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Doesn’t the Bible Say to Remove the Log From Your Own Eye? [Episode 260]

Doesn't the Bible Say to Remove the Log From Your Own Eye?

Hi. This is Natalie Hoffman of Flyingfreenow.com, and you’re listening to the Flying Free Podcast, a support resource for women of faith looking for hope and healing from hidden emotional and spiritual abuse.

NATALIE: Welcome to Episode 260 of the Flying Free Podcast. When you have confronted any kind of abuse, have you ever been told to take the log out of your own eye before you try to take the splinter out of someone else’s? This is a common comeback that religious abusers use to divert attention away from their own behavior and turn the focus back on you, making their bad behavior your problem and your responsibility.

Well, today we are going to talk about that with our special guest. Her name is Karen McMahon, and she’s a High Conflict Divorce Strategist, Certified Divorce Coach, and founder of Journey Beyond Divorce. Welcome, Karen.

KAREN: Hi, how are you?

NATALIE: Good. So I think I’m going to read the Bible verse, first of all, that we’re going to talk about so everyone is on the same page. It’s from Matthew 7:3-5, and it says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there’s a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Now, first of all, when I read that, I’m pretty sure that Jesus was not talking to a bunch of people on a hill who were all victims of abuse. What do you think? I don’t know. I don’t think that’s what He was talking about. But I’m just wondering if you can help us. How do those verses relate to women in abusive relationships when their spouse is not listening to them or respecting their voice at all?

KAREN: Yeah, and I very much respect what you’re saying and can see how this is a Bible verse that a high conflict Christian man could beat his wife with that piece of the Bible. And yet, I believe that it speaks very strongly to us, and I certainly am a woman who was in a pretty severely abusive, emotional and verbally abusive, marriage for about fourteen years. And so I have a different take on it. And so a little preface to my take on it is it is so hard to not feel like a victim when you’ve been victimized.

And I think what Jesus is saying is always, in every circumstance, look at your part in how you’re in the situation that you’re in and what is your responsibility. And when we can say, “Okay, I brought things to the marriage. I ended up marrying this unhealthy individual because of something in my past, something in my experience, and so I brought my own shortcomings, wounds, character defects to the table. And while I can’t do anything about his — and that’s not my side of the street, that’s not my responsibility — his is so big and loud and sticky, his looks like the darn log. His is two logs, for instance.”

And so, what I believe the Bible verse is saying is keep the focus on yourself, and when you do that, you will grow strong and empowered and healthier for whatever path you have to take. So I’ll just stop there for now.

NATALIE: Yeah, okay. So my initial reaction to that as a survivor also, I totally get what you’re saying, and in fact, in my program where I work with women of faith who are still in their marriage relationships, I help them to unhook from this feeling like they have to change their husband because it’s not even possible.

The first step to figuring out what they want to do with their lives is to let go of what they can’t control so they can look at what they can control, which is their own choices and their own life and their own decisions. But I heard that so much. I spent twenty-five years in that other relationship and I heard all the time, I heard… Oh, I can’t remember how you just put it now. I wish I could remember how you just phrased it. I heard it phrased like that and it’s an immediate trigger inside to that part of me that lived with that where people would say… I would go to get help and they would say, “Well, you need to focus on your own stuff.” And so I think we need to clarify that for everyone because I know that the women that I talk to, they have been… Really, it’s spiritual abuse when they take the Bible and they…

KAREN: …beat you with it.

NATALIE: Exactly. And what they’re really doing is kind of what I said at the beginning of this episode. It’s not just the abuser that’s doing that. Other religious people will do that in order to try to… It’s almost like a way of saying, “Go away. Work on your own stuff, quit complaining about your husband. You work on being a good girl. Maybe if you were a better person, your husband wouldn’t be abusive to you.” That’s a lot of the thinking behind that.

KAREN: I think that if you were coming from that narrative, I could see a lot of resistance to my interpretation of this scripture. And so I’m going to use myself as an example because I think that would be the best way. So I was raised in a household… My dad was an alcoholic — a very sweet, jolly one, but an alcoholic. And my mom got married at twenty-one. By twenty-four, she had three babies in diapers and she was a rageaholic. And she was a rageaholic because she was alone and she was insecure and she was abandoned, and she hid very well dad’s behavior from us so we didn’t see it.

So that’s what I grew up with. I grew up with this alcoholic who was very jolly but not so emotionally present and a rageaholic who was very angry and not so emotionally present. And so I married the worst of both of them. And so my ex-husband is this outgoing — he’s on the spectrum — he’s very outgoing and charismatic. He smoked pot rather than drank. I thought that was my big fix, which is hysterical now. And he had severe anger management. And so I could look at him and I could say, “Yeah, I see a number of logs.”

But when I looked in the mirror, the day that it was my daughter’s second birthday, and I had a physical altercation with my then-husband that I started, I was so unhinged. I was so lost. I had completely lost myself. I was so broken. And when I looked in the mirror and said, “Girlfriend, what happened to you? Where are you? What in the world happened?” it began a journey of not looking so much at him. I knew him and I knew at that point there was nothing I could do, but I brought people-pleasing to the table. I brought codependence to the table. I brought my insecurities to the table.

I was a grown woman, but not really. I had all of these wounds and shortcomings and limiting beliefs from my upbringing, my unhealthy family of origin. And so when I look at that scripture, I see that the log in my eye, which is going to serve me oh so well, is to work on that, to become healthy, to build my self-love and my worthiness of being loved, to find myself and stand in my truth and find my voice and always speak it regardless of what happens and all the things that you and I coach women around. And so for me, “Before you point out something in the other’s eye, look at what’s going on with you,” rings beautifully true for what each of us have to do to emerge from an abusive situation empowered and transforming what needs to be transformed.

NATALIE: Yeah. Okay, so here’s my —I just want to throw this out there to see if you’ve heard this — here’s my understanding of that verse. I totally agree with you, by the way. When you have something in your eye, if you have a splinter in your eye, to you it’s like a big log because it’s really tiny, but it’s in your eye, so it’s hard to see past it if you really did. I mean, splinters obviously cause pain, so usually we’re not opening our eyes when we’ve got a splinter in them. But if you could open your eye, if there’s a splinter in it, to you it would seem like a big log that’s blocking your vision. Really, you’re not able to see anything but this big thing in your way because it’s right there in your eye.

Whereas your husband also has a splinter in his eye, which is a log to him. He can’t really see what’s going on with you because he’s got the splinter/log, depending on your perspective, in his eye. We can’t do anything about his splinter. We can only do something about our own log. It’s the same thing. It’s still just a tiny thing in front of you, but it blocks your vision for what you’re able to do. So by letting go of your husband’s “splinter,” you can now address your log, which is really a splinter, and get it out of your eyes so that you can have a clearer vision for your way forward.

