Friday, February 24, 2006

Email Isn't Always Private

I want to post a warning today. Email isn’t always private.

Many of us write fairly intimate things in email. Not necessarily sexual, but details about ourselves or our lives we really wouldn’t want strangers to see or even people we know except the person to whom we intend to send the email. And email can be incredibly useful to share with someone what we may not be able to say out loud. Especially if we are survivors and learned early that it was dangerous to speak about certain things. (For years, my throat would literally close up so that I could barely breathe if I tried to speak about certain things that happened to me as a child!)

Email is wonderful. I am profoundly grateful for the times I was able to use email to communicate something I couldn’t have said out loud to the person to whom I was writing. But yesterday I had a reminder that email isn’t as private as we think.

I sent an email. I was writing about how my ex-husband used to tell me he believed I might be crazy. That email accidentally got marked spam by the person to whom I sent it and stripped of headers, it was returned to the people who host my email. And they sent it to me explaining it had gotten marked as spam. It’s clear they read it.

Now anyone who knows me knows I’m not crazy. But it’s what my mother kept saying about me when I was a child and it’s what my ex said he thought might be true, and there is a part of me that I suppose will always worry that strangers might believe it. I cringe even mentioning it here.

(And yet, if we do not bring our deepest fears out into the open, we can never let them go. I’ll grant you it was a mistake to share this fear with my (at the time) husband because he used it to reinforce my fear. But when I risked sharing it with people who were trustworthy, then I could discover that it was the last thing other people would ever say or think about me!)

But back to email. It was NOT an email I would want strangers to read! So today I’m posting a warning about email because I suspect I’m not the only survivor of abuse who uses email to share with someone the issues and feelings and experiences we have to deal with. I’m not saying never to do so in email. Only to be aware of the possibility that something like this could happen.

I look at yesterday’s email and part of me laughs because it is so not what I would want a stranger to read! Of all the email I’ve sent in the past several months, it is the email I would least want to have read like this—and so I find myself laughing at the universe’s sense of humor that of course it was the one that was!

In a way, I suppose it’s a measure of how far I’ve come that I can laugh about it.

Just be aware that email isn’t always private.

Sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


How do you react to authority? Are you drawn to people in authority? Do they scare you? Do you want or hate having authority yourself?

I’ve been thinking about this because in one form or another it’s come up over and over in the past few months for me. Accepting a degree of authority. Recognizing a tendency in myself to be drawn to people who appear to have authority—as if they could somehow protect me. Recognizing that for years I felt a degree of fear that I would be hurt by people in authority and/or rejected.

I’m an adult. Been one for years. And so it becomes even more troubling when I recognize any of these patterns in myself. On the other hand, I firmly believe that we are able to recognize patterns when we are ready to break them.

It would be nice not to admit any of this to all of you. It would be nice to pretend I’m perfect. (She says, tongue in cheek.) But I began this blog to say the things most people don’t say—good and bad—about what it means to be a survivor of abuse and about our ability to overcome it.

So today I share with you my vulnerability to this pattern with regard to authority.

In a sense, many of these thoughts are not new. If we are continually growing and healing, we are on a spiral path. Issues come up over and over as we reach new points of understanding and the ability to perceive these issues in a new way and take another step forward in these areas of our lives.

Authority. I know that being drawn to authority goes back to when I was a kid and only the adults in my world had any power. If I could get the person with the most authority on my side, then I would be safe. Or at least safer. So what’s wrong with doing that now? Well, aside from the fact that I might (and sometimes have!) guessed wrong about who has the most power in a given situation or who is most likely to actually help or protect me, it means that I don’t recognize that I have the power within me to protect myself! I don’t recognize that I do have the ability to make choices and take actions that will protect me and allow me to have the life I want to have.


I look back and know that for much of my life, I tried to teach other people how to protect and keep me safe. I tried to get other people to understand what I knew. There is an irony in this. I already had the knowledge to know what would keep me safe—if I had chosen to use it directly. Instead, I kept pinning my hopes on people who “failed” me. Except....

