Want to Understand Abuse? Leslie Vernick Breaks it Down

Leslie Vernick joins Anne to shed light on how victims of betrayal and abuse can seek safety and peace from abusive relationships. 3 steps you can take today.

This episode is Part Two of Anne’s interview with Leslie Vernick.
Part One: What Does God Say About Abuse?
Part Two: Want to Understand Abuse? Leslie Vernick Breaks it Down
(this episode)

Emotional & psychological abuse and sexual coercion are particularly difficult topics for women of faith to understand.

Leslie Vernick is back on The BTR.ORG Podcast to help Christian women understand Biblical truths about abuse. Tune in and read the full transcript below for more.

Full Transcript:

Anne (00:01):
We are going to continue the conversation with Leslie Vernick today. So if you did not hear the previous episode, that’s where I describe her bio and all that stuff. So go listen to the previous episode first and then join us here. We’re just going to get right into it. So what would you recommend for victims so that they can see facts in all the hurt and emotion and how do facts help us to get out of patterns of enabling into safety?

“God calls us to live in truth and reality and not in wishful thinking.”

Leslie Vernick (00:31):
That’s why we encourage people to document for a number of reasons. One is to help them see that also to help them see that their husband is gaslighting them. Because they can go back and say, wait a minute.

Yesterday or two days ago, two weeks ago, he did say this and he did say he would do this, and now he’s saying he never said it. But he did say it because I remember writing it down and I can prove to myself, even though I’m not going to convince him. He’s going to lie and cover up and tell me I’m nuts, but I’m documenting for my own sanity so that I can see that this is gaslighting or this is crazy making. But I think facts can be really, really helpful for a number of reasons. God calls us to live in truth and reality and not in wishful thinking.

Trust Patterns

And I think if we think about the abuse cycle, if your audience is familiar with it, you have an abusive incident, whether it’s pornography or physical abuse or lying to you or cheating on you or whatever it is. And then sometimes there’s a honeymoon phase where it feels good. Even if you were to look at the facts, he’s attentive, he’s being honest, he’s paying the bills, and you’re thinking, okay, he’s changed. He’s got it. He’s doing good, we’re better.

But you have to look at the whole cycle, and that’s why the patterns are so important for you to pay attention to, because obviously most women don’t marry jerks. They know that they have a good side or they wouldn’t have married this person, so they’re on their good side of the cycle, but the cycle is still the cycle. So the bad side of the cycle is where they start to get tense or they start to get a feeling of whatever it is, a compulsive feeling to act out or watch porn or the shame or whatever’s going on with them, anger that they’re going to abuse or act out.

Leslie’s Car Accident Analogy

Again, that’s the piece that we need to see factual change. How do they handle those moments? That’s where we begin to understand is this person really making changes or are we still in the same abuse cycle? We’re just on this side of the abuse cycle versus this side of the abuse cycle. And so this is really important for women to educate themselves so that they can understand what that looks like. And let me just give you a quick illustration.

I was teaching my pastors at my church about how to recognize this, and so we attend a big church and I said, okay, so let’s say that someone was texting and they crashed into your car, pulling out of the parking lot. They weren’t paying attention. And they said, oh my gosh. And they jumped out of the car. They said, pastor, I am so sorry that I crashed into your car and it was an accident.

Using Scripture to Manipulate

I didn’t mean it, but the Bible says that love covers a multitude of sins and love caves, no record of wrongs. And I’m so glad you’re the pastor because I know you’ll forgive me. Bye. And you’ve got this cut on your head and your car’s crumpled and they’ve never offered restitution. They’ve never offered any kind of care for the pain you’re in that somehow you’re supposed to bounce back, get over it, and they’re sorry.

And that’s sort of what happens in these relationships where the abuser may say, I’m sorry, but don’t show me your pain. Don’t ask me to take you to the hospital. Don’t ask me to pay for any repairs or make any amends because that’s being hardhearted and unforgiving. And so that’s where we really need to stay clear on the facts what is really happening. Because it’s easy to say you’re sorry and then hold the other person accountable for being the Christian that they should be so that you have no consequences.

“No Consequences, No Amends”

Anne (03:45):
That’s a really good analogy. I like it.

Leslie Vernick (03:48):
All the pastors laughed and they said, oh, we would never let that happen. I said, and so let’s say he did it next Sunday and Sunday after that, even if you were gracious the first Sunday, and he kept doing it over and over again, pretty soon you’d say, do not come back to this church or don’t drive your car, whatever. You would have some boundaries there to protect yourself and other people from this person who feels entitled to be reckless and careless with no consequences or no amends.

