I’ve Become The Villain, My Church Believes Him

Morning friends,

What’s it been like for you to slow down? Are you bored? Restless? Anxious to resume your busy life? This purposeful pause throughout our country gives us all time to reflect upon our past busyness. To evaluate whether or not our busyness has created a meaningful life, or simply given us the illusion of one. Click To Tweet  

When you spin the blades of a fan fast enough, it looks like something solid. It’s only when you slow the blades down, do you see them for what they are. Maybe during this slower time, you’ve inhaled the smell of spring for the first time in years. Been awed by a fabulous night sky or laughed out loud with a baby’s giggle. You’re not too busy to notice things and live life. You’ve learned you are a human being, not a human doing. And, my friend, that is our gift from this national shutdown.  

Others, however, especially our first responders and caregivers are busier and more exhausted than ever. It’s been a challenge you would not have wished for but have risen to the occasion. I want you to know that your busyness does have meaning and serves a great purpose. It is love and service at its finest. Sacrificial and pure. Selfless and generous. Thank you all. 

This week’s question: I recently divorced my husband. After three decades of living with a covert narcissist, I felt like I would die from a stroke or heart attack if I didn't get free from his abuse. He is an employee of a large church and has connections with many influential people who only know him as a good Christian man. He will do whatever it takes to hide his true nature to the church. Meanwhile, he is condemning me for being the villain. Because of his deception, I have been alienated by the church I called my own. What do I do?

Answer: You’re probably not going to like my answer but here it is. Move on. Find a new support group and a different church. It is a waste of your time to try to convince people who already believe a charming charismatic man who works with them that he’s any different than they know him to be. 

I’m sure you’ve already given it a good try. It’s not going to happen, at least not any time soon. For you to keep banging your head against the wall hoping for validation, affirmation, and support is only going to cause you harm.

Often when a woman starts to put the pieces of the crazy-making puzzle together she believes she needs others to see it too. Remember, he kept you off balance and fooled for many years. Sadly, when a Christian woman starts to wake up and stand up for herself, she is often not believed. Not only by her church but even by her own family and children. She may be accused of being hard-hearted, crazy, a liar or unforgiving. The more you try to explain what’s happening or defend yourself, the more you are seen as unstable, insecure, deceptive, or volatile. Stop it. Stop trying to explain what’s going on to people who don’t really want to know and instead use that same energy to heal and rebuild your life.

Putting the crazymaking pieces together of covert abuse is only the first step of your healing journey. Step two is valuing yourself enough to take care of you and get what you need to heal, grow, and thrive. Yes, you need some extra support but stop begging certain people to believe, validate, or care for you when they clearly show they don’t. This only retraumatizes you and tempts you to go back into confusion and crazymaking cycle to get their approval and support.  

Find a therapist or a good coach who knows covert abuse so that you can deal with your loss, your triggers, as well as your own internal lies that kept you hooked into this destructive cycle. Beliefs such as “I’m not capable, or worth anything, or not as good as he is” are a good place to start your own self-examination. These unchallenged beliefs (which are lies) will keep you in living small, scared and dependent on others instead of growing to be a woman of strength and dignity who can smile at the future unafraid (Proverbs 31).  

Leaving everything you know and love is hard. The church is like a family and even when it’s unhealthy, it’s difficult and sad to cut those ties. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have any contact with anyone at all. That’s your decision. But by your question, they have clearly taken sides and you are seen as the villain, not the victim.  

Perhaps you have a few friends who know you well and believe and trust what you have told them. If so, continue to see them on a personal basis. But for your church community, your ex is committed to making sure his image is not tarnished by what you have done (leave). His commitment to shining his own image means he has to tarnish yours. This is very common and a wolf in sheep’s clothing is hard for most people to detect until he actually bites them. You know that, so that can give you a bit of compassion for their blindness to this while you ask God to expose the truth.

If you are in a destructive marriage or getting out of one and need some support, CONQUER, our educational and support group is open until midnight, Thursday, April 23.  If you want to get safe, sane, and grow strong, join CONQUER. Click here to learn more.
Friends, what steps did you take that helped you let go of the need to be heard, understood and validated by your church family?



