December 21, 2011

Loneliness - Part 2

Did you know that being lonely can actually provide us an opportunity for growth? Our ability to sit and remain grounded in the lonely times is no small thing. In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis is telling the story of a man who has lost his son and is experiencing a deep sense of loss and emptiness – loneliness. Lewis writes that, in this void, “in the loneliness, in the silence, something else might begin to grow.” When I read this, it immediately jumped out at me. Lewis doesn’t go on to explain what that “something else” is, but I think it is independence.

The experience of abuse often leaves us clamoring for love, affection, and attention. We bounce from relationship to relationship, job to job, activity to activity – refusing to ever stop long enough to deal with who we are when we are on our own. Now, this is in no way related to the popular idea that we must “love ourselves before we can love others.” I think, quite frankly, that’s a ridiculous statement. I’ve actually come to love myself much more deeply through the relationships and reflections of my partners than when I was on my own. What I did gain by developing the capacity to be in the loneliness was a sense that I could stand on my own two feet. I understood that the love and experiences that come with being with others is amazing and to be appreciated, but I also learned that my existence wasn’t dependent on “belonging.” As a result, one very important thing changed. I stopped saying “yes” to things just because I was afraid of being alone or it proving that I didn’t belong. Instead, I began to powerfully choose for myself who I wanted to spend time with and what experiences I wanted to have.

- What things are you saying “yes” to out of the fear of being alone or not belonging?
- What are the payoffs & costs of the story “I don’t belong”?

I want to encourage you to practice challenging the stories that cause you to feel lonely and disconnected, while also noticing how your time alone changes when you use it as an opportunity to develop independence rather than as a sign that you are all alone.

SPECIAL OFFER ENDING 12/31: 6 Sessions for the price of 3. Sign up for a free 60 minute Discovery Session to learn more!

December 14, 2011

Loneliness - Part 1

When I was twelve years old, I went to one of the many slumber parties that would sprinkle my childhood days. I was super excited to be going to this particular slumber party, though, because my best friend was the hostess. She lived next door (so there was the added comfort that I could just go home if things went wrong), and we had spent lots of time together playing in the wide open fields behind our houses. I was at ease about going to the party knowing that there was at least one person there who I could have fun with.

This definitely wasn’t always the case. After the abuse, I remember days when it felt like all of the color had been drained out the world. I would watch my peers play with their dolls and even beginning to gossip about which boy they thought was the cutest in the class. In those moments, I felt like a complete outsider. I wanted to scream at them, “How can you be so silly! Don’t you know really bad things happen in this world!?” I felt alone and like I just didn’t belong with these girls. This feeling has stayed with me through the years, even as the topics have gone from cute boys to, well, cute men.

Abuse changes how we see the world. It strips away our innocence and we grow up well before we should. It’s as though I was walking along a similar path with these other girls and then we reached a fork in the road. I continued on my journey that included the experience of abuse and they continued on theirs – minus abuse. My path was a bit thornier, bleaker but there were sometimes clearings where I could see the other path and the sun and laughter that was there. I’d try to soak up as much of it as I could – if even from a distance – but could never seem to break away from the path I was on.

This experience – of being forced to see the world too soon and, as a result, feeling like we just don’t belong – is one that stays with us for a long time. It is one of our stories – “I don’t belong.” As adults, we often find it hard to relate to others who haven’t shared our same path. We long for the look of recognition and ability to think deeply about things that matter and are turned off by relationships and conversations that remain shallow.

The trouble is that we are constantly out to prove that we don’t belong. So, regardless of the situation, we stand on the outside and judge, evaluate the situation rather than engage and bring an attitude of openness. We need to understand that the story of “I don’t belong” is greatly impacting how connected we are to others. We also need to accept and appreciate that not everyone is our cup of tea! You may find it harder to connect with others, but you only exacerbate the problem when you continue to have the attitude that you are somehow an outsider, flawed, damaged, or never fit in.

  • How has loneliness been a part of your life?
  • What thoughts or self-talk do you have that make you feel lonely (e.g. nobody likes me, no one understands me)?
  • How do you isolate yourself from others?
  • What do you do when you are feeling lonely?
  • Have you ever felt like you belong? List some people, groups, or communities to which you belong?
SPECIAL OFFER ENDING 12/31: 6 Sessions for the price of 3. Sign up for a free 60 minute Discovery Session to learn more!

December 1, 2011

Fear That Keeps You Stuck

“Loneliness and fear are common for survivors of abuse. For survivors to begin to shut themselves away emotionally and sometimes physically is normal because they have been hurt, and the world no longer feels like a safe place. When something hurts you, to be afraid of that source of pain is normal. However, the fear and isolation begin to create more fear and loneliness – feelings that are unrelated to the original abuse.” ~from Shelter from the Storm

Really read that last line – “feelings that are unrelated to the original abuse.” One of the hardest things about being afraid is that fear takes on a life of its own. A single moment – one dog nipping at you – becomes a fear of all dogs! One person hurting you becomes a fear that everyone will hurt you. Our fears are not to be taken lightly, they can be so strong that they immobilize us. Yet, there is a way out of the fear.

We’ll get to loneliness in the next week, for now, let’s take a look at the fears that are keeping you stuck.

