Victims of narcissistic abuse know that the abuse doesn’t end after the divorce; in fact, it often escalates.
For June, a member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery, the abuse became more emotionally devastating as her ex turned her faith-community against her. She joins Anne Blythe on the free BTR podcast to share her story of courage and boundary-setting in a time of intense trauma.
Learn three key boundaries that you can set to protect yourself from narcissistic abuse; read the full transcript below and tune in to the free BTR podcast for more.
Boundary Against Narcissistic Abuse: I Will Speak The Truth
Many women face trauma and frustration when their abusive ex-partners drag their names through the mud. Like June, too many victims have been shunned, dismissed, and blamed by clergy, friends, family, and therapists.
One powerful boundary that victims can set to minimize the damage of narcissistic abuse, is to determine that they will tell the truth.
Here are some ways that women can stay grounded in reality by speaking the truth.
How Can I Speak The Truth?
- Journaling the truth
- Confiding the truth in a safe friend
- Joining a support group and sharing the truth there
- Whistle-blowing to authorities
When victims of narcissistic speak the truth, even if it is in a journal that no one will ever read, they are staying grounded in reality and rejecting the manipulated reality of the abuser. This is important because it helps victims maintain their mental and emotional health.
Further, if women take their ex-partner’s exploitative and dishonesty behaviors to the proper authorities, they may be able to hold their abusers accountable. That outcome doesn’t always happen, and sometimes women are further harmed when authorities take the side of the abuser, as was the case for June:
I tried as much as I possibly could to be a whistle-blower in this situation and it seemed like I kept running into these brick walls.June, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community
I Will Surround Myself With Support: Key Boundary To Help Victims of Narcissistic Abuse
When I started setting boundaries, I inevitably made mistakes along the way, as everyone does. I felt like I could come [to BTR Group] with a scenario, a real-life problem, and be directed into what my values were, what my boundaries should be around those values, and what that, ultimately, looks like in practice, and be supported in whatever boundary I chose. That was my boundary, and I was going to be supported in that. I knew I had backup, that was huge.June, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community
Taking courageous action to join a supportive network of safe people is imperative for every victim of narcissistic abuse.
Narcissistic abusers condition victims to self-isolate, ignore self-care needs, and suffer in silence.
By rejecting this conditioning and actively participating in a safe support network, women are able to both cope with the acute trauma that accompanies abusive episodes, and ultimately begin healing from the abuse.
Healing From Narcissistic Abuse: I Will Give Myself Patience & Time
It is difficult to heal from narcissistic abuse because even after divorce or separation, the abuser still tries to control and harm the victim.
When victims set a boundary to give themselves grace and time to heal, they are able to process trauma in a healthier way and build a stronger foundation of safety and self-love.
Healing takes time and healing can happen. You can get to a place where you can be in these situations again and it will be okay. It will be okay for you.June, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community
How Can I Give Myself “Grace” While Healing From Narcissistic Abuse?
In theory, giving yourself grace may sound easy, but how is it practiced? Here are some ways that women can give themselves time and grace as they work toward healing from narcissistic abuse.
- Don’t put any time limits on your grief, anger, or fear.
- Fully experience the emotions as they come.
- Speak kindly to and about yourself as you process the trauma.
- Make note of the ways that you have become more boundaried and healthy and celebrate yourself.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Narcissistic Abuse
At BTR, we understand the depth of pain, terror, and grief that accompanies narcissistic abuse. No one should have to endure that pain and process that trauma alone.
That is why the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in multiple time zones – to offer women a safe place to share their stories, ask questions, make connections with other victims, and process trauma. Join today and begin your healing journey.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
We’re continuing the conversation with June, who is a member of our community.
Before we get to June, many of you know that we have a Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group that runs every day. It has multiple sessions a day in multiple time zones. Our coaches really understand the type of emotional and psychological abuse, and the sexual coercion that wives of porn users are experiencing. They understand how to address it from an abuse perspective in order to help you get to safety as soon as possible.
