Sample Book 2

Atomic Habits by James Clear
Print | eBook | Audiobook

My favorite non-fiction read of 2019 was Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear. If you haven’t read it yet, go get it today in whatever your favorite mode of reading may be, and read it! I chose Kindle which is mine, and scarfed it up!

Let’s start with 3 ideas that are included in the first several chapters:

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Sample Book

Essentialism
by Greg McKeown
Print | eBook | Audiobook

I recently had the pleasure of reading Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Actually the full title with subtitle is Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. McKeown’s premise is that we can’t do it all, and the idea that we can is simply false and leads us down the rabbit hole in a maze of diversionary paths that keep us from doing anything well. By saying yes to everyone, taking on everything, trying to please all parties, and kidding ourselves that we can always add just one more thing, we end up not doing those things that are most important to us. Instead we diffuse our energy, our will power, and even our interest.

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Are You Someone People Can Count On?

Dependability is an underrated personal quality. I say that because so many of us have difficulty either developing it or sustaining it.

You might even think that you’re very dependable, but in reality you’re not.

It’s easy to get distorted when thinking about this because in our hearts, we may feel as though we can be counted on, especially when it is important. The “important” part is where the distortion takes place.

If I listen, empathize, and help you solve a problem you are having, then I think of myself as someone you can depend upon, especially when it counts! There’s the “important” part. I was there when it counts!

But if I show up late most of the time, don’t follow through on what I say I’m going to do, don’t respond to family members or friends when they contact me, blow off appointments, don’t return things I borrow or money I owe, or you name it, I’m sure there are other instances you can think of, then I’m not actually dependable or reliable. This is true even if my heart’s in the right place, which is often the case with people who are not dependable.

The sad thing about not paying attention to these behaviors is that they leave people feeling that either you don’t care, or you’re flaky, or both. Either way, it’s not good.

Over time, people begin to discount you, or build up resentment toward you, and eventually they may even become indifferent to you.

Here’s five things you can do to increase your dependability and let people know that you can be relied upon. Just by doing these things, you will build people’s confidence in your word which ultimately makes for good relationships.

Show Up on Time!

Everyone’s late occasionally. Sometimes you can’t help it. You have a car problem, the babysitter doesn’t show up on time, your toddler pours grape juice all over himself as you are ready to go out the door, or many other unexpected events that get in the way.

It’s the chronic late person that is the issue.

She almost always arrives anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour late, and sometimes more than that. No matter what time she’s scheduled to be somewhere, she arrives late. The only time this doesn’t happen is if she is acutely aware of the fallout (like arriving late to an important meeting the boss called), or it involves something in which she has a big personal investment like attending a long-awaited rock concert.

Don’t let that be you! Be on time!

Always leave at least 10 minutes earlier than you think you need to get to where you’re going, and if you have to go a long way, or go through a lot of traffic, give yourself even more pad time.

Allow time for the unexpected!

If you make a conscious effort to be on time in every situation, you’ll develop the habit and it won’t be so much work. It will become effortless because you will automatically allow enough time to get yourself ready and out the door with time to spare.

People will notice and eventually start believing that they can rely on you to be where you say you’re going be when you say it. The messages you’ll be sending are:

  • You care about other people’s time as well as your own.
  • You respect others.
  • You see others as important
  • You are a willing participant.
  • And with personal relationships, it shows you care.

If for some valid reason you can’t be on time, call or text and let the other person know what the problem is and when he can expect you.

This should only happen if there is a real and valid reason. Not because you left the house late, or you were distracted by something else you were doing.

A Quick Trick to Help You Be On Time

One thing to consider as you work on being on time is to figure out what’s behind being late. Do a quick assessment. Here’s some possibilities:

  • You have difficulty making a transition from one activity to another so that you don’t disengage soon enough from what you’re doing to get yourself to leave on time. You’re always saying to yourslelf, ” I can squeeze in one more thing before I go.”
  • You underestimate the time needed to get yourself ready and out of the house.
  • You underestimate driving or travelling time.
  • You don’t have your stuff ready ahead of time so you end up looking for things frantically before you need to leave.
  • You don’t get up early enough.
  • You don’t really want to go where you’re going and you’re emotionally resistant to it.

When you know what your obstacles are, you can create strategies to counteract them.

Answer the Phone

Answering the phone is about being accessible.

This is a tricky one and I can guess what you’re thinking already. What if the person calling me is going to talk my ear off without taking a breath, and keep me on the phone for an hour. I’ll get to that person in a minute.

The idea here is to be accessible to those who are important to you such as family and close friends, or those who need you such as colleagues or work partners.

When one of these people calls, pick up the phone. Don’t screen every single call you get and then take your time calling back.

Sometimes screening calls is necessary or appropriate. You do need to guard your time, and with email, texts, Facebook, and cell phones, none of us have the privacy or anonymity we had before all these modes of contact were available. The way to get around that is to set some boundaries.

Take Control

Remember that you do not have to stay on the phone longer than you wish to or have time for.

I have a sister who calls often, but she has made it clear to everyone in the family that she doesn’t like to be on the phone long. We all know it and no one tries to keep her for more than a few minutes unless there is something that needs to be discussed. She calls to check in, and it makes you feel loved, because it’s personal and it’s intimate.

You can let people know that you aren’t able to talk for long periods of time on the phone, or don’t like to converse by text, or only check email once or twice a day.

By setting limits and boundaries, you have control of your time. When you know you have that control, then it becomes easy to answer the phone because you know you don’t have to talk longer than you wish to.

Don’t avoid. Take control.

Rules to consider:

  • How late is too late to call?
  • What is the time of day you cannot answer the phone?
  • How often do you or are you willing to check emails and respond to them?
  • For what purposes do you use texting (do you like to chat, only use them to communicate logistics or plans, etc.)?
  • How long is too long to be on the phone for you?

When Screening is Appropriate

Now back to people who will use up your time without blinking. These are not the phone calls I’m addressing here.

You do not have to listen to someone who is dumping emotional trash, using your time even though you’ve let them know you don’t have it, or who is oblivious to your needs.

For those people, you can kindly but firmly set limits, and if you don’t wish to continue contact, don’t.

What is important is to respond to people who mean something to you, or with whom you have a relationship. When Grandma calls, answer. When a good friend calls, answer. Or if you can’t answer right away, call back as soon as you can. Be accessible to those who are important to you.

One Last Consideration

Sometimes we use email or texting to avoid a voice to voice communication. This can be helpful in some cases, and many people like the emotional distance afforded by these modes of communication.

Phone calls are direct and more intimate and don’t allow that emotional space. However, phone communication is less likely to be confusing which happens often when people rely on texts or emails.

When you don’t hear the tone of voice or nuances of someone’s emotions coming though their speech, a lot is missed.

Calling someone says you are accessible, and that you care.

When you can, call instead of text or email, especially if the relationship is personal. I also find it very productive with business calls.

Do What You Say You Are Going To Do

When you tell someone you are going to do something, they take it as a promise. They don’t see it as something you may change your mind about, forget about, or put on the back burner.

Your words “I’m going to” mean it’s a done deal.

What happens sometimes is that you agree to something quickly and then when you later consider it, you have mixed feelings, or find it’s not really feasible. Worse, you forget you said it and tuck it away in the back of your mind.

The key to solving this problem is twofold:

  • Before you agree to anything, give yourself time to think it through and make sure you know exactly how you want to respond and what you have time for or are willing to do. You can say something like “Let me think that over and I’ll give you an answer tomorrow.” Saying “yes” should not be impulsive, but thoughtful. Sometimes saying “no” is the proper response!
  • When you say yes, you need a way to track it and make sure you do it in the time you said you would do it. Use your calendar, your to-do list, your phone reminders, or whatever you use to track your activities. Once you say yes, you are responsible for following through. If you can’t do that, then don’t say yes.

