This weekend I'm heading over to The Word on the Street book festival to listen to Dr. Norman Doidge, author of The Brain that Changes Itself. Dr. Doidge is a forerunner in the field of neuroplasticity and the human brain's ability to heal itself, even after trauma. Very exciting! Here's the write-up from the brochure:
The Brain’s Way of Healing
Now a New York Times Bestseller!
The bestselling author of The Brain That Changes Itself presents astounding advances in the treatment of the brain problems of many kinds
Winner of the 2015 Gold Nautilus Award in Science & Cosmology.
In The Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Doidge described the most important breakthrough in our understanding of the brain in four hundred years: the discovery that the brain can change its own structure and function in response to mental experience—what we call neuroplasticity. He showed that not only does the brain alter our mental experience, but that mental experience can alter the very structure of the brain.
His revolutionary new book shows, for the first time, how the amazing process of neuroplastic healing really works. It describes natural, non-invasive avenues into the brain provided by the forms of energy around us—light, sound, vibration, movement—which pass through our senses and our bodies to awaken the brain’s own healing capacities without producing unpleasant side effects. Doidge explores cases where patients alleviated years of chronic pain or recovered from debilitating strokes or accidents; children on the autistic spectrum or with learning disorders normalizing; symptoms of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and cerebral palsy radically improved, and other extraordinary recoveries. And we learn how to vastly reduce the risk of dementia with simple approaches anyone can use.
For centuries it was believed that the brain’s complexity prevented recovery from damage or disease. The Brain’s Way of Healing shows that this very sophistication is the source of a unique kind of healing. As he did so lucidly in The Brain That Changes Itself, Doidge uses stories to present cutting-edge science with practical real-world applications, and principles that everyone can apply to improve their brain’s performance and health.
Nonfiction Brave New Word Tent at 1:45 PM - 3:00 PM
I am a huge fan of self-empowerment mantras. What we say to ourselves has a direct impact on our mood, self-esteem and inner strength. Consider this mantra:
I am not a victim of what happens. This is a core idea, that I am not a victim of what happens. We can change our thoughts. Self-regulation is the key to overcoming trauma. The core of overcoming trauma is to address the idea that something is happening to me that I am interpreting as frightening. We can change the sensation through movement such as yoga, and breathing. With yoga we improve our understanding that we can learn to tolerate our feelings and our physiological sensations because the truth is we are in charge of our own physiological systems.
This is an extremely important point because so often traumatized people feel frozen, helpless and hopeless. With the aid of a mantra, we can embrace the idea that we can cultivate in ourselves the ability to take control of our lives.
There is a strategy called Gray Rock, where you refuse to participate in toxic supply and make all interactions neutral, to the point where there is no benefit to the bully to attempt to interact with you because you cannot be provoked to provide supply. If you can stay non-reactive and no longer be a source of their supply, their need for drama and attention will be denied, and they will slowly give up on trying to get you hooked.
The most important part of going gray rock is to stay emotionally neutral. They will try to incite an emotional response with any and all kinds of ridiculous strategies, but you must remain calm and unflappable. They do not have the same values of mutual respect and humane behavior so be prepared for various unsettling attempts to trigger you.
The only way to “beat” a bully is to not participate in their game. You may need to practice this, perhaps with your therapist or a friend you trust. You know this person best, try to think of all of the various ways he will try to provoke you and practice your gray rock responses. Their continual need for drama and chaos will be denied and they will have no benefit to continuing this game with you and they will eventually move on to a new source of toxic supply.
When you are forced to interact with the bully, make sure your interactions are business-oriented and factual. Kids schedules, pick-up and drop-off times, etc. In these moments you may feel incredibly tempted to remind him of his lack of reliability, but do not! This is exactly what they want—chaos and drama—and going gray rock requires you to avoid doing so altogether.
You will also need to avoid talking about successes in your life because this will make the bully jealous and resentful. Also avoid talking about anything personal, in fact, avoid any personal details altogether. If there is nothing interesting about you, and they are getting no toxic supply, they will be bored with you.