Emotional Abuse Is Damaging
Alright, now we’re going to join June again. She is continuing this conversation where she’s talking about a conversation that she is having with clergy about her ex-husband receiving financial assistance from the church when he was spending money on pornography and alcohol. He also had plenty of money. He didn’t need to take money from the church. We’re going to continue that discussion now. When she says “he,” she means her clergy.
June: He did say that it’s very clear that he needs to speak with my husband, and he said it’s clear that he does not feel like giving him any more assistance would be appropriate without verifying and looking at his financials closer.
My Clergy Financially Supported My Abuser
It’s hard, because in the Church, in our particular religion, we have these donations set up for the needs of people and I was always very happy to tithe and to give extra to help meet these needs. But there is also [an expectation], at least I was under the impression that there was, for this to be temporary, to help people in emergency situations, and then to also help them focus on their own self-reliance. Maybe work at the Church Welfare Center or take Self-Reliance classes, take budgeting classes, look at the unemployment type of issues. You know, get employment somewhere else or take a second job or something like that.
Anne: Or in long-term situations, with a widow, for example, or like you. You would be a good candidate for a long-term situation. You’re a single mom of four. I would be a good candidate. Widows would be good candidates.
It’s not that it’s always going to be short-term. There are going to be cases where it’s appropriate to have long-term help, but he’s not one of those guys. He’s not disabled. He’s not a widow. He’s not mentally or physically disabled, except for his narcissism. He’s a doctor for heaven’s sake. He’s not a candidate for this long-term.
My Clergy Refused To Help Me
June: Exactly. Conversely, when you compare this to the time in our separation that I was so destitute because he had paid nothing in support for almost five months, I had gone to the bishop and asked for a couple of food orders—which the church has a really great welfare program for food where they deliver food to people in local congregations.
I had asked for a couple of orders until wage garnishment could go through. The bishop gave me a couple of orders, for me and the kids, and then, suddenly, cut me off completely and said, “You don’t need this anymore. I’m not giving it to you anymore.” I still hadn’t gotten any child support checks. I still hadn’t gotten any sort of support.
The despair that I felt, when that happened, is still so painful. It is still one of the most painful feelings that I could describe. I think, I didn’t survive because the Church helped me, I survived in spite of them not helping me at that time, and that’s a hard pill to swallow. That has hurt me for years.
Secondary Trauma, Or “Clergy-Induced Trauma”
Anne: When they’re simultaneously helping your abuser.
Anne: Obviously, not cutting him off.
June: No. I tried to blow the whistle in my local congregation. At the same time, I was doing this, I had also called Church Headquarters. I did call Church Headquarters. I got the name of someone I could speak to in the Auditing Department, and I shared my story with them, and they were completely horrified about my story, completely horrified.
Anne: That’s great news.
“I Really Kept Running Into These Brick Walls”
June: It is great news. They did say that they’d had problems in this area before and that they would see about investigating it. I tried as much as I possibly could to be a whistleblower in this situation and it seems like I really kept running into these brick walls. On top of that, it was everyone that I spoke to or had the chance to speak with was a man. They had never been in this situation.
Anne: I want to tell a story here because you don’t know what the fruits of this will be. When I was a teacher, there was something that went down that was not right, and I wrote the superintendent. I just wrote a really short email and I said, “Hey, this is going down. It’s not cool.”
Don’t Give Up: Hang On And Keep Moving Forward
I didn’t hear anything for, probably, six months. Then, all of a sudden, the superintendent showed up and had a meeting at our school with all the teachers. I was the facilitator of that meeting, because I was the one who had brought it up in the first place, and I had all of the teachers testify of what had happened. A couple of people resigned from the district because of the email and because of what I did. I didn’t really see it immediately.
I think a lot of women try to do things right. They call somebody, they write somebody, they go to a meeting, they speak up, and the person just kind of looks at them weird. They’re like, “That didn’t go well.” But you don’t know what the long-term effects of that will be.
Clergy And Other Religious Leadership Often Do Not Understand Abuse
It might not be that someone resigns, or someone gets fired. It might not be that big, who knows, but I don’t want this glazed-over look that we get from male leadership, pastors, clergy, therapists, whoever it is, to stop us from speaking because you have no idea what has happened. This might start a serious policy change. We do not know.
