Category Archives: Relationships

How to live a purposeful life by understanding and improving your relationship with yourself and others.

Finding Balance in a Hectic World

“Woke up, fell out of bed,
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup,
And looking up I noticed I was late.
Found my coat and grabbed my hat
Made the bus in seconds flat
Found my way upstairs and had a smoke,
Somebody spoke and I went into a dream.”

These are some of the lyrics to A Day in the Life by The Beatles and written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon in 1967. Even back then the essence of a life on fast forward was established. If that was fast forward, today we are in hyper-speed. People are burning out, relationships and families suffering and our best friend is sometimes Facebook.

People often ask me how to balance all the crazy movement in their lives. They have too many responsibilities for too many things or too many places to be, without enough time to get there. Perhaps, not enough time to finish projects either at home or at work. The list could go on. Any crisis or transition in life upsets the apple cart and chaos happens.

My answer, altered a bit per person, is basically the same. Easy to tell you, yes I know, but developing these with practice into your way of thinking will ease your troubled mind and fatigued body.

Here is what I tell them:


Pay attention to you. What are you doing and why? What is driving you to have the schedule or responsibilities you have? Are you a person who can’t say no to something? Are you trying to impress anyone, a parent, a boss, a significant other? Are you afraid of the consequences if you slow down? Are you over compensating for something else or trying to give your kids things you never had and believe they must have? Are you caught up in the idea of more means better? What drives you? What behaviors are you doing because of that drive? Is it realistic and healthy or is it killing you?

Be aware. Notice the behaviors you do over and over and get negative results. You stay up too late and can’t get motivated in the morning for example. Are you a creative, right brained person trying to fit into a left brained system without tools to help you compensate? Do you always get a double espresso and curse yourself for feeling jittery and snapping at people? Do you sign the kids up for too many activities and fine you live in your car and everyone is always exhausted? Do you believe you have a crystal ball or can mind read and try to base your decisions on faulty logic? We all have mindless behaviors. Behaviors we do all the time that cause us more harm than good. Be aware of them. Take a few moments every day (doesn’t have to be long) and mindfully explore a different, better way of doing something. Also, be aware that everything you think, feel and do are because of you and not someone else. Take total responsibility for your actions.

Have acceptance. Accept this is who you currently are and this is your life. It is yours of your making. Even if things have happened to you that have shaped your life, it is still yours. Accept what you can’t change and strategize a way to make the best of what you have. Harping, complaining, griping and gossiping are all maladaptive, often harmful behaviors. They typically accomplish nothing but more negativity and skewed realities. Remember the Salem witch trials?

Stop judging yourself or others for mistakes, thoughts of should have, ought to, must, have to, bad, good, stupid, idiot are all judgment words with lots of power. You don’t need them. They don’t help you or anyone else. All they do is add negativity and weight to your already haired life. You have a problem, accept it and be proactive in solving it to the best of your ability with what you have at this moment. This moment is all you have. The next moment may not be here. It’s now or never. You don’t like what someone else is doing, let it go. Getting angry and yelling at the driver ahead of you for going slow is your problem not theirs. Yelling at them won’t correct the fact that your behavior made time so tight an incident will flip your apple cart.

In essence, what I try to teach is to be mindful not mindless. Celebrate each moment. Find something good in everything even if on the surface, even if it’s not evident. If concentration camp survivors and prisoners of war can find enough positive thoughts to keep them sane, so can you.

Take five minutes today and sit someplace quiet, preferably with nature. Observe with your eyes, ears, nose and skin. Really pay attention to the stillness in the storm of our current society. Believe it or not, it is possible to have degrees if not complete stillness in our culture. You have to want it, look for it within you by becoming aware of who you are and what you want. Deciding what is really important to you. Be aware of the conflict between what you really want and what you are doing. Accept this is who you are and what your life is like now and start to strategize to make mindful decisions about it.

It’s your life and your responsibility. Own it, live it. Life is short and no one can take it with them.


Come on Get Happy!



The world of social work and psychology are always doing research and trying new approaches to help individuals and the world survive, thrive and bloom. These processes come in waves and the most current wave is in the area of Happiness or Positive Psychology. Trainings and new book offers arrive in my mailbox almost daily on understanding, using and living in the realm of happiness.

 I thought I’d share the information I’m getting. Some of this is, in my opinion, common scene. Other pieces of information, on the surface, may appear new, but with reflection I think you will find you knew this all along.  Here is the information:

  1. Happiness is considered 50% genetic, 40% within our power to achieve through activities and positive thinking, and 10% environmental (we experience something that brings us joy, laughter and pleases us).

2. Stay connected to people, places and activities that bring you positive energy appreciate and validate you.

3. Realize that everyone has problems. The key is the mind set: problems are temporary and solvable.

4. If you can’t get out of a bad situation, change your attitude. Play positive and uplifting thoughts, memories in your head. Listen to music you like. Be involved in activities that offset the situation. There are great stories from POWs using this technique to survive in captivity.

5. Stop focusing on what could have been, what should be or should have been. Stop trying to escape your problems and meet them face on.

