I felt very uncomfortable getting buzzed in through a back door. I felt very out of place. I was supposed to be in the position of helping and donating, not seeking help for myself and my children.
I told her, “But he’s never hit me! At least not hard.” But after asking me a few questions, she said, abuse is not always physical. There are other forms of abuse, like emotional and economic or financial abuse. And cruelty…
All I could think was… maybe he pushed me. Got in my face. Threatened me. Exhibited scary rage. Blocked me from leaving. But that can’t be abuse!?! Can it? I mean he told me that I’m the one who made him so angry. He told me all these things were all my own fault. If only I hadn’t opened my big mouth.
It had not sunk in yet, and it didn’t for a while after. I knew things were not alright, but I was having a hard time putting that specific label on it.
After we walked into her office, to speak alone, she asked me if I had ever seen the Power and Control wheel. She handed me a paper copy, to take with me, while pointing to a big poster of the same wheel, on her wall.
That was my first time.
She explained that the wheel leaves off something else. Something that you might finally see as abusive. She said that “infidelity is abuse” and “being coerced, pressured, guilted into, etc. to do something when you don’t want to” is sexual abuse, even inside of marriage.
That day was the first day of my abuse recovery story.
The day I heard what abuse was, how I’d thought it was all “normal” human behavior for the past 36 plus years of my life, and why it’s so important to protect our kids from it. But that was only day one.
I have learned that it’s not just about the knowledge you learn about the topic. It’s more about the healing that comes after. Taking steps in all relationships, to create healthy boundaries and to learn what healthy looks like.
Learning how to have and keep an emotionally healthy home.
This is what they don’t tell you…
*Created with help from, News Personality Jenna Kochenauer 🙂
1.) Leaving (or being left) is only the first step. It’s a long road after that. But just keep remembering, one foot in front of the other. Each day gets easier.
2.) People will assume that you are “cured” because you left or because he left you. They will think that no further effects of the abuse will remain and you will need no further healing. They will think that he can no longer hurt you now. That’s untrue. He will still try to abuse you after divorce, especially through the children.
3.) Friends, family, and The Church, that you expect will support you, may not be capable of doing that for you. You may feel abandoned by everyone. You might even be shunned by your church. They may not understand or even want to understand.
4.) Some people will not believe your story and some won’t even want to hear it. There will not be validation from those people. Seek help from those who have been through abuse, only they will understand.
God does not expect His beloved daughter to put up with abuse!
5.) There is a possibility of re-victimization from lawyers, therapists, police, and the court system because they do not fully understand domestic abuse. The mindset that abuse is only extreme physical violence is still very much still out there. Plus the only laws against abuse are assault and battery. Victim blaming and shaming is very common. Abusers are often very charming, great liars and manipulators, and play the victim role very, very well. They don’t even see themselves as abusers. After a while, they believe their own stories – the picture that he paints of himself. So much so that they will repeat their lies over and over, even in court.
Victims are usually the ones who are confused, shaky, emotional, angry and seeming to lack self-control. This allows the abuser to paint this picture that he is actually the victim. Learning to be as calm and collected as possible, showing all of the documentation and evidence that you can is the best way to defend yourself.
6.) During recovery, especially in the very beginning, you are vulnerable to abuse by another person (male or female). Remember abuse is mainly about power and control.
In feeling overwhelmed and wanting someone to just handle all that is going on in your life, we sometimes place someone else in that power position over us. By letting someone else do the decision-making, then that person can become our next abuser. It’s very common! Learn to make your own decisions so that you don’t fall victim to someone trying to control your life.
7.) You or your kids may develop PTSD, anxiety, and/or depression. Seek a professional abuse recovery therapist, if at all possible.
8.) Just because he was abusive, doesn’t mean that you won’t mourn the relationship and especially the good memories. You may even wish to go back to that time when things seemed perfect. You will go through the phases of grief because it’s a death of the marriage, the lifetime commitment, and your future hopes and dreams. This is all normal, and you need to go through it before you will be able to move on. You may also be mourning the person you thought he was – knowing now of the reality of who he really is or what he became.
9.) Once you’re free from the “fog” you may blame yourself for things. For staying so long. For your part in the abuse cycle. It’s not your fault!!
But maybe you returned evil for evil at times – just wanting him to see how he was acting or in your frustration. Or enabling the abuse to continue. Lacking boundaries. Not seeing the red flags. You may be hard on yourself. But remind yourself… “you only wanted equality.” In your healing, evaluating your own life choices, your own mistakes, and how you became the target of an abuser will help you move forward to healthier relationships.
10.) Your abuser will use the children to continue the abuse (control, power, and manipulation) and to retaliate against you. He will also try to turn them against you if he is able. He will tell them to disrespect you and lie to you. If not, he will make your parenting that much harder for you, by being seen as the best Dad in the world (he likes everyone to think that).
Here is where Lundy Bancroft’s book, When Dad Hurts Mom: Helping Your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse, is very helpful. I’ll just share what he says about the motivations of abusive men.
