btr.org

The Truth About “Reactive Abuse”

by | Abuse Literacy

The Truth About "Reactive Abuse"

Have you done something that you’re ashamed of or embarrassed about in response to your husband’s abuse?

You may have heard the term “Reactive Abuse” used to identify your behavior in association to how you respond to your husband’s abusiveness – but here’s the thing: at BTR, we know that you are not the abuser. Your response to your husband’s abuse is not co-abuse. It’s protective action.

Leslie is back on the BTR.ORG podcast, taking a deep dive with Anne into the truth about reactive abuse. Read the full transcript below and listen to the BTR.ORG podcast for more.

“Reactive Abuse” Is the Abuser’s Goal

I do not want victims labeled as also abusers in trying to defend themselves from abuse. That’s what the abuser wants. He wants to see it as sort of like, well, we both have problems and we’re both unhealthy, when really it needs to be viewed as: you’ve got an abuser and then you have a victim who’s trying to survive.

Anne Blythe, Founder of BTR.ORG

The whole belief behind “Reactive Abuse” takes accountability away from the abuser – “I (the abuser) may have issues – but so does she, so I’m not fully to blame.”

As we know, abusers will do just about anything to avoid accountability – including pushing and pushing the victim until she bursts and acts in a way that is against her normal character. Then he’ll use that to claim that she is abusive.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58OZhEA8jDM

It’s Not “Reactive Abuse” – It’s Self-Defense

Imagine a bully on a playground relentlessly teasing a younger child. The younger child tries to talk it out, enlist teachers for help, hide, and eventually snaps. The younger child fights back, yells, and calls names. And then the younger child is the one punished because the bully is extremely talented at hiding his cruelty.

At BTR.ORG, we know that the protective action that you have taken in emotional moments when you just can’t take anymore – is self-defense against relentless psychological abuse.

At BTR we just see that as trying to defend yourself, right? That’s it. You’re not abusing them reactively or anything like that. You’re literally being hit in the head and you are trying to defend yourself.

Anne Blythe, Founder of BTR.ORG

How Do I Stop Acting Outside of My Value System?

Many women in the BTR.ORG community ask: I understand that what I’m doing is defending myself, but I’m tired of feeling ashamed of my behavior. How can I stop acting this way?

The truth is that as long as you are in close proximity to an abuser, you will probably find yourself taking protective action from time to time. Your value system may be compromised as you find yourself in situations where you simply can’t take anymore.

The only way to live within your personal value system is to set clear boundaries and live by them – separating yourself from the harm that causes you to react in ways that you do not want to react.

BTR.ORG is Here For You

At BTR.ORG, we know the utter hopelessness that can accompany psychological abuse. You deserve peace. Access our Group Sessions today. We love you. We believe you.

Full Transcript:

Anne (00:00):
Welcome to BTR.ORG. This is Anne.

(02:44):
Leslie, a member of our community is joining me again today. I spoke with her last week, so if you didn’t listen to that episode, listen to that first and then join us here. We’re just gonna jump right in. I know this is painful to talk about. You talked about like being over many of your triggers, but let’s talk about him targeting you, knowing that you were successful, knowing that you would be a provider, and essentially just grooming you in order to be able to use you. Can you talk about not knowing that that was happening and perhaps how you’re processing that?

Leslie (03:52):
That has been one of my biggest challenges because being successful, being a helper, a doer, I did a lot of medical relief work pre-Covid and he ended up kind of piggybacking or riding my coattails on a lot of my trips. I would go on these trips and I maybe would have five photos the whole time I was there because I’m there to work, you know, I’m there to help, I’m there doing medical relief work. He would have thousands of photos all over social media about what a wonderful thing he was doing and him and him and him and him. And I remember early on in our relationship saying to him, what are your dreams? What are your aspirations? What are your goals? And I accomplished two more degrees when I was with him. I always would say, you know, don’t you have a dream?

“Don’t You Have An Aspiration?”

