Helping women of faith find hope and healing after emotional and spiritual abuse

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Imagine that your destructive relationship is a hot, burning pit. It’s dark down there. You can’t breathe down there. It hurts down there. You’re stuck down there. It’s HELL down there.

You might be sitting down there thinking you need to be rescued. You’ve spent years complaining about the hell you live in, waiting for someone to come along and pull you out. But my friend, you will never be rescued. What you need isn’t rescue.

What you need is POWER.

Because the only way out of hell is up a very hot ladder, and you need to be EMPOWERED to climb that ladder and get out. You need to be PREPARED with a working knowledge of every single hot rung you will have to endure on your way up and out.

Have you decided to get out, no matter what? Because that’s the first step before you can begin the climb. This article is for those of you thinking about making that decision. And for those of you who have decided to make the climb. And for those of you who are half-way up and sorely tempted to let go and fall back into the pit.

Part of getting out is understanding and accepting the fact that it’s hell to climb out. Once you’re armed with that knowledge, it won’t surprise you when you feel the pain of the climb. I also want you to know that the view at the top is glorious, once you get there. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk about the ten hot-as-hell ladder rungs you need to climb to get out.

First Hot Rung: FEAR

As you anticipate climbing, you will feel a paralyzing fear of all the hot rungs that lie before you. How will you do it? Is it even possible?

It’s a long way up, and frankly, many will never make it. I think more women are attempting the climb now simply because there are so many women at the top cheering them on. But even just five years ago, all was silent at the top. Not a whole lot of hope that there was anything up there even if you did get out.

When your fear of staying becomes greater than your fear of climbing, you will conquer your first hot ladder rung.

Second Hot Rung: Trying to Get Your Abuser to Change

Because then you won’t have to climb, right? I mean, if Hell is transformed into Heaven, problem solved!

So you try telling him in 4,789,935 different ways how you can’t do this anymore, and how you love him and hope he’ll see how destructive his behaviors are, and how you may need to take drastic measures if he doesn’t change something soon.

Result? Hell gets a lot hotter.

That rung really stings, and you may be stuck on it longer than necessary. But once you realize hell is hell because it just is, you’ll be ready to take the next step up.

Ten Steps Out of Relationship Hell

Never Alone by Megan Cox

Third Hot Rung: GRIEF Because Your Abuser Doesn’t Actually Love You

Next comes the red hot ladder rung of the shocking pain of accepting that you are in a relationship with someone who doesn’t love you. That’s right. An abuser is not capable of authentic love. Once you are out of hell, you’ll be able to see that it wasn’t personal – they couldn’t love anyone. BUT, when you are beginning your climb out, this realization is a tremendous loss and causes you to take a deep dive into the grief process.

Grieving is hard, painful work. It takes time, too, which is one of the worst parts of this rung. You can be stuck on it for a long time.  You’ll be tempted to keep climbing and get this one over with, but if you do that, you’ll inevitably fall back down, because you can’t move forward until you’ve done the grief work which includes: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance.

Where are you in this process? If you journal, consider writing down some of your thoughts about this.

Fourth Hot Rung: You Tell Someone, and They Don’t Take You Seriously

You know you’re only human, and you need a little love along the way, so you tell someone you think you can trust. A family member. A friend. A church leader.

You don’t want to do this. You’re ashamed that you’ve kept it to yourself for years, decades, even. You worry they might not believe you because your abuser is so nice to everyone outside of the family. You feel like a school girl tattling on your spouse instead of an adult woman able to handle her life.

You don’t want to shame him, either. You’ve always seen it as your job to protect his fragile ego. If you’re a Christian, you see it as your duty to respect and honor him no matter what. Telling someone on the outside about his bully behavior feels disrespectful somehow.

You want him to get help and change, but then you remember Ladder Rung Three.

You hope they will offer some empathy and sit with you in your grief. But shock of all shocks (only it won’t be a shock now, because, well, this post), they don’t. In fact, they don’t even believe you’re telling the truth. Never mind that you’ve had a reputation for telling the truth your entire life. Suddenly, you’re a liar.

False accusations when you were only trying to get help is one of the hottest rungs you’ll face. At this point you’ll be tempted to fall back. In fact, this is the place many women drop, begin the climb to tell someone new, and drop again. It’s that painful. And when it happens multiple times, you begin to lose your faith in family. In Church. In friendships. In the human race.

But hang on, because there is ONE Who believes you. He saw it all happen. Tell Him, and He will help you hang on to take the next hot step. He is the only One You need to make this climb. (And don’t forget the ones on top cheering you on!)

Fifth Hot Rung: You Decide to Separate

Logistically, this feels impossible. There are financial considerations. How do you physically force a controlling spouse out? Will YOU need to leave? Where will you go? What if you have children? Sometimes it takes a lot of thinking, preparing, and time before you can make your exit.

You may need to get a job and separate your finances first. Build up a nest egg and get ready for your big move. This can take years. Maybe you will decide to stay until your kids are out of high school or at some other milestone in their lives.

These decisions are personal and as varied as the people who make them. Everyone will do this differently, but the point is, you’ll need to do it eventually. And it’s a frightening, overwhelming step that will also rouse the anger of your abuser. This is one of the times, statistically speaking, you’ll be in the most physical danger, even if your abuser only attacked you in other ways before.

The other alternative is to skip this rung and go straight to the next one:

Sixth Hot Rung: You File for Divorce

When you take this step, you are jumping off the proverbial cliff. You’ve made a life-altering decision, and everyone around you is going to explode. All over you. While you are grieving and free falling through space.

Divorce is expensive. It’s time consuming and emotionally draining. Your stress level will sky rocket even higher than it was before. You may have panic attacks. You may go into a depression.

If you have children, it is common (to avoid paying child support) for the abuser to fight for 50% custody, even though he may have not been very involved in their lives prior to the divorce. This may involve a long, drawn out court battle that will drag your children and a custody evaluator into the equation. It will add to the trauma your children are already experiencing.

The process of divorce is a nightmare. And it is made so much worse by the next rung:

Seventh Hot Rung: You are Rejected and Kicked Out

So during one of the most horrifying, frightening, lonely, sorrowful experiences of your life, you may be kicked out of your church. Disowned by family members, including your own grown children. Shunned by former friends. Reprimanded. Publically disgraced.

Suddenly, you’re THAT woman. A marriage breaker.

(Please remember that divorce doesn’t destroy marriages. Abuse, addictions, and infidelity do.)

Eighth Hot Rung: Your Kids Suffer and Grieve

Your children will suffer the loss of a two-parent family. Some will process it beautifully with very little intervention. Others will internalize a lot of garbage and suffer relationship consequences into their adult life. You may want to consider counseling by a professional counselor with experience in childhood trauma. Depending on your insurance, this may or may not cost money.

TIP: “Biblical” counselors are most often not educated, equipped, or experienced in dealing with the fallout of emotional abuse on a family.

Some of your kids will see things clearly. Others will be confused. Easy targets for the ongoing emotional manipulations of your former spouse. He may turn to the kids for his narc supply once he knows you are no longer providing that for him. Triangulation is a common problem at this point, and the children are the ones who suffer most.

Don’t expect help from your church or friends. You’ve made your bed, now you AND your children get to lie in it. Harumph. You are literally on your own. Which brings us to the next step:

Ninth Hot Rung: You are Single and Alone

You’ve lost everything. Your marriage. Your home. Possibly your financial stability. Your friends. Your church. Your reputation. Possibly some of your children. And now you are a single woman past your prime struggling to make ends meet for yourself and your kids. No sympathy or help from anyone. It’s worse than widowhood. Far worse. Can it get worse than this? Yes, it can:

Tenth Hot Rung: You Have Health Problems

You actually haven’t lost everything. You’ve still got your C-PTSD symptoms. Your panic attacks. Your heart palpitations. Your back and neck pain. Your digestion issues. Your migraines. Your frequent illnesses because your immune system is on the fritz from so much stress.

You are a shell of yourself by the time you get to the top.

Except you’re not.

When you climb up over the edge, you look up and see light. The light of freedom. The sound of peace. The color of beauty. The exhaling relief of knowing you made it out in one piece. YOU MADE IT! YOU ARE STRONG! YOU ARE A SURVIVOR!

And now you get to heal.

You find a friend. Then two. You actually like your job. You find a good counselor and try anxiety medication that changes your world. That child who disowned you comes back around. Counseling is a game changer for your kids. A new church opens its doors in your city. You like it. They like you. You discover you’ve got a knack for painting, and you start selling your art on Red Bubble.