The other thing that I think is interesting is that I think the policies, for the most part, that come down from the top of Church Headquarters are excellent policies and they’re really great but how they are interpreted at the local level, for example, “We do not tolerate abuse” is great, a great policy.
“Our Safety Is On The Line”
The local leaders, the way they’re interpreting it or the way they’re like, “Okay, I’ll talk to the abuser and see what he says,” that’s where it gets really tricky. I don’t know what the solution to that is, none of us do. Unless we go in and have these meetings, even though my guess is you were pretty terrified after all of the abuse you’ve been through with clergy and stuff, but you did it.
I’m so proud of you and I want to encourage women. Our safety is on the line, our emotional safety, our reputation, people call us crazy, people call us those feminazis and man-haters, but we need to speak up and we need to keep speaking up. We will never know the extent of the influence that we have.
“We Could Change The World”
June: Yes, and, more than ever, I feel so strongly about that. It is easy to get discouraged. It is very easy to say, “Well, they didn’t listen to me,” or, “They didn’t take action right away and that just means they’re never going to.”
Anne: I don’t think that’s true. If enough of us went in and spoke, they would take action, eventually. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next year, but if every woman who has been through this spoke up in every church or in every paradigm or with every single therapist, spoke up, we could change the world.
Clergy-Induced Trauma Leads To Victim-Blaming
June: Yes. Yes. After this all happened, I also made the decision to just start attending this congregation. It came out of the blue, but today, I had someone invite me, and I trusted this person and sat by her. I could not have had a more positive experience when I went to church today.
Anne: Oh, that is such good news. For our listeners, she has been avoiding church.
June: For years, over two years.
Anne: In our church, if you don’t go, it’s like “you’re the guilty one.” Like, “See, she’s the problem because she’s not coming to church.” Victims get labeled with that all the time. It’s so good to hear. I’m so glad. Tell me more.
Clergy-Induced Trauma & Flying Monkeys
June: I went to church and, since this happened, I’ve definitely dealt with my share of flying monkeys in the congregation. That’s a narcissistic term for people who do the bidding and the dirty work of the narcissist by spreading rumors and lies and gossip and things like that. Let me tell you, all those people were there.
They were there in the congregation in the same lessons I was in, and it really was a testimony-builder to me, of the power of healing. You know, I have done a lot of work. I’ve gone to the BTR groups, like you’ve said. I’ve done guided meditation. I’ve done EMDR, inner child healing, cognitive behavioral therapy, and mentorship therapy. I have done all of this work on healing. I’ve read books, I’ve delved into abusive trauma and the impacts of all of that.
“Healing Takes Time”
Today, I can say that I went there, and I was really strong and felt, for the most part, unaffected emotionally. I felt that my boundaries were my boundaries and that those people and what they say or what they think really didn’t have to affect me.
I do not, for one second, want to make it seem that we have a choice all the time for these things not to affect us, but I am saying that healing takes time and that healing can happen and you can get to a place where you can be in these situations again and it will be okay. It will be okay for you. Actually, my husband’s affair partner, who is also in the ward—
Anne: Also, your really good friend, before he had an affair with her.
June: Yes, my really good friend, who is also in the ward, it was her mother who was teaching one of the lessons today. I was like, “Oh, my goodness, what are the chances?” But it was a wonderful lesson, a wonderful talk given at this last General Conference.
Emotional Abuse Includes Gaslighting
It was one of my favorites, actually, by Reyna Aburto. It was on mental health challenges and the stigmatization that doesn’t need to happen for those things. She taught the lesson, it was fantastic. I added some things, because I work in the area of mental health. We got to talking and she didn’t know who I was. She wanted to know who I was, so, in the parking lot afterward, I told her who I was.
Anne: She’s probably heard horrific stories about you, but she just didn’t know you were the one that she’d heard these horrific stories about.
