Episode 43 - Ruth DriscollToxic relationships aren't just endured by teenagers. We're making conversations about relationships count!
Ruth Driscoll, ‘Life Liberator’ and TEDx speaker
Making Conversations about Relationships Count!
There’s nothing quite as exciting as having a conversation with a TEDx speaker! And this episode features a really impactful one!
Have you heard of ‘elegant assertiveness’?
It can be taught to help break free from toxic relationships.
There’s also the silent conversation.
What is not said comes through our body language and expressions.
Walking away from relationships without resolving the problem can be harmful when you enter into new relationships. Ruth helps understand the vulnerability you could be subject to from past experiences and how to solve and break the cycle.
It will be of no surprise that Ruth began her journey in helping others after coming through her own toxic relationship.
She’s a successful leader herself, and you’ll find plenty of insight in this episode as she explains how toxic relationships can extend beyond the home, and be found with anyone in your life: your partner, your boss, a family member or friend.
Ruth’s mission now is to help people avoid the catalytic moment she went through herself.
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Full Episode Transcript
Making Conversations Count – Episode Forty-Three
August 12th 2021
Wendy Harris & Ruth Driscoll
00:03:37: Elegant assertiveness
00:06:02: Leaving isn’t always the solution
00:06:54: Become a wiser version of you
00:08:15: Work with your partner
00:11:12: Getting stuck in the abusive cycle
00:12:23: Reaching out to Ruth
00:14:11: Normal rules do not apply
00:15:37: Understanding your own back story
00:16:55: What to look out for
00:19:52: Ruth’s pivotal conversation
00:26:34: When instinct kicks in
00:27:54: Facing the fear
00:29:24: Final thoughts
Wendy Harris: How many TEDx speakers do you know? Well, I’ve met a few and this week’s episode, I’m delighted to be joined by a wonderful lady who stood up to talk about making conversations about relationships count.
What’s new Wendy Woo? Well, we have very limited space in the diary for any power-up sessions, so head over to the link and get yourself booked in if you’ve been thinking about it, or you’re going to have to wait a while longer.
I’ve received this review that made me absolutely grin ear to ear. It’s the first session that I booked as a result of somebody listening to the show, and it’s the lovely Tanya and she’s currently in Switzerland, and this is what she said, “I chose to book a power-up session with Wendy because of her focus on cold call conversations, and my expectations were far exceeded. Having worked in sales for over ten years, I know how important regular sales training is. Wendy’s training was personalised to my needs and especially my company. She not only addressed the pain points I mentioned, but also analysed the company as a whole and provided valuable marketing tips.
“With her help on opening and closing techniques, I had great conversations immediately after our session. I can recommend Wendy to anyone, whether to refresh what you already learned or gain new sales techniques from scratch. On top of that, her positive, open-minded and friendly nature made it a real pleasure talking to her”. Tanya, I can’t wait to work with you again later in the year and the rest of the team. Thanks again for being such a great partner.
And still people are saying wonderful things about my book. Did you know that I have a meet the author link at the end of the book? One reader, Cat, got in touch. We spent 15 minutes chatting about how she can personalise her introductions and she messaged me to say that she’d made several follow-up meetings after a few days. Keep going Cat! That’s brilliant!
Now, it doesn’t have to be just about your personal relationships, we can also struggle in the workplace too. So, let me introduce the lovely Ruth Driscoll as we get down and personal about relationships.
It’s so lovely to be able to have a chat with somebody who clearly really relies on conversation to really have an impactful change on the people that you work with and who they’re surrounded by. So, tell us a little bit more about what you do there at Life Liberator?
Ruth Driscoll: Well, the work that I do is supporting those who are either in, or have been in, a manipulative, abusive, controlling relationship and leading them into empowerment and freedom; because the problem is, when you have someone in your life who is manipulating and controlling what happens with you, you feel very much like you’re in that grip of their control. It’s a position where it’s very difficult for you yourself to see your way out from it. So, the work that I do supports people to know how they can safely communicate with that person through what I call, “elegant assertiveness”.
Wendy Harris: I love that phrase.
