If you have (or had) toxic relationships of any kind, read this now!

IF YOU HAVE (OR HAD) TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS OF ANY KIND, READ THIS NOW!

Karen Salmansohn

This is a vulnerable story – about an unconventional therapist I saw – who helped me to learn how to get out of bad toxic relationships.

About a decade and a half ago I used to joke that for me all dating should be re-named ‘blind-dating” – and instead of saying I was “seeing someone right now” – I should be more honest, and say, “I’m dimly viewing someone.”

I remember I was once “dimly viewing” this particular guy. I’ve written about him before.

I explained how every time I said this guy’s name, my girlfriends would sing the theme song to Batman. Not because this man looked great in black Spandex tights. No, no. It was because he was a bad man.

“Dadadadadadada Bad-man! Bad-man!” my girlfriends would sing, right after I’d finish telling a particularly bad Bad-man episode—of which there were many.

Let’s call this ex of mine “Bruce Wayne” – to protect his not-so-innocent secret identity.

Today I want to share something I never told you about Bruce.

Ready?

Bruce’s “dadadadadada bad-behavior” began very early on – a few weeks into our relationship.

Yep, right out of the gate Bruce displayed what I felt were highly controlling and jealous behaviors, products of paranoia.

Yet I continued to date him.

I even went away with Bruce for a weeklong vacation in Turkey – where we had a very big fight one evening.  I made a silly joke to our Turkish waiter – who then laughed – and touched my shoulder before he left our table. Bruce then became convinced that I was flirting with this Turkish waiter.

Bruce specifically wanted to know if I’d rather be dating this Turkish waiter – a man who could barely speak English – plus lived well beyond a 5,000 mile radius of my zip code.

I kept reassuring Bruce I was not the teeniest bit interested in this Turkish dude – yet Bruce refused to talk to me for a full two days of our vacation!

When I came home from vacation, I sought out therapy.

I found a nice older psychotherapist, named Sid, who eventually became like a “grandfather from another great-grand-mother.” I adored Sid.

“You’ll never believe what Bruce said/did last night,” I’d begin each and every therapy session. And then I’d launch into another “Dadadadadadada Bad-man Episode”!

  • “Bruce said he doesn’t want me to have brunch with girlfriends on weekends anymore – unless he comes along.”
  • “Plus, he doesn’t want me to take an evening painting class – because he thinks I just want to meet someone.”
  • “Also, he doesn’t want me to go to the gym  – because he thinks I just want to meet someone.
  • “Aaaaannnd…he told me he doesn’t like it when I come home happy from work – because he worries I enjoy work more than him! He actually became angry the other day because I came home so happy!”

Each week I’d tell Sid story after story – quickly followed by rationalization after rationalization – always explaining why I should stay with Bruce.

“You know what your problem is Karen?” Sid asked me one session.  “You’re so smart, you’re stupid.”

I laughed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You are able to over-think things so much – that you wind up talking yourself out of what you already know.”

“So you think I should break up with Bruce?” I asked.

Sid sighed loudly. “I’m a therapist. I’m not supposed to tell you what to do. But if you want my honest opinion… I can’t believe you’re gonna stay with him, when he’s an asshole.”

“Wow! I can’t believe you just called Bruce an a***hole,” I said. “But you’re right, he is an a**hole.”

“Actually, I didn’t call HIM an a**hole! I called YOU an a**hole. You heard me wrong. I said, ‘If you continue to stay with Bruce, then YOU are an a**hole.’”

“What? I’m not the a**hole! Bruce is the a**hole!”

“At this point, Karen, if you stay with Bruce knowing what you know – then YOU are the a**hole.”

“I’m the a**hole?”

I repeated this word out loud – a word as opposite in content as a mantra could ever be – but alas, more powerful than any mantra I’d ever used.

This word “a**hole” became my wakeup call!

Sid was right. If I stayed with someone who was so very toxic to my wellbeing  – then I became the A**hole to me – for allowing this soul-crushing, freedom-squelching relationship to continue!

“Listen, Karen,” Sid said, “at this point in therapy we are simply wasting time talking about Bruce – and how messed up he is. Quite frankly, you are only using stories about Bruce to distract yourself from your real issues – and the important inner work you have to do on yourself. It’s time we talk about the white elephant in the room: your wounds! There’s obviously something so wounded inside of you, that you feel the need to stay with Bruce – when he is so toxic.

Although this story about toxic relationships happened well over a decade ago, I think about it often.

I particularly think about it whenever I’ve found myself starting to enter into what I intuit might be a toxic relationship – be it in love, business or friendship.

I feel if we’re not careful we can all find ourselves wasting a lot of precious tick-tocking time complaining about how badly someone is behaving towards us.

If you’re dealing with bad toxic relationships, you need to stop asking…

“Why is this person treating me this way?”  

“Why did this person do that crappy thing to me?”

“What is wrong with this person?”

“Are they an a**hole?”

“Sociopath?”

“Narcissist?”

“Isn’t this person simply just a terrible person?”

The really important questions to ask… so you can move on from bad toxic relationships…

“What did I miss in the vetting process that I allowed this person into my life?”

“What is wounded inside me that I choose/chose to stay with this person for as long as I do/did?”

“How can I grow from this experience – so it doesn’t repeat itself into a bad pattern?”

“Do I want to make this a story about how I was a victim – or how I became a victor?”

“Do I want to waste my time, thoughts and energy on toxicity or use it for a higher purpose?”

“Aren’t I wise and strong for how I moved on to be with better people and live better days?”

If you’re presently caught up in telling stories about the toxic misbehaviors of someone – the time has come to stop getting caught up in name-calling, contempt and blame.

The time has come to recognize you’re just distracting yourself with all the drama, chaos and static!

Yep, the more you stay with and/or complain about a toxic person, the more you’re merely delaying doing the important inner work you need to do – to heal your wounds, expand your limiting beliefs, and show yourself far more love and respect.

All of this time expended on them could be time spent on expanding you – growing who you are!

My lesson/your lesson:

  • Don’t be an a**hole to yourself.
  • Stop staying with (and/or complaining about) toxic people.
  • Choose to focus your time, energy and conversation around people who inspire you, support you and help you to grow you into your happiest, strongest, wisest self.

Heal and move on from toxic relationships.

When times are hard, remember this one thing

WHEN TIMES ARE HARD, REMEMBER THIS ONE THING

Angel Chernoff

One of the most important moments in life is the moment you finally find the courage and determination to let go of what can’t be changed. Because, when you are no longer able to change a situation, you are challenged to change yourself… to grow beyond the unchangeable. And that changes everything.

Of course, when hard times hit there’s a default human tendency to hold on—to extrapolate and assume the future holds more of the same. This doesn’t happen as often when things are going well. A laugh, a smile, and a warm fuzzy feeling are fleeting and we know it. We take the good times at face value in the moment for all they’re worth and then we let them go. But when we’re depressed, struggling, or fearful, it’s easy to heap on more pain by assuming tomorrow will be exactly like today. This is a cyclical, self-fulfilling prophecy. Know this! If you don’t allow yourself to move past what happened, what was said, what was felt, you will look at your present and future through that same dirty lens, and nothing will be able to focus your foggy judgment. You will keep on justifying, reliving, and fueling a perception that is worn out and false.

