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How Do I Know If It's Abuse?
How Do I Know If It’s Abuse?

Abusers condition victims to struggle with discerning reality. If you're here, you are trying to figure out if you are being abused. We can help.

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How Do I Know If It's Abuse?

The nature of psychological and emotional abuse leaves many victims unsure if they are even experiencing abuse.

Even when victims experience marital rape, gaslighting, coercion, and physical abuse, they still ask the question, “How do I know if it’s abuse?”

Lorelai, a member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community, joins Anne on the free BTR podcast to share her powerful story of escaping her husband’s sexual abuse and constant manipulation and gaslighting. Through the fog of abuse, she was able to use empowering tools to identify the abuse and set safety boundaries to begin her journey to healing. Read the full transcript below and listen to the BTR podcast for more.

It Doesn’t Have To Be Physical Battering To Qualify As Abuse

Often, victims question the reality of their abusive relationship because they haven’t been punched in the face or put in the hospital.

Physical battering is absolutely abuse – but it isn’t the only kind of abuse.

Other forms of abuse include:

  • Gaslighting
  • Manipulation
  • Betrayal (including secret pornography use)
  • Sexual coercion
  • Marital rape
  • Covert physical harm
  • Threats
  • Financial domineering
  • Spiritual domineering

How Can I Learn More About Abuse?

Victims become empowered to identify the abuse in their relationships and set safety boundaries as they become educated about abuse. Some of the most helpful resources we recommend include:

Visit our books page for a list of curated books that we recommend to victims.

If You’re Here, Trust Yourself

Victims of psychological abuse have often experienced so much gaslighting, that discerning reality can feel nearly impossible.

If you are here, we encourage you to trust yourself. Seek support, empowerment, and education, but trust your instincts. If you feel that you are being abused, you probably are. Take appropriate steps to protect yourself and set safety boundaries to separate yourself from abusive behavior.

Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is here for you as you begin your healing journey. Join today.

Full Transcript:

Anne: Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.

Our Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group, called BTRG for short, is a daily online support group. We have over 21 sessions per week for you to choose from. You don’t have to wait for an appointment, you don’t have to leave your home, you can join from your closet or your parked car in your garage. We are here for you. We’d love to see you in a session today.

Lorelai on the BTR Podcast

We have Lorelei, a member of the BTR community on today’s episode. Lorelei is not her real name; we’re using an alias. She’s also using an alias for her husband’s name, who she’s now separated from. Welcome, Lorelei.

Lorelei: Thank you for having me.

Anne: We’re so glad you’re here and grateful that you’re willing to share.

So, with your story, let’s start at the beginning. Did you recognize your husband’s behavior as abusive at first?

Lorelei: No, absolutely not. I had been in a previous abusive relationship and that one was really obvious, and then I met my husband and he just seemed like a gift from God. It’s been now 17 years since we’ve been married, almost 18; 18 in October, and I did not realize that it was abusive until a couple of years ago. And honestly though, until last August, I didn’t really realize the extent or the scope of it. There was a lot of denial. There was a lot of confusion. My husband is very subtle about it. It was really hard for me to catch. I had to read Lundy Bancroft’s book, and then it just slapped me in the face. Like overnight and I was like, oh, that explains everything.

Comparing Psychological Abuse to Physical Battering Just Doesn’t Work

Anne: It’s interesting. When I was first married, I had a friend who was in a really abusive relationship. When I say really abusive, I would say mine was really abusive. I just didn’t know it because I didn’t understand psychological abuse and emotional abuse. Hers was physical, right, so it was very obvious. So, he was coming home, and he was throwing things around, you know, the typical abusive thing like maybe your first relationship was like. It was interesting when I would tell her what was going on she’d be like oh, no. I mean, mine was way worse than that. She would say he’s a good guy, compared to what her, obviously what I would say is what TV teaches you is an abusive relationship compared to mine. But I would say now that what I went through, wasn’t worse per se, but just so much more confusing and long and drawn out because of all the psychological abuse. I just didn’t understand until I read Why Does He Do That by Lundy Bancroft either.

What did you attribute it to in the beginning, like anger issues or other things? What did you think was going on when you didn’t understand it was abuse?

