Dr. Robin Stern: Welcome to The Gaslight Effect podcast. I'm Robin Stern, co-founder and associate director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and author of the bestselling book, The Gaslight Effect. I'm an educator and a psychoanalyst, but first and foremost, I'm a wife, a mother, a sister, aunt, and healer. And just like many of you, I was a victim of gaslighting. Please join me for each episode as I interview fascinating guests and explore the concept of gaslighting. You'll learn what it truly means to be gaslighted, how it feels, how to recognize it, and how to understand it, and ultimately, how to get out of it.
Dr. Robin Stern: Before we begin, I want you to know that talking about gaslighting can bring up challenging and painful emotions. Give yourself permission to feel them. Some of you may wanna go more deeply with your emotions. While some of you may hold them more lightly, no matter what you're feeling, know that your emotions are a guide to your inner life. Your emotions are sacred and uniquely you respect and embrace them for they have information to give you. If you want to listen to other episodes of The Gaslight Effect Podcast, you can find them at robinstern.com or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for being here with me.
Dr. Robin Stern: Welcome everyone to this episode of the Gaslight Effect podcast. I'm really excited, uh, today and honored to have with me Kerry McAvoy, who is going to talk with me today about narcissism and gaslighting. And I'm really happy that we're going to be together for this hour, Kerry, because people ask me all the time, what's the difference between narcissism and gaslighting? And, and does it mean if I'm, if I'm dating a narcissist, that they're also a gaslight? Or if I'm dating a gaslight, are they also a narcissist? So I look forward to getting into that, and more importantly, to helping people, uh, learn different pathways and strategies to get out of their relationships that are so, um, difficult for them. But before we do any of that, please tell our listening audience about yourself, who you are, how you got into or interested in narcissism and, uh, gaslighting and just emotional abuse in general.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Oh, thank you so much for having me on Dr. Stern. I appreciate it. Yeah, I, I'm a licensed psychologist with over 20 years of a counseling experience, and I was aware of narcissism just from the standpoint of a diagnostic criteria, and that I would see a fair amount, a fair amount of my practice was narcissistic. I would say it's a small fraction, but I did see people who were struggling, either with a partner who had a narcissistic relationship with someone, or they were narcissistic themselves and something had driven them into treatment. Usually they were having work problems or they were losing a relationship, or they just were chronically unhappy and wanted to know what the problem was. So I was aware of it from that standpoint. I was raising a family. Um, life was pretty good. And then I was unfortunately widowed in my early fifties, and I began to get out into the dating world and met someone new, and I ended up marrying a narcissistic personality disorder. He's not formally diagnosed, but I think, I think pretty comfortably. He fits all the, the criteria on the DSM five. I was aware when I met him that he had narcissistic traits, but interestingly enough, we don't really talk about narcissistic abuse in graduate school. I'm not for sure what's happening today, but not when I went through graduate school.
Dr. Robin Stern: Well, I think because of people like you and me, maybe they are talking about it, but I, I'm gonna interrupt your story just to ask you a question. Do you think that you were more vulnerable to, um, someone like a narcissist or somebody who was, you know, uh, hiding their narcissistic abuse tendencies? Because, because you had lost your husband. I'm so sorry about that. And you went through that, but what do you think the impact was on you, and do you think it led you to being open to someone like a narcissist?
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Yeah, the, that's a common trait. Narcissistic people tend to look for people with vulnerabilities, and definitely a loss makes one more open, more susceptible to their strategies because you are looking for a connection and you may be wanting to replace that person with someone new really rapidly to get the life that you had back. So, absolutely. I know that he actually was targeting widows, specifically. He told me that. So I, I know that he had a, a type and that I fit the type. I had a, I have another vulnerability that I think that I've seen also increase, increases people's susceptibility. And that is I'm autistic. I'm a, a high masking light diagnosed female autism or someone with autism. And as a result of that, I tend to see the world literally more in absolutes. Like, I'm not a concrete thinker, but I tend to think that what I see is what it is. So I don't, I don't anticipate duplicity. And so to me, the idea of someone having a, a secret double life is something of the movies. I didn't believe that somebody would actually do that in real life. I didn't think that was a possibility.
