What’s Your Armor?

When I was in the Navy, there was a part of me that felt protected and safe behind the armor of my uniform.  The fabric, insignias and medals provided me an identity. I was really proud of that identity, and the higher that I went up in rank, the more protected and courageous I “unknowingly” felt.

When I retired and took my uniform off, there was a huge part of me that felt lost without the façade that had “served me” for so long.

If I wasn’t “Senior Chief,” I didn’t know who I was.

To say it was initially a shock to my system would be an understatement…I believe many of my fellow veterans can relate.

I said that I “unknowingly” felt protected and courageous. At the time, I didn’t realize the deep perception of influence and security that I experienced in my uniform. I didn’t have to say anything and people had an impression of who I was, just because of my rank.  I was rarely questioned…I had gained a foundation of respect, of which I loved and was grateful for.

For over 20 years, my uniform was my armor; it was my identity, yet I now know it wasn’t all of me.

When I retired, I was still relatively young and got into the health and wellness field. I exchanged my uniform for workout clothes and tennis shoes. People called me “Karen.” It was different, exciting, fun and weird. I had to metaphorically let my hair down…truly, I had to learn how to chill out. I had trained myself to be the identity afforded to me by my uniform and I didn’t know who I was without it.

It was in those early days as a “civilian” where I first noticed that my body was in pain.  I had muscle tightness and I was rigid, especially in my back, chest and neck area. I was experiencing physiological resistance and didn’t know how to soften, relax, breathe, and simply be “me” without my uniform armor. Therefore, I unconsciously stiffened in defense to my new world and my body became my armor.

I was afraid to be vulnerable and I felt unprotected. It took me some time to work through that defense…to let go, and to allow those parts of me that didn’t feel safe to resurface. I had created over two decades of blind spots…all important and a necessary part of my journey. Zero regrets.

Where and how do you armor up?

How do you protect yourself from feeling emotionally vulnerable? If you’re a high-ranking official in the military, does that mean that you don’t experience loss and pain?  No, but we sometimes have an expectation that you don’t.  We think you’re “tougher than nails.”  Yet we see Post-Traumatic Stress in our courageous and vulnerable veterans at every level, which means they experience trauma, loss, grief and painful emotions.  The armor of their uniform does not protect them from any of that.

How about other ways that we might armor-up?

You bet.  Do you get extremely fit or wear trendy clothes so that others won’t see “you,” but will base their impression of you on your appearance?  Are you a perfectionist…one of the most painful forms of putting on armor?  Or an overachiever, highly intelligent or witty, using those assets to cover up a fear of inadequacy? Or do you swing to the other spectrum and become an underachiever to not be seen?  After all, “If I don’t try, I won’t fail.”

What would happen if you showed up being your authentic, real, vulnerable, awesome self?

What would you do without your armor on?  To be honest, it scared the hell out of me for some time.  And then it didn’t.  I had to learn (at a very deep and honest level) that I was not my uniform, or my job, or my salary.  I had to breathe into my tight muscles and ask my heart to trust and relax.

Lastly, I now know that when I was in the military, I was wearing armor that worked when I didn’t know it was working.  I feel tremendous pride that I was given the honor of wearing that uniform.  And now that it’s in my closet, it reminds me that those were special years, and it’s with gratitude and greater understanding that I have moved on.

Depression… A Journey Inward

Pssst…hey friend, have any thoughts on depression?  I’ll bet you don’t like it.  I’ll also take a guess and say it’s not a lot of fun to be around someone who is in a deep state of depression.  You get depressed about their depression…you want them to feel better, happier, more joy again and being around happiness is much easier than sadness. Yet, since most of us are human (I think), we all experience depressed periods…all of us.

Definition time:

Depress means to push or pull something down into a lower position.

With depression, you are residing in your past with regret, sometimes guilt, most likely with things you wish you could change. You’re pressed inward, trying to rescue yourself.