(04:49):
Don’t you have an aspiration? What do you wanna do? I said, You can’t always ride on my coattails. I have my own dreams, my own aspirations of what I wanna do with my life. You should have your own and then we should have together goals. And that was a really hard thing for me to wrap my brain around that somebody would not have goals or not have the same drive and ambition that I had. So looking back and seeing how much he groomed and took from me. My brother said this a few months ago and I know he didn’t mean to say it and I’ve, I’ve learned to not take things as personally when people say things because people sometimes just don’t know what to say. They don’t mean to say things the way they were, they come out. But um, they were friends and I think they’re loosely still friendly.

(05:48):
We kind of don’t talk about it. And they used to go snowmobiling together and my brother went up on a, on a yearly trip and all the guys I guess asked where my ex was and he said, well, he’s not a kept man anymore. He said, my sister got smart to his ways and he is not a kept man anymore. Which kind of stunned a little bit to me because I was like, that is exactly what he was. He had his cake and he could eat it too, but who wouldn’t want that? He had the really nice house on the lake, he had all the toys, he got to travel the world and he still got to screw around on the side . So you know, who wouldn’t want a life like that?

“He Didn’t Want to be Your Partner”

Anne (06:32):
So what he wasn’t looking for, which is so painful to recognize in hindsight, was a true partnership. All of his behaviors were intent on grooming you to think that in order to be able to use you for finances, for travel, for prestige, like he’s the husband of this like really great, amazing, successful woman, but he didn’t want to be your partner.

Leslie (07:00):
100%. And I think that was a really hard pill for me to swallow when I finally kind of realized that, that this was not a partnership in any form whatsoever.

Anne (07:12):
And when you started going to therapy, like right at the very beginning before you were even married, did the therapist not tip you off to this or anything?

Leslie (07:20):
I think she did. And then when we had been married for a year, we moved to the west side of the state of Michigan away from his family because honestly if we didn’t, we probably would’ve never stayed married as long as we did. When we moved to the west side, I had started seeing a new therapist and she is amazing and she called me right out on it almost immediately, you know, and she’s like, you do realize like he is a narcissist, that he’s using you, that this is abuse. I would always have excuses. And she was very blunt and she’d be like, no, I’m telling you. And then when I stopped seeing her, cause we kind of went down the whole sexual addiction road. So then I got my own CSAT. When I finally got out of that, I ended up going back to my original one and I had a final session with my CSAT and she said, you know, why are you stopping seeing me? She goes, I just am wondering. I said, because the reason that I’m seeing you no longer exists. I said, I don’t need to see you anymore because this isn’t a CSAT matter.

Abuse Is Not A “CSAT Matter”

Anne (08:32):
Yeah. The interesting thing was it was never a CSAT matter.

Leslie (08:35):
No, you’re right.

Anne (08:36):
And the unfortunate thing is the CSAT didn’t tell you that. Right? Because they do not see it as abuse and I think that they’re clinically negligent.

Leslie (08:47):
We were recommended to a counselor who is a CS, a counselor who only sees married couples, you know, for couple therapy. So he would have his, I’d have mine and then we were gonna see this couple one, we went to him the first time and at the end of it he looked at us and he goes, I don’t think I can help you guys. And I was so blown away. I go, what do you mean? I said, he just spent all this money on this program, you know, he’s quote unquote checking the boxes, da da da. He goes, no, he is not. He goes, I see all the things he’s not doing and you want me to tell you to trust him when he is not trustworthy. He goes, I can’t do that and I will not take your money.

“What The Heck Are You Doing?”

(09:36):
I have the utmost respect for him because the fact that he saw, I mean he could’ve just kept taking our money and kept on saying, oh yeah, I can fix you guys, this is fine. He did say, I wanna have one individual session with each of you and then I’ll make my final decision. And even in my first session with him, he was like, what the heck are you doing? He’s like, really? You know, it it, it’s funny. Lake Michigan is known for being very, can be very turbulent. And he goes, you know, they put those red flags out in the middle of the lake when they tell you not to go swimming. You saw all those red flags and you still went swimming .

Anne (10:19):
I’m gonna 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 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.

Back to the interview. Well, and it’s not because you’re stupid, it’s because you didn’t know how to process the red flag. So as you saw the red flag to you, it said, okay, he’s got childhood trauma, he needs therapy.

Leslie (11:29):
Exactly.

