Category Archives: Client of the Week

You’re Bigger Than You Think

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There’s a psychological term I want to introduce you to. You may already know it; the word is “schema” and it means a deeply ingrained belief or impression about ourselves and the world around us.

Schemas take root at an early age as a result of what we experience in life. Certain key people are also tremendously influential in the formation of schemas. By what they say and do, we form conclusions which have lasting effects on our behavior, our pattern of thinking, our choices and our self-concept. In essence, schemas color how we view reality and how we respond to most situations.

Automatic assumptions spring from schemas. Let’s face it, they show up in every argument!

Some schemas are positive, some are not-so-positive. Lorena recently shared a story illustrating a not-so-positive schema. (I wrote about her in an earlier post: “Perfection is Highly Overrated!” Click here to read it.)

Not long ago, her dad pointed to a photograph of her on the refrigerator. “Do you remember that?” he asked. The photograph showed a 4-year-old Lorena dressed in a cute dancing outfit.

She remembered the photo and she also remembered the thought that ran through her mind when she saw it shortly after it was taken. “I was thinking that my thighs were too big!” she said while shaking her head in disbelief.  “I just cannot imagine that someone that young could even entertain such a thought! It’s just so outlandishly sad!”

By the age of four, Lorena had been thoroughly programmed to scrutinize her physical appearance. Yes, that is “outlandishly sad.” Her schema goes something like this: “My acceptance is based on how I look,” and “There is something fundamentally wrong with me.”

“As far back as I can remember,” she said, “I compared myself to other girls.”

Lorena was curious about the origins of her shaping. “Who’s opinion did I buy into?” she wondered. After mulling it over she came up with this: “I’m pretty sure it was my grandmother’s. As long as I can remember, she was constantly making derogatory remarks about how other people looked.”

The remedy for bothersome schemas? A heavy dose of clear minded self-appraisal.

We get free by questioning our conditioned assumptions about ourselves.

Lorena’s on a journey to do just that. She’s busy revamping her schema by disbelieving it. And in the process, she’s realizing she’s a whole lot bigger than some old schema hanging out in her brain.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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Seek Sunlight

woman prison

 “I felt like a cage was around me when I was with John. I wasn’t me. I was afraid to be me. I was always nervous about doing the wrong thing and setting him off.”

Those words were spoken by my client, Marta, who finally left her husband because he’s an alcoholic—he got violent.  Click here to read an earlier post about Marta’s situation.

Are you like Marta was, anxious about upsetting others if you voice your truth, act yourself, or possess a mind and will of your own?

If you nodded your head, it’s very likely you’ve spent a chunk of time with a person who made it difficult for you to do so. Their intense—often combustible—reaction taught you to remain tight-lipped and behave chameleon-like in their presence. You soon realized that it’s better to appease than face the consequences of being true to you.

Understandably, a sharp tongue, harsh hand or painful withdrawal are backlashes worth avoiding.

Who are these people? Some are addicts—hooked on drugs or alcohol, some are spoiled children residing in adult-size bodies. Some have a mental disorder of some kind, and others are just over-reactive, difficult people.

They all possess something in common: They can’t be counted on to be consistent with their warmth, remorse or clarity. In one moment they will understand what you want them to understand and in the next they won’t. One day you’re a beloved friend or ally, but the next day you’re the target for blame and hostility.

Their unpredictable fluctuations cause that tight knot in your stomach to take up permanent residence. You’re constantly on the watch for the next upheaval. Over-exposure to these people can cause you to doubt yourself. You wonder: “Am I at fault? Did I cause their reaction? What can I do to fix it?”

You can’t. There’s only one solution: Save yourself. Don’t entertain the thought—for an instant—that you’re the cause or the one responsible to fix it. Trust your instincts that say:

“This is not sunlight for my soul.”

In fact, it’s just the opposite.

We’re hard-wired to sense what’s toxic for us both physically and psychologically. Call it our survival instinct. Trust it.

And finally, believe that you’re worthy of the sunlight. You deserve to be around people who are consistent, who see your goodness, and who relish your individuality, which includes having a mind and will of your own.

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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The Latest Wow: Where Life is

man sunset silhouette

 

Not long ago, Todd, a client, wowed me with this:

“I want to be the type of person who loves others above myself. I know that’s where life is.”

