When you’re a teenager from an unstable, oppressive background, in which mental health features, what do you do?
And what if this background causes you to drift into an abusive relationship with an older man? And the days become years and you find yourself imprisoned with two children in a cycle of violence, emotional abuse and coercive control, desperate to escape but hunted down each time you do.
This was the plight of my Page 1 Woman. ‘When people say they don't understand how people get caught in domestic abuse, come and speak to me’.
What we know about domestic abuse is that leaving is far from simple. The abuser chips away at your self-esteem and sense of self leaving you feeling worthless. And often it takes years and a great deal of support to take a series of forward and backward steps to make that final decision to leave.
Meet Anneth Bryan, (Netty), a courageous, determined and resilient domestic abuse survivor and an extraordinary Page 1 Woman. Life has a way of turning the greatest mishaps into the most unexpected opportunities. When Netty finally cultivated her personal power and started standing up for herself, the abuse abruptly ended – in a way she didn’t foresee.
Hers is a narrative of tragedy followed by triumph, when she took her childhood experiences of parental mental health and enduring abuse and turned herself into a savvy, compassionate and innovative business woman with a portfolio business.
‘Now I’m serving others. And the more I’ve served, the more I’ve healed. And I also counselled my children and helped them through their trauma to cope and recover from the aftermath of their father’s actions’.
Read on and learn how Netty turned a tragedy into a triumph.
Describe what you do.
Netty: I'm a trainer consultant who trains foster carers and social care professionals in safeguarding and parenting children who’ve suffered abuse and trauma in their childhood. I also run parenting courses and coach young people who have psychological, emotional and behavioural difficulties.
My main work is Restorative Practice, which involves helping victims of crime or conflict, to meet their harmers in order to help them cope, recover and move on. Harm can come from offensive language, conflict at work or school, relationship breakdown, physical abuse or even murder. Both victim and offender must be willing and the process must be safe. We work in partnership with victim services, statutory and non statutory services, businesses and individuals.
We offer a self-referral process. We contact the offenders or harmers and prepare everyone for the facilitated meeting. The process is risk assessed and the engaged parties need to be happy that it’s safe and positive for all.
The cases referred to us could be historic or recent. Some people question the benefits so I suggest they consider it in a crime sense; the accused appears in court, and the victim never gets to ask those important questions directly. The Restorative Justice process allows them to ask the whys and the whats of the offender’s actions and address the behaviour.
I'm also a lifestyle and personal development coach, business and public speaker mentor. I counsel/coach people in trauma recovery using my Restorative Relationships Trauma Recovery coaching model.
Tell us about your childhood.
Growing up, my mother was frequently in psychiatric units and my father often worked away. So, my two sisters and I often stayed with family or church members. My father was an overly strict Christian who often beat us and instilled us with fear – abuse by today’s standards. In those days, it was the norm. So we missed out on the playful side of childhood, our mother's love and bonding. Often we were forbidden from doing normal childhood things, such as going to our friends’ homes.
Around aged 13, I rebelled. I started staying out the odd night which led to me going missing for almost two years. During that time, I was groomed by older ‘friends’ into a life of petty crime. I got caught and went home. However things got worse and I rebelled again.
When I met my children's father, Charlie, I was fifteen. I ended up in an abusive relationship with someone who had undiagnosed mental health problems. I now know that I stayed because of my up-bringing – parents stay together, no matter what.
Several months after meeting him, I got pregnant. Being under age I went into local authority care but wasn’t happy. So I ran away. I moved to a bedsit with Charlie. Being pregnant, I wanted my family and needed my mum. Surprisingly, my parents accepted me and I returned home.
After about a year I got a flat 20 miles away with Charlie. Things quickly deteriorated as Charlie became increasingly abusive. As I’d left school without qualifications I tried to educate myself at night school. However he tried to sabotage any attempt to better myself. I struggled for years trying to be me, and tolerated his abuse, drug taking and gambling lifestyle.
I tried to lead a normal life raising my two children amongst the chaos. When abusing me, he’d lock me in the bedroom, hold me at knife point or beat and degrade me before his friends. When he knew he’d done something really bad, he’d try to make up by playing happy families. So I was confused. Whenever I left he’d hunt me down. He even kidnapped our 2 year old daughter and blackmailed me into coming home. Although there were no locked prison doors I felt imprisoned. He had so much power over me, I felt completely worthless. That's why I stayed for 18 years.
Much later in the relationship I met an American woman online who I shared my experiences with. She empowered me to start believing in myself and I worked hard to plan a way out. I started to realise the impact of the abuse on my children. And one day I woke up thinking enough was enough; I started standing up for myself which reduced his power and control.
One morning in May 2001 we were arguing as I prepared for work. He sabotaged my morning and I left feeling uneasy. I said to him, "I haven't time for this, let’s talk later.” Later never came as he took his own life. The hardest thing was that my 12 year old daughter found him and had to get help and contact the emergency services.
