Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Comfort Zones

One of the advantages of having my daughter nearby is that I’m being jarred out of my routines. I’m finding myself doing things I otherwise wouldn’t do. And that’s a good thing.

Anthony Robbins talks about how when we step outside our comfort zone to do new things, our comfort zone expands to then include those new things. He’s absolutely right. When I’m following routines, I’m not growing much. When I do new things I am. I’m discovering more things I like—or don’t like and then I know, more things I can do, more places that now become familiar. In short, I have new possibilities in my life.

The thing is, we don’t need to wait to have someone prod us into making changes and stepping outside our comfort zone. We can make ourselves a promise to do one new thing every month. We may like it so much that we’ll choose to do one new thing every week—or perhaps even every day.

I suggest this as a gift we give ourselves because there is such joy in discovering new possibilities and having an expanded comfort zone. We can begin with small steps. In a way, it’s like exercising. If we haven’t been doing it and jump in and try to do an hour at a time, odds are we’ll give up very quickly. On the other hand, if we add just five more minutes a day to our schedule and then add another five each week, then pretty soon we’ll have built up to that hour and our bodies won’t feel strained. This is especially true if we choose to do things that are fun for us. Same thing with stepping outside our comfort zone. If we build into the experience fun and/or a treat, we’re much more likely to keep doing it and wanting to do it.

Wishing for all of you some wonderful new experiences this week. Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Friday, August 24, 2007


My daughter is in town. She’s moving here and has already found an apartment. For years I felt like I wasn’t a good enough mother and tried so hard not to “infect” her with my flaws. I felt I had to make it up to her that she hadn’t gotten a better mother.

Since my divorce, I’m doing things differently. I told her she had to treat me with respect. I told her we were rewriting the relationships. It’s been a bit rocky at times but getting better and better over all. Since she arrived this week, I’m enjoying the chance we have to be together and not fight. I’m enjoying being able to interact with her and just being me—without worrying what she’ll think of me or my house or...anything else about me. It’s nice to have reached this point of feeling “good enough” just as I am.

It’s a nice surprise to discover this is possible. It’s a nice surprise to see how well we can get along now. It’s a nice surprise to have her ask if something is okay rather than assuming if she wants me to do something then obviously I will. It’s a nice surprise to be able to talk with her about things that in the past would have started a fight. It’s just flat out nice to have her here in town.

She is a visible reminder to me that dreams can come true as she pursues her dreams making choices that are right for her—no matter what the rest of the world might think. It’s reassuring to see that she can walk her own path and not only succeed by doing so but succeed brilliantly finding more choices available than if she had followed conventional wisdom.

It’s reassuring for any of us who don't find conventional pathways right for us--for whatever reason. It’s reassuring because I can see what a difference self-confidence makes. It’s reassuring because I can see how taking chances and moving outside one’s comfort zone can pay off.

There have been lots of surprises this week and I’m glad for each and every one. May all of you have wonderful surprises in your lives too. Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),


Monday, August 20, 2007

Resolving Conflict

First, my apologies to anyone who worried because I didn’t post for so long. I hate feeling under the weather at any time but especially during the summer!

What I want to post about today is resolving conflict. And I know that conflict is hard for survivors of abuse to deal with. Many of us grow up hating conflict and wanting to avoid it at all costs. Unfortunately, that approach can lead to becoming victims of further abuse and/or relationships that never become real because we’re too afraid to let the other person see us as we truly are.

I’ve said before that conflict arises out of a clash caused by fears. Today I’d like to talk about a very specific fear and one that I think triggers some of the worst conflict and one that if we understand it we can use to resolve conflict in a way that is most likely to be win/win for everyone.

I’m talking about conflict triggered because someone’s self-image gets threatened.

Bullies do this—either instinctively or consciously. They zero in on how we see ourselves and do everything they can to undermine our sense self-worth—often by attacking those things about which we have the most self-doubt or by trying to make us believe we’re not good at what we really are or that it’s a bad thing. Which is why we avoid conflict—because we’ve been hurt by bullies who trashed our sense of self-worth and we don’t want to risk having it happen again!

