of J.B. TOLS.
I am an interior designer, photographer, blogger, advocate, adventurer, and mom to five boys. I love advocating for others and exploring new places--both near and far.

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November 26, 2021

Yesterday was Thanksgiving.

The blog posts started ‘hitting the presses’ on managing family dysfunction and the memes were hilariously spreading over social media on how to survive and combat the family dysfunction blues.

I had a family member send out a group text with a list of ways to avoid family arguments on Thanksgiving. It was no surprise to me that I could feel the tension and read the sheepishly veiled innuendos (that was a bit redundant, I know) from this particular family member; it was clear that they were coming into the holiday expecting and preparing for a few stressful exchanges. They even brought a teddy bear that sat in the middle of the table all night. A teddy bear??? Yep. The bear was supposed to be an inanimate object that we could project all of our dysfunction upon when needed.

So, I wasn’t surprised when this family member jumped on board an innocuous exchange between my husband and I, energetically coming to his aid. It really kind of pissed me off, to be quite honest. My relationship with this particular family member has been strained for several months for issues relating to church life (etc). So, I really wanted to very assertively say, ‘mind your own business’.

Despite my initial feelings, I chose to keep my words to myself, but it has been eating at me ever since that night. It has brought out strong feelings that I have concerning family members and the church–which is supposed to be as much like family as family–and how they re-victimize victims through their pseudo-counseling–and in relationship to the church–their pseudo-spiritual counseling.

Let me take you on a little walk. This walk will have no direct starting point and may even seem a bit direction-less to start, but I promise we will get to our destination with a commitment on both of our parts.

I had an emotional break of cataclysmic proportions a handful of months ago; and, that ain’t no joke!

I had so many things hitting me at once:

  • still processing the suicide of my stepson and processing the grief of those around me and processing the way that his death impacted relationships
  • my son getting married and death of dreams and relationships and a lot of drama around his wedding and being betrayed by “christian” friends and the church (yep, it was all one huge package of ick)
  • receiving a large sum of money and finding out that the money was lost within months of receiving it
  • death of so many dreams. I could expound on that, but I would surely bore you. I only have enough energy to be general.
  • my children’s father almost died.
  • Helped my children and their father get to the hospital and was then accused of having an affair with my ex by my current husband.
  • experiencing peri-menopausal depression
  • having a non-supportive spouse with major insecurities and dysfunction (see adultery accusation above)

There were so many things that I could continue to add to the list, but I am getting bored by my own hopeless little life. So, I am going to stop there and just point you in the direction of my Instagram account under the same name as this website. You will find an emotional video outlining it all there.

Most important stop on this walk is this: I had a decision to make I knew that I was the only one going to get myself out of bed and functioning like a healthy adult. I knew that I had to make some major changes, FOR MYSELF.

Changes that I was making to stop being victimized and pull myself from depression:

  1. I started to get outside, in nature, to walk every single day.
  2. I had the love of my dog to help me when I was feeling super low.
  3. Ordered from a food service so that I didn’t have guilt around not being able to meal plan.
  4. Took a Trauma Course (I recommend anything from Matthias J. Barker)
  5. I decided to close my photography studio and bring it back into my home so that I could consolidate my offices.

There are more points, but we are going to stop with this one; this is the important one:

I decided to end my studio lease and move my studio into my home.

If you don’t know, I have an interior design/interior architecture degree and a photography degree. I do my interior design from home and I did my photography from a studio in town. Having my professional life spread over two locations was becoming waaaaaay too overwhelming for me. I kid you not, it was causing me to have panic attacks. The thought of consolidating my workspaces was like an enormous weight off of my shoulders.

And, quick backstory: my husband is a home builder and I was ready to file for divorce. Like, SUPER READY.

So, he offered to do the necessary remodeling at our home to help me consolidate my professional life (with the caveat, of course, that he would only do labor and would not pay a dime for any of the materials).

It was a major boost for our relationship.

While his comment about not helping to pay for anything was a little trigger (since we do not share finances and he is the person who lost said large sum of money (see bullet points above) and is typically setting us back financially) I let it slide and took the kind gesture as just that–kind.

We talked it out and I told him what my constraints were. Since I was paying for it all, I had to be out of my studio by a certain date and had to have the remodel done by a certain date to start making money in the new studio.

We agreed on a date. The remodel would be completed by November 1st.

Then, it was agreed that all of the construction would be done by November 1st, except for one book shelf.

Then, October 31st came and the remodeling was nowhere close to being completed and I had to be moved out of my studio.

I moved my studio into my home over October 31st and November 1st despite the remodel being far from done; but, the stress of being out from under all of that overhead was off of my shoulders….and, unfortunately off of my husbands shoulders, too.

And, the construction stopped.

And, this is an highly important and essential little stop/break on our walk. We need to sit here and just savor this piece of information for a minute because here is the thing: this is how our life goes. When I first moved into my studio, many years ago, I added a laminate floor in my office to cover some really nasty carpet. He helped me install the floor–for which I was so very grateful– but, the floor (in an office the size of a small laundry room) never was completed. It remained unfinished until we ripped it up to lay new flooring down throughout the studio, two years ago.

