Here’s the narrative. She’s a competent Head of an inner city primary school in a deprived area. During the day she operates as an effective leader, dealing with the challenges that such environments spawn. At night she returns to the ‘perfect’ home and the ‘perfect’ partner. Hmmmmm! Appearances can indeed be deceptive.
From the inside, this was a narrative of abuse, control and manipulation destroying the health and well-being of my Page 1 Woman™. She was helping the school community to understand and address the ineffectiveness of bullying, but in her personal life she couldn’t do so for herself. ‘The abuser uses love to manipulate you, making you feel they can't exist without you, that you're the one who's given them all the answers they need’.
Meet my Page 1 Woman™ Ruth Driscoll. Trapped in an 8 year abusive relationship, serious ill health, caused by the stress of living with an abusive partner, forced her to quit - the job and the relationship - before it was too late. She’s naturally reserved, and certainly doesn’t seek the limelight. But magic happens when she’s on stage telling her story, demonstrating extraordinary courage as she shares her pain and vulnerability. The experience gets to your core, haunting you long after she leaves the stage. Victims and survivors are compelled to share their experiences and abusers are rankled. Because what Ruth has done is to turn her experience into a business that enables victims and survivors to eliminate the shame, take control and rebuild their self-esteem and their lives.
Here’s Ruth in her own words.
Describe what you do.
Ruth: I’m a coach, mentor, trainer, and public speaker in my business, ‘The Life Liberator’. I specialise in teaching empowerment and assertiveness skills mainly to women, whose voices have been stifled because of bullying, control and abuse in relationships with their partners.
In my story, on stage, I use the analogy of a remote control and somebody else pressing the buttons that control your life. I finish by saying, "Life doesn't have a remote control, you have to get up and change it for yourself." So, it’s recognising that change comes from within first. That's what my online and workshop programmes help women to do.
People believe that it's obvious when you're in an abusive relationship, but it isn't. The abuser can seem to be the perfect person until you’re under their control. If they sense you pulling away because of their cruel and demeaning treatment, they slip back into being that person you first fell in love with. So you forgive them and excuse their behaviour. It can be a bewildering cycle that traps you.
Once trapped, you're in the worst place to address it; you've lost self-confidence, and no longer trust your judgement. Although you question what’s happening, the manipulator knows what buttons to press to return you to their control because you’re inadvertently giving them the signals. When you understand how it works, you learn to resist. So, my programmes support women to understand what’s happening, what to do if they’re still in the relationship, and if they’re out of it, how to avoid repeating the pattern.
Physical abuse is more overt and there’s some external support. But there’s also emotional abuse, which erodes your confidence, self-esteem and well-being. With an abuser, one minute the truth is this shape, the next, truth is something entirely different - according to his/her whim and dictates. When you’re rational and reasonable, you end up believing you’re going crazy.
What essential steps did you take to get to where you are today?
Ruth: As Head of a challenging inner city primary school, I developed many skills and took essential steps, which have served me well. But I wasn't taking them for the purpose of where I am today.
Being in an abusive relationship left me with a serious stress related condition and having to restart my life. I resigned from my position as Head because I had to protect my health and that job, however much I loved it, drained almost all my energy. At that point, I didn’t know how I would earn my living. So, the steps I took subsequently were to develop the necessary skills to set up my business.
I joined the Professional Speakers Academy and discovered powerful things I'd never done before, despite all my previous training and development. Not only have I developed my professional public speaking skills, I can now package my message, and deliver it with impact.
I didn’t know at the start where this journey of recovery and discovery would take me. I had a life coaching qualification, and thought I would create a related business. But I didn’t know what form that might take.
In my career as a teacher, and a Headteacer I’d done a lot of presenting, delivering assemblies and organising events. I also had acting skills, which gave me an edge to deliver my message in a distinctive way.
In the past, I’d studied writing in a variety of genre. As a teacher, I organised concerts and plays. I’ve written five musicals and a full-length screenplay. So, this gave me a heightened awareness of performance skills - what works on stage and its impact on the audience. So I drew on this experience, along with certain natural abilities and what I learned at the Professional Speakers’ Academy to develop a powerful story which got me noticed. Now, alongside my own business, I’m also a speaker coach, trainer and mentor, mentoring clients globally through the Professional Speakers’ Academy.
What was the most significance thing that got you to where you are today?
Ruth: It was developing my story. Telling my story from the stage was really significant because it opened my eyes to what a huge issue controlling, abusive relationships are, and how many lives are blighted as adults in relationships with their partners, or, for children with bullying, controlling parents. It also made me realise that being vulnerable on stage makes it okay for others to approach you and talk about their experiences.