Except that it was never their responsibility—at least not once I was grown. Once I was grown, it was my life and my responsibility to protect myself and create the life I wanted to have. Yes, it’s good to have people to turn to in need, but ultimately we each must and can take care of ourselves. We may need to learn new skills, we may need to make mistakes along the way, but we CAN do this!

I wasted time and energy blaming and getting angry at people who failed to protect me—as I perceived it. I would have been better served to use that energy and time to focus on what I could do for myself. I would have been better served spending my time building trust in myself.

And that’s where it begins—with trust in ourselves. That is why I consider it so important to begin by creating lists of what we can do well and times we have succeeded in the past. That’s why I consider it so important to create lists of reasons to believe in ourselves.

What about the other side of it? Being afraid of those in authority or issues of having authority ourselves. For years, being in the presence of a police officer would make me start shaking even though I was never guilty of any crime nor the focus of the police officer’s investigation. I no longer have that reaction. If we trust in ourselves, we know we will not allow ourselves to be hurt by others—even those in authority. As we heal, we let go of misplaced guilt over things that were done to us and no longer carry that perhaps unrecognized fear that we deserve to be rejected or punished by those in authority.

For years, I avoided any situation where I might be perceived to have authority. My fears were two fold. One, I was terrified of causing harm. Second, I was terrified of being “visible,” of becoming a target for the wrath of others. Over the past few years I have started doing work that may cause me to be perceived as an authority figure and recently I have accepted responsibilities in my private life that may make me a target for the anger of others. I have been able to do so because I have come to trust myself.

If we trust ourselves, we will not fall into the trap of believing that if we have authority and use it to abuse others, it will make us more powerful. The truth is that abusing others damages and weakens us as deeply as it does the person we hurt.

If we trust ourselves, we will not need to be afraid of having authority because we know we will not abuse it nor will we be afraid of being “visible” and drawing the wrath of others because we know we can protect ourselves.

If we trust ourselves, we are less likely to fall into the trap of thinking we must rescue others—that they cannot rescue themselves. The truth is that the greatest gift we can give another person is to help them realize that they have the power within themselves to be who they want to be and to create a life that is loving and happy and free of paralyzing fear. If we help someone else recognize his or her own strength and wisdom we do far more good than if we simply “take care” of that person.

There are times when we need to turn to others for help and support. I am absolutely not advocating isolationism! I know that I would not be where I am had I not had people at various points in my life to turn to when I needed them most. Even in crisis, though, it’s important to remember that our lives are OUR responsibility and that we DO have the strength and wisdom and ability within us to accept and honor that responsibility—no matter what has happened to us in the past.

It’s not always easy to believe that. There are times I need to pull out my lists and remind myself of what I have been able to accomplish in the past. But as Anthony Robbins says: What we focus on becomes our reality. If we focus on a sense of hopelessness or belief we cannot do things, it WILL become our reality. If we focus, instead, on our strengths and how to build on them, then we will become stronger and more capable and safer and happier people.

I still turn to other people sometimes for advice. I am always grateful when they give it—whether or not I choose to accept that advice. I have and am discovering, however, just how strong I am and how capable. I have discovered that I can be me and be accepted and valued and even loved for who I am. I have discovered that I can create a life that will make me happy. And that’s what I want for all of you—that each and every one of you will recognize and embrace the strength and wisdom inside of you. That each of you will know you don’t need to struggle to get anyone to protect you, that you can protect yourself. I want for each of you lives that make you smile and a sense of peace with who you are and who you are becoming. do you respond to authority and is it a pattern you want to keep or one you want to change?

Sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Saturday, February 18, 2006

No Matter What

No matter what we may have in our past, we can choose TODAY to begin to create the life we want to have. We can begin TODAY to be happy. We can choose to let go of guilt. We can choose to let go of anger. We can choose to let go of fear.

