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I'm Kelly - the founder of She Is Fierce! and your host on our blog featuring stories and wisdom from fierce women all over the world! 

Fierce Living

#48: Get Out of Toxic Relationships with Stephanie Jenkins

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Are you ready to be inspired by the incredible journey of a true badass?

Meet our guest, Stephanie Jenkins, who earned the nickname “Kung Fu Barbie” for her remarkable ability to seamlessly transition from heels and makeup to kicking ass on the martial arts mat.

In this captivating podcast episode, she shares her experiences as a child abuse investigator and foster care worker, shedding light on the dark realities she encountered and her unwavering determination to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable children.

Stephanie also reveals her extraordinary path as a Mary Kay director, defying stereotypes and proving that beauty and strength can coexist.

Stephanie is also the owner of a martial arts school, where she continues to empower women through self-defense and martial arts training.

Get ready to be inspired as she opens up about the challenges she faced and the lessons she learned along the way. From her unwavering resilience to her relentless pursuit of her dreams, her story will leave you feeling empowered and ready to conquer the world.

So grab your coffee, settle in, and get ready to be blown away by the unstoppable force that is Kung Fu Barbie.

Her journey will not only leave you in awe, but it will also ignite a fire within you to pursue your own passions fearlessly.


In this podcast you’ll learn:

  • Self-defense can serve as a catalyst for change in all areas of a woman’s life.
  • Empowering women to realize their capabilities can have a significant positive impact on the world.
  • Financial literacy and independence are crucial in preventing financial abuse.
  • Taking action and leaving abusive situations is essential for mental and emotional wellbeing.


Read the Full Transcript Below:


Welcome back to the She Is Fierce podcast. I am so delighted to introduce you this morning to a fierce woman who has a powerful personal story as an advocate for others. She is a dynamic woman with many past lives behind her already and much more to come. Stephanie Jenkins started out her career as a child abuse investigator and foster care worker, then worked as a Mary Kay director and then opened up her own martial arts school where she uses her fifth degree black belt in mixed martial arts, first degree black belt in TaeKwonDo and blue Belt in Gracie Jiu Jitsu to teach women’s self-defense, child safety seminars and martial arts classes. She is a speaker, she is an advocate, and she is an author. I am so thrilled to have her on with us today. Stephanie, welcome.


Thank you so much, Kelly. I really appreciate you inviting me onto your show. I’m super excited about it.


Well, it’s an absolute pleasure. I love talking to women who clearly are fierce, but also have so much experience in so many different areas, and I think that that lends so much wisdom. You walk away from all of these different areas of your life with different nuggets and pieces of wisdom, and I love to invite women like you on to share your story. So thank you for being here. Give us the quick rundown of how you went from clinical social work to working in sales with Mary Kay and ultimately to what you do now as an author, as a martial arts instructor. You got a lot going on. Tell us how this happened


Per decade. And honestly, I just feel like every single thing, just all is culminating has led me to this point now. And at times I was very frustrated. I put all this energy into this career and now I need to regroup, reinvent myself, but it was all meant to be. When I went to college, I actually wanted to be a missionary and major in Bible, and back then it was very chauvinist sexist and they wouldn’t allow a female to be a Bible major. So I chose the next best thing, which was social work and just a variety of situations happened and I just landed a job as a child abuse investigator even before I graduated. And so I did that. To this day, that’s the hardest job I’ve ever had. And so I thought, I cannot do this for any length of time. So I went on to get my master’s to be a therapist, still working with those same children, but not in the midst of the trauma more afterwards trying to heal them.

And so I did that for a while and I knew, so that was all through my twenties. And as I got into my thirties, I was like, I got married and I wanted to start a family, and I thought, I can’t have this career while I’m raising my own children. I really wanted to be home with my kids. And so I just met a woman who showed me the Mary Kay opportunity and I thought, oh, here we go. I can do this. And just, it was a beautiful, beautiful career. Did a lot of growing up during that time period. Mary Kay. The training is a lot about personal growth, developing time management skills, money management. It’s like a whole education. So I did that all through my thirties into my forties and I started taking martial arts with my kids. I put them, I was homeschooling, I put them in a homeschool martial arts class.

