23 Traits of People with the Victim/Learned Helplessness Mindset:

23 Traits of People with the Victim/Learned Helplessness Mindset:

When we’ve experienced relational trauma, we’ve been victimized. Some of us stay victimized long after the trauma has happened and this wreaks havoc on our lives and relationships.

 

Some of us have been the one with the victim mindset, and some of us have been in relationship to someone who perceives the world through the victim mindset. (And some of us have played both parts.) No matter which side we’ve been on, if we’ve experienced it, we’ve felt the dread, fear and infuriation this mindset brings with it.

 

Perceiving from the victim mindset is different from being victimized although the two are related. Those of us who have survived trauma, especially in early childhood, often stay stuck in the victim role and our victim mindset is born.

 

Clinically, we refer to the victim mindset as learned helplessness. Learned helplessness happens when we are exposed to an aversive stimulus that we cannot avoid. Whether we are trying to avoid a slap, bullying at school, sexual abuse, or mistreatment from friends, if we feel powerless enough, we will learn that, no matter what we do, we can’t stop it. Studies show that many creatures including fish are susceptible to the learned helplessness phenomenon.

 

This is an allegory I often tell when I’m working with clients:

 

A few decades ago, circus animal handlers tied baby elephants to a tent stake. They attached a heavy chain from the baby elephant’s leg to a stake near the tent so that they could be left unsupervised without wandering away. Throughout its life, this is how handlers kept the circus elephant. Once the elephant matured, the handlers exchanged the heavy chain for a thin rope. The strength of a heavy chain was no longer needed; just a little bit of resistance against the animal’s leg was enough to keep it from freeing itself. The elephant was more than strong enough to pull its leg away from the tent stake and roam free, but because of its early conditioning, it didn’t realize this. It gave up at even the slightest bit of resistance. At one point, the elephant was actually stuck, and it habituated to being stuck. It continued to believe that it was helpless passed the point of objective helplessness.

 

This story is a great way to pictorialize the learned helplessness/ victim mindset. At some point, we are helpless, and we are subject to feeling helpless long after our objective helplessness.

 

Whether we are the person with the learned helplessness/victim mindset or we’re interacting with someone who is stuck in the learned helplessness/victim mindset, we find ourselves emotionally drained. It’s a challenge no matter which role we play. If we are the victim, we move through life feeling powerless and miserable. In reference to the circus elephant, we might think, “You can see that I’m stuck! Why won’t you help me and untie my leg from the tent stake?!” If we are in relationship to a victim, we feel irritated and burdened. We probably think, “Just start walking away from the tent, and you’ll see you’re not actually stuck!”

 

It’s hard to be the one who feels dependent on someone else to change things, and it’s hard to be the one who is charged with the impossible burden of changing something for someone else. Nothing is ever enough, and everybody feels it. In this dynamic, everybody is set up for failure.   

 

Here is a list of 23 common characteristics demonstrated by those of us with the learned helplessness/victim mindset:

 

1) Self-pity: We typically wallow in how hard things are for us. We feel entitled to better treatment and circumstances, but don’t know how to manage our disappointment or set and maintain a healthy boundary. Instead, we feel bad for ourselves and wait for someone or something to improve our situation.    

 

2) Lack of Accountability: Our feelings and circumstances are not our responsibilities. Instead of taking care of our feelings and identifying our part in a situation, we look to external stimuli that we’re sure is the culprit of our discomfort. If good things happen, we’re not sure how or why, but we know it couldn’t be because of anything we did. We wait for the other shoe to drop. If something bad happens, we are usually anxious about it but not surprised.

 

3) Passive-Aggressive: Growing up, it either wasn’t safe to disagree or assert ourselves, we went unheard, or we weren’t taught how to do it. We do not know how to appropriately self-advocate or assert ourselves, so we communicate our displeasure and hurt through passive-aggressive comments, actions, and silence. We wait for the other person to address an issue and when they do, we often become defensive or deny any hurt, disappointment, anger, or resentment.     

 

4) Quit Relationships, Jobs, Hobbies, etc.: Instead of maintaining proximity to a person or situation and working through challenges, when we experience hardship in a dynamic we cut someone out of our lives, quit a job or hobby, or otherwise remove ourselves from the relationship or situation. (Abusive or toxic situations are not included in this dysfunctional behavior. It is perfectly healthy and recommended to remove ourselves from an abusive or toxic circumstance.)

 

5) Critical of Ourselves and Others: It is hard to be compassionate for others when we a) didn’t experience much compassion growing up b) aren’t compassionate with ourselves and c) haven’t been able to receive compassion from others in any meaningful way. We nitpick, judge ourselves and others harshly, and hold people to unreasonably high standards.        

