It’s no secret that narcissistic abusers groom their victims carefully, sometimes meticulously. Grooming is simply the process that abusers use to convince victims that they (the abusers) are safe, loving, and victims themselves, in order to keep the victim in the relationship.
Understanding the three common ways that abusers groom victims can empower women to set boundaries and be on the lookout for their own safety.
Chelsea is back on the BTR podcast with Anne to share more of her story, including the tactics her abuser used to groom her. Listen to the free BTR podcast and read the full transcript below for more.
Narcissistic Abusers Use Sob Stories To Groom Victims
Chelsea’s ex-husband used his traumatic childhood and sad stories from his previous marriage to groom her.
Playing the victim is a common tactic that abusers use. Abusers will exploit the victim’s empathy and compassion to keep the victim stuck in the relationship. When this type of grooming is occurring, victims may say things like:
- “I would leave, but he has abandonment issues already from his past”
- “He only hurts me because he has been so hurt”
- “He just needs someone to show him that they won’t leave him, no matter how badly he behaves”
- “He only treats me like this because it’s how his family showed him that this is how relationships work”
- “If I leave him, he’ll hurt himself”
- “He has attachment issues”
- “He’s just pushing my limits to test how much I love him”
- “If he goes to therapy, he’ll get better”
- “I can’t be angry about how he treats me because he went through so much as a kid”
- “Considering what he went through, he’s actually a really good person”
The truth is that many, many people have had traumatic childhoods, and many of them do not abuse their partners.
Abuse is a choice.
When abusers say that they are abusive because of their traumatic childhoods, they are not taking accountability.
Narcissists Use Third Parties (Like Therapists) To Groom Victims
Abusers often use therapists, clergy, family, and friends to groom victims.
They will convince third parties of their “goodness” and allow these third parties to relay the message of how wonderful they are to the victim.
This is confusing, to put it lightly, because victims trust what these third parties have to say. When they are getting conflicting messages – the abuser is harming them, but everyone they trust is telling them what a fantastic person the abuser is – they may doubt themselves.
Many abusers are able to create a picture-perfect public image.
Victims must learn to stand in their own truth and find a strong support system to help them discern and stay in reality.
Love Bombing To Groom Victims
Perhaps the most easily identifiable form of grooming is called love bombing.
Abusers groom victims by appearing to be the “perfect partner” at some point in the relationship.
Abusers do whatever they need to in order to make the victim feel loved, safe, secure, and wanted.
When victims begin to notice abusive behaviors, it may be difficult to acknowledge reality because the love bombing period was so wonderful and the feelings associated with that time period were so special.
BTR Group Sessions Are Here For You
Grooming is an insidious tool. Abusers groom victims to manipulate them and keep them stuck in a perpetual and painful cycle of abuse.
BTR Group Sessions are a safe place to process the agony of abuse, talk through boundary setting, and begin your journey to healing. Join today.
Anne: Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
Sometimes on the podcast, you’re going to hear a sort of a choppy transition. If you hear that, just know that perhaps the guest and I were talking about some things that are not safe to share on the podcast. For example, perhaps a specific location or a specific time. In this one, I jumped right into quoting some scriptures and so I just want to warn you about that weird transition.
BTR is Inter-Paradigm
I had a Shero get-together at my home with women who live in my local area and one of the women, she’s not atheist but she’s not Christian, her paradigm is like Mother Nature. She is an amazing person and I want to acknowledge those of you who don’t share my particular Christian paradigm or perhaps you’re Christian but not of my particular faith. Whatever paradigm or faith that you come from, you are welcome here. The reason why we talk so much about faith, at least for me, is because that’s how I process my trauma through my own lens of my own paradigm. I want everyone to know that you are welcome here, you matter. And I’m grateful that this is a place where women can really share from the heart. So, in that spirit, I’ll be sharing some scriptures today, but it’s not with the intent of like proselytizing or anything like that. It’s just sharing my experience with something that really helped me process what’s happening and also taught me a principle that I believe is very applicable in our situation.
All right, I’m going to jump into the conversation now.
From your perspective, why do you think it takes so long to understand that you’re being abused? And maybe someone is pointing it out to you. Why do you think it takes maybe someone saying hey, that’s abuse for victims to understand that they’re being abused?
“The Art of Gaslighting”
Chelsea: For me personally, I think it’s the art of gaslighting or the manipulation involved where for so long before anyone has even become aware of or you even tell anyone or, you know, maybe you nobody knows this is what you’re going through. For so long you’ve been told by the abuser that it’s you. So, I wish I could tell more people because anyone I talked to their first thing has always been go to marriage counseling and I’m like marriage counseling was so detrimental for me. It’s was like we go into session talking about the infidelity or like, the abuse, and everything, and somehow, we ended up talking about forgiveness and the five love languages.
Anne: I hate The Five Love Languages. That’s so funny that you say that. Anytime I hear somebody talking about his love language is this or my love language. I am like, ugh, throw that book in the garbage.
Chelsea: I have a friend on social media who’s a dating coach and he talks about how that can end up being used. Basically, just that you’re not giving me enough of this, so I treat you this way.
When Therapists Get it Completely Wrong
Anne: Yeah, this is my love language, and I deserve it. Right? Or I’m entitled to this because it’s my love language. And of course, they’re always going to say their love language is sex.
Chelsea: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I’m just like, how did we start these sessions with this, and five weeks, six, eight weeks later we’re talking about how I need to forgive, or I need to put more positive bids into our marriage or just any of these marriage counseling things. I’m like this never; none of this got to the root of the problem.
Anne: It’s nonsense when it comes to abuse, but the weird thing is, marriage counselors in general don’t assess abuse first. They just literally go right into positive communication or let’s do a date night every week or you know, whatever. If it really was an abuse situation, which all of these are, there’s no way you’d be telling somebody to go on a date with their abuser every week or even do the other things they say. It’s literally crazy.
“It’s The Opposite of Safety”
Chelsea: To me, it’s like the opposite of safety. Like you’re asking me to be vulnerable and to forgive someone who has not shown me that they’re a safe person
Anne: Or trust someone who’s completely untrustworthy.
Chelsea: Yeah. They end up using that against you because it’s like well, they’re the marriage counselor so you need to work on this. It’s like they bring up this list of things the marriage counselor told you to do and they’re not even working on whatever they told them to do.
Anne: Well, it’s hard to tell them what to do, because it’s like, don’t cheat. And they’re like, well, I haven’t cheated since I did last time, and I’m not going to do it again. So, what else are you supposed to tell them? Like that’s it.
Chelsea: Have more positive communication or whatever. But yeah, I mean, I think that’s what makes it go on for so long. It feels almost like a video game or something. Like, you have to go through all these levels before you’re like okay, I’m not dealing with this anymore. That’s how it felt to me. He made it seem like that too. Like, when they’re in the bargaining phase or whatever, they just start begging you to try one more time or try something different. So, it’s like, just a cycle of how many levels do I need to go through before this just isn’t going to work?
Grooming: Part of the Cycle of Abuse
Anne: That’s part of grooming. It gives you hope that change might be possible, right? Or they’re willing to work on it. So, it’s essentially just a grooming tool to hook you back into the cycle. I think grooming is what is confusing all women about their abusive relationship is that there are these times when they genuinely want to “work on it,” right, or they’ll go to therapy, or they seem to understand. They have these moments of what looks like true introspection, where they apologize. I know how much I’ve hurt you and I don’t want to break our family up; this is the most important thing to me in the world, or you know, whatever. All that is, is grooming and grooming is abuse. I think people are seeing like okay, it was good, and then it was bad. We were happy and he was nice, and then it was awful. They’re not recognizing that that nice part, that good part, that part that he’s “understanding it” or he’s cherishing you is not good.
