What negative emotion is causing you the most problems in life, especially with your relationships? Vote below, as I'm planning to start a series of practical tips and hacks that will help you get control of your negative emotions, and help you (and the people around you...) feel much happier and calmer.
Twenty years ago, when I was a young woman working for Her Majesty’s British Government, I had a colleague who was two decades older than me, who joined the civil service press department the same time I did.
I mostly liked my job, at least at that point, she mostly hated hers.
So I asked her: “Why don’t you quit, then? And go and find a job that you’ll enjoy more?”
I found her answer shocking, even then. She told me:
“The pension is so good here, I’m just going to sit it out, until I retire.”
“But you aren’t going to retire for another 25 years!” I tried to argue.
Pointlessly, as it turned out, as no matter how bad the job was, how much it dragged her down and made her life feel soulless and empty, she was going to carry on doing it for a whole other half a lifetime, just to get a good pension.
In the meantime, I left the civil service – and all its fat perks and benefits – two years later, and my life has been anything but stable, safe and predictable since.
True, my friend probably has a much better pension than I do, at this stage (assuming the stress of being in a job she hated didn’t kill her a long time ago.)
But also true, that there is so much more to life than taking decisions just to stay safely embedded in the comfort zone.
Ah, the comfort zone.
So many of us think we’re striving for that, so many of us believe that the goal of life is to be comfortable.
I also had a bit of that going on still, until recently, when I had three months with no major drama, no major challenge, no big project to get my teeth into, nothing to exercise my brain cells or my praying abilities.
And you know what?
I was totally and utterly miserable.
I know, crazy isn’t it!
It took me a while to figure that out myself, because isn’t being ‘comfortable’ and having ‘stability’ what we’re all taught is the holy grail of being alive? Yet for me, as each stable, predictable, comfortable day passed on, I couldn’t get over the feeling that I’d somehow just flushed another 24 of my precious hours down the spiritual toilet, somehow.
Sure, I had nice chocolate to eat. A comfy bed to sleep in. Enough money to put petrol in the car and go somewhere, and enough time to actually do it.
But so what?
It was utterly and totally meaningless, and I didn’t come back from these days out feeling refreshed and happy. I came back feeling empty and pointless.
After a couple of weeks of this, I started to realise something profound:
It’s the comfort zone that’s killing us.
All of us, not just me.
How many of us are playing safe all the time, scared to offend, scared to step out of line, scared to try something different or be the person God really made us to be, because we’re scared of what comes next?
I.e., potentially being dragged out of comfort zone?
Maybe, if we stop playing it safe, we’ll end up having a real conversation for once, instead of all the fake, pointless inanity that passes for modern “discussion.”
How dangerous is that?!?
Maybe, we’ll discover that we hate our jobs, our lifestyle, certain people we hang out with, and that we really need to change things – in a big way – to start to feel happy and fulfilled again.
Again, that’s scary stuff, isn’t it?
But this is the actual fibre, the stuff of life. All those dangers, big and small, all those challenges, all those adventures, and discoveries and hard decisions.
This is what makes us really feel alive.
Sure, there’s a healthy balance to be achieved. No-one wants to be pinging from one self-induced crisis to another, like an Olympic bungee jumper.
But the other extreme, where we just wrap ourselves up in cotton wool, and make planning holidays and supper the most exciting part of our daily routine, is just as bad for us, it turns out.
It’s spiritual chloroform. It puts us to sleep slowly, slowly, until we spend so much time as screen- watching, comfort-craving zombies we don’t even realise how much life we’re really wasting.
The comfort zone is killing us.
I know it’s scary outside, but it’s also alive, and invigorating, and purposeful, and meaningful and real.
At least every now and then, we have to stick a foot out, and follow the path less travelled.
Otherwise, like my ex-colleague, we can spend the best part of three decades treading
water and wasting our time doing things we hate, living in places that don’t suit us, and trying to hide all our internal misery with ‘busy-ness’ and holidays to Marbella.
Your soul is calling you out of the comfort zone. That’s where you’ll really find yourself. That’s where you’ll really find God.
And that’s really where the pure stuff of life is located.
Over the last few years, I’ve been having an ongoing ‘discussion’ with my teens about the limits of being able to do what they want.
I’ve noticed that a lot of parents seem to be ducking the whole issue of teaching teens how to figure out healthy compromises with other people by adopting two maxims, namely:
While I can understand that attraction of both these things in theory, in practice they really don’t work to create healthy, open relationships with teens. Let me try to give an example from my own real life, to see if I can show you why that is.
The last few years, both my teens have been driving me bonkers with their ‘staying out all night’ habits. I have a lot of fears, most of which are not rational, so when my kids stay out late, I get nervous about them.
I often can’t sleep until they come home, so when they decide to come home at 2, 3 or even 4 in the morning, that’s a real problem for me, and it fundamentally affects my life. When I don’t get enough sleep, my brain doesn’t function so well, I start to feel ‘out of it’, and if it continues on for too long, it also has a real impact on my physical health.
So if that’s happening every night, or even most nights, it quickly leads us all into a very sticky situation.
Is my need to have my teenage kids in the house by 11pm at night reasonable?
But not always.
Is their need to be out very light at night multiple times a week reasonable?
But not never.
So, over the past few years, me and my children have been steadily working our way up to a compromise situation, where I let them have two nights a week where they can be out later, and I do my best to minimize my psycho tendencies to keep texting them every half an hour to make sure they’re OK.
There’s been some fine-tuning required as we go along. For example, I stipulated in our discussions that the two days shouldn’t be back-to-back unless there are extenuating circumstances (like two ‘can’t miss this’ events back to back); and recently, I also had to add another stipulation that the two ‘late nights’ should be on the same days for both kids, so I don’t end up having to deal with 4 sleepless nights a week on my end of things.
