What I Wish I’d Done Differently, Part One: Survivor Wisdom Series
The loving, strong, courageous, amazing women of faith in my FB community, Confusion to Clarity Community for Survivors of Covert Psychological Abuse, are so full of wisdom. So I’ll be asking them some important questions over the coming months and I want to share their wisdom with everyone who needs it.
This is the first installment in the Survivor Wisdom Series.
Here’s the first question I asked:
What do you wish you had done differently? What advice to you have for other women walking the hard path you’ve taken?
There are two parts to the What I Wish I’d Done Differently wisdom articles:
Part One: Before and during marriage, and when I realized he was an abuser.
Part Two: During separation and divorce, talking to others, and dealing with the church, doctrine and Christian friends.
You’ll notice that some women wished they had said nothing and other’s wish they’d spoken up sooner. Does that sound contradictory? Well, every abuser and every situation is different (even though there are so many similarities) and navigating what would be best in your situation is terribly difficult while it’s happening. There’s no perfect way to do this!! Nonetheless, there’s great wisdom here.
I hope that every covertly abused woman who is reading these words can learn from what we’ve learned the hard way!
These are quotes from the women in my group.
WHAT I WISH I’D DONE DIFFERENTLY
I wish I would have insisted on dating longer; he was in a rush to get married. I see now that he wouldn’t have been able to keep up his charm much longer and red flags would have eventually started showing if we would have waited another year or two.
I wish I hadn't fallen for his charm.
Don't rush into marriage. Wait a couple of years, postpone sex, and don't dismiss pink flags, never mind the red ones!
I wish I would have trusted my gut with the red flags while dating. I thought him being a “Christian” held more weight than the red flags I saw.
My gut was yelling me that he was not right but he's very charming, easy going, fun loving, very attentive, loving, and doting. Nothing put him off about me. His “too good to be true” nature started to throw the balance of what my gut was yelling at me. By the second year I was emotionally hooked. When my guard came down and my heart was vulnerable to him, he started to reveal his dark side but not quite enough to convince me to call it quits because you start turning on yourself for the reason why things are maybe not going well....I was too invested.
I wish I would have listened to my intuition sooner, trusted myself knowing something just wasn’t right. I wish I would have been stronger for my kids and protected them from exposure to his emotional abuse/emotional incest. Because I thought he was such a good guy, I dismissed the bad behaviour as just immaturity, but then it happened again and again and again.
I wish I would have recognized that he’s a liar and even the “good” things he says are only true as long as it serves him.
I wish I had trusted my feelings and gut instead of thinking there must be something wrong with me and my perceptions. I wish I had listened more closely to my children's gut instincts and taken them seriously.
Trust the warning niggles. I really would have loved to have known and valued myself enough to have trusted the niggles. I brushed them off thinking I was just being 'too sensitive,' yet they were the Holy Spirit promptings letting me know things were not right, and what he was saying and doing were actually covert and abusive. I was wanting to be the loving, godly and submissive wife in honour of the vows I made before God. I kept doubting my own unease and concerns about what he was saying and doing. I kept thinking I must not be patient, loving and gracious enough.
DO NOT keep doubting yourself. Assess and compare what he is up to post marriage to who he was pre-marriage, SEE the major differences, and believe them. Then make a wise plan to remove yourself from his lies, deceit, cruelty, and relentless abuse!
I wish I wouldn't have let him isolate me from friends and family. They became too far away to see the changes in me and bring me to my senses.
I wish I had learned that what I was going through had a name.
Know that how you feel should matter to him without your nudging or earning.
I wouldn't ever become dependent on him financially by being a home school, stay at home mom, without a way to break away more easily.
I would have listened to the discernment of the quiet whisper of the Holy Spirit saying, “Something is not right. Something is off.” instead of listening to his accolades of love and empty promises. I wouldn’t have over spiritualized and just been practical concerning how he was treating me.
I wish I had known what boundaries were and how I could have used them with consequences. It may have forced the issue a lot sooner.
I wish I had not believed the first “I'm sorry's” and “I promise” baloney.
I wish I hadn't kept things hidden and acted like we were a sweet, happy family.
I wish I'd realized not everyone communicates and processes with a pure heart.
I wish I hadn’t given him the benefit of the doubt.
I wish I would not have been so fearful of things such as money, people, kids being alone. He knew this and gaslighted me with it for a very long time.
I wish I hadn’t aimed to make him a priority, and him happy, by saying yes to whatever he needed and wanted. By doing so he saw me as weak and lost respect, and the silent treatment, cheating, and gaslighting got worse and really destroyed my confidence and self-worth.
I wish I’d known that all the emotional instability I felt, and the reactions I had, were the result of abuse and PTSD rather than sin.
I wish I had not allowed his supposed “authority” bully me.
I wish I hadn't let him triangulate me with my own son.
I just wanted to be special in his eyes. I wanted dignity and respect from him. I never got it. I started believing I was all the things he said I was.
Learn that his opinion of me does not define me. Don't take it as the truth.
Believe in yourself– your truths, your perceptions, your reality, your intuition...just trust yourself!! When you have had your reality and perceptions corrected on a constant basis it makes you feel that you are crazy and cannot do these things.
I missed so much joy when my kids were growing up. I was in such a state of confusion.
I wish I had that time back.
