Susie Pettit is a Podcast Host (Love Your Life Show), the founder of Strength: Mind and Body, and a Mindfullness-Based Cognitive Life Coach. Susie has made a career helping women "live lives that feel as good on the inside as they look on the outside." But before finding her calling in helping others, she spent more than half her life living a life she did not love, as a people pleaser and a codependent perfectionist. Susie shares her story of growing up in a narcissistic home only to find herself in an emotionally, and financially abusive marriage, trying desperately to do whatever she could to keep peace in her home, her life, and in the lives of her children. Susie's story finds her hitting rock bottom, only to use her experiences to turn her into the "Midlife Warrior" she is today. You can find out more about Susie at http://smbwell.com/tony
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Tony: Okay, Susie Pettit, round two or three. What would we call this one? It's all been, let's call it two.
Susie: It's on me. Ok.
Tony: It's all part of one. You've been smiling the whole way.
Susie: It’s all going exactly as planned.
Tony: Absolutely. That's the case. So, welcome to the Virtual Couch, as well as probably the Waking Up to Narcissism podcast as well. So thanks for joining me.
Susie: Great. Thank you for having me. It’s exciting.
Tony: Yeah. I loved being on your podcast, and I just felt like, boy, we, I don't know, that felt like 10 minutes and I felt like we could have talked all day, and I think at that point we said, okay, let's continue this over on mine. So, yeah. So here we are and I'm looking forward to this. I would love to maybe, if you're open to it, just tell my listeners who you are and a little bit about you because there's a couple of really fascinating things about where you are and more. So why don't you lay that story out. So Susie, take us on your train of thought.
Susie: Okay. Well, my name is Susie Pettit and I am currently a 51 year old successful life coach for moms of teens, and I help women you know, really learn habits. I'm very into brain science and how our brain likes habits and ease and help women lay habits and create habits to live a life they love. Now the backstory of that is because I lived a life I did not love for many, many years. I grew up in a family. I was one of three daughters. I was the oldest and I grew up with a dad who, from my very earliest memories I remember him saying, you should have been a boy, and I wanted a boy. And even my third sister is named Jill, and he said, that's because I could never get my Bill. So I grew up in a very male dominated house. With a, you know, really we were tiptoeing around my dad the whole time. So that's where this might fit into your Waking Up to Narcissism podcast.
Tony: And Susie, I feel like this is one of those situations where if somebody hasn't experienced that, I would imagine if somebody was saying, well, I'm sure that he was joking, you know, or I'm sure that he didn't really mean it, but I mean, that was your everyday experience.
Susie: Well, and the tricky part is, is that when we're dealing with people who are narcissists or emotionally immature, they might say it in a joking way. Like, oh, I'm just joking, or, yeah. Or you know, one of the things, one of my memories, so, a lot of growing up with my dad was to be a woman, you needed to look a certain way. You needed to be a certain way or else, since you weren't a man and you're already starting back a step. Like if you weren't this perfect little image of a woman, then there you go. And, just thinking of jokes, one of the things my dad used to say is he used to be very controlling around food, and I can remember that when we were quote unquote allowed a treat, he would get two donuts and he would have one donut, and then the other donut, he would split in quarters. And he would give one to my mom and one quarter to me and my other two sisters and he would, you know, he would say like a moment on your lips, forever on your hips. And he'd just sort of be smiling in that like, you know, oh here you go. And here I am, I get to have the whole donut because I'm a man. So there's a lot of that joking. When people hear this for sure, you know, they may think, okay, well, you know, people have said this to me too, but the cumulative effect of years of this then led me into a marriage where I had a very similar relationship, where I was constantly looking for external approval and external approval and validation of is this okay? Can I, it's funny, I didn't even play on this today, Tony, but I'm wearing a button down shirt and my first husband said I could never wear button down shirts, that it was slutty and women don't wear those. And so I like now I wear button down shirts like all the time because I'm like, check me out. But it's, it is, I have come from a lot of programming and wounding.
Tony: Yeah. So, that shirt example is such a good one as well, because in that moment, because that's how you grew up and that's what you were hearing in the marriage. I mean, did you question that at first or did you just feel like this is the way the world works? I do need to check in and see if this is okay?
Susie: Yeah. I think what I don't want to skip over is the massive toll that many of us have, whether we had an upbringing like mine or not, where I do believe my dad was doing the best he could but whether we had that upbringing or not, the toll that it takes in getting the message that we don't know what's right for us and we need to look externally from ourselves for what is right, and that is not just me being raised with a narcissistic father. That is a lot of people raised in this society, whether you're a boy or a girl. Just this idea, you know, when we're talking about emotions, like, oh no, you're not, like, don't be sad about that. Or it can be to lesser degrees. Mine is obviously at one end of the spectrum. But having grown up in that household where I was absolutely programmed to think that I did not know what was right for me. That a quarter of a donut was the best thing. And that I am lucky that my dad isn't mad at me, that I'm, you know, playing my music too loud or something. When I was with a husband who said these same things, I was like, okay, okay, let's get in line, Susie. And I very much was looking back at what I think many of us define as a people pleaser. When he told me, and maybe he just told me twice, like, don't wear a button down shirt. It's not like that was a conversation we had every moment of our 26 years together but that's all I needed because I was so in, you know, as we know from narcissism, I was so in this lack of self-confidence in my own self regard, that I was like, okay, so if I can get his vote of approval by not wearing a button down, there you go. And the button down shirt is just one example. I mean, there was, I was not allowed to talk to certain people, and I say this, and yet he wasn't holding me down, I could have gone out of the house and talked to someone or bought a self-help book, or it was just more the emotional turmoil and backlash from that.
Tony: Well, I feel like that, that part, again, if anybody hasn't been in that situation, it does sound so easy to say, were you being held down? But there was so much, I can only imagine there was so much more to that as well and I do feel like when you're talking about that need for external validation or the people pleasing, tell me if this resonates because I think a lot of times when people stay, and I guess I'm just jumping right into the deep end as well, but when people stay in relationships, let's say for example for the kids because we hear that so often, and I feel like it's hard to say this to somebody that's trying their best, and they might be in this rough relationship, but I feel like often they are in essence teaching their kids, hey, here's how we manage dad's emotions, or here's how we manage mom's emotions. Almost like, this is all I know and so I'm going to teach that to my kid. And then what does it do? Then that's what they feel like that is what you do in a relationship, rather than, oh, I'm allowed to have my own feelings and emotion.
Susie: 100%. That's what I was taught as a kid. But it was, it was this, be careful. It was that walking on eggshells, you know? Oh, dad's had a tough day at work. So you know, when you get home on your best behavior, like I can influence his mood. I was taught very much that my behavior could be responsible for an adult's emotions, which we know it's their thoughts that are creating their feelings and yet, you know, I just tiptoed around so much. Don't play the music too loud, you know, and don't talk about your tough, so I was taught at a young age that my behavior could impact some, not even could, but like did, did impact some, you know, like he absolutely handed over his emotional control to me. And then when I moved into a more mature relationship, that absolutely was the case for me in marriage too. So your point to, you know, staying in this for the kids, what was another little factor in my life is that really was a turning point for me is I had a friend, a dear friend, who we were living sort of parallel lives. Like I had three kids, she had two kids. We would go to playgroups every week and we would complain about our husbands and our life and our you know, whatever. And then we'd get all our energy out and complain to each other, and then we'd go out in our lives, live the same life, like rinse, repeat, come back the next week. That woman was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer and within several years passed, and it was a massive wake up call for me because she never got that chance to sort of look and be like, what kind of legacy am I leaving for my kids and for me that really was the moment where I feel like there was a part of me that just woke up, like, I came out of a trance. I speak of it in a recent podcast episode I just did where I felt like I woke up and saw this model that I was setting for my kids, which was very similar to the model that my family of origin that I had been raised in. And I actually, there was one day I was in a store called Marshalls, which I think people are familiar with. And there was a sign that said, “dysfunction stops here”. And I now have that in my house. And that is, I just drew a line in the sand. And I just, I knew from that moment forward, there was something that clicked in me that was you know, hold on. Like, yes, my kids matter so much to me and what am I modeling for them? And so that was a question I asked myself, is this a marriage that I would want for my three sons? And my answer was a big old, hell no. And so from that, I started to shift the marriage and I, you know, tried to do what I could do.
Tony: What'd you do? What do you remember about doing? Because I feel like you're so spot on. And I feel like the thing that's difficult in the women's Facebook group that I have or that sort of thing is, that I feel bad saying that when you start to stand up for yourself or know that it's okay for you to have thoughts, feelings, and emotions, that it's almost unfortunate that if you're doing it right, you're going to get more buttons pushed. So did that happen for you?