Attacking someone else’s self-image is the quickest way to start a fight or create permanent bad feelings. The quickest way to make a new friend or create good feelings is to understand what someone values about him or herself and—IF we can do so HONESTLY—reaffirm that we see and value that quality in them.

What all of this means is that once again our optimal strategy is to work on boosting our own self-esteem. We can do so by reminding ourselves often of all the things we do like about ourselves and rewriting the messages we took in as a result of the abuse. We can understand that at every point in our lives, we did the best we could—then—and that if we don’t like the choices we made—then—we can make different ones NOW. And if necessary we can make amends for past mistakes. We can walk away from bullies who try to trash our sense of self-worth and learn techniques to deal with bullies for those times we cannot or are not ready to walk away.

If we feel good enough about ourselves, we can be open and honest with others. We can face conflict far more easily if we know that we can stand up to bullies and that even if the other person has a legitimate grievance with us, we are capable of growing and changing and becoming more and more the person we want to be. We can risk rejection if we know that while it might sting, it won’t shake our sense of self-worth because we know clearly who we are and we like that person.

And if we don’t like who we are, we can make a list of who we would like to be and then small steps we can take in the right direction for each change we would like to make. Taking action, any action, will make us feel better—if we choose steps we can achieve AND if we give ourselves permission sometimes to stumble along the way. We can look for people who believe in us, even when we have trouble believing in ourselves and who will encourage us to become the best we can be WITHOUT berating us for where we are now.

Ultimately, the words anyone else says hurt us only to the degree that they resonate with our own fears and self-doubts. If we can set aside that issue then when we are in conflict with someone we will be able to step back and decide:

a) Is this a relationship we really want or need to have? If so...
b) What does the other person value about him or herself and can we reaffirm it to defuse emotions so that the issue can be settled on rational terms?
c) Is there a way to frame a solution within the context of the qualities the other person values about him/herself?
d) What words and actions are consistent with the person we choose to be REGARDLESS OF WHAT THE OTHER PERSON SAYS OR DOES?

Wishing for all of you the ability to value and love yourselves and see within you—and others!—the best that each of us can be. Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))))),


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Build From Our Strengths

We can focus on the problems in our lives and try to force ourselves to deal with them or we can focus on our strengths and go from there.

What’s the difference? Well, if we begin with the problems, we’re putting all our energy into the problems and may feel as if we’re butting our heads against the wall and getting no where—especially if our problems involve other people we have no control over.

On the other hand, if we focus on our strengths and creating a sense of faith in ourselves, then we begin to see possibilities to make our lives better. We can put our energy into changing what we can change and making a small space of happiness around ourselves. This in turn builds our resilience and courage and we can take small steps to do things that might scare us a little and discover we have the ability to do them in spite of our fears. That expands our circle of comfort and happiness and ability to do even more good things and find even more reasons to feel good about ourselves.

Mind you, we need to guard that space around ourselves! No one must be allowed to try to take it away from us. No one must be allowed to undercut our faith in who we are. That may mean keeping to ourselves what we’re learning. That may mean taking the time to remind ourselves of all the reasons we do have to believe in who we are and what we can do—so that we don’t depend on the feedback of others to believe it.

We can, from that small space and those tiny steps begin to change the entire world in which we live so that more and more of the people around us begin to see what we can do and support us in creating the life we want to have. We may find new opportunities opening up before us. We may discover more and more things that make us smile and laugh.

If we begin by focusing on our strengths and the reasons we have to be proud of ourselves then we are far more likely to find ourselves tackling the challenges in our lives and coming up with solutions that work. The bonus is that it feels good and we will be much happier and likely think of things we otherwise never would.

It’s all about how we look at ourselves and the world and what we choose to focus on. We don’t have to go by the old rules or anyone else’s ideas of who we are or what we should do with our lives.

