I was talking to someone recently who is fiercely independent, and very resistant to asking anyone for help.
She knows how she got like this: She had a difficult, chaotic childhood when there was never a caring, mature adult around to help her out of the myriad problems, fears and challenges that each of us goes through as a child.
So she learned: don’t ask for help, because it’s not going to be given anyway.
And that’s served her pretty well, up until this stage of life, when to cut a long story short, she’s cracking at the seams, and she can’t do everything by herself anymore. These days, she really needs to start asking for help, at least within her immediate family – but she still can’t.
This situation is starting to cause a lot of problems and tensions between my friend and her husband and grown-up kids, because they got used to the version of her that never needs any help. So now, even when she does ask, they aren’t really taking her requests so seriously, they aren’t ‘trained’ to respond, they forget, they get busy with other people, other priorities.
Which is reinforcing the mother’s existing belief system, namely: don’t ask for help, because it’s not going to be given anyway.
But now, she really needs help, so the resentment is rising and rising in the home.
I suggested she take a look at the Connection book by Efim Svirsky, and she came across an exercise that really spoke to her, about trying to connect to the ‘child who can’t question’.
That kid is so overwhelmed by fear, it can’t even frame the problem into words.
She did the exercise, and came up with a stunning insight as to where that inability to ask for help actually came from, which I have her permission to share with you.
As mentioned, she had a very chaotic childhood.
There was a lot of absentee parenting, a lot of emotional neglect, and also a heavy dose of verbal abuse that sometimes turned violent. It wasn’t really bad enough for social services to get involved – but it could have been. And as a young teen, my friend was old enough to be worrying about what would happen if ‘outsiders’ find out how crazy it really is in my home?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, she was struggling in school. There was no-one to encourage her to do her homework, no-one to get her to show up on time. Yet, whenever she was hauled into the principal’s office for a talking to, she always concocted a fantastic web of lies, to provide a diversion to what was really going on behind closed doors.
The dog she didn’t have was always eating her homework, the train was always late, the bus always developed a flat tyre….
Of course, the principal didn’t buy all this, but as my friend didn’t back down from her lies, she had no choice but to ‘go along’ with the deceit, and to try to relate to her from that place.
So, my friend was going through the Connection exercise, when suddenly that scene with the principal popped into her head, and she suddenly realized why she could never ask for help:
Because she could never truthfully describe what the real problem was.
The real problem was not that she was disorganized, didn’t care about her school work, lacked motivation, kept losing her travelcard. The real problem is that she came from a totally dysfunctional family that sapped all her energy and organization as soon as she stepped over the threshold of her house. And she wasn’t about to open that can of worms up to anyone, in case social services got involved.
So, she lied about her homework, lied about what happened to her PE kit, lied about all the emotional dysfunction and chaos swirling around at home. And the help that was offered to her was always dealing with the ‘lie’ of what the problem actually was, as opposed to the truth – so it was essentially worthless.
It wouldn’t solve the real problem, because my friend couldn’t express it.
In the exercise, she went back to that time in the principal’s office, and for the first time in her life, she told the truth. She wasn’t lazy, disorganized, rebellious – anything but! She was struggling to keep things together in some very challenging circumstances.
And there was no ‘help’ that the principal could give her, because that help ran the risk of getting social services involved, which was a massive childhood fear for my friend.
After she completed the exercise, she told me she felt a huge weight roll off her. Now, she finally understood why she has such a hard time really asking for help – because she can’t truthfully articulate her needs.
Telling the truth about what’s going wrong, what’s overwhelming, has always been too scary for her. But now, just maybe, the door has creaked open for that to start to change.
For more on Efim Svirksy and his excellent book Connection, go HERE.
All of us grew up on those fairy stories that involved an enchanted royal person being turned into some sort of frog, or toad, and who required their true love – usually another good-looking prince or princess – to rescue them by giving them a kiss.
As soon as that happened – voila! Instant hunk, instant supermodel, with impeccable manners, a great dress sense and daddy’s enormous fortune and 58 estates in the country.