To be clear, this blog is not talking about chronic, diagnosable and biologically-driven depression, such as Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).  MDD is not “situational” depression, which is a response to loss and grief.  MDD is chronic and severe and can create a lack of hope and thoughts of suicide.  It’s serious and if you know someone who you think is severely depressed, get them some help.  At a minimum, you can notify a family member of your concern. If you believe they are suicidal, call 911 and stay with them until help arrives.

Back to situational depression…when you lose something you care about, you grieve.

You grieve the dream…the expectation that something was going to be different than it has turned out.

You “expected” that relationship to last forever. It didn’t. You “expected” your health would be good enough to go on your “bucket list” trip and you now have a serious illness.  You “expected” your employment would last and that you’d be able to support your family.  You have just been laid off.  There were high hopes and plans for the future. You’re grieving the loss of your unmet expectations.

Depression is a normal part of the grieving process.

Your loss is a reality, you have little energy, and you’re sad.  You’re withdrawn, lethargic, and de-energized and you find yourself in the depression stage of grieving.

What to do when you’re experiencing depression?

  • Honor the reason for your depression. Remember, depression is typically grief about something in the past, something or someone important that you “lost.” Your feelings and sadness are normal.
  • Don’t numb out. Many times, people will drink more alcohol or self-medicate.  Alcohol is a depressant…it will only make things worse.  Self-medicating might temporarily numb your painful feelings, but they don’t go away…they go inward and deeper and will resurface later.  And remember, when you numb emotions, you numb ALL emotions, the good ones and the ones you’re trying to avoid.
  • Move your body. As depression can make you want to stay in bed and pull the cover over your eyes, movement is super important.  Get outside and go for a walk.  Go to the gym.  Do some yoga and stretch your body.  Get your blood flowing…remind yourself how alive you are.  Keep moving.
  • Talk about it. Holding onto feelings and emotions creates emotional blockage. Find someone safe…your partner, a family member, a friend, a counselor or a coach and talk about it.  Let it out.  I know we think we should “just get over it” and “be tough.” Fortunately, we’re human.  Find another human who will listen without judgment.
  • Back to Basics. The acronym, HALT, is an easy way to remind yourself to stop what you’re doing and get back to basics.  When you find yourself Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, stop and address those needs first to take care of yourself.
  • Accept that you’re depressed. Don’t fight your depression…accept that it will move on in time.  Resisting and trying to ignore your feelings will only create more pain. Avoidance is not the solution.  Feel your feelings.
  • Seek help. If your depression has gotten to a place of hopelessness, seek help. Even situational depression can take people to extreme lows. Some pains are simply more than many of us can imagine. Get help. Know that it’s okay to reach out and please do.

So, if you’re currently experiencing depression, connect with your heart and feel your necessary and important feelings.

Reach out to people and allow them to help.  Day by day, you will integrate the valuable loss that you’re grieving, your painful feelings will dissipate, and life will start to normalize in a different way.  Because, as I’ve said before, when you’re in the Dark Swamp, you simply keep moving through it.

Coping with Anxiety.

I’m bummed. Paco took his last road trip yesterday.  For those of you who haven’t read my blog before, Paco is my amazing dog…my best bud…my big-hearted warrior…my co-pilot…you know, woman’s best friend.

Now don’t panic, Paco’s fine.  It’s just that the last couple of years, I’ve watched him get more anxious in my car.  I think there’s a couple of reasons. The SUV I currently drive has a tighter suspension (that’s SUV talk) than my last vehicle, and he feels every change in the road, especially cattle guards.  We hate cattle guards with their short vibrational rumble (I’ll bet cows do too). A drive over one leads to his uncontrollable shaking and, once that fight or flight reaction kicks in, his shaking doesn’t stop until the trip is over. Also, I was in a car accident about two years ago.  Paco was in the car with me.  Neither one of us was hurt (other than my horrible whiplash), but it has had an effect on his comfort and anxiety in the car (as it has for me).

IMG_3662.jpgSo, we head to Arizona for Christmas. Paco sits on my partner’s lap and stays alert, even after putting on his Thundershirt (doggy anxiety shirt) and taking a prescribed sedative. We come to a complete stop at cattle guards, roll down the window, let him look out, then s-l-o-w-l-y go over. It appears he’s doing better than previous times, but it’s still not great. He’s anxious and scared. I’m bummed. He used to go everywhere with me, and I mean everywhere. To visit clients, to the lake, to Arizona, everywhere.  Icky anxiety…

I also have relatively high anxiety.