But make no mistake, this is more than simply accepting that life will improve as time passes. Yes, “time heals wounds,” but yours is not a passive role in the process of healing and moving past pain. The question is: where are your present steps taking you?

It doesn’t matter what’s been done; what truly matters is what YOU DO from here.

Realize that most people make themselves miserable simply by finding it impossible to accept life just as it is presenting itself right now.

Don’t be one of them!

Let go of your fantasies. This letting go doesn’t mean you don’t care about something or someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only thing you really have control over is yourself, in this moment.

The best action you can take right now is changing your thinking, instead of trying to change the broken world around you.

And there is a path. Marc and I have walked this path ourselves many times. A decade ago, in quick succession, we dealt with several significant, unexpected losses and life changes, back-to-back, including losing my brother to suicide, losing a mutual best friend to cardiac arrest, financial unrest, and more. Trials and tragedies strike indiscriminately and nobody is guaranteed safety. But, by changing your thinking, bad times and rocky patches can become the proving ground for achieving renewed happiness.

The key is to understand that no matter what happens, you can choose your response, which dictates pretty much everything that happens next. Truly, the greatest weapon you have against anxiety, negativity and stress is your ability to choose one present thought over another—to train your mind to make the best of what you’ve got in front of you, even when it’s far less than you expected.

Yes, YOU CAN change the way you think! And once you do, you can master a new way to be.

To Counter Loneliness, Find Ways to Connect

TO COUNTER LONELINESS, FIND WAYS TO CONNECT

Jane E. Brody

A four-minute film produced for the UnLonely Film Festival and Conference last month featured a young woman who, as a college freshman, felt painfully alone. She desperately missed her familiar haunts and high school buddies who seemed, on Facebook at least, to be having the time of their lives.

It reminded me of a distressing time I had as an 18-year-old college sophomore — feeling friendless, unhappy and desperate to get out of there.

I didn’t know it then, but I was in the age bracket — 18 to 24 — that now has the highest incidence of loneliness, as much as 50 percent higher than occurs among the elderly. For young adults, loneliness and social isolation are major precipitants of suicide, experts say.

Fortunately, I visited the university health clinic where an astute psychologist examined my high school records, including a long list of extracurricular activities, and noted that I had done only schoolwork during my first year in college.

“There’s nothing the matter with you that wouldn’t be fixed by your becoming more integrated into the college community,” she said. She urged me to get involved with something that would connect me to students with similar interests.

I protested that as a biochemistry major with classes six mornings a week and four afternoon labs, I had no time for extracurricular activities. And she countered: “You have to find time. It’s essential to your health and a successful college experience.”

Having no better option, I joined a monthly student-run magazine that fit into my demanding academic schedule. I soon fell in love with interviewing researchers and writing up their work. I also befriended a faculty adviser to the magazine, a grandfatherly professor who encouraged me to expand my horizons and follow my heart.

Two years later as a college senior and the magazine’s editor, I traded courses in physical chemistry and advanced biochemistry for news reporting and magazine writing.

The rest is history. Armed with a master’s degree in science writing and two years as a general assignment reporter, at 24 I was hired by The New York Times as a science writer, a job I have loved for 53 years. In making rewarding social connections in college, I not only conquered loneliness, I found a path to a marvelous career.

“Social connections, in a very real way, are keys to happiness and health,” noted Dr. Jeremy Nobel, founder of the UnLonely Project and faculty member in primary care at Harvard Medical School. In an opinion piece in The Boston Globe written with Michelle Williams, dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, these experts stated that loneliness and social isolation play “an outsized role” in preventable deaths by suicide.

They urged that social relationships be considered a national public health priority “to roll back those heartbreaking, preventable deaths of despair.”

But it’s not just young people who are lonely. “More than a third of adults are chronically lonely, and 65 percent of people are seriously lonely some of the time,” Dr. Nobel said in an interview. Among the groups with especially high rates of loneliness are veterans, 20 of whom take their own lives each day on average. Even half of chief executives experience loneliness (it can be lonely at the top), a state that can adversely affect job performance.

The rate of persistent loneliness is also high among older adults, who, in addition to limitations imposed by chronic illness, may suffer the isolating effects of mobility issues, lack of transportation and untreated hearing loss.

However, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University, told the UnLonely conference that no one is immune to the toxic effects of social isolation. “It’s so distressing, it’s been used as a form of punishment and torture,” Dr. Holt-Lunstad said.

“Loneliness saps vitality, impairs productivity and diminishes enjoyment of life,” Drs. Nobel and Williams wrote. Its effects on health match that of obesity, alcohol abuse and smoking 15 cigarettes a day, increasing the risk of an early death by 30 percent.

The aim of the UnLonely Project, Dr. Nobel said, is to raise awareness of its increasing incidence and harmful effects and reduce the stigma — the feelings of embarrassment — related to it.

“We want people to know that loneliness is not their fault and to encourage them to become engaged in programs that can diminish it,” he said. One program featured in the film festival depicts a group of older women in the Harlem neighborhood in New York who participate in synchronized swimming. One of the women said she didn’t even know how to swim when she joined the group but now wouldn’t miss a session.

In Augusta, Ga., in partnership with AARP, a program of painting together, as well as music and dance, was created for caregivers who often have little opportunity to connect with others and reap the benefits of mutual support and friendship.

Doing something creative and nurturing helps both caregivers and people struggling with serious chronic illness get outside themselves and feel more connected, Dr. Ruth Oratz, medical oncologist at New York University Langone Medical Center, told the conference, convened by the Foundation for Art and Healing.

The foundation’s goal, Dr. Nobel said, is to promote the use of creative arts to bring people together and foster health and healing through activities like writing, music, visual arts, gardening, textile arts like knitting, crocheting and needlework, and even culinary arts.

“Loneliness won’t just make you miserable — it will kill you,” Dr. Nobel said. “Creative arts expression has the power to connect you to yourself and others. How about a monthly potluck supper? It’s so simple, such a great way to be connected as well as eat good food.”

Much of modern life, though seeming to promote connectivity, has had the opposite effect of fostering social isolation and loneliness, experts say. According to the foundation, “Internet and social media engagement exacerbates feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety.”

People rarely relate intimate tales of misery and isolation on Facebook. Rather, social media postings typically feature fun and friendship, and people who lack them are likely to feel left out and bereft. Electronic communications often replace personal, face-to-face interactions and the subtle signals of distress and messages of warmth and caring such interactions can convey.

So consider making a date this week to meet a friend for coffee, dinner, a visit to a museum or simply a walk. Online communities like Meetup.com can be a good source for finding others with common interests. If nothing else, pick up the phone and have a conversation with someone. Chances are, you will both be better off for it.

Advice From a Formerly Lonely College Student

ADVICE FROM A FORMERLY LONELY COLLEGE STUDENT

Emery Bergmann

Last fall, I made a viral video about having trouble making friends. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Emery Bergmann in a scene from a video about loneliness that she made as a Cornell freshman last fall

Being known as “the girl with no friends” wasn’t my favorite part about having made a video that went viral — but you take what you can get.

About a year ago, as a college freshman at Cornell, I was assigned a short video project for my Intro to Digital Media course.

I decided to focus on my disappointment with the early weeks of college: How I couldn’t get past superficial conversation, how I couldn’t seem to enjoy parties, feel comfortable on campus, or just meet people who I wanted to spend more time around. I felt so lost and beyond confused.

