Monthly Archives: May 2015

You can’t make choices that you don’t know you have…yet

laymichoicesseaThere’s a meme going around on Facebook right now that says we are all responsible for our own choices. I don’t like it and I’ll tell you why! (I also wrote another post about it–specifically related to all the ways abusive childhoods can affect us for life.) While there is an element of truth to this meme, it ignores all the gray areas in life and the reality that not everyone has the same choices available to them or knows what all of their choices are. This meme is too black and white!blame

I’m sure this meme is nice and simple for people who grew up with great social skills, a healthy family, and perfect emotional intelligence…which is not most of us. The truth is, we all come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, and what we can choose, or what we currently know we can choose, is biased towards our own realities. We see life through our own eyes, and not those of someone else.

For people who have struggled in life thanks to poverty in childhood or poor social support systems, we often feel our choices are limited. Sometimes an abused wife with no job or career skills might feel like she has no choice but to stay in a violent marriage. Sometimes the only child of sickly elderly parents might feel that he obligated to put his dreams on hold to take care of his parents. For people like me who used to be doormats, it never truly crossed my mind that I could say “no” to people and not feel guilty.

Sometimes people do stupid things because they haven’t seen good role models and have no idea what the “right” way to live is. Sometimes people make bad choices out of desperation because they think they have no other way to get through a difficult time. Sometimes people make poor decisions because they have misleading information. There are all kinds of reasons that people learn to live the way they do.

The life wisdom that some people gain at an early age might not come to another person until later in life, if at all. We can look at people’s situations and judge them and say well they “should have” done this or that, but we are only looking at their choices as WE see them instead of as THEY see them.

For those of us who were raised in abusive homes and repeated the cycle by marrying abusers, sometimes it never crossed our minds that maybe life wasn’t meant to be so miserable. Some of us felt like we were obliged to compromise and put up with abuse because that’s just the way it was. Some of us live our lives for years before we finally have a light bulb moment and realize we have other choices that we’d never before realized were available. Maybe to others, that was obvious from the start, but for us, we have to travel our on paths to learn about life. How could we make choices we didn’t know we had?

Only when we realize that we have other choices, can we make those choices!

None of us are born educated, wise, and all-knowing. We make the best choices that we know are available and possible for us. And sometimes they are not as good as the choices that other people on different paths make. And that’s okay. We cannot know what we have not yet learned!

This meme insinuates that if bad things happen to us, it’s all our fault for making bad choices. It’s not so simple since our lives are colored by everything that has happened to us and it’s impossible to escape our past influences. Let’s have empathy for ourselves and others who aren’t always perfect.

Don’t be afraid to say what you are thinking

The old me was afraid to speak up about my wants and needs, but the new me looks out for myself. I posted earlier about reading Real Simple magazine and getting some great ideas and inspiration. One particular expert was especially meaningful for me–so much so that I wanted to give it a post of its own! This is a section from their new book The Real Simple Guide to Real Life: Adulthood made easy. This is a quote from Madeleine Albright–the first female Secretary of State in the U.S.

Early in my career, I went to numerous meetings where I was the only woman present. I would want to contribute to the conversation but would think, If I say that, everybody will think it’s really stupid. And then a man would say exactly what I had in mind, and the other participants would find it brilliant. I learned that you shouldn’t wait to speak. I started listening actively, knowing that I was going to comment on something and having it in my mind that I would interrupt at the right moment.

Oh how I can relate! I’ve mentioned before that I am painfully shy and introverted, and I freeze up in groups even though I can speak just fine in one-on-one conversations. I have had what Albright mentions happen to me hundreds of times! For me, it’s not necessarily about men and women, but about me being afraid to give my ideas in general. It was worst when I was in college and I knew that many professors included class participation as part of my grade. I knew I wanted a good grade, so I had to fight my inner fear and try to speak up more. A lot of times, I would think of something, but decide it was too simple or obvious, so I’d skip over it. Then someone else would say it and the class would think they were really smart. Uggh! Other times, I’d be so afraid to jump in, that I’d miss my chance.