I also struggle when I’m a passenger in a car.  It’s fear and the inability to control my environment.  It’s easier when I’m the driver.  But many times, when I’m sitting in the passenger seat, I am alert to every car, every bump, everything I can’t control.

My outsides are not in immediate danger…my insides are freaking out.  It’s not rational, but tell that to my rapid breathing, my sweaty palms, and my elevated heart-rate. Paco has what I have.  He has what my father has.  He has what many of us have…we have anxiety.

Many people have this form of anxiety in airplanes.  Logically, they know the chances of a plane accident are much lower than a car accident.  Logically, they know they will get to their destination as planned.

Unfortunately, anxiety or panic attacks don’t pay attention to logic.

A full-blown panic attack is awful, and the person (or animal) experiencing it feels like they might die.  It’s confusing and scary.  All logic goes out the window when your insides are trying to flee.  The more you try to control it, the worse it gets. After the panic attack is over, the person who had it is afraid of and alert for the next one…which increases anxiety…which keeps them in constant fear…which is a wicked cycle.

There are many websites that address anxiety and panic attacks, but I wanted to pass along a few things that you can use to reduce anxiety without the use of medication. Here goes:

  • Bring yourself back to this present moment. Anxiety is always a fear of something that might occur in the future…it’s essentially a fantasy. “I’m afraid I’m going to get into a car accident.” The car accident that I’m fearing hasn’t happened, but the fear of that future car accident that I’m imagining is creating anxiety, fear, and psychological pain.
  • Meditate. Meditation has the natural ability to create a calmer presence and more peace in your life. It will help you to notice your thoughts/worries and let go of them, essentially teaching you to not become attached to them as your truth.
  • Breathe deeply. Holding your breath sends an inner signal that you’re in danger. When you feel yourself becoming more anxious, take some deep breaths and ask yourself, “In this moment, what do I fear? Am I truly in danger?”
  • Accept/embrace your anxiety. When you stop trying to fight it, you might actually find that your anxiety is not your enemy.  It might help avoid future problems by anticipating them…just a thought J
  • Check your diet. Especially your intake of caffeine and energy drinks as they increase anxiety (and increase your fear). Yes, I drink caffeine (no, I’m not willing to stop, thank you for asking). On days where you’ll be flying, or a passenger in a car, or taking the final exam that you’re freaking out about, drink less energy drinks.
  • Get quality sleep. For real, this is one of the most important things you can do for yourself on many levels. Shoot for eight good hours of sleep each night. And if you can’t get eight hours, try and get a nap in during the day.

Remember, anxiety is fear of something that we think is going to happen in the future.

Many times, it’s based on something that happened in the past that we’re afraid of reoccurring, such as an accident, failing an exam, or being embarrassed in public.

We humans have the ability to create some awareness around our fears that could help uncover the reasons for our anxiety.  Little Paco doesn’t necessarily have that ability. So, his mama (that’s me, in case I’ve lost you) told him yesterday, that he’d just taken his last road trip to Arizona.  He’s relieved, but doesn’t want me to go to Arizona anymore either.  That won’t happen, but his days of uncontrollably shaking for 400 miles are behind him. In the meantime, his mama will keep meditating, breathing, and knowing she’s doing the best thing for her cherished little co-pilot. 😊

Just Do Something.

A few weeks ago, I was listening to Oprah interview Sister Joan Chittister.  Oprah asked (and I’m paraphrasing here) how people could start to make change happen and Sister Chittister responded, “Do something.”  I like that.  A simple, yet complete response, just “do something.”

So today, on Christmas, I thought I’d release a short blog about doing “something” toward creating a more peaceful and loving world.

What if we consider the path to get there is filled with one “something” at a time?