Our optimal strategy is NOT trying to please people who think we’re unsatisfactory to begin with but rather to find people who value what we most value about ourselves and situations where we shine because we’re doing what we love.

We each deserve to be with people who think we’re wonderful just as we are. We each deserve to be surrounded by people who respect us and want to know what we have to say. We each deserve to love ourselves.

This week think about your strengths. Make a list—even if you only keep it in your head—of all the reasons to believe in yourself. Make another list of things that make you happy, that make you smile—and do several every single day! Picture giving yourself the love and support that maybe you never had before. And watch what a difference it makes in your life.

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

Saturday, August 11, 2007

After Being Safe

We all want to be safe. And if we get there, we want to stay there—especially if safety has been in short supply in the past! The problem is that if we try to stay too safe, we lose out on possibilities and we fail to grow. In the long run, that can lead to not being as safe as we’d like to be.

What can we do? Well, each day we can choose to do one thing—no matter how small—that is new or different for us. Or we can take one step—no matter how small—toward dealing with something that scares us. We can choose to ride out the fear long enough to expand our comfort zone.

Note: I am talking about doing things that will enhance the quality of our lives NOT taking crazy or self-destructive chances!

Some of the things that scared me the most (in no particular order)—filing for divorce, going off to college, traveling across country by myself and not knowing where I would end up, getting married in the first place, raising children, getting therapy, buying a house on my own after age 50, getting up and giving workshops in front of lots of people—have turned out to enrich my life the most, even when they didn’t work out forever.

I didn’t take any of these steps lightly! I did my research, I made careful plans, I used due caution, and I took the leap of faith even when people around me thought I might be crazy. I don’t regret any of the things I dared to do—even when they didn’t work out. Nor do I regret the little things that scare me that I’ve chosen to do anyway.

Part of it, of course, comes down to sheer stubbornness. I feel as if I lost way too many years of my life to abuse and then to trying to live with that abuse before I found a way to process and then let it go. Too many people (bullies) in my life tried to make me believe I was foolish to even try to go after my dreams or do the things that mattered to me or even dare to hope that anyone would ever want to know or like me!

These days I want to catch up and truly LIVE and get to do the things I didn’t do before. Not rashly because I doubt I’ll ever be able to let go of the cautious streak that is so much a part of me but with open eyes and using all the skills I can muster to succeed—or at least keep from getting hurt too badly.

It’s great to feel safe. It’s also great to choose to keep on changing and growing and daring to do the things that matter to us or can enrich our lives. That’s one thing I won’t let anyone ever take from me again.

Wishing all of you a little wonderful adventure and daring in your lives and sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))))),


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Wanting to be Safe

The irony is that I believe one reason so many people are vulnerable to bullies is the desire to be safe and/or the fear of being a bully oneself.

If one grew up with bullies and doesn’t want to be one, a person may become “too nice” or afraid that standing up for oneself must mean being a bully instead. That’s where Sam Horn’s book is invaluable. (See previous post about Take the Bully By the Horns.) She offers tools and strategies so that one can stand up for oneself without becoming a bully in return.

But let’s set that aside for the moment because I’d like to talk about how wanting to be safe can make us vulnerable to being bullied. It can be physical safety we’re seeking or financial or even emotional security—or all three. If we believe the other person might be able to keep us safe, we may tolerate physical or emotional abuse because we believe the person will keep us safe from worse abuse. Or if we are afraid we cannot support ourselves financially, we may tolerate abuse because the alternative scares us so much we can’t make ourselves leave or even just stand up to the person and ask for the kindness and respect that we deserve. If we are terrified of being alone and/or unloved, we may tolerate anything to have that emotional fix—especially if we don’t know it can be any other way or if that’s what feels familiar.

Or it may be that we don’t realize at first what’s happening. Perhaps the person says the right things or the relationship seems to be okay. And then the person does something we don’t like—but it’s a little thing. And we tell ourselves, well, that’s not so bad, I can live with that. If the other person is a bully, it confirms for them that we will tolerate abuse and the bully may begin to escalate. Perhaps not, if that little bit is enough to keep us in line and/or satisfies the bully’s emotional needs. But if we start to change or the bully needs more satisfaction, then the actions we dislike may start to escalate and each time we don’t speak up or walk away, it’s more proof to the bully that we will tolerate abuse.