For the abuser who is determined to perpetuate his control over you, or who seeks revenge, the children can look like the perfect vehicle to cause you pain or intimidate you. – Bancroft, Page 213
Why does he want to turn the children against me?
He wants power, control, and vengeance. If he wins the children to his side and turns them against you, he feels like he’s gotten you back for standing up to him over the years.
He believes his own distortions about you, and about himself. Your ex-partner’s entitlement and self-centeredness cause him to perceive you as being the one who is volatile, unreasonable, and unkind. He also may start to believe some of his own lies, from repeating them so many times.
He sees children as owned objects.
He wants your life to fail. The abusive man wants to be able to say to himself, to you, and to other people, “See, my life is going well and hers is falling apart. What’s more, the children feel close to me and not to her. I always said that she was the one who was messed up, and now you can see how right I was.”
He has contempt for women in general. Some of my clients stand out for their extreme attitude of superiority toward women. A man with this attitude sees the mother as having a disease–her femaleness–that she will spread to his children unless he can quarantine her. He tends to be particularly worried about infection spreading to his sons.
He blames you for the effects he has had on you [and the children]. When an abusive man sees the depression, mistrust, or emotional explosiveness that he has caused in his partner [or his children], he thinks the problem is in her [or that she has caused it]. So rather than recognizing that both the mother and her children need distance from him so they can heal, he believes that the cure is for them to have an even heavier dose of his influence over their conduct, thoughts, and values. – Bancroft, Pages 219-220 [Brackets mine.]
He will use manipulation, gas-lighting, and blame-shifting to try to convince you that it’s really all your doing, that your feelings about him are false and really your own fault, and that you must have influenced the children to think just like you do. He is trying to protect his “good dad” image. He wants you to go along with his narrative. If not, there is something wrong with you.
A mother finds, predictably, that her children’s behavior is hard to manage when they return home from a libertine weekend of this kind. The normal kinds of restrictions that she imposes suddenly feel extraordinarily chafing to them, and they don’t want to hear about homework, bedtimes, eating vegetables, and watching their language. They may come right out and say, ‘Why can’t you loosen up, Mom, and be more like Dad? He knows how to have a good time.’ This kind of ‘Disney Dad’ behavior is especially unfortunate for children who have witnessed abuse, who need to feel close to their mother and respectful of her authority. – Bancroft, Page 212
This list is not to discourage anyone from getting away from an abusive situation. The consequences of staying can be much worse than leaving (something no one told me until it was too late). This list is to prepare or to show support for those who are out of abusive relationships.
I hope it helps you realize what normal looks like and that you are not alone.
Are you walking this path? Feel free to share your story or wisdom in the comments.
(Real name not required.)
God bless your healing journey,
Jen, I’m so sorry. Although not in an abusive marriage, I did have an abusive and manipulative father, and it continued until about five years ago, when I threw him out of my house once and for all. The problem is, as you say so accurately, everyone assumes first of all that “it takes two” and that you need to forgive, and how much kids need their grandparents. People constantly send me memes and stuff about how much our parents need us and all that crap, and frankly I will never be happier than the day I can piss on his grave. I don’t care if he needs me and I don’t need him. I’ve been counseled more times than I care to recount about honoring my parents (I no longer honor my mom because she wants me to have a loving relationship with the man who abused her and then abandoned her…so, she’s a worthless as he is).
Jen Grice says
Hi Kimberly, I have a similar parent story. Some people, and especially in families, just do not understand the need for healthy boundaries. They think that they get a free pass to disrespect, hurt, call names and be just plain mean because we are related or have the same last name. I was given the guilt-trip, as well, for distancing myself from my mother and other family members who enabled the abuse. Now that most of the abusive people are out of my life, I am learning to connect with people who have respect for other people’s boundaries and have healthy boundaries themselves. Good luck to you and I pray you find/found healing yourself. 🙂
Another point that is very important. If you leave, he will want you back. You’ve taken a stand and that is very bad for his image. He will woo you and lure you. You will be vulnerable in the moments of remembering the good times. If you go back and then leave again, not only do you look like an idiot to some and be treated as one by him, you will lose credibility with the authorities. “He must not really be that bad, if you went back. You took your children back into that situation. You are the bad parent.”
Jen Grice says
Yes, another great point. Thank you for adding that to the conversation.
“Why did you keep going back to him if you were being abused??” HA! Maybe because we were not aware that we were being abused? He charmed us into the relationship… he can charm us back into it. He charms everyone! Counselors, pastors, lawyers, friends, family, etc. Charm is his middle name!
Thank you for this! I was in an emotionally abusive marriage for 5 years and even when he left, I wanted him back. When we were married, he constantly complained of the things I was doing wrong to a point where I almost believed I was a terrible wife/mother (example: putting our son’s needs before my own and my husband’s). Now, we are in a custody battle where my ex wants 50/50 and I don’t and he’s telling me to put my son’s needs first and to stop being so selfish. It’s like I can’t win either way. He uses the traits I love most about myself against me. #10 is so relatable! My ex was hardly hands-on with our son. Work was his baby. Now, he’s taking selfies with our son and posting them everywhere so everyone thinks he’s father of the year and I’m the “bad guy” for not wanting 50/50 custody. And yes, the “Keep your enemies close” tidbit is not healthy at all! Taking a break from my ex’s friends and his family was not from my lack of forgiveness or maturity to set things aside. It was for my sanity and survival!