And, that was never completed!

A year after we installed the flooring, I had to pitch a huge tantrum, vomiting anger all over the place with “you never finish anything” in abundance to get him to finally come down to get it completed.

Let us take note: just before I married him, I had a friend say, “he is a good builder, but people have to hire other people to come in and finish his jobs”.

Okay? Point being: This is a problem.

So, I have this new construction on my credit card and I have to start bringing in clients to pay for the darn thing and he has quit on me–again!

Am I happy about it? Of course not. Have I started to vomit? Not even close! I really haven’t said much about it at all at that point.

But, my husband has this thing where he creates situations where he will consequently be placed in the victim role because he finds validation and acceptance in this victim role. It is a psychological state/behavior. Read about it. I follow Matthias Barker (psychotherapist) and he has talked about this behavior before. It is very eye-opening.

When I pressed my husband about getting the job done, he went on this whine/rant about how I never say anything nice about him and I haven’t even talked nicely about all of the work that he has done to help me and all I keep harping on is the fact that the job isn’t done. (Please go to my Instagram and watch all of the stories under my two studio remodel tabs to see all of the wonderful praises I made on my husbands behalf. Bam! False! Fake News!)

**This is a great article to read if you endure this kind of gaslighting on Acting Innocent and playing dumb.

But, he cannot differentiate between my being upset that the job isn’t done from my being upset by the fact that the job wasn’t done when it was promised and still isn’t done so that I can conduct business in it. Very different situations!

Anyway, we are at Thanksgiving now (we are halfway through our walk). So, go there with me…Family all sitting around…tummies full…dysfunction Teddy sitting in the center of the room.

And, my new sweet niece-in-law says that she would like to walk next door to see my new studio.

My husband is laying down on a couch, sulking. I was sure that his ears perked up at the request.

And, I said: “but, it isn’t finished”.

My NIL said: “that’s okay”

My husband said: “it looks really good” (make sure that you hear that in a sulking voice)

And, then the relative in question starts in…and this is what I would like for us to take a deep dive look into.

This relative starts to offer my husband a bunch of excuses:

  • “Well, I bet it is hard to get it done when you work all day”
  • “I bet you are tired when you get home from working all day”
  • “You can only do what you can do”
  • on and on and on

Then there was silence while my husband was basking in his victimhood. He had them right where he wanted them.

And, I simply responded with:

“but, it is my place of employment and I have to have it completed so that I can work”.

And, this is what infuriates me about this:

  1. this relative was being passive aggressive, to begin with. They were projecting their own tension around our relationship onto my husband and I’s situation
  2. It is NOT that the project isn’t done that really upsets me; I am use to my husband not completing projects. It is that it was not done when he agreed and promised and finished so that I could start scheduling clients. I was counting on him following through for my business. If I had known that the job would not have been completed I would have kept my lease longer. I am not sure what I would do about the mounting credit card bill, but I suppose I would do what I am doing now–just keep making the minimum monthly payments.
  3. And, I get tired of having to take on the “bad guy” role to get things accomplished. Things start out wonder–and for all that gets accomplished in the beginning–I am super grateful; but, what is supposed to be wonderful, quickly turns ugly because it takes a lot of fighting to get things completed.

Characteristics of Re-victimizing

How is this re-victimizing, you may wonder?

This is a simple example and I am going to offer more dangerous examples that relate to the church (or institutions of power), but this is what I see in this situation.

I have a right to be upset. And, it is devaluing my experience by excusing away the offense of the offending party and not distributing responsibility for the problem at hand.

My husband has a major issue with starting and not completing projects, to begin with; Not, innocent little personality flaw “doesn’t finish pet projects”, but “losing $40,000+ on jobs” kind of issues. This is one major area that is killing our relationship; The financial instability is strangling the life out of our marriage!

And, I am on my own to make my own money and I am reliant upon this space being finished so that I can earn an income.

I don’t have the writing savvy to probably do this justice. So, Let me give you an example of comments that would have been “victim supportive”.

  • “It isn’t finished? Was it supposed to be finished by a particular date?”
  • “It must be very stressful to work in an unfinished space.”
  • “It must be stressful needing to work to make a living, but not having your workspace completed to do so”
  • “It must be disappointing to be promised that it would be done by a particular date and then for it to not be completed”
  • “It must be hard to come home and work on projects after working all day, but if it was promised by a certain date so that Jennie can make a living, then it should be completed, no matter what. That is the honest thing to do.”
  • “Did you agree to do the job? If so, I understand that you may get tired in the evenings or on the weekends, but you would have known that when you agreed to do the project, right?”
  • “It must be hard to bring clients into an unfinished space when you were counting on it being finished”.

Or, really, just not making any comments at all would have been 100% better than how it went.

