This interview is part of a series.
Join us here for part one: What You Need to Know About Emotional & Psychological Abuse
The French Fry Analogy
Anne and Virginia use the “French Fry Analogy” on this podcast interview to explain why lying, gaslighting, and blame-shifting about “small things” can be a HUGE red flag.
In this analogy, your husband tells you that he’s made the decision to stop eating from McDonald’s for his health. But when you’re using his car one day, you lose a quarter and as you search for it, you happen upon a McDonald’s French Fry:
“When you were like, ‘Hey, where’s this french fry from?’ If he’s a healthy person, he might say something to you like, ‘Oh, I know I forgot to tell you, but I wanted to stop eating McDonald’s. But I did go and I ate french fries. One of ’em must have gone missing; I’m embarrassed about it and I don’t know if I’m going to be able to keep doing my goal right now.”
Anne Blythe, Founder of BTR.ORG
A “Small Lie” Can Indicate BIG Problems
“Let’s pretend that that whole scenario is the same, but instead when you find that french fry, you go in and you say, ‘Hey, I found this french fry.’ And they say to you, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t even see a french fry.’ Or, ‘I don’t know how that got there. One of the kids must’ve had french fries and got in my car and dropped it there,’ and they start gaslighting and lying. They would not be a healthy person.
That would be psychological abuse and emotional abuse, even if it was just about a french fry, deceit and gaslighting and turning the tables. And then to take it even further, if they were like, ‘Why were you going through my car and why are you trying to check up on me?’ And maybe even, ‘I don’t even know what you’re talking about. I never told you that I wasn’t going to eat at McDonald’s. Of course I’m going to eat at McDonald’s.’ So you can see all the levels of abuse that might happen due to that french fry if the person was abusive.”
Anne Blythe, Founder of BTR.ORG
It Doesn’t Matter if It’s About Something Big Or Small
A Lie is Still a Lie
Gaslighting, blame-shifting, lying, deception, and turning-tables are emotional and psychological abuse – whether they’re about a french fry, infidelity, finances, or anything else.
Emotional and psychological abuse do severe harm to victims.
If your husband is employing these tactics about small things, consider that you may not be experiencing emotional and psychological safety.
BTR.ORG Is Here For You
At BTR.ORG, we offer resources to help you identify and process reality. Consider attending a BTR.ORG Group Session today.
Welcome to BTR.ORG. This is Anne. Virginia is back on the podcast. Today we’re talking about other modes of learning through metaphors. We talked about infographics last week. We’re also going to talk about the meditations. If you missed last week, start there first and then join us here, and we’re just going to jump right in. So Virginia was mentioning that a while back that I had said just a little bit about this analogy that we call The French Fry Analogy, and she had searched around on our website to try and find it and she couldn’t find it.
So we are going to go over it again today just in case our memory is not serving us correctly, and perhaps I didn’t talk about it on the podcast, but it’s a really good analogy. So here’s the analogy that she was like, Hey, you should talk about this again. Alright, so let’s pretend like your husband is a healthy person, that he’s not emotionally or psychologically abusive, that he’s a good guy and that he’s healthy and that he really cares about you and that he is honest. And he comes up to you and he says to you, Hey, you know what? I have been eating at McDonald’s too much and it’s not healthy for me. It’s kind of bothering me. I don’t really like it, so I’m just letting you know that I’m not going to ever, ever eat at McDonald’s again, ever. And you as the supportive wife would be like, sounds great, honey, right?
The French Fry Analogy
Because this is not that important of a thing. You’re like, okay, shine on you. Do you, good for you. Then he kind of doesn’t say anything else about it. You’re just like, great, okay, good for you. Three weeks later, you have to use his car for something. So you get in his car and you lose a quarter. Let’s say the quarter kind of falls down through the cracks and you’re like, oh, I’m going to try and get that quarter. In trying to get the quarter, you also find a french fry. That french fry is unmistakable. It is a McDonald’s french fry. You know what it looks like. You’re like, this is a french fry. So you get your quarter out, you get the french fry out, and you go to your husband and you say, Hey honey, I lost this quarter. And when I found it, I also found this french fry.