Chelsea: And this is my case, but I also think it’s a lot of people’s. The abuser doesn’t think they’re doing that or see that they’re doing that. So, it’s like unintentional. So, it’s almost like I can’t call that abuse because he’s not doing it intentionally.
Anne: I use the Book of Mormon. I know other people don’t, so don’t freak out. Moroni 7: “For I remember the word of God which saith by their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also.”
Using Your Personal Truths To Help You Discern Reality
So, this is confusing, right? Because you’re like, this is good. They were nice, they were kind, so are they good? And then in 6, it says, “For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, he prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. 7 For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness. 8 For behold if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly;” so there’s something in his heart. “wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God. 9 And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man if he shall pray and not with areal intent of heart; yea it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such.
10 “Wherefore, a man being evil cannot do that which is good; neither will he give a good gift.” So, this grooming, it seems good, but it’s not a good gift. It’s actually bad. And 11 “For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follows Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil.”
“The Intent of an Abuser Is Control”
So, really the intent of an abuser is not true peace, is not true righteousness. The intent of an abuser is control. The intent of an abuser is to get something. So, in that moment, where he seems genuinely caring, and he seems genuinely interested in you, he seems genuinely repentant, something like that. The difference between that and a righteous gift or a true gift is that there are strings attached. There is a goal there. It is goal-oriented. So, in other words, he’s super sweet and nice to you, and you’re amazing and you’re beautiful when he wants to have sex, or he wants to get something from you when he wants to exploit you. That’s what makes it grooming.
Once he gets that thing, the devaluing and the discarding happens because it was only goal-oriented. Whereas true love, a good gift, a gift that is genuinely cherishing someone else never has strings attached to it. It’s not goal-oriented. So, they would say you’re amazing and beautiful, regardless of whether or not they wanted to have sex with you, whether or not they wanted something, whether or not they want to exploit you. They just are like wow, you’re a delightful person. I really like being around you, with absolutely no goal. That’s the difference.
“It’s Just Wanting to Protect Themselves & Exploit”
When you say that they don’t intend to hurt me or they don’t intend to be abusive, right? So, a lot of people will be like well, they don’t know they’re abusing me, so how can it be abuse? That’s not what defines abuse. What defines abuse is that it’s harmful to someone else. So, they don’t have to know what they’re doing in order for it to be harmful to you. The abuse is the harm. It’s not necessarily their intent, but if their intent is completely selfish and goal-oriented then it’s going to be exploitative, and it’s going to be abusive. For example, their intent might be I just don’t want her to know the truth because if she found out the truth, she would kick me out of our apartment. Let’s say, okay. So, the intent is not to get kicked out of the apartment. They’re not thinking, I’m going to abuse her, ergo, I’m going to lie. The only thing they’re thinking is, I don’t want to get kicked out of the apartment. So, their intent is to deceive so that they can maintain their entitlements so that they can exploit you and so that they can maintain their status. None of that is ever thinking oh, I’m going to abuse her on purpose. It’s just wanting to protect themselves and exploit.
Chelsea: That was so good because that’s something in so many conversations I’ve had. What happens when, you said like getting kicked out of the apartment, when that conversation is more like I don’t want to lose you? Because I think that one’s really hard because then there’s the implied value as their spouse or partner or whatever.
Trauma Mama Husband Drama
Anne: I am going to take a break here for just a second to talk about my book, Trauma Mama Husband Drama. You can find it on our books page which has a curated list of all of the books that we recommend. My book, Trauma Mama Husband Drama, is a picture book for adults. So, it is the easiest way for you to explain what’s going on to someone who might not understand it, it’s also just a good reference for yourself because it shows what’s happening with very telling and emotional illustrations, as well as infographics at the back.
