“This issue of ending up involved with an abusive man happens to anyone. There is no special kind of woman this doesn’t happen to. People think, ‘Oh, if I’d been like this or like that…’ and it’s just not so. I’ve known women from every walk of life, from every level of education, women who were sharp as tacks and how smart they were. Unfortunately, nobody is abuse-proof.”Lundy Bancroft, author of Why Does He Do That?
Lundy Bancroft, warrior for women’s rights and author of Why Does He Do That? and When Dad Hurts Mom, joins Anne Blythe on the free BTR Podcast to empower victims of abuse.
Read the full transcript below and tune in to the free BTR Podcast for more.
Your Abuser’s View of You Is False
Many victims of abuse, weighed down by insecurities, fears, and feelings of inadequacy, struggle to grasp their own identities.
These core beliefs are embedded and fed to victims by abusive partners who create a false reality of who the abused woman actually is. At times, it is very difficult for victims to discern that they are simply not the person that their abusive partner says they are.
“He may have made you feel like you’re a bad mother, he may have made you feel like somehow you’re toxic, you’re the one that’s contaminating these kids, you’re the reason why these kids have problems. You’re not some toxic waste dump, that’s just the image that he tried to get across. You are these kids’ mother. You are absolutely crucial to them. They came from you. They need you desperate. They need you all the more because this other man in their life is such a destructive force.”Lundy Bancroft, author of Why Does He Do That?
Mothers, You Are Crucial
Children who have witnessed abuse, or lived in a home with an abusive man, need support and compassion as they process the choices and behaviors of their abusive fathers. Mothers can provide tremendous help to their children.
While it may seem daunting, especially as victims try to shed the lies that abusers have told them about themselves, women can triumph over trauma and become the solid rock of support that children need and deserve. Join the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group and find the support you need to begin seeing the magnificent truth about yourself.
To Victims of Betrayal and Abuse: You Matter
Often, victims of abuse and betrayal are conditioned by abusers to believe that their own life is less, or not at all, valuable. The constant betrayals, lying, gaslighting, put-downs, and abandonment can make women question their own worth as human beings.
When churches, communities, family, friends, and therapists enable abusers by not calling him out, not believing the victim, or staying neutral, they are reinforcing the toxic message that the victim’s life does not matter.
“I don’t believe that there are any people who were put on this earth so that their lives could be sacrificed to other people’s lives. I just can’t see the world that way. I’m incapable of and unwilling to see that women’s lives, somehow, are here to be sacrificed for the lives of men.”Lundy Bancroft, author of Why Does He Do That?
When Civic, Legal, and Religious Communities Enable Abusers
Tragically, many victims are re-traumatized when they reach out to others for help.
By not supporting the victim, enablers are placing the victim and her children in dangerous circumstances: abusers don’t magically stop abusing.
“Every time you back up an abuser, you’re horribly abandoning the woman, obviously, but you’re also abandoning the man. He’s going to be in his abusiveness for the rest of his life until someone makes him stop. An abuser doesn’t stop until he’s very, very forcibly called out by a lot of different people in a lot of different directions. One of the best places for that to happen is his church.”Lundy Bancroft, author of Why Does He Do That?
You Are Not Alone
While the court systems, your religious community, colleagues, friends, and family may have betrayed you by enabling your abuser, you are not alone.
At BTR, we understand the excruciating lack of justice for victims of emotional abuse and we solemnly applaud women who are on their journey to safety, even when it feels like safety will never come.
“At times, the pain, the suffering and the chaos seems to be ongoing, forever.
I was my own hero. I stood up to the plate, I faced it, and I saved myself.”Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Who Are You, Really? You Are a SHEro
Your abuser may have instilled many false beliefs within you: at BTR, we know how difficult it is to root those out and accept the magnificent truth. The truth is that you are:
- Beautiful inside and out
- Powerful and strong
- A good person
- Worthy of love and support
- Crucial to your children and to other victims of abuse
- A true SHEro: you are facing the abuse and seeking safety and healing. That is truly magnificent.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Abuse and Betrayal
Seeking safety and healing from betrayal and abuse requires a strong community of loving individuals who understand what you are going through. The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in every time zone, to help women receive the support, community, and validation they need. Join today.
Listen to the free BTR podcast for more inspiration, empowering knowledge, and powerful stories of triumph over trauma.
Remember, you are not alone.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
We are going to continue the conversation with Lundy Bancroft today as we discuss his book, When Dad Hurts Mom.
