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2018 SESSIONS

December 2018

I'm always overwhelmed with life and low on energy. How can I change?

I feel overwhelmed a lot of the time. I have a lot of interests but often find myself not being able to finish things. I fear that if I focus on one thing at a time, other things will get neglected. And some things do take a while to complete. Right now, I’m working full time, studying part-time, learning Spanish for a job switch, managing a website and trying to figure out my biz plan as well as household stuff (dealing with parents, chores etc). I’ve also been focusing on my spiritual growth, trying to lose weight…and I also have a ton of books to read – lots half read. I’d really love to work overseas as well so I’m trying my hardest at work and looking out for jobs/researching countries. I usually leave the “less important” stuff like self-care til the end of the day, when I’m too tired. So it gets neglected! I’m hesitant to plan my week, cause whenever something crops up, I’ve to readjust or push things back and it bothers me. I’m really free on weekends but end up doing very little. I tend to think and plan and worry instead of doing. Need help!

Nat’s Response

Jaysus, I felt exhausted reading your list — and that’s coming from someone who sometimes spreads herself a bit thin!

Aren’t you trying to be a perfectionist about your growth while experiencing what the youth of today call FOMO (fear of missing out)? What’s occurring is that you’re not prioritising and giving you a chance to succeed, rest and recharge.

So, here’s the thing: We can all handle no more than about 6-8 projects at a time.

A project is different from a task.

A project is broken down into lots of tasks.

A task is a specific action.

Writing a book, for example, isn’t a task; it’s a project.

The next thing: the brain doesn’t distinguish between things you want to do, have to do, and things you thought about in passing but don’t actually have any intention of doing.

This is why you are overloaded. You have probably, I don’t know, at least 20 projects on the go, maybe way more than that, and hundreds of tasks. You haven’t distinguished between wishlist and priority, so your mind is treating everything of equal priority because you won’t pick and choose.

There are elements of what you’ve tasked you with that aren’t projects or tasks. So, for instance, going hard at it in being more spiritual will only contribute to your spiritual growth in the sense that at some point, round about now, you become aware that you are trying to control everything while also trying to be and do everything at the same time.

When you try to be all things to all people, you end up feeling like nothing to yourself.

The spiritual lesson here is that you have things back to front. The most important thing if you want to grow as a person — emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually — is to put self-care at the centre of your actions. That means approach work, health, projects, everything, from a place of self-care, because you won’t be travelling anywhere if you’ve burned yourself out. And even if you do go, you won’t be present to the experience.

When people, for example, try to lose weight, quit smoking, quit drinking, start a new job, move house — it’s too much, and something or everything collapses. These are major life changes that require focus, willpower (you run out of it) and bandwidth.

If you’re trying to do one of these things, you scale back your other projects, not try to do it all at once.

Most people find it incredibly difficult to study part-time and work full time. You are doing two studies.

That means that you need to figure out what is urgent, what is for in a few months time, and what needs to go on hold.

And/or you need to outsource and delegate. Hire a cleaner. What it costs you in bandwidth and your time is far more than the cost of a cleaner.

Express your need for help. Make sure everyone else is mucking in with chores. Delegate.

Stop trying to do it all. There’s no such thing.

I have lots of half-read books. It’s a thing. When I make time to read each day for 20 minutes or so as part of my self-care, I finish books. And some half-read books, you’ve already got what you need from them.

1. Work out your absolute priorities. There’s no such thing as each of these projects and tasks being absolutely equal, so it’s time to be honest with you.
2. Make up your mind. You seem to have a few competing agendas where you’re writing a business plan, studying Spanish for a job switch and trying to see if you can move abroad. Are you afraid of admitting what you want? Are you afraid of narrowing your options?
3. Work out when you are due to finish each of your courses.
4. Either look at having someone else manage the website or work out how much time actually needs to be spent on it and schedule it in.
5. Start and end the day with even 15-20 minutes of self-care
6. Identify which projects/tasks can be wound up, parked or finished.

If you focus on one thing at a time, or only a few things, you will finish them and have a sense of accomplishment.

And stop adjusting your week for things that crop up. Yes, leave a bit of wiggle room, but it’s time to say, “Sorry, I don’t have to space to do that today” or “I can do this, but I’m full this week so it will be next week.”

Spend a week noting what you’re spending your week on and how your week shifts and change. Take notes. Then adjust the following week accordingly. Time your tasks so that you can budget more effectively.

And the reason why you can’t do much at the weekend is that you’re exhausted.

I found something that has made a big difference for me is this: I’ve given up on expecting the house to be perfect. I tend to get into bed by 8 to give me a chance to wind down, journal, read or to listen to or watch something. The sky doesn’t fall down if I don’t do chores in the evening! I am forcing myself to diarise and plan a little. And as awkward as it feels at times, I have started to feel much better because I can see how much I want to do and how my time is being sucked up, and I can be loving and respectful enough to let people know what is and isn’t possible. I allow myself to have quiet weekends. Since I’ve started going to bed early, I don’t feel dead at the weekend. Food for thought.

Why am I feeling this, and what am I feeling?

Was doing great no contact with the ex, and thought I was moving on. Saw him for the first time in months at a party, and had been thinking all week I just wanted some sex. He was the only option for many reasons. I thought I could keep an emotional distance, months since our break-up, I’m moving, etc. I suggested it, he politely said no, he’s seeing someone new (but that it’s complicated? Oh and that he missed me, we could have some “fun” after I move home, that one of the reasons we broke up is now fixed and it would’ve worked last time… I was just like “uh-huh, and?”), I felt fine! Was so proud; the conversation went great despite that.

Next day I discuss this goodness with my friend, but check BR about exes dating someone new, to try and understand, and I think because I’m used to associating anxiety, him, and your site with sadness (I used BR for the first time when we ended it and figured so much out, but it was obviously still raw), it was an ”activation”. But not because of rejection or him being with someone new. I started the same thought patterns I had ruminated on before: what I missed, how it wouldn’t work, and found myself wanting him while also knowing that I don’t! I have conflicting feelings and am happy for him. Like I re-opened the wound, re-feel what I had when we ended, re-obsess, even though I thought I fully processed it and grieved months ago.

Did an unsent letter (will do more), but still feel anxiety when I think about him, him and her, or am reminded of him/things we did. I don’t know what I’m anxious about, I could just be used to examining things regarding him and associating it with negative emotions, could be not over it, could be worried what thinking about him “means”. What is it?

Why does thinking about him, feeling slight sadness thinking about old memories (that I hadn’t thought of in months until now, by the way!!), bring up anxiety? What actually triggered this bout and how do I (1) work through it and (2) prevent it in future? I have issues with abandonment/fear of being alone, am usually very good at getting to the root of thoughts/emotions, but in this case, I’m stuck. I know why it couldn’t work. I don’t want to start it again. I already missed it and thought I’d moved on.

Nat’s Response

The thing about wanting someone “just for sex” is that it’s likely to go one of two ways:

You end up using someone as a means to an end to gratify what you feel is a need for sex

OR

You end up using someone as a means to an end to gratify what you feel is a need for sex, but it turns out that it’s something else and so you end up feeling used and/or hurt because you’re not getting what you really need.

That’s not to say that people can’t just get together for sex (clearly, lots of people do), but ulterior motives and the misconception that you’re both doing something mutual, often leads to pain, guilt and misunderstandings.

In your situation, it’s messy because you were NC. There must be a reason why that was the case. Ending NC for sex runs the risk of ignoring the very reasons why you were NC in the first place and opening you up to hurt.

He’s also shown that whatever is going on, he hasn’t changed so much that he wouldn’t hint at sleeping with you at a later point. Granted, this conversation stems from the request for sex, but it’s impolite at best to line up sex while seeing someone else.

I think it’s important to acknowledge that even though you are rationally aware that this relationship wouldn’t work, on some level, you reached out for sex because that was an easy entry point to reinstating a relationship with him.

You have bypassed your true needs.

Grief isn’t linear, and so it’s like spirals. You clearly needed this experience to confront the hidden feelings so that you could grieve some more. Us humans tell ourselves things. “I’m OK”. Life quickly reveals how true that really is. That doesn’t mean that you’re not OK, but it does mean that you need to evolve your thinking and behaviour about this situation so that you can heal some more.

“What is it? Why does thinking about him, feeling slight sadness thinking about old memories (that I hadn’t thought of in months until now, by the way!!), bring up anxiety?” Because that’s what thinking about someone or something that caused you pain does. The anxiety is there to help you. It’s to remind you that you are thinking and doing things that are not in your best interests. It’s a warning that you are going off track and riding a train of thought that leads to pain. Listen to The Anxiety Sessions for more on that.

Also, you are creating your anxiety in the sense that you are opting to think these thoughts. That’s OK, but just acknowledge that you have a choice in how much investment you make into this. It’s OK for a thought to pop in, but what are you feeding it with and how is that affecting the way that you feel.