(Some bullies will kill rather than let their victims get away and if so, the person being abused must not minimize that possibility and must take extreme precautions to protect himself or herself! I’ll give a disclaimer here similar to what Sam Horn has in her book. To paraphrase: I don’t have all the answers, I don’t know YOUR specific situation or what’s best for YOU. I’m sharing my own personal thoughts. If you are in a potentially dangerous situation the help of professionals may be essential. Safety is ALWAYS the first priority!)

In any relationship, when the dynamics begin to change, others in the relationship will resist. If the other person is a bully it can become outright dangerous! Be aware of this and take all possible precautions!

The best time to stop bullying is in the beginning. Instead of believing that if we are nice enough or helpful enough other people will like us and not hurt us, we can shift our thinking to understand that bullies will resent us if they need our help. Bullies will resent us if we are so nice that other people like us more than they like them. Bullies will take advantage of the behavior we value. Bullies will take niceness and not speaking up as proof that we are good victim material. IT WILL NOT KEEP US SAFE! Nothing we do to try to appease a bully will keep us safe—no matter what we are willing to give up trying to make it happen.

What will keep us safe?
---We can learn how to take care of ourselves so that we do not feel someone else must do so for us.
---We can learn to nicely but firmly speak or stand up for ourselves when someone does something we don’t like. In other words, we can learn to set limits.
---We can recognize that bullies who are not willing to give up their bullying tactics will keep hurting us and may not be capable of truly loving us. And if they can't, maybe we want to look for people who can love us and treat us with kindness and respect.
----We can tolerate kindness and respect until it becomes familiar and feels “normal” to us rather than seeking out the treatment we may have believed all our lives that we deserved.
---We can find a way to realize that we are and always have been worth loving—especially if we let go of any bullying tactics we may have learned to use over the years.

Do you see a pattern here? It comes down to becoming a person we like and respect and want to spend time with. It comes down to learning to trust in ourselves and our ability to keep ourselves safe.

If we treat ourselves with kindness and respect, we are far less likely to tolerate anything else from anyone else—or to treat anyone else any other way.

As we change how we see and treat ourselves, we inevitably change how others do so as well. This is the most important and powerful thing we can do for ourselves!

Mind you, I know that change doesn’t come all at once. But things don’t have to be all or nothing. We can begin to work on the skills we need to take care of ourselves and be safe. We can begin to treat ourselves with kindness and respect. We can begin to ACT AS IF we expect and deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. We can learn to say “no” to small things in unimportant relationships so that the small things do not become big things and we begin to see our own patterns and the patterns of others in such situations. If one thing doesn’t work we can experiment until we find what does.

I'm not saying it's easy. I know how hard it's been for me to integrate these ideas into my own life, my own understanding. I look back and cry for the person I was and wish I could go back and help her know it didn't have to be that way. But I can't go back, I can only go forward and share with all of you what it took me so long to learn in hopes that it may shortcut a little of your journey.

Note: Again, if you are dealing with a bully, be aware that the potential for escalation always exists and make escape plans (from the relationship or situation) before taking any action that might provoke trouble. (Sam Horn talks about how to decide what level of response is SAFE and appropriate in various situations.)

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

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Dealing with Bullies

Okay, I’d love to see everyone here run out and get a book called Take the Bully by the Horns by Sam Horn. Because most of us have had to deal with bullies in our lives—and we didn’t always recognize them as such right away or know what to do about them—and Sam Horn tells us. She tells us how to recognize bullying and what does and doesn’t work.