I had been a pretty social person in high school and I fully expected to make great friends right away when I got to college. It’s supposed to be the time of your life, right?

I had been looking forward to college for years. I started studying for standardized tests in 10th, hammering out extracurricular activities and A.P. courses all through 11th, and spent senior year typing applications till my fingers practically bled. I got into a great school, pleasing myself and my family. This was not the payoff I expected.

The worst part was that I felt as if I were the only one who was this lonely. I’d see all these freshmen walk in packs — just massive groups of friends already formed in the first two weeks of school. I couldn’t muster the courage to ask people to get lunch. It was so frustrating. I immediately turned on myself — criticized and blamed myself for being weird and unapproachable.

I spent a ton of time on social media, constantly checking in on my high school friends and seeing how they were getting along at their colleges. They’d post more and text me less. I really tried to put myself out there, but the more people I met, the more defeated I felt. I wasn’t interested in forging fake relationships out of necessity, I wanted genuine friendships that I could treasure. Why couldn’t I find them in my first month on campus?

I poured my loneliness into the four-and-a-half-minute film I made, called “My College Transition.” I posted it on YouTube expecting only my professor and a couple friends to see it.

It now has over 275,000 views and hundreds of comments. I had students from all over the country reach out to me and express their experiences, thanking me for making them feel less alone. Administrators from various universities wrote to me asking for permission to show the video to their freshman class. I even landed a few freelance video design jobs. I spoke on panels, gave tons of interviews and won an award at a film festival.

It was overwhelming in the most beautiful way, and was further proof that I wasn’t alone in my experience. It also showed how necessary it was for people to be open about isolation on college campuses.

Now a sophomore, I see how ridiculous my expectations were for my first year. To assume I could instantly meet my New Best Friends while also getting used to a new place, starting a new academic career, and learning how to adjust to life away from home — that’s a full plate already. Some of the high school friends I was missing had been my friends for my whole life.

Expecting close relationships like the ones that had taken years to develop was unfair to myself and the people around me. Going to college is a massive change — so many students are being uprooted from the familiar comforts of their homes and thrust into a completely new place. It was beyond unrealistic for me to anticipate a seamless transition.

After I posted the video I had people of all ages and genders reaching out to me, explaining how they felt the same way when they started a new job, when they moved to a new place, even when they started retirement.

Loneliness is too often paired with self-blame and self criticism: “I can’t find my place among these people, so it must be my fault.” My social life became a big game of trial and error, slowly learning in which groups I felt welcome and included. It was hard! It was draining! But by putting myself out there, I found so many communities on campus to invest myself in, and where I knew I would be happily received.

The video was definitely a conversation starter, and it made people more likely to open up to me about their struggles as a freshman. But I don’t think the video was any sort of motivator for people to actually become my friend.

Now, a year after making the film, I’ve settled in to college a lot better. But I see the new batch of freshmen around me and imagine many of them are going through the same transition. Here’s what I know now that I wish I could have told my younger self.

The notion that my college friends should be stand-ins for my close relationships from home: impossible. One of the great things about going away to college is the chance to meet people who are not the same. I learned to cherish each relationship for its uniqueness, for the different perspective and ideas it brought into my life. At first I searched for people who reminded me of my friends from home, who would play a similar role in my life that they do. But I began to realize that no one can stand in for or replace them — which was oddly comforting, and a relief to acknowledge.

I had to minimize my time on social media. It became a platform for comparison. I evaluated every picture my friends posted, determining whether their college looked like more fun than mine, if they had made more friends than I had, just meaningless justifications for my unhappiness. It was comforting when old friends reached out to me to say that they related to the video. Many of them were people I thought were having a fantastic time at school. Social media reinforces the notion that you should always be enjoying yourself, that it’s strange to not be happy and that life is a constant stream of good experiences and photo-worthy moments. I taught myself that everyone’s college experience is different, and slowly, I started to embrace the uniqueness of my own.

Transitions are always hard — regardless of your age. But the social expectations around college put overwhelming pressure on students to fit in seamlessly into their campus, without truly acknowledging the difficulty of uprooting your life and starting fresh. The hardest thing to tell struggling freshmen is that acclimation takes time — and “thriving” even longer. Making friends is an active process, and all the preconceived ideas college students arrive with can make for a defeating experience. Understand that your loneliness is not failure, and that you are far from being alone in this feeling. Open your mind and take experiences as they come. You’re going to find your people.

How to recover from betrayal (not just love betrayal, but betrayal of all kinds)

HOW TO RECOVER FROM BETRAYAL (NOT JUST LOVE BETRAYAL, BUT BETRAYAL OF ALL KINDS)

Karen Salmonsohn

Betrayal is incredibly painful. It’s hard to heal and move on. If you’re searching for how to recover from betrayal – in a realistic way – read on.

I endured a huge betrayal from an unlikely place – a younger woman whom I was close friends with and mentored for many years. When we first met, she was trying to write and sell a book – to no avail.

Eventually,  I gave her an idea for a book – then helped her to write the proposal – asking for no upfront money – just a small 10% back end commission – should the book sell.   She enthusiastically agreed – thanking me profusely for not charging her upfront for my time. She had a lawyer draw up papers – which we each signed.

To my shock, soon after I got her the highly successful book deal she’d always dreamed about, she turned into an “All About Eve” kind of character  – displaying low-character behavior –  in a variety of fibbing, royalty-hiding and contract-breaking ways.

At this point, I’ll stop sharing specific details of the story  – because my purpose for this essay is not to complain! Quite the opposite! I want to share my path to recovery. I want to help others who are also suffering from a betrayal – either from a friend, a relative, a spouse, a love partner, a colleague, a boss, a neighbor.

A betrayal can destroy so many varied kinds of relationships – and turn one’s view of the world topsy turvy.

Some of my main upside-down effects after this woman’s betrayal:

I found myself less eager to socialize. In particular, I felt nervous to open my heart to new friendships – and thereby to new pain. I felt hesitant to help others with books and projects. I worried they too might take advantage. Plus I did not want to go any place I might see this betrayer: events, cafes, gyms, yoga studios, social clubs.  All my usual haunts now felt haunted by a potential sighting of her.

My initial solution to recover from betrayal:

I told myself I needed to take some time alone to heal and gain insight.  So I chose to stay in my home more, socialize less. It was easy to do.  I’d just become pregnant. Then I became a mom.  In fact, at the time I thought I was going into a healthful “cocoon” – a less social, nesting period.

But as it turned out, I was entering a “cave.”

The difference:

A COCOON is a quiet, comfortable place you go to evolve into a more beautiful you. It’s a safe haven to experiment with new, uplifting thought patterns. When you emerge, you feel in your full, majestic power – flying higher and further than before.

A CAVE is a quiet, uncomfortable place you go to think and brood – to hibernate. Instead of spending time thinking grand thoughts, you growl. You view the world as cold and unsafe.

How did I finally realize I was in a cave not a cocoon?

When I thought about leaving my home to socialize, I found myself feeling heavy in the heart.

In fact, if you ever want to know if you’re in a cocoon or a cave – check in to feel the weight of your heart when you think about leaving your home.

If you feel light in the heart, you’re telling yourself “Butterfly Stories” about the world – viewing life as a beautiful, safe haven to spread your wings.

