“When you recognize that the person you’re living with is not the person you thought he was, you need to treat it like a 5-alarm fire. It is serious business. You can always walk it back later, but you set up your safety at a level 10.
Many counselors, therapists, clergy don’t want to ring the alarm yet. They (convey), ‘Oh it’s not that big of a deal. We don’t want the worst-case scenario.’ The worst-case scenario in their mind is divorce. They don’t realize that the victim is already living in the worst-case scenario: an abusive relationship. You’ve got to get her out of that first. Then figure it out.”Anne Blythe, Founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Therapists, clergy, friends, and family may tell victims to stay in the abusive relationship for a period of time before setting appropriate boundaries for safety.
This is often said in terms of, “Don’t make any hasty decisions.” Or, “You’re too upset right now. Just calm down and let things settle before making any big decisions.” Or, “Just wait and see what he does.”
This misguided and dangerous counsel can be devastating and even life-threatening. For Kelly Vogler, courageous advocate against abuse and guest on the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Podcast, this was the case. Tune in to Kelly’s episode to hear her harrowing story of abuse, empowerment, healing, and advocacy on the BTR podcast.
Safety, Support, Self-Care: What Emotional Abuse Victims Need
At BTR, we firmly stand behind the time-tested truth that women must get to safety, find support, establish self-care, then make decisions about the future of the relationship.
It’s very simple. Women deserve to be safe.
They deserve to be respected.
They deserve to be spiritually, mentally and physically healthy.
When a woman is abused in any way, to any degree, her safety is compromised and often decimated.
Counseling her to stay in an unsafe situation and “work things out” with her abuser is asking her to continue to have her mind and body literally torn apart. It makes zero sense.
Safety From Emotional Abuse First… Then Relational Decisions
Many women find that once they are physically and emotionally safe, they’re equipped to find the support they need to set appropriate boundaries.
Boundaries protect women from abuse.
When appropriate boundaries are set and maintained, women are able to make decisions about the relationship: reconciliation with boundaries, separation, divorce, or other options are available to her – and she is able to see them clearly, without coercion, “the fog of abuse”, or the shame that often accompanies abuse victims who don’t have proper support and empowerment.
It’s humiliating. For me, I’d always thought that women in abusive marriages were those who grew up in a poor family environment, where they didn’t have love, stability, and security from a young age, which was not at all the case for me. I always just had that picture in my mind, I guess. Maybe they were weaker and that’s why they stayed, and they didn’t leave, and things like that.Kelly Vogler, Advocate Against Abuse
There is no single demographic, race, ethnicity, age, profession, or religion that predicts if a woman is likely to be abused.
Abuse is a global issue.
Women all over the world are suffering. there is no shame in joining the ranks of the courageous women who fight for their freedom and safety from the oppression of abuse.
Boundaries Protect Women From Emotional Abuse
You can still choose to love the person, but you can also choose to say, “Because I love you I’m going to set boundaries, I’m going to ask you to leave, I’m going to do this because you can choose to love somebody but you also need to choose safety.”Anne Blythe, Founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Regardless of a woman’s choice to stay or leave an abusive relationship, the abuser may still attempt to harm her. Fortunately, with support, self-care and appropriate boundaries, she can become empowered and protect herself.
Boundaries are the powerful tool that protect women from abuse. Boundaries are not requests, laws, or a list of demands made to abusers. Rather, boundaries are physical actions that courageous women take to ensure that abuse does not happen. Calling the police when women feel threatened, blocking a phone number, or leaving a room are all examples of boundaries that can keep a woman safe.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Empowers Women To Get To Safety
Betrayal Trauma Recovery affirms a victim’s right to feel safe in her own home, community, family, and in her own body. You, yes, you, deserve to feel safe and peaceful.
Please listen to our free podcast for validation and inspiration as we share other victims’ stories of survival.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
I started talking with Kelly last week, a member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, and she is sharing her experience with us. If you haven’t heard last week’s episode, please go there first, listen to it, then join us here.
Before we get back to our conversation with Kelly, our Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is going strong and we are so grateful for all of our members.
When you join, you’re able to have unlimited live support online. You can join from your car or in your closet. You don’t have to get childcare. You don’t have to go anywhere. We hope to see you in a session soon.
