“Why doesn’t she just leave him?”
“If he was abusive, why did she stay so long?”
These victim-blaming questions are common among family and friends of victims of betrayal and abuse. The answer is simple and reflects on the control and power that her abuser utilized against her:
She didn’t know she was being abused.
Anne, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery interviews Jenn, a member of the BTR community to take a deep dive into the tactics abusers use to confuse victims, and how women can use this knowledge to get to safety. Listen to the free BTR podcast and read the full transcript below for more.
I Realized I Was Being Groomed
Grooming is a universal and insidious tool of emotionally abusive men. Most, if not all, victims of relational abuse were “groomed” by their partner.
Grooming occurs when an abuser creates a false sense of safety for his victim.
What Does Grooming Look Like?
To identify grooming in your relationship, watch for these key behaviors:
- Feeling “swept off your feet”
- Always being given the “perfect answer” to your questions
- Constant attentiveness and love-bombing
- Pushing your boundaries (sexual, physical, emotional) but always apologizing afterwards and committing to never doing it again
- Claiming to have never used pornography or other sexual acting out behaviors
- Overly generous with time and money
In healthy relationships, people are able to continue to lead healthy and balanced lives, even when they are falling in love. Love-bombing can feel so intense and overwhelmingly pleasurable, that it makes it nearly impossible to identify abuse.
Being aware of the ways that your partner interacts with you will help you recognize grooming and other potentially abusive behaviors.
I Believed Him When He Said He’d Change
One of the most painful aspects of living in an abusive relationship is that victims are prone to believe their partners when they say that they will change. Why?
- Abusive men are very persuasive.
- The grooming/love-bombing process is a relief from abusive and unfaithful behaviors, and distracts victims from identifying abuse.
- Abusive men are skilled manipulators and often know exactly the right thing to say to appear repentant and ready to do whatever it takes to change.
Victims do NOT believe that their partners will change because they (the victims) are naive, stupid, or desperate. They are victims of incredibly controlling and manipulative individuals.
I Needed To Know Understand Abuse So I Could Heal
“It’s really important for the survivor of abuse to hear those words and to understand what really happened to them. Once they do, it’s lifesaving because it helps them recognize why they had the reactions they had, that it really was that bad, and that’s why they’re feeling the way they’re feeling.”
Jenn, member fo the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Community
As victims become empowered by learning about trauma and abuse, they are better able to voice their stories and their feelings. This opens the door to healing.
Further, when victims understand the true extent of their partner’s behaviors, they are able to make decisions to separate themselves from abusive behavior.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Betrayal and Abuse
At BTR, we know the devastation and agony of betrayal and relational abuse. It is absolutely essential that every victim has a safe place to process trauma, share hard feelings, and ask questions.
The BTR Group Sessions offer women the validation, support, and community that they deserve. Attend a session today and begin your healing journey.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
I have Jenn on today’s episode. She’s going to be sharing her personal story and she has a very interesting twist at the end. I’m just going to dive right into this. Welcome, Jenn.
Jenn: Thank you.
Anne: Let’s start with your personal story. When you were dating, way back long ago, can you talk about the grooming process that he used?
Jenn: I think it was a pretty typical grooming process. He was really kind. He was very, very attentive. He was in contact almost hourly. He was constantly in contact with me. I was always getting text messages and he was always complimentary and kind.
How Do Victims Recognize Abuse?
It kind of swept me off my feet a little bit. We were friends at first, and he was a little bit that way even as we were friends, and then it progressed into more and he became even more that way.
Anne: When did you start noticing the abusive behaviors?
Jenn: I didn’t recognize them as abuse at first. It took me about 2 years after we separated, the divorce was a year later, that I really started to recognize that there was abuse that had gone on other than pornography use.
Anne: How did you learn about that abuse? Was it just being educated about it? What helped you realize it was abusive?
Jenn: I was reading one of the articles that you had put out there that was talking about ways that you could recognize someone that was working recovery and ways to make restitution.
Education Helps Victims Recognize & Seek Safety From Abuse
As I was going through, I started recognizing a whole bunch of different things that had gone on, and that was still kind of going on even in my interactions with him after the divorce. That’s when I really recognized it.
