Grooming Is A Universal Tool of Abusers
The word “grooming” carries the stigma of child molesters and sex-trafficking rings; it can be difficult for women to assign such an unsavory word to their partner’s behaviors.
While it is absolutely important to understanding grooming in the context of child abuse and the sex-slave trade in order to protect women and children, it is equally important to understand grooming in the context of relational and emotional abuse.
What Is Grooming?
No matter what kind of abuse, or who the abuser is, grooming occurs when an abuser creates a false sense of safety for his victim.
“Anything that someone does to make it look like he’s a knight in shining armor.”
This is easy to see in the case of a child molester: he may buy candy for a child to gain his or her trust.
In the context of relational and emotional abuse, an abuser who uses pornography may act kindly and generously toward his partner, with the intent of using pornography without disclosing his use to her (which would harm his partner and family). A caveat here is that he may not plan to use pornography (many abusers swear to themselves they “will never do it again”) but it is still grooming if he does not take immediate and definitive action to get appropriate professional help within an abuse cessation program to create safety for his family without delay.
Often, an abuser will groom a woman at the beginning of a relationship to lure her into believing that he is the ultimate safe partner: he may present himself as a monogamous, honest, and emotionally healthy person. When he begins engaging in extra-marital affairs, lying, and gaslighting, he reveals that the show he put on during the courtship was a well-constructed rouse.
Are you being groomed? Join the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group to find support.
Women Are Not At Fault For Being Groomed
Many women take on heaps of self-loathing and feel immense self-betrayal for allowing themselves to be groomed. Sometimes they will make promises to themselves to never let it happen again, only to be even more deeply groomed by their abuser, and then betrayed again when he abuses again.
Women are not to blame for being duped: it is a reflection of the moral fibre of the abuser and not of the strength or self-respect of the victim. Women who fall again and again for a partner’s grooming tacts may begin to question their own sanity and worth, wondering if they are “desperate” or “asking for it.
“You see it in also child sex abuse cases or child abuse cases. Anyone can be a victim. You can’t be so smart that you can’t be victimized. So many women feel ashamed or they feel embarrassed because it happened to them and they thought they knew about abuse. You’re a smart woman. You thought you knew what abuse was, but you didn’t understand that you were actually being abused. That’s the situation that we’re all in.
Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
It is important to note that compassion, tenderness, love, and fidelity and worthy traits and goals and that women who seek for these things in partnerships are not weak or stupid, but courageous. However, understand that being abused over and over again through grooming tactics is corrosive to the human spirit: women must find safety as soon as possible to protect themselves from further abuse.
The “Dark Side of Compliance”
Rebecca, a Shero, has described grooming as “The Dark Side of Compliance”. This is also known as “Checking Boxes”. When abusers become adept at observing the requests made by their partners without lasting change, this is grooming.
When abusers routinely “check boxes” (daily check-ins, going to group meetings, calling sponsors) but continuously “relapse” into pornography use or other sexual acting-out behaviors and other, devastatingly painful emotionally abusive behaviors, this is grooming.
What Is Real Recovery?
Discerning the difference between grooming and true recovery is difficult for victims of betrayal trauma.
Abusers are, unfortunately, master manipulators and can make even their shortest bursts of “good behavior” look like real recovery.
As Coach Joi says, real recovery looks like, “Boundaried, believable behavior over time.” If your partner has ceased in all abusive behaviors for at least two years, and is living the 13 signs of change, he may be in real recovery. If you find that you are still in a cycle where there are periods of time where he “feels” very safe, but then he goes back into his abusiveness, you are being groomed.
No Matter What He Chooses, You Deserve Support
Anne: Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
Today, a member of our community is coming on the podcast to talk about the topic of grooming. Her name is Rachel.
So, we’re just going to get right into this. Welcome, Rachel.
Rachel: Thanks for having me.
Anne: When I sent out a request to have a member of our community come on the podcast and talk about grooming you responded. So, let’s start with that.
