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Category Archives: Relationships

No Fairy Tale

Once upon a time that was a deer named Bambi who lived in the woods with her mother. Bambi’s best friend was a bunny named Thumper. Thumper would often come to Bambi’s neck of the woods and Bambi’s mom would give them milk and homemade cookies.

One day when Bambi and Thumper were out playing in a meadow nearby, a big scary metal thing with wheels came and cut down all the trees. Bambi’s home was destroyed and her mom was killed. Bambi cried and cried, and didn’t know where to go or what to do. Then Thumper told her that she knew a girl named Goldilocks who was looking for some help with cooking and cleaning. Bambi was a good cook because her mom taught her how so she decided to apply for the job.

Goldilocks lived with a family of bears. When she knocked on the door to apply for the job, Baby Bear warned her that Goldilocks was high maintenance and everyone who took the job quit within a week. But Bambi had no other choice so she applied anyway.

Because there were no other applicants, Bambi got the position. But Baby Bear was right; Goldilocks was scary. She was always complaining that nothing was ever good enough. Her food was either too hot or too cold. Her bed was too soft or too hard. Her chair was uncomfortable. Goldilocks would get mad and yell at everyone so loudly that the windows would shake.

Goldilocks liked to throw parties because she needed to be the center of attention. So at the last minute, she told Bambi she had invited a bunch of her friends and Bambi needed to clean the house and have food ready for that night. Bambi was really stressed about this but she did the best that she could, hiding stuff in closets and under beds. She didn’t have time to cook so she just bought some things from Sam’s that she could heat up quickly.

That night everyone came dressed as characters from fairy tales, because Goldilocks liked all of her parties to have a theme. The seven dwarves were there, and all the Disney princesses, and Shrek and his wife Fiona. At first everyone was having a good time, eating and singing and dancing. But then Goldilocks wanted the whole group to get together so that she could take a picture and put it on social media. She wanted to show the world how fun her parties were.

Bambi didn’t come right away when Goldilocks called because she was in the kitchen frying egg rolls. So Goldilocks had a really bad temper tantrum because she had been drinking. She screamed at Bambi in front of everyone and told her that she was stupid and ugly. Usually Goldilocks didn’t let people see this side of her so all of the guests were scared and ran away.

Bambi was scared, too, so she ran back to what was left of the woods that were her home and decided that she would sleep there for the night until Goldilocks cooled down. While she was sleeping, Bambi had a dream that her mom’s spirit came to her and whispered in her ear. Don’t go back, her mom said. Anything is better than this life. You can make it on your own. I have faith in you. Bambi felt comforted by her mom’s voice and didn’t want the dream to end.

But when she woke up, she felt alone and afraid again. The world felt unsafe, and even if Goldilocks was mean sometimes, she was also nice sometimes, and that seemed better than nothing. So she went back to Goldilocks’s house and apologized for not coming right away when Goldilocks wanted to take the picture for social media.

The family of bears moved out shortly after the party because Goldilocks’s public temper tantrum was the last straw for them. So they wished Bambi luck and gave her their new address if she ever needed them. Thumper also begged her to leave Goldilocks, but Bambi knew she would never leave so she spent less and less time with Thumper because she felt guilty and ashamed. So Bambi was left alone with Goldlocks and kept trying to find ways to please this person who would never be happy.

Bambi would often take the piece of paper out and look at the address for The Bears and try to convince herself that she was strong enough to leave and start over again. But she believed that she was stupid, because that’s what Goldilocks said to her all the time. So she stayed with Goldilocks and lived unhappily ever after.

The moral of the story: Get out of a bad situation, no matter how scary it may seem.

 

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Do I Know You from Somewhere?

soulmate

Our latest book in Remedial Book Club is Wings of Time: Breaking Darkness, by SD Barron. It’s a great book, and she is a local author, so I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a good read. In the book, the 2 main characters, Hallie and Liam, are soulmates. Well, she doesn’t use that word explicitly, but when they kiss for the first time, it feels as though they have missed doing so. As though they had done so in a previous life. If you’ve dated someone in more than one lifetime, that person probably qualifies as a soulmate.

In the biography about Edgar Cayce, There is a River, Cayce says that we will continue to get involved with the same people in our next lives, working out conflicts until we get them right. So he suggests that if you have a problem with your partner now, you might as well get it resolved in this lifetime. If we keep getting involved with the same people in different lifetimes, that also implies we have soulmates. And Cayce was psychic, so he would know.

I looked up what Plato said about soulmates, since he was the first person to talk about them. In his story, Zeus split humans in half because they were a threat to the gods. After that, each human lived in misery, forever searching for their other half. When they find one another, there is an immediate recognition of the other, and they reunite and live happily ever after.