All great visionaries and avatars professed the importance of being of service…of doing “something.”  Here’s a few:

  • “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Ghandi
  • “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others.” — The Dalai Lama
  • “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”. — Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.” — Mother Teresa
  • “Love one another.” — Jesus
  • “Radiate boundless love toward the entire world.” — Buddha
  • “When these (selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear) crop up…we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help.” — Bill W. & AA Founders

Be the change, help others, take the first step, smile, love one another, connect with others in need…just do one thing, one “something” good for someone or something else. It doesn’t have to be huge and it doesn’t have to cost you a dime.

Notice how you radiate a happier you when you touch the lives of others.

Reaching out to be of service to others in struggle reminds us of our humanity, that things have been or could be a lot worse, and that one simple act of kindness can change the course of someone’s life, whether we see that change or not.  And it simply feels good…which is selfish, but it’s a good selfish, so carry on with your awesome self!

Fearful Mind or Warrior Heart?

Do you have a hard time silencing your mind? Do you have thoughts that seemingly come from nowhere and control you and keep you anxious and worried?  Are you, like me, looking for more peace in your mind?

There are some people who have the “your thoughts are not your reality” thing all figured out.  I’m not one of them.  There is a fearful and judgmental committee that occasionally hangs out between my ears.  It says things like, “Be successful, look cool, be more content, be funnier, don’t be a dork, and fit in.”  Sometimes, it even says, “If they know you, they won’t like you. Don’t be You.” I know, right?  Not cool.  How about you?

What thoughts does your fearful mind relay to you?

Don’t get me wrong; your mind and the thoughts that arise from it are a crucial part of keeping you alive. They gauge true danger, and send you a hormonal signal when you should be experiencing fear, such as to run like hell when you’re being chased by an angry lion.

Yet many times, your mind creates thoughts of doubt and fear without any actual danger, like not being good enough, not succeeding, not being liked, being alone, or fearing rejection. Those thoughts aren’t reality.  They aren’t an angry lion chasing you…yet they appear as reality and can still activate your hormonal responses of “fight, flight or freeze.”  They have a way of perpetuating fear and anxiety. Like I said earlier, “not cool.”

Why does your mind create pesky little thoughts to keep you from experiencing life as it is, right here and now?

Why does it tell you elaborate, yet false, stories that create sadness and depression or fear and anxiety?  An opinion: To avoid your present moment and to control you.  To keep life “safe and predictable.”

Losing control is your mind’s greatest fear, so it compares all of your experiences to your past and makes judgments on what is okay and what isn’t. If you’re avoiding stepping into something new and possibly awesome, it’s because your fearful mind has connected to a time in your life where you felt pain, rejection or failure.

Your mind would rather keep you in a box where it knows what to expect than take that chance into unknown territory.

It will create all kinds of reasons to prevent anything it can’t control, anything new or extreme, like the agonizing feelings of pain, grief, and sadness, but also the powerful feelings of vulnerability, love, and tenderness. It’s trying to keep you from living from your heart because “it thinks” you will get hurt.

But not living from your heart IS hurting you, because being controlled into a “safe and predictable” life is killing your spirit.

If you want true peace of mind, you have to journey from your mind to your heart and listen, connect with and respect your heart’s messages. You become loyal to the messages coming from your heart and asking your mind to be a submissive servant to your heart’s guidance.  This is how you find the peace in your mind that you seek. Your mind is creating doubt and fear, and your heart is creating expansion and love.  It’s really quite simple, and it’s really not easy.  You’re welcome 🙂

You can start by asking yourself one question, “Am I choosing love or fear?”

If you’re experiencing resistance, doubt and fear, you’re being controlled by your fearful mind. If you’re experiencing peace and love, you’re leaning into your highest good and honoring the wisdom of your heart. Your heart knows your truth…there’s really nothing to “think” about.  It trusts, accepts, flows…it wants you to experience your life to the fullest…it always chooses love.

Your mind says, “Don’t do that, you might get hurt.”  Your heart responds, “Step in. Live. You will hurt if you don’t do it.”  You are here to expand and grow, not to become who you’re “supposed to be” but to “BE who you are.”