Susie: 100%. Yeah, 100% with everyone in my original circle, you know, like my mom, my dad, my sisters, my mother-in-law, like everyone who was, who mattered to me absolutely did turn on me. And it is something that I spoke about in that episode, it's SMBwell.com/230. But I speak of how you know, something I heard in that period of time when my friend passed and I was like, oh, something's gotta change, Susie. I heard about the idea of what happens to crabs in a bucket. Have you heard of this?
Tony: Oh, a little bit, but please talk to this.
Susie: I love it, so when you have crabs in a bucket, so imagine I'm a crab in a bucket and my mom is a crab in them by my dad and my husband and my, we're all in that bucket and we're all sort of living maybe in a like, and we know maybe that our end is soon because we're in this bucket. Like, why are we in a bucket? So we're in the bucket and if one of those crabs tries to get out of that uncomfortable situation and crawls up the other crabs instead of helping it or maybe thinking it can get out and help, they try to pull that crab down and they'll pull it down. They will not give up until they have pulled that crab down and torn that crab to shreds. That's what crabs will do. And so for me, I just was like, I'm that crab in the bucket and I need to get out. And so when I saw my parents, my parents did many things. My parents were incredibly, and still are incredibly wealthy, and said that they would support my husband's legal team. My sister turned over emails that I had written to her at different times, before we sort of had texts. And I would say, I had such a bad parenting moment. God today was really hard. She turned those over to my husband's lawyers to use against me in court showing that I was an inept mother. You know, just the root. I had some premarital earnings that I was, we were married in 1996 before, you know, electronic files. And there was one piece of paper that showed that it was in my maiden name, not my married name. And I needed that paper to give me that earning. And my dad on a video with me and he was with my sister, shredded that document. So $480,000. $480,000. Went to my ex, not a penny of the like, it wasn't split then because of the state I was living in, in America, Virginia, still at the time that I was divorced in 2014, you are the property of your husband. He got every penny, which rendered me essentially bankrupt. And I had, you know, little money for a legal team knowing that my dad also had massive money for my husband's legal team. So I spent a year in the basement of our unfinished house, the marital house where my kids were still living. I told them I had a bad back. Mom's sleeping downstairs. Because if I had left, the state could say that I was abandoning my children and I would've given up rights to see my three darling boys. And if I left with them, which two of them were begging me to do, they would've said I kidnapped them and I could have ended up in prison. So, I mean, those crabs are for real, Tony.
Tony: They really are Susie and it's so crazy because I say, probably on every one of the Waking Up to Narcissism podcasts of that, and we can't try to make sense of the nonsense, but yet I find myself wanting to ask you, you know, boy, why, why did your dad do that?
Susie: Oh, I get it. So my in-laws were in on that too, which I get more details too in that podcast episode. But yeah, all of them, I, you know, I call them sort of the four headed dragon, like my mother-in-law, father-in-law, dad, and mom. If they believed that what I was doing was possible, which was saying that this marriage is not okay for me, like if you think of my mom living with my father for however many years they were married and then when I went to my parents and said, you know, I am thinking of ending this, and they said, oh hell no. They were like, you cannot. If I was showing them a different way of living, they would have to address it. Maybe that could have been possible for them. And that is not something, they would rather close it off and fight against me. I mean, my mother said it would be easier if I had died like my friend. I don't know what they like, it's an interesting thing. I can see where they are coming from.
And it is, I guess another helpful story that I, I really like stories and I know that you do too. But one thing that has really helped me, and I don't know where I think I heard it from Tara Brock, so it might be a Buddhist story, but of a dog at a tree, and I think of my parents as a dog by this tree. And so you're walking through the forest and you see this dog by the tree and you go to pet the dog and the dog bites you and you're like, whoa, what's going on? And then you, when you back up, you see the dog is caught in this massive, extensive, awful trap. And there is nothing that you, as the person can do to get that dog out of the trap, like you cannot get it out. All I can do with my parents or that dog is decide whether I'm going to go back and keep getting my hand bit because and so it's that like the biting of the hand. So I heard that story first from Tara and that was so helpful. I thought, okay, my parents like they are not doing this to me. This is their wounding, their past, this harmful piece that's, you know, that is there. And that has brought me a lot of freedom. When I met with a coach, I was telling her my whole story and I was very much in the victim mindset and yeah, well, woe is me, look at all this and she just, she's like stop, Susie, stop. And I was like, whoop, I need to talk more about this. And I can still remember where I was sitting and the sunlight coming in, and she said, what if you had the exact parents you needed to have to become the woman you are today? And with that I was like, I'm the one, the dysfunction stops here. This is over. My boys are going to have a different future. We are not continuing this down the line. A lot of fear, a lot of terror .
Tony: How many, how many years were you into the recovery or the separation when you had that moment? I'm curious.
Susie: That was while I was still living in the house. So, I think to your point with the women in the Facebook group and people, when they're starting to see, yeah, you know, whether they're in that extreme narcissist relationship or whether they're listening on your other podcast, the Virtual Couch, and they're just sort of in an uncomfortable period. It's just, you just need to take that next right step. So for me, I didn't go from this, like all of these are sort of like little step posts to where I am now. I didn't go from that basement to living to right now I'm in Australia in a dream location with a man who's totally supportive and lets me wear anything I want. And eat as many donuts as I wanna eat. I didn't go from there to here, but it was more these little steps. You know, first I would, I talked my first husband into therapy, and then we got fired from that therapist when we moved to the next one. You know, and we just, so it's taking whatever step seems doable for you in the moment. Maybe it's just buying a self-help book. Maybe it's, I started, the reason why I podcast now is because I started with podcasts. That was something that my ex would not see me doing so I could do it. And it was sort of this, like, if he found out, he would've been raging mad, but I could do it in a safe way. So I always encourage people to just take that next step. Another big piece of that is your Facebook group to get that support because when you are doing things differently, like I was doing, you might be surrounded by crabs also. And, so saying like, anything, say it's not a massive marriage that you're trying to get out of, but just a boundary you're trying to set with, you know, your mother-in-law who's always dropping by unexpected and it's really infuriating. You know, so say you're trying to set that boundary like, hey mom, could you send me a text before you come over. You're going to feel physically uncomfortable if you've been raised in an environment where you need to.
Tony: Because you're, you're asking for your needs, right? And you want someone to say, okay, versus, I mean, even if they're not going to say, okay.
Susie: They’re not. You need podcasts like ours that are like, they're not going to say it. Like, you what, for 12 years, you've let your mother come by. You know, without any sort of, so why now would she be like, oh, okay, great idea. So, we need that sort of, the guidance of podcasts , and knowledge. But then we also need the support of a group to remind us you're not doing anything wrong. We want to have the like Tony or the Susie or the other women in there that are like, oh honey, I get it. That's hard.
Tony: Well, and I appreciate you saying that too because I feel like it's when people get out and then they feel liberated and they want to share that story and I almost feel like you've got so many in that group. For example, there are people that are just starting to, I mean, they're still scared to even log into Facebook at this point and worried that somebody's going to see or read or whatever and I feel like that person can all of a sudden hear, man, now you know I got out and I did this, and now I'm in this happy relationship. And it can just feel overwhelming even to I don't know if I can get there, you know, it's so easy.
Susie: Oh for sure. That's why it has to be that next little step. Like maybe it's just listening to a podcast or maybe it's, I would get a book from the library, but that was a little risky because then you could see it. So I actually just found, it’s so funny because I did move across, I moved internationally and so a lot of my stuff I had to get rid of. But I just found a book that I had had from back when I was married and it's, I can't get it now with my headphones, but I have duct tape over the cover of it, like white duct tape so that you can't see the type. I think it's, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers, but you can't see it. So, just whatever, like I've been scared, whoever's been scared, but we need to take that little step that seems okay.
Tony: Is that a library book, Susie? I mean, do you have a very late fee on that?
Susie: No, that's not a library book. But I'm sure, I mean, everything was controlled in my life. Finances, I'm sure it was a used book I got somewhere where I could sneak like maybe a dollar and change.
Tony: No, it's totally, but I like what you're saying that next little step because we did a group call a few weeks ago and I was talking about self-care and I realized even when people hear self-care, they think, okay, I need to go run a marathon. But it can be to dream. It can be to think. It can be to hope. I mean it can happen internally.