Always remember that the bully does not respond to attempts to get them to empathize so don’t try to get them to understand how you feel or how their behavior is hurting you. If anything, do the opposite. When they need someone to blame for all of the problems in the relationship, allow it. They can blame you if they want, and trying to argue and convince them otherwise won’t work, so allow them to blame you in order for the interaction to end sooner. If you react defensively, argue your side, it only continues chaos and drama and gives them what they want—toxic supply. If they blame you for everything, agree. Say, “Okay,” then get away from them as quickly as possible.
From my book, Flourish After Emotional Abuse by a Narcissist, available here from Amazon.
Codependency is a huge topic that required it's own publication, so I decided to release CODEPENDENCY AND BOUNDARIES IN TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS. Here's the blurb:
Do you repeatedly find yourself in toxic relationships? Do you have difficulty setting limits with people, saying no? Do you have a hard time standing up for yourself? Do you worry you will hurt people’s feelings and are you a people-pleaser? Do you overlook your own needs in favor of someone else’s? Do you take on other people’s problems and try to fix them and avoid your own painful emotions? Do you put other people’s needs before your own? Do you take responsibility for others rather than letting them learn to take responsibility for themselves? Do you rescue them from their own painful emotions or from the consequences of their own actions?
If you do, you may be codependent - and you may find yourself in this book. This book provides clear, straightforward, understandable information of the confusing reality of codependency - and will help you overcome dependency to grow and reach strength, confidence and contentment in your life.
Read more here.
At its core, codependency is a problem that involves intense neediness, insecurity and a bone-deep emptiness that triggers you to seek something or someone in a misguided attempt to fill that void. You believe your sense of self requires outside approval, validation and love in order to feel even remotely acceptable. You likely rely so heavily on others for your sense of self that you leave yourself extremely vulnerable to what others do to you and what happens to you in your life. You are likely unable to perform self-care, self-validation and self-soothing.
Codependency is on a severity spectrum, meaning that all people are codependent to a certain degree. The more intense the codependency, the more symptomatic you will be. The goal is to be able to address the parts of you that are codependent and strive to address them and heal.
-Are you passive and compliant to avoid confrontation?
-Do you worry about what other people think of you? Do you fear disapproval?
-Have you lived with an addict?
-Have you lived with someone who has been emotionally, verbally or physically abused?
-Do you think everyone knows more than you, that their opinions are more valid than yours?
-Do you need routine and does change cause anxiety for you?
-Do you take it personally when other people say no to you? Do you feel rejected? When your partner gives attention to or spends time with other people do you feel worried and abandoned?
Does it threaten your sense of security and importance in their life?
-Do you lack self-esteem and doubt yourself? Are you afraid of success and avoid trying to reach your goals?
-Do you hold your cards close to your chest and keep people at an emotional distance? Do you have trouble expressing your feelings for fear of being hurt?
-Do you feel inadequate, like others are naturally more talented than you, smarter than you, more capable than you?
-Are you mortified when you make a mistake? Do you feel like it is a reflection of your character?
-Do you dislike compliments and feel uncomfortable when people show appreciation?
-Are you embarrassed when a family member does something wrong? Do you feel like it is a reflection on you?
-Do you think other people are unable to take care of themselves and work out their own problems? Do you feel uncomfortable when others are upset and feel obligated to help them avoid feeling sad and try to fix the situation when they are distressed? When you find yourself feeling uncomfortable with other people’s pain or difficulty, do you try everything in your power to fix their problems for them?
-When you try to solve people’s problems for them do you hope they will feel appreciative and approve of you? Do you have a hard time allowing people to make their own decisions? Do you feel resentful if they do not seek your advice or if they don’t do what you told them to do?
-Do you feel overly empathetic and find yourself feeling intense sympathy or as though you are experiencing their pain as much as they are? Is your mood easily influenced or affected by the people around you?
