I Know What It Feels Like to be Anna Duggar

There are a lot of things I can’t understand about what Anna Duggar is going through right now. I’ve never lived in the public spotlight, for starters, or at least not to the extent she has, and is, as we speak. I’ve never had national media outlets be the one to break the news to me about my husband’s past indiscretions, or current infidelity or sexual addiction.

These things are enough to deal with in the privacy of your own marriage, let alone with paparazzi, publications like The New Yorker and the rest of the world glaring in.

I can’t understand that.

But there are a few things about her life I do understand.

To start, I understand what it’s like to grow up in an environment where women were taught to put themselves beneath men, keep themselves behind them and always support them, no matter what. Thankfully, my parents empowered me to make choices for myself and also encouraged me to focus on my education. Also thankfully, I didn’t get married until my late twenties.

So I had to learn to take care of myself.


But still, for reasons I don’t fully understand, I found myself constantly deferring to the men around me, assuming I had to wait for them to dictate my decisions, rather than making choices for myself. Rather than deciding if I wanted to go on a date, I had to wait for him to ask. Rather than deciding if I wanted to have sex, I had to wait to see what he wanted to do.

Rather than choosing for myself what career I wanted to pursue, I had to think about what schedule I would need to be a good mom.

Like Anna, I grew up in an culture which taught women to submit to men, to wait for them, to look to them as the leaders and the holders of the wisdom, and when in trouble, to expect a man to come and rescue her. My worldview was shaped by Cinderella and romantic comedies and religious communities, and let’s be honest, a group of men who recognize that women holding power means they might lose some.

Just like Anna’s.

I understand what it’s like to find out, after being romantically involved with someone for a long period of time that there are things you don’t know about them. And, while I can’t say this is true for Anna, for me at least, a large part of this was that I didn’t want to know, or didn’t let myself know.

But still. This doesn’t take away from the shock and the searing pain of the whole thing.

It doesn’t take away from that awful feeling of being so small and worthless—because for some reason, what I am worth is directly correlated to what a man thinks about me.

I know what it’s like to be in an abusive relationship. And because of that, I know that abuse can be subtle, so subtle that you don’t even realize it’s happening. I know abuse is often a two-way street—one person playing the role of the villain, and the other as the victim—and I know how torturous it feels to know, everyday, that you’re submitting yourself to his subtle insults and under-the-radar put-downs, and his blatant neglect and unfaithfulness, again and again.

It’s awful to be manipulated and humiliated. It’s even more awful to know you’re choosing to be put down and manipulated.

And this whole thing is sad for many reasons.

But one of of the greatest reasons it’s sad is because it makes a girl feel like she just doesn’t have many choices.

I know what it feels like to think you don’t have choices, to feel trapped, to be depressed because for all intents and purpose, it doesn’t seem like there is anything you can do. Every option you play over in your head has unspeakable consequences. You can’t leave… where would you go? Who would take care of you? What about your children? Besides, “divorce” is a bad word.

But if you stay, and if things stay like this, you know you’ll have to continue to divorce yourself from yourself.

And there are few things in the world more painful than that.

So when I read the articles which describe the Duggar scandal (even though few of them focus on Anna at all) it all comes flooding back to me—what she must be feeling, what I was feeling back then, what hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women all over the world feel when they find themselves in a one-down position to the men around them.

And for that reason, in a way, I wish I could talk to Anna Duggar. Not because I have all the answers. I don’t. But because I’d like to tell her a few of the things I wish someone would have told me when I was in a position similar to her.

Here’s what I would love to say to Anna Duggar.

You don’t have to stay. There will be a lot of people who will tell you you do. They’ll say staying is the sign of a strong woman and that faithfulness will honor your husband. But here’s what will really honor your husband: you honoring yourself the way he should have honored you; by becoming a living, breathing, walking picture of what it looks like for a woman to walk in her indispensable value. I’m not saying you should leave. I’m not saying you should stay. I’m just saying you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do (check out this AMAZING article by Glennon Melton). The power of choice is your greatest asset. Don’t lose it.