Susie: Without anyone knowing. And so that's a very good point because a lot of what I do are habits and we're recording this around the new year when people, you know, maybe sedentary people are like, I'm gonna go to the gym every day. And I'm like, let's not go that big. That's like saying, you know, you haven't spoken up to your husband of 19 years, and you're like, let's go to therapy. Like, that's, that's too big a jump. So it's this, you know, when I'm working with people, I'm like, well, what's the minimum thing that you could do? Could you walk for one minute a day? One minute a day? And they're like, that's not big enough. But it's actually, it is. I actually have a client who last year said she was gonna walk for five minutes a day every day. She walked for five minutes, and then she added five minutes every month. So by the end of the year, how much is she walking? An hour a day. Yeah. And she's, but because she started small it is that, we have to start small.
Tony: Yeah. And I love this. I really do. And I also like having people hear success stories and that and what was that like for your kids too? I'm curious when you got out of the relationship, what, I mean, what were those conversations like? You said that one of your sons wanted you to leave early on. Is that the case?
Susie: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think if I had looked back to me when I made the ultimate decision to leave and move forward with the divorce, because my self-confidence was so low that to say to do it for Susie was too far elite. But I saw myself doing it for my kids because my oldest son was entering preteen and teen years and there was a lot of conflict in parenting and how, you know, it sort of that my way is the right way authoritative. Which is why I now help parents of teens because we need to parent that age differently than we did the zero to 10 year olds. I mean, it is, my background is a master's of education. And it was interesting. I had a master's of education and then became the stay-at-home mom and then suddenly, you know, so there's this conflict in parenting. And that was the impetus for me to say, okay, enough. Like it stops here, and that started probably before my friend passed, that I would have the courage to speak up to my ex if it had things to do with parenting. Okay. And then, When that ball sort of started getting rolling, which it was not something that he was open to at all, but when that started to get rolling, it was continuing to return to my kids. Now, my kids now so much of my job is to recognize that they have a father and there is nothing I can do that can, like, I can't out mother their father, I can be the best mother I'm gonna be. And they are always going to have that father. And so I can help them, you know, we role play sort of how to speak up for yourself or how to say, okay, you know, I don't have that thought dad, or, but they're, I have three sons and they are still very much in the dance of figuring this out. They're 18, 20, and 24. I think I just did that wrong.
Tony: Well, and Susie, what I like, what I appreciate about that too is I think one of the things when I talk about co-parenting with a narcissist or an incredibly emotionally immature person, again, back to the, if somebody hasn't had that experience, it sounds like, this is not fair or you're throwing dad under the bus. But I love what you're saying about how we have to learn to validate the kids' emotions because I don't know if you made a lot of excuses for him, as you were growing up with the kids and I give this example often of somebody that the dad was really late to pick the daughter up from high school. The mom's sitting in the car and the dad's often, probably always late. And then this lady said that when her daughter got frustrated, you know, she said, I wanted to say, oh, I'm sure he cares, or I'm sure he's just running late. But she finally felt like, man, I'm not validating her experience. And said, man, what is that like? And it's frustrating. And then she shared, yeah, I get frustrated too. And it was a really powerful moment for her. And she said , she was coming in asking me did I do the wrong thing? You know, did I throw him under the bus? But I feel like we have to validate our kids' experience versus.
Susie: So that, I think it's very important. And I started to do that when I was still married to my first husband. If I look at what I used to do, I'd triangulate. So the kids would have, you know, maybe they'd wanna go to a skiing outing or something and they'd say I need to ask dad, but can you ask dad? Because they know that dad is probably, and so I would get involved in that triangle and I would ask dad and then, you know, and that what I have done is I've flattened that triangle because we know triangles are not great. So I started by, you know, like, you ask, you can do it. Let's role play. Let's think of how you can ask dad and then if dad said something like, no or yes, or you know what, no. Usually I would say, I'm really sorry. That's hard. There you go. I wouldn't, I would really try to step back from the advice. One of my favorite parenting tools I call sucks and handle, or stinks and handle. So it's like, all that stinks, how are you gonna handle it? And sometimes, the stink or the sucks part is where we are validating. And sometimes we need to stay there a little longer, so it's like, oh, I'm really sorry that he said no and I'm really sorry that that happened. How does that feel? Like, what are you thinking? And then maybe like a day passes, what are you gonna do about it? But that helps me stay away from throwing my ex under the bus. I used to throw him under the bus more when I was in the divorce and the contention because I was in a very angry place towards him. But I really was like, this is not fair to my kids, because this is the only dad they have. So they don't, they need to come to their awareness of who their dad is without me trying to sort of throw dirt on it.
Tony: And again, I appreciate your honesty because I feel like, you know, again you're bubbly, you're successful, you're in a happy relationship, you can feel that energy. And so I do feel like sometimes people think, oh man, well, when I try it's really difficult when I interact with the narcissist.
Susie: Well, I'm glad that you said that because I do wanna say that co-parenting is, I don't co-parent with him. I parallel parent.
Tony: Parallel parent. Talk about that, Susie. I realize I mentioned that I think in one episode a while ago, and it was brought up in, actually in a session earlier today and I thought to myself, oh I need to talk about that more. So talk about parallel parenting.
Susie: Because co-parenting, I wanted to do. Like the optimist in me and the self-help guru. I'm like, oh, this would be, and that possibly is the best path for children when they're not in a sort of contentious, or the relationship that me and my ex were in. But parallel parenting is absolutely, you are not co-anything. You are parallel. So the rules he has at his house are his rules. And mom has rules at my, you know, so like my kids plug their cell phones in downstairs, not in their room. Well dad lets us. I get it. Different rules, different houses, you know, and also we do not coordinate on discipline, because that was something that we couldn't absolutely coordinate on when we were in, you know, a marriage. So, it is like we don't do anything. And then I needed to have very strong boundaries with him so that he's not, he does not call. Unless, and I got very descriptive, unless there's a hospital involved. Like it's because an emergency wasn't enough. So an emergency could be like you didn't respond to the teachers. It's like that's not an emergency. So you can call me if there's a hospital involved and otherwise it is an email. There are no texts unless again, it's something urgent and needs a response within 24 days. I've gotten a little more lenient with that as we've moved out from, you know, the relationship, but that's also because I held that boundary strong and he got used to not being able to just ping me once.
Tony: Well talk about that too, Susie. So if you are saying, okay, only the phone call, if this under this scenario, then when he would text and what didn't fall under that, what would you do? Would you just ignore or would you respond back with that?
Susie: I needed to ignore, I put his text on silent because even the, as people you know in this sort of relationship will understand even seeing. It would trigger my nervous system. And so I needed to put it on silent, so I didn't even, like, somehow you could do it on our phones and I figured it out. And I'm not a tech guru, so it doesn't come up on the main, you know, you don't need the notification, what it looks like on the thing is like a number, I'll see number two and I'm like, oh, okay, that's him. And then I need to use my constraint and my willpower to, and I would set an internal boundary of saying in the early days, I would say, I'm only gonna check these at 4:00 PM or something. Actually for me it was more, I would only check these at 9:00 AM because 4:00 PM was right before the kids came home from school and I knew if I checked them I was probably gonna be in an agitated state. So I would wanna check them at 9:00 AM and have the whole day to manage whatever my emotions were gonna send my way and oftentimes I would really try not to reply or I would reply on email. Now email. I don't have any notifications. And then email. I have a podcast episode on my favorite narcissist tools. But, you know, one of them is, BIFF, brief, informative, formal, and firm. So when I'm writing an email, I'm trying to get out of my old pattern, which is to over explain. And so I'm just like firm, formal, informative it. There is none of that. Another tool that really helped me with him in terms of parenting and moving on was thinking of him. I would say to myself, I'm like, he's just another man, like to stop thinking of him as a father or like adding this sort of weight and expectation to how he should be acting or what he should be doing. Because whenever I was “shoulding” on him, I was getting into emotional drama. So like, he should be interested in that, you know, son B has a play tomorrow. It's like he's just another man. Like let's just, let's let him do him. Are you interested that son B has a play tomorrow? And let him act the way he's gonna act, which in my caring mind was like, oh, that's gonna harm my kids. But I'm like, but that is, he's the dad. In the same way my parents are the parents. I need to become the woman I am. He's the dad. My boys need to become the amazing human beings they're gonna become. And so they need that experience of maybe someone talking back to them or being more emotionally immature to learn tools so that they don't enter into, you know, a 26 year relationship with their own narcissist.
