If you care about your kids, you don’t abuse their mother. If you care about your kids, you can tell that abusing their mother is horrible for them.Lundy Bancroft, author of Why Does He Do That?
Abused women worry that the abuse they’ve endured is harming their children.
It can be difficult to accept that the abusive partner’s behavior can have deeply painful effects on children. But it is essential that victims learn and embrace the truth. In doing so, they become empowered to help their children heal.
Lundy Bancroft, champion of abused women and children and author of Why Does He Do That? and When Dad Hurts Mom: Helping your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse, joins Anne Blythe on the free BTR Podcast. Lundy shares the truth that partner abuse impacts children. He identifies clear ways that women can take their power back and help their children become healthy and strong individuals. Read the full transcript below and listen to the free BTR podcast to begin your journey to empowerment today.
How Does Your Husband’s Pornography Use and Emotional Abuse Affect Your Kids?
Accept the fact that how your partner treats you matters to your kids and it’s going to affect them.Lundy Bancroft, author Why Does He Do That?
Some children never directly see or hear abuse. Even so, your partner’s abusive behaviors will always have an impact on them. Lundy Bancroft shares some indicators that the abuser’s behaviors are harming your children.
Four Indicators That Your Children Are Being Harmed by Partner Abuse
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble eating
- Fighting with other siblings more than usual
- Treating mother with disrespect and/or physical violence
When mothers identify these behavioral changes, they are more equipped to accept that the abuse is harming their children. They can act decisively to protect and help their children find safety and healing.
The reason I wrote When Dad Hurts Mom is that I feel like, if women were equipped with ideas about how to help the kids, then they’d be much more likely to accept the fact that the kids are getting hurt by what the guy is doing. If you just feel powerless about what the guy is doing, then who wants to think about, “Oh. My kids are getting hurt too?”Lundy Bancroft, author of Why Does He Do That?
Victims of Emotional Abuse Can Proactively Protect and Support Their Children
Abusers condition victims to feel powerless. Many women feel completely overwhelmed with simple day-to-day tasks. The idea of helping their children process and heal from an abusive home may seem daunting.
Lundy Bancroft identifies ways that victims can advocate for their children.
- Invite conversation and questions about the abuser’s behavior.
- Tune in to your child’s eating, sleeping, friendships, schoolwork, and tension between other siblings.
- Correct the abuser’s lies without degrading the abuser.
Some women may be limited in how openly they can speak when correcting lies that the abuser has told her children. Tragically, the legal system often fails victims of abuse and their children.
The family court is not making any distinction between bad-mouthing someone, in the sense of talking them down, which is wrong, and describing accurately what the person did, which is right, and essential for the kid’s wellbeing when they have witnessed abuse.Lundy Bancroft, author of Why Does He Do That?
Divorcing an Abusive Man
Women who courageously separate themselves from abuse may find that divorce is the safest option.
Navigating divorce with an abusive man is difficult and the legal system may make it difficult to completely protect children from the abuser. However difficult the divorce process and aftermath may be, women who set and maintain boundaries can rest assured knowing that they have done all they can to separate themselves from abuse.
This level of denial [that abusing the mother impacts the children], of really quite deliberate and willful denial, in the custody courts and in other legal proceedings is putting children at tremendous risk. I’ve so often wished that I could file a child abuse report on a judge because they’re so often guilty of such severe neglect of kids, of putting kids at tremendous, tremendous risk.Lundy Bancroft, author of Why Does He Do That?
When a Victim and Her Abuser Seek Divorce, Traditional Divorce Theories Are Harmful
When divorce professionals and court systems attempt to apply traditional divorce practices, policies, theories, and philosophies to an abuser and his victim, the victim and her children are put in great danger.
You cannot take these standard divorce theories and divorce philosophies and apply them to a domestic abuser. They not only won’t work, they will actively do harm.Lundy Bancroft, author of Why Does He Do That?
June is a member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery. She shares her experience divorcing an abuser in the video below.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims Navigating Divorce
At BTR, we understand how impossible it feels at times to parent, protect children from abuse, and work on your own safety and healing. You can do this.
Remember, you are not alone.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery. This is Anne.
