Why Does My Abuser Accuse Me Of Being Controlling?
***Podcast disclaimer: Early in Anne’s healing journey, as are many women, she was exposed to the codependency model for recovery from being married to a sex addict. She has since realized that she and other wives of addicts have truly experienced betrayal trauma. Betrayal Trauma Recovery no longer supports this model because it has been found to cause more harm than good. Betrayal Trauma Recovery strictly uses the trauma model for assisting women who are seeking peace and safety amid the chaos of their reality.
Anne continues to utilize the 12-step manual for developing and improving her own relationship with God. Anne now uses the trauma model for her own healing. You can find more about her thoughts on this podcast here.***
When Anne, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, started her journey to healing, she went through a 12-Step program for codependents, or co-addicts. This is from her experience and how she came to realize the truth, that she had been traumatized.
“I want to talk about Step 4, which is Made a Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory of Ourselves. When I was new to 12-Step, I got Step-4 mixed up with a Step-1 inventory. A Step-1 inventory is when you write down all the terrible things you’ve ever done, and how your life is unmanageable. I did my Step-1 inventory with my sponsor and went through all the ‘sins’ I had committed, mistakes I’d made, and all the other ways I felt my life had become unmanageable.
“Step-4 is a little different than that. It is finding out our character defects. Character defects are the reasons why you do those things. For me, the root of most of my character defects is fear. Therefore, I control, therefore, I’m dishonest, etc.”
Was Anne really being dishonest? Was she really controlling? Where was the desire to control coming from?
Was she really trying to control her husband because she wanted to control HIM? Or was she simply trying to find safety?
Partners Of Abusers Often "Control" Out Of Fear
“For me, the root of most of my character defects is fear.”
Fear isn’t a defect. Fear is a feeling. It is an emotion. We experience fear when we find ourselves in a dangerous situation.
In the book by Barbara Steffens and Marsha Means, called Your Sexually Addicted Spouse, they take apart the traits of the codependency, or co-addiction, model and compare these traits to the symptoms of trauma.
One of the Co-Addiction traits is “Manipulation.” This trait is described as, “Efforts to control the addict’s behaviors.”
The trauma symptom is “Arousal.” Arousal is described as, “Efforts to control the environment.”
An example of this symptom might be you choosing where he sits when you go out in public, staying up late, so you can make sure he doesn’t use the computer to act out again, etc. (pg. 35)
Another Co-Addiction trait that they describe is “Excessive Over-Responsibility.” This trait is described as, “Self-blame; keeping the addict dependent upon you to avoid future pain.”
The trauma symptom associated with this trait is “Avoidance.” This symptom is described as, “Trying to avoid future pain by attempting to control the partner’s addiction, engaging in recovery activities, numbing your feelings or choosing denial.” They go on to say, “You might schedule counseling appointments for your partner, set the addicted person up with a sponsor or accountability colleague and give him or her all the latest books on sex addiction to read. You may believe that if you do enough, the addicted partner will stop and you will be safe.” (pg. 35)
Was Anne trying to find safety or was she trying to control her sex addicted husband because she’s abusive?
Are You Trying To Control Or Avoid Further Pain?
Anne was in an abusive relationship. She was in a relationship with a sex addict. She wasn’t safe. Anne put a lot of effort into “finding recovery” for her husband. She was trying to avoid further pain. Anne’s attempt to “control” her husband was an attempt to find safety.
Anne says, “For me, fear was really a major one. I was so afraid of my family falling apart, and so afraid of my husband’s behaviors, that control really came out, and I started to control—try to control everything in my life. Of course, that made everything more unmanageable.
“Control was also a serious character defect that I had. Those two defects, fear and control, kept me from setting boundaries, which I needed to set. Facing that has been a very difficult thing for me, in admitting those character defects.”
Fear is a very strong emotion. It can keep us from seeing things as they really are. It can also keep us from doing things that we know we need to be doing. Anne’s fear was also keeping her from setting healthy boundaries. Fear can keep us trapped in an abusive relationship. Fear is very powerful.
Working Through Fear Can Help Us Stop "Controlling"
We can work through our fear. We can replace fear with faith and hope.
How can we work through this fear? We don’t want to be hurt again, so we need to take some steps to minimize the risk.
5 Steps to Stop Controlling Your Abuser Out of Fear
- Recognize that you are afraid. Recognizing that you aren’t safe, and that your attempts to “control” are coming from a place of fear, will help you get started on working through fear.
- Set healthy boundaries. Boundaries are about things you can do when certain things happen. For tips on how to set boundaries, read here.