“What actually triggered this bout and how do I (1) work through it and (2) prevent it in future?” You need to locate the trigger for reaching out to him in the first place. Something set that off. Stress, conflict, criticism, uncomfortable feelings, another loss, a certain period of time passing, specific thoughts. What specifically prompted you to decide that 1) you needed sex and that 2) it should be him? That’s the trigger.

“I have issues with abandonment/fear of being alone” With NC, people often break it when they have made the most amount of progress because it suddenly feels very real and they would have to change. They become afraid of being ‘done’ despite actually wanting to be done. It’s like, “Who will I be if I’m healed and can no longer have this problem any more?” If you doing NC and healing work means that you can no longer have the same attachment, for instance, to a parent and that you have to grow up so that you can realise your potential, you will regress temporarily until you recommit. If, on some level, are entrenched in the story of being abandoned (very common, been there myself), then you moving forward means that you have to change the story, and that can be scary.

This month’s class which is being uploaded in the next couple of days is about identifying patterns.

Texting but never ask me out?

I’ve probably asked the same question in some form before, but since I’m still “stuck” here goes. Four years post-divorce, I’ve mostly accepted that my default setting plans didn’t work out marriage/family wise. I see recognise it was toxic, unhealthy, etc. Fantasy thinking, projection, assumptions. Still caught in the shame cycle despite more self-awareness. I’m working on taming obsessive thoughts, reclaiming some mental real estate on thoughts of the ex, ex’s facade of the new “perfect” family, and dealing with his anger flare-ups in co-parenting. I have regrets that it took so long to get free though I’m so better of. I’m getting older, 50 is looming. I’m doing all the self-care steps except I’m caught in deprivation love-wise. I’m paying for an online dating app with no profile! I have tons of excuses, lol. But I also want to settle down with myself, find a passionate cause, feel a sense of belonging, figure out relationships instead of staying isolated (energetically). I want to show up in life but feel still feel stuck in the doldrums. Thanks!

Nat’s Response

One of the questions that we can ask ourselves when it feels as if we’re going round and round in circles is: Why do I want to have this problem?
 
Something about having these feelings, thoughts and a sense of going round in circles is beneficial to you otherwise, you wouldn’t be doing it. It feels like a safety blanket to snuggle up with… even though it’s got thorns on it. 
 
What has you thinking, feeling and acting this way allowed you to not have to be and do?
 
Pretend for a moment that you don’t ever want to move on. Imagine it. Pretend that you this is how you want to remain forever and that you don’t ever want to be in a relationship again. What reasons spring to mind for making that decision? What wouldn’t you have to deal with? What wouldn’t you have to forgive? Who gets to be right, wrong, the perpetrator?
 
When what you want is so different from what is happening, it’s crucial to examine what’s going on in between. Your answers to the pretend scenario tell you what is driving you. 
 
Whatever is going on behind the scenes, that is bigger than your desire to settle down with yourself, to find the passionate cause etc.
 
Whichever one you give more attention to, it wins out. 
 
If your unconscious intentions and fears are greater than your conscious intentions and desires, the status quo prevails because who you have to become means letting go of the old story. 
 
You are mad at you for not being your ideal self. 


Yes, logically you know that this marriage wasn’t a forever one and all of the reasons why, but you’re mad that you’re not still married. Part of you is entrenched in the role of being the victim (we all do it at different times and for different things). If you move on with your life, he can’t be The Shit. You can’t continue to feel victimised by him. It’s possible that you won’t be able to fulfil the role in your family, which on some level must have an element of being an outsider, not doing as well as someone else, feeling victimised etc. I suspect there might also be some shame about him having moved on as if to say, “Well, there must be something wrong with me if he’s snapped up and happy in another relationship.”
 
I hate to break it to you, but men tend to land on their feet (in straight relationships) because there’s societal conditioning that’s still in play where what one woman won’t put up with, another woman will. On top of this, some, not all men, like the fantasy of moving on to another woman and acting as if “the right woman” will save them from themselves. Some even make out like this is a woman’s job. As a result, they don’t have to take responsibility for themselves. They will happily play the part of the better guy, especially for observers, because they have to. If they don’t, they have to admit that it’s them. Many men of the older generations don’t know how to be alone. And so they will jump from relationship to relationship.
 
It’s also the case that generally speaking, relationships that have been unhealthy for a long time and were built on an unhealthy premise, come to an end rather than experiencing a ‘come to Jesus’ moment. And that’s the right outcome. Suffering together is how things used to be done.
 
 
Turning 50 (and other milestone ages) is difficult sometimes. It signifies moving on to a new phase of your life. We tend to use milestones to beat ourselves up. “This isn’t where I thought my life would be….”
 
Be careful of living your life as if you’re still married, in the sense of being emotionally over-tied to your ex. 
 
Also, be careful of wishing that you were in a relationship that wasn’t right for you just so that you wouldn’t have to be where you are at right now. It’s like saying that the outcome was “wrong” and that means that another relationship and other situations will cause you to deal with the same issues: accepting when something isn’t working and learning to be OK with being you, even if that means being single. 
 
And maybe you don’t need to date right now if you’re not in that space. It’s fine not to be. 
 
You say you want to show up: accept that you’re not that woman anymore. Grieve that you’re not the wife. Acknowledge what’s subconsciously holding you back. Start doing something, anything. Showing up is a work in progress. Thinking about it doesn’t do much for it. Showing up at anything is a good place to start.

 

Is it time to date?

I’m out of my abusive relationship and rocking n contact about 40 days now. I feel stronger and more woke than ever. I’ve been practising self-care, self-love and have support all around me. Is it safe to date just yet? Is it like AA where I’ve heard they tell you not to get in the new relationship the first year? I know what I want in a life partner, and I’ve been flirting about on jobs but want to make sure I’m not just jumping back in to self medicate.

Nat’s Response

Well done on forty days of NC. I’m so pleased for you, especially because you’re striving to embrace the change rather than punish you and crave him. 

 
You don’t need to wait a year to date… unless that’s the right thing for your situation. In AA, I suspect that waiting a year is about not putting out one fire and effectively lighting up another. Moving quickly into a relationship after admitting an addiction speaks to the codependent aspect of one’s self that wants to tie up our feelings and thoughts in something or someone else. It often flags up a need to be more self-reliant and to practice the self-care of self-discipline and self-control. 
 
Getting over someone or a pattern also isn’t necessarily about taking a year off to “work on one’s self” as it’s about the cumulative effect of previous efforts and how switched on to your feelings you are. If you’ve got all that you need from this relationship to choose differently moving forward, that will be emblematic in how you respond to subsequent potential love interest and dating interactions. 
 
Being drawn to a narcissist is, in part, about speaking to that narcissistic aspect that lives inside all of us that wants to be incredibly important including desiring someone like a narcissist so that we can try to get them to change their rule of behaviour. It’s also always about old wounds and unmet needs from earlier in life where we made ourselves the reason for someone else’s behaviour. 
 
As long as you’re willing to let go of the need to right the wrongs of the past by choosing to actively let go every day, you will be OK. As long as you attend to that part of you that used to think that the highs and lows were love with self-care, you won’t be drawn to narcissists anymore because you won’t be willing to tap dance and twirl for them. You won’t entertain them. You will see them for who they are without judging you for who they’re not. 
 
The key with moving forward is not responding to old stimuli in a manner that reflects old levels of awareness. That means being mindful in situations where you feel drawn to someone about how you’re feeling and what you’re seeking. If it feels similar to the past, it’s because you’re in some of pattern. Try to be ’new’ and aware about dating moving forward. Be curious. 
 
How do you know if you’re self-medicating? You’re checking out, ignoring something, throwing caution to the wind, trying to push feelings down, dulling the discomfort of being in unfamiliar territory. It might feel like an itch to scratch. It will likely feel as if you’re on autopilot. 
 
Why do I feel so content with no man?

So, most times I love to come home after work to watch a nice movie and not have to talk to a man on the phone or stay up later than I need to because I love my 8 hours of sleep. Sometimes I do question “Hmm, am I sending out this energy so much that I don’t meet a man?” lol! I’m fully confident I’m attractive, I just don’t typically meet a man at a bar. If you’re not even attractive don’t approach me lmao… but anyways Sometimes I think “Hmm, do I think that my past will come up again in my new relationship?” and I’m afraid of that. I’ve been praying about that and hoping I’ve healed from a lot of it and this time can just enjoy the man without the past so much. No boy drama this time haha!! And my saying is, “I’m very content without a man, but I am open to meeting one”.

Nat’s Response

My, my, my. You sound happy and content. You also sound weirded out by being happy and content, haha.

You are occupying your life, literally and figuratively. For the first time ever, really, you have started something that isn’t tied to your family. You’re also doing something that’s very new to you but that, also, because it’s not the family business, you’re engaging with people, with life, in a very different way.