Grooming Is A Process Of Emotional Abuse
Rachel: When I first saw the post I actually kind of didn’t know what it was, so I looked it up and I was like: “Oh, I understand what that is now” and I think maybe some other women maybe haven’t heard that term yet. We kind of hear the terms like gaslighting before this so I think maybe it’s a newish topic to talk about and something I’d like to explore more.
Anne: So, we’re not talking about brushing your teeth and combing your hair. We’re not talking about that kind of grooming. We’re talking about the kind of grooming that takes place within an abusive relationship. A process that the abusive person uses at the beginning of the relationship to prep the relationship. To make sure that the victim feels safe. To make sure that she’s willing to trust him. That’s the process we’re talking about today.
As you were researching grooming a bit in preparation for this podcast, talk about some of the things that you learned.
Rachel: Basically, it said that it’s anything that someone does to seem like they’re the knight in shining armor. So, I’m kind of confused on the difference between gaslighting and grooming because they both kind of make you seem like the crazy person or the bad person, but it’s the intentionality of them doing good things to seem good and hide the bad.
Anne: Yeah, at this point they’re trying to set a baseline reality and the baseline reality is that this is a really genuinely good person. They are honest, they are kind. They are everything that you’re looking for in someone and they’re trying to set that baseline understanding so that when something bad happens it’s outside the norm. That’s not who this person is, rather than the true baseline which would be this person is dishonest or this person is abusive, or they deal with things in unhealthy or abusive ways.
How Do We Recognize Grooming?
So, I think that that is the intention of grooming. It’s to set a baseline reality that’s not actual reality. It’s a form of manipulation, and if someone is doing that from the very beginning from the moment you meet them, they’re purposefully trying to control how you view them rather then just trying to get to know you. Rather than just being in a relationship and being real. They’re being very intentional about how the relationship is progressing and where it’s going.
Do you feel like you’ve experienced that?
Rachel: Yeah, so we met at a single.conference and things went pretty fast. The night he asked me to be his girlfriend, I told him my life story. I was like: “Hey, here’s who I am. Here’s some mistakes I’ve made. I don’t want to do that anymore and take me or leave me kind of thing. He did say: “I don’t know if I could ever love you” and being the emotional 19-year-old that I was I threw my phone off a 4-story apartment, but he did say: “Sorry for saying that, that’s in the past, I can love you.”
We hadn’t even really talked to each other parents because it was still really new. So, he had a job at the training center for missionaries of my church, which you have to hold certain standards to keep. He presented himself as he never misses a Sunday of church even if he has like a 103 fever. He just seemed like this perfect person and he was doing me a favor by loving me, and it was very apparent after we got married, more so because his parents would be like: “Oh, all the girls were all over him and you were really lucky.” It worked really well in his favor and he felt like he was doing so good.
Grooming Sets A Baseline That Is False
When I found out about all this a year into our marriage I told him I wanted a divorce and he called his parents crying and saying he didn’t know why I was acting crazy and irrationally over something so little. Then they said maybe it’s because I was in a bad place spiritually and he was like: “Oh, yeah and my stake president said this” so he brings in the church aspect of making him seem like that I’m the one acting crazy and irrationally because he would never do something like that because everyone has always seen as good spiritually.
Anne: Yeah, so he’d set the stage for this. He’s convinced everyone around him that this is the type of person that he is and that way anything outside of that baseline reality of this is a good person, he’s someone who obeys the commandments, he’s someone who loves God, right. Then there is this thing he does that seems outside of that box so there must be a good reason for it or maybe he’s really not doing that or maybe she’s exaggerating. Then he can continue the abuse or escalate the abuse without being held accountable, which is part of the grooming process.
Rachel: Well, so he overcompensates a lot. You know, I’d always feel like: “Well, he’s a great father and he’s a great husband beside this” because he would take the kids and he does the cooking and he does the cleaning. When I was really angry and yelling he would just be calm and like: “I understand.” Everyone just saw that side of him that he had it all put together. He was the one holding this marriage together because I’m falling apart, and I didn’t have anything to back it up because he was doing all those things, and no one ever saw the bad things.