You have so much to offer to this world. I know it might not seem like this is true in light of all that’s happened. I bet you’re in survival mode. I know that mode all too well. But there will be a light on the other side of this dark tunnel, and when that light comes, I believe we will be able to see all the dreams and passions and beauty you have to bring to this world. I can’t wait for that moment. The world needs what is inside you.

You have choices. I bet it feels like your hands are tied. And the truth is, your choices are probably pretty limited right now. The options you have aren’t great. I get it. I’ve been there. But don’t ever forget that, whatever you choose, there will be people on the other side who will rise up to support you in your choices. It won’t be easy. And they won’t likely be the people who you expect. But don’t neglect taking a leap because you don’t see a bridge. The world is full of loving, compassionate, kick-ass bridge builders.

Don’t be afraid to confront him (or anyone) who disrespects you. Too many women are too timid, too apologetic, too afraid to exert their voice into the world. But you are your most valuable untapped resource. If you can discover the power you already have living inside of you, and live from that place, your life will begin to shift and change. You’ll feel more yourself. You’ll create a better future for your children. And together we can work to establish a better world for our daughters.

When you teach a woman to wait for a man to come rescue her, she does. She waits and she waits and more often than not, her rescue never comes.

Let’s teach women to stop waiting and instead to learn how to rescue themselves.



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Allison Fallon

I write books. I help people write books. I believe a regular practice of writing can change your life.

52 thoughts on “I Know What It Feels Like to be Anna Duggar”

  1. Thank you Allison for a very positive, uplifting and realistic article. I can’t imagine being in Anna’s shoes right now but she is not alone and not powerless as some would lead us to think!

    Glad you’re back,


    1. mm
      Allison Vesterfelt

      Thanks Stephanie. It’s good to be back. And yes, we are all so much more powerful than we tend to believe. Thanks for your comment.

    1. mm
      Allison Vesterfelt

      Yes, Meghan, I’ve been there—the one needing someone to say to me, “I get it. You’re okay. This is going to be okay.” Thanks for your comment!

  2. It’s so unfortunate that we were/are raised to believe that Prince Charming will come riding in on his Noble Steed to rescue us from the dark dungeon or tortured sleep that we are in, when men always fall short. We all fall short of every expectation that are held. Thankfully God will always prevail, and will always rescue. He gives us our choices. He gives us the tools to get out of the dungeon, to wake up, and holds our hands as we face our troubles head on.

    1. mm
      Allison Vesterfelt

      Julia—I agree. It is really unfortunate. I believe as women begin to grab hold of opportunities to shape their own life and outcomes, their choices and options become so much more apparent. At least that’s how it’s happened for me. Appreciate your comment!

  3. I have been in a couple of abusive relationships as well and have found that in each relationship I did have a choice, even though I could barely see it through the depression and hurt. I had the choice to do the hard thing and leave to protect myself and my children. Even though it looked like that option would be worse than death, it wasn’t. In fact, it was the choice that saved our lives. It has been a long, hard journey since but God has been continually faithful and I am so grateful that I chose to be brave and leave that day. I will never regret that. I’m so glad you’re back, Allison! I’ve really missed your blog posts. You’re words are precious and they stick with me. Keep up the good work!

    1. mm
      Allison Vesterfelt

      So sorry to hear about the abusive relationships you’ve been in, Julie, but grateful to hear you’ve found your way out to protect yourself and your children. That is something you will never regret. Celebrate the strength it took to do that. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thank you for writing this, and being a calming voice in the midst of what seems like two sides constantly clamoring to be heard over the other. I won’t pretend to know what she’s going through, but I think the best thing that any of us on the outside can do is to pray that she experiences God’s love, grace, and strength through this whole mess. It’s so easy to say that she should leave (or that she’s weak/bad if she doesn’t), but so much harder to recognize what the right choice is.