Now, we’re going to continue the conversation from last week with Kelly. She’s just going to jump right in.
A Religious Perspective On Jesus Christ Advocating For Emotional Abuse Victims
Kelly: I’m very thankful now that I have a clearer understanding of what I think the Bible does say about what the wife needs to do and the husband needs to do and marriage, in general, because I don’t believe that Jesus would have told me that the specific dates that he had sex with another woman are what made the difference.
Anne: Absolutely not.
Kelly: I think Jesus would choose to focus on the fact of where his devotion lied and what a marriage covenant actually and truly is supposed to be about, not the technicalities of the timing of when it happened.
Anne: Absolutely. I could not agree with you more. It’s actually insane.
Kelly: It is.
Pornography Use Is Abuse. Period.
Anne: It’s insane. I keep thinking about these conversations I have with people in the anti-porn movement, even people who know porn is bad, and they’ll say, “You’re just going a bit too far when you say his porn use is really harming his spouse. I know it’s harming him. I know it’s harming the people in the porn, but when you say it’s abusive to his spouse; no.”
I’m thinking, “What are you talking about? How could you say that? Have you heard all these stories that we share all the time?” It’s crazy.
Victim-Blaming Looks Like “Taking The Pressure Off Of Him”
Let’s go back to before you knew it was abuse, let’s go back to that part. You talked about it a little bit, where you said you wanted to take the pressure off of him. That happened with me too. Where, in his recovery from porn, I wanted to make sure he was okay so I’d be like, “Okay, I’ll stay home and do the stuff and you can go to the church meeting or whatever.”
Emotional Abuse Isolates Women
Essentially, I isolated myself more and more and he got out of the house more and more and he had fewer responsibilities and things to do. With you, you mentioned that too. Was there anything else that you tried to do to establish safety and peace in your home, the love, serve, forgive type of things that were told to you, that didn’t work? Can you think of any more specific examples of doing that typical “Christian” stuff that ended up keeping you in the abuse cycle?
Kelly: Yes, absolutely. From the very first moment when we went to the issues of school, because that was a continual cycle of an issue for us, is he going to graduate or not and we’re racking up student loans here for no reason because he wasn’t even attending classes. One of the things I tried to do there was to help him get more organized.
Emotional Abusers Drain Victims
I figured it’s my job here to help support him and I’m really good at organization. I went out and I bought poster boards and I tried to create giant calendars for him to use with things. He told me, “No, I don’t like that idea.”
Then I tried to do a shared calendar with our phones and with Google to see if maybe an electronic format would be better. No, he didn’t like that one either.
Then I went out and researched the best organizational tools to help people who struggle with that. I bought two different planner/organizer options for him to use, and he never used any of those.
That was a small isolated example of where I just thought, “Okay, if I could just do everything I can to help him with this then he can get through it.”
Victim-Blaming Looks Like Partners Being Falsely Labelled As “Poor Communicators” and “Controlling”
Beyond that, eventually, over the years it became evident it was a much bigger problem than just something isolated specifically to school.
We went to a marriage weekend at one point, which the whole point of that was to try and reconnect and to learn better communication skills because I thought that was the problem. I was “controlling” and my communication was “too abrasive,” so we needed to learn a better way to communicate with each other.
Anne: When you say that, we’re putting that in quotes. Listeners, she was not controlling, and her communication was not too abrasive. They were just saying that in order to pin it on her, right. You’ve all been told that. None of it is true.
BTR is a women’s empowerment organization, so I just want to say, when she said that, she put that in quotes. Any of you that are being told that it is false. You communicate just fine.
Emotional Abusers Lie
Kelly: Absolutely. Definitely, and clarifying that too, insisting on the truth should never be something that is too much of a burden for anyone to bear. Let’s just be clear on that.
Kelly: Absolutely not. We went to a marriage weekend seminar at one point, which was a pretty good undertaking for us because, again, I was the only one that was working regularly during this time and he was wracking up debt left and right, and we had a really tight budget. We ended up getting help with a sponsorship to be able to attend that.