I can relate to so much of this. My divorce was final in May. He is a serial cheater, porn addict and abuser. Yet he blames me for everything. 16 years (14 married) and I have extreme anxiety and have physical symptoms from all the stress.
He already introduced the kids to the new gf (let’s face it, he has had numerous gf’s during our marriage but it still hurts….he just met her!!!!) and I see it as a tactic to hurt me, since I filed and made him leave the house after a very long reconciliation attempt.
Starting to take baby steps toward healing …..
And I need to get that book. It’s on my amazon wish list….
An excellent article! It captures so much of the experience.
Jen Grice says
Thank you for sharing and for your nice comment, Diane. I pray for your healthy healing.
Too true! My divorce should be final 36 days! Getting better every day!! He’s managed to turn my kids and yes, recovery is tough. Oh SO WORTH IT!!
Jennifer L. says
My father was/is emotionally abusive. I was married and divorced TWICE, both abusers. I agree with everything you’ve listed. I still get physically ill with the memories.
Jen Grice says
I’m sorry Jennifer. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story. God bless you!
Just want to comment about something I wasn’t prepared for. And that is that your children might copy abusive behaviors. My children have no contact with their Dad. I thought that being out of that abusive environment would help us all heal. Unfortunately some of those abusive behaviors have followed us.
Children pick up so much. I worry that my children will continue the cycle as they grow up. How do we teach them there is a better way?
Jen Grice says
Yes, that is hard. It has been my experience that we still continue the abuse cycle – out of habit – after the abuser is gone. We, as victims, get triggered by the phrases or tones that are repeated. The first several years of a child’s life they learn much of what becomes their character, so even escaping abuse, the behaviors and attitudes might come with. My suggestion is to learn all you can about what healthy relationships look like – assertiveness and boundaries. Then you teach your children those same assertive ways by example and correct them when you see old habits coming up. It is not easy. I know! But I believe in time, we all can learn a new way of thinking and acting… and treating those we love with kindness and respect. You just need to unteach the disrespect and the entitlement that was learned by the abuser. I am praying for you. We are in this together.
Thank you for this, Jen. I have been pretty hard on myself for not healing as quickly as I wish, and letting my ex – who takes every chance he can to threaten, bully, or accuse me – get to me. Who knew his behavior was so common?? This tells me that I am not alone, and gives me new courage to stand up for myself and my kids.
Jen Grice says
You’re welcome, Lindsey. And thank you for sharing your struggles and story with me. So glad to have you along this journey to healing! And glad you find some connection and acceptance here.
Oh my gosh! This post is literally EVERYTHING. No one understands dealing with emotional abuse CONTINUES after you’re out because you have kid(s) together!!!
“If not, he will make your parenting that much harder for you, by being seen as the best Dad in the world (he likes everyone to think that).” <—- YES!!!
Was the "Disney Dad" phrase your creation? That's EXACTLY what I'm dealing with. The *literal* Disney Dad who takes her there 2x a year and every other weekend he takes her somewhere exciting and thrilling, gives her toys literally every week, etc etc etc. My babysitter can tell blindfolded which house she spent the weekend at!! Gimme all the books to read on this topic–any other good recommendations for parenting with a narc abuser? He's the perfect gentleman, the good guy, the best dad…
TY for posting this! Thank you that I'm not the only one who sees this as an ongoing battle and not just "you're out now, you have to move on".
TBH this right here is my BIGGEST struggle. How do I move on. Maybe this is the thorn like Paul had in his flesh? My ongoing thing to ask God for help. My "deal" so to speak. but it's the toughest to get past. i can heal, I can forgive (work in progress) but this? this will NEVER GO AWAY!!!! What can I do?
Jen Grice says
Yes, this is an ongoing struggle probably even after they turn 18 and you see the damage this has done to the adult child (who may still act like a child). No, I didn’t come up with “Disney Dad” and I’m not sure who did but I bet there are tons of articles about this very thing as it’s common when an absent parent must compete to be the “better parent” because he feels guilty for leaving or his new life or whatever.
Melissa F. says
The hard part for me is when I see my ex and his behaviors in my kids. The disrespect for authority, the female teachers at the school pointing out that my boys don’t always show them respect like they do for guys. How do we tell our kids to love and honor their dad (like the Bible commands) while discouraging them from following his ways of adultery, disrespect, rebellion, etc…? We aren’t to turn the kids on their dad or teach them to disrespect them, while he plays Disney dad. How can we ever win the battle for our kids hearts?
Jen Grice says
Hi Melissa. I wrote more about that in an article called, “Mom, I Don’t Respect You” with quotes from the same book.