HOW TO CHANGE THE WAY YOU FEEL (WITHOUT CHANGING ANYTHING ELSE)
Happiness does not start with a relationship, a degree, a job, or money. It starts with your thinking and what you tell yourself today.
“I had a date scheduled for last night with this guy I started talking to on a dating app. I waited outside the diner where we agreed to meet for 30 minutes past the time we were supposed to meet. He never showed up. All sorts of negative thoughts were running through my head. I thought maybe he saw me from a distance, didn’t like what he saw, and then bailed.
Just as I was about to leave, one of my old college friends, Jared, who I haven’t seen in nearly a decade, walked up to me with a huge smile on his face and said, ‘Carly! It’s great to see you! You look fantastic!’ I almost blew him off because of how I felt inside at the moment. But luckily I pulled myself together to engage in a conversation.
After we talked in that same spot for awhile, he said, ‘What are you doing for dinner?’ We ended up going into the diner I was supposed to eat at with the no-show date and having an amazing conversation filled with laughter. After dinner he walked me to my car, we exchanged numbers, and he asked me out on a formal date for this Friday night.”
Our Stories Make or Break Us
The story above comes from Carly, one of our recent Think Better, Live Better 2019 attendees (and of course, we’re sharing her story with permission).
Think about how her initial reaction was rooted so heavily in negativity. Her date didn’t show up and she immediately crumbled inside. Now think about the amazing opportunity she would have missed if she had let that negativity endure. And think about how often your negativity gets the best of you.
How often do let your insecurities stop you?
Or, how often do you judge others for their imperfections?
What you need to realize right now is that you have a story about yourself and others (or perhaps a series of stories) that you recite to yourself daily. This is your mental movie, and it’s a feature film that plays on repeat in your mind. Your movie is about who you are and how the world is supposed to be: your tummy is too flabby, your skin is too dark or too pale, you aren’t smart, you aren’t lovable… you aren’t good enough. And of course, you catch yourself picking out all sorts of imperfections in others, and the world at large, too.
Start to pay attention when your movie plays—when you feel anxiety about being who you are or facing the realities of life—because it affects everything you do. Realize that this movie isn’t real, it isn’t true, and it isn’t you. It’s just a train of thought that can be stopped—a script that can be rewritten.
Ready to rewrite the script?
Let’s start by being honest… Sometimes negativity absolutely dominates our better judgment!
So, how do we outsmart our own negative tendencies so we can feel better, behave better, and ultimately live better? There are many ways, but Angel and I often recommend two simple (but not easy) practices:
1. Practice questioning your stories.
You know what they say, don’t believe everything you hear nor everything you read. Don’t believe the gossip columns in every magazine, the doom and gloom predictions from your co-workers, or the “shocking news” that you hear on TV… until you have verified it.
Well, the same concept applies to your inside world—your thoughts.
We all have stories about ourselves and others even if we don’t think of them as stories. Case in point: How often do you pause to logically contemplate what you really think about your relationships, your habits, or your challenges? How often, on the other hand, do you just blurt out whatever fleeting emotion comes to mind—i.e., the pre-recorded movie script you’ve been holding on to—without even thinking straight?
Stories can be short, such as “I’m not a good writer,” “I’m not good at yoga,” or “I have intrinsic relationship problems.” And if we were to dig deeper into your own personal version of these stories, I bet you’d be happy to go on and try to explain why the stories you’ve been holding onto are real. Even though the aren’t. They’re just stories.
So the key practice here is to question your stories. For instance, let’s take the writer example. Ask yourself: Why do I think I am not a good writer? What would it look like to be a good writer? Can I describe my current writing in a way that serves me better?
You will be surprised by how often the questioning process helps you emerge with a clearer and more accurate version of your story. Give it a try!
2. Practice running your thoughts through three key filters.
Sometimes you are in a hurry, and not having a great day to boot. On days like this, there’s a mental conditioning exercise I recommend that’s super quick and can help keep your attitude in check…
I’ve been in arguments with my my wife, Angel, in the past and one of the things I certainly regretted was not filtering my words before saying them. At the time of these arguments, I did not have the right tools, except for thinking “Be nice!”, which does nothing for you when you’re feeling the opposite of nice. Some years later I found this simple tool that helped me shift my behavior. Here’s how it works:
Before you utter anything, run your thoughts through three key filters and don’t speak unless you get three resounding “YES” responses:
Is it true?
Is it kind?
Is it helpful?
For example, let’s say a running thought in your head says that your partner doesn’t care about you, and you are about to shout those words out because he or she didn’t do the last chore you requested. Question that thought first: Is it true that my partner doesn’t care about me? Is it kind for me to say or think this? Is it helpful for me to say or think this?
Remember you can’t take your words back. What’s more, you will never regret behaving in a true, kind and helpful way down the road. So make it a ritual in your life in the days and weeks ahead.
Now, it’s your turn…
Leverage the two practices above to gradually rewrite the script of your mental movie. Learn to recognize the worn-out flicker of your old movie starting up, and then stop it. Seriously! Whenever you catch yourself reciting lines from your old script (“My arms are flabby…” or “My spouse deserves the silent treatment…”), flip the script and replace those lines with truer, kinder and more helpful ones. This takes some practice, but it’s worth it. Just keep practicing, and forgiving yourself for making mistakes along the way.
And keep in mind that various kinds of external negativity will attempt to distract you from your new script and your better judgment—comments from family, news anchors, social media posts… lots of things other people say and do. When you sense negativity coming at you, learn to deflect it. Give it a small push back with a thought like, “That remark is not really about me, it’s about you.” Remember that all people have emotional issues they’re dealing with (just like you), and it makes them difficult and thoughtless sometimes. They are doing the best they can, or they’re not even aware of their issues. In any case, you can learn not to interpret their behaviors as personal attacks, and instead see them as non-personal encounters (like an obnoxious little dog barking in the distance) that you can either respond to gracefully, or not respond to at all.
So, what was your biggest takeaway from this short article?
10 PHRASES YOU SHOULD NEVER SAY TO SOMEONE EXPERIENCING BETRAYAL TRAUMA
Discovering the sexual betrayal of a spouse is
one of the most traumatic experiences anyone can suffer. There are so few
people with whom the wounded spouse can confide. Imagine this devastated
individual mustering the courage to share the story with a close friend or
family member only to receive comments or advice that inflict further damage.
Knowing what to say to someone who has
experienced a loss is difficult for most people. I believe there are many
well-meaning, loving individuals who truly want to be helpful to a wounded
spouse but are simply ill-equipped in that situation. What should be said at
such a time?
The Bible tells the story of a man of God
named Job. His life was filled with prestige and possessions, but God allowed
him to be tested and he lost his ten children, all of his livestock, and even
his health. In the midst of his misery and devastation, he had three friends
who came to comfort him. The Bible says,
“When they saw him from a distance, they could
hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and
sprinkled dust on their heads. They sat on the ground with him for seven days
and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his
suffering was” (Job 2:12-13).
Wow! What great friends. Unfortunately,
whatever comfort Job felt by their presence quickly ended when they opened
their mouths and began to speak.
If you have an acquaintance, friend, or loved
one who has experienced sexual betrayal, one of the greatest things you
can do for him or her is just show up. Most people going through such
trauma feel alone and isolated. Your presence, at that time, can be a gift.