“An Abuser Does Not See His Victim As A Person”
Anne: In that case, I don’t want to lose you, they don’t know who you are. An abuser does not see his victim as a person. What they see is a pile of things they want. So, they see a pile of sex, someone who will cook for them. They don’t actually see an individual that they’re going to partner with and have an actual relationship with. So, when they say I don’t want to lose you, what they’re saying is I don’t want to lose sex, I don’t want to lose someone that’s going to vacuum the floor, I don’t want to lose any money and having to pay you alimony or child support or anything. I don’t want to lose the privilege of looking like a great guy at church and showing up on Sunday with my wife and kids. I don’t want to lose my reputation. I don’t want to lose all of these other things.
My guess is if you really pressed this and said what is it about me specifically that you don’t want to lose? I don’t really think they would be able to answer it, and I don’t recommend people asking questions like that because they could come up with an amazing answer and all you’re doing at that moment is handing your abuser a shovel to further groom you with. The abuser is in a trench, they’ve dug it through their own viewpoint, and they’re really entrenched in there. And we never want to give them a shovel to dig themselves any deeper into that trench. So, I think questions like that are going to just be handing them a shovel. And that’s why I don’t recommend doing it because they’re either going to groom you more or they’re going to abuse you in some way, devalue you in some way. Either way, it’s abuse to you and it’s an unsafe situation. But you would know if they valued you already. You would feel it. You would know if they really genuinely valued you, and it would be consistent over time. You would not have abuse and then grooming and then abuse and then grooming. You wouldn’t feel like you were married to Jekyll and Hyde.
It’s Not Your Fault
Chelsea: Yeah, that’s what was hard for me for so long. I thought this vulnerable victim-part of himself that he would show me with him, and then start getting the whole picture and that all was part of him. The big part for me, I know everyone’s different, I stayed so long because I in a way I guess I was codependent and that I felt bad that he suffered so much, that he had these issues. And I’m sure there was a lot of grooming as well.
Anne: Yeah. Well, think about like a girlfriend who’s been through really hard times who is like a good friend of yours. Like she’s kind, she’s supportive, she validates you. She does not use her difficult story or her difficult upbringing as a weapon to abuse you or to excuse her mistreatment of you. She doesn’t use it to try and get people to feel sorry for her. Her response to her trauma was post-traumatic growth where she was like, you know what I’m going to go to college, and she’s just an incredible, amazing person. There are so many people who have had very difficult situations in the past, they’ve had trauma in their childhood, and they don’t abuse other people. They make really good choices. They think that is not the kind of life I want.
“These Sob Stories Are Only Grooming”
And so, if anyone ever looks at you and says well, I was abused as a kid and my life was really hard, as a way to excuse or to give reasons for their bad behavior. You can just look at them with a deadpan face and say, so? I know someone who went through that, and they don’t abuse their wife. None of that is a reason. Think about yourself. You went through a very difficult situation, and maybe your upbringing was bad, I’m just saying the general you, and do you lie and manipulate people? We just need to remember that all these sob stories, when they’re told in this context, are only grooming. That’s their only purpose. The purpose is to make people feel sorry for them so they can get away with bad behavior.
Chelsea: Yeah, for sure, and I was groomed very early on, but I told you how it all started. Well, I would say a month or two even before that was when the grooming began. In hindsight, where he started opening up about his childhood and stuff. Or like things he had done in the past, like with his ex-wife that brought him so much shame, and all this other stuff he said and cried and everything. And now, I’m like a major red flag, major red flag, but in hindsight that was clearly when the grooming began.
“You Don’t Want To Start There”
Anne: Exactly. They want to start out getting people to feel bad for them. So that’s another thing for all the listeners, is that if you start the relationship out with them trying to get you to feel bad for them, then you can just stand up and get an Uber and go home. You don’t want to start there. And also, if you’re there in your own healing, if you show up on a date or with a person, and that’s what you lead with; I’ve been so victimized. I’m not talking about validation at BTR or any other situation. Any other situation with girlfriends, go for it. I’m talking about somebody that you’re interested in as a date. That’s dangerous because then they’ll be like, oh, I can just tell them I’ll never do that to you, and I’ll never leave you and that is like giving someone a shovel. So, I would say abstain from dating while you’re feeling that vulnerable until you can get strong enough that you would never lead with that in a relationship.