6. Express your needs and concerns positively and take ownership of them. An example: When you forget to pick me up, I feel abandoned. Instead of I’m pissed at you for forgetting to pick me up or how dare you forget to pick me up.

7. In relationships, focus on WE instead of ME. Always ask – Will what I am about to do or say bring our relationship closer or pull us further apart?

8. Every morning, stop before starting your day and be grateful for what you have. Name them in your head. Your house, inside climate control, your car, family, food, clothing, fresh water, a job…

9. Acceptance, that you are not perfect and neither is anyone else. Have compassion toward yourself and patience and acceptance toward others. (This does not mean you have to agree with their behaviors or choices. It is honoring them as a fellow human being trying to make it).

10. Remember you can’t read other’s minds; you don’t need to judge their actions or  take them personally. Example:  He didn’t accept my idea. I know he’s out to get me and this is part of his plan to make me look like a fool. I’ll show him.

Give these a thought or two. My wish to you this day; may this St. Patrick’s Day bring you a renewed sense of happiness.

5 (25) Potential Relationship Killers


Divorced Super Sized

I see books all the time about the five types of relationship killers. It’s ashamed we stop at five because naming the top five may not hit on the bumps in a relationship. If you look at a lot of the social and psychological data on relationships, the list looks more like this. (Note these are not in order of most damaging to least. There is no way to do that as each entry has its own dimensions and they differ couple to couple).

  1. Communication issues
  2. Dependency vs independency
  3. Money
  4. Ineffective problem solving or arguments
  5. Changes in sexual desire
  6. Affairs/one night stands/porn/excessive flirting
  7. Friends/family/in-laws
  8. Life Stress: job/unemployment/death/chronic illness/sudden illness/mental illness/increase in responsibilities/aging/moving/life style changes
  9. Habits/vices/addictions
  10. Taking the other for granted
  11.  Rushing into a phase in the relationship too quickly: weddings/babies/retirement
  12. Lack of trust
  13. Lack of Intimacy: feeling like you have to hide who you are due to fear of being unlovable/ no physical intimacy (touching)/ feeling like you have to be someone else to be loved
  14. Lack of care: feeling like you are uncared for or your partner does not understand you
  15. Judgementalism: feeling like you are always scrutinized, you can’t do anything right or being perfectionist and believing you can’t do anything right.
  16. Tests: partner sets up little tests to see if you pass and are worthy of trust/love
  17. Unrealistic expectations: if this is love, why am I so miserable – expecting partner to meet or fix your inner emptiness or meet unrealistic expectations or fantasies
  18. Lack of contributions in household, family responsibilities
  19. Raising kids
  20. Respect
  21. Comfort levels
  22.  Different goals in life
  23. Step parenting
  24. Mistakes: shutting down due to fear of making a mistake, making things worse
  25. Living in the past

In the next couple weeks, I’m going to address each of these risks and discus them in more detail. In the mean time, what is important to know is that while these can range in metaphor as a splinter, dagger or serial stabbing.

What one couple sees as a serial stabbing another might see as a splinter. Why the difference and which couple is going to ride the wave and come out feeling connected? The quick and easy answer is in fluidity and desire to the commitment.

Fluidity means the ability to bend and not brake, to see the whole picture and not hyper-focus on one detail.  Think about your relationship as a porcelain bowl, for example. If you drop the bowl into a swimming pool full of water, it will get wet, but most likely will stay intact. If you drop it in the sand, depending on the height you drop it; it might stay intact or crack. If you drop it on concrete – it’s shattered – almost every time.

There are ways to make you more mindful – more fluid. Keep in mind, however, that you are only one person in a relationship. The strongest relationships have fluidity in both partners.

Until next time….

A Demon Named They


I have a demon that sits on my shoulder. Its name is They. I’ve had it on my shoulder for more years then I can remember but didn’t realize it was there. It is insidious, cunning, charming and just malevolent and I have been listening. The result, I often reformat my thoughts, actions and feelings about me and the world without any real examination of what I am doing.

You may know this demon. I have seen it on many of my friends, family and clients. I’ve learned to recognize its influence on others and find this easier to do then prevent myself from being blindsided by the demon that haunts me.  You can recognize the affects of “They” when you hear yourself or others make comments like: They told me to do it. They won’t like it. They think I’ll fail. They told me so-and-so does not like me. They think I’m boring. They won’t care if I disappear. They said it can’t be done. They think I’m horrible. They think I’m not worth the ground I walk on.

“They” is a really interesting demon because it can play both pitcher and batter. For example, let’s say you and your significant other are having a disagreement. Not only can the demon “They” on your shoulder tell you things like; he doesn’t love me, he doesn’t understand me etc.

If there is a demon, “They”, on your significant other it might coax your SO to say things like, I think you’re a moron.  You are wrong. Everyone things you are an ugly piece of sh-t. …. You get the idea.

Notice the insidious of this… The demon “They” when playing ball with another of its kind can change forms to be I or You or He or She.

The good news is that demons CAN’T force you to think, do or say anything you don’t want. So how do you go about protecting yourself? No, it’s not as easy as just saying, in the name of Jesus be gone…. Why?

I give you this modern day parable.