And I 100% percent agree that until we do that, we’re not going to be able to move forward. But I wanted to just clarify that so that for those of you women who end up hearing that from somebody else, if someone comes into your life and says, “Well, I don’t want to hear about your husband. I’m not going to help you.” By the way, about that, I really teach women, don’t look for everyone else to help you with this. I mean, yes, look to them to support you while you do your own rescuing. You have to rescue yourself. Wouldn’t you say that you’re the one who had to make the hard choices on your own about what you wanted to do, whether you wanted to stay or leave or how you wanted to show up for your life?

KAREN: It’s absolutely an inside job. You need to lean into the Lord. You are very well served to find support — emotionally intelligent, healthy support — not someone else who’s going to drop their baggage on top of you. That’s a vitally necessary piece of it. One of my favorite sayings is, “Every upset is a setup for personal work,” and I feel like this particular scripture speaks to that.

It’s like no matter what or who is agitating or aggravating you, before you address whatever their issues are, to your point, you can’t see with the splinter in your eye. But once you do your work and it’s like, “Wow, yeah, I was codependent, I was a people pleaser…” I am a recovering codependent, recovering people pleaser, recovering perfectionist. I didn’t know any of these things. It wasn’t until the rub of the marriage got so painful that I had no choice but to look at myself. And that began the beginning of the best part of my life.

NATALIE: Yes, yes. Okay, so what are a few of the key issues that someone leaving a toxic relationship needs to work on, then?

KAREN: I would say, for me, I think the first thing is we have emptied the space between our ears of that real estate — we have handed it to our husbands. And so they are renting space in our head, and the first thing you need to do is learn how to evict them. You need to evict them from your head, and imagine just throwing the furniture out, getting rid of their crappy artwork and their lousy, comfy chair, and redecorating with your thoughts, your beliefs, your emotions.

And the first thing might be, “I don’t know what those are.” So then leave the place empty for a little while, let the Lord fill it up for you. And ultimately, as you grow into who you are, you have to do that.  And I say that because so many of the people that I work with, men and women, I’ll ask them what they think about something, and out of their mouth comes their spouse’s response. And I’m like, “He’s not even in the room. Could you ask him to leave the room so that we can have a conversation about what you think?”

And I felt the same way. I was like, “I don’t really know what I think because I’ve been thinking his thoughts, I’ve been worried about his emotions and his reactions for so long that a healthy person would be like, ‘What, really? How does that happen?’” But for those of us who, over the course of years and for some, a lifetime, it’s just belittled, berated, or shut down or shut up or isolated or exploded at that we got so small that we lost all of that real estate between our ears.

NATALIE: Yeah, I can totally relate to that. I love that analogy of kicking them out, figuratively, out of our brain. Well, you work with divorced women. You know that we can sometimes get them out of our physical house and we’re still living with them.

KAREN: For years. I coach people years post-divorce, and they’re like, “You, you wouldn’t believe what he did,” and I’m like, “Hold on a second. We’ve got to get rid of that. We’ve got to focus differently.” And so when you start gaining agency of your thoughts, I mean, it’s beautiful when you start gaining agency.

And you’re talking about something else too, which thankfully I did not experience, which is the spiritual abuse. And I mean, my ex used to… It was very funny. He didn’t go to church, he really didn’t do much, but he took that Bible and beat the heck out of me with it. I was raised Roman Catholic and at the time I was still in that church, and I went to the priest and I said, “My husband keeps telling me that — and I can read it in the Bible — that God hates divorce and so I have to stay, and I just need to hear it from you. And if you tell me that I need to stay, I’ll figure it out.”

I don’t know that I would have stayed, but what this man did was so beautiful because he described through biblical scripture what love is and what God meant by marriage. And he said, “In no way, shape, or form is the life you’re living what God had planned for you in marriage, and so no, there’s no reason for you to stay, and you need to take care of yourself and the kids.” And so I was blessed with an incredibly healthy Catholic priest telling me that and kind of giving me permission to head down that path.

NATALIE: Yeah, that’s beautiful. I mean, it’s not like we need permission, but actually, for those of us who are really immersed in that kind of culture and we have a lot of respect for our priests and our pastors, we are kind of looking for validation and encouragement and support for that huge decision.

KAREN: And yet I’ve worked with plenty of, I’ll say, Christians who, they tell me what their pastors and their elders say as if God is this angry, damning God. And please go find a different church. That is not your heavenly Father that they’re describing. That is their human brokenness. That is not your heavenly Father. So I think that as a foundation, our heavenly Father is unconditional love. Those of us who strive to be the best parents, it’s like we were created in His image, and we may never be Him and we’d never be anywhere near Him. And so if I look at how much I love my children and what I would do for them, then I just know that my heavenly Father loves me and would never want me to be in that kind of harm.

NATALIE: Yeah, exactly. I was excommunicated, and I know a lot of women who were excommunicated from their churches because they got divorced.

KAREN: I think that there are so many emotionally unhealthy churches, and I’ve actually coached a couple, at least three women, whose husbands were pastors, on a spectrum, abusive, and pastors, and it’s like, “Oh my God.” And so they’re the pastor’s wife, and it’s like unraveling that and the complexity of that. It’s so important to be rooted in a healthy Christian spirituality.

NATALIE: Yeah. Okay, so getting him out of your head, that’s one thing. Was there anything else that you wanted to share as far as someone who’s leaving a toxic relationship, what they’d want to work on?

KAREN: Yeah, so the first step is evicting him from your head. The problem most times is the next voice that squats in your head is your inner critic. And your inner critic is usually from your family of origin, which caused you to be in here. And so I used to call myself an effing idiot a hundred times a day. I think about it now and it makes my skin crawl. But my mom was really, she was just an angry person. I was the black sheep, so her and I were like this and she was physical. She was pretty harsh verbally. So when I first evicted my husband from my head, what stepped in next wasn’t a whole lot better.

And so we have to really pay attention to, what is that inner voice? Is it mine? And that’s really that whole line of questioning is, is that belief my belief? Is that thought my thought? And so it’s evict your husband, notice your inner critic, and begin to reclaim you — the adult Karen. What are my beliefs? What did I grow up with that I’ve been kind of abiding by as if it’s a blueprint that I want to throw out? What’s not working that I want to throw out? What’s working really well, like my love of the Lord, that I want to keep? And then what new do I need to bring in?

It’s almost, if we stay with the analogy, it’s like, okay, you’ve emptied the space. Now let’s really renovate and redecorate and open all the windows and doors and bring in the light. And that requires us to, as you’re building your self-confidence, part of building that self-confidence is really challenging your thoughts. I find that they could be from the enemy, they could be like all this stuff that goes on when we’re in that lower capacity, broken place. And so that’s our chance to sweep, clean, paint, bring in the fresh, the new, the healthy, and begin to stand by that.