We’ve had a lot of blow-ups and heated arguments leading up to this place of compromise. Initially, the problem was mostly on my side of the equation, as I wanted the kids home at 11pm every single night, regardless of what was going on, or how important it was for them to be there.
That’s an example of my house, my rules, but I quickly learnt that if I tried to apply that indiscriminately to my children, I’d end up doing terrible damage to our relationship, and I’d also just be living with an awful atmosphere at home, 24/7.
Then, one of the kids went through a very rebellious stage (as a reaction to a lot of very difficult things we were going through, as a family) – and started staying out until 4am davka.
In effect, she was living according to: ‘her house, her rules’, and it was very hard for everyone else to cope with it.
After a few months, and a lot of praying (and a lot of figuring out where I needed to apologise to my kid for contributing to the things that had made her so unhappy to be in the house), we were finally ready to get to the next stage, which was to work on our house, our rules.
Which is a very different beast, because instead of having one person acting like a domestic dictator, this version tries its best to listen to all point of views, and to come up with a compromise situation that is acceptable to all parties.
Part of doing that was to sit down, and tell the kid:
Kid, I get you need to go out. But, you need to get that when you go out, I don’t sleep, and if that happens too much, I get exhausted, and even ill. So, let’s sit down and figure out how we can arrange things so we both give way a little, and everyone is happy.
This is a tremendous skill for life.
And it’s one that the kids who grow up in an atmosphere of ‘my house, my rules’ just aren’t being taught.
So the pressure continues to build in the home, until the parents pack their children off to boarding school, or university, or the army, or for a trip around the world where the kid can ‘indulge’ all the things they wanted to do at home, but couldn’t.
And that’s a big part why so many people go completely off the deep end, in so many ways, when they finally leave the parental home.
Because there is no ‘limit’ to butt up against, and their evil inclination is pushing them to throw all caution to the wind, and to over-indulge in all those things they wanted to do at home, but couldn’t.
I’m not just talking about drinking alcohol, smoking, doing drugs, and other types of obvious ‘vices’. Clearly, lacking healthy boundaries, and being unable to police our own appetites and urges and crazy ideas to just not sleep for three days straight and only eat Haagen Daz for breakfast is not a healthy situation to be in, long term.
But the bigger problem is that these kids are being taught a very unhealthy paradigm of how to manage human relationships and disagreements which you can basically sum up as:
The winner takes all.
Whoever can impose their will on the other – whoever can make the biggest drama, the biggest threats, whoever is in a position of ‘power and authority’, that person can impose their will on the other person 100%.
And if you aren’t that person? Then you can expect to get totally crushed for as long as you are in that unhealthy relationship.
How can we resolve this problem?
Most of this attitude is being learnt in homes where ‘my house, my rules’ is strictly policed, with very little empathy for the kids’ point of view, or compassion for their different needs and wants.
The more a parent can ‘see’ and ‘hear’ where their kid is coming from, the more the lines of communication between parent and child will be kept open, and the greater the chances that a workable, healthy compromise will be found.
The paradigm shifts from my house, my rules, to OUR HOUSE, OUR RULES.
And that's so much better, for everyone involved.
Being able to have compassion and empathy for another person is the basis of good mental health. If we can really show our kids how that’s done – when we’re the ones in the position of ‘power and authority’ – that’s probably the biggest gift, and most useful life skill, we can give them.
And as an added bonus, our kids will hopefully still enjoy being in our homes (at least for visits!) and still enjoy our company well after they are 18 and independent.
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.
When we’re little, everything in the world seems so much ‘bigger’ than it actually really is. How many times have we returned to a place we used to frequent as a child that used to seem so much larger than life when we were little, only to find it strangely shrunken down into nothing so special?
That ‘big-ness’ we experience is part of the magic of childhood, in some ways, but it can also lead to some big issues as adults, if we were never taught how to handle the ‘big-ness’ of our problems and fears by a caring adult.
A kid, left to themselves and their own imagination, will always imagine the worst, and fear the worst.
If a parent is late returning one night, and there is no caring adult on hand to help the kid express what’s bothering them, and then to teach them how to ‘self soothe’ and to manage their feelings of anxiety down, that kid will spend the whole night fearing the parent got murdered on the way home, God forbid.
(I had this fear a lot, as a kid, and then when I was a mum, it transferred itself to worrying about my kids, and I’ve had to do a whole bunch of work on it, for years, to shrink it down to anything approaching ‘manageable’.)
Or, say the kid has a headache. If they aren’t given the help required to really acknowledge that pain in a calm way, they’ll start fantasizing that they’ve got a brain tumor, God forbid, or some other serious and potentially fatal illness.
All the hypochondriacs out there, this is how it got started!
The ‘big’ fears and anxieties we had in childhood were never calmed down, explained away, soothed or shrunk by the adults in our lives, so our childhood brain took over the job of providing the commentary on what was really happening – and it made even the smallest mole hills seem like the biggest mountains.
So now, we’re adults. And now, life is full of issues and problems and challenges at every turn. And it’s full of yucky, spiteful and difficult people. And unreasonable expectations.
And we’re still trying to deal with all this stuff with the childish, primitive part of our brain that is completely overwhelmed by the ‘big-ness’ of everything it has to deal with and process.
So how does it react to all this?
It over-reacts. It goes ballistic at the drop of a hat. It runs away from every hint of a problem, or freezes up and goes blank, or reaches for the bottle, or the pills, or the internet.