If you feel heavy in the heart, you’re telling yourself “Bear Stories”   –  viewing the world as cold and unsafe.

I was telling myself “Bear Stories.” I was even doing “Bear Math.”

This is “Butterfly Math”:

1 untrustworthy person = 1 untrustworthy person

This is “Bear Math”

1 untrustworthy person = infinite untrustworthy people

Positive Psychologists have a term for this “Bear Lens On The World.” They call it “Permanent and Pervasive Thinking.” It’s when you tell yourself stories which make you feel like one negative incident has permanent, pervasive, lifelong negative effects.

In my case, these were some of my permanent and pervasive stories:

“I can’t trust anyone.”

“People Suck”  

“I’m an idiot for being suckered!” 

“I shouldn’t help people any more – they just take advantage.”

This 1 bad thing means I need to keep my heart safely stored in a betrayal-proof Tupperwear container.”

I’m not proud of these thoughts. They are grizzly “Bear Thoughts.” And they were keeping my life limited, dark, dank – and making me feel batty – all signs I was in a cave – not a cocoon!

Basically, a cave is a place you go to shrink your life – a prison for the soul.

A cocoon is where you go to grow your life – an ashram for the soul.

It took me a while to look around and realize I was in a cave. I just knew my heart felt heavier when I thought about going outside to play with others. So I decided to journal about my heavy heart. That’s when I realized I was telling myself painful permanent/pervasive stories – triggered by this friend’s betrayal!

Know this now:

Although you can’t change your past, you can control the story you tell about it – and thereby change the effects your past has upon your future.

I decided the time had come to rewrite my story so it was a happier one.  Literally.

In my journal, I began by writing down all my permanent/pervasive thoughts.  Next to each, I wrote how non-permanent/non-pervasive the situation truly was!

5 Tools To Help You Recover From Betrayal

1. “I can’t trust anyone.”

I realized this betrayal shouldn’t be making me permanently anti-social. It

should simply be making me anti-jerks. I realized I should even look upon this betrayal with a bit of gratitude – because it was a powerful reminder to honor my intuition more -and stop being color blind to red flags – no matter if they show up as smaller red hankees.

(Truth be told, looking back, there were times I felt this woman’s energy to be pushy in an uncomfortable, aggressive way.)

Basically, this event was not meant to stop me from trusting. It was meant to stop me from ignoring my gut – and thereby keep me safe from falling for even bigger business betrayals down the road.

2. “People Suck”

Yes, some people do suck. But not ALL people! Plus, I should never allow someone who sucks to suck all the joy out of my day – and my life!

Sure it’s bad when someone’s a jerk. But things could be worst. I could be the person who’s doing sucky, low-character things.

And I am truly proud of NOT being someone who could behave so badly. Indeed I feel compassion for my betrayer. She is stuck living with herself – while I get to move on and away.

But how could I move on and away, when I was still holding onto resentment? After all, anybody who angers me is actually controlling me – which means they are still an active (and negative) presence in my life.  If I wanted to be happy, I needed “To Pull An Elsa” – and “Let it go”!

3.  “I’m an idiot for being suckered!”

When I re-read this permanent/pervasive thought, I realized I was displaying the classic case of “blaming the victim.”

(Not that I enjoyed using the word “victim.” In fact, I’ll be writing more about the word “victim” at the bottom of this essay!)

Basically, calling myself “an idiot” is showing anger and shame at myself – rather than focusing the anger and shame where it more rightfully belongs – on my betrayer!

My solution?

I re-wrote my word choice from “I am an idiot” to “I am a wronged person.”

And the reason I was wronged did not truly have to do with intelligence.

I simply didn’t see the betrayal coming, because I never would have done such a thing. My heart is awake, good, active. My heart values loyalty, strong character and sticking to commitments. Not just for legal reasons – but moral reasons.

I remembered a quote I’d heard: “Fools take a knife and stab people in the back. The wise take a knife, cut the cord and free themselves from the fools. ”

I decided that since I very much value the trait of being a non-idiot  – that I should do this wise choice – cut the emotional cord – and set myself free as a butterfly leaving a cocoon!  The best way to cut the cord? Forgiveness. Yes, even if the betrayer was not sorry, forgiveness was still necessary.

How could I forgive? I needed to keep reminding myself:  Forgiveness doesn’t excuse my betrayer’s behavior. Forgiveness simply stops her behavior from destroying my heart! 

Plus it helped to keep in mind a great Wayne Dyer quote: “How people treat you is their karma. How you react is yours.” 

4. ‘This 1 bad thing means I need to permanently keep my heart safely stored in a betrayal-proof Tupperwear container.”

When I first re-read this particular pervasive/permanent story, I chuckled. I wondered: “Why should I punish myself for the crime this woman committed? Isn’t that misplaced punishment?” And this new choice (to avoid letting love into my life) was very much a big self-punishment.

After all, love is good stuff! I love love!

Plus whenever I push friends and/or potential-new-friends away, it’s as if I’m punishing these people for the sins of my betrayer! 

Once again I was reminded of the lessons I should be learning: “Pay attention to the energy I feel around people. Listen to my gut!”

Truth be told, it wasn’t my trust in other people that was being shaken up by this betrayal. It was my trust in myself

I needed to re-gain my trust in my abilities to see people clearly! So I gave myself another writing assignment: Jot down all the times I’ve trusted my life choices – and I was correct. Write about all the awesome, trust-worthy, loving friends I’ve chosen to be in my life – so I’m reminded that I have a “good internal picker” and that love is indeed good stuff.

5.  “I shouldn’t help people any more – they just take advantage.”  

When I re-read this permanent/pervasive thought, I also saw it as a form of self-punishment – because I love helping people! I shouldn’t become less of me because this woman showed low character values.

Instead, I should become even more aware of how important strong character values are to me – and embrace them even more fully.

So I gave myself another writing assignment: Write down a list of people I’ve helped with creative projects – and stay reminded how most people do NOT take advantage, fib and break contracts.

Next I wrote about how good it always feels to help and support people – a win/win – for both the giver and receiver!

If you’re presently recovering from a betrayal, I encourage you to watch out for thinking painful, permanent and pervasive thoughts.

Please refuse to become a member of that club called “People Suck.” Please refuse to distribute any of that club’s untrue literature.

Instead I invite you to join me in a club called “You Live. You Learn. Life Gets Better. Yes, You Can And Will Trust Again.”

Although we can’t always control what happens to us, we can control our response.

We can choose the role of victim – focusing on blame, anger, regret and resentment.

Or we can choose the role of victor – seeking support, healing our wounds, retrieving our power, and moving forward stronger and wiser than before.

When Toddlers Attack!

WHEN TODDLERS ATTACK!

Jessica Grose

A year ago, my toddler accidentally stabbed me in the right eye with a Doc McStuffins otoscope. I can’t really blame her. First of all, she was 2. Secondly, she had an ear infection, and I was trying to give her medicine, and so got extremely close to her face. She was flailing her arms in self-defense, and she just happened to have that purple plastic toy in one of her hands.

I tried to shrug off the injury. I went to work and suffered through several meetings. Then I went to buy an eye patch, thinking if I just closed my eye for long enough it would feel better. It didn’t help, and made me look like a pirate.

