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What Kind of Woman Does an Abusive Man Go For?

by | Apr 19, 2018 | Advocacy, Articles, Emotional Abuse, Learning, Popular Posts, Survivor Identity, Waking Up | 46 comments

When the subject of domestic abuse randomly crosses the average person’s path, a number of myths surrounding this subject immediately kick into play. One of these myths has to do with the domestic abuse target, herself. What kind of woman does an abusive man go for, anyway?

I’d like to talk about three things here.

First, what kind of person is she?

Second, what does her abuser do to her that causes her to become a domestic abuse victim?

And third, why is it so difficult for her to change her identity from victim to SURVIVOR?

Who is the Domestic Abuse Target?

The Myth

The average person on the street thinks a domestic abuse target is a pushover. Spineless. Weak. Coward. Can’t stand up for herself. Doesn’t “handle” her man the right way. Has little self-esteem.

The average religious person, if they believe she is a victim in the first place (which they usually don’t), believes if she married a guy with problems, she needs to hunker down and sleep in the bed she made for herself. How bad can it be?

The Truth

The domestic abuse target can be anyone. She can be a business owner. An attorney. A professor. A doctor. An author. A homemaker. A company president. A police officer. And contrary to the opinions of those who don’t understand how abuse works, she isn’t targeted because she can’t stand up for herself and has low self-esteem.

She’s targeted for her strengths. And they are many.

Here are a few of her strengths—specific strengths that are sought out by an abusive man and used against her. We’ll talk about why in a minute.

  1. She has the kind of character that puts the needs of others before her own.
  2. When she makes a commitment, she sticks to it. Faithful. Trustworthy.
  3. She takes responsibility for herself and those around her. She’s a woman of integrity.
  4. She is generous to a fault—giving more than she takes and doing it with pleasure.
  5. She is kind and compassionate. Empathy oozes from her pores.
  6. She is intuitive. Sensitive to the emotional environment around her. She picks up on tone and body language, and she adjusts her approach accordingly.
  7. She is forgiving. She will forgive and forgive and forgive – without being asked. Her love is deep and wide.
  8. She is patient and long-suffering. She will endure the attacks of her partner, believing the best about him. Believing in his potential as a human being.
  9. She is courageous. She survives the rejection of her love and the dehumanization of her spirit, and still she goes into each day with hope.
  10. She is resourceful. She takes what she is given and multiplies it even though she is offered only criticism and rejection in return.
  11. She doesn’t want to betray her abuser. She is loyal and doesn’t desire revenge. All she wants is to be treated with honor, as a human being.

This kind of woman, when paired with an emotionally and spiritually healthy man, can co-create a beautiful marriage.

But what happens when an abusive man (a “psychephile” as Don Hennessy calls it in his book, How He Gets into Her Head) targets this kind of woman?

What is he looking for, and why?

How and Why the Domestic Abuse Target is Targeted

The Myth

The average person on the street thinks the domestic abuse victim is targeted because of the weaknesses listed under the first myth.

The average religious person believes she hasn’t been targeted at all. Nobody would be that mean! Instead, if she doesn’t like her husband, she’s got issues, and she’ll need to learn how to pick up her cross and carry it. To suffer as a domestic abuse victim is a privilege and honor, and to give her help would undermine God’s sovereign work in her life. (Plus it would take time and energy, and by golly, the suffering is for her—not them. THEY didn’t marry a bad egg. Why should THEY suffer for her idiocy? If she’s even telling the truth. Harumph.)

The Truth

The domestic abuse victim is targeted because of her strengths. Here’s how it works.

First, let’s define Hennessy’s “psychephile” term, because this term helps us see exactly what the intimate male abuser is actually doing behind the curtain:

The word psychephile combines the root of ‘psyche’ meaning mind or spirit, and ‘phile’ which comes from the Greek for friend. (Taken from How He Gets Into Her Head)

The abuser’s goal is to get into her mind (to “befriend” it) and control her from there. This isn’t that difficult when you’ve got:

  • A shared bed (intimate partner abuse is insidious.)
  • A marital commitment
  • A religious belief system
  • And all the beautiful character qualities listed above.

1. Because she puts the needs of others before her own needs, he can get her to dismiss her own human instinct to not ONLY take care of others, but to also take care of herself. Add to this her religious community encouraging her to “die to self,” and you’ve got a perfect petri dish for mind control to thrive and grow.

2. Her commitment to her word is the Gorilla Glue that keeps her tied to her psychephile. He knows this and picked her because of it. Add to this a religious community that teaches divorce is the unforgivable sin and excommunicates those who initiate divorce, and you’ve got a very real prison from which there is no escape. Truly, the victim doesn’t even consider this as an option until she is so scared for her physical and/or emotional well being that she takes that drastic step, fighting for her life against all of her core beliefs. Most religious victims will stay two to three decades before finally getting help and leaving. Not because they are weak willed. But because their strength of perseverance is Herculean. (She will almost always suffer from C-PTSD as a result.)

