When women come to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, they often ask the question, “Well, what if I’m the abuser? My husband calls me abusive all the time.” These women have been betrayed, emotionally abused, sexually coerced, and oftentimes physically assaulted by their abusive partners.
How can an abuse victim wonder if she is actually the abuser?
It’s actually a very common false belief that betrayal trauma victims must process and work through. Sarah McDugal from Wilderness to Wild returns to the free BTR podcast to take a deep dive into how an abuser’s devaluing makes a victim question her own worth to the point where she may wonder if she is actually the abuser. Listen to the free BTR podcast and read the full transcript below for more.
Why Does My Husband Call Me Abusive?
It’s important to understand that in a marriage marred by betrayal, there is one victim and one perpetrator.
Abusers will do just about anything to take on the victim role because it enables them to keep on abusing while shifting blame, shame, and responsibility onto the real victim’s shoulders.
Calling you abusive when you are the victim is a serious form of devaluing. Devaluing is a psychologically lethal tactic. If he can keep you certain that you have little to no worth, he feels control over you in the assurance that you probably won’t set boundaries to protect yourself from his abusiveness.
This Is Why You’re Not The Abuser
If your abusive husband accuses you of being abusive, consider this question:
Do I feel entitled to control my husband or am I trying to re-establish safety?
Abusers will label boundaries, limits, and safety-seeking behaviors as controlling, codependent, and abusive.
But if you ground yourself in the truth and make your safety your priority, you can rise above the fog of abuse and begin your journey to healing.
Why Does Protecting Myself Feel “Abusive”?
Have you tried to set boundaries to no avail? Have you set limits, left, or made requests but felt guilty or ashamed for “controlling” your husband?
Sarah McDugal explains:
You have every right to live in a home environment that is free of chaos, and control, and infidelity. You have every right to live in an environment of peace and truth and harmony. You have the right to choose that, and that environment is what God wants for you as his daughter.Sarah McDugal, Wilderness to Wild
Abusers revolt against boundaries. Whether with violence and aggression or passive-aggressive sulking and silent treatments, their revolts can feel overwhelming and leave even the strongest of women feeling powerless.
You are strong. You are capable. You are worth it. You can do this. You don’t have to do it alone.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Can Help You Set Boundaries
The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is a fantastic resources for women seeking help in learning how to set and maintain safety boundaries.
Victims need support – you need support.
Seek support as you begin your journey to healing.
And remember, you are not alone.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
I have Sarah McDugal back on today’s episode. We’re going to continue our conversation, we’re going to talk about devaluing today, but before we get to that, life is hard right now. I’m going through my own difficult time. I listened to Though You Slay Me by Shane and Shane today and it kind of expresses how I’m feeling.
Join the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group
I believe in God, and I want to praise him, and I want to thank him for everything that he’s given me in spite of the fact that I feel abandoned right now. Yet, I can also see all of the blessings. So many blessings that he’s given me. So, I just want to give a shout-out to my Heavenly Father and thank him for being with me even if I can’t feel it. I also want to give a shout-out to all of our members of Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group. We love you. Being in this group is amazing.
You can be anywhere and get love and support and know that you’re not alone. We’d love to see you in a session today.
Rate the BTR Podcast
For those of you who have rated the Betrayal Trauma Recovery podcast on Apple Podcasts or other podcasting apps, thank you. Here is a five-star review we just received. It says: Such healing for me listening to this podcast. It’s not my fault my now ex-husband is a sex addict. The betrayal was so hard and soul-crushing. I had the courage to say no more and moved out after dating for three years and married for three years.
“Devaluing Is Always Part of the Abuse Process”
Okay, now for my conversation with Sarah. If you didn’t hear last week’s conversation with her, listen to that first and then join us back here. We’re talking about devaluing today and I’m going to start by setting the scene.
Anne: Why does devaluing have to be a part of the abuse process? What would happen if it was not? What I mean to get at is that devaluing is always part of the abuse process. It’s always going to be part of this cycle. There is this grooming where you feel valued, you feel loved, you feel cared about, even though it’s just grooming, it’s just an illusion. There’s always this cycle, the part of the cycle that includes the devaluing of putting you down or dismissing your concerns, not taking accountability. We might want to talk about some specific examples perhaps from Every Man’s Battle that you brought up.
Then there’s a real discard part, usually of the abuse cycle, which is where they just flat out go have sex with someone else or scream and yell at you or whatever. There is going to be a real explosive part of it. Why do you think they have to include that devaluing rather than just go from grooming to some explosive I’m going to have sex with other people or something like that? To me, the devaluing section seems like the justification for their bad behavior. It has to be part of that cycle because if you take devaluing out, there’s no way they could justify those behaviors.
