Ashlee Boyson on Surviving Betrayal, Narcissism and…Murder

Tony interviews Ashlee Boyson. Ashlee is an author, trauma survivor, and victim advocate. In 2011 Ashlee’s life changed forever when her husband’s murder revealed his secret life. 

Ashlee’s book “ The Moments We Stand: Silence Breaks: Book 1” is available at

https://amzn.to/3CMwO8Y You can find out more about Ashlee on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/themomentswestand/ or her website http://themomentswestand.com Ashlee has 4 courses available; use coupon code: virtualcouch to receive a 40% discount. Ashlee’s courses include: “Surviving Infidelity,” “The Light Within: a guided course for widows,” and the Pre-Launch of “Trauma Mama – Parenting the Hurting Child” and “Breaking the Chains of Eating Disorders.” https://www.themomentswestand.com/store

Go to http://tonyoverbay.com/workshop to sign up for Tony’s “Magnetize Your Marriage” virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you’ll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage. 

You can learn more about Tony’s pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting http://pathbackrecovery.com And visit http://tonyoverbay.com and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.

Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the “uh’s” and “um’s” that, in his words, “must be created by wizards and magic!” because it’s that good! To learn more about Descript, click here https://descript.com?lmref=bSWcEQ

Transcript

Tony: Ashlee, how are you? 

Ashlee: Hello, I’m so good. How are you? 

Tony: Oh, I think I’m supposed to be all mindful and zen, but I think what was, 13 minutes after the hour of trying to find out the technical difficulties. And it turns out I was, I mean, this is probably a good segue. I was technologically gaslighting you wasn’t I? It was my problem the whole time. 

Ashlee: Seriously, I was starting to be triggered a lot.

Tony: I know. And I feel so bad because I was, I was like hitting the “Ashley point at your ears” and that sort of thing. Thank you for your patience. I know. And, and I’m grateful that you’re here and, I know I’m jumping right in with humor and from looking at your account and listening to the things that you say, I think you’re a fan of humor as well. 

Ashlee: I’m a fan of humor, man.

Tony: Right. But you’ve, and, meanwhile, when my audience hears what you’ve been through, that is a real gift to be able to turn to humor. And I feel like just saying, man, I just want you to talk. And then, the me wanting validation also wants to tell the story of how we met, which is really emotionally insecure of me, but I’m really excited to talk to you, but yet then I know we’re gonna talk about difficult things. 

Ashlee: I’m excited too. It’s gonna be awesome. Yeah, and we met because one of my good friends from high school who happens to live not far from me now, we had both been through similar things and she was like, let’s meet up for lunch. And we were talking about a couple of things I said, she’s like, oh my gosh, you have to meet this guy I know. And I was like, yeah, yeah. Everybody is always sending me stuff, but she sends me your podcast. And I’m sitting there listening to it and I was like, oh my gosh. I do have to meet this guy that you know, and I text her I’m like, this is amazing. This podcast about narcissism, like years ago when I was going through stuff with, I didn’t even know what that word was. So to have this at people’s fingertips is unreal and it’s gonna help so many people go, wait a second, this sounds so familiar. Yeah. Oh my gosh. And I wish I would’ve had that a long time ago.

Tony: Well, I appreciate that but I can’t imagine what you have been through now and looking over your story. And I will be honest, the first time I’ve met with somebody that their credits include forensic investigation or Dateline, NBC, or, I mean, your story is, it is that big and crazy. And so then that’s I think why I go to the part where I feel like I’m really honored that I can provide something that will resonate with you. And so maybe we just dive in and where do we start with your story? 

Ashlee: Oh man. Where do you want to start? 

Tony: Your website is so good where it just jumps in, and basically the part where your husband was missing and you had just had your fifth child, I think, and then this just picturesque life and he was an attorney and you had the five kids and just everything just was amazing. I mean, is that kind of the case? 

Ashlee: Yeah, that’s where we were. That was 2011, and I literally was living my dream life. I just had my fifth baby, my son had a brother. Like everything was aligning. The market was low. We were just outta law school, bought our dream house. So it was kind of one of those, you know those times where you’re like, I did it. I followed the list. And I checked the boxes. And when I was younger I learned that I would be blessed if I checked these boxes and here I am. I’m blessed. So it’s kinda one of those times where I was almost patting myself on the back, look how much I’ve done. Here we are, we’ve made it. And yeah, there was just a few months that it started to feel like things were just like falling through the cracks. 

Tony: What did that look like? What was that? What were the things?