While most people were just having a conversation, for me it was a nerve-wracking nightmare! It makes me feel better to know that a powerful politician has had the same feelings, and it inspires me to take her advice and speak up more.

Finding role models and inspiration in movies and television

My last few posts have been about looking for sources of inspiration and information in my journey to escape narcissistic abuse and dysfunction and learn to be a thriving, happy woman. It’s amazing how you can find light and knowledge in so many unexpected places just by being open to it!

Social Skills for Teenagers and Adults with Asperger Syndrome: A Practical Guide to Day-to-day Life

A few years ago, I read a book to help people with Asperger’s Syndrome improve their social skills. I’ve never been diagnosed as Aspie, but I match a lot of the characteristics–possibly not because I have Aspergers, but because I had such an abusive childhood. I’ve always been painfully shy and scared of social situations, and I’ve often been confused and awkward about what to say and how to act. I figured even if I wasn’t Aspie, I could learn something from that book no matter what the cause of my social anxiety.

The most important idea that I personally got from the book was the idea that I should watch TV shows and movies for models of social skills. Hmmm…. Now, there are also some terrible role models in the media, but I started thinking about how I could find sources of good on TV. One of my inspirational movies ended up being Legally Blonde. I even wrote a whole post about it!

Ghost Whisperer: The Complete Series

Another unusual source of knowledge was The Ghost Whisperer. Seriously! On the surface, this is a show about a woman who helps ghosts solve their problems and move to the other side, but when I watched it on a deeper level, I realized that the main character was a very loving, thoughtful and empathetic woman. She had a hard life, but practiced good empathy and communication with her friends and family. She truly cared about others in a way that I had never seen in my own family. It might sound a bit weird, but I truly would recommend this show to someone who wants to observe how healthy people work. (Just like I see Elle Woods of Legally Blonde as an inspiration!)

The theme of my last few blogs has been one of learning from everything around us. It sounds a bit out there on the surface to talk about learning something from TV and movie characters, but I believe there is more to this idea. Melinda Gordon and Elle Woods are both great role models for learning good character qualities and both of them, in their own ways, are women I would like to be. Women who are kind and caring, successful and helpful to people around them.

Looking around and learning about coping and life improvement skills

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In my previous post, I wrote about how opening my mind to self-help books and trusting a therapist was a huge help for me to start overcoming the legacy of secrets and denial I learned in my dysfunctional family. I started learning how to live in a functional manner and how to set boundaries about how I wanted to be treated. Not only did I become eager to learn from books, but I started looking everywhere for life tips.

O’s Big Book of Happiness: The Best of O, The Oprah Magazine: Wisdom, Wit, Advice, Interviews, and Inspiration

For many years, I stopped reading magazines because I felt like they were a waste of money, space and paper. Then a couple years ago, I got a really good bargain on O magazine. Now, I have never really been a fan of Oprah Winfrey, or of talk shows in general, but it hit me that, even if I wasn’t a fan, I had to admit that she was a huge success and obviously knew how to do something right. I realized I could learn something from her and what her company promoted. There’s definitely something about her that attracts people and I wanted to evolve into one of those women who really had good things going for her. Who better to learn from than women who can demonstrate the way I want to be? I found that Oprah’s magazine promotes really great life skills, positivity, success, self-esteem, and more–all things that I was lacking, and all things I wanted to learn more about. There’s even an interesting series of books related to her magazine.