I will never forget, they gave us a magnet while we were there, and the magnet said, “To love is a decision.” I took that to heart, and I thought, “Well, I just need to make sure that I am making that decision every day.” I hung it up on our fridge and it stayed there for years after that.
Find Safe People To Support You
After I did separate from him, I remember being at the gym one day, and I ran into a church member. They’d heard what was going on and they came up to me and they knew that I was the one who had made the decision to ask him to move out and I was the one who was preparing to file for divorce. They sat me down and they told me you need to remember that loving someone is a decision.
We also went to a prayer conference later on as well because I thought, “Well. I believe that through God all things are possible and, if we can pray enough, somehow God can work a miracle here,”
Of course, we always came back from the weekends and nothing changed. It was back to the same.
Love Is A Choice: Choose To Love Yourself Enough To Keep Yourself Safe From Abuse
Anne: I love that “love is a decision” thing because, after a while, victims of abuse can sadly and regretfully and depressingly say I am going to choose not to love you anymore. Because this is not going to work.
You can still choose to love the person. But you can also choose to say because I love you I’m going to set boundaries. I’m going to ask you to leave. I’m going to do this because you can choose to love somebody but you also need to choose safety. Emotional safety. Financial safety. Sexual safety. You don’t always have to choose that other person’s needs, manipulation, whatever over your own safety.
“Get To Safety As Soon As You Can”
Kelly: Absolutely. Because love does involve discipline and consequences with it. It’s not just an outpouring of nonstop second chances. That’s what I had to realize.
I do remember one of my good friends saying to me, “Take your time to make this decision because it’s up to you. But be sure in your heart that you feel comfortable with it and at peace.” What I needed to do to get to that point was to feel like I had exhausted every single possible option out there.
Anne: I think most women do. I felt the same way. I’ve had many friends who’ve gone through this, who have exhausted every single possibility. I think it’s good advice, actually, because I don’t regret anything and you probably don’t either. But the thing I worry about with that and what I caution people about that is to say, “Get to safety as soon as you can. Whatever that looks like.”
Find Safety From Emotional Abuse
If that means separating your financial situation, or he moves out of the house, or whatever. I don’t know what that looks like for you. Mine was arrested, you may or may not know, and he got a no-contact order. He could not come within 1000 feet of my home. It wasn’t until later that I blocked him, but he was court-ordered not to text me about anything but the kids. Later on, I blocked him on my phone.
That being said, I did not file for divorce. For me, pouring everything into my marriage was waiting, from a safe distance to see what his actions were going to be. That was me doing everything that I could. For some women that’s going to look a little bit different.
“Do It From A Safe Place”
I want to caution women to say, “Okay. If you want to try everything you can, go for it. But please do it from a safe place. Because otherwise in all of your trying and in all of your efforts you’re just abused more throughout that process.”
It could take ten years and you’re abused for ten more years. Please get to a safe place and then continue to do what you want to do for five to ten years. I don’t care if it’s for 50 years. For however long you want to do it, as long as you’re doing it from a safe spot.
Boundaries Protect Victims From Financial Abuse
Kelly: Absolutely. You know, my parents were really great advocates in that for me. I eventually traveled out to stay with them for a bit, probably about a month or so after he had moved out. I went home for a few weeks and I was fortunate to have a job where I could work remotely at the time, so it worked well.
At that point, I had laid out some of those requirements that I had of, here are my boundaries. Here is what I expect you to be doing in this time, and here’s how you need to communicate with me and update me on those.
Emotional Abusers Push Boundaries
I will never forget, one night, that I was there and I got an email from him, probably around midnight or so. I had been staying up late because he had promised to send me an update that day but, of course, in his classic fashion he waited until 11:59 pm to send it so he could still technically say he sent it that day but wait until the last possible minute.
I had reached out to him because I had already separated out our bank accounts. But when I had logged in to our joint account, I saw that it had been over-drafted by about $1500. When I looked into it more, I realized that it was from a credit card that he had.
Financial & Emotional Abuse
He was spending all of that $1500 on cash advances, which meant that he was not working, like I thought he was, and bars which meant he was getting very drunk. There were $50-60 tabs almost every night of the week. I just started bawling my eyes out.