3. Because she is so committed to taking personal responsibility, when he blames her for his own bad behaviors, she accepts the blame and works hard to “do better” next time in order to avoid the guilty and shameful emotions that follow an abusive incident. This is perfect for him. He gets away with anything by shifting the responsibility over to her. He can control her actions once he controls how she defines his abuse of her. When her religious community tells her to “forgive and keep no record of wrongs” and “as far is it is up to you, be at peace with all men” and “your role is to build your husband up” and “a good wife will a happy husband make”- she re-doubles her efforts to take responsibility for the well being of the relationship. And she slowly disappears.

4. Because she is generous, she gives and gives of her resources, whatever they may be, believing she is investing in the most worthwhile relationship one can invest in on planet earth. She will work hard at her career to bring in monetary value. She will work hard at raising the children, taking care of their home, and prudently spending. No gift is too great, in her mind. It’s all a pleasure to give. If she is a woman of faith, she does it for the glory of God as well. She believes that even if it goes unnoticed by her husband or others, God sees her efforts, and she will reap a good harvest one day. This works dandy for the abuser who views her as his servant, created to make his life comfortable and happy. He targeted her for this reason. Her religious community colludes with the abuser by keeping the focus of her generosity disproportionately on her since she is the active and willing partner. This is exactly what the abuser needs to continue harming her with impunity.

5. Her kindness and empathy works in his favor as well. Her default is to give others the benefit of the doubt, believing the best about their behaviors. When her abuser treats her poorly, she feels it must be because of something sad and broken inside him, and she desires with all her heart to help him so he can be all he was created to be. She sees herself as equipped by God to accomplish this goal, and she applies all her compassionate being toward the task. Her religious community teaches her that this is the right thing to do. Turn the other cheek. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love will win the day. The psychephile grooms her to the place where he can offend and actually get the victim to feel sorry for him because of his offending! With the church’s approval, of course.

6. The fact that she is intuitive actually makes it easy for an intimate partner to confuse and control her. Here’s how that works: she skillfully picks up on all non-verbal cues he gives her to covertly control what she does or how she interprets her experience. A certain look. An edge in his voice. The way he looks past her when she talks. These are the subtle, imperceptible things others can’t see—that she can. This helps her navigate potential ugly situations, or enables her to fall into them—whichever the psychephile wants at any given time. The fact that his words and his actions don’t match make the experience all the more confusing, throwing the victim into the depths of self-doubt. The religious community tells her she can’t trust her heart. It is “deceitful above all things.” They tell her she is making assumptions, and this plays into her abuser’s narrative. Their voices are implanted deep within her psyche now, and she is unable to tell right from wrong when it comes to her own experiences.

7. As part of her commitment to the marriage, she forgives over and over again, even when her abuser isn’t sorry and doesn’t ask. Her religious community tells her that forgiveness includes allowing her abuser complete and total access to her, body and soul, at all times. It is her duty as a wife, and she takes it seriously. As a result, there is never any sowing and reaping. Her abuser sows destruction in their relationship and in her personhood without any accountability, and she continues to forgive him for the ways he causes her pain, thereby enabling the abuse cycle to continue unabated.

8. She will endure the abuse to the point of falling apart emotionally and physically. She willingly sacrifices, believing that it is worth it if he will one day see what he is doing and stop. If he will one day become the good man she believes he can be. Her religious community teaches her that suffering is God’s will for her, and they do nothing to offer relief or practical help. That would mean circumventing God’s plan of suffering for her life. This also plays into the psychephile’s agenda to keep her doing what he wants her to do—all in the name of God. The ultimate spiritual abuse.

9. Her courage in the face of daily abuse, both covert and overt, is incredible. This inner strength is exploited by her abuser who is both jealous of her strength and desirous of using it against her. When necessary, he will praise her for it, getting her to believe that she must keep it up to win his admiration as well as to survive. Her religious community has zero comprehension of her strength, nor do they see anything of which to praise and encourage her. To them, she is just another woman, merely doing her duty before God, and not doing it well enough to keep her husband happy.

10. The abuse target is often very good at coming up with creative ways to make money or make ends meet. Her contributions are minimized and even circumvented by her abuser, who will insist the extra resources are placed in his capable control. She willingly (at first) agrees to this, feeling that she must trust him as her intimate partner, and yet, she also feels like a slave or child rather than an equal adult partner contributing and controlling equally. When she does finally take responsibility for the resources she is generating, she will be attacked and blamed as a selfish, money-hungry female. She’ll struggle with feelings of guilt and shame and confusion as she hears his voice in her head defining who she is and assigning all the wrong motives to her resourcefulness and hard work.