The “Vortex Of Abuse”
Sarah: For sure. In any vortex of abuse, and I hesitate to call it a cycle because sometimes these things happen in and out of order all at the same time. I like to call it a vortex. But in any vortex of abuse, you’re going to have bouncing back and forth between manipulative kindness, I would hesitate to use the word kindness, but manipulative niceness, because nice is a tool to get exactly what you want. That’s that love bombing kind of phase where love is completely absent, it’s just bombing niceness.
Then, at some point in the process, there is the deflection of the responsibility off of the abuser and onto you. That is where, as you said, the abuser justifies their behavior later instead of taking responsibility for it. Because if your abusive partner actually saw you as a whole honorable valuable human being equal to themselves, and equally precious as themselves, if they viewed you that way, then they wouldn’t need to tear you down at all because they will be valuing you for who you are. Because they don’t value you for who you are, innately, they value you for what you can accomplish for them or how you make them feel. So, they value this hologram of you that they have created, and in order to keep you there, in order to keep you from having the confidence that it takes to break out, in order to keep you from pushing back and demanding better they have to make me not believe in yourself as well. They have to make you feel obligated to merge yourself with the hologram, which really means erasing your core identity, your humanity, your personhood.
Abusers Strive To Blind You To Your Own Worth
Without that, if you continue to believe strongly in your preciousness as a daughter of God if you continue to believe or you begin to believe, if you didn’t before, that you are deeply valuable, that you are incredibly priceless, and worth everything to God. You become more and more impervious to the manipulation of an abuser. When you realize that people can hurt you, but they can never add or take away from your value or your worth as a person. When you begin to realize that other people can make you happy or sad, but when God looks down from heaven and he sees you he sees a woman of incredible worth and value and he sees the truth of who you are as He created you to be. He does not see what someone has done to you. He doesn’t see you defined by tragedy and trauma and betrayal. He recognizes that those things have made you vulnerable, but he doesn’t see those as the total of who you are. He sees who He created you to be. Now, if your abuser can keep you blinded to that, then you will stay.
Why Does My Husband Call Me Abusive?
Anne: When we’re talking about this, I think a lot of victims get a little triggered because their abuser is accusing them of doing this very thing. Their abuser is saying to them, you don’t value me for who I am. You don’t respect me; you don’t support me. You don’t do these things for me. So basically, the thing they’re doing to you, they are accusing you of. So a lot of women get very confused because they hear this talk about really valuing people or valuing their partner or whatever, and they’re genuinely trying to value their partner and their partner is accusing them of not doing it as part of the abuse.
Trauma Mama, Husband Drama
I’m going to take a brief break here to talk about my picture book for adults, which is called Trauma Mama Husband Drama. Thank you to all of you who have given it a five-star review on Amazon. When you purchase the book, please go back and give it a five-star review on Amazon. All of those ratings help people find us and even if they don’t buy the book, it helps them find this free podcast.
Here’s one of the five-star reviews from Amazon. It says: Nailed it. This story does a beautiful job of helping women experiencing betrayal trauma to feel understood. This book will also help those on the outside to see the women they know who were experiencing betrayal trauma are experiencing abuse and placing the burden for fixing things on the victim is not helpful. I love how the book offers potential for hope through boundaries. The illustrations are fantastic and do an excellent job of portraying the pain and confusion women in betrayal trauma are experiencing. Buy this book, if you know any women in betrayal trauma. Hint: You know many. It will help them know they aren’t alone. Buy this book for therapists and clergy members who are supposed to support women in betrayal trauma. It will help them understand the women they desire to help.
Now back to our conversation with Sarah.
Get Out Of The Fog Of Gaslighting
How can women realize that these same sort of tactics that are being done to them, they’re being accused of, and how do they get out of that fog?
Sarah: Okay, so first of all, and I don’t know what your experience has been, but with others that I’ve worked with I can say we’ve never met an abuser who doesn’t claim to be the victim because the mindset of entitlement means that when they’re not treated with free access to the power that they believe belongs to them. They feel like the victim, right? I just saw a meme yesterday I think it was that sums this up beautifully. The accusations that you get from an abuser are best understood as confessions.
So, when you know that you are bending over backward to be Christ-like, to show love and peacefulness and patience and kindness and gentleness and faithfulness and self-control and goodness, and you’re doing everything you can to love like this in your marriage, despite betrayal and trauma and abuse, it is absolutely common for the person who is perpetrating all of those things to turn around and accuse you, at the nearest hint of accountability, to turn around and accuse you of not loving them for who they are.
“My Husband Calls Me Abusive”
So part of the fog that I think pretty much every victim of betrayal trauma and abuse goes through is this sense of wondering, am I really the abuser? There’s this phase in the process of recognizing abuse for what it is and recognizing betrayal trauma for what it is that is very common among women, and that is this self-doubt and second-guessing. Have I caused this? Is this partly my fault? How much responsibility do I carry? And if you have an abuser who is filling your ears with, “Oh, well, look at you. You’re un-Christ-like, you’re not being patient with me, you are demanding too much.” I mean I have heard all kinds of different things. “You want me to just get over this addiction. You want me to just stop sexually acting out. What, you might leave? Oh, my goodness, you’re as bad as a wife who would walk away from a husband who has cancer. This is a disease; I can’t help it. You’re really the abuser. You made me do this.” And on and on and on.
He Calls You Abusive To Devalue “Your Confidence In Yourself”
So, there are all kinds of variations but it’s really very classic textbook. It’s all the same playbook even if there are variations on it. The purpose of that is to devalue your confidence in yourself, in your understanding, and in your commitment to finding health and safety honestly. So, what I want to do to answer your question is give a kind of a rubric.
These four things are first isolation. Someone who is being abusive is going to want to trim down the victim’s access to other people and other relationships. They’re going to undermine or potentially poison other relationships. They’re going to have this us versus the world, it’s you and me against everyone else baby kind of idea, and they’re going to feel an act betrayed if you confide in anyone else if you tell anyone else the truth. If you seek help from anyone else they’re going to not appreciate that, and that is called isolation.
You Are Not The Abuser If:
Now, if you are the one saying please go get help, let’s go to counseling, let’s go talk to someone, you go get accountability, talk to friends, bring more people into this situation, you are not the abuser. Now, once in a while, there will be an addict husband in the context of this audience, who is the one saying, “Yeah, let’s go get counseling, let’s go to therapy,” but very often they’re going to be firing those therapists, they’re going to be wanting to find new ones, they’re going to be accusing you of turning the therapist to your side. They’re going to be saying, “Well, when we go it’s just all about you and they turn against me,” or they’re just going to passive-aggressively not follow through with the homework, not actually do the assignments and not put the effort into the work, even if they’re trying to look good by going. Or they’ll be secretive about what the therapist or the counselor is having them do if they’re going by themselves, instead of being open and honest about it.
Anne: Or lie about it. You know, the therapist says that you’re the one with the problem, the therapist that I go to says that you need to go to counseling and we need to do marriage counseling because he’s done what he can with me and really it’s you. That kind of line.
My Husband Calls Me Abusive, But He’s The One With The Sexual Addiction
Sarah: First of all, addiction is not a marriage problem. Sexual addiction and betrayal are not marriage problems. Abuse is not a marriage problem. It’s a sin problem. It’s an abuse problem. Sexual addiction is a sin problem. It’s not a marriage problem. It’s not about marriage counseling.
So, if someone is telling you, “Hey, we need to go to marriage counseling because I’m using pornography or because I’ve had an affair.” No. Marriage counseling is not the first step out of the gate for that.
So, the first thing then is isolation. The second thing is deflection, and this is where all the bad stuff slides off of me and onto other people. So, the question would be are they accepting the negative attention that is a result of their choices and actions, or are they are deflecting it off?
My Husband Calls Me Abusive & Blames Me For His Choices
Anne: Trying to make it someone else’s fault? Yeah.
Sarah: That can range from the devil made me do it, to you just don’t give me enough sex, to I was tempted by that magazine, to I really can’t help it, to it started in my childhood, to my mom was mean to me, to it was really my dad’s problem, to whatever it is. It’s just as long as it’s not their fault, and that’s deflection.
Then the third thing is manipulation, and it’s basically the same kind of thing. So, manipulation is all the good stuff comes to me. Deflection is all the bad stuff slides off on to everybody else. So, who is the one benefiting in this situation? Who’s the one with less work? Who’s the one who’s gaining some kind of gratification or benefit out of it? That’s manipulation. And then the fourth one is intimidation.
My Husband Intimidates & Devalues Me
Now, a lot of times we think of intimidation as abuse. That’s the thing when the guy gets loud or gets aggressive or there’s some kind of altercation and there’s like physical intimidation. We think of that as the abuse, but all of those other things that happened first, the isolation, the poisoning of relationships, the deflection, which deflection is hardcore devaluing because it’s making sure that the other person takes responsibility for their sins, and that’s devaluing the other person.
Manipulation is another form of devaluing because it’s taking away credit and good things that belong to other people, and devaluing others around them by denying them what belongs to them. Stealing the good stuff. Even if that’s just their right to a peaceful environment, right. So, the fourth intimidation, that isn’t always though just loud aggressive stuff. That can also be silent treatment. Anything that makes you scared enough that you will alter who you are to avoid it happening. So, if you’re the one who’s like rushing around picking things up before he comes home, not because hey, I really just wanted to be nice before my husband comes home from work, but because he might get mad. Or you’re the one who cancels going out with friends because you know that he will probably make some snide remark. When you’re changing good healthy things so that you can avoid a reaction that you’re afraid of getting, then it’s intimidation.
My Husband Says I’m Abusive Because I Asked Him To Stop Spending Time With His Enablers
Anne: It’s coming back to me though that so many victims are terrified of what their abusers going to do, and so they start engaging in some of these behaviors. For example, they might want to “isolate” their abuser from their flying monkey friends. The people who when they tell the story to about how terrible their wife is, and she won’t give him sex, and she’s so controlling, and yada yada. You know all the abusive things they tell them, that then those people enable him. So, I think there are times where victims unknowingly are engaging in these types of behaviors because they’re still trying to manage the abuse and reduce it.
What would you say to women who are accidentally, sort of in an effort to have peace and safety, trying to “isolate” their abuser from his flying monkeys?
Look At Your Motivation Behind Your Actions
Sarah: I think that’s really a great question, and it’s important to point out that the root motivation for these kinds of things makes a huge difference. There are two different types of motivations. One is feeling entitled to control the other person. The other is seeking to re-establish safety. If you find that you are falling into this category that you’ve just described, and you’re motivated by this intense desire to make your world safe again, that is typically a response to trauma. It is because you’ve been made to feel profoundly unsafe.
So, let’s just say you were in a carjacking. You would probably spend a very long time nervous about getting in a car. You might compulsively check the backseat and the trunk of your car for months after experiencing a carjacking. Is that because you have a desire to control all of the rest of humanity? No, it’s because you have a deep need, based in trauma, to try to make sure that your environment is safe. It’s called hyper vigilance. Now, if you’ve experienced betrayal trauma, it’s really common for women to go through the experience of hyper vigilance, and possibly come across as controlling in some way because they’re trying to return their environment to one of safety. The thing is, that is not a motive of entitlement to power over or feeling that you have the right to control other people. It is a vastly different mindset. Now, that doesn’t mean that you should stay in that mindset. If you are in an environment that is causing you to be constantly hyper vigilant, it may be a good thing to get out of that environment, right? Because you can’t heal in the same environment that made you sick.
My Husband Says I’m Controlling
Anne: I bring that up because so many victims are being told that they’re too controlling or that they too are engaging in these types of behaviors where they’re trying to isolate the abuser from the Flying Monkeys or things like that. I need women to have the self-confidence to say I deserve peace and safety and truth. My intention is peace and safety and truth. Are the current behaviors that I am engaging in, are they getting me to peace and safety and truth? Because I assure you, if you try to isolate your abuser from his flying monkeys so that your abuser is closer to you, that is not going to help you. You’ve basically just walled yourself in with your abuser rather than putting a wall between you and the abuse.
Sarah: Yes. So, instead of escaping the castle, you’ve basically barricaded yourself underground in the dungeon with the one person who has continued to harm you.
Protect Yourself From Your Abuser And His Enablers
Anne: Exactly, exactly. So, if you find yourself engaging in some of these behaviors, like isolation or other things that perhaps you’re accused of, and your intention is safety and peace and truth, take a look at that and think, okay, am I keeping myself in this dungeon? Or am I putting a barrier between me and the harm? What you need to go for is that barrier, and if you’re doing that, that is not going to look like control. It’s not going to look like isolation. It’s going to look very different.
Sarah: Your abuser may tell you that it has control because to them it’s controlling because there are now limits on their bad behavior. Your abuser may tell you that it is abusive because, guess what, they don’t like having their bad behavior limited. But, you have every right to live in a home environment that is free of chaos, and control, and infidelity. You have every right to live in an environment of peace and truth and harmony. You have the right to choose that, and that environment is what God wants for you as his daughter.
You Deserve Peace & Safety
I would totally agree, in my coaching work the biggest obstacle that I see women having to heal is believing that they actually deserve it.
Anne: Yeah, I agree. Believing that they actually deserve peace and safety and truth or just believing they deserve love.
Sarah: All of it. Because the devaluing has very often been so covertly and insidiously played out because it has often been so complete by the time they begin to wake up. Women very often don’t believe that they deserve it.
Anne: I think there’s some religious scripting there, too. Where they’ve been told your role as a woman is to support your husband, your role as a woman is to be Christ-like, your role as a woman is to do these things. So, not only do they not feel like they deserve it, but in many cases, they feel like it’s their job to self-sacrifice.
Sarah: But God doesn’t tell us to sacrifice who he made us to be in order to cover someone else’s sin.
Anne: Right, but I think that would be the second reason. Number one, they don’t feel like they deserve it. Number two, they feel like they wouldn’t be following God’s path for them if they set a boundary because good Christian women don’t set a boundary and kick their husbands out.
My Husband Calls Me Abusive For Setting Boundaries
Sarah: It’s this whole girl scout mentality. Good girls clean up the path. Good girls: when you hike, you pack it in, you pack it out. You never leave litter on the trail. If someone else left litter on the trail, what do you do? You pick it up and you pack it out. It doesn’t matter if you’re the one who put it there. You make sure it’s better than it was when you found it. Now I live in the south of the United States, and this is very much the quintessential Southern woman, but it’s also just very common in many faith community indoctrinations, and that is that it’s the job of the woman to clean up after everybody else. Period. Emotionally, physically, sometimes even spiritually.
Anne: Yeah. If you pray enough, you can save them.
Anne: If you pray enough, then this can happen. Have faith.
Sarah: I just did a pretty scathing video review on the book Every Man’s Battle, which is about sexual addiction. I need to do one on the book The Power of the Praying Wife.
Anne: Ugh. Yeah.
You Cannot Cause, Cure, or Control Your Husband’s Abusive Behaviors
Sarah: As a young newlywed clergy spouse, that was one of the books that all my girlfriends and I read together and did a Bible study on together. That was The Power of a Praying Wife and this whole idea that you can get someone to change by praying for them. Now, caveat, I absolutely believe in the power of prayer; I know we plan to pray together some later. I absolutely believe that we as godly women can have a powerful transformational influence on the people around us. So, influence and prayer are huge things.
Don’t anybody listen to this and then say, “Oh, well, Sarah McDugal, she doesn’t believe prayer works.” That is not what I’m saying. I’m saying that not even God can change someone who refuses to change. So, yes, pray for your addicted, betraying, abusive spouse. But you cannot just expect that they will transform based on your prayer if they are not repentant. God does not force anyone to change against our will, and it is just as much their right to continue to live in a toxic abusive way as it is your right to choose not to join in the toxic abusive behavior. You want them to respect who you are, you have to respect who they choose to be to, and sometimes that means respecting that they have chosen to be awful. That’s who they’ve chosen to be, and sometimes you have to choose to pray for them from a distance.
Make Safety Boundaries Based On Reality, Not On Potential
Anne: That respect, for respecting them for who they really are, will help you make choices based on reality, rather than what you want them to be.
Sarah: We do not make those decisions based on potential. It is based on reality.
Anne: Sarah and I are going to continue our conversation next week, but before we go, Sarah has developed this amazing tool for women who feel really isolated. Now, we recommend that women join Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group who feel isolated because you can immediately talk to women who get it and start forming friendships that way. These friendships are online, and Sarah has developed a way to help you develop friendships in your local area. I’m grateful for Sarah’s friendship with me. Through my personal friendship with her, I have gained so much faith and hope and just, I don’t know, fun. It’s delightful to be friends with her. There is a silver lining to it by way of you will make the best friends you’ve ever had in your whole life. I’m going to have Sara talk about that for a minute.
Incredible Giveaway From Sarah McDugal
Sarah: One of the things that I want to offer you totally for free today as a giveaway, of being just part of the podcast today, is a guide to a new friendship network in one year. This is specifically for you if you are struggling to make friends after betrayal trauma. If you have lost most of your friends and maybe even some of your family along the way and now you realize that you desperately need new friends and a new social network if you’re going to be able to heal and thrive, this is a free proven four-step process to help you make new friends in one year.
Again, please stay tuned. I’ll be talking with Sarah more next week.
If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. Until next week, stay safe out there.