 

6) Blaming: We believe that everything would be so much better if someone else changed their behavior. Everything feels like a personal affront, and we believe that others know exactly how we are interpreting their actions but just don’t care. We inflict unnecessary pain in relationships because of our unwillingness or inability to accept responsibility for our choices and feelings.

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca      

7) Frequent Comparison: We look around to see who among us has it better than we think we have it. We vilify those people and feel sorry for ourselves. We feel better about ourselves (but it is short-lived) if we identify someone who is not as smart or successful.      

 

8) Difficulty Letting Go of Conflict and Grudges: Man, do we hold grudges. We bring up perceived wrongdoing long after it happened. It often feels like those wounds happened yesterday. And we don’t back down. When given the choice of being happy or right, we almost always choose to be right. (But since we don’t see our choices, that’s not how we would tell it. We believe we’re just doing what we have to do.)    

 

9) Don’t Know or Respect Self-Boundaries: We are out of touch with our boundaries, so we are constantly going above and beyond, even when it doesn’t work for us. We are constantly doing more than we can do. We don’t know how to say no and are afraid that, if we do, we will be rejected and abandoned.

 

10) Often Feel Slighted or Targeted: We do not feel considered by others. We feel targeted and cheated. We’re not faithful believers in the unintentional or giving the benefit of the doubt to others. If we feel bad about something, it’s because someone wanted us to feel bad. People aren’t just doing things, they are doing things to us. And we can be really hard on the people who we believe have perpetrated a slight.

 

11) “It’s Never Enough” Mindset: We are constantly aware of and looking for lack. We’re inclined to focus on the negative even when something positive happens. If we get a raise, it happened too late. If we get engaged, we don’t like the way it happened. If we go on an incredible vacation, the weather sucks or the accommodations aren’t up to our standards. If it’s raining happiness, we will pull out an umbrella and wonder why it’s not raining down on us.

 

12) Insecure: We need constant validation or reassurance at work, in our relationships, and everywhere else. We don’t trust our own experience, so we need it narrated to us by others. But we only want the positive version. And not too much of that, either, or we’ll feel uncomfortable and mistrustful.

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

13) Loud Inner Critic: Our inner critic is our loudest internal voice. We could have always done something better, smarter, more thoroughly, or more efficiently. We don’t look as good as we want to. We aren’t as worthy as everyone else. We amplify our mistakes and gloss over our positive attributes if we see them at all.

 

14) Unhealthy Management of Feelings/Mismanagement of Anger: We don’t know how to take care of ourselves and our feelings. We look to people and things outside of us to improve our mood, situation, or to make us feel better. When we’re angry, it’s usually disproportionate to the situation, and we’re often mean. We oscillate between quietly seething and exploding in rage.

 

15) Complains: Pretty much everything can be turned into a complaint. We are unable to sit with happiness, joy, relaxation, or neutrality for any length of time. Our negative-biased brains are in overdrive, constantly searching for what’s wrong, what’s lacking, and what could be better. We are never satisfied, and everyone around us knows it.

 

16) Difficulty Accepting Compliments: We are uncomfortable with most types of attention and don’t respond favorably to positive attention, compliments, and gifts. You will not often hear us utter a gracious, “Thank you so much.” You will hear a constrained, “Oh… um, thanks.” We often tell people why they are wrong to compliment us. We feel undeserving and mistrustful of compliments. But we are even worse with negative attention…

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

17) “It’s Not Fair” Attitude: We begrudge other people their happiness and take it personally. It’s not fair that they have what they have and we only have what we have. It’s not fair that life is as hard as it is for us. We firmly believe that our lives should be better, easier, or smoother in some way.     

 

18) Vacillate Between “It’s Not My Fault” and “Everything is Always My Fault Because I’m Terrible” Attitudes: When we’re not blaming other people for doing the wrong thing or causing us to have to deal with uncomfortable feelings, we blame ourselves because, after all, we believe that we are terrible. We either take on too little responsibility for wrongdoing or too much and beat ourselves up mercilessly.

 

19) Cannot See Choices: We see all of our actions, thoughts, and feelings as inevitable reactions to external stimuli. Life, people, and situations have power; we’re simply living in reaction to them. Our lives are not in our own hands. And that’s exactly how we relate, talk, behave, and live. We don’t choose how to spend our money, what to eat, or how much to drink; it just sort of… happens.        

 

20) Often Feel Resentful: Because we don’t know how to manage and communicate our feelings, we usually bottle them up and store them away in our resentment bank. This resentment leaks out and alienates us from others. Over time, if left unchecked, this resentment turns into contempt.      

 

21) Defensive When Given Constructive Feedback: This is the kiss of death. Anyone who knows us knows that we don’t do well with attention. We fear that people will notice that we do not measure up so, when there are ways in which we are not measuring up, and someone says so, we cry, get defensive, and blame others. Once we get ourselves together, we meet our new demands passive-aggressively.