Here’s some things that can get in the way. Any of these apply to you?

  • Are you someone who gets very enthusiastic about something in the moment and then upon thinking it about later, realize you really can’t do it or don’t want to?
  • Are you a yes person meaning that you think you should always respond to someone else’s needs or wants? This is true of caretakers.
  • Do you have difficulty disappointing others?
  • Do you think you’re the only person who can do things right so you take on everything?
  • Do you like being in charge?

Figure it out because whatever it is, it’s undermining you.

Close Loops

I learned this one from a podcast I listened to by Amy Porterfield. She was applying it to business communication, but it holds for all communications.

Basically, closing loops means finishing with conversations, lingering issues or problems, to-dos, or whatever is started publicly (meaning between you and at least one other person).

It could be completing a plan to get together and making the final arrangements, talking through a problem and coming up with solutions, completing a project you’re working on with someone, responding to someone’s feedback about something you initiated, or anything that once started has not yet been finished, and that involves another person.

I would go one further and say it includes anything started and not finished, even it involves only you.

Dependability is strengthened by persevering and finishing, whether it affects just you, or you and others together.

If I offer a service to the public and send out emails advertising, but don’t respond to questions, feedback, or inquiries, then I have not closed those loops. People will see me as unreliable.

On a more personal note, if a family member has initiated a conversation about planning a family reunion and I have not added my input or information to help the process along, I am not closing that loop.

Closing loops overlaps with doing what you say you are going to do, but it is broader and applies to anything that is left open-ended, and that requires your response, action, feedback, or input.

Loops should be closed as soon as possible. If more information is required, then the steps to get it should proceed at a reasonable speed until the loop can be closed.

In a few words, don’t leave people hanging.

Emotional Availability

This one is less concrete, but goes a long way in personal relationships. Being emotionally reliable means that people see you as someone who is empathetic, considerate, and caring.

That doesn’t mean you have to be a bleeding heart, syrupy, or overly emotionally demonstrative.

It means that you are aware of other’s feelings, respectful of other’s thoughts and ideas, and able to listen and respond to others with interest and concern.

In personal relationships in particular, there is the expectation that we will be emotionally accessible, and will be interested in each other’s emotional well-being. Relationships that don’t include this type of reciprocity don’t last, and certainly don’t grow and flourish.

The best way to improve your emotional reliability is to simply show interest in those with whom you come in contact daily or often. You can do this by:

  • Acknowledging someone’s presence with warmth when they appear.
  • Ask about how they are feeling or what’s going on with them.
  • Listen with interest to what’s said.
  • Join in and interact.
  • Lend an ear when someone needs help to solve a problem.

In other words, practice showing empathy. This is the most important one thing to do, and when you consider all five of the things I’ve listed in this blog, they all involve empathy.

There you have it! Now let me hear your comments and ideas about this subject. What are your pet peeves about dependability? What do you have the most difficulty with yourself?

10 Things You Can Do to Improve Your Relationship

When you’re trying to improve your relationship with your partner, it’s easy to focus on the negative stuff. There are problems that need to be addressed, and your attention naturally goes there.

But . . . if you are always focused on the problems, chances are you may be increasing the divide between you. There has to be an equal, if not greater emphasis, on what’s right!

Sometimes just working on the connection helps to resolve the problems, and absolutely, it makes it much easier to successfully address them.

Here’s 10 things you can do to increase the connection between you and your partner without focusing on problems. Try them and see if you don’t begin to feel closer.

#1  Engage him in conversation about something in which he has a strong interest.

Bring up a topic you know interests him, and as he talks, share his excitement and pleasure. Ask questions. Be attentive. Try to understand his thoughts and feelings, and share in his enthusiasm. Stay engaged.

Connecting through sharing and conversing is a foundational part of any intimate relationship. Nurture and grow it.

Remember that he is your best friend. Deepen the friendship by making easy conversation a regular part of each day.

#2  When you greet each other after being away, show pleasure in reconnecting.

When your wife comes in from work at the end of the day, make real eye contact, smile, and be happy to see her. If she needs some down time, give it to her, but make sure to connect and find out how she is when she’s ready.

It’s very easy to get caught up in what we’re doing and take each other for granted.

Everyone needs to know they are wanted, loved, and cherished. Showing pleasure at seeing your partner is an easy way to remind her of it.

#3  Verbalize appreciation for anything he does that you find helpful or admirable.

Be specific. Focus on the behavior or action and describe in some detail what you like or have noticed. Offer thanks, and talk about how it affects or helps you. Be authentic.

In short, catch him “doing good.”

#4  Ask her what makes her feel loved, and do those things more.

If you’ve never heard of the “love languages,” take a look at The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman. It’s an easy book to read and many couples enjoy reading it together. It includes a self-test that you both can take to help you identify your own love language. It’s a great way for couples to learn and talk about how they can help each other feel more loved.

#5  Take time to ask how he feels about his life.

What does he hope for? Wish for? Where does he see himself down the road? What are his dreams?

These kinds of conversations take each of you out of the daily routine. They help you connect around the big picture, and think about where you want to go both as individuals and together.

You may also find out things you didn’t know such as secret disappointments or wishes that haven’t been fulfilled. This may lead to new directions or actions that will leave both of you happier and energized.

#6  Check in at least once a day emotionally.

“How are you feeling today?” Take time to listen and be empathetic. Let her know that her happiness is important to you. Don’t try to fix it, just listen and show interest.

Many couples go through their days without connecting on an emotional level. Over time, this creates distance, and distance often results in bickering or negativity.

Taking the time to really connect daily through empathy and interest prevents the build-up of distance and resentment.

It makes solving problems a lot easier.

#7  Be on the same side.

This is really an important one.

Ditch the competition. There is no place for one-upping in an intimate relationship!

Be happy for each other when something goes well. Keep the attention on one of you at a time, without competing stories.

When he comes in and tells you he’s had a rough day at the office, don’t cut him off with “Well, let me tell you about my day! It was a disaster!!”

Take turns without interrupting or cutting each other short.

#8  Make sure you stay connected when you are around others.

Sometimes couples feel connected when alone, but are unable to keep that connection when around other people.

If you find this to be true for you, then talk about what you can do to maintain that connection in those situations.

Sometimes it’s simply making regular eye contact across the room, or making sure you direct your conversation at your partner while also talking to others, or staying close to each other until you both are comfortable in a new situation.

Ask each other what you need in those situations, and then do it. Make your relationship the primary one.

#9  Ask yourself at least once a week, if not more often, what you love about him.

  • What drew you to him in the first place?
  • What are your favorite things about him?
  • List the positives of the relationship either in your mind or on paper.
  • Read and remember them, especially when things are not going well.

#10  Do something out of the ordinary.

  • Make her cup of coffee in the morning and bring it to her.
  • Leave notes or send texts to let her know you’re thinking about her.
  • Offer to pick up dinner on the way home.

Use your knowledge of what you know she would like and do that. Those small actions go a long way to create good feelings, and appreciation for each other.

Your turn! Let me know things you have discovered that help you stay connected to your partner. I’m sure there are many more than those I’ve listed, and I’m interested to know what works for you!

Why Meditation is the Most Important Habit

Of all the tools we have to help us navigate life, the mind is the first and most important.

Everything we do, think, feel, and remember is facilitated by our mind. It’s our starting point, our perceiver, our interpreter, and ultimately has the last word on how we experience our lives.

The paradox is that the mind can be an amazing tool to help us actualize our desires and goals, but it can also be our worst enemy.

A mind that is chaotic, racing, undisciplined, and defaults to our worst experiences and memories is torturous!

It’s like being held captive aboard a ship while it tosses in a storm. You move from one set of waves to the next with little reprieve in between.