How does entitlement play into abusive thinking?

Anne (04:12):
You brought up the word entitled. How do you think that plays in with abuse? I mean, we know that it’s a cornerstone of abuse, right? Without entitlement, there isn’t abuse, but can you talk a little bit more about that?

Leslie Vernick (04:24):
Yes. So just like you started this interview with what are the lies that women believe that may keep them in a structure of relationship too long, there are lies that abusers believe, and one of them is, I’m entitled to act however I act with no consequences. Now, they wouldn’t believe that at work, they wouldn’t expect to come in late every day, not show up certain days and expect a promotion or a raise. They probably wouldn’t expect that.

But yet in our Christian teaching, we have said, your husband can act like the devil, but you’re supposed to pretend like he’s superman. You’re supposed to just praise him and encourage him and build him up and never say, wait a minute, you’re acting like a fool. I’m not doing this. And so a husband can drive a family straight off the cliff and a wife’s supposed to submit and smile and trust God, and that’s just not reality.

“They’ll use scripture to confuse a woman.”

Nor does God ask her to do that. And so they feel entitled, especially in marriage. I’m entitled to sex whenever I want. It doesn’t matter how I treated you. Your body is not your own. And they’ll use scripture to confuse a woman. I’m entitled to get out of consequences because you have to forgive me. I’m entitled to have my cake and eat it too.

As long as I say I’m sorry, I’m entitled to hurt you if you hurt me. And this entitled mindset has to change. If you are ever going to rebuild broken trust that you’re not entitled to act, act out just because you feel hurt or you feel sad or you feel lonely or you feel angry.

And that’s why that second part of the abuse cycle, when they start to get emotional, whatever that emotion is, is what they need to learn to manage. That’s why it’s so counterintuitive that betrayal trauma counselors would try to tell a wife that she can’t ratchet that part of the uncomfortable space up so his counselor can help him deal with that, versus I’ve got to soothe him down so he doesn’t feel uncomfortable. He has to learn to manage that.

“You can’t make someone do what they don’t want to do.”

Anne (06:16):
Lean into it, lean into the pain so you can learn to manage your emotions rather than trying to make somebody else do it.

Leslie Vernick (06:23):
It’s not possible. It’s not possible. Even if you wanted to, an example I use with my girls is let’s say your husband’s a diabetic and you really feel sorry for him and you want to help him manage his diabetes, and so you’re going to cook right, and you’re going to buy all the right food and you’re going to do everything and count as carbs and do all that, and you see ’em on the couch eating Doritos and donuts. You can’t make someone do what they don’t want to do.

“They make you think that they want to do it.”

Anne (06:47):
We need to embroider that

Leslie Vernick (06:50):
On our foreheads.

Anne (06:51):
I think the problem with the manipulative abuser is that they make you think that they want to do it. So you think, oh, of course they don’t want to act like this. They’re broken. They experience their own childhood abuse. Of course, they don’t want to act like this. They’re really a good guy. They don’t want to, they just keep doing it accidentally or something, I don’t know.

And then you believe that they don’t want to do it and they’re fighting themselves or something. I think that’s the mark of a truly manipulative person is that they can continue to do this behavior while making you think that they don’t want to do it, when if they really genuinely didn’t want to do it, they would stop.

One Big, Red Flag

Leslie Vernick (07:33):
I would say to the woman who’s listening to her husband in that place, when he’s sorrowing like that, when he’s, oh, I’m so horrible and blah, blah, listen to what he’s sorrowing about, because usually it’s not about who he’s, it’s not like he’s saying, I’ve been a liar. I’ve been a cheater. I don’t want to be that kind of man. I want to be a good husband. He’s not saying that.

What he’s saying is, I can’t believe you’ll believe me. I’ll be all by myself. How am I going to make it without you? I’m not going to be able to have my, he’s sorrowing over the loss of his family, over the consequences. He’s not really sorrowing over his character. So that would be one big red flag that would help you discern where he’s at. But even if he were, I believe that there’s many of us, some of us who maybe eat too much or whatever, we’re like, I hate that I eat too much.

“They’re really not willing to put in the work.”

Why did I eat that? I had a cookie for lunch. I haven’t had cookies for lunch for a long time. I’m glad I eat that. Why did I eat that cookie? I don’t really want to eat that cookie. So we have to kind of say to ourselves, okay, what’s going on with me? What do I need to do differently? And then how do I get accountability, support and structure into my life so that what I want to do, I’m capable of doing it so the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Jesus says.