An old man is in a row boat with oars floating aimlessly about a mile from shore. He is a survivor of a horrific storm that blew him too far from shore to return. If he doesn’t make it back he will die from lack of water, heat stroke or maybe he might capsize and be eaten by sharks. So, he prays for help. In 99.9% of cases that prayer will strengthen the will power of the man. Give him guidance, endurance, perseverance to aid him in accomplishing his task but it won’t self-propel the craft to shore.

The man has two oars. He has to do his part. Maybe he’s rowing along and a ship appears. Or the tide shifts and he find oaring is easier or he moves through the water faster. We can call these acts of grace, acts of God, the Universe, Karma. No matter what, the man is still doing both rowing and praying/meditating on the desire for assistance and a positive outcome.

Now back to our demon problem.

First we have to identify that we have evil inclinations around us, trying to influence us. You can’t have positive energy without negative. I don’t care what name you wish to give this negative energy, words are words. What matters is the effect this energy can have on us.  So, identify when you hear yourself thinking, acting or feeling something (especially all of the sudden) in the ways discussed above. Identify the negativity exists and you are buying into its reasoning.

Second, tell yourself you don’t have to listen, don’t have to act on what you are being told. Check the facts, pray or meditate about it, invoke the name of a deity, but take a stand. I’m not going to listen.

Third, replace those horrible messages with mindfulness, loving messages. Directly reverse what you are hearing. Shout them loud if you have to. Write them on post-it-notes and display them around the house. Do this often on a daily bases.

 Finally, if you do assess the situation and find you are involved with someone or people who usually listen to the demons on their shoulders and act in accordance, you have two choices. Make yourself demon proof and stay involved with those people or shake the dust off your shoes and move on to healthier people who will see and encourage the goodness in you.

Sex and Pancakes

ImageI like to watch reruns of Comedy Central’s episodes of Colbert and Jon Stewart. Last night, like every night, I ate dinner and curled up on the couch to watch an episode of what I call the Colbert/Stewart hour. No matter what kind of day I’ve had, they make it better.

In this Colbert episode they spoofed the theft and black market of Canadian maple syrup comparing it to a Mexican drug smuggling cartel.  The reporter, a staunch maple syrup virgin, continued refusing offers to taste the luscious, feel good Canadian maple syrup. He knew if he had just one sip, it would be his demise into a life of addiction, seedy living, underworld crime sprees and the loss of all he claimed as good.

Finally, temptation was too much and as suspected, he couldn’t stop at just one taste. The result, pancakes, lots of pancakes rolled just right in order to deliver the sweet, dripping, tantalizing, golden liquid into his mouth. Life as he knew it ceased and was replaced by the horrific decline one can only find in syrup addiction.

It happened all at once. The cravings, forgetting to go to work, forgetting to bath, secret meetings in dark streets to get more syrup, brushes with police, arrests and attempts at all cost to get more syrup.  As Star Trek actor George Takei would say in a way only he can say it, “Oh my!” That is what I felt and wondered if I too had a syrup addiction. Nonsense, whoever heard of such malarkey? But what was that feeling I just couldn’t shake?

I turned to my hubby who was seated on the opposite couch and said, “Damn, I wouldn’t mind having some pancakes with syrup. Do we have anymore King Syrup?”

King Syrup is rich, thick and teases you as it emerges from the bottle. It is almost tantalizing to watch. Taste buds go into overdrive.

You can’t buy King Syrup in Florida where my retired parents now live. When I go visit, my father’s first request is always – make sure you smuggle some of that King Syrup. My dad knows and so do I.

I didn’t give into the desire for pancakes and syrup. I had a piece of toast with peanut butter and a blue Solo cup of milk. I spent some time writing and then went to bed. Only sleep would not come. I got up. Keeping the house lights low, I fired up my Kindle and played a couple rounds of Bubble Mania, a game where the object is to free little kittens from bubbles and hear them yell, “Wee!”  It’s usually very gratifying.

The bubbles weren’t popping in the right order because my brain was not thinking about kittens stuck in bubbles. It was thinking about the two-third empty bottle of King Syrup sitting in the kitchen, waiting, longing to be consumed. I start to sweat. Mark and change that to perspire. I think it sounds more feminine.  Anyway, I tell myself, I don’t have to give into a syrup temptation. I’m above that.

I’m out of kitty-freeing bubbles so I returned to the bedroom and listened to my hubby snore and the rumble of the air conditioner. Sleep is slow in coming and very fitful.

At 8:00 am, I awakened violently and the first thing slinking around in my brain is the thought, PANCAKES!

I yanked my sorry arse out of bed and grabbed the Aunt Jemima box. You just add water. Instant pancakes! There they sat, three golden brown, almost perfectly round discs, dabbled with just the right amount of butter. I set the plate on the table pushing aside the work flow for the day and all their distractions.

Pancakes had my full attention. With a smile on my face I picked up the ¾ full of King Syrup and wondered if it was the good stuff from Canada. The label said it’s from Fredonia, NY. Is that close to Canada?

I watched the syrup slowly leave the safety of the bottle to flow onto the golden discs in patterns of my design. I let it soak into the pancakes a little bit, but not too much. It cheapens it when the pancakes are soggy and all that remains of the original syrup is horribly mutated.