- Practice daily self-care. Self-care can help you stay aware of your own needs and feelings. It can help you stay grounded and in the present.
- Reach out to someone safe. Reaching out to others can be a great way to get through the fear. Finding others in a similar situation to confide in can also be extremely validating.
- Seek professional help. Sometimes, our fear can become debilitating. It can lead us to feel depressed and anxious. Finding someone qualified to help us work through our fears and find safety can also be empowering. Betrayal Trauma Recovery offers individual and group sessions in many topics. You can find those sessions here.
As we seek to find faith and hope, we realize that we do not have control over our husband’s behaviors. We cannot choose for him. What we can choose is to find safety and healing for ourselves and our children. Realizing we do not have control over our abuser, can create more fear. Taking the steps to work through that fear can help us find healing.
Are We As Controlling As Our Abuser?
The domestic violence shelter was very helpful as they talked to Anne about what abuse was. They gave her a book, entitled Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft. In it he talks about how much control we really do have over the situation. Abusers tend to blame their victims for their own behavior. If only we really had that much power!
Lundy Bancroft says:
“There continues to be social pressure on women to make their relationship work and to find a way to hold the family together, regardless of abuse. Since so many people accept the misconception that abuse comes from bad relationship dynamics, they see the woman as sharing responsibility equally for getting things to go better. Into this concept steps the abuser, telling his friends and family, ‘I still really want to work things out, but she isn’t willing to try. I guess it isn’t worth the effort to her, and she’s refusing to look at her part in what went wrong, she puts it all on me.’
“What family and friends may not know is that when an abused woman refuses to ‘look at her part in the abuse,’ she has actually taken a powerful step out of self-blame and toward emotional recovery. She doesn’t have any responsibility for his actions and his choices. Anyone who tries to get her to share responsibility is adopting the abuser’s perspective.” (pgs. 278-279)
To outsiders, our behavior may appear to be “controlling” or “abusive” but those who can see the truth know that it’s fear. Fear because we aren't safe. Those who accuse us of those things, when our husband is really the abusive one, are simply aiding the abuser in blaming us for their behavior.
Anne, genuinely, wanted to be a partner to her husband and was trying to be that. She wanted both of them to have equal say. She wanted them to be able to question one another, be able to talk to one another, but she was unsafe, and did not have that ability. Instead of setting boundaries and making herself safe, she tried to make HIM be safe. That didn’t work.
In reality, our desperate attempts to "control" are nothing compared to the abuser's forceful control. When we set healthy boundaries, many abusers see our boundaries as a way to "control" or "punish" them. They begin to panic because they realize they are losing control of us. When we set boundaries, we are doing just that, taking back control of ourselves. We are no longer letting them control us or our reactions to their behaviors. We are no longer letting them violate us or our safety.
Find Peace Amidst The Fear
Anne concludes, “In my life, I feel like there has been a death. Both the death of my husband, spiritually and physically, because he is gone now, with no contact, and, also, a death in me. I’d had a great love and I wanted to have a life with my husband. I had a marriage that was alive and now is dead. This brings me much grief and much sadness, and I really miss that. I miss the hope that that brought to my life. I miss working towards a forever marriage.
“I would still like to be working toward that. My husband’s choice to divorce me has stopped that, but I’m grateful that I am on a path to peace, and that, as I work through my grief and pain, I will feel peace, and, someday, all things will be made right.
“I was in the temple, and a returned missionary, who had gotten home the day before, saw me crying. He came over, and said to me, ‘If it’s not fine, it’s not the end.’ We talked for a bit. He spoke of his mission. I was grateful that he had seen me, and that he reached out to comfort me.
“I am so grateful for all the people who have comforted me during this time of such difficulty and pain and betrayal. Especially my Heavenly Father, who I have been very ungrateful to, at times. My pain is so overwhelming it’s been difficult to be grateful, but I can see how He made a way for my escape, and that his hand is in it, and that this is his will, even though it doesn’t make sense to me.”
It is God’s will for us to have a happy, peaceful family, but it is not His will for us to stay in an abusive situation. Anne’s husband told her that he did not want that with her. He humbly told her that “I am not able to be what you want.” All Anne wants is a husband that is not abusive and does not act out in addiction. Her ex-husband was unwilling to change. He does not want to change. It breaks Anne’s heart to know that she will not be able to find that happy, peaceful family with her ex-husband. With that in mind, she can clearly see that God’s will is for her to move on. For her to be safe, and for her to heal.
That is God’s will for all of us, that we be safe and find healing.
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