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

22) “Life Just Happens to Me” Mindset: Because we cannot see our choices, we don’t see our lives as a series of choices as much as a series of events that happened to us because of other events that happened to us and so on. We feel completely disempowered and stuck in relationships, jobs, and life situations. Drama, hardship, and struggle are always at our front door, sneaking through windows, and wreaking havoc in our homes.

 

23) Difficulty Reaching Out: We often wait to be contacted by others. It either doesn’t occur to us that we can reach out, too, or we feel uncomfortable doing it, as though we’re overstepping our bounds or being a bother. Besides, if someone really loves us and wants to make time for us, they’ll reach out no matter how long it’s been since they’ve heard from us.   

 

This way of living is really hard on us, and it’s very hard on our relationships. We feel some level of miserable most of the time, and it rubs off on others. Many of us come by this victim/learned helplessness mentality honestly. It’s an understandable response to adverse and traumatic experiences. Transitioning out of this mindset takes deliberate effort, patience, and time, but it can happen.

 

I don’t have a quick “10 Ways to Stop Learned Helplessness” follow-up article because it can’t be done in 10 quick and easy steps. It takes time and effort, and often the guidance of a psychotherapist or coach. Like everything, it is a practice.

 

If you would like to talk more about shifting your mindset or changing the way you respond to someone who you believe employs this mindset, please contact me.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

 

I am a licensed mental-health professional located downtown at 870 Market St. San Francisco, CA 94102.

The Agony of Codependent Boundaries

The Agony of Codependent Boundaries

Those of us who experienced relational trauma at an early age either weren’t taught how to have clear, predictable, and logical boundaries or had that training interrupted. Chances are, we do not know how to set those kinds of boundaries for ourselves now. In fact, we probably have a skewed idea of what healthy boundaries look like. We might think it’s our responsibility to prevent others from getting mad or sad. We might have had to do this to keep ourselves safe during childhood. We might think it’s perfectly acceptable to micromanage someone else’s choices. (And we probably don’t see it as “micromanaging.” It’s more likely that we see our behavior as helpful or supportive.)

 

There are a million examples of unhealthy boundaries (or lack of boundaries). Here are a few common ones:  

 

  • Saying yes when we mean no.
  • Trying to control someone else’s behavior or choices.
  • Being unclear (with ourselves and others) on what we’re willing to tolerate and what we’re not.
  • Not telling the truth about what is working for us and what isn’t.
  • If we break a commitment to someone, being dishonest with them about why.
  • Not saying how we feel because we think someone doesn’t want to hear it.
  • Being unwilling to end a relationship if that relationship has become nonreciprocal.
  • Not letting people have their feelings when we say no or set and hold a limit.
  • Not Accepting someone else’s limits without becoming defensive or punishing.

 

It is understandable that at some point, we learned that we would be safer or more effective at getting what we wanted if we demonstrated these behaviors. As adults, though, most of us have found that they no longer serve us. We understand that these behaviors keep us from genuinely connecting with ourselves and others.

 

See if this scenario sounds familiar. Your partner tells you he’s been working really hard, is tired, and needs a break. He asks if you’d mind if he took a long weekend away with some friends to blow off some steam. This is the third recreational trip he’s taken without you in four months while you have not taken one in two years. You have also been working hard, are tired, and would like a weekend away with your friends. If you say no, you don’t mind, it will mean managing your fulltime work schedule, your two-and-a-half-year-old, and preparing for the week-long visit from out-of-town family you’ve scheduled for the upcoming holiday week. If you say yes, you absolutely mind, it will mean disappointing your partner. You say yes, throw this newest resentment in your resentment bank, and martyr through. He has a great time and comes back feeling refreshed.

 

The fact that you said yes to the trip isn’t what makes this an unhealthy boundary. Plenty of partners trade off taking separate vacations. It’s the fact that you haven’t traded off taking vacations in years, said yes when you meant no, didn’t tell the truth about what’s working for you and what’s not, and silenced your feelings to keep your partner from feeling disappointed.

 

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

 

Sometimes we confuse boundaries with controlling behavior.

 

Boundaries involve choices, what we are willing to do and accept and what we are not, and our behavior that we can control. “I won’t answer your call if you call after 9:30p.” Or “If you continue to talk to me this way I’m going to leave.” Or “I can’t help you with that right now. If you still need help in a couple of hours, try back then.”