You start reading your Bible again with new eyes. Eyes that see Love instead of Law. Jesus instead of lies and accusations. You reconnect on Facebook with a boy you knew in grade school who is now a widower, and you fall in love. You experience life as a “normal” for the first time in forever. And it feels wonderful.

You join the growing crowd of women at the large hell hole in the ground and start cheering on the next one making the climb.

It was hell. It took a long time. But you are finally free.

And here comes another one.

GO GIRL!

(For those of you who have made the climb out, would you leave a comment to cheer on the ones who still climbing? Thank you!)

Ten Steps out of Relationship Hell

Chains are Gone by Megan Cox

Besides getting to know the amazing group of women in the Flying Free Community who know how hot and awful these rungs are because they’re climbing them too, joining the community gives you access to a long list of courses and expert workshops specifically tailored to help with the fears and challenges of climbing to the top. Click HERE for more information.

111 Comments

  1. Cheryl

    I have just started this process after being given the name of this site after my first counseling session last week. I have been married for 24 years and in May had an emotional collapse that opened my eyes to where I have been. So angry that I was blind to this before, working so hard to change throughout the years thinking it’s me. I’ve ordered your book, Natalie, and pray it’s not too late for me. I am 59 with a junior in high school still at home.
    I’m so grateful for this site and have been binge reading over the past few days. It’s been very painful for me to, just now, realize where I’ve been.
    Thank you, so much, for your devotion to women like me. I will be looking up the deep hole to see you all of you that have made it.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      It is absolutely NOT too late for you, Cheryl. You’ve got a life ahead of you. Keep climbing and find out!

      Reply
  2. Wendi Zorich

    It’s been 8 years since I made my climb out of hell. I nodded my head at every one of the rungs and remembered the pain. I am now a different, better person with a different, better life. This one has hope at the end of it. It has all been worth the climb.

    Reply
  3. MM

    I’m so glad I found your page. This is my first post I’ve read. It makes SO MUCH SENSE! I’m free falling at the moment and don’t know who to turn to or what to do.
    The highs are great but the lows are scary. It’s a roller coaster in my mind and I just feel like I’m the bad guy if I have courage to get off the ride.
    Thank you for this page. I appreciate it.

    Reply
    • Cheryl

      I am just staring, as well. I agree, it’s terrifying!

      Reply
  4. Shauna Lesley

    I cannot imagine a more detailed, accurate description of “the whole thing.” Very beautifully explained!

    Reply
    • Jady

      Yes, beautiful!
      There is hope. It is possible to climb out. You can do it. Keep your eyes on Jesus ❤️

      Reply
  5. Debbie

    It was reassuring to read this article ~ I think I’m on the rung with depression, it was winning I went to my doctor and told her everything. She said it explains my physical symptoms and gave me a prescription. She was very thoughtful and reassuring. She assured me that I was doing the right thing, that personality disorders are pretty much unfixable. I will be checking out this support group. Thank you not going back down….

    Reply
  6. Laura

    Absolutely every step listed is so very true. I’m slowly making my way to the top. I will begin my first full time job in two weeks. I have reconnected with family and friends I had been alienated from. I’m still going through the custody battle. I have gained back my confidence and self-worth. Going through all of this I thought I was dying but God is faithful.

    Reply
    • June

      So what happened?
      I’m just starting. I’m all alone. No support. The ‘ bad wife that’s breaking up the marriage’.
      He’s the poor victim…
      Just like Natalie says tho… ABUSE breaks up a mare- not divorce. Cmon people.

      Reply
  7. Robin

    This article soars!! But, if only it were that **easy.** Of course, it’s NOT easy at all, but I only said EASY for those who are unable to make enough income to support themselves or even work a job at all. For many of them, they can’t financially see a way out of their narc-imposed hell. If they could work and support themselves, they would have done it a long time ago and been on their way to healing and helping others. Some will say that there are many jobs people can do at home, such as work online. However, those jobs are low paying and not always something everyone can do long-term. Those with arthritis, eye problems, or back pain are unable to work on a computer for long, if at all. There are those with chronic fatigue, chronic digestive disorders, sleep disorders, migraines cancer, etc. Add depression, paranoia, anger, and/or PTSD to any of that, and making enough money to support oneself looks pretty slim, much less if they have dependents.

    Reply
    • Tracey

      Robin. I worry about this, too. Can you get some spousal support and/or child support? Maybe hold a couple easy part time jobs?
      I feel like my physical issues, migraines and fibromyalgia, depression are all due to the fact that I’m IN this relationship. Once I’m gone (almost there!), the physical ailments will subside. I hope that for you, too. Peace.

      Reply
  8. Rachel L Smith

    Wow! I’m not sure which rung I’m on. Seems to change from day to day. Heart string to the next. Part of me wants to hope for a miracle. I don’t feel as alone,yet still unheard by some. With all the good support that I have; my heart still hurts. Some people( in his circle) believe I should forgive and allow God to work in me. Um,o.k. I can do that. They feel I am being harsh and not trusting God. Pretty sure it was only me,him and God in our home the night I had to call the police . Once again, having to understand they only hear his side of things. Being in flux is the hardest part for me. I am still grieving with the addition of waiting for a court desicion. Everything in me wants to run back to the mountains,and heal there. More waiting. More disappointment. Having learned that some close to him ( in the church) believe that counseling is inappropriate and not needed discourages me for him. Yet, this reconfirms his belief that I am off balance for believing in good,godly counsel. Besides; it’s biblical. God gave me a thought this morning. Paul’s letters were a form of counsel.The prophets were as well. He is the ultimate Counselor. Yet,we are broken people who need guidance . Real brothers and sisters in Christ,who come along side in time of need. So,I have to continue this path,believing Christ for each step. Relearning or learning a new dimension of Who God is. One step at a time,

    Reply
  9. L W

    I finally left. Again. This is the 3rd move out. I know it’s time. This time I took no blame, made no concessions, made no apologies. I am an adult and spoke up about my boundaries and needs. I refused to engage if there was guilt, aggression, or blame to start the convo. What happened was 7 straight days of silent treatment. At day 8 I rented an apartment, moved my son’s stuff and as much of mine as I could fit in the car- and drove away.

    Reply
  10. De

    I am currently in the grieving stage I think. I’m realizing that I married a narcissistic man. I am currently working on myself.I don’t know if he could change but I don’t think he will. I know it’s a matter of time but I will end up leaving with my dignity. I just want affection and to be appreciated. I know it’s not going to come from him. It never has. This is my second marriage.how could l not see that he was playing me this whole time….21years of my life are gone.I’m going to be on my own again with two kids this time . Although they are older l worry for them. But he doesn’t have much to do with them anyway now….I feel like I’m wakeing from a dream. This is my life. I thought l was going crazy but I m not. I think he is doing everything he can to get me to go crazy. I think he may even interrupt my sleep. But I can’t prove it. God is helping me. Because he led me here. I know it’s not going to be easy but I know we will be ok

    Reply
  11. Cecily Martino

    I’m standing at the edge of the abyss. I climbed each of those rungs. It took me almost 10 years to get here. Now, I am remarried to my childhood friend, my kids are all well adjusted and doing great. I am running my own company and making real actual money at it. I only have to deal with my ex on rare occasions. It’s beautiful up here. But good Lord it was a frightening and difficult climb. And the PTSD, migraines and gut issues persist. But now I am ready to allow those to heal while I cheer on the next group of climbers. You go!!

    Reply
  12. Deborah Collins

    I love this article and keep rereading it. I am in a almost 34 yr marriage with an emotionally and verbally abusive husband.
    Im almost 70 yrs old so the thought of starting all over is very difficult to think about. I cannot see him leaving not that I tell him to.

    Reply
    • Nan Hall

      It is so hard to leave! If it is God’s will for your life, He will show you when the time is right. If you stay, this community will understand that. Above all, I pray that you will experience the peace of God’s unconditional love no matter the choice that you make. I left when I was 60, now 62. There are good things happening in my life that I choose to focus on now that the worst is behind me.

      Reply
  13. Maggie

    Some of these rungs apply to leaving (at least emotionally) narcissistic parents as a 50 something adult. I am in low contact with mine, but things may have to change (unfortunately) because my father had a stroke. (Things could go either way.) I mourned the fact that my parents could not and never did love me long ago. I was just useful sometimes.