The first step is to begin exploring how fear has been a part of your life and actually naming your fears. By taking stock of how fear has played a part in your life, you become present to the costs of remaining in fear. Ask yourself, “What have I been missing out on or unable to do as a result of my fears?” Then, by actually naming your fears – like, “I’m afraid of being alone” – you take some of the sting out of it and the fear starts to become an approachable problem that can be addressed.

We all have developed different strategies for either running away from or facing our fears, and, usually, we don’t give ourselves enough credit for being able to do the latter. Facing and challenging our fears in order to come up with a plan of action as to how we’ll do that is the next step. Yet as this fortune cookie quote so wisely puts it:

“Many a false step was made by standing still.”

When we are struggling to break out of certain habits of thought or behavior, it often seems safer and easier to just stick with the status quo. We find ourselves at a moment when we can take a step forward or simply keep our feet planted. The choice we make at such moments is crucial.

Reasons for standing still are numerous … movement creates momentum and we can be unsure or afraid of where that momentum might take us. We may feel a bit unsteady when we take some new, first steps - kinda like toddlers fumbling around. Those fumbly steps are so critical though - without them, we never have the opportunity to experience leaping, running, or dancing!

There is, however, very little to gain from standing still.

Now I'm not talking about the kind of stillness that comes from being peaceful or making decisions with foresight and thoughtfulness.

What I do want to challenge is the idea that standing still is the "safe" choice. How can allowing your feet to become as roots in the ground be safe? It seems to me, if you are firmly planted, you are much more vulnerable to those who can approach and use you as they will.

It's time to uproot ourselves! To shed the distorted thinking, memories, and fears that immobilize us.

I encourage you to pick one of the fears you identified today and then begin to challenge that fear by first identifying the payoffs & costs. Next create a measurable result to get into action to challenge the fear – what would your first step be?

Join me for the next Adult Survivors of Child Abuse Support Group, December 8, 6-7:15p, Embarcadero YMCA, 169 Steuart St. Feel free to contact me @ or 415-513-0700 if you have any questions.

November 10, 2011

Anger That Sucks You Dry

When it comes to how we treat our feelings, particularly anger, we often spend much of our time burying them, avoiding them, or looking the other way. If we try to approach difficult feelings, we experience another very powerful feeling – anxiety. We fear that we will just explode, like a volcano, if we express these feelings. Also, we may believe we won’t be able to cope or manage if we allow ourselves to really feel these emotions.

Notice, anxiety is not so much the fear of what will happen or the unknown. It is, however, the fear that we will not be able to cope with what might happen! We buy into the false belief that we don’t have the capacity to feel these emotions and survive or respond in ways that are healthy. This keeps us stuck in a cycle of pushing away the feelings that need to be expressed in order to recover or heal from a hurt.

As you explore the anger you feel (particularly if it is tied to past abuse), remember not to judge the feeling. You are quite justified in feeling angry. However, the work to be done here is to explore how you behave as a result of your anger, where your anger is getting in the way of you keeping your word, and what you can do to balance the anger with positive emotions.

I was one angry redhead…

Of all of the emotions that have come up as a result of the abuse I experienced, anger – well, really, rage – has been the thorn in my side.

After my mother discovered what was going on, she and my father were great. They immediately got my grandfather out of the house and got me into counseling. Around week three of counseling, the therapist asked me what it was I thought had caused the abuse. Here I am, a little ten year old girl being asked to explain what I still can’t explain to this day!* I was so angry, I stormed out of the office and refused to go back. My parents were dismayed and tried to get me to see other therapists, but I wasn’t having it. Not really sure how to handle things, my parents, in my view, simply withdrew from the battle.

This left me feeling abandoned and further reinforced my belief that I had to make my way on my own. From that point on, I was on the defensive – ready to attack. I would have outbursts of anger that included slamming doors, breaking things, and even sometimes hurting my own body. It was not a pretty picture.

The raging continued well into my 20s. One day, I sat down and wrote my own “spew” letter. I let fall onto paper all of the fears I had about being alone, being rejected, the hatred I felt for my abuser, the lack of connection I had felt in my life.

Eight pages and lots of tears later, I was met with one very profound realization – my life was being sucked dry by the anger. That day, I decided enough was enough and made a commitment to have peacefulness and joy in my life. My first step was to start saying out loud every day, “I am peaceful and joyful.” When I started, the words felt like steel wool on my tongue. After a month, I could say it and partially believe it. After three months, I felt a sense of ease and comfort that I thought I’d never feel again. After six months, I was no longer filled with rage.

It wasn’t all just about the words. I had to challenge my false beliefs about being abandoned, rejected, and alone, too.

Today, I still “go redhead” from time to time – but I never rage in the way I used to – as if the world is out to get me and I have to fight with everything inside of me to survive. I go for a walk, I read a book, I take a nap until I feel grounded and able to process what’s going on. And, yes, sometimes, I manage perfectly. Other days, not so much. Either way, I know that my feelings are just feelings, and I can choose how I will respond and what I want to give priority to.

*Notice how that moment in the therapist’s office is so filled with story. He asked me a question, and, while perhaps not put very well, I immediately latched on to the idea that he, too, thought it was my fault and just wanted me to admit. Even back then, my stories were in play.