 

Controlling behavior is manipulative and often passive-aggressive. “I told you I’d leave you if you didn’t stop drinking and start going to AA so, I’ll take you to your AA meeting to make sure you go, wait outside to see if you stay, and pick you up to make sure you don’t go to any bars or liquor stores on the way home.” Or “I hate the way she talks to me. I’m going to give her the cold shoulder whenever she says something in a way I don’t like so that she gets the message.” Or “I’m making plans with a friend for next week even though I might not feel up to hanging out with them. I want to please them in the moment. Rather than making tentative plans, I’m going to cancel last minute because I don’t want to deal with them feeling frustrated or disappointed with me right now. I’ll just avoid them for a few days after I cancel our plans and then go on as if nothing has happened.”

 

We exert control over people or situations instead of setting boundaries so that we don’t lose the relationship or situation on which we are dependent.

 

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

 

Weak boundaries often flop either way. If we know that we can be pressured into doing something we don’t want to do, we probably assume others can, too. Unconsciously or intentionally, we might apply pressure or bulldoze to get someone to relax their boundaries.

 

We’re afraid to set boundaries because we don’t want to deal with what happens when we keep them. We don’t want to have to hold the limit with our children or parents or partners or friends or coworkers. Boundaries are painful. They take work and commitment. It hurts when someone is mad at us or when we have to separate from them for a while or for good.

 

Instead, we try to show someone how frustrated or scared or sad we’re feeling by saying mean things, doing things “at” them (drinking, stomping around the house, eating, starving, literally anything), making empty threats, tantruming, or shutting someone out for a day or two. If we weren’t allowed to set boundaries as children, if our boundaries weren’t respected, or if we never learned how to set boundaries, we’ll be well-practiced at power struggling and weak at boundary setting as adults.

 

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

 

A sneaky way for us to fall off our boundaries game is the urge to care-take.

 

We give advice or help without being asked. We insinuate ourselves into someone else’s situation and micromanage them. We rescue people, do for them, give to them because we want to feel needed, indispensable, helpful, and lovable. Usually, what happens is the other person starts to expect this from us. They depend on us. We feel good about ourselves knowing that we’re taking care of someone and we wait for the effusive gratitude and love. When the reciprocity doesn’t come, we start to feel resentful because we are doing so much. It’s pretty much doomed from the start.

 

There is a difference between giving to others and helping people in need and care-taking so that we get our needs met. We give so that we live inline with our values. We care-take in hopes of not being abandoned. When we care-take, the boundary between our responsibility and others’ responsibility is blurred.

 

Often, we get so sick or run down we can’t perform our care-taking behaviors continuously. Some of us pray for a sick day so that we have an excuse to stay home and not take care of anyone else for a while. Self-care is so foreign to us that we feel we have to justify it through illness or injury. “I’ve been working hard and taking care of everyone else. I’m exhausted and sick as a dog. I deserve to stay in bed and watch TV and rest.” We equate care-taking with earning our keep. Some of us are often sick or inured and use that time to wait for others to give us the same care we’ve given them. This is, of course, a set up for everyone.

 

The more we give until we’re depleted and neglect our own needs, the more we martyr ourselves, the needier we become. We drive ourselves deeper into emotional debt. Our resentments increase, and we become the dreaded victim.

 

Being a perpetual victim is exhausting both for us and for the people in our lives. It happens when we don’t take responsibility for our choices and believe that everyone else’s wellbeing depends on us. We say things like, “What am I supposed to do? Not give my sister money when I know she’s struggling with her finances?” Or “Of course I’m going to spend the holidays with my mother. It doesn’t matter if I have a good time or not. That’s not what’s important. What, am I just not going to go and make her think I don’t love her? Then what?” When we are victims, everything we do is a burden. We have to give that unlikable coworker a ride home if they ask. We have to stay at the job we hate. We have to say yes when a family member asks us for a favor. We have to suck it up and give our last piece of energy away.

 