What you’re doing sounds like what I did in the 8-12 months before I met my now-husband. I realised that I was much happier within myself when I wanted to stay in at the weekend rather than being like, “It’s Friday, I’m single — I should be hunting out my future husband.” I knew that something major had shifted when a guy I was seeing stayed over and I couldn’t wait for him to leave. I didn’t have anywhere to go — I just wanted my own space.

Maybe the energy you’re sending out is “I’m happy within myself and recharging and rebooting.”

That doesn’t mean that if at some point (and you will), you decide to go out, that it means that you’re now unhappy, but you’re entering a phase in your life where you’re discovering that you can be happy independently of a relationship. This removes the frantic, frenetic, and, yes, sometimes desperate energy that surrounds someone who feels as if they need a relationship to feel like a fully-formed and worthwhile person.

You’re learning lots of new stuff. Hate to break it to you, but that uses up a lot of bandwidth. It sounds like you’re intuitively getting the sleep you need and focusing on, well, your focus, so that you give you a chance to acclimatise to this new phase of your life.

I’ve been to a lot of clubs and bars in my quest to “find a man”. While I do personally know of people who met the love of their life in these places, more often than not, it tends to be in the places and on the days you didn’t intend it.

Look, it’s understandable to be afraid of the past showing up, but here’s the thing: the past shows up on a regular basis across, well, everything. That’s the nature of life. Did something piss you off today? Yep, past showing up. That’s not to say that it wasn’t annoying, but you wouldn’t respond in the way that you do/did if it weren’t for something in your past. Everything that happens processes the past.

You’re in a new profession learning new stuff every single day. Your past is showing up there, too. If I know you, there’s probably been some moments where you’ve had your doubts or maybe even freaked out about the newness of it all or not knowing “everything” or something — and that’s your past showing up too.

The fact that your past shows up doesn’t mean that it’s the wrong relationship, depending, of course, on the context. How you respond to it shows how much you’ve healed.

You don’t need to be afraid of the past showing up if you’re willing to be aware of who you really are. It’s recognising that you’re not that woman anymore. You’re you, but you with more knowledge and awareness.

Keep doing what you’re doing — living life.

No, you don’t know when Mr Man is going to show up, but, you know what? He will.

Friends who give it but can't take it

Recently my daughter had a febrile convulsion (seizure caused by high temperature), and we ended up in children’s hospital for the night. This is the second time this has happened. She also has asthma and has already had pneumonia twice age 3. So it’s a LOT to deal with as a solo parent. Times like these supportive family and friends are essential. My parents are, as ever, amazing ….. BUT a good friend seriously upset me by implying/saying I’d have social workers knocking at my door and ‘keeping an eye’ on me and my daughter!!!

I’d had about 3 hours sleep, was probably in shock and then this was my friend’s response :/ I was very upset. Said no, that would not be the case, medical issues beyond a parents control are not an implication of abusive behaviour or an alarm bell to social services.

I then ignored her calls/texts for few days to calm down (and focus on caring for my child) but I felt I HAD to say something to her because I still felt very hurt /angry. I texted to explain. She replied how sorry she was she’d upset me when I was feeling vulnerable, that she’d like to apologise in person etc., so I thought “Oh ok, cool, we can get past this”. However since then she’s texted to say she’s far too busy to ‘deal’ with making time to catch up until the new year (she lives 5 mins walk from me), and she won’t try to explain what she meant because I won’t understand?!?

This is a good friend, who’s always been very real, sometimes raw, in expressing herself, her thoughts etc. She’s actually a writer! But I now feel fobbed off by her. She’s always ready to give it out, and I’ve always allowed for that. Sometimes I’ve had to say I hear her opinion, but it’s my life etc., but talking about my child like that hit a boundary, and she must know that and is now avoiding me completely.

Not sure how to move forward without totally falling out at this point. Feel like she apologised but then backtracked on it all. Don’t feel like chasing her to disagree but this all just feels off key. Any thoughts, please?

Nat’s Response

So, your friend made a pretty crass, ill-timed comment at a time when you were feeling vulnerable, exhausted and probably terrified. It wasn’t the time or place. I don’t think it’s about your friend having bad intentions per se — she just didn’t think or seemed to think that you would ‘get’ what she meant.

The thing about bad jokes and criticism that hit us is that they speak to a part of us where we’re already self-critical.

You know that you haven’t done anything to your child, but like a lot of parents who feel helpless when their child is ill, and even more so when they’ve had a few serious incidences, you are, on some level, beating you up. It may be so out of view that you’re unaware of it.

Motherhood can be fraught. Our child comes out, and they stick in some Energiser batteries and a shedload of guilt. We worry far too much about whether we’re being a “bad” mother or a “not good enough” one and often try to be all the things to our children. This is all the more hilarious because as loving as our parents may have been, they didn’t lose their marbles over us the way that modern parents do over their kids.

When a child is sick, sometimes, even though it’s irrational, we wonder if we could have done more, did we miss something, have we done something wrong, do we need to have a squeaky clean house or work less. See how our train of thought goes.

So, your friend made a crass comment at a bad time that’s been compounded by some of your [secret] self-criticism.

Think about it: You know that what she said was ridiculous, but you’ve felt the need to defend yourself. You then ignored her calls because you must have believed that she believed what she said or that she intended to hurt.

I suspect that what’s happened here is that after her chasing you to apologise, and then you accepting it, she has now taken offence at you having taken offence at her comment. Oh dear!

The thing is, regardless of her intent, she did say it. Sure, you could have been “less” upset, but most people would be in that exact set of circumstances. Given how many times you’ve tried to gently point out to her that she needs to wind her neck in, that doesn’t mean that she should give herself carte blanche to say whatever the hell she likes because, you know, she “shoots from the hip” or whatever. It doesn’t matter how good she is with words: she still needs empathy, compassion and a filter. That’s not censorship; it’s good fricking boundaries.

In her mind, she made that comment, you got angry, she tried to apologise, you ignored that for a bit, she tried some more, you accepted it. From her point of view, it’s done. The comment about meeting up to apologise might have been genuine, or it may have been an in the moment kinda thing that on reflection she didn’t feel that there was a need to.

And theoretically, if the apology’s been accepted, there isn’t a need per se to apologise in person, but you guys do need to meet up at some point and clear the air. If, however, this incident is representative of a deeper issue in the friendship, then while an apology has happened, there’s clearly something to address, or you’ve both reached a point where the friendship has shifted. After all, if you will no longer be the willing friend who lets her say what the hell she wants, she might not know what to do with herself.

Let the dust settle and go about your Christmas. Don’t chase her up about apologising face to face.

I don’t know that she “backtracked” on the apology per se, but she did backtrack on making peace in person.

Let the dust settle and take her originally apology at face value. When you see her next, see how it goes then.

Was it unreasonable to point out that I didn't need a list of excuses for why we couldn't meet up?

I had a conflict with a friend. It all started when we tried to arrange a date to get together. She asked what days I was free. I gave her 3 dates that I was available. Then she lists all the dates I gave her saying, ‘I can’t make this date because I have a yoga class, I cant make this date because I have to meet a friend and I can’t make this date because I have my writing group’ and then offers me dates she can make. I replied saying that she didn’t need to tell me all the reasons why she can’t make those dates and that all she had to say was that she can’t make it as she doesn’t have to give me an explanation. She replied saying that I was telling her how to communicate and that it’s just how she is. She also said that when anyone else hears what she is doing, they ask her how it is going.

My question is: was I being unreasonable? I just don’t understand why she needs to list all the things she is doing. And if we are having a conversation at other times, I am interested in what she is doing and will ask her how it’s going. But I found it annoying in this situation as we are trying to set up a meetup and that is frustrating as it is when we are all busy! I guess I want to know if I am just being petty or if what she does is something other people think is OK.

 

Nat’s Response

I couldn’t help but giggle at this interaction with your friend. I’m not sure how her listing off various reasons why she can’t make a date to hang out is supposed to lead to asking her it is going??? Surely if you say that you’re going to yoga, busy with a friend and attending writing group in response to an attempt to make an arrangement, it’s clear that one is busy. Does she expect you to ask how she’s coping with all that?

I think, if anything, you were unwittingly set a test. She’s not used to anyone calling her out about being uber busy, and so your response was understandably discomforting. On some level, and it may be deep enough that she’s unconscious about it, she feels the need to communicate that she’s super busy. It’s something that a lot of people do in this modern age, and I’m very mindful of it as I’ve heard myself in the past and realised that I’d fallen into the same trap. This isn’t something that you need to point out to her (her need to basically communicate that she is, for example, “in demand”, but it’s more to recognise where she is coming from.

It might also be an unwittingly passive-aggressive way of communicating to you that she feels that you should do what the others do. She may have felt away in the past about you not doing that. But just because others do it doesn’t mean that you are also supposed to.

