Hey there! I’m Tamara – a smart, well-educated professional woman.
I am a survivor of spiritual abuse, domestic abuse and domestic violence. I think of the response people give when they find out I’m a divorced marriage and family therapist. I don’t ask them what they are thinking; I can read it on their faces. It is something like, “How can a person who is divorced be a relationship expert?”
But as I sit here, I wonder what they would conclude about the fact that I am a therapist with a victim background. People already ask: ”Why would a woman who is being harmed in her relationship stay?” I’m sure “smart,” “well-educated” and “professional” are three traits they would leave off the list of characteristics used to describe a woman who stays. Believe me – when I was putting my life back together, I asked myself the same questions.
Throughout my life I have always placed high value on self-awareness and personal growth. I noticed many things about my family while I was growing up that I wanted to be different in my own life. I was observant and disciplined and careful. I tried to make informed choices. But it took me more than two decades to recognize the disempowering effects of abuse in my life.
I didn’t recognize the abuse because I was doing what I had always thought I wanted to do: be a wife. The other reason I didn’t realize it was because the kind of abuse I struggled against never left bruises, so it was hard to recognize. And like many smart women, when something didn’t seem right in my life, I just took it upon myself to find the solution.
But I need to back up just a bit… At the age of 23, I married my first husband in spite of the reality that I was terrified of him – in spite of warnings from my family and friends about him. But I believed my value came from marriage and child bearing and I thought I was pushing “Old Maid” status at my age, so I took the plunge. One month after the wedding, I knew I had made a terrible mistake.
I called my mother, sobbing. She hurried over to console me and suggested I divorce. But my religious upbringing had taught me that my temple wedding meant the relationship was to last forever. Literally. So, I took a deep breath, straightened myself up and said, “I’m going to make it work.” I did this for 14 years. With marriage-induced isolation from everyone I loved and constant feedback from him, here is what I learned during my first marriage:
- That I’m not smart
- That my family doesn’t love me
- That it’s not okay for me to ask for what I need
- That I’m unattractive
- That I’ll always be fat
- That I’m a woman and women are “too much trouble”
- That it doesn’t matter how tired or sick I am, it’s not okay for me to take care of myself
- That I’m selfish
- That I can’t trust my body
- That I’m frigid
At the 13-year point, I noticed the way I talked to myself was extremely negative. I didn’t like that I was treating myself so badly (read: I didn’t recognize where the negativity was coming from) and went to get help from a therapist to overcome years of depression and to re-connect with myself. That’s also where I learned that one person can’t make a relationship work. It takes two. My first husband was psychologically bound to his relationship pattern by the circumstances of his childhood. He made it clear to me that confronting his childhood challenges and taking personal responsibility for his interactions with me were lines he wasn’t willing to cross.
Within a year of my divorce, I was re-married. (Yes, I still believed that I needed to be married to be acceptable – to God.) This man seemed like the perfect guy, and I got a lot of “references” from people who “knew” him, just to be sure. I was still a smart woman and I believed I was smart (thanks to my work in therapy), so the smart thing to do was to “vet” my suitor. (He pursued me aggressively. I wasn’t attracted or interested. But there was a larger edict at work here: religious dogma defining my worth.) The problem with the religious group I was part of is it supports one of the major characteristics of an abusive man: his habit of keeping a favorable public persona while secretly releasing a monster on his closest, most private relationships.
This marriage lasted six years before I recognized the hypocrisy, understood it and broke free. During this marriage, I endured a different side of domestic violence:
- Manipulation of my child who was being abused by him outside of my presence
- Financial abuse
- Physical abuse
- Feelings of fear and guilt that if I left, he would kill himself
- The use of religious grounds to control/manipulate/oppress
When I left this abusive relationship, the groundwork was also set for me to leave the oppressive religious community within which I had been raised. It was a religious group that encouraged mindlessly submitting to dogma without concern for personal well-being. Thanks to abusive husband number two, I could see much more clearly that my religious upbringing contributed to the acceptance of abusive people, but losing my religion was like an endless free-fall without a safety net. Everything I thought I knew about life and God and why I should be “good” was gone when I realized the church I had been loyal to my entire life was a fraud.
But I had to leave because staying would be like signing my own death certificate. I formally withdrew my church membership, and in the process, confronted all of the pressures to stay, as church leaders did everything they could to “keep me” when I knew the best thing for me was to end this relationship. (This abusive pattern is the same, whether the victim is trying to exit from an abusive spiritual group or escape from an abusive partner. The abusive partner will use the most abusive tools in the kit to prevent the victim from leaving.)
Finally, at the age of 42, I began to rebuild my life with a commitment to myself to remain free of abuse in any form. I literally started over. Many of my friends turned their backs on me when I turned my back on the church. I had no religion. I wasn’t sure if there was a God. If there was, I didn’t want anything to do with a God who I had come to know as angry, punitive and abusive as a result of church teachings and my life experiences.
I was prepared to lose family relationships (as a result of leaving the church). In order to preserve my sense of self, I quite literally let go of everything I knew and was prepared to let go of all of my social supports. That sense of being alone while I started over is a feeling I will never forget. But my life since that time only serves to prove to me that leaving that church was the most important decision I have ever made.
I am a therapist who understands the journey to freedom all the way down to the deepest parts of my soul. In the time since putting my life back together, I’ve had the privilege of helping women out of domestic violence/abuse and spiritual abuse, using my personal experience and expertise as a therapist.
Now I know:
- I am beautiful
- I am capable and intelligent
- My family has always loved me, no matter what
- If I don’t take care of my own needs, everyone suffers. Especially me
- Women are phenomenal
- I have a lovely circle of supportive new friends
- My body is precious and yes, I DO have a sex drive!
- Being selfish is OK!
- The pain I suffered for most of my life can be a force for good in the lives of women
The abuse that comes without bruises is the most difficult to identify because negative self-talk has a numbing effect. When you continue to hear negative messages loud-and-clear and in isolation of connection to anyone who would tell you otherwise, the lies become reality. Emotional abuse without physical abuse is hard to detect. But physical abuse always also comes with emotional abuse. Manipulation is the key used in the lock that separates you from yourself. It is my goal to give you the keys back.
I am Tamara. I’m honored to be part of this project. It is my mission to help every woman I come into contact with accomplish a few important things:
- To see herself as she actually is
- To love herself
- To only allow people into her life who actually see her true self
- To only accept authentic love from others
- To recognize her own ability for renewal, rejuvenation and growth
- To use that ability to extract herself from her cocoon and emerge as the beautiful, unique butterfly that lies dormant within her