11. She is reticent to get help for many reasons. One, he is in her head telling her it’s all her fault. She believes this is true. That if she would have tried harder or been different or responded differently, she could have made things better. Her religious community will tell her the same thing. She knows if she tries to explain her experience, the tide of that belief is too powerful to go up against. But also, she has no desire to betray or expose her partner. Her heart is for him. Her motive is to help him so they can have an intimate relationship that is mutually satisfying. Against all the evidence to the contrary, she continues to believe this is possible, and her first attempts at getting help are for the sole and desperate purpose of achieving this end. However, most churches and Bible counselors will not be able to understand her or her problem. The voice of her abuser is in their head, too. In fact, they feed off one another and abuse the woman together.

Why the Domestic Abuse Target Struggles with Going from Victim to Survivor

The Myth

The average person on the street believes that the domestic abuse target is stupid for not seeing that she’s a target and taking steps to get out of her abusive situation.

Of course, the average religious person believes she isn’t a domestic abuse target to begin with. They believe she is just a good girl doing her Christian duty as a female human.

The Truth

He has groomed and offended and groomed and offended her over and over again throughout the course of a long relationship. He is in her head now. She is brainwashed into believing his messages, and she no longer sees reality for what it is when it comes to her own experience. This is the crux of intimate partner abuse, and this is why she stays.

But this is not the end of the story. Here is the incredibly good news:

The very strengths her intimate abuser chose her for are not only the strengths that keep her in the relationship. THEY ARE ALSO THE STRENGTHS THAT WILL SET HER FREE.

Using those strengths to get free from the devastation of an abusive relationship is confusing and painful for an average non-religious woman. But women of faith endure even deeper  confusion and pain as they navigate the twisted webs of half truths and bad theology to find true freedom in Jesus Christ. The ones who fly free invariably have a strong support system built with safe and spirit filled people who know exactly where they’ve been because they’ve been there too. The Flying Free Sisterhood is a lifeline of support for women of faith in destructive relationships. And you can join now and find the help you’ve always needed. Click HERE for more details and sign up information.

46 Comments

  1. Regina

    Ya’ll please Pray for me, I am struggling with this whole idea of being a victim and what to do next. My husband of 9 years was all I had ever wanted in a man, after a month of dating he ask me to marry and 5 months later, I did marry him. Our marriage has pretty much been mostly about what I can do for him and when the house that I lived in before we married burned it put us in a two year battle over stupid childish issues and it strained me so much that I lost my cool a few times and screamed at him basically to shut up, well from then on he said I disrespected him and I need to move back in my old house while I finish putting it back together, so I did last labor day and I’ve been in my old house ever since. In the meantime he has accused me of an affair, hijacked my cell phone and email to see whom I was talking to and found nothing. Well now he is wanting to know when are we going to try to work things out and I’ve told him that I am working on me and that is all I can do and I have suggested him to work on himself because the one thing that I did not know before we married was that his Father beat and abused him on a regular basis, I am the only person besides his siblings and Mother that have any knowledge of the abuse. He told me about the abuse because I was questioning him on how and why he handle conflict the way he does, also I learned that his Dad did not treat his Mother good even cheated on her and married the women he cheated with. Also, my husband was cheated on by his first wife with his best friend in his bed, caught them in the act. I am saying this because there’s this part of me that wants to see him fixed, healed and whole but at the same time I gave him 7 great years, I bent over backwards, I have got to get it through my head that it is not my responsibility. I do have feelings of failure here and I know I must move on it is just so hard to get passed the thoughts of letting go of something I committed to ( his family of 5 kids and 11 grandkids). please pray for me, thanks, Regina

    Reply
    • Emma Kroll

      Stay strong!

      Reply
    • Lee

      Thank you for this!! I just want to say it breaks my heart to hear so many churches are still so closed minded when it comes to abuse. I feel even more blessed with the tribe he gave me. I am still in the counseling stage with my husband. We both had traumatic childhoods so I have given room for healing and grace, but some days it’s hard to breathe. One step at a time for the moment

      Reply
  2. Nancy Ness

    This article is life-saving and life-giving. I wish it was being preached from the pulpit. Even today, women in psychaphile relationships are being “laughed at” when seeking help at church. This article describes me perfectly. I grew up in church and have always been the “good girl.” It’s about time I see the beautiful characteristics that God gave me as a blessing, the blessing was used on the wrong guy. Thank you.

