In moving essay, Colbie Holderness describes how it feels to be in — and leave — an abusive relationship

Rob Porter.
(Image credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Colbie Holderness, the first wife of former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, is pushing back against comments White House counselor Kellyanne Conway made over the weekend regarding the abuse that Holderness and Porter's other ex-wife, Jennifer Willoughby, say they suffered during their marriages.

On CNN's State of the Union on Sunday, Conway said she didn't have any reason to not believe the women, but when asked if she was afraid for Porter's rumored new girlfriend, White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, Conway replied, "I've rarely met somebody so strong with such excellent instincts and loyalty and smarts." This, Holderness wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post published Monday night, "implies that those who have been in abusive relationships are not strong. I beg to differ."

It takes strength to recognize and survive an abusive relationship, Holderness said, and "it's often the subtler forms of abuse that inflict serious, persistent damage while making it hard for the victim to see the situation clearly." Holderness said she lived in "constant fear" of Porter's anger, and being "subjected to his degrading tirades for years chipped away at my independence and sense of self-worth." When she did finally leave Porter, who denies the allegations of abuse, Holderness said her self-confidence was "so destroyed" and it took years to get her professional life back on track.

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Because victims are so intertwined with their abusers, through marriage, children, and money, it's hard to leave, and "the bottom line is, it takes strength to pull yourself away and start over," Holderness said. It's important to remember that having "excellent instincts and loyalty and smarts" does not "inoculate a person against abuse," and it can be very easy to overlook a person's nature if you are "blinded by a stellar résumé and background." Read Holderness' entire op-ed at The Washington Post.

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