How can victims of betrayal and emotional abuse find peace, empowerment, and safety during the divorce process?
Self-Care Helps Victims Survive Divorcing An Emotional Abuser
Abusers condition victims to ignore their own needs, leading many victims to have to re-learn how to practice self-care.
Unfortunately, divorce often adds stress to victims which makes self-care seem even more unattainable.
How Can I Practice Self-Care While Divorcing My Emotional Abuser?
In theory, most women understand self-care concepts. But when it comes to actually practicing self-care, victims of abuse and betrayal may feel confused or overwhelmed. Here are some simple self-care practices that victims can begin today:
- Nourishment: make sure you’re eating at least one healthy, filling meal per day
- Hydration: try to carry a water bottle with you and take sips throughout the day so that you’re properly hydrated
- Rest: most trauma victims suffer from sleep disturbances, especially during stressful times. Victims can work around this by resting during the day when they’re tired.
- Peace: when victims take moments each day to deliberately breathe, relax their shoulders and pelvic floor muscles, they are practicing important self-care in remembering how to feel peace.
Find A Safe Support Network
Too many victims are subjected to damaging counsel from friends, family, therapists, and clergy who are trying to be helpful. Often, phrases and sentiments expressed are victim-blaming, minimize the abuse, and enable the abuser to keep abusing.
When women deliberately choose “safe” support, they are better able to cope with and work through the trauma of both the marriage and the divorce.
- Are trauma and abused-informed
- Accurately place blame on the abuser for abusing, not the victim for being abused
- Do not have any contact with the abuser and his enablers
- Support the victim and her decisions without causing her to question herself
Shutting Down Your Social Media Accounts: An Effective Tool In Helping You Survive Divorcing An Emotional Abuser
Social media is a toxic tool in the hands of an abuser, and he will absolutely continue and even escalate his abuse through social media during a divorce.
Many women experience bullying, stalking, threats, spiritual abuse, and more from not only the abuser, but his enablers via social media.
Another sickening tool of abusers and enablers is to screen-shot victims’ posts, twist them out of context, and then use them in custody battles to lie about the victim.
Be Careful Of Those “Neutral” Friends That Won’t Help You Survive Divorcing An Emotional Abuser
It’s disturbing, but abusers will use any and all possible connections to the victim to disrupt her life, learn what she’s saying in confidence, and ultimately harm her in the divorce proceedings.
Best to rely on your support people rather than “neutral friends” who are, in the end, enabling the abuse. No one can stay “neutral” in an abusive situation – it’s either supporting the victim or enabling the abuser.
How Can I Model Healthy Behavior For My Children When I’m In Trauma?
Modeling healthy behavior for children when your life is falling apart is one of the hardest things you will ever do, but you can do it. Feeling and expressing your emotions as they come is pivotal. Here are some healthy ways that you can express the difficult emotions that will come through this process:
- Throw raw eggs against a tree (animals like it and kids do too)
- Create artwork that represents how you feel
- Vent, cry, and rage to safe support people at appropriate times and places (you may have to schedule “vent” times when you are not with your children)
- Exercise (running, jumping, and kick-boxing are powerful ways to process and express emotions)
BTR.ORG Group Sessions Support Victims of Betrayal & Abuse
At BTR, we know how devastating and terrifying it is to divorce your abuser. No woman should have to go through this alone.
That is why our BTR.ORG Group Sessions meet daily in multiple time zones: so that all victims have a safe place to process trauma, express difficult emotions, ask questions, and create connections with other victims who get it.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
I have Julianne Cusick on today’s episode.
During this interview, the tables accidentally got turned, which was very delightful, and I really appreciated it. She was really caring and compassionate and started asking me questions. She became the interviewer and I was the interviewee. It made for a fun episode.
Steps To Help You Get Back To Yourself After Emotional Abuse
Julianne: What are some of the steps that you’re taking and have taken that have helped you regain your own sense of balance and to heal from this?
Anne: Hey, the interview just kind of swapped where now you’re the interviewer and I’m the interviewee?
Julianne: I’m just curious about you?
Anne: Yeah, if our listeners don’t mind then I’ll just talk about myself for a little while. Which I always do, which they know.