  1. JoAnn on April 22, 2020 at 12:15 pm

    Wow!, Leslie, that is such a wise and compassionate response. Thank you!

  2. WalkAgain on April 22, 2020 at 12:27 pm

    It is still a work in progress, but (after I had already tried with my family, and was somewhat successful, and still a little looking like the crazy one) I had to pray that people would have things revealed to them in the right time so that it could work out for the best. I had trust God to let the timing be right. I also put myself in that since it has been often hard to find out about what is going on… even things I need to know.

  3. Pat on April 22, 2020 at 12:42 pm

    Thank you, Leslie! This is very timely, and applies to those who suffer from “church abuse” as well.

  4. Tam on April 22, 2020 at 12:57 pm

    The exact same story for me. He’s a ministry leader at a large church. Horrible covert abuse. I eventually divorced him, but not until I was accused of not obeying God, and being the one abusing HIM. I put a lot of energy into getting my church to “see and understand” and it did only to traumatize me to no good end. Leslie’s advice is exactly right!! Others will believe you, safe people.

  5. Kathleen on April 22, 2020 at 3:28 pm

    I separated from my abusive husband 13 years ago. The Bible teaching church counseled me to remain in the ‘marriage’ regardless of the decades long emotional, psychological, spiritual and physical abuse myself and our children endured at his whims. Eventually we divorced because he refused to be accountable for the girlfriends he had hidden from me. While my children readily knew their father, my husband, was a hard man, I was blamed for the break up because he was a good financial provider. He was accommodated as the ‘victim’ when I moved far away to finish raising our last 3 kids. Since then, ALL my children, extended family, and friends have come to KNOW the truth about my abuser ex-spouse, this because abusers don’t stop abusing! If they don’t have you to abuse anymore, they make sure to find someone else! Sadly, this is the pathology of abuse. Leslie is correct in advising to use your energy toward healing from the trauma your husband put you thru. Leave him in the Lord’s hands. As long as you need others to validate your experiences with him, he still controls you. Truth is truth where God promises that all things hidden will eventually be revealed. Grow and rest in His perfect care and promises!

    • JoAnn on April 22, 2020 at 4:01 pm

      Kathleen, I like that you said this: As long as you need others to validate your experiences with him, he still controls you.That is so true, and it is also true that eventually the sins done in darkness will be brought to the light. The Lord knows, and He is the one who sets us free.

    • Becky on April 22, 2020 at 4:06 pm

      I have just emailed a letter to our pastor just to let him know what has been going on, not asking for any counseling or advice, since my h and I are already in separate counseling. I have gone to our pastor before over the years, but was also given the traditional viewpoint of just continuing to pray and trust God and not let myself get bitter because of all that had occurred over the years with the effects of h’s addictions and arrogant and selfish behaviors. And I don’t expect any different from the pastor this time. But I also made it clear that I have been getting help and learning a lot regarding destructive marriages and that I don’t have to keep putting up with it, and that it does not honor God to do so. I don’t expect to return to that church, either. Especially if their is no support from leadership.

      • Free on April 23, 2020 at 7:59 pm

        You, go girl! Speak the truth!

  6. Linda on April 22, 2020 at 11:04 pm

    the same thing happened to me. Continuing to seek validation and comfort from people who don’t want to know becomes a source of secondary abuse. They don’t want to know because it will change their worldview. Most people have no concept that it’s ok for other people to see things differently than they do. And that can keep them stuck in a shallow state of existence. The wounds delivered by psychological abuse are deep. Your very soul is wounded. That’s why this type of abuse will shift you into a much deeper awareness of yourself and the world around you-provided you get the right therapy and truly heal. When I left my husband and the church we were in, I found this meme that helped me a ton. I put it as my wallpaper so I see it whenever I open my iPad.