  5. I’ve missed your voice, as well, Allison. So glad you’re back. Thank you for being raw and real and having black and white answers, as many of us Christians tend to do! There are no easy answers for this kind of situation. Praying for God’s comfort and direction over sweet Anna. Praying God would be right there, hovering over her, as she picks up what must feel like a crumbled mess of a life. Praying for their children, for grace-filled glimmers of hope that point them to the gospel. All I know is…this kind of thing makes me long for heaven because man, this world is not how it’s meant to be…but it will be one day. Keep writing Allison. We love your voice, like gentle rain, comforting and soothing, even in the brokenness.

  6. “Divorce yourself from yourself” ….perfect phrase.

    Gracious, tender words here that describe well what it’s like to grow up amid this destructive thinking. I’d like to hold her hand and walk for a bit. I can’t imagine…

    1. mm
      Allison Vesterfelt

      Thanks so much Marcy. I can’t imagine either. I’d like to hold her hand, too, and think holding hands is just about the best thing we can do for each other.

  7. Beautiful, Allison. Thank you for this perspective. I grew up in probably a very similar circle to yours…a very conservative church where sometimes I concluded, it’s all about the men. Where I questioned, who will I be/will I still be valued in this world if I don’t even want to get married? I was so blessed to watch my parents live out a different story though. My Mom is still just as spicy as she wants to be…which I love about her. And my Dad is the most kind and compassionate man I know, and he’s Dad to 4 girls, who he encouraged to be ourselves, to be strong, to be able to take care of ourselves, to be financially intelligent, etc. He always told us we could be or do anything we set our minds to. Partly because of the way he valued us (and still does), I compared the church’s seeming position and let it fall away. Though sometimes it still makes me mad, such as in the Duggar case. This piece reminds me how blessed I’ve been in this world–because I did get married, and my husband has valued me and helped me chase after my dreams and treats me with such respect and love b/c he sees his role in marriage differently. Instead of the power-holder, he seeks to be the one who lays down his life for his wife and family. Wow. What a difference.

    1. mm
      Allison Vesterfelt

      This is so amazing, Angela! Thanks for sharing. While men can’t (and don’t need to) rescue us, the men in our lives do play such an incredible role in the women we become. Grateful you had/have some wonderful men in your life.

  8. Thanks for this uplifting post. It hit home.
    Although it may not go over too well with many of the people reading this, I would like to point out that the are men who deal with this as well. Looking to our partner for “permission” to feel. Feeling like having to ask (or beg) for sex. Supporting her and allowing her to lead/dominate the relationship, and yet often leading to the same results you discuss here. There isn’t any physical abuse, but it still hurts because it’s abusive.

    The underlying feelings of having a lack of choice(s) and not finding support are the same. In fact I would argue that it might be harder for men because we are not supposed to be “weak” or “vulnerable”. Most of our friends can’t fathom how we could “let her walk all over you”. But is it any different?? Same issue=opposite gender.

    Thanks again for writing this.

    1. mm
      Allison Vesterfelt

      Wow, such an incredible comment here. I guess I often forget that this is not just a woman problem but a people problem. Thanks for helping us bring that back into focus, Max. Really appreciate you taking the time and sharing your heart. We need to hear it.

  9. Michelle Morrison

    Excellent post Allison. I too grew up feeling like I couldn’t make my own choices or had to please everyone, not only men. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with being considerate and/or wanting to help someone, but I have learned over the years that if you are not making your own choices or doing what you want, you’re not going to be much help to yourself or anyone else. It has been a process, but I’m learning you have to do what you feel is best and that there will be someone who isn’t pleased no matter what. I totally agree with what you have to say about being in the public eye too….Of course this is a sad thing for the family to be going through, but not more so because they’re well-known.

    I have missed your posts by the way. I figured life was probably keeping you busy.

    1. mm
      Allison Vesterfelt

      Yes! Michelle, what a great point about this not just being about pleasing men, but just pleasing in general. Excellent addition and important point. Thanks for bringing that up.

  10. Wow.

    It has been nearly a year since my (now ex) wife left me, and nearly a year that I have been wrestling with what happened and what (if anything there is) to do about it.

    The day before she left, though I was blind to the fact that she had already made up her mind, in a desperate cry to God I asked what I did that resulted in her leaving. God started opening my eyes right then. Over the past year He has led me into greater depths of our relationship and how I treated her. I had acknowledged that she had some very good reasons for why she felt the way she did, but still questioned if it was really so bad as to merit a divorce.