When I first started writing my book, I wrote, literally, every single abuse episode that I could think of. Every instance of gaslighting. Every instance of emotional or psychological abuse, every single instance. It was like 100 pages, it was crazy, it was huge. It’s been in editing for a long time. Another editor is just working on it.
Get Back To Yourself After Emotional Abuse By Telling Your Story
She sent the version back and I started reading it and I was so sick of my own story and I thought that was a really good sign. I started reading the first few chapters to outline the things that he did, because I wanted to give people really concrete examples and I was like, “Ugh, I don’t want to read this.”
Instead of thinking like, “I have to prove that he was abusive,” which is how I felt before. Now I’m like, “We can use examples from 30 or 40 other women in the book.” I was thinking that these other women’s examples will suffice for this. It was just a healing moment for me and I’m deleting huge sections out of it because I don’t have to hold him accountable, so to speak, for every single little instance anymore.
Julianne: And you don’t have to prove why it was so crazy-making for you.
Writing Can Help You Get Back To Yourself After Emotional Abuse
Anne: Yeah, so writing has been really healing for me. I’m a writer, so that’s how the book started. It was my personal account so that I could sort through what was going on and what was real and what wasn’t real. Now that I’ve healed more it’s less for me because I don’t need to process that anymore and now more for which examples really will help other women.
I’ve been doing Yoga every day so that’s been really helpful. My no-contact boundary is actually the most helpful thing for me. Like I said, any interaction is just insane. Focusing on my own physical health has been good. I’ve always been really athletic, and everything went out the window when this all went down.
Physical Movement Can Help You Get Back To Yourself After Emotional Abuse
In fact, the moment I married him I didn’t ski anymore, I didn’t mountain bike anymore, I didn’t row anymore. I didn’t do any of the things that I really loved doing, and now I’m getting back to that. I’m doing yoga every day and I’m weightlifting again. I may work up at the ski resort on the weekends when my kids are gone.
Coming back to myself has been a huge relief, “I’m getting back to myself!”
Julianne: I love that phrase by the way, “Coming back to myself.”
Anne: Yeah, and part of that was the abuse and also part of it was that I had three kids under the age of six and getting out of the house was really hard. They’re getting older now and my youngest is five. She was 11 months old when he was arrested. Time has helped a lot too. It’s taken a lot of time to process.
Getting Back To Yourself After Abuse Takes Time
I was thinking today, it’s been almost five years now, because it was in 2015 when he was arrested. I’ve improved so much. In fact, I just went through a pretty hard period. I went off my anti-depressant and I decided I was going to eat better. I wasn’t going to emotionally eat anymore.
There was about a month where I was crying every day. Really bad, like hysterical, in the shower, at church having to find a room where no one was, locking myself in there, sitting on the floor, full-on bawling my head off about everything that happened because I didn’t have the crutch of food anymore, and I didn’t have my anti-depressants. There were some feelings that I hadn’t quite felt in a while and that lasted about a month.
My sister was getting very worried about me and so was everyone else. I was like, “Guys, I’m going to be okay. I just need to feel this right now. I’m not going to eat popcorn. I’m not going to eat Oreos. I’m not going to take an anti-depressant. I just need to feel these feelings that I was not ready to feel four years ago because it was too much.”
“Do It If That Helps You”
It would have killed me if I would have had to feel everything all at the same time. I used an anti-depressant for two years and I ate a lot and I gained a lot of weight, which is fine. Both of those things are fine. Do it if that helps you.
Now, I’m at the stage where I could handle pretty intense emotions. I was stronger so I could handle it. Once I felt it and once they cycled through, I’m still not emotionally eating and I’m still not on an anti-depressant. I’m feeling great now, but it was a pretty intense three to four weeks of emotions that I hadn’t really processed or felt, and that was four years later.
Knowing that this takes time and it takes processing. Even if you’re making forward progress, be gentle with yourself. Women, at least in my situation, we have all kinds of problems. We have financial problems, then we have work issues where we have to figure out what we’ll do for work. Then we have physical problems if we’re dealing with our emotions through eating or through watching TV all the time, or other physical things that put our health at risk.