I was so upset. I thought, “I am here and setting distance while I try and go to a counselor. And I read every single possible book I can on all of these topics. And I’m praying and I’m journaling. And he is just sitting there and going out and drinking every night.”
Family Can Help You Get To Safety From Emotional Abuse
My parents heard me crying and they woke up and they actually came into my room. My mom is the one who sat me down and she said, “This needs to stop. This is not how a marriage works.”
I told her, “Well, sometimes you go through bad things.” And she said, “No. Not like this. This is not how it is. Even in the times when things are bad, it should not be to this level.”
They were very insistent from that point on that I needed to file for a legal separation, because that meant that all of the spending that he was continuing to do, that was draining our accounts and that I was having to pay off, as long as that legal separation was in place, that would protect me, financially. They told me, “After that, you can take your time. Decide. Pray as long as you need to determine if you’re going to get divorced or not. But right here, right now, we need to legally make you safe.”
Victims Must Get To Safety First, And Then Make Decisions About The Relationship
Anne: Exactly. And those are the things that I advocate for. When you find out your husband is using porn and you didn’t think he was, like he’s got this face of “I’m a righteous person and I don’t do that sort of thing.” Or, “I’m a feminist, so I don’t do that sort of thing.” Or whatever, when you recognize that the person you’re living with is not the person you thought he was, for whatever reason, you need to treat it like a five-alarm fire. It is serious business.
Prioritize Your Safety
You can always walk it back later, but you set up your safety at a level ten, or whatever the highest level is. Set it up as a really high safety situation. So many counselors, therapists, clergy don’t want to ring the alarm yet. They want to be like, “Oh. It’s not that big of a deal. We don’t want the worst-case scenario.” Because the worst-case scenario in their mind is divorce.
They don’t realize that the victim is already living in the worst-case scenario, and that’s an abusive relationship that is currently happening. You’ve got to get her out of that first, and then figure it out.
Knowledge Empowers Victims
Why do you think it takes so long for women, you/me/lots of women that we’ve met, to understand that we are being abused?
Kelly: I think it’s because it’s something that no one ever wants to hear. It’s humiliating. For me, I had always thought that women in abusive marriages were those who grew up in a poor family environment, where they didn’t have the love and stability and security from a young age. Which was not at all the case for me.
Emotional Abuse Can Happen to Anyone
I always just kind of had that picture in my mind, I guess. Maybe they were weaker and that’s why they stayed. And they didn’t leave. And things like that. I thought, “Well. There’s no way that’s me. I’m smart and have a solid career. I’m very well educated. I have a good family. I’m really involved in my church. And I am fully dedicated to everything I need to do to save my marriage.”
I just thought, “He’s never actually hit me. And I could make him leave the house at any point when I want to, and I haven’t done that yet so I must not be being abused.”
I think also, for me, it was a lack of knowledge of what exactly abuse encompasses.
Financial Abuse Is Real
I mentioned the financial abuse a little bit earlier, but I had no idea that financial abuse was even a thing. I had never heard of that. I did know over the years I had found out instances where he had stolen cash from friends of ours. I discovered that, while we had been dating, I had actually moved to Honduras as a missionary for several months, and I had left all of my important documents with him while I was gone, and he was writing himself checks from my bank account while I was gone.
Once I was back and we were married, I remember being at work one day and I was about to head into a meeting with a client and I got a phone call on my cell phone. I picked it up and it was a creditor telling me that we were $3000 past due on a credit card that I knew nothing about.
I didn’t realize that that was financial abuse. I just had no education to even recognize those terms at all.
Emotional Abuse Is Not Well-Understood
Anne: I think that people who I talk with frequently, maybe anti-porn people or clergy or therapists, who think that my abuse stance is extreme just don’t know about abuse. They haven’t studied abuse at all, frankly. Once you say, “This is what abuse is, read these seven books on abuse, go to the domestic violence,” or whatever, I think they’d have to admit that it is. But, for some reason, abuse is just so not well-known.
It is not well understood. The problem is even educated people, like you and I, think they know what abuse is. And they do not. That’s what really is killing me right now is these conversations I have with therapists, clergy, anti-porn people who are constantly telling me, “You’re going too far. This is a good guy. This isn’t abuse.”
