Psychological abusers are masters of underscoring the affects of psychological abuse and conditioning victims to wonder if they’re even victims at all.
Christine, a member of the BTR.ORG community, is on the podcast with Anne, answering the question:
How Does Psychological Abuse Affect You?
Tune in to the BTR.ORG podcast and read the full transcript below for more.
Psychological Abuse Can Affect Your Physical Health
In the BTR.ORG community, many women experienced negative consequences to their physical health as a result of psychological abuse, including Christine:
“My body and my health have suffered so extremely because of the length of time that I sat in this abuse.”
– Christine, BTR.ORG Community Member
Victims of psychological abuse may experience:
- Brain fog
- Sleep issues
- Digestive issues
- Chronic pain
- Autoimmune disorders
- Pelvic pain
- Poor immune function
Psychological Abuse Can Take a Toll On Your Mental Health
Victims of psychological abuse in our community have also reported that psychological abuse takes a significant toll on their mental health, causing them to experience:
- Eating disorders
- Obsessive thoughts
- Religious scrupulosity
- Panic attacks
Psychological Abuse is Deeply Painful
Victims of psychological abuse face the societal obstacle of not having any bruises to show how deeply they are wounded by the abuse; however, victims like Christine describe psychological abuse as:
“Torment; just so, so deep and so continuous. I don’t feel like people really understand the depth of the sorrow and pain and darkness. I very much felt like a prisoner of war. It very much felt like I was in a cold and dark and damp cell and I was crying and nobody could hear me. All of the incidents that would happen felt like my husband would drag me out of my cell and beat me again. It is so dark, it is so demonic, it’s so evil. It’s absolutely soul crushing.”
– Christine, Member of the BTR.ORG Community
Find Support at BTR.ORG
If you are a victim of psychological abuse, or wonder if you may be a victim of psychological abuse, please attend a BTR.ORG Group Session as soon as possible. You deserve validation and support as you begin your journey to safety.
Welcome to BTR.ORG. This is Anne. I have a member of our community on today’s episode. We’re going to call her Christine. She’s a traveling nurse and the mother of five children. Her children range in age from four to 23 years old. She’s been with her husband that she has now for seven years, and this is her third marriage. So we are going to learn about her story today. Welcome.
Thank you. Thank you so much. I’m so glad to be here.
We’re happy to have you. You’ve been married three times. Would you describe all three of your marriages as abusive?
Sadly yes, but I did not know that until going through this current marriage and all of the BTR resources. I did not realize they were abusive.
For your first two where you got a divorce, looking back now like, “Oh, that’s what the cause was.”, you didn’t know until BTR.
“It’s Been Some Freedom, Being Able to Let That Go”
That is true. With my first one, I was very young and he ended up just abandoning us. And so I always just thought I wasn’t enough. I just wasn’t enough to keep him happy. And then going through BTR, I realized, Oh my gosh, he was gaslighting the whole time. All of these things that were going on, this is real stuff. So it’s been some freedom just being able to let that go. And then my second marriage, sadly, cause I had children from my first marriage and my second marriage, my husband became very physically abusive to them. So, of course, I knew that one was abuse, so I ended up leaving him and getting a divorce obviously for safety of my children.
How did you find BTR?
BTR.ORG Resources Helped Christine Recognize Abuse
About a year and a half into my relationship with my current husband, it was just a train wreck. I had found out the week after I told him that I was pregnant with our son, that he was watching pornography and this ended up being an every-day, several-times-a-day habit. It was just a total train wreck and I was just crying and feeling desperate and kind of searching on the internet to try to find some supportive words or something. And I came upon the BTR listing on the website for gaslighting and it was the first time I had heard the term gaslighting and then it just blossoms from there. It was me finding the BTR website and finding the books and reading through them and listening to your podcast.
So you’re familiar with my voice?
Yes. You’ve been my best friend for so many years and you don’t even know. <laugh>
<Laugh>. I’m so happy to hear that. I’m so sorry to hear that.
“The Torment [of Psychological Abuse] Is Just So Deep & So Continuous”
There were so many times that one of the things I lost through this was the ability to sleep or rest at all. I would go to the doctor and my blood pressure would be normal on the top, but the bottom number would be so high. And they’re like, “Your body’s just not relaxing.” And so I would want to listen to your podcast, but I would have to listen to them just to be able to find sleep at night because the torment is just so, so deep and so continuous. You never get rest from them. But your voice would bring me to a place where I could actually get some sleep.
Oh, that is such good news. My ex-husband would disagree with you. Well, I’m so glad you’re here to share your story.