-Do you feel over-responsible and overworked? Do you feel like nobody helps you?
-Do you feel uncomfortable talking to people in positions of authority, such as a boss or supervisor, a doctor or law enforcement?
-Do you feel like you don’t know who you really are or what you stand for? Does your opinion change based on who you are talking to? Do you wonder if you have any true convictions?
-Do you avoid or refuse asking for help? Do you feel unworthy of support and assistance?
-Do you feel obligated to say yes when others ask for your help? Do you hate saying no to people?
-Do you feel distracted and confused by everything that is going on in your life? Do you feel like you are burning the candle from both ends? Do you worry you won’t be able to do a good job on any of them because you are stretched too thin?
-Do you focus on other people and talk a lot about what they are doing? Do you find yourself disappointed, annoyed or upset about the way other people are behaving? Are you emotionally reactive to the way people are treating you?
-Do you give up your own interests or your beliefs because you need their approval?
If other people have opinions that differ from yours do you take that personally? Do you feel you have to sway them to see things your way and adopt your viewpoint? Do you try to justify your position over and over in order to gain their approval or acceptance?
-Do you think the only way to secure someone’s love is to give and give and give? Do you stay away from attaining love because you feel unworthy and unlovable?
-Do you think you need to prove yourself to others in order to gain their love and approval? Do you have to show them your intelligence, your desirability? Do you secretly feel unattractive and unworthy?
-Do you struggle with fear, loneliness, inadequacy, guilt and worry? Do you have to be constantly busy in order to avoid these feelings?
-Are you afraid to be alone and believe you must have a partner in order to be valuable and have a fulfilling life?
-Are you “fiercely loyal” to a fault? Do you stay in relationships far longer than you should, even when you are being emotionally injured and abused?
-Are you convinced you have one “soul mate” and that you must stay with a person through thick and thin because they’re “the one” and if you leave you are destined to a life alone?
From my book, Flourish After Emotional Abuse by a Narcissist.
You feel like you are responsible for other people’s behavior. You have an inflated feeling that you can influence or affect people and their choices.
Sympathy and love are intertwined in your worldview. You find yourself in love with people you feel sympathy for and your heart goes out to someone who needs rescuing.
You do more than your fair share. You take on burdens because you feel like you have no other choice.
You feel that others don’t acknowledge the extent of your efforts. You bend over backwards for others and then are hurt and resentful that they take you for granted.
You are afraid of being alone. You will do anything to stay in a relationship to avoid feeling rejected, even to the extent where you will remain in an abusive, dysfunctional relationship.
Need for approval
You cannot tolerate disapproval and will do what it takes to please everyone. You need recognition for your efforts as your fragile self-esteem needs external validation in order to feel okay.
You have intense feelings of guilt if you perceive you’ve offended others or hurt their feelings. You avoid assertiveness and confrontation at all costs. You cannot bear the thought of having someone mad at you and, as a result, you will overlook your needs and feelings at the cost of your health and wellness.
You have a compulsive need to try to influence, control and affect other people. You feel it is your right and your responsibility to rescue people and change people. You are also rigid and prefer familiarity. Change is feared and avoided.
You don’t trust other people and, more importantly, you don’t trust yourself.
You have difficulty understanding why you feel sad or hurt; you are unable to fully identify your emotions or the motivations behind your behavior.
Due to your lack of trust you struggle with intimacy. You may feel mechanical and disconnected during lovemaking. You may vacillate between behaving in loving and then rejecting ways. You overlook your feelings and needs to please someone (such as participating in unpleasant sexual activity).
You feel angry and resentful that others use you, that you are trapped in this cycle and nobody will “let” you out, you feel like a victim of your circumstance and angry nobody will change and fix the situation.
You lie to yourself about the situation. You are dishonest to others about things that are going on. You are secretive and cover things up and sweep problems under the rug.
