In the case of Barbara Bouchey, the familiar adage that says “whatever does not kill you makes you stronger” seems to apply. In psychology there is a concept called post-traumatic growth which is the process of coping with adversity in a way that leads to higher levels of psychological functioning and well-being. When it comes to post-traumatic growth, Barbara Bouchey could be the poster child.
by Judy Katz
Barbara Bouchey describes her beginnings as humble: and indeed they were. She was raised in a low-income housing project in South Troy, New York, known as “The Projects.” Barbara’s mother died unexpectedly when she was only eight-years-old. Her father was a severe alcoholic who was out most nights, and when he was home, the children walked on eggshells. This created a challenging environment for Barbara and her three brothers, one with Down syndrome and another with a different, severe form of mental impairment. Barbara had no parental supervision, and in fact, became head of the household caring for her brothers at the tender age of eight. They were poor; eviction notices were common, and dinner was often a hot dog or frozen TV dinner. The Projects turned the heat off at night, so she was freezing by morning and had to turn the stove burners on to warm the kitchen as she got herself and her brothers ready for school.
Life brought no walks in the park, vacations, chicken noodle soup when sick, nor anyone attending school functions to root her on – and lots of empty promises. By age ten Barbara endured more losses as her father married again, then divorced three months later. He then placed her two special needs brothers in institutions, forbidding her to see them. Since abandoning her brothers was not an option for Barbara, she chose to stand up for them and see them often – even if punished. By age twelve her father realized her steadfastness, and finally agreed to let her see them as long as she never mentioned her brothers in his presence ever again— a promise she kept until age 24 when he died of cancer.
No child should endure such travesties, but Barbara found the silver lining. At an early age she took comfort in the belief that adversity builds character. It turns out, she was right. According to a 2010 multiyear longitudinal study by Dr. Seery and colleagues published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, while for some people childhood adversity can create a lifetime of negative effects, for others it fosters resilience, grit, and advantages for mental health and well-being. That seems to be the case with Barbara.
She learned adult responsibility as a young child. Taking care of her special needs brothers, and defending them, helped her develop compassion, empathy and a strong moral core. Overcoming adversity helped her develop courage, self-sufficiency and resilience. Living in poverty gave her a deep appreciation for things others took for granted; she learned to work hard and worked odd jobs for milk money and basic needs. Forging her way through a high-risk childhood taught her independence, self-motivation and the ability to set her own goals. She learned to believe in herself.
However, since college was not a reality in her world, Barbara’s highest aspiration at that time was to become a secretary. After high school she got what she wanted when she became a secretary in the NYS Retirement System. She also waitressed in the evenings at two restaurants. At age 19, she married and moved to Germany; but when she was abused by her husband, she refused to stand for it, returned home and divorced soon thereafter. At this fork in the road she dreamed of becoming something more and wanted to help people. She began college, and by age 25 she decided to embark on a career as a financial planner– while still waitressing at night. Her first year earnings were only $200 a month, but she persevered. Within a few years she had established her own firm and was well on her way empowering herself, and others, to achieve their dreams. She became a Certified Financial Planner and Registered Investment Advisor, and ultimately, built an impeccable career spanning over 30 years.
“Barbara’s success is not accidental or anecdotal. She has worked hard and overcome hardship, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles in her life”
“Barbara’s success is not accidental or antidotal. She has worked hard and overcome hardship, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles in her life,” said Marlene Laiacona, a close friend of 30 years. “I admire her greatly for her determination and her confidence, and unwavering belief in her pursuits despite the doubters and naysayers. I’ve witnessed first-hand her resolve to do the right thing at substantial cost to her personal and financial well-being.”