And that’s totally understandable. But it’s not the ideal way of dealing with the challenges of life, especially if you actually want to be able to have calm, loving and nurturing relationships with other people, and to feel happy, satisfied and coping.
So what’s the answer?
At its most basic, it’s this: Try to make as many thing as possible ‘no big deal’.
To put this another way, it’s the art of trying to relate to life as an adult, and not from the mindset of a scared and anxious small child.
And this is really going to take some work, believe me.
Especially in today’s politically-correct world, where making things into a big deal has been raised to an art form.
But here’s what you should know about all those yucky people who are so quick to start escalating small mistakes, small mis-judgements, small errors into the biggest of ‘big deals’:
They are very immature personalities.
They literally never grew up. They are still stuck in a world-view that was formed in early childhood, and that has never expanded, developed or matured since.
And this is how crazy people think.
And we can’t let ourselves get caught up in that warped, dramatic, OTT view of things.
So, we forgot someone’s birthday, and they are going ballistic. It was a mistake, and mistakes happen. The upset person also sometimes forget important dates and events. This is actually not such a big deal.
So, you don’t want to invite a particular person to your dinner party. You don’t have to always invite them to your events and functions. It’s ok to see other people, mix in other groups. This is actually not such a big deal.
So, my kid didn’t get into the right school, or didn’t want to go to college, or wants to go around the world for a year, against my will. This is actually not such a big deal.
Ditto, for that weird ache you keep getting in your shoulder, ditto that you can’t afford to live in the neighborhood you really like, ditto that your latest project at work was a massive failure.
Stuff happens all the time that we don’t like, and that inconveniences us and upsets us and that can make life stressful and miserable for us.
This is life.
But the key to going with the flow, and coping, and still feeling happy most of the time, is to just keep playing down the things that are occurring, and to approach life as much as possible as a grown-up.
It’s not easy, it takes a lot of practice, and a lot of getting God involved in the process of trying to ‘grow ourselves up’, but the benefits are so tremendous. If you don’t know where to start, go HERE to take a look at all the articles and practical tips I’ve put up about C-PTSD.
I know, so many of us are addicted to that drama and excitement and rush of experiencing everything as ‘big’. And there is still a place for ‘big’ in our lives.
Just not at other people’s expense.
And not at the expense of our own peace of mind and health and happiness.
We can’t keep squandering all the energy required for a huge response on all those myriad, day-to-day small things. Because energy is finite, and there are far better things we could be using it for.
A little while ago, I was having a chat with a friend when she said something that instantly triggered me into ‘fight’ mode. Before I even knew what was going on, I found myself arguing, feeling upset, and generally having that yucky inner feeling that happens when you’ve been tripped-back into a flashback.
I apologized while I was actually having the reaction, and I acknowledged something deep was going on, on my side of the fence, that I needed to go away and look at.
(We often can’t help getting triggered into flashbacks. If we’re around people who are triggering us a lot, that usually means those people aren’t so good for us, and we shouldn’t spend a lot of time with them. But occasionally, even nice people who we have good relationships with can set off a FIGHT / FLIGHT / FREEZE / FAWN response.)
So, I came off that call, and I started wondering to myself:
What on earth just happened there? Why’d I get so upset?
My friend had told me some information that she’d heard from someone else – a speaker – that she really related to, but which sounded plain wrong to me. I went to check up the facts, first of all, and nothing I turned up suggested the speaker’s facts were correct.
That’s not so unusual, especially in our world of ‘fake news’. So, why did I take it so hard?
After doing some more digging, I realized that the subject we’d been talking about is something I’ve discussed quite a bit with my friend, and that I’ve had ‘opinions’ on – opinions that clearly she doesn’t so like, or really agree with.
So, when she quoted this speaker to me, who appeared to be saying things that contradict some of what I’ve given over, I took it as a personal attack. Not consciously, but subconsciously. I got ‘triggered’ into that childhood attitude of being the kid that no-one listened to, the kid that people mocked and bullied, the kid that had strange ideas that were just too ‘out there’.
Ok, this was useful. So now, what do I do with the piece of information? I had a chat to God about it, and I got this back:
Rivka, you feel like a loser when you get the impression that people are ignoring what you say, or trying to make you ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’.
Of course, this happens a lot, because so much of what I write is not standard, and often doesn’t conform to the ‘normal’ view of things. Being criticized for holding different views is par for the course if you’re going to write about anything – anything at all – that’s really meaningful to people.
So why the over-reaction with my friend?
It’s because you thought you were in a ‘safe space’, that’s why it hit you so hard.
Again, there was nothing particularly wrong with my friend’s reaction – she wasn’t overtly having a go at me, or saying anything horrible. She was just recounting how this information had given her a different view of things, and that view just apparently clashed with mine.
I did some more digging, and discovered that the ‘loser’ thing and the ‘know it all’ thing are two sides of the same coin. When I start to feel like a loser, I often take refuge in putting together research or posts from that stance of being an arrogant ‘know it all’, instead, to try to counter it.
So then I asked God:
What can I do, to continue putting useful information out there that will help others, but without getting too over-invested in it, personally, and writing from a place of arrogance?
The response I got back is to try to write more from a place of happy humility.
Because it really is a privilege to be able to write about important subjects, and to be able to pull so much research together and digest it, and then package it together in a way that other people can get hold of it easily, too.
Because being able to do the research doesn’t make me infallible, or right about everything, or obligate other people to agree with my conclusions. And when they disagree, that also doesn’t make me a ‘loser’.
If I can internalize this, I’ll have the energy to keep writing, without having to worry about turning into an arrogant ‘know it all’ who tries to brow-beat everyone into agreeing with me, just so that I don’t have to deal with feeling ‘bad’ and rejected. And, I also won’t feel like a ‘loser’ who just wants to give up when I hit a small obstacle.