Natalie Mills San Francisco Psychotherapy and Coaching, San Francisco Counseling, San Francisco Therapy, San Francisco CA Therapists, San Francisco CA Therapist, San Francisco CA Couples Counseling, couples therapy san francisco ca, couples therapist san francisco ca, San Francisco Marriage Therapy, San Francisco Marriage Counseling, San Francisco Coaching, EMDR therapists in San Francisco, EMDR therapist in san Francisco ca, EMDR therapy in San Francisco CA, psychologist in san francisco, female psychotherapist san francisco, female therapist san francisco ca, psychotherapist in san francisco, marriage and family therapist in san francisco, relationship therapy in san francisco, help with intimacy therapy san francisco, help with intimacy San Francisco, help for depression in san francisco, depression treatment san francisco, anxiety treatment san Francisco, help for anxiety san francisco, anxiety treatment san francisco, addiction treatment San Francisco, alcoholism treatment san francisco ca, substance abuse treatment san francisco, eating disorder treatment san francisco, anorexia therapy san francisco, bulimia therapy san francisco, binge eating disorder therapy san francisco, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, self-compassion therapy san francisco, eating disorder therapist in San Francisco ca, eating disorder specialist san francisco, couples therapy san francisco, couples therapist San Francisco, eating disorder recovery san francisco, eating disorder therapy san francisco, treatment for anorexia san francisco ca, treatment for bulimia san francisco ca, treatment for binge eating disorder san francisco ca, addiction treatment san francisco ca, treatment for substance abuse san francisco, eating disorder treatment San Francisco, mental health san francisco, mental health therapist san francisco, mental health professional san francisco, healing from shame san francisco, trauma recovery san Francisco therapy ca, trauma treatment san francisco ca, mental health support in san francisco, treatment for shame san francisco, sexual abuse specialist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco therapy, trauma treatment San Francisco, PTSD therapist in San Francisco ca, therapy for PTSD in San Francisco ca, trauma specialist san francisco, PTSD specialist san francisco, treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder san francisco ca, anger management therapy san francisco, stress management therapy san francisco, help with communication san francisco, attachment-based therapy san francisco, attachment-based therapist san francisco, sex therapy san francisco, sex therapist san francisco, sexuality specialist therapy san francisco, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, psychospiritual therapy san francisco ca, grief therapy san francisco ca, feminist therapy san francisco, marriage counseling san francisco, attachment-focused therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapy san francisco, internal family systems therapist in san francisco, choosing a therapist in san francisco, choosing the right therapist in san francisco, how to choose a therapist san francisco, find a therapist in san francisco, female therapist in san francisco, finding the right therapist san francisco, ethical non-monogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, ethical nonmonogamy affirming therapist in san francisco ca, polyamory affirming therapist san francisco ca, treatment for sexual abuse san francisco, treatment for sexual assault san francisco, treatment for sexual bullying san francisco, support for sexual bullying san francisco, trauma specialist san francisco ca, attachment trauma treatment san francisco ca, relational trauma treatment san francisco ca, treatment for codependency san francisco ca, codependency therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapy san francisco ca, relationship therapist san francisco ca

 

Sometimes it’s a fine line between care-taking and taking care of our responsibilities. If we are in charge of caring for children, animals, or dependent adults we can’t stop or duties, but we can ask for help and make sure we are meeting our biological and emotional needs. We can make sure that we’re not trying to do more than we realistically can. We can remember that we can say no. Care-taking has the attitude of “I have to do it all.” Boundaries and taking care of our responsibilities are about choices and sound like “This is what it is right now. Is there a way I can approach things differently? Is there a different perspective I can access? What are my choices here?”

 

It’s normal to want to help someone when we see them in need. Helping doesn’t mean we’re not setting healthy boundaries. It’s not so much the what as it is the how and why. Am I saying yes to this person because I genuinely want to help them or because I’m afraid of losing the relationship if I don’t? Am I straightening the living room because I want to maintain my responsibility to myself and the space I live in or am I doing it “at” the members of my family, huffing and stomping around, trying to get them to see how much I’m doing while they sit there and watch TV? Do I list all the things I’ve done today so that everyone can see how worthy and productive I am?

 

Loving someone and sincerely wanting to help them means that we will:

  • Check in with ourselves to see what kind of place we are in to help. If someone asks us directly for our help, it’s always acceptable to say, “Let me get back to you,” and decide what, if anything, we are willing to do.
  • Pay attention to relationships in which there is low or no reciprocity. Is this working for you?
  • Notice and be honest with ourselves when we are giving because we want to receive. (Ever heard of “needy giving?”)
  • Take responsibility for our feelings and choices.
  • Not take responsibility for other people’s feelings and choices.
  • Make a deliberate choice to take care of ourselves and stop when we need a break.
  • Understand that saying no is sometimes the best help we have to offer someone.
  • Ask ourselves why we feel compelled to help someone and what we’re hoping to gain from it.                    

 

The more we trust and accept ourselves, the more we will trust and accept our boundaries and limits. When we’ve experienced relational trauma, our ability to trust and accept ourselves is compromised and sometimes terminated. If we are willing to be uncomfortable as we learn how to identify, set, and hold the boundaries that feel right for us, we will be able to contact self-trust and self-acceptance again or for the first time. We will test patience, fail, disappoint others, feel awkward, and make mistakes. And we will finally learn that we can survive all of those things.

 

This practice, like so many others, is a slow burn.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

 

 

I am a licensed mental-health professional located downtown at 870 Market St. San Francisco, CA 94102.

7 Critical Checkpoints for Your Anger

7 Critical Checkpoints for Your Anger

Humans are wired for anger. It’s an important part of our evolution. Anger tells us when something needs our attention, when we have an unmet need, or when something is missing. The problem with anger is in our mismanagement of it. And it can be incredibly destructive.