I am freaking out right now because I have Lundy Bancroft on today’s episode! Just like so many of you listeners, his book, Why Does He Do That?, and his other book, Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That, saved my life.
Before we get to Lundy, just a reminder that Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is available to you. We have multiple sessions a day in every single time zone, and you can likely get into a session today.
Now to Lundy Bancroft.
Lundy has over 25 years of experience in the fields of abuse, trauma, and recovery. He has published five books, including the bestseller Why Does He Do That? Lundy has worked with over 1000 abusive men in his counseling groups.
He has also served extensively as a custody evaluator, child abuse investigator, expert witness, and has presented to 350 audiences across the US and abroad. His play, Forbidden to Protect, co-authored by Patrice Lenowitz, explores battered women’s experiences with the child custody system.
Lundy: Thank you.
Why Does It Take So Long For Some Victims to Realize They Are Being Abused?
Anne: Most of my audience is familiar with your book, Why Does He Do That? because I have been encouraging women to read this for the last four years and your involvement in working with abusers. I don’t think they know as much about your advocacy for children and that’s what I want to talk about today.
But before we get to that, I do have a few questions about Why Does He Do That? that I think so many victims want to know. My first question is Why Does He Do That? enabled me and so many other victims to understand that our “marriage issues” or our husband’s pornography addiction or whatever we labeled it was really just abuse. Why do you think it takes years of trial and error and then perhaps reading a big fat book like yours to understand that we are victims of abuse?
Abusers Keep Victims Spiraling in Confusion
Lundy: I think, primarily, it’s because abusers put so much of their energy into keeping the woman off track. I mean they are just very deceptive individuals. And that’s a lot of their mission, to get the woman as confused as possible about what’s going on.
He works very hard to make her feel that she is the cause of the problem. He works very hard to make her feel that she’s imagining the problem, or the problem doesn’t even exist. That all men do what he does and, if she doesn’t like it, that’s just something wrong with her.
Abusers Condition Victims to Self-Blame
They also send a lot of messages to the woman to make her feel like if she would just do better at X, Y, or Z that he says she’s bad about then that would solve the problem.
To me, it largely comes down to him. He sets a whole scene that makes it so hard to make sense out of what’s happening, unless you get a voice in from the outside.
Victims Need a Safe Advocate: Some Therapists Are Not “Safe”
Anne: Speaking of that, when you try to get a voice in from the outside, so you go for help to a therapist or maybe clergy, or maybe ten therapists and they also don’t identify the abuse. They say things like, “Well. You need to stop asking questions.” Or, “You need to be more loving.” Or whatever it is. How would you explain that phenomena?
Lundy: This answer is actually quite surprising to people. But the therapist generally receives zero training on any form of abuse, believe it or not. And this is still true in our times. Nowadays, maybe, sometimes they’ve gotten a little training on child abuse or elder abuse.
“Therapist” Doesn’t Guarantee a Professional Who Understands Abuse and Trauma
You can get through a course and become a licensed social worker or become a licensed clinical psychologist. You’re going to become a totally qualified, so to speak, therapist. You don’t know anything about abusive relationships. You don’t know anything about what the domestic abuse perpetrator is like. Oddly enough, you don’t even necessarily have any significant training in trauma.
Trauma is a Specialization Most Therapists Do Not Have
We would think, “Oh. Well, trauma. That’s the first thing you would think a therapist in training would learn about.” Trauma is actually considered a specialization. It’s not a standard part of what you learn. It’s something you sign up for extra, if that’s a particular interest of yours.
There’s no greater likelihood that your therapist will understand about abuse than your next-door neighbor will understand about abuse. We have a lot of work to do, in the years ahead, of trying to raise the general awareness, especially the awareness among service providers, about what abusers are all about.
Clergy & Therapists Traumatize Victims
Anne: Yeah, we see that every day here at Betrayal Trauma Recovery. Our community has over 60,000 victims of abuse who have all attempted to get “help” for their husband’s pornography addiction, usually. The “help” further traumatized them. Either pornography addiction recovery specialists, sometimes sexual addiction therapists, and what happens is that they end up even more abused through that process.
Then they find us. Their clergy and therapists have put them through the ringer. You probably see that all the time, from your experience too.