I consumed my pancakes slowly, rolling my eyes and trying to convince my mind I was experiencing what the reporter in Colbert experienced last night. It didn’t work.

I had consumed 1,000 empty calories with no real payback. I had to think, where did I go wrong? Oh, now I get it. What I really wanted was not syrup, not pancakes, but the feeling of being filled with joy to the point of forgetting the world. It was a need to feel abundantly loved, treasured, needed and fulfilled.

I could be talking about sex. I could be talking about anything that would fill that need for love and belonging. A part of me knew from the beginning that pancakes and syrup were not the answer. So why did I go through this?

Because I had a need unfulfilled and as I watched Colbert a seed was planted in my brain. A seed that although logically I knew was ridiculous, my needs great enough, other ways failed enough, that syrup made sense.

Is it any wonder sometimes that our behavior can become so wacky? Our thinking so out of touch with the reality around us that we gravitate toward someone, something, to get a need met. Thinking, this is in my best interest but knowing it is not.  Thinking, these are my choices, what the hell?

If only we can get our brains to flag us and yell STOP before continuing. Especially when we know what we are about to say or do is not in our best interest. We would all feel healthier.

Sometimes, our situation is one where all our choices will be negative and we have to choose the least negative. Colbert/Stewart, pancakes/syrup, needs/wants was not one of them. My brain for whatever reason did not yell stop! Now I need to figure out why?

Are you self-aware enough to know when to yell STOP? Can you tell before you think, feel, say or do something whether it is in your best interest to do so? If you find yourself gorging on a plate of pancakes dripping with syrup and it’s just not cutting it, re-evaluate why not.  You’ll feel healthier in the end.

Bon Appétit!

Sorry, the Life you Wanted is Currently Out of Stock

ImageDid you ever wonder if people living in third world countries sit around wondering what life would be like if….. (fill in blank here)? Is attempting to design our lives something that all humans contemplate or is it a manifestation of our society? Are we bred or designed to think in terms of what if?

I think the first time I was introduced to the concept of, there might be something better out there, happened when I saw Cinderella as a little girl.  You know the story, the down and out princess, abused by her stepmother and stepsisters dreaming of someone to love her and take her away from the hell.

Then there was Casper the Friendly Ghost. He was the child ghost harassed by his emotionally abusive uncles and longing for acceptance and love. I think if I really put my mind to it, I could name hundreds of characters or media sources depicting the theme, there must be something better out there.

In every case I can think of, the lead character gets to a point where they can’t take it anymore and attempts to force a change hoping for the better. But what is better and how do we decide when what we have is not good enough?

In my counseling practice I have seen people who appear happy living in relationships and in environments plagued with difficulties. On the flip-side, I’ve seen miserable people in what looks like great relationships or having more than enough money to live very comfortable. Where does the difference come from?

I’m sure you have heard the saying, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. If you are one of the billions of people thinking or searching for the, there must be something better, this probably seems infuriating.  It got me wondering. If everyone lived by that saying, where would the world be?  Is the act of making lemonade a kin to fight the good fight or accept and learn to live with lemonade?

All these questions are important because depending on your beliefs, this maybe the only opportunity to live your life.  Are you going to buy into the somewhere out there life is better or things are great just the way they are? Of course there is any combination of both options that people vacillate between.

How many divorces occur because there might be something better? How many wars fought because owning someone else’s land, people or forcing your way of life on another group of people might make life better?  Only to have that something better happen and be startled that the something better is not that better after all.  Note I am not talking about people in abusive relationships.

The idea of, let’s get back to the good ole days is another example of this phenomena. I saw a book in the Smithsonian American History Museum entitled, The Good Old Days They Were Terrible!, by Otto Bettmann. It asserts that the concept of the good old days is a myth, a trick of the mind. If you look at the reality of our history, personal, national and global, he’s right.

I think this backward looking fantasy is not much different then, there might be something better out there, which is forward wishing.  In both cases the person has judged their current life as not acceptable.  How does this serve us, help us?

When I was in Northern Africa, I didn’t hear people saying things like, I’m an anchovy fisherman now but one day ……  Maybe they were hoping for a different future or desiring a glossed over remembrance of a life long ago and I was not made privy to their desires.

I have friends who spent a couple weeks in Haiti.  When they came back they were overcome with the positive, spirit-focused, mind-set of the people. Was this a representation of a select group of people, an outward expression designed to show outsiders or a genuine way of viewing the reality of their national and personal situation?

The ultimate question is who ends up with the least regrets at the end of life? The person searching, planning, acting in hope for something better or the person accepting and finding reasons in the here and now to be happy.

Happy does not necessarily equate to lack of regret or does it? Perhaps the real; key is not whether to search or accept but the mind set accompanying both

Can a person accept and “be” happy for the life they have and still search for something better? That almost sounds impossible, impractical. In my mind the act of being happy equals contentment. And if I’m content than I forget the future or pondering if there is something out there better?

I’m happy, content, but what if there is something better? Maybe better does not bring more happiness but a richer experience. Someone who says, I have a million dollars and I feel happy. I’m going to spend a great percentage in this helping people in need and that enriches my happiness. This is a very altruistic goal as opposed to the self centered thinking of Cinderella who was looking out for her own needs.