Before that, I’d had therapists advise me to read a book, and I read the book and it was just after we had separated. It was two to three months after. It was called Healing From Hidden Abuse. I read the book, but I thought this doesn’t really seem like me.
Then, after I had read your article and I had to really look into things, I read it again and I was like, “Holy cow, this is exactly me!” I didn’t really recognize it.
Anne: We’ve talked before, just on the phone, about how I was a very bad victim. I didn’t play my role very well and how you were a very good victim. Can you describe why you feel like why you were the world’s best victim?
Jenn: After we got married, there would be these huge outbursts and this anger. He would say these horrible things, but I quickly learned that if I was in line with what he wanted those did not occur as often.
“The Purpose Of Abuse Is To Coerce Or Threaten Someone Into Doing What You Want”
I very quickly learned to anticipate what might cause angry outbursts and to avoid those at all costs to try and stay in line with the things that he wanted me to say and didn’t want me to say, to avoid the angry outbursts, name-calling, and the yelling and throwing things and stuff like that.
Anne: Which is the purpose of abuse. People don’t realize that the purpose of abuse is to coerce someone or threaten someone into doing what you want. Rather than asking them nicely and giving them the ability to choose for themselves without threats, anger, intimidation, etc.
During the relationship, you don’t realize that you’re being abused. Talk about what happened with the divorce. How did you end up divorced? What did that look like?
Jenn: About three years into our marriage I discovered him involved with a woman online. At that point—I don’t know how but by some miracle—he admitted to me that he was involved with pornography, and it wasn’t me. I was willing to take most of the blame.
I had said, “Obviously, I’m not meeting your needs. We need to go see a counselor. We need to go talk to the bishop. Let’s work this out.”
At that point, he acknowledged that there was pornography use going on. I am pretty smart and I’m quick with computers so I would check up on him a lot. He’s also very smart and very good with computers, so he quickly learned how to avoid getting caught.
Abusers Use Secrecy & Evasion To Avoid Accountability
We kind of played this game for a while where I would check up on him a lot, but eventually, I couldn’t catch him anymore because he figured out all the ways that I was checking up on him and he found ways around them.
Then about 4 years later, I found him involved with a girl at work and there were other women in between, but this is the shortened version, and so we separated, and I almost got a divorce at that point.
I was staying with my parents and the two bishops that I worked with, they really wanted me to just work it out with him. I didn’t know what else to do and he was very good at convincing me, at times, that he was going to change, and things were going to get better, so I stayed. Then I caught him again.
He was doing school through an online program and he had to go out for a week two times in this program. The second week that he went out there I caught him involved with a girl that he had been in some classes with while he was out doing this school week. She was staying in his hotel.
At that point I said, “We need a separation. This needs to be fixed or I’m done.” That’s the point when, for the very first time, addiction was brought up.
Anne: You don’t know you’re being abused and the first time you really confronted it, it was from an addiction standpoint?
I Realized I Was Being Abused When I Started Setting Boundaries
Jenn: We had been to therapists. We went to a therapist the whole time, the 11 years, but I didn’t know I was being abused and I didn’t know it was an addiction either. They never said the word addiction, but that it was just a pornography problem. Something that he needed to address. It was just a problem.
At that point, I discovered a lot more about addiction. Gaslighting, table-turning (blame-shifting), grooming, that kind of stuff. I still didn’t recognize it though because we were separated but we were still working on things and he was claiming it was going to get better.
When I started to really set boundaries and say, “Look, you’re not coming back until this is better than it was,” I was starting to recognize some of the behaviors. Not all of them, but some of them. I still didn’t recognize them as abuse and so I said, “It needs to change.”
People always used to tell me, “When he is working recovery and when he’s going into recovery, you will know.” I never knew and he always said he was working recovery and that it was getting better. I always thought they were just wrong and that you don’t know, but there’s a difference.
Abusers Are Master Manipulators
At a certain point, when he realized that I was not going to let him back into the home until things were addressed and he started taking accountability, at that point, he decided that I was not good for him and I was holding him back and he left.
Anne: And did he end up filing for divorce?
Jenn: He did not file for a divorce, but he asked me to do it.
Anne: And you did it?
Jenn: I did.
Anne: Why did you do it? Did you want to?