You lack communication skills and are unable to state your feelings, needs and opinions in a healthy, direct, respectful and calm manner. You may flip-flop back and forth between passive and allowing others to walk over you and aggressive, where you lash out in anger, or passive-aggressive, where you use manipulation strategies (guilt trips, shaming, head games) to get your needs met.
You don’t trust yourself. You’ve always been told your feelings weren’t valid or that you’re a drama queen. You can’t make a decision because you fear it will be the wrong one and you will be “wrong”. You can’t bear the blame of a bad decision because you are guilt-ridden and cannot manage the emotions associated with a mistake.
From my book, Flourish After Emotional Abuse by a Narcissist.
Codependency is a generational cycle of behavior that is modeled by parents and learned by children so that it is passed down from one generation to the next. It is a psychological condition that affects emotions and behavior and negatively impacts your ability to have a healthy relationship based on mutual love and respect. The term is used extensively in relation to substance addiction, as codependent people are often involved with an addict or are an addict themselves. But as we know from early discussions, regardless of whether a substance is involved, the codependent is addicted to another person who is emotionally abusive, chaotic and rejecting.
Dysfunctional family dynamics are at play. Families are characterized by individuals who are struggling with anger, sadness, fear, despair and almost always a deep-rooted sense of shame. Other family members minimize, ignore, criticize or outright deny these painful feelings.
Codependent Family Dynamics
Characteristics of a codependent family include:
Emotional, physical, verbal or sexual abuse. Psychological abuse is an umbrella that all of these other abuses have in common.
Codependent family members invariably are addicted to something: substances, work, sex, gaming, gambling, eating, or, in the case of psychological abuse, the addiction is to the toxic person and the relationship chaos involved.
Psychologically Abusive people most likely have an underlying personality disorder. Other mental illnesses are present in codependent families, such as Clinical Depression, Bi-Polar Affective Disorder, or a wide variety of other mental illnesses.
Codependent families operate with the adage, Don’t see. Don’t hear. Don’t speak. There is an outright denial that there is a problem. They ignore all of the symptoms and certainly don’t deal with them. If somebody attempts to confront a problem they are criticized, their concerns minimized, or told their problem is all in their imagination or that they are a drama queen and exaggerate. As a result, they repress their feelings and ignore their needs. They learn the family is not an emotionally safe place. They harden. They develop psychological mechanisms to help them deal with their painful emotions, for example, denial, avoidance or outright ignoring their feelings altogether. They may isolate themselves from their family in an effort to emotionally detach. They fear and avoid confrontation at all costs. They don’t trust anybody—their own family is untrustworthy. They become numb to their emotion and survive in a state of numbness.
Identities are formed around the codependence and the emotional injuries that are sustained. They remain in a state of emotional immaturity.
Typically, the family is organized around the addicted or mentally ill person (in this case the abusive person). The attention and energy of all family members is centered on this individual. The codependent partner will overlook their own needs in an effort to maintain the status quo, which results in them suffering a deterioration of physical and emotional heath. This process is progressive and, in time, the codependent person will no longer be in touch with their own needs, feelings, and will lose their own identity.
Codependent people are universally characterized by poor self-esteem. They cannot find the inner resources to make themselves feel better and look outside, to other people or situations, in order to find relief from their inner pain. Codependents are at high risk for addiction themselves, often turning to anything that makes them feel better, including substances, gaming, sex, overworking, or, in your case, a Toxic individual.
Your intentions are likely virtuous. You want to help people and be a caregiver for people you know are struggling. Unfortunately, this need to take care of others becomes compulsive and unhealthy. You may have heard of the Martyr Syndrome and found yourself nailed to the cross in your past. This is rescuing. You undoubtedly have had to make excuses for your Toxic partner about why you are crying, why he didn’t show up to a family function, why he said what he said. In codependent families this will look like a wife who calls in sick for her hung over husband, a mother who lies for her child skipping school, or a dad who pleads with the police in an effort to get his child out of a legal situation.