Once, after delivering my story on stage, this man said, "When Ruth looked up at her partner in the doorway, it reminded me of my father”. I realised the impact of creating that visual image on stage and how it can resonate with the audience. Another time, I was telling my story at an event called “Power to Achieve”, and as soon as I started speaking this bloke walked out. He stormed up and down the corridor complaining, "Why is this woman on stage?" We knew that he was a bullying partner himself. So, powerful stories can reach people in ways you could never imagine. A colleague said, ‘That’s you, Ruth. Rattling the cage from the stage!’
Most recently, a lady told me that she, her mother and her young daughter had listened over and over to my story. For the lady and her mother, the story had resonance with their own experiences. But what really touched me was when she said that her 11-year old daughter had felt inspired by my story and felt particularly empowered by my closing quotation: ‘Life has no remote. You have to get up and change it for yourself.’ Then the lady said, ‘So, you see. You’re inspiring more people than you realise.’
Hearing feedback like this is so touching and also very humbling. It may sound odd to say this but I feel such gratitude that the life I’d originally planned for myself has been diverted onto this new and exciting pathway.
What was the greatest challenge on your journey?
Ruth: It was having to start again. But it helped me to recognise that without that experience, I’d still be a Headteacher. So, it’s weird but experiencing this abusive situation has freed me and allowed me to develop aspects of myself that I wouldn’t have had the chance to do otherwise. Even though I loved my role as Headteacher, I’d still be on the daily grind that inevitably comes with being in a position of employment. Instead I now control my time and my destiny. I have more freedom, excitement, fulfilment and influence running a business that makes a positive difference to people’s lives across the world.
Also I now have two little grandsons, and I'm able to look after them 1.5 days a week. We enjoy a really close relationship, and I can help my son and his wife reduce their childcare costs. Plus my daughter is about to give birth to a baby girl. So there is much joy that I can share in getting to know these new arrivals in our family.
What was your greatest light bulb moment?
Ruth: It was a dawning realisation that everything I am, and have done in my personal and career development, and everything that has happened in my abusive relationship, has drawn me to be in the perfect place to help others.
I was very resistant to working in that field. I was considering life coaching, around empowerment. And I kept hearing, ‘The tighter your niche, the better’. I thought, "How can I niche?" And people said, "Use your experience." I said, "No! I don't want to bring all that up again. It’s over. It’s in the past. I just want to forget it.” And they said, “But you speak about it with such passion." Although it took a while to register, I realised my advisors were right - that I am perfectly placed to speak with authority and understanding, having been in that trap, and knowing how it feels. I’ve been there and I know what works.
What resources have been crucial to your success?
Ruth: It’s being honest about what happened to me and not being afraid to be vulnerable. You can’t do it authentically unless you can show the emotional scars of what happened, and speak honestly and openly about it. It helps others, because people in abusive situations feel ashamed. I call it the ‘silent secret’, because you carry it around, thinking, "It's my fault." You don't want people to know that it’s happening, especially if outwardly things look perfect.
What do you understand by leadership?
Ruth: Having been in a senior leadership role in a deprived area, I believe it is important to lead by example. You can't ask others to do something that you're not prepared to do. You need to be clear on your mission, your vision, and then you've got to walk it – whether you’re in a leadership role or you run your own business. You need to be clear about what you stand for. You've got to show that you’re walking your talk, otherwise people will see through you. You will not be perceived as authentic. If you’re delivering one message through what you say, but your behaviour signals something else entirely, you’ll be seen as incongruent and therefore, untrustworthy. You've got to be the change that you want to see in the world.
How has it informed your role as a woman leader?
Ruth: It's important to recognise the power of feminine energy. It would be a mistake as a woman leader to lead from masculine energy. Feminine energy is strong. It is nurturing, caring and courageous. I believe this comes from a calm demeanour and from operating with dignity and integrity.
Women’s caring and nurturing side is so strong, that if anything threatened your children you’d do whatever it took to protect them. Men, of course, are not excluded from using feminine energy. What I’m saying is, it’s about the energy, not about gender. For me, feminine energy comes through the power of integrity. If you’re operating in that way, you have the power for effective leadership.
What are your top three tips for women who want to be leaders in their field?
Ruth: As a leader you may not immediately have all the answers. But what you must have is a clear vision. Whatever the environment, you’ll never know the full impact of your influence. So, make sure it’s positive.
When you operate with integrity, you do not need to feel threatened. Just stay true to who you are, and the direction you're heading. Live your message. And that will serve your mission.
These three things provide clear purpose, which makes you a leader that others will follow. Accept that not everyone will follow you - that's okay. When you're living your message, those that need it will follow.
Have you been affected by control and abuse in a relationship? Find out more about Ruth and how she can support you by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Were you inspired by Ruth's chosen pathway?
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