Ashlee: It was a lot of moments that I felt like I was crazy. Like things wouldn’t add up or things just fell off. Or I’d ask questions to my husband and it just, something didn’t sit right and the, it was like the more I dug though, the more I asked questions, the crazier I felt. Because he always had a good excuse and there was always a reason why I just needed to be patient and he’d be back at spending time with the family once he got this or this or this, you know? So it was kinda just crazy making all the time. And I got to the point, like I always say, any normal crazy person going through the garbage, like is there any evidence here because I’m losing it. Everyone around me thinks we’re the perfect family. I thought we were too, but something feels off. So I spent a lot of time doing normal, crazy person stuff. When you start to feel crazy, I was like trying to hack into his phone when he was in the shower. Never got in that I was trying to, like, I’d go through his car when he is in the shower, just like am I so insecure? And I started digging into my past like, okay, my parents got divorce. Maybe I’m broken. Maybe I just don’t trust people. And I went to a marriage counselor saying that, by myself, I went to a marriage counselor by myself. We’re gonna get that out there. Okay. And I begged him to just fix me because I think I have trust issues or something. Because all of a sudden I feel like I’m crazy and I feel like something’s not right. But he says everything’s fine. He comes home most nights, and even when he doesn’t, there’s an amazing reason why he has to be at the jail with a client or something. So I’m crazy and I need you to fix me. That’s kind of what it looked like for me. 

Tony: How did he handle that? 

Ashlee: He was always like, oh my gosh, can you not handle just being a mom? Like this is your one job is to take care of the kids and I have to go to the jail. It’s not like I can just say, sorry, I have a family. So it was always just kind of like making me feel guilty, like asking for his time was something that I should just buck up and be doing it all myself, which I pretty much was. But I was such that person who, you know, I’ve always been, I just love big. And I loved being a mom and every single detail of being a mom, I didn’t wanna miss it anyway, like I wanted to be there. But then having this longing for a partner to do it with me, got bigger and bigger through law school I just did it because he was in law school and then through this, I just did it because he was always busy with clients, but, I just got that feeling like he has to be part of this. They’re growing and I’m doing it by myself. And the more I beg him, the more it’s like he’s frustrated with me. Like I’m asking for something more than just even five minutes a day instead of watching my son watch the neighbor play baseball with his dad outside, I want you to be here playing baseball with him. Not just promising him that you’re gonna sponsor his baseball team. Actually be the dad with him. 

Tony: And did you feel like you had to buffer for the kids as well? 

Ashlee: Oh all the time. I thought even his, his own family, like there was a Christmas where we were planning on going and like the day before this was I think it was the Christmas before he died, maybe two Christmases. The day we were supposed to leave it was like, oh let’s tell them the kids are sick. And so I’m like, I’m not gonna tell him that, you can tell them that, nobody’s sick. We’re ready, we’re packed, we’re ready to go. But it was always like I was trying to cover for him. Even though, even though I tried to genuinely believe him, there was always that pit in my stomach like this, something’s just not right. 

Tony: Yeah. Ashley, I’m curious too, when you went to therapy, what did the therapist do or how did he try to work with you?

Ashlee: Um, that day he listened to me rant about all these things that fell off and then begged him to fix my issues and yeah, heal my past. And he stopped me right at the end. We were almost outta time and he is like, you know, I just feel like I need to say this. Sometimes those feelings deep down that something’s not right, what if something really isn’t right? And you almost panic when you’ve spent so much time covering and loving with all your heart, you almost panic because you don’t wanna go there because that’s really scary. It’s a lot easier to live in your fantasy world, you know? So I said, well, no, no, no. It has to be me. Like he reassures me every day and he just tells me I need to get better at communicating and just tells me I need to get better at like, healing from my, my mom and dad’s stuff. And so he literally said, bring him in next week and you guys can sit here together and we can work on this. I think you and him together will be the best way to figure out what’s really going on so you can both be there for each other. And then next week, I guess we’ll tell you what happened next week. 

Tony: Yeah. And I appreciate the way you handled that, because I do feel like when that person is in my office, you, in that role that it is the, tell me what I need to do different, but so often it’s the, hey, it sounds like you’re trying to do everything is maybe the problem. And it sounds like that was what you were doing. I mean, just trying to figure I can figure this out. I can fix this. 

Ashlee: Absolutely. Yeah, you fix me and I’ll fix this.

Tony: And we’ll be good. Yeah. Yeah. So then did you ask your husband to come in?

Ashlee: So I did. He at that time had gone on a trip with his stepbrother and came home and things were like way worse, like they’d been off, but he got home and something had like snapped. He was not even trying to be kind, like he was yelling a lot. He was more aggressive. He was frustrated with the kids and he wasn’t home most of that week and I remember it was a Friday morning and I woke up and I got on my knees. I am a praying woman, I thought, you know, with God, I can figure out what’s going on and we’re gonna fix it. Because that’s what us women do anyway. You know, you’ve worked with enough women, you know we, we know we can fix it if we just have the tools and the answers. So that’s what I prayed for. Just give me one answer. And once I have that answer, I promise you I will do whatever it takes. I will lose weight. I just had a baby. If that’s what it is, I will change who I am. I will change my character if I have to. Because I want this and I love him and I love this family. And so it was kind of that kind of a day Where I, I could feel it was almost like I could feel this moment had to happen where we saw each other and we worked on whatever it was , and honestly, a few times it crossed my mind, maybe he’s having an affair and he’s gonna tell me. But, it would always be in weird, bizarre moments, like when I was in his office and his paralegal would give me a weird vibe. But then I’m like, no, she’s 40 years old. I’m 28 years old. I just had his fifth kid. There is no way. And then I feel more crazy. So every time I had that thought, it was like I shamed myself for even thinking, like there’s no way you’re not enough for him. Like he would never pick this lady. And my thoughts would just kind of go in a circle. So anyway, that morning it was kind of finally, it felt like it was coming to a head. And I know so many people in this situation have felt that like, I have to find out now, it’s here. I can feel it, so I got up and just did crazy people’s stuff. Like I went to Target and spent a bunch of money on random things, like $200 in laundry baskets and things that we do to cope, you know? You’ve worked with these, I know you’ve worked with these. We have our coping mechanisms. 