    I had realized that my insecurities, and my lack of facing them, resulted in – at best – an impatience toward her own, and more realistically being quite critical of how she viewed and approached life. Your statement about subtle abuse really hit home and I acknowledge that though my intent was to try and encourage her – and even “rescue” her – she actually didn’t asked to be rescued. I repeatedly demonstrated to her that she wasn’t valued as she is (in part because I didn’t value myself as who I was/am) and felt the need to drive toward something “better”.

    I bring this forward for a couple of reasons.

    1) Confession is good and brings about deep change. It helps us to look at ourselves more realistically and helps us to recognize the ego/shadow-self that pretends that all is well. I failed to do this through the majority of the 12 years we were married and I thought all (most) was well. I was blind-sided by her leaving, but I had developed huge blind spots. Through this event I have learned the importance of facing those hard things and this post, though hard to read, is worth facing.

    2) Growing up in a fundamental evangelical background, I honestly thought I was doing the best I could by fighting for our marriage. Ironically, I fought more for our marriage than I did for my partner. A seemingly subtle, but massively different concept. I’ve come to realize that like any institution, marriage is a thing, not a person. We are called to love people, not institutions. If you value your partner and their voice, the marriage will end up protecting itself.

    3) I will affirm what the post says about making hard choices. Though I’m still sorting through the pieces of my shattered heart, I actually applaud my former wife’s strength to make a hard choice. I wish I had been given the opportunity to work through my insecurities with her, but I know I have grown immensely from this excruciating experience. I earnestly pray that she is as well and that she is beginning to value the person that she is.

    1. mm
      Allison Vesterfelt

      What an incredible story you have, Kevin. As difficult as it must be, thank you for sharing it with us. We have a lot to learn from the road you’ve walked.

      “If you value your partner and their voice, the marriage will end up protecting itself.”

      That’s pure gold. Thank you for sharing.

    2. Kevin, your situation sounds so similar to what I went through, but I was the wife who left. We were married for 10 years and I totally enabled my husband’s behavior. I never fought for myself or fought back ( I’m not talking physically here) and after all those years I just reached a point of no return and it was over. I hated him. However…our divorce was final about 18 months after we separated. In that time of peace and calm I was able to see my role in all the problems we had had, rather than solely blaming him. About a year later, I approached him to see if we could talk, and found he had already remarried. I guess what I’m saying is that maybe she needs time – a lot of time – and with space and peace, she might be willing to work on it again, together. Don’t mean to give false hope, but sometimes you can start from scratch again, if there was love there once. In any event. I wish you the best..it sounds like you have learned a lot about yourself, and that’s a good place to be in to begin any new relationship, with her or someone else. God bless…

      1. Thank you very much Kate for your insight. This is the first bit of information and perspective like this that I’ve heard since she left nearly a year ago. Everything I had been told is to let go and move on. In many ways this has been very good advice as it has helped me to let go of improperly held beliefs and expectations and to allow that part of me and my perspective of our relationship to die, which it indeed needed to do. I have been learning to approach things – especially relationships of all kinds – with an open hand and allow insecurity-based fears to erode in the relentless waves of God’s love. I take very seriously your warning of false hope, and in the same tension I receive your experience as a reminder that the story is still being written. Thank you very much for sharing your story and may you find healing, growth and fulfillment in your hearts desires!

  11. Allison, I am grateful that you are blogging again. We need your gifts! As I read your words, my own abusive experiences with men, and relationships in general, came flooding back. All the years I gave away my power and my voice hoping for love and security. I lived under the oppression of permission and perfection. Not anymore! Today, I practice cultivating me, my spirituality, my creativity, and my calling. The more I practice, the more my life and relationships flourish. I wish we could collectively wrap our arms around Anna and inspire her with our love. 🙂

    1. mm
      Allison Vesterfelt

      I wish that too Kelli! That way she could know there is hope on the other side. I appreciate you sharing and reading. Thanks for your thoughts.

