Do you feel like you have emotional whiplash after a conversation with your husband? Does he put you up on a pedestal just to tear you down? Does he ask you to manage his life, then get sulky and resentful when you do what he requested?
Your husband is covertly devaluing you.
Sarah McDugal and Anne Blythe help you unpack covert devaluation on the free BTR podcast. Learn what it is, what it looks like, and how to start finding safety again. Read the full transcript below and listen to the free BTR podcast for more. Don’t forget to check out Sarah’s free resources and giveaways here.
What Is “Devaluing”?
Devaluing is an abusive tactic that leaves victims feeling confused, inadequate, unworthy, and/or isolated.
Devaluing is anything that diminishes or destroys the personhood of the other. [It’s] treating the other person as if they are not deserving of honor and empathy and love and compassion and respect as a child of God.Sarah McDugal, Wilderness to Wild
Is Your Husband Covertly Devaluing You?
Covert devaluing is notoriously difficult to detect, but Sarah McDugal gives us some helpful signs to help identify covert devaluing. Ask yourself:
- Does your husband try to “play God” in your life?
- Does your husband expect you to “play God” in his life?
- Does your husband try to isolate you from friends and family?
- Does your husband try to control your decisions through manipulation including sulking and guilt-tripping?
- Does your husband put you on a pedestal?
- Does your husband seem to get angry and abusive when you are vulnerable?
- Does your husband refuse (or say he “can’t”) show empathy and true pain when you express your own pain over his infidelity/abuse?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, your husband is covertly devaluing you.
Devaluing Is Destructive: You Deserve Support
If your husband is devaluing you, it is probably taking a toll on your body, mind, and spirit. You need safety and support.
The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is a safe place to ask questions, share your story, process trauma, and learn how to set boundaries so that you can begin your journey to healing.
This does not have to be your life. You are worth so much more than this.
Join the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group today and find the support you deserve.
Check out Sarah McDugal’s free resources here.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
I have my dear friend Sarah McDugal on the episode today and she’s going to be on subsequent episodes so make sure that you stay tuned for all the episodes that we have together. But before we get to Sarah; I know this year has been hard for all of us. It has been a slog. Not only with the abuse but also obviously the coronavirus and all the other trials and tribulations that all of us are going through.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Is Here For You
I want you to know that my heart is with you because we understand what it’s like to be a woman in this situation, we created Betrayal Trauma Recovery group just for you. Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group has multiple sessions a day, in every single time zone. We’d love to see you in a session today.
Rate The BTR Podcast
Thank you so much to those of you who have given the podcast a five-star review. Here’s one that we received on Apple podcasts: Peace and Safety. “Peace and safety, peace and safety. These are what I have now five years and a divorce out from my husband’s unmasking. I found this podcast about two years ago and so wish I had found it sooner. I spent years trying to figure out my now ex-husband’s behavior while being emotionally and psychologically manipulated and abused instead of trying to find peace and safety for myself and my three children. I hope new listeners going through what I did take Anne’s encouragement to make their goal, peace, and safety and not try to figure out what is going on with their abuser. Thank you for the podcast Anne, I now have peace and safety.”
Find BTR on Facebook
So now to a series of episodes with my dear dear friend Sarah McDugal. Sara and I talk personally, a lot and she’s just become a dear friend, her organization Wilderness to Wild is incredible. She has amazing Facebook videos that she puts out often, so I’d really encourage you to follow her on Facebook. We’re on Facebook too at Betrayal Trauma Recovery so while you’re there, follow us too.
Sarah McDugal: Warrior For Truth
Sarah McDugal is an incredible warrior for truth and for victims of abuse. She is an author, speaker, trainer, and abuse recovery coach who works exclusively with women wounded by toxic relationships in the faith community. She emphasizes biblical prevention, responsible strategy, and holistic healing in her coaching and courses for clarity and confidence. She also trains organizations and faith leaders to recognize and respond to abuse through podcasts, TV, radio training, events, and lectures. Welcome, Sarah.
Getting To Know Sarah
Sarah: Thank you. I am so glad to be here with you today. We’ve tried to get around to this episode a long time, haven’t we?