There is some truth in what she said: You don’t need to tell her that she doesn’t need to tell you those things. That was your way of communication your irritation.

However, there’s also truth in what you said: She doesn’t need to pad out her no. Adding lots of fluff to a no, more often than not makes the other party feel uncomfortable or even annoyed. It’s like, “I get it! I get it! You’re the busiest person in the universe!”

So, in short, no, I don’t think you’re being unreasonable and while it’s understandable that your friend’s back has gone up a bit in response to your comment, she is doing that thing that all humans are guilty of at times: Accusing you of something while failing to acknowledge that she’s doing the same thing.

The same person who is claiming that you are telling her how to communicate…. is telling you how to communicate. The irony!

It’s at times like this when a sense of humour holds you in good stead.

And, yes, other people might let it pass or even think that it’s OK… if they do similar. But, it’s a very common complaint what your friend is doing — she’s just been fortunate to not have it pointed out before!

How best to deal with an incompetent coworker?

Using the word incompetent to describe a coworker seems harsh, but it’s reality. I test software, and he is a designer. I’m used to working with competent designers. So my frustration level has reached a max at having to work with him. I’ve tried not to let him get under my skin, but it’s hard to stay motivated at work when someone is wasting my time. An example, had he done his job properly on a project, it should have taken me 1 week to test, and maybe report a few bugs. Instead, it took 6 weeks of my time and over 35 bugs reported…and when he tried to fix them, he didn’t check his work, wasting more of my time when his bug fixes didn’t work.

Testers report to my manager, and designers report to a different manager. My manager is respectful and kind. The design manager is arrogant, condescending, and unprofessional IMO…and that adds additional tension to the situation when the manager calls out the employee in front of the rest of the team. I plan to talk to my manager about how unhappy I am in this situation (I’ve left work in tears on occasion). How should I approach that discussion? This problem has been ongoing for years, and nothing seems to change. Not sure if I should also consider talking to the design manager about his employee? I feel like I’ve reached a crossroads…ask my manager if the are other opportunities within his team that don’t involve that designer? I genuinely like my other coworkers, and my manager is the best boss I’ve had. Or as a last resort, consider leaving my current team?

 

Nat’s Response

There’s a time and a place for “incompetent”, and in this context, it sounds apt. It’s not about him as a person; it’s about the work that he’s doing and that includes the fact that his skill set doesn’t match the project and tasks. He’s either in over his head (lots of people work in these fields and wing it on a level of BS hoping that forums and Google will save the day) or he’s operating at a level below his true skill set.

There’s such a thing as conscious and unconscious incompetence, but either way, it’s a problem. My husband works in a similar environment, and some people’s inability to deliver to a high standard gets his blood pressure going.

Your situation is multi-layered. This isn’t just about this person’s work.

Someone hired him, and someone manages him. They’re either willfully blind or not on the ball themselves for it to be at this level.

One week versus six is a huge difference and costly for the client and/or company.

You say that you’re used to working for “competent” designers, so this is where your expectations come from. It’s not that your expectations are unrealistic (quite the opposite), but it’s unrealistic to expect that every single designer is at that level of competence. To be fair, one would think that when a company hires people to do this work that they’re hiring at a certain level, but how skills pan out in practice is different to what people have on their CV.

To consistently have worked with designers who aren’t aggravating you has been quite a blessing up to this point. It is unusual, which is probably why it’s so distressing as you, on some level, have felt that this is how it is and always will be.

Clearly, life has decided that you need the experience of challenge and that, also, you need to assert yourself.

Your manager, you say, is respectful and kind, so as your first port of call you need to break down the situation for him. Start with the top line data: the key issues. Stick to the top three as if you list everything but the kitchen sink, it gets unwieldy, and people tune out.

Explain that typically designers are _______________ {insert the key skills and attributes that make things run smoothly}.
Give an example (I would use 6-week one) and summarise it so that your manager has a clear view of what’s going on in the context of something that took place.

Your manager needs to speak to the design manager, and the tester needs to be given constructive feedback.

Explain to your manager that you have tried to improve the situation directly, but that this is outside of your job spec and pretty draining. Also explain that the situation is getting on top of you and while you recognise that working with different types of people is all part of a job, being expected to do your job at the same/high standard while not being given the resources to accomplish that (the designer) has gradually become demotivating. Tell him that if it can’t be addressed, that you would like to be paired with someone else or that you will, if that isn’t possible, move to another team. Let him know that you really value him as a manager, but the situation is untenable.

And, as an aside: I know how male-dominated these environments can be. Please make sure that you haven’t had this guy paired with you because you’re a woman. If this designer has worked with others, it might be useful to find out what went on there too. He’s either behaved similarly and he’s been passed on to you, or he’s behaved differently and is being passive-aggressive.

Prep for leaving my narcissistic husband?

I think that my husband is a covert narcissist and I am tired of the merry go round. As I prepare myself financially, what other steps can I take while still living with him? We still have 4 children (2 of whom are adults) living with us. Thank you.

 

Nat’s Response

Eek. You’re doing the right thing in preparing for your exit. 

 
Become aware of the dynamics of your relationship — so how the day-to-day unfolds between you both. The who does what. 
 
And then look at how you can gently ease back or engage less. 
 
Be an observer instead of getting sucked into playing his games. It’s like, you know that it’s your intention to leave so rather than feel the need to correct, flatter, argue or play whatever games he likes to play, observe him and your dynamics. “Ah, there he goes talking about himself again. He’s obviously feeling insecure” or “Normally when he ___________, I _____________, but I realise that this is just what he does.”
 
The best thing you can do with narcissists to cut down on engagement is to stick to facts so that you don’t get dragged into redundant conversations. 
 
Keep a running tally of why you’re leaving so that you don’t bottle it when it’s time.
 
Start working out your escape plan so that you have a timeframe that you’re working towards
 
Gradually start making copies of important documents. If you haven’t done this when you leave, he may try to destroy the documents or make it difficult for you to get a hold of them. Only give these documents to  trusted family members or store them at work or at your lawyer’s. Property deeds, bank details, that kind of thing. 
Figure out who you’re going to stay with or how much money you need to raise for rent.

 
Gradually start putting aside treasured items. If you have a friend who you can store them with, great. Again, narcissists do like to hold on to the stuff. You could say that you’re decluttering the house and sneak out some of your bits and pieces. 
 
Gently but steadily shift your focus on to you by practising self-care
Getting out and about, going for a walk, early nights, journaling – mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually prepare for your exit.
 
 
Shift the interactions between you and your children
 
Don’t discuss your plans with them, especially if one or more are quite taken in by him. 
 
If you are behaving differently albeit subtly towards your husband, the overall dynamics in the home will change. 
 
If there are dynamics that take place between you, him and the children, such as overblown discussions or pandering to him, respond differently to how you normally do. 
 
Do consider whether you can ask your adult children into moving out of the home so that they’re out before you are. 
 
Confide in a trusted friend or family member if you can. 
 
Meet with a lawyer to discuss your situation so that you understand your rights and options.
How can I support my sister without condoning my brother-in-law's behaviour?

My sister is married to a functioning alcoholic. They’ve been very up and down lately because he’s becoming more of a mean drunk… It’s affecting my niece (who idolises him), and my sister gets closer to ‘breaking point’ each time they have a dramatic ‘episode ‘. Then he’s sorry, will try/change etc., he then makes an effort to be nice, drink less, play happy families

This is their loop. I’ve seen over the years the time between ‘episodes ‘ is getting smaller and more frequent. I’m worried for my sister (it’s clearly an abusive situation even though he doesn’t hit her) and concerned my niece is seeing and hearing more (on both sides) as she gets older.

I know my sister has to make her own choices, live her own life etc. They’re all coming down from Scotland to stay with our parents for 2 weeks over Christmas. He’ll probably be on best behaviour, because of my parents, but I’m struggling with the ‘being nice ‘ to him thing. I can’t condone his behaviour, but also don’t feel I can comment or want to cause dramatics over Christmas.

Please advise best way to navigate through this festive season in a supportive way for my sis but be true to my feelings of concern etc?

 

Nat’s Response

I feel for you. Having been your niece, I know what it’s like to idolise your father even though he’s, well, a drunk, albeit a high-functioning one in this case.

As an outsider, you feel understandably protective of your niece and sister, but you need to strike a balance between loving them both and having the appropriate boundaries.

It’s difficult to know what your niece is hearing/seeing, although kids are highly perceptive even though they might not know the exact words for the situation. I ‘knew’ that my dad was one for as long as I can remember, but it took me until my twenties to put it into words. And it was very uncomfortable to admit it. To me, my dad was the centre of my universe. Flaky, absent for a big chunk, but my dad. Your niece will gradually piece it together because, of course, you see things on telly or learn more as you grow and put two and two together and hopefully make four.