Tony: Well, I like the way you put that because I feel like that is where then they can learn, and this is where I feel like , if it's unhealthy and emotionally abusive, and your scenario, you get out. Kids, any kid, doesn't matter how old, gets their sense of self from external validation. And that comes primarily, it can be from the parent. And if the parent is continually spending emotional calories and energy trying to manage the emotions of the narcissist, then they, that is how their, that the kids get validation by also managing, you know, the emotions of the narcissist and then when you're in your best version of you that's where I explain to parents. Now you get to validate them in an incredibly healthy way and be there for them. And tell me more. And it's not always trying to manage the emotions of the emotionally immature. Because that, and I've never thought of it until you just said it that way, because now maybe they learn, oh, I'm not gonna open up emotionally to somebody that's unsafe, or I'm gonna learn to have a surface relationship for somebody and we'll talk about sports and we'll talk about the weather, and if I want this relationship, then it may be based off of that. And then I can trust my own intuition on who I really can't open up with.
Susie: Which is really hard. And yet, like my definition of suffering is resisting what is, like resisting reality. And so, for me, many years I suffered because I thought my dad should be a certain way. And should, I shouldn't say things that he says. But when I accepted that this is the man I have as my dad, I lost a lot of that suffering. So with my children, when I think of them, and I would say that my ex can be emotionally abusive. So when I think of them in that situation, my heart breaks. And I am like, I am not gonna be there to buffer or be that triangle anymore, and to hide from them what is with their father. Like they are now, you know, 18 and over, I do need to say that if the option had been there for me to get more custody, it would've been, but I had my father throw away, so I couldn't, you know, my hands were tied. So one thought that I had that may help your listeners that maybe are in a similar situation that you know, no matter what, like often we have some custody sharing. I would think that in the past I was married and the kids were in this environment a hundred percent of the time. And so then when we split, they're with me 50% of the time. And so then I like to think that at least 50% of the time, I am validating their emotions. I am pouring love on them. I am letting them know that no matter what they do, you know, all of that, and I'm doing that from a much less scared, more whole place, because I'm no longer in this environment and I can't control this, which is unfortunate. I mean, and that's where I need to get back to sort of my more universal belief that they have the exact, I am not God. I don't know why they're having this experience, but I need to believe that they are having this exact experience to become the amazing humans they're gonna become. And I do have the underlying belief that the universe supports me and my boys that things work out for us. I'm in frigging Australia living by the beach. Like I have so much evidence. My boys are thriving. You know, I mean, everyone has ups and downs. Sure. And yet I like to focus on the gain instead of the gap, like, yes, they still are around this man, I can't remove him as the father from their life. You know? And yet I have the gain that I have a new man in their life, you know, their stepfather, who can pour love on them. I have, I am showing a new model of marriage. I am showing a new model of validation and, and self-care.
Tony: As a better version of you. Hey, Susie, can you tell the story about how you met your current husband because that's what I loved when I was on your episode. Is that one you tell out in the open?
Susie: Yeah, it’s so fun. So speaking of habits, in 2015, for my birthday in October, I decided that I was gonna start meditating every day. I wanted to do it every day. I had heard from so many experts like you that like, okay, meditation's good. So I said I was gonna meditate for one minute a day. And that's what I committed to. I have, and now here it is, 2023 and I have been meditating every day. So that works, warriors. But so meditating one minute a day, and the app I chose to meditate on was Insight Timer. Which is a, they have a free edition and I got on the free edition. And so I would just meditate with that. So I would do my one minute a day, and then at times at night when I'm going through this turmoil of, you know, parallel parenting and all that, I would try a sleep meditation. And so one day in February I did a sleep meditation. I still remember it was Bethany Webster or something and I wrote a review on it that said like, great meditation. And then a couple days later, it was February, I looked at the review and there was a comment to my review on her review that said, Hey Susie, you know, if you liked this meditation, you might like this one. And it said, Paul from Wollongong. And I was like, okay. So I just replied back. Thanks, anyhow, we started a conversation, this Paul from Wollongong, who at the time I'm in Arlington, Virginia. I was like what kind of name did he make up? Like who is, I thought it was like some security measure. I'm like, yeah, you just make up like the name of a Paul from Wal, like, yes. Now, meanwhile my middle son is at the University of Wollongong, so it's so funny. Wollongong is a place, but, so we started going back and forth on the reviews, chatting, and then he, you know, and at some point I was, Hey, are you over the age of 18? We were like, let's move to WhatsApp. So I think that I possibly wanna go back, slide that meditation because I imagine we did wonders for her algorithm cause there were 40 different responses back and forth, but we just started talking on WhatsApp and sending videos and that was February 10th was when that first review was done. And then, I, you know, I really had changed the way I lived my life. That losing all that money again. Horrible. Yet also a really big wake up call for me, one of the best things that happened because I was such a saver and such a like, I must put this away for a rainy day and then it's gone and I'm like, okay, so what was that for? And so then I really thought, if that hadn't happened to me, I don't think there's any way I would've, which I did in June of 2016, chose to fly to Australia. I was like, well, what? See what's happened? Let's jump in with both feet. Like my word of the year for 2016 was joy. And I like to align my actions with joy. And so I just flew over and my friends were very concerned. They were like, Susie, he's gonna cut you into tiny pieces and send you back. I remember one of my best friends, I was in the airport getting ready to fly out of Dull International in Virginia and she said, well at least send me his address. And then I looked and I was, the only address I had, Tony was a PO Box, they do that a lot in Australia. But like, I don’t know, things work out for me. I am not a, this sounds like I'm an irresponsible woman. I'm very thorough and I, you know, I had been videoing and talking to him.
Tony: I would say right now, uh, Susie blinked twice if you're, if you're unsafe. Right. There we go. No, yeah, exactly. I'm safe. You're fine and that, no, I love that story because I will even have people that will say, I don't know how to meet somebody. I've tried the apps. I've tried whatever. And I even feel like I know that one is, I mean, I don't know if there's a lot of other people that met on the review page of Insight Timer, but I mean, just, just being and doing, just continuing to be and doing it.
Susie: I have a lot of people that I coach through divorce and with divorce and that's, so first of all, the thought that I can't find someone is a thought. And if we're thinking that thought, that's gonna create sort of our results. So let's think, I wonder how I can find it to just shift that thought around a little. I like thinking about dates and sometimes I have my clients make a chart of a hundred, and I'm like, so go on a hundred first dates, after you've done a hundred first dates, then maybe we can entertain that thought that you can't find anyone. But go and apps work. Everything works. Like Bumble works. Tinder, like all these things work. You can, like what we look for, we will find, we will find examples of like, look it, I've been on three dates and they haven't worked. That's focusing on the gap, focus on the gain. You can find, Susie met someone random. I need to add to that because it's so ironic. I had started dating again after my divorce and I had just broken up with someone who lived, I lived in Arlington and if anyone knows the Virginia area, he lived in Reston, which was like, 30 minutes away. And my excuse for breaking up with him is that he lived too far away. Then I go to the other side of the world.
Tony: That is funny though, because that, I mean the yeah, buts.
Susie: And that’s what I thought, like I thought, right. But it is, it's just examining our thoughts. I like having clients just do what they love. A lot of what you talk about, like turning back to yourself, learn about yourself, love yourself, go meditate. You might meet someone there. And again, with relationships, they're not here to complete us. They're not here to fill a gap like I was taught growing up that I am a woman, and being a girl is a subpar way of living. So you need a man to make you whole. We need to be whole. And then once we're whole, they augment us. They absolutely shine up. Like my husband helps me shine my light out now, but he doesn't make me, me.
Tony: And I feel like that's the message that is so hard to convey to somebody early or young. And I feel like that's where most people just don't know what they don't know. And so when, when right, when they wake up to this emotional immaturity or narcissism, I mean that is that opportunity to then test and see, okay, maybe did we both not have the tools, but all you can be responsible for is in how you start to wake up to that and how you show up. And I appreciate the way you started this today by saying it will change the dynamic in a relationship. And then are we looking at crabs or, I don't know. Something that would help lift somebody outta of the bucket.
Susie: And just like not spending too much time on regret. Like I couldn't absolutely sit here. One of my favorite exercises is like replaying my past and telling the doomsday and I could sit here and talk about like, why did I marry this man? Like what is going and how did this happen and what was, and sort of the self blame part. And I just think there is no point. And I like to retell my past and I had an amazing, you know, I had a father who supported travel and there's so many ways to tell our stories and to just make sure that the story you're telling is helpful for you. So when we look back and maybe we're waking up that we're in a narcissistic relationship. That is hard. That is awful. But we don't want to add to that, what I call it like, that sort of awfulness is clean pain. I say we often add in dirty pain. Let's not add the dirty pain that you should have known better. You shouldn't have, like you're exactly where you're meant to be. You're having the exact experience you're meant to have at the exact time you're meant to have it.