It makes sense that learning to harness the mind and control it should be a primary goal, because everything else follows.

I have found that the very best tool for regulating the mind and making the most of what it can do, is meditation.

This is not a new concept, and I think everyone has heard of meditation.

You may even have tried it. But have you established a regular habit of it?

If not, you’re missing out.

Here’s Why

We get the most mileage out of our minds when we can maintain a mental attitude and feeling of calm energy and alertness.

That means you are wide awake, can focus easily without strain, and yet have a stillness of mind and a sense of calm.

You feel open and can easily shift your attention from one thing to the other without much effort. You can feel things acutely, but you’re not overly reactive. You are engaged, yet can maintain objectivity and distance.

This feeling is good. It’s very alive, yet peaceful at the same time.

What Meditation Does

Meditation is ultimately aimed at bringing your awareness to deeper levels of consciousness that lie below thoughts. That may sound impossible, or a little mystical, but it really isn’t.

Our thoughts are like bubbles that arise out of consciousness. You cannot have thoughts without consciousness, but you can have consciousness, even an awareness of consciousness, without thoughts.

Long time meditators have greater periods of that kind of awareness without thoughts. When that occurs, you also experience deep rest to both mind and body. When you emerge out of that kind of meditative experience, you feel very calm, yet energized and aware.

It’s what people are aiming for when they take stimulants and sedatives at the same time. Not a good idea, by the way, but that’s the feeling sought. Obviously, you can’t get it that way.

Benefits of Meditation

I’ve given you a taste of what meditation can do for you, but here’s a list of some of the main benefits you will get from a daily practice of it.

#1  Puts You in the Driver’s Seat

When you are both calm and aware, you create mental space that allows you to live consciously by choice rather than being driven from a place of reactivity. The locus of control comes from inside of you instead of from things coming at you. You are in the driver’s seat. You are in control.

#2  Reduces Overwhelm and Increases Calm

Calmness is one of the most rewarding benefits, especially since it is not a sedated type of calm. It feels clear, awake, and energized. This is especially true right after meditation. I find that this feeling lasts for much of the day. It can wear out as the day goes on, but you still handle things much easier than you would without meditation. Regular practice increases the stability of the calm.

#3  Increases Clear Thinking and Objectivity

When you have mental space, you can think more clearly. You have greater objective capacity. This is a major benefit for work, decision-making, and sorting through complex situations.

#4  Promotes Emotional Regulation & Stress Relief

Along with mental space, meditation gives you emotional space and can prevent unbridled emotional reactivity. Regular practice over time can decrease anxiety, worry, mood disturbances like depression, and obsessive focus on past experiences.

It’s like someone lifts you out of your emotional preoccupations and says, “See, you’re still intact and you’re fine. That experience is not you. It’s something you went through.”

It doesn’t mean you become impervious to your emotional experiences. You may even feel things more acutely, but your reaction to them is different.

#5  More Tolerance

Most people who meditate regularly are more tolerant in general of other people, different ideas, stressful experiences, changes, disruptions, or stress overall. At the same time, meditation will likely help you become very clear about your own values.

#6  Increases Attention & Focus

The act of meditation itself involves bringing your mind back to a single point over and over with the goal of keeping it there. This is a form of concentration, but meditation is done without any strain. It increases focus, and the more you do it, the longer you can hold it in one place.

When you can focus at will, you can attend to whatever you choose without the interference of mental static.

Meditation is also a practice of slowing down the onslaught of thoughts until you can dim them and eventually eliminate them.

Just think, if you could keep your mind quiet and alert, and then crank it into gear at will when you needed to, and then return it to a state of rest, you could probably accomplish ten times more than you currently do.

#7  Enhances Creativity

Many meditators tell stories of aha moments during meditation when solutions to problems crop up, or they get some really great idea that probably wouldn’t have ever surfaced if they were trying for it.

When you are really relaxed, solutions to problems and creative ideas are more likely to surface because you are in touch with all sorts of pieces of information that reside in your subconscious and unconscious realms.

When you meditate, you drop into those other areas of your mind and you have access to them.

When I want to write, I usually do it in the morning after I have meditated 45 minutes to an hour. It always goes much better that way, and ideas ripple up more easily than they would after I have been engaged in a lot of other activity and my mind is crowded and tired.

It’s similar to what happens when we sleep on a problem, and the solution comes up the next day. Only with meditation, you get even more help than you would from sleep, and in shorter order.

How Do You Know It Will Work?

There is significant research that has been conducted at Harvard University that shows correlations between only 8 weeks of meditation and improvements like:

  • Reduced stress response which has been verified by a decrease in amygdala activity in the brain which is the center related to fight or flight
  • Decreased activity in the default mode of the mind, which is the wandering or ruminating mind that worries
  • Increased grey matter in your brain, associated with muscle control, seeing, hearing, emotions and speech
  • Increases in the hippocampus activity associated with learning and memory
  • Increases in emotional regulation and mood stability
  • Increased concentration and attention
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Slower aging of the brain

Studies conducted on Transcendental Meditation which is a mantra-based meditation technique show benefits to the body:

  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Increased insulin resistance
  • Slow biological aging
  • Reduced rate of heart attack, stroke and death
  • Reduced anxiety and negative emotions
  • Aid in learning and memory

The real proof is in your own experience. If you’ve never tried meditation, or even if you have, it is important to understand that the benefits occur with regular practice. You can meditate here and there and feel calmer for a brief period of time, but the benefits I’ve outlined above come with regular, daily practice.

Most people have difficulty with finding the time to make that happen. It can be difficult if you already have a crowded schedule. I remember when I was a single mom with a toddler. It seemed near impossible.

Do the best you can, and if you can only meditate 10 minutes a day, you will still get the benefits.

The key is to find a regular time and do it the same time everyday under the same circumstances. That will help you stick with it.

I’ve written instructions for a simple meditation technique to get you started if you’ve never tried it before. Click here to access that.

Feel free to send questions or share your own experiences with meditation. It’s always helpful to know the different ways people practice meditation, and what works best for them. Here’s to a tall glass of peace and calm!

So-Hum Meditation Technique

Meditation is a life-changing habit that has cumulative effects over time. There are many types of meditation, and I encourage you to explore them all and decide what works best for you.

If you’ve never tried it before, you might find this technique simple and effective as a starter. It can also be practiced long-term. Either way,  it’s easy and will get you engaged and on your way.

Instructions for So-Hum Meditation

Pick a quiet place where you can sit without distractions.

Step #1

Sit upright with your back straight. It is important to keep your spine straight, but you also want to be comfortable. You can sit cross-legged if that works for you, but it’s fine to sit on the edge of a bed or couch with a pillow folded just under your hips or against them so that it’s easy to keep your back straight, while resting your feet flat on the floor. You can also sit in a straight backed chair. The idea is to be comfortable so that your attention isn’t drawn to bodily aches, or a focus on your posture. You want to sit easily without strain.

Step #2

Start by taking in a deep breath and gently push your belly out. Then move the air up into your chest and hold. You can aid this by raising your shoulders up a bit. Now exhale through your mouth. The incoming, holding and outgoing breaths should all be done to a count of 4 each. So count to 4 as you inhale, hold for 4, and exhale to a count of 4. Do this entire routine 4 times. It just cleans you out and relaxes your body. If it is uncomfortable to hold your breath for a count of 4, then just begin the exhale as soon as you have inhaled all the way.

Step #3

Now breathe naturally without any attempt to guide your breath. Let it have a life of it’s own. Close your eyes and listen to your breath going in and out for a few minutes.

Step #4

Next, when you inhale, mentally say the syllable “So” and when you exhale mentally say the syllable “Hum”. So-Hum, So-Hum . . . . Continue this for as long as comfortable. A good start would be 10 minutes although 5 is fine. With regular practice, you can eventually increase to 20 or 30 minutes.