It’s possible, also, that your brother-in-law is a loving albeit dysfunctional father. He might be highs and lows, which might fuel the adoration. Bit like Fun Bobby in Friends (hopefully you know that reference). When he’s on, he’s on, but when he’s off, he’s off. Your niece may be aware of his moodiness and already have trained herself to steer clear or to try and gee him up.

As for your sister, she may feel trapped and in over her head. Or, she might be more OK with the situation than you realise. I don’t mean OK ‘OK’ in a good way but more that this is her status quo. She might feel that even with things escalating that she can still cope.

What you don’t want to do is alienate her as she won’t talk to you (or your parents) which will isolate her further in the problem. She might feel judged and that will put a divide between you, so striking the balance comes from letting her know that she’s loved and that you have her back. It’s fine, however, to let her know that loving her also means that you feel protective of her and hate how he’s treating her.

Being civil isn’t about “condoning” his behaviour. You can empathise with someone without sharing their viewpoint. It’s meeting people where they’re at rather than expecting them to be like you (or someone else, in his case, the better husband you’d hoped your sister would have).

Your brother-in-law has a problem that I suspect he hasn’t acknowledged the extent of. His “dramatic episodes” are an indication that things are reaching a watershed moment. A crisis point may be on its way.

Your feelings are your feelings, not your sister’s. That’s not to say that she might not have some similar feelings but you are bound to feel as you do because it’s not your relationship.

Be civil and tolerate him for the visit. You don’t need to pal up with him, and if anything, shift your focus to doing your best to enjoy the time rather than keeping an eye on them. Don’t lecture her or tell her to leave him or whatever, tempting as that might be. She won’t talk to you about things and will maybe even play things down if she feels like you’re going to judge her and apply pressure.

If she brings it up to you on this trip, say to her that you’re glad that she can speak to you about it, but that you’re concerned about what is happening and is she open to discussing her options or even their options (i.e. getting professional help).

One of the things that may happen if you’re civil and basic friendly is that he may dig himself into a hole and end up behaving in a way that creates an opening to say something.

How to stop being threatened by ex's new girlfriends?

I find that when I don’t feel “threatened” by an ex’s new girlfriend, I don’t dislike them and can hang around them and our mutual friends. But if I think that they are replacing me (being similar but prettier, more confident or whatever else I feel I don’t have) or they do better, I dislike them, and the thought of their relationship affects me.

I’d like to know what I can do to change this thought pattern with other women, where I compare, and in the meantime to stop letting it affect me.

As an example, I recently found out my last ex is dating someone, but I didn’t feel threatened by her at the start; I thought it was casual. I recently learned they both do a hobby I don’t, which probably led them to start dating, and visit his friends that I wanted to visit with him, and NOW I’m starting to feel threatened.

 

Nat’s Response

I think it’s important to ask the question: What am I actually feeling threatened about?
 
There is a sense of ownership that you have with your exes and a heavy focus on being interchangeable and replaceable. 
 
Now, the thing is, in order for you to feel, think and behave in this way, you have to have a mentality of “Every woman is my competition”, and you have to be coming from a place of dating someone with their ex in mind. This means that in every relationship, you’re behaving as if you’re an upgrade. Your position is based on “I’m better than all the exes”. But, of course, if you’re an upgrade, then the next woman is seen as that too. And round and round you go. 
 
Where did you learn to see you and other women as inferior? To objectify you and them into an almost scorecard system of what you feel are each woman’s competitive attributes?
 
Do you believe that men are basic as hell and that it’s like looks, tick, sex, tick, hobby, tick?
 
The fundamental belief is that a woman’s worth and attractiveness is based not just on how a man perceives her but how she rates against her competition (other women). This means that some of your work is about discovering where you developed this scarcity mindset and this attitude of owning men. This competing with women is extremely common, and most have done it at some point. We’re socialised into it. We’re compared to, for example, our sibling(s) or other female relatives. We listen to and observe our mother’s behaviour. We listen to comments from society. Women are divided up into crap categories like The Pretty One, The Smart One, The Dumb One, The Fat One and so forth. 
 
It then becomes that we are supposed to fight over a small bucket that has a limited amount of men, relationships, jobs, opportunities. 
 
So now every woman is “stealing” from you, or certainly, every woman who comes into proximity of anything and anyone that you’ve made a value judgement about yourself on is “stealing” from you. 

 
There’s some data you can glean from your mindset:
 
Your worth is, in part, based on the status of a relationship. A woman isn’t a threat if she’s casual because she’s “just” someone who’s being used for sex, but if they’re something more than what you think you were, then she’s a “threat”.
 
You place a high value on looks. It’s possible that you wouldn’t care about someone who was similar but less pretty or about the same, but if they’re similar but prettier, then you think that this means that you’re not attractive. This also means that on some level, you’re insecure about your appearance and think that men choose on this basis. Or that the type of men you like are superficial. 
 
You think that hobbies are core values and a determining factor for compatibility. No, they’re secondary values. Sure, they give someone common ground to hang out on, but it has nothing to do with actual compatibility and emotional needs being met. 
 
You think you don’t have something and so you’re in competition with anyone who basically has something you think you don’t have. Even though everyone has things that someone else doesn’t so it’s actually irrelevant.
 
There’s the clearing and releasing associations exercise in the foundational resources. Use prompts like “competition”, “rival””less pretty”, “more pretty”, “women are a threat”. All of the instructions are in there. 
 
You might also find it useful to do the “What’s driving me?” exercise in the same section. I think you will find that status is high up. 
 
Those are starting points for you. 
 
Also, there isn’t anything to feel threatened about if the relationship is actually over, so unless you have him as Fallback Guy, you need to ask why you care what he’s doing. Are you planning to base your next man on replacing him?

November 2018

I'm 39 and worried about misleading prospective partners about my desires

I have turned 39 and am still single. I have always considered myself lucky to look much younger than my age. However, this brought about another issue in dating. I am unsure at what stage should I bring this up. In some way, I felt that I am obliged to let my potential partner know about my age so that I will not mislead him about my fertility window especially if he is very keen on having children. I am keen to have a family too but realise that I need to be realistic that the possibility of this narrows with each passing year. I also worry that if I bring this up too soon (before we get to know each other more deeply), it may scare potential partner off. I had a horrible experience with my ex who from time to time used my age to berate me over the 3 years we have been together. Now that I am another 4 years older, this bothers me even more. Would appreciate any advice as to how to navigate this issue. Thanks.

Nat’s Response

If someone has an issue with having children, it won’t make a difference whether you are 39 or 29. The relationship isn’t going to proceed.

All you need to tell someone is that you’re 39.

If, as part of an initial dating conversation they reveal that they don’t want to have children, then you bid them farewell.

If you both decide to proceed to a relationship by mutual agreement, it’s at that point where you are not looking for them to say that they want to have kids with you, but where you might bring up that you’re not down for anything casual. You’re not expecting them to say that you are it, but you’re only interested in moving forward with someone who is open to a serious relationship.

The dating phase is a discovery phase. It’s where you each have a curiosity about the other. Much like in business when you’ve just looked at something for the first time, it’s too soon to ask for a commitment. Sure, you might gather information that suggests that they cannot commit (and then you opt out), but you can’t expect them to commit to you or a future at this stage.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that a woman or man in their late thirties might be thinking about settling down or having children. So you don’t need to carry on as if your age is something to be ashamed of. Your ex is in the past. He has nothing to do with the future unless you involve him in it by making it about him. He is one person. It’s like going out with someone who shames you for being “overweight” or black or of a certain religion — why would you then prepare yourself for being shamed about the same things by future partners unless you were preparing to date someone who is similar to your ex again?

I know far too many women who were the same age as you and met someone after that age and had children. It is possible when you’re not prepared to invest time in someone who is quite frankly unpleasant or uninvested in a true relationship. A man who belittles you about anything is not the man for you, so your ex is irrelevant.

Stop shaming yourself for being 39. Yes, you are looking to have a family, but you don’t have to see you as a burden to a relationship. Accept no substitutes so if you date someone and they’re wishy-washy or uninterested in being serious, flush them out. Don’t force them to change, don’t try to please them — cut them loose. If a man is scared of commitment, he will be scared off for a multitude of reasons.

My ex will be at my work Christmas party: Should I attend?

As I’m still working together with my ex, I’ve decided not to attend the company Christmas party this year. Most years it ended in tears or with some sort of drama between us, and even though we are now friends, I’d rather avoid possible Xmassy triggers that can result with me getting emotional and hating myself afterwards. I’m with the company 10 years though, and as a manager, I’m expected to attend these events especially now that we expanded and I have new people in my team. We are a small company with family-like relationships, and everybody is puzzled now as to why I cannot go. I feel guilty that I’m not going to be there and also out of my comfort zone since it feels like making a statement for my ex and being a people pleaser I’d make myself uncomfortable, so everybody else is ok. I know it’s just a party but to me signifies that I’m really letting him go (panic!) but at the same time I’d like to have fun with my other friends. The gut is telling me that I should protect myself for once and skip the drama but the gut feeling failed me before!