  • What are some of the unhealthy ways that you respond to anger? Which behaviors that are born out of anger do you need to put in check? (e.g. throw things, yell, stuff it, perfectionism, make nice, turn it on yourself, etc.)
  • How do you bury, avoid, or stuff your feelings?
  • What do you believe will happen if you express your anger?
  • How can anger be beneficial?
  • If you were to give yourself permission to feel angry, what would you say to yourself?
Join me for a LIVE CHAT every Wednesday @ 3p PT in the Adult Survivors Room @ - register for free today!

November 3, 2011

Feelings Are Just Feelings!

One of the things I’ve noticed when working with my clients is that there is a strong desire to understand how to reach a place of what many call “emotional balance.” What I think many people really want is way to experience and express feelings without becoming overwhelmed or stuck.

Yet, in many ways, I think our relationship to feelings has become a bit too lenient. We often hear people say, “Well, if that’s how you feel …” – as if whatever comes after that is necessarily fine, good, or true. I’d like to challenge this idea and offer some alternative ways to understand, relate to, and utilize our feelings.

First of all, here are a few things to know about feelings (adapted from Shelter from the Storm):
  • Feelings are neither right nor wrong – only actions can be judged that way.
  • Feelings are affected by how we think – negative thoughts produce negative feelings.
  • Feelings are often mixed – rarely do you experience one feeling at a time.
  • Feelings can be expressed in different ways – there is no one right way, each person has his/her own style.
  • Feelings do not lose their intensity by being buried, even for a long time. They must be worked through to lose their punch.
  • Feelings should not dictate our lives. Instead, what we have given our word to – integrity – should guide our decisions.
Let’s take a closer look at this list. The first thing to notice is that we should not judge our feelings or experience shame or guilt because we have a particular feeling. Essentially feelings arise for a variety of factors – from the biological, to the circumstantial, some would even argue with the cycle of the moon! So, feelings happen – sometimes terrible, I want to hide under a rock feelings. Yet, if we are to mature into our feelings and manage ourselves, our focus needs to be on the actions that follow feelings rather than trying to eradicate the feeling altogether. For example, if you feel scared in a relationship – that’s okay. If you feel scared and then behave miserably towards the other person in the hopes of pushing them away, not so okay! We need to take responsibility for how we act in response to our feelings.

Now, I’m sure the second point – feelings are affected by how we think – doesn’t come as much of a surprise to you. The more our minds focus on the negative, the more our feelings will follow suit – creating a not so fun loop.

Furthermore, positive feelings “improve our cognitive capacities while we are in safe situations, allowing us to build resources around us for the long term. That's in marked contrast to the effects of negative emotions like fear, which focus our attention so we can deal with short-term problems. ‘Positive feelings change the way our brains work and expand the boundaries of experience, allowing us to take in more information and see the big picture’” (“How Not to Be Happy”, by Dan Jones). Essentially, the more positive emotions you experience, the bigger your bank account is that you can draw upon when things get hard. Positive emotions help you see things broadly while negative emotions create a pinpoint focus. This can, of course, be very useful at times, but not if we fall into a spirally downward cycle of negativity.

Finally, we need to remember that feelings are just feelings – they should not dictate our decisions, mostly because feelings are so fleeting! In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says,
“’the most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of our own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs.’ … Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all.”
Too often we make decisions about whether to stay in a relationship, whether to stay at a job, whether to keep our commitment for a dinner party based on our feelings. “I just don’t feel like it,” seems to be a get out of jail free card. What happens to our word – our integrity – when we are constantly buffeting about because of our emotions? It falls apart.

How many relationships end because the initial intense feelings subside and people think, “Hm, I must not be in love anymore”? How many times do we say no to an opportunity, because we feel afraid? How many times do we bounce from job to job seeking a fresh high?

Now, lest you label me a hater of feelings, let me be clear that I’m not deriding the important role that feelings play in our decision making process. Again, it’s about balance. Until you learn to make balanced decisions, not letting your feelings be the dictators of your actions is a good rule of thumb to follow.

By focusing on what promise we have made, what word we have given, we can bolster our ability to follow through, to step into, to show up when our feelings would have us do otherwise.

  • What feelings have you been judging as being bad or wrong?
  • Instead of judging your feelings, what behaviors, responses to your feelings should you instead focus on?
  • How full is your bank account of positive feelings? What could you do to increase your balance?
  • What opportunities, experiences have you missed out on because your feelings got in the way?
  • What have you recently been giving your word to but not following through on because of your feelings?
Join me for a LIVE CHAT every Wednesday @ 3p PT in the Adult Survivors Room @ - register for free today!

October 20, 2011

Consequences of Abuse on the Next Generation

Last week, I finished up a series exploring the false beliefs we develop based on the messages family members send and how our recovery can either be helped or hindered by our family.

In response, a reader contacted me with a very interesting question, "What about the impact on the children of a survivor when they find out their parent was abused? How do survivors determine what to say, how to say it, and how to deal with the consequences? Where is the support for these children?" These are great questions! So, today, I'm happy to share this reader's experience, and I hope others who are struggling with this issue will gain some insight or encouragement from her story. Names have been changed to protect the identity of this reader and her family.