How Healthy People Respond
Now if he’s a super, super healthy person, he might say something to you like, oh, I know I forgot to tell you, but I wanted to stop eating McDonald’s. But I did go and I ate french fries. One of ’em must have gone missing, and I’m feeling so stupid about it. I’m actually kind of embarrassed. I had told you that I wasn’t going to eat french fries ever again, and there I am eating them. So, so embarrassing. I would not say that that’s an abuse episode. I would say, this is a person who this thing is not that important. They weren’t trying to deceive you. They weren’t trying to hide it from you on purpose. And then when you were like, Hey, where’s this french fry from? They’re like, oh, yes, I did. I did. I’m embarrassed about it and I don’t know if I’m going to be able to keep doing my goal right now.
How Unhealthy/Abusive People Respond
Let’s pretend that that whole scenario is the same, but instead when you find that french fry, you go in and you say, Hey, I found this french fry. And they say to you, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t even see a french fry. Or really, I don’t know how that got there. One of the kids must’ve had french fries and got in my car and dropped it there, and they start gaslighting and lying. They would not be a healthy person. They would be psychological abuse and emotional abuse, even if it was just about a french fry, deceit and gaslighting and turning the tables. And then to take it even further, if they were like, why were you going through my car and why are you trying to check up on me? And maybe even, I don’t even know what you’re talking about.
I never told you that I wasn’t going to eat at McDonald’s. Of course I’m going to eat at McDonald’s. So you can see all the levels of abuse that might happen due to that french fry if the person was abusive. So Virginia, when you were like, Hey, I want you to talk about this on the podcast, was there a specific part of that analogy just with the french fry, not with pornography, not with anything else where you’ve got finding the french fry and here’s maybe what a safe, healthy person might, how they might respond and how an abusive person would respond. Was there anything specifically about that that really struck you?
When Abusers Lie About Small Things
Well, I think it captured what was happening for me. And like you said, they were small or smaller. They can be smaller situations. It wasn’t necessarily porn because at the time he was lying and I didn’t know he was using porn, but there were other situations where he would tell a story. I would be somewhere I would overhear him telling a story and I had never heard the story before. And then later I might approach him and say, oh, I never knew that you’ve been to England before. And he would say, I never said that story. I never said I’ve gone to England. Or he would make up stories to people about things that hobbies he had or abilities that he had that he actually did not have. And then to me, he would deny that he had made up those stories. They were small things. Now looking back, they feel so much bigger. I realized how big they really were, but they would be smaller things. So I would just kind of let them go at the time. But I can now just look back and see the pattern of different french fries that I was finding in the figurative car
And you not realizing that even if it was just about a french fries, just about a french fry or just about him going to London, that his denying it, lying, deceit, gaslighting was severe emotional and psychological abuse.
Right? Oh, for sure.
Lying About Important Issues
So then you add something that you actually do care about because if you’re like, I don’t care if he eats McDonald’s or not, who cares? If he wants to do that, fine. But then if we’re talking about something that’s super important, that’s one of your sexual boundaries, I don’t want to have sex with someone who uses porn or I’m not interested in having sex with someone who lies to me or I’m not interested in having sex with someone who exploits vulnerable women by abusing prostitutes or something like that, and they’re lying about that. That adds a whole other traumatic level of emotional and psychological abuse because it is something very important.
So why do you think the emotional and psychological abuse that is really severe? That’s about London that I think a lot of women actually probably see. My ex did it about Tai Chi. He told people that he knew that he’s obsessed with Tai Chi, and I’m like, he never even took a tai chi class until after I called him out on it one day. I was like, how do you know so much about Tai Chi and have you taken a class? And he was like, I read an article about it. And I was like, what? It was so crazy. Why do you think that women kind of dismiss this really actually quite severe emotional and psychological abuse when it doesn’t seem to be about something important?
When Victims Cope by Minimizing the Abuser’s Behavior
I think for me, I feel like I didn’t have proof. Everything inside me was saying something here is wrong. This is not normal to lie about going on a trip to England or to London. This is not normal. But my brain would say, well, this isn’t that big of a deal and he’s not using porn. He’d said he wasn’t using it and he’s not doing these other things. I can think of way worse things he could be doing. So maybe this isn’t that big of a deal. And I think it was easy to rationalize it to say, well, kind of back to that upward trajectory, that graph in the infographic. Well, yeah, this is not normal. This isn’t ideal. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, but he’s making progress because he later admitted it to me or he’s doing it less sometimes maybe or he’s told me he loved me or just things that you’re like, okay, well at least there’s progress even if this is still a problem, it’s still progress.