Warning: You may recognize some of your own behaviors in this book. In part, that’s because some of us who were abused as kids grew up believing there were only two choices—to be bullied or to bully. Sam Horn shows that’s not true. She gives effective techniques to deal with bullies and shows that we do NOT have to become that which we despise in order to be safe. Or, the only kind of interaction that some of us saw growing up was bullying so we never had a chance to learn other options. Either way, if you do recognize any of your own behaviors, you can use this as a chance to realize this isn’t who you want to be and begin to choose other, better behaviors in dealing with others.

I love the things Sam Horn says in Take the Bully by the Horns! How many here have heard, over and over: Always use “I” statements? I feel hurt if.... And how many of you, on a gut level, KNEW it wasn’t working with someone and maybe even made things worse? And how many didn’t trust that gut instinct because the experts—maybe even your own counselors—kept saying that was what you were supposed to do? Well, Sam Horn says quite bluntly that it doesn’t work with bullies and she says why! THANK YOU SAM HORN!!!

Ahem, sorry about that. Truly, though, Horn has written an easy to understand book with very clear steps on how to deal with others. She worries far less about why bullies are bullies and writes far more about what works and why.

Study after study shows that people who were abused as kids are far more likely to either continue to be bullied as adults or to become bullies. This book will help you break the cycle either way. We can be safe and we can be safe without becoming that which we despise.

Note: One very important warning (that isn't in the book). From my own experience and observation, bullies will tend to attack if they either perceive we have self-doubts in a certain area OR if they perceive we have some real strength. BULLIES TAKE OUR GREATEST TALENTS/GIFTS/SKILLS/PERSONALITY TRAITS AND TRY TO MAKE US DOUBT THOSE TALENTS/TRAITS OR THEY TRY TO MAKE US BELIEVE THESE ARE FLAWS. In other words, if someone keeps attacking you about something, consider the possibility it's actually a GOOD thing or you actually are good at whatever the other person says you aren't because the other person is a bully and either jealous or afraid that if you realize just how good a thing it is and/or how good you are at it, they will lose power over you.

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

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

People or Social Skills

One of the things that often comes up for lots of people is the issue of social skills. If we grew up in abusive homes, odds are we had no role models for healthy interaction with others. Our families could not teach us what they did not know!

In addition, abuse of any kind can make us cautious and unwilling to trust or too trusting. We may find ourselves choosing others who also lack social skills, telling ourselves that they won’t notice or care as much. Or we may think we can’t fit in with others who do know what to do.

Here again, we can choose to learn those skills our families couldn’t teach us. We can do so by observing how people, who do so successfully, interact with others.

We can be honest with ourselves about what makes us comfortable and uncomfortable.

We can choose to treat others as they wish to be treated and ask for what makes us happy as well.

We can choose to walk away from people who refuse to treat us with kindness and respect.

We can know what we like (and don’t like!) to do so that we are not always just going along with others but actively deciding what we do with the people we care about in our lives.

We can choose to risk losing people knowing that if we are not true to ourselves, then what’s the point of the relationship anyway?

We can choose not to use “honesty” as a bludgeon or power maneuver with others.

We can choose to take risks, to meet people and talk with them knowing that OF COURSE we’re sometimes going to make mistakes—and so are they!—and recognize that no one has to be perfect.

We can choose to focus on our own growth, rather than trying to get others to change and at the same time we can gently decline to let others try to change us. (Note: If we CHOOSE personal growth, that’s different. We need to do so for ourselves, however, rather than to please others.)

We can ACT AS IF we expect others to like and respond well to us. It’s amazing what a difference that can make and studies bear out the power of doing so.

We can recognize that everyone has their own layers of insecurity and use that not to manipulate others but rather to remind ourselves that it’s okay to sometimes be scared—everyone else is, too, at times. We can use that knowledge to recognize the truth of what’s happening when someone tries to bully us—rather than taking at face value what the other person says.

We can choose to keep learning and growing and creating the lives we want to have—with as much or as little social interaction as we CHOOSE. And that’s the key—to CHOOSE rather than to be driven to it by fear or what other people think we should do.

Wishing for all of you that which makes you happy, the courage to change what you want to change, and reasons to smile every day. Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),