August 31, 2011

What Do You Want to Prove?

"One fact of nature is that people have a 'negativity bias': we react to the bad more strongly and persistently than to the comparable good ... One consequence of the negativity bias is that when people's minds are unoccupied, they tend to drift to anxious or angry thoughts. And rumination - dwelling on slights, unpleasant encounters, and sad events - leads to bad feelings. In fact, one reason that women are more susceptible to depression than men may be their greater tendency to ruminate; men are more likely to distract themselves with an activity. Studies show that distraction is a powerful mood-altering device, and contrary to what a lot of people believe, persistently focusing on a bad mood aggravates rather than palliates it." ~Gretchin Rubin, The Happiness Project

I couldn't agree more! Much of the work I do with clients involves uncovering the thoughts that they are dwelling on or persistently returning to that are causing them to feel angry, anxious, or immobilized. I also teach the skill of right speech to shift the focus from the negative stories and using right mindfulness to practice challenging the meaning making machine. I know, at times, this seems to be an insurmountable task.

One of the ways that we can gain extra footing is to add in the practice of, as Rubin suggests, putting rumination in check. In addition, David Rock & Jeffrey Schwartz point out in their article, The Neuroscience of Leadership that:

Focus is power. The act of paying attention creates chemical and physical changes in the brain.
Expectation shapes reality,. People’s preconceptions have a significant impact on what they perceive.

If what we focus on, ruminate upon has a significant impact on how we perceive situations and, moreover, our very chemistry, then we need to pay particular attention to what we are focusing on.

One of my clients, who had been sexually abused by her father, was out to gather the evidence and prove that all men are rude, uncaring pigs. As an adult woman out in the dating world, she was struggling to find a man who she found pleasing. As we talked about her various experiences with dating, she told me a very interesting story. On a first date, the man arrived at her door with a small bouquet of flowers. Smiling broadly, he handed the flowers to her (sure he’d just earned some major brownie points!). She described feeling angry, closed off, and wanting to just close the door and leave off the date altogether. She was sure that this man was out to take advantage of her; how dare he bring her flowers as if she was some silly school girl. As we did the work to understand what was going on here, she came to see that she was so set on proving that men were terrible that she even framed the gesture of flowers on a first date as being manipulative and evidence that he would just patronize, take advantage of, and hurt her. Her expectation that all men are out to harm her changed the way that she perceived the situation.

Here’s the tricky part now. What we have come to expect of ourselves, others, relationships, the world is greatly informed by the experiences that we’ve had. We come to believe things that we’ve essentially been out to prove as being true day to day, year to year. We gather the evidence to reinforce our stories and false beliefs by gathering the evidence to prove them to be true. We ignore all evidence to the contrary.

So now, we have the opportunity here to challenge our stories in yet another way – by exploring what it is we’ve been out to prove and then doing the work to shift our focus.

The critical question is: If anything can be proven true, what is it that you want to prove?


What have you been proving about yourself, others, relationships? What would you like to prove instead? I encourage you to spend this week reminding yourself of what you’re out to prove and see how it makes a difference in how you see others and experience the world.

If you’d like to learn more about how coaching can support you in identifying and challenging what you're out to prove, I encourage you to LISTEN to my interview on FigthBack radio - Recovering from Sexual Abuse.

August 24, 2011

False Beliefs - Part 2 - There Must Be Something Wrong With Me!

Just a quick reminder before we get into it today:

TODAY is the last day for Early Bird Registration for POWERHOUSEWOMEN: The World Needs You! I strongly encourage you to participate in this four day teleseminar. On Day 3, I will be working with participants to:

• Identify & breakthrough the negative self-communication that keeps you isolated
• Learn how to connect with others through & ask for what we really need
• Discover the roadblocks to communication

here to learn more!

Now, onto today's topic!


Last time, I wrote about the first false belief that results from trauma, bad experiences or abuse. Today, we take on #2 ...

There Must Be Something Wrong With Me

This particular false belief strikes at the heart of one of the hardest questions we grapple with: Why me? We so much want to understand why it is that things happen to us and not the person sitting next to us in the coffee shop. We think, "Surely, there’s something engrained about who I am that caused this to happen to me."

One of the ways we attempt to make sense of trauma, bad experiences, or abuse is by trying to uncover what it is about who we are that caused it to happened. For example, I was an extremely cuddly little girl. To this day, one of my favorite memories is of time spent with my father when I’d crawl up on to his lap and “curl” and comb his hair. Physical closeness came naturally to me; I hugged everyone!