But even in the middle of all those ridiculous fairy tales, there is a nub of truth, and something useful that we can prise out, and use to our own emotional and spiritual advantage.
Because today, all of us are walking around believing that really?
We’re a reptile.
We’re a frog.
We’re a toad.
Doesn’t matter how things look on the outside, deep-down on the inside, we think we’re green, ugly and cursed.
But that’s not true.
The famous Jewish mystic Rebbe Nachman of Breslov wrote a whole tale about a Lost Princess – i.e. the soul of every single one of us – and the trials and tribulations that each of would face, before we could rescue her from the palace of ‘no good’ and restore her to her rightful place.
So now, here’s where we going to mix things up in an interesting way, because a few weeks’ ago, I discovered an excellent potential short-cut to that whole ‘finding the lost princess’ process.
Before I tell you more about it, I just want to underline something:
Visualisations like the one I’m going to share with you work best when they’re done from a place of deep honesty. There are a lot of people out there who deep down believe they are a frog, but try to pretend that superficially, they’ve already found their lost princess (or prince).
The following visualization probably won’t work so well for them, because the key to getting it to work is transforming the frog into the princess / prince.
But if a person can’t accept that they really are relating to themselves as a frog in the first place, they can’t really do that.
It’s a staged process:
THE KISSING-THE-FROG VISUALISATION
It’s always best to do these visualisations in a place where you feel safe and secure, and where you won’t be interrupted by people or phones.
Think about your ‘inner frog’, and try and bring it to mind. What colour is it? How big is it? What is it sitting on, what is it doing?
Next, describe its behavior:
This is an angry frog.
It’s a spiteful frog.
It’s an ungrateful frog.
It's a lonely frog.
It's a scared frog.
It's a self-hating frog.
Now, walk over to that frog, and give it a kiss. (You can also give it a hug, and say kind words to it – whatever comes to you.)
Now, watch it transform into your lost princess.
If that doesn’t happen, ask your frog what’s blocking the transformation, and pay careful attention to the answer, as for sure it’ll be a big clue about what you may need to continuing work on, or some other insight you hadn’t realized before.
You can repeat this visualization as often as you want, until you finally get that frog to transform into the true princess / prince that’s really inside each one of us.
But as mentioned above, the key to pulling the transformation off is to stay alert for the ‘warts’ each time they surface. Acknowledge them, deal with them, then transform them. But whatever you do, don’t just ignore them and carry on pretending you’re perfect and have nothing else to fix or work on.
We’re all down here to work on improving our character.
With no exceptions.
One of the most frustrating and damaging aspects of being in a relationship with an NPD person is that you can’t get closure on any of the things that are bothering you or upsetting you about the relationship.
You can often find yourself locked in a kind of mental ‘tug of war’, where you feel you’re being constantly pulled out of your own version of reality, and of truth, over to seeing things from the NPD person’s warped perspective of what’s really going on. (I.E, you’re to blame for everything, and they are perfect.)
The main reason this happens is because NPD people can’t accept that they are wrong, flawed or imperfect. They can’t take responsibility for their own negative actions, thoughts and behaviours, and they have to see themselves as the ‘victim’ of circumstances.
And not infrequently, you can have overlapping personality disorders, with NPD and BPD habits, for example, present in the same person. When a person is simply unable to accept, under any circumstances, that they have done something wrong or hurtful, or acted incorrectly, that’s the single biggest signpost I know of flagging a potential NPD problem.
I think NPD people were probably unfairly blamed, criticized, shamed, punished and eviscerated so much as children - by the NPD people in their own lives - that the thought of taking responsibility for anything they do as adults, even the really bad things, simply overwhelms the brain too much, leading to their mentally-ill behavior. (Again, I’ll describe the science describing how the brain reacts in another post, God willing.)
But for now, we’re still looking at how YOU can disentangle yourself from these very emotionally disturbing relationships and people, without having to go for the ‘no contact’ nuclear option. One of the single best ways of defusing the emotional fall-out from dealing with these people is visualisations.
