February 28, 2023

Maybe I'm Not the Problem: Understanding Emotional Abuse with Helen Villiers and Katie McKenna

In this special episode, I’ve invited emotional abuse and relationship experts, Katie McKenna and Helen Villiers, to share their perspective on toxic relationships and how they affect ADHDers. You may know these incredible women from their podcast In Sight: Exposing Narcissism.

With Helen being a fellow ADHDer and Katie deserving a gold medal for supporting neurodivergence, I’m in great company during this conversation as we learn definitions for emotional abuse, narcissism, gaslighting and even mysophobia. 

Many of us adults with ADHD were raised with neurotypical or even narcissistic parents who did not understand and accept us for our neurodivergence. As a result, we may be more susceptible to similarly toxic and abusive relationships with people who deny our feelings and needs.

Please give this episode a listen and share with friends and family as you never know who may be suffering in an abusive relationship. I encourage my listeners to contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800.799.SAFE (7233) if you feel that you are in danger and need help.

I invite you to join my group coaching program FOCUSED, where adults like you receive regular coaching calls and have a supportive community with all the tools needed to thrive with ADHD.



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Kristen Carder 0:05
Welcome to the I have ADHD podcast, where it’s all about education, encouragement and coaching for adults with ADHD. I’m your host, Kristen Carter and I have ADHD. Let’s chat about the frustrations, humor and challenges of adulting relationships working and achieving with this neurodevelopmental disorder. I’ll help you understand your unique brain. Unlock your potential and move from point A to point B. Hey, what’s up? This is Kristen Carter and you’re listening to the I have ADHD podcast episode number 201. I am medicated, I am caffeinated and I am ready to roll. Welcome to the show. Welcome to the show. Thank you so much for pressing play on this episode today. It truly has the potential to change your life. Today I have on not one but two distinguished psychotherapists, Katie McKenna and Helen Villars. Here to discuss emotional abuse. And so the first thing that I need to do is let you know that this will be a heavy episode. And I truly encourage you to take care of yourself my friend, major content warning here, but please know that everything discussed is for your benefit. My ADHD listener, it’s for you to be able to identify toxic relationships and patterns in relationships in your life, and perhaps wake up to the fact that you might not be the problem. Now, that’s the tendency that we have as adults with ADHD, it’s to believe that we are always the problem. And as we begin to learn about ADHD and make peace with it, and ourselves, we may start to realize, maybe I’m not the problem. The healthier I personally become, the more I realize how toxic the relationships around me where and please understand that I had so many unhealthy relationships that I was in, literally in every single area of my life. And once I started to become more aware of what it means to be healthy, and I started to get healthy myself, I began to identify toxic and even abusive patterns in several of the relationships that I had. Now of course, the definition of a toxic relationship is subjective, but Helen and Katie are experts in this area and they are here to help us have a deeper understanding of abuse, and what to look out for in our relationships. I truly cannot wait for you to hear from them. So let me tell you a little bit about each of them. After qualifying as a psychotherapist Helen Villars completed a master’s dissertation in working therapeutically with adult children of narcissistic parents. Her client base is largely adult children of narcissistic parents or survivors of narcissistic partnerships. Helen is unique in the field because there is very little academic research in this area. And books thus far are usually based on anecdotal or personal experience. Helen is also a couples therapist with a busy private practice. And fun fact, Helen has ADHD and she’s totally one of us. Katie McKenna is an accredited psychotherapist who runs a successful private psychotherapy practice at 37. With over a decade of clinical experience, Katie works at a GP practice, and currently has a waiting list of over 500 people. But Katie finds most rewarding is raising people’s awareness and educating them on how their childhood relationships are impacting their current relationships. And to not only witnessed but play a role in someone’s life changing exponentially through the psychotherapy process. Both Helen and Katie are on Tiktok and Instagram and of course will link their handles in the show notes. But before we transition to our conversation, I have to put in a huge plug for their podcasts, which I almost never do. Their podcast is called Insight exposing narcissism. The content in this podcast is hugely valuable and I can’t say enough good things about it. If you are someone who suspects that you might be in one or more narcissistic relationships, I highly, highly, highly recommend their podcast. Again. It’s called Insight, exposing narcissism and of course we’ll link that in the show notes too. Okay, please enjoy my conversation with Katie McKenna. And Helen Villars. All right, Helen and Katie, thank you so much for being here with me today. I am beyond thrilled to have you on.

Helen Villiers 4:54
Yeah, really excited.

Kristen Carder 4:56
It is so fun. So I have been listening to your podcast for about Six months been through every episode, have a couple of them starred flagged, I go back to them often, why don’t you just tell us just a tiny bit about your podcast? So the listener can kind of get a feel for what it is that you guys talk about?

