Authentic Me: A Story of Strength, Perseverance and Faith
My first book, Authentic Me: A Story of Strength, Perseverance and Faith, was published in November 2015. The book is available for purchase on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. The book is authentic. The pain is real. And the decision to move beyond the pain to discover purpose will serve as empowerment to all who read it. Read an excerpt below then order your copy! Offer feedback on the book using the hashtag #AuthenticMe. Thanks for your support. ~Author Tiffany Hill
Authentic Me, Chapter 3: Private Life vs. Public Lies
“Your husband sounds like a narcissist,” the counselor said. I had been regularly engaged in counseling for the past few months. I made the decision to see a counselor to sort through the frustrations I felt within the marriage. Naively, I thought the move to Kansas would strengthen our family. The reality was the marriage was still in shambles.
I’d spent the past hour talking to the counselor about how things progressed. It felt good to say what I was feeling out loud to someone with the protection of confidentiality. I suffered emotionally as a result of keeping those feelings bottled inside of me for so many years. I was disappointed in myself for remaining in a relationship with someone who physically abused me. Additionally, as a result of the continual emotional abuse my self-esteem was at an all time low.
Publicly, we were the perfect couple. Kyle stood up at events and spewed out praises to me for being a supportive wife and loving mother. Behind closed doors the physical abuse escalated. I avoided confrontation because I knew any argument would lead to abuse. We resorted to communicating either through text message or by way of emails from his secretary. We didn’t operate as though we were married. There wasn’t even a friendship left. However, Kyle wanted the marriage to stay intact because it was good for his image. “The campus loves the idea of a family as the presidential unit, and that’s what we will give them,” he often stated.
As campus administrators, we were quickly elevated to a position of being role models for thousands of college students and leaders within the community. Our children were affectionately called the little lions of the campus, in reference to the school’s mascot. Consequently, Kyle critiqued everything about me in his effort to craft how he wanted us to be received on the campus. He developed a sense of paranoia and expressed that we could no longer lead normal lives.
It became fairly obvious to me that the pressures of being liked and conforming to the public image Kyle created was consuming him. He was self-absorbed, out of touch and regarded himself as among the social elite. His focus was solely on his career. Any other conversation, especially concerning our family or the marriage, was annoying to him.
His idea of transformative leadership was rapidly showing signs of dictatorship. We disagreed on almost everything, which ultimately led to us discussing nothing. Kyle’s communication with me was always condescending, filled with disdain and violent patriarchy. He reminded me that I should feel fortunate to be married to him, and assured me that I could be replaced at any time: “You ungrateful, immature bitch! I work my ass off every day so that you and the kids can enjoy this lifestyle. Any other woman would love to be in your position!”
My mechanism for dealing with problems hadn’t changed. I avoided issues and potential conflict. Staying busy was easy to do. At home, I was going through the “Married-Single Parent Dilemma”. Kyle had become an absent parent consumed with the roles, responsibilities and challenges of his new job. Even when he wasn’t traveling, he spent extended periods of time at his office or attending work-related events. This left me responsible for all household duties and everything involving the children.
We had done very little in the way of rebuilding the trust between us. Questions of infidelity rose again. Rumors of a student on the campus being pregnant by Kyle surfaced. Later, there was speculation of an inappropriate relationship between Kyle and a university administrator. I was constantly bombarded with information that caused me to question his integrity. It became hard to decipher what was gossip with what was factual. I found myself in a state of unhappiness. It was a train wreck waiting to happen.
Discernment became paramount in our new leadership roles at the university. My email was flooded with people who wanted to meet for breakfast, lunch, dinner and all times in between. I was invited to more banquets, galas, fundraisers, and events than I could ever hope to attend. There was no shortage of human bodies present in our circle. Yet, I still felt as though there was no one to talk to.
During conversations with university constituents, Kyle engaged superficially about how the family enjoyed Kansas and more directly on university issues. He constantly reminded me that I would never understand the intricate relationships and everyone’s indirect tie to the university. His controlling personality also dictated who my friends were. He was suspicious about me creating friendships and often cautioned against it. “We are considered outsiders because we are not from Kansas. Trust no one.”
It was true that most of our colleagues were natives of the state and had a much deeper sense of the history and operations of the university. This was the basis for his rationale as to why I should neither feel supported by nor comfortable forming friendships with anyone.
As a result, I refrained from any discussion of personal matters. Could anyone fully comprehend the dynamics of what I was experiencing? Not likely. I concluded that l would either be viewed as complaining about living a luxurious lifestyle in a presidential home funded by the university or I would receive the standard “I understand” feedback. The reality was no one had a clue as to the magnitude of our situation and we worked harder to keep it that way.