And so for example, when I wanted to run a half marathon, I had to get an accountability group and I had a running partner, and that’s the only way I did it. I wouldn’t have done it if it was just up to me. I wanted to, but I wouldn’t have actually done the work. And so we have these men who might want to have a great marriage and want to be a better character, but they’re really not willing to put in the work that’s involved in getting there.

Anne (09:01):
That is what I meant. They’re not doing anything about it.

The Old Testament story of Naiman

Leslie Vernick (09:06):
Well, there’s this really interesting story in the Old Testament where Naiman had leprosy and he goes to Elisha’s house and he says to Elisha, he was told that Elisha could cure him of his leprosy. He was not a Jew. And he bangs on the door and Elisha doesn’t even answer the door. And he says, man of Israel, come out and help me. I have leprosy. The king of Israel told me that you would heal me.

And he said, go wash yourself in the Jordan River, dip yourself seven times. He didn’t even open the door and name was outrage. How dare him talk to me this way? Who is he think he is? And so it was like Naiman did not want to comply with the treatment plan that Elisha said is necessary for you to get rid of leprosy. I want it to be easy.

“I’m entitled to have something easy and fast.”

I want it to be fast. Just say a prayer over me, and that’s all I want to do. And that’s sort of the attitude of these men. I’m entitled to have something easy and fast, and if that’s not going to happen, whether restoration of my marriage or restoration of my character. And if that doesn’t happen easy and fast, you have to put in a lot of work in that.

And when you’re not willing to do the work, you don’t get the results. Whether you’re not willing to save for retirement, you’re not willing to stop eating so much, you’re not willing to stop watching porn, whatever it is, if you don’t do the work, you don’t get the results. It’s just how it’s, that’s life, the facts.

Anne (10:13):
I love how you’re talking about that. I think those are other facts that we can look to observe both in them and in us. You kind of hit home, I’m eating pudding right now, I have to admit, chocolate pudding.

“You have to do your work.”

Leslie Vernick (10:32):
Yeah. They can give us compassion and empathy to say, when Galatians says you who are caught in a trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such one in the spirit of gentleness, but understand that restoring someone who’s in a habitual pattern of sin, you want to do that and saying it’s possible, but it’s not going to happen instantly. You have to do your work. And your work is honesty, accountability. You need to be in a group where people know you and can support you. And if you’re not willing to do that, then you’re not going to change. It’s just as simple as that.

And I think as counselors or coaches, we do somewhat a disservice when we tell them that the treatment plan is just some sort of simple prayer and a forgiveness, and then it fixes everything. It doesn’t just like if you had cancer and you needed chemo every week for the next two months, and you went to your doctor and said, well, I don’t really feel like doing that. That’s too hard. I can’t take off work that much. Too embarrassing to have to come to this hospital and get chemo all the time. I just want to come once and that’s it.

No doctor in their right mind would say, okay, well let’s give that a try. But so many counselors let the client dictate the treatment plan. And for this kind of serious issue, you need intensive treatment. It’s not going to happen with just a promise and a prayer.

Why do folks side with the abuser so often?

Anne (11:46):
Why do you think it’s so hard for them to wrap their head around the fact that their loved one is an abuser? How come you think they frequently side with the abuser and decide that the victim is cray right down?

Leslie Vernick (12:05):
I don’t know if it’s blood is thicker than water or that you don’t want to see your own child in a bad light or if you were in that kind of environment. So it’s normal to you and it just is normal. They don’t see it as abuse because it happened to them, it happened to their parents, it happened to their grandparents.

And so it just feels like, why is this such a big deal to you? This is just how things go. This is just how men treat women. Don’t get so upset over it. Don’t get your knickers in a knot. Men watch porn. Just let ’em do it. That’s what they’re going to do, right? Men will be men. Men will cheat. I mean, I’ve heard that so many times.

I had a client once whose husband sexually molested her daughter and all of her little friends at her birthday party, they were like six years old, and it was horrible. And it was the youth pastor and was arrested and put in jail and had a trial and everything. His parents still blamed her like, you’ve made this all up. You’ve vilified our son. You’ve ruined his career. It’s easier to blame someone else than to face your own pain at what’s going on in your own family. And so I think there’s a lot of that going on. I don’t want to see it that my kid has a problem, so it must be you.

When clergy, family, & friends blame the victim

Anne (13:14):
That’s so hard for victims because they think, well, I’m trying to get help, and they’re trying to get it from anywhere that they can. And they sometimes don’t anticipate that perhaps a pastor or a friend or a family member is not only not going to help them, but it’s going to throw them under the bus and enable the abuser, which is really, really hard.