 

The best way to curb the destruction caused by anger and to use it more intelligently is to understand the feeling, to be curious about it. The more we understand our triggers and patterns, the more present we can be with our anger.

 

Start by identifying what activates it. Get a pen and paper and answer these questions.

 

What triggers your anger? (Here are some common ones)

-yelling

-loud sounds

-having to wait (for someone, for something to happen)

-receiving critical feedback or being corrected

-deceit

-when someone talks over or interrupts you

-being/feeling avoided

-being/feeling smothered

-being in conflict with someone

-rudeness

-inconsiderate actions/remarks

 

Then, start thinking about your pattern of anger. Once your wire is tripped, how do you react?

 

What’s your typical expression of anger?

-lashing out directly at someone, yelling, attacking

-passive aggression, withholding affection/love, trying to control someone using emotional manipulation/guilting, off-handed comments, gossip, isolating

-blame, resentment

-avoidance, defensiveness, stonewalling

-punishing, intimidating, judgment, criticizing, contempt, threatening, using ultimatums

-revenge

-throwing things, breaking things

-physical violence

-broken promises

 

What’s it like for you when you engage any of these strategies? Does it get the job done/ get your needs met? At what cost? Do you like yourself when you use these strategies?  

 

What unmet need underlies your anger-trigger?

Here are some common needs that when unmet, cause us to feel anger:

-Feeling disrespected/ need to feel respected

-Feeling invalidated/ need to feel validated

-Feeling scared or unsafe/ need to feel safe

-Feeling abandoned (physically or emotionally)/ need to feel continuity of relationship or proximity

-Feeling or being out of control/ need to feel in control

-Feeling worthless/ need to feel worthy

-Feeling unlovable/ need to feel lovable

-Feeling inadequate/ need to feel adequate or good enough

-Feeling mistrusted/ need to feel trusted

-Feeling wronged/ need to be treated justly

 

When we stay caught in anger, we behave regrettably. We have no idea what our unmet need is. And we don’t even care; all we know is that something has pissed us off and whoever or whatever it is needs to pay. We can go so far off the rails that we forget we love the person with whom we’re angry. When we don’t know how our anger works and it just happens to us, we can’t catch it, pause, and redirect ourselves. Left uninvestigated, anger can kill or deeply wound any relationship.

 

It’s not easy to respond wisely to our anger. I know that. We run on the fumes of righteous indignation. We feel powerful when we yell or stonewall or manipulate or judge. We’re right, and they’re wrong. If the person really loved us, they wouldn’t do this. Given a choice between fully experiencing our vulnerability or a quick jolt of power, most of us would choose the quick jolt. But learning how to take care of ourselves, translate our anger, and address unmet needs is a much more satisfying, viable, and supportive power. This gives us the opportunity to connect on a deeper level and know true intimacy.

 

“When the gentleness between you hardens
And you fall out of your belonging with each other,
May the depths you have reached hold you still.
When no true word can be said, or heard,
And you mirror each other in the script of hurt,
When even the silence has become raw and torn,
May you hear again an echo of your first music.
When the weave of affection starts to unravel
And anger begins to sear the ground between you,
Before this weather of grief invites
The black seed of bitterness to find root,
May your souls come to kiss.
Now is the time for one of you to be gracious,
To allow a kindness beyond thought and hurt,
Reach out with sure hands
To take the chalice of your love,
And carry it carefully through this echoless waste
Until this winter pilgrimage leads you
Towards the gateway to spring.”
-John O’Donohue

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Why Are Relationships So Hard?

Why Are Relationships So Hard?

What We Want:

We all long for fulfilling, stable, and safe connections to others. We want to be understood and hope for people to experience us as we experience ourselves. We long for someone who will take care of us and reassure us that everything will be ok. We want to feel held and contained. We want our rage and defiance to be tolerated. We want to feel that someone understands our experiences of the world and we want those our feelings about those experiences to either be validated or soothed.

Why That’s Challenging:

We will often be misunderstood by and misunderstand others.

We don’t always know how to tolerate someone else’s rage and defiance. Some of us were taught that rage and defiance are intolerable and unacceptable. We were taught that in order to be lovable we had to be “good” which meant being pleasing and accommodating.

We all have some degree of self-idealization, over-inflation of certain qualities and that is often in conflict with a) others’ self-idealization and b) others’ self-concepts. It gets in the way. I might think of myself as a smart, fantastic listener and you might consider yourself a smart, effective communicator. If we come across a misunderstanding or a fair amount of tension during an encounter in our relationship, depending on how psychologically flexible we are, both of us might jump to the conclusion that the other is not as smart as they think they are or not a great listener/communicator.

We are a complex constellation of inner experiences and reduced to words as a means of communication.