Visualisations allow your brain to process all the upset, hurt, anger, fear etc that is part and parcel of dealing with emotionally-abusive people, so that all that negative energy doesn’t get ‘stuck’ in your own physiology and soul, where it can start disrupting your own emotional and physical health, if its left to accumulate.
The following visualization, called ‘The River’, will help you to stop playing emotional ‘tug of war’ with the NPD people in your life, where you’re endlessly reliving their last comments, and the last ‘confrontation’ you had with them, because you’re trying to re-establish and re-assert your own truth in the face of all their lies and evasions. It’s helped me a lot, and I hope it’ll help you, too.
THE RIVER VISUALISATION
As with all visualisations, it’s best to do this when you are alone, sitting or lying down in a comfortable position, and where you feel safe - i.e., no-one is going to barge in on you, or interrupt your experience. Also, turn your mobile phone off!
I think like many of us in 2016, I’ve struggled for years trying to figure out how to properly deal with many of the disturbed people out there. My struggles have ranged from dealing with flat-out bullies and plainly abusive individuals, to the more covertly messed-up personalities that can strangely do even more damage than the obvious nut-jobs, because you spend 15 years blaming yourself for their problems.
It’s your fault they’re not treating you nicely, that they don’t have any empathy for your problems, and that the relationship with them is so upsetting and draining and challenging.
Recently, God sent me an AMAZING dream which has helped me clean a lot of these loose ends up really nicely, which I’ve now turned into a visualization - but it’s probably the least PC thing I’ve ever written from a spiritual self-help perspective, so before I share it with you, I wanted to tell you about a point of Jewish law that was decided by Rabbi Akiva.
The scenario was this: You and your friend are wandering around the desert, and you have a flask of water that is just enough to help you to complete the journey, while your friend has run out of water.
If you share your water with your friend, that will mean that you’ll both die before you complete your journey. So what should you do, share or not share?
There was a whole big discussion in the Gemara amongst the Jewish sages of 2,000 years ago, but then Rabbi Akiva came along and said the following: Your life comes first.
If sharing your water with your friend means that you’ll die as a result, you’re not allowed to share it. YOUR LIFE COMES FIRST.
People with narcissistic-type traits (which covers A LOT of people in 2016…) are sometimes compared to a balloon that constantly needs to suck energy, time and attention out of other people to stay pumped up. This is the infamous ‘narcissistic supply’, which sees these disturbed people making your life into a big drama, throwing tizzy fits all of the place, pulling guilt trips and other manipulative moves on you, and generally trying to make their problems your problems.
They act like this, and suck you into the crazy vortex that is their life, because they are running out of juice and energy big time. They lack the self-love, self-soothing and self-control to handle their own inner chaos, so they try to make their problem your problem, as much as possible. If you can handle that without it having an adverse effect on you - then by all means carry on sharing. If you can’t, and they are literally draining the life, joy and energy out of you each time you think about them, or speak to them, or have to deal with them, then remember that your life comes first.
And this isn’t just a nice idea, it’s a principle of Jewish law.
So with that intro out the way, welcome to the most un-PC visualization I’ll probably ever put together. This is excellent for all those people who you can’t get closure with in real life, as they’re too crazy to accept or admit they’re doing anything wrong or they need to change, regardless of how much they hurt you.
THE MOST UN-PC VISUALISATION EVER:
Close your eyes, and breathe deeply three times.
Imagine that you’re in a light, airy comfortable room somewhere, with large, open windows and a lot of sunlight streaming in. Imagine, you see the person who has caused you a lot of heartache and pain walking past.
Open the window and call out in your loudest voice:
“You are a piece of ****!!!!”
Keep yelling this out as many times as you need to, until you start smiling again.
It’s SO simple, but SO effective. I was in such a good mood after I did this.
One more thing to note: Whether or not the person you’re yelling at really is a ‘piece of ****’ is a completely moot point. The idea is to let go of the negative emotion, and the sense of helplessness you’ve accumulated as quickly and easily as possible.
Once you do this visualization, you’ll actually feel far less antagonistic towards the problematic person in real life, and probably even more forgiving. Why? Because now you’ve clearly stated who the problem is in the relationship (at least, to yourself), and permitted yourself to acknowledge that (at least to yourself), you’ll feel far less threatened by that person now, and you’ll be able to move on and put it all behind you much easier.