Todd lives in a self-contained sphere that doesn’t include other people. He’s not a hermit—living an isolated existence. Far from it. He’s a husband, father, and successful businessman. No, Todd’s out there mingling—being part of things. Or so it seems.

Deep down he lives alone in himself. Secluded and cut off.  In his words: “I don’t form attachments well.”

His family keeps him reminded of that fact because they tug on him to be more involved . . . more connected. Their pain is something I hear about from his 20-year-old daughter, Jodi. Not long ago, after one of our sessions, she went home and expressed her distress to him—tears and all. He listened. She listened.

Soon after, Todd contacted me to set up an appointment. In essence, he wanted to learn more about himself—why he keeps people at arm’s length, and how he can change that. His long talk with Jodi—her words along with her emotional truth—opened his mind and his heart. That raw conversation had a powerful, “possibly life-transforming impact,” he said.

In our session, I learned that Todd’s detachment is the byproduct of early childhood abandonment. He never met his father and there was virtually no attachment to his mother. He described her as “self-centered” as he recounted incidents of reaching out for her nurturing and understanding. Such attempts yielded empty results. So understandably at some point, he decided to stop needing people.

Isolation and indifference became his friends and his comfort zone. And his job became the arena for proving his worth to himself.

Some people consider him a workaholic. But such a label isn’t fair because it misses the driving need underneath. Todd yearns to feel valued and he obtains that by over-achieving.

If I don’t feel valued for being me, I’ll seek value by what I do—by what I accomplish. 

Self-contained people have trouble giving and receiving love, and that’s a very lonely place. So, despite the comfort-zone experience of being disconnected from the world of other people, the yearning and need for love and connection never really go away. They only get covered up.

For Todd to change, he has to dismantle his ancient programming and replace it with the truth about himself. He is love-worthy. And he’s capable of giving and receiving it. He’s already demonstrated that by hearing Jodi and allowing her to impact him.

I go back to his words: “I want to be the type of person who loves others above myself. I know that’s where life is.”

There’s a heart in there . . . and Todd’s going to be sharing it lots more.

 

Names have been changed to honor confidentiality

 

 

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The Latest Wow: Don’t Feed the Parasites!

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Not long ago, one of my clients, Rani, wowed me with this:

“Some people don’t really deserve the benefit of the doubt.”

Experience taught Rani that somber truth. For months, she overlooked and excused multiple incidents of being used, deceived and manipulated by her friend, Val. “It finally reached such ludicrous proportions, I just couldn’t ignore it anymore,” she said in our counseling session.

Rani loaned her money, let her move in, gave her rides to and from work. The list grinds on. As for the loan, Val promised to pay it back, but so far “I have yet to receive a single nickle of it,” Rani said, disgusted.

Let’s face it, there’s a population of nice people out there and there’s a population of . . . uh, let’s just say, not-so-nice. They take advantage of the nice ones and the nice ones let them. That merely perpetuates a maddening set of circumstances . . . for the nice tribe, that is.

These two types attract each other like magnets. Self-centered versus other-centered. One is self-denying and willing to give up what they want and even need so that the other can experience a “happy” life.

When I ask these big-hearted people why they sacrifice themselves, they tell me things like, “I’ll feel guilty and mean if I do otherwise.” Ironically, they’re afraid of being self-centered and . . . not nice.

Rani no longer thinks that way. Her experience with Val opened her eyes to a fundamental truth: When the events of our lives don’t bring us peace, it’s vital that we opt to make life changes.

 As for the “nice” word, she came to see that it isn’t nice to dishonor ourselves by tolerating being used and disrespected.

And it isn’t nice to keep feeding the parasites. How do they ever learn that parasiting isn’t nice? 🙂

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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Free to Leave

Free_Spirit

“A grain of sand becomes a beach in a millisecond.”

Marta—my client—was talking about her over-reactive, hot-tempered husband who makes mountains out of mole hills. Add suspicion, an appetite for power, and alcohol to the mix and you have a potentially dangerous man. Not long ago, he became just that.

It all started when she walked in the front door. There he stood, arms folded and wearing a scowl. The usual grilling began—demanding to know where she had been. Her explanation fell on deaf ears. He didn’t believe her—never does—that is, unless her story agrees with his. He was convinced she had been spending time with another man.

As is often the case, Marta tried—desperately—to get him to believe her. It didn’t work. He just got nastier . . . then . . . he hit her. Serious bleeding resulted. She did not file a police report. Why? Because she’s locked into the habit of appeasing him. He’s her priority.

There’s another reason. Marta second-guesses herself. When she’s the target of someone’s anger, or when accused or badgered, her knee jerk reaction is to believe it’s somehow justified. So, along with thousands of other abuse victims, she believes she can make him treat her better by changing something about herself.

In our session, Marta unloaded example after example of verbal and emotional abuse. But at the time of those incidents, Marta was in a state of denial. She didn’t want to see it so she minimized or excused it. She even followed his lead and blamed herself.

But fooling herself had now become an impossibility. He had crossed a line, and—long overdue as it was—it finally opened her eyes.

“Why have you put up with this for so long?” I asked. “I’m not a quitter,” she said.

I don’t call it “quitting” when we decide to leave an abusive relationship. I call it a much needed course correction . . . and an act of loving ourselves.

If Marta’s husband doesn’t love her enough to stop abusing her, shouldn’t she love herself enough to put an end to it? The answer is a clear “Yes!”

Marta’s not alone. Scores of women (and men) are in abusive relationships. It doesn’t usually start out that way. Few people, if any, would go on a second date with an abuser. No, it’s a subtle, progressive thing. Suddenly, we’re there!

And just like Marta, we may shake our heads in disbelief and ask: “How did I get here?” The answers are varied, depending on the individual, but one universal cause is adaptation. If we’re exposed to something long enough, we start to get used to it. Cigarettes comes to mind. At first our bodies recoil—they reject the toxic substance. But with prolonged exposure, our bodies learn to adapt.

Dr. Steven Stosny shared his thoughts and advice on adaptation, anger and abuse in relationships with Oprah’s audience many years ago.  His words are as true today as they were then.

As Marta and so many others have discovered, the way out of such relationships requires courage, a hearty dose of self-love and an awakened belief in one’s own value.

Names have been changed to honor client confidentiality

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Dominated by Guilt

sad puppy

Guilt, just like anger, is often used as a tool to manipulate.

Last week I offered one reason why we refrain from speaking up or confronting another person. It’s the fear of igniting a thunderstorm.

Another reason is guilt. One of my teenage clients, Allie, put it perfectly:

“I don’t know how to stand up for myself without feeling really bad afterward. I worry about hurting someone’s feelings.”

Allie may be a teenager, but her concern is universal—she’s just not alone in this. Many, many people of every age—myself included—have trouble with this one.

Dru also suffered, and grew, through her struggle with this issue.  You can read about it here.

Allie wants to get a handle on this tendency because it sets her up to be taken advantage of. For example, friends frequently ask her for rides. During Christmas break she was driving people around for hours. She always says yes even when she doesn’t really want to.

Her friends may be happy with this arrangement, but Allie isn’t. “My gas gets used up!” she said in exasperation.

In our session, we talked about the common sense of asking her friends to help out with the gas, or merely opt to use the “no” word. She gets it, but it’s tough, tough, tough because she can’t bear the idea of letting someone down. A certain sad expression is all it takes.

We explored where her problem first took root. “My mom would act hurt if I didn’t give in to what she wanted,” she said. So understandably, Allie learned to water herself down and become putty in the hands of others. She tells me she’s so used to focusing on what others want that “I don’t even know what I want half the time.” Sad.

What I told Allie, was the same thing I told Dru:

Hurting someone’s feelings isn’t always a bad thing. Being denied, stopped or corrected is a part of life and necessary for teaching us our limits and how to be sensitive and respectful to others. We rob people of growing in these ways when we give in to pouts or angry outbursts.

Names are changed to honor confidentiality

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Recreate You … To Your Liking

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This is the time of the year when we pause amidst our habituated routines and consider making life changes. When it comes to my clients, I typically ask two questions: “How do you want your life to look?” and “How are you hindering that … getting in your own way?”

It’s impossible to act on our dreams and desires until we know how we blindly sabotage them.

Anna is a good example. In one of our sessions, she complained about being treated like a doormat … someone who isn’t valued or respected. She wanted the opposite to be true. “Do I wear a sign on my forehead that says: ‘Walk on me?'”

“Well, yes,” I said. “The bottom line is this: If you don’t want to be treated like a doormat, stop being one.”

doormat

In time, Anna conquered her inner saboteur. Click here to read about it.        

Happy new beginnings!

Names have been changed to honor confidentiality.

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