Silence is okay.
If you do speak, here are ten things best left
1. “Things will get better.”
This person’s life has been shattered. How can
you possibly know things will get better? Unfortunately, things may get a lot
worse. Certainly, the wounded spouse can pursue and achieve healing, but that
does not mean the circumstances will get better.
2. “You just need to forgive.”
Such a comment is callous to the pain this
person is feeling. There are many things someone who has been betrayed may
need, such as testing for STDs, counseling, self-care, safety, a support group,
and healthy boundaries.
While forgiveness will eventually be in this
individual’s best interest, to suggest this initially may imply that there
should be no consequences for the offending party, regardless of current
behavior. This, in turn, may pressure the wounded spouse into granting a false
forgiveness before adequately processing the devastating emotions that
naturally accompany betrayal. This can lead to confusion and delayed healing.
3. “It could be worse. At least he didn’t
Any comment that minimizes the behavior or the
pain is hurtful. Betrayal is betrayal, regardless of the method. Period. To say
such a thing is as insensitive as saying to someone who lost a child, “At least
you didn’t lose both of your children,” or saying to an amputee, “At least you
still have your hands.” The fact that someone else may have it worse does not
lessen this person’s pain.
4. “If I were you, I would leave and get a divorce.”
You’re not. Job’s friend made the same
mistake. Eliphaz said, “But if it were I, I would…” (Job 5:8). The
reality is that you cannot know what you would do if you were that person. You
only have a perspective based on your own experiences.
5. “Have you been meeting his physical needs?”
Any comment or question that implies fault on
the part of the wounded spouse is not helpful. Most are already feeling some
sense of guilt and shame. Job’s friends also made that mistake. They assumed
that he must somehow be responsible for the suffering he was experiencing.
There are no perfect spouses because there are no perfect people. Nothing
justifies a partner sexually acting outside of the marriage covenant. There is
always a choice.
6. “You deserve better than this.”
This kind of statement usually comes as a
result of strong feelings for the individual, which may cloud the judgment of
what is actually best. In the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul was told by a
prophet that he would suffer and be imprisoned if he went to Jerusalem. “When
we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to
Jerusalem” (Acts 21:12). Paul went anyway because he knew God had a greater
plan that would result in furthering the gospel.
It is unsettling to see someone you love suffering.
But, it is important to remember that you may not be able to see the big
picture and all that God can accomplish through the difficulties.
7. “Everything happens for a reason.”
Is this really true? Does God have a grand
design that only allows for what he wills? If my husband repeatedly cheats on
me, is that God’s will? No. It is not God’s will for us to sin. He knows how
destructive that is for us. But he has created us with free will. We are not
created as robots with no power to choose. When a person is overwhelmed with
grief due to the sexual betrayal of a spouse, God grieves, too. We live in an
imperfect, fallen world.
The good news is that what God allows, he
“And we know that God causes all things to
work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according
to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
8. “I know how you feel.”
Though you might have lived through a similar
experience, you can never know exactly how someone else feels. No two
situations are exactly alike. We all have our own unique experiences and
9. “Just let it go.”
This is akin to “get over it,” or “just move
on.” This is easily said by someone who is neither married to the individual
nor emotionally attached to the situation. The reality is that the choice to
stay or leave is incredibly difficult and not one that can be made quickly or
lightly. There will be pain and complications either way. Seldom does anyone
“get over” such trauma, though he or she will eventually get through it. Such
flippant statements fail to acknowledge the depth of grief the wounded party is
10. “God wants you to
Be very, very careful about speaking for God.
Job’s friends spent considerable time representing to him what they were
convinced were God’s ways. In the end, the Lord spoke to Eliphaz and said, “I
am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what
is right” (Job 42:7). Even if what you plan to say is biblically accurate, are
you sure this is the right time to say it? Saying the right thing at the wrong
time is still wrong.
What should we say?
With so many things we shouldn’t say, how can
we know what we should say? “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak
and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). When someone you care about is
suffering due to betrayal trauma, show up and focus more on listening than
speaking. Will Rogers went straight to the point: “Never miss a good
chance to shut up.”
Before you do speak, ask God for wisdom. “If
any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without
finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).
Offer practical assistance. When Jesus was
dying, he asked his closest friend, John, to take care of his mother. The Bible
says, “From that time on, the disciple took her into his home” (John 19:27).
You can help by bringing a meal, taking the kids for the afternoon, giving a
gift card for a massage, or anything else that might relieve some of the
pressure your friend may be experiencing.
Jesus’ example of love was in deed, not word. We can’t go wrong when we
follow his example.
Marriage is one of the
oldest social, economic, religious and legal institutions in the world, and
there’s no shortage of opinions on what makes it work. But much of the conventional
wisdom is not based on evidence, and some is flat-out wrong. After researching
thousands of couples for more than 40 years at The Gottman
Institute, these are some of the myths we’ve encountered most often.
interests keep you together.
Some dating sites,
like Match.com, ask users to list their interests
to help attract potential mates, and LoveFlutter matches
users solely based on shared hobbies and activities. In a Pew survey, 64
percent of respondents said “having shared interests” is “very important” to
their marriages — beating out having a satisfying sexual relationship and
agreeing on politics.
But the important thing
is not what you do together; it’s how you interact while doing it. Any activity
can drive a wedge between two partners if they’re negative toward each other.
It doesn’t matter whether two people both enjoy kayaking if, when they head out
on the lake, one says, “That’s not how you do a J-stroke, you idiot!” Our
research has shown that criticism, even of paddling skills, is one of the four destructive behaviors that
indicate a couple will eventually divorce. A stronger predictor of
compatibility than shared interests is the ratio of positive to negative
interactions, which should be 20-to-1 in everyday situations, whether a couple
is doing something they both enjoy or not.
go to bed angry.
It’s one of the most
cliched pieces of relationship advice, immortalized in Etsy signage and a ’90s R&B ballad by Silk: Don’t allow an argument
to go unresolved — even overnight. No less an authority than the Bible agrees:
“Let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26).
This advice pushes
couples to solve their problems right away. Yet everyone has their own methods
of dealing with disagreements, and research indicates that about two-thirds of
recurring issues in marriage are never resolved because
of personality differences — you’re unlikely to work out that fight about the
dishes no matter how late you stay up.
In our “Love Lab,” where
we studied physiological reactions of couples during arguments (including
coding of facial muscles related
to specific emotions), we found that when couples fight, they are so
physiologically stressed — increased heart rate, cortisol in the bloodstream,
perspiring, etc. — that it is impossible for them to have a rational
discussion. With one couple, we intentionally stopped their argument about a
recurring issue by saying we needed to adjust some of our equipment. We asked
them to read magazines for 30 minutes before resuming the conversation. When they
did so, their bodies had physiologically calmed down, which allowed them to
communicate rationally and respectfully. We now teach that method to couples —
if you feel yourself getting overwhelmed during a fight, take a break and come
back to it later, even if that means sleeping on it.
therapy is for fixing a broken marriage.
This is a common
misconception. A 2014 New York Post story on “the
crumbling marriage of Jay Z and Beyoncé” noted grimly that “they’re allegedly
traveling with marriage counselors.” Seeking help early in or even before
marriage is often seen as a red flag. As one skeptic noted in New
York magazine, “If you need couples therapy before you’re married — when it’s
supposed to be fun and easy, before the pressures of children, family, and
combined financials — then it’s the wrong relationship.”