Dr. Robin Stern: Can I interrupt again? Can you tell the listening audience who may not know what autism is Mm-Hmm.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Right, right. So autism is a neurological disorder that actually in a lot of ways is a lot like narcissistic personality disorder in the sense that it's hardwired into a person's personality. So I don't actually know what a person who's, uh, not neurodivergent feels or sees or thinks, because that's the way, that's the world that I exist in. It's the frame that I have, and it's always persistent, but it causes some unique, uh, kind of, um, oddities or differences in those who have it. And one of them is that you tend to be overly literal. That's what I'm saying. Like for example, when I was a kid, somebody would say an abstract concept like, um, strike when the iron's hot. I might, I think of an iron and hitting an iron. I don't jump to the, the concept of what it means. I, I see literally an iron and I have to like, break that frame in order for me to understand that's actually talking about something else.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: So when someone says to me, I'm into golf, I think they're into golf, I wouldn't, I wouldn't wonder myself, well, why, why might they be telling me that? And is that sort of virtue signaling or is there some other purpose in that? Um, and I also wanna, it's not true for all autistic people, but a lot of autistic people have problems reading social cues and managing social situations. And one of the things that I tend to do that I, I try not to do these days is I overshare. I, I think that if I give somebody more information about who I am, then that means they're more likely to understand, we understand me, we're more likely to connect, and that, that that will be a good thing. But what I didn't understand is that people who have a certain type of personality who are abusive, they use that information as a way to create a facade, to create an image. So that I feel like I've met the perfect person when the really they've done is they just made themselves very sellable, very marketable. So I didn't, I didn't think to question that, that if it feels too good to be true, it probably is. I just thought I got really lucky and met somebody who had a lot in common with me.
Dr. Robin Stern: So, so your narcissist then, in reading, you was able to give you what, uh, was able to display even if you didn't really feel what you thought you were looking for, what you were looking for and what read, like you were like, this is it, this is, this is my soulmate, my guy. Yeah,
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Exactly. Exactly. In fact, I remember on the first date thinking, I don't believe in soulmates, but this is lining up so well. This is amazing. I remember thinking that, not thinking that, oh, wow. Uh, it's too good to be true. It probably is
Dr. Robin Stern: So wait a minute. Are you moving with, with your husband?
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Yeah, my new my new husband.
Dr. Robin Stern: At the same time that your, the ground was just pulled out from under you.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Right.
Dr. Robin Stern: Wow. I so sorry.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Yeah. Thank you. Yeah, so there's all these things in play and I've, I've discovered this massive duplicity, and I don't know the extent of it. And then I'm a psychologist. So my, my reaction or my response to it is, get help. We need to get help. So I immediately contact experts. We do an intensive, I get a hold of somebody local for therapy and try to get us engaged to see what's happening, what should we do going forward. But the wheels are moving for the, the move. So I, I'm kind of locked in a lot of ways that I didn't have a lot of choices at that point. I mean, it could have just pulled out. So that's sort of the overview, is that I, I had a practice this horrible thing of being widowed, which up ended my life. It changed a whole lot. I met somebody I thought was fantastic. We get into this new relationship and then I discover nothing is what it seems. But I'm already in the middle of all this transition. So I go ahead and finish the transition thinking we can fix it once we get on the ground in the new location, and things will be all right. Only it doesn't.
Dr. Robin Stern: Did you know that you were actually living in a gaslight bubble when you were thinking that you were married, you were both committed, he was your lover, your friend, your husband, and meanwhile he was dating someone else. Had you identified that, um, when you found out that he was dating someone? Or were you just taking it as another punch in the, in the gut, basically?
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: You know, it's interesting 'cause gaslighting is another term that's not discussed in graduate school.