In Spite Of Clergy-Induced Trauma, Victims Can Find Healing & Strength
June: Yes, and I just said to her, “I believe that your daughter and my husband had an affair.” I said, “I don’t want you to feel any way about it, I’m just telling you that I’m the wife.” She said that she was very aware that they had a relationship and she didn’t know that he was still married. We kind of became friends. We talked about our similar career interests and other things, and it was left at that.
There was no way I could’ve had a conversation like that two years ago, when this was fresh. There is no possible way, but today I had a conversation. It was a very difficult conversation with someone I would have never dreamed I could have had a conversation with before.
It’s a lot like the conversation that I had with the bishop. I would have never dreamed I could have such an impactful and pleasant and peaceful conversation while saying exactly what I needed to say.
When Victims Set And Maintain Boundaries, They Can Find The Healing They Deserve
Anne: This is also a testament to healing, but it’s also a testament to being away from your abuser. The “years ago” that you’re talking about, you didn’t have as many boundaries. The manipulation and fog that they can create, when you don’t set boundaries are really dark and really intense. They can set it around a lot more people when you haven’t set the boundaries.
The longer you set the boundaries for safety, emotional/physical/psychological/sexual safety, not only do you get more and more out of the fog, but so do other people. Because these narcissists and abusers, they can’t whip up the fog as easily when their victims set boundaries.
Emotional Abuse Is Invalidation
June: Yes, and I feel that that has also really been a roadmap trying to co-parent with a narcissist. We are still having major issues. Issues where the kids’ safety has even been a concern and issues, of course, where there are just jerky, abusive things going on.
The more that I’m in these situations and the more that I just do not react and just set those boundaries, set the boundaries for safety, set the boundaries that I need to set. The more that I find it’s not affecting me as much.
It’s hard because I do see some of this affecting the children and that is a big challenge. It breaks my heart. When it is very clear to me that, in reading about co-parenting with a narcissist—there are a couple of really great sites and resources on that—but in reading about that, they will use the children to hurt you when it is apparent that they can’t hurt you directly anymore. I feel that is what’s happening and that is horrifying. It’s horrifying.
“He Was Stealing My Clothes”
Anne: It is. The boundaries you have to set are really rough too. For example, I set a boundary that the children go out in the clothes that they came in with. The reason I set that boundary is that he was stealing my clothes.
I would send them out in nice clothes, and he would send them back in hand-me-down rags from his family. I asked repeatedly, “Please send them back in the clothes that I sent them out with,” and he said, “It’s impossible.”
Finally, I just said, “Okay. I’ll send them back in the clothes you send them in.” I saved some of his clothes, from when they’ve come back in rags and one day, I sent them out in his rags. We’ve been doing that ever since. It breaks my heart. My children do not want to put those rags on, and I don’t want to send them out of the house like that but that is the boundary that I set.
“Your Dad’s Choices Hurt Everyone”
I said, “You guys, I’m so sorry.” They said, “Mom, this hurts us.” I said, “I know, your dad’s choices hurt everyone. They hurt me, they hurt you. I am sorry that you don’t have snow boots when you go to his house, but he needs to provide those for you. That’s his job. I am divorced from him. I don’t need to babysit him anymore or make sure that your needs are met, when it’s his job to take care of you.”
It’s so hard to make those choices. You tell me, but I don’t think that women can start making these boundaries unless they have a lot of support and a rational person—meaning someone who understands this type of abuse—to help them set the boundaries because, otherwise, that type of boundary seems really hard.
I seem like I’m this awful, terrible person, who’s sending my kids out in rags, and I had to make that decision based on values work. Assessing my values, assessing the consequences of his behavior to his own children etc.
Betrayal Trauma And Emotional Abuse Go Hand In Hand
Do you think you could have set the boundaries that you set without the BTR community, without Betrayal Trauma Recovery?
June: Definitely not. When I first started learning about boundaries, it was a foreign concept to me. I was never taught this growing up. I was never taught this in my faith. I was never taught this in college even. It has really been a learning process.
When I started learning about boundaries, I began setting them, or trying to. Of course, when I started setting boundaries, I inevitably made mistakes along the way, as everyone does, that starts setting boundaries as a brand-new practice. We all make mistakes.