Nat’s Response

Have you checked out The Intuition Sessions?

There’s a bit in one of the classes where I explain how if you feel as if your gut has failed you before it’s because it wasn’t your gut you listened to; it was fear.

Now, it may well be that both fear and intuition are trying to communicate with you because you have typically ignored your feelings in the past. In that case, it’s understandable to be fearful and anxious.

It might be an idea to get clear on what it is that led to the clashes in the past. Alcohol? Over-familiarity? One of you doing something? Trying to turn back time?

So, for example, when I ‘dated’ the guy with the girlfriend, we had a number of events (too many to recall) where we had drunken bust-ups. We also worked together. I took to avoiding some events and then not drinking also helped. So when I went to the company Christmas party, I felt like surely nothing could go wrong. He got drunk and kept pestering me. I let my guard down and ended up being sucked into Yet Another Dumb Discussion. Next thing we were rowing in the street. Next, we were arguing on the bus. Next thing he was in my flat. Next thing I was like, “This is a terrible mistake, and we are done”.

The way to tune into whether you want to go to this event regardless of whether he’s there or not is to pay attention to what you’re saying about going and not going.

If, for example, there’s a lot of shoulds about going and you’re worried about what people will think of you, that’s not a good reason to go. If the bulk of it is about obligation and how you will look, that is ego and fear, not desire.

If when you think about not going, you consider past events and recognise that there’s going to be some level of drama regardless of what you do or don’t do, or that you don’t want to go, that’s a pretty compelling reason not to go.

If you’re thinking about not going because you want to hide away, that’s understandable, but that type of reasoning is always going to invite your inner critic in because you’re not honouring your needs, wants or boundaries. It leaps on opportunities to criticise when it thinks you’re being inauthentic or, for example, that you don’t have your back.

If you also know that you often make yourself uncomfortable to make everyone else ok, I hate to break it to you, but that is a big problem. It’s a Christmas party, not a funeral. You can understand going to support people at a funeral, but the truth is, yes, I’m sure people will enjoy you coming along, but they’re not going to sit around all night going, “This party sucks because [you’re] not there.” I know it feels good to our ego to say this, but the reality is that about ten minutes after it starts, people are going to be getting pissed up.

Don’t forget that, of course, you can choose to go and have fun with your friends. But he’s part of the package. So you either go there ready to deal with him differently and to maybe have less alcohol for instance, or you accept an invitation to more drama.

No, it’s not an “easy” decision, but it doesn’t have to be a major one, either. They will survive if you skip it this year.

How can I grieve the good moments and learn to recognise his whole personality?

I seem to be able to recognise signs of intensity displayed by someone but then not be able to stop myself from going there with them and ultimately saving myself pain in the future. I recently ended things with someone who was adamant at coming out of the situation as the victim and the perfect gentleman – whereas the truth was that for a year and a half I had been concerned by his behaviour on social media. I don’t know how to forgive myself for carrying on despite knowing everything. Why was I accepting of such low behaviour? How can I grieve and now ruminate at his good moments and learn to recognise his whole personality?

Nat’s Response

As soon as I read the first line, Janet Jackson’s ’That’s The Way Love Goes’ popped into my head. “Like a moth to a flame burnt by the fire”.

You see it coming, but you don’t feel (at the time) as if you can get out of the way.

You recognised the intensity but you either didn’t recognise it for what it was, or you did but hoped that you would be the exception to the rule.

I think that sometimes we want to ride the train to see where it’s going. The train might say “Destination: Pain” but we hop on because we’re hoping that it’s mistake and that at some point it’s going to go to Happy Ending instead. It might be that we doubt ourselves.

More often than not though, it’s because we think that this particular situation offers something that we want. So, even though you knew on some level that he wasn’t legit, your desire for whatever you thought it was that you could ‘get’ was greater than a desire to not be in this situation.

To be clear: Someone who is “adamant” about coming out of the situation as a victim, isn’t a victim. Yes, they have a victim mentality, but that’s emblematic of an issue with empathy and taking responsibility. He’s not going to pay attention to any issues you’ve highlighted because he doesn’t want to be emotionally available to the truth. He’d rather cast himself as the “perfect gentleman” while failing to acknowledge even a drop of his behaviour.

That doesn’t mean that you have to take the victim role from him, though.

There’s something called the Karpman Drama Triangle where there’s dynamics of victim and rescuer, but also where a person slides between casting themselves in these roles. So, you feel like the victim of his shady behaviour, you call him out on it, and because of his mindset, he now becomes the victim, and you become the persecutor. In him treating you like you’re the persecutor, you then feel understandably victimised by his behaviour, not least because he hasn’t acknowledged any of his shady behaviour. And round and round the situation goes.

The moral of that part of the story: stop trying to make him see things the way that you do. If he did, he wouldn’t behave in the manner that he did. You would have had a different relationship.

And, you know what? I’m not sure that you knew “everything”. That’s what we tell ourselves after sh*t’s gone down. We remember things differently, and so we tell ourselves that we foresaw the entire thing and that we are the masterful architects of our demise.

Did you deceive yourself? Yes.

And you did that because you thought that if you continued, that you would get what you want.

And you accepted his shady behaviour because on some level you thought that this is what you were worthy of. Past experiences taught you this (or it’s what you thought that they were telling you). He brought up feelings and desires in you that are associated with your past.

Who do you still, even if you got it in the past, crave attention, affection, approval, love and validation from? Whoever that person is (parent/caregiver/bully/significant person from your past) that’s why you continued with him. If he is similar to, for example, one of your parents, you may have accepted his behaviour because you felt guilty and disloyal about calling him out.

I’ve written something about this on the blog recently: https://www.baggagereclaim.co.uk/why-you-havent-moved-on-self-criticism-expresses-an-unmet-need/

In terms of grieving: read that post, get truthful about the shortcut, and watch the class on needs and values as it has an exercise in there about figuring out why you did something.

And stick to the facts about him. Feelings, wonderful as they can be, can be misleading. Get the facts on paper about him and your relationship. And the grieving will begin.

What is your best advice for life changes?

I did it! I got a new career in the travel industry. I absolutely love to travel, and training starts today. I am ready, and I am not nervous. My family is very supportive while I start this new journey. It’s like my own business — I must build it customer by customer. I do have to be there certain hours though. I’m quite excited and waiting to see what happens all at the same time. I have the opportunity to grow even more and make more money by sharing my lovely travel stories too. At first, I was stressing because it was a change, new hours, new days etc… but then after a day, I was like “Ah, I can just find a new workout place near my work for the time being until training is done. Holidays are very busy in our family business, and we are building new companies so I will help out one day a week there as my family has done SO much for me. I also want to be there to keep in contact with our customers as it’s so many connections for me lol. By the way, my mom and I laugh because she says he’s having separation anxiety LOL!! We are finally getting a divorce! LMAO. What’s your best advice on moving forward?

Nat’s Response

CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’m so very happy for you.

OK, take it a day at a time. You’re going to feel up and down with this change so ride it when it’s good and get grounded when you feel rattled so that it doesn’t spiral.

This change represents something pretty big for you because it’s more than a job change. For the first time in your life, you have a job that isn’t in the family business. You will need to learn to assimilate, to deal with things differently. You will have to learn new things and, yes, earn people’s trust and professional respect.

I think it’s great that you want to keep your foot in the family business but don’t make a firm commitment to do one day a week. I say this because day one of training is different to a few days in, is different to a week or two in. You don’t know how much training and the job will demand of your bandwidth. You don’t know whether learning new things is going to freak you out because you’re out of your comfort zone. So, it’s better to say, “I’m hoping to be able to come and help out one day a week. I’ll miss you and the customers, and it will be nice to be involved. However, I’m not sure how much this training is going to require of me and so while my intention is to be there each week during the holidays, I want to give you a heads-up that there might be a week when coming by isn’t possible.”

And remember that you have done so much for your family too and it’s great to do things for them — just remember not to do things out of obligation otherwise you will feel R.E.S.E.N.T.F.U.L. and the arguments will kick off.

It would be great if you could make time to hang out with your mom that isn’t work-related, too.

Journal, even if it’s for one minute each day so that you can make a note of how you feel. Notice if a part of you is missing the drama and the cray. In those instances, you can ask you, “Do I need to feel this/that way? Do I need to have this/that problem?” You can then make a conscious choice.

I do think, as well, that as much as you love the family business and want to help out, give them a chance to get used to you not being there. I know that there will be a part of you that’s afraid of missing out, of not being needed, but wouldn’t it be nice just to enjoy your family?

It’s as much a change for them as it is for you. They need to figure out how to be without you there. They need to rely on someone else. They need to let you do your thing. But you also need to let them do their thing.