The effects of child sexual abuse do not end when the abuse stops. They are carried within a victim until they are addressed and for many this is done so in silent agony. Abuse in childhood becomes abuse again in later years when memories surface and hurt as though being abused again.

Sexual abuse of children is more likely to have been carried out by either a member of a child’s family or a close and trusted relation or friend. This makes it even harder for a victim as the feeling of having no one to turn to for help overtakes them along with their fears and hurt.

Sally, a woman in her 40’s, was abused when just 10 years old. She kept her secret for over thirty years, managing to cover up her mood swings and feelings of shame until finally she could no longer do so. The first person she told was her husband of twenty-five years. Her disclosure to him hurt him deeply even more so when she told him who abused her – her elder brother. Her husband’s pain was evident, but he was what she calls, “One in a million.” After the initial shock and plenty of tears, he held her tight and promised they would get through this together. Of course, he felt sick and angry as this was his brother-in-law. Many family meals and celebrations had been shared over the years and now hatred was taking over. They decided not to tell their children. This seemed a good idea at the time, but Sally began thinking of her 12 year old daughter and panic began to set in. “What will happen to her if something happens to her father and I? Who will protect her from her uncle?” Sally could take no more, and she told her oldest child who would soon be 18 and could therefore be her daughter's legal guardian and protect her. This was to prove as heartbreaking and soul destroying as the past Sally had tried so hard to blank from her mind.

Her son’s reaction to the “news” was a mixture of so many different emotions that Sally began to hate herself for telling him. She had asked him to not tell his sister as she felt she was too young to cope with it. This made him even angrier, as his reaction to this was, “So it’s okay to hurt me like this but not her?” Sally understood this was just his anger talking, but it upset Sally to see her first born hurting so much and guilt began to set in. Changes in his behaviour soon became evident. At times he would explode with rage and others would cry as if still a little boy. He felt this great need to know more about his mother’s abusive childhood. For him, abuse was just a word, something that didn’t happen in his close loving family. He felt sick at the memories of times he had spent with his uncle.

She was determined that she would become the victor of the events she could not control in childhood, she would control the rest of her life. The abuse Sally endured had made her live a life of loneliness and pain. Now she was faced with seeing the pain on the faces of her own family. This made her even more determined to overcome her past. Life in the house was often unbearable, tension seemed to overtake the once relaxed atmosphere. The situation began to take its toll on Sally’s physical and mental health. She began to keep a diary of her feelings and thoughts. She sat in bed at night crying while writing. At times, she cried so much she could barely see the words she was writing, but this didn’t matter, what mattered was she was releasing her suffering.

Her abuser was arrested and no one had believed Sally that he would admit to it. Sally knew him for the coward he was and never gave up hope of this. Finally, the police called and gave her the news that he had admitted to abusing her. Coping with her own feelings was one thing, but now she was trying to cope with her family’s. This was tough as she never knew what to expect or what to say.

Her parents refused to believe it and made it clear they wanted nothing more to do with her. Now her children had lost their grandparents. Although speaking out felt right, she felt that she was ruining the lives of her children. Watching them both suffering was at times too much to bear. Both in their own way had set on a path of self-destruction and although she had spoken to various professionals, she couldn’t find the support for her children. All she heard was, “They have to understand that it happened to you, not them.” Eventually, she had to inform the school of what was happening. Her daughter began counselling and after 3 years she still attends sessions. That may seem a long time but it shows just how much it hurts to find out one of your parents was abused as a child. Family life is still difficult at times, but Sally no longer has to mask her feelings.

Speaking out about her abusive childhood gave Sally a lifeline in regaining her life. Although she was a victim of childhood abuse, she now considers herself a survivor and this feels good....

Her father passed away the year after she spoke of her abuse but her mother did not tell her and Sally found out after he was already buried. She eventually managed to find out the details of his passing and where he had been buried. To this day, Sally visits his grave and sadly always asks the same question. “Why wouldn’t you listen to me daddy? I love you sweet dreams......”

October 12, 2011

Family Matters - Part 2

Last week, I wrote a bit about the roles we take on in our family and then later continue playing. This week, I want to share some of the core false beliefs that people who grow up in families where abuse/dysfunction occurred develop. These are*:
    • I must meet certain standards in order to feel good about myself.
    • I must have others’ approval.
    • Because I have failed, I am unworthy and deserve to be punished.
    • I am what I am, I cannot change; I am hopeless.
These are false beliefs that we can challenge; we don’t have to continue holding onto or being shaped by these ideas. One way that I work with clients to challenge these false beliefs is to have them rewrite them as new stories that will give them freedom and possibility:

Example: I can feel good about myself even when I make a mistake, because it means I am trying and learning.

One important thing to understand here is that there is nothing, in general, wrong with having standards or needing approval. Problems occur, however, when we set up these beliefs as “musts.” If we can’t function and feel good about ourselves without the approval of others, for example, then things have gotten out of balance.

Much of who you are and how you see the world is shaped by the family you grew up in. You received all sorts of messages about what behavior was and wasn’t acceptable. At times, family members may have made statements that influenced how you saw yourself, relationships, or the world. The thing is, whatever messages our family members gave us about ourselves were simply that – messages sent. They are like telegrams that were sent long ago and became wired into our thinking, but all of that is up for grabs now. You get to choose at this point which things you believe, which things you don’t believe, and which things are really just about them, it’s their stuff – so that doesn’t have to be how you think about relationships or yourself any longer.