Grooming Perpetuates Emotional Abuse
I had a sister who her husband was very extroverted in those things and she got all the sympathy because they saw it but that’s what grooming is. It’s even more harmful because they can just really carefully do it without anyone noticing.
Anne: Uh huh, and intentionally making sure that their reputation is good so that they can get away with it. Did you know that you were in an abusive situation or did you just kind of have a sense that something was wrong? Where were you mentally at the time?
Rachel: No, so I heard the term abuse probably in November and I was laughing. I was like: “My husband’s not an abuser” and then once I started reading the book Why Does He Do That, I was like: “Oh, my goodness he really is” and so I had no idea at that time.
Anne: I find that so interesting. So many people ask: “Why don’t women leave abusive relationships?” People ask that all the time and I would say the number 1 reason is that they don’t know they’re in one and then secondly divorce or leaving is not going to solve his abuse problem. The only thing that will solve his abuse problem is him stopping the abuse because divorce doesn’t solve the abuse problem. They keep abusing you after you’re divorced with lies or whatever.
Also, divorce is not the best-case scenario. Having a healthy happy family and being able to be together is the best-case scenario.
Grooming Is Part Of The Abusive Cycle
Rachel: When he started working more on the 12-Steps and he was making amends to people, he would again, just say all the right things without being really honest and kind of manipulating them to make him seem better then he was at that point. Then when I wasn’t good people would be like: “Oh, but I thought you were better because he reached out to me and he said he was sorry and made these amends and said he’s going to get better.”
So, grooming others to believe that he’s better or believe that we’re better and kind of not seeing why I was still in a place where I’m at.
Anne: Are you thinking he’s in recovery?
Rachel: So, the last relapse he had told me about was in October, and then we found more support groups and learned more about what it was about and so he was doing more stuff. I told him: “I see you’re doing more but I still feel like something is off.” I just wanted to believe he was different. I’m like: “Well, people keep saying this, but your actions aren’t measuring up. I don’t know what to believe” and then yesterday actually he came to me and told me that the last 5 months he’s been lying straight to my face and he’s been acting out the last 5 months actually a lot, probably more than ever.
I kicked him out of the house this morning.
Grooming Is A Process That Involves Gaslighting
Anne: Oh, and here we are on the podcast. Are you okay? No, the answer is no!
Rachel: I’m actually better than ever. I feel so free. In the very beginning I would check his phone or whatever and I started doing that just a little while back because something was off, but he shared this. I actually feel really empowered right now and a little overwhelmed. I’m sure it will kick in but right now I feel good. I felt really addicted to the fake love he showed me, and I just feel okay right now.
Anne: When it hits we’re here for you because that’s intense.
So, I talked to a woman last night who is dating someone that I know very well, and I know that he is lying to her and she is still in that process where she’s not quite sure if it’s just this is Anne’s perception and then his perception is a little bit different. She’s never heard of BTR. I met her outside of BTR. A mutual friend was like: “You need to talk to Anne,” right, so I show up at her door. She is definitely being groomed and I can see that because the way that he has set up the foundational baseline reality for who he is, is exactly what she is looking for.
You see it in also child sex abuse cases or child abuse cases. Anyone can be a victim. You can’t be so smart that you can’t be victimized. So many women feel ashamed or they feel embarrassed because it happened to them and they thought they knew about abuse. You’re a smart woman. You thought you knew what abuse was, but you didn’t understand that you were actually being abused. That’s the situation that we’re all in.
Anyone Can Be Susceptible To Grooming
So, anyone can be a victim. It starts with friendship. It starts with good intentions and then perpetrators use favors and promises to build trust. They might help you move, or they seem super helpful. The goal is to gain your trust. Lying is a very common characteristic of grooming. They’re telling you things: “Only you understand me,” that type of thing that really is just based on lies.