BTR Helps Women Heal From Clergy-Induced Trauma
Anne: How did the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community help you progress in your knowledge and your application of those boundaries?
June: Definitely, I feel like I could come with a scenario. I could come with a real-life problem and be directed into what my values were, what my boundaries should be around those values, and what that ultimately looks like in practice, and being supported in whatever boundary I chose. That was my boundary, and I was going to be supported in that and I knew I had backup. That was huge.
Anne: The other thing that’s so hard about boundaries–let me read you this quote I just saw. This is a line from Ancient Sanskrit Scripture. It says, “You are only entitled to the action, never to its fruits.” Which I think is really good, and that’s how boundaries are and that’s why people are so afraid to set them.
Set Safety Boundaries And Trust Your Intuition
Because, if you set a boundary and you have no idea what the consequences are going to be, you just have to know that “what I’m doing is for my safety and this is what feels right, right now.” Now, you can always adjust when you think, “Uh, maybe that wasn’t the right thing to do and next time, I’ll do it differently.” As you said, you’re going to make some mistakes and things are going to need to be adjusted.
My boundary that I set was I didn’t want to get divorced. I didn’t think divorce was going to be where that led. All I knew was “I need no contact because I cannot have any semblance of communication with this person without him lying to me, manipulating me, trying to pull one over on me, nothing. There can be no communication without that.” I didn’t know what the consequences would be.
“Focus On The Now, And The Safety At The Moment”
Some women, they set a boundary and their husband is like, “Wow, I’ve been abusive, I’m sorry.” We don’t know what the consequences are going to be and that is one thing that you really need support for. You need support to know, even though this could lead to something really awful or good or bad, we have no idea, if we focus on the now, and the safety at the moment, then it will always lead us down the right path.
June: Exactly, and boundaries can change. When I first started in this process of going through litigation for custody, for example, it was very expected that we co-parent and we communicate. I took what that judge said very seriously. I would write very detailed email updates every month with the kid’s appointments, with how they were doing, with pictures, all of these things to him.
“Where Is The Boundary?”
Very quickly, at this last court date, I found out that a lot of that was used against me. A lot of it was, sadly. Very, very sadly, used against me, and this judge didn’t really care about that so much. He actually made a comment that, “These people are divorced, they’re not going to co-parent, who cares?”
While I am totally and willingly invested in co-parenting with a healthy person, I doubt very much that can happen in my situation. Now I’m left renegotiating. Alright, where does this leave me as far as communication: how much I want to have, how free it needs to be, where the line needs to be drawn. Where is the boundary?
How To Handle Emotional Abuse
In my research that I have done, I learned about the gray rock and they have the no-contact, which is kind of the gray rock, very minimal contact. They also have what is called the “yellow rock,” where you have to have contact with this person.
This would maybe be in a co-parenting situation or maybe with a narcissistic employer or someone you have to have contact with, you cannot get away from it. The yellow rock is a gray rock underneath and it maybe has some yellow paint on it to make it pretty, but it’s really still a gray rock.
That’s been the basis for my communication moving forward. Where my emails to him are short, to the point, unemotional. They are straightforward, full of facts, and that’s it. It is nothing else. Nothing else needs to be there. My communication is polite, but brief. It is the communication that I would have with someone like a boss or a coworker or someone like that.
No Contact & Gray Rock Methods
In my research, I’ve found that that’s the next best thing, the next best boundary that I’m going to try. We’ll see if that works. I don’t know. Maybe, eventually, I will have to go no-contact.
Anne: Yeah. We do no-contact and gray rock. All communication goes through my dad, that’s the no-contact. He’s blocked on my phone and computer, so he has no way of directly calling me or contacting me besides mailing me something or coming to the door, which he doesn’t do. Then, my dad does gray rock to him. I mean we have to have two layers with this guy. He lies to my dad and tries to manipulate my dad. It’s insane.
Okay, we’re going to pause the conversation here and continue it again next week, so stay tuned. June and I will continue talking about all the issues that she’s had to deal with, which are many.
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