You can find this book on our website btr.org/books. There are also links to Lundy’s other books there. Those links will just take you right to Amazon, so it’s very easy for you. You can also see my book, Trauma Mama Husband Drama, there on the books page, which is also available on Amazon.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group Supports Victims of Emotional Abuse
I know many of you are going through harrowing times, especially with this ongoing COVID-19 situation. So many of you are stuck in your homes with an emotionally or psychologically abusive man and it is hard. It’s hard to figure out, first of all, is this abuse? It’s hard to really wrap your head around the fog of what’s happening to you.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is the perfect way to get support all the time, but especially now. You don’t have to schedule any appointments. You don’t have to leave your home. You can access it from your closet or from your parked car in your driveway.
We made it specifically for you, knowing the challenges that you face most likely as a mom, most likely in this psychologically abusive situation, where you’re trying to sort through what happens.
When you join Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group, they get unlimited live support. We have multiple sessions a day in every single time zone. Check out our website, btr.org, to get more information, and we’d love to see you in a session today.
Emotional Abuse and The (Broken) Legal System
Now, we’re going to continue the conversation with Lundy Bancroft. Primarily we’re starting with a discussion about his book When Dad Hurts Mom.
Anne: Does the book outline what women can do to, hopefully, navigate the legal system in order to perhaps arm them or prepare them better for this very difficult legal situation that is neutral which benefits the abuser.
Lundy: There is a chapter in When Dad Hurts Mom on navigating the family court system, and I give quite a number of ideas about of how to have your best chance there. At the same time, I want to caution people that you can do everything right, strategically, in family court and still not have it go well because it’s a system that’s so broken.
In our time, it’s become a system that ironically is so stacked against moms. When people hear about the family court, they say, “Oh, that’s a system that’s really stacked against dads.” That went out 40 years ago, believe it or not.
That went out so far back that people still think it’s true today. In the 1980’s, there was a huge shift over to the other side. By 1990, the courts had become very solidly pro-father environments, so you want to stay out of the family court, if you possibly can. Try to reach negotiations, make deals where you can, and find ways to avoid putting it in a judge’s hands, if you possibly can.
Family Court Is Generally Pro-Father, Not Pro-Safety
I’ll just quickly say a few things from that chapter. One is that you’re forced to be as conciliatory-sounding as possible. You really have to go into family court sounding like you want to work things out. I don’t mean to work your relationship out, but I mean you want to work things out peacefully with the children, because the courts are very biased towards moms who come in with hostility towards their exes.
Men are permitted to come into custody with a lot of hostility towards their exes, but women are not. It’s a very gender-biased system. It’s important to come in looking like you’re really prepared to try and work things out, and try to set up systems where he’ll be the one to blow it where the court will finally start to see what he’s really like. That’s one thing I talk about is that it really requires some patience.
Regardless Of What Courts Decide, Women Are Not Powerless
Another thing I talk about is to try and really be focused on what’s going to best help your kids, because the court may make terrible decisions and you may still be able to get your kids through it. Or the court may make good decisions and your ex may still be able to do some psychological harm to your kids.
Women, when they’re in the custody system, feel like, “If the custody system makes good decisions, my kids are going to be okay. If the court system makes bad decisions, my kids are not going to be okay.” It’s really not that simple.
There’s a lot that you can do to make things go better for your kids, regardless of what the court does. The court is largely going to make bad decisions, that’s just the way the custody courts work.
Find A Lawyer Who Understands Abuse
Then, I talk about the importance of doing your best to find a lawyer who understands something about this specific terrain: the issue of battling over the children with an abusive man. There are lawyers out there who are really great divorce lawyers who still don’t know this particular terrain.
You can get referred to a certain lawyer because a ton of people say, “So-and-so is such a good divorce lawyer, that’s who you want.” That person is trained in how to fight over assets, how to fight over houses, how to fight over pensions or how to do a custody dispute with someone who’s not an abuser. But how to do a custody dispute with someone who is an abuser involves a very specific set of challenges that a lawyer needs to have that specific experience in.
Those are just a few examples of a whole bunch of things that I talk about in that chapter. Honestly, you need a whole book written—which I can’t take on right now—but I’d love to see somebody take on—actually, I know just the person to do it but I don’t know if they have time right now—a whole book that’s specifically for abuse survivors just about managing these very gender-biased custody courts that we’re dealing with at this moment in history.
