Why Personal Empowerment Is So Important In Recovery From Abuse
Anne: Welcome again, Sheri.
Sheri: I have to tell you. You know how when you spend time with someone, how that time together, and conversations together prompts you to change, change your thinking, open yourself up to what’s right in front of you and has been staring at you. You are one of those change agents. I’m grateful for you as an advocate. I’m grateful for you in light of your passion and no tolerance for harm that’s caused. I love that about you.
I appreciate that, always, you have that in the forefront. That’s what I really want to help to communicate to those that are listening, because there is so much harm and so much abuse in what is happening. It’s not okay. It’s not okay yesterday, it’s not okay today, and it’s not okay tomorrow.
Stories of women that we’ve heard take our breath away, because we hear abuse that we’ve been tolerating. Some of us may even call that love. It’s not love. Love doesn’t let abuse happen. Trying to figure out what we need to do in order to confront abusive, harmful behavior is what we want to offer those that are listening. I’m just grateful that you’ve allowed me to be here with you today.
Why Self-Empowerment Is So Important
Anne: Thank you so much, Sheri. I’m so glad that you’re back. That’s interesting, because I feel like I’m just along for the ride. I feel like I’m learning and growing every week and every person that I interview. I really appreciate you and all of your work as well. I think we’re all progressing together.
Sheri: You’re so funny. Because, you know, as you said that, you know what I saw? All of us on a crazy bus that went off a cliff. This ride that we’re on is not a ride that we chose. We didn’t consent to this. It’s such a feeling of helplessness when those things happen. We do learn from each other along the way. We become wiser when we listen and really define what it is we’re looking at. I think you’re one of those advocates that is helping people define what’s happening right in front of their face.
Anne: For all of us, we go through this period where we don’t see what’s right in front of our face. We are trying to figure out what’s going on, and we can’t see it for what it really is until we have some type of epiphany, or we listen to a podcast like this, or we read Sheri’s book. Some external thing might happen to us when we start realizing, “Wait a minute, I don’t think my reality is what I thought it was.”
Sheri came on today to talk about the Empowerment Wheel that she created, which is a tool to help women get out of that helpless mode. When we first talked, we talked a little bit about how lying can be abusive. Sheri, I want you, first of all, to talk about how lying causes harm and how the Empowerment Wheel can help victims of lies.
Self-Empowerment Involves Identifying Abuse
Sheri: I have so many women now that have copied it and are taking it in their purse. They have taken pictures of it and have it on their phone, so they can guide themselves when they get in that crazy-making, because someone is deceiving you.
Let me start with a story. This is what she said. “The issue is with my husband and pornography. The problem is, he denies that he looks at it, even when I show him the evidence. To this day, he swears he was pulling up those websites to see if I was checking on him. How can I move forward and trust him when I feel in my gut that he is lying? I have, literally, begged him, sobbing, ‘Please tell me the truth and take this burden off of me.’
“It was at that point that he came up with the story of going to the websites on purpose to see if I would say anything. This whole experience is very new for me. He gets angry when I mention it, and he tries to turn the argument around so that I’m the one who’s doing something wrong. It’s infuriating and I, literally, feel crushed and stupefied by it all. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if I should stay or forgive him, or if I’m justified by wanting to leave. I just, literally, can’t think about anything else right now.”
Then she said she ordered my book. Guess what that is, gaslighting. That is abusive. She found some evidence on his computer that he was looking at porn. As an abusive act of lying, he lied. Now he’s lying about his lie. Seriously, that is cray-cray.
Investing In Yourself Is Empowering
What did you hear in her voice, in her tone? It’s, “I don’t know what to do. I’m helpless. I’m sobbing. I’m crying. I’m begging. I’m pleading.” That is a position that so many of us go to. Let me identify what that is first.
Truth be told, like you and I, Anne, on this bus, going off the cliff, we are victims of somebody else’s sexual deception. That’s a fact. When you go through a traumatic event, there’s a negative belief that gets wired in at the crime scent. It’s a negative belief about ourselves.