Tony: To be fair, I’ve never had the buying all the laundry baskets.

Ashlee: I was redoing the laundry room. That’s the, that was the goal to keep me, to keep me, you know, focused that day. I went to the grocery store and bought all of his favorite food and we’re not just talking like his favorite meal, like I went nuts. I bought everything. There was a whole array of food. By the time he was supposed to be home, the kids were decked out in their clothes. I’d sent him pictures of the kids. I wanted him to see what he had even though I wasn’t changing much, like I just, I wanted the best version of us when he walked through the door that day. And he walked in a couple hours late. The food was cold. The babies were so tired, but I was like, no, we’re gonna do this. He’s gonna come in, he’s gonna see your cute faces, and he’s gonna remember why he wants to be here because it really doesn’t feel like he wants to be here. And we sat down and ate. He didn’t touch the food. It was kind of one of those, when he walked in the door, I tried to kiss him and he kind of brushed me away and I just sun deeper and deeper into this insignificant person who just felt so small. And pretty soon I could hear his phone ringing and he went in the back room which happened to be where the baby monitor was, and I’m like, maybe this, I’m gonna get my one answer. And I had asked this person who was a therapist to reach out to him, and it was one of those things that I’m like, maybe if he can tell me what’s going on, I can fix it. But I listened over the monitor and everything he was saying wasn’t even true. He was saying stuff about me like I had done, I was out sleeping around and I wasn’t taking care of the kids. Like all the things that I knew weren’t the answer I was looking for. But at the same time, played onto the crazy. And so by the time he got off, I went in the back room and called the same person, like will you help me out? And he validated that fear of being crazy? He’s like, are you crazy? What are you doing? You’re not taking care of your kids. You’re not taking care of. So he went through, I mean, he was lawyered, my husband was a lawyer. He was lawyered. He believed everything he heard. And in the middle of our conversation, Emmett came in and said, hey, I’m gonna go run to Walgreens. I’ll be right back. And it had been a few weeks of, I’m gonna go run here, and he’d be gone till 12 o’clock at night.

So I kind of panicked and held the phone away and, I need you to stay. Just stay here. Let’s talk about everything. All the things that the kids are going through at school, like weird stuff is happening. And I just, I feel like I need you to be here with me tonight. And he literally looked into my eyes, and he said, don’t tell me what to do. I’m gonna go, walked out the door, slammed the door. The babies were waking up. Just the baby, the young, almost seven week old baby. And I picked him up, got off the phone. And for seriously hours, I just sat there and rocked this baby trying to piece together what does this look like if I reach out to people? I’ve already reached out and said, pray for us, and people are like, well, what do you need me to pray for? And I felt more crazy because I’m like, I don’t know, something’s wrong. I know something’s wrong. So I held this baby and just promised him for hours that everything is gonna be okay. And I read my self-help book that my marriage counselor had given me to read and I got on my knees and said many prayers, just, I need an answer tonight. I don’t know what to do. And the baby finally fell asleep about right after I panicked. The baby fell asleep about 10 o’clock. He panicked and I panicked and I just felt it. And I called Emmett like four times in a row and texted him, are you okay? Please come home. And nothing, heard nothing. The baby finally fell asleep. And, I kind of felt more alone. I’m like, I kind of wish the baby was awake because I’m just sitting here. So I ended up laying down and falling asleep at about one o’clock in the morning. I heard just this pounding on my front door and I almost got excited. I’m gonna be honest. When you feel crazy and you’re like, maybe this is hope, there’s an answer. I was like, okay, you just bought a new truck. This is, this is what it’s gonna look like. He got in a wreck and there’s a policeman coming to say, hey, your husband’s hurt, broke his leg, got in a wreck. His car’s totaled, but he needs you. 

Tony: Now I know what to do with that. Right. 

Ashlee: I know how to, that’s what I’ve been craving for so long. I need him to need me. So as I walked into the door, I’m like, okay, he needs me. I’m gonna, they’re gonna take me to him. He’s gonna see us, and he is gonna be in a spot where he needs us to take care of him. And I thought this gift was gonna be handed to me and I didn’t even care if he wrecked his brand new truck. Like I just wanted him to see us. And I opened the door and it was just three people wearing random street clothes holding up a badge and saying, we need to come in. And I was just so overwhelmed. And by the time we sat on my couch, I didn’t think, like, I, I never imagined the scenario that we were, we were gonna sit around and talk about. And they just said, hey, do you know this woman? And it was the paralegal that worked for us. And I was like yeah, I know, I know her, she works at our office. She literally just sent me a present home the other day for the new baby. And they just kept talking. I don’t, I honestly still don’t know exactly everything that they said. The weight on my chest as they were explaining this whole situation still is, even if I talk about it, it’s just, it’s still there.