Single, Working Moms: You Can Get Back To Yourself After Emotional Abuse
Julianne: That’s the basic woman working with three children that are young on her own. I mean, a round of applause for all the single working moms out there. It’s so hard to do that alone and then, on top of that, you’ve got these multiple betrayal traumas that impacted you emotionally, psychologically, and also impacted you physically.
Anne: Yeah, and they were coming from therapists. My clergy took his side and friends and family, stuff like that. When I say family, I mean his family. This is not a small thing.
Julianne: No, it isn’t.
Anne: It is life-changing.
Coming Back To Yourself After Emotional Abuse Is A Long Process
Julianne: Even for me, even though Michael was repentant and disclosed everything and was doing his work, five years out, I was still hurting and struggled with trust and we call them triggers or emotionally activated. Something from the past would come up into the present and it was like the past would come rushing forward like, “Here I am again,” with all of the pain and the fear and insecurity. You know, can I really trust you? Have you really changed?
It is a long process. The more serious the situation, like what you’re describing, the longer it takes. Anniversaries: 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, getting into another relationship, all of those things kind of come back. I love that you gave yourself the freedom and permission to just feel your feelings that were coming up as you chose to take some steps with your coping mechanisms.
Use Whatever You Need To Help You Find Health And Safety
Anne: Yeah, that’s the cool part. I know I’m healing when I’m ready to say, “Okay, I’m not going to use food in this way anymore.” Because I’m not clinically depressed, while I don’t even know the word for it, because my mental health situation is such that I can go off an anti-depressant, let me put it that way. I’m not saying anything bad about people who never go off of it, good for you, but because I knew that, for me, that was an option. Going off of it was a choice and knowing that dealing with these emotions is important for me now.
Women are really strong, and they’re really smart. They can think, “Oh, I need to be on a medication right now or I don’t,” or whatever it is that they need to do at that point. The stronger you get, the more you can really think rationally through those decisions and make the right choice for you.
“The More We Heal, The More We’re Able To Make Better Choices For Ourselves”
What one of them might be is, “I’m feeling really good but now I’m realizing my brain is imbalanced and now I need to go on anti-depressants.” It could be any one of those choices for people, but the more healed we get, the more we’re able to make better choices for ourselves, I think.
Julianne: Yes, absolutely. There is no shame with medication. It is there for a reason and it wouldn’t work if we didn’t need it. Some women need it right away because of the amount of dysregulation and the trauma symptoms that they’re having like hypervigilance, can’t eat, can’t sleep, the constant worry, fear, anxiety that’s there.
Emotional Abuse Affects “Our Whole Body And All The Chemicals That Our Body Makes”
I’ve also seen women that get through that period because of all the adrenalin cortisol that’s pumping through their system. It keeps them on high alert and they’re able to get through the crisis. But it’s a year or two out, when they can finally exhale, and then they kind of notice they’re slipping into a depression and need some support, at that time.
It’s not a one-shoe-fits-all type of situation. There is absolutely no shame at all in getting support through this because our systems—it affects our whole body and all of the chemicals that our body makes.
Anne: Absolutely. I am not anti-medication. I just want to make that very clear to everybody. Please go on it, if you need it. This is where I am right now.
Finding Safe Support Can Help You Get Back To Yourself After Abuse
Julianne: Well, kudos to you for all the hard work you’ve done and for the place that you’re in. I’m sure that even doing BTR is part of taking what has harmed you and turned it around to provide support and encouragement and resources for other hurting women that are out there.
I know that, when I went through this 25 years ago, there was nothing out there. It was on my own that I started doing my own work and then having other women come into my life saying, “Hey, can I talk to you about this?”
My husband was actually leading men’s groups where men were really getting free from their pornography use, and he kept saying, “Gosh, the wives want to talk to you.” Somebody wants to know and so I started meeting with women. I was asked to speak a couple times at different groups.
Letting Go Of Your Feeling Of Responsibility For Your Abuser Can Help You Get Back To Yourself
As I started running these support groups for wives, I really started to see the impact and the trauma that they were experiencing. I never really bought into that whole codependency/co-addict model. That’s all that was out there when I was going through this. Thankfully, that did not influence my recovery process, but it has impacted many women and not for good.