Jenn: I didn’t want a divorce, but I felt like it was necessary at this point. I needed that separation. I needed it to be official for me to be able to start my own healing.
Anne: One woman I know, her abusive husband said the same thing. He said, “You file.” She said, “No, I’m not going to,” and she didn’t. He ended up filing later.
Jenn: I was a good victim, so I did what he wanted.
Examples Of Gaslighting
Jenn: In the process, I think it was good for me to have that separation and to just be able to let go and say, “This isn’t my problem anymore.” It did end up being good for me, but I didn’t want him to (file) at the time and I was devastated.
Anne: You didn’t want (to divorce) even though you did it? You were a really good victim.
Jenn: I was the best victim ever.
Anne: Can you give us some examples of how he would gaslight you?
Jenn: One of the first ones that come to my mind is I would feel like something was wrong, and I always felt like something was wrong, but every once and a while I would just feel it really strongly.
I’d be like: “Is everything okay? Is there something going on maybe that you need to tell me about?” He would say: “You know, eventually you’re going to figure out that that’s just your paranoia” or he would question everything I said.
Crazy-Making Looks Like This
It left me feeling like maybe it wasn’t because he is genuinely a very, very intelligent person and so it would leave me feeling like maybe there was something wrong. Maybe it was me. He would turn things around and he would say other people could see it as well and make me feel like I was crazy.
Anne: What year was the divorce final?
Jenn: At the beginning of 2017.
Anne: Can you describe your process after the divorce? Starting to process the abuse and starting to process what had happened to you?
Jenn: As time went on, I still was a pretty good victim for a while after, but I was so much removed from a lot of it that there were times when I had really great clarity and I started to realize that I didn’t deserve this. Because I would feel guilty.
He would attack me, but at the end of his attack when I was upset, he’d be like, “You just can’t handle that someone else thinks differently than you. You just hate that someone else thinks differently than you and you can’t control what they’re thinking.”
How Cover Abusers Work
I would kind of believe him because I was feeling upset by that point and so I’d be like, “Yeah, I kind of feel upset about what he’s thinking.” I didn’t recognize the attack that had happened was actually the cause of what I was feeling.
He never said anything directly. He never said, “You’re stupid.” He just said, “Everyone else gets it and you don’t.”
As I got away from that, I started to have more confidence in myself add then I started listening to different things, like your podcasts, and I started recognizing that he wasn’t very nice. It wasn’t very good.
I started recognizing my feelings and emotions, I just had to bury them deep so that I could just get through each day. The feelings started coming out as I remembered things and I would think about things, or things would be different and I would notice that I was happy.
I hadn’t felt that in a while and I would recognize why. It was because I didn’t feel the pressure. I didn’t feel like I had to constantly please someone else or there were going to be huge repercussions.
Victims Don’t Know They’re Being Abused
As I started to gain confidence in myself, my relationship with my children became even better, and it was pretty good, but they were really struggling. As we worked through it together and found ways to talk about things that were hurting them inside, I began to gain confidence in my mothering skills, in everything around me where I hadn’t even realized I didn’t have confidence before.
Then I started listening to podcasts and reading stuff and, little by little, I started to recognize more and more this was way worse. I think when you’re in the situation at the time you can’t think about how horrible it is because that would be too hard to handle the situation itself and recognize just how bad it is. For a lot of people, it comes after.
Anne: Yeah, the most trauma I ever had was after he was out of the home and I realized how bad it really was. It’s shocking. A lot of people always ask, “Why don’t women get out of an abusive relationship?” and the answer is because they don’t know they’re in one.
Jenn: Anne, it was your podcast, it was the BTR podcast, that really helped me to recognize it. A lot of times, it’s hard to say abuse. It’s hard to say those words and it’s hard to talk about the really hard things like abuse, grooming, gaslighting, things like that.
“It’s Important For The Survivor Of Abuse To Hear Those Words”
It’s really important for the survivor of abuse to hear those words and to understand what really happened to them. Once they do hear those words, it’s lifesaving because it helps you recognize why you had the reactions that you did. That it was really that bad and that’s why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling. It was really important.
Anne: I have a story to tell about Jenn and her ex-husband, John. I know him, personally, I’ve known him for a long time. At UCAP this year, I saw Jenn and John standing in front of my booth. My first reaction was, “Why is he following her around?” because I hadn’t talked to Jenn for a while.