Leslie Vernick (13:34):
Part of it in the Christian world anyway, is that we have kind of made an idol out of marriage that we so value the sanctity of marriage. And I value the sanctity of marriage, but not above the safety and the sanity of the people in the marriage. It’s really true that the sins are passed on to the next generation, to the next generation, to the next generation.

“It’s like pulling a blanket off of a ground with roaches underneath. Nobody wants to see that. It’s ugly.”

Leslie Vernick

When a woman begins to say, I don’t want this happening to my kids. I don’t want to grow up in this environment, have my kids grow up in the same environment I did, I’m going to take a stand and say, Hey, I’m willing to work with you if you want to change and be a different person, but if you’re going to continue this pattern, I’m not going to do life with you.

That can seem very rebellious in a conservative Christian family. How dare you break up the family? She hasn’t broken that family up. She’s just exposed the truth about the family in Ephesians where it says, do not cover over the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. But it’s like pulling a blanket off of a ground with roaches underneath. Nobody wants to see that, so just leave it alone. It’s ugly.

A “Clash of Values”

Anne (14:33):
So as you’re talking about these third party people who are putting so much pressure on her saying you’re being rebellious because you’re setting a boundary or you’re holding ’em accountable, and they’re not only feeling that pressure, but they’re feeling very guilty, and it’s sort of this clash of values. What do I do? I feel torn. I want to live in truth, but I don’t want to break up my marriage. What would you say to women who are having that clash of values who want safety, but they also do want a good marriage. They don’t want to break up their families.

Leslie Vernick (15:03):
Absolutely. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but you said it perfectly, Anne, you said this clash of values. And the interesting thing about it is God himself has a clash of values. So let me give a couple examples. In the Bible for example, in the 10 Commandments, it says, thou shalt not lie. So that’s one of God’s highest values. It’s in the 10 commandments. And yet when Rahab, the prostitute and Joshua lied to keep the Israelites spies safe from the people from her own land that were seeking to kill them, she lied.

She said they went that way when they really were hiding in another place, God commended her, saved her life. And actually she’s in the Hebrews Hall of Fame as an amazing woman, but she lied. So there’s a safety value that God has. Or another example, God says that we should, his value is that we should obey and submit to our authorities.

A Hierarchy of Biblical Values

So here we’ve got two examples, one in the Old Testament, one in the New Testament where King Saul was David’s authority, and yet Saul was treacherous. He was trying to kill David because he was jealous of him. And David fled. He didn’t say, now, David, just trust me and stay put and suffer and sacrifice. And no, he said, get out of Dodge. David did, and David didn’t retaliate against Saul, but he didn’t trust him.

And baby Jesus, when baby Jesus was under Herod’s authority and Herod was seeking to kill all the babies under the age of two, God woke Joseph up in a dream and he didn’t say, now Herod’s going to try to kill baby Jesus, but just stay put and I’ll keep you all safe. He said, flee. And the Bible says, the prudent, see, danger and take refuge. And so this hierarchy of values, you can’t stay healthy, be healthy, get healthy, or provide healthy for your children if you’re living in fear and terror all the time.

“Safety is an important value to God.”

And so safety is an important value to God, and it’s not wrong for you to say, until we can create safety, we can’t live together, we can’t sleep together, or we can’t do life together because safety is important for anybody’s maturity. Our brain has two channels. One is safety and one is growth. And if the safety channel is hijacked because you are in an unsafe environment, guess what gets closed? Your growth channel, you’re not worried about growth.

When you’re worried about your safety, you’re just worried about safety. So children who grow up in an environment where there’s a lot of turmoil and screaming and lack of safety, their growth channel of learning and maturing and all that is shut down because their body is hardwired for fight or flight, and that comes first.

And so we have to recognize that safety, physical safety, emotional safety, financial safety, sexual safety, spiritual safety, these are important values to God. And we do not have to be apologetic or ashamed for taking them to heart in our own life.

“Divorce, unfortunately and contrary to popular belief, does not stop abuse.”

Anne Blythe

Anne (17:48):
I could not agree more. That was an excellent explanation of that. Thank you. One of the things that concerns me long-term for victims is that divorce, unfortunately and contrary to popular belief, does not stop abuse. It does provide a boundary, and it does provide a layer of safety that you don’t have if someone’s living in your space or if you’re married to them. It can provide some layers of financial safety, for example, and other forms of safety. However, it cannot stop the abuser from being abusive. So for women who share children with their abuser, they can put a bunch of boundaries around that, but the abuser can still be abusive even after divorce.