    Reply
  14. Ann

    I am at the 5th Rung. I’ve been separated once 7 years ago because he had an affair. He asked to come back ( he was loosing everything) and I took him back because I was worried about my kids and I love him. Now 7 years later I’m done with him and his behavior. Seeing an attorney for legal separation to protect assets. Hopefully everything will work out financially (he’s retired and I’m a self employed Real Estate agen. Finances are my biggest fear. I think I’ve found a rental near one of my sons.. I’m going to need lots of prayers. Thanks, Ann

    Reply
    • Louise

      I went to group sessions at 2 women’s shelters before I fled; did I ever get an overview of what to expect & how to prepare. After hearing about many pitfalls, I promised myself I would plan carefully, set a date, flee & not go back. (I’m not judging women who go back. It IS tempting at times..) Leaving will be difficult for you & your children. Probably not as difficult as when you left before, because you have a better idea of what to expect. You can do this! I’m praying for you, Ann.

      Reply
  15. Jacqueline Berg

    This is an excellent description. Fortunately I am now forwards the top of the ladder. Praying for those who are beginning their climb. Please continue writing you are a gift from God.

    Reply
  16. Katrina Barrett

    I’ve listened to an audiobook twice and now I have the hard copy to highlight, tab and write in. I highly recommend “When loving him is hurting you: Hope and help for women dealing with narcissism and emotional abuse” by Dr. David Hawkins. It helped me so so much to sort out and understand my life. I could never “put my finger on it” until our Father led me to this book.

    Reply
  17. D.L.

    I commented on this a few days ago. I didn’t notice the “yes, replies to my comment” part. How do I look up if you commented on what I shared?

    Thank you and God bless you for all the support.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      You can subscribe to all comments on this blog below!

      Reply
  18. D.L.

    I wasn’t married to an abusive man, but an addict. It was crazy making and painful. It was supposed to be over at the 10 year mark, then at the 20 year mark. But he was still at it at the 28 year mark. A very sick man. I had an emotional breakdown ,and went early to visit my mom. I never went back. No plan! Spent 3 months living out of my car and sleeping in it. But I was free! It took me nine months to be honest enough to say ” I am married to a pervert” not a poor man who struggles with sin. After 10 months I asked for a legal separation because I was done with the control. I broke out of the cycle and saw his true colors, and no he didn’t love me. 🙂 His councilor/pastor says it is 50% my fault because I should be there helping him with his problem. Ha! Because of the response it is now a divorce. I am now in a teeny duplex and healing!! It has been almost 2 years now and I can’t believe I stayed so long. But THE VOW, and my 6 precious children needed the intact family (I thought.) I have come to know God cares about individuals. He loves me! I thought He would be sooo mad at me. But He has taken such good care of me in every way. My faith is renewed. I stand before God not others. I was sitting alone in a prayer meeting the other night and thinking ” I am soooo thankful to be sitting here alone!” No more crazy! No more pain! I’m liking myself! Be strong ladies, hold your head up, Jesus careth for you! 🙂

    Reply
  19. Kerry

    I’m on rung 9 working toward 10.
    5 years divorced and ex has alienated me from youngest son and won’t let me see my 33 year old autistic son. who I cared for all his life.
    While my 30 year marriage was so similar to everyone else’s – chaotic and nightmarish, my biggest regret is the lost years that I wasted with this evil man.
    I have lost so many friends family and some of my children through smearing and alienation.
    I left with only a suitcase
    I was homeless and my family rejected me but I knew God was with me and that was all I needed.
    I was lonely.
    I had no money and no resources
    but I just knew God would not leave me alone.
    He had spoken to me 1 year before and led me away when the time was right This was after an incident when the police were called.
    I spoke affirmations whilst climbing rung after rung year after year.
    I declared that I was prosperous and healed of any illness or disease even though I had severe reflux , anxiety uterine issues and back problems.
    Jesus died for my healing and prosperity and even though I didn’t feel healthy and far from prosperous I was determined that Satan was not going to drag me down any more, and push his lies on to me.
    God gave me supernatural energy and hope during this time – so much hope and patience.
    I am still lonely and don’t have much time for anything else other than work.I have many legal bills still to pay and I am yet to find a good fit Church but I take one day at a time and trust God will lead me where he wants me to be.
    I am finally me – no longer scared, walking on eggshells,questioning myself, reliving bizarre conversations, feeling hopeless, feeling unloved.
    I am finally free.

    Reply
  20. Natasha

    Thank you so much! I’ve filed for a divorce. Luckily I have a great support system. I’m very blessed.

    Reply
  21. Rachael

    I am on the separation rung as Australia requires a 12 month separation before you can file for a divorce. I’ve already been rejected by the church, lost friends and the feelings of rejection are brutal.

    Luckily my husband is in the states and I moved back home to Australia. I feel single and alone, but I’m so thankful that the word of God is finally coming alive and I don’t need to be ruled by legalistic men anymore.

    Little bit at a time. 6 months to go.

    Rach

    Reply
  22. Shantaye

    Couldn’t be more accurate. I just finished my climb, got sole custody 1.5 months ago. It’s all over, he’s gone for good. I like my job, have some friends, and have been rebuilding financially for about 2 years. It really does get better. It really is worth it. This article can save so much grief and terror-surprises for those who read it before starting/finishing the climb.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Congratulations! So good to see another beautiful butterfly flying free!

      Reply
  23. Sui Lan Gomez

    Natalie thank you so much! This is pretty much the description of my whole 26-year marriage! You’ve brought so much validation to my experience and along with my therapist you give me much courage to press onward. Having married in a Christian church, I can’t believe I actually took the step to leave my husband! Best thing I did for myself…ever! Still working through everything…but you are illuminating the path…thank you!

    Reply
  24. Bird

    I enjoyed your article and wish your information had been around many years ago. I was stuck on the 4th rung for years and years. Remained living in a gaslighted world because Christian counselors only reinforced the abuse perpetuated by the false teaching on women which they espouse.
    I have now climbed out of the pit, but there is one thing that concerns me about your article.
    It assumes ALL women divorce. My husband worked through Bob Edwards book on Equality and owned up to his taking advantage to dominate and control by using the false teaching on women we received in church. He also is in counseling & admitted his own guilt to my egalitarian therapist.
    I guess it concerns me that the article blanketlu assumes divorce, when if a marriage can be saved, wouldn’t you think it was worth the try? Not challenging, just wondering & asking.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Most of the women in the Flying Free group are still married, so I’m aware that not all women divorce. But those that choose to stay will continue to deal with their spouse’s issues barring a deep, inner change. It’s very rare, but it does happen. I’m glad it worked out for you! That’s awesome!

      Reply
  25. Kerry Conlin

    I’m currently on number seven and have started realizing those I thought I could trust. Those I thought loved me my own flesh and blood have betrayed me and I’m left with more questions and no answers. I’m left with feelings of being secretly punished by those that disapprove of my decision to divorce just to hold onto any sanity I had left. I have struggled deeply not knowing who is for me and who is against me, who is trust worthy and who is not….. I’m looking forward to this journey because more then anything I want to heal and to have relationships again… I was married 22 years and then one day he was gone . I, like many of you suffered such great loss in so many areas… I for the first time in a year and a half feel like I’m finally going to be connected to others who truely understand me and what my children and I have gone through. Thank you Natalie for jumping in the pit with us, it means so so so much to me.
    Kerry

    Reply
  26. Julie

    Omgosh!! Every step so true! I revisited step 2 so many times I’d lost count, but I thought it was the right thing to do at the time until I stayed on step 3 just long enough to realize the truth (with the help of a counselor who opened my eyes to the many forms of abuse) I only wish someone, somehow could educate the courts as to how abusers “work”. After almost thirty years of marriage, my divorce has left me in poverty yet he lives in luxury making over 200,000 a year. The court allowed him and his attorney to abuse me further by paperworking my attorney to death and since they knew I was not able to work to support myself or pay for attorney fees I lost my attorney. Going through court alone was the worst but, even if I lost EVERYTHING which at times you WILL feel like you have, I finally have my life again! I can breath and laugh! (Something we rarely did around him) I am close with my kids again, (3 of the four want nothing to do with their dad) I am no longer “sleeping with the Enemy” and so sleep is sooo GOOD! I still have a long way to go emotionally and from the physical toll it has taken on my health but life is soooo much better up here out of the pit!! I promise!! So CLIMB!

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Thank you for sharing your victory story here, Julie!

      Reply
  27. Ruthie

    This should come with a trigger warning. 🙂

    I’m not all the way out but close.

    I would like to remind ladies there is a national domestic abuse hotline which can provide a wealth of information and help.

    There are also organizations which offer help in getting away, financial help, advice, and counselling and healing groups. Depending on your income and need it can be free.

    I’ve decided that my tithe was no longer going into a church organization (light under a basket) but was going to help other victims receive help (Good steward parable).