Later that day, I went to an ophthalmologist, who told me that I had a corneal abrasion and gave me prescription eye drops. I asked if this was a common injury for parents of young children, and he said yes, but that usually he sees it in parents of infants, who scratch their parents’ eyes with their talon-sharp nails. I was lucky that there was no lasting damage to my poor peeper.

Anecdotally, we at NYT Parenting have heard from many people who were accidentally injured by their small children. The biggest offenders are stepped-on Legos and L.O.L. Surprise! doll detritus, but head-butting is also an issue for parents of babies, who tend to have poor motor skills. Teresa Bowen-Spinelli, M.D., an emergency room physician in New York, said it’s typical to see twisted or broken ankles from tripping over toys and broken noses from head-butting.

But also, for men, she’s seen “injury to genitalia.” Maybe a kid throws a ball or swings a bat in unfortunately close range of your nethers, or you’re roughhousing and get an errant foot to the groin. Dr. Bowen-Spinelli said, however, that she’s never seen a really bad case of injured genitals, “because kids don’t exert that much brute force.”

So, how do you prevent injury by your little ones, who by definition can’t fully control their limbs yet, and who aren’t great at recognizing their physical limitations? Aaron E. Carroll, M.D., an NYT Parenting contributor and a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, said that the first thing to do is to be aware of the unpredictability of their thrashing. Understand that little kids “don’t have the guardrails of personal space,” and don’t understand when they “need to be more careful about flailing around,” he said. “They don’t have the same kind of differentiation between emotional and physical actions. When they might be frustrated or upset,” they don’t know how not to react physically.

With babies who are still getting their necks in control, be careful about getting very close to their faces, Dr. Carroll said. Both doctors recommended being mindful of your baby’s nails, and making sure to trim them frequently, for your safety but also for the baby’s. (If clipping your baby’s nails freaks you out, filing them is a good option, Dr. Carroll said. Dr. Bowen-Spinelli recommended cutting babies’ nails while they sleep, because they may struggle less.) If you’re giving your kid medicine she doesn’t want, as I did, Dr. Carroll suggested making it a two-person job, where one caretaker holds down the kid’s arms while the other squirts antibiotics into her mouth.

If your kid does accidentally hurt you, Dr. Carroll recommended keeping that string of expletives that you undoubtedly want to shout under control. “If it is by accident, don’t overreact, don’t scream and yell,” Dr. Carroll said. If your child is old enough (for many by age 2, though you know your kid’s cognitive abilities best), try to give him positive instruction about watching where he puts his body. And make sure you’re giving what Dr. Carroll calls “anticipatory guidance.” Which is to say: If your 3-year-old is learning how to play tennis, keep a close eye on that racket, because you can bet that a preschooler with a racket is capable of causing accidental physical damage.

Overall, though, some of these injuries may not be preventable — part of the fun of kids is their physical spontaneity and excitable play, and we don’t want to take that away from them, or from us. But, dudes, you may want to wear a cup.

Fighting Constantly After Baby? Read This

FIGHTING CONSTANTLY AFTER BABY? READ THIS

Jessica Grose

THE GIST

  • The vast majority of parents are less satisfied with their marriages after they have kids than they were before.
  • Mothers in heterosexual relationships report the lowest levels of marital satisfaction, mostly because they tend to take on more “second shift” work — housework and child care — than their partners do.
  • Listing and dividing household tasks (including child care) make both partners feel a greater sense of fairness, though those tasks do not have to be divided 50/50. 
  • Maintaining a sexual connection is also important — and reestablishing that connection takes time postpartum. 

The lowest point of my marriage was probably when I was excessively pregnant with our second daughter. It was 90 degrees outside every day, and I had blown past my due date with no signs of labor. I had trouble falling asleep but had finally drifted off one night when my husband came home from a work event and woke me up. I had a brief and fleeting desire to bludgeon him with a bedside lamp. 

I’m not alone: The majority of studies on marital satisfaction suggest that couples are less happy after they become parents, though the degree and length of unhappiness is more of an open question. Deeply unpleasant thoughts about your spouse will probably flit through your mind at some point during your child’s first year, mostly because of the extreme exhaustion infants create in their parents (there’s a reason extreme sleep deprivation is considered torture). 

I spoke to three experts — including a New York Times-bestselling author, a sociologist and a relationship-focused psychotherapist — about how to keep relations as positive as possible during your transition to parenthood. All the experts I spoke with said that taking a transparent, proactive approach to dividing household work — including child care — was the number one way to keep the rage-beast of new parenthood at bay. 

WHAT TO DO

Don’t be surprised if you’re not happy.

Though it’s normal for satisfaction to decline in any relationship over time, research performed within the past decade suggests that new mothers may be most vulnerable to that dip. Sociologists theorize that, in heterosexual relationships, mothers are more unhappy with their marriages after they have children because they tend to take on more “second shift” work — child care and housework — and begin to feel that their relationships are no longer fair. Surveys have shown that whether they work or not, mothers are doing more child care than fathers are. 

There is less data about same-sex and gender non-conforming couples, but there is some — albeit dated — evidence that biological mothers in lesbian couples spend more time doing child care than their partners do (though their partners still spend more time on child care than fathers in heterosexual relationships). Lesbian and gay couples tend to divide housework in a more egalitarian way than heterosexual couples do.

Take the same amount of parental leave as your partner (if you can).

If at all possible, make sure both partners are taking identical amounts of leave. Jennifer Senior, an Op-Ed columnist at The New York Times and author of the bestselling “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood,” said that imbalance in leave-taking can set the stage for an imbalance of caretaking that can last for years. The parent who takes less leave has less experience soothing the baby. So the parent who takes more leave — almost always the biological mother — becomes the default “baby whisperer,” because she has more experience. It’s hard to get out of that pattern once you’re in it. In countries where parents tend to take equal amounts of leave, like in Canada or Sweden, marital satisfaction rates are higher. The unfairness extends even to sleep: Past research has found that working mothers in America are significantly more likely to get up during the night with a sick or wakeful child than working fathers are — and sleep is more equal in countries with more egalitarian policies in place.

Manage your expectations.

“Take the image of the ideal parent and throw it in the garbage,” said Dr. Leah Ruppanner, Ph.D., a sociologist at the University of Melbourne who specializes in family and gender. She gives this advice especially to mothers, because there are much more aggressive cultural expectations about what a good mother is supposed to be. According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans still believe that women do a better job caring for new babies than men do (only 1 percent of Americans think men do a better job), and almost 80 percent believe women face a lot of pressure to be an involved parent. 

Make a list of tasks, and divide them fairly.

Senior suggested that parents should list all of their household tasks, including child care, and divide them in a way that seems fair — not equitable. For example: If one partner works 15 hours more a week than the other partner, then they will probably be doing fewer hours of house- and child-related work. But all the experts we spoke with agreed that ad hoc arrangements led to the most strife (and, in hetero couples, usually leave the mom feeling shafted). Merely making the list provides a way for parents to work through all of the potential pain points. 

Get granular with your list.

The writer Alix Kates Shulman created a “Marriage Agreement” with her husband when she had children, so that household responsibilities would be distributed fairly. She wrote about it in 1970, and her list gets very specific: “Transportation: Getting children to and from lessons, doctors, dentists, friends’ houses, park, parties, movies, library, etc. Making appointments. Parts occurring between 3:00 and 6:30 p.m. fall to wife. Husband does all weekend transportation and pickups after 6.” Senior said you should get as granular as possible when you’re listing and dividing chores — the more specific you get, the less resentment will fester.