And I know I’ve worked, I’ve done so much work to try to work through, but at that moment, that moment where you, first of all for me, they said your husband was there with her. They were having an affair. Her husband came and, they literally just spilled it all, he came with a gun. And your husband was shot once in the forehead and once in the heart and he died literally in her arms. And I, when I go back to that moment, it’s not just about that, that pain of, hey, you really weren’t enough, sis, let’s talk about it. It was like, you know that dude in your head that plays him is like, hey, you little loser. See? See, you are so dumb. Look at you. You didn’t even, you couldn’t even figure this out. It took him dying in another woman’s arms fighting for her because you’re not enough. And that was kind of the core belief that just in that moment just grew and built and took over my every breath. He was gone. But not only was he gone, let me tell you what, he was gone because you weren’t enough. That’s what I believed in that moment.

Tony: Oh, Ashlee. And that default programming that we go to, I mean, that is just, it’s unavoidable. And I’m so sorry you even had to deal with that. But I hear that, I mean, I’ve never heard a version like this, but to show that it can go there, even in that depth of, of that moment, just shows how deeply at our core we have that internal battle of I’m not enough. I mean, I almost feel like that’s our default setting, and then we’re trying to just beg someone to tell us that we’re not. So I can’t imagine that, Ashlee. And do you feel like, and this might be a silly question, but when you just said yeah, they just dumped all that on you, you know, at one time, I mean, do you feel like that was something that had to happen that way? Do you feel like it could have been broached in a different way? What are your thoughts? 

Ashlee: Oh, you know, it was kind of like I wanted to make up a different scenario for my kids the next morning when they came running down the stairs. But it was one of those things that they, I needed the full truth because that crazy part of me that if he was there and he told me all of that, would’ve had the option to do crazy things and kick him in the face and be mad and decide for myself what my future looks like. It was kind of ripped from me because of this. It wasn’t just a murder. It was almost like, hey, here’s a reason why you felt crazy. And honestly, the first emotion that I felt when those detectives left my house, they spent a long time at my house and I remember calling people and telling people, I’m like, they were right there. But mainly I remember they shut the door and this wave of relief came over me. Not, not the relief that hey, your husband and the father of your children is dead. That, absolutely not. That was the guy that I was ready to give my entire life to it, and I gave my entire heart to. But the relief that so many women talk about when they find out finally, like their husband finally admits that he was having an affair. That relief is so powerful because you do start to feel crazy. You feel just trapped inside this twilight zone all the time. So that lasted about three seconds. But I just remember slapping, I remember slapping my couch, like I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t crazy, just screaming, excited that I wasn’t crazy. And then the guilt of having relief set in, because now this, I mean the life that you had. Like, you’re literally gonna have to tell five kids that their dad was murdered. They don’t even know how to spell the word murder or know what that means. And you’re gonna have to figure out a way to tell them in about three hours. The relief didn’t last long.

Tony: Well and one of the messages that you sent, and I appreciate you saying that. You said to remind you about that relief, and then you said that followed by shame because he was gone and so was my chance of saving him and that’s the part where I feel like, man, I can’t imagine how hard that is of feeling like, I mean, I wonder if the brain even goes in double time of saying, but I could’ve. I mean, now I’ll never know, but I could’ve. Was that what that was like? 

Ashlee: Absolutely. I walk into my closet literally begging. I’m like, I have seen it on the movies. I have to have a do over, rewind. I wanna see the alternative ending where I get to choose and guess what? I could have saved him. And I truly believed that to my core until I was given a second marriage with a similar scenario. Because I never did heal any of it inside me. Right? And I was given that second chance in a totally different way, but that’s another story. But having that belief that I could have saved him and I was robbed. Literally the guy that shot him was named Rob. I was robbed of being able to save my marriage, save my husband, help him through whatever, pornography, whatever he was going through, which he was. I would’ve been able to save him and I truly believed that to my core. 

Tony: What has that been like, I mean, this is where I feel like the, I don’t know if it’s the confabulation that our brain does or to make sense of things. Or if that’s just catastrophizing and we’re gonna pile on when we’re beating ourselves up, what has that been like to, or what has it taken to overcome that? I mean, do you still find yourself at times thinking, the more I learned, the more I know I could have? Or is it, the more I learned, the more I know I couldn’t have?

Ashlee: It’s more like, the more I learned, the more I know I was worth so much more. So it started out for years, even into my second marriage, like I said, I was insignificant in my own mind, right? Just like a narcissist is insignificant in their own mind, and they don’t want anybody to know, so they make it all about them. I was so insignificant in my own mind, whether it was from my parents’ divorce or whatever, that I really didn’t have a healthy view of myself, similar to a narcissist, but the ones that attract narcissists, we go to the, we’ll make it all about them. Because they like it about them and I want to give that to them. And that’s the way I’m gonna love. But you don’t know in the moment that it’s really just you being insecure and them being insecure and both have a different reaction. So that’s where I’ve come 180. And in my second marriage, when I, one one of the answers to my prayer I see now, it wasn’t like I need to heal from my parents’ divorce and I needed to fix that. It was like, it’s from my last marriage that I need to heal. And so it was like I was constantly trying to heal that and I was going to counseling and trying to heal that so this marriage could be different. Even though I was at the same spot and I attracted the same type of person, right?