    Lastly but not least. God is powerful advocate. He will not fail us. He will reveal Himself to you over and over again. He is faithful and true. Deut 31:8 My verse to hang on to. I’ll share. 🙂

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      I like these ideas! Thank you for sharing! 🙂

      Reply
  28. Shaunda

    I am at the point where he’s fighting for 50/50 custody even though hes never really been interested in our children. I didn’t really understand why he wants the kids until reading this. He’s taken everything from me but my kids. I tried to fight for the house for a long time but I’m realizing that what really matters is my kids. Even if I’m starting over from scratch at least I’m starting over and if I have my children that’s all that really matters. Thank you for this article. It’s really helped motivate me to continue the climb

    Reply
  29. Beth La Haise

    Exactly describes my experience. Except that my church was very supportive once my ex husbands crazy double life came to light.

    Reply
  30. Stephanie

    I’ve been following your blog for a long time and I’ve learned a lot from you. At 31 years old, I had my last argument with my emotionally abusive mother today, after which I finally told her to leave me alone. I thought I would feel liberated and empowered, but at least for now it just hurts even more. I know my situation is different from most of your readers, but it’s still comforting to know there are people out there who wouldn’t think I was crazy or overreacting. I guess what I’m trying to say is I feel very thankful to have found you. Keep being awesome.

    Reply
    • Natalie

      The hard part will be detaching emotionally from her. You likely still long for her to “see” you and love you for who you are rather than for how you complete her life or make her feel. Her life and her emotions aren’t your responsibility. You can be a whole, complete person in Christ even if your mother can’t “know” you the way you wish for her to. When you see her as a separate person with separate problems unrelated to you, you will be able to let go for good. If she ever sees her problems and works on them, maybe she will come around. In the meantime you can move on with your life and the people and relationships that are healthy for you.

      Reply
  31. Marianne Keplinger

    I am leaving my husband in one month. 65 and never thought I’d be here but… I am discovering how many guardian angels are rising up to meet me. This article is what I needed to be strong and look forward to the journey as hard as it will be. Really needed the candor and the sisterhood as I have isolated myself from my friends because of shame.
    Bless you for writing with honesty and hope. The light keeps poking out from my cloudy days and I am beginning to be excited about the peace that awaits me.

    Reply
    • Natalie

      Praying for you right now, Marianne. May God set you free!

      Reply
    • Kathy

      I was looking for books to read and came across your book on Amazon which has led me to this blog. Your book is fabulous and has given me hope. I chose to legally separate from my husband in 2011 and he said he would do anything to get me back. I went back to him (and legally reversed our separation) after he agreed to go to counseling. That worked for a while, but it’s difficult to change if he doesn’t understand his wrong doings. We moved to the mountains, with plans for him to retire which he did. I plan on leaving him in the spring with the excuse that I don’t like the cold weather here. I know it’s going to be rough no matter how well I plan it, but I’m thankful to have all of you to cheer me on. We will be married 19 years in May 2020. He’s either gotten a little better or I’m just numb to it all, since I try to ignore some of the things he does or says. I’m thankful to have support from my family and friends but I know it’s still not going to be easy. My main concern is finances. My social security starts coming in February 2020 which will help a little. Please pray for me to have the strength to follow through so I can fly free and find the joy and happiness I once had.

      Reply
  32. Finally Free

    Such a great article!! I relate! After 13 years and two kids I began to get help and get educated by a Christian 12-step and codependency support group. After 20 years, 3 kids, 7 different marriage counselors, and a LOT of research and reading about non-physical forms of abuse and personality disorders, I made the move to separate. Now at almost 22 years divorce is in process. The peace that is in my home (sold house and moved to an apartment) now that only my kids and I live in it is PRICELESS. WORTH THE FIRE. Even if I remain single the rest of my life, it will STILL feal like Heaven compared to the slavery of Hell.

    Reply
    • marlene

      Omg Yes I did it,I was scared so scared to leave.I thought I can never leave because he will find me, just that thought would biggle my mind,I would listen to other people, you know observe and it brike my heart…. the story and the painful years went by,I got weaker and weaker..At 50 I felt like I was almost dead and I was almost emotiinally… what finally pushed me over the edge was when my grandson made a comment like no pop up my mimi my mimi. He was saying that because of my husband’s tone towards me this reminded me of the way he treated my son and my two daughters and I just thought I cannot do this for 20 more years. I had spent 22 years trying to defend my children from his Wrath. That night Iprayed and asked God to somehow make a way for me to tell him that I was going to separate. The next day he came up to me and said so what are you leaving and that was my chance and I said yes.. that was in April 2015. Yes they were valleys and pain and rejection but I kept asking questions and I went to the Houston area women’s shelter just to listen to the stories in the group. Even that was a process I didn’t just wake up and say one day that I was going there a counselor recommended it. Eventually this all affected my work and I had a meltdown at work and but the good part was they supported me and I felt protected. Yes the painful part of this the skeptical looks and treatment from othersshould pay attention to my gut and other signs

      Reply
      • E

        Hi Marlene,

        I live in the Houston area too. I didn’t see anything in the article about confusion. But I am so confused. My husband goes through times where he seems like he is trying but I am so tired of everything. He is “trying” right now which means he isn’t drinking as much and hasn’t emotionally abused me for a few weeks. But he still doesn’t really talk to me or touch me or do anything else. But I don’t want him to touch me. That’s the thing, I don’t even want to be touched by him anymore. And I am too tired to try anymore and I don’t have any desire to work things out because dozens of ways have already failed. But I have two kids and they are young and that is the most confusing part.

        I am not sure that I know you. But, if I am right, I often did not like the way he (R) treated you.

        Reply
  33. Michael

    Wonderful analogy. I know this blog is written for females suffering/recovering from relationship abuse, but as a male who has left his Narcissistic/Psychopathic wife just 5 months ago (after a 15 year marriage and a 14 year old still at home), I follow it because so much of what you write applies across the genders. In short, anytime we get into a relationship with any of these people who fall into the Cluster B Personality Disorders, as defined in the DSM, the pattern is the same, and those of us who are the unlucky recipients undergo a tremendous amount of abuse at the hands of these people, the very ones that we took vows with and opened our hearts to. The very ones that were supposed to be our safe place. Yet in the end, we find that we meant nothing to them for they are incapable of real love, because they are too afraid to look past their reflection in the mirror. Make no mistake though, just as you had to make a decision to love yourself enough to get out or are beginning to see that is what you need to do, it is not your job to love them or to teach them how to love themselves. You have already tried that in more ways than you can imagine and still they continue the abuse, and somehow make you feel guilty or broken for it. This article was so timely as only being 5 months out (I moved out), I realized about 2 months ago that I had PTSD from the abuse. In my first actual EMDR session with the therapist last week, the images that my mind displayed to me were just as you described here…a pit that we were both in. I finally decided the only way out was up. But she would not follow me and never even looked up as I climbed out for she was too busy with all her distractions, other men and addictions. And in my vision (and in my reality) the view from the top was so freeing. Even as I began to walk away from the pit, I would stop every so often and look back, hoping to see her silhouette in the distance, not that I wanted to be together with her any longer, but just in the hopes that by my climbing out she would see there was another way, a better way. But there was never any silhouette, there was only the continual weeping and gnashing of teeth. And as the breeze blew on my face I would eventually turn, take another deep breath of fresh air and freedom and keep walking. You will never see how little you actually meant to them until they discard you (from the Idealization, Devaluation and Discard phases that all of these Cluster B Personality Types do). It is an evil that is hard to imagine, and it has no conscience. But as long as you stay focused on Loving Yourself, moving forward, and surrounding yourself with those who truly love and support you, your life will begin to blossom. As I like to say, you will Rise Again! From the ashes of hell, you will be reborn stronger than before, knowing how to love others better and most importantly knowing how to and why it is so important to love yourself and to never accept anything less than what you know you are worthy of. Keep climbing, keep healing, there is light and peace on the other side.

    Reply
    • Natalie

      Yes. Thank you for sharing a man’s perspective on this same experience, and for encouraging others on their way up.