We all decide what will and won’t make us happy. Sometimes we are realistic and other times there is no pleasing. There will always be people who are never happy with certain elements in their lives. The will fault their fate, themselves or blame someone else.

I usually hear people make comments such as, if only so and so would do such and such, I would be happy.

I have also seen people attempt to go against who they are and against their desires and needs in an attempt to make another person happy. It typically doesn’t work. Why, because the other person is seeking change in someone else to make themselves happy instead of taking responsibility for their own happiness.

Thoughts of if only I had a better job, a better car, improved health than life would be better. I would be happier. There is no difference in any of these scenarios. They are externally focused. What if you are never able to have improved health or a better job? Are you destined to never be happy, content with a well lived life?

Are these thoughts byproducts of modern industrial society? A product of bombardment with advertizing telling us what we should have, what our spouse should look like, behave like, what the definition of success is? The birth of the internet and the six-hundred channels on a TV brings many of us further still from the realities of healthy human interaction to obsessive, unhealthy, unrealistic expectations.

How can a person navigate through all the sewage to find contentment, happiness? How do we balance what can’t be, what should not be, what might be with what is? How do we set up that reality check to keep ourselves headed in the direction of happiness, contentment and a life well lived? However you define that?

Do you make lemonade dreams for a better tomorrow? What do you do when you are told, sorry, the life you wanted is out of stock? You decide, it’s your life.

Re-purposing Your Life! Become an Improved You!

ImageI went to the Goodwill store looking for a lamp to re-purpose.  I really enjoy combing through flea-markets and second-hand shops to find elements of objects discarded to make something new. Something I create to be meaningful or purposeful to me.

I found a lamp, bought it. That afternoon I water colored the shade in hues of green. I realized, this object transformation was symbolic of my life and what I help others do – Re-purpose their lives. Life will always give reasons to step back and ask questions like: What the hell just happened? Why did this happen to me? What am I going to do now? Who am I as a result of this? Re-purposing helps bring answers to those questions.

My journey with Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) catapulted me into demanding answers to those questions. I didn’t think I could function without them. Luckily, a person does not have to endure severe traumas demanding immediate attention. Anyone can have a desire, a spark to find their authentic self and live a fuller, happier, more balanced life.

People change slowly over time being enhanced or torn down by life’s challenges. Most appear to view this change as outside themselves. They don’t care or they fear looking inward and asking the hard questions. Finding the answers and stepping out into the great unknown. They accept life as it is. The result is often bitterness, anger and depression. This does not have to be. Life happens, yes, but what you do with it makes all the difference in the world – your world.

Re-purposing takes time and usually happens in stages. As a person learns more about them self and the universe around them, there is an aha moment. My experience is that this is followed by a stewing process. The mind soaks in the information and applies it to everything it knows. The person acts on their new awareness and then it hits.

New questions arise! Well, if that’s true, then what about this situation? Why did I act that way when I could have done this?  What else have I believed about life that suddenly is not true? What is truth?  The questions become less about the person and more about the world, the universe and the spiritual.

It might be helpful to look at the journey in terms of cooking or food. At first, it probably seems similar to peeling off layers of an onion. I picked onion because pealing an onion can bring tears and at times not very pleasant. Thoughts and memories, who we have become over time has built around our core like the layers surrounding the core of the onion.  The larger the onion, the more changes, adaptations or layers a person has developed.

There should come a time when a person can see beyond the onion metaphor and see layers as welcome opportunities for re-purposing, bringing enrichment to their lives.  Life’s journey now becomes more like layers of string cheese, baklava, lasagna, or some other pleasant concoction you can think of. Not as threatening or uncomfortable if done in moderation. It is good to note, that even with pleasant or desired elements of change, too much too soon can cause distress. I really would not recommend sitting down and eating en entire family size lasagna! All things should be done in moderation, which includes re-purposing.

After a while, the person may no longer find total enrichment and the questions asked of the self changes again. Using the cooking metaphor, questions might revolve around the concern, how can I improve on this recipe? The types of questions are as vast as the grains of rice in a box of Minute Rice.

Re-purposing time varies from person to person. Some only strive for feeling slightly better, like putting on a band-aid and waiting. Others, like me, spend a lifetime joyfully exploring, learning and becoming. At this point in my journey, the questions are no longer the ones stated above. Some of my current questions are: Where do I go from here? What does this say about me? How can I turn this into something good for myself and others?

My lamp is now painted, trimmed and assembled. Another human-made element re-purposed for a new beginning, a new life. Aren’t all our experiences in some way, human-made? It’s up to us to do the re-purposing to make our lives the best they can be.

I offer a challenge to you. Start re-purposing your life. The results are worth the journey. Below I offer some first steps to get you started. If you would like some help, you can check out my e-mail counseling/coaching services. If you are in the area, make an appointment or attend a class. Have a great journey!

First Steps to Start Re-purposing Your Life:

1. Get a notebook or journal.

2. List as many qualities about yourself as you can think of. Ask others for their impute. What do you think/feel about your list?