From our perspective, as victims, it feels like society is more concerned about not “hurting” the perpetrators than they are about protecting the victims, including women and children. How do you feel about that? Do you think that’s true or do you think they just simply don’t understand it?
When Women Say “Me Too” They Are Still Disregarded and Demonized
Lundy: I think it is partly true. It’s remarkable, for example, how often, when a woman tells the truth to a friend, a relative, a professional about what’s been done to her, she is immediately put on the defensive and the person starts to respond to her as if somehow she’s failing to recognize her partner’s humanity. People will start to say things to her like, “Well. You know, he’s a human being too.” Or, “He has feelings too.” All she did was describe what he was doing to her.
Abusers “Erase and Deny” Victims’ Humanity: Not The Other Way Around
It’s tragic to me that, instead of looking at the key subject which is how he is erasing and denying her humanity, she’s instantly put on the defensive as if she somehow were erasing or denying his humanity when she didn’t do anything of the kind. All she did was report what had been done to her.
I find it very frustrating. The responses they got from people around them was sometimes just as or more traumatizing than what the abusive person did.
Is Pornography Abuse? Yes. Yes. Yes.
Anne: Yes. We find that a lot here, and one last question about this general abuse topic before we get to your advocacy for children. When it comes to the pornography use and sex addiction issues, and I just call it abuse and people get really mad. They say I’m anti-man. They say I’m pro-divorce. They say that I hate men and I want to ruin marriages or things like that when I say no. This is just an abuse issue. Can you give us your thoughts on the current state of pornography addiction, porn addiction industry?
Lundy: Well, pornography, first of all, as an industry is vast. The pornography industry is huge in this country, you know $10 billion or more per year. Unfortunately, that also means that there are an awful lot of people who want to speak in defense of it, because it’s making a lot of people a lot of money.
Anti-Pornography Advocates Are Not Anti-Sex, Anti-Body, or Anti-Nudity: We Are Anti-Abuse
Another key issue about pornography is that, when you try and talk about how destructive pornography is, people often take a stand that you’re sort of anti-sex or anti-bodies or anti-nudity. Of course, some people who are against pornography are those things. But most of us who are against pornography we’re not against it because we’re against sex. We’re against pornography because it’s a whole system that teaches a very twisted, violent, exploitative sexuality and it is particularly anti-female in its nature in this country. We have to be clear about that.
“Sex Addiction is Actually The Devaluation of Women As Human Beings”
Secondly, yes. I do believe that there are men who get addicted to pornography. I’m not 100% convinced that there are very many men who are addicted to sex. I think most of what’s called sex addiction is actually the devaluation of women as human beings.
There are men who have sex with zillions of different women. I don’t think it’s exactly because they’re addicted to sex. I think it’s because they can’t take females seriously as people, and so they are having sex with zillions of women because that’s a substitute for ever connecting with anyone in a meaningful way. Maybe some true sex addiction exists. Mostly, as I’ve said, I’ve seen it as an excuse.
Pornography Addiction is Real, But Is Not an Excuse For Abuse
Addiction to pornography definitely exists, but what surrounds it is not an addiction. When a guy is addicted to pornography but he’s pressuring women to do things from the pornography. The pressuring her to do things that he saw in pornography has nothing to do with his addiction to pornography. That has to do with his abuse.
Or when he’s keeping secrets from her about other women that he’s seeing. Well, that’s not because of his addiction to pornography. That’s because he’s cheating on her. We have to insist that the notion of an addiction, then, doesn’t get used as an excuse for treating your partner terribly.
Anne: Right. Or as an excuse for just abuse. I mean, really it just comes down to abuse. Also, the pornography industry, in and of itself, is abusive and coercive and exploitative to women, which you mentioned. There is abuse on so many levels.
You have written a book called When Dad Hurts Mom-Helping Your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse. Can you tell us more about your book? What can our audience gain from reading it?
For Victims With Children
Lundy: You know, most women who are being severely mistreated by their partners also have children. It’s something like almost two thirds they say of women who are being abused by their partner also have children. That means that the women are worried about how the man’s behavior is affecting her kids.
But it’s also almost too hard to think about, because she’s going through so much day-to-day, managing how the man is treating her, that it can be overwhelming to think about the fact that the kids are also getting hurt in this process.