      Reply
    • Marilyn

      What a powerful metaphor Natalie. I am on #6, married for 19 years too long, like Michael, to a narcissistic psychopath, and I’ll add Jekyll-Hyde, to throw in even more confusion. Finally going to court next month. I want this hell to end. I was shocked to read Michael’s description of the MO of these evil people: “Idealization, Devaluation and Discard phases that all of these Cluster B Personality Types do). It is an evil that is hard to imagine, and it has no conscience.” Michael, you’re describing my experience to a T. My soon to be ex was a Bible teacher, pastor, scholar, apologist – as Dr. Jekyll. When Hyde fully emerged (I saw shadows of him from the start), I cannot describe the utter shock. Alcohol-addicted Hyde, with the emotional maturity and mentality and limited vocabulary of a violent, out of control adolescent, vented his full rage and hatred on me, using the most profane, degrading insults and names. He threatened me with financial ruin and murder. The power behind these people is truly diabolical. I had been in shell-shock for much of these years, and don’t know how I kept it together, working and doing what I had to do. Heart palpitations? check. Serious gastrointestinal issues? Check. Nightmares? Check. The list goes on. But I’m also so blessed. The church people have become my church family. They see the truth. I have been loved and supported throughout. Once again, after many years of spiritual drought, my home (which I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep), is filled with the word of God and the fellowship of true believers, God has shown me in His word, His love for those who are truly His. He has been my provider, my shelter, my comfort, my joy, my all in all. Jesus was treacherously betrayed by one who claimed to be his intimate friend. He knows our pain and He will make things right.

      Reply
    • Rising

      So beautiful written. There is something very powerful in hearing someone utter the words you yourself have struggled to pick and place. You described my “world” my reality, perfectly, as if you had watched the last 20 years of my life transpire. I don’t know you Michael, but in reading those words you penned, it was as if I felt your arm link in mine, because you understand the unexplainable. You lived it, like me, and so many others. Reading your words is like grounding the caos, as you would a threatening lightning storm looming overhead. You words, like a lightening rod, clearly define and direct the path of that caos….the lightening is still out there, but the rod of truth, spoken, protects you now.
      Living with a chosen companion, who pulls you in, and then discards you, without thought or remorse or conscience, over and over again…it is not only confusing and utterly painful, it is dehumanizing.
      Your words speak to the broken hearted. Your words steady and strengthen the feeble knees. Your words say, I know, and I understand, and you don’t need to explain to me. Your words are powerful, I hope you know that. Your words and your voice matter to people like me. Thank you for sharing that which is so close to your heart.

      Reply
  34. Helena

    Wonderful article, Natalie!

    I’ve been divorced for 5 years, after 26 years with the covert abuser. I lost almost all my friends. My son lost all his friends. I am still dealing with health problems that prevent me from being able to work (which at 59, after homeschooling and having few jobs is a huge challenge). But I would rather have these problems than live with the abuse. Because even with these problems here is what life is like:

    I have friends now that live in TRUTH and love and respect me. They see me for who I really am
    My son loves and respects me and has not had contact with his dad for 5years and is getting free from the effects of the abuse. He is amazing, he got me free from fundamentalism and I learn something from him every time we talk. ANd he has a new community of healthy friends now
    I am not being gaslighted.
    I NO LONGER FEE LCRAZY. Ever.
    I no longer live in fear and dread, expecting the worst.
    I am at peace.
    I love my life, even with it’s limitations.
    I am no longer suicidal.
    I am standing up for myself when I need to.
    I respect myself and see myself clearly for who I am, and I am amazing- as are all you strong women who are finding your way to freedom.
    I am no longer a judgemental person, but I truly walk in love.

    There is so much more, but I want to say that the painful journey is worth it! And I recommend getting all the support you need. When I left there was very little understanding of covert narcissitic/sociopathic abuse and how the church fails us who leave. Now there is a ton of info and support. Keep reading until you feel sane!!!
    And find a good counselor. EMDR changed my life and I highly recommend it.

    Wherever you are on the ladder, keep climbing and eventually life will be peaceful again. Everything is easier without an abuser!!

    Reply
    • Natalie

      Thank you, Helena! ((hugs))

      Reply
    • Starlight

      Yes, I wholeheartedly agree, everythInto is so much easier without an abuser!

      Reply
  35. Cheryl

    I feel like my ladder is a hamster wheel. I’m hitting on some of these rungs over and over. It helps me so much to know I’m not alone, and there are others who’ve made it out. Praise the Lord!

    Reply
    • Natalie

      A hamster wheel. Sigh. Yes. That too. So many analogies that fit.

      Reply
  36. Abigail

    Thank you for the outline of steps. It does validate what I’m going through. I’m supposed to be praying about if asking for a separation that has a time frame, goals, and markers along the way. My h’s counselor (who says he has met Leslie Vernick and knows her work) told me I must make sure I am in obedience to the Lord before proceeding to even ask because it won’t be received well but he says it needs to be agreed upon. Coming up with the plan is daunting. How did you ladies go about that process?

    Reply
    • Natalie

      Thank you for your comment, Abigail, and your question. I’m not sure what your counselor means by making sure you are “in obedience before the Lord.” Is there a specific area he is concerned about in your life? Many times this kind of admonition is a sideways guilt trip that causes self-doubt and fear in a woman about to take a life-changing step. I personally find it an unwise and damaging thing to say to an abuse target.

      That aside, it is a good idea to make a separation plan. One that you feel comfortable with. How much more time do you want to give your abusive spouse? What do you want to see to ensure true repentance has taken place? Look for inner change – not outward behavior. Anyone can “change” temporarily, and that’s just part of the abuse cycle. Real change takes place on a fundamental level and requires absolutely ZERO outside help or accountability. Someone who can only “change” when someone else has to hold their hand is not truly changed. Remember that abusers are masters at deception and faking it. Just the fact that he will respond poorly is a sign there is no repentance. A truly repentant man would take full responsibility, accept the consequences, and get therapy for his behaviors. He would understand why you need to separate and would support any decision you make, because he cares about your heart and all the damage he has done.

      Once you’ve decided how long you want to give him – you give it to him, and you go no contact to see if he can do the hard work on his own without your input. If you see that transformation, you can figure out next steps. If not, you can go to the next ladder rung if you want to.

      The only one that needs to “agree” on your boundaries is YOU. Your abuser doesn’t need to “agree.” I’ve got some serious reservations about the man counseling your husband. A good counselor who is experienced in dealing with abusers wouldn’t say the things this guy is saying.

      May God direct your paths, Abigail.

      Keep us posted. Anyone else want to chime in?

      Reply
      • Abigail

        Thank you so much! The counselor meant obedient to the Lord in seeking a separation. He did quote the verse about… “if she does separate then let her not remarry but reconcile” so he did acknowledge that. I don’t think he truly has experience with abusers and my h doesn’t admit to the emotional and now spiritual abuse. Is it wise to ask for the separation in person? With the counselor present? I’m fearful of him taking my 3 little girls that I have homeschooled. I need to keep praying and laying aside my fears.

        Reply
        • Natalie

          Yes, bring it up to him in the presence of others. I did that. I think it was the only way he’d leave.

          Reply
          • Nicki

            Hi ladies just wanted to chime in. My counselor gave me these instructions for my separation:
            Need to set a date to review the separation – ideally 6 months
            Reason for the date
            1 – you don’t make any premature decisions to end things – the normal response just after you leave
            2 – you don’t wait around for ever hoping things will change when in reality they won’t – false hope
            3 – Gives you time to process the hurt and change your responses from being reactive to non-reactive 

            What happens at the review date:
            – if there is some change but not enough to be confident it is sustained change – extend the date by 3 months and review things again then
            – if there is no change – time to make the call to end things all together
            – if there is sustained change – move back in (as part of this step, there needs agreement on how your marriage should work – e.g. bringing your ideals/beliefs to the table and negotiating to a point of agreement)

            Exceptions:
            This is a plan only and is a framework to address points 1, 2 and 3 above 
            – if you see sustained change and
            – if you have processed the hurt and changed your responses from being reactive to non-reactive and
            – if you can agree on how your marriage should work
            then it’s time to move back in.

            My hb wasn’t privvy to the time frame- only my counselor and I were. We didnt talk timeframe with him because the timeframe was for me to assess change not a deadline for him to work to.
            Be very careful in your assessment. I was only away 6 weeks. My hb seemed like a changed man. But he’s only made just enough changes to keep me here but refuses to get help with his addiction.
            Much love
            Nicki

            Reply
            • Natalie Hoffman

              Wow, this is incredibly helpful. Thank you for sharing. I’m going to save and share when necessary. ((HUGS))

      • Kim

        My decision-making process includes a two-day silent retreat devoted to listening to God. I went to a Jesuit retreat center that makes space for individual silent retreats and enlisted five people to pray for me. They knew the specific purpose of my retreat and promised to uphold me in prayer.

        At this point I knew the marriage must end; the question was when to make the announcement and how to prepare. Though I didn’t like to hear it, God said “wait.” The green light came ten months later, and the wisdom and strength gleaned in the waiting period were essential for the divorce process.