    Reply
  3. SS

    “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace” 1 Corinthians 14:33

    If you are experiencing that back and forth doubt, fog, and feeling of futility…..thats not God. Thats what abusers do.
    And they keep you locked in a mental cycle.
    When life moves in a cyclic pattern, a programmed cycle, thats not God.
    Become aware.
    Sadly, many religious communities are not Godly communities. And abusers, especially narcissistic abusers, can easily flourish there and put on a good show.
    To stay protected, READ THE WORD yourself. Do not have a human to tell you. If you ask a human for imput, that is certainly acceptable, but read it yourself and use discernment. The Word was a gift to all. It is a lie that we need someone to interpret it. Watch out for a person who picks and chooses select verses out of the Bible as a means to control.
    For instance, Abusers love the “wives submit to your own husband” verse, but did they continue reading? “Husbands, love your wives” “Love (your) own wife as (you) love your own body”
    And what is Love? The Bible says Love is “patient”. Love is “kind”.
    Is this your husband? Is he patient and kind?
    Do not blindly submit to him if he is not in Christ.
    We are called to submit to Christ. We are NOT called on to submit to demons.
    And yes. demons often come falsely professing to be with God.
    TEST them.
    How? Against the Word.
    Spiritual warfare is real.
    Remember. The ultimate goal of the enemy is to separate you from God. Abusers target Christian woman for this purpose. And if he (or she) can get you to doubt your Faith, they have won.
    And Satan gets your Soul.
    Do not loose yourself for a fallen created being thats already been defeated.
    You can Pray for him, but you not offer sacrifice to him. That sacrifice is you.
    Remember.
    Your husband is not God.
    The red flag number uno is that false believers (a husband or not) will put themselves on the level of God. Watch out for people like this.
    Christ is your God.
    Do you get the idea your husband thinks he, your husband, is your God?
    No. He is your husband.
    As a husband, he has a role. Is he performing it? If not, thats between him and God. Not you and him.
    As a final point.
    Know that your Christain community is not God. Though a community, if a true community, is a good support to have, that community is NEVER where you place your full Trust.
    Always be awake and actively discerning.
    And know being discerning is possible to do in an open and loving way. It doesnt have to feel closes and from a place of fear. Learn how to do this.
    And Trust God.
    Pray to God.
    Read the Word.
    And know that sometimes the best way to help someone, is to simply get out of the way.
    In Love

    Reply
  4. Jen

    Hi, I am currently going through a divorce (my soon to be ex-husband is an emotional abuser and porn-addict), and this site has been such an encouragement to me. I regularly visit and reaffirm my decisions by reading through the posts here.

    I have been recently begun blogging again as a way to journal through this phase of my life, in hopes that by sharing what I’m experiencing I can encourage other women who are facing similar trials. I’m not really publicizing it at all, no one that I know actually knows about my blog…it’s kinda just for me! And the few who have stumbled upon it, and those who may in the future. But this particular post is something I would really like to share, and I am hoping for your permission to post a link.

    Here is a link to my blog in case you want to check it out before approving: https://itiswellfaithblog.wordpress.com

    Reply
  5. Carolyn Jorgensen Potter

    My husband was very religious: Always reading the Bible, always volunteering for helping at church, and on the worship team. At church, he was ingratiating with his “spirituality” in order to get attention. At home, he was a tyrant, and no one had a clue. I didn’t either until I married him.

    He used to always remind me that my body belonged to him and it was a sin for me to keep my body from him. And also, there is a verse that if we sin willfully, we lose our salvation. Therefore, if I withhold my body from him, and I willfully sinning and I loose my salvation. I thought everybody “knew” this. When you have to use verses like this to pry sex out of your wife, that’s pretty low.

    Reply
  6. Carolyn Jorgensen Potter

    Many religious men are big on the “wives submit to your husbands”, but NEVER quote, “Husbands, love your wives like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her”. Jesus did more than just die for our sins. He spent every waking moment caring for the people who followed him. He didn’t do stupid things like drink all the time and demand that his followers wait on him. He was clearly always their servant. Even the word “husband” is the same word for “farmer”. A farmer’s job to take care of the land, the crops and the animals so that they can produce the best that they can. If I husband spends his time loving and caring for his wife, he won’t have to “demand” that she submits, she will WANT to because she knows he has her best interest in mine.

    Reply
    • Twila

      Wow, so, so, true. I was confused why I was so manipulated….l was known as a strong young lady. Two things l had in my favor… was the religious system l grew up in, targeted our family & I’d watched my mother being abused, emotionally & spiritually, by my dad,, so when l made up my mind to leave, the junk people threw at me about submission made less of an impact. I , also had siblings who’d been emotionally, spiritually, & physically abused, as well,who had seen our mother destroyed who stood behind me…. & helped me. One of the 1st things l did was test my “gut feeling” soon after separation, refusing to do something he was trying to convince me to do. I learned later that had l listened to him, l would’ve been committing a civil misdemeanor …… that WAS an extreme faith building block as l begain my journey into healing. That said, l still find it amazing how long it’s been & l realize how long healing takes. Thanks, Natalie for your writings.