Here’s the bad news: in order to recover – you have to let people off the hook for the things they do and say. This doesn’t mean you have to continue to be abused or receive negative messages; it just means you have to make it about them and not about you.

The next, and often harder level, is to begin to notice that we begin to take these experiences with people and determine – or prove – things about them. We begin to define who they “ARE.” For example, my mother is over-bearing; my father is cold and disconnected; my husband is lazy. This is similar to what we are out to prove about others. When we have it that someone else “IS” the provider, the dependable one, the loser, the aggressor – this keeps you and them trapped with no possibility, because you frame all of their behavior with this lens or limit them to a particular way of being.

What do you have the people in your life being? How do you define them?
Example: My mother is a nuisance. My father is the one I can trust. My husband is my life.

What are the costs of doing so?
Example: If my husband is my life, I’m not owning and taking responsibility for my own journey.

What new possibility becomes available by giving up who you’ve had them being?
Example: If I give up defining my husband as my life, I’ll experience independence and relieve him of the enormous pressure of being “my life”!

When we determine who others will be, we limit and suffocate them and harm ourselves in the process, because we are unable to embrace the entire person. If your abuser is still in your life, one of the hardest but most freeing steps you can take is to stop defining them as “the abuser” and to begin seeing the whole person. This is particularly important if you want any sort of real relationship to occur. Now, if the person is still abusing you to this day in some way, this statement doesn’t apply to you!

Who are the people you’ve been limiting by defining who they “ARE” for you and not allowing room for anything else? Once you’ve identified these people, I encourage you to go to them and share who you’ve had them being and what you now see as possible because you are giving that up.

A little How-To Guide:
  1. Tell the person who you’ve had them being
  2. Share the cost
  3. Create a new possibility that becomes present when you stop defining them
If you’d like to challenge the false beliefs you've developed resulting from the messages you received from your family members, just schedule a 30 minute FREE discovery session. Right now – receive 6 sessions for the price of 3!

*adapted from Shelter from the Storm

September 28, 2011

Family Matters - Part 1

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationships that play such an important part in shaping who we are – family. Growing up in a family where abuse or dysfunction is occurring is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult things a person can face. Even if the abuser is outside of the family, the way in which our family responds to the abuse is fundamental to how we are able to cope and heal.

It’s no easy thing for a parent to find out that their child has been abused, let alone if the abuse is at the hands of their own spouse or family member. This isn’t to let them off the hook if their responses were less than supportive or, at worst, they outright denied that abuse was happening. It is simply an effort to acknowledge that abuse or dysfunction convolutes the roles and relationships within a family.

There are some common cultural traits in families where abuse/dysfunction is occurring (adapted from Shelter from the Storm):
  • Needy family members receive an inappropriate proportion of the family’s time, attention, and energy so that members learn to be overly-responsible toward needy people and irresponsible about themselves.
  • Denial and secrecy are encouraged or it is implicitly understood that some things are just not to be talked about.
  • Emotions are repressed, explosive, or both.
  • Children are not taught effective living & relationships skills. Children do not learn to touch, feel, or trust. They learn to expect rigidity and emotional or physical abandonment.
  • Members are squeezed into rigid, inappropriate roles.
The last thing on the list above refers to the fact that children in families where abuse/dysfunction occurs generally develop survival roles. These roles are either assigned by the family or unconsciously chosen by the child.

Some examples of survival roles include (from Shelter from the Storm):
  • Scapegoat: usually blamed for family problems
  • Hero: works hard to bring respect to the family name
  • Surrogate Spouse: often takes the place of the emotionally absent spouse and becomes the child counselor for a troubled adult parent
  • Lost Child: never gets in the way or causes trouble because this family has enough problems
  • Surrogate Parent: takes over responsibility of parenting tasks
  • Clown: avoids the pain by being the center of attention
These roles are critical in helping one cope with the abuse/dysfunction. Yet, whatever role it is you played in your family, you’re likely still caught up in playing that same role today. Even if you manage to step away from the role when you are on your own, as soon as you are around your family members, you fall right back into old patterns of relating and being. It’s kinda like how my Oklahoma accent really shows up as soon as I’m around my mom!

The more we play these roles in our families, relationships, in our jobs, the more we come to believe ourselves to be trapped and stuck in these ways of being. We have it that we “ARE” this way, and so struggle to see ourselves capable of anything else. When you have it that you “ARE” the clown, the loyal daughter, the scapegoat, the black sheep of the family, the outsider, the child-parent, the achiever – this keeps you trapped with no possibility, because you frame all of your behavior with this lens or limit yourself to a particular way of being.

Additionally, these defined roles limit who we get to be for ourselves and others, keeping relationships superficial and limited. For example, if you define yourself as “the caregiver,” then you will never relax and let others care for you! You trap yourself and steal from others the gift of being able to support and love you.