Dr. Robin Stern: Mm-Hmm.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: No, not at all. I couldn't have defined gaslighting to you at that time. You know, here, I, I'm a experienced clinician, long practice. Um, you know, I stayed current and I would not have been able to tell you that I was being gaslit. And that the whole experience was actually in a, in a lot of ways, it was probably as severe as the movie of gaslighting, the degree of there was an alternate reality that was being created for me that I was existing in. I had no idea that I was existing in that re than a false reality. So it, it, it's only been after I've gotten out and did a lot of analysis. 'cause I wrote a memoir about the experience called Love You More, that when I was writing that book and doing all this research into abuse, into, um, into people who create double lives, the, the duplicity that I began to understand what gaslighting is, what it does to the person who's experiencing it. But at that time, no, I, I just knew that, I just knew that something was terribly wrong, but I couldn't tell you to, to what degree that it was off or there was a lack of reality. I just knew that there were, there was what I thought was happening and probably what was really happening, and I couldn't tell how well they aligned.
Dr. Robin Stern: Yeah. And actually, that's very typical, very usual for people to come into my office and say, I don't really know what's going on. It just doesn't feel right. And it turns out, turns out that it's gaslighting. And, and just to, um, uh, close up the worry about talking about gaslighting in school of growing psychologists and developing social workers and educators, I hope now people are more aware both of narcissism and gaslighting. And I know that now there are more books, including my own and, and your writing as well that can inform education as psychologists and social workers and educators are moving closer to professional practice. But back to you and back to your story. And so how did you then decide to work in this area? And tell us about that.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Yeah, so one of the things I do to make sense of what happens is to try to make sense of what happened. That's why I, so I, I quickly shifted gears when I got out of the relationship and started writing and doing all this research. That's why I stumbled across the word narcissistic abuse, realizing that, and I actually think it's probably been misnamed because it's not exclusive to narcissists. Yes, narcissists do, are narcissistically abusive. And even us defining, what does that mean? How does that differ from an emotional abuse or domestic violence? Other groups, I think, like for example, sociopaths and psychopaths also abuse that way. And sometimes really unhealthy people can abuse that way. So,
Dr. Robin Stern: Carrie, tell us, tell us,
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: What is it
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: So they sell, there's a, like a bait and switch. People who've been narcissistically abused always say, I feel conned, or I feel like I've been, I've been scammed. So there's a duplicity and it's not just to the partner who's, who's deceived or the family, it's also all the public. 'cause everybody around you says, this is such a good person. There's such a great guy, or a really wonderful woman. No, that can't, they can't really be like that behind closed doors. So the public is also deceived in addition to the person who gets into the relationship. And so, over time though, that deception of what the, the real intent becomes uncovered a person who makes the sale of, oh, I really love you. No, actually, I really want your assets, or I really want your lifestyle. Can't keep up that facade. And so they begin to show who they really are. So it starts to feel like this Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde experience of, I have this really wonderful person, but then I see this really awful person. And then I see the really wonderful person again about the time that I'm starting to wonder if the relationship is worth it or not. And then they get, they stay in this confusion of not knowing what's real.
Dr. Robin Stern: Well, and it sounds like, I mean, that's really well said. And I'm sure the audience is particularly people who have experienced narcissistic abuse, really feeling that resonance right now. So thank you for that ex that really clear explanation. And what I was thinking about as you were talking about is of course, that, that makes sense, right? Because the narcissist is about making themselves better. There's very little to do with you actually that they're gonna marry you or, or, or say they love you. It's because they want something to make them bigger and better and um, show off or whatever, whatever the personal, uh, aggrandizement is, right?
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Yeah. Yeah. They, in fact, they don't actually see the world the way that the average person sees the world. They, they're excessively focused on themselves, what they're gonna get out of it, what they want out of it. And I think this is the other part that people get, uh, thrown off about narcissists and narcissistic abuse is that, especially if you're in a relationship with a narcissist, is that narcissists are, don't see the world collaboratively. It's, we're not going in, they're not going into the situation like a team. Like, we're gonna do this together. We're gonna make this really work. They're, they're going into it competitively. I want this out of this experience. I'm going in it to win. Uh, and if I don't get my way, I'm losing. And they don't even see their partner as someone they can trust. They see their partner as, as someone they're competing with. I wouldn't go so far to always say an enemy, although I think by the end of the relationship, the partners become an enemy to the narcissist. But in the beginning, I think they think this person's gonna solve my life. And then they get into it and they realize, no, this person's human. They're not gonna solve my life. But they always view it like, and if their partner gets ahead, that's a takeaway from them. So there's this competitive feel to the relationship.