  12. What a thoughtful, caring and genuine post. It’s so nice to see someone trying to lift others up instead of tearing them down. As always, another wonderful piece. Thank you, always, for sharing your voice.

  13. ally, such a beautiful & brave & brilliant post!

    I’ve had a strange but growing sadness about the demonization of divorce (and perhaps even how I’ve contributed).

    this ones filed in my favorites on marriage & divorce.

    thank you.

  14. As I understand it, she is a follower of Jesus…yes? If so she has only two choices. Continue to follow Jesus or turn from Him and follow any of the options the world has to offer.

    1. mm
      Allison Vesterfelt

      Because of Jesus, we have so many choices open to us, no matter who we are. A whole world full of opportunity and beauty and grace.

  15. We live in a fallen world and we are all fallen people, however that’s not a reason to abuse anyone. We also live in a society that makes it so easy to blame others rather than take responsibilities over our choices good, or bad. When we don’t acknowledg our roles, or contrubution to our shortcomings we never learn, and we are bound to repeat the same mistakes. I hope we can learn to love as Christ loves us so that it’s His love that shines through to others. Be blessed.

    Just a thought.

    1. mm
      Allison Vesterfelt

      “When we don’t acknowledge our roles, or contrubution to our shortcomings we never learn, and we are bound to repeat the same mistakes.”

      Completely agree.

  16. So glad to see you back! And this post is wonderful. The thing that is lost in the discussions about Anna Duggar always seems to be how little ‘choice’ actually exists. Sure, she can ‘choose’ to stay with her husband – but she was raised in an environment wher she was willfully denied access to an education or developing the job skills that would make it more doable for her to raise her four children on her own. She was raised in an environment where it was more important that she marry Josh -Duggar- than that she marry the right person.

    She has never been given her own agency. If she ‘chooses’ to stay, it will be hard for me to feel like it was really her choice. I’ve said this elsewhere and I’ll say it again – leaving a cult is walking through the Sahara, but leaving with children in tow is having to walk the Sahara with five ounces of water and bare feet.

    I hope she has family and friends who will take her up in their arms and hold her through this and remind her that there ARE choices – and that walking away isn’t the wrong one, if it’s the one she knows deep-down she needs to make for her own life and the lives of her children.

  17. Deep line that hit me: “But if you stay, and things stay like this, you know you’ll have to continue to divorce yourself from yourself.” Wow, that’s gospel. But they don’t teach us women that. Ever. So thanks for saying it. I’m currently “stuck” in an emotionally abusive relationship that is “so subtle that you don’t even realize it’s happening.” Problem is my villain plays victim, too. Its a nasty cycle when you feel powerless and obliged to submit to a man’s will. This article was a subtle nudge to remember that we all have choices and we’re accountable for where we [let] life take us.

    I didn’t even know what this post was going to be about but, I’m happy I read it.

  18. “But if you stay, and if things stay like this, you know you’ll have to continue to divorce yourself from yourself. ”
    I remember a similar thought coming through in the six-year relationship that I had. That thought was what finally caused me to leave. I was still me. I was still interesting; full of life, love, and potential. But to stay in that relationship, I had to put all of that in chains and pretend that the chains didn’t exist. What an exhausting existence!
    Years later, I realized that I dodged a terrible bullet when I left him. One I could never have imagined.

  19. This was so beautifully written and I wish you COULD say these things to her! I am grateful to be in a loving marriage with my husband, but in college I dated a man that had me so controlled and confused about what was right and wrong that I know I would have wound up in a similar situation. I think of him when I think of Anna and her husband. Thanks for writing this! Very brave.

  20. I have grown sons and am married to a good man.
    However, before him I was married to an abuser for 8 years. From the beginning he was controlling and manipulative. I valued myself so little that I thought I must deserve bad treatment. When it went on and on I was embarrassed to speak up and felt powerless and hopeless. My 3 y o son woke me up with a troubling question which motivated me to take steps to protect us. I can’t explain the relief to be away from him. Scars are still on my heart but God is faithful to keep healing. Thank you for this post.

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