Our families play a critical role in shaping who we are, how we define ourselves, and how we think about others. The messages we get from our family are like telegrams that were sent long ago and became wired into our thinking, but all of that is up for grabs now. You get to choose at this point which things you believe, which things you don’t believe, and which things are really just about them, that is their stuff. You don’t have to continue playing the roles that were assigned or that you chose as a child and you certainly don’t have to take all of the lessons you were taught about relationships or who you are as the bottom line truth of things.

What role did you play in your family? Is this a role you continue to play today? If so, what can you begin to do to break away from this role?

What messages about relationships or who you are did you get from your family?

What do you have it that you “ARE”? How do you define yourself?
Example: I am the practical one, I am the dependable one, I am the caregiver

If you’d like to challenge the roles you are playing or the messages you received from your family in order to break free of patterns of thought or behavior that are holding you back from living a life that you love, just schedule a 30 minute FREE discovery session. Right now – receive 6 sessions for the price of 3!

September 21, 2011

Shame vs. Guilt

Recently, I wrote about how we each take on ways of being, which become a way of engaging, showing up, or behaving in the world and relationships. Two very specific ways of being I’d like to talk about today are “the guilty one” and “the shameful one”.

“Shame is the feeling of humiliating disgrace of having been violated. Shame tells you that you are bad.” (from Shelter from the Storm)

It becomes very difficult to correct for shame, because it is rooted in a negative belief. For example, “I am unlovable, because [fill in the blank – we all have different experiences that can lead us to this false belief].” Shame is, essentially, the belief that you are bad. It becomes a deep rooted way of being that very much impacts our view of ourselves.

Additionally, I see shame as being born out of taking responsibility for something you have “no cause” in. In other words, shame is feeling bad because someone falls down; you feel responsible even though you didn’t trip them.

I think of it like a little equation: No Cause + Taking Responsibility = False Guilt/Shame

Feeling shame – or taking responsibility for abuse or something you did not cause – is a defense mechanism. By blaming ourselves, we are able deal with the fact that someone we trusted and adored is also capable of harming us. We long to protect the image and idea of the other person, and so blaming ourselves for something we did not cause is easier. However, if we continue to shame and judge ourselves we are guaranteeing that our lives will be mired in self-abuse, lack of joy, distrust, and lack of freedom.

Now, if your way of being is “the shameful one,” then you tend towards reinforcing the false beliefs that lead you to feel shame. As with any false belief, we will find the evidence to support our way of being. We will adopt the shameful message that we are worthless and, no surprise, we will interpret situations or, worse, find abusive people to help reinforce this attitude. If you’d like to learn a bit about how to break out of these patterns of thought, check out this post.

“Guilt is the feeling that you did something wrong.” (from Shelter from the Storm)

Guilt is related to you being “at cause” for what happened. Guilt is tripping someone and then feeling bad about it. You can correct an action or behavior that leads to guilt. For example, you can apologize for tripping the person.

The equation goes like this: At Cause + Responsibility = Guilt

Guilt is a tricky beast. In its best form, it spurs us on to transform and change our behavior. In its worst, it can be used as way to avoid facing reality. One of the payoffs of feeling guilty – of taking responsibility for abuse or unpleasant things that happen – is that we don’t have to face the fact that we were powerless.

As a quick aside, unless you move the guilt/blame from yourself to the abuser or person who harmed you in some way, you have nothing to forgive them for – they’ve done nothing wrong if you are to blame.

Finally, when we look back at experiences, and say things like, “I should’ve known better…”, we are using “retrospective thinking.” We judge ourselves as guilty, because we are taking into account everything we’ve learned and experienced since that time to judge your capacity to handle the past experience. This is a huge error. How can you expect the 10 year old you to have understood, had the insights that the 30 year old you has? It’s very important to remember to evaluate your capacity to handle or respond to a situation based on the knowledge, experience, life learning you had at the time and not from your matured perspective of today.

If you’re way of being is “the guilty one,” then you are constantly looking to reinforce the false beliefs that lead you to feel guilt or blame yourself. In any situation, you make yourself responsible for all that has occurred and fail to see the behaviors and choices of others that play a role in causing discord, upset, or breakdowns. More importantly, those around you very quickly learn that this is the role you will play, and so there is little incentive for them to evaluate their own behavior or make any corrections. By being the guilty one, you are essentially letting those around you off the hook and bearing the burden of responsibility on your shoulders alone. While there may be times when you truly are the only one at fault, if you have a deeply engrained belief that you are at fault all the time, you won’t be able to recognize when this isn’t the case. 

Now, let me be clear, I’m not saying we should never feel guilt or shame! Each of them has their proper place and exist, in part, to spur us on to better ourselves and to hold others around us accountable. I do want there to be a distinction though between feeling guilt or shame when the situation calls for it and defining oneself as the guilty one or shameful one. The former brings about transformation, the latter only causes us to stay stuck in patterns of thought and behavior that keep us from living fulfilling, authentic lives.

What are some of the words or phrases you use to shame/judge yourself?
How are you using retrospective thinking to judge yourself or make yourself guilty?

If you’d like to learn more about how I work with clients to challenge shame and guilt messages, just schedule a 30 minute FREE Discovery Session.

Special Offer: Receive 6 sessions for the price of 3!

September 7, 2011

Payoffs & Costs

Recently I wrote about the many false beliefs that we have and how these shape our expectations which then set us out to prove particular things about ourselves, others, relationships, the world. I want to now take a look at how we are showing up in the world as a result.