Dr. Robin Stern: Yes. And also the other important thing that happens as you alluded to, um, and just saying it outright, is that your partner has needs. So when the narcissist finds out that their partner actually has needs and they're not just there to serve them or make them look better or give them more money, um, it doesn't work out.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Right. Right.
Dr. Robin Stern: It's not a good fit anymore.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: No, no. I, I had a, a great need to analyze my partner to make sense of what happening. And that said, that's kind of the way I'm wired. So I one time asked him what he saw as the ideal relationship. And he described a servant that he wanted a partner who basically, he actually said, slept on the floor beside his bed and waited on him 24 7. I remember feeling horrified that I was in a relationship, that I was married to a person who believed that that was an ideal, I ideal relationship. 'cause there was no way that I was ever gonna be anywhere near that. Nor that I even considered that a reasonable human re expectation in a relationship.
Dr. Robin Stern: You know, it sounds so absurd when you say it. It almost makes us laugh. But it is so not funny because it actually is the way he saw the world. Yeah. Actually, that, um, his abusing you not doing that, you're not cooperating with his vision in that way. Uh, I'm sure just added fuel to the fire and, and made him more abusive. So what was it like for you? What was going on in your mind when he was abusing you psychologically? Were you in real time trying to make sense of that, of it? Or was it just when you got out of it that you were able to then think, wait a minute, let me replay everything here.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Yeah, that, that's a great question. 'cause one of the things I wanna emphasize is that abuse doesn't have to look nasty. He never called me a name. Not ever. Not once. He never referred to me by any negative name, ever. So, but what happened was a systematic wearing me down between, um, the gaslighting. There was a lot of gaslighting, like shifting things. He'd say one thing and later say, he never said that. Or if he said something that was a passive aggressive jab that hurt, and I responded, he'd tell me I was too sensitive. Or even if I approached him and was interested to have intimacy, he would tell me, I want too much. And I'm not thoughtful, not kind to his needs. So I was getting this, this correction all the time about what I, the way I showed up
Dr. Robin Stern: What was happening for you. Just see, can we capture what you were thinking about? So you would say something and then he would gaslight you. Right. And would you think maybe he's right or did you stop, did you start to think maybe he's right after he repeated himself several times? 'cause one of the hallmarks of gaslighting is that it is happening over time. So what was that like?
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: I didn't think he was right, but I wanted him to see how hurtful it was that he, he had to know that this wasn't kind. One of the things he liked to say was, um, I'm not a thin woman. I've never been small. He would say, my mom always told me that I never chose women who look like Barbie. And, and I would, and he would say, say this shopping. We're out shopping for clothes in a country that doesn't really carry my size because women are very petite and small. And so I already was having issues just doing that in general, trying to shop for a clothing line that didn't go as high that I needed as, as it to go, it wasn't as generous in its sizing. And then he would say that on top. And I would, I would think, well, first it really hurt because I, it was insulting and I knew he meant it to be insulting. So then I would think, okay, do I insult him back? No, that will go really bad. He'll get me for that. I don't wanna be, he's a grudge holder. This is gonna go really bad if I make an equally unkind jab back at him. So I would decide not to, but then I would wish he would think about what it felt like from my perspective. So I tried to educate him on, you know, help him to gain empathy.