Anne: We have. It’s been months.
Sarah: Yeah, we have been trying to get around to this episode for a long time. I know you contacted me close to the beginning of the year, didn’t you?
Sarah: And that was right before I’d been diagnosed with cancer, and my life had just been turned completely upside down and I was starting chemotherapy and the whole thing. And now here we are, like, eight months later, 10 months later or something.
Trauma & Constant Devaluation Affect Physical Health
Anne: Yes. Yeah, before we get to the topic we wanted to talk about, which is devaluing, can you just give a little update about your cancer situation in the context of everything that’s going on with you?
Sarah: Sure, sure I’d be happy to. So, almost a year ago now, I had been in intense constant chronic pain and like a whole lot of moms, single moms, I ignored it for like over a year. My back hurt and my hip hurt and my knee hurt to the point that by about a year ago I was kind of walking like an old lady, a lot of the time. I couldn’t sleep at night; I was constantly swapping out ice packs and then trading out heat packs for ice packs and taking hot Epsom salts baths and trying to do all kinds of things. I ended up going and finally getting it checked out and found out that I had a 19-centimeter tumor. I had bone cancer in my leg, and all the pain was from the growth of that tumor. That was completely unexpected. Here I was just this shy of 40 and diagnosed with bone cancer, and I had always lived this extremely healthy life. Like I was always a vegetarian and I never drank or smoked or you know just had this clean lifestyle and all the things that you’re supposed to do to not get cancer at 39, except for avoiding trauma, I hadn’t been very good at that.
Anne: Which was totally your fault, Sarah.
Women Can Find Strength & Wisdom In Trials
Sarah: Yeah, it’s totally my fault. I just missed my trauma so hello cancer. So, it was a whole different type of learning curve, and I had to go through six rounds of chemotherapy and four weeks of daily radiation, and here we are on the other side. The cancer is gone, and I am incredibly thankful. God taught me a tremendous amount of things about his heart and his character, and about the process of healing over this year in ways that I had not experienced before. So, there you have it.
Anne: That’s amazing, and hopefully, you’ll share some of those insights with us today as we’re talking about the topic that I’ve asked you to come to talk about, which is devaluing. But before we get there, I just want to share with you that I appreciate your optimism and your faith, and your strength. You’re just an incredible example to all of us, that you face hardship with such grace and such love and share your insights with others. I’m so proud of you and grateful to know you and also just think that you are one of the most amazing people that I know. I’m so sorry that you’ve been through so much, but it couldn’t have happened to a better person to share with us the insights that you gained along the way.
“This Wasn’t Supposed To Happen Because I Did All The Right Things”
Sarah: You know, it’s funny how I think one time You and I were praying together, and we had a similar kind of conversation. Like, I have, and this is just diving right into the thick of it. One of the things I think survivors of abuse or betrayal often ask is, “God, why me?” Right. If you have any faith background, there is this whole sudden wrestling with God. Like why, why, why did this happen to me? Why me? Why? Maybe you did all the right things, maybe you waited for just the right person, maybe you saved yourself before marriage, and if you did any of those things then when really devastating things happen in your family life, it’s really easy to ask God-like, what’s up God?
Your Higher Power Does Not Want You To Be Devalued
This wasn’t supposed to happen because I did all the right things, right. I went through those same stages as everyone does, and where God has led me since then, and on that journey is to kind of reframe that question from why me to why not me. Why do I think that I deserve to be exempt from suffering in a world that is filled with sin and suffering? Now, I do not on any level believe that God is the author of pain. I do not believe that God sends us pain just to make us better or something bizarre and crazy. Some people say that, and I think that that is just a cruel misrepresentation of God’s character. That’s my personal opinion based on my study, but I do believe that we live in a world that is chocked full of pain and suffering as a result of sin. God is capable of bringing silver linings out of storm clouds, and for me, one of those silver linings has been being able to take the things that have happened to me and use them as instruments to create a community for other people who are suffering similarly, and who need help and support.
Anne: Yeah, and I’ve seen you do that beautifully through the years, and it’s such an honor to know you. To know the work that you do, and how every instance of suffering that you experience, you turn that to others to help other people. It’s a joy actually to watch that, from my perspective, in your life.