    “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what people think you are.” -John Wooden

  7. Mia on April 23, 2020 at 4:23 pm

    My heart goes out to the person asking this question; I know how incredibly hard it is going through this. My husband is not in a ministry roll, but made great efforts to be known and liked by leadership as soon as we attended a church. Same thing in the ministry organization we were a part of. He learned and used the “script” of each organization so well, and is so convincing! Nothing is more important to him than being the “vulnerable good guy” (he also has very strong covert narcissistic tendencies). Because of this I had a pretty good idea of the narrative he would come up with to explain this situation, placing me in a very bad light. Our divorce is underway. I too reached the point where I realized that I would continue to suffer severe physical effects (not to mention the emotional and spiritual effects) if I did not leave. I was so sure of this that I told myself that even if no-one understood or supported me, not even my family, I knew it was what I needed to do to survive.

    I’ve had to remind myself of that resolve countless times. I’m so thankful for my family’s support, but only maintained four friendships after leaving (all friends from before my marriage). No-one else called, no-one texted. This is from a church who brought meals to our home for two months because I was so ill, and another organization I was part of for over 10 years.The pastor refused to provide a video I made for the church about my illness to substantiate my divorce claims that I cannot work full-time, not even being willing to write a letter stating that the church helped with my home care. I ran into a friend at the store this weekend; when she recognized me, she froze, went bright red, and then walked away.

    As hard as it is, I stepped away without explaining myself, without defending my decision. It definitely comes with a cost. I’ve shed countless tears. I have to repeat to myself that if anyone really cared enough to support me, they would have picked up the phone to call, or at least emailed to ask a question or two. I also know how I was taken in by him for years, and can’t really fault others for seeing him the same way. It is still a bitter pill to swallow. I have to practice daily forgiveness and release of these people (as much for my own heart and attitude as for them). I agree with Leslie – spend your energy reclaiming yourself and your new life. It can be beautiful. You are worth investing in! I believe God will put supportive people in your path to encourage you. You are not alone!

  8. Free on April 23, 2020 at 7:55 pm

    Go to Natalie Hoffman’s site, Flying Free. She has a blog devoted to this discussion.

  9. Dara on April 24, 2020 at 12:01 am

    Thank you for the answer to this question. I have been really struggling with this. I left my marriage a year ago. When I left I lost my church, homeschool group , all my friends but one and most of my family.
    I knew no one would believe me and I was in such a land of confusion I wasn’t even sure I understood all that was happening so I didn’t even try to explain. However, I was mightily attacked for moving out since they all believed separation was a sin. I then tried to explain but I was called a liar and told I was mentally unstable. My husband convinced the church and all my friends that I was in need of psychiatric care. The church drafted a letter and sent it certified mail to my address and threatened to publicly discipline me in front of the congregation for “my sin.” At the same time we were in Biblical marital counseling which he agreed to after 8 years of begging. However he was able to convince them I was just unforgiving and I was given homework for fourteen weeks on unforgiveness and I was told God would harden my heart like he did with Pharaoh and leave me if I did not forgive. When this didn’t work He ultimately convinced them I was in need of a Psych eval. The entire ordeal was very scary. The level of manipulation was frightening. I had little to no support and have spent the past year trying to get someone to believe me. It has been futile. As incredibly painful as it is to have my reputation be smeared and the truth so twisted I agree with the counsel to move on. I desperately wish I would have found Leslie’s site sooner. It is a hard thing to accept but I believe it will give me more peace.

    • Moonbeam on April 24, 2020 at 9:15 am

      I think of it this way. You spoke the truth. It fell on the ears of fools and evil hearted people. You did your duty. We’ll done!,

      You are only responsible for your actions, not anyone elses. They were conned by Satan. It happens all the time. It would seem that God will give you new truth believing friends. Look for them, the Lord knows you need them and may send them in unexpected ways.

      I have been humbled by my non- believing, very liberal neighbors who have “had my back” and have believed me from the start. We couldn’t be more different in our spiritual beliefs, yet they have been more loving than any member of our church fellowship! I say this to look for God sends to give you messages of love, they may even come from outside the church. Remember God controls everything so he is crafting for you a pile of learning and love. The things he has done for me during my healing has left me gob smacked!!