My friend used to work with her ex-boyfriend. They had nothing to talk about and often argued about work-related stuff. When she went to work somewhere else, the dynamics shifted. And it was for the better even though they broke up.

I know others who worked together with family or a partner, and putting a clear division between professional life and their private lives made them love and appreciate each other again. They got to know each other in new ways.

And, you might find that you will talk a little bit about work issues with family but that you might prefer to do that with a friend. In that way, it doesn’t feel like they’re trying to put you off the job.

So, take your time. Let the honeymoon period do its thing. Enjoy it. Pay attention to you.

How do I explain to my kids that I need minimal contact with their father?

I’ve been divorced from my children’s father for five years now, and it truly is a constant battle with him insidiously overstepping boundaries and then telling the kids that it isn’t a big deal. I feel like I’m frequently in teaching mode to them to teach them how to treat another human but doing it in a way as to not bad mouth their dad. Exhausting! I don’t feel like I should need to explain our parenting plan in detail to my children, but at the same time, I feel like I do as to why they can’t always do what their dad wants. Suggestions?

Nat’s Response

Ugh! How frustrating and demoralising.

Your husband has a different parenting style to you, and like the parent who has the kids for the weekend and has zero boundaries leaving the parent who has the kids all week to pick up the pieces, his actions are having a knock-on effect.

Now, it might be that you need to accept that you are realistic to have the expectation that he parent in a responsible, boundaried manner, but experience has taught you that this expectation is unrealistic of him.

He doesn’t think in the same way.

So there are a couple of things in particular: work with what you have instead of expecting him to change and/or consider mediation.

Mediation is about the best interests of the child. They speak to each of you individually and possibly the children and then help to create the boundaries. They are often able to explain things in a way that each of you can’t because they are neutral.

Your husband might be a Fun Bobby type. He may want to parent without the responsibility, and so he wants to be seen as fun, fun, fun all the time. That will encroach on boundaries.

It might be that he thinks you’re taking things too seriously, maybe not understanding that the children need consistency and structure.

Even though you are both divorced, if he were amenable to it, you could both present a united front.

What you have to be careful of, though, is parenting…. him.

It’s hard enough parenting children without feeling as if you have a recycled teenager or overgrown toddler on your hands.

Even if it looks to you as if you’re not parenting him directly through conversations, you end up saying to the kids what you on some level maybe wish you could get through to him.

You will need to define the boundaries for your home. Like with school and other places, the kids have boundaries to learn there too, and your ex has his own [loose] set.

It might be difficult for you to control what they do when they’re at his. For example, if he only has the X amount of days a month, he might be reluctant to send the kids to bed at the right time because he’s trying to “make the most of it”.

You don’t have to agree with how he does things, but instead of expecting him to be like you, empathise and recognise his differences and the possible reasons for his behaviour. In this way, it might feel less personal to you, and suddenly his behaviour might look to be something that’s more emblematic of, for example, insecurity.

You are right in that you don’t need to badmouth their father as children can feel terribly conflicted (I know I did when my mother was letting rip about my father), but calmly create your boundaries in your space. Let them know that you would love it if you and their dad could do things similarly, but at this time, it’s not possible.

If they are experiencing negative consequences as a result of what he is or isn’t doing, you might find that this is a language he understands.

You, for example, saying that you want him to do something because it’s the rules or boundaries won’t appeal to his rebel mindset.

You pointing out that, for example, your child is exhausted or that they didn’t have their homework done because he didn’t do X, and how upset they were, might get through to him.

He will not care about the impact on you. It’s possible that he does care about the impact on his children. Work with that.

Obviously, if he doesn’t care about the children, then taking steps to limit the custody arrangement may be the path.

How do I start to care less about what people think?

How do you care less about what people think? I, for example, won’t do things if I think people won’t approve. I have to be completely committed without a shred of doubt in my mind to be able to ignore people. It means that I will give up on things when people are negative about them (and I come from a very negative family as it is). Have you got any suggestions?

Nat’s Response

The thing about caring about what others think is that everyone cares about what others think to an extent. As humans, we all want to be accepted, and so conversely, we’re all afraid of rejection.

We also like to follow the herd even when it leads us off a cliff or into our pain.

This means that we will forgo ourselves, what we truly need and want if we don’t have consensus.

But how on earth can we get consensus when there’s only one us?

If everyone were “like us” or even “the same”, then it would make sense to a certain degree to get their take, to want their consensus.

But there’s only one you, so asking people for their opinion on what you should be and do has limited value because they’re not you. They don’t have the same backstory, needs, desires, feelings, expectations, opinions, motivations, fears, intentions, plans etc., as you, so their feedback has limited value.

What does “people won’t approve” mean to you? Write that down. So, how do you know if someone won’t approve? What makes you think they won’t? What do they say? How do they behave?

And how much of this is cold hard facts? Also, how much of this actually matters in the grander scheme of things?

So, for instance, one student had a similar mentality. She spent years avoiding going out with men from other races because she thought her parents wouldn’t approve based on a comment he made when she was a teenager. This went on for over fifteen years. One day she had a conversation with him, and it turned out that he hadn’t given two figs about the race of the person she went out with for most of those fifteen years.

Do you know Spanx? Well, the creator and founder of the company is the richest woman in the world I think. Or certainly super rich. She came up with the idea for Spanx, and she didn’t tell anyone. Not her family or her friends. She devoted herself to the vision for a year before she said anything. Why? Because she knew they’d bloody well pee on her parade and talk her out of her idea. Not she’s a multi-billionaire after making shapewear that I got stuck in for almost two hours one day!

No one in my family said, “Yes, Natalie, write Baggage Reclaim”. They definitely thought it was a bad idea for me to leave my job in advertising. My co-workers and bosses thought that I was mad. I’m glad I didn’t listen.

Let’s say that you decide that you want to do something and someone isn’t into it. Does it really matter? Will it matter in the future? Probably not. If they’re saying that they disapprove because you’re planning to cut off their leg, I get it. If they’re saying they disapprove of decisions pertaining to your life, thank them for their feedback — and make up your own mind.

Because it is feedback and everyone disapproves of well, everything. And it’s because it’s none of their bloody business and when people do new or different things, or they appear to be less accommodating, those same people buck against change.

Criticism is one person’s idea about how to do something, not a court order.
Disapproval can also be subjective, so make sure you’re not projecting your disapproval on to them.

If they haven’t actually said they disapprove, crack on.

If they have said they disapprove, thank them for letting you know how they feel, and crack on.

And here’s something else to keep in mind: do you approve of everything they do? Do they go ahead anyway? Do you still give them the time of day? Exactly.

Also, if you come from a very negative family, that means that they don’t actually disapprove of anything because it’s just their way. My mum says “I hate…” for loads of stuff. I pay no attention because if you hate everything, you hate nothing. You’re just being lazy with your language. Your family just don’t like change, and that’s OK. They have a different experience to you.

Did my coworker passive-aggressively sabotage our arrangement?

I have this coworker in my office space. I avoid her at all costs, she did really weird things. Talking to my clients and alienating them, breaking things we agreed about, seeking contact over conflict.

She does not like that I withdraw. She asked for a lunch to talk about our contact. Today we had the appointment, and she stood me up. I asked, “Hey, where were you?” And she said, “Oh, I am so sorry I thought this would be next month.”

Of course, I can‘t prove it but can someone be so f*** up to sabotage even that?

Nat’s Response

What? That’s messed up.

The only thing that you can deal with when it comes to people like this is facts.

“I am confused by your response. Why would we have arranged lunch for next month when you were the one who urgently pursued me about arranging this lunch to discuss our contact?”

All she has done is validate that you are correct to give her, as we call it here in England, wide berth.

So, go back to keeping distance between you.

If she says something. “It is fine. I was OK with our relationship being what it was. You were the one who asked me to lunch due to your concerns. I don’t actually wish to get into this with you, so there is no need for us to have lunch.”

And when it comes to any of the specific issues raised:

“On X date (or when we made this arrangement), I told you Y, and you agreed to this, but you have _________________ instead. When you go back on things that we have agreed, I don’t feel comfortable around you. Because we have spoken on a number of occasions about _______, ________, and ___________, and you still continue to do these, I have felt it best to ________ because I am trying to keep things professional. I value a harmonious working environment. I don’t like feeling as if I have to keep repeating myself or setting boundaries as if I’m not dealing with a peer. Rather than go back and forth with you, that is why I stepped back. ”

And if you are in control of this space and she is not abiding by the terms, then it may be time to make a new arrangement, end the agreement, or move out.

And, yes, someone can be that effed up. She just wanted to be in control of the situation. If you’ve avoided her, agreeing to meet her for lunch gave her attention. Not turning up for lunch has now let her believe that she is ignoring you.

Petty, passive-aggressive, and definitely not professional.

Juggling single parenthood and work: How do I time and energy to pursue my desires?