Dr. Robin Stern: Your empathy just wasn't enough. Right. It never is. And your empathy wouldn't allow you to hurt him back. Right.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: But also, my fear wouldn't allow me to hurt him back. I knew, I mean, I knew where I could have hit him and I could hit him hard. And it would've been, it would've been real. But I also knew that if I did that, this is gonna go to a very dangerous place. Yeah. Because this person's gonna get even. And I didn't want him to get even with me. Oh,
Dr. Robin Stern: So it was self-protective as well? Mm-Hmm.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Yeah. So I wasn't, I, I know some people end up doubting themselves thinking maybe it is true. Maybe I didn't remember that correctly. He actually, one time he made plans. We showed up and then he changed the plans. And I, and I went along thinking, what's, what's up? Why the change of plans? It would've been InLight for me to called it out at that moment. 'cause we were in public with other people. So I didn't wanna create a scene. But I remember saying, I thought we were gonna do this. And he goes, no, I never said that. And I thought, no, I know what you said. You did say that. You switched it on me. And there was one of the times where I thought, that's wrong. There's something really wrong here.
Dr. Robin Stern: Maybe you are being so literal Mm. Was helpful for you in saying, no, I know what was said. Right. Like, this is what was said. No, you can't take me off that, off that page. No. Do you think so?
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Yeah, probably. Yeah. I, I know. 'cause I've heard other people say, well, I would've that thought to myself, well, maybe I didn't say that, but I have a really good memory. And I knew I had a really good memory. So I thought, nah, I, I heard it correctly, you changed it on me. And maybe if you said it a month ago, I might've doubted it, but you told me last night, there's no way I'm forgetting what I said last night. So that was one of the clear times I thought, well, that's really bizarre that he's trying to recreate a new reality with me in this moment. But I knew it wasn't real.
Dr. Robin Stern: Yeah. So how did you, I how did you, uh, or when did you say, I need to get out, and how did you get out and was he abusing you? Were you having to deal with the abuse on your way out as well?
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Yeah. So the way he was being abusive is that he was never monogamous. And I suspected the serial cheating was happening. I couldn't catch it. And I, I had a viewpoint of marriage. Do you remember I would've been married 31 years to my previous husband and really had, um, one of the things I sort of felt really good about myself was that I had staying power. That I was gonna stick things out. I wanted to be one of those people. I used to listen way back in the day to this noon show that bragged about how many people, how many years people had been married. And they would announce this couple had been together 60 years. This couple had been together 70 years. I wanted to be one of those people that somebody could say they've been together all these years. So I felt really cheated that my first husband passed away. So I, I wasn't somebody who's gonna walk out in this relationship. So for me, I felt like I had to have grounds, really significant grounds. And, and the grounds for me was I need to prove that he was still lying. But he was really good at hiding that he was, that he was, uh, still seeing other women.
Dr. Robin Stern: He really weren't buying it, even though he was a gaslight. And he really did well. Yeah.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Yeah. He was so, he was so good at it that I would, I would like try to find proof. And he was, he was successful at hiding most of the proof. It wasn't until I got out that I was able to find that when I had the, the time. See, I never had, this is the interesting part. He never gave me any alone time. I never was apart from him, he was never apart, apart from me. He always knew what I was up to. And whatever I did, he'd questioned what I was doing. What was I doing? So if I'm not on a computer really long, he'd wanna know what I was doing. Or if I was on the phone, who was I talking to? So I didn't have any ability to, to do this deep dive into the back stuff to find out what was real, because he was monitoring me and smartly. So, because if I had had the time to myself, I would have, I would have done that. I would've, I would, I would've become a super sleuth and figured out what was really going on. But he knew enough to keep his thumb on me, not to give me that kind of freedom.
Dr. Robin Stern: That was part of his abuse.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Yeah, it was
Dr. Robin Stern: Control.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Yeah. It was. And also financial, uh, abuse as well. He was controlling the money. He was controlling my time. He was also controlling the amount of sleep I was getting, how much I was eating. Uh, he would run me all day without food, and we'd eat basically one time a day and the evening. So there was all of this, this course of control that was happening that that, that, that kept me from being able to be more, uh, to protect myself better, to really watch out for myself. So I stood in this place of do I stay? Is it bad enough or not? Or leave? What's the right grounds to leave? I had come from a really religious background that didn't believe in divorce, which also kind of locked me in and made it harder for me. But, so I probably struggled for over a year. And on top of it, I had made a really grave financial decision when we moved internationally. We had opened a company, we were running a business together, which I funded, but I shared control of the company with him, which meant that I shared the funding with him, so that if we were to break it apart, he would be able to say, well, 50 percent's mine, even though I had cap, I had provided all the capital.