So, two choices.  Always. You can slice it up anyway you want, but you can choose love and walk toward your highest calling, toward your God, toward peace of mind…or you can choose fear, and walk away from your true calling, from your God, from expanding, from your highest “self.”

Two choices.

It seems easy, but it isn’t.  Your fearful mind is loud and anxious and scared and controlling.  Your warrior heart is quiet and powerful and unafraid and peaceful.  Your heart is waiting for you to choose love…it won’t pressure you…it will be patient…and it will overflow with joy when you hear it louder than the thoughts from your fearful mind.

It takes conscious practice.  Listen in meditation…your heart is communicating with you.  Listen when you feel peace-full and loving…your heart is expanding and connecting with you.  Listen when you’re in pain…your heart is with you, not avoiding pain like your mind is trying to do, but feeling, honoring, and moving through it with you.

You are going to have times when you experience life in the extremes…extreme joy and extreme pain.  The extremes will teach you the beauty of living in the “middle,” a place where “peace of mind” truly exists and a place of tremendous love, grace and harmony. A place where you hear your warrior heart as your loudest voice and your True North.

p.p.s. Cool image credit to HeartandBrain.Coffee

What’s Her Problem?

It’s another tough conversation today, my friend. This one’s about inappropriate sexual behavior and language, much of which has been all over the media lately.

I’m sharing from my own experience and perspective, and I am not looking to blame or shame either side.  Do I have a solution toward making it better?  Well, I may have a step toward a response…at least one that is working for me in my relationships.  It’s a response that I believe respects me and the men in my life. I know it’s going to take conscious effort and courageous communication from both sides to create change, but my belief is that it will be well worth it.

Sexual assault, abuse, harassment, jokes, locker-room talk, and objectification of women…it’s finally hit a boiling point.

A “silent-no-more” and “#MeToo” movement has been ignited. It’s not surprising.  When high level “leaders” of our nation and popular sports and entertainment personalities are continuously being called out for inappropriate sexual behavior, the epidemic has been exposed.  That said, it’s easy to see why many women are saying, “Enough is enough.”  What we are now experiencing is a number of them publicly speaking out.

A question we always hear is, “Why have they waited until now?”  They are the only ones that can answer that.  Possibly, because these are men of “power,” the women might have a fear of reprisal, fear that they won’t be believed, fear that no action would be taken, or fear that they would be annihilated and re-traumatized publicly.

It took a long time for me to talk about my military sexual trauma as well. There was a deep fear of reprisal. There was also shame attached to speaking out.  Hearing statements such as, “What’s her problem?” or, “She shouldn’t have put herself in that position,” only intensifies that shame.

There is a culture of unacceptable behavior that has been accepted.

It’s been justified, overlooked, dismissed, and defended.  I personally don’t know one woman who hasn’t had some sort of unwanted sexual experience, whether it’s rape or a catcall, both of which are violations to very different degrees.  Whether we want to believe it or not, women are often objectified as sexual objects.

Respect and change has to occur from both men and women.

So, I believe we have a great opportunity here.  Can we change what has happened in the past?  No.  Can we learn from what has happened if we use open communication to create a better future?  I believe so.   Should we yell and scream and label all men as creeps and sexual predators?  No.  But some men, “Yes.”  As the saying goes, “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

Holding perpetrators 100% accountable is absolutely the right course of action.

Penalties and consequences that are enforced for those convicted will assist in creating change.  But, with the viral-nature of social media and the news, I also believe we need to be careful publicly condemning and convicting anyone before they have a chance to a fair trial.  Doing so is not fair to them and goes against their basic human and civil rights.

Because not every man is a rapist…not every man disrespects and objectifies women…many men are wonderful and are as horrified about what they’re seeing in the news as the rest of us are.

Lumping them all into the “You’re a creep” category and stereotyping them is simply not the right thing to do.

