Dealing with Emotional Abuse with Kate Anthony



Jessica: Are you struggling in an emotionally abusive relationship? Do you wonder if you can make it work or fear trying to get out, or even know if what you’re dealing with is considered emotional abuse? These are the things we’re talking about in today’s episode of Divorce etc… with one of our MFGs. That’s most favorite guests. She has a new book out called The D Word. We’re the exEXPERTS, Jessica and T.H. We focus on helping you navigate your divorce and successfully moving on with your life. Please follow us on all social media at exEXPERTS and check out for tons of free divorce related resources. Let’s bring in today’s guest.  

T.H.: Hey, everybody, it’s T.H. here, and we are super excited always to have Kate Anthony on our show. She is back because she is a new author of the book The D Word: Making the Ultimate Decision about Your Marriage. She’s also the host of the critically acclaimed New York Times recommended podcast, The Divorce Survival Guide. By the way, my favorite episode is It’s Not Your Fucking Job. I believe that’s episode either 52 or 58. But it’s in the 50s. And she’s the creator of the groundbreaking online coaching program, Should I Stay or Should I Go? Kate is amazing, certified as a domestic violence advocate, co-parenting specialist, a high conflict divorce coach, and she is our friend, and she is here today. Welcome to Divorce etc…

Kate: I’m so happy to be here. Thank you so much, you guys. I love you.

Jessica: We love you. And everyone who listens to you today is going to love you. But we’re talking about a pretty sensitive topic, which is really your area of expertise, your specialty. But where to even start? I mean, I feel for people who are listening, they may be in a relationship where they’re like, “My spouse is an asshole. They treat me like shit.” But people have different definitions in their head of what abuse looks like. And so can you give us like, emotional abuse, what is it so that people can understand if that’s actually what they’re dealing with?  

Kate: Well, I want to say one thing. If you’re in a relationship with someone who treats you like shit, I don’t care if it’s abuse or not. I think that is sometimes what people do, right? They get into the minutiae of, well, is it abuse? Does it qualify? Is it bad enough?

T.H.: Does it matter?

Kate: Does it matter? Right, it doesn’t matter what the diagnosis is, if they’re a narcissist, if they’re an abuser. Most victims of domestic violence, their brains are so scrambled by the gaslighting. Gaslighting is one of the main tactics of an emotional abuser. Really, emotional abuse, coercive control underpins all forms of abuse. I think emotional abuse is a form of coercive control. Emotional abuse is when they’re really abusing your emotions, abusing your mind, and gaslighting is the primary tactic. Now it’s important to understand that gaslighting is not lying. People lie all the time in relationships. That’s not okay, and it’s not healthy. It is lying with the purpose of trying to make you second guess your own experience of reality. Over time, it causes you to actually second guess not just your experience of reality, but your reality. Because if you’re constantly being told that what you’re experiencing, what you remember, what conversation you had, and you’re constantly being told that you’re wrong and that never happened, or “Gosh, that didn’t happen the way that you said it happened. That’s so weird that you would remember it that way,” and you’re like, “Oh my god, that’s so weird. I totally remember it the other way.” Or you’re like, “No, that’s not true,” and you’re begging them, “Please, I don’t understand. Why would you think that? Why would you tell me that when that’s not?” And then they’re like, “Wow, you’re really crazy. What’s wrong with you?”  

T.H.: That’s just what I was going to say. Because then you start to think you are crazy. What is wrong with me?

Kate: Yeah.

Jessica: What is coercive control then?

Kate: Yeah, coercive control is sort of a systematic power play of where someone is trying to gain power over you and control you coercively. Unfortunately, it’s kind of vague and nebulous. I don’t think it’s very distinct from emotional abuse, but all abuse is about power and control.

Jessica: Right, trying to manipulate you.

Kate: Right, but really, more importantly, it’s trying to control you. They’re trying to control your mind, they’re trying to control your money, they’re trying to control your physical space, have absolute power and control over you. In any abusive relationship, I think that one of the reasons that coercive control is becoming more and more talked about is because it’s now been codified in, I think, five states. Massachusetts, it passed one hurdle last week, and it’s going on to the state legislature. We’re passing legislation against coercive control. It is not criminalized, but it is codified in the state constitutions—I’m not quite sure—as a form of domestic violence.