Don’t be a maternal gatekeeper.

Some mothers believe themselves to be the superior parent, and engage in what sociologists refer to as “maternal gatekeeping” — they mediate their spouses’ interactions with their children. Practically speaking it often means nitpicking: “Why are you swaddling Ruby that way?”; “Jasper doesn’t like his bottle so cold.” If mothers want child care to be divided fairly, they have to let fathers do things their own way, even if it’s not your way (if the child is truly in danger, that’s another story — you should always intervene in that case). “You’re letting them learn how to respond to the kids,” Ruppanner said. “They learn how to do it. It’s not astrophysics.” 

Ruppanner suggested that if a parent is really struggling not to meddle, they should physically leave the house when their spouse is on duty — go for a run, take a nap, give yourself some personal time. 

Redefine your sex life.

Having a child is a “complete reorganization of the structure of your life,” said Esther Perel, M.A., L.M.F.T., a psychotherapist and author of the book “Mating inCaptivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence” — and that includes your sex life. Many biological parents are given the go-ahead to have sex six weeks postpartum, but that’s because “at six weeks you can be penetrated without tearing,” Perel said — and that doesn’t mean you’re ready for it physically or psychologically. Perel added that it could take as long as a year before you’re ready to have penetrative sex — so don’t be discouraged if you’re feeling uneasy at six weeks. It takes time to re-establish the rhythm and get used to a changed body and a restructured life.

Parents who gave birth need time to recover, and nursing parents may experience vaginal dryness because of lowered estrogen levels. About 90 percent of mothers resume sex within six months of birth, though 83 percent are experiencing sexual issues three months postpartum, and 64 percent are still experiencing issues at six months. Perel encouraged parents to “broaden their erotic interests” outside of penetrative sex and experiment with new erogenous zones. Continuing to connect sexually is important for keeping those hostile feelings at bay, for both parents. “On the long list of what your kids need, making sure the couple remains intimately connected remains very high,” Perel said. “There’s nothing holding a family together except the contentment of the couple.”

SOURCES

Jennifer Senior, author of “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood,” July 24, 2018

Dr. Leah Ruppanner, Ph.D., associate professor and co-director of The Policy Labat the University of Melbourne, July 25, 2018

Esther Perel, M.A., L.M.F.T., author of “Mating inCaptivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence” Aug. 3, 2018

Who Helps with Homework? Parenting Inequality and Relationship Quality Among Employed Mothers and Fathers,” Journal of Family and Economic Issues, March 2018

Gender Equality and Restless Sleep Among Partnered Europeans,” Journal of Marriage and Family, 2018

7 facts about U.S. moms,” Pew Research Center, May 10, 2018

In a Warning Against Spanking, Some Pediatricians See an Attack on Black Families

IN A WARNING AGAINST SPANKING, SOME PEDIATRICIANS SEE AN ATTACK ON BLACK FAMILIES

Stacey Patton

Decades of research show that corporal punishment harms children and communities. Yet a vocal subgroup of doctors argues that an anti-spanking policy vilifies African-Americans.

In November, the American Academy of Pediatrics fortified its 20-year-old stance against spanking with a strongly worded new policy statement. Armed with decades of new research, the authors of the policy noted that spanking children does not improve their behavior and appears to be associated with negative outcomes, including increased aggression and mental health problems.

While the medical consensus is clear, and over 70 percent of American pediatricians agree that hitting children is damaging, many black pediatricians hold more positive attitudes about spanking. Moreover, a vocal subgroup is pushing back against the pediatrics academy’s new policy. By failing to draw a clear distinction between spanking and child abuse, these doctors say, the policy contributes to the demonization of black communities, where (as in many other communities, including Southerners and born-again Christians) corporal punishment is a cultural norm. And, they argue, pediatricians who discuss the harms of spanking during routine medical exams, as the policy recommends, risk alienating black parents.

Dr. Scott Krugman, a white pediatrician based at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, said he witnessed the pushback in his professional circles.

“There are doctors who feel that the A.A.P.’s policy is heavy-handed and judgmental of black families. They also take issue with calling a simple spanking abuse,” Dr. Krugman said. “All pediatricians have serious questions about how to talk about the cultural context of physical punishment along with the science.”

Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, a black pediatrician based in Chicago, chairs the academy’s Provisional Section on Minority Health, Equity and Inclusion, which has more than 600 members from diverse backgrounds. Shortly after the academy released its policy, which was first drafted before the minority group was formed in 2017, she heard from some members who questioned “which voices were included in the discussion.”

“There were a lot of raw emotions and the feeling of being marginalized. There was also healthy debate about corporal punishment,” Dr. Heard-Garris said.

According to Dr. Krugman, many pediatricians worry that initiating exam-room conversations about spanking could raise black parents’ fears that their children’s doctors will collude with law enforcement and child protective services to have their children removed from their care. While black children do face a higher risk of being removed from their homes, there’s debate over whether there is racial bias in abuse reporting and whether child abuse is more common in black homes. Additionally, state and federal data show that most child abuse reports are screened outwithout any protective action. The pediatrics academy’s policy update does not change state laws that give parents the right to physically punish their children.

Understanding the pushback from some black pediatricians requires uncomfortable conversations about the cultural attachment many black families have to corporal punishment as a core pillar of responsible parenting in a racist society.

“We’re talking about some doctors who grew up with this tradition. So this policy is challenging how they grew up, who they are, what their mother and grandmother did,” said Dr. Heard-Garris, who is the mother of a 6-year-old boy she does not spank. “The backlash is not necessarily a lack of understanding of the science, but mostly an emotionally-charged response to personal experience.”

Dr. Keisha Bell, chief of pediatric critical care at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, echoed Dr. Heard-Garris. “Many of us grew up in situations where spanking was part of our culture. None of us feels that we have trauma because of it. There’s a difference between spanking and abusing a child. I’m not sure if the studies do a good job of delineating that,” she said.

Dr. Michelle Collins-Ogle, an H.I.V. specialist who cares for adolescents and young adults, was disheartened by the way the academy’s policy “painted this broad brush over ways that people discipline their children,” she said. “It’s like anything you do as a corrective measure to get your kid to listen, then you’re a bad parent.”

Lack of diversity was also a problem, Dr. Collins-Ogle said. “The faces behind the policy and out front talking about it were all white. But they’re not raising black children and they don’t understand the nuances of raising a black child.”

Dr. Heard-Garris noted that, while the pediatric academy’s policy doesn’t explicitly target one group — and data show that the majority of parents across race and ethnicity hit their children — corporal punishment is a more public aspect of black culture, partly as a result of historical trauma. “If you look at the A.A.P.’s policy without understanding slavery, colonization, discrimination and police violence against black people, then doctors won’t understand why physical discipline in our communities is so pervasive,” she said.

Communities of color often mistrust the medical profession, which has a long and documented history of criminalizing and openly sexualizing black children in professional journals. Racist studies on black children have been used to rationalize public fears of and violence against black people. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, pediatrics journals showcased the voices of white male pediatricians offering “proof” that black children were strong, insensate and hypersexual.