Rescuing people from experiencing their own consequences robs them of the opportunity to learn, take responsibility and grow. It allows them to continue to self-destruct because they know someone will bail them out so they do not have to face the emotional or practical consequences of their actions. They do not learn how to manage their own feelings because someone is always there to fix the situation for them. They learn to rely on others to make excuses and they stay weak, immature and entitled to do whatever they like without fear of repercussion.
Sadly, as this process unfolds, the codependent feels valuable and worthy as they believe they are playing a helping role for their loved one. The rescuing becomes an increasingly compulsive behavior for them. Once the pattern is entrenched, the codependent may recognize they are now stuck in this role, and cannot see a way to break out of it. They may eventually feel resentful of being forced into the situation and helpless to stop it. The result is they feel victimized in their relationships, and even if they are able to break free of one codependent relationship they will invariably attract further dysfunctional relationships in other areas of their life.
From my book, Flourish After Emotional Abuse by a Narcissist.
I can’t tell you the countless people I’ve seen in therapy who have expressed to me the feeling that they are “garbage magnets” in that they attract unhealthy individuals, and they cannot understand how this happens over and over again. It’s because they do not know what is injured inside of themselves and how those injuries lead them to seek out unhealthy addictions—to people who are seeking others to prey on.
Take a look at these traits and see if they resonate:
Do you have weak boundaries? Do you have difficulty setting limits with people, saying no? Do you have a hard time standing up for yourself? Do you worry you will hurt people’s feelings and are you a people pleaser? Do you overlook your own needs in favor of someone else’s? Do you take on other people’s problems and try to fix them in an effort to avoid your own painful emotions? Do you put other people’s needs before your own and see this as a righteous strength in your personality? Do you take responsibility for others rather than letting them learn to take responsibility for themselves? Do you rescue them from their own painful emotions or from the consequences of their own actions?
Have you been a victim of some form of abuse in your past?
Are you smart and have above average IQ? Are you adept at problem solving?
Do you set goals and know you will always achieve them? Do you feel your value in life is based on what goals you achieve? Do you feel unworthy if you fail to meet your goals?
Are you committed to make things work and have a “never give up” outlook?
Do you live by the old adage, “If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself”? Do you avoid relying on other people for help and choose to do everything yourself?
Does it bother you to think other people think poorly of you? Is the opinion of other people extremely important to you? Are you upset by the idea that someone thinks badly about you? Do you want people to like you and are you willing to do almost anything to gain approval?
Do you need security in your life? Are you willing to do everything in your power to ensure your security even if it means you will make excuses for others or fix their errors? Are you fearful of being alone and willing to overlook any problem in order to maintain security and keep yourself from being alone? Do you fear being single?
Do you beat yourself up and criticize yourself for your failures? Do you berate your weaknesses and hate yourself for them?
Do you feel guilty for taking care of yourself or doing things for yourself? Do you feel guilty when you have “me” time? Do you only have a sense of worth if you are being productive or doing things?
Did you feel invalidated by a parent, like you weren’t entitled to your feelings or your feelings were wrong or selfish? Did your parent make you feel guilty for your feelings because they were hurt that you expressed them? Did you feel criticized by your parents or feel like you couldn’t do anything right? Did you feel like you could never achieve their approval? Was love and acceptance conditional on being “good”?
From my book, Flourish After Emotional Abuse by a Narcissist.
This blog post is written with caution and to highlight the stark contrast between psychologically abusive relationships and healthy relationships in life and in the workplace. This is merely an abbreviated set of markers to demonstrate the difference between an abusive person and a healthy individual. Emotionally mature, responsible and healthy people are much different than abusive people. They demonstrate considerate behavior, which speaks to their conscience. There are many, many healthy people available to you, even though at this point in your recovery it may seem as though every human you meet is abusive.
There are fundamental basics that confirm if an individual is emotionally stable.
This individual is transparent in all interactions and consistently tells the truth. They wish to be honest and they do not lie, try to trick you, omit or spin information for their own gain.
They take ownership for what they say and do. They follow through with promises. They take responsibility for their own emotions and their behavior. If they make a mistake they own it and make amends.
They respect other people, and, most importantly, respect you enough to be considerate of how they choose their words and how they behave. There is no intention to hurt, humiliate or demean you.
This person will state their thoughts, feelings and opinions and expect the same from you. They will be assertive in their communication style and strive toward a win/win outcome where both parties are satisfied with the solution. Revenge is not in their sights. They can ask for what they need in a direct, honest, respectful way, where everyone’s dignity remains intact.
They are reasonable and rational in their interactions. They do not allow emotions to govern their behavior and you feel safe approaching them with concerns.
They want to support you in a healthy way, where both parties take ownership of their lives and emotions but support one another throughout the ups and downs. They have no interest in tearing you apart to get what they want. They want you to be emotionally intact and healthy.
They want emotionally safe, healthy, respectful relationships based on the fundamentals of mutual respect and decency.
Entire books are written on the topic of healthy relationships and this is not a section that should be taken as a guide as it is only a quick snapshot of what the baseline should look like. If you’ve been in a relationship with a psychological abuser you know that any baseline you used to have is long gone and you no longer even know what a healthy relationship looks like.
These seven points should be your new baseline. This is the standard by which you judge all individuals and assess the health of the relationship. Do not deviate.
From my book, Flourish After Emotional Abuse by a Narcissist
It’s startling really, that a narcissist will lay waste to everything that comes across his path in order to preserve his own survival against total self-destruction. To him, his behavior is not an option. It’s a matter of self-preservation.
Don’t be the wretched sheep to cross the wolf’s path. Don’t allow yourself to continue to be victimized in order to supply his unwholesome need for narcissistic supply. Don’t expect the wolf to change into a sheep. He doesn’t want to change. He’s a wolf. Accept it.
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference
There is no limit to the crazy-making of the narcissist. They are incapable of having boundaries because their need for their narcissistic supply is so frenzied they will say and do anything to get it. This means outrageous words or behaviors, things that seem mad, insane or ridiculous. Your mind doesn’t compute the craziness of it because you are not dealing with a fully functioning person. You are dealing with an emotionally under-developed individual.
They will stop at nothing because the unfillable hole inside of them needs what it needs, no matter what. He hates people. Everyone around him is an “asshole” or “idiot”. The truth is he is deeply resentful of other people. They are whole, fully developed, fully functioning people and he isn’t and never will be. He hates them for it. He hates you for it. And he hates himself for it. And you are on his path, so he will take all of his rage and hate out on you and will be temporarily content because his craving for narcissistic supply has been met.
Narcissists are disturbed at their core. Their inner rage has metastasized and taken over like a cancer of the soul. They are jealous and contemptuous and despise the human race. Their heads are riddled with thoughts of revenge and disgust. The narcissist feels he is the victim and the entire world is against him. This deep emotional disturbance is enormous and has far-reaching effects for anyone close to the narcissist. Like a tornado, you will be sucked in if you are near, and he will pull you in and tear you apart as he wreaks chaos and destruction in every area of his life. He needs your narcissistic supply to survive. He needs a victim to tear apart in order to attain and maintain the slightest relief from his own torturous inner self. You were the perfect target, and he recruited you for your energy.
Deep down, the narcissist hates this part of himself and recognizes it as weakness. But he cannot truly heal. His spirit is full of holes, and all he can do is spackle them with the narcissistic supply he steals from you. But the relief is temporary. He’s a sieve. The spackle falls apart and he continually needs supply. The only relief he can achieve is through the soul destruction of another person in order to patch up his soul with a twisted sense of significance.
This is a pathological system. And a pathological individual. You absolutely need to accept this as 100% true if you want to survive.
From my book, Flourish After Narcissistic Abuse by a Narcissist. Now available here at Amazon.com.