Sarah: Thank you, Anne.
What Is “Devaluing”?
Anne: So, speaking of suffering. When we’re talking about devaluing and the harm caused by abusive men (and on this podcast, we’re speaking specifically about abusive men because my podcast is specifically for women victims of male perpetrators). So, we will speak in a gender-segregated way. So, when we’re talking about abusive men who use devaluing to abuse their partner, that causes tons of suffering for her, and through no fault of her own. So, let’s start there, by defining what devaluing is.
Sarah: Well, I think that devaluing is anything that diminishes or destroys the personhood of the other. I realize that’s a little bit broad, so I wanted to kind of narrow that down into three ways that I see devaluing showing up in these types of situations. One is the obvious outright tearing you down with words, actions, whether that is verbal abuse or whether that is physical abuse or emotional abuse or sexual abuse, whatever it is. That is, all of those things are devaluing to the other person because they are treating the other person as if they are not deserving of honor and empathy and love and compassion and respect as a child of God.
How Does Devaluing Show Up?
Now, I actually outline the 13 categories in the systems of abuse in the free giveaway that we’re doing later; we can talk about that later. So, devaluing can show up in tangible ways, in intangible ways, in psychological ways, in physical ways, but the first and obvious form of devaluing is when someone is overtly and outright tearing you down, and then there are two types of more covert devaluing, and they are harder to detect.
Anne: I would say that for our community the covert ways are the more common, especially in the faith community, because you have men who want to be “followers of Jesus” and so they’ve got their white shirt and their tie on or whatever they’re doing, and they’re trying to act like they are a good guy. So, they don’t want to do anything over that’s obvious like they wouldn’t want to yell at their wife in front of other people, you know, they’re not going to be swearing or whatever at church, so they’re going to put on this face. But even at home, they might pray or read their scriptures or do other things to make you think like they’re a man of God. So, let’s talk about these covert things because I think these are more common to our listeners. But not only that, but this is what makes it so difficult to understand what’s happening because you can’t quite tell what’s happening.
Sarah: Absolutely. This is what creates that trauma fog, and that sense of confusion because on the face of it they’re doing everything that you think they should be doing according to your belief system. Right. And then there’s something that doesn’t fit, and you can’t always put your finger on it. I want to suggest that there are two ways that that happens, and this is an angle that we don’t often take when we look at it. One is they are putting you on a pedestal and wanting you to play God in their lives or where they are putting themselves on a pedestal and wanting to play God in your life.
Anne: Let’s talk about that first one. That’s really interesting. I think I’m not sure, I’m excited but are you about to say that they want to sort of hand you the keys to their life and sort of creating a scenario where you are managing everything that’s going on in their life?
Sarah: Oh, it’s like you’re inside my head or something.
Trauma Mama Husband Drama
Anne: I’m going to take a break for just a second to talk about Trauma Mama Husband Drama, my picture book for adults. This is the perfect picture book to give to someone who is having a hard time wrapping their head around what is going on. It’s short. So. if you’re like, do I give them Trauma Mama Husband Drama, or do I try and get him to read Why Does He Do That by Lundy Bancroft? They’re more likely to read through this, they can read through it in like four minutes. There are some infographics at the back, it makes it really digestible.
Now back to my conversation with Sarah.
“I Had Been Manipulated Into Managing His Image For Him”
Oh, I’m like are you going there? I think you are because I think so many of us have experienced this. We think, oh our husbands okay, I mean I’ve heard so many victims say this, especially when they’re in the relationship. She’s not so concerned; she’s not as concerned because she can “manage things”. Right. Like if she tells him hey, he needs to go therapy, he’ll go to therapy. If she tells him hey, we need to do this, he’ll do it. But the true trauma almost happens when she stops managing him and realizes, ooh, whoa, I didn’t realize this was who he really was. I did not realize that I had been manipulated into managing his image for him and all these external things for him.