Most days I was completely exhausted but I couldn’t let my fatigue show. The public performance and façade was a requirement. Prior to any event, Kyle reviewed what his expectations of me were. The tone of the conversation was similar to that of a parent giving forewarning to a child: you will listen and obey, or you will pay a price for your disobedience. The price that I paid was almost always in the form of abuse. As long as I performed well in our public life, there was no concern for what was consuming me privately. I was to do as I was told, and with a smile.
The physical abuse had initially been sporadic. Now, the exchanges were bitter most times ending with a push, slap or punch. I still felt an obligation to protect him even when he physically abused me. I didn’t want anything bad to happen to him. All I wanted was for the abuse and constant disrespect to cease.
The emotional strain was enormous. However, I didn’t have the luxury to stop and deal with it. Life was busy. Moments after being emotionally abused or harmed physically, I was off to the next campus event as if nothing ever happened.
I often walked into campus activities just moments after crying. I kept makeup in my purse that helped to conceal evidence of my tears. I would learn the hard way that makeup, jewelry and expensive clothing should never be used to cover up your pain.
I was a guest speaker on a leadership panel. The auditorium was filled with young students with blank slates. I wanted them to get life right the first time around. Learn from the mistakes of others. “Be authentic,” I proclaimed. “Never sacrifice your self-worth. Assume responsibility for your actions.” I was giving sound advice and pouring knowledge into others to deflect from the reality of my own pain. My physical appearance looked amazing though my spirit was slowly dying. I was pouring from an empty cup. I had not taken the time to nurture my emotional health. Private life versus public lies… it was slowly taking a toll on me.
I remember playing a game called MASH in middle school with my friends. It was a game used to predict our future. MASH was an acronym for Mansion, Apartment, Shack or Home. There were various categories in this game, including who you would marry, how many kids you would have, the kind of car you would drive, what your profession would be, where you would live, and so many other life determinations. The items that remained under each category at the completion of the game were considered to define your future.
It was a popular game that we played often. We were innocent little girls, dreaming of fairytale weddings with the perfect husband. Romanticizing the notion of marriage continued through our high school years. We fantasized about wedding dresses and honeymoon locations. In our minds, being married wasn’t optional. It was one of the items to check off your list if you considered yourself successful.
By the age of 25, I’d found what most would consider a good man by modern day societal standards. Kyle was a well-educated black man, on the rise in his professional career. He was an eligible bachelor who happened to be 12 years older than me. He was charismatic and charming. He hardly ever met a stranger. Kyle had been married before and had children from his previous marriage. He purported to be a single parent who was committed to family values.
Had Kyle been listed as a marriage option during my youthful days of playing MASH, he certainly would have been one of my top picks. He seemed to possess all of the characteristics I desired in a husband. On top of being everything I’d dreamed of, he was also able to financially provide a comfortable lifestyle for our family. We dated and were engaged in less than a year. I was confident we would spend the rest of our lives together.
I later learned that the person Kyle portrayed himself to be publicly was in stark contrast to the person he was privately. Out in the open, he was loving, kind and appeared genuinely concerned for the wellbeing of others. Behind closed doors he was a control freak and only cared about what made him look good publicly. He would go to any extreme for his career and he was willing to sacrifice anything or anyone in the process.
Any form of disagreement with Kyle led to name-calling and attempts to destroy my self-esteem. His way was the only way. He manipulated who our family friends were by his perception of their importance. If a relationship with them could benefit Kyle, then we could maintain a friendship. Otherwise, he considered the friendship useless.
I noticed these signs of controlling behavior early on in the marriage. I attributed our differences of opinion to the age span between us. Later, I excused his behavior under the assumption that he was dealing with the stress of his new job. It was hard for me to accept the fact that a marriage that was just getting started was already failing. That wasn’t my idea of happily ever after.
Creating what we thought was the perfect marriage also meant that I couldn’t let anyone know the truth of what was going on. I wondered if people could sense our problems when we were out in public. It was shameful and horrifying. Everyone was applauding us for being young, successful, doting new parents and the ideal married couple. How could I now admit that he was abusive and that our fairytale life was a lie?
I continued to pray that it would never happen again. I told myself that every incident was the last time. When we argued, I tried to ensure it didn’t escalate to the point of physical contact. I thought I actually had control over that. The only real control that I had was removing myself from the situation, but I didn’t and the abuse continued.