Yet, one of the biggest problems is that many men were taught at a young age that locker-room talk was male bonding and that objectifying women was normal.  Normal.  So, how do we reverse that belief?  How do we talk to the man who says, “Boys will be boys”, or who jokes, engages in locker-room talk, makes catcalls, uses sexual innuendos or unwanted gestures, or talks about women as if they’re sexual objects? How do we tell them that, in that disturbing moment, those of us who have sexual trauma in our past are trying to assess whether or not we’re safe with them?

Because their language and behavior sends the message to us that we aren’t.

How do we tell them how that feels, why we don’t think it’s appropriate, funny or amusing?  Why we’re “overreacting” and don’t laugh along?  Do we publicly shame them?  Do we tell them to “F Off” and quit being their friend?  Do we shrink, shut up, and stay silent while they keep engaging in offensive behavior?

I’m going out on a limb here.

If we care about our them, we have to gather the courage to talk to them.

We have to be honest and tell them,

“Because I care about you and our friendship, I’d like to share something with you.  When you make sexual jokes about using women, I feel attacked.  You see, I’ve had sexual trauma in my past. I’m going to ask you to be mindful of that.  Actually, I’d like you to know that every time I get looked at like a sexual object, and every time I hear a man joke about sexually using women, a part of me feels small and traumatized all over again. That isn’t your fault and I don’t need you to do anything other than be respectful, and to know that I’m not the only woman, or man by the way, who has this happen.  I’m not the minority.  So, when you’re making these jokes, you might unknowingly be re-victimizing someone, someone like me.”

If you are a man that engages in locker-room talk and thinks it’s okay, here are some questions I’d ask you to consider:  If you heard someone talking about your wife, daughter, mother, or sister the way that you talk about women, any woman, would it be okay? Would it be okay if someone groped your wife? Your daughter? Would it be okay if you heard she couldn’t get promoted unless she gave her boss oral sex?  Would you be okay with that?  If not (which I hope is the case), then it’s not okay for you to do it either.

And women, please start being more honest with the men in your lives.  If something crosses a line, tell them.

Although we think they should know how it feels for us, they don’t know and they aren’t mind-readers.  If they hear you and keep crossing the line, you have a choice to make.  You need to feel safe and valued in your relationship with them if you want to stay in it.

Being resentful, silent, and simply brushing it off as “boy-behavior” will lead to your re-victimization and essentially a poor relationship with them.

Respectful communication…discussing the tough stuff….expressing your values AND your boundaries…it’s necessary for honest relationships.  If you have a person in your life with whom you can have a heartfelt conversation about this type of stuff, consider that a gift.

Tell him you care enough to be honest with him.  Tell him that his behavior is not okay.  His jokes are not appropriate.  That women’s bodies are not objects.  Tell him how it feels for you when he sexualizes women.  Tell him you’re trying to create a better relationship.

Maybe he will be grateful for the awareness and for your honesty. Maybe it will make a difference. Maybe talking about it will empower you, even if you’re scared.  For me, these conversations have helped me to take back the power that I thought had vanished, and have given me back my voice, when for a long time that voice was silent, afraid and ashamed.

Tough Conversations…Talk About “It”

“With communication, you bond; without it, you separate.” Karen Solt

Having relationship problems?  Having trouble honestly discussing them with your partner?  That would not be unusual.  Here’s the deal:  if you don’t feel safe and valued in your relationship, you can’t communicate your true feelings; so, you don’t have an honest relationship…yet.

This dishonest, non-communicative relationship is probably taking a toll on you.

Let’s look at this together.

How are you currently communicating about your problems?  Are you being confrontational or passive? …faking it and pretending that everything is fine?…avoiding it and talking about your job, the news, weather, your children, and anything else you can think of? …just hoping that it will “blow over?” …just go away?

In my opinion, there is only one way to “fix” whatever the problem is…it’s to talk about it.

With healthy communication, you bond; without it, you separate.

Let’s say you’re noticing that your partner is angry, and you ask him/her, “What’s wrong, babe?”  Response: “Nothing!!!”   You’re thinking, “Oh man, that sure doesn’t seem like ‘nothing!!!’…”

Why does this happen?  Because most of us learned at an early age, that either yelling at each other or avoiding arguments entirely, were two ways to survive conflict.  We didn’t learn to stay present in conflict and to be vulnerable and to communicate our true feelings.  We feared rejection. We feared being attacked. And we now fear conflict.