This Is What Covert Devaluing Looks Like
Sarah: Here’s how my friends over at Psalm 82 Initiative put it. The abuser wants the victim to take responsibility for their problems. The only type of woman who’s willing to do that is a woman who believes she’s capable of fixing him, or who has been taught by her religious environment that it’s her responsibility to be the solution to his issues. In that context, he is asking her to play God for him, to be the accountability partner, to be the warden over his addiction, to be the one who is keeping him on the straight and narrow, to be the one who can change his ways. The more competent or obligated a woman feels in helping him change the longer and more tenaciously she’s going to hang on to the abusive relationship because she’s going to keep telling herself, I just need to be a little more loving, I just need to be more gracious, I just need to be more prayerful, I just need to be more like Jesus because there’s something in me that can make this situation better, and the truth is there’s nothing in you as a woman that can change an abusive addicted spouse.
Anne: Can you talk about some of the religious scriptings that women may have heard that would lend them to this type of thought?
Toxic Religious Scripting & Devaluing
Sarah: Well, there’s the whole warped concept of submission. The script is, and this is something that we hear so often with pastors or biblical counselors or church therapists or whatever, that you need to go home and you need to be more loving, you need to make sure that you are doing everything you can do you, you need to give him enough sex, you need to pray more, etc, etc. So basically, what they’re telling the wife, at that point, is that you need to love him as Christ loves the church. Right. You need to be self-sacrificial; you need to be kinder; you need to be more filled with grace, you need to be more understanding. And instead of holding the husband to be accountable for exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit in his marriage and in his home, they tell the woman to go home and love her husband like Christ loves the church, which actually is a very backhanded sense in telling the woman to go home and take spiritual headship over her husband, as husbands are told to do.
“The Husband Places The Wife On An Inverse Pedestal”
Now, what’s kind of insane, is that those church leaders or religious leaders who most often will give this message to women are quite often those who feel very strongly about male headship, and the doctrine of male headship. The entitlement of men to take power and control over women in faith communities plays a huge part in this because it’s actually an innate infrastructure that at its core is teaching women to idolize their husbands and to treat their husbands as higher than God. This is especially in very conservative fundamental types of faith communities. It’s not in all faith communities, but where it exists, it is at its core allowing the husband to play God and to stand in the place of Jesus in the spirit in the life of his wife and his children and commanding them to worship him as an idol. To give full power and control that God never intended any human to have over each other, and at the same time, when there is addiction or betrayal in that same type of marriage, so often, the husband places the wife on an inverse pedestal, expecting her to manage and control the environment for him, which is in a way, asking her to play God in his life. Even while he is telling her that he has perceived scriptural entitlement to be God to her.
Anne: Either of those things works against her.
When He Devalues You, He’s Not Taking Accountability For His Actions
Sarah: Yes, but actually it works against him as well. Here’s why. Because, either one of those things, or both of them when they coexist prevents the husband from actually taking responsibility for himself before God and doing the work of healing and recovery. So, it works against him, too.
Anne: Right, because if you can’t take accountability for your actions, and you’re expecting someone else to manage your environment for you so that you don’t misbehave, you never actually repent, or actually come to know God, or actually have a relationship with God. Right. You’re just relying on all these external factors to make sure that your image stays intact.
Sarah: Exactly, and every sin falls into one of two things. It’s either pride or unbelief. Pride is I can do this better than God can. Unbelief is not even God can fix this. Everything we struggle with: addiction, abuse, victimization, trying to figure out how to manage everything, all of it is either pride or unbelief. That’s one of those things where you sit there and you’re like, wow that almost deserves a moment of silence.
“The Abuser Is Worshipping You, Or Worshipping Himself & Demanding You Worship Him Too”
Anne: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. Well actually I was thinking about my own weaknesses that I have and categorizing them into those two categories, and how that helps to be like, oh, okay. It helps to know how to combat that or tackle it or process it or whatever. I really liked that. That’s really good. You said you had a couple of things in your mind, did you cover everything or there are a couple of other things there.
Sarah: You know what, honestly after chemo, I have found that I have to write things down because otherwise, the list of things that I can hold in my head sometimes is shorter than it used to be, but it’s getting better. It’s definitely getting better.
