Category Archives: Self-Improvement

Free eBooks on Amazon June 6, 2015

I haven’t read any of these, but I go through the free Kindle books on Amazon from time to time. Right now, all of these are free and sound like they could be helpful! If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the program for free to read on your computer.

 

Sometimes the prices on free books go back up, so make sure you check to see if it’s still free before you download.






The jump between knowing what you need to do to grow and actually doing it

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Earlier someone asked me if I’d been abused before and knew the signs, how did I end up with another abuser? So, I wrote about it on my narcissism blog. There were a few reasons I was naive enough to let it happen again, but one of them really got me thinking because it related to this blog about learning and growing. The reason I hadn’t yet changed and grown went beyond just recovering from abuse.

I made the mistake of marrying a second abuser because I didn’t do the work I needed to do to recover and learn after the first one! I naively thought that just knowing what to look for was enough for me to avoid any more abuse. I thought that it couldn’t happen again and I’d get lucky the next time. Wrong! The reality is, I knew in my head what was going on, but I didn’t change my life. I didn’t change my poor coping skills that led me to marry the first abuser.

Even though I’d started reading so many of the self-help books I review for this blog, and I truly believed them and loved what I was reading, I hadn’t yet made the jump to LIVE them. I passively thought reading them was enough. I used to go to therapy and understand all of the psychological reasons I was the way I was, and all the textbook reasons I repeated abusive relationships, but I would ask my therapist HOW to go from having the knowledge in my head to activating change in my life. My heart was not catching up with my brain.

This problem translates to all parts of life–not just abuse recovery. I was trying to take the easy way out and acting like reading books was going to fix my problems. In reality, *I* had to fix my problems, and the books were just the instruction manuals. I truly believe there is so much to learn from therapy, self-help books, and the wisdom of others, but I needed to be an active participant in that learning. That was the final step that took me a few more years to master.

If you want to change, you have to change. You have to make the jump from head to heart to life. You have to know yourself to see your weaknesses then choose to be proactive about changing your behavior and your thoughts.

It’s like learning a dance. You can read a book about it, you can watch videos, you can think about it until you are an expert in how it should be done…but you don’t actually dance until you get up and do it. And this is the same leap that I needed to make to connect what I learned with how I was going to start living.

For me, even though I hated the way my life was going, and I felt frustrated that I met two different controlling, narcissistic men after growing up with a narcissistic mother, I hadn’t yet hit the point where I was desperate enough to change. For several years, I learned and learned and learned until I understood what was going on, but one day, I had to get fed up and move to the next level. That’s when my life really began to improve.

1. I had to recognize the problem.
2. I had to examine the problem.
3. I had to find the source.
4. I had to learn how to fix the problem.
5. Then I had to live the solution!

 

For several years, I was stuck on step four. On my narcissism blog, I write all about my observations of narcissists and their victims. This blog is my journey through the final step–living my life the way I make it!

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.

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.

Feeling inspired to reach my life/career goals!

Dreaming big and living well! I’ve mentioned before that I follow a very helpful career website and page on Facebook. It’s called Classy Career Girl and I find it incredibly inspiring! As I’ve noted, not only do I have a history of attracting unpleasant dates thanks to being non-assertive, but I’ve also been a slacker about finding a good career path for myself. I have not been good about speaking up for myself or showing my bosses my true worth. I have been too shy to apply for BIG jobs and I have settled for jobs I know I can easily get. I get scared about finalizing plans or making decisions. I get nervous about committing to a goal because I feel like it means that I’m, (at least at that time,) closing the door on another career goal that interests me.

As part of my recovery from narcissistic abuse, I’m improving my life all over. So, even though “meeting” strangers and talking on the phone leaves me anxious, I decided to take advantage of the complimentary coaching phone call Classy Career Girl’s Anna Runyan is offering. Just talking about my plans and my dreams for my business ideas got me really excited, and after my call with her, I’ve been working for hours on my ideas. I plan to sign up for her coaching course because I think it would be a great resource to push me towards my goals before I wimp out!

I have a long list of ideas I want to work on, but I almost fear starting them as though maybe I won’t be good enough, or maybe I’ll fail. That’s just silly. If even half of the ideas on my list did what I hoped, I’d be so delighted and successful. So many famous entrepreneurs will tell you that they failed many times before they hit the right idea. So tonight, I started taking charge of that list. For the past few months, I’ve planned to do many of the things on it, but I’ve been a bit leisurely about it. Tonight, that stops. I am going to take these ideas seriously and see what happens!

I’m sure these types of choices come naturally to many women, but they are learning steps for me. I truly believe that very good things are coming my way, and that I am going to make it happen. I’ve felt helpless for years–like a victim of my circumstances and a victim of the unstable behavior of first two addict parents, then later an abusive ex-spouse. When someone is acting crazy in your life, and you are powerless to “fix” them, you often feel like you cannot control what happens to you. Well, it is true that I can’t stop people from acting crazy and I can’t make them act responsibly, but I can proactively take control of my own life.

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