Anne: Yeah, the victim-blaming. I think what the current pornography recovery field misses is the abuse, first of all, but also this bigger wider discussion of misogyny and the #metoo movement and feminism and all of these other aspects. You might be going to a male therapist—I’m not saying all male therapists are bad, many of them are very good—or maybe even a female therapist, who buys into codependency, not realizing it’s a form of victim-blaming, which is also sort of misogynistic in its view, right. It’s so much bigger than just “Does he look at porn or not?”
BTR Can Help You Get Back To Yourself After Emotional Abuse
Julianne: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Anne: That’s one reason why I wanted to start BTR was to talk about all of these really important issues in one place because I was not seeing that in your typical 12-Step group or your typical therapist’s office.
Julianne: Because they’re focusing on all the issues that are above the water line, the behaviors that you can see. Where what’s underneath the water line is all of the issues that are driving the behavior. Unless you get underneath the waterline and you look at what’s the source, you know, where is this coming from and what’s fueling the behavior. Really, we’re just managing symptoms on the surface.
It’s kind of like when you gave up food, that was your behavior on the surface, but what came up, for you, underneath was all of that pain.
Anne: Yeah. I am still eating, by the way.
Emotionally Abusive Men Use Porn
Julianne: I’m glad for that. That’s the hard thing with food is we just can’t totally give it up.
Anne: Yeah, exactly. Don’t worry everyone, I’m alive and well and I’m still eating, I’m just not eating buckets and buckets of popcorn anymore.
Julianne: But when we’re looking at an addiction, if we’re just strictly looking at the behavior, like if we said, “Okay, Anne, white-knuckle it and don’t eat those buckets of popcorn.” You might be able to do that, but you wouldn’t be entering into everything that’s underneath the waterline. That’s all that pain and all of those feelings that are underneath, right.
Many times, I think focusing on sex-addiction recovery is superficial and focuses on behavior and, “Oh, is that a red light or green light or what are my yellow lights?” It doesn’t really go underneath. It’s kind of like the accountability is more like a cop, “Hey, you were speeding,” or “Hey, you ran that red light.”
“Lying, Deceiving, & Having A Secret/Double Life DOes Have Consequences”
Versus a cardiologist where they are really going deep into the heart of the person and saying, “Tell me your story. Where do you feel loved? Where do you feel valued? Where have you been wounded?” Start peeling back layers like on an onion to get down into the deeper depths of what’s really going on in that person’s mind, heart, and soul.
That’s not an excuse for the behavior, and it certainly doesn’t minimize the impact. You know, many men don’t set out on purpose like, “Oh, I’m going to really mess with my wife and lie to her today,” they’re trying to keep it separate. But, even if that wasn’t their intent, that is their impact. Lying, deceiving, and having a secret or a double life does have consequences. There is a very significant and serious impact on the wife emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and physically.
Center For Peace Teaches Men To Take Accountability And Live Amends For Abuse
Anne: Right. That’s one reason we partner with Center for Peace is that we have seen this. Often times, traditional therapy that tries to get to the heart of “why he doesn’t feel loved” or whatever, just gives an abuser a shovel to dig his trench deeper, rather than recognizing, “Wait a minute, I am loved and I just don’t feel loved because of my misogynistic attitude or my feelings of entitlement or my compulsive sexual behavior or other things.”
I always like to warn people that you don’t want to give an abuser a shovel. You do not want to give him a shovel because he’s just going to dig his trench even deeper. Finding someone who really understands abuse on the therapist end for your husband is really, really important because we see all the time that the more fuel a therapist might give him to his entitlement and his feelings of being a victim and stuff like that makes it worse for the wife. We see that all the time.
You Can Get Back To Yourself After Emotional Abuse, Even If Your Abuser Never Apologizes Or Owns His Behavior
Julianne: Yeah, I don’t support him being more of a victim and not owning the impact that he’s had on her, but I think again, there’s probably a range in a spectrum, like [abuse], where one is they never look at that and the other one is they’re just navel-gazing and absorbed in it and it becomes another form of abuse on the wife.