For those of you who are interested in learning more, there’s not a ton (of information) out there, I mean I’ve done some research on it but for porn use specifically or this specific situation one common thing I hear from so many women is their husband will say: “Yes, I used to use porn but I don’t anymore” and then it gives this fake vulnerability like: “Oh man, he’s willing to tell the truth. He’s willing to tell me about his problems” but actually, it is a bold face lie.
He’s currently using porn and he’s not telling her that. The lying straight to people’s face is a manipulation tactic but it’s also a trust-building tactic. They don’t want to tell you the truth because they want to build your trust. They don’t want the consequences, they’re not willing to surrender to the truth and that in and of itself is an abusive relationship.
What Does Grooming Mean In A Relationship?
Rachel: So, the other night we had a talk with his parents, we are living with them right now, and they’re very toxic. He was defending me by saying “Yeah, I’ve been abusive.” He groomed so well that he’ll admit it and say all the right things. Like, “Yeah, I’ve been abusive, and I’ve done this” while all along he’s still acting out. He’s still abusing me so here he is being vulnerable and admitting he’s being abusive.
Anne: And people are thinking: “Oh, he’s admitting to what he did, so he must have changed. Why won’t she forgive him?” and that kind of thing. That’s super scary. You’ve got a psychopath on your hands. Oh, it’s bad, right. People around you right now aren’t recognizing how dangerous your situation is.
Rachel: Yes. So, he’s doing more work and yet the other night he woke up and told me that he groped me in my sleep. I had reached out to some friends and they’re like: “That’s not normal” and so I told him that. He kind of acknowledged it so I told his parents and they said: “Oh honey, that’s normal; that’s a part of the marriage contract.”
Anne: What?! His parents? Sexual assault is part of the marriage contract?
Why Does Emotional Abuse Thrive When Grooming Happens?
Rachel: I was like: “No, this is my body and I still have a right to say when he can touch me and when he cannot touch me.” and they said: “Oh, that’s probably why he has a porn problem then.”
Rachel: So, I’ve stopped talking to them for now.
Anne: Yeah, that’s a good idea. How many kids do you have?
Rachel: I have 3. They’re 5, 4, and almost 3, all boys.
Anne: Wow. Oh, my word. Okay, yeah, you’re in for the long haul here. sis. What you’ve realized now, clearly, is that you were groomed for an abusive relationship and now you’re in the middle of it and there is clearly no easy way to solve it. If you choose divorce, then that’s going to be a really difficult road. If you choose to stay together, that’s going to be a very difficult road and either way you’re going to have to put boundaries in place for your safety. It’s like a life long trial. It doesn’t get easier. It’s just a long hard slog. Well, it does get easier.
Rachel: I feel like it’s especially hard for us because usually, the boundaries are still hard for us or even harder. Like, I have a chronic illness and yet I’m not letting my husband come help me take care of the kids. So, now I’m putting more work on myself when it’s still hard. Yeah, it seems not fair because for your healing it has to be even harder.
Grooming Is A Form Of Gaslighting
Anne: Well, and the reason it feels like it’s not fair is because it’s not. You’re suffering the consequences of someone else abusing you and that feels terrible, which is why it’s so hard to admit the abuse is going on in the first place for most of us because the consequences are very dire. It’s like facing the thing you don’t want to ever face. It’s tough. I’m really, really sorry this is happening to you. You are very brave, and you are strong.
Rachel: Thanks, I’ve come a long way.
Anne: You’ll come out of it. I am now feeling really, I don’t know I’ve had kind of a breakthrough lately, I’m feeling super peaceful and happy almost all the, but I remember when it felt hopeless and just, either way, felt so impossible, but I do know that as you take one step at a time it will get better eventually. When people would say that to me I was like: “No, this is so bad. It can’t get better.” So, I understand the pain right now. I’m so sorry.