So we’re gonna focus today on her third marriage, her current marriage. Focusing on this part of your story, did you recognize his behaviors as abusive at first? Can you talk about before you found the porn, how you felt? And then we’ll talk about after.
Recognizing the Psychological Abuse
At first, when I first started seeing red flags, we would be driving along and he would make a cat call to some woman on the side of the road. It would be so hurtful and shocking. And then I would minimize it and think, Oh, it’s just cause he’s been single so long. I just totally excused it. But I did not recognize it as abuse at all until I found BTR.
So he was cat calling people in front of you?
My gosh. Yeah. It’s one of my most painful memories. It was early on when we were dating and we were taking my girls going to the beach and this woman we were driving by bent over and he like yelled some obscenity at her, and I was just shocked. I was like frozen, I couldn’t even respond. It was so painful.
Discovering Her Husband’s Secret Pornography Use
So after you were married, did these types of behaviors continue? Did you start seeing other things?
Yes. Sadly, he got to the point where he would start rejecting me sexually. And I had been trained, growing up in the church, that you always provide for your husband sexually and never give them a chance where they would not have their needs met and all of that stuff that they teach, that I’m realizing now is so wrong. So I made sure that I was always there and providing for that. And then he started rejecting me and he would say, “Oh I only need to have sex maybe once every four days.” and things like that. And it was just a total change from what I had known. I knew there was something wrong and I could just feel it very much in my spirit. Like, this isn’t right, and I had a feeling just from hearing sermons in church, maybe there’s an issue with pornography here. So I started questioning him and questioning him. And after I told him, “We’re pregnant, we’re gonna have a baby.”, a week after that, he finally admitted to it.
Misogynistic Tropes Fuel Spiritual & Sexual Abuse
I was just curious as to what denomination that you grew up in that you thought you needed to provide for his sexual needs like that was your job. That was just a general non-denominational Christian Church?
Yeah. So you can hear that in a lot of churches. I went to non-denominational churches, Baptist and Methodist, and you’re gonna hear that message across all three of those for sure.
It’s a misogynistic trope that is everywhere. And you know what’s interesting, it’s not just religious, it’s in secular places too. It’s all over the place and the religious circles. It’s spiritual abuse. Then in other non-religious places, like in a secular setting, it’s more like men have these needs and they’re animals kind of. So they have these sexual needs that women need to provide for, because if they don’t have these needs met, they’re gonna have to go somewhere else.
“I Am Not Responsible For My Husband’s Faithfulness”
I have learned that this is absolutely not true and I am not responsible for my husband’s faithfulness. That’s his job, and between him and the Lord.
You mentioned that you thought he was just gonna have to get used to being in a relationship.
I did think that he had just been single for so long, it would take time. But then I also thought I was being too sensitive and I remember praying in the beginning cause a lot of the Christian books will tell you your prayer should first be, Change me, Lord. So I was doing that. I was like, “Lord, I don’t know why this is bothering me so bad. Please change me, Father. Make me so that I’m not so sensitive.”
The interesting thing about that is that was your goal to be changed, to be not so sensitive, but all women should be sensitive to that.
Right. Definitely. I’m just so glad to find out that what felt wrong is actually wrong. It’s very validating.
It is. And you know, for the entire year I felt like as the wife I was totally surrounded by protectors and advocates and it really gave me the freedom to find my own healing while I had those protectors on board with me.
When Victims Try to “Fix” the Abuse by Changing Themselves
So before you found BTR and besides the prayer, did you try anything else to try and establish safety and peace in your home? Like maybe cooking more or exercising…?
I tried absolutely everything. I spent thousands of dollars on new lingerie to try to keep things interesting for him. We also tried every single possible church-focused program. Most of them, in fact, all of them ended up being very damaging for me. And, you know, giving him wrong advice for sure. <Laugh> We also tried regular therapy. We did EMDR, we had psychological testing done, found out that I had extreme PTSD. I tried absolutely everything I could find.
Looking back on that, trying every single thing you can find, what’s your feeling about that period now- all the searching that you were doing?
“My Body & My Health Has Suffered So Extremely Cause of the Length of Time I Sat in This Abuse”
I heard God’s voice in the beginning tell me that it was the right way to go, but I couldn’t wrap my head around it. And so I was like, “Okay Lord, but let’s try what my insurance will cover. Okay, let’s try what’s free.” And looking back, I wish I would’ve skipped all of it cause it was further traumatizing and it lengthened the process. I’m going through this for coming up on seven years now and my body and my health has suffered so extremely cause of the length of time that I sat in this abuse.