NATALIE: Yeah. Okay, so going back to the whole spiritual abuse kind of topic, what about people who, the Bible really has been used against them to manipulate them, try to control them? Some of them don’t feel like they have a safe landing place in the scriptures, and the Bible actually can feel like a hostile, dangerous book to them. It’s sad that it gets like that, but especially if they’ve been extremely wounded with spiritual abuse. I was just wondering, how can they use the Bible to find their way back home then and to find their way back to who they are?

KAREN: Okay, so I’m not great at quoting scripture, so I’ll leave that up to you, but God does talk about counting every hair on a head and having plans for us. And what we are promised is that… Well, He allows for free will, and so while we do struggle, He promises to make good out of all of our struggles. And so these are the scriptures that I have stood on that, like, my God knows me. He knew I was going to end up in this place, He knows what’s going to happen for me next, and He has promised that He will always make good of what happens, and so I just have to do my part.

So I think that if I were in a position where — I have an incredibly healthy church, I feel really blessed — and if I didn’t, I think that the first thing I would be doing is trying to find a healthy home, a healthy church. And for me, I do a lot of presentations at my church. I feel like finding emotionally healthy churches and emotionally healthy spirituality within the Christian world is vital. I think the reason so many people belittle and diminish Christians is because there’s a lot of unhealthy Christianity out there where they’re like the Pharisees in many ways. And so I would say there are scriptures that speak to God’s promise, and those are the ones to stand on.

NATALIE: Yeah. I always tell people, Jesus came to show us God, show us who God really is. Because we didn’t know. People didn’t really know. We had guesses, but we didn’t really know who God was. We kind of, I think, superimposed our ideas of like the gods that the early, early people worshiped. I mean, going back even further than Greek and Roman gods, but I always think of them when I think of the gods. And we sort of impose those ideas of what the gods are onto God. And then Jesus came on the scene and said, “God isn’t like that at all. I am who God is. So watch what I do, watch how I respond to people. That is God’s heart for mankind.”

So I’ll just throw this out there for people who really are still trying to heal from that: I just kind of hung out in the Gospels for a while, the Gospels and the Psalms, and just had to figure out God’s love for me. And it all boiled down to that God loves us. He loves His creation, and anything that doesn’t fit into that paradigm of God’s great love and God’s great, powerful ability to do whatever He chooses to do, anything that doesn’t fit in with that, then it has been misinterpreted or misunderstood or whatever.

I’d rather look at a verse and say, “Maybe I don’t understand what that verse is saying,” than to say, “That’s making a case for how God is a petulant narcissist,” you know? Because I mean, there are some verses in the Bible that you could use to make that case, or that you could use to make a case for genocide, or you could use to make a case for misogyny, or you could use to make a case for sexual abuse or any other kind of vice that you want to make a case for.

I mean, again, it’s kind of like having a hammer. You can use a hammer as a tool to build a home or you can use a hammer as a tool to bludgeon someone to death. But the hammer is not the problem — it’s how you’re using that tool. So anyway, what do you think is the most important skill for our listeners to learn to truly begin to create a sense of safety in their lives?

KAREN: Boundaries. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. I think I’ve yet to meet someone who ended up in a toxic or high-conflict relationship or marriage who had any skill in boundaries. And it’s vitally important. It’s important that we protect ourselves, and boundaries actually start with us. I think that so often one of the first things I’ll hear is, “He made me feel…” and “He made me do…” And it’s like, well, let’s just stop right there. Nobody makes you feel and nobody makes you do. Your life experience can have you responding, but you could come from a totally healthy background and be really healthy-minded, and I could be from my background and not so much, and we could experience an individual yelling, cussing, or doing something.

I’m going to shrink or explode or do whatever based on my family of origin and my experience, and you might be like, “Yeah, you know, that’s not terribly appropriate. I can see you’re upset. I’ll come back and talk to you later,” and not take it personally and not react. And so the whole concept that people make us feel and do is an internal broken boundary.

Again, it’s back to that, “I completely own that. When you open your mouth and yell at me, I feel like I’m six years old again, just like when my dad did. And I want to run behind and climb into the closet. And I’m a grown woman and I am reacting that way, and that’s my work to do.” And so when we have internal boundaries and we own that, and then there are the external boundaries to really create safety, and I think most people who think they understand what the boundary is will then tell me how, “But he or she just ignores my boundary, so I can’t do anything about it.”

And so I feel like I know that the skill of upholding your boundary is 100% your responsibility, especially if you’ve got an unhealthy partner. And so when you have full agency over your boundaries, a tremendous amount changes. And I had to live under the same roof with my soon-to-be ex for three and a half years. So boundaries were vital to my existence, to my survival.

NATALIE: Yeah, and the boundaries sometimes need to be as serious as that you leave the marriage or you leave the home. Because some abusers, they absolutely will violate your boundaries. If you try to go into your room and lock the door, for example, to get away, some of them might break the door to get in. So then you have to stop and go, “Okay, that’s not working. What is the next step?” Visiting a domestic violence shelter might be the next step, right?

KAREN: Or in my case, I never wanted to do this, never wanted to do this, and then one day I called the police and the police came to the front door and my kids were four and six. I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to do it, and then I did it, and they were very respectful, but my bully met a bigger bully at the front door. And that’s not always the case, right? So we could call the police, and I have clients whose husbands were in law enforcement. And so the police pooh-poohed them too. So nothing’s a given.

But you lock the door. If they break the door down, you call the police, you call a family member, you grab the kids and you leave for a couple of days, you file for an order of protection. I can’t tell you how often I ended up moving to the attic. So there was a door on the second floor that I could lock and then two short staircases and a door on the third floor to my bedroom. And so I had two locked doors. And that’s how I managed to stay for three years and feel somewhat safe. And I suppose he could have kicked down both of them, but he didn’t, thank God.

NATALIE: Well, yeah, it’s going to be an individual thing, right? My ex would never have done anything like that. I wouldn’t even have to have locked the door. But his behaviors were different, so my boundaries had to be different.

KAREN: And I just want to say, because I tend to talk about the explosive, high-conflict person, if you’re the person whose spouse gets really quiet and gives you the silent treatment, and it’s equally as painful to be that level of emotional and even physical abandonment to just be shut down, shut up, and sit in silence because nobody will talk to you. So there are two sides of the same coin, and they both have a tremendous amount of pain that’s attached to them.

NATALIE: Yeah. I’m so glad you said that because I think a lot of our listeners, that is what they’re experiencing, and that’s probably more of what I experienced as well. I think the boundaries thing also, the key to that is really healing your relationship with yourself. Your relationship with you, if that relationship is broken and you kind of despise yourself… I mean, I remember I did. I kind of despised myself. So that’s why I didn’t have as many boundaries because I didn’t think I deserved to have boundaries. I didn’t think I deserved to be emotionally protected. I thought that I would stay humble if I allowed the different types of abuse to be happening to me and that it was even a sign of godliness and spirituality, right?

