Aliah Wright: This is NASW Social Work Talks. I'm your host Aliah Wright. The national coalition against domestic violence says that 48 percent of women and men have experienced at least one psychologically aggressive behavior by an intimate partner, that includes gaslighting, which is trying to convince someone that he or she is crazy, isolating the person from family and friends or demeaning the person in private or public. Our guest NASW member and military veteran, Megan Fenyoe is a San Diego based Social Worker and Licensed Mental Health Therapist. She just launched a nonprofit called I Am Enough and she's the author of "You Are Enough: Five Steps to Move From Struggle to Strength," a book that addresses narcissistic abuse. Thank you for joining us, Megan.
Megan Fenyoe: Thank you so much for having me. I'm so honored.
Aliah Wright: Megan, for people who are just getting into a relationship, what are some of the signs that someone might be emotionally abusive?
Megan Fenyoe: This is such a great question because it's one of those things that is very difficult to recognize and there's lots of different signs to be on the lookout for. One definitely is grandiose behavior. So, making themselves look so much better than what they are or the need for constant admiration. And another big sign is lack of empathy, where the person is really not caring about your feelings or what's going on and all they really truly care about is making themselves feel better.
Aliah Wright: Now, can you tell us what makes narcissistic abuse different from emotional or physical abuse?
Megan Fenyoe: Narcissistic abuse is part of emotional abuse. Narcissistic abuse can include physical abuse, in my relationship it was finitely both. But narcissistic abuse is more of the emotional, though a type of abuse that you cannot see from the outside.
Aliah Wright: So is it easily recognizable or is it more nuanced than that?
Megan Fenyoe: It's not recognizable because so many people, men and women, will hide behind this mask of, "I'm okay." But inside they're internally traumatized and falling apart. And that was definitely true for me because it's that emotional abuse, those words, those phrases that this abuser would say literally would just rip myself to pieces....
Aliah Wright: Such as?
Megan Fenyoe: ."You're not good enough. You're crazy." You don't know what you're talking about. You're insane. All of these different things. Every time that something would happen, and I would question him, it would be like you're the insane one. You're the crazy one.
Aliah Wright: So it's this person turning it around. And when you mentioned in the beginning about the problems being internalized, that's the problem with the abuser. That there's something within them that makes them behave this way outwardly toward a person that they love or claim to love.
Megan Fenyoe: Exactly. And there's so many different ideas and thoughts behind what truly causes, per se, narcissism. It really, I believe, stems from childhood, but it's truly the abuser having such lack of self-esteem, although it comes out as grandiose, but they have such lack self-esteem that they have to make everyone around them feel inferior, but in a way that it's completely manipulated, that they don't have any idea that people around them have no idea that they're being manipulated by this person.
Aliah Wright: If there's a person who's suffering from narcissistic personality disorder, is this something they can overcome?
Megan Fenyoe: I love that question. I get asked that question a lot. And it's a difficult question to answer because everyone is different. The biggest part of working with someone with narcissistic personality disorder is they have to acknowledge that they have a problem, and they have to acknowledge that they want to change. And that is not very common in this type of diagnosis. But as a therapist, I can't say that it's not possible. I just have not seen that possibility yet.
Aliah Wright: Now you'd say it took you years to break free from your emotionally abusive marriage. What is it about this type of relationship that makes it so difficult to leave?
Megan Fenyoe: Oh, I love this question. It's really about all of the different parts of the abuse itself. So the cycle of violence and the cycle of narcissistic abuse kind of go hand in hand. So the reason why it's so difficult, it was so difficult for me, is because it's that first part of idolizing. So my ex-husband would idolize me. He would love bomb me, as we like to talk about. It's kind of like the honeymoon phase, right? Where I could do no wrong. He loved me. He showered me with gifts, he did this, he did that, you know, we had this beautiful wedding in Napa. I mean I literally thought I was like the love of his life.
And then the psycho would continue where he would start devaluing me, which is the same as when the tension builds in, violence, a physical violence relationship, where that's where he would start devaluing me and calling me crazy and making me think that I was insane. That I was the one that was causing all the issues in the marriage, which I was the one that caused him to have an affair. All of these different things.
And then the last part of the cycle is the discarding, where he would literally basically throw me away. He kicked me out of our house twice. He filed for divorce four times and pulled the papers four times. Right? And so that cycle just continued. He'd idolize me. He started devaluing me. He would disregard me. And then it would start all over again. And I was just kind of like floating through this world. Like, "Okay," I was so traumatized at that time that all I wanted to do was make it better. I wanted to be better because I thought he made me think that if I did, this marriage would survive.
Aliah Wright: And how long were you married again?
Megan Fenyoe: So we were married for two and a half years, but I remained faithful and committed to him for two years after he divorced me. So altogether he was in my life for six years.
Aliah Wright: What was the breaking point that you reached where you said, "You know what? I really need to get away from this relationship." How do you take a step back to realize that you're in the middle of something that you have to get out of?
Megan Fenyoe: I hit rock bottom, honestly. And there's two different times where, I realized, "Okay, enough was enough." And basically February 15th of 2018 was when I walked away from him. I had asked God to give me a sign if we weren't supposed to be together to show me because the affair and the divorce [inaudible] enough for me to walk away. And 24 hours later, he sure gave me a sign and it was another traumatic event that happened. And I said, "Enough is enough." I walked away not really knowing what that looked like, but I at that point did not know that I was in a narcissistic, abusive marriage or relationship. That was a year and a half ago. It wasn't until I started writing my book, which was a couple of weeks after that. So probably, you know, the end of February 2018.
And I was writing this chapter, it's called Mr N -- Mr Narcissist. And I was just starting to like do some research, although I knew about narcissistic abuse, right. And personality disorder, because I'm a therapist. And it wasn't until I just started like looking up some of the symptoms that I remember struggling with, and some of the trauma reactions I was having at that time. And I was literally in the midst of writing that chapter, and it was just, it hit me like a ton of bricks and I was like, "Oh my goodness. Wow." Like that was kind of like my big realization moment. So I got back into therapy a week later, and started doing my own trauma work while writing my book. It took awhile for me to realize that I was really in this type of relationship.
Aliah Wright: Listeners, we'll be right back.
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Aliah Wright: And we're back. Megan, what steps can people take to get out of a romantic relationship with a narcissist? And how can social workers support people who are trying to cope with narcissistic abuse?
Megan Fenyoe: You know, there are so many different steps. And I think as practitioners, we have such an important job in helping men and women in this process. The first thing is finding someone that you can talk to, whether it be a friend or a mentor, a pastor, a therapist. Getting that conversation started of saying like, "I need help," and as a therapist social worker, if we have someone that comes to us, we really want to start with that process of acceptance. It's trauma work, but you have to meet the client where they're at. They may not want to do that deep trauma work right away and that's okay. I think sometimes we feel like, "Oh, we have to just jump right in and do the trauma work with patients," and we don't have to do that.
The first thing that I do with my clients and that I did myself was that radical acceptance, that acceptance of acknowledging what happened, and acceptance there does not mean that you are okay that it happened and that you're like, "Okay, yep, it happened and I'm okay with it." No. The acceptance piece is acknowledging that this is what you're in the midst of or this is what happened to you. It hurts, it sucks. It's traumatizing. But you've accepted and acknowledged that it's occurring. I think that is the big step to help clients that come to us that maybe are just wondering, you know, because I think a lot of times they do come and they're like, "Whoa, my marriage and my relationship is struggling and this." And then they start telling us different things that happen and that's the first step is that acceptance piece.
Aliah Wright: In your brand new book, "You Are Enough: Five Steps to Move From Struggle to Strength," can you tell us briefly what the five steps are?
Megan Fenyoe: Yeah, definitely. So the first step is rediscovering your true self. Like I said, this book was written while I was doing my own trauma work. So all five of these steps are steps that I went through while I was working on myself. The first step is rediscovering your true self. So anytime we go through something that's life-changing or traumatizing, whether it be health, career, relationships, we have to rediscover who we are, because these things in our life change us. Part of that rediscovering is what I just talked about, the acceptance piece. And it's also really about redefining your values and figuring out who you truly are at this moment. Diving deep, which as social workers, therapists, we know that that's difficult to do for our patients.
Megan Fenyoe: Honestly, I do this step work a lot with my patients. This is the hardest step for people, because it's acknowledging and then it's saying, "Whoa, I got to get uncomfortable with these uncomfortable feelings." And then, step two is visualizing your passion and purpose. So, when you're in that process of rediscovering yourself. When I was in this process, I remember figuring out who I was, rediscovering my values, which are now authenticity, integrity, and honesty. Then, once I was able to start figuring out who I was today, I started visualizing this new life for myself.
You know, having my private practice, writing my books, [inaudible] all over the country. A year and a half ago, I never would've even imagined that. And it was all because I was able to do the deep dive work and figure out who I was today. And so step two is visualizing your passion and purpose. Step three is one of my favorites, because I am a CBT therapist. I love Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. And so step three is grounding yourself. So really focusing on cognitive restructuring and how do we move from the negative thought into positive. And that's where the movement was born.
Step four is creating your strength plan. As we all do our treatment plans, right? But it's what I call a strength plan. So it includes time management, self care, where are you going to fit in all of these things in your life now that you've rediscovered who you are and you have this new vision and passion and purpose for your life and you're on this new kind of this new journey? How are you going to fit everything in so that you can maintain what all the work that you've done for yourself, but also of all the things that you have to do in life?
And then the last step is strengthening your healthy habits. And that really focuses on accountability and complacency. So I really, I dive deep into the complacency factor. We see that things are going good in life and they might stop coming to sessions or they might stop doing their self care or things like that. And then something happens in life and they kind of fall apart again. So I talk a lot about complacency and how to avoid that. But then also the importance of finding your strength tribe. You know, your accountability tribe, who's going to keep you accountable for all of this stuff that you've been doing and changing from moving from your struggle to your strength.
Megan Fenyoe: So, that's a very quick overview of the five steps. But yeah, I do a lot of the step work with a lot of my clients and it's been amazing to see some of the transformations.
Aliah Wright: Let's talk about the I Am Enough Movement and how that started and what do you mean when you say you are enough?
Megan Fenyoe: Once the book came out was like, "Okay, I just wanted to give back." I'm a huge visual coping skill fan. And so I came up with this idea of creating a card that says, "I am enough" on the front and then on the back it has the word because with three lines. And what I encourage people to do is write on the back why they believe that they're enough. Sometimes we can't even think about why we are enough, because we might be so wrapped up in our negative thoughts. And so what I tell people to do is write down I am enough because I got out of bed this morning, or I am enough because I woke up this morning. Anything to even starting small that way. That movement launched about six months ago. The movement became a nonprofit last week, which I am so excited about.
So basically people go online and order these cards. They're absolutely free. You get five of them. We've hit 25 States and 12 countries, meaning people organically have heard about the movement in 25 States and 12 countries and have ordered the cards. It's spreading like crazy and I am just so, so excited and people will use these cards with their patients. I have a person that hands out the cards to homeless people. I have teachers that give the cards to their kids, their students. Every single one of us have struggled or are currently struggling with that I'm not good enough mindset.
And we know, as practitioners, that with visual coping skills, if we read and repeat what we have written down over and over, we start restructuring our brain to turn off that negative and focus on what's written on the paper or the card. And so that's all the movement is about, is just my passion and my purpose is to empower people to believe that they're enough. And these cards have been an amazing, amazing journey for me. It's so exciting to see the transformations.
Aliah Wright: And we're going to list where people can find them in the show notes, but can you tell us briefly for people who are listening?
Megan Fenyoe: Yeah, definitely. So the Instagram page is just selfies. People send selfies of them holding the cards from all over the world. So, that's the Instagram page. You can go to my website or the actual movement site to order your free cards. The movement website is Iamenoughmovement.info. There, you can go in order the cards, you can see the Instagram page, we've got shirts for sale. That website will be revamping soon because of the nonprofit. So super excited about that. But yeah, Iamenoughmovement.info.
Aliah Wright: So using the visualization techniques, these are the steps that people can take to change their thinking?
Megan Fenyoe: Oh yeah, definitely. So when you get the cards, there's a little postcard that kind of explains more about the movement and what my challenge is to you. Right. And so it's basically writing down your statement. Repeat taking the card with you. I've got one in my car, I've got one sitting here on my kitchen table and taking the card with you every day, purse, wherever, wherever you go. So whenever you have that negative thought and you identify it, you pull that card out and you start reading and repeating what is on that card and it stops that negative thinking and focuses on what you're doing in the moment.
Aliah Wright: So Megan, how can social workers apply the lessons in your book to help their clients?
Megan Fenyoe: Oh, I love this. I love this question because that's exactly why I wrote the book. I didn't want to make it all about me, but I wanted it to be something that other, that my colleagues and other people could use. What I love about the book is that at the end of each chapter I pose a question with journal pages. So it's awesome because, do you have colleagues that have been using my book with patients? Because they can bring the book in and go through the journal questions at the end of each chapter. So I usually do a week or two with each step. But again, it depends on the individual and the steps really don't talk about me. Right? So it's very easy to implement those steps into sessions with clients even if they want to read the chapter, because [inaudible] don't really talk about my story.
Megan Fenyoe: But also, anyone that's listening, they can go to my website. There is a five-step checklist that you can download for free from my website, and that is a great tool because that is kind of like a cliff notes of the five steps. That also includes the journal pages. So it doesn't have all of the other verb, you know, all of the other words from the chapters. It's just more of a condensed version that people can use to give to their clients or take bits and pieces of it. So anyone that's listening, feel free to go to my website and download that for free.
Aliah Wright: And the website again.
Megan Fenyoe: So that would be my personal website, that's just MeganFenyoe.com.
Aliah Wright: And let's spell that again for our listeners.
Megan Fenyoe: Yeah, so it's Megan, M-E-G-A-N, Fenyoe, F as in Frank, E-N, as in Nancy, Y-O-E.com.
Aliah Wright: And we have a ton of resources for listeners that we're going to list in our show notes page. Megan, thank you so very much for joining us. Really wonderful and enlightening to have you on our show today.
Megan Fenyoe: Thank you so much. I so appreciate you.
Aliah Wright: And again, listeners, you can find a list of resources including link to Megan's website and more information about the I Am Enough Movement on our show notes page.
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