Children Are Always Impacted By Partner Abuse
It can be a survival mechanism. It can be tempting for her to just tune it out and think, “Oh. The kids don’t even realize what he’s doing.” Or, “They’re going to be okay.” Or, “It all happens after they go to sleep.” Or that kind of thing. But, over time, she can see that they’re having a hard time and, on some level, they are aware. Usually, much more aware then she realizes. It starts to dawn on her that they know what’s going on.
The reason I wrote When Dad Hurts Mom is that I feel like, if women were equipped with ideas about how to help the kids, then they’d be much more likely to accept the fact that the kids are getting hurt by what the guy is doing. If you just feel powerless about what the guy is doing, then who wants to then think about, “Oh. My kids are getting hurt too?”
Victims of Abuse Can Become Empowered To Help Their Children
Whereas, if I feel like, “I can do some things to help my kids. It’s in my power to make a difference to them.” Then it’s easier to face the fact that they’re part of the deal. That how dad or stepdad or mom’s boyfriend, whoever he is, how he treats mom is going to have some big impacts on her kids.
I wrote When Dad Hurts Mom, first, to explain some of the ways that what he’s doing are affecting your kids, even if you think it’s not. Here are some of the ways that you can tell it’s affecting your kids that you are probably already noticing. And it’s not your fault. And here are some ways that you can make a real difference to your kids in managing what is happening.
“How Your Partner Treats You Matters To Your Kids and It’s Going To Affect Them”
The first thing you have to do to really make a real difference to your kids is that you have to accept the fact that how your partner treats you matters to your kids and it’s going to affect them.
Anne: That is something that the current legal system doesn’t see. They think that abuse is just to one specific person. Even with protective orders. The woman could get a protective order, but it doesn’t cover the children.
Or with custody situations, they can say, “Well. He was abusive to her, but the kids can still go with him because he’s not abusive to the kids.” Only because he’s never hit them or punched them in the face. They’re not seeing the emotional abuse or the psychological abuse as an abuse issue. Can you speak to that for a bit?
Partner Abuse is Not Separable From The Impact on Children
Lundy: First, it’s ridiculous that courts take the stand that how a man treats the children’s mother is a separable question from how he treats the kids. If you care about your kids, you don’t abuse their mother. If you care about your kids, you can tell that abusing their mother is horrible for them.
Any time a client in one of my abuser programs said, “Well. I may have done some bad things to their mom, but I’m a really good dad.” I always say to him, “No. You’re not a good dad while you’re doing terrible things to their mom, because doing terrible things to their mom is in itself terrible parenting.”
Abusive Husbands Simply Cannot Be “Good Fathers”
The only way that you can do terrible things to their mom is by completely tuning out and not caring about what it does to your kids. Because if you were remotely paying attention to what it does to your kids you would be seeing how vastly they’re being affected by how you’re treating their mom.
I’m very frustrated when child protective services, when restraining order hearings, when custody courts talk about those issues as if somehow, they are separate issues.
There’s also the issue of the direct mistreatment of the kids. But, even if he never directly mistreats the kids, he’s already doing enough harm to them. He’s already doing terrible parenting.
Abusive Partners Are Highly Likely to Directly Abuse Children
Statistically, he’s also pretty likely doing direct harm to the kids. He’s something like seven times as likely—and there are a lot of different studies on this. He’s about seven times as likely as a non-abusive man to be abusing the kids directly. In fact, non-abusive men don’t do a lot of abusing of children according to research.
This level of denial, of really quite deliberate and willful denial, in the custody courts and in other legal proceedings is putting children at tremendous risk. I’ve so often wished that I could file a child abuse report on a judge because they’re so often guilty of such severe neglect of kids, of putting kids at tremendous, tremendous risk.
Does “Stay Together For The Kids” Make Sense?
Anne: Yeah. We see that a lot and it’s a very difficult situation. Speaking of women who are trying to make decisions out of the best interest of their children, many women who are being abused think, “Well. I need to stay with the abuser because that would be best from my children.” For whatever reason.
They have really good reasons and really bad reasons. But many victims go through this thought process of “I’m going to do what’s best for the kids.” What indications can a mother look for to know that she really does need to get out of the relationship, and that is what would be best for her children?
The Decision To Leave an Abuser May Be Tricky When He is the Children’s Father
Lundy: There is a lot to be said actually about this decision of whether to leave the abuser or not because it’s a really tricky decision if he’s the kid’s father. If he’s not the kid’s father, if he’s just like a live-in boyfriend or stepdad then her decisions are not quite as complicated. If he is the father, he’s got legal rights and that means that she’s not going to be able to just keep him out of the children’s lives.
Tune in To Your Children To See How the Abuse is Affecting Them
Beginning at the beginning of what you’re asking. What kinds of things do you want to tune in to with your kids? Well, you want to tune in to whether they’re starting to have trouble sleeping. Whether they’re starting to have trouble eating. You want to tune in to whether they’re starting to fight with each other a lot more then they used to. You want to tune in to whether they’re starting to fight with you a lot more than they used to.
One of the top symptoms of kids who are being affected by the abusive behavior of the man in the home is the way that they start to treat their mother, because they start to be disrespectful to her. Rude to her. Threatening to her. Sometimes physically violent with her. They learn the abuser’s behaviors. By the way, even kids who can’t stand the abuser, who hate his guts, still also start to act out some of his behaviors on the mom.
See how your kids are doing at school. See how their friendships are going. If you look carefully, there’s a good chance that you’re going to find that there are some signs that they are going downhill in one of these areas.
Speak Openly With Children About The Abuse
The other thing to do is to really open up the conversation. Generally, after an incident when dad or stepdad or the man of the house has been really scary or was outright violent or was calling the most disgusting names or had pornography in the house, which the kids know when this stuff is going on, everybody acted as nothing had happened.
The key step here is to open up the subject and start saying to kids, “What was that like? That must have been upsetting to you when that thing happened. What was that like for you? How are you feeling? Are you doing okay? Did you have any questions about what happened? Are you upset?” And to give kids some space and some room.
Emotional Abuse Toward Mom is Just As Harmful As Physical Violence
I talk in a lot of detail When Dad Hurts Mom about how to actually help kids talk about and process their feelings from these abusive incidents. It doesn’t have to be physical violence. Kids are very affected by any experience of watching their mom torn down. It’s really painful and upsetting to them.
Kids adore their mothers and do not like to see someone being really mean to mom. It hurts them. It hurts their hearts a lot to watch that. They need space to talk about it, and sometimes they need space to cry about it and have tantrums. I explain a lot in the book about ways that their emotions may be coming out.
Normalize The Process of Speaking About the Abuse, Processing Feelings, and Asking Questions
The sooner that you can remove the secrecy, the silence, from the subject of dad or stepdad’s abusiveness. I don’t mean by talking badly about him, but I mean by making it okay to talk about his behavior. Or make it okay to talk about what he did. And to make it okay for the kids to talk about how they were affected by it and answer any questions they may have about how you were affected by it. To make it okay to go into this stuff.
I remember the first project that I ever knew of, as far as I know, it was the first one in the US, that was specifically for kids who had been exposed to abuse towards their mom, what they call child witnesses. The first program that I knew of in the country for child witnesses was called Project “We Can Talk About It.”
Children Will Internalize Their Pain Without The Invitation To Talk About It
I just thought that was exactly the right name, because kids get the message, “This is something we can’t talk about.” So all their wounds, all their symptoms, all their experiences just go internal. Go underground and come out later and sideways and, often, it doesn’t even look like it’s tied to the abuse they’ve witnessed. The schoolteachers and juvenile courts and police often don’t realize what is going on with this kid is that this kid is in a lot of pain from how a man is treating their mom.
Anne: There’s this divorce lingo, or even non-divorce lingo even marriage lingo. It’s don’t speak ill of the kid’s father. How can you help women understand the difference between being able to speak about the abuse and not talking bad about him?
How Can Women Speak Truthfully Without Speaking Negatively About Their Abuser?
Basically, any time you talk about the behavior the abuser doesn’t like it and he’s going to accuse the victims of talking badly about him. How would you separate those two things so that a woman can have confidence, knowing that she’s not going against this widely-regarded advice of do not speak ill of the kid’s father, while also being able to discuss the abuse?
Lundy: I can’t give a perfect answer to this question because the custody court system is so broken that the proper distinction is not being made. I’ll say what the proper distinction is that the courts should be making, if it were operating properly. To bad-mouth someone is to say someone’s a jerk, someone’s selfish, someone cares only about himself, that’s bad-mouthing someone, calling names, being vulgar, and so forth.
Describing The Abuser’s Actions and Their Impact Is Not “Degrading”
Describing what somebody did, what their actions were, and what their effects were, is not degrading that parent. That’s not demeaning that parent. The kind of thing that comes up often in custody proceedings is the kids will come home from a visit with dad and they’ll say, “We learned from dad that that time that he got arrested, three years ago, was because you lied to the police and said that he had hit you when actually he hadn’t.” Then mom says to the kids, “I’m sorry that came up, but Dad did hit me three years ago,” and proceeds to tell the kids what actually happened in that incident.
Then she gets labeled as someone who’s speaking badly about the dad when all she did is tell the truth about his actions, in fact, she was correcting misinformation that he was giving them.
When Courts Don’t Allow Children and Mothers to Speak Honestly About Abuse, Children Are Harmed
That’s wrong on the court’s part. That is not good for kids. Kids who’ve been exposed to abuse need confirmation of their experience. They need validation. They need accurate information. And they need it to be okay to talk about the abuse.
The family court is not making any distinction between bad-mouthing someone, in the sense of talking them down, which is wrong, and describing accurately what the person did, which is right. And is essential for the kid’s wellbeing when they have witnessed abuse. That’s a very unethical, biased, unreasonable way custody courts are proceeding. Unfortunately, a lot of divorce professionals, many many divorce professionals, suggest somehow that you should just leave kids out of the middle.
Divorce Professionals May Give Harmful Counsel to Victims
I’ll give an example that exactly follows from the one I just gave. Dad will tell kids something that is completely untrue about the history of his abusiveness or the history of her reports of his abusiveness. What the divorce professional will say to mom is, “Don’t correct what he says. Say to the kids this is just business between the adults. This isn’t issues for the kids to think about. You just have to let the adults handle the adult stuff. You just be a kid and handle the kid stuff.”
Well, that’s very nice, theoretically, as long as you’re completely ignorant about what abusers are like. But if you know anything about what abusers are like, he’s not going to stop involving them in these kinds of discussions and he’s going to be lying to them because abusers lie and lie and lie.
Correcting An Abuser’s Lies To The Children Protects Them From Further Harm
That means, in effect, what this divorce professional is telling mom is, “You should do nothing to protect your children from a lifetime of lies from a very destructive individual. You should just let them continue to be exposed endlessly to this horrible misinformation that’s not only going to contaminate your relationship with these kids, and not only likely to contaminate their relationship with each other but is, in fact, going to lay the groundwork for your boys to grow up to become abusers themselves and for your girls to grow up to become victims.”
That’s what the divorce professional is saying. They don’t think that’s what they’re saying. But that’s what the divorce professional is saying when they’re saying don’t correct their misinformation. They are dead wrong about that.
“Standard Divorce Theories and Philosophies” Are Harmful When Applied to An Abuser
One of my central messages in all the public education that I do and in my writing is you cannot take these standard divorce theories and divorce philosophies and apply them to a domestic abuser. They not only won’t work. They will actively do harm.
Anne: We see that day in and day out from the examples that we hear and the stories that we hear at Betrayal Trauma Recovery, from all the women who share their stories.
“Why Does He Do That?”: An Essential Read For Every Woman
We’re going to pause here and continue our conversation with Lundy Bancroft, author of Why Does He Do That? the book that all of us adore. You can find his book on our website.
Either way, if you have not read it, I encourage you to read it. It will open your eyes to really understanding abuse. I know that I was afraid to read it because I thought, “No. It’s not abuse. I don’t want to go there.” But if you read it and it’s not abuse, you will know. It lays it out very very clearly.
Abuse Education is Not a Threat: It’s A Way to Find Safety and Help Others Find Safety
I think everyone in the world needs to know more about abuse. This book is not a threat. The purpose of the book is to really help educate you about what abuse is, so that you can keep yourself safe and so that you can help other people be safe. That’s the point.
Stay tuned. We’ll continue this conversation next week.
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