This idea often keeps
spouses from seeking the sort of regular maintenance that would benefit almost
any relationship. The average couple waits six years after serious issues arise
before getting help with their marital problems, and by then it’s often too
late: Half of all divorces occur within the first seven years of
marriage. In a therapist’s office, spouses can learn
conflict-management skills (like the Gottman-Rapoport intervention,
based on a method used to increase understanding between nations during the
Cold War) and ways to connect and understand each other.
The point of counseling
is not to salvage a bad marriage or sort out trauma. It’s about revealing the
truth about a relationship. As Jay-Z told David Letterman, he gained “emotional tools ”
in counseling to help him maintain his marriage.
are the main cause of divorce.
An affair is traumatic
for any monogamous relationship. “Extra-marital affairs are responsible for the
breakdown of most marriages that end in divorce,” an article on
Today.com offers a
similar analysis: “Cheating is one of the main drivers of divorce.”
While affairs can destroy
the foundation of trust upon which a marriage is built, the cause of divorce
typically precedes the affair. In a study from
the Divorce Mediation Project, 80 percent of divorced men and women cited
growing apart and loss of a sense of closeness to their partner as the reason
for divorce. Only 20 to 27 percent blamed their separation on an extramarital
affair. In their clinical work, John and Julie Gottman learned that partners
who have affairs are usually driven to them not because of a forbidden
attraction but because of loneliness. There were already serious, if subtle,
problems in the marriage before the affair occurred.
benefit from a ‘relationship contract.’
It’s important to do nice
things for your partner and to do your fair share around the house, principles
that an increasing number of couples have decided to formalize with a contract.
One essayist explained in
the New York Times how hers “spells out everything from sex to chores to
finances to our expectations for the future.” Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla
Chan also hashed out some rather specific details
in their contract, such as: “One date per week, a minimum of a hundred minutes
of alone time, not in his apartment and definitely not at Facebook.” Far more
couples opt for informal agreements, written or verbal, delineating who’s
responsible for what.
The concept, though, has
no basis in science. In 1977, researcher Bernard Murstein found that
marriages oriented around reciprocity were less successful. And from what we’ve
seen in our clinical work,
keeping track can cause couples to keep score, which can lead to resentment.
Dealmaking, contracts and quid pro quo mostly operate in unhappy marriages.
Criticism and contempt can arise from unfulfilled expectations, especially if
those expectations are quantified. And when one partner does something nice for
the other and there is a contract in place, they may expect something equally
nice in return. That response may not happen for any reason — a busy week,
forgetfulness — which can create resentment and an environment of trying to
Consider one thing nearly
all couples fight about: housework. A couple wants to have an even division of
chores and responsibilities, so they make a contract. But a few months later,
there’s a pile of dishes in the sink, and they’re fighting again. According to
a study of
3,000 couples by Harvard Business School, the solution is to ditch the contract
and spend money on a cleaning service. Why? So the couple can spend more time
together having positive interactions and fewer arguments. Instead of a
contract, it’s a compromise.
Couples need to act in
kind and loving ways, intentionally and attentively, as often as they can. Some
things simply cannot be mandated, not even by contract.
How does broken trust in a marriage regrow? Growth in trust will require your spouse personally investing in change and your willingness to take relational risks. Your spouse’s growth alone will not create trust without your willingness to take a relational risk. Your willingness to take a relational risk without your spouse’s growth will not produce lasting trust.
How to Use the Ten-Stage Progression
ten stage progression below of how broken trust regrows assumes a relationship
is at its most trust-broken point. Not all marriages that experience the
betrayal of sexual sin will start at stage one.
you read through this progression, two key questions to ask are,
“Where was I at the darkest
point after learning of my spouse’s sin?” and
“Where am I now?”
ways in which trust has already begun to regrow can be a source of
encouragement for the journey ahead.
asking these two questions, make an observation, “What’s next in the
restoration of trust?” Chances are the next stage in trust restoration will not
be as close to “complete emotional and logistical reliance” as you fear.
goal for this post is to help you see that if you are currently thinking, “I
could never be at a ‘10’ of trust again,” that trust is not as
all-or-nothing as we are prone to think when we are hurt.
you will notice the stages are more descriptions than action steps. These are
not necessarily things for you to do, but ways to identify where your marriage
is in the trust restoration process and shrink the change you’re asking God to
do next. As we become less overwhelmed with what God is likely to do
next, we tend to become more cooperative with His work
are the ten stages of how broken trust regrows:
1. Require Third Party Mediation
this level of trust-brokenness, you do not feel safe (at least emotionally) to
be with your spouse without someone else present. The high end of this level
might sound like, “You can go to counseling, but I’m not going with you. I’ll
go separately and tell the counselor my side of the story.”
this stage, trust is built as you hear your spouse be honest with another
person and receive correction or instruction from that person. You still doubt
your spouse is being totally honest or would listen to you, but you begin to
see your spouse is not a total liar who is so committed to his/her lies. As
your spouse cooperates, you begin to trust your spouse vicariously through the
trust you build for the third party (often a counselor).
2. Listen and Require Validation
you are willing to talk with your spouse in a one-on-one conversation, but you
are skeptical of most everything he/she says. You don’t believe your spouse.
You believe facts. If your spouse has facts to back up what he/she says,
you will trust that much and little more.
is a tedious way to communicate, but feels necessary in order to avoid pain
greater than the inconvenience. Any statement that is not factual (i.e., future
promise, interpretation of event, expression of feeling, etc.) is viewed as
deceptive, unsafe, manipulative, or insulting. As a pattern of validated facts
emerges, you begin to trust that there is some commitment to live in reality
that exceeds your spouse’s desire for personal expediency.
3. Listen and Require Less Validation
to your spouse now feels like less work. The rate at which you are searching
for questions and processing information as you listen decreases. Giving the
“benefit of the doubt” for things you are uncertain about is still unnatural
and feels dangerous.
statement that is incomplete or slanted too positively is assumed to be
intentional deceit and creates a trust regression. As the majority of your
spouse’s statements prove to be accurate, the practical necessities of life create
an increasing reliance upon your spouse. Each time you notice this happening,
you may still feel highly cautious.
4. Rely on Spouse Functionally
separated or in the same house, you begin to “do life together again.” A
process of basic life tasks (i.e., formal or informal budgeting, scheduling,
transporting children, etc…) begins to be created or reinstituted.
level of trust within a marriage feels very much like “living as roommates.”
The dissatisfying nature of this arrangement can often discourage continued
growth (i.e., “I don’t want to stay married out of a sense of duty”), but this
discouragement should be decreased by understanding where it falls in the
process of trust restoration.
5. Share Facts
you functionally “do life” with your spouse, there is the opportunity for you
to begin to share more of you again. To this point you have been receiving
information much more than giving information.
the stage you begin the process of “giving yourself” to your spouse again. You
allow yourself to be known at a factual level. Questions from your spouse that
start with “Why” or “How come” are still met with defensiveness. During this
stage, questions that start with “Would you” become more comfortable as you
allow your spouse to influence the “facts” (i.e., schedule) of your life again.
6. Share Beliefs
you become more comfortable sharing facts with your spouse again, that
naturally leads to sharing what you think about those facts. Conversations
become more meaningful as you share more of what you like, dislike, agree with,
disagree with, and want from the events of life.
can now talk about the way you believe things “should” be without a tone of
judgment, sadness, or guilt overpowering the conversation. As you share your
beliefs, you feel more understood and appreciated. At this stage, you and your
spouse may have to relearn (or learn for the first time) how to have different
opinions or perspectives while protecting the unity of the marriage.
7. Share Feelings
until this stage, emotions have likely been “thrust at” or “shown to” more than
“shared with” your spouse. At this level of trust, you are willing to receive
support, encouragement or shared participation in your emotions.
aspect of the “one flesh” relationship is returning (Gen. 2:24). You are
beginning to experience your burden being reduced and your joys multiplied as
you share them with your spouse. The marriage is beginning to feel like a
8. Rely on Spouse Emotionally
you find yourself able to relax when he/she is away. You are able to believe
your spouse is transparent and sincere when he/she tells you about their day or
shares with you how he/she is feeling. It is now the exception to the rule when
suspicions arise within you about your spouse’s motive for saying or doing
9. Allow Spouse to Care for You
your spouse to express affection has lost the sense of “invasion” or being
“unclean.” When your spouse wants to serve you, you no longer think he/she is
doing an act of penance or cynically question what he/she will want in return
later. Your spouse’s efforts to bless you can be received as blessings rather
than being treated as riddles to be solved or dangerous weights on the “scales
of justice” that will be used to pressure you later. You can savor the
sweetness of love without bracing for a bitter aftertaste.
10. Relax and Feel Safer With Spouse than Apart
is trust restored. Your spouse’s presence has become an anchor of security
rather than a pull towards insecurity. Your spouse’s presence reduces stress in
troubling circumstances. You find yourself instinctively drawn to your spouse
when something is difficult, upsetting, or confusing. Even when he/she doesn’t
have the answer, their presence is its own form of relief and comfort.
Ultimatums and Time Tables
is intentionally no pacing guide for this trust progression. In this regard,
growing in trust requires trust. It is an act of faith not to say, “I’ll give
it three months and if we’re not at level seven, then I don’t think there’s any
hope for us.” That kind of time-pressured environment stifles the growth of
are even more ineffective. When you try to make a deal (i.e., “Unless you stop
or tell me [blank], then I am not moving to the next level of trust”)
you undermine actual trust being built (i.e., “You only did that because I made
Your goal in reading this progression is merely to gain an
understanding of where you are in the development of trust and what is next. Efforts at artificially accelerating the
process will ultimately do more harm than good.
Being sensitive and caring is usually considered to be a good thing, but if you take it too far then it can end up turning your life into a living hell. This is because people who are over-sensitive often end up being diagnosed with many other debilitating conditions such as severe anxiety or paranoia. Here are the most common signs of being way too sensitive:
1. Your stress becomes real pain.
Inner anxiety can eventually develop into physical pain, such as
headaches and stomach issues. Such symptoms may either be initiated from
accumulated stress, from the suppression of negative thoughts or from a single
incident that was especially traumatic.
2. You care about what others think.
Your anxiety over what others think of you applies to pretty
much everyone you meet, not merely your friends and family. You may feel that
people are analyzing your every move, when in reality your harshest critic is
3. You find it hard to accept critical feedback.
Whether it’s from your boss or your mom, negative feedback really seems to leave a huge impact on you. This is particularly important to be aware of since overly-sensitive people already struggle with their own perception of themselves, and such feedback could further aggravate symptoms.
4. You feel discomfort in large crowds.
Huge crowds are often highly agitating for sensitive people, as
too many things happening at once can overwhelm and exhaust. It goes without
saying that such people would do best to avoid dense cities like New York and
Miami, where emotions on the street are way too palpable.
5. You feel self-conscious in romantic encounters.
Even if you have been with the same person for quite a while,
you still often let your anxiety get the better of you and end up questioning
your partner’s every move. Every minor disagreement feels like the apocalypse,
and you are frequently overwhelmed with emotion in the aftermath.
6. You often feel unhappy online.
Social media makes it all too easy to compare ourselves to others, and this often results in sensitive people feeling even more inadequate than they did before. This can weigh deeply on your mind until they end up affecting your day-to-day life. We’d recommend simply logging off and staying off if it makes you feel better.
7. Bad days impact your sleeping and eating habits.
Bad days turn into more than just a need to blow off some steam but may end up
causing your anxiety to skyrocket, which in turn can affect your eating and
sleeping habits. Usually, you end up focusing intensely on every bad aspect of
the day, replaying scenes in your head until you realize that it’s been hours
since your last meal!
8. You are easily startled by bright lights or loud noises.
Sensitive people are easily startled
by bright lights, loud noises or anything else that is unexpected. Because of
the need to feel prepared for everything, anything that shocks the system is
highly frustrating and a cause for concern!
9. Group outings challenge you.
Group outings are challenging for sensitive individuals because leading a conversation or trying to win the attention of others seems to go against a sensitive person’s passive personality. After such outings, you feel drained and need to recharge your social batteries.
10. Driving is a nightmare.
If you’re a sensitive person, it’s
very probable that you hate driving. While your road rage may not necessarily
be aggressive, you have a tendency to be easily driven to fury when people cut
you off. Rush hour is the largest stressor of all, as anxiety levels increase
and your number of inhibitions disappear.
11. You get ‘hangry.’
After a few hours without eating,
your hunger will consume your mind, causing you to act way more aggressively than
is acceptable. You never meant those things you said when you were hungry, but
now it’s way too late to unsay them.
12. There’s way too much drama in your life.
Your friends are always marveling at
the amount of drama in your life. If you’re finding that your life is starting
to resemble a never-ending soap opera, it could be because you often end up
blowing most stories out of proportion due to your sensitive nature.
Most people mollify psychic pain by attacking back; we yearn for revenge. But achievement striving is better. It opens the mind to the possible, instead of hitching it to the horrible.
In 2015, Dee Carroll was billing $17 million a year in her Washington, D.C.-based organizational development firm, heading a team of 18 in two locations, including a recently added IT arm, when her board suggested bringing on a chief financial officer. She found a candidate, and the board approved of her hire. Carroll, with a Ph.D. in business administration and 28 years at the helm, turned her attention back to growing the company.
“We were doing well,” she recalls. Every once in a while, she checked the books. The numbers added up, but she couldn’t figure out why the borrowing wasn’t decreasing on her line of credit. “We’re self-financing,” the CFO assured her. Then a day came when some documents needed reviewing and she called the bank. Its numbers and her numbers didn’t align. Carroll summoned outside auditors to search for a discrepant half million. The day she confronted the CFO, he admitted to running two sets of books. It took forensic accountants months to figure out how the guy had walked off with more than $2 million.
Carroll cashed in her 401k and filed for reorganization to keep the company afloat—while she spent a year in and out of hospitals with stress-induced illnesses. Then the bank froze her assets, and it was all over. “I was so angry, all I wanted was to get my hands on that CFO and punch him out,” says Carroll. Miraculously, a few months later, the day came when she could. They found themselves side-by-side in the parking lot of a giant Walgreens—she in her old Land Cruiser, he in a new Audi. Ever the planner, she pulled out her phone and called her attorney: “Get down here—and prepare to get me out of jail.”