The Legal System May Re-traumatize Abuse Victims
Anne: Yeah, that would be super helpful. So many women are hurting, and their children are hurting. This is another level of trauma for these victims because not only are they not getting the help from their therapist and not from their clergy, but then the court system further victimizes them and their children.
The pain and the suffering and the chaos, at times, seems to just be ongoing forever. I like calling us victims. People are like, “No, because you don’t want people to stay in victim mode.” I’m like, “I don’t like the word ‘survivor’ because it feels like you survived something, like, ‘I survived the Titanic,’ and then you can go on your merry way.”
I still hold a no-contact boundary, I have all of these boundaries, but I’m actually, technically and literally, still being victimized by my ex, both through my kids and through his lies about me and other things. It just feels like this will last forever even though I feel pretty good and I set boundaries.
Can you speak to that for a little bit? Maybe society is misunderstanding that divorce doesn’t stop the abuse.
Victims of Abuse Are Human Beings
Lundy: I have said sometimes to audiences of mine that I think we need to find a word, maybe we have to create a word, that communicates both victim and survivor. My main concern is, when someone’s been through a really bad thing, how do they want people to see them? How do they want to be seen? How do they want to be viewed?
My experience is that people want you to see both pieces. They want you to see how beaten up they are, sometimes that’s literal and sometimes that’s emotional, but they want you to see how thrashed they were by the experience, but they don’t want you to JUST see that.
They want you to also see that they’re still a human being, that they have a whole history of things that they’d loved and things that they’d done, that they have a whole future of things that they will love and will do, that they got through this thing.
I don’t like the way the term “survivor” erases the whole part of them that’s feeling really shredded, and I don’t like some of the limitations with the victim and the way it then leads that person to just be seen only in terms of their wounds.
I think most people want you to see their wounds, but also want you to see everything else. The fact that they’re a painter or the fact that they play the guitar or the fact that they swim, or all these other things, the fact that they’re a wonderful mom, all these other things of who they are beside someone where they’re feeling shredded inside.
I hope, sometime, we can come up with a term that somehow captures both victim and survivor, but I’m with you. I really agree that to jump right to survivor is not seeing the whole person either.
Shero: Victim of Abuse Who Continues to Strive For Safety
Anne: Or her continued experience. Even though she might be doing really well, the abuse might still be ongoing because her abuser might be actively, even if she’s divorced from him or even if she never talks to him, still being abusive to her by lying about her or other things, ongoing, into the future.
I think I have the word for it, and I use it all the time. I call us Sheroes.
Lundy: I like it.
Anne: The reason I call us sheroes is that it shows that, “I had this difficult thing that I had to face, and I was my own hero. I stood up to the plate, I faced it, and I saved myself.” That, both, recognizes and it can be ongoing. Like, “I continue to be a shero through my continued experience being divorced from an abuser and sharing kids with him.”
This can be an ongoing positive label, I think, so I’ve been calling us sheroes for a long time. I hope it sticks, but every time I bring it up the women who like the word “survivor,” they want to stick with that. I use the word shero, so if you want to start using it be my guest.
Abusers Don’t Stop Abusing Post-Divorce
Lundy: Thank you, I appreciate it, and I think your point is really important about the popular assumption that somehow since you’re not with him anymore, so the abuse is over. Abusers find so many ways to continue the abuse.
Particularly, when you share children with him, the abuse doesn’t stop. It never stops. It certainly doesn’t stop until your kids reach their majority, but it doesn’t necessarily even stop then.
I think you’re right. I think I should put more emphasis on that point that. So often it becomes a way of life. Dealing with him becomes a way of life and you’re trying to figure out how to build a really good life in the midst of that. Some people manage to do that, which is wonderful, but you do have to be a bit of a hero to do that.
Lundy Bancroft Fights For Victims Because He Cares
Anne: We’re awesome. Sheroes listening, you are amazing. I’m proud of you and love you and so does Lundy. You can tell, through his voice, and we so appreciate your work on our behalf.
For all the sheroes, listening to this podcast, who feel dumb, who feel stupid that they didn’t recognize the abuse or feel like, “How could I have let that happen to me?” Do you have any words of comfort to give them?
“Abusiveness Is A Skill”
Lundy: Abusers are so good at what they do. I so wish that weren’t true, but it really is. I’ve worked with about 1000 abusers, over 1000 abusers directly, during the years that I was running groups for abusers. They’re, in a really twisted and unhealthy way, they’re clever, they’re creative, they’re persuasive.