During slavery and Jim Crow, black families did not have the luxury of exploring a variety of childrearing strategies. As historian Leon Litwack noted in his famous book, “Trouble in Mind,” for black youths and their parents living under Jim Crow, the daily reminders of “place” and inequality were nearly everywhere. Just as they had been during slavery, black parents were powerless to protect their children from whippings and other assaults. Litwack explained that enslaved parents “were sometimes compelled to inflict the punishment themselves in the presence of whites to teach the disobedient child a lesson – and to avert even harsher punishment if meted out by the overseer or owner. The same mode of punishment, often for the same reasons, persisted into freedom.” Today, black parents and professionals still fear trigger-happy cops and a criminal justice system waiting with open jaws to ensnare black bodies.

“I ascribe to the historical necessity of having a child who will follow your direction, and that cannot be overstated,” Dr. Bell said. “When my son was a toddler, my husband and I made sure we let him know that we needed his compliance the first time.”

Dr. Collins-Ogle shares the same fear. “I tell my son that I don’t want to be the mother of the son that got shot because you said something wrong, you looked at the police the wrong way, you talked back to the teacher,” she said.

But corporal punishment won’t stall these forms of racialized social control, which began in the immediate afterlife of slavery. While black parents’ fears for their children’s lives are legitimate, they do not excuse preparatory violence in the home.

Between 2013 and 2017, 25 black children were killed by police officers, according to databases that track such killings; during that same period, 1,558 black children were killed as a result of maltreatment by their parents, according to reports published by the Children’s Bureau. Black children are still about twice as likely to be abused or killed than white children. The pervasive celebration of “whuppings” as a sacrosanct parenting tradition helps to fuel these outcomes. Whether spanking itself constitutes maltreatment is a matter of debate, but research suggests that spanking is a risk factor for abuse and fatalities.

In March, I spoke to pediatricians who attended the pediatrics academy’s trauma-informed training session in San Antonio, Tex., and in August I gave a presentation on race and spanking at the American Psychological Association conference in Chicago. I told both audiences that hitting children is not native to pre-colonial West African or indigenous cultures. As I described in my book, there’s no evidence of any form of ritualized physical punishment of children in precolonial West African societies prior to the Atlantic slave trade; African-Americans learned corporal punishment from white slave masters. I bluntly told them that one of the most powerful things pediatricians and psychologists can say to black parents is that whupping their children is one of the whitest things they can do. Physical punishment is not necessary in impoverished or dangerous neighborhoods; in fact, it is counterproductive because it teaches young people to solve conflicts with aggression and violence.

In light of the concerns raised by pediatricians of color, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics told me that there are plans to continue conversations on the spanking policy through collaborative, educational programming at its annual meeting in 2020. In July, the academy released its first policy statement on racism and its impact on child health.

“Kids of color in this country are not treated the same,” Dr. Heard-Garris said. “They experience exponentially more criticism, discrimination and violence. So we have to parent differently.” “I will do the opposite of society.” Dr. Heard-Garris continued. “I won’t parent my son with violence, but with more love. I will tell him how amazing, kind and smart he is. Not only because it is true, but because as soon as he leaves my door the world will tell him otherwise.”

4 Reasons You Need to Keep Doing Hard Things to Be Happy, Healthy and Successful

4 REASONS YOU NEED TO KEEP DOING HARD THINGS TO BE HAPPY, HEALTHY AND SUCCESSFUL

Marc Chernoff

You need to do hard things to be happy, healthy and successful. Because the hard things ultimately build you up and change your life.

If you already feel like you’re at the end your rope today with little slack left to hold on to, realize your mind is lying to you. It has imprisoned you by reciting self-defeating stories in your head—stories about your mistakes and what you should have done differently. And you’ve begun to believe that you’re really stuck.

But you’re NOT.

You are alive in an immense world with infinite destinations. Take a moment to remind yourself of this fact. Go outside. Look up at the sky and the clouds or the stars. THIS is the world in which you really live. Breathe it in. Then look at your current situation again.

Remember that adversity—doing and dealing with the hard things in life—is the first path to truth. Your defeats often serve as well as your victories to shake your spirit and light your way. You just have to hold on tight, embrace the daily pain, and burn it as fuel for your journey.

Easier said than done, of course. Which is why you need to continually remind yourself…

1. Every day you are growing stronger from your struggles.

Life can be a struggle. It will break you sometimes. Nobody can protect you from that. And hiding alone in a cave somewhere won’t either, for prolonged solitude will also break you with an endless thirst for connection. You must dare to love. You must dare to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth.

You are here to sacrifice your time and risk your heart. You are here to be bruised by life. And when it happens that you are hurt, or betrayed, or rejected, let yourself sit quietly with your eyes closed and remember all the good times you had, and all the sweetness you tasted, and everything you learned. Tell yourself how amazing it was to live, and then open your eyes and live some more.

To never struggle would be to never have been blessed with life. It is within the depths of darkness that you discover within you an inextinguishable light, and it is this light that illuminates the way forward. 

2. The hardest days shine a light on what’s truly important, and what isn’t.

Adversity is like walking in to a turbulent windstorm. As you fight to push through it, you not only gain strength, but it tears away from you all but the essential parts of you that cannot be torn. Once you come out of the storm you see yourself as you really are in raw form, still holding the passions and ideas that move you, and little else.

Ultimately, there is only what you want and what happens. When you don’t get what you want, there is only grabbing on and holding tight to the passions and ideas that move you. These are the lusts that matter—the love that defines you. It is this kind of love that drives you forward and even when the going gets tough. It is this kind of love that should never be overlooked.

3. Stress can be a healthy guidepost for making positive changes.

Sometimes when the going gets really tough, the world seems like it’s spinning too fast and you feel completely out of control. It seems like you’re losing your mind and going crazy, but you’re not. You need to pause and take a deep breath.

Just about every emotional issue imaginable, from fear to anxiety to the onset of depression, is triggered by a mounting build-up of stress. Stress impedes your ability to think straight and see the world as it is—a world that is not spinning too fast or burning to the ground.

Being extremely stressed-out and feeling overwhelmed is not a sign that you are psychotic or “going crazy.” It’s just that stressful experiences make it harder to think clearly and can make you think you’re more out of control than you actually are. The craziness you feel is stress. It’s not time to give up, it’s time to regroup and hold tight to your sanity. The more you relax, the saner you will feel.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I working too much with not enough downtime?
  • Am I getting enough sleep?
  • Am I eating healthy balanced meals?
  • Am I spending enough time with those I care about?
  • Am I involved in relationships that cause me excessive stress?
  • Am I drinking too much alcohol or relying on other (non-prescribed) drugs?
  • Am I constantly worried about some other time and place?

If you are experiencing any of the above issues, you know what you need to address to reduce your stress. The vast majority of us never go crazy; the vast majority of us simply fear, at some point, that we may go crazy based on stress factors we allow to reside in our present life situations.

So let your stress guide you—make sure you fill your time with meaningful activity, get enough sleep, eat well and manage your stress so it doesn’t mange you. 

4. You have something special to offer the world.

You are only destined to become one person—the person you decide to be. Do not let your own negativity walk all over you with it’s dirty feet.

You feel a unique gift burning inside you that you want to offer to the world, to help move it in the right direction. It may be covered up by days and weeks of waiting, doubting and defeat, but it’s present and as bright as ever. If you look deeply enough, you’ll find it. There is a capable person inside you that wants to soar, to create, to build, to love, to inspire, to do far more than just exist.