Helen Villiers 5:13
Yeah, sure thing. Our podcast is basically we answer letters from listeners, listeners write isn’t a letter about their situation, they describe what’s going on with their family or their partner, and they talk a bit about their childhood. And then we pick it apart and look at where narcissism is there and where emotional abuse is happening and patterns, and then offer some ideas of what they could do differently and how they might be able to change their behavior to protect themselves better. And then you want to add to that key too. So I

Katie McKenna 5:41
feel like yeah, really, when we think of like old school agony and son radio for somebody is waiting in, but it’s really condensed. So this way people actually get to give their experience. And the wonderful thing about hearing it in their own language is that we get to then talk back to them in normal, everyday language. So it really removes the therapeutic speak. And it’s actually talking about real life and real life situations. Because a lot of people when they grow up, Helen mentioned, they’re in abusive households and narcissistic households, they just think that this is normal, and it’s normalized, and they can often go on and repeat the behavior. So we are just thrilled to be able to have the podcasts that we do, and to be able to get this information out to as many people as we can. Because although we see individual clients, it’s really wonderful to be able to make this information as accessible to everybody as possible.

Kristen Carder 6:30
Yeah, the thought of so many people being able to listen in and be able to relate to perhaps what of a listener has written into you, and then hearing the way that you pick apart everything. And it’s almost like you guys can sniff out emotional abuse and toxic behavior. It’s like, it’s like a dog with a cent, you know, like, you guys can snip it out so well, and things that I would have never pinpointed previously as being abusive, or manipulative or toxic behavior. When you identify it from the letter and talk about it. It’s been really, really helpful for me and my own learning. It’s,

Helen Villiers 7:13
it’s a really amazing thing. But it’s also a really tricky thing, because we see it all the time, don’t we go? See we’d like Yeah, it’s like this, like you said, it’s the sixth sense that you can just, you can just feel it’s there and notice it. And yeah, it’s it’s a blessing and a curse, I think actually. Landed really high for relationships. Yeah.

Speaker 3 7:32
What’s also amazing, and we hear it from a lot of our own clients, and from the listeners that once people see it, they will see it. It’s like learning and understanding. And we often hear this from our listeners and our clients going, God now that I see it, I see it everywhere. And it is this learning that and the more that we have this understanding of what emotional abuse is what gaslighting is, like you said, what manipulation is what toxic behaviors are like, the more that we can see it and the more that we understand it, the more that we recognize that and the more that we can validate ourselves that actually wow, maybe it’s not me, that’s the problem. You know, maybe the way you are tracing me maybe I’m not actually being heard in this relationship. A lot of times I hear from my clients that, oh, how can I explain this better? So they’ll understand, I’m not really that articulate how can I put this in a way so that they can understand my perspective? And there is a point we have to look at that and take accountability. But then there comes a point that we have to look at, well, what if you’re not being heard in this scenario, what if somebody is gaslighting you and keeps deflecting and keeps undermining you and gaslighting you and that you’re actually not being heard here. And one of our first episodes, the sound of silence was about that a woman in a relationship with her husband. And she wasn’t being heard in the relationship and there was no room for her voice. That episode was called the sound of silence.

Kristen Carder 8:49
So that is such a beautiful starting point. Because I would love to talk about that phrase of what if you’re not the problem? Yeah, as an adult with ADHD, and I’m speaking for myself, but also for, you know, the 1000s of ADHD years that I’ve worked with, and, you know, 10s of 1000s of listeners on this podcast, what I hear over and over is that we know that we are hard to live with, we know that we show up in a chaotic way. We know that we can be emotionally explosive, we know that our executive function sucks. And so we have been pegged as the problem since childhood. We know we’re a problem. And what I see now after having been in therapy for a couple of years and working so closely with clients is that so many of us adults with ADHD are in relationships that maybe are a little bit abusive, maybe are a little bit toxic, maybe are a little bit emotionally manipulative, but we don’t even realize it because we are so used to being blamed and taking blame for being a problem because we know we’re hard to live with. So Can you speak to that a little bit?

Helen Villiers 10:01
I’d love to answer that a bit. So I’m ADHD as well. And people often ask me, Well, what’s the difference between ADHD and trauma because they look really similar. And they do look really similar. But what I always say is, there will always be ADHD and trauma together, you always have to pull the trauma out of ADHD before we start really understanding what is ADHD and what’s trauma. Because as we heal our trauma, the ADHD integrates more as we start, you know, allowing ourselves to exist as we were meant to be aware, we were punished for not being neurotypical, when, you know, our symptoms tend to get worse. And people are like, what’s going on? I used to be able to read a book for days and days. And now I can’t even read a sentence without losing track. And it’s like, well, yeah, because we’re letting you be is as you are, we’re not punishing you for not being neurotypical. And so you’re not masking basically anymore. ADHD people are more susceptible to emotional abuse, because of that, because of that trauma background where they’ve been told, Well, yeah, but it’s your fault. I’m behaving this way towards you, and it’s your fault and treating you this way. And I struggle sometimes with the idea, and even as someone who has ADHD that people with ADHD or autism are more likely to end up in emotional abuse, they wouldn’t if they had had a healthy upbringing, right? They wouldn’t if they had been raised in an accepting way, where their conditions worth weren’t based on them being an appearing neurotypical. When we start on picking those narratives, when we start taking away their you should be and who are you instead put in Who are you instead, we can actually start building really healthy boundaries and start saying, Yeah, all right, I am chaotic. But why are you expecting me to be different than I was? When you met me? Why are you expecting me to suddenly change everything? Because your expectation is, I should be like this. I’m not like this, I never have been like this. And I’m not going to apologize for it. So it’s about standing in the confidence of our diagnoses. And teaching people to do that, so that they can own who they are, and not apologize for who they are, and not accept punishment for who they are.