Part of living a good life is also learning to manage time, prioritize, and reduce stress, so I started looking at more magazines for ideas in these areas. As much as I love reading books, one benefit to magazines is they are colorful, cheerful, and have short articles. They are good when you only have a few minutes to relax between appointments, for a break on my front porch, for a while before work…. It sounds silly, but I have found that reading them again, is a good “investment,” because I pick up quick and fun ideas that inspire me or help me with life. One of my current favorites is Real Simple. In every issue, I end up bookmarking a few spots with good ideas, or quotes that make me think. I find they are a good inspiration for learning valuable life lessons, and they often inspire me to think about things for this blog. One of their recent issues is a 15th anniversary issue called “The Ultimate Life Handbook,” and it has a a lot of excerpts from their new book called The Real Simple Guide to Real Life: Adulthood made easy. There are a whole variety of good ideas in here for living a smart, functional life, and I’m really enjoying them.

I’m sure many of us look at the magazine racks at the grocery store, but I’ve started looking at them in a new light. They aren’t just there to help me kill some time, they are full of smart ideas from empowered women, as well as inspiration. More and more as I open my heart to healing, I realize I can learn something from nearly every resource and situation. There’s good stuff all around us!

Overcoming family denial and secrecy, and learning to trust people who can help

Don't dwell on painful memories. Replace them with hope for the future!

Don’t dwell on painful memories. Replace them with hope for the future!

Both sides of my family are dysfunctional. Lucky me! My dad’s family members argue, yell, and drink…a lot. He can tell stories of a very traumatic childhood. They don’t try to hide their dysfunction, but he also looks down on therapy as “stupid,” and thinks others need to toughen up. My mother’s side was not so obvious, but was far more toxic. She used to scapegoat my father as a horrible drunk, and she made her self the sad victim, but under her false front was pure evil. I preferred the honest anger of my dad’s family to the two-faced backstabbing of my mother’s.

I always knew something was severely wrong, but when I spoke up, I was beaten and shamed for “talking back” and “disrespecting” my mother. No one wanted to address the lies, manipulation, gossip, fake Christianity, addictions, and worse that were floating around in their pseudo-good religious family. My mother is a narcissist with hints of Borderline Personality Disorder. She could play very nice at church then come home raging and threatening to kill me. But, I didn’t have a name for what was wrong with her until I was in my 30s. In her family, denial and secrets were more important than getting functional and mentally healthy. This link about dysfunctional family dynamics is a good summary of what life was like. As I started learning, many times I tried to share my feelings and some literature with her, and she mocked me, rolled her eyes and was not willing to listen. (This link about narcissistic mothers is one of the ones I sent her in hopes of getting her to open her mind.)

When you grow up in a dysfunctional family, you learn to cope in dysfunctional ways. Even though I knew something was wrong, I still didn’t know how to live like a normal person and overcome that dysfunction. I coped by being a doormat and “compromising” so much that I totally ignored all of my needs and desires. After all, I had learned to trying to speak up for myself led to whippings!

When I married a covert narcissist who acted quite a bit like my mother, my first reaction was to blame myself and hate myself for making people treat me that way. But, I knew that it was time to figure out what was wrong. I started reading self-help books for the first time. I wanted to learn everything I could to figure this out! I had thought that if I just married a good man and found a new family, I could escape mine and all would be well. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy when I married the male version of my mother! I started going to therapy and really opening up to the idea that it could work. I had tried it a couple times previously, but always put up a big emotional wall instead of trusting a stranger. But, I was miserable and willing to do whatever it took. So, I started pouring out everything to my therapist. She was able to help me grasp that my family really was as sick as I thought they were, and I was not “crazy.” She also helped me start getting on the right track to realize how I could stand up for myself and choose to escape their cycles of abuse.

That was over eight years ago, and it was my first step to becoming a whole person. I now strongly believe that therapy is essential–even if your life isn’t that bad. There is always something we can learn from others–especially those who are trained to recognize and understand human behavior. All therapists are different, but when you find the right one for you, they can become an amazing mentor. You just have to open your mind and trust that there is a problem and it can be fixed.