Let me tell you why the brain does that. It’s because it wants to protect you. It wants to guarantee your survival. It sounds something like this, “I’m helpless. I’m not in control. I’m weak. I can’t do anything.” These are the negative beliefs that get wired in at the crime scene.
If I believe that, if my brain is going along with that program, am I going to do anything if I feel like I’m weak? Am I going to do anything if I feel like I’m out of control? No. While we have been wounded victims, what happens is we remain stuck in this one-down position.
Self-Empowerment Means Using Your Voice
On my Empowerment Wheel, there’s a spin cycle in the center of it. Then there’s two different sides. There’s a side that’s called, “Respond,” and then there’s a side that’s called, “React.” Let’s start with the victim position. The victim position is always a one-down position, “I’m helpless, I’m weak, I’m not in control. I can’t do anything about it,” which makes us feel powerless and helpless. We often feel like there’s nothing we can do about it.
To the right, you’ll notice there are three other positions. There’s the Rescuer position. This is the position where someone enables, tries to fix, or controls. Basically, what the catchphrase for this is, “I’ll try to manage your issue to reduce my fear, concern, or anxiety.” That is a one-up position.
When I say one-up, it’s really a false way of us trying to get power. Instead of being one-down, powerless and helpless, “I don’t like that seat. I want to get out of that seat as quickly as I can.” I go to the one-up position, which is the Rescuer position. There’s another position, it’s called, “The Offender.” This person is someone who uses anger or inflicts harm. Anne, don’t you think pornography is harm?
Anne: Yes. Yes, I do.
Self-Empowerment Can Aid In Healing
Sheri: Pornography is abusive. It causes harm. It hurts us, it hurts our family. The women that are a part of it are in situations that are abusive. When I think of offending, like this woman said that, “Every time I try to bring it up to him, he gets angry.”
When she brings it up to him, guess what, he feels, for a moment, powerless and helpless, so he goes down into that victim position, but he doesn’t like how it feels there, so he bops right up into anger, to try to get his power back. It is a reactive and unhelpful form of power.
Anne: And an abusive form of power, as well.
Sheri: “I’ll resort to any means necessary to get what I want.” Gaslighting, rage, men that are verbally abusive, physically abusive, all that is under that Offending category. And there’s another seat, which is entitlement. This is somebody who moves to self-absorbed user-y, or self-righteousness. They’re like, “I’m better than you.” That’s a person that says, “I’ll tell you what I want and how to do it. You owe me.”
All these four positions are not healthy positions for getting out of whatever it is that we’re in. If I believe that I’m powerless and helpless and I don’t do anything with that feeling, in that I’m going to choose a path. Now some people, it’s a gut reaction.
Abuse Recovery Must Encompass Empowerment
We’re going down a rabbit hole and our brain goes to mush in that moment, and we just may, all of a sudden, say something mean to somebody as a reaction. Sometimes, our choice doesn’t catch up with us in that millisecond, but, ultimately, we do make decisions about how we react.
Anne: They can choose the healthy thing to do, or they can choose the unhealthy thing to do. It’s their choice that causes it, not their shame. Because I could feel shame, and still choose humility. I could feel shame and still choose to collaborate.
Sheri: This is the deal. In my book, I talk about this word, which is called salah. Salah is a Hebrew word, which means “pause,” like stop for a moment. Think about what just happened. Look for what’s around the bend. When I’m working with partners, and I’m trying to help them move from this victim position to a healthier place of response, many times what I find, Anne, is they do need to stop and think about it. Because many of them don’t even know when they’re feeling helpless.
Anne: I have a question here about the 12-steps. I work SALifeline, which is very similar to SAnon. Step one is admit that I am powerless. What is your thought about that, in terms of the Empowerment Wheel?
How Empowerment Helps With Recovery From Abuse
Sheri: The Empowerment Wheel came from something called a Karpman Drama Triangle, I built on his model. I’ve got some folks that aren’t in 12-step that are actually using it and having success, without having to surrender for weeks. They’re actually able to start getting in touch with their body and their gut and know that, “I am feeling helpless right now.”
