” That’s when he blew up.
Anne: When I realized that my relationship was as abusive as it was, and that I hadn’t seen it as abuse, I was shocked. It sounds like that was a moment for you, where you’re like, “Whoa, he’s abusive.”
Caroline: This was a very simple thing. There was no even talk of consequence, it was just pleading with him, “Just please go. That’s all I’m asking you. One hour every two weeks,” and it was just chaos trying to ask him to do very simple things.
Is Gaslighting A Form Of Psychological Abuse?
Anne: Without being totally berated, yeah. I was just shocked when I found out how abusive he really was. When I was managing him and when I was not setting boundaries, I don’t think I ever would’ve been able to see the level of his abusiveness.
Caroline: That reminds me. When I was just barely discovering Betrayal Trauma Recovery, I was surfing around on your website just trying to get more information. There was a list of behaviors and examples of gaslighting on your website.
Consequently, I’m sitting at work in front of my computer, and I’m reading these, I just had the biggest epiphany. Every single sentence that was listed, every bullet point was just like, “Yes, this is how I’ve felt. I’ve never been able to put words to it.”
That’s the moment that I decided, “Okay, something has to change, and I’ve got to get help to figure out what needs to happen and what needs to change.” I just remember reading those. It was huge for me.
How Do You Realize You Are In An Abusive Relationship?
When people ask me about BTR, or my divorce, and then they go into their own struggles with their spouse who is a porn user, I always refer them to that. It’s the same reaction, I can see it on their face. Every single time, its just, “Oh my goodness, this is putting into words what I’ve never been able to say.”
Anne: I think it goes from knowing that your husband uses porn and being frustrated about that and trying to figure that out to realizing that you’re in an abusive relationship.
Caroline: Yeah, I never would’ve classified it as an abusive relationship until then.
Anne: Yeah, so the shift from, “I’m worried about my husband, he uses porn. This is annoying, it hurts me,” to, “He is abusive,” that is one of the most traumatizing shifts in paradigm. But, once that shift in paradigm happens, I think women are getting stronger at being able to be like, “Okay, so this means I really need to set boundaries because all the love, service and forgiveness is not going to help the situation out.”
Caroline: Right, absolutely.
How Do You Move Forward After Abuse?
Anne: You found BTR at 22. There are some women who are finding BTR at 40. After 20 years of marriage, some of them are finding it at 50. After 30 years of marriage, or women who are finding it after two or three divorces. What are you watching for in your future relationships?
Caroline: The biggest thing that I watch for now is how they treat me and how they treat themselves, how they take care of themselves and their sense of personal wellness. I definitely don’t have it honed down yet, because I still find myself having belief issues or trust issues.
Anne: Which is part of the trauma, I think.
Caroline: Yeah, for sure. I can see the progress I’ve made when it comes to that. How they interact with other people, if they’re constantly seeking validation, or having to be the center of the conversation, or reverting stories back to them, interrupting people. The characteristics of narcissism is definitely what I look for.
How Do You Overcome Narcissistic Abuse?
Anne: What about you? What kinds of things are you continuing to do as you progress in your healing?
Caroline: Something that I do regularly is I write about my thoughts. I don’t hide from that place of asking the hard questions of myself or facing the trauma that is constantly triggered as time goes on. If I am triggered, I like to come home at the end of the day and write about it. Sometimes I keep it. Sometimes I throw it away as a symbol. Like a gesture of, “Goodbye. I’m done with you. I’m done with this feeling.”
I notice that I’m a lot more self-aware with my thoughts. Exercise and being outside has helped astronomically throughout the process of just feeling whole again. Being able and strong. Just staying connected to my feelings overall.
Anne: It sounds like also just staying connected to reality.
How Self-Care Can Help In Healing From Abuse
Anne: In order to be with an active porn user, who’s actively abusing you, you’re either always fighting with them, so there’s this constant chaos, or you have to live in their reality. Which is not reality.
Anne: I remember one day I walked out of the house. I was walking outside. I looked up and I felt the sun on my face. It felt so new. I was like, “Gasp.” I looked at the birds and I remember the birds flying by. I remember looking at a tree. It was swaying. It was almost surreal. Like, “Is this real? This is reality.”
I just thought, “Wow. I’ve been living in this fog inside my house with this abusive situation. My reality has been so skewed I don’t see reality for what it is.” I started trying to do that too, just walking outside. Letting the sun be on my face. I garden.
Self-care is on my list of what I’m doing now, to heal and to grow. I like the journey of it and I’m okay. But it’s a really crazy journey. I’m not doing fantastic at it. But at least I’m making small steps forward.
Why Support Is Important When Dealing With Abuse
Anne: Caroline, I know that your mom has listened to the podcast and that she’s really familiar with BTR. So a lot of the things that you are learning, she also knew because she listened to the podcast. How has that helped you as you’ve progressed in your healing?
Caroline: Well, obviously, the introduction to BTR by my mom was super helpful. I am forever grateful for the education that my mom has about pornography addiction. That’s what it boils down to. Gaining an education about what this addiction does. Being able to have my mom there as a support was super helpful. Being able to take the emotion out of the sadness that her daughter is going through this and being able to look at the facts. And be acquainted with the addiction was very helpful.
Nobody wants that to be their friend. Or their daughter. Or their sister. For a brief moment, there was that reaction from my mom of, “You need to keep trying.” And then the next day she called me. And she goes, “Honey, I know. I was wrong. I’m sorry. I’m here for you.” She had to take the emotion out of it, which she was only able to do because of the education that she has.
Information Is Key In Handling Narcissistic Abuse
Anne: I wish everyone who was going through this had a mom who was also listening to the podcast.
Caroline: For sure.
Anne: Caroline, thank you for being here today. I’m so grateful that you found BTR.
Caroline: Thank you, Anne.
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