KAREN: Yeah. That’s where interpretations can be dangerous, and we are God’s princesses. And in some place in scripture, it says there’s nothing we can do to earn his love and there’s nothing we can do to lose it, and so it’s really a self-love thing. And in some ways, it’s like, “Well, God created me and He makes no mistakes, so how audacious of me to think that He did a crappy job with me. And how do I find my way back often because of messaging, right? How do I find my way back or for the first time to loving myself as much as my heavenly Father loves me — like, truly loving myself?”

Because I agree with you: If you don’t start there, then how do you find a voice? How do you set boundaries? How do you soldier up, put on your armor, and grab your sword to go through the kind of battle that a lot of high-conflict divorces are? And when I was on the fence, which I felt like I was, Natalie, for years, I remember my therapist said to me… This was my decision maker. I’m like, “What do I do? What do I do? I come from divorce, I never wanted to get divorced, I believe in God.” And she said, “Karen, your pain threshold is so high, I think you would stay until you die. But I want you to know that if you stay, your children do not have the tools and capacity, and so the abuse that’s going on under that roof now, it’s fully your responsibility too and your fault.”

And it was like someone hit me with a cast iron pan because I had these little babies. And I was like, “Oh my God. If I stay…” And of course, I don’t care how quiet you are about it or whether or not there’s no yelling and screaming — children are these energetic, innocent receptors. If there’s conflict and contention and hostility in that household, they don’t have to hear it — they feel it. And they feel it, and the body holds the score.

And my big thing is breaking generational chains. And I come from rageaholism, alcoholism, and whatever other brokenness. And my desire is that everything that I do is to help my children, my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren be on a healthier path. And that requires us to become the leader, to dig down deep, to become the strong women we were created to be, the faithful women we were created to be, and then to break generational chains by teaching our children how to be healthy and have boundaries and a voice and all of that.

NATALIE: Yeah. One of the things I do with the women I work with is I teach them to talk about themselves in the third person, because we, as Christians, a lot of us were taught that self-love is not scriptural — you’re not supposed to love yourself. And so then people will be like, “Well, I don’t want to be selfish,” or they’ll feel bad for their abusive partner. I see this all the time. Women who are victims feel bad for their abusive partner if they set a boundary.

And so I talk about them with their first name. “Karen. Think about Karen. You can help Karen right now or you can help this man that she’s married to. Which one are you going to help? If you were to talk to your best friend who was married to a guy just like your husband, what advice would you give her? That’s the same advice you should give to Karen. Karen needs that advice. Karen needs someone to have her own back. And that’s you. You’re the one to have Karen’s back.”

And it’s like light bulbs go on because they don’t think of themselves as being as worthy as their friend or their sister or their child, and they are. Every single one of us is valuable and worthy, including the abuser. It’s just that the abuser is making choices that are putting him in a position where he now is not allowed in our space because this is why we can’t have nice things when we behave that way. “You can’t be in my space because it’s hurting Karen,” right?

KAREN: You’ve lost that ability to do that.

NATALIE: Okay, so just to wrap this up, why don’t you tell us how they can find you if they want to connect with you beyond this episode?

KAREN: Okay. So I’m the founder of Journey Beyond Divorce, so journeybeyonddivorce.com is our website. I also have a podcast that’s been around since 2016. I tend to do series. So I have a high-conflict series, I have the “Life After Divorce” series, I have a “Voices of Celebration” series. So if someone’s in the early stages and scared because it’s so darn scary, you could just check out my “Voices of Celebration.” And it’s just twenty or thirty individuals who just thought it was the end of their life and the worst thing that could possibly happen, even if they were choosing it. And they all come on, and after some coaching and some hard work, every one of their stories is about how, “This is the best decision I made, and I’m living the best life. Not that it’s perfect, not that there aren’t problems, but I love myself so much more. I’m living a life that is so much more free and fulfilling and rewarding.” And so I encourage you to look at that.

NATALIE: That sounds amazing. I love that idea of having series.

KAREN: Yeah, it’s the way my brain works. The first time I did something on the divorce process, I was like, “Well, if I’m going to talk about the legal, I have to talk about the financial, I got to talk about the kids, I got to talk about the custody.” And I just was like, “Okay, just like Netflix, I’ll do a series for everything,” and people will binge the series because that’s where they are.

NATALIE: Yes. What a great resource. So that’s called Journey Beyond Divorce. You can probably find it on your favorite podcast app, correct?

KAREN: Any one of them.

NATALIE: Okay, fabulous. All right, well, thank you so much, Karen, for this conversation. I think it’s been a really, really good one. At first, I was like, “Where is this conversation going to go?” But it ended up being amazing, so I really appreciate you giving us some of your time.

KAREN: And I really appreciate you kind of bringing to the forefront for me that concept of spiritual abuse. I think that I haven’t crossed it too often. Actually, there was a Mormon that I worked with out in Utah, but it’s a really important piece for me to keep in mind. And so I was surprised at your initial reaction to it. I was like, “How could she not love that scripture?” And then you were like, “Hmmm.” So it’s very good for me to keep that front and center. I think also, especially since I come from such a healthy church, it’s not at the forefront, and it’s such an important piece. I mean, there’s legal abuse, physical abuse. There are so many different types of abuse, and these individuals are so difficult. And then if you have that in your church too, boy, that’s hard.

NATALIE: Yeah, it’s funny because when we got the topic, I knew we were going to be talking about that verse, kind of to kick it off with that verse. And just like you were assuming or coming from your perspective, I was just assuming the conversation was going to go where I was thinking it was going to go. So it was just funny to find out that we weren’t quite on the same page there. But I’m actually really glad that we did that and that we did it for an audience, because I think it’s important to also see how you can have a different perspective with someone and yet you can still have a conversation with them and find the common ground, which I think is so important.

KAREN: Thank you for what you do. I love that you work with Christian women and I so appreciate the opportunity to come on your podcast. Of course, we’re going to have you on mine as well. But I just want to thank you for what you do in the world.

NATALIE: Oh, thank you.

Hey, beautiful butterfly. Thank you so much for listening. If you liked this episode, be sure to subscribe, and then consider leaving a rating and review so others can find us. To connect with me and get a free chapter of my book, head over to flyingfreenow.com, and until next time, fly free.

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Have you ever been told to, “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” in regards to your emotionally abusive marriage? That passage of the Bible is often used to mutualize the sin of the abuser and his victim. This is called sin-leveling, and it’s a form of spiritual abuse. 

Karen McMahon is here to show us how to take back the meaning of these verses to empower and strengthen ourselves. 

Related Resources:

  • Book a FREE Rapid Relief Call to explore a challenge you are facing and gain clarity and direction with one of Karen’s Journey Beyond Divorce Coaches.
  • Listen to Karen’s podcast, Journey Beyond Divorce
  • Follow Karen on Instagram and Facebook.
  • Need help as you continue to grow into the woman God has called you to be even in the midst of your emotionally abusive marriage? Join me inside Flying Free, my online membership program made just for you.
  • If you are already divorced from your emotionally abusive ex, then Flying Higher, my other membership program, is a great place to learn how to rebuild your life post-divorce. We would love to welcome you to this group!
  • I wrote Is It Me? Making Sense of Your Confusing Marriage, for women who are struggling to figure out what is happening inside of their painful and confusing marriages. If that sounds like you, take this as your sign to pick up a copy today.