“I Was Shocked At How Calculated And Deliberate It Really Was”

Lorelei: So, in my particular situation, my husband was raised in a good family. He’s the youngest of five, he has strong family connections, but his family was a little weird, and he was kind of the baby, so he got a lot of passes on a lot of things. You know, being the youngest of five and then he was a police officer for a long time. He’s still a police officer. I always just attributed it to sort of the blending of two families because I have kids from my first relationship. I attributed it to sort of his family’s ongoing issues that he’s sort of inherited. I just attributed it to just, you know, the stress of working two jobs and being a police officer. I just thought it was all circumstantial, you know, like, just something that, oh, he’s just in a bad mood or he’s tired. I just didn’t really think for a minute that it was calculated and deliberate until I read the book, and then I can pinpoint exactly where it was calculated and deliberate and it shocked me. I was shocked at how calculated and deliberate it really was.

Anne: Yeah, it is shocking. Your whole paradigm of how you see your husband sort of crumbles when you realize, wait a minute, I’ve been seeing him as a good guy who gets frustrated every once in a while. And now I’m realizing that the foundation of this is an abusive man whose mask comes off.

“He Was Just Trying to Control Me The Whole Time”

Lorelei: Yeah, and for my husband, in particular, he puts out this persona of this great family guy. But when I looked really closely, what I could see was him controlling every aspect of me. It had nothing to do with the kids or his family or my family. Like he was putting one image on everything, but I can pinpoint all of our fights and everything that he did that upset me down to his inability to control me. And the other thing I have to say is I’m a little bit of a fighter. I’m not just going to take it, so I was good at setting boundaries. I was good at calling him on his crap, you know. I was good at protecting my kids and trying to keep the peace, and the harder I fought for what I knew was right because I knew it was right, the harder I fought for what I knew was right the more kickback I got. But only after I read the book, did I see that he was just trying to control me the whole time. So that was a very eye-opening.

Anne: Yeah, I am a fighter too. And I often want to educate women about the myth of assertive communication because a lot of women say to me, well, had I fought and had I called him out, maybe he wouldn’t have been that way. And for your experience and my experiences it’s like no, we fought him every step of the way and we still got abused and manipulated.

Lorelei: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

Anne: Were you aware of any porn use or any infidelity in your relationship?

When Abusers Gaslight Victims About Their Betrayal

Lorelei: Not per se, but my husband is a very private person and being a police officer, he has his own computer, his phone is on lockdown. He actually works in a different state from where I live because our youngest child has a significant disability. So, he goes to school in a different area than where my husband works, and he’s just been kind of bouncing back and forth between the two states. So, we only saw him once or twice a week really for the last five or six years. So, there wouldn’t really have been any way for me to know, but I do know he did confess to me at some point. Now looking back, I realized that it was a manipulation so it may or may not be true but he had told me that he had been emotionally involved with several, multiple, like more than five women at work. He said that he just got caught up emotionally with them. He said nothing physical happened, but that he had spent a lot of time talking to them and sharing with them. I think it kind of came up because I was like, I don’t think you told me that and he’d be like I totally told you that, and I would say no you didn’t. And then later he sort of confessed that he had been talking to a lot of women at work about things and may have inadvertently not filled me in on things because by the time he realized that I didn’t know about it, it was way too late to fill me in.

Anne: So, the behaviors that you knew about, that you are aware of were lying, manipulation, gaslighting?

Lorelei: Everything physical and psychological.

When “Fulfilling Your Sexual Duties” Is Part of Your Marriage

Anne: So, talk about the sexual abuse. You mentioned that he had sexually abused you, but you were not aware of the sexual abuse. Can you talk about that for a minute?

Lorelei: Yeah, absolutely. You know, when you’re young and you get married, and you know, you always kind of want to have sex, you know, hormones and whatnot. And when your husband wants to do it, you know, a second time sometimes you give in. When I was younger, I didn’t really think about it but looking back, I was having sex multiple times a day. Almost too much. I was sore all the time. I mean, after we had our fourth child, I only got two weeks of recovery before he expected me to go back to fulfilling my duties.

Anne: “Fulfilling your duties” was that kind of a theme in your marriage? That sex was owed to him, that it was one of your wifely duties?