      Reply
  7. Maryn

    So many of your points and statements are filled with truth! However, I would like to register a small disagreement regarding the response of a woman’s religious community. While it may be true in some cases and within some traditions (and was true in more cases in past years)–the apostle Peter said: “Husbands, respect your wives.” There is no Biblical tradition to remain with and cling to an abusive partner. I think often people who think of themselves as religious forget that Jesus Christ and his disciples did not say women have to submit to abuse just because they have a husband who refuses to treat her with respect. I”m glad there are organizations like yours that support women of faith who believe they deserve love and respect, rather than abuse.

    Reply
  8. Sharayah

    It’s sad because I am sure that if my abuser read these articles on abuse he would identify with the feelings of a victim. He tells me I always put him down and that I am manipulative and I am this and I am that and he’s depressed around me and he’s suicidal… and I know it’s because he’s doing it to himself, not because I am making him feel these things, and he is allowing the enemy to rule his life. I say it’s sad because he believes he’s the victim, of me, and that belief alone will keep him in this pit of forever not getting help or changing because he thinks he’s done nothing wrong.
    I appreciate this article in particular because I relate to the myth that the average person sees an abuse victim as weak- people think there is something wrong with me. And I have wracked my brain trying to figure out what that was (especially because as my abuser is screaming at me and threatening me he always says “you make me do this” or “if you were just a better wife I wouldn’t have to act this way”), and I have compared my actions to scripture over and over again and I honestly couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong; so it is a very good perspective to see that I am targeted for my strengths. Although being targeted is not good at all, I never looked at it from that view and I feel like a lot of my questions are answered just from reading that.
    Thank you for your words.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      I can hear the pain and confusion in your words. I’m so sorry. You’re right. Abusers believe they are victims, and you are also right that it is because of that belief that they will never change. Your freedom will come when you no longer look at what he is doing or believing (he will eternally be the victim) and you make the necessary changes so you will no longer be a victim. Let him have that role. You get a new role. VICTOR who FLIES FREE. I pray that for you.

      Reply
    • Jennifer

      I am slowly realizing that my husband is a verbal and emotional abuser. He blames me for his dark moods. He gets frustrated with his mother and takes it out on me. Reading this though affirmed me. I sense that for all the insults he hurls at me, he needs me to be his emotional rock because I tend to be very steady and reliable. On this past Mother’s Day he yelled at me and cursed at me, ruining the day I wanted to have with my family, including his at times mean mother-in-law, yet the next day my duty called me to cook for the family and make sure they were well. That is what keeps me in line. I wanted to neglect everyone, but I still did what needed to be done. I hated that I am too strong to fall apart and let everything else fall apart. I sensed as he apologized to me, there was no true contrition and remorse. He just wanted me to fall into the old pattern so he could feel better about himself and it return to the status quo. This site is a God-send because it releases me from the guilt of being the one to possibly break the family apart as for the first time I am preparing to divorce him due to his constant disrespect. I like that for the first time, I have come to a Christian site that does NOT TELL WOMEN to take it or kow-tow to the partner’s disrespectful and abusive ways or that the right thing to do is submit even further. Thank you for the wisdom shared on this page. Thank you.

      Reply
  9. Gloria Riggin

    Oh my gosh!!! This is me and my previous marriage of 25 years to the T!! I have never seen anything as exact that described me or the circumstances as perfectly as did this article. I did not give up until he actually got caught cheating on me with someone I knew. He finally asked me to leave, and I could not understand why. It wasn’t until our friends had an intervention with me and explained that he was caught out of town by some of our mutual friends. They did not tell me until we were going to court the next day to finalize the divorce. If I had know earlier, it would have made a difference in the grounds of the divorce, and I would have forced 1/1 division of accets with alimony. As it was, I did not request either as he convinced me it was my fault we were divorcing. I am a senior citizen now and not sure I can trust my instincts anymore. I am not sure I can trust myself not to be pulled into another relationship with the same results. I feel I will share my compassion as a community volunteer and avoid true relationships in the future. Don’t really want to live single, but don’t think I could survive another abusive marriage. God blessed me to be directed out of this last one before it was too late.

    Reply
    • Windy

      I am so sorry this happened to you. I pray you have found new friends, the kind of friends that wouldn’t keep something like that from you until the last moment. I pray you are doing well.

      Reply
  10. NGl

    Yes. To have this strong, compassionate and gifted woman in his territory makes him feel good (and look good to others).
    To see her lose her happy spark and peace.. mission accomplished.