Karen McMahon is a High Conflict Divorce Strategist, Certified Divorce Coach and Founder of Journey Beyond Divorce. She works with women going through high-conflict divorces. Her signature approach addresses the internal intricacies of intense emotions, fixed mindset and unconscious behaviors along with external complexities of legal approaches, financial awareness and co-parenting hurdles, ensuring that her clients emerge both victorious and transformed.

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Hi. This is Natalie Hoffman of Flyingfreenow.com, and you’re listening to the Flying Free Podcast, a support resource for women of faith looking for hope and healing from hidden emotional and spiritual abuse.

NATALIE: Welcome to Episode 260 of the Flying Free Podcast. When you have confronted any kind of abuse, have you ever been told to take the log out of your own eye before you try to take the splinter out of someone else’s? This is a common comeback that religious abusers use to divert attention away from their own behavior and turn the focus back on you, making their bad behavior your problem and your responsibility.

Well, today we are going to talk about that with our special guest. Her name is Karen McMahon, and she’s a High Conflict Divorce Strategist, Certified Divorce Coach, and founder of Journey Beyond Divorce. Welcome, Karen.

KAREN: Hi, how are you?

NATALIE: Good. So I think I’m going to read the Bible verse, first of all, that we’re going to talk about so everyone is on the same page. It’s from Matthew 7:3-5, and it says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there’s a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Now, first of all, when I read that, I’m pretty sure that Jesus was not talking to a bunch of people on a hill who were all victims of abuse. What do you think? I don’t know. I don’t think that’s what He was talking about. But I’m just wondering if you can help us. How do those verses relate to women in abusive relationships when their spouse is not listening to them or respecting their voice at all?

KAREN: Yeah, and I very much respect what you’re saying and can see how this is a Bible verse that a high conflict Christian man could beat his wife with that piece of the Bible. And yet, I believe that it speaks very strongly to us, and I certainly am a woman who was in a pretty severely abusive, emotional and verbally abusive, marriage for about fourteen years. And so I have a different take on it. And so a little preface to my take on it is it is so hard to not feel like a victim when you’ve been victimized.

And I think what Jesus is saying is always, in every circumstance, look at your part in how you’re in the situation that you’re in and what is your responsibility. And when we can say, “Okay, I brought things to the marriage. I ended up marrying this unhealthy individual because of something in my past, something in my experience, and so I brought my own shortcomings, wounds, character defects to the table. And while I can’t do anything about his — and that’s not my side of the street, that’s not my responsibility — his is so big and loud and sticky, his looks like the darn log. His is two logs, for instance.”

And so, what I believe the Bible verse is saying is keep the focus on yourself, and when you do that, you will grow strong and empowered and healthier for whatever path you have to take. So I’ll just stop there for now.

NATALIE: Yeah, okay. So my initial reaction to that as a survivor also, I totally get what you’re saying, and in fact, in my program where I work with women of faith who are still in their marriage relationships, I help them to unhook from this feeling like they have to change their husband because it’s not even possible.

The first step to figuring out what they want to do with their lives is to let go of what they can’t control so they can look at what they can control, which is their own choices and their own life and their own decisions. But I heard that so much. I spent twenty-five years in that other relationship and I heard all the time, I heard… Oh, I can’t remember how you just put it now. I wish I could remember how you just phrased it. I heard it phrased like that and it’s an immediate trigger inside to that part of me that lived with that where people would say… I would go to get help and they would say, “Well, you need to focus on your own stuff.” And so I think we need to clarify that for everyone because I know that the women that I talk to, they have been… Really, it’s spiritual abuse when they take the Bible and they…

KAREN: …beat you with it.

NATALIE: Exactly. And what they’re really doing is kind of what I said at the beginning of this episode. It’s not just the abuser that’s doing that. Other religious people will do that in order to try to… It’s almost like a way of saying, “Go away. Work on your own stuff, quit complaining about your husband. You work on being a good girl. Maybe if you were a better person, your husband wouldn’t be abusive to you.” That’s a lot of the thinking behind that.

KAREN: I think that if you were coming from that narrative, I could see a lot of resistance to my interpretation of this scripture. And so I’m going to use myself as an example because I think that would be the best way. So I was raised in a household… My dad was an alcoholic — a very sweet, jolly one, but an alcoholic. And my mom got married at twenty-one. By twenty-four, she had three babies in diapers and she was a rageaholic. And she was a rageaholic because she was alone and she was insecure and she was abandoned, and she hid very well dad’s behavior from us so we didn’t see it.

So that’s what I grew up with. I grew up with this alcoholic who was very jolly but not so emotionally present and a rageaholic who was very angry and not so emotionally present. And so I married the worst of both of them. And so my ex-husband is this outgoing — he’s on the spectrum — he’s very outgoing and charismatic. He smoked pot rather than drank. I thought that was my big fix, which is hysterical now. And he had severe anger management. And so I could look at him and I could say, “Yeah, I see a number of logs.”

But when I looked in the mirror, the day that it was my daughter’s second birthday, and I had a physical altercation with my then-husband that I started, I was so unhinged. I was so lost. I had completely lost myself. I was so broken. And when I looked in the mirror and said, “Girlfriend, what happened to you? Where are you? What in the world happened?” it began a journey of not looking so much at him. I knew him and I knew at that point there was nothing I could do, but I brought people-pleasing to the table. I brought codependence to the table. I brought my insecurities to the table.

I was a grown woman, but not really. I had all of these wounds and shortcomings and limiting beliefs from my upbringing, my unhealthy family of origin. And so when I look at that scripture, I see that the log in my eye, which is going to serve me oh so well, is to work on that, to become healthy, to build my self-love and my worthiness of being loved, to find myself and stand in my truth and find my voice and always speak it regardless of what happens and all the things that you and I coach women around. And so for me, “Before you point out something in the other’s eye, look at what’s going on with you,” rings beautifully true for what each of us have to do to emerge from an abusive situation empowered and transforming what needs to be transformed.

NATALIE: Yeah. Okay, so here’s my —I just want to throw this out there to see if you’ve heard this — here’s my understanding of that verse. I totally agree with you, by the way. When you have something in your eye, if you have a splinter in your eye, to you it’s like a big log because it’s really tiny, but it’s in your eye, so it’s hard to see past it if you really did. I mean, splinters obviously cause pain, so usually we’re not opening our eyes when we’ve got a splinter in them. But if you could open your eye, if there’s a splinter in it, to you it would seem like a big log that’s blocking your vision. Really, you’re not able to see anything but this big thing in your way because it’s right there in your eye.