By age 40, Barbara was financially independent, managing $90 million, with gross revenues annually exceeding $1 million, placing her in the top ½ percentile in her industry. She was proud to have financially funded and paved the way for a third brother, Steven, to join her in business, enabling him to also become successful. Richard Petrell, a Regional Vice President for The Franklin Fund Family who has known Barbara in a professional capacity for 29 years, stated, “I have met with many, if not all, of the top financial planners from Buffalo to Boston for 20+ years, and will submit that Barbara is one of the minority that has always exhibited the highest integrity, honesty, and caring for her clients, friends and associates. In my experience, Barbara has never deviated from doing the right thing. She has always acted in a fiduciary capacity with every client, and business interaction.” He continued, “Throughout her career Barbara would never compromise any relationship for personal gain, and I would trust her completely in dealings on any level. She is an exceptional individual in many ways, and provides a tremendous example for integrity and success for the investment management and financial planning industry.”
Recognized as a leader in her industry and quoted in local newspapers, Barbara sat on the boards of many philanthropic enterprises, including the Saratoga Springs Hospital, March of Dimes, Family Tree Adoption Agency, and the NYS Estate Planning Board. She chaired events with such notable people as Mary Lou Whitney Vanderbilt and others. Her annual client appreciation events were well-attended, and the talk of town. Quite often they were front-page news, as Barbara liked to make things fun–like the year she had a President Clinton lookalike with security agents, which was aired on Fox News, with The Saratogian headline: “Was Bill Clinton in town?”
Another time, traffic was stopped as cranes lifted two life-size custom dollhouses onto her office lawn to be auctioned at the Saratoga Springs Hospital charity event after she inspired top builders to build them.
Saratoga Springs Care Foundation Executive Director, Terry Lee, was responsible for planning the summer gala for eight years and described Barbara as the best chairman she had worked with, explaining that she “exceeded all expectations for creativity, imagination, and most of all hard work. It’s not often that a creative mind is matched with organizational and attention to detail skills” she explained, stating that Barbara has a lot to be proud of. “Definitely the most beautiful event the foundation has ever done, but even more importantly, the most profitable.”
“She exceeded all expectations for creativity, imagination, and most of all hard work. It’s not often that a creative mind is matched with organizational and attention to detail skills”
Barbara was a local town girl who achieved the American dream by becoming a self-made millionaire, and doing so with a strong work ethic, while helping many others in her community. The Senior Director at University of Virginia, Andrew Selfridge, has been one of Barbara’s client over 20 years. He said, “The trust I place in her is based on her character. It is an absolute necessity that I trust Barbara implicitly as the steward of my retirement funds. Not only does she exceed my expectations, she instills the same level of accountability in those she employs. Trust is a fragile commodity, which Barbara does the utmost to protect.”
Barbara attributes part of her success to attending self-improvement, inspirational and educational workshops and being mentored by successful coaches in various fields, all of which helped improve her skills in organization, time management, marketing, business, psychology, and client relationships. Despite the odds against her, she reached many of her milestones by age 40, and was ready for her next big step — to become more of a humanitarian and help improve the world in any way she could. A professional friend of 20 years, and recipient of Saratoga’s Woman of the Year, Kim Klopstock, stated, “Barbara’s generosity can be seen by her philanthropic work that is publicized; however, she is a person who believes in giving anonymously, without the need for recognition” She went on to describe her as
“a pillar of the community with an impeccable reputation not only in business, but in her personal life”
“I am honored to call her my friend, and in awe of her commitment to standing up for what is right, true, and of integrity,” said Kim Klopstock.
Barbara began taking courses and eventually became a part of the NXIVM Corporation, because it seemed to have pure motives and high ideals in furthering human endeavors and ethics. NXIVM was founded and led by Keith Raniere – a man once internationally respected as a brilliant, honest, noble, highly-evolved human being and revered by some of the world’s most respected celebrities, Fortune 500 CEOs, Heads of State, and thought leaders. These included Richard Branson, Virgin Group CEO; Edgar Bronfman Sr., Seagram’s CEO; Adam Glassman, Oprah Magazine Editor; and former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Antonio Novello. Even His Holiness the Dalai Lama wrote the foreword to Raniere’s second book.
Keith encouraged Barbara to stop taking on new clients, and instead devote that time to more philanthropic endeavors and to recruiting new leadership to help build the NXIVM organization. For six years Barbara spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on what she believed would help elevate humanity. “It is simply who Barbara is – to want to make things better and to help other people,” said Brent Johnson, a close friend. “She is a person who sees what is possible, and wants to be more, to help others to do likewise, and takes steps to make it happen.”