Rachel: Yeah, I think the hardest part is I know I probably can make this decision in the future if it comes or whatever, but I feel like I could never divorce him because I’m too scared of what he would do. I just worry like: “Who would he be with and why couldn’t I be like her?” but right now I don’t want him either. So, I’m in this tricky spot where it’s like I’m willing to stay in it and have way distance and emotional detachment and let him figure stuff out but how do you know when it’s time or will I have the strength to do what I need?
Grooming Sets An Unrealistic Reality
Anne: One thing to keep in mind for right now is that even if you remain married, you still don’t have a say over who he’s seeing. A marriage doesn’t solve that problem. It’s not like if you don’t file for divorce he’s not going to ever look at porn again and porn is the other women. It doesn’t have anything to do with you. Comparing yourself to porn, all of us know this, is a losing battle.
If the person is not healthy, if they’re not willing to be honest, if they’re not willing to be faithful to their wife then marriage isn’t going to stop them. So, if that’s one of your worries just let me help you release that and release yourself from those types of beliefs that hold women back. Getting to the bottom of what is that central belief that might be holding me back from setting the boundaries that you need to set to keep yourself safe, whatever that is, discovering that and then attacking that head-on with help and logic will be good. Man, you are so brave.
So, it’s interesting when you look up signs of grooming online you get stuff like: they are superficial and manipulative, but how do you know at the beginning of the relationship that they are manipulative because it just seems legit. So, that’s part of the grooming. They are untruthful is one of the signs, but how do you know they are untruthful in the beginning? So, for listeners out there, I encourage you to start thinking about the beginning of the relationship and how they set it up to gain your trust and how they set up people around them to look a certain way and be a certain way in order to be able to operate free and clear without people second-guessing them.
Rachel, you’ve described to our listeners how you were groomed and then when you started noticing the abusive behaviors and then the consequences of that. I’d just like to know how you’re feeling now?
Grooming Is The Beginning Of Abuse
Rachel: I feel conflicted between almost ecstatic, like: “I knew I was right because something was telling me”, but also kind of like: “Well, why didn’t I listen to myself sooner?” Feeling like I let myself down, but it is what it is, and I can accept that I was doing the best that I could. I did what I thought was best by being open to him and letting him in my life and that’s all I could ask of myself is to be the best I can be.
Anne: Which you were. My Aunt has a saying: “No good deed goes unpunished” and when it comes to being a victim of abuse that is the case. Trusting, loving, and really caring about someone and then the abuse starts happening, and it’s happened from the very beginning because the lying and the manipulation is part of the abuse. It’s not like he was not abusive and then he became abusive. He was abusive from the very beginning and that’s what is so devastating about it.
So, for you and your children, I genuinely hope that he chooses to make his way towards safety and we will be here for you through that process. Rachel’s currently doing individual sessions with one of our coaches and for those of you who feel like: “Is this happening to me? Were these behaviors that he did? Was this a grooming thing or is this just who he is? Help me understand this or was this gaslighting?” If you’re confused and you don’t know where to turn, BTR is a safe place to help you process that, unlike Rachel’s in-laws or other people who’ve also been groomed by her abusive spouse.
Grooming Is Not Part Of Healthy Relationships
Thank you so much for being so brave and strong and coming on today to share your story.
Rachel: Thanks for having me.
Anne: If you are the praying type, pray for Rachel. I recorded that podcast a while ago and things have gotten really difficult for her and she’s setting good boundaries. She is safer now then she has been. She spent some time at the domestic violence shelter. Just a call for prayers for her and for all of us as I pray for myself and for all of you all the time and for BTR to be able to reach every woman in the world who needs to hear this message.
We’re in the thick of summer now. I’ve been busy with swim lessons and tennis. Summer is really tough. It’s a hard time and I think a lot of women just hold on for dear life and think: “If we can just get through the summer and get to fall then things will calm down.” For me, that is not what happened. The summer before my husband’s arrest things escalated and then in the fall, it got worse. So, please don’t wait to get help. Please get help now.
Grooming Can Be Recognized As An Abusive Tool
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