I think there is a balance in the middle that may be hard to find, but it is out there. That’s where we’re saying true healing and recovery and restorations of relationships. Then when they do end, when they’re not restored, what does it need to end well, to limit the damage, especially when children are involved.
In some ways, these people are going to be connected for the rest of their lives because of the children, so we believe in ending well.
Getting Safe From The Abuse Is The First Step To Getting Back To Yourself After Emotional Abuse
Anne: If possible. Sometimes, “ending well” means grabbing your kids and your stuff and getting in the car and never talking to him again. That is the best-case scenario for some women because of the abuse that they are going through. Knowing that getting along might not ever be possible. It just depends on somebody’s situation.
That’s why, at BTR, we really try and put the abuse first so that getting safe from the abuse is women’s top priority, and that could look like many different things. Otherwise, I worry that they’re trying to “end it well” or other various sundry things that people want them to do to be socially acceptable, without making sure that they’re emotionally and psychologically safe.
Setting Boundaries Helps You Get Back To Yourself After Emotional Abuse
Julianne: Right, that has to come first because there is no ending well unless that’s a part of it. I assume that that’s first and foremost and there certainly is no pressure or expectation on the wife to end well. It’s more on how the therapist provides support and safety for the woman and helps her set those boundaries and minimize the damage to her. To me, that’s ending well, is minimizing the damage.
Anne: Yeah, and you’re a good therapist, so you assume that safety happens first.
Anne: What I would say is that most therapists don’t.
Safety Can Help You Get Back To Yourself After Abuse
Julianne: Then they must not be trauma-informed because a trauma-informed therapist knows that is essential. This is a person who has just been violated and has no sense of safety, much like a sexual assault victim.
Julianne: Safety is of the utmost importance. You can’t do any work unless that client feels safe, and that is of utmost importance for any woman seeking help from a professional. She has got to feel safe. If she doesn’t feel safe, run. Get a different therapist.
Anne: Yeah, and at BTR that’s actually the bulk of what we see. Is that they don’t account for that safety first. The best example I can give is a friend of mine who is going through a divorce with an extremely abusive man. She can’t talk to him without being psychologically abused, blamed, you know that sort of thing. In court the judge said, “Look, you guys are both professional people, work it out.”
Make Safety Your Top Priority To Get Back To Yourself After Emotional Abuse
Julianne: Oh, geez.
Anne: Right. There is no way she can work it out with him. It’s impossible. A therapist might think, “Okay, you both seem intelligent and nice, let’s work together to let this end well.” It can’t. You’re like, “We can’t coordinate or cooperate about anything without me being harmed in the process, and every time I try and ‘be nice’ and do the right thing I end up getting gaslit and taken advantage of or those various and sundry things.”
Safety, so many people like lawyers, court people, clergy, therapists, they just don’t have safety as what is the top priority. That has to be the top priority when any type of emotional or psychological abuse is involved.
“We Can’t Have a Healthy Relationship With An Unhealthy Individual”
Julianne: Absolutely, and for you and me and listeners, we can’t have a healthy relationship with an unhealthy individual.
Julianne: You can’t end well with an unhealthy individual. It takes two.
Anne: Exactly. I think what you meant is end well for you. Like my ending hasn’t happened yet, and it’s in progress, right. I’m not dead yet but is it ending well for me? The answer is it’s getting better every day.
Julianne: Yeah, and that’s the best you can do with what you’ve been through. Yay, for you. You’ve come a long way.
The BTR Podcast Helps Women Get Back To Themselves After Emotional Abuse
Anne: Julianne, thank you so much for coming on today. We really appreciate your time.
Julianne: Anne, thank you so much for having me. It’s been a joy and delight. I feel like I could talk another couple of hours with you.
Anne: Yeah, me too. We’ll have you on again. Everybody, stay tuned, we’ll have Julianne on again another time.
Julianne: Thank you so much, and I just really want to applaud you for all your work and how you’re giving back to women through this podcast. Kudos to you for writing your book and giving up buckets of popcorn. I wish you all the best.
Support the BTR Podcast
Anne: Thank you.
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Until next week, stay safe out there.