We’re back to that energized stability idea, again.
It’s hard work, all this working on our internal dimension stuff, isn’t it?
But the alternative is to go through life hurting other people’s feelings, alienating friends and family members and destroying the world instead of trying to build it up.
So, the work continues.
The founder of chassidut, the Baal Shem Tov, taught that the whole world is a mirror.
It sounds like a very simple concept, but if a person can actually internalize this idea, it’s the key to real inner transformation.
The basic idea is this: Like attracts like.
If I myself am full of jealousy, hatred, anger, hypocrisy, arrogance and self-righteousness – just to list the things I’m currently working on myself – then I’m going to attract lots of that type of stuff into my own life, and it’s going to really annoy me.
Because God knows that we all have a blind spot when it comes to figuring out our own bad behavior and nasty character traits. We might be the most jealous person in the world, and still never realise just how much bad stuff we’re wishing on other people, because we’re secretly coveting what they have, or all their success.
Ditto, for anger and hate. While it’s usually much harder to hide things a really bad temper, and volcanic outbursts of rage, we’ll still make every effort to try to dress these bad character traits up as ‘justified’ in some way, and even ‘holy’.
And the same thing goes for all the other negative character traits that exist in the world. We’ll either ignore that we have them, justify them as being ‘good’, or make a bunch of other excuses for why our bad behavior and yucky traits really aren’t so bad, or so yucky, and why everything that’s happening in the world is really
just everyone else’s fault.
This is human nature.
So what does God do, to help us really figure out what we need to work on and change? He sends a whole bunch of difficult situations and ucky people into our lives, to give us a clue as to what we ourselves need to work on.
Whatever we’re noticing in others, that we can’t help but take ‘personally’ and get very upset about, on some level, we have the same problem.
There are no exceptions to this rule.
But then, people come along and they say: “I had awful, abusive parents. How can you say that the mirror principle applies to me?! I was 100% the victim, I wasn’t doing anything wrong, I was just a child!”
And honestly, there is a lot of truth to this argument. The small souls in our care are extremely easy to damage and hurt and twist out of shape psychologically, that’s part of why every parent has such a big responsibility to be working on acknowledging and then working on overcoming our own bad character traits with every fibre of our being.
But let’s explore what tends to happens to that poor, abused kid when they grow up, and they are no longer totally helpless and powerless.
The first thing to acknowledge is that if we ourselves were emotionally neglected, or flat-out abused in childhood, we have a huge wall to climb, in order to not repeat and pass on the same abusive behaviors to our children.
And this is where the mirror principal really starts to come into play, because people can so easily get stuck in a perception of themselves as the permanent ‘victim’ who is only ever sinned against, and who never does anything bad to anyone themselves.
While this mindset was probably true in childhood, it’s certainly no longer true when the person becomes an adult, and it’s definitely not true when that adult become a parent themselves.
But when a person consistently views themselves through the prism of being a ‘permanent victim’, they will never really acknowledge their own character flaws and problematic behavior.
And that’s why all the abusive people out there tend to believe that they are totally justified in their abuse of other people, including their own innocent children, because they are still seeing themselves as blameless victims.
Again, it’s completely understandable how this mindset comes about. But even so, God still wants us to get a grip on what’s really going on, and fix things, so we don’t pass the problem down to the next generation.
So now, let’s go back to the victimized kid who has now grown up.
Probably, she really doesn’t like herself very much. Probably, she has huge issues with toxic shame, which will kick in and overwhelm her every time she thinks she might have done something wrong. Probably, her fight / flight / freeze / fawn stress response will be permanently on high alert, and very easy to activate.
If someone or something triggers her into ‘fight’ – she’ll come out swinging and raging and hating.
If she gets triggered into ‘flight’ – she’ll run away into work, or doing kindnesses for all the neighbors, spending all her time in Facebook, or she’ll literally go AWOL and file for divorce.
If she gets triggered into ‘freeze’ – then that’s when depression and escapism come into the picture, whatever will close the world down around her, and let her hibernate inside her own head.
And if she gets triggered into ‘fawn’, then that’s when she’ll completely step outside of herself, and totally cut herself off from her true thoughts and feelings and emotions to try to give the other person what she thinks they want, so that they’ll leave her alone.
Let me ask you something:
What do you think it’s like, growing up with a person like this for a mother?
What is the child of this person experiencing?
And here is where we get into the real meat and potatoes of this post.
If that parent doesn’t like herself, then she’s also not going to like whatever she sees in the kid that reminds her of herself. And because so much of this is usually playing out under her emotional radar, she’s going to lash out the hardest at the kid’s characteristics that she herself has most repressed.
And each time she does that, she is being the abuser, not the victim.
Now, what about the toxic shame?
People have toxic shame because as a child, they were ridiculed or punished for making even minor, completely normal mistakes and errors. Instead of seeing that the thing they did, the action they did, was wrong, the parent gave this kid the sense that they themselves are fundamentally flawed, bad and worthless.
When you’re getting that message as a victimized kid, you tend to develop perfectionist tendencies, to try to minimize the times you’ll get carpeted – and then flooded with toxic shame - for making a mistake. Highly controlling behavior goes hand-in-hand with these perfectionistic tendencies, and again we can understand why.
A lack of ‘perfection’ will lead to punishment, and awful feelings of toxic shame. Trying to micro-manage the environment is a way of trying to minimize the likelihood of anything going ‘wrong’.