    Reply
  11. Alexa

    I am bookmarking your article so I can revisit and review more of your content. I agree with many of your thoughts

    Reply
  12. Tiffany

    I am so happy I read this. My husband and I are now divorced, thank God!. He was abusing me for years and I had no idea. Our relationship was rocky from the beginning but I just kept at it because of all the other wonderful qualities in him, which I now know were fake. It was all manipulation tactic. Long story somewhat short, we got married in 2016 when I was 3 months pregnant. Everything seemed to fall apart even more at that point. I was neglected, ignored, and told on more than one occasion that if we didn’t have more sex, he would cheat on me. And 2 months after our son was born, he left me. The woman he left me for was a friend of his and he was lying to both of us the entire time. I was also unaware that he was bringing her around our son since he was born. My son will be 2 in September and I just became aware of that he was basically born with a stepmother already lined up. My ex-husband is also a victim of abuse, just to add. He and many members of his family are all victims of sexual abuse. This is one of the reasons I put up with his behavior for so long. I felt sorry for what happened to him and thought I could help. Anyway, my reason for writing this is because I sometimes feel concern for my son. I don’t believe his father will hurt him, but I have thought about taking him to court for mandated psychotherapy for the emotional abuse towards me and to help him heal with his childhood abuse. I just want to make sure my son is ok. I have already begun healing and moving forward in my life to unchain myself from the abuse. The mind manipulation still lingers and he definitely is still in my head at times. I pray hard and try to refocus my energy on good things to hopefully push this man out once and for all.

    Reply
  13. Lynne

    I definitely agree with what you are saying and I fit all the criteria for the kind of woman an abusive man chooses. And it is sad that some men use God in such a horrible way. I was actually abused by two different men (in my opinion 1st one was a borderline and the 2nd anti social pd) who were far from Christ. The one even made me feel like I shouldn’t believe in God and Jesus was just a man. My most recent abuser and father of my son out of wedlock (which is a good thing) had so many demons. After he was arrested and left our home he left those demons behind and I was saved by Jesus after I realized that I needed to have faith not fear. And I go to a church that believes in Christianity not religion. My pastor believes that religion is wrong b/c we can’t be good people to go to heaven and we shouldn’t worship so called holy people. Only Jesus was perfect and to get to heaven we most confess our sins and be saved, then baptized to receive the holy spirit, have a relationship with Jesus/God, and serve. My pastor would like husbands and wives to stay together or people who share a child to be able to get married or work things out to be together, but he understands that sometimes it just can’t happen because of abusive people. I’m learning so much about boundaries right now and putting them into use. It’s hard and scary but I already see it working in my favor and it makes me feel proud of myself. I can’t keep self sacrificing and living in other peoples worlds….eventually becoming resentful, depressed, frustrated, desperate to get out. Maybe my son’s father will change, but that is up to him and he needs to do it without me involved. I can’t be his enabler anymore!

    Reply
  14. Angel Whiteman

    This is the exact story of my life…….

    Reply
  15. Helet Rudewig

    I have become a faily lonely person since 11 years ago, getting out of my relation with a narcissist and psycopath. Unfortunately I did not divorce hom, but live apart. He visits often for a hour or teo. But I do not ever want to marry again, so I thought that keeps people away from me. I grew up in a toxic home, Narcissist morher, enabling father, and 3 bullying brothers. I was the SG. I married a man that had very big background problems, Hoever kind an gentle , hr never protected me, he could not handle conflict, he got non epileptic seizures of ragr, and then went into a psychotic stsge for about 5 years, not talking to anybody. Doctors could not find whsts wrong. He refused to take any medication, and anti depressants. He died at thr age of 62

    Reply
  16. Colleen Kennedy

    You have completely validated my understanding of what happened to me. I was married 23 years. I gave everything including my soul to that man that I was married to. I have been set free for the last 6 years. But I have never had anyone explain exactly what happened to me the way you have. You have given me words to describe my life experience. I lived in hell. Thank you so much for your Insight. I’ve had the hardest time wrapping my head around what the church did to me. I trusted the church to help protect me, but they perpetuated the abuse. I still love God with all my heart, but I can’t become a part of another church.

    Reply
  17. Wendy

    This is most accurate description of the last 18 years of my life! Thank you for writing this article. It is like you were living in my home day in and day out. I could not seem to wrap my head around what I went through and why I stayed, allowed, justified such bad behavior and bad treatment! Thank you so much for validating my experience and opening my eyes as to how I was truly targeted and taken advantage of. I found the courage to ask my husband to move out on December 30. I wish I could say it was easy once he was gone, but unfortunately, things went from bad to worse once he was gone. It has been 4 months now and I can truly say that I am finely coming out on the other side. I am at peace. I feel happy again and my energy is coming back too. It has been so hard to explain to others and to forgive myself for staying as long as I did. Thank you again for your work and for sharing. You have blessed me beyond measure today!!!!!