We’re going to call these our “ways of being.” These are ways of being, because they are not just about feelings, but become a way of engaging, showing up, behaving in the world and relationships. In a variety of situations, we may show up as insecure, worthless, incapable, ashamed, or constantly guilty. We may also show up as the perfectionist, the reliable one, the problem-solver. The list goes on and on…

In addition to ways of being, we also adopt certain attitudes or behaviors that impact the way we show up in the world or the types of experiences we have. For example, you might have the attitude that, “All relationships fail.” This will impact how you see yourself, potential partners, and intimate relationships. Additionally, it may be related to your way of being – the loner – and also show up as particular behavior (e.g. you never attend social events where you might meet someone). It’s all one big circular loop. One you’re likely hoping to break out of! But how?

By first recognizing that anything we do, we do because we perceive there is some payoff. Furthermore, we don’t discontinue any behavior until the costs outweigh the payoffs. In the example above, the payoffs might be that you don’t have to risk being vulnerable or getting hurt. The costs, however, are that you never get to experience connection and intimacy with another person.

One of my favorite quotes comes from a section on Taoism in Religions of Man (emphasis mine):

“With Confucius every effort was turned to building up a complete pattern of ideal responses which might thereafter be consciously imitated. Taoism's approach is the opposite—to get the foundations of the self in tune with Tao and let behavior flow spontaneously. Action follows being; new action, wiser action, stronger action will follow new being, wiser being, stronger being. The Tao Te Ching puts this point without wasting a single word. ‘The way to do,’ it says simply, ‘is to be.’”

Our efforts here to tune in to who we are being isn’t some idle practice. If we want to transform our experience, bring life into our relationships, lose weight, communicate powerfully, give up an addiction, etc. we must start with our being. The greatest source of and influence on our being is our mind out of which flows our words. Whenever we want to transform a way of being, attitude, or behavior, we must first understand the payoffs & costs and then begin the work of transforming our thoughts and words out of which will flow “new action” and experiences.

As with false beliefs, we will find the evidence to support our way of being. We will adopt the attitude that we are worthless and, no surprise, we will interpret situations or, worse, find abusive people to help reinforce this attitude.

As I mentioned before, we don’t change any behavior until the costs outweigh the payoffs. So, the critical question is: which holds the most weight for you – the payoffs or the costs?


What are your ways of being? How are you showing up in the world?
Example: I’m damaged, I am undeserving, I am the reliable one

If you'd like to learn more about how coaching can help you identify and break free of your ways of being, schedule a FREE 30 minute Discovery Session.

P.S. SPECIAL OFFER: Sign up for coaching and receive 6 sessions for the price of 3 - that's a savings of $345. I also offer a sliding scale based on income.

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.

July 27, 2011

What's the Meaning of This!? Part 2

Last week, I shared the concept that we are all meaning making machines. Today, as promised, I’ll share the four steps for challenging the interpretations you come up with in response to something someone does or says. But, before we get to the how, let’s spend a little time on the why?

The first reason to begin challenging our initial meanings is because, more often than not, we are reinforcing old neuronal pathways rather than accurately interpreting the situation. This keeps us locked in patterns of thought that prevent us from connecting with others or experiencing new things. Secondly, when we solely trust our interpretation, we are not only deciding for ourselves but for the other person as well what is going on. This stifles connection and communication – no good.

Okay, on to the good stuff…

A client of mine recently shared with her husband that she wanted to travel more. The husband responded by saying he needed to do some research before he could make a decision. Immediately, my client made it mean that he wasn’t willing to change or make sacrifices for her, which reinforced one of her other false beliefs, “I have to do everything on my own.” Uh oh! She’s fallen into meaning making, reinforced a false belief, and now, created a frame with which she’ll return to the conversation with him about traveling (in other words, next time the topic comes up, she’ll already be set to interpret what he does/says as further evidence that he won’t make changes or sacrifices for her). So, now comes the work of challenging the meaning.

The first step is to identify the bare bone facts of what happened – strip away emotions, interpretations. So, in the example above, what happened is, “He said he needed to do more research.” Period, end of story. This is a critical first step because it forces you to step away from your meanings and play close attention to just what was done or said. As Joe Friday would say, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

The next step is to figure out what you made it mean. Usually, being quiet for less than a minute will allow the false belief to bubble up to the surface. The meaning in this story was, “He’s not willing to change or sacrifice for me.” Often times, the meaning we come up with in one situation shows up in lots of circumstances. So, more globally, my client has a general false belief that “People won’t change or sacrifice for me.” If it’s important to you, spending some time reflecting to identify the first time you had this thought will give you some insight as to when this particular meaning was “born”, but it’s not a necessary step.

Now it’s time to challenge the initial interpretation by looking for other possible explanations. Ellis, recall his Rational Emotive Theory I mentioned last week, would describe this as “disputing the belief.” In this example, my client and I brainstormed some other possibilities – “He needs more information before he can make a decision – after all, his personality type is such that he does look for facts and details before making decisions”, “He’s nervous about traveling more since it’s not as comfortable for him, so he needs to read more to feel solid about his decision”, “He was watching football and just wanted to get me out of the way.” You see, there are a ton of different interpretations – all of which are possible (and, by the way, her initial interpretation is also a possibility). What’s important to notice at this step is that the initial interpretation is not the end all, be all interpretation, which creates room for the false belief to be challenged. In doing so, by challenging the initial false belief, you are actually weakening the neuronal connection rather than reinforcing it! This opens the door to new behavioral and emotional consequences (the final step in Ellis’ theory).