So, it began to be more like, I felt like God gave me these gifts. I one day, no joke, I literally heard a voice say, I need you to start a blog, which, I don’t even, I don’t even do this kinda stuff, and I need you to write this story. And I was like, all right. My mom and my sisters could read a blog, but I fought it all weekend and by the end of the weekend, I just kept getting it. And I got a blessing from my church. I got a blessing that said the exact same words. I need you to start writing for some of my children who aren’t listening. And I’m like, write what? I can write a story. I can be pissed off and I can just, and I started writing this story and I, I, that’s when my blog started. But, I thought I was gonna get this gift of get it all out right? Be pissed off. You were stuck, you’re a victim, you’re hurt. And I started writing and at one time, my computer just totally shut down. At that time, I was just writing straight to the blog, so it would just like auto save and not one word saved. It was a blank screen again, and I had spent hours just talking about hate and talking about how people are awful and all the things that I wanted to say, and I got this feeling like, I need you to start again, and this time I want you to remember how strong you were. I want you to write this story with grace in it. Same story. I wrote the same story, but I got this chance to figure out who I was, not who someone could tell me I was or being in a relationship could give me. And while in a really hard relationship that ended in divorce, years later, I got this new view of me. So anyways, I think that’s how we get out of, we can’t change another person. I couldn’t have saved Emmett. In my next marriage, I didn’t save him. But we have to get strong enough so we can hear the inspiration that’s coming. Because sometimes when we’re stuck as that insignificant person who’s making it all about the narcissist, right? In our relationship, we start going, well, what do you think I should do? Because they give us the validation when they want to. And if not, they take it away and then we feel small again. But getting that validation from your higher power, getting that validation from your inner self, the strength that you have, is the time where you’re gonna be able to make decisions.

Whether you stay and put up with whatever is gonna happen, or you watch them find their healing and, and I don’t know about you, Tony, maybe that is possible. But a lot of people that are in my spot eventually either end a divorce or they go crazy, which I’ve done both, but maybe you are told to stay, maybe as you pray and fight, you’re just told to stay, but you have to strengthen yourself. And that’s what I wish I would’ve known back then. Not I could go back and save them. I wish I would’ve known my worth. I wish I would’ve not, not gotten married to validate myself or to, or been a great mom for him. I wish I would’ve just done it for me. 

Tony: I love that you used the word grace earlier. And I don’t know if you’ve heard me talk about this on the podcast, but I feel like we have to start from that we absolutely don’t know what we don’t know. And so everybody goes in and the assumption is that we’ll all work out and we’ll live happily ever after. And then I feel like that concept of, you know, then we hit life and things happen and now we both start to express how we feel about these situations. And that’s really where you start to learn. Is it okay for me to have my own opinion, or does my opinion cause this other person to feel less than or feel attacked? And then are they gonna put me down? Are they gonna take that one up position? Are they gonna go victim mentality? And I think it does start that crazy making where now all of a sudden you’re back in that I gotta figure out how to manage this person and I love what you said earlier, and you say it on your website too, of that loving big, because I feel like that’s one of those concepts that can sound negative. But then, I know this can seem so cliche, but when you’re loving yourself big, now you’re putting out just vibes that can change the world. And I get that from you now and everything that I watch you do on social media, which is pretty amazing. So what does that shift, how does that feel internally? I mean, do you feel confident now? What’s that self-love feel like for you? 

Ashlee: Oh, I guess it’s been more for me, just knowing that until I actually do love myself, not just the cocky, kind of like, oh yeah, I got this because that’s what the narcissist does. They go to cocky, they’re not confident. Because as soon as you shatter something or you say it the wrong way or you even if you did it yesterday and it worked and you had a good day, you could do it the exact same way and it doesn’t work because they’re just so unstable. So just knowing inside, I have to love myself before I’m gonna attract someone who’s gonna love me. I have to love myself before I can actually fully give that heart. Because if I’m just making it all about somebody else, even if I’m okay with it, eventually, I’m gonna just be giving and giving and giving. And there’s gonna be a moment, even if you don’t ever think it, there’s, there needs to be a moment where you do think, I, I need something back from this relationship. Not just when it’s convenient for you or you wanna buy a new car, or you wanna control a situation. I actually need you to care. And when I’m on my low days, it’s not an excuse to lash out at you, which I’m never gonna do, but I want you to come to me and I want you to be there for me too. Because I’ve been doing that over and over and over and over. So just, yeah. Even with my kids, I’ve realized the more I love myself, the more I have the capacity to love them and the more I see them love themselves. Because really we think I, I’ve heard so many wives, and I’m sure there’s husbands in this situation that go, you know, I stayed for the kids. And I’m like, yes, but guess what? You just showed the kids how to be abused. Because even if it’s not physical or sexual abuse, emotional, financial, all those kind of abuse, they’re watching to see what their life should look like. And they’re gonna try to emulate that. So don’t, my advice is, don’t ever stay for the kids, they will watch your strength. If it’s time for you to go and that’s your answer, they’ll watch you leave with grace, and if it’s time to stay and you fight, but you fight for you first. You fight to find yourself and you find your worth and you find your significance, regardless if anybody else is giving it to you, that’s when your kids are gonna grow stronger. 