Carroll chased the CFO through the superstore. He outpaced her. So she shifted strategies: I’ll just ram his car. Behind the wheel, it hit her. “If he had me going like that, he was in control of my life. I drove off—and I felt good.”
The desire for revenge, she felt, “had stripped my courage, my convictions, my confidence. It had me beating myself up for my failures: ‘I should have known.’ ‘I should have checked more often.'” Crumbling was not an option. “I decided I’m not going to give him the pleasure. He’ll only see me flying high.”
And maybe he does—literally. Carroll has not only successfully launched a new company, she spends much of her time traveling the globe, promoting “emotional emancipation.” She focuses on persuading women that no one controls what they can accomplish. “I needed to embrace the possible,” she explains. “Now I can grow.”
What Carroll apprehended, sitting in that parking lot, was that nothing she could do to punish the CFO could harm him as badly as her desire for revenge was harming her.
Rerouting the Amygdala
Revenge-seeking has deep, seemingly instinctual roots in the human behavioral repertoire. Since the dawn of civilization, the highest authorities have sanctioned harming someone in the same manner as he or she has harmed you. From the 1754 B.C. Code of Hammurabi, the sixth Babylonian king, to the Bible—Exodus chapter 21: “You shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth”—the ancients specified how the impulse for revenge was to be carried out.
From the time we are barely able to put together full sentences, we yearn for revenge, screaming, “That’s not fair” in response to a perceived injustice (a sibling getting dessert that we don’t, because we are being punished) and following that outcry with the vow, “I’ll get you!” targeted at Mom, Dad, or the babysitter for giving preferential treatment to the kid who shares our bath.
As adults we’re only slightly more sophisticated in response to abuses by others. A small insult—getting cut off by a driver—can launch a highway chase for miles, either to cut that motorist off in the same way or to deliver the hand gesture known as “flipping the bird.”
Most people seek to mollify psychic pain by attacking back. But there is a better, far more adaptive way—showing ’em, by achieving something personally and socially significant related to the offense. To first turn the other cheek and then build something meaningful, to oneself and to others, out of the abandoned anger requires a psychological shift—within just about anyone’s reach—that harnesses the brain’s amygdala, its processing center of danger, and redirects its impulses.
When you cope with psychic pain via achievement striving, your mindset is on the possible. Revenge-seeking hitches it to the horrible.
“A man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well,” wrote English philosopher, statesman, and scientist Francis Bacon. He captured the core problem with revenge: It demands ruminating about wrongs, which amplifies their significance, aggravates what sparked anger, and makes it impossible to let go.
Freud was the first to dissect the amplification of suffering brought on by anger born of distressing events. Paradoxically, despite the pain that such recollections cause, the events are “reviewed, repeated, or rehearsed”—through dreams or obsessional ruminations.
The continual mental replaying of an event, however humiliating, is a primordial propensity to revisit hurtful interactions in an attempt to master through imagery what could not be mastered behaviorally. As the initial injury is relived, negative alterations in cognition and mood grow progressively worse—negative thoughts and assumptions about oneself or the world, exaggerated blame of oneself or others for causing the trauma, feelings of isolation, and difficulty experiencing positive affect. The original insult remains a focus of cognitive imagery.
Failing to consummate revenge fantasies turns them into obsessions. American literature offers the definitive example of obsessional revenge seeking in Herman Melville’s Moby–Dick; or, TheWhale. After losing a leg to a white whale, Captain Ahab embarks on a hunt to destroy that whale, a quest that ends in his demise. To this day, “white whale” is another term for an obsessional pursuit.
My own clinical experience corroborates what decades of medical evidence demonstrates: People who harbor thoughts of exacting revenge exhibit systemic turmoil, courtesy of an activated amygdala preparing against the threat of attack. They experience sleeplessness, owing to nonstop rumination; irritability; hyperarousal; and distractibility that often impedes their ability to function. As Confucius said: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”
Orthopedist Richard “Rock” Barnes, 46,* walked into my office because I had written a book about burnout. Trained as a psychiatrist, he had worked at a prestigious mental hospital before feeling burned out. His remedy—changing medical specialties by retraining and moving across the country—wasn’t working.
In our initial session, Barnes didn’t seem burned out so much as burned up—consumed with rage from an incident early in his career. A patient under his care had been sexually exploited by a senior psychiatrist. Barnes had sought to avenge the wrong by exposing the abuser, but learned that filing a claim would harm the fragile patient and would be refuted by the VIP doctor as a tale told by a mentally ill woman.
In my office, Barnes raged at himself, but especially at the abuser. And he railed at the vestiges of a medical hierarchy that had made him feel so impotent as a young physician. How, I asked, could he “right the wrong in an ego-syntonic manner?”—that is, in a way congruent with his values, his personality, his self-concept, and his future. Certainly not by killing the doctor.
A decade and a half later, Barnes is still mending bones but he is also helping physicians everywhere to articulate perceived problems at their institutions without fear of rebuke or retaliation. Through an organization he started, first at his own hospital, he speaks at hospitals around the country, reducing the likelihood of abuse like that his patient suffered.
My work with Barnes led me to recognize that it’s possible to say “Screw you!” to harm-doers in indirect but active ways that are not only personally gratifying but also socially constructive. Revenge is so tightly bound to pain because the eye-for-an-eye mindset is backward-looking, focused on the original insult—but also because it is irreconcilable with most people’s goalsfor themselves.
“Showing ’em,” not “socking ’em,”—taking a behavioral step beyond the amygdala’s bidding—brings relief not least because it jump-starts growth. It renders people no longer vulnerable to the forces that originally harmed them. For that reason, it directly enhances feelings of self-efficacy and power.
For sure, psychotherapy has value. It is especially useful for exploring conflicted feelings. But dealing with revenge through psychotherapy may bring slow healing. En route to relief, the victim must relive the original injustice. Mind and body return to the scene of the crime, again and again. Achievement striving, on the other hand, need never recall the actual insult.
The Power of Striving
Some Turn Away from avenging a wrong as if they had an innate understanding of the Buddha’s observation: “Anger will never disappear so long as thoughts of resentment are cherished in the mind. Anger will disappear just as soon as thoughts of resentment are forgotten.” But for most, this is near impossible.
Revenge is rooted in a brain network involving the amygdala and temporal areas that are fired up very specifically by acts of perceived unfairness perpetrated by another human being, University of Geneva researchers recently found. The greater the neural activation, the greater the inner push for punishment. It’s common for people to yield to the urge.
But rage for revenge is thoroughly alterable. If the dorsolateral area of the prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), a key area for emotion regulation, is activated during the provocation stage, the amygdala is muted, inhibiting the desire for later punishment, neuroscientist Olga Klimecki and colleagues observe in ScientificReports. “The DLPFC is coordinated with the motor cortex that directs the hand that makes the choice of vengeful behavior or not. There is a direct correlation between brain activity in the DLPFC and behavioral choices.”
Striving toward positive goals, research has long shown, naturally subdues the amygdala. In my own clinical experience, the majority of patients experiencing profound trauma are able to flourish afterwards by channeling their anger into a meaningful endeavor, typically one that focuses on others. They do well by doing good. Revenge becomes an opportunity for exercising values mobilized by the insult.