Tony: I love it. Hey, where can people find you? So you've got a podcast and where else?
Susie: Yeah, I have a podcast. I put together a page, smbwell.com/tony. Which will bring people to my podcast roadmap, which has really the foundations of a lot of the work that I do. Or just any platform, the Love Your Life show, Susie Pettit.
Tony: No, I'll promote that. And because I mean, your energy's fantastic. And then, what I really appreciate about somebody that's been in your situation is I can say these things and I can be confident of the way to help people, but I really do feel like somebody that's lived it and come through it, that I just believe you can help people, I don't know, get through it however many percent faster because you really do know.
Susie: I get it. And the parenting and just the nervous system response, I do get it. So also, connect with me on Instagram, SMB.Wellness because yeah, I answer my own DM’s and I know you're on there too, Tony and I love it. And I would love to support anyone. I love people.
Tony: We're gonna have you back on, so thanks so much for coming on. All right, thanks Susie.
Susie: Okay. Take care. I love the work you're doing.
Tony: Thanks so much. You too. All right. Bye. Bye-Bye.
Sarah Doucette, author of the book "Stronger Than That: A Domestic Violence Survivor Uncovers the Truth About Her Abuser" https://amzn.to/3FoX5MI joins Tony to share her "harrowing story of a domestic victim's search for the truth about her marriage. Twenty-one-year-old Sarah Doucette married a charming, gregarious and attentive man. Six years later, she left the marriage, lucky to be alive. Suffering from PTSD and dissociation after years of physical and emotional abuse, Sarah could barely remember the details of her marriage. After her ex-husband's death by suicide, Sarah set out to interview those who knew him, piecing together the destructive patterns in his life and how it affected her even years later. This book is a cautionary tale about trusting one's inner voice in order to leave an abusive relationship. It is a story of domestic abuse survival that can help others survive their trauma while outlining the many kinds of domestic abuse."
If you are interested in being coached in Tony's upcoming "Magnetic Marriage Podcast," please email him for more information. You will receive free marriage coaching and remain anonymous when the episode airs.
Go to http://tonyoverbay.com/workshop to sign up for Tony's "Magnetize Your Marriage" virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you'll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage.
You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting http://pathbackrecovery.com And visit http://tonyoverbay.com and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.
Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here https://descript.com?lmref=bSWcEQ
Tony: Okay. Sarah Doucette, welcome to “Waking Up to Narcissism”.
Sarah: Hey Tony. Thanks for having me.
Tony: Take seven, I think? Just for the listeners, we were talking, and I was going over a few things and all of a sudden I felt like we were deep in a very productive conversation.
So, I said, hang on, don't say another word, which is probably very awkward for a host to do to a guest. And then we jumped back on and then things were downloading and dinging and pausing and freezing. So, I think we're ready. Yeah, I think so. Okay. I'd love to, that I was saying is it okay if we're conversational and you were sharing a little bit of you maybe had a couple of interviews that have not been quite conversational.
What's that been like?
Sarah: It's been fine. I, yeah, I just am not great at pontificating about myself for 40 minutes without, you know, the give and take and really, my goal with putting this book out here is to have dialogue and conversation about intimate partner violence and abuse. Yeah, I just think it's super important to have conversations about it, and it's so natural for people to have questions, especially if they maybe have never been in that situation, or they know someone who has, and they're just dying to know.
But it can be really uncomfortable to ask. And so, I've put myself out there to not represent everyone in that community but try to help answer some of those questions.
Tony: And I think it's interesting. Tell me if this is true about you, Sarah. So, in the “Waking Up to Narcissism” podcast, I have a private women's Facebook group for women who are in emotionally abusive or relationships with narcissistic people and emotionally immature people.
Most of the group are, we call them, pathologically kind people. They are people that don't typically put themselves out there, and they find themselves in that relationship with the more dynamic, narcissistic, emotionally abusive person. So, would you consider yourself one of these pathologically kind people who doesn't normally put themselves out there?
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that would describe me to a T you know. And, you know, I'm very empathic. So, I think a lot of people who have that trait tend to find themselves in relationships with narcissists because they just suck all the energy and life out of you. And as an empath, like you just give all the time. And so, it's so easy for them to kind of latch onto.
Tony: Absolutely. And so that's a perfect segue too. Your book is amazing. I didn't, it's a little bit of true crime. It's also a story of survival and people, you didn't know what you didn't know. How about you set this stage and tell us a little bit about your book and your story, and I promise I will jump in and ask questions. I won't leave you hanging.
Sarah: Okay, perfect. Yeah. So, I met my ex-husband my sophomore year of college. So, we were really young, and it was kind of a whirlwind romance as it were. You know, he was very charismatic. He had a big, gregarious personality. Everyone knew. Steven, Steve-O, The Steven, like he had all these different personas that he went by, and I was very quiet and very shy.
You know, I grew up fairly sheltered and then I left small town Maine and went to Florida for college. And um, it was like latching onto him and being pulled into his world. I immediately had this great group of friends. And being shy and introverted, that was hard for me. So it was, it was so fun for that year of us dating. And we got engaged and we got married when I was 20.
Tony: Can I ask you really quick, Sarah and, I do feel like so often people do say, but everything did seem fine. Did you experience the love bombing? Did you feel like this was just the most incredible connection and person I've ever met. Or were there, were there red flags or warning signs, and did you just maybe overlook them?
Sarah: I think there was all of the above. I mean, this was the guy who would, you know, just show up at my dorm room with like a bouquet of a dozen long stem pink roses for no reason. Like he would just show up. You know, he was always doing great, nice things for me and including my friends, which was really important to me.
And then there were red flags that I think if I maybe had had experience with someone with this personality, I would've picked up on, but you don't know what you don't know.
Tony: What were some of those red flags?
Sarah: I put out an example in the book of this incident where we were arguing about something so silly. It was a very common argument for us, and that was, where are we going to eat? And you know, I would go through listing off every restaurant, like within a 30-mile radius, and he would say no to every single one of them. And so finally I just said, okay, well then, we don't need to go get lunch. We'll forget about getting lunch. And he just gets really quiet, and I could just feel the energy coming off of him. And so, I ask him, I'm like, are you mad at me? And he says, I'm not mad at you. You wouldn't want to see me when I'm angry. And that's kind of a big red flag.
But in my like 19-year-old brain, I was just like, oh, he's protecting me from his anger. How sweet of him. And that's where my head went. And so, I just was kind of, oh, okay, let's move on. And so it was little, little things like that. With my hindsight being 2020, I would've been like, oh girl, run. Get out of there.
Tony: Well, and you bring up a couple of really good points too, Sarah. One is, I feel like the pathologically kind person is predestined to give the benefit of the doubt and I mean, I love what you're saying. That exact example of always protecting me or I feel like so often I hear as a therapist the examples of people saying, oh, I'm sure I read that wrong, I'm sure it isn't as big of a deal as I think it is and, you know, versus the, somebody grew up in a home where there, there was no tolerance for that, would they have just not even attracted that person to begin with?
Sarah: Yeah. No, I think it's, it's so complicated because I find myself even in other relationships, and this is something that, you know, I mean, I've been in talk therapy since getting divorced and you know, one of the things that I actively work on is not creating excuses for people.
Like they don't need me to make excuses for them. And yeah, I will do everything in my power to be like, oh, well they're doing this because. And that's not my role.
Tony: I love it. I do. So then, you get married, so a year in college and then you get married and then what was that like?
Sarah: The chapter in my book that talks about right after we got married starts with the simple sentence of “the honeymoon was over as soon as it started.” Things went south immediately, like in the airport on the way to our honeymoon. His true personality started just kind of rearing its ugly head.
And so, our honeymoon was horrible. He had me in tears several times there, and on the way back it didn't get any better. And so, within the first year, and I think this is a super important point to make, and I think a lot of people find, you know, shame in this, but within the first year I left. Things got really bad.
And I left. And we were living in Massachusetts at the time. My family was in Maine, so I just hopped in my car, and I drove home. And he came and got me, and you know, we went out on a drive, we had this whole long, deep conversation about like, how he's sorry, he's going to change, he's going to fix things, but you do these things that make me do that. So, you also need to change, so enter gas lighting.
Tony: Yeah. And Sarah, I so appreciate you giving that example because I've got a whole episode called the Narcissistic Apology, and it's like, okay, fine. You know, you're right, I'm sorry. And then it turns to, but you made me do it and it's your fault and, what are you going to take ownership of?
And at that time did you recognize that as a, you know, let's call it now a narcissistic apology or did you feel like, okay, that's fair, he's taken ownership. I probably need to.