        Reply
  37. Margaret

    Thank you for this. God bless

    Reply
  38. Teri

    Very well written , and on point!

    Reply
  39. Karen

    This is so spot on! I’m over 7 months divorced, almost 3 years separated. Just moved into a small townhome, he bought me out of our larger house. Even though it’s small, it’s mine and I’m enjoying decorating and making it mine. Something I was never allowed to do. It’s so worth the pain and stress! I’m just now feeling stronger and I do have health issues I’m trying to heal from, but it will come and God will use all this hardship for a greater purpose. My faith has been challenged, but has stood the test, I have fits of anger as I’ve wrested the spiritual abuse and hardships out, I don’t like the hardship, but know it will be used and I’ve made it. My three teenage boys see a mom who trusted and fought for truth and righteousness. It will help break the cycle for them and those after. It’s so worth it!!!

    Reply
    • Natalie

      LOVE this! Congratulations!

      Reply
    • Hope

      Amen sister, this is my current experience too except my baby boy is 2 and I’m not officially divorced yet (separated for 2 years now). The divorce/custody/legal battles have been exhausting and long, but when I come home to my little cozy home that’s truly mine at the end of a busy day filled with joy, love, service, and friendship, I can put my head down and rest. Really rest. I try to only give the uncomfortable things the attention they need in as little time as possible, then throw it back to Jesus like a hot potato, and take my rest in Him. No matter how hard, how painful, and how stressful it’s been, it’s so good to begin to live again, and not just survive but THRIVE. Amen, amen, amen!

      Reply
  40. Rhaven Lynn

    Thank you for comforting women with the same comfort God has given you as Scripture declares. I was in hell with my ex. I truly loved this man-at one time. We met on a “Christian” dating site. He was my dream guy. A long haired rocker who loved the Lord-or so I thought. We had a whirl wind romance-which seldom works by the way. Our first couple of years had some happy times. I then began to see some serious character issues. But of course, the church said just keep loving and praying for him. Fast forward four years. He began to lose interest in spiritual things, disappear all night, and began to drink heavily. We had my daughter and grandsons living with us at the time-yes a stressor there-but I was handling it-he could not handle any stress. I kept begging him not to go back into the darkness. He just became cold as ice and emotionally abusive. So, last year I filed for divorce while we were still living together! He begged me to stop it and he would get help. I stopped it. He got worse. So, I refiled and he left. It was pure hell grieving over a man who Is till loved and just did not have it in himself to love me back. My heart literally ached. I was suicidal. I woke up crying and went to bed crying. I turned to my church and was told God could do miracles. Not one leader followed up with me. So, I left yet another church. I really loved this church-UNTIL they began to teach the male hierarchy crap that the church so needs to stop doing! Yet-through this excruciating pain and wondering what I had done to kill this marriage-Jesus showed up!!! Slowly my heart began to heal. I found peace. I found a new ME!!! I began to be drawn to ravens. Yes the birds. Why? Not sure. But one day my daughter found this quote about ravens that they are birds who have flown through tremendous darkness to discover new light and strength. This really spoke to me deeply! So-I actually have begun the process of legally changing my name to Rhaven!! I am NOT the same women I was last summer when my marriage was murdered. I am also on my THIRD Masters!!! I have always had the calling to teach the Word and counsel. Sadly, the church has become such a mess that I no longer attend. The church has done some serious damage to God’s handmaidens. So many things that are taught in the church come from the law and the law kills!!! Right now, I am writing a book: “The Church: Bride of Christ or Bride of Frankenstein?” I am touching on tithing, Halloween, divorce, male hierarchy, etc etc. So here I sit in a place of power and peace! Wow! Last year I did not think that was possible! I also have always loved rock and roll and my heart gets so heavy when these rock stars take their lives. In May it was Chris Cornell and this month was Chester Bennington. I cried over both men. They mattered to Jesus. I still hope I can be like a travelling counselor/minister for rock stats when they are touring. Anyways, the day Chester hung himself, I was crying and said to the Lord, “Lord, I want to be able to help someone who is feeling suicidal.” That day my phone rings. I looked at it with disbelief. It was my ex husband! I answered. He sounded so messed up. He was crying hard-something he has never done. His voice was hoarse. He kept saying how sorry he was and that he felt suicidal. He asked if he could come over to talk. I said ok. He looked like a shell of the man I used to know. he had lost a lot of weight and did not look healthy-I’m sure the alcohol had something to do with that. He cried and cried and cried and cried. He said it was all HIS fault. He said he still loved me and wanted ne back. I held him and consoled him-that right there was a miracle because I truly hated him for all the pain he had brought to me and my family. Log story short-God vindicated me!! I kept asking why and what did I do wrong? I hadn’t done anything wrong-this man is a mess. We keep in touch. he is trying to win me back but I keep telling him that his focus should be on him getting himself fixed. I am not suggesting that women console their exes or that they even speak to them again. I AM saying that God DOES heal OUR HEARTS!!! Here I am a completely DIFFERENT woman than I was last year!! The man I thought I could not live without is now begging ME to take him back!! I thought I wanted him to come back and here he is and now I’m thinking “why?” What can HE offer ME??? I told him many men were interested in me-which they are. I also said, ‘The only way I would EVEN consider being with you is of course if you get help, and if you can prove to me why YOU would be the best man to choose for me.” Last year I would have never said that! I was ready to forgive and forget and stay in hell with him! No longer!! Ladies Jesus WILL heal your heart and give you an even stronger one!!!

    Reply
  41. Anne

    Natalie – your posts hit the proverbial nail head on! Thank you for allowing God’s spirit to work through you to minister to others.

    To those of you at the top, thank you for the encouragement and cheering us on.

    I am about a year and a half into the journey, and find myself between rungs 8, 9 , and 10 and trying to hold to my faith and hope despite the pain. I would love to hear more on what keeps you going during the despair and pain associated with these rungs, especially the challenges around being a single mom of two sons (with diagnosed anxiety) who have had to walk on eggshells and don’t feel approval and acceptance from their dad because of the emotional / psychological abuse. They are old enough that they treat me in similar ways as their father, so the trauma is repeating itself with me. I so want off this rollercoaster (or out of the Hell!) Rung 10 is so scary because I need to be there to meet my children’s needs and provide Biblical instruction around their actions, but I’m in so much physical pain most of the time that it is a real struggle. I know in my head that God is sufficient to meet all my needs and holds us all in his hands, but I feel so very alone.

    Reply
  42. Cindy Burrell

    Thank you, Natalie for this amazing, powerful post. I’m gonna print it out and tack it onto my bulletin board! The title says is all, and the steps outlined here are spot-on.

    I made the journey years ago, and it’s true. Just when you think things can’t get worse, they do. And even after you get out, you have to start creating a new life – and you’re so numb you can’t even begin to contemplate what that might look like. But then you catch a glimpse of daylight. You start to get a little stronger, feel your confidence and hope growing. The journey is hard and feels like it will never end, but it is so worth it.

    So, dear hurting one, reach deep, pray for strength, and stand on the truth. Fight for your freedom and your health and your life – for yourself and your kids. And know that you’re not alone. Those of us who have gone before you will encourage you and give you a shoulder to cry on while you climb those painful rungs to freedom.

    Reply
  43. Holly

    This is so accurate at every step ! Isn’t it strange that so many have the exact same journey? It made me snort-laugh out loud when I read “It doesn’t matter that you’ve told the truth your whole life. Now you are a liar.” You have a way of describing the specifics, Natalie!

    Yes, it really is that hard. Yes, it really is that great to be free and at the top! But I honestly didn’t think that it would ever get any better. I just knew you that I had to do this; I had no others choice; that I was compelled; that I couldn’t not continue living at the bottom (which was the worse than all the “rungs”); that I had tried “everything” and that it was a very Christian concept to save my kids (and preserve myself).

    Amazement of all amazement! I am actually finding out what it is to be normal for the first time in my life! For the first time in my life, I know what it is to be “ME”. For the first time in my life I have freedom, I enjoy life and I don’t need a man. I am enjoying living and not a slave to others perceptions of me. So for the first time I have a deep and real relationship with God that is not held captive by what everyone tells me that I should be spiritually.

    For the first time since I was a child, I am happy! And the losses are not keeping me from being happy. The losses are there but that’s not what I think about say and night. It’s not what controls my mood or motivates me. For the first time “he” does NOT control me and yes I AM happy without him. I honestly thought I would be the one statistic who would die of a broken heart and never get over him. I didn’t know if I could keep from “going back” for the next thirty years.