“BTR Was There… To Be My Advocate & My Friend”
Yes. For years. So I found you, I think, after being with him a year and a half and then I would listen to all of your podcasts. I read every book that you recommended. I attended BTR.ORG Group Sessions and they were very healing. And those sessions were absolute lifesavers. I have no doubt without BTR I would not be alive right now cause my depression and suicidal ideation were so severe during the darkest hours and BTR was there to pull me out of it, to be my advocate and my friend.
If you could go back and talk to your younger self, maybe yourself in those two first marriages or maybe yourself a year ago or five years ago, what are the most important things you’ve learned and what do you think you’d be like, “I HAVE to tell myself this. This is so important.”?
What Would Christine Say to Her Younger Self?
If it was my younger self, I would tell myself the truth. I don’t know that I would’ve chosen marriage to be honest. If I knew the truth, I think I would have not gotten married in my life. I would’ve stayed single and focused on my career. It wouldn’t have been something that I chose to participate in. As much as there are many joys there, there’s so much possibility for danger. If I could go back to the beginning of this marriage, I would tell myself to run <laugh>, get out, don’t stay, don’t try to work through it, just run, do not place my future on my husband.
I’m prepared either way and I know that I will be okay either way. I feel safe. And I know if he starts to be not safe again, that I know my exit plan. I’ve got a postnup and I’m okay. I’m ready either way.
From your experience, why do you think it takes victims so long to understand that they’re being abused?
Why Does it Take Victims So Long to Understand They’re Experiencing Abuse?
Because victims don’t go into their love story any different than a non-victim. You’re falling in love, you’re having all of these special moments. You guys are connecting. At least you believe you’re connecting. Even though the other side is fake connecting and lying, our hearts are still intertwined with them. This is still our love story and we cannot imagine the things that are happening when they happen. It just feels like it’s unfathomable when it happens.
It’s like your baseline is this particular reality, which is “He’s a good guy and he loves me and he cares our family.” And so wrapping your head around the actual reality that they just want what they want and they don’t really genuinely care about other people because they’re incapable of doing that, is really hard to wrap your head around.
What Concepts did Christine Learn at BTR.ORG?
Yeah, it is. I mean, especially being brought up as a little girl on Disney Princess videos, <laugh> there is no Disney princess video that ends like this. We’re not prepared. And then as humans we’re really prepped for flaws in humanity. You’re marrying an imperfect person and especially as a believer, you’re gonna be like, Well, okay, I’m gonna give him grace on this. I’m gonna help him through it cause I’m not perfect either. And so I think as believers we have give them an extra step, extra cushion room sometimes.
Learning Boundaries to Seek Safety from Psychological Abuse
What are some of the concepts that have helped you the most to protect yourself that you’ve learned at BTR?
I think for me it was boundaries. And my coach, Coach Denalee, really helped me with this one because even going through traditional therapy, they were trying to teach me boundaries. And I just thought, Well, I’m just not a person who can have boundaries. For some reason I can’t do it. But what I learned was the concept of boundaries outside of BTR is totally different. And so when I got to BTR and, even that little cartoon that you have where you’re like, “Putting boundaries is putting on your steel toed boots,” I finally got it. Coach Denalee helped me take it really slow and she took all the pressure off of it and she was like, “It’s okay. Boundaries are practice. If you don’t get it right, then you just do it again. Don’t put pressure on yourself. Just keep practicing boundaries.” That helped me so much when I got to BTR and they said, “Well how about you just don’t have sex if you don’t want to, and start with that boundary?” I felt liberated, like, “Oh my gosh, I don’t have to have sex if I don’t want to and I can do that, and that’s validating myself and protecting myself.” And it was really freeing.
“How Do I Put On Steel-Toed Boots For This One?”
That is wonderful cause I have worked so hard to try and teach boundaries in a way that actually is doable for victims. And one that will actually protect them because the other ways just don’t seem to do anything. And they don’t seem to protect and they’re impossible to do.
They are. They end up feeling like false threats. I always start telling myself, “Okay, how do I put on steel-toed boots for this one? <laugh> It was my visual that made the boundaries possible for everything.
The BTR.ORG Living Free Workshop Can Help You Take Action to Get to Safety
It’s a really good video to help understand the way we teach boundaries at Betrayal Trauma Recovery that helps women actually get to safety so that they can stop, or at least further separate themselves from the harm, cause there’s no way to stop the harm. The only thing you can do is separate yourself as much as you can.
We also have our Living Free Workshop which deals with what you actually do. So those are some things to think about as you’re thinking, how do I separate myself from the harm? So that’s really cool, Christine, to hear that that was working for you and that helped. Were there any other concepts that helped you that you felt like, “Oh, BTR teaches this in such a way that it actually helps”?