“I Didn’t Realize That I Couldn’t Say No”

Lorelei: Yes, that it was owed to him, although he sugar-coated it by making sure it was always good for me. And being really frank here, I love sex, so it was easy for me to go along with it. Do you know what I mean? When he was putting the effort in, I could have as many orgasms as I wanted as long as I put out for him. So, I didn’t realize at first that I couldn’t say no. I didn’t realize I couldn’t say no and so again, having our fifth child, and he’s pretty seriously disabled, and trying to say no and then finding out that that wasn’t an option.

Anne: Okay. Is your fifth child your last child?

Lorelei: He is my last child.

Anne: And he has a disability? Can you talk about that for a minute?

Having Sex With You Without Your Consent Is Rape

Lorelei: His official diagnosis is moderately autistic. So essentially, he’s almost 13 now and he is a big toddler. He’s potty trained, but his interests are on the level of a two- to three-year-old. He can kind of write his name. He’s a happy kid. But he’s a lot of work. He’s a sweetie, but he’s a big baby. He has a very strict bedtime and I started being tired or depressed or frustrated. I needed to talk more as my child’s disability became more apparent as things progressed. I needed more, and my husband was not willing to give it so I would need to talk or relax before sex, and that wasn’t an option. And if I couldn’t talk or I couldn’t relax, and I wasn’t in the mood, there was a point where he would do stuff to me in the middle of the night and my body would respond and it wasn’t a problem. Does that make sense? When the relationship was less damaging my body would respond.

Anne: So, what you’re saying is, even though it wasn’t necessarily consensual you were like okay in the middle of the night, even though you didn’t say yes, I want to have sex. It was enjoyable for you, it was fine, and then later when you became very tired and life got difficult, then when he would start in the middle of the night without your consent, you were like wait a minute, wait a minute?

“He Pushed Until I Gave In, Or He Pushed Until I’d Say No”

Lorelei: Yeah, I feel like there was a point where I was doing it out of obligation like okay, fine, get it over with, you guys have needs, whatever, which is obviously not a healthy sexual mindset. But that’s where it was. To the point, I guess where all of a sudden, I started having issues having orgasms. At some point in there, he developed erectile dysfunction, which, looking back on it may have been a gift from God.

Anne: It also may have been porn-related, by the way.

Lorelei: It could have, yes. I’m not ruling anything out.

At that point, when he couldn’t perform it became like a mission for him to force me to perform. So, the answer would be no, and he pushed it until I gave in, or he pushed until I’d say no, and then he’d do it in the middle of the night anyway. Eventually, it got to a point where not only could I not have an orgasm, but if I did have an orgasm, it was painful. It was like being stabbed in the crotch with hot forks, and he would do it anyway. He would wake me up and I would be crying in the middle of the night sobbing because it was painful and horrible. He would just be like, this is so horrible for me, and I would be like, then stop doing it because it’s horrible for me. You’re doing it to me. I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t want this. That was when I realized that there was abuse going on. But as I said, I didn’t catch on to the emotional stuff until last summer.

Trauma Mama Husband Drama

Anne: I am going to take a break here for just a second to talk about my book, Trauma Mama Husband Drama. You can find it on our books page which also has a curated list of all of the books that we recommend. My book, Trauma Mama Husband Drama, is a picture book for adults. So, it is the easiest way for you to explain what’s going on to someone who might not understand it, it’s also just a good reference for yourself because it shows what’s happening with very telling and emotional illustrations, as well as infographics at the back.

And now back to our discussion.

Anne: Okay, so before you recognize the sexual abuse, when it’s anger, manipulation, lies, gaslighting, did you do anything to try and solve the problem? In other words, the typical marriage advice like communicate better or be sexy or go on a date night or anything like that. Did you try any of that in order to make sure that he didn’t get angry or make sure that he was “okay” and to try and make sure that he was in a good mood?

“The Relationship Really Tanked When I Stopped Doing All of the Work”

Lorelei: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I carried the whole weight of the household. I did all the bills. I did all the cooking. I did all the cleaning. I took care of the kids. He did nothing. He literally came home from work when he came home and sat on the couch and played on his phone or just watched TV or walked his property. You know, king of the castle. He was king of the castle. He did nothing. And then, you know, I planned all the dates, I planned all the trips, and then there became a point where he would sabotage all of those things and I could see him doing it, I just didn’t know why he was doing it. So, I would plan things and he’d be so on board and then we’d go and do it and he was mean to the kids or like just super grumpy. Like it was just ridiculous kind of, and so I got to a point where date nights I was like fine, you plan it. Then he didn’t, so the relationship really tanked when I stopped doing all of the work.