I’ve been reading self-help books and keeping up with new ideas and research ever since, which led me to start this web site. One of the first books I read that helped me release the guilt of wanting to escape my toxic family was: Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life. This author is a great resource and just one of the many good books to help validate the pain those of us with abusive/dysfunctional parents have had to live with while our parents denied everything that happened.

In dysfunctional families, denial, emotional walls, secrets and lies are common, but to heal, we have to be honest with ourselves and others. For me, opening up to a therapist, and opening my heart to the words of others in self-help books was the beginning.

Loving and appreciating the right people even after abuse

Letting go of the bad things lets the good things come in!

Letting go of the bad things lets the good things come in!

Earlier this week, I was watching old episodes of one of my favorite shows–Criminal Minds, and found a story line that has always frustrated me. It hits the worst point in the second episode of Season Three called: In Name And Blood

What has always bothered me about this episode, (and the earlier shows with the same story arc,) is one of the main characters’ wife is always angry about his demanding job. In this episode, she leaves him because he refuses to quit his job.

Why does this bother me? Yes, I know it’s not real, but it is a theme that happens in real life. When I see this show, I see a woman with a beautiful home and a good-looking husband who respects her–a man who saves lives for a living. I know men who seem liked good, normal guys who have flaws but aren’t abusive. And sometimes, their wives leave them for things that could have been compromised on, so I look at my own situation…. Both of my ex spouses are narcissists–the first was mild and covert, but the second was overt. When I was married, my first ex-husband criticized me constantly for little things, and nothing I did was good enough. My second ex-husband was a sociopath who raged and screamed, and called me stupid multiple times a day. He still won’t keep a job and pay child-support, so when I see the above mentioned Criminal Minds episode, I cringe and think “lady, you should count your blessings and compromise with your husband who is who he is and isn’t hurting you!”

Since I often blog about the abuse I went through and my recovery, I am usually writing about my ex as abuser, but that doesn’t mean I hate men. In fact, I really like men. Even before I was married to an abuser, I used to see men who worked hard but had demanding wives, and it bothered me. It bothers me just as much as seeing men who pick at their wives. When I was with my ex-narcissists, I loved to care for them and loved to be loving. I loved the first one unconditionally, and took everything on myself when he kept attacking and controlling me. I would compromise so much that I was the only one giving anything. I really tried with the second one, but I had gained enough self-esteem by that point to realize I didn’t want to be abused hourly. It wasn’t little things, little frustrations that caused me to leave. It was big abuse. If my exes’ only issues were things like working long hours, leaving dirty clothes on the floor, not doing dishes, I would still be married. Unfortunately, it was my unconditional loving and giving that made me an easier target for abusers.

This is where it becomes important to know the difference between someone who deserves that love and compromise, and someone who doesn’t. I don’t want to stop loving, and start nagging someone to change. If I were to marry again, I’d want to marry someone I could love, respect and compromise with without having my own rights trampled on.

And just like I couldn’t change the abusers to get them to respect me and stop abusing, I can’t…and don’t want to change someone who isn’t abusive. No one is going to be perfect, so we need to choose the safe people whose flaws aren’t harmful to us.

So after thinking about this episode, and real life, I would say to anyone who has an imperfect spouse: if your spouse loves and respects you, contributes to your home and doesn’t abuse you, count your blessings. Some of us had spouses who threw us around and hurt us for fun. Remember to love your non-abusive spouse for who they are.

And for those of us who are single after abuse, let’s remember that no person is perfect, but most are not dangerous and abusive. I don’t want my bad experiences to make me afraid to love and cherish the right person who could come into my life at some point.

Trust your instincts, but don’t miss out on good people!

Your friends are a big influence on you. Choose them wisely!

Your friends are a big influence on you.
Choose them wisely!

I’m reading my latest copy of Reader’s Digest again and found a part of an article that really spoke to me. (As often happens because there is so much to learn from the experiences and wisdom of others!) This was an article called “The Man With Perfect Manners.” It looks very similar to the author Paul Ford’s post online, although it isn’t exactly the same.