Whereas your husband also has a splinter in his eye, which is a log to him. He can’t really see what’s going on with you because he’s got the splinter/log, depending on your perspective, in his eye. We can’t do anything about his splinter. We can only do something about our own log. It’s the same thing. It’s still just a tiny thing in front of you, but it blocks your vision for what you’re able to do. So by letting go of your husband’s “splinter,” you can now address your log, which is really a splinter, and get it out of your eyes so that you can have a clearer vision for your way forward.

And I 100% percent agree that until we do that, we’re not going to be able to move forward. But I wanted to just clarify that so that for those of you women who end up hearing that from somebody else, if someone comes into your life and says, “Well, I don’t want to hear about your husband. I’m not going to help you.” By the way, about that, I really teach women, don’t look for everyone else to help you with this. I mean, yes, look to them to support you while you do your own rescuing. You have to rescue yourself. Wouldn’t you say that you’re the one who had to make the hard choices on your own about what you wanted to do, whether you wanted to stay or leave or how you wanted to show up for your life?

KAREN: It’s absolutely an inside job. You need to lean into the Lord. You are very well served to find support — emotionally intelligent, healthy support — not someone else who’s going to drop their baggage on top of you. That’s a vitally necessary piece of it. One of my favorite sayings is, “Every upset is a setup for personal work,” and I feel like this particular scripture speaks to that.

It’s like no matter what or who is agitating or aggravating you, before you address whatever their issues are, to your point, you can’t see with the splinter in your eye. But once you do your work and it’s like, “Wow, yeah, I was codependent, I was a people pleaser…” I am a recovering codependent, recovering people pleaser, recovering perfectionist. I didn’t know any of these things. It wasn’t until the rub of the marriage got so painful that I had no choice but to look at myself. And that began the beginning of the best part of my life.

NATALIE: Yes, yes. Okay, so what are a few of the key issues that someone leaving a toxic relationship needs to work on, then?

KAREN: I would say, for me, I think the first thing is we have emptied the space between our ears of that real estate — we have handed it to our husbands. And so they are renting space in our head, and the first thing you need to do is learn how to evict them. You need to evict them from your head, and imagine just throwing the furniture out, getting rid of their crappy artwork and their lousy, comfy chair, and redecorating with your thoughts, your beliefs, your emotions.

And the first thing might be, “I don’t know what those are.” So then leave the place empty for a little while, let the Lord fill it up for you. And ultimately, as you grow into who you are, you have to do that.  And I say that because so many of the people that I work with, men and women, I’ll ask them what they think about something, and out of their mouth comes their spouse’s response. And I’m like, “He’s not even in the room. Could you ask him to leave the room so that we can have a conversation about what you think?”

And I felt the same way. I was like, “I don’t really know what I think because I’ve been thinking his thoughts, I’ve been worried about his emotions and his reactions for so long that a healthy person would be like, ‘What, really? How does that happen?’” But for those of us who, over the course of years and for some, a lifetime, it’s just belittled, berated, or shut down or shut up or isolated or exploded at that we got so small that we lost all of that real estate between our ears.

NATALIE: Yeah, I can totally relate to that. I love that analogy of kicking them out, figuratively, out of our brain. Well, you work with divorced women. You know that we can sometimes get them out of our physical house and we’re still living with them.

KAREN: For years. I coach people years post-divorce, and they’re like, “You, you wouldn’t believe what he did,” and I’m like, “Hold on a second. We’ve got to get rid of that. We’ve got to focus differently.” And so when you start gaining agency of your thoughts, I mean, it’s beautiful when you start gaining agency.

And you’re talking about something else too, which thankfully I did not experience, which is the spiritual abuse. And I mean, my ex used to… It was very funny. He didn’t go to church, he really didn’t do much, but he took that Bible and beat the heck out of me with it. I was raised Roman Catholic and at the time I was still in that church, and I went to the priest and I said, “My husband keeps telling me that — and I can read it in the Bible — that God hates divorce and so I have to stay, and I just need to hear it from you. And if you tell me that I need to stay, I’ll figure it out.”

I don’t know that I would have stayed, but what this man did was so beautiful because he described through biblical scripture what love is and what God meant by marriage. And he said, “In no way, shape, or form is the life you’re living what God had planned for you in marriage, and so no, there’s no reason for you to stay, and you need to take care of yourself and the kids.” And so I was blessed with an incredibly healthy Catholic priest telling me that and kind of giving me permission to head down that path.

NATALIE: Yeah, that’s beautiful. I mean, it’s not like we need permission, but actually, for those of us who are really immersed in that kind of culture and we have a lot of respect for our priests and our pastors, we are kind of looking for validation and encouragement and support for that huge decision.

KAREN: And yet I’ve worked with plenty of, I’ll say, Christians who, they tell me what their pastors and their elders say as if God is this angry, damning God. And please go find a different church. That is not your heavenly Father that they’re describing. That is their human brokenness. That is not your heavenly Father. So I think that as a foundation, our heavenly Father is unconditional love. Those of us who strive to be the best parents, it’s like we were created in His image, and we may never be Him and we’d never be anywhere near Him. And so if I look at how much I love my children and what I would do for them, then I just know that my heavenly Father loves me and would never want me to be in that kind of harm.

NATALIE: Yeah, exactly. I was excommunicated, and I know a lot of women who were excommunicated from their churches because they got divorced.

KAREN: I think that there are so many emotionally unhealthy churches, and I’ve actually coached a couple, at least three women, whose husbands were pastors, on a spectrum, abusive, and pastors, and it’s like, “Oh my God.” And so they’re the pastor’s wife, and it’s like unraveling that and the complexity of that. It’s so important to be rooted in a healthy Christian spirituality.

NATALIE: Yeah. Okay, so getting him out of your head, that’s one thing. Was there anything else that you wanted to share as far as someone who’s leaving a toxic relationship, what they’d want to work on?

KAREN: Yeah, so the first step is evicting him from your head. The problem most times is the next voice that squats in your head is your inner critic. And your inner critic is usually from your family of origin, which caused you to be in here. And so I used to call myself an effing idiot a hundred times a day. I think about it now and it makes my skin crawl. But my mom was really, she was just an angry person. I was the black sheep, so her and I were like this and she was physical. She was pretty harsh verbally. So when I first evicted my husband from my head, what stepped in next wasn’t a whole lot better.

And so we have to really pay attention to, what is that inner voice? Is it mine? And that’s really that whole line of questioning is, is that belief my belief? Is that thought my thought? And so it’s evict your husband, notice your inner critic, and begin to reclaim you — the adult Karen. What are my beliefs? What did I grow up with that I’ve been kind of abiding by as if it’s a blueprint that I want to throw out? What’s not working that I want to throw out? What’s working really well, like my love of the Lord, that I want to keep? And then what new do I need to bring in?