The emotional abuse was harder to deal with than the physical abuse. At times I didn’t appreciate or understand the level of manipulation being used, although it surfaced in every conversation we had. Rather than finding value in my employment or achievements, Kyle referred to any success as a byproduct of his professional status. “If you leave me, I’ll ensure you have nothing. You can’t survive without me. I provide for this family. Do you know how stupid you would look if you left me? Everyone will think that you’re crazy! You are crazy!” Kyle would make similar comments regarding everything we acquired together during the marriage: “You never lived like this until you married me! You won’t be anything without me!”
Kyle’s attitude became increasingly worse. His ego seemed to control every situation. His constant reminder that I somehow lived a good life because of him was growing old. Nothing was really good about our life. It was not genuine. We were frauds. We portrayed a perfect lifestyle and lived in direct opposition to the public image we presented. I was conflicted by our public image. I knew the real Kyle. The person who constantly disrespected and abused me. I was privy to our truth and burdened by the weight of hiding our reality. Was that a good life? Not by my standards.
I allowed myself to believe that I wasn’t affected by anything he said. Yet, my inaction indicated otherwise. I stayed. I devalued myself. There was no denying that truth.
Once Kyle was in a leadership position, I noticed the same behaviors he exhibited in the marriage surface in his career decisions. I became mindful of how he treated his subordinates and his lack of integrity in his professional relationships. He ranked his staff by level of importance and often shunned those he felt were beneath him.
“You’re so fake!” I was yelling again. We were in the middle of another one of many arguments, which began when Kyle scolded me about my friendship with the wife of an administrator. Angel lived closed to us on the campus. We would get together for walks in the evenings to debrief on campus activities and events. On this particular evening, I invited her to our home. After a few hours of chatting and letting our children play together, she left. Within seconds of her departure, Kyle arrived and instantly began screaming at me. “You should be careful who you let come over to this house! You’re so naïve. You don’t understand the political landscape. Every decision is a political decision. I have told you before it is not acceptable for employees of the university or their spouses to be at this house unless it’s for a university event. You have invited Angel into the house and you have no idea I’m about to fire her husband. Your stupid decisions constantly make my job hard! Don’t have anyone over here without asking me first!”
I wasn’t happy that I had to endure another one of Kyle’s paranoid selection processes of determining who our friends should be. According to him, everyone was envious of him and his position, so I should only communicate with those people on his approved list. I was very confused because he knew that Angel and I were friends. However, he seemed to be very concerned that she was at our home. I was disturbed because I had no reason to believe that he was unhappy with the job performance of Angel’s husband. Kyle recruited Angel’s family to the university. He sold them on his leadership and promised to be a source of support to them. Only a few months had passed and Kyle was ready to terminate him.
I snapped back at Kyle’s attempt to scold me.
“Why would you want to fire him when you’re the reason why he’s here? You hired him!” I said.
“Because he’s young,” Kyle responded. “He’s young and I’m tired of having to micromanage his department. I trusted the advice of a friend when hiring him. In actuality, I shouldn’t have given him a chance. He was almost fired from his previous job. He doesn’t handle responsibility well. He claims he works late hours but nothing gets done. He’s simply not ready for this position. He was advanced too soon and does not fit well with my leadership style. I’m terminating him and moving in a different direction.”
I became more upset with every word that he said.
Hypocrite! Fraud! My resentment for him was turning to hatred. Had Kyle forgotten that when he applied for president at this university, he was labeled as being too young? Why didn’t he feel an obligation to be a mentor to this administrator rather than talk about him behind his back? I’d watched as Kyle smiled in his face at every possible opportunity. Yet, at the first hint of disagreement, Kyle was ready to cut him off. I felt it was an unprofessional way to handle the situation. Additionally, I wasn’t pleased that my friendship with Angel was being dictated by who Kyle felt was important in the moment.
I shouldn’t have been surprised because this had become Kyle’s pattern of establishing relationships solely based on what the other person could offer him. Kyle created his success by strategically forming the right relationships, essentially being an opportunist. He was extremely judgmental of everyone but found no fault with himself. There was no such thing as constructive criticism when it came to Kyle. He would constantly surround himself with ‘yes men,’ those who supported his opinions and ideas with little or no criticism in order to obtain his approval. It was not uncommon for Kyle to retaliate against his subordinates if they expressed dissent or opposing views. His employees knew that either you agreed with him or you would find yourself on the chopping block at risk of being terminated.