Even though the article and post are about etiquette, it was a different aspect of the article that made me think. To quote: “Politeness leaves doors open. I’ve met so many people whom, if I had trusted my first impressions, I would never have wanted to meet again. Yet many of them are now great friends.”

As I’ve mentioned before, I am divorced from a sociopath. Before I realized what he was, I saw many warning signs, but ignored them because they didn’t seem reasonable in light of the words he was telling me when he was flattering me. I know wish I had paid attention. There is truly safety and wisdom in trusting your instincts! But here this article gave me reason to reconsider relying on first impressions. I guess it’s safe to say if you sense a predator, trust those instincts, but if you simply don’t feel a connection, stay open-minded? Maybe that is a good line to draw between the two extremes.

Anyway, predators aside, Ford offers good advice. I have some good friends that I initially did not like. One of them, I’ve been friends with for 25 years now, and another was my closest friend through high school and for many years. I know people who’ve met their spouse and been unimpressed, yet met them again later and fell in love. (In fact, the author of the article has the same story.) He points out that we shouldn’t discount someone just because they are having an off day.

One reason I take this personally is because I was a downer for a long time after escaping my ex-abuser. Even my friends got sick of me. When I’m not depressed and in shock, I’m a fun/funny and interesting person, (or at least some people would say!) I’d hate it if I met a potential friend or date who is a great choice for me, but they avoided me because the better version of me wasn’t showing that day. And, I’d be sorry to miss out on a great friend just because I met them on one of their bad days. There are so many experiences in life, that it’s hard to set a specific rule that works for all situations. Do I trust my instincts or do I give a second chance? There are good reasons for both choices, but I really want to be careful about weeding out the safe people and more astute about weeding out the dangerous people in the future. It’s something to think about…

J.K. Rowling and the benefits of failure

I have a subscription to Reader’s Digest which is full of funny anecdotes but also meaningful articles. The story that really got my attention today was an excerpt from the book
Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination by J.K. Rowling, (of Harry Potter fame.) She made some good points that I have also heard from my therapist, (who is really wise!) I’ve actually had them on my list of ideas for this blog, so seeing this article today prompted me to write.

If you are familiar with Rowling’s background, you may know that she struggled as a single mother in poverty before she hit it HUGE with her books. Wouldn’t we all love to have that kind of rags to riches story? I know I would! (Although I’d stick with just rags to comfortable….)

There were three big points that stood out to me today in this excerpt from her book. One: She says that she was already living her greatest fear–poverty–so she had nothing else to fear when she took her risk to work on her books. This so true. Sometimes we have to be in a really bad place before we get desperate enough to take the risks and make the changes that will give us our best lives. If we didn’t have anything else to fear, I wonder how many huge leaps we would make towards success?

Two: she points out that if she had “really succeeded at anything else, [she] might never have found the determination to succeed” at writing. What a great way to think of “failure” in other jobs or careers. As I’ve written a couple times before, sometimes we waste time in the wrong places and they keep us away from the right places. We are taught that failure is a terrible thing, but maybe it’s a blessing in disguise. I know that if I hadn’t lost my “real” job last year, I’d still be wallowing in a dead-end job instead of feeling excited about chasing my real dreams.

And finally three: This is a big one that I learned first from my therapist and then from life. Rowling says “The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.” So true! I’ve been through some very rough times in the past couple years, but when I look back and realize all I survived and just how strong I was, it lets me face the future with less fear. I’ve made it before and that means I can make it again.

This Reader’s Digest clip is only one page long, yet so full of wisdom and inspiration. I just ordered the whole book because I want to learn from Rowling’s success story! There is so much we can learn by listening to people who have survived and succeeded–especially if their lives and/or goals are similar to ours. I will report back after I read it!