So, we avoid conflict at all costs.

We swallow our feelings, and drop them into our little handy reservoir of other swallowed feelings.  Plop!  And then you notice your partner is angry again, fuming!!.  Now we’re back to, “What’s wrong, babe?”  The reservoir has overflowed. “I’ll tell you what’s the matter!  For the past 15 years I have done your laundry, your dishes, picked up your dry cleaning, raised your kids, been an attentive lover, and everything else around this house!  You have done nothing!  You have never been here for me!  I want a divorce!”  And you’re standing there, with the ‘deer in the headlights’ look.

I mean you knew she wasn’t happy, but holy-cow, you had no idea….

Why is it that you had no idea that she would actually go this far?

You weren’t talking (welcome pink elephant, thanks for joining us 🙂).  You thought that it was better to just play nice, to avoid conflict, and to pretend that everything was okay. Right?

Unfortunately, everything wasn’t okay. Actually, you knew that all along.  Now you’ve gone from two people who used to absolutely adore each other, to two people watching TV without talking much, to now…two people threatening divorce.

What’s my point?

It’s that you must talk about the tough stuff.

If you’re not happy, you must engage in some self-awareness to determine what’s wrong.  Where have you betrayed yourself?  What is your real unhappiness? After that, it’s your responsibility to communicate your unhappiness, how it began, and look for some possible solutions.

Start here:  Find a quiet place, and do some writing about what you’re really upset about.  Be honest with yourself.  You have a story that you’re telling yourself and others, but what’s the underlying story?  If you’re angry, you’re probably either afraid or ashamed of something.  What is it?  When you start yelling at your partner, are you really looking for attention and connection?  That they jump into the battle with you and show you they care?  Figure out what you’re needing from them.

Next step:  Ask for what you need and be as clear as you can.

What if, instead of yelling, you said,

“I’m really struggling right now and a part of me wants to blame it on you. I’m happy that you have that job that is creating more income and more freedom for us. But I’ve lost my independence…I feel lost and isolated and sometimes I feel like I’m losing you. I’m scared. Can we talk about some solutions that will be okay for both of us?”

I know…you think I’m crazy because that’s hard to do, but you have to understand that people aren’t mind readers. They have an idea, but they don’t 100% know what’s wrong. You might not even 100% know what’s wrong.  Give yourself a chance to sit and sort it out.

Let’s wrap this up with some communication do’s and don’ts:

  • Do invite someone to have a conversation.  Don’t demand.
  • Do be vulnerable.  Don’t be closed-minded.
  • Do take ownership of your part of the problem.  Don’t blame.
  • Do be honest and look for the real story. Don’t get stuck in your surface story.
  • Do listen. Don’t make it all about you.
  • Do look for solutions.  Don’t believe there’s no hope.

It takes courage to have vulnerable conversations and to ask for your needs.

Being clear about what you’re really feeling, without shutting down, becoming defensive, or emotionally aggressive takes awareness. It takes vulnerability. It takes practice.

It means feeling your feelings, while in the midst of uncomfortable conversations. But, it’s worth it.  If you want honest and open relationships, they take work, and they will take honest and open communication. What do you have to lose?  More silence?  More resentment?  More lack of connection?  These just might be good things to lose.

Narcissism is no Joking Matter.

“Many of our problems stem from attitudes like putting ourselves first at all costs.” — The Dalai Lama

Yep, narcissism.  We have all encountered someone who is so over-the-top arrogant that we label them “a narcissist.”  But Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not something that we take should lightly or “sideline-diagnose” people with.

A true narcissist has specific traits that, once you understand them, are hard to miss.

Many people get seduced into relationships with narcissists and see them as charming and confident, only to ultimately feel confused, emotionally battered, tricked and betrayed. If you are one of those people and you made it out of that relationship with some sanity, you probably have a firm awareness that it made you question your reality and temporarily (hopefully) knocked your confidence right out of you.