They’ll give me an example. I just had a conversation with a woman on the east coast. She has three kids. One’s seven, one’s five, one’s two. She’s found out, a year ago, that her husband has been having sex with a woman, he’s having an affair. He’s also staying home and being a dad and being a husband and she’s also involved with him.
I said, “What does it feel like to knowingly know that he’s with you and he’s with another woman?” She said, “You know, he hasn’t really made the decision yet whether he wants to stay in our marriage or whether he wants to be with this other woman.” I paused her, salah, “You just told me about what he wants to do. What do you need?”
The tears came, and she said, “I don’t know what I need. I just don’t know how to stop him.” Then I said, “Where are you at on the Empowerment Wheel? I want you to find yourself.” She said, “Well, I’m in that powerless, helpless place.” I said, “Do you want to stay there?” She’s like, “No. The path up is responsibility. I need to take responsibility for my life. I have a voice and I can consider my needs. I can make choices.”
Self-Empowerment Is Knowing Where You Are
I’ve been in 12-step myself. I’m going to be honest, and I’m probably going to offend some folks here. I have seen where some 12-step programs have actually disempowered people to allow the crazy to stay crazy.
Anne: I agree with you, actually. In my own working of 12-step, I have witnessed that, as I’ve gone to meetings. They’re surrendering, and surrendering, “working on their side of the street,” while they’re allowing their abuser to run across the street, from his side, and punch them.
Anne: Over and over. They’re like, “Okay, I’m just staying on my side of the street. He keeps coming over here and punching me, but I’m just going to focus on my side of the street.” I’m like, “Hello.” I was always in the one-up position myself.
I was always either a Rescuer or an Offender or the Entitlement positions, as I look at your wheel. I never, ever saw myself as a victim, so I couldn’t even comprehend what was happening. I could not perceive of myself as an abuse victim. I found Step One to be so healing for me, because I realized, “Whoa, I am, literally, powerless here.”
It Can Be Empowering To Recognize Your Own Powerlessness
I have been trying to rescue, I have been trying to make him do this. I’ve been saying, “Look, you made these promises to me. You told me these things. You owe me.” When I could finally really do Step One and live in Step One, which was, “I am completely powerless over the situation,” it was actually, for me, a real step forward.
Then I realized, “Okay, I am powerless or helpless over his behavior, but not over my behavior.” That is where, I think, they step from victim, right, to responsibility. I think that’s what you’re talking about was you move from that place where you recognize that you’re powerless and helpless to where you can take responsibility for yourself and your own choices.
Sheri: Totally. That is it, what you just said, Anne, is the secret sauce, because we can stay in this waiting, wanting, telling. We can get mad. We can do a whole lot of things, just like you did.
But, if you go back to that moment, where somebody has acted out, and, like this woman, every time her husband comes home late, and she knows he’s out having sex with somebody, until she gets to the place, Anne, where you moved, which, “This is not okay. Our house is not a revolving door. I am not a concubine. I am not okay having you have sex with somebody else. I need to put a boundary down. If this is what you’re going to do, I may need to separate.”
Boundaries Become Stronger With Self-Empowerment
We talked about it. She said, “Well, the reason I’m not putting down a hard boundary right now is because I’ve got three kids.” That’s a reality. It’s also a reality that her husband is having sex with somebody else. She was frozen in her victim position and it’s hurting her and her kids at the same time.
Drawing a line, which might mean having to separate temporarily, until his behavior stops, or maybe permanently. I don’t know what he’s going to choose, because we don’t really know. She’s got to get to a point that she’s willing to take the risk that it takes.
Anne: It’s hard, because I’m in her same situation, in terms of little kids. When my ex was arrested, my kids were 6, 3, and 11 months old. Do I remove the do not contact order, so that he can talk to me and come back in our house and continue to harm me, or do I hold this and have a safe home, but a very stressful, difficult, single mom of three tiny kids, how do I pay the bills? Those are the two things I was weighing. They’re both very difficult situations. I chose safety. It didn’t mean that things were easy. It meant they were still super difficult.
Anne: Let’s talk about the harm that can be caused from the offending position and the entitlement positions.
Learning About Abuse Is The First Step Towards Empowerment
Sheri: Most people, when they find out they’re entitlement, they don’t want to stay there. It’s not our best self. When we find out that we’re offending, or even when we find out we’re a victim, people are like, “No, I want to be over on the other side.” The other side of Rescuer is Collaboration, that means shared consideration, “Let’s work on this together. You do your part and I’ll do mine.”
The other side of Offender, this guy that’s sleeping with another woman, he’s offending. Their tagline is, “I’ll resort to any means necessary to get what I want.” The path out is options. You don’t have to sexually act out. It is a choice. At the forefront is, “What do I need to do to protect and advocate? I’ll look at my choices and I need to think about how they impact.”
When I’m working with the addicts, and I’m trying to help them figure out where their choice came into the matter, they reach out to this thing that is so harmful, the pornography. When they start seeing that there is an option, there’s so many things that they could choose.
In Entitlement, the opposite of that is Humility, “How can I support what you need?” Let me tell you where offending and entitlement become abusive. When somebody gets to a point that they feel entitled to sexually act out, they feel justified.
Why Knowledge Is Empowerment
I was doing a radio show the other day, and a woman called me after the show and she said, “I’ve been married for 32 years,” or something like that, “I found my husband looking at porn.” She’ll say, “I’m uncomfortable with you watching porn on the TV.” He goes, “So what.” She said, “I’m really uncomfortable with it, can you stop?” and he’s like, “Shut up, I don’t need to stop.”
He’s in the entitlement position. Not only is he offending, but he’s moved to abusive acts of entitlement. Like, “No, I can do what I want to do.” That is harmful. She needs to find out what she needs to do in order to take responsibility for herself, when he’s in entitlement and offending at the same time.
I wrote in my book about DARVO. This is when somebody uses entitlement offending roles in order to cover up what they’re doing. It’s more than gaslighting. DARVO is a way that people combine manipulation, denial, lying, blame, projection and gaslighting. It’s a term used to explain how somebody tries to rearrange your reality by placing themselves in the victim position, in order to avoid being accountable for what they’re doing. D-A-R-V-O.
D stands for “deny the behavior.” A stands for “attack the individual who’s doing the confronting.” Oftentimes, it’s us. R, “reverse the victim and the offender role.” They, basically, make us sound like we’re the one doing the wrong thing, and they’re, all of a sudden, the victim. That is another form of abuse. It’s called DARVO. I’ll educate a wife and say, “Sometimes, when somebody is covering up their sexual acting out, as a way of covering that up, they’ll basically deny they’re doing it, get mad at you, attack you, and you’re the one that’s confronting, and then they, basically, put themselves in the victim role and, all of a sudden, make you wrong and bad.”
Self-Empowerment Helps Develop Strength and Confidence
It’s that crazy abuse cycle that harms so many of us. It’s not okay, but when we start to see it, we don’t have to take the bait. Just because they’re trying to rearrange our reality, we can disagree. Holding our voice, staying in our story, considering what we need, and then choosing to take care of ourselves, are big steps.
Anne: I think one of the reasons I was so traumatized was because I had a very strong voice throughout the whole ordeal. He would deny and he would attack and he would turn the tables on me all the time, and I would say, “No, no, no.”
My voice was always very strong, but what I found was my desire to be heard kept me in the abuse cycle. I finally had to set a boundary of no-contact, and it was so painful for me, because I thought, “I want to be heard, but I have been saying the same thing for seven years. I’ve been saying it loudly. I’ve been saying it well, and I can’t say it any louder.
Now, the only option that I have to get out of this abuse cycle, because every time I would do that, I would just get abused even more, is to do a no-contact boundary.” That is what I chose at that time.
The Empowerment Wheel Helps Map Out Our Responses
For me, owning my voice was, maybe different, or maybe not, from other women. I had to say, “I hear myself. I am going to give myself what I need. I don’t need to talk to him anymore, because, no matter how loud I talk, he can’t hear me.” That’s how I moved from victim to responsibility, was actually by saying, “I’m not talking to you anymore.”
Sheri: Totally get that. The million-dollar question is, on the Empowerment Wheel, where was he? You were coming to him with your voice. You were trying to be responsible, right. You were moving in responsibility, but where was he on the wheel?
Anne: He was the victim and the offender and the entitlement, all three of those things.
Sheri: You know the ear portals work. They don’t have cotton in their ears. He was hearing you, but, you know what, he was in entitlement in those moments, “I don’t have to hear you. I don’t have to do what you say,” that is offending and entitlement. Realizing what you did was so brilliant, as far as your recovery was concerned, because you unplugged. You unhooked, you said, “I don’t have to have the last word. I don’t have to scream.”
Anne: Well, and I had had the last word for seven years, because I’m really articulate. It’s not like I didn’t win all the arguments, I did. I won every single one of them because I’m logical and I am articulate. I would face-to-face confront everything he said and debunk it easily with facts. I was on the debate team in high school. I’m a really good debater.
Empowerment Leads To Healthy Boundaires
Sheri: Are we all surprised? No.
Anne: I realized that is not helping me. Even when an abuser loses, he wins.
Sheri: I totally get it. What do you long for, Anne? In your voice, in sharing your opinion and wanting to be seen and heard?
Anne: It’s interesting because I’m very seen and heard now. We’ve got over 50,000 women who listen to the podcast. I run an organization. I still have this little part of me that’s like, “I wish he could see me. I wish he could hear me.” I don’t do this podcast for him. I don’t think he listens to it. I don’t even think he knows I’m doing it. I use a pseudonym.
That’s not why I do the podcast, but I would love to be heard and be seen by him, but I don’t think that’s a possibility. I just don’t even think that’s an option, so I have to move forward and be seen and heard in a place that’s safe for me. Now I’m more interested in being seen and heard in a safe place than I am by being seen and heard by someone who’s incapable of seeing and hearing me.
How Does The Empowerment Wheel Work?
Sheri: Totally. It is really complex. I do hear your longing. That would be great. From my work, with those who are in entitlement, I got a husband I’m working with right now, there has been some infidelity. He’s in this justified position.
Underneath entitlement, it’s counterintuitive, because, really, they’re people that feel like if somebody knew the truth, somebody knew who they really were, they would see them as rejectable, or they would see them as imperfect, or they would see them as needy or incapable. They are so defended against their own shame core, they end up being in this position and choosing to stay there. It’s like trying to break through cement.
The bottom line is it’s defense, “If I don’t hear you, then I don’t have to say I’m wrong. If I don’t hear you, then I don’t have to acknowledge how I’ve hurt you. If I don’t hear you, then I don’t have to own what I’ve done and take responsibility for all the damage. I stay in entitlement, yep, and I don’t go there, but it’s still a choice not to go there.” Because any one of us can tumble down. It’s how we learn and grow and heal and move forward. Some folks don’t want to go to that place of humility.
Anne: They either cannot or will not.
Sheri: Yeah, and many times, it’s won’t. It’s, “I don’t want to.” They’ll say, “I can’t,” and usually, I say, “Okay, can I just change one word in your phrase, ‘I can’t’? It’s really, I won’t, and what’s keeping you from that?” Usually, they start blaming, and then they go back into victim role.
Empowerment Means Controlling Our Own Reactions
Getting people to start moving around this wheel, and, usually, people end up not liking to stay on the reactive side. Like you made a decision. You said, “You know what, this isn’t working. I’m not going to stay in harm’s way. I can’t even try to appeal to your wiser self.” You had to get safe.
Anne: Yep, and that was my only option. I remember praying, and asking God, “Is he going to stay? Is he going to go? What is he going to do?” during this time. God answered and said, “He’s already gone.” Which I thought was really interesting.
Sheri: You can’t get to him.