Not feeling guilty about being paid for your work

IMG_1245final A little over ten years ago, I started making beaded jewelry for fun. Pretty soon, I had tons of necklaces and not enough time to wear them, plus it’s kind of an expensive hobby, so I was running out of money! I decided to start selling some of my jewelry that I made. I always bought premium supplies–real gemstones, real sterling silver, quality glass beads, and more. Plus, I got a lot of compliments and gave necklaces as gifts, so I knew that people liked the things I made, and I knew they had some value. I was making pretty things for people who wanted them, so that’s a fair deal, right? The thing is, I always felt weird and guilty about it. I felt like I was selfish to ask people to buy my jewelry. I felt greedy asking for higher prices even though my jewelry-making mentor kept telling me I didn’t charge enough for my time.

Now this was kind of silly! Artists and authors sell their work all the time without feeling guilty! But I felt strange about it. This was just another symptom of low self-esteem. I didn’t feel comfortable acknowledging my own value, my talents, or the value of my skills and time. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten better about reminding myself I don’t need to feel guilty for asking for a fair price for my time! It takes time to plan and assemble a unique necklace, but I was so afraid to charge for my time that I was basically making less than minimum wage. It’s taken me years to get over that awkward feeling of greed when I am not being greedy and I’m only being fair to myself.

Last year, after some friends encouraged me, I sat down and started writing eBooks about my experiences in abusive relationships. Of course, it took me a long time, as did editing, formatting, making covers, and all of those other details. But again, I felt guilty. Was it wrong for me to charge people to purchase my story? My lessons I’ve learned? I looked at Amazon and saw plenty of other people selling similar stories for higher prices, so I knew that others didn’t seem to be hung up feeling guilty.

From reading online, I’ve learned that I’m not the only low self-esteem person who has these feelings of inadequacy or being afraid to value myself and the things I do. But, I know that these feelings aren’t completely valid. Of course I don’t want to sell junk, but I was putting time and effort into items that I felt were helpful or pretty. It’s completely reasonable to charge for my time! CEOs get millions for their work. Everyone with a job gets paid for their time. Some artists sell their original paintings for high dollars. There’s nothing wrong with my selling the things I make.

I think many “normal” confident people wouldn’t even think twice about respecting their own work. Just as with assertive people who negotiate higher salaries at work, it is a good thing to offer good results and charge a fair wage for them. I’m really trying to keep that in mind these days. :) Just as with the other areas of my life, I’m learning my own value!

If anyone is curious, my jewelry site is Gemsations.net, (where I also sell jewelry I didn’t make,) and I have an Etsy store too just for my original items.

Learning to trust and be supportive of the right people

Let your confidence shine!

Let your confidence shine!

I’ve lived with myself nearly 40 years, and I frequently discover I’m good at things I never realized I was good at. As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes we believe what others or society tell us we are instead of really thinking about the truth.

Lately, I’ve been frustrated by some friends who let me down in a very bad way. And I’ve thought about how much I supported them over the years only for them to drop out right when I was needing friends and a support system the most. Some friends. I’ve thought about how much I regret putting myself on the line to defend their reputations. It’s hard to know who to trust, and I’ve written before that I often do so much for people who do so little for me. Why are we so backwards this way? Idealizing people who don’t care about us, but neglecting those who do?

While I was pondering these things, (and mentally telling off my backstabbing former friend!) It hit me that I’m a very supportive person. When something helps me or someone helps me, I want to let others know so the helper can benefit and get the kudos they deserve. If I find an artist or musician I really like, I share their work–hoping they can make more sales. If one of my friends is the target of gossip or a bully, I jump in and take hits to defend them. (Figuratively, not literally. I am soo not a fighter!)

When you’re a doormat like I *used* to be, and you pick the wrong people to defend and support, this is not really a good thing, but as I learn to be more astute, trust the right people and value my real friends instead of being fooled by false friends, I think this hidden talent of mine is actually a really good thing.

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