In this age of instant gratification, selfies, and the need to be noticed, many people appear to be narcissists.  Social media, cell phones, texting and the internet have contributed to a “look at me” mentality.  But this constant search for external acknowledgement and attention is more likely due to feelings of low self-worth and separation anxiety.

To avoid these painful feelings of separation and isolation, the person creates something to “feel connected, to be seen.”

So, let’s figure this narcissism-thing out.  My apologies, but it’s necessary to get clinical to have an honest look at this disorder.  The diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 states, “Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy, beginning in early adulthood and as indicated by five (or more) of the following:”

  • Has an inflated sense of self-importance (i.e. exaggerates achievements and expects recognition for being superior)
  • Is preoccupied with belief of power, brilliance, unlimited success, beauty, or ideal love
  • Believes that he or she is “unique” and “special” and can only be understood or associate with other “high status” people or institutions
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Carries a sense of entitlement
  • Exploits or takes advantage of others to achieve success
  • Lacks empathy…is unable to connect with the feelings and needs of others
  • Believes others are envious of him or her or is often envious of others
  • Displays arrogant, self-important behaviors or attitudes

You see, narcissists aren’t faking their beliefs…this is their reality.

They might have been treated as if they were superior from early childhood…they have a sense of entitlement and a belief that they are more important than others.  They also fundamentally believe all of the things that they tell you: you should admire them, they never make mistakes, they’re amazing and perfect, they’re in a class of their own.

Yet, on the flip-side of their grandiose behavior and underneath their mask of extreme confidence, narcissists are very fragile.  They are addicted to feeling significant; so they do not accept criticism, and will often go on the attack and belittle or become condescending toward anyone who disagrees with them.  They have little to zero awareness of their fragility and puff-up at the slightest sign of challenge or criticism.

Can this disorder be treated?

With personality disorders, the big challenge is that it’s less about psychology and more about an ingrained personality.  It cannot be treated with psychotropic medication, as with other psychological disorders.  A narcissist’s best bet is to gain some self-awareness into the behaviors that are creating relational and emotional problems.  This can be addressed during individual or group counseling/coaching.

How can you avoid the trap of being seduced by someone who is narcissistic?

At the top of my list is self-awareness.  If you’re attracted to someone you believe might be a narcissist, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is it about this person that I find attractive/unattractive?
  • Why was a narcissist attracted to me?
  • How do I benefit by being with someone who is the center-of-attention?
  • Where am I not showing up for myself?
  • Where am I comfortable being misused and victimized?
  • Where does my partner fill a need that I haven’t learned to give to myself?
  • What would my life be like without this person?
  • Are the consequences of staying in the relationship more or less painful than walking away from it?

Next and really important is to take all relationships slowly, which I know can be a challenge, as “new love is the bomb” 🙂.  A narcissist (actually anyone) will show his or her true colors, but you have to be in the relationship long enough to allow those colors to materialize.

At a minimum, the first year of any relationship can be very tricky, as new love is a state of infatuation and bliss…you only see what you want to see, you have blinders on, you’re a little (okay, a lot) crazy, and life is pure magic.  The longer you are in that relationship, the more depth you are able to experience as your infatuation transitions into acceptance (“I see the things that I like and don’t like, and I’ll take them all”) and love, your relationship is becoming real.

Once your infatuation blinders come off and you realize you have believed everything you have seen and been told, this can be very painful when the dark side of your narcissistic partner comes out.

Lastly, if you’re currently waking up next to a narcissist, you’re probably not having too much fun with your belittling, arrogant, superior, emotionless, lack-of-empathy partner.

You are probably holding on in hopes that you will reconnect with that person you initially fell for.

After all, their over-the-top traits were attractive at some point.  Now you understand the real cost…the hurt when empathy and compassion are simply not present…and you’re seeing yourself, along with others, being belittled.  Now it isn’t so attractive and you’re finding them, and yourself for being in a relationship with them, nauseating and disgusting.  Good…because it’s time to reclaim your life and walk away.  Don’t worry, you’ll be “better than just fine” honoring yourself and living without them.