Ruth Driscoll: Yeah. It’s so that you recognise that you don’t have to lose yourself in this process, because dealing with somebody who is toxic in this way can erode you as a person. You lose all sense of who you are, your self-esteem, your belief in yourself; so, it’s very important that you remain true to the person that you are.
The process kind of brings you back to who you are, and then how you can use communication, not just the spoken word, I give dialogue frameworks that you can use; but also, in terms of the way that you communicate silently, because there’s so much of a conversation that actually takes place in the bits that are unsaid as well.
It’s also recognising the patterns of that toxic person’s behaviour so that you recognise exactly what they’re doing, and that gives you much more power over being able to choose the outcomes that you need to achieve.
Wendy Harris: It’s a good point that you make there, Ruth, that when it comes to being in a relationship, there is likely, I’m guessing, always going to be a more dominant partner. Whilst we all try to live in cohabitation and equality and all of those lovely phrases, there’s generally going to be somebody who wears the trousers, isn’t there? It does not necessarily mean that it’s the man, and I know that same-sex partnerships have a similar kind of chemistry around them; so, this is about everybody really, isn’t it?
I love that you can give dialogue frameworks to people in an elegant assertive way. It’s something that is worth noting that sometimes, just because you feel that you’re out of control in your own relationship, doesn’t mean to say that you have to leave it, and I think that’s the assumption, isn’t it; that when you start to talk to your friends or your family, because you’re reaching out for some help or some guidance, that they will just say straight away, “Well, leave them”?
Ruth Driscoll: The problem with that is yes, it can be a solution, but it’s still leaves you with a problem, because you have to recognise what it was about you that made you vulnerable to those negative messages. Unless you understand that and unless you know how to plug those gaps, if you like, that you’re exposing to that toxic person, then the likelihood is that you will encounter somebody else who behaves in the same way, or you will avoid relationships with people because you are so afraid of it happening to you again.
So it’s important that you know exactly what’s happening to you, why it happened to you and how you can be absolutely certain it’s never going to happen to you again.
Wendy Harris: It’s facing that fear and recognising the patterns, isn’t it, so that you can solve the problem? And, this is the other side to it, is that it doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s anything wrong with you, it’s about becoming better at relationships, isn’t it?
Ruth Driscoll: Yes. It’s becoming wiser, not losing you in that process. You’ve got to be a wiser version of you, where you were vulnerable, where you inadvertently showed that person how they could press your emotional buttons and make you react and put them therefore in control. So, you’ve got to be able to recognise all of those tactics that are used by manipulative, controlling people.
The thing is that when you learn this skill, it’s a skill that’s going to take you through the whole of your life!
Wendy Harris: Absolutely. Does it happen that you will work with somebody that’s in a relationship and then you’ll go on to work with the other person in the relationship? Because it’s often, bad behaviour, we always say, is more a reflection of them than it is of us; it’s just that we’re on the receiving end of a situation that they haven’t figured out why they react in a certain way. Does that happen to you, Ruth, where you work with partners?
Ruth Driscoll: Yes, it does and that’s an important thing to recognise, that because a situation has happened or is regularly happening where somebody is showing this perhaps aggressive or controlling behaviour, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are beyond the point where they themselves can take responsibility and make the necessary changes.
So, it’s always very encouraging when the controlling person, the abusive person if you like, agrees to work with me, because then I can turn that situation around and save marriages; make those relationships far more harmonious. So with the work that I do, you start to uncover as you change, as you become more elegantly assertive; you start to see whether that other person is able to make changes, so they have to come up to match you and still be there with you. And if they do, that’s great, it shows that that relationship is worth saving.
If there are no changes whatsoever, if in fact the abusive behaviour actually escalates, then you know that there’s no point in remaining here, because this person is never going to value you as you deserve to be valued. Often, if that is the case, it’s potentially because they have a personality disorder and there’s nothing that you can do to change that or make that better. It’s only if they themselves realise and seek help that they can make those changes.
I think the important thing is recognising it’s not your job to rescue people. Often people who are in toxic relationships, it’s because they’ve got lovely qualities and they see somebody’s need and they’re there for them, they rescue, they support. But if that’s not being reciprocated, you have to recognise where your first duty is to be able to protect yourself.