One of the things though, is just kind of piggybacking off of this and taking it deeper, is that abuse and addiction, and of course you and I have already established that we agree that sexual addiction is abuse. We’re in total agreement on that, so abuse and addiction at its core are all about misplaced worship. The abuser and addict are either worshiping you, or they’re worshipping themselves and demanding that you worship them too. Either way, they’re not worshiping God or submitting to him.
The Hologram, The Legend, The Teddy Bear
When you’re devaluing somebody else, you’re not seeing their worth, their identity, or their uniqueness. You’re not loving your partner for those things. So, an addict who has an abuser mindset, I’m not saying that there are addicts who don’t have abuser mindsets I’m just lumping all of that in together, the addict with an abusive mindset that goes hand in hand is going to create this idea of you, and that’s who they fall in love with. The idea of you that they’ve created in their head. Patricia Evans calls it the teddy bear; Psalm 82 Initiative calls it a legend. They have this concept of who you are, and as long as you align with that façade that they’ve created in their mind of who they fell in love with things will go fairly smoothly, most of the time, because you will be controlling the parts of their environment that they want you to control, taking responsibility for their missteps or their wrongful actions that they want you to take responsibility for, and letting them be free to act out or misbehave in the ways that they want to act out and misbehave.
“They Have Devalued You As A Person”
So as long as you are aligning with that hologram of yourself, things will go fairly smoothly. It’s when you decide to set boundaries, or you start to see through the lies, or you start to recognize the level of betrayal, and when you ask them to take responsibility for their own issues and to take responsibility to address their own problems, or when you insist on being authentically you and that doesn’t line up with the kind of the hologram that they imagine you to be, then all hell breaks loose. And at its core, they have devalued you as a person, because they’re in love with the hologram not with the human.
Devaluing The Authentic You
Anne: Well, and they’ve created that fantasy version of you to suit their own needs. So when the real person shows up and you are authentic and say something about how you think or how you feel, and it does not align with how they feel like they deserve to be treated or their ideal situation, even if it’s really small. Like you say something in front of other people that’s kind of teasing them but in a good way, not an abusive way, and they’re like, I always want adoration around other people. Like the fact that she said, “oh yeah, no he doesn’t like doing this,” when he doesn’t, that’s truth, but he wants people to think that he does. So rather than him being willing to be authentic, that is like an injury to him.
“Devaluing The Importance Of You Having Human Connection”
Sarah: Yeah. Or, I mean it could be just in some extreme situations you change your hair, or you wear an outfit they don’t like. Or in more covert situations it might be reserved for bigger things, but there could be jealousy, or you talk to someone that they don’t think is okay, or you break out of their isolation and you insist on maintaining an important relationship that they don’t like. And I’m not talking about an indecent relationship, I’m talking about if they’re trying to isolate you from your family or your parents or your best friends or people that are good and healthy in your life but they want to cut you off and they want to be the center of your attention. That’s devaluing your need for healthy relationships outside of them. That’s devaluing, the importance of you having human connection.
Anne: We’re going to pause here. I’m going to continue my conversation with Sarah next week, but in the meantime, Sarah has some things she wants to give away to you so I’m going to let her take it away for a bit.
Free Resources For The BTR Community
Sarah: Okay, cool. My organization is Wilderness to Wild, and we talk about how we leave the wilderness, and that’s where we’re wandering in the false abuse, and we move into the wild. The wild is where we have confidence and clarity and freedom to be who God has called us to be. So, there are things that I would like to give away for free to you today, as a listener for the Betrayal Trauma Recovery podcast. So, one of the first things that I want to offer you is access to a webinar that I did. I’ve given Anne links to the virtual meetup that I recently did with Psalm 82 initiative. We talked about the four tools and the four elements that abusers use in every situation, no matter what the context, whether it’s work or marriage or faith community or some other kind of relational system. It is a killer webinar: it’s available to you for free.
Support Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Anne: Sarah is amazing. I’m so grateful for her personal friendship with me. I’m grateful that this trial that we have both been going through that we have each other, and we have you. It’s such an amazing community of strong brave women and I really appreciate being a part of it. It’s amazing and we love you. So, stay tuned for more episodes with Sarah next week and the weeks after.
If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. Until next week, stay safe out there.