Because, here is the thing: Especially for someone who has already been in a long term abusive marriage, we have to quit being told that our feelings, our timelines, our priorities don’t matter and that the person making promises, lying or making accusations about us are the only ones that matter.

This relative was, essentially, saying:

Even though you made her a promise; even though she is being inconvenienced; even though she cannot make a living; even though she is functioning in a space that is incomplete and not professional right now, how you feel when you come home from work is more important than having integrity, being honest with Jennie, following through on your word or validating what is important to Jennie. Jennie should feel bad for pressuring you to work on weekends or after a long day at work.

Right? Isn’t that what she was saying? Could it be anything else?

Abused people have already been conditioned to believe that we should feel guilt and shame for our feelings and our needs; our feelings and our priorities didn’t matter and still don’t matter. To avoid future “red flaggers”, we have to be re-taught that our feelings do matter and things that are important to us DO hold value; and, that we deserve to be interacted with with integrity.

Another Possible Reason For Why People Make Excuses For Bad Behavior:

Someone with co-dependent tendencies is more willing to make excuses for others than someone self-assured. This person is also probably plagued with dysfunctional communication, concerned about pleasing others, and afraid of being rejected or abandoned. (https://www.powerofpositivity.com/make-excuses-reasons-enable-loved-ones/)

Victims and the Church

I hate to say it, but this happened to me more times than I could count in church.

The time that sits as the most offensive in my memory (there were so many, I am not sure why this one stands out the most) was a situation when I got a phone call from one of the elders from our church, at the time. I had decided that I was going to file for divorce from my husband. We had been together for over thirteen years and he had been abusive the entire time.

Everyone knew it. It wasn’t a secret and no one was doing anything about it or getting involved.

But, this elder called to tell me that I was walking into sin by divorcing my husband, that God could repair my marriage and that it was God’s will that I reconcile with my husband.

It just clicked and snapped inside of me–both–all at once!

I thought, the burden of keeping this marriage together is NOT on me. I am NOT the one that you should be shaming!!

The church had not been walking with me through the abuse, I was not going to allow them to call me and shame me into calling off the divorce, either.

I was mortified. Absolutely mortified.

I had a man on the other end of the phone line, literally, telling me that I was the one in jeopardy of walking into sin for getting out of an abusive marriage when not one of the men in the church cared about who I was when my husband was abusing me. No one from that church told my husband that he was sinning by abusing his wife!

I was like, “nope! You are not going to re-victimize me!”. I told the fellow to not call me ever again!

This happens so much in the church. There are two sins that really get acknowledged: adultery and divorce.

I know a man who brags about “taking his wife before the church” when she was caught in an affair. She was stripped of her duties at the church and told that she had to break off the affair and be accountable to church members to make sure that she stayed away from the fellow.

The husband was the grand victim.

He had women boo-hoo’ing all over him: Oh, you poor thing. How could she do this to you? And, the other men could wife bash with him.

I do not know of one person–myself included (I, unfortunately was one of those women who felt sorry for the husband)–who said to the wife, what happened?

And, then listened.

No one did that.

My perspective on adultery has changed a lot. You can read about my post on adultery and affairs at: I NEVER UNDERSTOOD WHY WOMEN HAD AFFAIRS UNTIL I MARRIED MY HUSBAND

Someone needs to remind the church that misogyny is no longer trending.

One of my feelings about adultery is that if the church got involved with spouses doing the little things well, righteously and with honesty and integrity, you woudn’t really have to deal with the big shameful things so much.

And, if you have a man addicted to porn, he is as big of an adulterer as the other. It might serve the church better to go to him and hold him accountable for opening doors that put his wife into compromised situations. But, you would have to get through a lot of thick misogyny before being able to do that! Someone needs to remind the church that misogyny is no longer trending!

And, the church needs to acknowledge their biases, too. Oh, brother…they got ’em! The church will cover a lot of sin up for their staff and the cliques will stick together! Gotta keep up appearances and attendance. This can cross into friendship relationships and the like. This type of victimization doesn’t always function within the confines of romantic relationships.

Or, if your church has gone through a nasty split, sometimes they cover up sickness in the church for fear of being humiliated. A split church wants to give off the sense that they were “the ones in the right” and that they are the “more spiritually blessed” church.

My mom keeps giving me the riot act, nagging me about how I need to get back in church and I am very firm about the fact that the modern day church is as sick or more sick than the world, anymore!

The people with whom we are the most vulnerable: our family and our church family have got to start doing better and being better about not making excuses for or even passively condoning unhealthy behavior of people victimizing others. You don’t know who is the aggressor or not? Well, then start asking some better questions and learn to practice discovery before casting judgements onto others! Abused people have already been conditioned to believe that we should feel guilt and shame for our feelings and our needs; our feelings and our priorities didn’t matter and still don’t matter. To avoid future “red flaggers”, we have to be re-taught that our feelings do matter and things that are important to us DO hold value; and, that we deserve to be interacted with with integrity.

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STOP RE-VICTIMIZING VICTIMS: Family and Church, listen up!


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