Sarah: Yep. I completely fell into it. I was just like, you know, it takes two to tango. There are two sides to every story kind of mentality.
And so, I was like, you're right. I'll take ownership that I'm not perfect and I'm sure there's things that I do that upset you and have driven you to some of these behaviors. And so also, growing up in a very religious background, divorce was unheard of. And so it was like, you have to do everything possible to save your marriage.
And I was like, okay. He's admitting to things. Some give and take. I admitted to things. I went back. And probably within three or four months of going back, I ended up leaving again. And the same cycle, right back, you know. And I ended up going back again and shortly after that, he got in some trouble at work, and we ended up moving back to Florida, which is where I was when I met him.
And from there it became easier for him to kind of separate me from my support network, which was my family and my friends from up here. And you know, I make mention of this specifically because I think people don't understand that it takes an average of seven attempts at leaving an abusive relationship for it to finally take. And then those two weeks after you leave are probably the most dangerous time of your life.
Tony: Wow. Okay. And thanks for bringing that too. I mean, I do, I call them rule outs. And a lot of times when people say, okay, no, I understand more. And did you ever feel that way? Like, I'm going back in, but I have new knowledge, or I can work with this better.
Sarah: Yeah. You know, people judge a lot. You know, I hear from people all the time, oh, if my husband ever did that to me, I'd be out the door like that and it's so easy to say that and it's so easy to say, oh, if my husband ever laid a hand on me, I've heard people say all the time, that I'd hit them right back or stuff like that. And I'm like, it's so easy to say that when you're hard of heart, that if something like that happened, your husband wouldn't kill you. But if you don't know that for sure, it's not as easy to just say okay bye. One of the things that I talk about a lot, I spent a few years as a financial advisor because there's something called coercive debt that happens in domestic violence relationships. This was not a term I had any clue about while I was here.
Tony: I’ve never heard of this? Tell me about it.
Sarah: So coercive debt is when your husband, or your partner, intimate partner, they either strip you of your job, and then they spend money in your name, they convince you to take out credit cards. When we got married, my credit was much better than my ex-husband’s, so we used my credit to finance a vehicle. And then during our marriage, unbeknownst to me, he actually had used my social and my identity basically to finance tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of stuff and then never made a payment.
And so, he hid the bills for me. I never saw any of this stuff until we got divorced and because all our property was in his name, he demanded that I give him my car back, so I had to go buy a new car. And when I went to buy a car, my perfect credit was in the four hundreds, and I only got financed with a 16% interest rate. And at the time, I was living in that car, so losing my car was a big deal.
Tony: Oh man, Sarah. Did you see signs of that? It’s interesting when you, I didn't know there was a name for that, but so often I do, I hear those stories in my office of people that, the husband or the wife, whoever the more emotionally immature person was, has just made a lot of decisions.
And in their mind, I think they justify it, saying that they'll eventually pay these things off, or it won't matter down the road, so they don't feel like they need to share those with their spouse. I mean, did you see signs of that along the way? When he would bring home big purchases, would he gaslight you about how he made those?
Sarah: Yeah. There's an example in the book, we got married in January of 2006, and in February of 2006, we had left Florida and moved to Maine, and he'd become a general manager of the company he worked for. And one day he comes home with this gorgeous Dell laptop, super expensive, top of the line. And I was like, where did you get this? And he tells me that they give them to all new managers, and all new GMs at the company get them. Lo and behold, no. He used my social, he went on the Dell website and financed this $3,000 laptop back in 2006. And then when we got divorced in 2012, You know that $3,000 laptop was now over $6,000 in interest charges and late fees and penalties because he just never paid on it.
And you know, we always lived in apartments. They give you one mailbox key and he had that on his keyring. So, he would get the mail and just dump the bills in the dumpster before he'd come home. So, I literally had, I had no idea. It was the shock of my life when I went to try to finance a car.
Tony: I bet. I bet. And so, you talk about you having made a couple of attempts to leave and then he would get you back in and I think I had maybe taken you on a different path when you were talking about it can take seven times, so how long were those? Was there more time between attempts to leave or was it getting shorter? Or what are some of those things that you remember?
Sarah: So, the first two times were pretty quick. It was within the first year, and I tried to leave twice after that. When we moved back to Florida, we kind of went through a honeymoon period, like we had moved, we were back in Florida. He was around his family again. So, there was a little bit of a buffer. It was never perfect, but it was better. And then I had some support from his aunt who lived nearby. But it wasn't until we were married six years total. So it was five years later before I officially tried to leave again, and ended up successfully leaving that time.
Tony: What was the key to that?
Sarah: So, he came home one night with this crazy idea that like, what if we got divorced, didn't tell anyone, and then threw a party and were “like surprise we're divorced”, and I was just completely taken back by this. I thought this was the craziest thing I'd ever heard in my life.
But I was also like, okay, he wants a divorce too. So, now's my opportunity. So, he was like, let's think about it for a couple of days and then let's talk about it again. Do we want to get divorced, or do we want to stay together? And so, I waited a couple of days, and this was like a couple of days after Christmas. And so, I was like, have you thought about it?
And he said, no. And I said, well, I have, and I think we should get a divorce. And he literally just grabbed a soda from the fridge, and he was like, okay. And he just went to the bedroom. So, I was like, yes, I'm doing this. Like he's not fighting me. So, at the time I was like, listen, I'm just going to move myself into the spare bedroom. You can have the master. I'll move into the spare room. There's a little twin sized bed, it'll be fine. So, less than a week later was our six-year wedding anniversary, and I was home in bed. He came home super late, and he was drunk, and he spent hours just yelling at me and just like verbally assaulting me.
And then finally he came in and physically assaulted me. And at that time, I was just like, I was scared for my life. I mean, he had, you know, basically slammed me up against the wall, cracked my head up against the wall, and I was just like, I must get out of here. It's me or him at this point.
And so, I waited until he had passed out from, you know, all the drinking and I don't know what else he might have been on. And I just grabbed what I could, and I took off in my car and never went back.
Tony: Did he pursue you after that?
Sarah: He would text me just vile things and just be really rude. And I relay some of those text conversations in the book. But I went into hiding after that. I worked for a company that had armed security at the doors. So he couldn't get into me at work. When I eventually got money and found an apartment, he never knew where I lived.
I'd ended up, after the divorce was final, changing my phone number. So, I never saw him again. Yeah, after, everything was kind of final and he never even showed up for the divorce proceedings. He didn’t sign the papers. I ended up having to file a motion for default.
Tony: So Sarah, during the six years, did you guys try counseling or what was that experience like? Did you try to get help?
Sarah: Um, no. I had talked about it, but in my experience with this particular narcissistic personality, there was “nothing wrong” with him, of course, right? So, there was no counseling for him? So, it just, it never worked. I talked about like, well maybe let's go talk to our pastor. Because we were members of his family church and he was, no, he was not interested in that. No.
Tony: And like you say, “nothing's wrong” with him. And I appreciate, and I hope that, I should have maybe even prefaced that by saying that if someone, you know is going, it's typically, it's the husband saying, okay, fine. That way the counselor can say that you are crazy. A lot of times they end up going to multiple therapists or that sort of thing because they need to find the one that backs up there. But your situation, I think, is far more out of the norm because why would they if they're “fine” and you can go figure your stuff out if you need to.
What was your family support like? What was your family saying throughout this process?
Sarah: Oh, so my parents never liked him. And here's the thing about that. I get it. I know why they didn't like him. You know, they got bad vibes from him, but they were very far away. You know, they were in Maine, and I was in Florida, so they couldn't see all the everyday stuff going on, and it wasn't super easy for them to be involved. And then one of the things that happens in relationships like this is my ex-husband was very manipulative and he would find ways to kind of turn me against people and people against me.
So, towards the end, my mom and I had a very surface level relationship. We weren't talking as much; we weren't super close. A lot of it is because my mom has a very strong personality. Very sure of herself. And so, she would have very strong opinions about my ex-husband. I was not in a place where I was ready to hear any of that.
And so, I couldn't receive what she was saying to me. I mostly just resented it. I was like, why can't you just support me in this relationship? But I get it, as I'm a new parent myself. So, I get it. Like, you see your kids suffering. You see them in a situation you don't want, and you just want to rip them out of it.
But in this type of situation, when you're not ready to hear it, you're not ready to hear it. I wasn't ready. I wasn't ready to go. I was still fighting the good fight.