One of the things that causes us human beings a great deal of emotional and spiritual pain is when we have a relationship with someone we love or care for, that ends up going very sour.
Sometimes, this happens because we change or the other person changes and the two ‘halves’ just don’t fit together as a good whole anymore. Other times, the person hasn’t changed at all - but we suddenly wake up and realize that what we thought was normal, OK, or standard behavior from the
other person actually really wasn’t at all, and was doing us a lot of damage all along.
Whatever the reason for the relationship going sour, or being revealed as being negative, there’s always a lot of fall-out to deal with. On the one hand, there are still tender feelings, warm memories and some sort of hope that the warmth and kindness that either truly was there, or that was erroneously believed to be there, can be recaptured. On the other hand, there’s often a pressing need for us to now protect us from this negative person, and the negative vibes they’re sending our way, as much as possible.
Trying to keep these competing interests satisfied can drive even the most stable person a little insane, especially when you the relationship in question concerns close family members.
That’s where the following visualization exercise comes in very handy, as it enables us to express and ‘protect’ our warm feelings, while at the same time being able to come to terms with, and if necessary complete distance ourselves from, the now negative and damaging relationship.
So without any further ado, here it is:
As with all visualisations, you can learn a great deal about what’s really going on with your relationships by doing this. If things are really over, this exercise can help you to clear up any related lingering and conflicting sub-conscious issues, and deal with your feelings appropriately.
If you get stuck at any time, ask God, or one of your favorite spiritual figures, like Rebbe Nachman, for example, for help.
‘Gestalt dialogues’ sound fancy, but they’re actually just a way of holding conversations with other people in your head, as part of a visualization.
Human beings are amazing creatures: When you start to practice your own ‘Gestalt dialogues’, you’ll see that not only will you get a much better understanding of where you’re holding about a particular matter, you’ll also get a much deeper understanding of where the other person is coming from, that will ultimately enable you to find it easier to deal with them, relate to them, and even forgive them in real life.
Let me give you one example: A little while ago, I got extremely upset with someone who I’d done a lot of financial favours for, who went completely AWOL when my own life hit the skids a few years’ back and I ran out of money.
I had an expectation that this person would reciprocate in kind if the need would arise, and if they were in a position to help me. But when I ran out of money, they stopped returning my calls and haven’t spoken to me since.
I felt hurt, betrayed and furiously angry that this person had ‘taken me for a ride’, and that I’d spent so much money helping them, only to get unceremoniously dumped when I really needed their support and friendship. I couldn’t hash it out with them in person and clear the air, as they weren’t taking my calls.
What to do?
Enter, the Gestalt Dialogue Visualization.
Firstly, I imagined myself in my safe place. (More on this in a moment.) Next, I invited my erstwhile friend into my safe place, and I told them I was really angry at them for dumping me in my hour of need. Initially they were defensive (as they would be in real life…) but then after a few seconds, they explained that they had a very complicated relationship with their spouse, and that if they’d given me any money they’d have to justify it to their spouse – and the thought of having that argument was too much for them.
I asked them: ‘So why didn’t you tell me that, instead of just dumping me and not returning me calls or emails? I would still have valued your friendship and caring, even if you couldn’t give me any money!’
They replied that they felt too guilty and ashamed of themselves to talk to me now, and that’s why they weren’t returning my calls.
Once I heard that, I found it so much easier to forgive them, and to let the whole issue go. It stopped taking up all that emotional space and energy in my head, and I felt much happier and calmer about the whole situation. Such is the power of the Gestalt Dialogue Visualization!
Now, let’s show you how you can tap into it for yourself.
step-by-step: how to do a gestalt dialogue visualization"
STEP 1: FIND YOURSELF A QUIET ROOM, AND CLOSE THE DOOR
You don’t want anyone to come in and disturb you, and you need to physically feel protected and safe before you begin the visualization. If you need to, lock the door.