Kristen Carder 12:13
I just feel like we need to insert some applause there.

Oh, my goodness, yes. And that is what I think is so important about developing self acceptance around the diagnosis is that once you begin to accept your diagnosis, what it means and really take responsibility for it. Of course, like, make sure you’re being treated, make sure you have support, make sure you’re building your scaffolding, all of that. But once you really accept who you are, then you look to others and say, Well, I accept me, why aren’t you accepting me?

Helen Villiers 12:53
You’re I’m not the problem you are because you’re the one demanding me to be something different than I am. That’s the you know, like, who’s the problem in that situation? Is PFR, you know, and also the idea of executive function you mentioned, and it’s something that ADHD, obviously struggle with neuro divergence struggle with loads. And neurotypicals expect us to suddenly fix it, or like, grow out of being like, bad at executive function. And it’s like, why, why do you think that I’m going to be different than I’ve been all my life. I’m never gonna get on top of the washing because it just isn’t important to me. Like, you know, do it last minute.com? Because that’s how I work best. And that’s a totally acceptable way of being it’s fine.

Kristen Carder 13:33
Yes. So good. So I’m curious, Katie, how can you just give us I’m really putting on the spot here. So if you’re like, No, I can’t, that’s fine. But I’m curious if you have kind of like a working definition of abuse. When when we talk about abuse, I think most people go to physical abuse. You know, big T trauma is what I like to call it like those big events, those big abusive events where there’s maybe some domestic violence or whatever the case may be. Is there a definition of of abuse that you like that maybe encompasses more than just physical abuse?

Speaker 3 14:16
Emotional abuse is so insidious that a lot of people don’t know when they’re in it? And if we look at that physical and sexual abuse, you’re right, a lot of people think that that is the only type of abuse. But Helen gave a lovely example on the podcast about that if you were in, you know, if you were in a restaurant and somebody come in, and they hit you, because the whole restaurant would be shocked, and you would be too and you would get attention and everybody would say, this is wrong, what’s after happening, you’re quite likely that you might go and report that. But if you’re in a relationship with somebody for you know, and this is the 20th date, and now they’re pushy, or now they’re physical with you, and you have this history where you have been undermined and abused all your life, you might go quick to self blame and say well Maybe this is my fault, what did I do, especially if they’re the one that is saying that to you. So physical and sexual abuse, the cornerstone of all abuse is emotional abuse. And if anybody is in a relationship that there is physical or sexual abuse, emotional abuse has to take place.

Kristen Carder 15:17
Okay, I need you to repeat that. That was mind blowing. For me. The cornerstone of all abuse is emotional abuse. Can you say more words about that, please?

Speaker 3 15:26
Yeah, absolutely. Let’s go back to what you said there at the beginning, when you were saying that growing up in an environment that a lot of people with ADHD find it very difficult to live with. And if we’re talking about emotional abuse from the narcissistic parent, and whether the child has ADHD or not, you will have to fit into a vision of what they want for you and expectation, a role. And when you deviate from that. So when you express any autonomy, any preference, or let’s say, with ADHD, maybe that it’s to stem or to fidget, you will be told to sit still, and you will be shamed, that there’s something wrong with you. Whereas there you were talking about that, it’s really hard to possibly be in a relationship with somebody with ADHD, as a neurotypical, and with somebody, like with healthy communication, and they’re with me, and a relationship, you know, a professional and, and what a professional and friendship, you know, relationship with Helen, once we’re very clear with our communication, it’s absolutely not difficult at all, to sit in a space to love her and have compassion with her and want to be with her. But Helen is very good at taking her own accountability. So I remember before sending her a gift, and it was about somebody’s expression, and she went, what does this mean? I’m not getting the move on. Okay, and it was, I think it was some I wasn’t somebody moving the rice, I can’t remember. And so I just noted that and I went, Okay, because me and Helen love sharing gifts with each other. And I was like, Okay, I’ll lay off the facial expressions, one, and I’ll, you know, give a different example. So that’s very easy for me to accept. And she’s able to communicate that with me. But I understand that if somebody doesn’t have understanding and is blamed that that, and that they can be quite frustrated. And this is what you’re talking about, maybe have a big emotion, because I’m feeling stupid, or I’m feeling left out, or I’m feeling less than whereas Helen was able to own that and say, Actually, what does that mean? And then the person that’s done, but the person that is accepting and understanding and not shaming says, Absolutely, that’s no problem.