Anne: You just walk away, because there’s nothing that you could say or do that he would be able to comprehend. He’s just past that. He’s past feeling. He’s past logic. Sad to see that. My son said, “Mom, Dad doesn’t know the truth. He tells people these weird stories about you, and we know they’re not true.” Then my other son said, “Yep, they don’t make any sense.” I thought, “Okay, they hear what he’s saying to other people, and they know that it’s not true.”
Self-Empowerment Is Vital In Progressing In Recovery
They come home, and they say, “We don’t know what his problem is.” I love this Empowerment Wheel. It does not surprise me that women are keeping it in their purses, or having a picture on their phone, so they can look at their situation, figure out where they are, and move to the place of power.
Sometimes, it might look like staying silent, even though that sounds counterintuitive. It depends on your situation what that might look like. For those women who are working 12-step, maybe working Step One, and they’re really trying to accept their powerlessness, the powerlessness you’re trying to accept is not your own powerlessness, it’s the powerlessness that you have over making someone else do something.
Sheri: Exactly. Those groups are really focused on more of the codependency model. It’s more the Rescuer. It’s that awareness, because it’s true. I cannot fix somebody else. This idea of, “I need to stay on my side of the street,” how do you do that when someone’s running you over with their car?
That is recovery. I can choose to get what I need. I can choose to get to safety, because if I don’t, then the craziness, the spin cycle, it makes our bodies sick, it makes our brain sick, it makes our family sick. It’s not good for us. There’s a way out. There’s always a choice, Anne, as you found in your own life.
Empowerment Involves A Shift In Perception
There’s always a choice out. It may mean you need to leave your home. You may need to call the police. You may need to face your fear, because a lot of people go, “But I’m scared. I don’t know how to do this,” but scared doesn’t always mean stop. Sometimes, scared means, “I need to press through this fear until I get to safety.” We champion ourselves and those we love.
Anne: In closing, Sheri, I would like you to tell me, from your experience, how a woman knows when she is moving in her strength and choices from victim to responsibility?
Sheri: I had a woman come in to see me recently. She had gotten stuck in an offending role. She’s so frustrated. There’s so much betrayal and she’d gone to rage, rage, rage. She moved into a position of starting to feel her helplessness, and then noticed that, paused. She began to advocate for what she needed. She hadn’t been putting words to it.
Unlike you, Anne, she would get mad, but she didn’t have the words. She didn’t really want to bring her vulnerable needs. She didn’t want to express what she wanted. She was good at getting mad. She high-fived me. She said, “You’re going to be so proud of me.” She took out the wheel and she told me exactly what happened.
The Empowerment Wheel Can Be A Useful Tool
When she didn’t go to rage, guess who did? Her husband did. He got mad. This is the cool thing. She could see it. She felt empowered. She felt proud of herself. She got out of that crazy cycle and then he had to take responsibility for what he had done in the first place.
When we start to see changes in our life that start reflecting better ways of being in relationship and then it really leaves our husbands, our boyfriends, it leaves them in a position where they have to do what they need to do, if they want to keep your marriage, if they want to keep the relationship, if they want to keep their home and their reputations.
We end up growing stronger. I see women who are empowered. They’re stronger, they’re better advocates. They end up patting themselves on the shoulder and saying, “Go me.” It might be scary to do what you’re going to do, but when you do, you actually feel better.
Anne: I would like to recommend Sheri’s Empowerment Wheel to all of you listeners. Her book, Intimate Deception: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Betrayal is available on Amazon. You can find it on her website: www.braveone.com.
It Is Empowering To Connect With Others
Sheri: Thank you for your hard work. I know you’re a mom of three, and I go, “How is she doing this?” It’s a lot of work. What is so redemptive about that is it’s the very place that you’re wounded. My marriage failed, but I am a huge advocate to help people.
I didn’t get the prize, but, you know what, just like you, you didn’t get heard. Look at where you are. That’s a motivator in a good way. My marriage was a casualty, but I’m telling you, my life has been anything but that. Out of our pain, we have become powerhouses, and I’m proud of you.
Anne: Thank you so much for all you do. You have really made headway with all of the victims of this, so thank you.
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Until next week, stay safe out there.