Wendy Harris: Self-preservation, yes. And, I think you saying about escalation; if you’re doing everything to better the relationship, changing subtleties around your own behaviour, language, body language, all of those things, that if it does escalate, it’s kind of a proven sign that they recognise that they’re losing control and are desperate to retain that control. So, there’s already that push back, isn’t there; they’re not willing?
Ruth Driscoll: No, that’s exactly right. There are all sorts of tactics that they will use to try and keep you under control, including becoming once again the wonderful person that you fell in love with in the first place. So you think, “Oh, maybe it was just a blip, perhaps things will be all right”; but as soon as they’ve got you back into that place where they control you, the cycle of the abusive bullying behaviours will start up again.
So, if you find yourself in that cycle where it seems like suddenly everything’s absolutely wonderful, then it goes back to being absolutely awful, if you find yourself in that kind of a cycle, then you’ll know that that person is simply needing you to be there in their control and you have to recognise that, because without that, you will be stuck in that cycle. What happens is, your life is only ever half lived, because you’re always conceding and comprising your own choices, your own preferences, your own desires, to try to stop that person from kicking off.
Wendy Harris: Ruth, if this is resonating with any of the listeners, what are typically the first steps for somebody to be able to reach out to get the help that they need? I think this is something we assume can present itself as depression or anxiety and we end up going to the doctor and we can’t feel that we can share exactly what’s going on or the root causes of things. Then you can start looking at counsellors, but accessibility is pretty poor, isn’t it, to get that help; so, how do you make it accessible for people to find you and talk to you; how can they start that conversation?
Ruth Driscoll: They can contact me for a complimentary clarity call, which means that they can then talk to me more about what it is that they are experiencing, and I can explain to them ways in which I could support them through this. The thing is, this is where I specialise in understanding exactly how to deal with particularly the more unpleasant, narcissistic kind of behaviours that some people have to cope with; because, without having that specialism, if you’re dealing with somebody like that, a lot of counselling takes you so far, but it doesn’t quite take you far enough.
I have a lot of people who come to me who’ve been through counselling, been through mediation, have tried all sorts of different routes. It takes them so far, but it doesn’t take them to that point where they actually find the release from this, that they know the exact safe steps that they can take to release themselves from this. This is one of the things that I always say that you have to understand and that is, and it sounds obvious, but the complexities beneath it are there; normal rules do not apply.
When we’re dealing with somebody, we have a certain understanding of certain ways in which we behave, and this is what happens in return; that reciprocation; that understanding that people perhaps have a conscience. So, we try to deal with the situation using those normal rules or understandings around how communication happens, and that’s where dealing with somebody who is manipulative, and controlling can make you feel like you’re going crazy. Everything is twisted, distorted, exaggerated; you feel like nothing makes sense.
Until you get a grasp of exactly what that means when you’re dealing with somebody like that, you’ll never reach that point of understanding, because you’re trying to deal with them using normal rules, if you like.
Wendy Harris: Expectations of boundaries, yes. It’s not the same for everybody and can be about how you were brought up. There’s all sorts of things that come into the backstories for people in their expectations, isn’t it?
Ruth Driscoll: It’s important to understand your own backstory, because often that’s where you’ll find yourself dealing with behaviours that you are demonstrating that are actually sabotaging you. So, you’ve got to know what it is that’s going on from your backstory that has given you those kinds of unhealthy emotions that are important, but duty, sense of guilt and sense of obligation; those things can tip into being unhealthy if you’re not careful, if you’re not really examining and challenging your own conditioning.
Wendy Harris: So, do you start with the person, or do you start with the relationship, or is it a bit of both?
Ruth Driscoll: It’s a bit of both and it depends where they are in terms of the cycle of their relationship. A lot of the people that I work with are perhaps going through divorce, so there is then a sort of immediacy in terms of being able to negotiate and communicate with that person. Perhaps if they’re going to mediation, you need to be prepared for going to mediation. So, it depends.
Wendy Harris: It’s having that framework that you can follow, that you can bring out the best bits as to when you need it in your toolkit, isn’t it, I think?
Ruth Driscoll: Exactly, yes.
Wendy Harris: Because a lot of the people that listen to the show are starting out in business or are in business, do you find that people that are in business have a greater or lesser route for these things to occur; or are businesspeople more resilient to it; or do they fall foul of certain things? Are there any patterns that could help us as listeners to look out for when it comes to juggling that personal and business lifestyle?
Ruth Driscoll: Well, I think the thing is that this is actually such a horribly common occurrence that you encounter manipulative and controlling people, and the truth of the matter is you don’t know how susceptible you are until it happens to you; and that may depend on the situation that you’re in at the time, what the potential jeopardy is for you in terms of the situation that you’re in.
In your personal life, you’re probably more vulnerable in other ways than you might be within your business life. So, you could be very successful in terms of running your business or in terms of the work that you do, but that point doesn’t necessarily mean this is not something that’s happening to you at home. Or, you could be very, very happy at home and yet in the workplace, you come across a colleague or a boss or somebody who has that bullying control over you, which can absolutely swipe away your wellbeing and your peace of mind.
So, you just don’t know where it’s going to happen, because these manipulative people crop up in all areas of our lives. It could be that it’s a parent or a family member that is that controlling person in your life, so you may have been dealing with this right through from when you were a child.
Wendy Harris: So, for anybody that you’re having an issue with, you’d be able to help, whether that be struggling with my boss or struggling with my partner at home; it’s essentially dealing with a troublesome relationship, isn’t it, Ruth?
Ruth Driscoll: Yes exactly. I mean, I have delivered workshops to people in the business world. If you’re in a service industry, you might have difficult customers, so then it’s knowing how you can elegantly make your way through that without it disrupting your sense of wellbeing and your progress too much.
Wendy Harris: I think we’ve got a real good feel and flavour for Ruth Driscoll, The Life Liberator, being able to come in on all aspects of our life and being able to help, so thank you for sharing what you do; I think it’s a really important role that you play.
Moving on to the part of the show that I really love, and that is when I ask my guests to bring a conversation with them that they are happy to share that created a turning point and what followed. So, what was that conversation about?
Ruth Driscoll: Well, there’s one particular moment that I would describe as the almost catalytic moment, if you like, that had a major turning point in my life, and it was a moment where I actually barely said anything.
So, just to fill in a little bit of background here; the reason that I do what I do is because I myself was in an abusive relationship. And at the time I was in that abusive relationship, I was the successful Head Teacher of a challenging inner city primary school, so fitting that model that you were saying of somebody who can be perfectly successful in terms of their life, but at home something very different is happening.
At the time that this catalytic moment came about, I had reached that point where I was chucking him out. And so, what I found on this particular day was that he was now turning into all sweetness and light, having been spitting with venom in my face the day before to try to intimidate me for not chucking him out. But now, he had been to the estate agent to see if he could rent a flat and he needed someone to act as his guarantor, so he came to me all sweetness and light saying, “I can’t get a flat unless I’ve got someone to be my guarantor”.
So, now this conversation is going bonkers in my head where I’m thinking, “Oh my God. He thinks I’m going to be the one who signs and be his guarantor, and if I don’t sign then that means he’s never going to leave, and he’ll make me the reason why he can’t leave. But if I sign as his guarantor, then I’m responsible for his bills; he’ll never pay them; that will bleed me dry”. So my brain is going, “What do I do; what do I do?”
Also, at that moment, something else happened, because I felt like I was going to say yes to him, but it wasn’t because I was afraid of him as such, it was because I realised, it was like one of those blinding moments where I realised someone stands in front of me and says, “I need help”, my automatic reaction is, “Of course I’ll help”. That’s what I’m saying about understanding about yourself.
Wendy Harris: Yes, yes, I understand that.
Ruth Driscoll: It really honestly felt like a great hand had stretched down right into the guts of me and it grabbed at my guts and twisted them around. I don’t even know how it was I was still standing, because I was frozen, I was immobile, and yet this twist in my guts was so violent. In fact, as it transpired later on a few days later, I started showing symptoms of a serious stress-related illness, which I know was sparked by that precise moment. So that was the catalytic moment that really completely changed the direction of my life.