Tony: Well, and Sarah, I feel like wanting to say, I don't know you well, I love your vibe and your energy, and we haven't even gotten to the part of the book that is just so wild. It takes almost like a true crime turn. So I don't want anything to feel like I'm saying, here's what you should have done because , you did everything that you could do but that concept with your mom, I think is so fascinating because, here, I just was wanting to tell you that, hey, you're okay, but I really am going to say things about your mom and I know that she was doing the best that she could do.
So, I want to preface it by saying that too. But I feel like it feels natural for a parent to then want to say, I don't like him, and I think you should get away from him and that sort of thing. But I love that you're bringing this up because, as a parent, my kids are adults and, even some of the relationships they've been in, my wife and I had to have had to be very intentional of, I need to put that almost aside.
It almost feels counterintuitive to be able to say, I'm going to support my daughter through this relationship so that when, and if, she finally has enough that she knows she can come and say, I need help. Versus the, I don't know if you've had moments where you felt like, I can't go. I need to show them that I can do this. Did you have any of those moments?
Sarah: Oh, absolutely. I talk about that quite actually in depth in the book as well. About, obviously hindsight is 2020, and so at the time, yeah, I felt like I was being so strong, like doing this myself. Yeah. I was like, I've got this. Now that being said, I do have a cousin who's also like my absolute best friend in this world.
She has a PhD in social work, and she was right there with me. She was the person that could tolerate my ex-husband. So, she was really kind of the only family that I had contact with. Like we would go on vacation and go visit her, and I mean, talking to her now, like they hated every minute of having him in their home.
But just what you said, she needed to make sure that she was a safe place for me to come and talk to him, and that I felt like she had an unbiased opinion. So, I would talk to his family about my problems with him. And I would just, I just remember, and I tell this story in the book as well.
I'm like, why is he so mean? And I'm just pleading with his mother and his father. Like, why, what have I done to deserve him being so mean to me? And his mother turns and looks at me and says, “It's the woman's lot in life to suffer.” And that was her advice.
Tony: I know I don't know them as well and I told Sarah and I talked before and I said, are you okay if I end up doing humor? And I know this isn't a humorous thing and I appreciate it. And you said, absolutely. Because I want to say, if I say, bless their heart, I can say anything I want about them. So, bless their hearts, I don't know her. Right. But I feel like that concept of. Hey, look. If you now suddenly say he's bad, then a parent will often say, well, then apparently you must think that I'm bad too. And so, then I just need to gaslight you with that. And what an example that is. Right? Well, a woman's lot in life, I mean, I feel like says the person who unfortunately probably was not in the healthiest relationship themselves. So, if they can convince others that, well, this is the way life is, then it justifies that was how their life has been.
Sarah: Yeah. It was just, just like a moment, I was like, what in that, what are we saying right now?
And so, you know, at that point I just kind of stopped talking to them about it too. And it was just so insane. And I think I was really nice to her. She and I were very close. I think that she was afraid that she would lose that relationship. I think a little bit of her advice was self-serving.
Tony: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. And that's why I say bless her heart. I mean, people are trying their best and I know that is what can be so hard. I love that you had, did you say it was your cousin that was the social worker? Yeah. Okay. And so, I'm grateful that you had that example and, when you found out, when she said afterward that we didn't like him the whole time, did that feel validating or did you have that moment of, why didn't you tell me? What was that like for you?
Sarah: No, I never, but it's just not my personality. I just never like begrudging to anyone about it. It was very much more validating to me. And then finally we got to like talk very candidly about all this stuff going on. So, it was more of a relief. And like, writing this book and, okay, so we'll kind of jump over it a little bit, I guess to the true crime aspect of this. Yeah. I'll give you the quick 30 second synopsis of where the true crime element comes into this.
For the listeners, if you haven't read the book yet, basically, part of what spurred me on to write this book is I received a phone call from my former mother-in-law. It was about two and a half years after our divorce, and she called me. Late at night, so I missed the call. And something in like, my spirit just told me something's not right.
Like she shouldn't be calling me. And so, I called her back and I said, what's up with Steven? I didn't even say hi. I just, I knew, I was like, what? What's going on? What's up with Steven? And she said that his body had been found in the woods and it was either homicide or suicide. I just, I just didn't even know where to go from there.
I just remember sitting down, it was in my bedroom. I just sat down on my bed, and I was like, well, when did this happen? And the second shock of my life, she's like, about 30 minutes ago.
Tony: Wow. Oh, Sarah.
Sarah: I've been divorced from your son for two and a half years. Why are you calling me 30 minutes later?
Like finding out that he's deceased it was just so surreal for me. I didn't even know how to process it. Uh, so after that, I tried to be there for his family, they wanted me to come down to the funeral. I was like, I can't do that. I can't go to a place where everyone's going to be honoring the memory of someone that I just physically couldn't stand. So, I respectfully declined. But they would call me like, when they left the funeral home. They called me, when they left the morgue after identifying his body and they called me, and it was just so weird to be a part of.
Tony: When you say that they were calling you, were you taking those phone calls or was that too much? Were you talking to different family members? Tell me about that whole experience.
Sarah: So, I would take the phone calls, you know, his mother and I, like I said, were super, super close when I was married to her son, and I knew she was hurting and for some reason I was the person she wanted to reach out to. And so, I just felt like, not that I owed it to her, but that, if she needed me to be a part of this portion of her journey, I would do it and hold my tongue. And I also wanted to know what was going on in his life. Because he loved nothing in this world more than himself. And it was hard for me to come to terms with the fact that he may have ended his life by suicide. And I was trying to understand. I would totally get if he upset someone enough to have them murder him. But I couldn't wrap my head around suicide for him. And so, it did come out that he ended his life by suicide. His parents never really gave me a straight answer as far as what happened.
His mother just kept saying that he died of a broken heart. And, not indicating to me, but there was a girl that he was pursuing at the time that I guess they had broken up with and I didn't know why. So, it was really interesting in doing the investigation and writing this book, because I had the story from his family that he died of a broken heart.
Someone wrote an article about him, and they listed all these crimes. And I was shocked when I saw that. And then they called him a force for good. They said, I don't care what he did in his crimes, he was a force for good in this world. And that really upset me.
Tony: Okay. Tell me why. Take me on your train of thought.
Sarah: So, I knew this person very well and I was really good friends with his fiancé. Years ago, when my ex-husband and I were in Massachusetts, they got engaged and they literally pulled me aside and said, we would really love to have you as a bridesmaid in our wedding, but we can't do it because we can't have your husband there. He's too much of a jerk and he's embarrassing. So, for him to then come back years later, and write an article that he called “How to Deal with the Suicide of a Mentor”, I just felt was so dishonest. And he had mentioned me specifically in there, like coming to my house for dinner and all of this stuff and how much he loved my ex-husband and up to this point, I really kept quiet. You know, people kept saying all these nice things about him and I just kept quiet. They say, don’t speak ill of the dead. I was just like, well, he's gone. What good is it going to do? And when I read that article, it's hard to explain or maybe to understand, but I felt like my life got stolen from me.
Tony: Okay. Like what?
Sarah: He had invalidated my entire life experience by saying that this guy who had basically ruined my life. To this day, I'm still in treatment for PTSD and then he was like, eh, it doesn't matter all the bad stuff he did, he was still a force for good in the world.
Tony: And a “mentor” and yeah.
Sarah: And I kind of found my voice at that moment, and he had posted this article on LinkedIn, all these comments of sympathy to him. And, I felt like it was attention seeking. And so, I just posted a message back and I just said, I don't know why you wrote this article. Please don't use my life to get whatever it is you're looking for. Whether that's attention, sympathy, I don't really know, but you and I both know the truth about Steven.
Tony: Okay. So, was there any feedback to that?
Sarah: Within five minutes, the article was gone. And then he sent me a private message telling me that I'm not the first person to have read the article and told him that my ex-husband was a terrible person. And he apologized that he should have taken the article down a long time ago. And then I asked him, I was like, well, how did you find out about these crimes?
And apparently, he just, I didn't know you could do this at the time. He just called the police departments and got the police reports. And so, he shared all of that with me, so these were police reports for charges of felony, grand larceny, and swindling of over $250,000.
Tony: And, and Sarah, was that the time when you were with him?
Sarah: It was not. So, I like to consider myself if we reflect back to the coercive debt conversation. I was his trial ground for that. And so, he ended up doing the same thing to a business partner. And so, he got arrested for that and while he was out on bond is when he chose to end his life by suicide.
Tony: So, needless to say, had you not gotten out of that relationship, where would that have gone as far as the debt and the ruining your credit, your name, your financial future? I mean, I can't imagine there would've been an end to that.