Dr. Robin Stern: And so you did that early on in your marriage.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: I did this when we were getting married before I knew anything, which note to self, don't ever do that again. Uh, I'm, I'm realizing now that it's hard, it's truly hard to know somebody. And that when we make these super big decisions like that, we should wait a long time and get a lot of information before we do anything like that. But I didn't know, again, that was my gullible naive self who really believed in the goodness of other people made decisions that today I'm thinking, no, I wouldn't have done, I wouldn't do, I wouldn't do that today.
Dr. Robin Stern: I mean, not only did you believe in the goodness of other people, but you believed in love and marriage.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: I did. And,
Dr. Robin Stern: Um, and you were also still grieving.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Yeah. Yeah. To a man whose word, my first husband was one of these people where you could take his word and bank on it. So if he said to you, I'm gonna show up this weekend and help you move, he actually did this. And he woke up that morning horribly sick, vomiting. He would show up to help you move because he told you he would do that. So I, I had this long relationship with somebody that I knew trust was real, very, very much so that he truly had my back. And I just assumed that's what relationships look like. 'cause my mom and dad had each other's back. I didn't know there was people out there who really not only didn't have other people's back, but, and con but considered it fair to do whatever they thought necessary in order to come out ahead. I, I didn't believe that that existed.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: So all of that was working against me. So I know when people read Love You more, they think she, she's so naive. But that was my world experience. I I didn't have anything else to go off of. So I finally, it, it, I remember the mo it was a moment, there was a moment when it got super nasty in the sense of he was running me down about the decisions I made, calling the decisions I made super stupid, um, was just hurtful. We were on a vacation and, uh, I, I knew things were devolving again and really getting bad. And I looked at him and I thought, I wouldn't be okay if any of my sons were treated like this. And then I made the next leap, then why is it okay for me to be treated like this for you? And that, yeah. And that moment was, I could feel, I could feel things snapping and my, my allegiance to him breaking. And I also knew that I was ready to leave, but I still had the problem of the company.
Dr. Robin Stern: How did you know this is really important for our listeners? How did you know you were ready to leave? Because it often happens in a moment where, like, after a long time of abuse, months, years, many, many years, some, something happens just like that where you think, wait a minute, I would never allow someone, I love to be treated like this. And I would never want that for that someone I love. And what about me? So you had that beautiful moment for yourself of compassion for you, for Carrie, and yet you were ready to leave. What does that mean? Had you told anyone else you might be leaving and would they be there for you? Social support, so important. We know that. Um, did you put aside a certain amount of money? You tell me.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Yeah. I, I had, I had talked to a couple friends that I knew I could trust, and they knew where I was, you know, wobbly and back and forth, back and forth on this decision. I wasn't with them at that moment because of other, I mean, I was on vacation when it happened, but my biggest issue was he, he still was a partner of the company. And I, if I knew if I just walked out, he was gonna take the half of the company and that he had legal scanning to do that. So I knew that I was in a long game to somehow leverage him, to get him to give that up, that I had to do that. But yeah, it was, for me, was more now wa watching for an opportunity. I knew I needed to, this was a person that I had learned enough about.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: I had known him like almost two and a half years. And I learned enough about him to know that he was impulsive and that he needed, he needed cash, that he had no means of making money, and that he needed something to that if somehow that he, if he wanted something badly enough and I dangled something enough, you know, enough cash in front of him, he would then sell his half of the company. He would give it back up to me. I knew that was gonna happen. So I started to then just watch for the right opportunity, which interestingly enough, it actually happened that evening. So that decision happened that afternoon and that evening, a door, I knew a door would open and I needed to be ready. So for me it was how was I gonna get back to the United States? Where was I gonna stay?