T.H.: So it’s got to be hard to prove though?

Kate: Absolutely.

T.H.: I mean, how do you even prove it? Because now you have someone who’s a victim trying to prove it, but they’re proving that the victim’s crazy. How is what you’re even saying legit? How’s anyone going to believe you when you don’t believe you? 

Kate: They’re not, because the problem is that nobody in the family court system is required to be educated on any of this. Listen, most people don’t have to go to court to prove they’re being coercively controlled. But I think with other forms of abuse in the fray, financial abuse, you can hopefully prove. Physical abuse, you can hopefully prove. I hate to say it, right? It’s terrible that it would have to come to such horrible things. But this is where we’re at, and we have a lot of work to do. We’re sort of meandering all over the place. Well, I am. I am meandering.

Jessica: That’s how we do things here at Divorce etc…

Kate: We do. But emotional abuse, the bigger picture with that is the gaslighting. It’s the power and control. It very often begins with isolation, isolating you from your family, from your friends: “I just want to spend time with you.” “I miss you.” “Don’t go out with your family tonight because I miss you.” “I just want to be with you, just you and me.” And so there’s this intoxicating you and me against the world kind of thing. There are really, really, really highs and then devastating lows. In the lows, there’s decimation, like emotional decimation. Then there’s the cycle of abuse that goes over and over and over again, where they hurt you, they say something, they do something that’s just absolutely horrible and makes you feel like you want to die. Then they can’t believe that they’ve done something like that to you. There’s self-flagellation, and they love you, and you’re the best thing in the world. Maybe there are flowers, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Then you come back into the cycle, and this is what creates the trauma bond, because at that point, at the high, you are getting this massive hit of dopamine. All you ever want to do is return to the high. You know it’s there. You’ve had it. You’ve had it so often, the highest of highs. So you know if you just get back to that, each time we think we can make it stay. We can make it stay.

T.H.: Right.

Jessica: Right.

T.H.: Right. And it’s a slow process. It takes time to really, basically, brainwash somebody. But the other thing that I think is really important about understanding emotional abuse is really for the recovery.

Kate: Yes.

T.H.: I mean, as Jessica and I speak to more and more people, I’m learning so much about my marriage that I didn’t know. If I don’t put a label on it, does it really matter? But at least I know I’m not alone. That’s what putting the label on it makes me feel like—

Kate: And that you’re not crazy.

T.H.: —you’re not alone because there’s a word for this. There are enough of us that they created a word for it. Then really being able to be in healthy relationship with yourself, with your friends, with your parents, and with somebody else, I think you really need to know. Yes, there was a ton of gaslighting going on in my relationship. I don’t even think he knew what he was doing, but he was doing pretty damn well. I needed to figure all that out so that that can’t happen to me again. Maybe it’s not to say it because you’re in a marriage and that’s a reason to get out because of that term. But that’s your path to recovery.

Kate: I actually have a whole episode on this, T.H. And I think it’s so important that you bring it up, because for me, owning the word victim was really powerful.

T.H.: Yeah.

Kate: Because it allowed me to understand what happened to me and why I felt all the ways that I did. When I finally got to say, “I am a victim,”—and listen, if you want to call yourself a victim, a survivor, a thriver, or whatever the hell you want to call yourself, I don’t care. But for me, and I think what you’re speaking to, T.H., is that when I was able to own my victimhood, that was what began to set me free.

T.H.: 100%.

Jessica: That’s an interesting thing, though, because I feel like there are a lot of women out there who don’t want to identify as a victim. That’s not how they want to characterize themselves. They want to feel and be a woman of strength and someone who has the fortitude to be able to move through it. I know you’re saying you can call yourself whatever you want. But somewhere deep inside, they have to acknowledge that.

Kate: Yeah, and I think that what you said also is really important, Jess, that they’re saying they want to see themselves as strong and powerful and amazing. And you are. You are. That’s why they target you. Because they really like the strong and powerful ones for, I think, two almost distinct reasons. One is that narcissists in particular attach themselves to people that they want to be like, that reflect well on them. Of course they chose you, because you’re amazing. Then also, it’s more fun to cut you down, right? I think it’s really important to understand that first of all, these two things, they don’t negate themselves. These two things can coexist. I’m a strong badass woman. Look at the three of us. All three of us have been victims.

Jessica: Yeah.

Kate: A lot of people out there in the world think that we’re pretty great badass women, right? I mean, I hope so.

Jessica: Fuck yeah we are.

T.H.: We are. But really, I mean, I think identifying yourself, whether you call it a victim or whatever, that is the number one step of strength.

Kate: Yes, absolutely.

Jessica: Acknowledging the problem.

Kate: But also, here’s the other thing that it does, is that it lets you off the hook. Because so many women, and I know you guys are probably—

Jessica: Yeah, they’re blaming themselves.

Kate: —“Well, what’s wrong with me? What did I miss? How come I didn’t see it? Why is he treating me like this? He loves me. Why? Why? Why? I don’t understand. I don’t understand.” And as soon as you go, “I’m a victim,” it kind of lets you off the hook.

Jessica: Yeah, that’s a really good point. That’s a really good point.

T.H.: We’re going to pause quick here for a moment. Because we know it’s hard to get honest and reliable information about your divorce and how to move on from it, so we’ve done the work for you. As the exEXPERTS, we get questions every day from people looking for a trustworthy resource to support them through this difficult time. From legal, money, kids, your self care, and all of the other stuff, we cover it all at and here on our Divorce etc… podcast. Be sure to subscribe to our weekly newsletter also to hear directly from us as we educate you on how to navigate your way through divorce and get what you need and have what you want. Just visit We’ve lived it, so we get it.

Jessica: Kate, with all of this knowledge and information and research that you’ve done, and experience in all of this, take us now to the book, The D Word. Wait, you first have to talk about the fact that you have a fake cover.

Kate: Okay, so we’re doing a fake cover contest. Because look, it’s called The D Word: Making the Ultimate Decision about Your Marriage, and a lot of people can’t buy this book and have it sitting on their nightstand. The people who most need it can’t actually like, you know…

T.H.: And even download it on your Kindle. You can’t have that title.

Kate: No, right, unless you have a separate Amazon account. I really want to caution women that unless you have a separate Amazon account, do not buy this on Audible, do not buy it on Kindle, and do not buy it from Amazon. I actually have on my website a list of ways that you can buy this book safely from other booksellers and just other ways that you may want to finagle it, because that’s going to be really important.

Jessica: Yeah.

T.H.: Yeah.

Kate: But as part of this, we did this fake cover contest where we had people submit names of books that your husband would never pick up in his life. Then we narrowed them down to four—so many menopause and period submissions. One of my one of my personal favorites was Instruction Manual, just a book called Instruction Manual. 

Jessica: It should be called The Menopause Instruction Manual.

Kate: That’s right. And so then we put it to a vote and had a final version made. And so it’s super fun. You can get that on my website. But also, there are other ways. There are ways. I know women who have them stashed in their car. There are little covers that you can buy on Amazon that—

Jessica: Sure. Cover your cover.

Kate: —you know how people put their bibles in? They have those bible covers. I hope this will become your bible.

Jessica: So tell us about it. I mean—chapters are so relatable. The book is meaty.

T.H.: Well, and it’s easy to navigate. I mean, look, I have to be honest; I have received so many books on divorce from all of our exEXPERTS.

Kate: Me too.

T.H.: “Why don’t you just read my book? I’ve got a book for you. Do you want to read a book?” Sure, I want to read a book. But literally reading the beginning of Kate’s book, the introduction, I’m like, I think I might actually want to read this.

Jessica: You’re right.

T.H.: No offense to all of you who have sent me books. They are all great.

Jessica: It draws you in.

T.H.: This story about Kate, she’s being totally vulnerable with herself and her personal experience to tell you what you don’t know.

Jessica: And you can feel it. You’re there. It’s the stages that you’re presumably going through, even if you don’t necessarily have to start at chapter one. The chapters are clearly labeled. You can see where you need to go in the book. What made you want to write a second book?

Kate: Well, this is my first book.

T.H.: This is her first book.

Jessica: Oh, I think I thought—okay. Okay. Okay.

Kate: No, this is my first book. What would make me write a second book? I don’t know. We’ll see how this one does. But I think I wanted to write this because I had enough people nagging me about it, first of all, that I was like, “Fine, I’ll do it.” Then it was also my son. He was like, “Mom, when are you going to write your book? When are you going to write your book?” You don’t look at your kid and not step into the person that they clearly see you as, you know?

T.H.: Right. That’s so nice. I love that.

Kate: Yeah.

Jessica: So take us through it. What are people learning from the book?  

Kate: Oh my gosh, so the first chapter is: Is It Them or Is It Me? Because that’s always like, ah, am I am I the crazy one? Is there something wrong with me? The first part is really when you’re trying to make this decision. The first part is all about self. Because we’re putting the focus on the other person: what they’re doing, who they are, and all of that. When we’ve been in, certainly, abusive relationships, but even in an unhealthy, unhappy, whatever marriage for as long as many of us are, we just lose our sense of self. I don’t know how you make a major decision for yourself in your life without having a solid sense of your capital S: self. Who am I? So really, the first part of the book takes you through that. Then of course, I get on my feminist soapbox, and I talk about why women are so unhappy in their marriages today.

Jessica: It’s like why women are so unhappy, but why marriage benefits men.

Kate: Yes, right, why are women so unhappy in their marriages, and how marriage exhausts women and benefits men.

T.H.: Benefits men.

Kate: Yep. Yep. So I go off on that—

Jessica: Can you give us a sneak peek on that?

Kate: Sure.

Jessica: Look, if you had to sum up the message of that chapter of the book, like how it exhausts women and how it benefits men, I think that some people, particularly men, would be like, “What do you mean? And why is it only benefiting me?” 

Kate: Right. It’s for the same reason that T.H. loves my Not Your Fucking Job episode, because we’re doing all the work.

T.H.: I do. I love it.

Kate: We’re. Doing. All. The. Work.

Jessica: Yeah.

Kate: And they benefit from it.

T.H.: Yeah.

Kate: Right? Even with two working partners, working parents, when it comes to domestic labor, women do exponentially more than men do. Then there’s like, “Oh, but you should have asked.” Now I’m the project manager, right? I don’t want to have to ask. Do I need to tell you that we’re out of toilet paper? Do I need to ask you to go to the grocery store? Do I need to make a honey do list to tell you that we are out of toilet paper?

Jessica: Right.

T.H.: Yeah.

Kate: Really? Right, so there’s all of that.

T.H.: I actually like the next one: But I Love Him.

Kate: But I Love Him.

Jessica: It’s hard. It’s hard.

T.H.: I heard it on some podcast someone was saying—I tried to tell Jessica this, and I messed it up a little bit. But it was like you’re trying to explain the situation and it’s so negative. Then you end it with “But I love him.” It’s like, wait a second, did you hear what he just said?

Kate: Right. Well, yeah, and I also get all the time like, “But he’s a really good guy.”

T.H.: Yeah.

Jessica: Yeah, but just not in any of the ways you need.

T.H.: That’s how I ended the last one.

Kate: Like, is he?

Jessica: Right.

Kate: I hear all the time, “He’s really abusive to me, but he’s really great dad.”

T.H.: Ugh.

Kate: No the fuck he’s not.

T.H.: How is that a great dad?

Jessica: Right, he’s demonstrating and showing your kids what a bad relationship is supposed to look like. Don’t we want all of our kids to be shown examples of loving, respectful relationships? For everyone out there listening to that, take that in for a minute, because at the end of the day, look, it’s better for them to be a good dad than a terrible dad. But if they’re not treating you the way that you deserve to be treated, they’re not a good dad.

T.H.: It’s at the expense of another person.

Kate: Right, and if you’re destabilizing the foundation of the family, which is the relationship between mom and dad, then you’re not. I’m sorry.

Jessica: Would you say that the book is likely for people who have that nagging feeling inside where they already know the answer?

Kate: Listen, you’re not going to pick this book up at Barnes and Noble if you’re in a really happy marriage.

Jessica: No, that’s not what I’m saying. But I think it’s fair to say that there are people in relationships, and even the people that were in your group therapy group, there are some people who their problems are not to the magnitude where you’re like, “I can’t live like this anymore.” Then there are people who really it’s like, “This is an unhealthy relationship.” I feel the people who genuinely love each other but have their typical normal socially acceptable disagreements or whatever are not likely the people to pick up your book. The people who pick up your book are likely the people that are going down the road to divorce.

Kate: Yes.

Jessica: I’m only bringing this up because T.H. and I talk a lot. There are people who are trolls online who are berating us for advocating for divorce. We’re always like, we’re not advocating. But if this is the path you have to take—

T.H.: If this is where you are.

Jessica: —we want to best educate you so that you’re in a situation to be able to do it the right way for yourself and your family. I feel like that’s the book.

T.H.: I want to also outline, because you wrote it in here, “This book is for the woman who wants to know if the grass really is greener on the other side. She wants to know how she ended up in a marriage that makes her this unhappy in the first place, and how to avoid doing it again. Or she wants to know that if she leaves, she’s not going to screw up her kids, and that shall be okay in the end.” That’s who this book is for, and Kate covers all of the particulars and all of the things you have to think about. Nobody has your answers. Nobody does. But what we, the three of us, all our purpose is to educate you so you can make educated, smart decisions that you can live with, and walk away, or stay, or do whatever you do without any guilt, without questioning yourself. And 100%, if you think you are going crazy, then this is something you really need to stop and look at. I remember when I got the phone call that my ex was having this long term affair and engaged and all that shit. The first thing I said after I told her she saved my life was “Holy shit. I’m not crazy.”

Kate: “I’m not crazy.” That’s right.

T.H.: I can’t even explain the revelation of that to people who are not in that position. I thought I was losing my mind. Who am I? What the hell is going on here? But I can’t even stop it. It’s like a roller coaster that I don’t know how to get off of. Just having that huge relief that day, that’s goes down as one as the greatest days of my life: May 8th 2008, a Thursday, at the JCC, 2:20 in the afternoon. I know it all because it was like that’s the first day I could see again. And so these things, everybody, I mean, we can go into all of the chapters. We can do an Instagram live around this. Kate is fully accessible, and you have to follow her on social and all of the things. You can find her all over the exEXPERTS website. But it’s hard to make decisions when you don’t know what you don’t know. You literally laid it out.

Kate: I appreciate what you said about you need the education. To me, that is what I wanted this book to be. I can’t give you the answer, but I can certainly educate you about all the places to look within yourself, within your relationship, and within society for the answers. That’s the education that I have attempted to provide in this book.

T.H.: No, you definitely provided it.

Jessica: Yeah.

Kate: Then I give you like, okay, how does the divorce even work? Because people are like, “Well, I don’t know. Should I do this? Wait, hold on, what are the things?” Right, you want to know before you start what it even means.

Jessica: Right.

T.H.: Yeah.

Kate: I hope I’ve done that.

Jessica: We think you have.

T.H.: I think you know you have done it and you’re being humble. But I think you know you have done it or you would not have published it and put it out to the world. 

Kate: Yeah.

Jessica: That’s true.

T.H.: Give yourself the applause that you deserve. It’s a huge accomplishment. It is. 

Jessica: No, it is. It is. We appreciate it because we have such a similar motivation as you do. Our whole thing, here at exEXPERTS, here at the Divorce etc… podcast is, how can we help people who, like T.H. said, don’t know what they don’t know. And how can we give them the strength and the information to be able to move forward with it. So like T.H. said, we’ll be doing more around the book, Instagram Live, and things like that, so that people have even more of an idea, because there’s way too much to do in this one episode.

T.H.: You can’t give it all away. Now you got to go get it.

Jessica: Right, exactly, exactly. But honestly, Kate, thank you on behalf of everybody for what you do. For everyone listening, if you’ve enjoyed this episode of the Divorce etc… podcast with the exEXPERTS today, then can you help a few girls out? Please take a moment to subscribe, rate, and review our Divorce etc… podcast because that actually helps us bump it up on the list on some podcast platforms so more people can find us, and we can help support them as they’re going through divorce and beyond. Check the show notes for more info on Kate, her new book, her program Should I Stay or Should I Go? and more. Of course, share this episode with anyone you know who can benefit from listening, which is probably everyone that you know who’s in a rocky marriage. Have a great day.

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