KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — She was married for 30 years. She was a pastor’s wife who counseled congregation members suffering physical or emotional abuse. They had no idea she was a victim, too; a silent victim, until she got out, turned her life around, and wrote a book to help others.

“I had already tried to leave once before,” Michele Armstrong said, “I already had a plan. I was going to ride a bicycle, I was going to do whatever I had to do to get out.”

Michele finally did get out but it took years of emotional abuse before she finally realized what was happening was not her fault. The abuse began not long after her engagement in high school and marriage soon after to a pastor 12 years her senior.

“I was at a very formative age and so he was able to do a lot of grooming, ” Michele said, “so that I would be more in submission and obedience, that sort of thing.”

Michele would end up writing a book about unmasking emotional abuse, including her own story and those of other women. It’s called “Hidden Bruises in Holy Places.”

“A lot of people, a lot of women especially, if they’re not being punched, or if they’re not being drug across the floor by their hair, they don’t realize they’re in an abusive situation and there are so many mind games that go on, you don’t realize, ‘well, yeah, this is actually abuse.’ ” Michele said.

“You start feeling like, ‘Ok, I’ve gotta please, I’ve gotta please, I’ve gotta please,’ no matter what it is. You can’t feel a certain way, you can’t express emotion, you can’t express your opinion if it differs, those sorts of things become a lifestyle and then you lose who you are.”

Despite presenting a public smiling face, Michele finally had had enough after another abusive tirade, she said, and she left.

“The last thing that sent me away was my husband, chased me in a vehicle. We were flying basically in terms of speed and he ran his car off and flipped it and of course, the first thing that came to my mind or second thing was, ‘it’s my fault.’ And he was chasing me! So that’s the first thing that comes to your mind. It’s your fault.”

Michele eventually built a new life and found happiness in a new marriage, only to suffer heartbreak in a different way this time.

“He allowed me to get a lot of healing. He treated me the way a woman is supposed to be treated,” Michele said. “Unfortunately, he was taken from me suddenly with a heart attack after we’d been married a little over 7 years so that was another devastation, but as God would have it, I kept going.”

Michele said her strong faith, tested but not torn, got her through those hard times. She hopes her testimony, woven through the pages of her book will help others struggling right now.

“There’s a strength that you find when you decide to step out and say, ‘I’m not going to take this anymore and I’m more valuable than this,’ ” she said.

There is an update to Michele’s story: she has met someone new, they are happily married now and building a new home.

You can find her book “Hidden Bruises in Holy Places” on

Remember, emotional abuse is real, it is devastating, and if you’re a victim, you can get confidential help 24/7 by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.