I’m like, “Study abuse. And then tell me what you think.” But they don’t do it. I think it’s interesting that they don’t want to read the books. They don’t want to know about the abuse.
Abuse is a Universal Pandemic And Awareness Must Spread
Kelly: It’s interesting all the women that I work with now, I feel like they fall into two buckets. But I see people regularly fall into either of those buckets. It’s not just that they are all in one.
One of the buckets is more of like what I had in my mind where they had a really bad childhood growing up and basically just known abuse their whole life. They don’t know anything else.
Then there is also this second bucket and it’s the one that I fell into. Where it’s the more naïve, sheltered Christian girls who grew up thinking, “I’m going to find a man who is a strong Christian and everything I thought I needed and wanted. He’s very involved in church. He’s active, well-liked, and well-loved. And if that happens, I’m following God’s desire here so nothing bad can take place.”
Emotional Abusers Use Religion To Manipulate
I have been shocked to discover that I am not alone in that. That happens more often than not. I think that abusers take advantage of that and manipulate that so easily, when they know that it’s someone who is very genuine and loving and caring and is going to be so loyal because their beliefs hold them there. They see that as vulnerability and something to take advantage of.
Anne: Yep. We need to educate women of the religious community that the profession of faith is not the same as actually living your faith.
Kelly: Oh. Absolutely.
Anne: If you could go back and talk to your younger self, Kelly, what would you tell her?
Healthy Boundaries Can Protect Women Before Abuse Begins
Kelly: So many things. I think probably the biggest thing that I would say is to just approach dating completely differently. I had grown up with it as a very much courtship approach where it was something extremely serious and if you are with that person then that should be somebody that you’re considering for marriage.
I wish I could go back and tell myself now, “Don’t make it so serious so quickly. This is the time where you are dating to get to know them. When these red flags come up, don’t just dismiss them as something as well. We can work through it. We can work through everything. Take those as opportunities to say I can leave now. I don’t have to stay here, and I don’t have to continue it. Learn how to have those healthy boundaries for yourself before you go into dating.”
Faith Communities Should Help Emotional Abuse Victims
I also wish that I could educate myself a little bit more on what Jesus actually says about divorce in the Bible and what the Bible actually has information for divorce and laws was something to protect women back then. It was not meant to keep them trapped and to keep them stuck in horrible situations for forever. The biggest piece of that is that I think churches tend to rush the forgiveness and the reconciliation side of things.
I think now, my knowledge of forgiveness and how that is not the same thing as trust, it is not the same thing as reconciliation, and recognizing the difference there. That I can choose to forgive someone. But that doesn’t mean that I need to continually entrust my heart to them over and over and over, when they have clearly demonstrated they are not a safe person for me to do that with.
A Religious Perspective on Christianity And Abuse
Anne: I did a podcast episode on insights that I received from the New Testament, and I’ve kind of been regretting it. So I want to bring this up right now because I was just reading it really quickly. I wouldn’t say the Holy Spirit was really with me or anything. I was just reading a bunch of scripture that indicated that it’s okay to set boundaries.
It was like, “Get away from this bad person.” And the more I thought should I air it or should I not? I aired it, and part of me is like, “Oh man. I sound a little bit harsh.” Because there are these two dichotomous concepts going on in Christianity.
The first is love your neighbor. Forgive. Serve. Bring them into the fold. You know, that sort of thing. The other one is safety. Safety, safety, safety. And there are all these scriptures that say if someone is lying and commits whoredoms then get away from that person, right.
Faith-Communities Should Support Your Safety
I think it’s so interesting that Christianity, as a whole, has conglomerated toward the love/serve thing in our communities inside our church. The guy is coming to church, so we should love and serve and help him out, but these other people outside our church that are doing things that aren’t hurting us per se, let’s pretend, we’re not going to associate with those people.
I think that’s really interesting. I think that a lot of the people outside the church, you associating with them is not going to hurt you. You’re going to be safe. It’s going to be okay. They’ve sort of flipped it so that anyone inside the church is automatically safe, and everyone outside the church is automatically not safe.
I want to say, take your time to get to know people. Find out if they’re emotionally mature and if they are genuine and if they’re honest. Don’t assume that just because they show up to church and sit in a pew every week that they’re safe.