Sarah: And. You know, I also just feel like a lot of times with people like this, they get backed into that corner, which is what happened to him. Like the mask was gone. He couldn't hide himself anymore. Like the police came, they got him, he spent a few weeks in jail until his parents could get him out on bond.
It was over for him, the charade. And, he had an arsenal of guns. He was an avid collector of guns. And he loved to pull them out. And clean them and play with them and whatever. And I just think about myself or the girl that he was with at the time. If she had been with him, would he have taken either one of us out with him?
Tony: Yeah. And that's real. And I feel like that's where, when, I think you had mentioned earlier, when people aren't in these types of relationships, it's easy for people to say, I'm sure that wouldn't have really happened, but so says people until it happens, right?
Yeah. Sarah, you mentioned that people reach out to you after they read the book and they're sharing their stories. What's that been like for you? Has it been overwhelming? Has it been validating or what's that like?
Sarah: It's been overwhelming, but what a complete honor it is to have people trust me with their own story. It's such a vulnerable place to be, to say, this happened to me as well. And so, by telling my story, I've kind of given people an opportunity to at least have one person that they can reach out to and know that they won't be judged.
Tony: Yeah. Okay. And I think I was sharing with you that I'm getting a dozen or more emails a day from the “Waking Up to Narcissism” podcast, because people just feel like they're alone or they're crazy. And then they hear a story like yours. And the reach is just profound for people to feel like they aren't the only one. They're not alone. And did you have those moments when you were in that relationship or would you read other people's stories or did you feel like you were kind of going it alone for a long period of time?
Sarah: You know, I never knew of anyone else going through this situation. Okay. So I was very much confused and alone, I mean, I was young, right? Like I was 20 when we got married, 26 when we got divorced. And the words I just kept using wasn’t abusive. It wasn't domestic violence. I didn't know those terms. I was just like, he's just so mean. And it wasn't until I had my own dark moment of, so when I finally left and I got into my apartment, I started having this recurring nightmare and I won't spoil all the good stories, but I do tell the nightmare in the book, and I would wake up every night from this nightmare.
And it was one of those nightmares where you would wake up and still be in the nightmare and then, you know, kind of finally actually wake up, and I got really close to my own, like struggle with suicidal thoughts. And I just didn't know what else to do. I was like, I'm stuck in this. How do I get divorced?
You know, I had gone to an attorney. I didn't have $4,000, like he had stolen all my money. I barely got into my apartment. I was hardly feeding myself. How was I going to spend $4,000? Luckily in Florida, you can just go online and download the divorce papers. And so, I just did it all myself. I don't know how I did it. Looking back, I'm just like, that was crazy. But I filled out my own divorce papers. I walked down, I dropped off the papers, and then I drove the papers to the sheriff's department to have him served. And then I waited the 30 days and when he didn't respond, I printed off the paperwork to file a motion for defaults on the divorce papers. And I took those down to the courthouse and filed those papers. Yeah, so it was just like it was overwhelming. There was so much going on and then I wasn't sleeping because I was having the dream and waking up and a friend of mine had given me this book and I never wanted to open it. Because I mean, I was down in Florida, right? It's the bible belt. Everything was about church and religion. And so, this book was called What the Bible Says about Divorce. And I was like, well, the Bible obviously says you're going to go to hell if you get divorced. Like, that's where my mind was. And I was like, I'm not touching that.
So finally, one night I was at my wits end and I was like, what's it going to hurt? You know, I'm already there. So, I opened the book and the first page that I came to was a verse from Isaiah and they had, you know, paraphrased everything into more modern day English, but it said, “Your builders are working faster than your destroyers.”
And that was the turning point for me. I immediately made a list and instead of pros and cons, it was builders and destroyers. And my destroyer was my ex-husband. And I just started listing out my cousin, my parents, my friends at work, the girl who gave me the book, and the list of builders was way bigger than the list of my destroyers.
And it was at that moment that I was like, we can be faster than him. We can figure this out. And my work, just like the other day, had given me paperwork on their employee assistant program. And so, I called the number to get connected with a mental health provider. And I've been in talk therapy ever since.
Tony: I love it. I mean, what's on your wrist?
Sarah: I got the verse tattooed on my wrist. So, it says your builders are working faster than your destroyers. It's just a constant reminder.
Tony: Yeah. Like that gave me the chills, Sarah. I mean that is beautiful. And because that takes a lot of courage and I love the fact that you even said, okay, I know what this is going to say anyway. And you almost didn't, you almost didn't do it. I mean, I feel like the brain still is so afraid of that unknown, or the uncertainty of the future. Did you run into that?
Sarah: Yeah, for sure. I was just going to say it's scary when you don't know what to expect and what's going to happen.
Tony: Yeah. Well then are you getting asked a lot about the, and I know this can sound so cliche, but then advice for people, because people are going to hear this, and I think we're going to get the people, they're going to say, well, my situation isn't as bad as Sarah's. But I think that still doesn't mean that it's, you know, people shouldn't have to be in a relationship where they feel isolated or gaslit.
Like they don't have a voice or they can't be themselves so what do you say? You had also mentioned people are asking you for advice, right? When they're reaching out to you.
Sarah: Yeah, I've had a couple of women reach out to me and say, I'm in a situation right now and I want to get out, but I don't know what to do.
And as I had just mentioned, I'm a big list person. I give two pieces of advice to the people that reach out to me: man, woman, whatever you identify as these two pieces of advice have got me through.
The first one is you need to know where you're going. So, you need a list. You need to map out the steps. So, when you feel like you're losing your way, you know where you're going next. So, for me it was kind of like thinking of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, right? Food, shelter, needed to get out of my car, and needed an apartment. I needed a new bank account. So, making that list of what to do, and then it was like, okay, now I need to file for a divorce. How do I do that? And just give yourself marching orders and keep yourself on track.
The other piece of advice that I always give to people is get angry and stay angry. The anger was the fire that I needed to keep going. For people like myself, it's so easy to just backslide and not be mad anymore and then just be like, oh, okay, well, I guess, but the anger was necessary at the time, and I'm not an angry person. I hardly ever get upset or angry about anything, but I just remember as soon as I start to feel a little bit weak, think back on the stories like, stay pissed off, for lack of a better term. And then there comes a time where you have to let it go. You have to. And it sounds so easy talking about it.
Get angry, stay angry, and then forgive them. It's not easy, but I'm a firm believer in the fact that forgiveness is not for the person you're forgiving. It's for you. And you have to let it go. It's a physical feeling when you remove that burden of anger and unforgiveness from yourself. At least it is for me.
So, use the anger. Fuel the fire. And then, once you're done, it's time to let it go and move on with your life. Those are the best two pieces of advice I feel like I can give anybody.
Tony: I so appreciate that advice. And what I love about that is that we started today by talking about the pathologically kind, empathic, highly sensitive person that I can only imagine how difficult it is to conjure up that anger.
But what I love what you're saying is, emotion is there to protect us. In theory or not even in theory, in reality. Anxiety is there as a warning; anger can be used as a tool. It's your body trying to say, okay, I need to fight for this injustice. So, you laid that out perfectly. I would love for some of my pathologically kind people to be able to use that tool, that emotion, you know, those emotions are there to help them.
And I never heard it put so well, like you said to then when I'm done with my anger and it served its purpose, I can put that away. Because that maybe isn't who you are at your core, but your body needs to pull that emotion. For good, I think in that scenario.
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, like you were saying, our emotions are there for a reason.
They're there to protect us, you know, fear. Fear is important. Anger is important. So is happiness. Sadness is important. I mean, all of it's important and it's just about don't let it control you. You control it and use it.
Tony: Yeah, I love it. I do. So, Sarah, the book is Stronger Than That and I'll have links to that in the show notes. And I really appreciate your vulnerability and I know that this story is going to make its way out to a lot of people. And so, I would love for people to write in if people have questions for you.
I don't know, would you be open to coming back on and maybe doing a Q and A?
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely.
Tony: Okay, so anybody listening, I highly recommend getting the book. It's on Kindle or paperback. And then you can also send questions to me through the website or firstname.lastname@example.org for Sarah. And then Sarah, I'll stay in touch. And then I would love to have you come back on and we can do a Q and A either, in the group for the women's group or we can do one as a bonus episode. But I really, I love your energy and I feel like you are such a survivor and what a story. So, I really appreciate you coming on.
Sarah: Oh, thank you so much. It was really great meeting and talking with you and yeah, I'd love to answer questions. That's what I'm here for.
Tony: Okay, perfect. So, we'll have all the links then in the show notes and I will talk to you again soon. Okay. Thanks so much.