I’ve definitely had the experience of meeting someone who I felt like I already knew. Not just with romantic partners, but with friends and other people, too. Recently I had to call this dietitian that was working with one of my clients (X). The first thing she said to me was, what are we going to do about X? As though we knew each other and had worked together for a while. We laughed and joked a lot in what was supposed to be a consultation between 2 professionals who had never met.

The second time we talked, I told her that I felt as though we already knew each other, and she agreed. We felt like we probably would have been friends if we didn’t live in different states. The last question she asked me before we ended the conversation was what I was dressed up as for Halloween, because it was Halloween that day. Really professional, right? If you know me, then you know that I love dressing up for Halloween. But she doesn’t. Or does she?

So what does that make her? My professional soulmate? Did we work in the same practice together in a former life?  Maybe we have an entire soul neighborhood with the same friends and family and pets but they get spread out all over the world in the next life. Maybe that’s why you can feel that recognition with more than one person.

This is the 5th time I’ve dated my current boyfriend. The first time was 30 years ago when I was taking this 300 level philosophy class. I had dropped my intro philosophy class my first year of college because I thought it was going to be too hard. But the next year I decided I wasn’t going to let philosophy beat me! So I took this esoteric class on Kant and Hume to prove I could do it, and he was in the class because he was a philosophy major.

Our first date was the worst date I’ve ever had. We disagreed about where to eat, what movie to see, what to do, who should walk in front of whom. And yet we still talked and did things together for the rest of that semester. A year later, we dated one summer when we both stayed in Charlottesville, and that went really well. But then he went abroad and we cheated on each other. And then we dated again a year later, shortly after we graduated, and it ended badly. And then again about 15 years ago, and it ended badly. And then we started dating again last year.

I have never dated anyone more than once. I don’t even remain friends or stay in touch with most of my ex’s after the relationship ends. So dating someone 5 times is really unheard of for me. Probably for most people. Especially since it only went well 1 out of the 4 times prior. I’m not sure if I believe in soulmates, but it’s hard to deny that there is something that draws us together over and over. Who knows? Maybe this could be our 100th time if you add up all of our lives. Which would make both of us really slow learners.

If nothing else, it makes for a good story about how we met.

What I’ve Learned From Being Single

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About 4 and a half years ago, I wrote one of the most personal, painful posts about why I was choosing to be single called Solitude. I decided to be alone after dating almost non-stop since I was 15 because I was beginning to lose respect for myself. I knew I was running away from something that I needed to face, and it made me feel weak, pathetic. I had settled for unsatisfying and sometimes downright traumatic relationships because I thought anything was better than being alone. Four and a half years ago I finally decided that I would be alone or die trying, because the alternative was to hate myself. And it seemed hypocritical to write a blog about self-acceptance if you hated yourself.

And, as you know if you’ve been reading my blog since then, sometimes it’s been rough. I would often lie on the couch or in bed in a half-asleep, half-starved state because I was too tired to get food but too hungry to sleep. And when I did eat, it would be random stuff like peanut butter crackers because that’s all I had in the house.

I worried a lot about what would happen if I got hurt or died and no one found me for days. So I played tennis almost every day to make sure people saw me. And I told my friends to take it seriously if I posted something on FB that said I had fallen and I couldn’t get up.

I didn’t have anyone to talk to about my day, so I wrote in my journal a lot. But that ended up being a great thing. It really helped me to develop my writing. And I thought I was hilarious and loved re-reading old entries. And I was a much better listener than any of the people I had been with, so I allowed myself to go into as much obsessive detail as I wanted to, and to write about the same thing over and over again, without worrying about boring my future self.

Another reason why I stayed single was because I thought I was a terrible person in relationships. I was jealous and controlling. I was rigid, judgmental, and demanding. I was selfish, and nothing the other person did was ever enough. I figured those patterns were so deeply ingrained that there was no way I could forge new neuronal pathways in my brain. There wasn’t enough time. I was already in my mid 40’s.

Now I realize that a lot of those things that I thought were true about me were not me at all. They were thoughts, feelings, and fears that belonged to other people that I had assumed were my own. In psychodynamic theory, this is called projective identification. You unconsciously take on things the other person finds unacceptable to admit about themselves. Things like being jealous, or selfish, or demanding.

There was no way I could have known that these patterns were not as deeply ingrained as I had thought without being by myself. In fact, I am so different from the person I was before my solitude experiment that it’s a little shocking. People tell me that I’m unselfish. Not jealous at all. That I don’t ask for anything. Sometimes I look around and think, are you talking to me? Because that doesn’t sound like me at all.