Not all wrongs to be avenged are born of injury inflicted by individuals. Social injustice is a prime motivator, too, and the one that impelled lawyer Barry Scheck to create the Innocence Project, a consortium of attorneys that, since 1992, has been devoted to overturning wrongful convictions of (mostly) indigent people.
While in elementary school, a fire destroyed Scheck’s family home, injuring his parents and killing his beloved sister. At first debilitated, by high school he was academically motivated enough to gain entry to Yale, where he protested the Vietnam War on the grounds that the deferments granted to students discriminated against poor teenagers. He used his law degree to become a public defender in New York’s then-distressed South Bronx and a staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society.
After co-founding a law firm specializing in civil rights litigation, he joined the “Dream Team” that got O.J. Simpson acquitted of double murder charges in 1994. By then, the Innocence Project was already deploying its legal skills to show the world that those who suffered injustice had an ally to undo what was done to them.
If ever a deed could conceivably justify the wish to exact lextalionis, the death of a child by murder might top the list. Yet that is not what happened in May 1980, when 13-year-old Cari Lightner was struck and killed by a drunk driver. The driver, who had been convicted of drunk driving offenses three times in four years, never even stopped his car. And when he struck the girl, he was out on bail for a hit-and-run arrest two days earlier.
Candy Lightner’s pain at her daughter’s death was amplified when the responding police officer told her, “Lady, you’ll be lucky if this guy gets any jail time, much less prison.” As she later told People magazine, “This was not an ‘unfortunate accident.’ Cari was the victim of a violent crime. Death caused by drunk drivers is the only socially acceptable form of homicide.”
The societal pass that drunk drivers received at the time served, Lightner recalled, to “double my anger.” And she immediately vowed to make people horrified by the consequences of drunk driving. Four days after Cari’s death, she quit her job and organized Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (later, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD).
Indefatigable in her quest to save others from a similar tragedy, Lightner was named to the National Commission on Drunk Driving in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan. MADD has sparked new penalties for drunk driving and changed the legal drinking age in many states.
Significant as the achievements are, they pale in comparison to what Lightner got from harnessing her anger and taking up a cause instead of seeking revenge. She not only gained kudos from around the world, she also gave meaning to her daughter’s life.
Getting out of oneself and giving back constitute a sure antidote to the emotional cancer of rumination. An added advantage of working for a cause is that you don’t act in a vacuum. On the contrary, such endeavors demand contact with like-minded people. Social support is the best-documented balm for almost every ill of mind and body.
Photo by Reinhard Hunger
Beating ‘Em at Their Own Game
Doing well by doing good could have been the epitaph for Benjamin Franklin, drafter of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and one of the richest men in American history, certainly its ultimate Renaissance man. Writer, philosopher, scientist, diplomat, musician, and oenophile, he spoke five languages—exclusively self-taught; he also invented bifocals, the urinary catheter, and swim fins! You probably recall schoolbook illustrations of Franklin flying a kite in a thunderstorm to study electricity—a daredevil venture that led to his invention of the lightning rod (which has saved countless lives and millions of dollars).
What’s missing from textbook accounts of Franklin is the truth about his early life. Because his father could not afford to send Benjamin to school, he arranged for his older son James (then in the process of establishing a printing business) to employ Benjamin, at age 11, as an indentured apprentice. Almost immediately, James became so jealous of Ben’s precocity that he demeaned and beat his younger brother regularly.
Things only got worse as Benjamin mastered the basics of printing and learned to read and write better than most adults in Colonial New England. He asked his brother if he could write for his newspaper and was denied. But instead of getting angry, he turned to writing articles under the pen name Silence Dogood. Slipped under the door of James’s shop, they quickly became the most popular part of the paper. When James learned who wrote them, all hell broke loose. Benjamin fled to Philadelphia, arriving with three shillings in his pocket and rags on his back.
Although wronged, Franklin never once sought to exact revenge directly or engage in displays of dominance. Instead, he found a psychologically satisfying way to “show” his brother—and thrive: by behaving better than him. He was driven to become the best printer in the 13 colonies. Starting as a journeyman in Philadelphia, Franklin soon established his own shop, leapfrogging from printing mundane legal forms to culturally significant pamphlets, newspapers, and books, including his own. As the leading printer in Colonial America, he ultimately printed its currency.
In 1748, after amassing the equivalent of more than $10 billion in today’s money, Franklin retired at age 42. It was time, he said, “to do something useful.” His next 42 years (40 beyond the life expectancy of males at the time) were a case study in generativity—not simply a Founding Father of the country and its first foreign diplomat, he also founded the American Philosophical Society, America’s first scientific society, its first science library and museum, and the nation’s first modern liberal arts college, later renamed the University of Pennsylvania.
Franklin stands as the quintessential example of coping with the pain of trauma in an entrepreneurial, ego-enhancing way—by building something that not only helps the world but brings authentic personal rewards, from praise and respect to a host of new and exciting experiences.
years of marriage, I’ve come to learn a lot about men and their triggers.
Personally I’m overly emotional which has made me fall as well as progress in
life. Evidently, men have difficulty communicating their emotions. This has
been misinterpreted by women.
woman opens up emotionally, she can speak nonstop, cry and laugh at the same
time. She can juggle her emotions and thoughts with ease. Men on the other hand
think more than they feel; they do either one of them but never both at the
example, once a man confesses his love to a woman and things fall in place, he
thinks that the only reason to have a real conversation is money or breaking
up. So when you walk up to your husband each time
you get emotional and tell him the dreaded words “We need to talk,” he quickly
realizes that he has to think and feel at the same time. That’s something that
is a real challenge to men which may feel like life is being sucked out of
want to start a discussion, it might seem like he’s not engaging enough. This may
make you feel unappreciated. Due to the fact that women talk faster when
excited, it interrupts your husband who is
already struggling to find the right words.
happens, he may lose track or shut down because he feels cut off and is unable
to express his feelings. At this point he becomes what we interpret as cold, a
state which makes any woman race her mind into conclusions.
changing from the kind, friendly wife your
husband knows to a resentful, nagging stranger all because of conclusive
imaginations which women are good at! In the circumstance even the strongest,
most patient man will become withdrawn.
why women should take time to understand how they differ from men when it comes
to talking. It would give everyone a little more empathy when it comes to
discussing emotional issues. Understanding one another is a big step towards
creating and maintaining an emotionally fit and loving relationship.
Women Are Guilty:
example would be my own experience. When l want my husband and l to discuss
something, l walk up to him while he’s watching his game and tell him that we
need to talk. He gives me that look of “Oh my goodness, what have l done now?”
He then has to pause his game and wait for my million words – which he can
summarize in one sentence. Once I’m done talking, his response is usually calm
and in very few words. This doesn’t mean he’s not excited; it’s just the way
took time to understand him, l would get all upset and emotional and race my
mind into conclusions. “He acts like I’m bugging him,” l would think to myself.