Choose Your Safety Over All Else
Kelly: I would add one thing to that too. One of the verses that I love, that I’ve learned to love over the years now, is Matthew 10:16. Literally, this is Jesus instructing us in the Bible. He is telling us, “I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves.” He is warning us that we need to be careful. He says to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. He isn’t telling us to just sit back and let ourselves be walked all over. He’s saying to be smart in it.
It’s interesting because I’ve been divorced now for several years and I am now in a relationship with someone else and I have been with them for two years now. This is the very first person that I have ever dated outside of my denomination. And that is something I never thought would have happened.
Women Deserve Safe Partners
Years ago I would have said, “There is no way that I ever would have considered it.” But I have learned that finding someone who is honest, who’s respectful, who does what they say they’re going to do, everything in a relationship is a million times easier when you have that in place. The fact that he may not check off the box of the exact same belief system 100%, I’ve discovered that I actually have way more in common with him and our worldviews than I do with a lot of folks in my church.
That was a really big changing moment for me, to recognize that and to be confused. Like, “Wow. How have I spent my entire life focusing on you need that belief. If they don’t have that official membership in this church then I can’t do that.” To then find someone with a completely different background and find that this person lives out so much more of God’s love than I have ever found in any other relationship that I have been in.
Emotional Abusers Use The Grooming Tactic
Anne: Knowing what characteristics are healthy, and we can’t know them if we don’t live them ourselves. First of all, we have to live a healthy lifestyle. Emotionally. Physically. Sexually. Whatever, right. If we are healthy ourselves, we’re going to be able to spot it a lot easier in others. That’s number one.
Number two is knowing what those characteristics are and then being able to watch for them. It’s so different than them checking off the boxes of “Do they attend this particular church every week? Do they check off the boxes so that everyone in the community thinks they look good?”
I think that’s the problem with religious communities. That it’s a really easy place for predators to put on the mask or groom because it’s a built-in trust mechanism that doesn’t require a whole lot of observation into their actual behaviors.
Find Safety From Emotional Abuse By Digging Deep
Kelly: Definitely. You know, that’s what we are taught a lot growing up too. That the things you need to look for are the people who are active in church or who are there every week. Because those are things that are easy to see at a quick glance on the outside. It takes a lot more time and effort to dive below the surface on that.
Anne: It does. And we’ve got plenty of time, sister. So let’s use it.
Kelly: One more quote that came to mind as we were talking. I read Leslie Vernick’s book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, and that was a huge eye-opener for me in and of itself. Then later on, about a year or so afterward, I attended one of her conferences too.
“God Does Not Love The Sanctity Of Your Marriage More Than He Loves Your Safety”
In the book and at the conference, she says, “God does not love the sanctity of your marriage more than He loves your safety and your sanity.”
I think that is something that’s important for all of us to keep in mind because I had the mindset that I may have not made the best choice in the spouse that I had married, but because I had made that decision I needed to live with the consequences of that for the rest of my life.
I just wish that I had known about how much of a relational God we serve and that He cares so much more about people than he does about those official laws and technicalities and that side of things.
Anne: He does. And for those of you who are not women of a particular religion, please know that I love you and I am grateful for you for listening. And I will say “putting up with” delving into our faith. But I will say those of you who do believe in God, He does love us.
Don’t Lose Faith – You Can Find Safety
Our collective prayers that seem to go unanswered, I think will be answered in one way or another. I don’t know how, but as this issue is coming more and more to light, you know the #metoo movement and so many things have happened that will enable us to really see the truth come out.
It’s such a difficult thing. And I want you to know that if you feel like you’re prayers aren’t being answered, just know that there is a whole contagion of women who are praying who feel the same way. And I don’t think God is ignoring all of us. He loves us. He’s preparing something for us that is much better than we could ever imagine.
Support the BTR Podcast
I’d just like to thank Kelly for coming on today’s episode.
If this podcast is helpful to you, please rate it on iTunes or your other podcasting apps. Every single one of your ratings helps women who are isolated find us.
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Also, a big huge thank you to those of you who support the podcast.
Until next week, stay safe out there.