STEP 2: GET PHYSICALLY COMFORTABLE
Sit down on a comfy chair, or even lie down on your bed, propped up on a couple of pillows. These visualisations can often last for a half an hour or more, so you need to be somewhere warm and comfortable.
STEP 3: CLOSE YOUR EYES, AND TAKE THREE DEEP BREATHS, FOCUSING ON THE OUT BREATH
The out breath activates your Parasympathetic Nervous System, which releases the chemicals that relax your body, and enable you to let go of physiological feelings of stress and tension.
STEP 4: PICTURE YOUR OWN ‘SAFE SPACE’
This could be anything from a green meadow, to a special room, to a hut by the beach, or even (my own personal favorite….) the grave, monument or meeting place of some holy person you feel particularly close to.
Settle in and make sure you really feel comfortable before inviting your ‘guest’ into your safe space.
STEP 5: INVITE THE ‘PROBLEM PERSON’ INTO YOUR SAFE SPACE
But before you do, know that:
If you’re only going to feel comfortable speaking your mind if the other person is in a cage, or chained to the wall – make it so! If you feel the need to punch them, stomp on them or blow them up – do it!
Remember, this is your safe way of recovering your sense of agency in a virtual setting, and you don’t have to hold yourself back. You don’t have to worry that you’ll then go out and actually attack them physically, God forbid – in fact, quite the opposite will happen.
Once you’ve attacked them in your head, yelled at them, accused them of the most terrible things, you’ll feel much calmer, and you’ll be able to let go of your festering resentment, anger and hatred.
Because your emotional brain can’t tell the difference between a visualization and reality. Once you’ve ‘acted out’ virtually and settled your scores, you won’t have any impulse to do it again in reality.
STEP 6: BEGIN THE CONVERSATION
Tell them exactly how you feel; exactly what you want to say, and don’t hold back.
If it’s someone you’ve been scared of for a long time, or who has hurt you repeatedly, or who you haven’t been able to forgive for ages, then two things may happen at this point:
If you’re still too scared to challenge them:
Take whatever actions you need to minimize them, and empower yourself. Chain them up, stick them in a cage, shrink them down in your head, throw magic dust on them to make them disappear, send them to outer space.
Picture yourself as massive, and them as tiny little ants.
You can also invite other people into your safe space to protect you, and to even do the talking for you, until you find your voice.
If you’re pounding them to pieces instead of talking:
Don’t worry – that’s a perfectly natural reaction. When you calm down, then you can begin the proper conversation – or not. Leave it for another day and come back again.
Remember: you can’t do this wrong, and anything that occurs is taking you forward at the pace God decides is correct, and showing you where you’re really holding at this point in time.
Accept it, don’t pressure yourself to achieve closure immediately (particularly if it’s a deep-seated, chronic hurt, fear or problem that’s been built up over many, many years), and simply try again in a couple of days’ time.
For less intense issues, you should be able to have a fairly civilized conversation with the other person. Say your piece, but also ensure that you give them the chance to respond to your issues, complaints and hurts.
If at any time you feel confused or unsure of what to do next, ask God to help you.
If at any time you start to feel overwhelmed or anxious, take action to get back in control of the situation or person: cage them, shrink them, squash them, explode them, dissolve them, transform them.
Whenever you feel stuck or scared, ask God to flood your ‘safe space’ with His light, and watch how things transform.
And remember you can also ask your ‘impartial guide’ for advice and help at any time (and believe me, you’ll get it, and it’ll be mind-blowingly good.)
STEP 7: TRY TO GET TO A PLACE OF RESOLUTION OF CLOSURE – BUT DON’T FORCE THE ISSUE
Again, with the easier issues and people, the closure will come faster. With the more painful, deeper relationships and problems, it may take a few goes before you achieve closure – but it will come!
Keep talking it out in your head, keep revisiting the issue, and you’ll see how each time it’s changed or improved somehow.
Maybe you just stomped on the other person the first time, or ran away and opened your eyes in a panic. Then, the second time you picture them caged and you’re still scared, but now you can actually speak, or shout at them something.