I was shocked by Kyle’s transformation. He made fiscal and managerial decisions that could have easily led to a legal nightmare for him and the university. I wanted to offer guidance to him, particularly with my background in defending lawsuits for another university. I knew that Kyle would need an understanding of all of the rules applicable to higher education law. However, I wouldn’t dare caution him when I felt he was making a mistake. Kyle was not interested in my opinion or advice. He operated the university in the manner in which he felt was best, without fear of any consequence for his actions.
Kyle made the decision to mix university business with personal pleasure. He relocated Olivia, an old girlfriend, to Kansas and hired her for an open position at the university. Their history spanned back to their times as undergraduates in college. They later began dating and lived together during their graduate studies.
Kyle did not mention to me that Olivia was a candidate for the position, on campus for an interview, or selected for the job. When I glanced through my university email, I saw the announcement of a new administrator. My jaw dropped. It took me a few minutes to process what I had just read. I assured myself Kyle would not be that disrespectful. No one could possibly be that disrespectful. This must be a different person. Although I knew I was correct. The picture of her displayed in the congratulatory email message certainly solidified her identity.
I picked up the telephone. I don’t remember dialing the numbers to Kyle’s office, but I now heard Linda, his assistant, on the other end of the line: “Office of the President.” He was in a meeting.
“Should he be interrupted?” Linda asked.
“Can you state the nature of the call?”
“No. It’s personal, very personal.”
Kyle responded angrily to my inquiry about Olivia: “Don’t call my office with this bullshit! Yes, Olivia got the job. I don’t have to tell you every decision I make on this campus.”
“I’m not interested in every decision you make, arrogant asshole!” I screamed back. “I’m interested in the fact that you hired Olivia on this campus and didn’t even give me the courtesy of a heads up. That’s a decision I want to know about!”
I was fuming and Kyle was still screaming into the phone. I abruptly interrupted his rant as I hung up the phone.
The manner in which Kyle hired Olivia was a blatant form of disrespect. I was extremely hurt and was no longer excited about supporting Kyle’s initiatives at the university. I decided to resign from the campus committees I served on and shifted my focus to my children and my career.
Linda shared a very close relationship with Kyle and he often stated it was because she was loyal. For Kyle, that simply meant that Linda was his puppet and responded accordingly. She did exactly as she was told and would lie to cover up any of his wrongdoings.
Linda performed tasks of a personal nature for Kyle. When I made the decision to return to work, she was the person who coordinated his schedule and informed me if Kyle would be available to assist with picking the kids up from school. Both Linda and Kyle treated my communication with them as a privilege or honor they were bestowing upon me. If I needed help with the children, I was told to contact Linda and patiently await a response. If there was any time to squeeze in Kyle’s busy, demanding, important life as university president, Linda would let me know. Even if I asked Kyle directly to help with the children while he was in my presence, I was directed to contact Linda for his availability. He was much too busy for such trivial things. Linda would filter my requests and make the final determination.
I was perplexed by the fact that I lived in the same house with a man who was my husband, yet we couldn’t even discuss matters concerning our children. It was clear that taking care of the children was solely my job. Kyle’s job was to be president and receive accolades. That’s where he placed his importance. Receiving constant praise fueled his distorted sense of happiness.
The counselor asked what I felt was the underlying issue at play? I wished I had an answer to her question and an accompanying solution to the problem, but the reality was I did not. I did feel strongly that Kyle was dealing with some personal struggles. He had a constant desire to make people feel inferior to him. He wanted to be needed and he thrived off of control. The more control you gave him, the happier he was. Hitting me and demeaning me was just one of many ways he exercised such control.
I’d tried several ways of dealing with Kyle’s erratic and violent behavior – from total support of his professional endeavors to complete withdrawal from Kyle and our relationship. Kyle didn’t seem to notice either of my methods of handling the situation, and continued his usual course of behavior. As Kyle began to act invincible, I felt more invisible. I was hoping the counselor could offer some professional guidance.
She listened intently and occasionally scribbled some notes on her notepad. “Narcissists are hard to deal with in a position of power,” she whispered, “but I can give you some coping mechanisms.”
At a subsequent counseling session, I arrived ready to once again discuss my discontent and frustration. Before I could start down that path, the counselor posed the following questions: “What are you holding onto that you need to release? Are you resentful and angry? If you feel you deserve better, what actions will you take? Let’s shift the focus to you and what you can control. You can no longer remain idle. Your situation will not change unless you change it.” She was advising me that a shift in mindset would be a necessary prerequisite to developing a plan to move forward.