Part 4: I Was Brainwashed to Believe I Wasn’t Human. Now I’m on a Mission Against that Cult by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir

Disclaimer/Trigger Warning: This post includes content about rape, sexual assault, domestic abuse, graphic sexual.

In Part 1 of this story, I introduce a discussion of Johan Galtung’s theory of cultural violence as it relates to my experience as a young woman in an abusive relationship. To recap:

Cultural violence is: “…any aspect of a culture that can be used to legitimize violence in its direct or structural form. Symbolic violence built into a culture does not kill or maim like direct violence or the violence built into the structure. However, it is used to legitimize either or both.”

Cultural violence against women is: Normalization and promotion of pornography, prostitution, degradation, and sexual objectification of females in media, predominantly male language in civic, business, and religious institutions, gender roles and stereotypes, misogynist humor, gaslighting, minimizing or denying any of these forms of violence.

In Part 2, I describe how my abusive ex-boyfriend tortured me for four years based on the premise that my job, as a female, was to appease my male partner’s violent perversions as his subhuman sexual slave. I note, “the entire premise of our relationship was that he, as a man, deserved to be completely gratified sexually by having unlimited access to using and abusing a female body, without any regard whatsoever to her preferences, choice, health, safety, dignity, or humanity. You see, females, in this world, are not human.”

In Part 3, I describe how my twin sister conspired with my older sister and my family to bring me home by drenching me with love. I mention my friend Lisa, who sat me down with two other mutual friends and told me they were worried that I was in an abusive relationship.

I responded, “I know; but I don’t know what to do.”

You see, I had known for years that I was in an abusive relationship. I knew because someone, some saint, put a card in a women’s bathroom somewhere that listed the typical hallmarks of an abusive relationship… and my relationship matched every single line. Whoever puts flyers in bathrooms…. thank you. Thank you.

Lisa responded, “Move in with me. I have plenty of space.”

Of course, I dithered… how could she really mean that? Move in—with her husband and two tiny children? Wreck that I was? Possibly endanger them all? I told her I would think about it.

It did not take long. Lisa was relentless. She continued to offer, and offer, and offer again. “I REALLY WANT YOU TO COME,” she said. “We will have so much fun together,” she said. “It would make me so happy,” she said. “I need a friend myself right now, too, so you’d be doing me a favor,” she said. Lisa is a fairly tiny person. Lisa is a force of nature with a gigantic, powerful heart.

As soon as I truly believed that she honestly meant it, she genuinely wanted me to move in with her, a switch flipped inside me. Knowing there was an actual alternative right in front of me, my nightmare existence became completely intolerable. That day at lab, I said, “Lisa…. I can’t do it. I can’t go home to him. I just can’t.”

Lisa practically did cartwheels. She may actually have jumped up and down. I remember her excitedly repeating, “Yes! Yes! Come home with me tonight!” followed by eager details of the room waiting for me and the fun we would share.

So I did it. I went home that night with Lisa. Living with her for three months is a foggy haze of homemade chocolate chip cookies, nights out clubbing and dancing our heads off, snuggling with her toddlers, and hours and hours of loving, supportive conversations.

Of course, shit-head (my family’s name for my ex) tried hard to get me to go back to him. He called the lab every half hour, suicidal. He wrote long, manipulative emails. I never spoke to him or wrote back. I played a game with those emails: I sent them to my family and friends. Then I sent another copy of the emails, including my (unsent) responses to every line, deconstructing and shredding every inch of his slick manipulations. My friends and family were stunned. When they first read his emails, they would find themselves sympathetic to him, possibly even agreeing a bit. Then when they read my responses, they would realize that I was right about everything… and just how slimy a manipulator he truly was, to be able to twist things so convincingly. It was vindicating, I admit, just how hard they found it to see through his bullshit without my help… after all, it took me years of torture to be able to see through it with perfect clarity. But as shit-head himself used to say, “once your eyes are opened, they can never be closed again.” Ironic, that.

I did eventually spend a few hours with shit-head. Everyone worried that I would actually go back to him. I knew better. I went only to remove his ability to argue that I had never given him a final chance. I let him talk at me and talk at me, gaslighting-mansplaining endlessly about how no man could ever be happy with me, how being a twin had warped my ability to understand normal relationships, etc. I quietly let him dig his own grave even deeper with every word.

I did say one noteworthy thing to him that evening. I mentioned that I had never once, in the course of our four year relationship, had a single orgasm. He angrily accused me of lying, but as I said – when we started dating I had had no idea what an orgasm felt like. I never faked anything; I just performed how he had taught me. I did eventually realize what an orgasm was (and how to give myself one when he wasn’t home) from a random supermarket checkout magazine about 3.5 years into the relationship.

Anyway, I chuckled wryly when I found out that my telling him this news apparently sent him reeling to therapy. Four years of his girlfriend begging, pleading with him not to be cruel, to stop torturing her, to stop driving her to suicidality, none of that merited therapy. But his precious man-card might be in jeopardy? Oh, the horror! Run, run!

I only wish the therapy had done a damned thing to make him less abusive.

…to be continued…


Trelawney Grenfell-Muir  teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. Previously a fellow at the Institute of Culture, Religion, and World Affairs and at the Earhart Foundation, Grenfell-Muir has conducted field research in situations of ongoing conflict in Syria, Lebanon, and Northern Ireland.  Her dissertation explores the methodology, constraints, and effectiveness of clergy peacebuilders in Northern Ireland. She has been an invited speaker in community settings and at MIT, Boston University, Tufts, and Boston College on topics of gender violence, economic injustice, and religious or ethnic conflicts and has also moderated panels on genetic engineering, cloning, and other bioethics issues. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.

Categories: abuse, Feminism, Feminist Awakenings, trauma, Violence Against Women, Women's Voices

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6 replies

  1. I feel like holding my hand up in the Hunger Games symbol of solidarity and respect. You tell your truth, Trelawney. Tell it, and tell it, and tell it, to a world that desperately needs to hear it. ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hurrah!


  3. Hooray for Lisa! When I moved to California, my son and I lived for two months with a woman I loved. I’d met her while I was finishing my dissertation and leading a consciousness-raising group because she’d run clear across the country from her husband. Then she went back to him. He was awful, and he was raising their two sons to be awful (an understatement). I had to move out. Fortunately, she finally caught on–again–to what he was doing. She moved out. I’ve seen few things as horrifying as what that man was doing to my friend and get what you’re writing. Hooray for Lisa, and hooray for you, too!


  4. with support miracles can happen – you are one.


  5. Hooray for getting free and learning what self-love and love can mean in relationships of trust. I so appreciate your sharing, for the sake of all women. My ex-husband became addicted to porn and pressured me hard every day to meet whatever needs he felt had to be satisfied…. and I did not want another divorce. Your post made me laugh out loud about your boyfriend’s shock at the orgasm comment– boy, do I understand how that point of view turns everything around. Eventually I ended the marriage, and later he killed himself. My daughters have had terrible growth to do, but each one is a strong woman in her own way. I loathe pornography for so many reasons. What matters most to me now is showing others, if I can, that God’s will, the heart of all existence, is never about pain and shame. It’s about finally realizing that we deserve joy now, today, as we are. We deserve to cherish ourselves and to be cherished. End of story.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. thanks so much for your honesty and your story. these things don’t happen to smart women they say, but they do.


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