  10. Barbara B on April 25, 2020 at 10:35 pm

    Write a letter to each person who betrayed you, then burn all the letters and move on (don’t mail the letters!). Find another church. Grieve your losses but relish your newfound freedom. Do things you couldn’t do before like go back to school or paint all the walls pink. In about three years that wolf will bite the people who currently support him and they will learn the hard way they should have obeyed the Word by listening to both sides of the story before taking sides. These are all things that happened to me in my previous job at a Christian ministry. The wolf was a coworker who got me fired. I have a much better job now with a different ministry plus a college degree and am working on a masters. God turned everything evil for my GOOD! He will do the same for everyone on this blog!

    • JoAnn on April 26, 2020 at 4:52 pm

      Words of truth and wisdom, Barbara. Thanks for sharing. The story of Joseph in the Ole Testament is a good example of what you have experienced. Max Lucado wrote a book called “You’ll get through this.” He uses the story of Joseph to encourage all of us who are in difficult situations to pass through, because what some people mean for evil, God means for good.

  11. Marilyn on April 28, 2020 at 1:50 pm

    Thank you for sharing Leslie this is an incredible truth I needed to be reminded with this covered 19 in the middle of a destructive relationship moving forward and finding support can be the hardest thing we cannot trust everything our mind tells us as we are just getting tools to renew our mind and move forward thank you and maybe trust in the Lord and thank you for your teaching again it is invaluable thank you thank you 🙏 ❤️

  12. Cheryl on April 29, 2020 at 9:43 pm

    I want to encourage those like me who remained in a marriage with a covert narcissist for 30 years. What I have found is that I stayed for so long because I was co-dependent. I was too close to the situation to see the unhealthy behaviors until the Lord revealed them to me. I have been in pursuit of healing and growing healthy in my thinking. I am learning to have zero tolerance for abusive behavior of any kind. It is easy to focus on what he has done (and there has been much) but I am choosing to focus on how I can be different. I am finding my voice again; I am discovering new things and old things that I love; I am growing deeper in my faith in God. I pray that Truth will shine like a beacon of hope for us all.

  13. FREE AT LAST on May 6, 2020 at 1:53 pm

    I ache for the writer of the question and those who have responded. There’s way too many of us!!! My husband pastored for over 25 years. We’ve been married almost 20 years. I got a child protective order a year ago when we separated. I had one pastor tell me I was wrong in not working through the church for reconciliation. His teacher wife had interviewed my kids and my teenage daughter was shocked that they minimized the abuse. This pastor even saw my letter I wrote to the judge and insisted that I didn’t use the word “punched” (which I used 3 times) and that punching and hitting were different. He tried to intimidate me with his overpowering demeanor to try to convince me I was unstable. Another pastor who has come alongside my husband, still believes my husband who insists that he has done nothing to warrant a protective order. This pastor minimizes the fact the my teenage son requested to not visit his dad unsupervised. I wasted lots of energy trying to get my voice and my kids’ voices to be heard by church folks and I ended up being considered more and more unstable and controlling. It was freeing to create boundaries with Christians who refused to see the truth and to move on. Although I’ve created strong boundaries, I am committed to reconciliation. Please consider reading books by Laurie Goddu on her husbands’ journey to integration and healing from severe DID. Thankfully, my husband’s and my present counselors see the truth and have proceeded wisely. I’ve made a list of over 25 pastors, counselor and mature Christians who I’ve appealed to for help throughout my marriage. Each of them caused me great pain and confusion, Thankfully, there finally are a few who believe me and have provided support. On the most part, the church is blind. My prayer is that my children will one day be believed as they tell their story and become world changers by God’s grace. Please pray for their journey to wellness since we are presently in a very intense season. Check out the powerful You Tube song The God Who Sees. Hagar has been my theme through this journey and God keeps reminding me that He sees, He knows, and He cares and has a Divine purpose for my pain and the pain of others like me. Keep pressing into the God who cherishes you.

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