I was sitting on the side and I had done it before. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’m watching them and I’m thinking, why am I sitting here? Why don’t I just get on the mat with them? So I did, and the rest was history. I mean, I fell in love with it. We all tested for our first black belt together, both my children and myself, but my instructor, because of my background working with women and working with trauma said, I think you should come to do self-defense classes with me. It grew from there. I started a ongoing ladies self-defense kickboxing class. We called it Kick in Chicks, and it just grew. They wanted me to teach their kids and before I knew it, I had opened up a whole school before and afterschool care, the whole works from there. That just gave me more time to do my public speaking and build my, I guess you could say my next phase of life career, which is I’m still doing martial arts, but it’s much bigger. That’s where when I started writing my book, published my book, started doing public speaking, and now it’s more about the whole woman helping women really get over all the obstacles, all the subtle messages, everything in life that has held them back and releasing them into a newer, freer version of themselves.


I love that and I’m grateful to you for sharing, as I said, the quick version, that’s the story of your life in two minutes. But I’m grateful to you for sharing it because I love, and I think so many people that listen to this will be inspired by the fact that you were constantly reinvigorating your life and renewing your passion. So there’s a consistent line for what you were interested in and what you did, but also in completely different ways. And I think that’s an inspiring thing to see when a woman in particular makes those choices, to not be afraid to step away from something and step into something new. I love that. So the thing that I do know about that, having done some of that myself and having worked with so many women who go through that period of transition, whether it’s as business owners in their professional lives or personally, one of the things that I know comes with that is some struggle.


Well, each time there was the transition time period, and there’s say the biggest thing is self-doubt. When you are reinventing yourself again and stepping into something new each time. I had established myself in the field when I was a therapist. I was known for working with very young children. I was in Arkansas at the time, and anyone in the central Arkansas area who had a very young child that had been abused, my name came up for that child when I was a Mary Kay director, everybody knew me. Oh, the free cars and the Mary Kay director. And so you establish yourself and are kind of known in your field, and then you go to being a nobody. It’s like the star athlete in high school and then they go to college and they’re a nobody. Well, I’ve had to do and over and over. And so there’s a certain level of respect that people treat you with once you’ve established yourself and when you’re going into a new phase, they treat you, you don’t know anything.

And I know all that I’ve done and all that I know and all that I’ve been through. But new people that I’m meeting and addressing and marketing, trying to market myself to, they don’t know that. So that part, just starting over is very frustrating. I’ve done it enough times to know that I will get over it, I will get past it. And so that would be the piece of advice I’d give to other women is that you will get through that stage. So don’t give up because you will get past that and you will establish yourself once again, you just have to keep pushing that self-doubt behind you.


Oh yeah, beautifully said. When you’re in that place of starting fresh, whatever it is, that’s when you have the wonderful opportunity to see all the people that are kind to you in those moments. And also the people who maybe weren’t so kind in those moments. Because as you said, when you are able to establish yourself, then you can go back to those people that were there and supporting you or even just respectful, as you said, as you were kind of building in a new career and help them and work with the people that really have a passion for what it is that you’re doing. So I love that example, but you’re also an author. You have a book called Red Flags, know When to Run. So it is the handbook for toxic abusive relationships on how to identify red flags, tactics used, how to get out safely, how to heal, and how to never let it happen again.

Now, that is a tough topic. Let’s start there. And it is something that I, having now worked with thousands of women for many years. It is all around us and whether we acknowledge it or whether we know it or not. So share a little bit about your book. I would love for anybody listening, whether it’s in their own life or a friend, to have the chance to get that book and read it and share it with somebody that needs it. So tell us a little bit about what they’ll learn and how you were inspired to write it.


It’s a very near and dear to my heart topic. I was in a pretty highly toxic, dysfunctional relationship, and when I was making the transition from Mary Kay to martial arts school owner, I went to Mary Kay seminar and every summer, Mary Kay has a huge tens of thousands of people seminar in Dallas, Texas. And I was sitting there and I was just at one of my lowest, lowest points in life. I was so stressed. My mother, the time period where I was going through my divorce was the time period that my mother was on hospice for seven months. So I was caring for my mother who was dying and going through a divorce and switching careers. I mean, it was craziness. It was so stressful. So I’m sitting there in the audience and I’m listening to one of the top directors give her speech, and she was saying how she was in high school.

She was just cheerleader and student council president and full of self-esteem and had wonderful parents. And then she got into a relationship with this very toxic, dysfunctional person who started to tear her down. And little by little, she kind of went through in detail how she became less of herself through the years and then how she got out of it. And at the end she said, it’s amazing how just one dysfunctional relationship can change the entire course of your life. And I thought, oh, yes, there thought if only women could know that girls males too. They certainly get in those relationships if we could only know what the red flags were before it ever happened. So that we into those relationships. And at that exact moment, the idea for the book was born. I’m one of those people just a creative and I have constant ideas and there’s no human, I would need 50 lives to act on ’em all.

But that one never left me. And every single day I thought about it, that was probably 17 years ago. Every single day I thought about it, and I’d write a little bit here, a little bit there, and I’ll often question myself if this was really what I was supposed to do because it just wasn’t happening. But what I needed to do was to heal significantly and grow significantly before I was ready to write that book. And everything just happened exactly like it was supposed to. And when it was time to write the book, I just sat down and boom, boom, boom, just knocked it out. And it is everything that you need to know on the front end so that you don’t get into those relationships if you are, how to spot it, how to get out, how to heal, how to move on. And most importantly, this part is not often addressed.

How to change yourself so that you don’t have those type of relationships in work, in church, in your friend group, wherever. Because there are things, this is not victim blaming at all, but there are, when you have relationships like that, these certain traits, actions that we do make that situation more likely to happen again and we need to fix that. A big part of it is simply being assertive. We’re not taught as females to be assertive. And so it’s the whole science of victimology. And I focus on that and I learned a lot of that from the martial arts, how to walk, how to talk, how to present yourself to where you are unattractive to the criminal, where they look at you and go, Ugh, no, she’s too difficult. I’m not dealing with her. And they move on.


I’d love to explore this a little bit with you because I think oftentimes we think people who are maybe high achieving or a successful business woman or a successful business owner, that they would not be likely to be in a position like that. What I’ve learned from, as I said, many years of working with women is these things can happen to anyone. And as you said, it’s not just women. And I know as a mother you see dynamics play out in classrooms and these things start early. So let’s talk about just a few of those red flags that you would really want women to be able to identify that are most common maybe. And I want to say, I think often what I hear from women sometimes is there’s no physical abuse. So it’s not abuse, but there’s emotional abuse, oral abuse. And so in those situations where there’s no definitive, somebody hits somebody and therefore we can identify this, what are the red flags that you encourage people to look for in their own relationships or if they’re trying to be there for someone and support someone in their life?


Again, that being assertive, the communication. Anytime you see gameplay manipulation as opposed to just saying, this is how I feel, this is what I like, just someone who can truly be assertive, that’s a key thing. Controlling anything at all whatsoever that is controlling where the person is not allowing you to be you. Maybe you say, I like such and such. Oh no, you don’t. That’s dumb. Things like that. Controlling of your time. So I have one lady I worked with who her boyfriend, it’s almost hysterical to say it’s so ridiculous, but it actually happened to her more than once, got jealous of her dog and how much she loved her dog and talked about her dog, and it was like, well, you like your dog more than me. She’s like, well, yeah,


Who doesn’t love the dog more than anybody else?


He wasn’t joking. He was genuinely jealous of her dog, maybe jealous of a relationship the woman has with her sister or her mother. Instead of respecting that and thinking, oh, that is so awesome that you are so close with your sister and want to go out and do things with her constant, if she does go out with her sister, mom, girlfriends, whatever, instead of them being like, oh, you go have fun, honey, constantly calling. When are you getting home? Why were you out so late? Any type of controlling behavior on time, money, well, why did you spend your money on that? That was too expensive. Why are you doing that? Those types of things are, oh, you don’t need to work. I will take care of you. I’ll pay for everything. You don’t need to work. That could be nice, but it can also be a big trap. And so I’d have to say controlling in any way, controlling how people think about you if they do something wrong instead of I’m jumping to another one. Now, if you do something wrong, instead of doing a sincere apology, they twist it. This one’s huge. They twist it to somehow be your fault. So they have legitimately done something wrong, either lost their temper or whatever, and somehow or another, they have twisted it to be you. I appreciate


You walking through some of those. And I want to say if someone is listening to this and they hear things that sound familiar, I hope that they will go out and get your book and look for and ask for help. So again, I just want to say it’s red flags, know when to run. And Stephanie, you not only have this background in clinical social work and the ability to kind of share these stories from your own experience, but also you work with women in the self defense space. So I love that you have that kind of educational background, but also you are in on the ground helping people learn how to punch. I don’t think I meet many people who have those two elements to what they’re doing. So talk me through what that looks like.


Crazy background. So as a matter of fact, when I switched from Mary Kay to martial arts, I had the nickname Kung Fu Barbie because I would come in my heels and my suit and makeup from a skincare class and take it all off and get on the mat for martial arts. So yeah, it is a crazy background, but what I discovered through all of it is that when you learn self-defense, because the fear women walk around and they don’t even realize it, but they walk around in fear of men and someone in a parking lot or someone here or someone this or a man even raises their voice to them and inside their sphere. So women have through due to many reasons, walk around with a sphere, and that is at such a core level, a basic need, a basic need of security and safety because that is such a core basic need, it affects us more deeply than a lot of the other areas.

So when a woman learns self-defense and you can see this switch in their face and their attitude and their behavior, when they learn a technique and they can take a man down or get out of a hold or whatever, something happens and all of a sudden they feel stronger and look stronger. So I call it the catalyst for all other change, which is why it’s part of what I do. And if you go to my website, you’ll see an online course and why I believe so strongly in that, because when you can kind of heal, fix that inner core basic need and know that you can defend yourself if you have to, then you feel stronger in all the other areas that you need to grow in. So it’s the catalyst for change in all the other areas. So I combine the two and why it is so important to me,


It’s very clear that you have a passion for what you do, right in so many different areas, but they all kind of have this tieback, it seems to women. They all kind of come back to women, which is my favorite topic. So let’s talk about passion and what that means for you and how that’s kind of driven you throughout this journey of your career and what passion and purpose, what that means to you in the way that you live your life.


So I guess in doing what I’ve done all my whole adult life, I see how strong a woman can be, what she was truly created to be, and how that is held back throughout history, throughout time, how it has been held back in every way through media, books, just laws, systems, religion, just so many different messages to hold women down and look where our world is because of that. If we allowed women to fully be, if there wasn’t all that fear of allowing a woman to be who all that she’s created to be, oh my goodness, how different our world would be. And so I just visualize this world, this army almost of women who are fully liberated, fully free and just what they could do when you just read little stories of women who have that and just look at their lives and what they’ve done and think, oh my goodness, can you imagine if all women had that?

My daughter and I, my husband, we all went to Boston, Massachusetts this weekend to take a former foreign exchange student to M i t. She’s from a little tiny rural village in Costa Rica where women at the college is there. Yeah, a woman can’t be an engineer. No. Well, she’s a math genius, won medals at all. The Olympiads full ride to m i t. So we dropped her off there, which that in of Excel in and of itself is so exciting because look what she has told all those other little girls in Costa Rica. So when you have women like that and her parents pushed her that way to be that, then we went to the little woman, little women house, sorry, Louisa Mae Alcott’s house. And in hearing how her parents and a time where a woman wasn’t even allowed to have a desk because that meant you were taking writing seriously, her dad built her one in her room.

I mean, just listening to how they pushed her and took away all the obstacles and what she was able to do because of that. So I guess that’s where my passion really lies. It’s twofold. One in that and just if women just knew, they just knew what they were capable of. And I know what that feels like to be liberated from a lot of those views, and still it’s a lifelong process. And I want other women to feel that. I want other women to know. One, you don’t have to be a victim. You can learn to defend yourself. You don’t have to stay in an abusive relationship. You can get out, you can make the money. One of the biggest ways women are held back, and you mentioned it was financial. That’s the one thing, every single woman I interviewed, every single one had a different story, but they were all trapped financially, no matter how much money they made. So to be liberated in that way, I just think, wow, what the change we can make in the world, how much better our world would be in that freedom.


It’s clear what keeps you motivated and that passion and purpose that brings all of this to life. What final words of wisdom do you have for the women in our community? Both just any words of wisdom, but also I would love to hear your wisdom on women who are in that space of struggle. So they’re experiencing emotional abuse or financial abuse, as you said. And I have to say, that is definitely the most common that I see, and we don’t, I think often recognize even whether it’s happening in our own lives or whether it’s happening with a friend, we don’t tend to give credence to that kind of abuse and the impact it can have. But I would love to hear your words of wisdom and what you might share with women who are listening who are like, oh yeah, I’ve been there, or I’m there, or My best friend is there and I’ve known she’s been there for a decade and I want to help her get out, and I just don’t know. What words would you share with those women?


So first, and you had kind of said words of wisdom in general. So I’ll first get into, for women who are in it, the first thing I want to address is for all moms, all women who are mentoring younger girls, teach young girls, high school, girls, middle school, elementary college, teach them their identity is not in a man. Your female’s goal in life or purpose in life is not necessarily to get married, to have men think they’re attractive or to adore them. If that happens, that’s great, but that’s outside of that. That’s not where their identity lies, and they don’t have to have that. I’d love to see singleness normalized and make that nest egg no matter what. Never ever, ever give up your personal financial fitness, financial control, financial financial literacy to a man plan on the front end, how you are going to make enough money to at any given moment in time, take care of yourself and your children if you have children, to have all the options in the world.

We don’t stress that enough. So I think that needs to happen on the prevention end, the front end, and for those of us who it’s later in life and we didn’t get that, then I go back to learn some self-defense. If you feel stuck, and this is in general anything super physical, you may hike a tall mountain or skydive out of an airplane, something really physical will often catapult you into change in the other areas. I like self-defense the best for the reasons I expressed earlier. So start learning some, take a kickboxing class, let that internal feeling of power start developing. And as that starts to develop, then you can feel stronger in the other areas and know you don’t have to be an athlete or physically fit. You can have a disability, anything and still learn. So that would be what I would say step one.

Step two is get out. Get out. You cannot, I don’t care if you have to eat beans and rice every day, okay, I hear all the, well, I can’t because this, I can’t because that get out. The longer you are there, the longer they are able to play with your mind play. The games bring you down. But if you are separated from the situation, then you are not getting that horrible input anymore. So you can start thinking clearly. You can’t think clearly if you are in. So whatever you have to do, like I said, eat beans and rice every day and get a trailer somewhere. I don’t care. Live in a tent, get a little rv. It is better than staying in that situation. And if you have children, they are not learning good relationship skills and they are being set up to either be the abuser or be abused. If you don’t get out whatever activities they have, whatever it might be that you think, oh, you don’t want them to do without, it’s better for them to do without, they will be much happier. So that’s what I would say.


Yeah, I mean those are such powerful words. I’m so grateful to you for sharing your wisdom, and I love that kind of final piece that you shared because I know some of the most inspiring stories I’ve heard of women who have been through experiences, like some of the things that we’ve talked about have been not being able to get out until they were able to see the impact it had on their children




How a switch was flipped in the moment of recognizing this is not worth whatever that thing is, however hard it is to get out. And so my hope, as you have illustrated and as you’ve written the book about, my hope is that anyone who’s listening to this, who is experiencing that is able to do it for their children, but also for yourself and know that are worthy of that as well. Jenkins, it has been an absolute pleasure. I’m so grateful for your wisdom and for the words that I hope will inspire some women who are listening to us in whatever way is appropriate for them. We have been talking with S Jenkins. She’s an author, a speaker, a self-defense expert, a woman of many trades. If you want to get to know her better to get her book Red Flags, know one to Run, to book her as a speaker or to take one of her self-defense courses. You can learn more about Thank you again, Stephanie.


Thank you so much, Kelly. I really appreciate it.


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On our Five-Star-Rated podcast, you’ll hear the inspiring stories of fierce women who have overcome challenges and built purpose-filled lives. Over the coming months, we’ll be sharing interviews with some of my absolute favorite past She Is Fierce! Speakers and our incredible members. Kelly will also be dropping in for some solo episodes to answer some of the questions she gets asked regularly about how to grow a powerful brand, how to build a mission-driven business from scratch, and how to find joy in the journey. Tune in, rate and review the podcast, and let us know who you would love to see us feature in the future!


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