With this understanding about what you were making the other person’s words or actions mean, it’s time to get into a conversation about it. By going to her husband and sharing what she had made his response mean, she is giving him the opportunity to share more about what’s really going on for him and to get on the same page. This step is often the hardest, because we are revealing a bit of ourselves. Additionally, it’s within the realm of possibility that her husband could say that she’s right, he doesn’t want to change for her. Well, him saying it out loud will be much harder to deal with than to just have the thought running around in her mind, right? Actually, if your goal is to lead an authentic, fully expressed life, being clear about what the people who you are closely connected to want is crucial!

Disclaimer!: I’m not advising you to ignore or completely distrust your interpretations. I am advising you to hit the pause button and check in with yourself. For example, if someone says they are going to call and they don’t – you may initially make it mean something like, “I’m not worth their time.” In that moment, do the steps to shut down the meaning making machine. If it’s the fifth time that the person has failed to follow through, well now, it’s time to notice that you’re initial interpretation might not be so far off the mark. The only way to find out though is, again, to have a conversation. You may find that they have indeed been avoiding calling you because they’re not so interested in continuing the relationship or you might find they’ve lost their job and so are avoiding any social interactions. It’s very important that, if it is the former, you don’t globalize the experience to mean “I’m not worth anyone’s time.” That’s a false belief that will cause lots of trouble if allowed to take root.

So, the next time someone says or does something – particularly if you have a high emotional response to it – pause, take a moment to do the steps outlined above and see if there is a meaning you’re making that needs to be challenged.

P.S. My amazing "4 Free Sessions" deal for all new clients ENDS THIS FRIDAY! Don’t miss this opportunity to sign up or share coaching with someone you know. Schedule a FREE Discovery Session today to get started.

July 25, 2011

Recording of Introductory Call Now Available!

This past Saturday, Abigail and I conducted the introductory call for Building Bridges to, and Communicating from Authentic Self. We had a great time and are happy to share this recording with anyone who is interested. Listen to the call!

Read more about the upcoming teleseminar and register soon!:

A unique teleseminar workshop, developed and taught by:

 Abigail DeSoto, Transformational Coach & Psychosynthesis Guide,
Rachel Grant, Trauma Recovery & Relationship Coach

Together they bring over a quarter century’s experience accompanying people to living happier, more authentic and fulfilled lives.

During this two-day workshop, we will explore how we can be the most we can be in life, as well as the thoughts and patterns that keep us from authenticity and our deepest desires.

August 6th & 13th, 9am PST/12pm EST/6pm Continental Europe time

Early Bird Registration (before July 27th): $35
Registration after July 27th: $50           
Sessions will be available for audio downloading. Even if you can't make the calls, register and you will receive the recordings.

We will explore a tried and true process in psychosynthesis which helps clear a channel to tune into authentic self…the sense of who we truly are, beyond concepts, roles or other blocks. We’ll also explore what calls to us in life, and how we can step into our mission or highest calling. To do this we need to explore and practice communication skills that facilitate living this powerful and thriving life!

Before we can open to authentic self, we need to clear away the ‘debris’ of self-defeating or belittling beliefs in areas such as:
  • What we believe we are… in either limited or over-idealized ways.
  • What we believe we ‘should’ be or what we would like to appear to be in the eyes of others.
  • What others project on to us as to what they say or think we are.
We will explore the effect of “survival personalities” conditioned from childhood wounding. Only after exploring one’s psychological make-up and past conditioning, embracing our foibles with love, recognizing our talents and strengths, is authentic self free to emerge…. Self is always present, but often covered over with hardened beliefs and fears about who we think we are.
Carpe diem!  Sign up today. Places are limited!

Transformational Coach and Psychosynthesis Guide, published author, and creator of YinDance Your Inner Dance ™, Abigail has worked internationally over 15 years with clients who are dedicated to “seeing through the illusion”… people who choose to experience authenticity because they understand we are more than our egos with a never-ending parade of needs and fears. These ‘delusions’ are what trap us in a small sense of self. To experience authentic Self, we need to step up and out in life into a larger concept of who we are, to dare to remove the layers of supposed protection, our many masks… which ultimately cut us off from experience of true Self.

Rachel is a Trauma Recovery & Relationship coach. Based on her desire to foster community, intimacy, and connection, Rachel has dedicated much of her time to understanding relationships and communication. For her, how we relate to others is crucial to improving the overall quality of our lives. She developed her Trauma Recovery & Relationship coaching programs based on her learning and personal insights and has been successfully working with clients for the past four years. Rachel holds an M.A. in Counseling Psychology. With this training in human behavior and cognitive development, she provides a distinct perspective and approach for her clients while using coaching as opposed to therapeutic models.

Sign up for my free guide so you can stop spinning your wheels and instead navigate your way through each stage of recovery with ease and clarity. Get the support you need today