The problem is – no one is perfect. The problem is also, things can and do go wrong, even with all the meticulous planning in the world. With a lot of effort and focus, it’s maybe possible for the controlling, perfectionist person to keep the world running the way they want to when they’re in the office, or at the gym.
But at home? It’s a completely different story.
So now, what’s going on when that victimized kid grows up, and has their own family?
If they haven’t realized what’s going on internally with their own feelings of toxic shame, unreasonable perfectionism and need to control – they are going to ‘punish’ their own children harshly for making even minor, completely normal mistakes.
And so, the cycle starts again.
But if this parent still feels like they are the victim, they won’t own up to their own abusive tendencies and behavior towards their children. Often, what’s stopping abusers from putting their hands up to their bad behavior is the awful feeling of toxic shame that floods them whenever there is any hint that they might have done something wrong.
But now, they really are doing something wrong – even, lots of things wrong – that they can’t or won’t admit.
And having a person like that for a parent is extremely difficult and challenging for the child.
Once again, the victim has become an abuser.
NOW, WHAT ABOUT AN OUT-OF-CONTROL STRESS RESPONSE?
Ok, that awful, traumatic childhood we had means that we are primed to fight, run away, freeze and fall into depression, and / or turn into a disassociating people pleaser.
For sure, people only get like this because they went through some very challenging, difficult experiences.
But now they’re a grown up, and now they are the parent, the boss, the president, and they are tyrannizing the people around them with their awful rage fits; or ruining their relationships with their inability to really relate; or neglecting their kids, their responsibilities, their spouse because they are ‘frozen’ into a small, depressed bubble where they just can’t see past their own miserable headspace; or stuck in some plastic, unreal, unemotional version of who they think they should be.
What’s it like growing up with a parent like that?
And so, the cycle starts all over again, with the ‘victim’ becoming the abuser.
So now, how can we stop this awful cycle from continuing?
Enter: The Mirror Principle
When you grow up being constantly blamed and shamed for pointless nothings, or constantly ignored, or constantly attacked, or constantly made to feel bad for wanting normal things like love, affection and real conversations, you aren’t going to trust other people when they tell you ‘you’ve got a problem’.
And who can blame you?
You’ve heard that from the day you were born, because the ‘permanent victims’ in your life were trying to make all of their own problems and issues your fault.
But at the same time, you for sure still have a bunch of your own issues, that if you don’t get a handle on, are going to lead to you becoming an abusive ‘permanent victim’ in turn.
So, God arranges things so that you will be constantly surrounded by people who have the same bad character traits that you yourself have. Like it not, these are the people who you’ll be attracting into your space, and into your life.
Because like attracts like.
And now, you have a choice. Either, you can decide that you are still 100% perfect, and that you have absolutely nothing to work on yourself (which is the classic stance of a perfectionistic, permanent victim, and usually leads to a person being diagnosed with some sort of a personality disorder).
You can accept the mirror principle, and start to explore what God is trying to show you via the people in your life who are upsetting you.
THE 1% RULE
There is no such thing as being 100% right.
If you are caught up in some sort of distressing altercation with someone, or if someone’s behavior is upsetting you, then you own at least 1% of the problem.
There is at least 1% of the work to be done here, and you have to go and figure out how you may be treating others the way this yucky person is treating you, or acting in a similar way to the one you are so upset about, or harshly criticizing in others.
Let’s give an example, to try and make it easier to follow what I’m saying.
ANGRY HUSBAND, ANGRY MUM
Let’s say, you married someone with an awful temper. If the toilets aren’t cleaned just so, he’ll storm out in a rage. He’s constantly insulting you, and criticizing you. He can get enraged if the cable TV stops working, or if the car breaks down.
You’re scared of him, so you go into ‘people-pleasing’ mode to try to manage the situation.
Superficially, it looks like this man isn’t your mirror at all! You’re being super nice and accommodating as much as possible, while he’s raging and abusing.
But now, take a look at what’s going on with the kids.
This woman isn’t scared of her kids, and as the adult, she’s in the position of ‘power’ in the relationship. And sure enough, there’s an awful lot of anger being blasted in their direction.
She berates them for not doing their homework properly, blasts them for how they dress, and is constantly criticizing them and blowing up at them.
The mirror principle is playing out.
Is her anger as extreme as what she’s experiencing herself, from her husband? Arguably not. But she still has a lot of her own inner work to do, to overcome her anger and rage.
Now, if the woman in our example believes herself to be a ‘permanent victim’, she won’t understand that she actually has the same problem as her husband. She’ll blame him 100% for all the issues that are going on in the house, and she won’t take any responsibility for her own abusive behavior of her children, which she’ll tell herself is not a big deal, and justify as being ‘normal’.
In the meantime, her own relationship with her kids becomes extremely strained.
Now, the mirror principle is going to kick again, as the kids start to relate to the mother with more and more anger.
Again, God is giving her a chance to see what she herself needs to work on.
At least 1% of this problem is hers. At this point, she can either knuckle down to see how her own behavior and negative character traits are contributing to the problem, or she’ll pretend that she’s 100% perfect, the “permanent victim”, and that all her children’s anger issues are nothing to do with her.
We all have resistance to acknowledging our own faults and flaws.
If we have issues with ‘toxic shame’, then that resistance can so easily turn into an impenetrable mantra that “we can do no wrong”, and that we are always just the permanent victim.
But all of us are down here because we have work to do.
So next time you see something you don’t like, or experience some behavior that you find unusually upsetting or emotionally wrenching, take a moment to try to figure out what God is showing you about yourself, that you need to work on and fix.
Because I guarantee, at least 1% of the problem lies with us, and not the other guy.
If I had to try to sum up the pattern my life has fallen into in the fewest words possible, I’d have to say roller coaster.