“He’s stalking her,” is what I thought, so I kind of wedged myself in between them to protect her, and then Jenn said to me, “Anne, it’s fine. We’re actually dating.” I almost fell over. I was like, “WHAT?! Tell me the whole story, you have to come on the podcast and tell this story.”
We are going to actually talk with John on next week’s podcast, but before we bring him on to talk about what happened, let’s talk about how you began dating John again. How many years after your divorce?
Jenn: Our divorce had been final for about a year. I knew that he had decided that he needed to go back to see a therapist and start working on addiction. He had told me that he had been seeing a therapist for about six months at that point.
“He Said, ‘I Abused You'”
He came back and he said, “I made a big mistake.” He said, “I want to see if there is any way that I can have you and the kids back in my life again.” That’s kind of how it started.
Anne: What did you think when he said that?
Jenn: For me, I’m a very loyal person, so I was pretty excited. I did have reservations. I didn’t think that he really knew what that meant or how much work that meant, but I was excited.
Anne: So, you start kind of dating again? What helped you feel safe enough to think, “Yeah, I could maybe even attempt to do this?”
Jenn: I made him read that podcast that you had done, that had opened my eyes. Then we went through, and we discussed it. He, for the first time ever, acknowledged what had gone on and that it was abuse. He said, “I abused you.”
We went through and we talked about some ways, because you had gone through and listed things that they would stop doing, and we talked about the different ways that he had done that.
Abusers Must Hold Themselves Accountable
It was a continued conversation. It wasn’t any one conversation, it was lots of little conversations, and he would come back, and he would say, “I just realized that, when I did this, that is what I was doing.”
It’s not something that you stop all at once. He started recognizing on his own, things that he was doing that were abusive and harmful.
Anne: As he’s starting to say this stuff, is he backing it up with action?
Jenn: He wasn’t completely backing it up. He was going to a therapist, but he was nervous about doing the group thing, about having a sponsor for the 12-step program, those kinds of things. He does have a sponsor now and he works with a therapist almost weekly.
There are a few things that I have asked him to do, so that I can see physical evidence of him working recovery, because it’s really easy to say, “Well, you’re not going to see the changes because they’re inside of him.” That was actually used a lot in our marriage.
Anne: But it’s interesting, because you can see them on the outside and you know what abusive behaviors to look for.
Trust Your Instincts
Jenn: I absolutely can and that’s one of the big differences between then and now. Before I would have said, “You can’t tell when they’re working recovery.” Now I know what people are talking about when they say, “You can feel it and you can tell when he’s working recovery.” It really is true.
When someone is not talking to you about their recovery, that means they’re not really working it. Because when he is actually working recovery, he is excited to tell me about the stuff he is learning.
He will bring it up. He will talk about it, he will talk about insights. I have asked that he not talk about any kind of relapses or anything like that. I don’t want to know, at this point, where he is at with that.
I judge, moving forward, solely on how he treats me and the kids.
Anne: So, you’re dating your ex-husband.
Anne: I was very excited to learn that. As I said, I have known him for a long time. I’ve actually known him longer than I have known you, and I love redemptive stories. I really want every single man who has been abusive to stop his abuse and to be reunited with his wife and children.
“There Is Hope For All Families”
Families are what this is about and saving families is what BTR is about. Many people think that BTR advocates for divorce, but that is not what we advocate. We advocate for safety and for families that are happy and healthy, so that a woman can feel safe and at peace in her own home and children can grow up in happy peaceful homes.
I’m going to stop there, and next week we’re going to have both John and Jenn on the podcast at the same time.
I would like to put a disclaimer out that I, personally, don’t know what level of recovery John is in. We’re going to take John where he’s at and not put him on a pedestal as if he’s the example of the ideal man in recovery.
We’re just going to interview this couple now as they date. They share 5 children. They’re divorced, but they’re dating, and see how that feels to us.
Hopefully, we can learn from their story, and if there are any abusers listening that it can give them hope that, if they choose to stop being abusive, if they choose to stop cheating on their wives and participating in infidelity in any form, that there is hope for all families.
Thank you, Jenn. I look forward to next week.
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Until next week, stay safe out there.