    Yes, the ladder is accurate and yes it is worth it! It’s important to take one step at a time and have faith and hope that God is on your side, He loves you and he will help you, even though you can’t see that right now. That doesn’t mean there won’t be hardships but you will be able onlool back and see how HE helped you incredibly, miraculously! You will know his familial love and care, the joy of fulfilled promises and your faith will have increased! Those of us at the top are cheering you on! It is worth it! Take each step in faith and do lean on your friends!

    Reply
  44. Cindy

    Such a great article! Thank you for being the one Voice!

    I’ve been out of Egypt, that marriage of oppression, for 15 years now. Alleluia!! Like the Israelites, I was born into slavery and didn’t even know it. Like the Israelites, I would escape that abuser several times, only to miss certain things, complain about my new circumstances and then, believe it or not, return back to him. I developed coping mechanisms such as secretly smoking cigarettes. I developed anxiety attacks and claustrophobia.
    Like the Israelites who’s names are listed in detail in the beginning and then disappear by the end of the book without the reader even noticing, I to, lost my unique God-given name to oppression, without me even noticing.

    It’s so easy to get married, yet so hard to get out. But then, just the Israelites, it was for their benefit and safety to enter Egypt, but sure was hard to get out—physically and psychologically.

    Shalom

    Reply
    • Wendy

      That is really interesting you made the anology of your broken marriage being like the Isrealites desiring to go back to Egypt. I feel God has been giving me this anology as well through out my journey. I know how bad my marriage was “Egypt” and I know that I can’t go back, yet something in me wants to just go back. Go back to what is “normal” even though it was literally destroying me (emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically). I got married at 19 and am now 40 years old with 3 young children (11,8, and 2). I married a Ordained Minister! How did this happen to my life? I kept making excuses and kept trying for so long. Despite his pornography addiction and his emotional abuse I kept loving and kept forgiving and kept trying. Yet all he did was blame me and hurt me even more through over 5 years of trying to get help for our issues. I still feel such a loss and struggle with the fact that I have “giving up” and served him divorce papers and I still wonder if there was any hope and I am scared of making such a life altering decision. Yet I know that God is not ok with how he has treated me. I feel he has a hard heart and he is unwilling to repent and truly see the damage he has done to our marriage. Thank you for sharing.

      Reply
  45. Laura Bender

    Two things to focus on during these times that really helped me. Live for an audience of ONE, and KNOW that God is with you. Often through trauma, we can’t focus on much, but these two things truly can help sustain us.

    Reply
  46. Carol

    Natalie I sure appreciate you! Thanks!

    Reply
  47. Trina

    Keep fighting for your freedom, keep moving forward, when you get knocked down, pick yourself up and keep going even if you are limping. Keep praying, keep asking God to bring you true support. Picture yourself as an athlete in training, a warrior in training. No one gets to be a warrior without going through some stuff. Embrace your inner warrior, refuse to give up. I don’t care how old you are or how many health problems you have, once you are done grieving, limp, crawl, walk, run, and do whatever you have to do do to get out and embrace your freedom. I say this with much love as a fellow warrior and freedom finder, and now encourager. Let’s go girls! Onward!

    Reply
  48. STEPHANIE MCMACKIN

    Such truth spoken! I am 10 months out from separating/filing for divorce, after 25 years of marriage and five children. He became abusive six months into our marriage. He was a pastor. Our oldest child suffered a self-inflicted traumatic brain injury one year ago. God used that to push me toward having the courage to start climbing this ladder, after many failed counseling sessions and temporary separations over the years. I’m blessed to have a great family/friend support group. It has been a process, gaining support from our church. They still do not believe I have biblical grounds for divorce and believe that prevents them from completely pursuing church discipline with my husband. I’m still trying to determine if I will be able to remain at this church due to our differences. BUT, even though I’m still climbing those rungs, I have experienced some of the peace and freedom already!! I’m so very thankful God is finally delivering me, after years of praying for Him to change my husband or me…whatever it took. I will say, my greatest struggle, is that my three younger children don’t truly understand why their dad can no longer live with us. He lavishes them with fun activities and over the top gifts…things I cannot afford, nor do I think are truly in their best interest. It’s difficult being the responsible parent and being confident that you have made the best decision by leaving, when faced with their inability to understand at their age and the fact that they always have fun now with their dad. So…I’m still climbing…but I’m climbing!! Thank you to so many that are cheering on …I hope I’ve cheered on someone who’s just thinking about starting this journey.

    Joshua 1:9

    Reply
    • Cindy Burrell

      Hello, Stephanie. You are not alone in this “no justification for divorce” untruth. This begins with the “God hates divorce” notion and the incorrect interpretation of the word “divorce” which can also be seen in common (often incorrect) New Testament teachings, as well.

      I hope it’s okay if I offer up a link to the first of my three-part article series on biblical divorce here. The article shines a light on a powerful truth that has been distorted in the contemporary church.

      http://www.hurtbylove.com/a-redemptive-look-at-three-of-the-most-commonly-misappropriated-scriptures-on-the-subject-of-divorce-part-i/

      And let me just add that the church folks never gave me permission to leave my abuser, but God did.

      “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” John 8:32

      Blessings,

      Cindy

      Reply
  49. mona

    This could not be any more TRUE.
    Each step I went through and some I revisit even though it is over but with that personality it is never over but how you deal with it is.

    There is life and there is freedom and I did regain who I was and have become more and yes, God was there and saw it all and then helped me out of it in His time.

    Thank you for this post.

    Reply
    • Natalie

      Thank you for sharing your VICTORY story, Mona!

      Reply
  50. Ashley

    Natalie this is so true! I am one year separated and 8 months into the divorce process. There are good days and bad days. But the freedom the Lord has given me is worth it all! My best advice is to find support if you can even if it is online. Just knowing their are others who know and understand when everyone who is suppose to “know you” doesn’t and even worse rejects you is the most painful. Jesus died to give us life more abundantly ~Let no one tell you otherwise ❤️

    Reply
  51. Christy

    Natalie, you have described this journey so well. It’s not for the faint of heart. Once you have made your decision you may be shocked at the difficulties, but so many truths of what the Bible really says and what the Bible really means will come to light. And I ask you to fight the voices that tell you the kids would have been better off if you had stayed, or that if you had prayed harder or had more faith this wouldn’t have happened. Because the truth is we can never know how much harder staying would have been on the kids, and God lives in grace and love, not in trying harder, not in pain and fear.

    Reply
  52. Tanya

    You really hit the nail on the head. I find myself in limbo with steps 7,8, & 9. I even beg my spouse to change before we sell our home so it doesnt have to get worse. I find myself depending on my mom because I get so depressed. I have no self esteem because I lost it all in my marriage. I am suffering through anxiety, restless sleep and losing hair. I hate facing my reality because its a very drastic change. My ex really makes my life a living hell. No accountability, no order, no help can I expect. Solely the burden rests on me and I do not even know how to get ahead because I keep looking back to “what if” possibilities before I endure the hell of my kids losing their home I thought we were going to remain in. Even though I know he is bad for me, he has been chasing his girlfriend over his own family I can not understand how this is could be happening. I keep thinking what if I just stayed in? It is a brutal, scary place I am in. Everyday I hate it. Attorneys drained every cent I could have had and I am so beyond frustrated with myself for not thinking of a better plan. I just knew at the time the fear of staying was greater thsn the fear of leaving. I couldn’t endure the hellish years of his addiction another to go through another relapse anymore.. Now I face a hell of survival without knowing how to make choice

    Reply
    • Natalie

      I’m so sorry, Tanya. Are you seeing a counselor or therapist, by any chance? You may find some benefit from calling a local abuse hotline. They have resources to help women in your position. Just google your city and “domestic abuse hotline.”

      Reply
  53. Kristen Fensom

    Excellent article! So true! Getting free is PAINFUL, but freedom is priceless. There is joy and peace and healing in your future if you keep your eyes on Him and keep climbing.

    Reply
  54. Denise

    Starting the climb. Making a plan.

    Reply
  55. Melissa

    I am in tears reading this. I spent my first night alone in my new house last night and I’m still in the grieving stage. He’s had far too much power for far too long. I want to make it up that ladder!!

    Reply
    • Natalie

      Melissa, you are courageous, and Jesus loves you to pieces. Tuck yourself into Him. Close your eyes and see Him right there, surrounding you. He will be with you every single step of the way. No matter what anyone tells you, He loves, loves LOVES you.