3. List things, people or events where you feel/felt: 1) happy: 2) accomplished: 3) loved: 4) experienced freedom: 5) had fun.  Are there any areas where you had a hard time listing things? Some needs that you are falling short in having fulfilled?

4. What movies, characters, TV shows, music, artists, books do you relate to? Why?

5. Make a timeline of your life – the goods, bads, neutrals, accomplishments, regrets. Why did you label these in the categories you placed them? Example: Why is difficulty in 3rd grade math a good thing?

6. Answer the statement: If I had a magic wand, my life would look like… (be specific). Why would you want the elements you picked?

7. List and evaluate areas of your life where you feel out of balance or unhappy. Why do feel this way about this area? (Try to be inward focused and not “because he made me…”)

8. Ask yourself, what role do you play in number 7? We always play a role, even if it is not doing anything.

9. Continue to ask yourself, what do I really want? (see my blog, Life’s Little Instruction Manual, Healthy Relationships Part 4)

10. Review everything you have written. See if you are starting to understand who you really are, how you got here, the role you play, and where your life is unbalanced. You can’t formulate any goals on making improvements without this base-level structure.

Congratulations on taking the first steps in re-purposing your life. Job well done! Drop me a comment and let me know how it’s going!

Finding the Land of Oz When Life Blows You Asunder

ImageI’ve been asked if there are any axioms I use to ground me when life tries to blow me away.  Yes, there are. I use the below axioms all the time when life is sunny. When life gets blustery, I sometimes have to remind myself that they exist.  If I remember and fall back on these axioms, things always turn out for the best.  It might not be the best I would have wanted, but I find myself relatively unscathed or able to bounce back quickly.  Kind of like the wizard in the Oz, The Great and Powerful or another well known film, The Wizard of Oz.

Restlesswanderer61’s axioms for surviving and thriving:

 1.     The only person I can change is me.

2.     No matter what life hands me, ultimately I choose how it effects me long term.

3.     Everyone has the same basic needs, only in different degrees. Love people including myself, even the ones hardest to love.

4.     Everyone’s behavior is purposeful.  They are the best choices I use or have used (whether healthy or regrettable, knowingly or subconsciously) to find balance. Don’t judge others or myself.

5.     I am energy at my deepest level and a spiritual being that can connect with anyone and is only limited to the constraints I place around me.  Even if I doubt or don’t believe, I can’t be disconnected from the creator or all of creation. It is no more possible then living without taking in oxygen.

6.     My brain is a creative and amazing devise. I will strive to develop what is not and prevent my thoughts from running amok.

7.     People have the most amazing resilience and overcome the incredible horrors. So do I.

8.     I am not perfect and never will be. There is no such thing as perfect.

9.     The answers to my problems will ultimately come from me even if I can’t see them currently.

10.   I have an amazing talent and gift, even when I don’t think so. Everyone has a talent or gift to be tapped to fulfill themselves and the world around them.  Let others shine, take the back seat and clap thunderously at other’s accomplishments no matter how big or small whether I know them or not.

11.   Never lose my childlike wonder, imagination and desire for play.

12.   Resistance to issues is futile. Deal with it, don’t repress or pretend it does not exist.

13.   It’s okay to reach beyond my comfort zone. In fact, I will grow from doing so.

14.   Strike a balance between being self-absorbed and other-focused.

15.   There is usually no such thing as the no win scenario. It’s only how to win and what “to win” really means.

16.   I don’t have to be correct all the time.  Pick my disagreements for when it really matters and let the rest go.

17.   Everyone has baggage and crap. Mine is no better or worse than someone else’s, only different. Accept it.

18.   Treat others the way I want them to treat me, even if they don’t.

19.   Unless I have no food, shelter or loved ones, I have nothing to seriously complain about. My life is fine, no matter what is happening. Be grateful for every person, everything I have and everything that happens to me.

20.   Be amazed by little things, joyful, laugh often and hard.

21.   I can make a difference in everyone’s life I meet. Even if it is a small one.

22.   Have patience. There is a reason things or people are as they are. Watch it unfold and learn.

23.   Dream big, make goals, explore, learn and strive to make those dreams a reality.

24.   Be proactive not reactive. This is my life, the only one I have, don’t get to the end and have regrets.  Make each moment count.

Do you have a list of axioms you follow? If you don’t or are not sure, it might be something to think about. If you have a code you follow that is true, there is no telling the wonderful places it will take you. You are your best and worst enemy. Find balance and find peace not only in times of sun but when the tornado’s in life blows your balloon off course.

He Made Me Do It!

ImageNow that the Boston bombing suspect has been arraigned conversation on television reporters is the debate – what responsibility does a person have in their actions? What if any barring does being under the influence of another person play?


All the discussions brought me back to these very questions which I have had to address both in my work as a therapist and in myself.

So, what responsibility does a person have? Can another person really influence another enough to cause the first person to commit acts normally not within their personality and choices?

The answer to the first question is very difficult and has to be measured case by case. Even then, the judgment and punishment or rehabilitation of this person is really going to depend on the society in which the events occur. Said differently, there is no definitive yes or no. Defining the actions of the person, their mind set, their motive, the overall effect of their actions and how many people their actions affected all need to be taken into account. Not an easy task when you consider that most of us can’t sit around a table with friends or family and all agree on the definition of things dear to us like, is there a god and if so what is this thing we call god. How does God influence, control or look like?