I think my solitude has been something along the lines of a 4 year meditation retreat. (Not a silent one, obviously.) I’ve spent a lot of time practicing self-acceptance, mindfulness, and self-compassion as ways to face my fear of being alone. And just like everything else, the fear itself was far scarier than the actual experience of being alone.

I have found that the hardest thing to do is to be honest about the things we are ashamed of. We do all kinds of things to avoid really seeing ourselves. Drink. Shop. Binge watch shows on Netflix. Date. Blame other people. Whatever your go-to strategy is, my advice to you is to be still, let things settle, and see what’s there. It won’t be as scary as you think. And the benefits are far greater than you can imagine.

How to Get What You Want

Here’s a fact that will save you a lot of self-criticism, and help you to understand why people do things that don’t make sense: we are not as rational as we think. That might not seem comforting in a culture where it’s important to be reasonable, stoic, self-sufficient, and in control, but it’s true.

Let me illustrate how illogical we can be. I’m going to give you some examples of how people try to get what they want from others. But let me first say that, if you are relying on others to get what you want, you have already given up some control, because we have far less control over other people than we do over ourselves. And I don’t know about you, but I can barely get myself to do what I want.

Nevertheless, we still try to get what we want by getting other people to change their behavior. We want bullies to stop bullying. We want our kids to come home at curfew. We want our partners to stop leaving wet towels on the floor.

Even in these cases, we often try to change other people’s behavior in ways that aren’t very effective. Maybe they work sometimes, but even when they do, they hurt the relationship.

Usually these strategies involve punishment–guilt trips, shaming the person, passive-aggressive comments, withholding love, the silent treatment. If you’ve never taken an intro psychology course, it may come as a shock to hear that punishment is not an effective way to change people’s behavior, given how often we use it. Rather than lecturing you about the principles of behavior theory, I’ll just give you a few examples to prove my point.

Let’s use bullying as an example. It took me 2 seconds to find this quote about bullying:

Bullying is not a reflection of the victim’s character, but rather a sign of the bully’s lack of character.” 

The message is: bullies are bad people. Don’t be a bad person. Have you ever tried getting someone to stop doing something by telling them to stop being a bad person?

Of course you have. We all have. And I’m guessing what happened is the person got defensive and you had this big argument and you didn’t get what you wanted. Or if you did, it probably resulted in them resenting you more, liking you less. So even if the person stopped leaving their towels on the floor, they pick them up begrudgingly, and it remains a thing between the two of you.

Let’s imagine we try something other than shaming bullies out of their behavior. Perhaps we could try practicing compassion. We could try to understand why this person hurts other people.

Or I can just tell you why. People hurt other people because they are hurting. So if you want to make people stop hurting other people, you have to address their pain, rather than add to it. Asking questions, trying to understand, listening to what they say, and expressing empathy for their pain goes a long way in changing people’s behavior. Yes, that takes longer than telling someone they’re a bad person, but this is how you get what you want. This is how you get a bully to be kind. With kindness.

Another strategy for getting what you want is to use positive reinforcement. The easiest way to use positive reinforcement is to praise someone when they do the thing you want. I’m sure you’ve used this with children, and it is amazing how effectively and immediately it works. Wow, Jane! You are a fast runner! So Jane runs around like a maniac for the next 5 minutes, demonstrating how fast she is. People want praise, so we will keep doing the things that make people praise us.

I encourage you to try out what I’ve just said about punishment and positive reinforcement. See for yourself if it works. And if you do try out your own personal psychological experiment, I’d love to hear about the results.

 

Sorry, Not Sorry

apologies

Never underestimate the value of a sincere apology.

If you don’t give a crap about the person, I guess you can say whatever you want. But a sincere apology goes a long way if you’ve hurt someone you care about and really want to make amends. If you get into arguments with loved ones where there is no clear resolution, it’s probably because they don’t end with a sincere apology, and therefore it’s difficult to reconnect.

Before I outline what to say in an apology, let me first begin with what not to say. Things that will likely prolong the argument and hurt the relationship.

Insensitive comments have to do with shame–the feeling that, if you make a mistake, you must be a bad person. Therefore, the person cannot acknowledge any wrongdoing. And because the person is focused on their own shame for making a mistake, they cannot have compassion for the person who they have hurt. Here are some examples:

  1. You’re too sensitive. This is not an apology at all, obviously. You’re basically saying it’s not me; it’s you. You are flawed. I am not.
  2. That wasn’t my intention. I meant well. Not my fault if you interpreted my good intentions in a different way. So we can just agree to disagree and you need to get over it.
  3. Everyone has flaws. You know how I am. I have a bad temper. Sometimes I blow up. I can’t change who I am. So expect more of the same.
  4. I’m sorry that you’re upset. I can see you’re upset, but I don’t take any responsibility for it. But I do I wish you weren’t upset, because you’re upsetting me.
  5. I’m sorry. I will say sorry to appease you, but I have no idea what you’re upset about. And I don’t really want to try to find out and have to change my behavior.