[Abusers] have a lot of acting and theatrical skills. They can come off as different people in different situations. They’re very persuasive in the early dating phase, or the first “getting more serious” phase of a relationship that first year, that first two years, and sometimes even longer than the first couple of years.
They’re slick. They’re con artists. I don’t think, necessarily, that they are planning to turn bad later. I think it happens almost on this automatic, kind of unconscious level, but they are skilled.
Abusiveness is, tragically, a skill, and it’s understandable that you end up being rough on yourself in various ways about it but you really don’t deserve it. You really don’t deserve it.
No One Is Abuse-Proof
I can tell you, from having spent so much of my life around the offenders, that they could fool pretty much anybody. And they do. That’s the thing, that’s a lot of what’s making your life so difficult is the fact that he’s fooling judges and relatives and friends and people at your church and people at your athletic club.
If he’s fooling so many different people, how are you, in some way, a bad person or a not smart person, because he managed to pull the wool over your eyes? He’s doing this everywhere he goes.
This issue of ending up involved with an abusive man happens to anyone. There is no special kind of woman this doesn’t happen to. People think, “Oh, if I’d been like this or I’d been like that,” and it’s just not so.
I’ve known women from every walk of life, from every level of education, women who were sharp as tacks and how smart they were. Unfortunately, nobody is abuse-proof. I wish people were abuse-proof.
Women Are Groomed To Choose Abusers
Certainly, once you’ve come through it, you’re better defended against the abuser, because now you know a lot of things about what to look for.
What if, when you were eight years old, people had started telling you what to look for? Nobody does.
Girls and young women are kept totally in the dark about what the warning signs are. In fact, they’re encouraged to be attracted to exactly the things you should be running 100 miles away from. Then it’s like, “Oh, well why did you pick an abuser?” “Well, I picked an abuser because that’s exactly what I’d been taught to do from the moment I was born.”
50 Shades of Gray Is Pro-Abuse
No offense to people who may love 50 Shades of Gray, but 50 Shades of Gray is a book that trains women to be attracted to the things that you should most run away from.
I only got through the first 20 pages of that book because it was so revolting to me. Within the first 20 pages, that guy had essentially covered every warning sign that I teach women about, that I talk about in Why Does He Do That?, that I list off on my website like, “These are the things to watch out for in the early days of a relationship.” The guy covers them all.
Mothers Are Crucial To Their Children
It’s not your fault that no one ever told you what to watch out for. People say, “Oh, don’t go outside without enough clothes on because you’ll get pneumonia” and, “Don’t walk out in traffic because you’ll get killed.” A long time ago, Sarah Buel said to me, “They never tell you be careful who you marry. They tell you all of these other things to look out for,” anything you can do to stop dumping on yourself.
Then the other message I’d really like to get across is: Your kids really need you. You’re their mom. He may have made you feel like you’re a bad mother, he may have made you feel like somehow you’re toxic, you’re the one that’s contaminating these kids, you’re the reason why these kids have problems.
You’re not some toxic waste dump, that’s just the image that he tried to get across. You are these kids’ mother. You are absolutely crucial to them. They came from you. They need you desperate. They need you all the more because this other man in their life is such a destructive force.
You’re really, really crucial to these kids. Please try and never underestimate how valuable you are to them, how much they love you. Even when they’re not looking like they love you, on a deeper level, they really love you. Try and just keep remembering that you have the capacity to be such an important force for good in their lives. They really need you.
Anne: Thank you.
How Do Women Choose Safety Over Their Religion?
I’m an active member of my church, but the listeners of this podcast come from all walks of life. Every religion you can think of and some of the women who listen to this podcast are non-religious, but just for our religious listeners, really quickly, who have this paradigm of “stand by your man” or “the family is the most important thing and you need to love and serve and forgive,” and those are the most important qualities or the most important principles to abide by, at the expense of boundaries, perhaps.
Do you have any thoughts for women, in the religious community, who are caught in abuse and they can’t quite figure out how to separate themselves from the harm due to the principles and values they really hold dear?
Religious Communities Can Help Men Stop Abusing Women
Lundy: It’s such a complex and involved discussion, so I’m going to say just a couple of brief comments and so much of it comes down to, on the deepest level, what are your spiritual beliefs.
I don’t believe that there were any people who were put on this earth so that their lives could be sacrificed for other people’s lives. I just can’t see the world that way. I’m incapable of and unwilling to see that women’s lives, somehow, are here to be sacrificed for the lives of men. That’s point one.