There are many people eager to voice their opinion on the topic of culpability of the current bombing suspect.  What I have been hearing now, in cases of the past and in smaller circles such as in the actions of a friend to another or a spouse to another is, “I would never do that.” “No one could ever make me act that way or do that crime.”

I have bad news for this folks, you really don’t know until you have been faced with the manipulation strong enough to cause a variety of reactions known as Stockholm Syndrome, Helsinki Syndrome, Battered Person Syndrome to name only a few.

All these syndromes are named on events where there is an element of traumatic capture – bonding. Where for reasons of survival and coping, the target or victim bonds or becomes linked with their capture or perpetrator. It can range from: keeping the perpetrator’s actions secret, behaving in a way deemed by the perpetrator to keep the victim/target or their loved ones safe, to falling in love or having deep sympathy toward the perpetrator.

Horribly tortured victims (to use an extreme example) have gone to court to help their perpetrator because of this phenomenon. Whole groups of people have helped kill one another because they so believed in the cause of the perpetrator.  Victims/targets commit heinous acts of violence for their perpetrator because either they have been manipulated enough to believe in the cause even if it is totally against their norm.  Every day abused people stay with their abuser and tell you they love them and will not go to court to prosecute. I could keep going but I think this is clear enough.

Events where you might be familiar with this phenomenon might be Patty Hearst, Jim Jones cult, Charles Manson family, Salem Witch trial girls, Nazi Germany, some military hazing, college hazing, spousal abuse, child abuse, bullying in school. The list goes on.

I’d like to point out that the victim/target does not have to be in complete bondage (held without physical ability to leave) in order for this to happen.  This is because the definition of bondage is larger than physical location. Bondage occurs whenever the victim/target believes there is no way out.

How can this possibly happen to someone?

Unfortunately, it is easier then you might think. The very elements of what most of us would consider a model person make the victim/target shine like the noon day sun to a perpetrator. Traits such as trusting others, people pleasers (people who put others ahead of themselves), people who believe others can change and give them opportunities to do so, sympathetic, empathetic, the world is a wonderful place people, God will protect me people, it won’t happen to me, it happens to other people individuals. NOTE: not everyone with these traits will become a victim/target.

Should we go around not having those traits? No, what a horrible world we would have if we didn’t!  But what we need to know is that there are individuals who have learned the art of psychological manipulation and use it to the detriment of someone they know or seek out.

It might be easy to say you can just look at a person and figure out who are the manipulators.  Usually, the most dangerous kinds of manipulators appear kind, caring, helpful and claim they have your best interest at heart.  Families of these people often know the truth about them, but to the outside world they can appear wonderful, model citizens.

How does manipulation work?

This profile is generic but in my experience and research demonstrates most of the following steps typically used on a victim/target.

  1. They search for their target or happen upon them.
  2. They behave in ways to gain the target’s trust.
  3. They start manipulating information to confuse the target. i.e. “If you vote for this person, you will lose your house.” Knowing that there is no connection between who you vote for and the status of your home ownership.
  4. Manipulation of information increases and becomes more personal. i.e. “If he loved you, he wouldn’t work so long. I love you and I show it by not working all those hours. Why would you want to be with someone who does not love you when you can be with someone who does?”
  5. They set up situations so the information they are telling the target appears factual.
  6. They work to convince the target that it is in their best interest to listen and do what they say. This can be used through the manipulation of information or through threat and actual violence.
  7. They start to separate the target from familiar family and friends. Anyone who might be perceived as a deterrent by the perpetrator.
  8. The goal of the perpetrator is to cause as much confusion, cause an inability to reality check data fed by perpetrator to target, and wear the target down. This is typically done by causing lack of sleep, food refusal, environmental changes to make the target have to cope more to survive or violence /threat of violence. The key here is the target has to depend more on the perpetrator for their well being. Typically the target starts to trust the perpetrator more than family and friends.
  9. The target starts to see the perpetrator as correct, in their best interest to listen to and agrees to do what they say. Typically, this starts with small things the perpetrator wants the target to do and the target is rewarded. i.e. “If you agree to say nothing about what just happened I promise you I will never beat you up again.”  The target does what is asked. There are no beatings and reinforces that the request worked. Only the perpetrator changes from beating-up the target to some other form of torment.
  10. At some point the perpetrator may ask for the target to prove their worthiness or sorrow at making the perpetrator behave as they do. Notice, the perpetrator at this point convinces the target it is the target’s fault they are in this situation. This intensifies the shame and often prevents the target from searching help. They feel they deserve whatever happens to them.
  11. Proof activities or behaviors by the target can be typically radical, dangerous and demeaning.  The target is pumped full of information which propels them to act on the proof activity. At this point the target does the activity for one or more of the following reasons: they believe the lies told by the perpetrator, they fear retribution from perpetrator, they fear being the cause of something horrible happening to someone else (including the perpetrator) if they don’t comply.
  12. If the target manages to figure out what is happening and attempts to escape the bonds with the perpetrator, threats or actual extreme violence is not uncommon. Oddly enough, sometimes the perpetrator may fake a suicide attempt to guilt the target into compliance.