Your everyday chores and difficult tasks can be a prison or a pathway. It all depends on you. No matter how far down you think you’ve traveled, there is always a road leading to higher ground. There are always great possibilities in front of you, because you are always able to take a small step forward.

Stay true to yourself. Hold on to your values and passions. Never be ashamed of doing what feels right. Decide what you think is right and gradually step in that direction.

Now is the time…

There’s no shame in feeling overwhelmed. You are not a robot; and even if you were, you’d still need to stop for maintenance once in a while. There is no shame in admitting to yourself that you feel tired, doubtful, and low today. This is a natural part of being human. The simple fact that you are aware of this means you are able to turn things around, one day at a time, starting now.

So tell me:

What helps you push forward when times get hard?

Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

How to Make Life Simple Again

HOW TO MAKE LIFE SIMPLE AGAIN

Angel Chernoff

Life gets a lot simpler when you clear the clutter that makes it complicated. Bring your attention back to what’s important, and move forward with your life.

Your days fill up so fast, and they are so rushed and packed with distractions—sometimes they literally seem to be bursting at the seams.

I know exactly how you feel. This used to be my life too.

Before I started simplifying my life, I was being pulled in dozens of different directions every day and never had enough time to get everything done. Naturally, I wanted to do a great job with each obligation I had, and somehow I had convinced myself that I could do it all. But the reality was I was stretched way too thin, and thus I was doing a lousy job at everything and completely stressing myself out in the process.

This feeling of being mind-numbingly busy and overbooked is a huge source of stress for most people, and stress is perhaps the single most important determining factor of whether we’re healthy and happy, or sick and tired, in the long run.

Unless you want your health to decline and your stress to continue to skyrocket, you must start simplifying.

So how can you simplify your life? It’s not as hard as you might imagine…

1. Know what your perfect day looks and feels like.

Visualizing your perfect day is important not necessarily because it will be a recurring reality, but because it’s crucial to understand what a “simple life” really means to you. It’s different for everyone—for me, it means practicing my morning gratitude meditation, quiet writing and reading time, and spending a few quality hours with Marc and our son, Mac. For others, it’s a long morning walk, afternoon yoga, a productive day at the office, and a hot bath before bed. And for others, it’s simply lots of time to focus on an important life goal, while still leaving enough time to get a good night’s rest.

Take a few moments now to visualize what a “simple day” means to you.

2. Determine what’s most important to you.

Besides the art of getting things done, there is the often-forgotten art of leaving things undone. The simplicity and efficiency of a day relies heavily on the elimination of non-essentials.

The foundation of simplifying is this:

  • Identify what’s most important to you.
  • Eliminate as much as you possibly can of everything else.

So take time to identify the most important projects, people and experiences (5 at most), and then see what activities, tasks and commitments fit in with that list.

3. Say “no” to unnecessary commitments that do not support your priorities.

Once you’ve identified what’s important—your priorities, along with your vision of the “perfect day”—you need to start saying “no” to things that do not support what’s important to you, and that are getting in the way of your perfect day.

The best thing you can say “no” to is an unimportant commitment. Think about it…

Today you say yes to a Facebook party invitation, tomorrow you say yes when a neighbor asks you to help him move some furniture, then you get asked to a quick lunch meeting, then you decide to volunteer at your son’s youth group. One yes at a time, and soon your days are too busy and complicated and you don’t know where you went wrong.

List and evaluate your commitments (professional, personal, civic, etc.), especially the recurring ones, and say no to at least one of them today. It just takes a quick call or a short email, and you’ll instantly feel a weight lifted.

4. Limit your daily tasks.

Take time every morning to identify 1-3 Most Important Tasks (MITs) for the day, and cut out the rest as much as possible (not counting little, necessary things, like tying your shoes or dropping the kids off at school). Address your other obligations right then and there, and tell the associated people that you really want to help, but your plate is full today. You can’t serve them well, so regretfully you must say “no.”

Once you’re down to a manageable list of tasks (1-3 is ideal, but certainly don’t try to do more than 7), it’s best to give each some allotted time—a few hours for one, and then a few hours for another, etc. Instead of being in a stressful task-switching state of mind, just take your next task, let everything else go, and just be in the moment with this one task for the allotted time.

Do this, and you will notice a difference. Limiting your tasks like this helps you focus and embrace the reality that you’re not going to get everything done in one day.

5. Schedule at least one distraction-free time block each day.

Once you know you’re actually working on the right tasks, eliminating all distractions for a set time while you work is one of the most effective ways to get things done. So, lock your door, put a sign up, turn off your phone, close your email application, disconnect your internet connection, etc. You can’t remain in hiding forever, but you can be twice as productive while you are.

Do whatever it takes to create a quiet, distraction-free environment where you can focus on what’s important.

6. Do ONLY one thing at a time.

Again, let yourself be immersed in the task at hand by letting go of the feeling that you need to quickly rush through it—that you need to move on to the next task waiting for you. There will always be a next task, because that’s the nature of TO-DO lists—they’re never-ending. So let those later tasks come later. Just be 100% in this one task, like it’s your entire world.

Bottom line: Slow down. Breathe. Review your commitments and goals. Put first things first. Do one task at a time. Start now. Take a 5-minute break in an hour. Repeat. (And remember, results are more important than the time it takes to achieve them.)

7. Batch the smaller, less important tasks.

There are a lot of little tasks you need to do throughout the day. Don’t let them disrupt the more important stuff. To be more productive, batch them up and do them all at once, preferably later in the day. For example, instead of checking your personal email throughout the day, handle all of it once a day, perhaps at 4pm as the day is winding down. Do all your miscellaneous paperwork at once (bills, forms, etc.). And once you’ve completed a batch of small tasks (like processing all your email), cut yourself off and move on to the next small thing if necessary.

The key is to make sure you don’t let the small things get in the way of the big ones. Do NOT get stuck on one small thing all day, or even half a day.

8. Leave space between everything.

I may sound like a broken record at this point, but it’s crucial to understand that overcommitting is the biggest mistake most people make against living a simpler life. It’s tempting to fill in every waking minute of the day with tasks. Don’t do this to yourself. Leave space.

The space between the things we do is just as important as the things we do. So leave a little space between your tasks. Take a break to stretch, take a short walk outside, drink a glass of water, perhaps do some simple deep breathing exercises. Enjoy the space, and breathe.

Your overarching goal is living a life uncluttered by most of the things people fill their lives with, leaving you with space for what truly matters. A life that isn’t constant busyness, rushing and stress, but instead mindful contemplation, creation and connection with people and projects you love.

9. Practice gratitude.

A simpler, more positive mindset can be created anytime and anyplace with a change in thinking. That’s right, frustration and stress come from the way you react, not the way things are. Adjust your attitude, and the frustration and stress evaporates. The simplest secret to doing this is letting every circumstance be what it is in the moment, instead of what you think it should be, and then making the best of it.

It’s about being grateful for what is, and then working WITH it, not against it.

This kind of humble gratitude always makes life easier to deal with. Because happiness comes easier when you stop complaining about your problems and you start being grateful for all the problems you don’t have.

The floor is yours…

If you’re up to it, I’d love to reflect on #1 for a moment with you:

What does your perfect day look and feel like? Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts with us.

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