I didn’t say yes to him, and I did chuck him out! But it meant then I became very seriously ill, which meant I needed to resign from my position as Head Teacher, which meant I needed to think, “Well, how am I going to earn my living?” It was through that process that I was going through that I realised, because of my background in education and leadership, as well as my personal experience of an abusive relationship, it was that that had led me to this point where I realised, “This is what you’re here for. You’re here because you’ve got the answers here for people who are going through this”.
That’s really how my life completely changed direction and eventually then led to the birth, if you like, of The Life Liberator.
Wendy Harris: So, if you didn’t say yes and you still chucked him out, what did you actually say?
Ruth Driscoll: Do you know what, that’s something that’s slightly gone blank in my mind as to what I actually said. I must have done something that just fudged the conversation at that point. I think I suggested some other people to him. I mean at the time, he was seeing another woman, so I think I said, “Well, why don’t you ask her?”
Wendy Harris: In your defence there, Ruth, I think I would have just said, “Well, why are you not going to live with her?” But we’re nicer people than that, aren’t we? We wouldn’t have put it on her.
Ruth Driscoll: I think I was almost in a state of shock at that point, because as I say this violent reaction that I had right deep inside me, but I know I was determined that he was going. And so, it was that realisation that there was that thing about me, and that was the first time I realised that I myself was part of the problem here; being too supportive, too generous, too much of the rescuer.
Wendy Harris: In such a short space of time to go from such extreme behaviour, that’s a telling sign in itself, isn’t it, that they would manipulate you enough to still continue to get what they want and only put themselves selfishly first, than consider what that might mean to you to have to make that kind of choice? Because, as you were telling me, I was thinking, “Well no, you want to get rid of him but he’s not going to leave, and you’re going to end up with the bill”. That would be kind of like a revenge tactic.
Ruth Driscoll: Oh, absolutely, yes. And this is what I mean when I say normal rules don’t apply, because you can’t think I would support him here. Obviously, he would want to be thankful for that. No; that was not what would happen. Fortunately, I had started developing enough understanding of that by then, so I knew that to say yes to him would have been the finish of me financially.
Wendy Harris: I think our instinctual capacity does have a knack of kicking in when we really need it, doesn’t it?
Ruth Driscoll: It can do, but when you’re in that position of an abusive relationship, you have really lost very much that sense of yourself. Unless you’ve been through it, it’s hard to understand that place that somebody is in and how they have been eroded as a person.
Wendy Harris: Yeah, there’s like a valley. I’ve been in a situation, 20-odd years ago. It’s generally the women that are the givers, I think. I think for women, and I can only speak as a woman obviously, but for me, what I heard from your story was that you had already decided that he was going. So that capacity to kick in was because, at the back of your brain, you’d already made a decision and you were anchored on that being the right decision, even though you know that there’s going to be fallout, because there’s always fallout, isn’t there?
Whereas, if you’re in a controlling situation and you haven’t made that decision to leave or not, you are kind of resigned to being there and yes, I don’t think your capacity really stands a chance, because you’re up against yourself.
Ruth Driscoll: And the problem is, I think at the beginning you talked about fear, didn’t you? The fear, even when we’re in a situation that’s a very bad situation, there’s still a fear of the unknown situation when the situation changes. That still goes on with us, especially if you’ve got children and your financial stability centres around being with this person. There are so many factors that come into it.
Wendy Harris: Social connotations; you’re now an unmarried mother; all of those things. Stigmas do stop us in our tracks, don’t they? I have to ask you one last question: have you found love again?
Ruth Driscoll: Well, at the moment I’m single. I had found love again, but my parameters had changed and where I found relationships where it would have meant a certain compromise, I had the strength to walk away and say, “No, this is not right for me”. What I do have is the confidence that I will find the right relationship in the right timings for me. At the moment, my life is very busy with other things, but I do have that absolute confidence that it is something that will happen in the right time, and it will happen without it having any friction around it.
Wendy Harris: Well, Ruth, I really am rooting for that special person to come and find you and not distract you from the amazing work that you must be affecting on so many people, that you’re working with in the past, and that are going to need you in the future as well.
So, now you’ve heard Ruth and I have our conversation, I’m sure you may well look at your own relationships slightly differently in the future. Don’t forget to reach out to Ruth if you want to carry on the conversation, and you’ll find more information on the makingconversationscount.com website.
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