By putting these steps in numeric form, it sounds very concrete and easy to say, well I would easily see through that and it would not happen to me. Remember that these perpetrators have so confused the target that they trust the perpetrator, feel they need the perpetrator to survive or have to comply with them for the target to survive. They have convicted the target that people normally deemed trustworthy and helpful are the true enemy. They can even convince the target that they are in love with the perpetrator. No one is better than the perpetrator. No one else is more correct in their views, attitudes and desires then the perpetrator. No one else can save, help or care for the target like the perpetrator can. The perpetrator’s needs and wants and dictations are all that matter. The target is essentially brain-washed.

The result sometimes is devastating. Horrendous crimes are committed. The target allows horrible things to happen to them.  And in the end, if they get out of the situation, it can take years to un-due the damage. Families and marriages are destroyed. Career can be ruined. Lives lost.

If the event causes events ending in the court system, often the target is not able to testify accurately about what happened. Even after the perpetrator is gone, the effects of the manipulation are so strong, the target continues to believe the lies told them and in the actions they took on behalf of the perpetrator.

These targets – victims need extensive help to recover. Depending on what they did, how far from who their sense of ‘this is not who I am’, and the extent of the brain-washing typically determine rates of recovery.  But recovery with psychological scars is possible. I don’t think anything can totally remove the guilt, shame and shock when the target figures out and heals from what happened.

So, it comes down to the question: What responsibility does a person have for their actions when under the influence of a skilled manipulator? How do we as a society work with this?

I can still hear some readers saying, “I don’t get it.” I rather think unless you have had the unlucky experience of being in the shoes of a target, or worked extensively with the topic you probably will not totally get it.

When I look back at events in my life surrounding this topic, I still have a hard time getting it.  I’m a strong, independent minded individual. It didn’t matter. I was caught off guard and my personality coupled with shaky, stressful events in my family life made me a prime target. I used to believe that people are good and trustworthy. I always gave people the benefit of a doubt. I felt people can change and really, honestly want to. If they do or say something horrible to me, it is in accident or some other deeper reason they are not aware of.

It did not register that some people are none of these things and instead feed their own natures and desires on others. When I looked at historical events such as Nazi Germany or the Jim Jones cult suicides, I would think, those leaders were evil. Why didn’t anyone see it and do something? My experiences have taught me why.

So, I get it. I didn’t do anything resulting in legal action. Thank God. But I have worked with enough people who have. The personal damage is horrific. When I hear of events unfolding in the world where there is suspect of a manipulator in the background, my heart rips a bit.

Just remember, if you are like me and do get it, you are not alone. If you don’t get it, I hope the f… hell you never have to.

Houston, We have a Problem!

ImageThe oh sh-t moment when life goes from wonderful to dread and we have to act fast. We all have them. Sometimes we handle the situation well and other times, well, we ponder for decades what we could have done differently. Can a person truly be prepared for those problematic moments?

We are all basically hard wired the same way. Note the word basically. It is rare in life when things are one-hundred percent. There are four things we are programmed to do in emergencies. They are flee, fight, freeze or flop. Pretty easy to understand. To flee is to run away from the situation. To fight is to attack the situation head-on. To freeze is to become paralyzed and not able to do much of anything. To flop is to faint.

Which of these tactics a person picks may be the same in all emergencies or can change depending on the circumstances. A woman who suddenly has the strength to lift a car off her child (to fight), might not attack an intruder inside her home. Can we know in advance which behavior we will chose?

Hard to say. The military trains our troops by using repetition. Instilling into them, this is what you do in the following situation. The lives of these people depend upon it. Firefighters, police officers and all other careers where lives are at stake do the same thing. But even then not everyone is able to follow that programming when needed. Why not?

It comes back to all our past experiences. Those experiences become chemical memories in our brains. When a situation occurs similar to a past situation, the brain compares it and acts based on what worked before. No matter how much training a person has, there are times the old experiences will over-ride the current situation. Why? Because, training that your life is in danger is very different from it truly being in danger.

Having said that, there are times, sometimes humorously, when our reactions are way off the mark. Like the picture above where the caveman is using a club to put out a fire. The fire extinguisher is right beside him. This is where feelings step in. Fear, panic and anxiety all play a role in how effective we will behave in an emergency.

Stress produces the same type of reaction. The brain thinks there is a problem. It is either a possible emergency or real emergency and tells us to react. As a result our reactions maybe over the top for the situation. Think about the person who gets road rage because he/she is running late and the person in front is going the speed limit.

Next time you know you are feeling stressed and you find yourself over-reacting (flee, fight, freeze or flop), try to pull yourself together and regroup before reacting. Good questions would be, why am I reacting this way? Is the danger real? How realistic is my thinking? The one I like the best comes from my husband. He says to me, “I think you are reacting to things not in evidence.” Meaning, I’ve either got the cart before the horse or I believe I know what is going to happen without having a crystal ball.

None of us have true knowledge of the future but some of us think we do and base much of our choices and behaviors on this illusion. It can’t be done.

Here’s hoping you have a reaction appropriate day.