Helen Villiers 17:19
And that’s a really important point. Because I know I can say that to Katie. Because I know Katie’s not going to judge me for it. And she’s not going to shame me and be like, Why don’t you understand that? She’s just gonna go? Oh, yeah, no, it’s it means this. And just That’s it, isn’t it? There’s no big deal made out of it. Whereas when I was younger, if I didn’t understand, and I asked for that clarification, it’d be like, what’s wrong with you? And yeah, again, there you go. There’s the narrative of you’re the one that’s wrong. You’re the problem because you don’t understand the nuance of the neurotypical, neurotypical. And, yeah, it’s a really, it’s a really interesting thing. When you’re in safe relationships. When you’re in a place where you are accepted as you present. You are able to own your parts that other people might have seen before. And yeah,

Speaker 3 18:02
Helen, I remember before actually, you sharing with me that you really struggled with the noise of somebody’s eating, and it’s called misophonia. And I remember saying, Yeah, that’s no problem. And I just muted myself when we’d be on Zoom. And I remember you being shocked at that. Do you want to share a bit about that?

Helen Villiers 18:17
Yeah, because, right. So I’ve struggled with misophonia for since I was probably about 12. And just the noise of someone eating is horrific. To me. It’s awful. And I’m like, You know what, I don’t know what I’m telling you guys, because you will know this, because you’re explaining it, you will know what I’m talking about. But Katie was just it was just this really amazing moment where I was just like, Oh, you’re doing that you’re not forcing me to accept something that I really struggle with. You’re not forcing me to face it. You’re, you’re just saying what I can accommodate you in this way. And it’s really, really simple because it’s clicking mute. That’s all she has to do. She just has to click mute.

Speaker 3 18:54
Right? And you hadn’t even asked me to do that. And I don’t. And here’s the thing, I don’t really have to understand what that is, you know, I’m neurotypical so I don’t have to understand to understand that you’re having a difficulty with something. And actually, I don’t want you to struggle. So if I can just mute myself, right? You’re not asking me not to eat. All I do is press mute. And I remember saying to you, because I’m when I was going over to England, and I was saying, How are you in a restaurant and you were saying, No, there’s enough background noise? Like that’s absolutely okay. It’s just when we’re in close proximity, and there’s put that’s easy. So this kind of narrative that the ad HD or is the problem? No, a lot of the times it’s the neurotypical that is demanding that the neurodivergent fits their box and is affronted in some way that this is unacceptable. They take it personally, that you’re hearing you know that you’re hearing these loud noises, whereas Okay, I will, I will try to accommodate that.

Helen Villiers 19:46
Can we give Katie neurodivergent gold medal or something?

Speaker 3 19:54
And we shook it. Sorry, we didn’t I get it right, but you are applause in the back There are a minimum there, which is actually showing up when you asked, you know, what is a beauteous with behavior user showing up when people are actually being so neglectful of your needs. I appreciate that. But I don’t deserve a gold medal. This is this is the basics. Thank you

Helen Villiers 20:24
imagine working with someone who just accommodates you in that way where it’s not a chore, and they don’t remind you of it. And that you asked Katie about emotional definition of abuse. And it’s essentially people who punish you for a reaction to their behavior, right? Or ask you to be a different version of yourself to suit their experiences, people who deny your emotions, who refuse to engage with you, who refuse to allow you to be an individual as you are.

Kristen Carder 20:53
Can you say a few words about what neglect looks like in an adult relationship? Because I think so many ADHD errs are feeling neglected, and not even realizing it, in relationships, where their their needs are not being met, where they’re not being validated where they’re not being heard. And that really is neglect, isn’t it? So can you can you talk a little bit about that?

Helen Villiers 21:19
Well, let’s just take what Katie just said there about muting herself. That is a tuning and attentive, and the opposite of not doing that would be neglectful to not meet my need to not accommodate a need. That’s very simple. It’s not because it’s not costing her a lot to do that, right. And this is the thing, right? So I can express a preference. And Katie can choose whether or not to meet that she doesn’t have to do the muting. But then I get to choose whether I stay on the call or not. So I can remove myself if I want to, right. But when we’re talking about neglect, which is a complete denial of needs and ignoring of needs, it’s not even denial, it’s just like, they’re irrelevant to me, I’m not going to pay attention to them. And you just have to just suck it up and get on with it. And with ADHD, I think, because there can be big emotional landscapes and different things, especially because there’s always that trauma. So emotional dysregulation is going to I sometimes wonder how much emotional dysregulation is a part of ADHD. I genuinely think it’s probably more trauma than it is ADHD. And I think the same for RSD, which I know might be a bit controversial. That RSD is actually trauma based. I don’t think it’s ADHD based and I and I’m talking from personal experience a lot. But my experiences that and my client experiences as we heal the trauma rejection is something that people are made so much more comfortable with. So neglect is where somebody is. So Miss attuned to where they are ignored, where all their needs are ignored. And it’s just yeah, ignoring, and not accommodating in any way, shape, or form.

Kristen Carder 23:00
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Speaker 3 24:34
following on with that example, right so let’s say in neglect would be just that me ignoring me not caring that she’s struggling or having difficulty and I’m just going to shrug it off, go on whatever and I’m not even listening. I’m not asking how’s that impacting you or what I can do? And so that neglect is abusive, but then if we go on what the behavior what we typically see then is more abusive than the gaslighting and just trigger warning here for anybody, because I’m going to do an example of gaslighting myself Unlike, and it’s like, well, what are you talking about? Jesus, you’re so dramatic. Oh, you’re always overreact. And oh, it’s all about you. Oh, yeah. There’s always a problem. Do you know you’re always moaning, you’re always complaining. And so that’s silencing somebody. So if that happens, then the person there learns that I can’t express my needs to you. It’s not safe. So the next time they become more silent, they’re squish their wants and needs, because it’s not a safe space to articulate them. They’re shamed for it. They’re shown first. Yeah.

Kristen Carder 25:28
So I will dare to say that many of us adults with ADHD grew up in families, just as you described, and Katie, were our needs were overlooks. And when we tried to express those needs, we were gaslit told we were too much told that we were too demanding told that, you know, that’s a stupid request, or that’s not even something that’s necessary. And so my experience in working with so many clients is that this is the way that they grew up. And then in adult relationships, they have no idea how to express needs, because they constantly feel unsafe. In all of their relationships, they feel like they have to mask they feel like they have to accommodate they feel like they have to be appeasing in order to be accepted, I have to appease you, so that you will accept me and if I don’t, then I will miss out on love and care and my needs being met. So the way that I get those needs met, is I people please I accommodate I pretend I’m someone that I’m not I gaslight myself into thinking that I’m the problem.

Helen Villiers 26:37
Yeah, people pleasers are going to end up in toxic relationships, whether they’re ADHD or not, they’re going to do it because or they’re going to end up in those situations, because they’re not expressing needs, and they’re avoiding rejection at all costs. And of course, then let’s throw in ADHD, on top of that, where you’re punished constantly for expressing a need, that you’re, you know, you’re double people pleasing, because you’re so scared of rejection, and then you’re never expressing a need, and then maybe it explodes out of you, and then your call, don’t dramatic, and then you get gaslit that way. And oh, it’s just yeah, it’s really difficult, really, really difficult.

Speaker 3 27:15
It is, and let’s take it in terms of the child actually discovering who they are, you know, that’s the child discovering what their wants are, what their preferences are. And sometimes I might like this. And other days, I might look like this. And some days I want to vent, right. And other days, I might want to sit and think of in terms of unnatural tone. You know, sometimes I want to vent, sometimes I want silence sometimes I want space, so it’s ever changing. Whereas when we’re talking about in these both emotionally abusive relationships, and childhood with parents and narcissistic parents, again, it’s that the child has to conform. So it’s that the child doesn’t get to explore who they are. And a lot of my clients come in and they’re genuinely saying to me, I don’t know who I am. And when I’m asked my opinion, it’s like, oh, no, what do you think? Or if I’m asked what restaurant I go to, oh, well, what one do you want to go to? And it’s when we look back at this, that they were never given that time or that opportunity, you know, what’s even clicking the fingers telling them to hurry up, you know, don’t don’t be daydreaming, don’t be dilly dallying, and instead of giving the child time to decide, so a lot of the time and work it’s actually to, again, to teach people how the word denied their autonomy, how they’re known, was actually overlooked. Because when a child is born, they know to cry out when they need changing when they need food when they need comfort. The first word out of a child’s mouth is no but even before that, you know if they don’t want food to close their mouth, or they shake their head. So the child is fully able to express themselves, but then their nose annihilated. Their apprehension is shushed. They’re told to not trust their gut and trust what they want. And they’re told that I the parent know better. And they’re told that I’m actually doing this because I love you. So I’m giving it to you so that you will be accepted. And then you learn that, well, the only way to be loved is actually to present this version of myself, I’ll only be loved if I present one way. And we learned that we are only loved and we are only tolerated, if we are the way you want me to be. And then we can see how we’re more likely to get into these abusive relationships, how we’re more likely to be exploited and be taken advantage of, and confirm that narrative that oh, well, maybe it must be me because now if I’m surrounded by everybody telling me It must be me. It’s really hard then to get a grasp of this because the whole point of gaslighting is actually to deny somebody’s reality, and to make them dead, their memories and perception and often that can feel like they’re going crazy.

Kristen Carder 29:24
Yes. I just wanted to bring up I think it was on your last podcast one of you. I think it was your daughter Katie, who put tomato sauce on her

Helen Villiers 29:39
daughter puts tomato sauce on apple pie, because she loves apple pie. And so she’s suspected ADHD and possibly autistic as well. And oh my gosh, she’s so funny. So she it’s really interesting actually talking about this as like adults with ADHD who grew up in the like 80s 90s And then where there wasn’t a lot of tolerance around neuro divergence, etc. And now looking at my child who is fully accepted and not expected to be neurotypical are very neurodivergent households. And it’s absolutely like, friendly to that and everyone meets their needs and asks for their needs to be met. And I’ve watched her doing this do with the with the tomato sauce and the apple pie, and why shouldn’t you? Why should you?

Speaker 3 30:25
And from that it was actually then I was saying my daughter the previous day had asked for jam and ham together. And I dismissed it. I didn’t shame her for it. But I went on Oh, which do you want? And then she picked one. And it was from Helen sharing that and it was me going, Oh, actually, like, there’s nothing wrong with that I could actually let her have it and see if she likes it. And this is the bit where we don’t have to be perfect parents, we can make mistakes. But when it’s shown to us, are we willing to accept that? Yeah, I was wrong doing that I should have let at least let her test it to see if she liked it first. And now that I know that am I willing to accommodate this and allow her for it. But the main thing is, is that I didn’t shame her for that and say, that’s disgusting, or you’re bad, or you’re wrong, but I didn’t deny it to her in that moment.

Helen Villiers 31:09
Kristen was going to ask though, about the tomato sauce on apple pie. What were you?

Kristen Carder 31:13
Well, I was just gonna say it’s such a small, tiny, tiny example of letting your child be autonomous. And to think that so many of us were denied that just the our small preferences, the easy preferences that really don’t even matter, we’re denied it. What happens now is we have a generation of ADHD adults who don’t, like you said, don’t know what they want, don’t know what they like, don’t feel comfortable, really expressing themselves and have denied their their inner voice have denied their gut feeling their responses have been groomed to deny how they feel. And so when you ask someone with ADHD, how does that make you feel that I mean, it’s usually like, I don’t know that, you know, naming emotions is so difficult. So I just thought it was such a beautiful, but tiny example of letting someone be an autonomous person. And I think this is a really good segue into a discussion about narcissism. Okay, because I know that is something that you talk about on your podcast often. So either one of you, I’m curious, in a narcissistic relationship, denial of autonomy is a big thing. Yes. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Helen Villiers 32:27
Yeah, absolutely. So basically, what happens with the narcissist is that when they meet somebody, or when they have a child, they decide who that person is going to be, they decide a whole character for them a whole personality, and they put them on this pedestal, and they expect them to live up to that undefined image that they’ve not actually explained what they’re expecting at all. And they say, Hey, you are you’re on this pedestal, you’re gonna be the best thing that’s ever happened to me, you’re gonna fix all my problems, you’re gonna make me feel amazing. And then that person tries to express autonomy and moves away from this projected image of themselves that the narcissist has decided they’re going to be, they express the autonomy, and then they get punished for it. And so very quickly, especially when it’s the child, the child learns only this version is acceptable of me. And it becomes a narrower and narrower road that they are allowed to walk down as themselves. And that all the parts of them that actually make them them. So all the bits about liking, apple pie and tomato sauce, are punished, and they are shamed, and they are excluded. And then the person becomes absolutely disconnected from those parts of themselves. And so when you talk about people with ADHD, people coming into therapy, not knowing their feelings, we see that a lot, obviously, with our client group, whether they’re ADHD or not, because they’ve been denied all that autonomy. And one of the ways I work as a therapist is very structured in terms of, if I was a child in that situation, this is how it might make me feel sad, angry, powerless, it’s hopeless, etc. And I sort of almost spoon feed the options of these are the different emotions that you might be able to connect with. And if that isn’t, okay, we just go nice or nasty. It’s literally good or bad. And I just separate it into two fields. And then we bury it down into those to try and help identify those feelings because that denial of autonomy means a disconnection from self. And the narcissist is so very, very good at doing it because the punishment for not living up to their projected image is so vile and so painful, whether a child or an adult, that it’s absolutely everything is done to avoid it. And of course, they pick people in adulthood who are people pleasers who are scared of rejection. And they manipulate that to their own benefit to no end, you know?

Speaker 3 34:45
Yeah. And when you’re asking about that, if you want to hear the language that the clients actually bring to us what it says oh, it’s like walking on eggshells around my parents, you know, you have to be very mindful and you know, because they’re either going to blow up or they’re going to get really sad and withdraw you know, and I’m Gonna have to mind their emotions. And Helen talks about the four different types of narcissistic parent, the critical parent where we hear nothing is ever good enough for them. You know, they’re always criticizing me undermining me, the engulfing parent that wants to know what every aspect of my life that there’s no privacy and has absolute ownership over me. The ignoring parent, which is self explanatory there, it’s the one that has absolutely no interest in is very neglectful towards the child, and then one that encompasses all three and a lot of people actually can identify their parent and the three of them, but a lot of the times there’s one that is more prominent.

Kristen Carder 35:40
Sorry, I was just listening as a client, as I was just like, preparing for my next question. So that’s a beautiful segue into what makes a narcissist a narcissist.

Helen Villiers 35:58
So I take it easy. Okay, so for just for context, I’ve got a master’s I did a master’s in working therapeutically with adult children of narcissistic parents. And part of that was looking into what creates a narcissist, because it is the one question that every client asks me, why are this they this way? Why are they this way? What made them happy like this? And before I tell you the answer I want to just preface it with, we can have compassion for the trauma, but we do not have to tolerate the behavior. So if you go with the kind of most popular theory, it is a very severe and significant attachment disorder. And it results from severe emotional, physical, sexual abuse, severe neglect, or service mothering. And that’s something that people leave out all the time where their their child has grown up with a parent who’s really intrusive, and really in their face, there’s lots of covert sexual abuse, there’s lots of there’s no privacy, it’s really, you know, just like they’re enmeshed to the almost one person so badly, that the narcissist doesn’t get to develop or the child because it’s happened sort of in early childhood doesn’t get to develop a sense of self. And that means they have no identity. And so they use other people’s identity to shore themselves up, and to reassure them that they are good in the world, but because the need is so great, they exploit people and abuse people to continue telling them that they are good. And it’s what I kind of offer to my clients is, they’re basically like three year olds with really bad boundaries, you know, with lots of tantrums. And when you start looking at them as childlike, it really shows up where that behavior kind of stems from, you know, so basically, it’s trauma and abuse, which is sad. But it’s also their responsibility to fix. It’s not their fault, but it is their responsibility.

Speaker 3 37:57
When we look at that, that they are like the three year old, right, so they’re having big tantrums. But now these are adult people, you know, there are adults in our lives having massive tantrums, whereas we can contain a three year old, but I remember on one of the podcasts using that idea, imagine a three year old with a doll, right, and sometimes it takes her fancy to play with that doll. And then other times when they don’t want it, they’ll just discard the dog, right. And that’s acceptable for a three year old. Whereas when this is an adult, that is using people kind of as their plaything to just meet their own needs, and is never looking at the child or the person in their life to actually say, what about you in this scenario, you know, What needs do you have, and let’s negotiate this, and let’s talk about this. They are the child that just wants things for themselves and will be very demanding. And when Helens talking about that, and measurement between the parent and child when the parent is very smothering, you know, we talk about parental education and two different types of motional and instrumental and emotional and sorry three narcissistic then print suffocation which encompasses the to, and emotional identification is where the child is the parents. Many confident, you know, whether the therapist whether the go between between the relationship, or the parent will conveyed so many secrets to the child. And there will be the whole doll for what’s happening, or the instrumental gratification where which is just if we think of the Cinderella syndrome, where they will be the mother to their other siblings, where they will be cleaning and cooking and paying bills and looking after medical appointments, stuff that’s really beyond developmentally age appropriate. Yeah. And when somebody is so enmeshed in that when Helen’s talking about where narcissism comes from, it’s really hard because there’s such an measurement. And it’s so important to just reiterate what Helen said, you can have compassion for the trauma that they went through, you can have understanding for what that was, but it doesn’t excuse their behavior. It doesn’t excuse their behavior, and it doesn’t mean that you have to accept their behavior.

Kristen Carder 39:54
Yeah. And here’s the thing about three year olds. They can be very sweet and smugly also, and I think that is also true of narcissists. They can be very sweet and snuggly. They can be very loving and giving when it works for them. And so I think it’s really hard to identify narcissistic relationships because they’re not all bad.

Helen Villiers 40:20
Okay, I’m going to challenge that slightly, please do and just say, yes, they can be sweetened snugly, but it will be benefiting them, it will be motivational, they will be gaining something from that. So are they being really nice because they’re trying to deflect you away from holding them accountable for something that you’re trying to hold them up for? Are they feeling sorry for themselves, because it means that you have to reassure and catch their emotions and solve their emotions for them. That the narcissist, it’s a really difficult subject this one because there’s a lot of people who kind of go, but it’s a mental health disorder and isn’t it ablest to kind of be really mean about them. And the difficulty with that is, there is an awareness to what they’re doing. They know what they’re doing. If you ask someone to stop doing something, if you say to them, you did this thing, I don’t like it, it hurts me. And they continue to do it. They know what they’re doing. So yes, they can be sneaky, sweet and snuggly. But it’s for their own benefit.

Speaker 3 41:19
Helen, you did a tech talk that went viral. And it was saying that if they know to hide it, they know that it’s wrong. So let’s think of the critical parent that is critical of you at home. Often that parent then to portray an image will be so proud of the of the child and in public. And they will create this image that they’re really loving and kind and they won’t treat you the way they would at home. Whereas behind closed doors, it’s a very different story. And if we think of the narcissistic partner, if they’re able to control their anger in public, if they’re able, again to smile and not react, they’re able to control it. And they know what they’re doing is wrong, because they know that it wouldn’t be accepted or tolerated in the company that they’re in.

Kristen Carder 41:58
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, exactly. That’s so important. So I’m curious if you think that neurodivergent people or specifically people with ADHD, might be more susceptible to narcissistic relationships. I’m just curious if you have any thoughts about that?

Helen Villiers 42:14
Well, yeah, I think I mean, like I said earlier, because we are raised being forced to deny our autonomy. We’re ripe for the picking for a narcissist. So I do think we are more susceptible, but because not because of the ADHD, but because of the trauma that sits next to the ADHD, right, that makes you grow up in an emotionally healthy environment, you’re going to be able to say, No, I don’t like that behavior, or you’re gonna sit in your autonomy, if you’ve not been punished for being neurodivergent. If you’ve not being forced to mask your whole life, you’re not going to think you are the problem all the time. And you’re going to be able to hold those boundaries and say, I won’t tolerate that. And so therefore, my my answer is simply because there is trauma that sits next to the neuro divergence, that makes us more susceptible to those relationships. Heal your trauma.