It’s almost, if we stay with the analogy, it’s like, okay, you’ve emptied the space. Now let’s really renovate and redecorate and open all the windows and doors and bring in the light. And that requires us to, as you’re building your self-confidence, part of building that self-confidence is really challenging your thoughts. I find that they could be from the enemy, they could be like all this stuff that goes on when we’re in that lower capacity, broken place. And so that’s our chance to sweep, clean, paint, bring in the fresh, the new, the healthy, and begin to stand by that.

NATALIE: Yeah. Okay, so going back to the whole spiritual abuse kind of topic, what about people who, the Bible really has been used against them to manipulate them, try to control them? Some of them don’t feel like they have a safe landing place in the scriptures, and the Bible actually can feel like a hostile, dangerous book to them. It’s sad that it gets like that, but especially if they’ve been extremely wounded with spiritual abuse. I was just wondering, how can they use the Bible to find their way back home then and to find their way back to who they are?

KAREN: Okay, so I’m not great at quoting scripture, so I’ll leave that up to you, but God does talk about counting every hair on a head and having plans for us. And what we are promised is that… Well, He allows for free will, and so while we do struggle, He promises to make good out of all of our struggles. And so these are the scriptures that I have stood on that, like, my God knows me. He knew I was going to end up in this place, He knows what’s going to happen for me next, and He has promised that He will always make good of what happens, and so I just have to do my part.

So I think that if I were in a position where — I have an incredibly healthy church, I feel really blessed — and if I didn’t, I think that the first thing I would be doing is trying to find a healthy home, a healthy church. And for me, I do a lot of presentations at my church. I feel like finding emotionally healthy churches and emotionally healthy spirituality within the Christian world is vital. I think the reason so many people belittle and diminish Christians is because there’s a lot of unhealthy Christianity out there where they’re like the Pharisees in many ways. And so I would say there are scriptures that speak to God’s promise, and those are the ones to stand on.

NATALIE: Yeah. I always tell people, Jesus came to show us God, show us who God really is. Because we didn’t know. People didn’t really know. We had guesses, but we didn’t really know who God was. We kind of, I think, superimposed our ideas of like the gods that the early, early people worshiped. I mean, going back even further than Greek and Roman gods, but I always think of them when I think of the gods. And we sort of impose those ideas of what the gods are onto God. And then Jesus came on the scene and said, “God isn’t like that at all. I am who God is. So watch what I do, watch how I respond to people. That is God’s heart for mankind.”

So I’ll just throw this out there for people who really are still trying to heal from that: I just kind of hung out in the Gospels for a while, the Gospels and the Psalms, and just had to figure out God’s love for me. And it all boiled down to that God loves us. He loves His creation, and anything that doesn’t fit into that paradigm of God’s great love and God’s great, powerful ability to do whatever He chooses to do, anything that doesn’t fit in with that, then it has been misinterpreted or misunderstood or whatever.

I’d rather look at a verse and say, “Maybe I don’t understand what that verse is saying,” than to say, “That’s making a case for how God is a petulant narcissist,” you know? Because I mean, there are some verses in the Bible that you could use to make that case, or that you could use to make a case for genocide, or you could use to make a case for misogyny, or you could use to make a case for sexual abuse or any other kind of vice that you want to make a case for.

I mean, again, it’s kind of like having a hammer. You can use a hammer as a tool to build a home or you can use a hammer as a tool to bludgeon someone to death. But the hammer is not the problem — it’s how you’re using that tool. So anyway, what do you think is the most important skill for our listeners to learn to truly begin to create a sense of safety in their lives?

KAREN: Boundaries. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. I think I’ve yet to meet someone who ended up in a toxic or high-conflict relationship or marriage who had any skill in boundaries. And it’s vitally important. It’s important that we protect ourselves, and boundaries actually start with us. I think that so often one of the first things I’ll hear is, “He made me feel…” and “He made me do…” And it’s like, well, let’s just stop right there. Nobody makes you feel and nobody makes you do. Your life experience can have you responding, but you could come from a totally healthy background and be really healthy-minded, and I could be from my background and not so much, and we could experience an individual yelling, cussing, or doing something.

I’m going to shrink or explode or do whatever based on my family of origin and my experience, and you might be like, “Yeah, you know, that’s not terribly appropriate. I can see you’re upset. I’ll come back and talk to you later,” and not take it personally and not react. And so the whole concept that people make us feel and do is an internal broken boundary.

Again, it’s back to that, “I completely own that. When you open your mouth and yell at me, I feel like I’m six years old again, just like when my dad did. And I want to run behind and climb into the closet. And I’m a grown woman and I am reacting that way, and that’s my work to do.” And so when we have internal boundaries and we own that, and then there are the external boundaries to really create safety, and I think most people who think they understand what the boundary is will then tell me how, “But he or she just ignores my boundary, so I can’t do anything about it.”

And so I feel like I know that the skill of upholding your boundary is 100% your responsibility, especially if you’ve got an unhealthy partner. And so when you have full agency over your boundaries, a tremendous amount changes. And I had to live under the same roof with my soon-to-be ex for three and a half years. So boundaries were vital to my existence, to my survival.

NATALIE: Yeah, and the boundaries sometimes need to be as serious as that you leave the marriage or you leave the home. Because some abusers, they absolutely will violate your boundaries. If you try to go into your room and lock the door, for example, to get away, some of them might break the door to get in. So then you have to stop and go, “Okay, that’s not working. What is the next step?” Visiting a domestic violence shelter might be the next step, right?

KAREN: Or in my case, I never wanted to do this, never wanted to do this, and then one day I called the police and the police came to the front door and my kids were four and six. I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to do it, and then I did it, and they were very respectful, but my bully met a bigger bully at the front door. And that’s not always the case, right? So we could call the police, and I have clients whose husbands were in law enforcement. And so the police pooh-poohed them too. So nothing’s a given.

But you lock the door. If they break the door down, you call the police, you call a family member, you grab the kids and you leave for a couple of days, you file for an order of protection. I can’t tell you how often I ended up moving to the attic. So there was a door on the second floor that I could lock and then two short staircases and a door on the third floor to my bedroom. And so I had two locked doors. And that’s how I managed to stay for three years and feel somewhat safe. And I suppose he could have kicked down both of them, but he didn’t, thank God.

NATALIE: Well, yeah, it’s going to be an individual thing, right? My ex would never have done anything like that. I wouldn’t even have to have locked the door. But his behaviors were different, so my boundaries had to be different.

KAREN: And I just want to say, because I tend to talk about the explosive, high-conflict person, if you’re the person whose spouse gets really quiet and gives you the silent treatment, and it’s equally as painful to be that level of emotional and even physical abandonment to just be shut down, shut up, and sit in silence because nobody will talk to you. So there are two sides of the same coin, and they both have a tremendous amount of pain that’s attached to them.