Chelsea: I know that’s true, but the way you worded it about someone starting off with that because I think that happens actually a lot and we don’t realize that it’s grooming even from day one.
“I Am Whole. I Am Working My Way To Healing.”
Anne: A great way to start a date would be like my life is great. I love it. Even if it’s not. Then people are like well, you know you’re not vulnerable or whatever. But I’m just saying get yourself to your place where you feel like I am whole, I am working my way to healing, I’m doing really well. That is a good place to start dating from, I think. Rather than I’m trying to date to get someone to help me or I need something. I think that’s just too vulnerable of a place for us especially when we’ve been victimized so much. That it just sets us up for more victimization.
Chelsea: Yeah, that’s so good. I’ve done a lot of deep dives on my own story, you know, over time, and I still have revelations like all the time about things I’ve been through.
Anne: Even now, like seven years later, I’m still getting insights about like, why did I think that, or this is what was really happening. I thought it was about this and it was about this totally other thing. There are insights that we have over time where we’re like oh, that conversation wasn’t even about that. One of the things I’ve recognized is that my ex would get in a fight with me late at night, and then he would leave the house because he was so mad that he just needed to cool down. Well, now I am 100% sure that that is not the reason he left. He did not leave because we were in a fight, and he needed to cool down. He had something he wanted to do. Maybe solicitor prostitute, maybe he’s a voyeur and he looks in people’s windows, something. I have no idea what that thing is. And he had to figure out a way of getting out of the house. So, he picked a fight in order to have a “good excuse” to leave. Now I know that that was the case, but at the moment, it really felt like we were having a legit fight. It felt like at the moment that was reality. And now I’m like oh, that wasn’t even a thing. Like we weren’t even in a fight. There was nothing to fight about. He just manufactured that in order to be able to say I need to go. There’s an example. So, a lot of things like that, that women are experiencing where they think the reality is he’s not attracted to me, and he stomped out of the house. They don’t know that he was just like okay, I’ve got to get a house. I’ll just tell her she’s a bad cook and she’ll get mad at me, and then I’ll get to go.
Chelsea: Yeah, I felt that it definitely happened to me a few times. I don’t know what he was doing, but that’s a very good point.
BTR Group Sessions Can Help You
Anne: Do you have anything else you want to share with women who are maybe hesitant to join BTR Group Sessions, or maybe this is their first time listening to the podcast, and they’re kind of like uh, is this for me? This seems kind of extreme, I’m not sure if this is abuse.
Chelsea: I get like being hesitant because I think it’s like admitting it, admitting this as a problem. It’s almost like taking a huge step in itself, and maybe that’s where the resistance comes from, but for me, it was just so helpful. There were times when an incident would happen, and I’d have to wait a week so my therapist, or maybe some don’t even have a therapist, but like maybe your friends or family don’t know what’s going on. I know I didn’t always want to be calling them every time something happened, so I remember it was once I finally like, joined, it was just such a relief to know like anytime there’s an incident I could get on the same day. Sometimes I wouldn’t even need to talk about it, but it was just like being in that space where I felt safe and not alone because it’s such an isolating experience to be going through this. Even just sitting and listening was so helpful because it made me not feel crazy. It made me not feel so alone.
Support the BTR Podcast
Anne: Our community is incredible, and I always say that when one of us has an epiphany, all of us have an epiphany. When one of us gets to safety, it makes it better for everyone. We’re all working on deliverance together. And together, we can make this world a safer place, starting with our own home and then spreading it out to other women across the globe.
I’m so grateful that you found us, and I’m grateful that you came on today to share your story. Thank you so much.
Chelsea: Thank you for having me.
Anne: If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. Until next week, stay safe out there.