If you have said one or more of these things, let me reiterate that you are not a bad person. No one likes making mistakes. It activates our defenses and makes us want to protect ourselves rather than attend to the other person. And most of us aren’t taught how to give a sincere apology.

So here’s your chance to change your behavior. These are the steps you can take when you’ve hurt someone:

  1. Acknowledge their pain. Even if you think they’ve misunderstood what you’ve said or done. Try to identify what they’re feeling. Acknowledge that you can see how your actions triggered that feeling.
  2. Tell them that you care about their feelings. Let them know that their pain matters. You do not want to be the cause of their pain because you love this person, and it hurts you to know that you have been, in this case.
  3. Make your apology specific. I’m sorry that I worried you by not letting you know I was running late. I’m sorry that I made it sound like it’s your fault, when it’s not.
  4. Make a commitment to change your behavior. From now on, I’ll text you if I’m running late. I’ll tell you that I need space and tell you when I’ll call back rather than hang up.
  5. Reaffirm your commitment to the person. I care about you and I care about our relationship. I’m going to demonstrate this through my actions.

The best way to practice giving sincere apologies is to practice self-compassion. When you accept your own mistakes and forgive yourself for making them, you learn that making mistakes doesn’t make you a bad person. We all make them. We’re all just stumbling along, not knowing what we’re doing half the time.

So self-forgiveness goes a long way.

Ironic, isn’t it? That the best way to learn how to be kind to others is to be kind to ourselves? That’s a win-win, if you ask me.

Words of Wisdom

Be You

I’ve been playing a game with some friends where we alternate asking a question to get to know the other person–and ourselves–better. One of my favorites was: what advice would you give to your 16 year old self? My answer was not to date someone just because you’re afraid of being alone, because that habit gets harder to break with age.

I enjoyed hearing people’s answers so much that I decided to ask the same question to followers on my Facebook page and to share their answers on my blog so that we may all benefit from other people’s wisdom. Many of the answers were similar, so I’ve grouped them into categories and have given some of the actual responses.

  1. Be yourself.
    • Find acceptance within yourself first. Don’t look for acceptance from anyone but you.
    • Don’t believe all you hear about what others think, they may be jealous of what you have accomplished.
    • My 16 year old self would just need to be told that she is loved! That’s ALL! The rest will come.
  2. Be mindful.
    • Slow down!!!! I was in such a rush to be “grown”! Now I miss having just One Day where I don’t have to be an adult!
    • Life is a marathon…not a sprint…be patient and stay focused…the best is yet to come..
    • Enjoy every moment…don’t wish time away!
  3. Be kind.
    •  Kindness is magical; it is a real superpower that saves the world one little life at a time.
    • Love much and forgive often.
    • Whether you are struggling or at your very best, turn around and lend a hand to someone behind you.
  4. Be discerning.
    •  Wait a while longer for intimacy; it’s still too early and a decent guy will understand that.
    • You can’t make someone love you if they don’t.
    • Be careful who you choose as friends… not everyone is your friend.
    • You aren’t going to be an old maid….no really, trust me. Don’t cruise in cars with strangers, as the world isn’t a safe place.
    • Don’t believe any boy when he says “I love you”!
  5. Be open to advice.
    • Listen to the people who truly love you…they know life and will never steer you on a wrong path!
    • Listen to advice from your elders or parents but at the same time search for what is best for yourself.
    • You are not the best driver in the world, the ink isn’t even dry yet.
  6. Be prepared.
    • Study harder, do better in school, it only happens once!
    • Wear clean underwear in case you are in an accident.
    •  Invest in Google, Samsung, Apple, Microsoft, etc. And I’d give myself a list of the winners of every Superbowl, and World Series for 20 years.
  7. Be brave.
    • Take chances- you may not ever get the opportunity again.
    • Don’t be so self conscious! Go for it!!
    • Take setbacks with a grain of salt. Things happen for a reason.
    • Don’t be afraid to go to prom alone.

Thanks to all of the readers who offered advice! If you’re reading this post and your words of wisdom are not represented above, feel free to include yours in the comments section.

It’s not me. It’s you.

Narcissus

Have you ever wondered where the term narcissist comes from? In case you’re not big on Greek mythology, I’ll tell you the story.