Point two, I actually don’t think you do an abuser any favors by enabling him. I’m not talking about the woman, because I don’t think the partner enables him, she’s just trying to survive. Who enables him is the court system and his friends and his relatives and his church, and they say, “We’re just trying to be supportive of him and we’re just trying to be there for him too.” No, you’re not actually, you’re abandoning him.
Every time you back up an abuser, you’re horribly abandoning the woman, obviously, but you’re also abandoning the man. He’s going to be in his abusiveness for the rest of his life until someone makes him stop. An abuser doesn’t stop until he’s very, very forcibly called out by a lot of different people in a lot of different directions. One of the best places for that to happen is his church.
It’s really powerful and important when churches say to abusers, “You can’t keep acting this way anymore and we’re going to set all kinds of limits on you. You’re actually not even going to be allowed to come to services on days that she’s in services. You’re going to have to make really significant changes, and if we don’t see really significant changes down the line, we’re going to have to have you out of our community.”
Allowing Abusers In Forces Victims Out
I understand why people are really reluctant to take that step, they want to be a community where everybody is welcome. But you’re not, that’s the thing, It’s not a community where everybody is welcome, because abused women are not welcome and safe there if you’re allowing abusers to be there.
When you say, “Well, we allow abusers to be there because we are open to everybody,” that’s just not true. You’re not open to everybody, if you’re allowing abusers to be there. You’re keeping so many other people out.
Religious Experiences Do Not Change Abusers
The most important thing that needs to happen, and it is happening in many faith communities in our times, is that this discussion needs to happen. What does inclusivity look like? If we’re including someone in a way that means that other people aren’t safe to come is that really inclusivity? How do you handle an abuser? How do you actually stop an abuser? Do abusers change from religious conversion? The answer, unfortunately, is they don’t.
That can be a very hard thing for religious people to accept, but I’ve seen abusers have tremendous powerful religious experiences, get much more serious about their religion, get much more serious about their religious practices, become much more regular about attending church, and they’re treatment of women did not improve an ounce. It didn’t move an inch.
The only way that a guy overcomes his abusiveness is by dealing with his abusiveness, not by any other kind of change of life or change of faith or change of health or psychotherapy or anything else.
“Your Faith Community Should Be 100% Behind You”
The last thing I want to say is, your faith community should be a place that wants the best for you. It wants you to thrive. It shouldn’t be a place that wants you to be a martyr, to sacrifice your life to somebody else. That makes no sense. We want everyone on this earth to thrive.
There are faith communities that completely pull behind the abused women, where she’s immediately, once anybody knows what’s going on, she’s just showered with support. People are there for her. People are offering her places to stay. People are offering her money, if she needs money. They’re starting to keep a really close eye on the abuse and what he does.
They don’t have to turn against him, all they have to do is start keeping an eye on him. If they start keeping an eye on him, they’re going to see for themselves the nature of the problem.
People say, “Well, what if she’s lying?” I say, “Keep an eye on him and, over time, you’ll start to be able to tell if she’s telling the truth, because she’s almost always telling the truth.” Your faith community should be 100% behind you.
Victims Shouldn’t Have To Choose Between Their Faith And Their Safety
You shouldn’t be in a position of having to think, “Do I choose my faith, or do I choose my right to live not being treated this way?” Those two should go right together. Your faith community should be so wanting you to stand up for your rights.
Anne: I couldn’t agree more. Lundy, you have been such a source of inspiration and validation, especially, I do need to say this, our listeners are, although people from all walks of life are abused and abuse is a human rights issue, my specific mission is to help women who are abused by men.
Our listeners are women. We always use the pronoun “she” when we’re talking about the victim and “he,” when we’re talking about the perpetrator. I have to say, from a personal perspective, that it’s been so validating to have you, a man, genuinely understand it and stand up for women everywhere and be a warrior for women’s rights.
I can’t express how validating that has been and, also, when I have given your book to other men in my life, who are safe men, and they have read it, they’ve really seen, “Whoa, I didn’t really understand abuse before.”
It’s just been so validating, and I don’t think that our community can thank you enough, so thank you so much for all of your hard work and your fight on behalf of victims.
Lundy: You’re very welcome. To me, it’s just been an honor to be accepted as an ally within this effort to fight for women’s rights, so I really appreciate getting to be part of this effort.
Anne: Thank you. Again, you can find Lundy’s books on our website btr.org/books.
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