I wish I would have had more faith in my spirit.
I grabbed onto every tiny good moment that happened between us and it gave me hope and drowned out all the bad.
I regret letting him “rescue” me because then I OWED him.
I wish I had found Helena Knowlton's writings earlier. Seriously. I was given a book to read but it didn't seem to describe my abuser so I discarded the idea that anything was wrong with him and tried even harder to be a better wife. I was so confused. A few Christian bloggers I stumbled upon described how I was feeling very well, BUT THEY DID NOT DESCRIBE MY ABUSER very well. I was left wrestling with the fact that I felt like an abused woman, but I didn’t believe I was really being abused because he didn't act like the abuse books said he would.
When I Realized He Was an Abuser
Education is key. You must know the signs, effects and about recovery from them.
I wish I hadn’t waited so long for him to “change.”
I really wish I hadn’t tried to “stay well.” It was impossible and wasted years of my life. And it made me look at myself more when I should have been focused on him.
It’s really a crazy situation and I wish I had left the moment things started to come together in my mind. Or the moment that I realized he was still lying to me. Everybody would be so much better off and none of us would have been 4 years more traumatized.
I wish I had spoken up earlier, got help earlier and told my sibling/ parents earlier, instead of keeping the horrible secret of it all without telling anybody.
I wish I’d known that one set of lies is a strong indicator that everything else you’ve accepted as truth from your abuser is probably also a lie. And known to act accordingly instead of continuing to trust what “appeared” to be true (it wasn’t).
Once I woke up to the abuse, I wish I would have observed and recorded him and his methods before letting him know I was on to him and his abuse. Because once he "knew," he "changed."
I wish I had kept a journal of the things that were happening, so when I began to doubt whether it was “really that bad” I had documentation.
I wish I had stopped feeling sorry for him, like right away.
I wish I would have lost hope sooner. Hope was a double-edged sword.
I wish I would have realized that defending myself against his accusations was useless. He had no intention of seeing things from my side.
I wish I would have been able to speak up about tactics, in the moment, as he was pulling things over my eyes.
Loved myself more. I wish that I would have realized his actions are not a reflection of my worth.
I wish I had seen a counselor sooner- waited until 19 years into the marriage.
I wish I had left him the minute I realized there wasn’t something right.
I wish I had left the first year of marriage when things were bad and I wanted to. I wish someone then had supported me and told me God allows divorce when there’s abuse.
I wish I had sought out private counseling first instead of marriage counseling.
I wish I had insisted on no marriage counseling until he worked on his stuff. So traumatic for me.
I wish I had not destroyed all my documentation of his abuse when our joint counselor told us we needed to “have a funeral” for all the past stuff and that I should just forgive him. ALL of this was a mistake: joint counseling (for the 4th time), with HIS counselor, telling us it was a communication/ forgiveness problem instead of an abuse problem. Listen to your gut!!
I wish I had moved into my own bedroom sooner - that mental space and being able to sleep in peace was worth its weight in gold.
I wish I had been stronger to call him out on his behavior and not been worried about the consequences. It wouldn’t have changed his behavior, but I would have felt better about myself if I had stood up for myself.
I wish I would have reached out for support sooner rather than suffer the emotional distress and confusion alone for years and years.
Changed ALL of my passwords to ALL of my online accounts sooner, and also changed my security questions (my attorney tipped me off that you should also answer your security questions with untruthful answers- because this makes you almost impossible to hack). Made sure that he was not the backup or recovery phone # on any of my accounts.
I wish I knew about women’s shelters.
I wish I knew that there’s no such thing as mutual abuse.
I wish someone had recognized my rage as part of PTSD.
I wish I knew that I would lose everything for not getting out.
I wish I had told more people. I kept most of the abuse a secret until after I left.
I wish I had spoken up to my family about his behavior as soon as I noticed it was a strain to even communicate.
Write more stuff down before making a move. Date it, with as many details as possible.
I waited until too late to begin documenting. It would have been helpful to have even general notes about things that were bothering me.
I wish I had kept a journal to remember just how bad it really was, so when he came back begging (when I showed signs of healing and moving on) I didn't cave in time and time again.
I wish I had known about narcissism, and all the associated behaviors.
I wish I had known I wasn’t the one crazy. Believed in myself and kept my mouth shut until court.
I wish I had more self-love so I wouldn't have stayed silent and abused so long.
When I was creating my exit strategy, I wish I had been able to hide my emotions better without revealing to him that I thought he was a narcissist. This only escalated the abuse to the point where I was genuinely terrified.
I wish that I had found my voice and trusted myself sooner.
I wish I had known that there were so many people, women especially, who understood my pain, like this group.
A note from me
It's tricky to look back with what we see now and not blame ourselves for our past choices. If you struggle with self-blame, remember that he was messing with your reality at the time and you didn't see clearly like you do now. No one can navigate abuse wisely or perfectly.
I too wish I'd left years earlier, yet now I’m able to have compassion on who I was then- I was very trusting, wanting the marriage the work, and being totally manipulated. That’s on HIM, not me.
Your good qualities were used against you and you have no fault in the abuse or in decisions that, in hindsight, you would have made differently.
If you’ve experienced covert psychological abuse, come join our private Facebook group for women of faith who are covert emotional and psychological abuse survivors and hang out with these wise women!