Then the next time you do the visualization, you realize that you’re not feelings so scared, angry or overwhelmed, and that enables you to let them speak to you.
Things will continue to change and transform and improve each time you do this visualization – and those improvements will manifest as a tangible feeling of calm and peace, long after the visualization is finished.
I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: put God in the picture, and don’t be scared to call on His help, guidance and transforming light and protection whenever you need it.
God ALWAYS comes through for you in these visualisations, and you can put that to the test for yourself.
If you have any questions or feedback, please let me know. I’d love to hear how you’re getting on with this visualization, and the other techniques I’m sharing with you.
One of the biggest issues for many people with emotional difficulties is that there are people in their lives - the vast majority of whom have their own huge ‘emotional issues’ – that they just can’t talk to, in any real way.
Now, if these people are distant cousins, the paperboy, a colleague who works in the Australian office of your company, that’s not such a big deal. But when these people are very close to you – say, parents, or siblings, or your spouse, or your best friend – then it can begin to cause some enormous issues.
Because being able to honestly express your feelings, even when you disagree with someone, or don’t want to do what they’re asking you, is a fundamental part of a healthy relationship.
Open and honest discussions about right and wrong, suitable or unsuitable, what you really WANT and what you really DON’T WANT are the hallmarks of emotionally healthy connections to others.
By contrast, when you feel too scared, guilted, ashamed, criticized, disdained, blamed or mocked to be able to express your own views about things honestly, that can cause you a lot of emotional difficulties. I’ll explore this side of things more in other articles, but suffice to say that feeling that your deepest needs and desires are being ignored, steam-rollered or refused contributes a great deal to a sense of helplessness, impotence, despair, and not being ‘seen’ or cared for.
These are the hallmarks of emotional neglect, and when it’s a parent that’s doing the ignoring, disdaining, criticizing and shaming, it can be absolutely devastating to their child’s sense of self.
If the child feels they can’t stand up for themselves (because their point of view is never validated, accepted or responded to); and they can’t run away from the person who’s making them feel worthless and ‘invisible’ (which they can’t, because they’re a child) – then they respond by crumpling down emotionally into a state of emotional paralysis and despair (aka, the ‘freeze’ physiological response) which is the basis of clinical depression.
'FREEZE' = CLINICAL DEPRESSION
‘Freeze’ is what happens when you can’t fight or flight your way out of a direct threat to your sense of personhood, and personal integrity and safety. To go into psych-speak for a moment, it’s what happens when you’re faced with an inescapable shock that causes you to lose your sense of agency, aka, your feeling that you can control your life and what happens to you, and affect outcomes in a positive way.
‘Freeze’ is the last emotional stop, psychologically-speaking. It means that a person has practically shut down on a number of levels, and can lead to all sorts of symptoms and issues including dissociation, physical and emotional ‘numbness’, feeling unreal, feeling nothing, feeling despairing, down and even suicidal, feeling permanently stressed and anxious, and any number of somatic physical aches, pains and issues.
The first step out of ‘Freeze’ is to go back into the fight-or-flight response that was somehow thwarted, but this time to act on the impulse and regain your sense of agency. Flight can mean that you hang up the phone when someone starts to say horrible things to you, or walk away from the restaurant or meeting if someone starts to treat you in a cruel manner. Depending on who that is, and how it’s going to impact your life, that’s certainly one option and sometimes the best one.
However, there is another alternative: fight back.
But NOT in person, where you may be risking a hugely unpleasant altercation (especially if you’re dealing with an emotionally-unstable individual), or even physical injury or other risks to your safety, reputation and status.
The key is to have the conversation, and to say everything you need to say to the person or people in question to restore your sense of agency, but to do it in the safety of your own head.
I know it sounds strange, but visualisations work so well because the emotional part of the human brain can’t tell the difference between an imagined scene (such as a traumatic flashback or nightmare, or a moving film clip) and a real experience.
The key is to put this power of imagination to use in restoring your sense of agency, giving voice to your impulse to defend yourself and fight back, and springing you out of the ‘freeze’ physiological state of being, in the process. And I’ll tell you exactly how to do this in the next post.