Distractions and Thoughts

When you are meditating, thoughts will rush in constantly. When you notice that you’ve gone off on a thought train, just gently bring yourself back to So-Hum and watching the in and out of your breath. This will happen numerous times at first.

It’s important not to get stressed about that. Happens to everyone this way. Some people report that they never were able to return to So-Hum after the first time, but that’s all right. The idea is to stay seated for the full duration of the time you’ve allotted. Don’t get wrapped up in trying to do it perfectly, or even well. This is not an achievement, but a practice. Just do it.

When you’re ready to stop, just open your eyes and sit for a minute or two before getting up. That’s all there is to it.

Best Practice

It is best to meditate on a regular daily schedule. Meditation has compound effects, meaning the more regular you are and the longer you meditate over time, the more effects you will feel. Don’t look for immediate results, even though you may have some.

Pick a regular time of day, and do it everyday.

How to Stop Beating Yourself Up

When you make a mistake or are disappointed in yourself for something you did (or didn’t do), do you react by beating yourself up?

Does it help?

Not usually. It may relieve some of your guilt, but most times not. More likely, it makes you feel worse.

So what’s the alternative?

I’ll get there, but first let’s understand the problem.

Masochism

Beating yourself up may happen occasionally, but when it’s a regular part of your thoughts and self-talk, you are caught in a pattern of masochism. The term masochism has all sorts of sexual connotations accompanied by visions of whips and chains, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Psychological masochism is characterized by a pattern of self blame, self condemnation, self deprivation, and sometimes self harm. Here are some characteristics that may hit home with you:

  • Blaming yourself for things you really have no control over
  • Blaming yourself for things that are someone else’s responsibility
  • Excessive guilt that goes way beyond the initial problem
  • Feeling inferior
  • Having a lot of self deprecating thoughts like “I’m stupid,” or “I’m an idiot.”
  • Depriving yourself of pleasure
  • Finding relationships with partners that undervalue you, or worse, abuse you
  • Harming yourself through bad habits
  • At the extreme, self-mutilation such as cutting

Internal Masochism

There are two ways to be masochistic. The first one involves only you, and the internal conversation you have with yourself.

I call it the “mean girl voice” that tells you that you aren’t as good as other people, aren’t worthy or likable, aren’t smart or capable, aren’t talented, and certainly aren’t deserving.

This same voice also heaps tons of guilt upon you when you make a mistake. You spend hours to days working it over.

You may look for relief in food, alcohol, or other drugs of choice. You then beat yourself up for those indulgences.

It’s a horrible, exhausting treadmill, and you can’t get off.

External Masochism

Then there’s external masochism. In this instance you find people in your environment to do the beating up for you.

You pick the worst partners that are emotionally, and sometimes physically abusive. They demean you, dismiss you, ignore you, demand way too much of you, and make you responsible for most everything that goes wrong.

They are easily angered, or conversely absent most of the time. You often have to walk on eggshells with them.

The real conundrum is that you feel like you can’t live without them, and you stay.

How Does This Happen?

It usually starts early and is often tied to your personal history. Maybe one of your parents was masochistic, and you witnessed these behavior patterns regularly.

Or, you may have been the subject of heavy criticism, or made to feel very guilty for even little mistakes, or had a perfectionistic parent who you regularly disappointed.

You may have had a long term relationship with someone that mistreated you, and you have become accustomed to being devalued.

Whatever the case, if you feel that you are caught up in masochistic patterns, you can be sure that it has become an emotional home for you. What that means is that you are used to it, and it provides some comfort for you even though it is painful.

That’s a big statement!

I’m not saying that you really want to be stuck in these patterns, but they have become very familiar and it might feel quite uncomfortable to make a change.

Nevertheless, it needs to change because ultimately you:

  • Deserve better.
  • It’s harmful to your psyche, your health, and your emotional well-being. It creates chronic emotional stress with long-term negative repercussions that are real.
  • It’s a constant emotional drain that leaves you deflated and depressed.
  • It keeps you from pursuing your unique talents.
  • It leads to other poor behaviors that jeopardize your future.
  • It keeps you from having a truly reciprocal and caring relationship with anyone, including your children.

How to Change

Psychological patterns are not easy to change, but most certainly they can be changed with steady attention and effort.

Step 1: Be aware.

First step is to identify the pattern.

Do you identify with any of the behaviors I described above?

You may not be highly masochistic, but you may engage in one or two behaviors such as:

  • Apologizing often for things that aren’t your fault
  • Taking the blame for things you couldn’t help
  • Feeling overly guilty and chastizing yourself when you make a mistake.
  • Seeking out relationships with people that take advantage of you, denigrate you, or make you feel unworthy.

The first step is to take a hard look at how this is happening, and under what circumstances.

Step 2: Start questioning.

Before making any big changes, get clear on “what’s real.”

When you begin blaming yourself for something, stop and carefully assess whether you are responsible. Is it me or is someone else responsible? Were there circumstances that made it impossible for some other action to occur?

[A note here: Replace the word “blame” with “responsibility.” Blame has a negative connotation. Responsibility implies taking some action to amend or repair.]

Clear Up Your Misperceptions

This is a process of correcting what’s called “cognitive distortion.” Here’s a definition from PsychCentral:

Cognitive distortions are simply ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions — telling ourselves things that sound rational and accurate, but really only serve to keep us feeling bad about ourselves.

Cognitive distortions go hand in hand with masochistic behavior, especially in relationships where you are adopting your partner’s distorted view of you.

They also come into play in your internal thought patterns that cast you in the most negative light.

Pull up each thought as it occurs and ask yourself,

  • Is this really true?
  • Even if there is some truth, is it always true?
  • Is it true only in some circumstances? What are they?

Become a detective. Your job is not to make any changes yet, but to investigate your thoughts, your actions, and the situations you find yourself in that lead to masochistic thoughts.

Here are some typical ways we distort thoughts. Use this list to help you uncover your own patterns:

  • Negative Bias. You focus on the negatives while ignoring the positives.
  • Place Blame. Someone must be at fault for everything that goes wrong. It is either you or the other person. You don’t look at a situation objectively and identify correctly either your own contributions or someone else’s. You accept blame that is not yours, or you blame others for your part. Sometimes there is no one to blame, but blame is still assigned, usually to you.
  • All or Nothing. It’s all good or all bad, and that means you’re all good or all bad. For masochists, you’re all bad and the other person is all good. Everything is seen in black and white. There are no gray areas.
  • You are Your Mistake. Instead of seeing yourself as someone who makes mistakes, you are the mistake. If you are late arriving somewhere, instead of saying “I should have left home a little earlier to get here on time,” you say, “I’m such a loser! I’m always late!”
  • Overgeneralization. You go from a single incident to an always interpretation. If the dinner you are cooking didn’t turn out quite right, you say to yourself “I never get it right. My dinners all turn out horrible.”
  • Discount Your Positives. You avoid recognizing your positive qualities, talents, uniqueness, or capabilities.

A good exercise is to write down your distorted thoughts and evaluate which type of thought distortion you are using from the list above.

A lot of thoughts will fall under more than one category, but what’s great about this exercise is that you’ll probably notice you use several distortions more than others.

By figuring out what type of distortions you use, you’ll find it easier to recognize them quickly when they occur, and make corrections.

Step 3: Make slow changes.

Step 3 will begin to happen if you are consistent with Step 2. Once you begin to uncover your distorted thinking, you automatically start having more accurate thoughts and impressions.

Accurate thoughts lead to different emotions. Your self-worth and self acceptance will increase, and you will be able to treat yourself with more compassion and kindness.