When I began trying to understand the abuse I experienced, I decided that my being physically affectionate towards my grandfather must have given him the go ahead to abuse me. So, I deemed this part of me to be at fault – and so withdrew and essentially experienced physical touching only in a very superficial way and withheld any real cuddling or intimate touching.

As a result of whatever we’ve come to believe about what is wrong with us, we then think or behave in very particular ways. This false belief is extremely heartbreaking to me, because we lose pieces of who we are in an effort to suppress the parts of ourselves that we hold responsible for causing the experience, hoping to prevent future hurts from happening.

Now, it’s true that there may be qualities and characteristics about who we are that inform the sorts of experiences we will have. If you are stingy and uncaring, that relationship ending shouldn’t be such a shocker! This isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m referring to those experiences where we did the best we could, and, still, things didn’t turn out the way we had hoped.

It’s time to take back who you are. To recognize and understand that there is nothing about who you are that could’ve caused those types of experiences to occur.

and … in case you’re curious … I’m an amazing cuddler these days!

If you’d like to learn more about how coaching can support you in identifying and challenging your false beliefs, I encourage you to LISTEN to my interview on FigthBack radio - Recovering from Abuse

August 17, 2011

False Beliefs - Part 1 - It's My Fault!

Today, as we explore some of the false beliefs or stories that result from trauma, bad experiences or abuse, we need to pay particular attention to two of the most common stories that often show up. These particular false beliefs provided, in the moment, protection and helped us survive the experience, but like in-laws who stay for too long in the guest room, they have outlived their welcome. In order to break out of meaning making, you must address and challenge these false beliefs. Let's start with a real biggie...

It’s My Fault

Of all of the false beliefs, this one seems to take root early on and cause the most damage. The reason we blame ourselves seems to be out of a need to achieve a couple of things. First, if we blame others for the harm they cause, then we have to acknowledge that someone we love, someone who is very close to us, is capable of doing things that are very bad, cruel, and mean. The image we hold of our parent, caregiver, relative, partner, or neighbor is completely threatened. It is much easier to stomach being at fault than having to face the reality that those who we trusted could cause us such great harm. Especially if the bad experience occurred while you were a child, it is extremely hard for the mind of a child to reconcile that the same person who tucks you in at night is also harming you. In an effort to protect our relationship with the person and the world, we blame ourselves.

Secondly, if we blame ourselves, then we can hold onto the idea that there must have been something we did to cause the experience. Therefore, there will be a way that we can protect ourselves in the future. We say to ourselves, “If it’s my fault, then I can just not do the things anymore that caused that to happen, and I won’t get hurt again.” Bottom line, it’s about control. Part of the challenge of giving up the story of, “It’s my fault,” is it requires we acknowledge that even the people who we are closest to can harm us and that we can’t always control what happens to us.

One of my clients believed that it was her fault she was raped, because she drank too much and went into the room with the man. She’d decided that if she no longer drank, she would be safe. This gave her a sense of control and power, and, for awhile, that was really important to feel. However, eventually, the burden and effects of blaming herself took their toll, and she was also able to face up to the fact that not drinking was providing a false sense of security. We were ready to challenge this false belief. My client first needed to understand that she didn’t enter a room with a big sign above the door that said, “Rape This Way.” I suppose, had she seen that sign and then walked through the door anyway, well, then we’d have to have a different conversation. This wasn’t the case though! Yes, she’s responsible for drinking. She is not responsible for the choice the man made to rape her. Most importantly, one does not cause the other.

All of us have found ourselves in situations where we are hurt, traumatized, or maybe even abused. There was no warning. There was no sign. There was no choice. The last time I checked, being at fault for something involves having a complete understanding of the situation and making choices. Those that harmed us did not give us any choice in the matter.

Beyond giving up blaming ourselves for the experience and thus placing the blame where it belongs – with the person who caused us harm – there’s even more at stake. All of our stories impact the way we show up in the world. Just imagine it like you’re walking down the street with a big sign over your head that says, “It’s my fault world!” When someone bumps into you on the street – you immediately apologize (after all, it’s your fault). When your husband loses his job, you apologize (after all, it’s your fault that you didn’t support him). When you can’t make it to a friend’s dinner, you feel disproportionately guilty (after all, it’s your fault that you don’t have time for your friends.) The point I’m making here is that you begin to behave as if everything is your fault and life becomes unbalanced.

Moreover, the more often you show up as the one who will take the blame for everything, the more the people around you will come to expect this of you and reinforce your false beliefs by playing the game with you! They will not feel compelled to examine their roles and behaviors, because, after all, you’ll just let them off the hook by believing it’s all your fault!

Bringing into balance your ability to both acknowledge your role in things but also hold others accountable is extremely important if you’re going to live a healthy, powerful life.

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