Processing The Red Flags We See

Anne (11:30):
It didn’t say “Red Flag: Abuser,” you saw porn on his phone. Red flag, maybe he’s a sex addict. It didn’t say red flag abuser. That’s the other issue is that women might be seeing the red flags fine, but they don’t know how to process it or define it and they’re trying to be good nice people. We know people aren’t perfect. We know, um, that we can’t expect people to be perfect. I don’t think we’re missing the red flags. I just think we’re processing them incorrectly. And most addiction or just regular average therapy would say we’re on communication. Connect with them. You know, there’s, there’s so much misinformation in an abuse scenario, which at BTR, we see porn use as abusive. So in an abuse scenario they should never be doing couple therapy ever, ever, ever, ever. So I think like in my opinion, CSATs who do couple therapy are clinically negligent.

Anne (12:30):
Because you’ve got an abuser and you should not be doing ever, ever couple therapy with an abuser. So it’s like, uh, an oxymoron sort of, but they don’t see it that way because they don’t see it as abuse. So it sounds like you had a few therapists that were awesome. So, so let’s actually focus on that for just a minute. Your original therapist that told you, Hey, this is abuse, and then you went to a CSAT. Talk about what happened, how did he use that manufactured relational tether at that point? Maybe you went home and said, Hey, she said you were abusive or something, or maybe you didn’t, but how did he reel you back in in order to go down the sex addiction recovery route after she kind of pointed out the abuse? Like talk about your thought process or how he manipulated you after that.

The “Gottman Marital” Models & Research HARM Abuse Victims

Leslie (13:19):
You probably are familiar with the Gottman. You know, the whole Gottman thing in regards to marital therapy. So our initial therapist would use Gottman stuff with us.

Anne (13:30):
When we talk about Gottman, this is classic couple therapy stuff that does not account for abuse.

Leslie (13:36):
Exactly, exactly. He would use the tools that he, we would get in therapy as weapons against me and he would say, but this is what the counselor said and you are not doing this and you’re not doing that. I’m trying to take a break. But it would always be they get in your face that whole reactive abuse.

Anne (14:02):
So we also don’t use the word reactive abuse here at BTR. The reason I wanna pause there, people have said this, they say something and then you react in a way that is maybe you yell or I don’t know. Right.

Leslie (14:14):
Whatever. Right. Uncharacteristic.

“Reactive Abuse” Is a MYTH

Anne (14:16):
Yes. And at BTR we just see that as trying to defend yourself, right? That’s it. You’re not abusing them reactively or anything like that. You’re literally being hit in the head and you are trying to defend yourself. And that’s it. Because I do not want victims labeled as also abusers in trying to defend themselves from abuse. That’s what the abuser wants. He wants to see it as sort of like, well, we both have problems and we’re both unhealthy, when really it needs to be viewed as you’ve got an abuser and then you have a victim who’s trying to survive.

Leslie (14:49):
And that’s exactly what I was trying to do do. And he would use all of those therapy things as weapons back against me. I thought I was going crazy so many times. Do you feel like you are spinning in circles? You’re hopeless, you get to a point where you just don’t know where to turn, you don’t know what to do anymore.

Anne (15:12):
So my guess is he’s escalating at this point because he is losing control. So when, when he’s in treatment, he knows that you’ve got the time and the space to sort of clear out the fog and they can’t manipulate you when they’re not in constant contact with you. Right. So my guess is at this point he’s kind of freaking out. He’s not, he’s not into the treatment at all, but he’s, he’s trying to act like he is to groom you, but realizing you have space. So at this point where you have space, you’re finally able to kind of like get your wits about you because so many women are trying to sort it out while still literally being daily manipulated and lied to and they’re still really deep in the fog. So talk about how that space helped the fog clear a little bit and helped you see clearly.

Physical Space From The Abuser Helps Victims See More Clearly

Leslie (15:59):
The space was key. It probably took me a good six weeks before I finally started to see things as they were, and the reactions that he would have when we would have interactions. We had been separated for three months and we weren’t really doing any couple of counseling. He ended up getting fired from work for sexual inappropriateness and, but he did get his job back. But right then is when he was going to go to away to treatment and when the day after he left for treatment, I had come home that night, the following night, and all three of my kids were at my house and my kids are grown, they’re adults. And I thought, okay, what is going on? Like this was not a planned family saying, my daughter lives three hours away. Like why is she here? And so when I walked in I said, what is going on? And apparently one of my children had found out that he had been fired for sexual inappropriate things and had found that he had been stalking younger women. I had already spoke with an attorney prior, but it was the following day that I ended up going through and filing while he was away at treatment.