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Um, money was okay. I had, I had, you know, my own money to be able to do that. But I needed, I needed that the company to become mine again. So I needed some kind of a door to open. And that evening, I got a phone call that my oldest son was, was something was gravely wrong, very, very wrong. And the, the, the, the symptoms that was being described, I knew as a psychologist was catastrophic. So I knew I was gonna have to come back to the United States. And there was my opening. 'cause once I come back in the United States, a lot of things would like move into my, my direction and I would be back with my children. I would have more control. So I knew that, that things were shifting a, that a door was opening for me.
Dr. Robin Stern: What do you think made you ready? Was it simply, simply, it's not simple, but that simply, that kind of psychological shift that like this, this really deep knowing this is not okay.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Yeah. That, and also I was getting increasingly ill. And so something was going really wrong physically for me. And I had a sense that if I didn't do something, I wasn't gonna make it. I had, I had a feeling that I even had some gut, like gut instincts saying, don't make a decision to become more, we were thinking about buying another property and moving somewhere and more remote and away from my community. And my gut said to me, I heard it really clearly. He said, you do that, something's gonna happen to you. And no one will know.
Dr. Robin Stern: Wow,
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: I could feel this warning of, you know, this is going bad. Something's really wrong. You already have been hospitalized. You collapsed on a plane. Your, your health is becoming fragile. Something's really wrong if you don't do something. In fact, I even, I remember I walked outta the ocean and we were, we were on, we were on a Caribbean island and the water had eroded all the rock beneath me. I was on a ledge. And I remember thinking, look at the power of that wave. Just the unrelenting beating of that wave, his eroded rock lava has eroded something that was volcanic. That's incredible. And I said, that's what he's doing to you. If you don't stop, you are going to be eroded out. You'll be nothing left of you. You have to do something or you will die in this relationship. So it took kind of coming to terms with that for me to realize I have to do something.
Dr. Robin Stern: And it sounds like it, it really took a commitment after listening to your strong inner voice. Yeah. I mean, that wasn't a whisper anymore. You know, and you're saying you were listening, like you, you had an intuition. We had more than that. You had a really strong inner voice say, get out. This is not okay. You won't make it.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Right. Right. Yeah. Right. Yeah. And sure enough, I, that's what did happen. He did make some more, you know, impulsive decisions. He needed cash really fast. I was like, yeah, sure, I can help you with the cash, but I want the other half of the company. Mm-Hmm.
Dr. Robin Stern: Wow.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Yeah. It, it was scary. I I, I have been terrified as a child. I've been in really uncomfortable, really awful situations and have known real terror as a child. I felt real, real terror in that relationship. He was, he was, um, it's interesting 'cause he's, he's a pleasant looking person. He's got a very charming personality. But there is a side of him that is utterly, utterly awful, uh, nightmarish. And I, I really start to see that side and was felt shut down. I, there were times I actually couldn't speak. I was driven mute that I, I would know that I needed to say something and I, I, I couldn't speak on my behalf.