So post-separation abuse is a very real thing. When you share children, there’s no way to permanently get away from that. What would you say to women who are continually needing to set boundaries for post-separation, divorce, who are dealing with abuse long-term, even after a divorce?

Biblical Advice for Women Enduring Post-Separation Abuse

Leslie Vernick (18:50):
Yeah, a couple things. One is Jesus says something very interesting, and I won’t have a whole lot of time to unpack it here, but he says to his disciples when they’re going out, he said, be as shrewd as serpents, but as innocent as doves. In other words, he’s saying, there’s going to be some people who are going to be out there to harm you, and you better be shrewd about that. But don’t retaliate. Don’t repay evil for evil. Be as innocent as doves.

And so I think that would be the advice that I would tell women who are in this kind of situation is that it’s very tempting to repay evil for evil and to get into a shouting match or a power struggle or all those kinds of things with this, that’s not going to be good for you. It’s not going to be good for your kids, but the narcissist or the abuser will try to pull you into it because the more he can make you look bad, the more ammo he has against you with your children.

“Stay Calm & Stay Clear”

And so this is going to be such an important part of you making sure that you’re doing your own work. So stay calm to stay clear. Don’t get into arguments or defending yourself with them. Do not get into long explanations. Don’t get into trying to understand each other. It’s not going to work in marriage. It’s not going to work in divorce. So you have to do your work to stay like Teflon.

Every time he tries to push your button, you’re not reacting because the more that he can do that, the more he will. If it becomes, they use the term gray rock, if it becomes very boring for him to interact with you because he’s not getting anything out of it, then he might not do it as much. But if he can provoke you to react, especially in front of your kids or in front of someone else and make you look like a bad guy and make him look like the victim, he’s going to do it as much as he can.

The BTR.ORG Living Free Workshop Can Help You Learn Post-Separation Strategies

So be strategic. That would be one thing. Get some coaching on how to be strategic with yourself and with him. Second of all, if you’ve been married to a narcissist, a narcissistic abuser, understand that they have two high values. One is to always be right and one is to always win. So pick your battles. Pick your battles, because they will fight you on littlest thing in order to win. So if you don’t show your cards and you don’t show what matters to you, then they can’t try to win because they don’t know.

It’s better for you to stay more silent and not say, I really want the kids for Christmas this year, or This is really important to me because as soon as you let him know that he will try to hurt you with that. So keep your cards close to your best and don’t share a whole lot and try to be as cooperative and conciliatory as you can so that they think they’re winning and you get what you need, which is peace and quiet and not being attacked all the time.

The BIFF Model

And that may take some coaching and some strategy depending on who your abuser is and how you’ve interacted with them in the past, and as little a contact as possible, as factual, as contact. So they had this method called brief, informative, firm, and friendly, brief, informative, firm, and friendly. And I would recommend engaging in that.

I think you start to feel so like, what is wrong with me? And why would my husband treat me this way? What was so bad about me that he had to go to all these other women and use porn? And you start to have these horrible sense of value and worth feelings in your own self. And when you’re a part of a group of other women and you see smart, talented, beautiful women who have also been rejected, who have also been abused, you’re starting to say, wait a minute.

Detoxify – See Reality

This isn’t my problem. This isn’t our problem as a woman, it’s a problem in the culture. It’s a problem with men. And I’m not going to feel the shame as much of his sin anymore because I have other women who I see are just as hurt and just as normal and just as talented and beautiful as they can be, and their husband still did this to them. And so it really helps to detoxify. I think the shame of what their husband has done, it helps them to put it on the place it belongs and not on them.

Anne (22:32):
Well, thank you so much for sharing today. We have Leslie Vernon’s book, the Emotionally Destructive Marriage on our website. Highly recommended and her other books. Thank you so much for sharing today, Leslie.

Leslie Vernick (22:54):
It’s my pleasure.

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    This episode is spot on. I am so grateful for this discussion. Down to the details and examples.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

recovering from betrayal trauma
Have you been lied to? Manipulated?

Discovered porn or inappropriate texts on your husband's phone?
Are you baffled by illogical conversations with him?

Here's What To Do Next

Get the steps we wish EVERY woman had!

Check your inbox to see What To Do Next. We'll be with you every step of the way.

Get the Podcast Straight to Your Inbox Every Week

Get the Podcast Straight to Your
Inbox Every Week

Welcome to the BTR Podcast! Keep an eye out for our first email!