Once l conclude that something is not right, and commit to finding out what it
is… You do not want to know the extent of my amateur investigations.
addition, l acted differently and stayed on negative vibrations which the whole
family picked up on. All of that was just because my husband’s reaction was not
in conformity with my expectations. I can only imagine what was taking place in
his mind as he tried to figure me out.
the Reality Lane:
perfect husband only exists in fairy tales but your marriage is in real
life. Stop focusing on your husband’s mistakes and start recognizing the
wonderful things he does. By doing so, you will encourage him to do even more
to become the man of your dreams.
human nature to focus more on the wrong than the right. As the saying goes,
thoughts are things. You will attract more of what you invest your energy in.
Things are prone to happen, If he wrongs you, don’t announce him to the whole
neighborhood and on social media.
on your knees and allow the One who controls all things to make the necessary
adjustments. A praying woman is a powerful woman! Take this from me.
Men Are Not
often feel overwhelmed with stuff, wishing that their husbands would help. I’ve
been there too. The only way you can get anyone to help is by communicating.
How many times have you heard women complain about their husbands not helping
with house chores?
remember when we both worked all week from morning till late. We would catch up
with everything on Saturdays. First thing l wanted to do after breakfast was
shopping, then cooking and cleaning at the same time.
My husband would
want to just relax and enjoy a beautiful day with his family. That means he
would call the kids and choose a nice family movie. Any woman reading this can
already see the look on my face, when l walked into the family room and found
them watching a movie.
of asking for help, l would go shop, come back and start cleaning and cooking.
By the time “the movie” was over, I’d have completed everything and showered. What
would have taken less than two hours with help took a maximum of four hours. It
would then be a resentment-filled, stressed-out weekend – because no one helped
again, my husband would spend the day trying to cheer me up. He remained
clueless about all this, until l decided to verbally complain. If mama ain’t
happy, ain’t nobody happy. Men are strong, aren’t they? I know I’m spoilt rotten
but l thank God for His grace has changed me.
we shoulder a lot of responsibilities and go through a lot of hardship. However,
we should never allow life and its challenges to break the person God created
us to be. We don’t have to camouflage our identity to blend with circumstances.
Why am l
saying this? l have spoken to many hurting women who confess to changing their
personalities in retaliation for bad experiences. If you were created a humble,
kind and loving person, continue being you and find the grounds which allow you
to do that. Each creation thrives in its own unique habitat. Find yours and
bloom as you.
If by any
chance there are existing issues with your marriage, look at the person in the
mirror first before blaming anybody. More often than we realize, we create
marital problems from very small issues. With our thoughts being too noisy, we
miss out on the facts which steered things to the wrong direction. We live in a
very stressful world, and everyone is seeking peace, acceptance and love.
life’s essentials are missing in our own homes, our families are more likely to
be scattered in search of them. For this reason, make your family miss home
whenever they are out there. All women have the ability to do this, not just
for your husband but for your sons and daughters too. Build a solid foundation
for your family, will you?
best, I love you all.
world never fails us; our inability to learn and change is the culprit.”
Over the past decade, there’s a way of being I’ve gradually been cultivating in myself—I’ve been taming my tendency to get angry and argue with people when their behavior doesn’t match my expectations.
As human beings, we all have an idea in our heads about how things are supposed to be, and sadly this is what often messes our relationships up the most. We all get frustrated when things don’t play out the way we expect them to, and people don’t behave like they’re “supposed” to. We expect our spouses and children to act a certain way, our friends to be kind and agreeable, strangers to be less difficult, and so on and so forth.
And when reality hits us, and everyone seems to be doing the opposite of what we want them to do, we overreact—anger, frustration, stress, arguments, tears, etc.
So what can we do about this?
Breathe… think better… find your inner calm.
You can’t control how other people behave. You can’t control everything that happens to you. What you can control is how you respond to it all. In your response is your power.
When you feel like your lid is about to blow, take a long deep breath. Deep breathing releases tension, calms down our fight or flight reactions, and allows us to quiet our anxious nerves so we choose more considerate and constructive responses, no matter the situation.
So, for example, do your best to inhale and exhale next time another driver cuts you off in traffic. In a poll we conducted with our most recent “Think Better, Live Bette 2019” event attendees, overreacting while fighting traffic was the most commonly cited reason for overreacting on a daily basis. Just imagine if all the drivers on the road took deep breaths before making nasty hand gestures, or screaming obscenities at others.
There’s no doubt that it can drive us crazy when we don’t get what we expect from people, especially when they are being rude and difficult. But trying to change the unchangeable, wanting others to be exactly the way we want them to be, just doesn’t work. The alternative, though, is unthinkable to most of us…
Here’s the way of being that I’ve been cultivating and advocating:
To breathe deeply, and often.
To remind myself that I can’t control other people.
To remind myself that other people can handle their lives however they choose.
To not take their behavior personally.
To see the good in them.
To let go of the ideals and expectations I have about others that causes unnecessary frustration, arguments, and bouts of anger.
To remember that when others are being difficult, they are often going through a difficult time I know nothing about. And to give them empathy, love, and space.
“Being” this way—THINKING BETTER—takes practice, but it’s worth it. It makes me less frustrated, it helps me to be more mindful, it improves my relationships, it lowers my stress, and it allows me to make the world a slightly more peaceful place to be.
“Things come apart so easily when they have been held together
― Dorothy Allison
I loved him like a brother, and he treated me as such. He told
me I was a genius and that the world needed to hear my music. He was a ball of
passion, and when he spoke it always felt like a battle cry to fight for a
better life. I was working as a teacher, spending my summers with struggling
artists who gave me that energy and community I craved. When I met him in
Toronto, I felt like I found new family in my own hometown.
His family wasn’t so abundant—his parents struggled with
addiction and were trying to take the earnings he made producing music. It was
killing his spirit, and I could sense it. So without consulting my parents, I
invited him to live with me. He was the brother I never had.
We got matching tattoos and promised each other that there would
always be two of everything. We hustled the music, threw shoes, networked,
and talked about what we could do artistically and for the scene in the city.
The summer had ended and now I was back to grinding the 8-5 shift. It was
killing my soul to be working knowing there was so much to create. Then he came
to me with an opportunity that changed my life forever.
It was a songwriting deal, worth $120,000, to write 10 songs for
an unknown artist who apparently had major connections. We’d get paid to write
the songs, and with that money we could be full-time artists. Without much
thought, due diligence or reflection, I took a leave of absence from work, and
we moved into a rental property that I purchased as a responsible adult. Then
we got straight to creating.
They Never Did
He explained the money would come soon, but weeks went by with
no word. Weeks turned to months, and with no income, I was quickly accumulating
debt by swiping credit cards, and negotiating a bigger line of credit. I wasn’t
worried, when the money came in, it would wipe the debt clean, and we’d have
plenty to play with.
He told me about all the friends that owed him money, and how we
could start collecting to cover the bills, but he wasn’t finding much luck. As
the months went on, I began to ask him more questions, and he became more and
more defensive. One day he went out of town to collect some money from a family
member. A mutual friend disclosed to me that he had been asking people to lend
him money, and that in fact, no one owed him anything. I called him to clarify
this, and he immediately hung up, and I never heard from him again.