Anne: Is that also when the sexual abuse started to get worse?

Lorelei: Probably. Honestly, my memory is not very good. I’m really good at blocking stuff out. I’m really good at just forgetting all the things that I don’t really want to think about, and so I don’t really 100% for sure know, but I’m sure that it probably did line up like that.

Anne: Yeah, we all struggle with memory issues, so no worries there, we get it.

If Your Partner Has Sex With You When You’re Sleeping, It’s Rape

So, then you realize you’re being sexually abused. Then what did you do at that point? You don’t recognize you’re being emotionally and psychologically abused here, but when you knew it was sexual abuse, what did you start to do?

Lorelei: I stopped discussing it with him because there were always discussions about sex before that and what was going to make it good for everybody. And at that point, I was like no, this isn’t a discussion because it’s not good for me. You’re forcing it on me, and you need to stop doing what you’re doing, and don’t touch me, and don’t force me, and don’t do stuff to me in the middle of the night. Don’t even kiss me unless you’ve checked with me first. I set a really hard no physical contact kind of boundary until I say so. and he just stopped except for in the middle of the night.

So again, stuff was happening in the middle of the night because I’m exhausted, I was sleeping deep. Like there was no waking me up. I would wake up in the morning, or I’d have nightmares, and I would know that something happened. But like, I wouldn’t have been able to wake up from it. So, during the day he just was farther away from me physically, and at night the incidents were still happening. That was a really clear message to me that he didn’t care about my boundary.

Anne: Did you ever feel like he didn’t care about you?

“I Was Suicidal”

Lorelei: Oh, yeah. I felt that way all the time, but I kept trying to tell myself that that wasn’t true. You don’t marry somebody in the temple and have kids with them and buy them a house and a car. See I’m a woman, so common sense to me dictates that you don’t treat people like that unless you love them. So, it never occurred to me to doubt his love for me, but his kind of love is not the kind of love I want anyway.

Anne: Right. You said that at some point you recognized all of the abuse. What led you to read Why Does He Do That? When you thought you know what, I’m going to read this book, and after that, you realize that whoa, all of this is abuse. So, what led you to pick up that book?

Lorelei: So, there was a little bit of a journey there? About two years ago, it had gotten to the point where I was suicidal. I was suicidal. I have a handicapped child and four other wonderful children, and a great supportive family, and I was suicidal. I could not figure out what it was. I talked to my bishop, and I said, look like I’m unhappy in my marriage. My husband just treats me like garbage. I’m not happy about what’s going on.

When Clergy Gets Involved

Now, let me be clear, I’ve talked to several bishops about this, and nobody did anything. So, one of my bishops was going to tank Jason’s career over it, but he was convinced not to because that was not in the best interest of anybody at that point, and so he backed off and left it alone. And after that point, I didn’t feel comfortable seeing him because I knew he felt strongly about it. He was a great guy. He was a guy with like eight girls, okay, he had a lot of kids, and they were all girls. So, he was one of those guys that really was looking out for his women, and he was protective, and I didn’t want to talk to him about it anymore because I was concerned that he would talk to Jason and that Jason would make my life worse.

Anne: Alright, so a lot of women come on this podcast, and I’ve talked to a lot of women, and they are concerned that their clergy is not doing enough, right. They’re very concerned that they’re not taking it seriously and that they’re not holding them accountable. So, in this case, in your particular instance, now we know every woman’s situation is different, but because Jason was in the military, your concern with this bishop wasn’t that he was not doing enough, it was that he was doing so much that you were worried about his job?

“Why Don’t Women Report Sexual Abuse?”

Lorelei: Yes. Well, Jason isn’t in the military, he’s a police officer, but it’s kind of like the military. There’s a rank, there’s a chain of command to go up, and my bishop at that time was in the military. So, he understood that chain of command and was willing to take steps, but it was not a good idea at that time. Financially, socially for my kids, it would have broken our family apart and I was just not in any kind of healthy place at that point to really go through that.