“[Psychological Abuse] Is Absolutely Soul-Crushing”
Yeah, I think the most powerful thing for me with BTR was the validation. Other forms of therapy and all the other groups I would go to, I would get the message, “You’re being too sensitive.” or “That’s a normal guy thing.” But when I would go to BTR, I could seriously get the pain validated. And it felt like having someone there who really got me. It would give me enough joy to make it through that day and kind of take away that feeling of like, am I crazy? That was so powerful for me. I don’t feel like people really understand the depth of the sorrow and pain and darkness. And for me, I very much felt like a prisoner of war. It very much felt like I was in a cold and dark and damp cell and I was crying and nobody could hear me. All of the incidents that would happen felt like my husband would like drag me out of my cell and beat me again. And the people that I related to the most were honestly other people who had gone through horrible forms of human suffering. So much peace and comfort listening to their stories, knowing that they had experienced human suffering in a painful way like I had. And I just feel like when we’re going through this, it is so dark, it is so demonic, it’s so evil. It’s absolutely soul crushing.
It is. Now that I’m feeling so much better, I forget sometimes about how terrible it was. It doesn’t take me long to remember. I can take myself back there pretty easily cause it was so awful and it’s long and there’s no end in sight, you know?
Right. We’re going through it.
Yes, it feels so hopeless and awful and everything about your life is affected by it.
“Everything is Taken; You Have Nothing”
Everything is taken. You have nothing. Everything is taken from you. You lose everything. You lose your family. I lost relationships with my children for a long time because of what was going on. I would drive around in a car with him and I would see other people living life and I would feel like I was looking out a window at something I couldn’t touch anymore. You know? Other people are just happy and they’re going about their lives. And about a week ago, I went back to this same gas station where I had that incident and I realized I felt part of life again. Like I had my life back again. It was so huge to finally be able to feel joy and safety again.
I remember feeling that exact same way when we went to an amusement park and looking at the people and they’re just walking by and feeling like they live in a different reality than I did.
Yeah, exactly. It’s like they have no clue. Look at them, they’re so happy. <Laugh>
I don’t know what planet they’re from, but it’s not the same planet that I live on.
“That’s Despair – I Know – I’ve Been There”
Yeah. But it’s also helped me as a nurse. As horrible as this is to go through, I would never want anyone to go through this. But I remember about a month ago, I heard the cry of despair. There was a patient and she had that cry and I said, “That’s despair. I know – I’ve been there. What’s going on? We need to help.” You know what I mean?
I feel like I’ve gotten my PhD in human suffering through this despair.
As we laugh when you say that, we both kind of chuckle a little bit. Like, “Oh we have our PhD in despair.” It does feel a little like that. It’s not funny at all. It’s not.
“Maybe We’re Giving Our Daughters Hope For a Better Future”
All of the women who have been through it have kind of a little bit of a dark sense of humor I think. Is it? <laugh>
It’s all you have.
Yeah. I mean, it’s a major, major part of our lives. I will never forget this phase, I think this is my desert phase, in my life.
<Laugh>. Yeah. Well, you are so strong and so brave.
You know, I feel like the younger generation is starting to stand up more. I know that my daughters are standing up against abuse. I feel like maybe we have hope. Maybe there’s going to be a change from us speaking out and having a voice. Maybe we’re giving our daughters hope for a better future.
And our sons.
And our sons. Yes.
Our Despair May Shape Our Sons to be Good Men
My son is a, I’ll just say ‘feminist’ for lack of a better word. I’m not sure what word to use, but he’s always noticing things. In fact, I was listening to a song (I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this on the podcast before), but I was like, “Oh I love this song.” And he was like, “Mom, this is a terrible song.” <laugh> “It’s misogynistic and it’s abusive and they’re objectifying women and it’s not good. You should not be listening to it.” And I said, “It’s a metaphor, it’s a metaphor” And he said, “I don’t care what it is, it doesn’t matter if it’s a metaphor or not. You should not be listening to this.”
What a wonderful boy.
That’s another thing that I’ve found, healing from trauma, is that I used to feel really the weight of the entire world on my shoulders. So it was hard to maybe go to a swimming pool. It was difficult to listen to the radio, or just everyday things I would get triggered so much. And now to kind of chuckle at my son and think, “Oh he’s so cute.” and, “But I like this song so I’m gonna listen to it.” Which I probably shouldn’t, by the way. I admit it <laugh>, but just not feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. To be like, “I don’t have to solve the world’s problems and I don’t have to be on high alert all the time. I can enjoy this song despite its misogynistic overtones.” And which, again, I shouldn’t. But what I’m trying to say is, that’s huge progress for me.