Tony: So actually that, and I’m so grateful you’re saying that cause I feel like that’s the stuff where I can say it from a clinician’s point of view, but then having not gone through that, I feel like people can easily just say, well, you don’t understand. And that’s where I appreciate, you’re in it and you’re going through that, and I’ve been saying a lot lately, I feel like, okay, so we get our sense of self from external validation and it’s gonna start from our parents. And so then if we’re able to be there and form that secure bond and attachment with them and hear all their hopes and dreams. I mean, that’s amazing. But if we’re continually trying to figure out how to manage their emotions from the narcissist and the relationship, and they’re not seeing my best version of myself, I, I feel like it makes sense that then that’s what their sense of self is gonna be. That they’re also now gonna go be the person that’s gonna try to, you know, the people pleaser or the person that’s gonna try to keep the peace. And, and I had a situation a little while ago too actually, that there was kind of mind blowing where somebody was expressing to me that they were in the dating world. It was an amazing 20 something and a guy was starting to really just be a little bit more inappropriate. And then she said, you know, I thought that he was starting to get to that point, but I really didn’t want to make him uncomfortable or feel bad. And I feel like that’s part of maybe what, you know, this person will see in their childhood is watching, maybe their parent try to keep that peace and not want somebody to feel bad because if the person feels bad, then they’re gonna be angry and then the whole house is gonna have to pay. Is that part of what you were doing with the kids?

Ashlee: Oh, absolutely. I was always trying to buffer and, oh no, everything’s great. We’re, we’re doing great. And I, I do see people, and I see the world in a positive way because that’s kind of just part of me. But that becomes I feel like it’s almost used as your weakness and you become a liar. You start to lie for people. And you start to cover up what’s truth, because truth is gonna hurt. I feel like either way, your kids, when they’re watching you be that insignificant person that’s allowing narcissist things around and they’re watching their father being this person who feels insignificant, who’s created this monster and made the world about him. Either way, they’re gonna fail at life. And I watched my kids go through a lot of that stuff. And it wasn’t until we stepped away from all of those patterns that my kids started actually even grieving their father. And actually, actually grieving their childhood and they started having things like eating disorders come up, but it was because they were finally in a safe place that those emotions could come out. So before it came out really sideways and then it came out really sideways for a while, and now we’re like on the other side where there’s peace and calm, and it’s amazing to think that I thought I would have to stay with that for them to succeed. Because they absolutely, they’re succeeding beyond my wildest dreams. And there were times where I was like, you know what? They all grew up and be strippers or what, no judgment. But if, if they all grow up and they’re just on drugs, whatever happens in their life, it’s because this happened to them. And then there was a point where I had the shift that I’m like, oh, heck no. They’re gonna grow up and be the best version of themselves because I’m not gonna stop fighting to figure out how to become the best version of myself and give them all the tools and send them out in the world looking for the red flags, but not in a fearful way. And I have the knowledge, I have the worth, and I’m gonna be treated this way because I’m worth it. And that’s the strength that I’m gonna give to my kids, and that’s gonna be my goal for the rest of my life. 

Tony: So Ashlee, I talk often about this concept of healthy ego versus the pathological defensive narcissism. And I feel like you’re inspiring me in the sense that you knew you were a good mom, you knew you could love big. I mean, did you feel confident about your momming skills? Okay. So, when I talk about this healthy ego and this is from an author named Eleanor Greenberg who writes about narcissism, but, “Realistic sense of positive self regard based on the person’s actual accomplishments and relatively stable, because you’ve assimilated into your self-image the success that came as a result of actual hard work to overcome real life obstacles,” So a mother of five and somebody who loves big, I can imagine that we could say that’s real life obstacles. And then I love that she says, “because it’s based on real achievement, it’s relatively impervious to the slight and setbacks we experience as we go through life, it causes us to care about ourselves, do things in our self-interest and associated with genuine self-respect, something inside of us.” And now contrast that with pathological defensive narcissism defense against feelings of inferiority, like you said earlier. “And this person dawns a mask of arrogant superiority to convince the world he or she is special. But inside the person is so insecure about their self-worth and that facade is so thin that one pin prick will deflate it.” So that person is, they’re hypersensitive to minor slights that somebody that has a healthy ego wouldn’t notice. And so instead, somebody with that type of defensive narcissism is wounded, takes disagreement as criticism, and then at that point they have to then put that person, you know, in their place. And so there’s that part of me that feels like, man, your story is so good. And that I wonder if women here in this now and they know, no, I am a good mom, that that is one of those things where they can start to get a little bit of self-confidence in. And unfortunately, and I think maybe I talk about this on the podcast, but when you start to stand up for yourself, if you were doing it right with the narcissist, they are going to push more buttons and try to put you down. And I think that’s one of those difficult parts. So would you have moments where you started to have your voice, and then what would happen?