You know, lots of ups, tons of downs – and very little in between.
There are no ‘plateaus’ in roller coaster rides. Either it’s hard graft to try to reach the top – but you can’t enjoy that high place for even a second, because before the back of the caboose has even made it up there, the front is already falling off a cliff.
While it definitely makes for a fun 10 minutes at the fun fair (although honestly? I can’t stand roller coaster rides in real life, and they make me want to throw up) trying to live a whole life like that can get pretty taxing on the nerves.
So, over the course of the last say, 40 years or so, what tends to happen is that I will put maximum effort in to chugging away at a project, a job, a goal – until I burn out and crash.
Or until 5 seconds after it’s completed, where subconsciously I’ll start casting around for the drama, the excitement again that’s going to stop my life from being ‘boring’.
Ah boring. We’ll talk more about boring in a minute.
And of course, to stick with the roller coaster ride, ‘excitement’ and drama happens when you’re whooshing downhill at a million miles an hour, and you don’t really know if you’re going to smash into a million pieces or not. On the roller coaster of life, that bit is never obvious, there’s no guarantee of a safe landing.
Back in university when I was going through a very tough time mentally, I went to see one of the student counsellors. To this day, I still don’t know if she was excellent at her job, or really, really awful. I sat down, I talked to her for about 10 minutes – and she flat came out and told me I was manic depressive.
So then, I smiled my fake smile, and ran out of that place as fast as my legs could take me.
Was she wrong?
But even then, getting yourself lumbered with a ‘diagnosis’ just meant being pressured to take pills and talk to a bunch of people who mostly went into psychology because they are completely crazy themselves.
No ‘normal’ person from a ‘normal’, mentally-healthy family is interested in psychology. People are nearly always drawn to that field because they are messed-up and broken themselves, and they are trying to figure out what went wrong in their own families, and how to fix it.
So anyway, the ‘manic’ and ‘depressed’ thing was with me for many long years, until I discovered the practice of talking to God in my own words for an hour a day, and then the ‘clinically depressed’ part started to go away.
What sped it along was understanding that C-PTSD and very unhealthy relationships was underneath the depressions, where I was basically flashing back in to a despairing FREEZE emotional response that was my ‘go to’ coping mechanism in childhood.
The manic also calmed down – a lot – and transformed into determined motivation to do stuff. That’s mostly a good thing, and a blessing. But in recent months, God has been giving me so many clues that I’m still living my life with an underlying roller coaster pattern. Subconsciously, I seem to be always craving that excitement and drama that comes with disastrous, awful, destructive ‘downs’.
Why is this?
This happens when you grow up in highly unpredictable circumstances, around people who could flip from nice to nasty in a nanosecond. That dangerous unpredictability acts on the brain like emotional crack. You experience things that are so intense and that feel so dangerous and out of control, that ‘normal life’ pales beside it.
It’s the same reason why people like extreme sports and bungee jumping. That moment when the rubber snaps back and they don’t bash all their brains out on the floor below is mega-exhilarating and often euphoric – it’s the ‘high’ that comes from that low place.
But you can’t live a productive life pinging from highs to lows, and from ups and downs.
You need to plateau, you need that place in between.
And even when your conscious brain is craving stability and routine, the subconscious brain that got addicted to drama and excitement in childhood is always there in the background, working on its next subconscious ploy to flip your life into chaos and madness again.
Last week, I went to speak to my One Brain lady about why I can’t seem to function in that in-between place, where so many blessings and wondrous things grow. Why can’t I get there, I wanted to know? Why am I stuck pinging backwards and forth, like I’m caught in some celestial bungee jump that never ends?
Again, I’ve worked on this issue a lot over the years, from a bunch of different angles, but what gave me extra urgency to really try to nail it, at least enough, was that I’ve realized I’m passing on my tendencies to my children. Our life has been so ‘dramatic’ the last few years, that I can see they are also starting to crave that sort of crazy excitement.
And that’s the last thing that I want for my kids.
So, to cut a long story short, we worked on a lot of things from childhood via One Brain and BodySpin, and I came out of that session feeling like I’d been run over by a truck. I’ve been pretty ill the last 2 weeks, and I know it’s all connected to trying to clean up all these deep, dysfunctional emotional states.
(It’s a post for another time, but inflammation in the body also affects the brain’s functioning, and can also be behind a lot of things that are often referred to as ‘mental illnesses’.)
But I also came out of that session knowing I had some hitbodedut homework to do, in my talking to God sessions. If I just plain aim for the ‘up’ the ‘high’, that is inevitably going to lead to the destructive down.
I need the middle place, the place where I’m neither totally apathetic and can’t be bothered with anything, or totally burning the candle at both ends to try to get things done and achieved. It’s only today that I realized where I’m actually aiming for: energized stability.
That’s the state I’m after. Where life is stable, and I’m not plunging myself down rabbit holes all the time just for the fun of it, but where I have energy and excitement and enthusiasm for life. And let’s be clear, I’ve never experienced that place in my whole life. I can’t get to it by myself, because I don’t know how to find it, where it is on the emotional map.
But God knows.
And I’m asking Him to show me how to make energized stability the touchstone of my life, going forward, just as a free present, just as a gift, in the same way He’s given me so many other emotional health presents.
None of us can pick the circumstances we’re born into, or how our brains happen to get hardwired into unhelpful patterns into unhelpful patterns when we’re younger.
But all this can change.
As long as we hold our hands up, admit we aren’t perfect, and get God involved in the process of fixing our problems.
After I wrote this post, I got a mental picture of what I’m really aiming at here: The highs and lows are competition, trying to be ‘the best’, trying to be the winner, the number one – and the flip side, of feeling like a ‘loser’, and the worst.