“It wouldn’t be progress unless it was genuine change, not just changing up abuse tactics.”
I think that’s interesting because if you think about the progress, so I was talking to my dentist about this. This was after that I was separated, but I said, yeah, he had stopped screaming and yelling in my face or something. I can’t even remember what it was, but let’s just pretend like that’s an example. And so I saw that as progress, and he was like, what whatcha talking about? I’ve never, ever screamed and yelled at my wife say, I know my dentist really well. I went to high school with him. He’s a good friend of mine, so I know that this is true, right? I know his wife and stuff. And he’s like, what? That’s progress from being these horrific, horrific behaviors saying, okay, well at least he wasn’t screaming and yelling in my face. At least it was just a kind, gentle lie. So I guess that’s progress. That’s where victims are in their brains that they’re like, wait a minute. It wouldn’t be progress unless it was genuine change, not just changing up abuse tactics.
Lundy Bancroft talks about that in his book too, in Why Does He Do That? he says, A lot of women are willing to not get to safety per se because they see a 5% improvement. So if you’ve had a hundred percent abuse and he’s improved 5%, you’re still experiencing 95% abuse. So thinking that that’s awesome. Maybe next week it’ll compound and it’ll be 90% abuse. Rather maybe think like, I’m going to get to safety right now and try to reduce my exposure to abuse by a hundred percent and then over time see if he’s safe from a safe distance rather than being willing to experience some percentage of abuse.
“I didn’t understand how much danger I really was in, until I was in a safe place and I could look back”
And that made me think of a situation that I oftentimes think about when I look back on my experience and I imagine myself standing outside of my house in a crazy hurricane storm like lightning and rain and wind, like crazy wind, and my hair is flying everywhere and branches and leaves and just debris is flying all around me.
Imagine all of that debris flying around me, all the storm, the vortex around me being the abuse that I was experiencing. And then I imagine me putting my hands over my head just a little bit preventing from maybe from a stick, from flying and hitting my head. That’s a small improvement from not having any protection, but it’s something. And that’s kind of the little things that he would do that I would see as progress. But the only thing that really created safety for me was walking to my house, stepping inside and closing the door and I could look out the window and see the crazy storm that was going on outside, but it wasn’t hurting me anymore. And I think that’s the only time I could really see the abuse for what it was because in a moment I just felt like at least I’m not being hit by all these things. At least I’ve got a little bit of protection, but I didn’t really understand how much danger I really was in until I was in a safe place and I could look back and see how dangerous it actually was.
“Do I just want to be in survival mode every single day?”
Well, and part of it is almost the adrenaline and of the chaos. You might not realize how cold you are, for example, until you get inside and you’re like, oh, wow, I was really cold and miserable. But in the moment, you’re just trying to make it down the mountain or survive, which is why people call abuse victims survivors because every day they’re surviving. They’re in this sort of mental and emotional and psychological life and death situation, and every day they’re surviving. And so that’s why they’re called survivors, even if they’re still in the abuse surviving one day at a time. But all of us have had this point where we sit back and think, well, wait a minute. Do I just want to be in survival mode every single day? Or do I want to actually be able to rest and be safe in my warm house with a cup of hot chocolate? Or do I really want to be in that type of chaos all the time?
Yeah, I don’t.
Lying about small things is a HUGE red flag
Yeah, me either. So I think that french fry analogy is good. If you find being like, wait a minute, if this were about a french fry, it still would be severe and intense psychological abuse. Then you can know that the situation is bad. If someone is willing to completely deny, lie, gaslight, blame shift, about a french fry, which is not that big of a deal or some other thing like that, that’s a really big warning sign that they are emotionally and psychologically dangerous. So I want all the listeners to consider things that you may have thought, well, that’s not that big of a deal when he denied that you had a conversation about changing the oil or picking up milk from the store or something. It’s not only emotionally and psychologically abusive in and of itself, but it likely also indicates that that is the part of the iceberg that you can see and that there might be way more things that you can’t see and things that are really harmful that are also happening and that just never, ever forget that that gaslighting and emotional abuse and psychological abuse, no matter what it’s about is always going to be dangerous.