Anne: I want to just pause here to make a note of all the things that victims go through because people are always like why don’t women report sexual abuse, why don’t women get out, or whatever people ask. Here we are talking to Lorelei, a super-smart, capable, aware person who is in an abusive relationship, who is getting help from someone, and then is faced with all these other consequences that people don’t consider. Financial issues, like all kinds of other things that are going to happen. And that is one of the reasons why women don’t report and that’s also one of the reasons why when they go for help if people want to help them, sometimes they say no, don’t help. So, I just want to put that out there. That it’s really important to understand all of the different aspects that victims go through when they’re trying to figure out what’s going on, and then secondly, when they’re trying to get to safety.

“He Did Nothing”

Lorelei: Yes, absolutely. Remember, because I told you that I live in a different state than my husband. We were in the state where he worked. I’m in a different state now, but he basically lived with his parents where he worked, when he was working, and when he was not working he would come home to where we are in a different state. So, when that move happened, obviously we had a different Bishop than the last one who was trying to look out for me. It’s been five years that we’ve been here, and we’ve had two bishops. The first one, I think he was concerned. My first bishop here was friends with Jason, and so it was not going to get addressed. I could see that he felt bad. He actually cried when I told him what was going on, but he did nothing.

By the time I was suicidal we had a different Bishop, and when I went and talked to him about what was going on with Jason, he’s not a crier, so that didn’t happen. He did not confront Jason either because I told him not to. But what he did do was reinforced to me he said, my dad was abusive to my mom, and nobody should ever have to go through that. He said I’m not going to tell you what to do, I’m not going to tell you to leave him, I’m not going to tell you to stay with him. What I am going to say is that what is happening to you right now is not okay. It should not be happening, and if you’re suicidal, maybe you want to think about seeing a psychiatrist and getting on some meds. But absolutely what he’s doing is wrong.

When Your Abusive Relationship Leads to Mental Health Issues

He was pretty new, so I don’t know that he really knew exactly what to do when he just recommended I go get some medication, but that’s how it started. I started with going to get medication for being suicidal, and while I was on the medication, I realized I was able to pretty much ignore all the horrible things he did because I just stopped caring. I was totally zombied out. They tried me on six different medications in a year, and at the end of it, I realized that the health problems that I had already developed because of being in this abusive relationship were worse because of the medication I was taking that I didn’t need to get out of the abusive relationship. And that what I needed to do was to stop taking the medication and deal with the relationship.

So, what I did was I started looking at your stuff on Facebook because Facebook has that really great algorithm. You know, if you’ve looked at this, you might like this. So, Facebook knew that I was looking for a therapist to deal with some trauma. And so, I found BTR. So, when I stopped seeing my one therapist within a few months and I was following BTR regularly. There was a particularly bad incident last August. I don’t even remember what happened, but it was bad, and I didn’t know what to do. I open Facebook and there was BTR and their support group. I signed up for the support group and I went to my first meeting.

The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group

I was trying to talk to people about what was happening because I was just sorting it out. I was just confused and like what is going on here? How do I fix this? And somebody was like, you need to read the book, Lundy Bancroft’s book. And then 10 minutes later, it’s somebody else and you really need to read the book. I think five people recommended it in that first session. I put my sessions on hold, and I said, okay, I’ve got to read the book. I read the book in three days, and like I said, just shocked. I couldn’t put it down. It resonated so drastically in my soul. It was like instantaneously, I was like, I’m done. I am officially not responsible for this relationship anymore. It was a huge weight off of me. It was like the light bulb went on, ding! It wasn’t me. It was never me. It was always him. The whole time I was reading the book I could trace it all the way back through 17, and now 18 years. I could trace it all back through the years. I could see every incident, everything. It was overwhelming. It just resonated. It was like this is not your problem. This is not your fault. You’re done. You can officially walk away because nothing you do is ever going to make any difference. The problem is not you; the problem is with his behavior. And then at that point, I was like yep, we’re done. And within about three months, we were separated.

Support the BTR Podcast

Anne: Lorelei and I are going to pause the conversation here and we will be back next week, so stay tuned.

If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. Until next week, stay safe out there.

1 Comment

  1. Deborah

    Oh my gosh, this is the first podcast that has truly made me feel like someone does understand what I am going through and will not judge me. I will be ordering the book mentioned in this podcast as soon as I leave my comment. I am so grateful that you are doing this to help those of us living in the shadows of the unknow. Bless you


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