These are the ups and downs of the roller coaster.
Where I’m aiming at now is like a train chugging along the tracks at the bottom of these peaks and troughs. It’s low to the ground – representing humility. I’m not better than anyone else. But it’s also moving forward at a steady pace and covering a lot of ground. The engine isn’t straining to go uphill, and it’s not hurtling out of control on the descents.
It’s just moving steadily forward, at the bottom of the peaks.
Bring it on!
For months now, I’ve been circling around the subject of how online anonymity and abusive behavior seems to be inextricably linked.
When the internet first started out in any serious way, say 15-20 years, ‘being anonymous’ was part of its whole mystique. Anonymous people could go into anonymous ‘chat rooms’ online (remember that era?) and say and do whatever they wanted, mostly disgusting and probably illegal.
Then, that was followed by the rise of anonymous bloggers, who mistakenly thought that no-one could ever track them down if they were using a fake name, or no name. That worked for a while, but then the governments fought back, and started what is becoming an ever-tighter crack-down on what’s being said online.
I remember one anonymous blog in the UK, called ‘Civil Serf’, where the spy agencies were basically brought in to track down the anonymous writer, as whoever he / she / it was, they were making HM Government look really bad.
(As someone who used to work there, I can tell you it was still falling far short of the gory truth.)
Then, anonymous blogs started to catch on in the orthodox Jewish world too - and all these closet atheists started ‘coming out’, anonymously, online, as hating their religion and their communities. Inevitably, sooner or later their neighbors figured out who they were, and many of these bloggers ended up having to shut up, or to put a real name to their writing – and leaving their communities, marriages, kids and home as a result.
Was it worth it?
I’d love to ask them that.
Then, social media and free-for-all comments on internet forums became the name of the game – and this is where ‘Anonymous Psychos Online’ season really began in earnest. So many people who wouldn’t say boo to a goose in person started unleashing all their pent up anger, rage, frustration, jealousy and generally disgusting negative, personality disorder-ed character traits all over social media.
Twitter was a blue sea of expletives and insults; Facebook walls were defaced by personal attacks, slander, insults – and of course, the inevitable expletives.
Online forums were just an excuse for people to start bashing other people and cutting strangers down to size. And for a year or two, venturing online was like banging open the doors of the OK Corral: you never knew when someone was going to challenge you to a duel, or just shoot you straight through the heart and have done.
Lucky for me, I was offline for most of this really yucky period of time. I had internet addiction issues, so I decided to have no WiFi in the house, and to just go to the library to do my emailing and post up my blog posts.
I did that for 7 years, and I’m so grateful, because it’s become increasingly obvious to me that:
This crucial break from the internet is what kept me sane, as a blogger and writer.
yAs part of the crackdown on the internet, which has some massive cons, as well as a few massive pros, that overtly abusive behavior is now being tolerated far less online. Most of the news channels have removed their comments sections. Most internet forums have ceased to be, or have beefed up their rules and regulations. Most comments today are moderated before they can go up – something the technology couldn’t do so well, initially.
Of course, a lot of this is leading to choking political correctness too, so it’s a double-edged sword. But there is now much less of a laisser faire attitude to abusing other people online, or being perceived to be abusing other people online, which is where all the politically correct minefields and arguments over ‘fake news’ are now exploding.
Because many psychos are now using political correctness as the excuse they need to carry on abusing other people, ostensibly for not being politically correct enough, and not thinking exactly the way they do about things.
But let’s get back to the discussion of Anonymous Psychos Online, because that’s what I really want to talk about today.
In a nutshell, where five years ago it was ‘standard’ for many people to be anonymous online, today, it’s increasingly a sign that there’s something not quite right going on.
If a person can’t put their real name, and their real identity, and their real circumstances to their comments and articles, that has to beg the question why?
What have they got to hide?
If they’re just commenting on other people’s stuff in a critical, confrontational way, then the answer is obvious: they want to hide behind an anonymous persona, because they don’t want to take responsibility for all the poisonous, factually incorrect, insulting and mentally-ill stuff they are putting out there.
Anonymous commentators just want to keep blasting away at other people’ issues, and the more ‘anonymous’ they are, the less fallout they think they’ll have to deal with from people calling them out on their own stuff.
It’s the online equivalent of a hit-and run.
A couple of years back, I got pulled into commenting anonymously myself once or twice, and I felt so ucky afterwards that I promised myself that in future, if I couldn’t use my real name to say something, that was a clear sign that I shouldn’t be saying it.
And that’s what got me pondering about how emotionally unhealthy a person would have to be to want to stay totally anonymous.
Again, if you’re anonymously posting up sweet, encouraging comments to people, that’s probably a different category.
I’m talking about the ‘permanently anonymous’ people who have been around the block so many times, they’ve insulted so many people with their abrasive, insulting comments, they’ve built up such a long list of enemies, and such a reputation for being completely cuckoo, that if they post up anything with their real name on it, they know:
So far, we’ve just been talking about the problems inherent with anonymous comments.
But then, you have the bloggers and online writers themselves, which is where the question of anonymity becomes even thornier.
Personally, I believe if you can’t write something that is non-fiction (even when it’s just a comment!) with your real name, you shouldn’t be doing it. (Fiction is a whole other story, and there is no moral issue with a ‘fictional’ person writing fiction.)
There are some clear exceptions to this, like dissidents in countries where they could be tortured or killed for saying things the people in power don’t want to be said (or heard…) (and the way things are going, this could soon be spreading to France and the US, too.)