Bigger changes that come as a result of working hard on Step 2 are:

  • Leaving relationships that are detrimental to you and to your sense of self
  • Finding and pursuing your talents
  • Improved mood and energy
  • Improved confidence
  • Engaging in activities that bring you satisfaction and happiness
  • Accepting yourself, mistakes and all
  • Getting on top of self-defeating behaviors and patterns

Step 4: Instead of guilt, repair!

This step also happens concurrently with the others. You adopt an attitude of making corrections or reparations when you make a mistake as opposed to heaping guilt upon yourself and feeling emotionally paralyzed.

I’ve addressed this process in my blog “ Be Your Own Best Parent.” Essentially, you adopt the attitude of a loving parent who always loves you regardless of what you do, but holds the line on your behavior when necessary, and focuses on how to repair mistakes rather than criticize you for them.

Step 5: Acknowledge your positives.

If you are in the habit of mentally listing all that is wrong with you, you will have some difficulty in turning that habit around, but you can do it with consistent effort.

First thing is to change your mindset from “I’m not worthy,” to “Everyone is worthy and has something unique to offer.” It’s a matter of recognizing and acknowledging your own unique qualities and embracing them.

Start by making a written list of things you like about yourself, or personal assets you have.

If you can’t come up with anything, ask someone who knows you to help you with the list, and list as many things as you can. Even simple things like being a expert at doing laundry should go on the list. Keep this list handy and review it daily and add to it.

Record Your New Self-Talk

To take it a step further, transform the items on your list into full sentences as though someone was going to read them. These sentences can include anything; things you can do well, attitudes you have, what kind of a friend or partner you are, ways of thinking, values you uphold . . . Anything and everything!

When you have your sentences completed, record yourself reading them. You can do this with a smartphone that has recording capability, or you can download a free app that will allow you to do it.

Once you have the recording done, listen to it at least 3 times a day. Morning, midday and before bed works!

It may seem strange or uncomfortable at first, but the more you do this, the more these thoughts will seep into your subconscious and begin to influence the way you see yourself.

Conversely, your negative self talk will begin to decline. You will actually be rewiring your brain. The key is consistency and repetition.

Step 6: Start setting boundaries.

Now that you have identified and understand ways that you may be participating in masochistic patterns of behavior, and you’ve started to correct your distorted thinking about yourself and embrace your self worth, it’s time to start setting boundaries to keep your progress in place.

Just as there are two ways to be masochistic, there are two types of boundaries you need to establish: internal and external.

Internal Boundaries

These are the boundaries you set for your own behavior. You will need to place limits on distorted thinking, self destruction, focusing on negatives, exaggerating mistakes, taking responsibility for things that don’t belong to you, or ignoring your positive contributions and characteristics. You can use the methods I’ve described above.

Any change in habit takes concerted and ongoing effort, especially those that are deeply embedded in your psyche.

Even as you practice the first 5 steps, it will be easy to fall back into your usual ways of looking at things, and usual behavior patterns. It is your default, and in some ways it is a comfort zone because of it’s familiarity.

I find it useful to come up with a word or phrase that means something to me, and that I can say when I catch myself falling back into old patterns.

An example would be the phrase “tipping point.” This phrase comes from Malcolm Gladwell’s book of the same title, and refers to the momentum that occurs when something is receiving 51% or more of the focus.

If you are thinking of positive thoughts about yourself 51% and negative thoughts 49%, you are moving in a positive direction and tipping upward.

If I notice myself engaging in distorted or negative thinking, I mentally say to myself “Tipping point!” That reminds me to reset. It’s a good way to break up ruminating and runaway thoughts. Once you reset, you can correct or start off in another direction.

External Boundaries

These are the boundaries you set with other people. This can be a harder step because it requires overcoming fear, second guessing, confusion, and anxiety.

Go slow, but just make sure you go. You’ll find it easiest to set boundaries with people you don’t know all that well, and who you don’t rely on in any particular way.

For those close to you, and especially those who are involved in masochistic patterns of behavior with you, change will take more time.

When you change the way you feel and the way you behave, others will feel the shift and may become uncomfortable. Not only are you shifting your behavior, you are requiring the other person to make a shift too. The difference is that you made a conscious decision to alter your behavior and mindset, and the other person did not, so you are very likely going to stir up some resistance.

If you are dealing with a fairly healthy relationship, you can be honest and explain your new insights and how you have been affected by them. You can also describe the new behavior patterns you are working on and changing. Your goal is to enlist support from the other person to help the process along.

If the relationship is unhealthy, and the other person involved is invested in perpetuating the dysfunctional patterns, you may have to assess whether changes can be made or not, and it may take some time, or trial and error including some frank discussions to see if that is possible.

You will create distance with some people, and maybe permanently. With others you will even the playing field so that there is mutual consideration and respect.

Learn how to say no when you need to, and remember that people who really love and care about you will adapt to the change and applaud you for it.

The key is to not get discouraged by slow progress. Progress is progress and the more you move forward, the faster you’ll proceed. When you fall backwards, just reset and keep at it until eventually you have made a significant shift.

Any behavior pattern can be changed, and you are certainly worth it!

A Last Note

Acknowledging your positive attributes, skills, talents, values, and assets is not being pathologically narcissistic. It’s affirming. The key is to do that while also taking responsibility for mistakes and negative behavior patterns, and working to correct them. You can be humble and own your personal value at the same time.

How to Deal with Catastrophic Thinking

Catastrophic thinking is a debilitating  source of anxiety that plagues a lot of us. Most simply, it means jumping to the worst-case scenario when thinking about a situation or future event.

Your husband doesn’t call you on his way home from work like he usually does, and you decide he must have been in an accident and is probably dead.

Your boss tells you as you leave work for the day that he’d like to talk to you the next morning, and you decide he wants to fire you.

You have a bad headache in the late afternoon and you worry it’s an aneurysm.

Sometimes catastrophic thinking involves a stream of thoughts that build on each other and race through your mind like a machine gun firing. Pow, pow, pow!

My boss is going to fire me on the spot, and then I’ll have no money to pay my bills, and I won’t be able to find another job like this one because I won’t have a good recommendation, and I’ll end up getting evicted from my apartment, and I’ll have to declare bankruptcy, and my kids will lose their friends because we won’t be able to stay at the same school, but where can I live anyway without any money . . . my life is ruined!

This is actually what happens to people that are prone to anxiety and overwhelm. It can feel devastating.

If you’re one of those people, or if you’ve ever experienced it, then you know it can happen in a heartbeat and can become a chronic pattern that shades many thoughts during the day.

Simple things like going to the grocery store can bring on an onslaught of what-ifs that ultimately leave you exhausted and stressed.

It’s a terrible thing to get sucked into, and that is exactly what it feels like: being sucked into a vortex of whirling negative energy and fear you can’t get out of.

The Science

There is a bit of science to it that can help you understand what happens. It always begins with some event or some initiating thought that gets things moving fast. In the above scenario, it was your boss telling you he’d like to talk to you the next day.

That initiating event alerts the older part of your brain which is referred to as the limbic system. The limbic system, which includes the amygdala, is in charge of emotions. It alerts us when there is any perceived danger in the environment.

Once alerted, we go into a fight or flight mode. Our muscles tense up, our adrenal glands release the stress hormone cortisol, heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, and we pump out adrenaline. We are braced for attack!

Meantime, the thinking part of the brain, which is referred to as the prefrontal cortex, is shut down and unavailable. We freeze, and literally we can’t think. We are in a high alert reactive mode.

Have you ever been lying in bed and think you hear someone breaking into your house? You become paralyzed and can hardly breathe. You’re acutely focused on every little sound, and your body is tense. Your heart pounds, your mouth gets dry, and your stomach is in a knot.

Thoughts of foreboding or pending disaster can do the same thing, even if there is no physical evidence to support the thought. When your boss tells you he wants to see you the next day, you get a signal of danger and your limbic brain sets in motion a red alert that leads to the inevitable worst-case scenario of getting fired.

I had this very scenario happen once. As I left work for the day, my boss told me he’d like to talk to me the next morning. I obsessed all night about it and was sure I had missed something or done something wrong and was going to be in trouble. I imagined getting fired. I was a single mom at the time, so the fear escalated until I was so anxious that I couldn’t sleep.

When I met with my boss the next day, he wanted to tell me what a good job I had been doing on a project we’d been working on. That was the whole thing. I had put myself through hell for nothing!

What To Do

There are six things you can try that can help you calm catastrophic thoughts. Here they are.

#1  Look for Distortions in Your Thinking

Become a scientist, and turn your attention to examining the validity of your thoughts. An easy way to do this is start with the worst-case scenario you’ve already created, and then ask yourself what the best-case scenario might be. Expand it. What are all the best-case possibilities you can imagine?

Back to my boss, the best-case scenario might have been that he was going to tell what a great job I’m doing, and offer me a raise and promotion.

Write it Out

To unload your mind, write out your scenarios.

  • First write your worst-case scenario.
  • Second, write your best-case scenario next to your worst.
  • Keep writing until you have emptied out all of the possible best and worst-case scenarios you are running through your mind.
  • Now look at them realistically and figure out what’s a most reasonable likelihood.

In my situation, a more reasonable best-case scenario would have been that my boss wanted to talk about some new project or maybe brainstorm ideas, and at worst, there was something I needed to correct or improve. Either way, it would have been all right and doable.

As soon as you step back and make yourself imagine best-case scenarios in opposition to the disasters you have predicted, you are unlocking the freeze on your thinking brain and you can engage it. This means your prefrontal cortex is back in the game and your limbic system will calm down. Your anxiety will decrease and your body processes will return to normal. You will get your mind back under control.

#2  Square Breathing

Square breathing is a simple technique you can use to bring the state of anxious arousal down so that you can think again. This works well if you are a little anxious, or are just starting to feel anxious. If you’re in a full panic mode, it might not work, but it’s good to give it a try and get used to using it as soon as you begin to feel anxious.

It’s simple.

  • Take a deep breath by breathing in through your nose slowly to a count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of four.
  • Now exhale through your mouth slowly for a count of four.
  • Do the whole thing four times.

That’s it.

By using square breathing, you break up your anxious thoughts and bring down the arousal in your body and mind, so that you can take a second look at your fear using more logic.

#3  Review Previous Successes or Scenarios

This one is very helpful for broadening your mental perspective, and backing out of the tunnel of disaster you have fallen into.

When the thoughts arise, ask yourself how you have handled similar situations in the past, or how things have worked out given the same circumstances.

  • Did a disaster occur, or did things resolve themselves?
  • Did you handle things with good, or at least reasonable results?
  • What are your successes?

I’ve seen a lot of college students in therapy, mostly for anxiety. They fret over passing courses, finishing their degrees, and getting jobs. These are all normal anxieties, but they sometimes engage in catastrophic thinking to the point that they can’t perform.

By looking back over their previous successes, they are reminded that they always have gotten the work done even when it seemed impossible, and they performed well or well enough to meet their end goals.

Reviewing previous successes under similar circumstances is both calming and reassuring, and allows the anxiety to recede, which in turn releases the mind from paralysis and allows  you to move forward again.

#4  Make a Plan of Action

When you are afraid, the best response is to take action. Figure out exactly what you are afraid of, and then make a plan to take some kind of action, complete with steps, and begin acting on those steps.

Taking even one step will reduce the anxiety.

For the student, the plan of action might be to consult a tutor and set up the first appointment. Or it might be joining a study group, or meeting with the professor to find out what else can be done. It might simply be to remember previous successes, and then let go of the anxiety and get to work.

Taking action makes you feel back in control, and when you have control, you are no longer anxious.

There’s a great book called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. She says that what we actually fear is that we won’t be able to handle something, not the thing itself. The way to get past that idea is to take action in spite of the fear, and along side of it. By taking even a small step, you will lift your paralysis and start moving forward again. As you take more steps, you gain momentum and the fear subsides.

#5  Keep a Mantra Handy

This is a favorite. Create mantras for yourself that you can use when you start to think catastrophically. My favorite one is “I can use my brain to think about this.” Just saying that seems to calm racing thoughts, and allows my thinking brain to be activated.

Some people prefer mantras like “I can handle what’s ahead” or “I always get things done once I start.”

Whatever works for you, create a mantra that is meaningful and that will help you switch gears when you start to become anxious.

Write the mantra down, and post it places where you will see it. You can put it on your phone, on a pad next to your bed, on your bathroom mirror, or wherever you are likely to look.

#6  Albert Ellis’s ABCDE Method

Last is Albert Ellis’s ABCDE Method. It incorporates many of the ideas I’ve already listed above, but it’s a simple compact 5 step action plan that you can use any time you feel the need. Here it is:

A is the activating event.

It’s the original trigger for your anxiety. Maybe you have to give a speech, take an important exam, or perhaps you’re worried about a possible medical problem, or your child seems depressed. Identify it and write it down.

B represents your beliefs about the situation.

What are the actual thoughts you are having about it, and what have you convinced yourself of already? Identify them and write them down.

C stands for the consequences of your irrational beliefs.

What are you imagining will be the outcome of your beliefs about the situation? What disaster have you conjured up?

D is for disputing the irrational beliefs you have created.

Challenging them by asking these 5 questions:

  • Is the belief realistic? Can I confirm it through experiment? Is it based on facts?
  • Have I been in this situation before? What happened? What did I do to work with it?
  • Is the belief plausible within the context of the situation?
  • What are other possibilities besides those I’m thinking?
  • What’s the most probable explanation or outcome?

E stands for the new effects relative to changing you’re interpretation of the situation.

You can now create a more plausible and constructive view based on thinking, rooting out cognitive distortions, and running your beliefs through logic.


Albert Ellis, Ph.D., is a well-known psychologist who developed a treatment modality called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) in 1955. His work has contributed to the emergence of today’s Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), with a focus on the role of cognition in the generation and treatment of psychological disorders, especially anxiety and depression.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

The term “Narcissistic Personality” is popping up a lot in the news currently, so I thought it would be a good subject for a blog. Any time a mental health diagnosis begins to surface a lot in popular culture, distortions and misunderstandings occur about what it really means. This has happened a lot with the diagnoses Bi-Polar Disorder and ADHD.

I’ll warn you up front that this is a longer than usual blog, but the subject matter is complex and I want to make sure I cover it well so you have a good understanding of it.

Let’s start by defining what’s meant by “personality disorder.”

Definition of Personality Disorder

Here’s a definition from the American Psychiatric Association:

A personality disorder is a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time.

In plain English, this means that someone develops a pattern of personality traits (ways of thinking, feeling and behaving), that are not in line with what our culture sees as normative or okay.

These patterns are considered to be pathological or abnormal, and show up in a person’s self image, character (distorted or lacking), relationships, social interactions, and work behavior.

In general, personality disorders are not diagnosed until late adolescence, usually 18 years of age. That’s because during adolescence we are still developing and solidifying our identities, character, and personality traits. You can sometimes see precursors of an enduring personality disorder among some teens, especially those that are already sociopathic, however, the diagnosis comes later when it appears that the personality traits are fixed across time and show up in the main areas of a person’s functioning.

Personality Disorders are not mutually exclusive which means someone may have characteristics of more than one personality disorder. This is true of what’s called Malignant Narcissism which I’ll discuss a little further on.

Personality Traits of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

Here are the main characteristics or personality traits that are seen in people who are diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

Lack of Empathy

This is perhaps the hallmark trait of this personality disorder.

NPDs cannot and do not recognize others’ feelings, needs, desires or experiences. When interacting with anyone, the prime objective is always to cater to oneself, sometimes at the expense of the other person.

All conversations or interactions will focus on or veer back to the NPD. They are not interested in how someone else is doing, what they think, or how they feel, unless what the other person has to offer is flattering or useful in meeting the NPD’s goals.
If you ask for something, voice a need, or express a true feeling, you will be seen as weak, and will be made to feel small or dismissed.

NPDs are famous for one-upping.

Grandiosity

NPDs are highly grandiose, and have a very exaggerated sense of themselves and their worth.

They use big words, big numbers, extreme adjectives, and expansive gestures, all of which always point back to how great they are.

The words “the best” appear often in relation to themselves, their accomplishments, or who they know.

Constant Need for Admiration

Narcissists need excessive and constant admiration and adoration. They will require it from those around them and verbalize it themselves.

They see themselves as having excessive talent, intelligence, looks, popularity, and power.

Conversely, they are extremely envious of those who are admired by others, and may openly attack or try and sabotage them.

Entitlement and Special Treatment

NPDs feel entitled to have things others don’t.

They have different rules or are above the rules.

They expect to be treated with high regard at all times, and to receive favorable treatment. They are often quite cocky and brag about their ability to get away with more than other people do, or to have more, or hold a special place at the top of the hierarchy. They can be manipulative, arrogant and quite self-centered.

Blame Others for Mistakes or Failures

When a Narcissist makes a mistake, he blames it on someone else. He doesn’t take responsibility for his failures, and in general won’t admit to them. He will find a scapegoat, or completely rearrange the facts of a situation to release himself from responsibility.

Preoccupation with Unlimited Power, Success, Status, Beauty and Ideal Love

NPDs seek power and outward success, and align themselves with others in highly powerful positions. They can also be very envious of those who threaten their view of themselves as being better than everyone else.

They may seek ideal love, but in actuality are not really capable of love.

They become infatuated temporarily until the other person has served his or her purpose which is to make the NPD feel special.

Exploitative, Manipulative, and Vengeful

Any hint of criticism will bring on revenge of some sort, or a cold dismissal.

Distort Reality

NPDs are actually highly emotional, even if they appear in some cases to be very cool and dismissive. Their main goal is always to preserve and enhance their grandiose self image. As a result, they do not make use of what’s called executive function.

That means they can’t take in information and analysis facts in order to make reality based decisions. They distort factual information, and often scoff at it.

They do not learn from experience, and so they make repetitive mistakes. They are unable to observe themselves critically. They use words to provoke emotions in others rather than as a means to actually communicate. Conversations with them can be cut short without explanation, or feel very twisted and muddy.

Incidence

In general, there are more men with NPD than women. Between 50 and 75 percent of NPDs are men.

NPDs and Relationships

It is very difficult to be in a relationship with a Narcissistic Personality. These folks don’t have real and abiding attachments to others.

They see others as either an extension of themselves, or as a means for some sort of self gratification, or as a vehicle to achieve something they want.

If you’ve ever been involved with someone who has this type of disorder, you’ll note that they rewrite history as they go. They distort whole conversations held previously, and any attempt on your part to remind them of something that was said or done will be met with anger, a counterattack, and usually a flat out denial.

If they do something for you, it isn’t out of real love or concern, but rather because it will get them something or add to their need to be admired.

NPDs can sometimes pose as pillars of the community by participating in charitable events, however, their participation is a vehicle to point out how wonderful they are rather than a feeling for the charity itself or for the recipients of the charity.

They view their spouses and children as extensions and commentaries on themselves. “I have the most beautiful wife, and the most accomplished kids.” As soon as the spouse or child does something disappointing that will not reflect well on the Narcissist, he will turn away icily and emotionally abandon them.

Worse, many NPDs are envious and jealous of their children. They insist that the child achieves and reflects well on them, but at the same time is jealous that the child may surpass them.

If they become too threatened by a child’s success, they will subtly or not so subtly sabotage it. They often compete with their kids, and involve them in contests where they will win, leaving the child feeling small and inept.

When you meet a Narcissist, you may have one of two experiences:

  • The first is that for some reason, the Narcissist sees you as having some special beauty, power, status, or importance in which case he will place you on a pedestal and shower you with accolades.
  • The second is that you will immediately feel insecure, less than, dismissed, or put down. Narcissists gravitate towards powerful figures, and will ingratiate themselves to win over those people in order to feel powerful themselves. If they experience you as less powerful than themselves, they will dismiss you, often with haughtiness, condescension or disdain.

A note about the pedestal: it never lasts. You will eventually fall off, or in most cases be thrown off. Narcissists do not have real and lasting attachments. Involvement with them long-term can be emotionally damaging. They’re abusive.

Work and Public Image

NPDs can succeed in a work setting. You will find them leading companies, in positions of political power, professors in university settings, attorneys, entertainers, and even as innovators. In whatever setting you find them, they will always have problems in relating to other people, and will be described often as arrogant, abusive, unbending, and authoritarian. They see themselves as above the grade, and if you work along side of them, you will always be in a subordinate position. Everyone is dispensable. They can turn on you in a heartbeat if you either oppose or criticize them.

In many cases, NPDs sabotage their work relationships and are not successful. They are ultimately self destructive because they cannot make use of previous history or foresee the consequences of their actions, and they don’t realize that others will eventually see through them.

They are also very often impulsive, overly reactive, and attacking when they feel insecure.

They have no real ideology or values to speak of other than the promotion of their grandiose self.

In positions of power, they can be quite dangerous.

Malignant Narcissism

Malignant Narcissism is a more extreme form of narcissism because it mixes in characteristics of other personality disorders, especially Antisocial Personality Disorder. Malignant narcissism is considered to be untreatable. Wikipedia defines it as follows:

Malignant narcissism is a psychological syndrome comprising an extreme mix of narcissism, antisocial disorder, aggression and sadism.

Someone who fits this category has all of the characteristics of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder as I’ve outlined above, but in addition has traits that include extreme manipulation and usury, lack of remorse, involvement in illegal and/or sociopathic behaviors, and a tendency to seek sadistic pleasure in harming anyone in his or her way.

Outwardly charming, these people have absolutely no conscience and no attachments to others.

NPDs are different in the sense that they do need to be admired, and generally don’t get involved in criminal activities or have record of such activities. They bend rules, however, usually stay under the legal radar. Those with Malignant Narcissism ride that bridge between Narcissism and Psychopathy, and can become involved in illegal, aggressive, and sadistic activities with no real remorse.

The main difference is that a Narcissist’s goal is to feed his grandiose sense of himself and garner admiration, whereas the goal of an Antisocial Personality is his own power and gratification without any real concern for how anyone sees him.

The combo is a person who is concerned first and foremost with focusing on the grandiose self, but also involves himself in illegal and often criminal ties, as well as promoting sadistic actions that will bring harm to others, especially those he considers to be needy and weak.

Can they be treated?

Someone who has what I call narcissistic trends rather than a full blown personality disorder can be successfully treated. In these circumstances, the person can learn to be more empathetic and to maintain a real attachment to another person. Someone with a full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder whose patterns are well entrenched usually is not treatable. NPDs may change as they age, and become less difficult to deal with, and even soften a bit, but their personality structure remains intact. Those with Malignant Narcissism cannot be treated.

NPDs don’t initiate treatment because they don’t see themselves as having problems. If they do enter into treatment, it is usually because someone else initiates the treatment such as a spouse or a child. In both cases, the NPD will use treatment to point out what’s wrong with everyone else, and they will not continue if there is any hint that they need to make changes.

The interesting thing about NPDs is that they are highly dependent, although they would never admit or recognize this.

Because they need a continuous feed of admiration, they must be linked to others. They also often cannot run their lives all that well because they don’t foresee the consequences of their actions, can’t think objectively, have low frustration tolerance, can’t regulate emotions, and as they age can feel empty and depressed.

They become attached to those that will take care of them even as they abuse them.

Successful psychiatric treatment requires recognition of the problem at hand, as well as a commitment to staying in treatment over time until progress is made.

Sometimes someone who has aged, or who has suffered a severe loss, may enter treatment and if they stay long enough and have a therapist that understands the psychopathology well enough, treatment can have a positive effect. It requires an ongoing attachment to the therapist and a rebuilding of the basic trust normally acquired in the first years of life.

What are the Causes?

There is a lot of controversy about this, and in general researchers disagree. The two causes most often noted are related to parenting and early environment.

  • One is that a child is raised with excessive pampering, permissiveness, doting, and admiration while also being rescued from having to live with the consequences of their actions, having no limits on behavior, being enabled, and consistently given the message that they are better than others without having to work for anything.
  • On the other side is the child raised with significant emotional neglect, or who is harshly abused and criticized.

All of these factors can certainly play a role, but as is always the case, two children can be raised in the same circumstances and turn out differently. There may be some bio-genetic predispositions in some cases, such as a particular temperament, or a parent that is also a Narcissistic Personality.

In my experience, I would cite early emotional neglect as one of the most significant factors in the making of an NPD.

The development of a healthy sense of self arises through the positive, consistent, and affectionate interactions between the infant and his or her mother (or primary parent).

This nurturing, empathetic, and abiding love given consistently over the early years of a child’s life is responsible for foundational developments in personality, self image, self worth, development of the brain, cognition, and nervous system.

Infants who experience emotional remoteness and neglect consistently do not form normal, healthy attachments, and later as adults create a pseudo-self that insulates and replaces the maladaptive and fragmented self. This can happen also with children that are consistently physically and emotionally abused by a harsh, critical, and punishing parent.

Normal Narcissism

We all have some degree of narcissism. Healthy narcissism helps us maintain a positive regard for ourselves, yet we are able to hold ourselves accountable and can incorporate humility into our outlook and dealings with others while yet performing well and achieving our goals.

Narcissism also appears to a greater degree during certain developmental periods. In particular, the budding teen can be quite narcissistic, however, this is normal and almost a necessary development to assist the teen in exploring and building his identity. As the teen moves toward early adulthood, narcissism decreases and is incorporated into a healthy self-image that is characterized by both positive self regard and the ability to empathize with others.

For all of us, it’s always a good idea to take a personal inventory and examine the balance between positive self regard and regard for others. Moving too far on either side of the scale is problematic. The aim is to:

  • Feel good about oneself, yet be able to honestly assess areas that need improvement.
  • Show compassion and empathy for others, but maintain proper boundaries that inhibit being taken advantage of, or coerced into actions that reach outside of your values.
  • Act in ways that are prosocial, which means behaving in ways that are for the good of all.
  • Feeling remorse when causing harm to someone, and taking action to make reparations.
  • Taking responsibility for yourself and your behavior.
  • Learning from experience, and making corrections when indicated.

Ultimately, we are all connected to each other, and everything we think, do, or feel has an impact on the whole. Keeping that in mind will help steer you away from unhealthy personality traits, and create a more fulfilling and gratifying life.

The Perils of Gossip: 6 Ways to Avoid Getting Sucked In

Gossip is a part of life. Most everyone has engaged in it. It starts early in life, usually in elementary school, but it gets a big boost in middle and high school. You’d hope that it would be left there as people grow up and move into adult life, but that’s not the case. Go in any office setting and you will hear it, or just sit in a restaurant with you ears open. Better yet, go on Facebook and you’ll see every kind of people bashing imaginable.

In all actuality, it’s easy to engage in gossip, and it takes a conscious effort to avoid it. We’re naturally interested in what other people are doing, and we have opinions about it. That’s a given.

The problem is the element of judgment, hate, and negativity that creeps in and gets expressed in ways that can be hurtful. Gossip is ultimately a betrayal to the person we’re talking about and to ourselves. There’s really nothing good about it. Here’s how to stop it.

Focus on yourself.

When you have the urge to talk about what someone else is doing in a judgmental and critical way, stop yourself and ask,

“What do I need to be working on right now?”

This is actually a very effective way to shift your attention away from gossiping rather quickly, and it has the added benefit of focusing on self-improvement which is always needed.

Are you criticizing something in yourself?

Often we are critical of things we struggle with ourselves. This is an unconscious automatic strategy the psyche has of trying to get rid of things we don’t like about ourselves. Instead of owning it, we find it in someone else and then shred it.

Of course it doesn’t work. It just sends us into a deeper hole of denial so that the very thing we don’t like gets further and further displaced and unavailable for correction.

The strategy to avoid this is to immediately ask yourself,

“Is this something I struggle with?”

If it’s big enough for you to notice in someone else, it may belong to you also.

Assess your motivation.

Ask yourself what you are gaining from participating in gossip.

Are you feeling better about yourself momentarily by looking at someone else’s problems? Is it providing a distraction from your own stuff, or from your life, or from your discontent? What is that exact feeling you get when you engage in gossip?

Common answers are that it feels somewhat stimulating or exciting to focus on someone else’s mistakes. The juicier the story, the more stimulating the engagement in talking about it.

It’s important to know what you’re getting out of it so that you can find those gains in ways that don’t produce such negative outcomes.

If you need distraction, or you’re discontent, or you’re unhappy, or you feel bored, or you’re jealous of someone, or you’re stuck in any negative emotional state that gets temporarily lifted by gossiping, then you need to turn your attention directly toward that problem and deal with it rather than distracting yourself from it by hurting someone else.

Recognize the consequences.

Anytime you participate in gossip, you’re hurting someone else whether they know about it or not. Ultimately, that means you hurt yourself because you are involving yourself in betrayal and destructive behavior.

What helps is to imagine yourself being the subject of the gossip, and overhearing it. How would you feel? Would you be hurt?

Most likely, the answer is yes. You would be hurt. Maybe a lot.

Another negative outcome of gossiping is that you’re broadcasting to others that you aren’t trustworthy.

“If you’ll talk about her when she’s out of earshot, who’s to say you won’t talk about me when I’m not around.”

Ask yourself,

“Does this behavior align with who I think I am and how I see myself?”

Generally not.

Confront problems, set limits, and establish boundaries.

If you are talking about someone out of frustration with them, then decide if there is a real problem you need to confront.

Setting limits on bad behavior is something that should be done if the behavior is destructive, abusive, invasive, or overall impacts you negatively.

Instead of gossiping, deal with the problem. If you need to set a boundary, set a limit, or simply have a conversation to express your concerns and find a solution, do that. If something is really bothering you, then take action, but make sure the action is constructive.

If you’re taking a stand on an issue that is important to you, then do it directly. That’s entirely different than gossiping.

Avoid gossip circles.

When you hang around people on a regular basis that engage in a lot of gossip, you’ll find the pull to join in pretty irresistible. It’s not because you’re bad person, but because it is much easier to focus on someone else’s stuff than your own, and because you want to be part of the group.

Gossiping with others is a way of bonding. It’s like joining a club, and what we have in common is we don’t like the same people and we enjoy talking about them. The problem is that this is a middle school club, and a very treacherous one. It doesn’t offer anything of value.

Sometimes you can just say you don’t want to gossip because you wouldn’t want anyone talking about you that way. If you’re part of a group with a pretty intact conscience, others will take your lead and refrain from gossip also. If not, you may get some negative vibes. If that happens, then you can be sure that when you aren’t around, you’ll become the subject of conversation.

The point is, pick friends with integrity, hang out with people who find gossiping toxic, and build relationships based on real interchange and interests, not people bashing.

I hope this is some food for thought as we head into the Holiday Season. Peace, love and warmth to everyone!

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