Speaker 3 43:06
When you were saying that it’s difficult for ADHD errs to connect to their emotions. Again, I just concur with Alan. And it’s because they haven’t been allowed to express them. And we see this when you’re talking about people pleasing. You know, that’s our fourth trauma response, freeze, fight flight phone. And again, why is somebody living in survival mode where they’re walking on eggshells, because Helen, you shared that your daughter has ADHD and she is well able to express what she’s feeling, she’s well able to say, I don’t want to do this. No, I don’t, I don’t like to I’d like to do this instead. So and again, that is because you allowed that space for her to express herself. And it doesn’t mean by the way that the parent has to meet the child’s needs 100% of the time, this is where the people pleasing parent can end up pleasing their child and be scared of conflict now with their child. And they can end up repeating this pattern where the child can end up quite entitled. So there’s nothing wrong with a child having a need. And you know, me being busy either working or making the dinner and saying, No, I want to hear that. But I’ll come and get to, you know, in a half an hour. So we’re saying I see you I hear you right now I just can’t facilitate that right? Right now, I just can’t fit that in. But I will call my one two here. So the bed for connection, they’re still connecting to us. And it’s okay for us to hold a boundary, it doesn’t mean that we have to be subservient to our child. It’s okay for us to hold boundaries. It’s really healthy.

Helen Villiers 44:23
I want to just add on to what I said earlier about the trauma sitting alongside it. There is one aspect of ADHD, neuro divergence that doesn’t make us more susceptible. And that’s not being able to protect people’s motivation. And so sometimes that might make us more susceptible because we can’t read subtext or you know, but that also comes potentially back to trauma, which is what I’m doing it for your own benefit. So people who are mean to me are doing it because they are trying to make me better. And so they’re doing it because they love me, because, you know, why wouldn’t they? So is it that ADHD people can’t predict motivation or is Coming from the trauma space where we’re told that we’re being punished for our own good, and that people are mean to us for our own good, and that they’re making us feel bad for our own good, you know,

Kristen Carder 45:09
because we are fundamentally broken, and we need to be fixed. And it is like their job to play God and to fix us. Yeah.

Helen Villiers 45:17
Unfortunately, I described it as being bullied into being neurotypical most of my life. And the minute I got the diagnosis, it was just like, Oh, my God, it wasn’t me after all. You know, it was amazing. Actually, it was a really transformative moment. I’m

Speaker 3 45:34
broken, you are not hard to love. Yeah. And that is so wrong, to be bullied into something other than who you are and what you are, yeah. Because then when you’re able to express who you are, it’s that and that leads to connection, it’s that that leads to intimacy. It’s that it’s that that leads, you know, it’s that authenticity, that then we’re able to connect to people and feel understood and feel seen.

Helen Villiers 45:57
Yeah, because the ADHD or neuro divergence are taught that we don’t like the neurodivergent, as part of you, aspect of you. We only like the neurotypical version of you. So present that or you get excluded. And that’s the message even now, even my son who’s autistic, he experiences that at school as well, still now, to a degree a lot better than it would have been in my age. But But yeah, it’s still there.

Kristen Carder 46:24
I just appreciate both of you so much. This has been so soothing to my soul. And I can just imagine how this will feel like a warm blanket on a cold day to remind listeners as well. So thank you, thank you. If someone is listening, and they’re starting to get curious, and they’re thinking, Wait a second, that sounds like my family or wait a second, that sounds like my partner. What what do you suggest that their next step might be?

Helen Villiers 46:54
I mean, I think probably join our Facebook group, because you can get access to all our other channels from there. So our Facebook group is called Insight, exposing narcissism. And we’re both on tick tock, and we’re both on Instagram and Facebook. So we’re all over the place. You can’t listen. Okay, away from us, really. But yeah, go to the Facebook group. That’s probably the best place to start. Because then also, you’ve got a big community of people who will help you as well. It’s not just us. It’s a big, amazing resource. Actually, that group. Isn’t that crazy?

Speaker 3 47:26
It is. And then you already mentioned the podcast insight where we’re able to explore this and go into much more detail. So yeah, check that out.

Kristen Carder 47:35
Yeah, it has just been such a joy to get to know you virtually and follow you both on Instagram because I don’t do Tik Tok because I’m just like a 90 year old. But I watch tiktoks on Instagram, like an adult. Then to find you there and then to get to know you through the podcast and just the insight, no pun intended. Just to all of the relationships that are discussed it it has been so transformative and helpful to me personally. So I want to say from the bottom of my heart, thank you for the work that you do. It has just really been transformative to me. And thank you for being here with me today.

Helen Villiers 48:19
Thank you so much for having

Katie McKenna 48:20
me. Yeah, absolutely. I really enjoy.

Kristen Carder 48:24
Hey, ADHD, or I see you I know exactly what it’s like to feel lost, confused, frustrated, and like no one out there really understand the way that your brain works. That’s why I created Focus. Focus is my monthly coaching program where I lead you through a step by step process of understanding yourself feeling better and creating the life that you know you’re meant for. You’ll study be coached, grow and make amazing changes alongside of other educated professional adults with ADHD from all over the world. Visit Ihaveadhd.com/focused to learn more.

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