I also think it’s OK to have occasional posts put up by ‘anonymous’ writers, or writers using a pseudonym, when they are covering extremely personal or emotional subjects in a non-fictional setting.
But I tell you why I’m against permanent anonymity, even in these cases, and that’s because there is something about writing anonymously online that encourages people to devolve into opinionated, narrow-minded, abusive psychos.
It seems to me to be a form of disassociation, where the blogger, the writer. develops an ‘online persona’ that is often completely disconnected from the reality of who that person really is, and how they are actually living their life.
If someone is only posting up cake recipes, then fair enough, who they really are actually doesn’t matter. But when people are having opinions about real things, or trying to persuade you of a certain viewpoint, or sharing ‘information’ that may or may not be true, may or not may be manufactured and manipulated, may or not be reflecting an obvious bias or vested interest – then you really need to know where that person is actually coming from.
Especially if the subject is at all contentious, or the person is setting themselves up as some sort of ‘expert’ or advisor who wants other people to listen to them.
If someone is aspiring to be a spiritual mentor, guru, relationship advisor, or religious leader, then you for sure have to know 100% what is actually going on in that person’s own life, before you can make an informed choice about whether they are a good, healthy and balanced source of information, influence and advice.
If you knew someone was divorced, would you pick them for advice on holding a marriage together? If you knew someone was emotionally abusive to their friends and families, is that the person you’d turn to for advice on how to deal with other people? If you knew someone’s parenting approach meant that a few of their kids had cut them out of their life as adults, would you still approach them for tips on how to handle Junior?
If you knew a person wasn’t practicing what they regularly preached – and often doing the exact opposite – would you still be lapping up their opinions, or taking their advice at all seriously?
I know I wouldn’t.
But that’s what is happening all the time, with anonymous bloggers and writers who split their supposed ‘wisdom’ and knowledge off from the reality of their actual lives.
There’s always more to say, and no doubt I will return to this subject again at some point.
But in the meantime, I put this little chart together, which basically sums up the main point of this post:
The more ‘anonymous’ a person is online, the more dysfunctional they probably are, and the more abusive and / or damaging they will probably end up being, to other people.
So caveat emptor.
Last week, one kid came back and announced there was a ‘funny smell’ in the house that she really didn’t like. After berating me for leaving the dishes to stew in the sink all day (yes, you thought that would never happen again after you left home, didn’t you?), she then grabbed the mop and went into major sponga mode.
This is quite an oddity in my house, as I’m so not into housework beyond the bare minimum required to not spark off a cholera epidemic. Also, I hate, hate, hate the smell of bleach and all those other ucky chemical products that sadly so many of us equate with ‘clean’.
But this kid was adamant: We needed to bleach everything.
Not only that, we needed to throw out all my gentle-smelling (and clearly more expensive…) dishwashing soap, and laundry detergent, to get some ‘real stuff’ in that was ‘normal’ and wouldn’t leave our house smelling like a place for old people.
(Clearly, this kid has never been in a real ‘place for old people’ because if she had, she’d know that bleach is far more likely to be the parfum du jour than natural pomegranate fragrance. But I digress.)
As she scrubbed and cleaned, and washed up, and re-tidied a million different things, and barked out a few orders about things I needed to do to get the house looking ‘normal’ (yes, you thought that would never happen again after you left home, didn’t you?) – I started to literally choke on all the chemical fumes she was mopping all over the place.
And then, I had a choice.
On the one hand, I could put my foot down, and go into that tired old ‘my house, my rules’ routine that has done so much to sour relations between parents and their kids down the generations.
Or, I could decide to practice some self-sacrifice, and allow my kid to turn my home into Clorox central for an hour or two.
I pondered it for a moment, while I stuck my head out the window to breathe – and decided I was going to go for a long walk. Even though it was raining.
My kid clearly needed to sponga like a maniac, and I wasn’t going to get into a fight with her about it.
Over the next week, the weird smell apparently remained.
Every time my kid stepped in through the door, she’d take a sniff, pull a face – and start obsessively mopping and cleaning again.
(Yes I know, what am I complaining about, right?)
Then, she started writing me notes of things we were lacking that ‘normal’ houses had, like a nice clock on the wall; and curtains; and proper cloths to mop the floor with.
I started to realise: There is something much, much deeper going on underneath all this.
And I resolved to go and discuss it with my One Brain women next time I went to see her, in a few days’ time.
Long story short, we figured out that this kid was giving me a strong message that she needed a place. That she needed to feel at home, on her own terms. That she needed to be really seen, and really heard, and not just fobbed off, ignored, squashed or made fun of.
And the way it was expressing itself was by filling my house full of all that ucky chemical stuff I so hate and detest.
Once I realized what was really going on, I came home, and told the kid this:
“Kid, I love you. I really hate the smell of the bleach, but if you need to do this at the moment, it’s OK. I don’t know where the funny smell is coming from, or what’s causing it (because no-one else except this kid could smell anything) – but I will help you to sort the house out anyway you want, to the best of my ability.”
We had a hug, we both felt much happier – and then I had to go out for another walk before the bleach fumes knocked me out.
Two days after this happened, I discovered that one wall of the covered back porch was literally furry with mold.
We use that place for storage, so I hardly ever go there, and it also wasn’t easy to see the mold as there was so many other things crammed into the space.
But the kid had been demanding I clean it up and make a little order over there, so I finally got around to it.
My kids’ room opens out on to that porch, and it seems to me, the source of the funny smell had finally been located.
I scrubbed the walls yesterday, and I’m waiting for the landlady’s permission to re-do it with some mold-resistant paint.
To put it another way: the kid was right.
And it’s amazing how many times that happens, when we parents actually make some space for them in our homes and our lives.