I got involved in Restorative Justice and trauma recovery work, as I wanted victims to be empowered to leave abusive situations and to ask those questions that I and my children never got to ask Charlie e.g. why he took his own life.
I got involved in social care because my mom and Charlie both had mental health problems. I was now able to understand my past and how I could use those experiences to help others.
What essential steps did you take to get you to where you are today?
Netty: I did math and English at night school. A few years later I became an unqualified social worker in a hospital for about five years. I then studied hard for three years because I had to catch up on the lost time. In 2005 I qualified as a social worker and simultaneously got two diplomas, in counselling psychology and theology and leadership. And in 2010, I was ordained as a pastor and ran a local church and women’s group for several years. When I became a grandma I took a sabbatical to give time back to my family.
I also studied all aspects of Restorative Practice in dealing with serious and complex cases and harmful sexual behaviours.
What was your greatest challenge?
I was brought before the social work regulatory body due to a manager’s false accusation. It was a harrowing two years, which could have destroyed my career. It placed me back in that place of power and control where I was with Charlie. But I got advice from a lawyer who said, "You’ve everything within you to challenge this." So, I self-represented for five days.
With no experience of law, I mirrored the barrister representing the regulatory body. I’d been conscientious with my case recordings and I knew everything. It was the worst and the best experience of my life. Before the hearing, I’d received an anonymous letter saying that the manager was a fraudster and an unethical businessman. It said, if I kept going I’d triumph. It gave me the impetus to carry on.
The panel found no case to answer and congratulated me for the way I’d represented myself. I could continue practising as a social worker. That experience pushed me to channel the negative energy from two years of depression into setting up my business.
What was your greatest light bulb moment?
Netty: My greatest light bulb moment was after winning the case, realising that I didn't need to rely on anybody to create my future. I had the power within me. I thought, ‘From this moment on no-one will ever put me down. I'm a woman of faith and I’m a woman in control’.
What resource has been crucial to your success?
Netty: I strongly believe in God and without my faith I’d probably be in a mental hospital. The support of my family and close friends has been pivotal. I also work closely with my daughter advocating for justice, mental health and suicide awareness. I’ve also worked with my sister in business and ministry. So, we’ve been a tight knit supportive family network.
What do you understand by leadership?
Netty: To be a good leader you need the heart of a servant. It’s also about motivating and leading people. Leadership in business is about promoting a collaborative, engaged and informed workforce. And if you lead by example, ahead and alongside, people are more likely to follow. There must be a demarcation of course but people need to see that you're not untouchable and that they can follow you.
How has your view of leadership informed your role as a black woman leader?
Netty: It's been challenging leading my business. I work alongside predominately male dominated organisations. I’ve been in meetings sometimes when I'm the only black woman. You need to be strong, especially as a woman of colour and know your stuff, be confident in your role and remain unthreatened by politics and underhandedness.
As a black woman I bring my race and my life experience to the role. I've been involved in situations similar to that of some of my clients. But because I'm a woman on the other side, who’s been elevated from that position they don't know that I've a story they can relate to until I open my mouth. So, being a woman of colour with my personal experience carries influence.
Being a black woman and a leader in my roles is a strength. Organisations like the police, whom I’ve trained, have embraced me and my expertise. I give a perspective on race and hate crime that other people can't. I’m also well regarded as an active influencer in Christian and community pastoring.
What are your top three tips for women who want to be leaders within their field?
First, be confident in who you are. You’ll be able to present yourself, and your subject and why people should listen to you when you come from a place of certainty. Women are constantly fighting male dominance, and glass ceilings. And black women have to fight even harder whatever their profession.
To develop confidence, empower yourself through personal development, and be around like-minded women. Find a mentor and role models in women who’ve paved the way.
Second, be comfortable in your own skin, and don’t see gender or colour as barriers. You have to be strong enough to handle what will come because the higher you go, the harder it gets especially in male dominated environments.
It helps to listen to positive affirmations. My faith keeps me going because my perspective of who I am now comes from a divine place and rather than one of vulnerability or uncertainty. If you don't have a God perspective, then connect with a higher source than yourself, the Universe perhaps, or people who will empower you to be the best version of yourself.
Third, keep yourself educated. The world is always changing and you've got to stay at the top of your game. So, keep learning, and developing. Know the current trends in your industry, or you’ll stagnate and your business will suffer. Ensure that you've always got something fresh to say. That's how I got involved in Restorative Justice. I was ahead of the game locally and became the go to person for Restorative Justice service delivery and training.
You’ll be able to go into environments and say something new and relevant because if people regard you as an expert, you'll be called to speak on specific issues. I’ve been on BBC radio and television several times. It keeps you in the mind of industry leaders.
Click here to discover more about Netty and her work.
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