Dr. Robin Stern: So he was successful in, in squashing you. Yeah. And he never, it sounds like he was one of those people who is just not capable of real love. Mm-Hmm.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Yeah. No, I'm, I, these days I'm online primarily. I do offer group coaching. So I have a wonderful group called Heal and Empowered that are working together through, um, how to heal after narcissistic abuse. And I also have a, that's a, a short term, a 12 week group coaching. And then I also have a long, long-term group that people who come together who just support each other. But we also meet weekly and hang out and talk about issues. We kind of do what I call office hours together, where we talk about, you know, collectively what we're working on together. So that's been wonderful to meet other people and to hear stories that are a lot like mine. And it's very, very affirming because one of the things that's hard about this is that is as common as it is. And it's not a rare thing.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: I think that it's been es estimated to upward 160 to 180 million narcissistic abuse survivors in the United States alone. But when we talk about it to the public, there's, it's, it's very hard for people to understand the power of these relationships, the power of a trauma bond, how utterly, uh, confused you feel and unable to actually take steps to protect yourself. We really like in the United States to believe, and maybe in the western world in general, that we have a free agency, that we're always under control, our own control, and that all decisions are equally available and open. But some people have the ability to really limit these options. You feel like you can't make choices for yourself. You feel very locked in. So it's great to talk to about other, talk to other people who've been in these situations to know what, what it's like and what we're going through.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: You know, I was thinking, looking back, I wish there were some things I had picked up on faster that would have warned me off that I, I now see in retrospect that I, I think that are really common in most of narcissistically abusive relationship. And one of the big ones is that, um, not only is it feels too good to be true, but often they'll do something to sort of like, take some power away from you right away and test your reaction to that. And it feels really shivers, really nice, really thoughtful. But, but if you push back and reject, they'll, they'll challenge you and get a little upset. Like one, a good one is to set a boundary, a simple boundary. Like say, I don't text after 8:00 PM at night watch, they'll text at 8 0 1 and then accuse you of being cruel and insensitive and, and just not a nice person.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: But one of the things he did is he said he really insisted on opening my car door while I'm an older woman with, you know, uh, not in the same kind of health as a 20 something year old. That wasn't really nice. I remember saying to him, you're actually harming me and forcing me to take your hand to get out of the car. It's kind of hard on my body to do that. He said, so would you say that you'd rather have me not be a gentleman? I'm thinking, no, what I'm saying is, I'd rather have you respect my body and my needs. But you'll see that kind of, they'll put you in one of those binds. Yes. And that's a really good warning that you've met somebody who's not safe.
Dr. Robin Stern: Yes. And the fact that you were having trouble making decisions for a long time, the fact that you felt less than the fact that you were just questioning your own power is also Yes. A result of the gaslighting. Yes. So he twisting and turning your reality as much as he could. And some of it was lighting and some of it was straight up abuse. Right. But no matter what, you had the courage and the strength to get out. And what would you like, uh, to leave the listeners with? I mean, your, your story is compelling and I'm sure people can resonate, especially if they're stuck in, in any of the stages you went through. Um, and I love how you wrapped up just a few minutes ago saying, don't fall for these things. I fell for these things. And looking back, make sure you're paying attention. Is there anything else you'd like to leave listeners with?
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: It's to follow up on what you just said, which is so great. And I love that if you don't feel safe being you, there's something wrong that Yeah, you're exactly right. That was a lesson I learned. Now, I wish I had known it earlier that if someone doesn't bring out the best in you, you don't feel like you can really show up as who you are. You're already feeling like you're having to make some parts of yourself smaller or more, more careful or quieter, then this is not a person that's good for you.
Dr. Robin Stern: Well, it's such a pleasure being with you, Carrie and I, I just love how you show up as you, and I'm sure that our audience are listening, audience is getting so much from the conversation we've had from your story and for your, from your very wise, uh, tips and, um, invitations for people to take you up on looking at that for themselves. Where can they find you?
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: I'm on everywhere pretty much that you find, um, social media content. So TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and uh, Facebook. And it's Carrie McAvoy PhD. And if they, I would love to hear from people and if somebody is looking for help, just text me. You know, dmm me on these places 'cause it's all open and say, Hey, I wanna break free too. And I'd be happy to, to step in and give them some advice. And thank you so much for this opportunity. It was really, really delightful to talk to you.
Dr. Robin Stern: I really enjoyed our conversation as well and just really enjoy you showing up as you, Dr. Carey, quite the story. Thank you for being vulnerable. Thank you for sharing and um, just again, showing up as you is a gift to the world.
Dr. Kerry McAvoy: Oh, thank you so much, Robin. I appreciate that.
Dr. Robin Stern: Thanks for joining me for today's episode. I hope you found it helpful and meaningful. If you want to listen to other episodes of the Gaslight Effect podcast, you can find email@example.com or wherever you listen to podcasts. And please leave a rating and a review. I also invite you to follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter. This podcast is produced by Mel Yellen, Ryan Changcoco, Mike Lens, and me. All of my work and my upcoming book is supported by Suzen Pettit Marcus Estevez and Omaginarium, also by Sally McCarton and Jackie Daniels. I'm so grateful to have many people supporting me and especially grateful for all of you, my listeners.