One day Narcissus was walking in the woods when Echo, a mountain nymph, saw him, fell deeply in love, and followed him. Narcissus sensed he was being followed and shouted “Who’s there?” She eventually revealed her identity and attempted to embrace him. He stepped away and told her to leave him alone. She was heartbroken and spent the rest of her life alone, until nothing but an echo remained of her. Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, learned of this story and decided to punish Narcissus. She lured him to a pool where he saw his own reflection. He did not realize it was only an image and fell in love with it. He eventually realized that his love could not be reciprocated and committed suicide.

I have become an expert in narcissists. They sense my presence and ask me out, want to become my friend, show up in my therapy office. I once told my therapist that I must be a magnet for narcissists because I’m narcissistic, but then I realized that it was actually because I’m the perfect target for them. I take the blame for everything. If someone tells me I’m wrong, I have terrible taste, I’m not good enough, I’m crazy, I believe them. I try to change. It doesn’t occur to me that it’s them until I am already deep into the relationship. And even then, they make me question reality.

But I’m getting better at spotting them sooner. And in an effort to spare you from becoming a target, I’ll share with you some of the warning signs that you may be in a relationship with a narcissist.

  1. They’re vain. Like the Greek Narcissus, they admire their looks. They are obsessed with youth and beauty and go to great lengths to preserve their appearance. And they are highly critical of people who they believe to be ugly. I once knew a narcissist who literally stared at himself in the mirror for hours while getting ready for work and was therefore chronically late.
  2. They’re better than you. And everyone else. Like the 6 Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman (check them out on YouTube if you’re too young to know who they are), they are better, stronger, and faster than the average human being. They are also smarter, healthier, better looking (obviously), more popular, and superior to you in every possible way.
  3. They demand perfection. As bosses, they are ready to fire you because of the smallest mistake. As partners, they can become verbally and/or physically abusive over burnt toast. And as friends, you better make sure that you are available at a moment’s notice and that you always put them first.
  4. They need people to mirror their greatness. Narcissists pick people like Echo, who tell them how great they are and to help them write off anyone who doesn’t agree. Think of Gaston and LeFou from Beauty and the Beast. No one’s slick as Gaston, no one’s quick as Gaston. No one’s neck’s as incredibly thick as Gaston…
  5. They have no boundaries. Narcissists believe that what is yours is theirs. They eat your food, borrow your clothes and then return them to their own closet, open your mail, read your texts. And if you confront them about this, they are not sorry and don’t know what the big deal is.
  6. They are always right. For a narcissist, being wrong is a threat to their overall sense of worth. So they are always right and you are always wrong. And stupid. And it doesn’t matter how insignificant the thing that you’re arguing about is. It could be that if you think Cheer is better than Tide. Because only a moron would think Cheer is better.
  7. They make convoluted arguments. One strategy a narcissist will use in an argument is to confuse you with a bunch of unrelated information, or to pick on your weakness, or turn themselves into the victim. And their arguments are so emotional and verbose that you may forget what you were arguing about in the first place. You may even find yourself consoling them, apologizing for hurting them.
  8. They seem charming. Most people who know the narcissist superficially may think that he or she is so perfect, nice, and charismatic. You’re so lucky to have them. They could be President one day. (Someone actually said this about someone I know.) If you try to interject even the smallest bit of criticism about them, people find it hard to believe it’s them and not you.
  9. They’re not capable of love. In the Greek myth, Narcissus realizes that he can’t love himself and commits suicide. Although narcissism seems like extreme self-love, it is actually a defense against self-hatred. Hence the need for perfection, mirroring, always needing to be right. Only lovable people have the leeway to be wrong. With all that effort they put into defending against self-hatred, there isn’t any room left for love.
  10. They’re very sensitive to rejection and abandonment. You might think that, since narcissists believe they are perfect, they would never go to therapy. But we all get rejected, lose jobs, don’t get things we apply for. Usually in these situations people come in because they want to fix whatever is wrong with them (which is also problematic). But narcissists want to blame other people for their problems. And they like talking about themselves. So they actually enjoy therapy. But nothing ever changes.
  11. They could read this post and not know that I’m talking about them. Like the Greek Narcissus, they do not recognize their own image. They would recognize narcissists that they have encountered, however, and be like, I hate those people too! They’ve likely had very close relationships with narcissists, because narcissists breed narcissists–self-hatred that’s passed down from generation to generation.

If after reading this list you realize that you are in a relationship with a narcissist, I feel tremendous compassion for you. It’s not always possible or easy to end your relationship with them. They’re very convincing. And punitive when you leave. But take heart and know that it’s them and not you. Once you realize that, you can decide where you want to go from there.