Some of us have been deeply hurt by intimacy. Some of us respond to this wound by avoiding intimacy. Others respond by developing a preoccupation with it. Depending on the experiences endured in childhood, we might view safety as either boring, untrustworthy, or elusive. (And plenty of people would say that safety is downright illusory.)

A lot of us don’t know how to manage our own difficult emotions, let alone tolerate high emotionality in others.

What We Can Do:

 We can begin by learning to accept that we are never going to be completely understood by nor completely understand others. Having some understanding can be enough.

At any moment, we can slow down and label what is happening to give us space from the immediate interpretations calculated by our brains.

We can look at our expectations.

We can start to be more curious about which narratives we’re living by that aren’t serving us.

We can remind ourselves that, at the core, what we want from others is often what they want from us and that we might define this differently.

We can learn to balance between our attunement to others’ needs and our own.

Listening is an ineffably effective tool. When we’re willing to listen to ourselves and others we create an open, stable environment. Listening allows us to contact an experience on a deeper level and then make choices that are more in alignment with what is needed.

As always, none of this exhaustive but it’s off to a good start. Happy relating!

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Get Noticed

Get Noticed

Many creative and content creators have doubted their abilities to share something inventive. They’ve experienced plenty of starts and stops. Self-doubt is often an integral part of the creative process.

 

On some level, most of us experience this. Self-doubt has a way of creeping in through all sorts of corners of our minds when we’re promoting an idea, ourselves, and sharing our perspectives with the world. No matter what field we’re in, as we try to figure out what and how we’d like to contribute we feel overwhelmed by the saturation and think, “What do I have to share that hasn’t already been shared? Can I find an innovative idea to express or even an innovative way to express it?” It’s easy to silence ourselves.

 

I experienced this self-doubt when I first opened my private practice. I looked at how many listings there are for psychotherapists in my city and thought, “What?! How’s this going to work?” I felt this the entire way through building my first website, and I felt it multifold when I decided I was going to keep a blog. And now and then that doubt resurfaces.

 

I’ve been fortunate enough to have surrounded myself with experienced practitioners, mentors, and supervisors who told me different variations of the same thing- There is enough to go around. Don’t let the saturation silence your voice. There are people who need to hear what you have to say in the way you are going to say it.

 

Over the years, as I’ve reflected on their variations of this message I realized they were right. I’ve read books, watched documentaries, and completed trainings that are similar but land with me in different ways depending on the speaker and where I am in my practice and my own life. (And obviously, even this message I have been relying on all these years has been restated by the people whose advice I’ve valued most. It has never lost its impact.)

 

Broadening this perspective, we can see how many voices uttering the same message from slightly different points of view strengthen a movement and a message- Black Lives Matter, LGBT Equality, Women’s Equality, healthcare reform, and so many other critical causes. There is strength in numbers. What’s not powerful about adding to a growing movement?

 

We need to hear from each other. We need to make ourselves visible so that other members of our community see themselves reflected in us. We cannot hear a message about something until it resonates with us and not every voice or every group will resonate with all of us. So we need to hear from Black members of our community, Transgender members of our community, working single moms, upwardly mobile millennials, professional women, the neuroscience community, the spiritual communities, our youth, people with a sense of humor, people who embrace their vulnerability. I might not be able to hear the message that a 67-year-old straight, white man has to say, but I might be able to hear it from a Biracial, Queer, 67-year-old woman. I also might need to hear the same message from people across communities and identities and intersections.

You have a valuable voice and message worth sharing. You don’t have to sound like Audre Lorde or Tony Robbins or June Jordan. Stay authentic. Sound like yourself. There is enough to go around. Don’t let the saturation silence your voice. There are people who need to hear what you have to say in the way you are going to say it.

Say It Better

Say It Better

It occurs to me every so often that my job is instrumental in helping me manage life. I’m really lucky. I get to spend my days learning about what works and what doesn’t and for whom. I get to talk and think all day about the human brain and its connection with the body, what to do when we find ourselves in various pickles, and best practices for increasing our well-being. Sometimes I don’t realize how much I take for granted. Last week, I realized how much I take for granted having a constructive conversation.

 

All the time (and I mean, constantly) I hear people say to one another, “How many more times are we going to have this conversation?” or “How many times do I have to tell you?!” or “How long are we going to have to keep revisiting this subject until you finally get it?” Most of the time the answer to that question is- however many times it takes because we don’t learn from lectures and conversations and words alone. Our most effective preceptor is experience. So, on the one hand, when a need or a goal is really important to us, and we feel it’s not being met, we can definitely count on having multiple conversations about it over and over and over. We might as well make ourselves a little more comfortable and feel a little less crazy by learning how to practice and apply effective conversation skills.

 

You might remember from the 80s, the T.H.I.N.K. method for communication (which I’m not totally sure but I think might have been founded on some Buddhist principles for wise speech).