Unfortunately, after eventually learning of unethical practices at the highest levels, Barbara left NXIVM and felt an obligation to be honest and explain to those she recruited why she was leaving. The information she shared was damaging, and would be the impetus for a retaliatory legal attack that has lasted to this day – six years later. Since that time NXIVM, Keith Raniere, and his protégés Clare and Sara Bronfman (Seagram’s Heiresses who were also NXIVM leaders subjected to his influence), filed 7 lawsuits against Barbara, dragging her into 13 lawsuits, in 4 states, within 8 courtrooms, appearing before 10 judges, with over 800 court filings comprising 100,000 pages. According to Barbara, she has incurred over $600,000 in fees defending herself, and has tallied over $10.0 million dollars in losses from what her company would have earned due to a dramatic loss of clients and revenues.
At one point, after being drained of her financial ability to retain lawyers, Barbara had to sit in the courtrooms, often alone representing herself, in four lawsuits against the onslaught of false allegations, and character assassination -while single-handedly facing NXIVM’s super attorneys from seven highly influential and politically connected law firms. “The first time I met Barbara in person was in a court room. When I sat down next to her to support her, she was overwhelmed. She whispered that people are so afraid of NXIVM, they have been afraid to publicly support her, so my coming meant the world to her,” said Christine Marie, a woman Keith Raniere unsuccessfully tried to recruit into NXIVM in its infancy. “I remember speaking to Barbara after one of her myriad of court appearances where she was forced to appear representing herself in a courtroom full of adversarial high-profile attorneys trying to break her. She was like Erin Brockavich against the world. Imagine one blond, curly-haired Irish gal from the projects versus a team of intimidating lawyers in suits who seemed to be working full time to silence her. Somehow, even representing herself, they could not break her and make her succumb to their wishes. She walked out like it was just another day of slaying dragons, not even realizing how extraordinary she was.”
Julianne Brighton, a long-time friend of Barbara, said
“I think many people expect Barbara to be broken. How moved I am to see her persevering against the dark energies…and yet her light is still there. There is beauty in her eyes and melody in her voice. She is not broken, and her undeniable fiber of what makes her extraordinary is ever-present. I believe with every part of my being that she will prevail.”
According to Professor Mark Seery, Head of the Department of Psychology at the University of Buffalo, and his colleagues, state that adversity can help people develop effective coping skills, teach them to engage social support networks, bolster the self-confidence to cope successfully in the future, and generate psychophysiological toughness. “All of these qualities should contribute to resilience in the face of subsequent major adversity. Such qualities should also make subsequent minor daily hassles seem more manageable rather than overwhelming, leading to benefits for overall mental health and well-being” the 2010 study reports.
In the case of Barbara, the familiar adage that says “whatever does not kill you makes you stronger” seems to apply. In psychology there is a concept called post-traumatic growth, or adversarial growth, which is the process of coping with adversity in a way that leads to higher levels of psychological functioning and well-being. When it comes to post-traumatic growth, Barbara Bouchey could be the poster child.
Due to her courageous perseverance in the face of years of persecution that would have tested Job himself, not only has Barbara grown stronger, wiser and more positive; but, for the first time in years since NXIVM started it’s legal retaliation, the tables are turning and the public is finally starting to hear the truth about Barbara Bouchey’s character, innocence, and world-record resilience. This is a victory. And when we say victory, it is one we want not only for the Barbara we know today, but also for that little girl who still lives inside her–the one who took care of her brothers, and made something of herself, and was so grateful for what she had been able to achieve. Where will this story go next? We are betting on Barbara Bouchey to help heal the world.
Stay tuned for more developments in the continued unfolding of this riveting and inspirational story.
Written by Judy Katz, journalist and founder of Katz Creative, Inc.
For more on Judy, visit: www.ghostbooksters.com.
Below: A little clip of Barbara Bouchey, the epitome of resilience, living life to the fullest in spite of adversity