He literally left his belongings in the apartment and never came
back for anything. Clothes, a computer, keepsakes, it was as if he fell off the
face of the earth. I was confused, devastated, and heartbroken. I had never had
my heart broken by a friend before; it was a foreign kind of betrayal I
couldn’t wrap my head around. Beyond the betrayal was the slow sinking reality
that I was in deep trouble with my finances. I had accumulated over $80,000 in
debt and had no way to pay it off. It turns out the songwriting deal was never
real—he had forged documents, changed names, and was planning on borrowing
money from others to cover it. When that didn’t work, he ran out of options and
That was seven years ago. The years that followed were the
hardest years of my life. I fell into deep despair and turned to NyQuil and
muscle relaxers to numb the pain. I blamed the world and everyone around me for
not warning me of his sleazy ways. I stayed in bed for weeks, and ate very
little, hoping the cavalry would come to save the day.
They never did.
A Challenging Time
During the worst moments, I thought the worst thoughts about
him. How dare he do this to me, after I let him in my home, and allowed him to
live with me for a year rent-free. I was nothing but amazing to him! I treated
him like a brother! And this is what I got in return?
But I learned to let it go, gradually.
Of course, I didn’t let it go because I thought what he did was
OK. I let it go because I could not afford to carry such a heavy burden of
resentment and regret with me. If I was ever going to get myself out of the
mess I was in, I needed less baggage…
He wasn’t evil, he was scared. He bit off more than he could
chew, and instead of facing the consequences of his actions, he ran away. All
of that was out of my control. And for me to maintain my sanity I had to focus
on what was in my control.
What was always in my control was my thinking and expectations.
I expected him to be honest with me, because I was honest with him. But that’s
not how things work. As I write this story, I am at a friend’s house in Austin,
TX. I can hear the neighbour’s dog barking really loud. If I went over and
stuck my hand through the fence, that dog would probably bite me. I can’t
assume or expect him not to, just because I don’t plan to bite him. Dogs do
what dogs do. Scared people do what scared people do.
So I forgave him, little by little, and began taking more
responsibility for what happened. It was hard work. But doing so helped me let
go of the resentment and regrets that were holding me back
Truth be told, it’s easy for us to feel sorry for ourselves, and
cast ourselves as the victims in life. And it’s not only easy, it’s quick and
convenient too. It gives us an immediate opportunity to feel connected and
significant. We connect with ourselves because we feel like no one else
understands what we are going through (as if I was the first guy to ever be
betrayed by a friend). It also gives us a subtle high of significance, because
we start to convince ourselves that life is conspiring only against us, as we
question what we did to deserve its wrath.
This quick fix doesn’t last though, and what accompanies it is a
long and drawn out feeling of powerlessness. We have no power because we’ve
blamed everyone and everything except ourselves. Thus, for me to find power in
my situation, I had to take some of the responsibility, because only in those
areas would I find the power to improve my circumstances.
Again, it took plenty of practice, but I gradually became more
mindful of my expectations, and instead of kicking myself (with my 20/20
hindsight) for all the danger signs that were right in front of me, I decided
to extract the wisdom from my past experience. I promised myself I would use
that wisdom until I was glad I went through such a challenging time.
I Am Cavalry
Over time, my broken heart healed, I got stronger, I got back on
my feet and spent the next four years getting myself out of the hole. Through
selling my possessions, finding odd gigs here and there, touring, and
writing my book Unlearn, I finally got to a $0 bank
And gradually, I began to feel sincere gratitude for the journey
I was on, and what I went through to get to where I was.
Figuring out how to go from $80,000 in the hole to $0 also
helped me grow from $0 to a bank account with decent savings. My struggling
days taught me the value of minimalism. I became a dramatically better judge of
character, and looking back I realized how resilient I really was.
I no longer hope for a cavalry, I am the cavalry. I am no longer
afraid to lose because with loss comes learning. I don’t question whether
I need to trust others, because I know I can trust myself. Challenges and
resistance make us stronger, so either we make ourselves uncomfortable so we
can grow, or life does it for us.
We Can Choose
Although I’ve now completely forgiven my old friend, and even
thanked him for the lessons I’ve learned, it all happened internally. I never
made any proclamation or tried to contact him. After the passing of a mutual
friend, he tried to reach out, but I didn’t need that energy in my life. I had
already let it go, and there was no need to re-introduce it back into my life.
We need to let things go and forgive others, not for their sake,
but for ours. We need to rid ourselves of the weight we carry around holding
grudges, regrets, and the other burdens that try to pile up. We also need to
let go so we can create a space where self-love exists, because most likely
we’ll need that space to forgive ourselves, too.
I have indeed forgiven. And I am truly grateful.
Had I not gone through such a heartbreaking experience, I would
have never dug deep into myself to write Unlearn. I
would have never crossed paths with the amazing Marc
& Angel, or read their books. And,
most importantly, I would not have grown into the person I am today.
We can’t see into the future, but we can choose how much of our
past we deliberately carry with us into today.
We can choose to let go and move forward, one day at a time.
Now, it’s YOUR turn…
I would love to hear from YOU in the comments section.
What do you need to let go of (or forgive), to move forward with
If you are in a relationship, you obviously have good and bad days. That’s normal in all relationships. The up’s and down’s are not enough reasons to push a relationship off the cliff. Those are moments meant to strengthen you. I like to think of a palm tree when the downtime comes. You must have watched either live or on the news when there are bad storms in countries with many palm trees.
They don’t seem to be very steady when the winds begin to blow but if you pay close attention, those palms bend to an extent of breaking but they never lose their ground. In this same way, some of the things relationships face are meant to make things more solid. The biggest problems come from little issues left unresolved. These problems don’t go just because they were left unaddressed. Let’s take a close look at 6 reasons why relationships fail.
1. Ignorance About Petty Issues:
Many relationships become victims of their own weaknesses. Small problems become an ignored enemy which gives it the power to win. You cannot underestimate an enemy and expect to come out victorious. Those small issues you notice but fail to fix could become the biggest threat. To stop them from destroying what you’ve worked hard to build, you will need to identify them. A problem well identified is half way solved. Once you do this, write them down and find some stress-free time to discuss and solve them.
2. Lack of Emotional Discipline:
Many relationships suffer emotional abuse. Normally one partner plays the role of the abuser knowingly or unknowingly. When we allow our emotions to run wild, we fail to recognize the red flags and thus do not make conscious efforts to apply the much needed breaks when necessary. When this happens, a crash becomes imminent.
Take control over your emotions, don’t allow them to control you. We all have feelings but they must be guided. If you want to protect your heart and relationship from unwanted abuse, control your emotions. Don’t feel entitled to get whatever you want when you want it from your partner.
Do you know that the number one reason people find themselves in wrong relationships is emotional indiscipline? They let how they feel control their actions and reactions!
3. Lack of Appreciation:
Never take people’s goodwill for granted or think they are kind due to weakness. When you abuse a privilege acting like you’re entitled to it, you put yourself on a dark spot. You may lose everything this way. Get into the habit of appreciating what others do for you and be respectful while at it. This goes a long way and pushes others to want to do even more for you.
Lack of communication falls under this category. You see, when you have someone you care about and make no effort to reach out to them, they may interpret your silence as disinterest. A short text or phone call matters a lot. If you have been quiet on someone you love or care for, don’t wait for them to break that silence. Take the initiative to reach out. Don’t miss out on a good thing because of pride.
Thought for the Soul:
“To have good relationships with people at any level of life, good personality must be present. You must be in a position to concede and compromise some things. Have an understanding heart so that you can forgive.”
Find out how you can make your marriage shift from worst to great again.