 

At some point, you probably saw the poster for it in a humanities class, at a presentation given by your Human Resources department, or on a wall in your kindergarten classroom. Decades later, most of us have forgotten the message brought to us by that wise little poster. At any rate, it said:

 

Before you speak,

 

T- is it thoughtful?

H- is it helpful?

I- what is my intention?

N- is it necessary?

K- is it kind?

 

And honestly, it’s a technique that I use every day, both at work and in the rest of life. We cannot underestimate the healing power of deliberate and compassionate communication. I’m going to break it down with some more questions for deeper self-inquiry. The T.H.I.N.K. method is always simple, but it’s not always easy.

 

T- it is thoughtful:

Have I reflected on my experience to optimize this conversation? Am I fully present for this conversation or am I feeling pretty reactive right now? Am I clear on my message, needs, experience, and feelings? Is this a good time for each of us to talk about it?

 

H- is it helpful:

Does this help the other person understand my experience? Does it help me express my feelings and needs? How will it help our connection?

 

I- what is my intention:

What do I want the other person to know about how I am feeling and what I need? What do I need from this interaction?

 

N- is it necessary:

Is what I am about to say critical to my message? Is it essential to understanding my experience?

 

K- is it kind:

Am I approaching this conversation with the utmost dignity, respect, love, and compassion for myself and the other person? If I am feeling reactive, am I trying to hurt the other person so that they feel what I feel? For both of us to get the most out of this, do I need to pause or take a longer break before I continue this discussion?

 

Sometimes it’s not possible to be this thoughtful. We’re people, and we react when we feel strongly about something. Sometimes we act or speak impulsively. And sometimes others can’t or won’t hear us no matter what. And sometimes there just isn’t time and space. Our world moves at hyper speed, and we are pretty consistently pressured by this. But when we can pause for a minute, reflect, and inquire, we give ourselves and others the gift of clarity. Over time and with practice, we find that this quality of communication paves the way a deeper insight. This is crucial for changing behavior and patterns. Go forth and effectively communicate.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Learn How to Be More Assertive

Learn How to Be More Assertive

If you’ve ever enlisted the “disappearing act” method as a way to put some space between you and another person, I get it. When you feel like you might need some time away from someone, want to end a relationship, or change a relationship dynamic it can be anxiety producing; speaking up for yourself can feel tricky. Sometimes we’d all rather slink away to avoid conflict.

Now and then, everyone thinks that addressing a relationship issue might result in too many hurt feelings, a knock-down-drag-out argument, or something ambiguously scary. It can be tempting to stay silent and hope it resolves itself. It’s my experience, though, that problems tend not to fix themselves and that, the longer they’re left unmanaged, the more overwhelming they can seem.

There are some things you can do to effectively express what you need from a relationship without becoming invisible and without feeling like your only other alternative is to drape yourself in aggression and hostility. Putting these things to use will help you to feel more grounded as you organize your thoughts about your experience and think about what you’d like to convey. Eventually, while speaking up for yourself might feel slightly uncomfortable in certain situations, it won’t feel as unavailable to you.

The first step to take is to explore your experience. The idea here is to gain awareness of your feelings about the situation and how they connect to your thoughts and actions. This will help you to trust yourself.

For example, let’s say you want some space in a friendship. You love your friend very much and value the relationship, and you also feel overwhelmed by the various goings on in your life. Perhaps you’re afraid to tell the friend that you can’t help them as often as they ask or that you can’t spend as much time hanging out and talking on the phone with them. Because you’re afraid to communicate this, you might continue doing things that you don’t have a chance to do. By overextending yourself, you might begin to resent your friend’s requests and experience the friend as overbearing. Maybe you start to exert less effort in the help that you lend, continue to make plans with the friend but begin to break them.

Be curious about why you’re afraid to say that you need space; what are you afraid will happen? Why would you rather overextend yourself? What do these things mean to you? As you become more aware of your feelings, you will begin to trust your experience. You will feel more secure in creating a more desirable situation for yourself.

The second step is to take the information you’ve acquired and use it to clarify the choices available to you. Will you choose to talk to your friend? Will you choose to let your resentment grow? Gaining awareness of your choices helps you to feel more empowered. When you feel empowered, you feel less inclined to suffer silently, quietly disengage from the relationship, or engage in aggressive behavior. This sense of empowerment will give you comfort when you address the situation.

The third step is to show up in an authentic way. If you’re nervous to express how you’re feeling, let the person know. Be honest about what this experience is like for you, about your fear of what might happen. However they manifest, these feelings will surface at some point, and they are so much more manageable (and a lot less scary) when you address them as you become aware of them.

Standing up for yourself can be scary, but you can effectively say what you need to in an empathic and satisfying way.

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie