How to Move from Surviving to Thriving with Judy Van Niekerk

It’s a little bit serendipitous, really, that the guest I have today is a lady who has survived captivity for over 7300 days. That’s over 20 years of captivity. Our particular guest, Judy van Niekerk, knows exactly what it takes to cope, survive and ultimately thrive through an unimaginable challenge that she found herself in. I know that many of you right now are feeling completely, incredibly challenged around our current situation. Judy van Niekerk, having survived 20 years of captivity, is now a serial entrepreneur, having founded numerous pioneering businesses. She’s a best selling author and speaker and now has created a programme using her own experiences to go on to empower others, to embrace these challenges and to thrive through them. I really feel incredibly honoured to interview Judy today.

We’re going to be talking about how we move from surviving to thriving. So one of the main themes of this particular series is about how we move from surviving right now into thriving. Judy has the most incredible personal story about surviving and then going on to thriving.

Judy, perhaps you could just start off by giving us a little bit of information about you and what you do.

I think where I would love to start is talking about or mentioning the philosophy that drives me every minute of every day and that is empowerment. I have a belief that in any area of life that you’re not empowered you will be overpowered, and if you’re not financially empowered, you cannot be empowered. That’s why it is so important and vital to have financial resilience, have financial empowerment and now more than ever, that’s for sure. So that’s fundamentally what drives both me in myself, plus everything around what I do, the work that I do. But that takes two different forms. One is working with people to become financially empowered essentially so they can have the freedom that wealth brings. And that is done, I say, 99% of mindset, 1% in the mind. So that’s the one that side of it. And then the other side of it is I work with people to build wealth. One of the avenues that we do that in is through Forex trading.

There’s a couple of things that you just mentioned there that I just want to pick up on. The first is this word empowerment. I think sometimes the word empowerment can mean different things to different people. I know that historically, for you, what’s led you to want to empower both men and women to be financially resilient has come from a very horrific personal story and experiences that you’ve had in your life, would you just share a little bit about your experience that led you to move from having to survive into thriving?

My background as a child growing up – we’re in a global lock down at the moment but I had my own lock down. I was locked up essentially in captivity for almost two decades until I escaped in my early twenties and it was a pretty brutal existence. It was both extremely violent where I was tortured and raped, and it was pretty horrendous. And in that, as you can imagine, I was overpowered for those 20 odd years. It was by my father and others.

But I also witnessed my Mum as well in my very young days, being overpowered by my father. My father took me away and locked me up and I lived alone with him for most those years. But prior to that, I saw how he overpowered my Mum. How she had no financial resources or no financial resilience to do much about her situation, and that left left an indelible imprint on my psyche, as you can imagine, watching that and seeing that. If she had had the financial resources, I’m sure she would have taken me and my siblings away. But it got so bad that eventually I was taken away by my father. If she’d have been empowered this may not have happened, but be that as it may it did, and during those 20 years with my lock down situation with my father we went through extremely long times when we were extremely poor, to a point where I actually ate dog food from a tin once because I was so hungry. That left an indelible print in my psyche as well.

And through that experience, I learned a lot of survival strategies and I was extremely fortunate, actually, in those years that I had and still have a very high level of self preservation. I think we all have it. But do we sustain it? And the issue around do we sustain it essentially boils down to, I believe, one thing, and that is the meaning we apply to whatever it is that we’re going through. If you’re applying a meaning that also supports your value, supports your purpose, supports your spirit and soul, your heart and soul, you will build on that resilience over time. If you don’t put a meaning on it that supports you but rather that pulls you down, then your survival mechanism, your resilience drops and it exponentially drops. And so I learned incredibly powerful techniques and strategies of living during those years that in actual fact, I experienced tremendous joy, peace, and an appreciation for love, for life. To the point that I actually would feel this need to connect with myself. So I’d go into the bathroom, look in the mirror and I would have bruises. My nightgown would be tattered and I would look in the mirror, but I would not see my face. I’d look beyond my face into my eyes. It’s almost like I was reaching down and I would reach down into into my solar plexus and grab onto something. And I actually called it ‘My Something’.

Now, bear in mind I wasn’t educated and didn’t go to school, but I called it ‘My Something’. And what that was is my spirit, my connection to the greater universe, to the greater purpose of life. And I knew each time I grabbed that and held onto that that I was unbreakable. I knew that no matter what happened to my mortal body – the times I was stabbed, brutal home abortions, really, really serious stuff going on, near death many times – I knew that you could hurt my mortal body but you can’t break my spirit. And the more and more I connected with that, the stronger my resilience became. And in a sense, despite the fact that I was overpowered in that environment, I had a strong sense of control and parliament in my heart and in my spirit, and that gave me clarity on life and how I could use that time powerfully because I knew that this would pass just like this current lock down will pass. And I knew that I would find the right time and the right how and the right when and the resources to do so. So what I did with my time from moment to moment either would serve me when that time came or not, and because I had such a high level of self preservation I elected to use the time powerfully, and I actually got to study the greatest things.

I’ve got to learn the most amazing things. My father had a high value on learning, so I asked him for books or any materials. I taught myself to paint. I taught myself to knit, I taught myself to play musical instruments from nothing very much. There was no Internet so it wasn’t just a quick Google search. I taught myself so much, and I got to study topics that were deeply, deeply inspirational and meaningful to me. And they were topics around economy, business, money, wealth. And that’s what really inspired me. And that’s where I started to get to understand that if you’re not financially empowered, you’re not empowered in life. And that’s when I started to understand the importance of being empowered in all areas of life.

It’s the same for every one of us; our biggest challenge growing up is what gives us our voice. So my voice was empowerment. So my value in life now is to be empowered and my voice as well was poverty. We didn’t have money. I lived in poverty, and I committed then that I was not going to live in poverty. I was going to have whatever it is I wanted. When the time came for me to get out, to escape, I was able to use those tools and everything that I had chosen to do through those years to literally walk into a job. I did lie through my teeth, but I did walk into a job!

A few years before I escaped I had this and ambition, this drive, this desire that when I did get away, that I would work in stockbroking, merchant banking, or oil and gas. Why, I don’t know. But that was what drove me. I think because of my limited education, because I taught myself everything, that was all I could see. So when I got out I applied for jobs, lied through my teeth, and I walked into a job as the trading accountant for oil and gas in an oil company. So that’s where my love of trading started. Since then, I’ve done all sorts of different things, all driven from that strong sense of resilience I built up through the meaning I applied to the experience I was having.

Statistically having gone through what I have gone through, statistics shows that I would end up in a destructive relationship, become self destructive, have battled with self belief issues and so on. I had a really struggling life, and that’s that’s sadly, unfortunately, the case for so many people, so many women and men. I didn’t. I broke that mould. And I know why. That’s what drives me now because I know what’s possible. I know what we can cope with. I know the depth of resilience that we have, and it’s simply through the meaning we apply to those experiences. And we get to choose that every single minute of every single moment of every single day.

First of all, thank you for sharing that because oh my gosh, what a story. I just I think what an incredible woman to have experienced literally, I’m sure, the depths of terrible, terrible things. And to hear you talking about it now – what’s interesting for me is when you were saying that statistically you should have perhaps been a different person to who you are now, but yet you’re not. You’ve used that pain to fuel you forward to actually help to empower other people. To build those financial resilience muscles that you had to do because that was your only choice.

Why do you think it was that you didn’t go down into a spiral, perhaps of deep depression and the opposite of what you’ve achieved?

I think I didn’t initially because my why was so big and so powerful. The clarity of what it is I wanted and desired was so massive and so all powerful and so all consuming that I had my life mapped out. If I look back on the first number of years after I escaped, I achieved 100 times more than I could even envisage in those years of isolation. And that’s what happens when you’re on that path of expansive clarity, you get way more than you could even begin to imagine. The apparently impossible becomes possible.

Don’t make the mistake that it was all roses, though. Because what actually happened is I created this life, I had incredible success. The word ‘can’t’ didn’t feature in my awareness. I got into scuba diving. I got into motorbike racing. I got into water skiing. I got into all sorts of different things and then I got competitive in everything. I happened to be talking to somebody who said they’re on the South African swimming team and they’re going to the world championship, and I said I want to do that. They said you can’t, don’t be silly. You can’t. Yes, I can. No, you can’t. And then I did. I represented the country in these sports.

So people saying ‘can’t’ to me that time just didn’t compute. Be that as it may, what eventually started happening was I started hitting a life where it became a bottomless pit, where it felt like there was something that I couldn’t fill. No matter what I did, no matter what I achieved, no matter how much money I had, no matter how many friends I had, no matter how many parties I got invited to, no matter how many people, boys, or men that wanted to ask me out, it didn’t matter. No matter how much of that I had, it was an insatiable, throat wrenching emptiness that I had inside that couldn’t fulfil. What I started doing was pushing the boundaries in everything. To the point where, I used to paraglide competitively, and when I would take off all the pilots would disappear because I was known as the dangerous pilot.

Everything I would do I would push to the dangerous edge. And when that didn’t fulfil me, didn’t give me the fulfilment I was looking for, I wasn’t able to articulate this at the time. It was just a feeling and it became overwhelming. It just gathered momentum very fast, and then I started taking overdoses thinking that would help me. Just to calm my head. Just to stop the noise. I was institutionalised a couple of times and I was seeing psychotherapist after psychotherapist running the same old story about my past and how awful it was and all that. But there was a part of me that knew that this was not helping. Everyone’s missing the mark. I’m missing the mark. You’re missing the mark and everything started to collapse around me. My life started to collapse. This was about eight or nine years after I got to escape and in around an 18 month period I took about eight or nine overdoses. Some of them led to stomach pumps, and others it was too late and I was in ICU. I remember waking up on that very last one and this one time I woke up, it was almost like I saw colour for the first time. It was almost like I everything just started to make sense. Everything. It was life changing.

And I realised what was going on during those years of captivity, I was in what I call Heaven because I had a deeper connection to myself, my heart, my soul and the greater universe. I had something, I had a connection to something bigger than my mortal body. And that was enriching. That was fulfilling. That was love. That was compassion. It was all consuming. It was supportive. Since I escaped, I had a very clear vision of what I wanted to achieve and I was going after it but I got caught up in the going after it and I lost that connection with My Something completely. Completely lost it, forgot it, and I started looking for everything outside of me. I started looking for fulfilment, enrichment, happiness, joy outside of myself. That led to my despair, that empty well, that void, that desperation. I was looking for it in the wrong places. Going to the psychotherapist, relaying the story, that was not my problem. I was dealing with that as it was happening by applying the meaning I was putting to it. I didn’t need psychotherapy for those experiences.

How we move from surviving to thriving: Judy Van Niekerk has the most incredible personal story about moving from surviving to thriving.

I had a very similar experience with therapy – I had seven years of therapy after my son had bacterial meningitis when he was five weeks old and actually that wasn’t the real reason why I was stuck in that trauma. But what I found that was the talking therapy just kept me stuck in that moment, and people couldn’t understand why.

I had a terrible relationship with money growing up and a lot of what you described there about seeking external validation. Actually, what’s most important is our self worth more than our net worth. I’m a massive believer that if you can find meaning and purpose in what you’re doing in your life and your career and your business, then actually the money will just come. I know that sounds a little bit woo woo but it isn’t. It’s exactly what you’re talking about. Your experience, Judy, and that trauma that you’ve just described, horrendous trauma, has led you into a place where you, as you described, felt that connection with your purpose in the world. And I know that lots of people talk about finding your why but it is deeper than your why, isn’t it? It’s your purpose and your whole being because actually, a lot of people experience trauma in their life. Some will have never experienced trauma, and certainly not at that level. But I think that if we all come back to our purpose and that meaning we place on something.

What I can absolutely understand is to be able to not feel fulfilled and this feeling of not enough-ness. It’s a very common topic, particularly in terms of wealth. Because people have this fear that they’ll never have enough. They’ll never have enough money to have the lifestyle they want. They’ll never have enough money to give their children the life that their parents didn’t have. I can imagine that your Mum’s situation must have had an impact on your own wealth scenario in terms of you never wanted to be in that situation yourself.

Yeah, sure. Some people actually say to me – you’re gonna laugh at this – when they hear me talk now they say I’m so lucky to have had those experiences because I have clarity on my life, my why, my meaning, my purpose and all that. And yes I am. But the thing is that it doesn’t only necessarily come from trauma. There’s other ways of finding what you’re purpose is or your why.

Everybody has been through challenge. Everybody. And we all get to choose the meaning we apply to that challenge. There’s two things I would love to just bring up; one is the is the meaning that we apply and people often look for what is the meaning of life. There’s no one meaning of life. There’s 7.9 billion reasons of life and that’s each and every one of us has our own meaning to life. And our meaning to life actually never actualises because if it does, you die. Because it’s about the moment by moment. The meaning you’re applying to everything that you’re experiencing until the day you take your last breath. So the meaning that you’ve applied to everything that you’ve ever done that becomes your meaning in life. But what guides you is your axiology, your chief aim in mind, and chief purpose. What is that chief purpose? And that is your Northern Star. That’s your guiding star.

Some people might find that an easier concept to follow rather than having a life purpose. Because when people think about life purpose they think Ghandi and Nelson Mandela and it doesn’t have to be that. It can be about how you love, it could be how you serve. It’s more than just necessarily suffering or having a grand purpose. It’s unique to every single one of us and it’s going to be different for every single one of us. But certainly the meaning that we get to apply to everything that we’ve ever experienced in the past and what we’re experiencing now gives us the tools and the skills that we need to take us and keep us on the trajectory to our North Star. Because at the end of the day, if you’re taking your last breath, you want to be able to look back on your life and say that the meaning you applied to absolutely everything has taken you to where you are right now That you have made the most of absolutely every opportunity life has given you, and that’s how you’re able to do that.

How do you think Judy from the work that you do with entrepreneurs that typically people apply money to purpose? Where’s where’s the correlation there between purpose and wealth?

The interesting thing is, and this is something that I often say to people, that if you’ve got a vision for what it is that you would love in your life – our vision starts when we’re very young like mine did. Our vision starts when we’re very, very young. It gets clouded, it takes different directions because of the meaning that we apply to things then we go off on different trajectories for many reasons. But if you get clear on what that vision is, whatever that vision is. If the Universe, God, or Mother Nature gave you that vision, then by golly gosh, you have all the resources, financial and otherwise, to be able to live that out.

Whatever the extent of that vision is, whatever that entails, you have everything it takes to create the money, the wealth to support that. And I think people don’t understand the difference between wealth and money.

Money is nothing but the physical manifestation of wealth. Wealth is who you are. Wealth shows up in all areas of your life, not just in monetary terms. Money is just a manifestation of the wealth that you have in your life. And the more clear you are about your vision, the more you are working towards that North Star aligned with your vision in congruence with your values. Not subjugating yourself to the voice and demands of outside forces and other people. It’s a big one, other people. The more you will have that money that flows to support your wealth.

Yeah, 100% I’m really glad that you brought that up because I think particularly for women, a lot of women don’t feel deserving to even have wealth because of external influences. Family members that said certain things when they were growing up.

Over 90% of our beliefs come from our subconscious system. So our six year old version of ourselves heard growing up around money that rich people are greedy or money doesn’t grow on trees. All of these sabotaging beliefs, some of them sometimes can protect us. But very often they actually serve to self sabotage. Just bringing awareness and bringing some curiosity to some of those things can really help you. Just to be aware of, actually, do those beliefs even come from you? Did you believe them? Do you have evidence to support that, or is it that somebody else’s?

How important is it, do you think, that we believe that we should be worthy enough of creating a world of abundance and wealth?

I think why would you not believe it? So if you look at it from that perspective, why would you not deserve it? Why would you not? Can anyone answer that question? Well, there’s your answer. It’s not a belief that you have about you not being worthy, and often that can come from well meaning parents.

And I think that’s often a mistake that a lot of people make is that you hear things as a child. and they come in because of the brain state that we are in. Naturally, as children, our brains are operating at a very low level, vibrating at a very low level. So when we receive information, we take it as fact. We’re not cognitive enough to filter it, so parents can say things out of habit. Well meaning parents can say things out of habit or just act certain ways and you’re perceiving you’re not filtering it. You’re just taking it in as fact. And what that does physiologically is it then forms connections in your brain. The neurons in your brain form connections and they get stronger over time.

You may be conscious of that belief in the early days or that perception, or that meaning you’ve applied to what you heard in the early days. But what happens is we we respond to that. We learn that behaviour and over time protein builds up around those neurons that are synaptically connected, and that’s when it gets embedded in our subconscious mind. That’s when we start responding on automation and really not knowing what it is that’s driving our behaviour when it’s those beliefs that are so well embedded in our subconscious.

That’s why one of my biggest things that I speak about a lot is about being consciously competent. Being self aware. That’s where you start to hear the language that you’re using in your psyche and your brain, in your mind, in your heart. You start hearing you then also start hearing the conflict between your head and your heart and that’s the really beautiful place to get to. Where you can actually hear the two and get to decide. Okay brain, thanks a lot, I appreciate you, but I’m going with my heart. You become more consciously competent, and the more you spend your waking hours consciously competent or consciously aware, the more you will actually start hearing the voice of your heart. And that’s what you will be guided by rather than the noise of your head.

One of the things I love and I have only recently been doing over the last year or so is journaling because journaling gives you the opportunity to listen to those voices, whatever you want to call them, that intuition. T0 then use that to drive your purpose and your meaning in your wealth journey as well as all the practical stuff.

Because in reality, a lot of us know we should be investing. Most of us know we should be managing our money. We should be saving more and spending less than we earn. We know these things, but it’s the behaviour biases that sit behind it. Your thoughts, those belief patterns that create an interruption between what we’re doing and what we’re thinking.

Judy, you’ve got a three day accelerate your life programme coming up. Could you share that with us?

What I’ve done is with this whole lockdown that we’re experiencing right now, we’re in a major shift in society. So what it’s highlighting at the moment to everybody, and you can’t ignore it, is like an existential vacuum. Because normally outside of lockdown we have so many distractions. We’re going out and spending money. We’re getting immediate gratification. We’re socialising, pub-ing, restaurant-ing, shopping, you name it. We’re having to face an existential vacuum. We’re having to see it for what it is now. Right now we have a very, very unique opportunity to re-evaluate and look at what the deeper meaning is for us in life. We can’t control the situation we’re in right now, we’re locked down and that does limit what we can do.

We have a choice, and what I am finding myself during this lock down is obviously my own experiences are coming back up because it’s so familiar. But I’m really fortunate in that it is really familiar, because I also know the opportunities that are held in that on that experience and I feel an obligation to share that with as many people as I can. I’ve created a body of work called the Trilogy of Transformation, which is three major important concepts that you can apply in your life and it will put you onto a trajectory that will take you ever closer to your North Star. So that’s why I’ve created this three day programme that I would love to introduce people to, to open that line of inquiry so that they can then choose whether or not they want to put their life on to a whole new trajectory. In doing so, it is my belief that not only will they become empowered in all areas, they also develop incredible financial resilience.

I can’t think of anybody who would like to learn that more from than someone who’s been through that significant amount of life experience. I’m so inspired listening to your story. I can tell you’re an incredible women, and I’m definitely going to be looking at your three day programme, which is completely free as well, is that right?


Actually one of the other areas that we’ve not had the opportunity to talk about today is how you help both men and women to understand how to invest through Forex Trading.

I’m a big believer in actually exploring lots of opportunities for wealth creation, and sticking money in the bank and holding it in cash right now is not going to be the place to create that wealth experience or wealth creation so perhaps we can have you back on the show to talk about the work that you do in that space.

Yes, that would be wonderful. I would love that.

I just feel incredibly inspired to hear how you’re using this again to help other people to use this as an opportunity to think about their purpose and to move from surviving to thriving. Thank you so much. It’s been lovely.


Join The Money Circle membership

Join the next FREE Plug Your Money Leaks Challenge

Book in a complimentary call to discuss how financial coaching can help you move from financial overwhelm to confidence and control. 

Join Catherine’s Facebook Page and FREE Facebook Group

My Website 

My Online Courses – Investing for beginners from £1

My YouTube Channel 

Connect with me on TwitterInstagram and Facebook 

Follow Judy on her website

Follow Judy on Facebook

Judy’s free challenge

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.