      Reply
  56. tereza

    I literally got out of hell by God’s hands. Slowly He opened my eyes to my abuser’s true self and then He delivered me. At the time, I mourned deeply because even though I was in an abusive marriage I didn’t want out. I didn’t know better at the time. Years passed and I finally understood God’s deliverance. Today I am married again with 4 beautiful children. God is good. There’s hope and you will see a bright tomorrow again. Have courage to dare to believe for a better situation.

    Reply
  57. Laura Grace

    Absolutely. I got free and I’m so glad I did. it was not easy. for me it took daily prayer
    and reminding myself by Journalling I really had done everything I could to make
    things work. I was not crazy, And I had to get out.

    Laura Grace Author Grace to the Rescue available on Amazon

    Reply
  58. Randi petersen

    I climbed out and am finally free after 40 years in the wilderness of an abusive marriage.. it wasn’t easy, it took many years, lots of tears but I overcame my fear of rejection and people pleasing and climbed that hot, scary ladder- the divorce papers came 2 weeks ago and now I need to look ahead and not look back anymore.. I want to find Gods plan for my remaining years.. He has seen my tears and heard my cries and delivered me out of the pit of hell. I can breathe again, my mind is clear, He has provided for me and prepared the way for me – I praise Him alone for saving me and 2 my younger kids . He is my redeemer ! Randi!

    Reply
    • Natalie

      Thank you for sharing a bit of your story, Randi! (((hugs)))

      Reply
  59. Pam

    Why is this story the same over and over again?

    Reply
    • Natalie

      Sadly, yes. It’s crazy how many women have gone through this exact story line.

      Reply
  60. Lucy

    Oh, Natalie… You are helping women. You are sharing truth. What you are doing is such an important ministry! I love your Facebook posts and your blog. Your words, understanding, and encouragement have helped me so much in the past few months. Thank you.
    The article above is very accurate. I am familiar with all those rungs and all those feelings — I could have written many of those words. It’s unnerving to read something from a stranger that so parallels my own experience.
    My divorce was final two days ago. My former spouse is required to be out of the house by this weekend. Yes, it seems I have lost almost everything. I get to keep my home, but how shall I pay for it? I’ve lost my comfortable middle-class financial stability. My children are struggling and hurting; my son is angry with me for hurting his dad (who likes to tell son bad stories about his mommy). I can no longer continue to homeschool. I’ve lost some friends, and I am very sad about the effects of this on my reputation. I’ve had to leave my church of 19 years. No longer am I the well-respected Sunday School teacher and Women’s Bible Study leader. No longer “qualified” or “worthy” of that privilege.
    And yes, now I am a single woman past my prime who will be struggling to make ends meet for myself and my children. I feel like I have no one to ask for help because I “chose” this; I made my bed and now I have to lie in it, some might say.
    And the health problems… my doctor has told me for several years, “Your life is killing you.” Shortly after I filed for divorce, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My very first thought was that God was punishing me for pursuing divorce. I suppose I will have doubts for as long as I live, due to the way I was raised and my personality. However, I pressed on. I’ve completed cancer treatments and am doing okay now. Only God knows how much the hell of my life the last few years contributed to the development of cancer.
    But now, finally, I am single again. He’s almost out of the house for good. I can begin to heal and carve out a new life for myself. I pray God will give me a new ministry, to women either suffering from cancer or domestic abuse. I pray God will provide for me financially. I pray God will keep me healthy so I can continue to raise my children.
    Yes, those ten rungs are hell to climb. But it’s worth it… and your writings have comforted me and grounded me and motivated me so many times. I’m sorry for the hell you have gone through and are still going through — but never doubt that God is using you mightily! Thank you!

    Reply
    • Natalie

      Lucy, may God make a way through the wilderness for you.

      Isaiah 43:16-19
      This is what the Lord says,
      He who makes a way through the sea
      And a path through the mighty waters,

      He who brings out the chariot and the horse,
      The army and the mighty warrior,
      (They will lie down together, they will not rise again;
      They have been extinguished, they have been put out like a lamp’s wick):

      “Do not remember the former things,
      Or ponder the things of the past.

      “Listen carefully, I am about to do a new thing,
      Now it will spring forth;
      Will you not be aware of it?
      I will even put a road in the wilderness,
      Rivers in the desert.

      Reply
  61. MicroGal

    I. LOVE. THIS. I have made it through all the hot ladder rungs. Praise God!

    Reply
  62. Leanne

    Wow, you described it so well, and so compassionately. Thank you for putting this into writing for those who are on their way out, or just thinking about getting out. I did not know when I started how difficult it would be ~ everything happened like you described ~ but it is sooooo worth it to be out. I still deal with health issues over a decade later, but I am slowly healing, and it would only be so much worse if I was still in that abusive relationship. Again, it is so worth every painful rung to get out!!

    Reply
    • Natalie

      Thank you for sharing, Leanne!

      Reply
  63. Bunny Suiter

    that pretty much sums it up. I am out and healing. was a hard fought battle but I have hope again. All of the steps were what I went through. I am out of the hole and looking around again. Ready to help a sister.

    Reply
    • Natalie

      Thank you, Bunny! Praise God for your deliverance!

      Reply
      • Melissa

        Thank you for this! I am just starting on my way out. Attorney consultation meeting done. Separation discussion with H done. He is worse than ever after I told him I wanted out (and he knew I was serious …. this time). Counseling session scheduled. Joined this group, done. I have a long way to go. Children are involved and House, finances, moving out, etc.
        My guilt comes mostly from how I reacted to the abuse. I fought back in an unhealthy way. I became destructive as well :(. After years of insults, when he insulted, I insulted back. When he called me a name, I called him one back. I became destructive and got on his level. Now, he calls me the abuser and twists everything around. I hope the guilt of me fighting back in this unhealthy way goes away ?

        Reply
        • Natalie Hoffman

          I can relate to the “fighting” we do toward the end when we don’t know what else to do. Melissa, that isn’t really who you are. That’s who we ALL become when we are trapped and hopeless and scared and fighting for our sanity. Jesus sees you in that mess, and He loves you no matter how “bad” you might get in your desperation.

          The difference between you and your narc husband is that you have a conscience before God. You care. You try. You are convicted by the Holy Spirit and you grieve over your responses to the abuse. Once you are out for good, you will be able to rebuild your life and blossom into the woman God created you to be. You won’t always be stuck in a corner with a dog barking down your throat every day. You’ll be able to relax. Everything will slowly (key word there) improve over time. God will bring you into a wide open space where you will have the emotional space to respond from a peaceful center rather than from a tornado of craziness all the time.

          Of course he calls you the abuser. They all do that. It’s their “normal” way of being extremely wicked in an underhanded, deceptive way. Satan is the father of lies and the accuser of God’s children, so of course those people who are under his influence will do the same. The Pharisees called Jesus a blasphemer and a liar and a drunkard and the son of the devil. But He wasn’t. And neither are you! ((HUGS))

          Reply
          • Melissa

            Thank you Natalie. You’re response means so much to me. When you said, Melissa, this isn’t really who you are- it actually made me cry. My HB emotionally/ verbally abused me so bad one day and I lost it. Screamed things at him that I’m ashamed of. Unknown to me, He recorded it and sent the recording to my brother in law and told him this is what he has to put up with. I found out about the recording months later because my brother in law shared it with his wife, my sister. My sister confronted me and told me that she heard the recording and was very taken back. I told her that I was reacting in an unhealthily way from being emotionally battered that day. She said, I know that’s not who you really are and your HB is taking you to a very bad place :(. It’s been several years since then. I guess I wasn’t quite ready to understand it all at that point. But, I am now. I am better than that. I am not that person. And, I’ve realized I’m actually living in more sin by staying because of my reaction to the abuse. I thank you Natalie from the bottom of my heart for what you are doing. For bringing this to light and cheering me on. May God bless you. I will keep in touch during my journey as I struggle to make my way out.

            Reply
            • Natalie Hoffman

              I would love that. Also, I want you to know that I recorded a conversation my ex husband and I had one day – a conversation that perfectly illustrated the dynamic going on in our marriage. At the end of it, I exploded in tears and raged about how I was going to start cutting myself every time he hurt me to provide a physical record of the ways he traumatized me. I allowed my Bible counselor at the time listen to it – and she ignorantly concluded I must have borderline personality disorder. She had never even heard of complex-post traumatic stress disorder which presents with similar symptoms. She passed her uneducated hypothesis onto the elders in my church AND also shared it with my husband at the time (she could get away with this because she wasn’t an actual licensed therapist who would LOSE her license for what she did) – and they ran to the bank with that. So I can relate to that fear of others seeing the fallout of the abuse – and believing that response is actually abusive. It’s not. And experienced therapists and abuse advocates would tell you the same. Hang in there.

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