    Reply
  18. Kay

    So much of this…. I think another thing is how they use sex. Sex becomes all of a sudden really good. Almost like a tool for deeper intimacy. They think.

    It might be good sex but it gives a sickening feeling later.

    Reply
  19. Amy

    I honestly can’t believe how perfectly stated every word of this is. Thank you. Thank you so much.

    Reply
  20. Kelly

    I’m sorry you had such an unhealthy faith community. It shouldn’t be that way.

    Reply
  21. Katelyn

    Incredible insight and I could relate to everything you said. It was so affirming and I want everyone I’m close to, to read this to better understand what I’m going through.

    Reply
  22. Meko

    Even though I do not come from a
    religious background, I do believe it was some sort of divine intervention that led me to your website initially. From the very first moment I started reading your blogs I felt that you were the first person since this whole nightmare started that actually understood the language I was speaking the perspective I had and the hopelessness I felt. I have since become an Avid Reader of your writing and I find your thoughts to be intuitive, spot on and a breath of fresh air when I needed a reason to breathe. I wasn’t married to my abuser – we were friends for years prior to being intimate and exclusive for 4 very chaotic years. It has been almost 2 years without contact and I am still incapable of taking care of myself. I’m on the mend and I feel my brain starting to make connections again that feel like my former self instead of the napalmed shell he created. I want to express my deepest gratitude to you for your courage, insight and willingness to take on this fight so that other women can grab your hand and come up out of the darkness. In a time where nothing makes sense anymore you don’t know where to turn or who you can trust…it’s a Godsend to know you aren’t crazy after all.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      I’m so glad you found Flying Free, Meko. It took your abuser time to weasel his way into your life and make hamburger of your life. So it will take time to restore your health and wholeness. I hope you’ll consider joining the private support group that will open up again at the end of May. It will provide more intense opportunities to work on that healing process. (((HUGS)))

      Reply
  23. Hope

    This is spot on in my case. Especially the treatment from the religious community. How sad that those I thought I could turn to were the cause of even deeper pain.

    Reply
  24. Megan

    Is it possible for a husband to do all these things unwittingly, not intentionally? Both my husband and I grew up in a strict religious circle that taught “doormat wife” theology. 5 years into our marriage I was so emotionally destroyed by his moods and expectations of me that I begged God to let me die- not because I actually wanted to, but because I honestly thought my husband and my kids would be better off with another woman because I was obviously not capable of meeting their needs. “Counseling” with a couple from church only reinforced this belief that it was all my fault. We then went to a Family Life marriage conference and for the first time I had hope that he was going to work at understanding me and starting to meet my needs. But in the three years since that date we have worked through at least three cycles (probably more) of every time he feels shorted sexually or emotionally he punishes me with moody silences and quiet anger and if I don’t read him right and fix it he threatens to leave. So I throw everything I have into salvaging our relationship and meeting his needs and everything eventually “rights” itself- for awhile anyway. I still want to believe the best of him. That maybe it’s just because of how we were raised that he has wrong expectations of what a wife and mother should be and, if he can see that, he will change and we will have the marriage and family I still dream of.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      If your husband is just your average Joe – when you point out the hurtful things he does and his entitlement mentality, he will have compassion on you along with empathy for the ways he has hurt you, and he will work hard on his side of the street to change. That’s what a normal guy would do. If that’s not happening after all these years, it’s not going to happen. He isn’t interested in changing. He doesn’t believe he has to change. He doesn’t believe he is the problem. You are. And that, Megan, is abuse in a nutshell.

      I know couples who came out of that strict religious stuff – and BOTH the husband and wife did a 180. It doesn’t sound like your spouse wants to change his mind, and subsequently his behavior, regarding his beliefs about men, women, and relationships.

      Next time he threatens to leave, let him go. You start over and spend the last half of your life in peace. It’s not easy (I’ve written articles about how hard it is and what it takes to do that) but it’s possible!

      Reply
  25. Pam Lambert

    Thank you so much for this article. I loved every word and you said so well all that I knew, but just never saw it put together that way. Thank you for all you do! We survivors need to stick together and work as one voice to give a voice to those not yet able to speak. When they can, they will join their voices with ours!

    Reply
  26. Debby

    Natalie, what always amazes me is the thread that runs through every survivor’s article! Every experience is different but there are some things that are THE SAME. Learning what those SAME things are was very helpful for me when I broke free after 30 years. I thank you for your articulate wisdom and your efforts to help us!

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      So true. I’m glad these insights are helping all of us heal together!

      Reply
  27. Minyon Palmer

    This is exactly what happened in my relationship. I got divorced almost 5 years ago and I’m still recovering. Thanks so much, this article validated my entire experience.

    Reply
  28. Lisa Ash

    Thank you. Thank you for writing the truth, this post has given me the strength to not go back it has given voice to what my life was like. It was though you were writing my story, so thank you.