Note: I am NOT saying it is easy! I am saying that we can take the first step to go from where we are to being able to be happy and feel safe and learn how to love. We can forgive ourselves for past mistakes. Obsessing over them only limits our ability to do better now. When we focus, instead, on what we can do right or do well and who we want to be, we become more and more able to be that person we want to be. When we create for ourselves a sense of our own strength, we are more likely to be able to take steps to speak up and ask for kindness and respect. When we feel safe, we are free to be honest with the world.

It begins with little steps. It begins with moments during the day when we let ourselves feel safe and happy. It begins with imagining a safe place where no one can hurt us and learning what that feels like. It begins with accepting that the past is over and we cannot change it, taking a deep breath, and looking at where we want to go and what we want to do. It begins with letting ourselves believe that change IS possible.

I truly believe that all intentional harm done in this world grows out of someone’s fear and self-doubt or self-hate. That’s where most unintentional harm comes from as well. The best way to make certain that WE do not do harm is to love ourselves, forgive ourselves, and learn to trust ourselves. The best way to make certain we do not hurt others out of fear is to focus on what we can do to make our lives what we want them to be. This may mean learning new skills or taking a hard look at some issues we have been avoiding, but we can do it. And we have a much better shot at creating the lives we want to have if our energy is not going into fear or obsessing about our mistakes.

No one is perfect. No one. To be alive is to make mistakes. And that’s reassuring to know. Change is possible. Happiness is possible. Love is possible. No matter what the past has held, we can create lives we want to live.

Sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Letting Go of Fear

If you have been through trauma or abuse at any point in your life, it may seem sometimes as if you are always afraid, always expecting the worst, always waiting for the other shoe to drop and the next thing to go wrong.

That’s not surprising if there was a time in your life when everything was out of your control and horrible things did happen. The problem with this is that it’s not a good way to live NOW. When we are afraid, our brains literally function differently. We are more likely to forget things and less able to see possibilities—which increases the likelihood that something will go wrong! It’s a vicious cycle.

On the other hand, IF we are able to let go of fear—or at least let go of unnecessary fear—our brains will function better and we are more likely to be able to come up with solutions for challenges we face. Letting go of fear makes it more likely things will go RIGHT.

Okay, how do we do that? In part, it comes from grounding ourselves in a sense of who we are and what we can do. It comes from choosing to act, rather than reacting to life. Instead of waiting for other people to do things for us or decide where a relationship is going, we can choose to do things for ourselves and make our own choices about what we want and don’t want in our lives. If there is a problem, instead of waiting until it becomes a crisis, we can choose to address it NOW.

I truly believe that within each of us is the ability to handle whatever challenge we face. We may not always like the options, but we DO have the ability to handle it IF we let go of fear and choose to act.

Steps to letting go of fear:
1) Take a deep breath. Seriously, in any situation where we are afraid, taking deep, slow breaths helps. It slows down the physical reactions of fear as well as giving us enough oxygen to let our brain function better.
2) Remind ourselves of the things we do well and ways/times we have successfully coped in the past.
3) Take tiny steps to tackle the problem.
4) Break the problem down into lots of pieces and do them in the order that builds the experience of success. We do NOT always have to do things in the order that most people do them! We can often be creative and do them in a way that works better for us.
5) Take a deep breath.
6) Ask advice from neutral parties and/or do research on our options.
7) Take a deep breath.
8) Go for a walk—this helps neutralize stress hormones, etc. in the body and clears the mind.
9) Stock the kitchen with healthy foods so that we do not sabotage ourselves. There is a strong mind/body connection and it goes both ways.
10) Laugh. Do something that makes you laugh or at least smile. The time you take to do this will replenish your emotional reserves so that you come back better able to tackle the challenge.
11) Meditate. This helps both the body and the mind. It may also help us connect with a sense of something greater than ourselves that we can draw on NOW to help us cope with life.
12) Seek out or create a network of supportive, positive people—people who believe that life CAN be good!

Life will hand us challenges but we can go from being overwhelmed by them and always expecting the worst to knowing that we can trust ourselves to be able to handle any challenge.

Sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Holding onto Self

It’s easy to slip into old patterns. It’s hard to step back and really look at what is being said, who is saying it, and how things really are. It’s especially difficult if someone has been in your life for a very long time.

I’m writing about this because it happened to me this weekend. I decided to address an issue with someone who has been part of my life for over 30 years. This is someone with whom I would, in the past, have pretended everything was fine. This is a person whose view of me I was more likely to accept than I did my own view of who I was. This time, however, was different.

This time I wrote out my concerns and actually sent it. I got back a response that implied I was hysterical and overreacting. And it bothered me—for about 30 seconds. Then I stopped, reread it, and asked myself some key questions:

1) Were the issues I raised reasonable to be concerned about? Yes.
2) Was I stating my concerns without attacking the other person? Yes.
3) Was my concern for the entire situation as well as for myself? Yes.

Then I was able to take a deep breath and really look at what this person had written me. And I could see that it echoed a long standing pattern—one I didn’t have to take part in any longer.

I don’t have to accept this person’s vision of who I am. I can honor the concerns I expressed. I can honor the thought I put into my message to this person. I can choose to see myself as I am. I can see this as a difference of opinion that neither requires me to demonize the other person nor blindly accept that I am the one at fault. I can, without anger, evaluate the situation and decide what steps, if any, I choose to take next.

I am holding onto who I am—my sense of self. I am able to see that no one, not even this person, can determine my future—it is in my hands.

When we have been battered by life, it’s easy to feel helpless. If we were hurt as children, it’s easy to stop believing in our own perceptions because we had to in order to survive. But we have the choice, now, as adults to realize that we truly do hold in our own hands the ability to create the kind of life we want to have.

Tonight, I will sit by the fire in my fireplace and smile because I can do that now. Tonight I will watch a movie I love and chat with a friend over the phone lines. Tonight I will calmly consider my options for the issue I raised, knowing, trusting that I will find a solution, no matter what this other person chooses to say or do.

Holding onto ourselves can be a real challenge if we have been hurt in the past. But ah, how good it feels when we know that who we are really is good enough and that no one can ever again take away from us that self-acceptance and self-knowledge.

So make your list of things you like about yourself. Make your list of things you do well. Take a little time to celebrate all that is good about yourself—no matter what you perceive your flaws to be! And know that you are and always have been worth loving.

Sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),


Wednesday, February 08, 2006


I’ve been thinking about this some more and it’s interesting how I find myself doing things that even a week ago I might have hesitated to do—because I’ve thought about what it costs me not to do them. I’ve reminded myself that we can never please everyone. No matter how well we do things or how nice we are, there are people we will just rub the wrong way.

I wonder. Do you see yourself as brave or are you like me and tend to think of yourself as a coward? That’s how I defined myself for years—as a coward because so many things scared me. Worse, the person who supposedly loved me most seemed to think the same—that I was a coward because things scared me that didn’t scare him.

The problem with thinking of ourselves as cowards, the problem with any negative labels we apply to ourselves, is that we are thinking in terms of limits, we are assuming we can’t do things or won’t. What if....we call ourselves brave instead?

We ARE brave every time we do something that scares us. And if we realize that, then we begin to think of ourselves as people who can do things, can achieve our goals, can make changes in our lives. Things that may be easy for other people may require great courage from us. And yet we do things every day that take courage.

I truly believe that the best strategy is to focus on what we can and are doing. If we do so, then we have a basis from which to do more and more things. And as we do the things we fear, often the fear begins to go away because we realize we can do them and if something does go wrong, well, we will still find a way to cope and survive.

So when you look in the mirror today, remind yourself of how brave you are. Remind yourself of the things you do that scare you and that you have successfully done in the past even when you were afraid.

Until next time, sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),


Friday, February 03, 2006

Who Do You Believe?

Who do you believe—the person who tells you the things you do well or the person who rips you apart?

I find myself thinking about this because of something that recently happened to me. I was in a situation where close to 50 people raved about what I did and one, just one, ripped it to shreds. Intellectually, I could grasp this was a triumph. On a gut level, I felt as if I’d been punched in the stomach and one person had seen through me to realize how unworthy I was.

And it got me thinking, realizing how sensitive I feel to such things. It got me thinking how often I put off doing things or avoid them altogether because I’m afraid of exposing myself to criticism. The problem is that in trying to keep myself safe, I cut myself off from opportunities and experiences that might enrich my life—financially, socially, intellectually and emotionally.

Everyone, to some degree, is sensitive to criticism. Those of us, who have been in abusive situation, particularly as children, seem even more so. Worse, we may find ourselves only being comfortable with people who delight in pointing out our flaws. It feels familiar. It feels “right” even though that criticism may be wrong. But if we want to be happy, if I want to be happy, I need to find a way to face head on this gut level reaction to criticism and hostility.

I also need to be able to listen to feedback that could help me become better at what I do—even when it comes accompanied by vitriol. I need to be able to separate the hostility from the genuine information.

I’ve already come a long way. I’ve learned that, ironically, I need to put myself in situations where I face feedback so that I know I can survive it and discover that there are people who do value me and what I can do. It hasn’t been easy. Some days I came home and cried. Some days I had to grit my teeth and force myself to go back and face someone who had ripped me to shreds. In doing so, I found I could often earn their respect. But I wasn’t easy. It took every bit of wisdom I had to be able to do this.

Some of the things that work for me:
¨ Going over the list of my strengths and the things I’ve done well in the past.
¨ Reminding myself of times I survived criticism in the past.
¨ Wearing clothes I love.
¨ Standing tall and breathing deeply.
¨ Finding some way to treat myself after the situation is over.
¨ Making myself thank the person who gives me the feedback—no matter what.

Even with all these strategies, this is something I struggle with, knowing that my resistance to feedback holds me back in far too many ways. And that’s the other thing that has helped: To look at what fear has cost me.

What has fear of criticism cost you? A job? Chances to go out and have fun? Relationships?

If you know what it has cost you, then you have the incentive to push past the fear and do the things you want to do. You have an incentive to find ways to cope when people lash out at you. You have an incentive to find a way to focus on the good things people say to and about you.

What if you put yourself out there and someone rips you up the way someone ripped me apart recently?

1) Give yourself permission to feel bad—for a little while.
2) Give yourself permission to rail at—in private!—the person, for a little while.
3) Write out your anger on a piece of paper then either burn it or rip it into little pieces and flush it away. As you do so, let go of any anger and let yourself bless the person.
4) Remind yourself that all hurtful words and actions grow out of the other person's hurt and insecurity. Genuine, objective feedback is given respectfully and touches on what is right as well as what could be improved.
5) Do something that makes you smile as a reward for having the courage to put yourself in a situation that made you a target.
6) Go over your list of all the successes in your life and the good things people have said about you.
7) Take a deep breath and remind yourself that no one, NO ONE, ever has 100% approval. Everyone has critics.
8) Take whatever is useful about the feedback that might help and let go of the reset.
9) Focus on what you can gain by being open to feedback and then go back out and do things that matter to you because YOU matter.

Am I still hurt by what one person said? Yes, in part because it was done anonymously and I have no way to respond. Nor do I have a way to ask about the part of the feedback that might actually be of use to me. At the same time, I recognize how far I have come. And I have the favorable responses to remind me that others did value what I said and did.

Anthony Robbins likes to say: Ask what good could come out of this. I suppose that should be number 10 on the list above. For me, one of the things it has done is make me realize the way my fear of criticism has held me back in the past. It has made me think through the impact of that fear and look carefully at ways it might still be affecting my life. I will surely post about this issue again as I work through it and find new ways to create the life I want to have.

Until next time, sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),