Ashlee: Absolutely. The moments when I started to find my voice and actually find my worth, which I honestly did not have, I found my worth as a mother, but as an individual, I had not, I had not seen glimpses of that, I think, most of my life, to be honest. I noticed that as soon as I started to find my voice and I started to find a purpose beyond just being there for every whim, you know? It got louder, it got bigger, there were more swear words. There were more locked doors. Like everything got bigger because I think narcissists like us broken. They like us small. And when you start to find an option beyond that, they are scared. They’re scared they’re gonna be seen. For me it was definitely a battle of finding my worth despite it getting louder and bigger. It was almost like it fueled me to go, I’m on the right path. Sometimes when we start praying for something, you know, we get more opportunities to do it. It was kind of one of those like, I’m going in the right direction. The more I got put down, sometimes it would break me, to be honest, because that was the cycle. As soon as I start to get a little confidence, you just kind of get shoved back down. But when I started getting my feet under me a little more, I would break me less and less. And then it would just start to just empower me.

Tony: That, whatever you did there, if you can bottle that up. And then I went in on like a supplement deal maybe. Because I feel like that’s that part where somebody does start to, to feel better. And we talked earlier I think people will say, man, if I would’ve known this stuff earlier and I was doing that, we don’t know what we don’t know, but I’ve got these five things I talk about. You know, you’re gonna raise your baseline that’s self-care and then get yourself in a better position. But meanwhile, if you’re starting to do things that are self-care-like, then that is gonna be attacked by the narcissist, and then people are almost having to hide their self care and then get that PhD in gaslighting and get out of unhealthy conversations and set boundaries. But I feel like, tell me if this was difficult for you, but the last thing that I talk about in that, ways to interact with the narcissist, is recognizing there’s nothing you will say or do that will cause them to have the aha moment or the epiphany. And sometimes I feel like that is the thing where the hardworking, good person is gonna, no, I can, I can find this aha moment or epiphany. Did you chase that? 

Ashlee: I chased it like it was the only dream I ever had. It was like, okay we got it. We just had the best conversation. He said, next time, you just have to communicate better and then I’m gonna do this better and it’s gonna be different. And then the next day it wasn’t different or way worse, and then we’d go to a therapist or we go and it, it’s just like you’re constantly chasing this dream that you are gonna save somebody. I think some of the red flags that I wished I would’ve known, if you are in a relationship where you literally feel crazy more than you don’t like that’s a red flag. If you are constantly going, well, I can’t talk to him about that today because today’s not gonna be a good day. That’s a red flag. Or you’re like, oh, well he shouldn’t know about this thing that I’m doing or buying or, you know. Communication like you’ve talked about. Communication is what relationships are built on. And if you can’t say, “hey, I’m having a hard time with this”, and your partner can’t hear that without taking it personal and making it about them, that’s a red flag.

Tony: It is. And, man, Ashley, I haven’t busted this one out yet. So, Waking Up to Narcissism and Virtual Couch exclusive with you, which I appreciate as I’ve been thinking, I had somebody. Somebody brought up in my office a couple of weeks ago, the idea of turning red flags yellow. And they realized how many times they were doing that. And it was, especially when there was tension in the relationship. And then all of a sudden they would then okay, well I, I’ll back down because I don’t want that red flag to seem so dramatic, so I’m gonna turn that red flag yellow. And then once they did that, then they felt like, okay, now it’s on me. I can work with a yellow flag. But then the red flag, I guess, is where I’m gonna have to do something. I don’t know. Any thoughts on that? 

Ashlee: Yeah, I just was picturing different times where I had a couple of times where some big companies asked me to come and do like seminars and stuff, and I told them no because I was afraid to be too big. Like when a narcissist wants to feel successful, you have to stay under their level of success, right? Because that’s when you get the worst jobs. That’s when you get put down the most. That’s when you feel that weight of all of their problems become yours, and you’re like, okay, I’ll carry these for you. I got this, and I’ll just stay down here, down at the bottom and I’ll carry them. So you do, you just, you’ll create different scenarios than one that would actually bring your success or bring you to light, or even make you feel like you’re living in the light. You just kind of live in the dark halfway.

Tony: I’m kind of being maybe too humorous for this, but I’ve had people talk about situations where they’ve tried to do that, which I love the way you put that, where I’m gonna prop my partner up and then gonna say, see, look at how well you did. And then that person not only says, yeah, I did, you know, and, no thanks to you. You know, and this is the person that, that literally propped that person up. Did you ever have that experience?

Ashlee: Oh yeah. I even heard a few times just like, well, you’re such an amazing mom, but you’re just such a bad wife. Everything you do. And I’m like, I give the same love. Like that’s just who I am. I had a stepdaughter and I still love her. I still connect with her. Like I just love people. And so to have a relationship where you feel like, first of all, you always feel like you’re crazy, but second of all, you’re just constantly being told that you’re something that you’re not. You really, do start to question like, oh did I do something bad? Maybe I shouldn’t, he said he doesn’t like tacos, dang it. Why did I make tacos? And you just start second guessing every little detail of your life. 

Tony: Yeah, you said something that was so good there where, or it breaks my heart as well, but being told what you like or what you think or how you feel, and I feel like that’s another one of those just ginormous red flags, that it’s nails on a chalkboard for me. And I know it’s not just as a therapist, but as a human, where somebody’s saying, well, you don’t even realize what you’re doing and you’re doing this and you don’t even know this. And so if anybody is, if they’re in a relationship where their spouse is continually letting them know what they think or feel, then that’s a red flag.

Ashlee: Yeah, if someone said to me like, hey, what do you guys wanna do on our double date? And I’m like, I don’t know what I wanna do. I’m gonna have to ask him, you know, like you can have an opinion, even if you have a spouse who’s really, really smart and really, really good at a lot of things and really successful, you can be too. And that’s the part that I really got to the point where I didn’t even believe, like I have to be small. I have to be broken to be loved by this person. So it’s either him or it, I mean it’s, if I’m gonna build me, I’m not gonna have him. And that’s a scary thing because you’re so connected to that cycle and to that person.

Tony: And I feel like that’s the part where people don’t know what it looks like to be too interdependent, autonomous, differentiated people with two different life experiences and how amazing that can be. Because they go into that marriage feeling like, no, we’re enmeshed and we’re the good kind of co-dependent. And if we were two individuals, then why would we need each other? And no, it’s like, that’s when it’s exciting to be together. And I feel like I was gonna say, man, don’t make me bust out our deepest fear by Maryanne Williamson. But when you kept saying small, Ashlee, my favorite part of this poem is she says, “Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.” And I’ve never looked at that from the narcissist’s lens. So that’s exactly what people do. Play small so that that person that’s insecure won’t feel worse. Or the hope is that well, they’ll feel better, they’ll get it, and then they’ll understand, have the aha moment, and then we’ll be happy forever.

Ashlee: And then I can start being me and letting my light shine. Once they figure out their stuff, I gotta say small until they do. 

Tony: And in reality, you gotta start letting that light shine. And then if they don’t, then they can go pound sand. I was gonna say swear words, but I don’t have to click the explicit.

Ashlee: One thing I was thinking, yeah. So a goal that I always had was like, I’ve gotta help him find his worth. I gotta help him build. But that’s not your job. If you’re in a relationship. And a lot of people that are in these relationships don’t even realize they are because it’s so hard to see it when you’re in it. Because it’s just the cycle that you’re used to. You’re used to having really big days and really bad days and really ups and downs. But the only thing that you have power of is finding your significance. Finding your connection to your higher power. Finding your relationships that enrich your life and connecting to those even if you feel like you’re not allowed to. So that would be my main advice. Figure out how to be significant. Because you are. Because we were created to have this mission and a purpose on earth. And our mission and purpose is not to just lift up other people. It’s also to let our light shine and to become the best version of ourselves, and all the good things that life has to offer. 

Tony: I love it. And I almost feel like if we were gonna do a cheesy role play, Ashlee, then if I were saying to you, hey, if you came in and said you’re, you found some new hobby, you like, I mean, I feel like yeah. The correct answers for me to say, oh man, tell me more. What’s that like? How long have you felt this way? And I feel like the narcissist version would be, well, why do you wanna do that? I don’t remember you saying anything about this. And do you know what that would feel like for me? Or what am I gonna find time to do the things I like? And then all of a sudden now it’s like, oh, now you know what I, yeah. I probably don’t wanna do that. And I wonder how many people have that experience versus the, oh my gosh, tell me more, that sounds exciting. Which if that doesn’t happen in your relationship, then, then that’s a red flag. Right. Ashlee, where can people find you? I wish we had another hour and maybe you can come back on again. Would that be okay? 

Ashlee: I would love that. Absolutely. I’m on Facebook and Instagram. “The moments we stand”. And then my website is themomentswestand.com. And right now I’m doing a lot online, I used to do a lot of public speaking, and I do it a few times a year, but I have little babies right now and seniors in high school that I really can’t miss life right now. So I do a lot of online stuff. I have some courses available on my website. I do some podcasts, like different podcasts with people. I’ve done a lot of interviews and anyways, so that’s mainly where you can find me. I think I got everything.

Tony: And I appreciate it so much and I hope that we can maybe do something again soon or do something together because I really love your energy and I have to tell you there’s one, I don’t know if it was on a story or it was a post or something and you were literally just kind of dancing and having fun with your kids. And if you go through my TikTok, it’s almost all just people dancing and I have zero rhythm. And there was a part of me that thought, okay, look at Ashlee looks just normal. And just like in the moment and it just made it look fun. So I appreciate how much you kind of look like you’re just being in that moment as a parent. That looks like a good time. Alright, Ashley, then I will put all the links everywhere that I can and then next time we talk, I won’t technologically gaslight you and we’ll have the whole hour. How does that sound? 

Ashlee: Deal. Thank you so much and thank you for all that you do. I love, I love what you’re doing.

Tony: No, that makes me, I appreciate it. I really do. 

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