Psychological Abuse Causes Intense Triggers in Everyday Life
Yeah. That’s a huge freedom.
Yeah. Years ago, there’s no way. I would’ve been like, “I can’t watch TV, I can’t do anything.” Because there are hints of this everywhere and it should alarm us and it should overwhelm us, but we still need to be able to go to the grocery store, you know? So it makes it really, really, really hard.
I am so glad to hear that you’re in that phase cause I’m still healing and the world is still very overwhelming. Although it’s getting slightly better. I still don’t watch TV. I still don’t listen to much music. I’m so glad to hear it all comes back.
And that’s okay too. There’s evil stuff out there. I’m not trying to say, “Oh, you’ll be able to enjoy the evil thing.” No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. That is not what I’m trying to say. But being able to just function is really nice.
Yeah, definitely. I told one of my patients the other day, “Oh I don’t really watch TV, I’m not into TV.” And she started prodding. She’s like, “Well, why?” I said, “Well I’ve gone through trauma, so it’s just one of the things I lost was watching TV.” She said, “You don’t watch TV yet. That’s what I always tell all my students. You may not be able to do it now, but you can do it in the future.” So not that TV is anything grand that I need to have in my life, but…
Psychological Abuse Can Make Everyday Experiences Traumatizing
Exactly. That’s why I’m like, “Wait a minute, wait a minute.” I don’t want people to get the wrong impression. It’s not the most important thing and it’s not like it matters.
And also there’s just a lot of just terrible, terrible stuff that you should never watch even if you’ve never been through trauma. So that’s not the type of stuff I’m talking about.
No. Yeah. Even before my trauma, I’ve followed Christ my whole life, and I still would monitor what I allow into my eyes and ears, you know?
Me too. Yeah.
It just wasn’t traumatizing before.
<Laugh>. Exactly. Yeah. I don’t want to give people the impression that I’m listening to really terrible stuff. That is not the case.
Sorry. I’m like, “Oh my word. I’m digging the hugest hole for myself right now.” <Laugh> Everyone’s like, “We used to like Anne, but then she said that sometimes she listens to a Katy Perry song.” Heaven forbid.
No, it’s the difference between being able to watch TV and something comes on and you have the choice, like, “No, I don’t wanna watch that.”, and it coming on and traumatizing you and ruining the rest of your day and you can’t stop shaking. There’s a difference.
Is BTR.ORG Pro-Divorce?
For people who are hesitant to listen to BTR or maybe not take it very seriously cause they’re like, “This can’t be abuse”, or they’re just like, “No, BTR is too extreme” or “BTR is pro-divorce” or “Anne hates men”, for people who are hesitant and think, This is the wrong way to go, what would you say to them?
I think at first I thought that maybe it was more pro-divorce too. But what I did was I would look through the podcast and see which one called out to me. And when it’s time for you to hear that podcast, it will be lifesaving to you. So just take it when you need it, take it as you need it. The Holy Spirit will really lead you to what you need to hear. And you’ll be surprised and overwhelmed at how lifesaving these podcasts can and will be.
Yeah. I’m not necessarily pro-divorce by any stretch. I am grateful for families, but I am absolutely 100% pro-safety. And then the other issue is that after divorce, so many women are continuing to experience really intense abuse. Divorce does not solve it. It can be a good boundary. It can be a boundary that can keep you safer than other things. So many women use it as a boundary and that’s great, but it’s not necessarily the solution. And that’s why domestic violence experts who I applaud make me nervous because they think the answer is, just get divorced <laugh>. And it’s like, “No, if I get divorced, I’m going to still be abused and my kids are still gonna be abused for years.” So we need to find a sustainable safety plan.
BTR.ORG Is 100% Pro-Safety
And I found that BTR was the only 100% safe program. Everything else you’d be listening to and then a sting; it would hurt your heart. But when you listen to BTR, there’s no stings it, it’s all safe. It feels safe.
Everyone at BTR has been through it. We’ve all known what it’s like to try and make those hard decisions, try to think about what the best thing’s gonna be. And it is not easy.
Not easy, really hard. It’s so hard. I think the hardest thing I’ve ever been through in my life. For sure.
Support the BTR.ORG Podcast
Well, I’m so happy to get to know you more and I wish you the best on your journey to further healing.
I just wanna say thank you so much for meeting with me. Like I said, this is so surreal for me. I’ve been listening to your voice for so many years and I just feel like God used you to keep me alive on so many nights and your kindred spirit with my heart.
If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. And until next week, stay safe out there.