BTR Social Media can help you stay centered throughout the day
So circling back to social media, I know social media is complex, right, and it’s complicated, but for you, why do you find that following BTR are engaging with people through our social media platforms has been useful too?
For me, it’s been bite-sized pieces of information. So every day it’s just a good resource. I can get on and digest one little topic, one little quote or a thought or one are the reels that Jane does, and it’s just something for me to think about that day. It’s not like I’m spending, I listen to the podcast, but I am not committing every day to listen to an hour podcast or half an hour podcast. It’s just one little post or one minute video that I can think about throughout the day. So I just think it’s a way for me to learn more about abuse without having to spend the time every day.
Victims learn differently – try different BTR resources to help you get to safety
As you’re sharing that, it reminds me of one of my good friends in real life. She’s been in several abusive relationships, and I would always kind of try and talk to her about it, and she didn’t want to talk about it that much, and I’d be like, well, listen to my podcast. Except for I didn’t want to make her listen to my podcast because that’s annoying. And we’ve been friends forever. Long before I started podcasting. We’ve been friends and she never really paid attention to it or listen to it. And then one day, our sons were on the same baseball team, so we were sitting there watching and I was talking about it more and I’m like, you really need to listen to it, and you could follow us on Instagram or other things. I don’t do the Instagram videos. Jane does those, right? So I show my friend and she loves Instagram, and the next time we hung out, she was like, oh my word, I’ve been learning these amazing things from this awesome Instagram account.
She’s like, I realized that my ex is abusive. And I’m like, yeah, I know. I’ve been trying to tell you that. And guess who she learned it from? Jane from the BTR Instagram account, which I obviously supervised, the founder of BTR. And I thought, I’ve been trying to tell my friend this. I have this podcast. She has literally me in her life. She hasn’t been able to wrap her head around it. And then she watches Jane on Instagram and suddenly she gets it. And I was a little bit frustrated and confused, but then I saw the beauty of it because then she told me, yeah, listening to your podcast was really triggery. It was too overwhelming and kind of too much for me. And I just, the length of it, and maybe even because she knows me in real life, maybe that was overwhelming.
BTR.ORG Resources for YOU!
I have no idea. But the little bite-sized pieces for her were what really helped turn the corner and helped her realize what had been happening and then helped her start to heal. And so if people are like, oh, it’s just social media, it’s not therapy. I think that it has value and people are all different. So some people are able to really face their pain. Some people only want to face the pain a little bit at a time. Some people really want to dig in. So I’m really proud of BTR in general, that we have so many different avenues for people to get educated. There’s a podcast that’s more long form, like an 20 minutes of more in in-depth information, short videos on Instagram, but also a live group where women can go and actually interact with our coaches and individual sessions. Our Workshop, we have a meditation workshop that you don’t have to talk to anybody, and it’s just very relaxing and helps you process.
Yeah, the meditations I thought were super helpful. They are guided meditations and there’s different topics. I found them very healing and so sacred is kind of the word. It really helped me to connect with myself and to visualize myself stepping into safety when that’s really scary for me in real life. It helped me to visualize myself becoming empowered and accepting that I don’t know what’s going to happen, and also loving myself. I felt like there’s one point where you revisit your younger self and you just express love. And I felt like it was just so healing and just powerful me. So I really, really love and value the meditations.
I Am Just Right
One of them is called I Am Just Right. And that one, I talked with Virginia after she did it, and she said that she was just crying, that you were crying at the end and were those good tears.
Oh, definitely. Yeah, I was. So it’s just like healing tears where you’ve just had that moment where you just feel like love for this part of yourself that needed that love. I loved it.
Yeah. I had wanted to do those meditations so that women could process their emotions in a different way, which is kind of similar with the infographics and with metaphors and all of the different content that we produce here with the intent to help women understand and different types of content or different kinds of services, speak to women in different ways because we’re all different. So we are here for you and we really, really care. And it’s my goal and the goal of the whole BTR team to really try to help every woman understand this. We don’t want anyone to be trapped in abuse. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today.
Yeah, no problem. And thank you, Anne. Thanks for all you’ve done and for creating B T R. I love this community and it’s been so helpful to me, and I’m just really, really grateful. So thanks for everything that you do.