NATALIE: Yeah. I’m so glad you said that because I think a lot of our listeners, that is what they’re experiencing, and that’s probably more of what I experienced as well. I think the boundaries thing also, the key to that is really healing your relationship with yourself. Your relationship with you, if that relationship is broken and you kind of despise yourself… I mean, I remember I did. I kind of despised myself. So that’s why I didn’t have as many boundaries because I didn’t think I deserved to have boundaries. I didn’t think I deserved to be emotionally protected. I thought that I would stay humble if I allowed the different types of abuse to be happening to me and that it was even a sign of godliness and spirituality, right?

KAREN: Yeah. That’s where interpretations can be dangerous, and we are God’s princesses. And in some place in scripture, it says there’s nothing we can do to earn his love and there’s nothing we can do to lose it, and so it’s really a self-love thing. And in some ways, it’s like, “Well, God created me and He makes no mistakes, so how audacious of me to think that He did a crappy job with me. And how do I find my way back often because of messaging, right? How do I find my way back or for the first time to loving myself as much as my heavenly Father loves me — like, truly loving myself?”

Because I agree with you: If you don’t start there, then how do you find a voice? How do you set boundaries? How do you soldier up, put on your armor, and grab your sword to go through the kind of battle that a lot of high-conflict divorces are? And when I was on the fence, which I felt like I was, Natalie, for years, I remember my therapist said to me… This was my decision maker. I’m like, “What do I do? What do I do? I come from divorce, I never wanted to get divorced, I believe in God.” And she said, “Karen, your pain threshold is so high, I think you would stay until you die. But I want you to know that if you stay, your children do not have the tools and capacity, and so the abuse that’s going on under that roof now, it’s fully your responsibility too and your fault.”

And it was like someone hit me with a cast iron pan because I had these little babies. And I was like, “Oh my God. If I stay…” And of course, I don’t care how quiet you are about it or whether or not there’s no yelling and screaming — children are these energetic, innocent receptors. If there’s conflict and contention and hostility in that household, they don’t have to hear it — they feel it. And they feel it, and the body holds the score.

And my big thing is breaking generational chains. And I come from rageaholism, alcoholism, and whatever other brokenness. And my desire is that everything that I do is to help my children, my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren be on a healthier path. And that requires us to become the leader, to dig down deep, to become the strong women we were created to be, the faithful women we were created to be, and then to break generational chains by teaching our children how to be healthy and have boundaries and a voice and all of that.

NATALIE: Yeah. One of the things I do with the women I work with is I teach them to talk about themselves in the third person, because we, as Christians, a lot of us were taught that self-love is not scriptural — you’re not supposed to love yourself. And so then people will be like, “Well, I don’t want to be selfish,” or they’ll feel bad for their abusive partner. I see this all the time. Women who are victims feel bad for their abusive partner if they set a boundary.

And so I talk about them with their first name. “Karen. Think about Karen. You can help Karen right now or you can help this man that she’s married to. Which one are you going to help? If you were to talk to your best friend who was married to a guy just like your husband, what advice would you give her? That’s the same advice you should give to Karen. Karen needs that advice. Karen needs someone to have her own back. And that’s you. You’re the one to have Karen’s back.”

And it’s like light bulbs go on because they don’t think of themselves as being as worthy as their friend or their sister or their child, and they are. Every single one of us is valuable and worthy, including the abuser. It’s just that the abuser is making choices that are putting him in a position where he now is not allowed in our space because this is why we can’t have nice things when we behave that way. “You can’t be in my space because it’s hurting Karen,” right?

KAREN: You’ve lost that ability to do that.

NATALIE: Okay, so just to wrap this up, why don’t you tell us how they can find you if they want to connect with you beyond this episode?

KAREN: Okay. So I’m the founder of Journey Beyond Divorce, so journeybeyonddivorce.com is our website. I also have a podcast that’s been around since 2016. I tend to do series. So I have a high-conflict series, I have the “Life After Divorce” series, I have a “Voices of Celebration” series. So if someone’s in the early stages and scared because it’s so darn scary, you could just check out my “Voices of Celebration.” And it’s just twenty or thirty individuals who just thought it was the end of their life and the worst thing that could possibly happen, even if they were choosing it. And they all come on, and after some coaching and some hard work, every one of their stories is about how, “This is the best decision I made, and I’m living the best life. Not that it’s perfect, not that there aren’t problems, but I love myself so much more. I’m living a life that is so much more free and fulfilling and rewarding.” And so I encourage you to look at that.

NATALIE: That sounds amazing. I love that idea of having series.

KAREN: Yeah, it’s the way my brain works. The first time I did something on the divorce process, I was like, “Well, if I’m going to talk about the legal, I have to talk about the financial, I got to talk about the kids, I got to talk about the custody.” And I just was like, “Okay, just like Netflix, I’ll do a series for everything,” and people will binge the series because that’s where they are.

NATALIE: Yes. What a great resource. So that’s called Journey Beyond Divorce. You can probably find it on your favorite podcast app, correct?

KAREN: Any one of them.

NATALIE: Okay, fabulous. All right, well, thank you so much, Karen, for this conversation. I think it’s been a really, really good one. At first, I was like, “Where is this conversation going to go?” But it ended up being amazing, so I really appreciate you giving us some of your time.

KAREN: And I really appreciate you kind of bringing to the forefront for me that concept of spiritual abuse. I think that I haven’t crossed it too often. Actually, there was a Mormon that I worked with out in Utah, but it’s a really important piece for me to keep in mind. And so I was surprised at your initial reaction to it. I was like, “How could she not love that scripture?” And then you were like, “Hmmm.” So it’s very good for me to keep that front and center. I think also, especially since I come from such a healthy church, it’s not at the forefront, and it’s such an important piece. I mean, there’s legal abuse, physical abuse. There are so many different types of abuse, and these individuals are so difficult. And then if you have that in your church too, boy, that’s hard.

NATALIE: Yeah, it’s funny because when we got the topic, I knew we were going to be talking about that verse, kind of to kick it off with that verse. And just like you were assuming or coming from your perspective, I was just assuming the conversation was going to go where I was thinking it was going to go. So it was just funny to find out that we weren’t quite on the same page there. But I’m actually really glad that we did that and that we did it for an audience, because I think it’s important to also see how you can have a different perspective with someone and yet you can still have a conversation with them and find the common ground, which I think is so important.

KAREN: Thank you for what you do. I love that you work with Christian women and I so appreciate the opportunity to come on your podcast. Of course, we’re going to have you on mine as well. But I just want to thank you for what you do in the world.

NATALIE: Oh, thank you.

Hey, beautiful butterfly. Thank you so much for listening. If you liked this episode, be sure to subscribe, and then consider leaving a rating and review so others can find us. To connect with me and get a free chapter of my book, head over to flyingfreenow.com, and until next time, fly free.

“So grateful for this podcast and program. It’s been vital in my healing journey! Thank you, Natalie!”
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An online coaching, education, and support community for women of faith in destructive relationships.

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