Confronting the Abuser With PROOF Just Leads to More Abuse

Anne (17:29):
One of the things that I recommend that victims don’t do, which is crazy hard to do, I, I find that, that all of us sort of needed to do this, which I wish there was some way to circumvent it, but I don’t, I’m not sure if there is, is when you find out about the abuse or some of the behaviors, our, our natural reaction is to tell the abuser this, right? Right. To say, Hey, I just found this out – what happened? Or hey, I just found porn on your phone. And I wish that instead of talking to the abuser and trying to like help him see the situation or anything like that, that they would just start taking steps back and start getting to safety. Because every time we confront the abuser or try to like help him understand the situation, we just get more abused. Similarly, you were more abused through all the therapy because he started weaponizing all the therapy language. Once this happened and you contacted a lawyer, did you try to talk to him about what had happened or anything after that? And did you have that experience where in trying to say, Hey look, I’m gonna get divorced because you did that set you up for more abuse?

Leslie (18:36):
It did in a certain aspect, but we were not living together at the time. So I still could keep that distance. I will say before he left for treatment, I had had enough wits about me that I had, I had contacted an attorney prior and had a postnuptial agreement drawn up that I made him sign that if he wanted to stay married or to save the marriage, that he needed to sign it and he did sign it. And that was my only saving grace because it basically just said, you not, are not entitled to, you know, you leave with what you came with. I leave with what I came with. You’re not entitled to any spousal support, X, Y, and Z. And that was the only thing I can say that I was able to have my wits about me that I was able to walk away and not get totally, for lack of better words, screwed over in the end.

Anne (19:35):
We’re gonna pause the conversation here. Please join us again next week where Leslie and I finish up our conversation. If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. And until next week, stay safe out there.

You May Also Like

Patriarchy Harms Women: Here’s How

Patriarchy Harms Women: Here’s How

Have you been raised in a high-control religion, or other system that enables abuse? Learn about how patriarchy has harmed you and begin seeking safety.

4 Comments

  1. Danielle

    I understand and agree that abuse is not a CSAT matter, and this is not the type of therapy a couple should seek during recovery. When you are seeing solid and continuous recovery work on your husbands part, and feel like you are ready and safe enough to move into a place of some type of couples work, what kind of therapy, therapist, or other resource do you recommend for recovery as a couple?

    Reply
    • Anne

      The only place we recommend is Center For Peace – it addresses the abuse as the main issue and treats the victim as an actual victim. And doesn’t put up with the abuser acting like he’s the victim.

      Reply
  2. Carol

    Just a general shout out to all the brave women who work for and are involved in BTR. I am 12 years out from my first D Day (there were many) and Leslie’s story so resonates with me – I was particularly validated when she mentioned “couples therapy” including Gottman. I wasted so much time and money on these dead-end roads. If I knew then what I know now, through BTR, I would likely have been spared years of pain and exhaustion. But I’m learning from you guys every day, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’m finally getting validation and clarification, 2 things every woman in this situation desperately needs. Thank you, thank you.

    Reply
  3. Kate

    Tonight, I was deep in shame and regret and embarrassment at my raising my voice all the time, despite me trying to change change change and be better and more mature and disciplined and set a better example for the children. And I came here, and read some words of grace, and I’ll get up tomorrow and keep on getting through the end of a 25 year marriage. I ran across your content on TikTok a year ago, and it helped me understand why I felt so crazy. Now, I’m out, but financially struggling and housing insecure, so no coaching for me yet. In the meantime, I’ll rely on your generosity in the free resources you so kindly offer. You were a big factor in me leaving.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

9 Steps Checklist

The checklist
EVERY WOMAN NEEDS

 

Receive the printable 9 Steps to Safety and start making your way to emotional safety TODAY.

Check your inbox for the checklist from Anne from Betrayal Trauma Recovery. We know this checklist can change your life, just like it's changed the lives of thousands of other women!