    Reply
  29. Claudia

    Thank you for this! Such healing words!

    Reply
  30. Jimmie

    Oh, Natalie. Thank you! Thank you for explaining that the abused woman is not weak. In fact, she is so strong. It’s been hard for me to accept that I was a victim for this very reason. I’m strong, opinionated, smart, secure, and confident. So how does someone like THAT fall prey to abuse? YOU EXPLAINED IT SO WELL. It has taken me about 3 years (post divorce) to figure this out. The things that made me stay were my STRENGTHS not my weaknesses. Yes, I made mistakes. (Staying for so long is paramount.) But I was more sinned against than sinning. I see that now. He took advantage of my strength and tried to suck it dry. But I escaped and am FLYING FREE!

    Another note. It’s hard for women to move from victim to survivor if they don’t see themselves as a victim. When the world can’t see the abuse, and the church says it’s just the normal burden of marriage (your cross to bear), then it’s hard to see it for what it is– ABUSE! Even the person being abused is brainwashed: “This can’t be abuse. It’s hard, but ABUSE is such a strong word.” Taking that label of victim is as hard as any other part of this journey. I actually kind of skipped over it. I didn’t accept the victim label until after I was flying free and could see the situation for what it was. It’s still really hard to swallow. But I can enthusiastically say he was an abuser. That’s for sure now. I see it clearly.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      This is a really good point. I’m going to be writing about that next, and I will include your insight. I’ve actually had emails from women who don’t like it when I use that word. I try to use the word Survivor more. But you’re right. If we aren’t victims, then we are part of the problem, and that’s just not true when it comes to abuse. Take the same woman (you, for example) and put her with a healthy man, and you’ve got a dynamite partnership. The abuse wasn’t about you, and the focus of anyone who wants to solve the abuse puzzle needs to get OFF of the woman and ONTO the abuser, the source of the problem in the first place.

      Reply
    • Kay

      Jimmie…. I hope you will see this.

      I appreciate that so much because through all of this, it’s been hard to see myself as a victim. My husband never laid a finger on me. We’ve been married now 35 years.

      I thought we were okay until 2 1/2 years ago I began to suspect an affair. He spent 10 months denying it and treating me like I was crazy. Yes, I know that was abuse. He apologized and groveled like crazy. The circumstantial evidence was crazy.

      Finally after 10 months I discovered he was hiding our savings. I left him for a few weeks. Came home after his confessin but he still swore no affair. All money is accounted for.

      He won’t go back to counseling as we had two disastrous ones. He has spent the last two years groveling and working hard to convince me he wants our marriage.

      The ow… although he says there never was….. has done some major things to mess with me on fb. I know I’m not crazy. He knows about them. He says she’s crazy but swears no affair.

      Did I mention that I told him I would take his ass for everything if I find out it happened?

      I’ve watched him hard for these two years. Sometimes I see the nasty side come out and he grovels again.

      The latest two things that have baffled me.

      I will continue on next reply…

      Reply
      • Kay

        The first. I found another phone number under my privacy settings for fb. Right under my number. I wrote it down, deleted it and called it.

        It was a woman from the church we left 1 1/2 years ago. We were at that church 11 years. She was not even the woman he had the affair with. I got her voicemail and was shocked. She is 12 years older than me. My grown sons used to pick up her son( on disability) for church. I never even had her number or on fb.

        I didn’t tell him until the next night. I told him I found it odd and creepy. He didn’t say much.

        I took his phone with me that night when I ran to the store. Even checked to see if she had fb. Nothing. Deleted all the history.

        Next morning I pick up his phone to check weather. Her name comes up in typed blue letters on bottom of his phone. I look at it for two min. And go to check his messages and there are none and her name disappears. He comes around the corner and I tell him.

        He says he has no idea. I didn’t make a big deal. We are out later and I check safari on his phone after a kid texted. I see the gmail app but no address for it. Like he had forgotten to x it out. I hadn’t touched his phone since that morning. He says he doesn’t have a separate gmail.

        Reply
        • Kay

          Two weekends ago we were heading home from a family wedding and he was driving. I was texting on his phone to my brother, and he was getting a text. I checked it.

          It was a verification number from tinder. I wrote it down and he immediately wanted to know what I was writing down. I told him copying my brothers number. He was driving.

          We had been in a hotel for two days and he had many opportunities on his phone.

          He doesn’t have fb unless it’s a fake one. He set up a fake one in the midst of all that two years ago. I eventually found out, he confessed but swore he didn’t go on it and I disactivated it.

          I did google to see if this has happened to others( he swears no Tinder) and it has.

          I just don’t know what to think anymore. I did call the woman whose number I found. Of course she has no idea…. lol

          Reply

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