Currently struggling to find time for me! As a solo mama with a young child, I barely find time to keep up with life in general, but I also KNOW I need to find some time for me.

There is so much work I feel I need to do on and for myself in terms of relationships, but also my work situation has just changed (cancellation of main contract due to festival being cancelled), and I now feel at a crossroads in terms of career and am questioning so much but not focusing enough time/energy on finding answers. Had been doing the same job since just before my child was born, it worked, fitted around us and paid enough. Have been in the same industry since I was a teen — am 41 now! Not sure if I keep juggling on with it or look at something totally new and different. Have one biz idea I’d like to do, but practically and financially that would have to be a side hustle to start, not main income.

Any suggestions please on how, in practical terms, I can find time/focus/energy to put the work in!?! On everything! My mum helps out a bit but other than that no one does. People say they will, but when I manage to ask them (trying to get better at this), they aren’t available etc. I only have so many hours in the day (like everyone), and where I used to work after my little one went to sleep, lately, I just have zero energy, veg out and then go to bed!

Have been going through a lot lately, as well as over last few years and feel, quite frankly, rinsed! Feel like I need to do some work on me in terms of self-care and emotional ‘clear up’ before my brain will be in the best place to work out… But it’s all ongoing juggle whichever way… Any words of wisdom, please?

Nat’s Response

Kids are wonderful although they obviously have their trying moments (haha), but parenthood does eat up some of your bandwidth.

As women, we give birth, and it’s like they put back in a shedload of guilt and Energiser Bunny batteries. We expect us to be all the things, do all the things.

And we can’t.

We are not supposed to “have it all” because that is a fallacy. Men don’t have it all, either. The father who buries himself in work, for instance, misses out on their children. Or has other issues.

So the first thing to do is stop expecting that you should be being and doing more.

Working on one’s self isn’t a one-time thing or with a destination or fixed goal.

It’s a lifestyle.

Let’s say you encounter a conflict situation at nursery tomorrow. That’s working on yourself. You will need to respond in a way that supports your healing, learning and growth. Let’s say that you respond differently to how you have in the past, and you’d previously responded to conflict as if you were a powerless child, you might accomplish more from confidently asserting yourself in that situation might do more for you than sitting in a therapist’s office for several hours.

You are already working on yourself. You’re trying to show up to life, you’re signed up this, you’re parenting (that is a form of working on one’s self). Yes, you will need to put aside, for example, 15 minutes each week to journal or 30 minutes one week to work through some exercises, but don’t labour it. I know people who take months or even a year or so out to travel and find themselves through therapy and retreats, only to finish up none the wiser or still having work to do — because that’s how life can be.

Next thing is to be open to answers being revealed. No, you don’t have an instant solution to work but what you can do is start paying attention to how you’re feeling and what work situations communicate to you about what you need and want. Notice what you enjoy about work, notice where you feel energised and time flies. Notice what gets on your last nerve. Notice what you find stressful. You will likely want to keep the elements that you enjoy. In getting a bit of clarity about how you do and don’t want to feel, you will have some clarity about potential things you want. Then your eyes and ears will prick up at information, opportunities etc., that reflect where you’re at.

I have a friend in a similar position – young child, a little childcare, no time to work (and sleep-deprived). I suggested to her that she keep a What I Did Today list. Note everything and you will not only see where your time is going but you will have a far greater respect and value for you. If you’re not getting sh*t done, that’s because you are doing something else. And until you understand what you’re doing or how much time you try have, including carving out time for rest and relaxation, you don’t have a place to work from. You might be expecting far more from you than is possible (I totally underestimate how much time it takes to do things or how much time I have — a habit I am kicking into touch) or you might discover that there’s lots of busy time that’s maybe not the best use of your time.

Side Hustle is a great way to go as you don’t have to take a big leap immediately. Yes, it does mean using some bandwidth on it, but the likelihood is that you will be doing something you enjoy. Listen to Side Hustle School podcast. It’s so inspiring.

Some things that might not seem like the most obvious thing:

Get some early nights. Focusing on getting into a consistent sleep routine for a couple of weeks so that you can reset. We often try to push ourselves harder instead of listening to our body and what it needs.

It may be that getting up one hour earlier rather than working at night might be more productive. But only after you’ve got some rest. I’ve seen and experienced this myself: doing less often leads to more productivity. You discover that you don’t, for example, have to do all the things on your list, but you also find that you become more inspired when you relax.

In terms of asking: “Remember when you said that you would be able to help out with childcare. What day would work for you?”, so see if 1) their offer was legit and then 2) try and work with their schedule.

Drink more water (1.5 – 2 litres). If you’re going through a lot emotionally and that’s not flushed through your system, you get zapped. This will help you to energise, to circulate, to detoxify. Processing emotions impacts on the body so help things move along.

Get your energy up so that you can do what you need to.

But don’t go too hard. Baby steps.

I’m knackered at the moment (weather, trying sometimes to do too much). As you get older, your body won’t let you get away with that so much so doing less is a good thing.

I’ll see what else I can dig out for you as I have something on getting energised somewhere.

 

I want to close this chapter: What the hell happened in my relationship?

I was in a 2-year relationship (I’m 39 now) with an emotionally unavailable workaholic in denial, he had every excuse to work every day of the year plus double shifts. I saw 3x a week but always at 7pm after work. Oh, and his parents died in an accident when he was 16… thought you should know that.

Almost 2 years later I finally got the courage to break up with him. It was awful because I loved him so much. But I was sick of his bullshit –plans and vacations all cancelled or “postponed” or “I’ll make it up to you”. You can’t progress a relationship when one person is choosing to work all the time (and denying he actually has a choice!!)

A week later he called me crying and begging for me back, promising changes- marriage/children etc. I took him back. 2 months later, after him slowly going back to his old ways, he dumped me on the am of our first vacation (that I begged for), a few days just before Xmas. I was DEVASTATED. I feel like he resented me because I asked for more than he could give, and that just breaks my heart. I’m ashamed that I’m not over him, and that I took him back. He’s never even tried contacting me. I’m still so sad he bailed like that – I truly wasn’t expecting it. But he wasn’t a ‘bad person’. I loved so many things about him. We loved each other (but now I question it). It’s all left me so confused.

He even got testicular cancer right after he left and called my dad (a narcissist) for some help. I was, again, gutted for so many reasons.

Now, 2 years later, I’m finishing my degree; I have great friends and a counsellor, trying to work on my self-esteem. It’s like I’m STILL not sure what happened. I want to scream at him. And I still miss him. Does he know he was awful? Does he resent me? I’m not sure why I care. I think the fact that he shut me out to deal is what’s made this so hard.

Nat’s Response

This sounds very painful for you, and it’s worth considering the connection between him and your father as in, what are the similarities between how you feel and behave around both?

The thing about your ex is that he carries deep pain with him that not you or any woman can “fix”.

My friend went out with identikit version, only he lost his mother at 5 and his father at a later age.

Being a workaholic protects someone from having to feel too much. It’s their way of staying in control, of not having to be too present.

Work is also a place where it might feel as if there are fewer unknowns, so you put a certain amount in, and you get something back.

Or you can distract yourself in the problems and convince yourself that you’re the only person who can solve every work issue or that, for instance, the business needs you more than it does.

He did not (and does not) want to put himself in the position of being vulnerable and intimate. That would mean that he has to run the risk of allowing himself to get so close to you that it would hurt if you left.

You did the right thing in ending it. The relationship ending would have been felt as a loss. The major loss in his life was his parents, and so each time he feels out of control or in pain from a loss, that old grief comes forward.

To counteract feeling out of control and, in fact, feeling anything at all, he then broke down and insisted that he wanted to get back together. He meant it as much as he could mean it at the time. He wanted to be back in control, to not feel that pain.

So, he promised the world when he couldn’t even manage to stick to a vacation day.

His behaviour is passive aggression. Saying yes while being obstructionist and resistant. Saying that you will do something and then doing exactly what you originally intended.

Passive aggression is the smiling or blank face masking resentment and frustration. It is a learned pattern of behaviour, and very few habitual passive-aggressives own up to their behaviour. What you have to deal is in facts, not emotions.

And the facts reveal a lot. He would say that he would do something and then renege with big promises. He would say that he would make it up to you and then break that promise. You were on a schedule (very controlling people and cheats engage in this).

There was no room for you in his life. You can’t go from seeing someone at 7pm a few times a week to married with kids. It’s too big a leap.

And, yes, he did resent you for expecting what any person would expect in the same situation, but that doesn’t mean that you did something wrong.

Your expectations, however, were unrealistic given the persona and the relationship you were in.

That is why it’s pivotal to explore the connection between this relationship and your father because you are looking for love against the odds, which is what you have been trained to experience with your father. Narcissists can’t love. You are used to shifting around on someone else’s axis (your father) so, of course, you have danced to this guy’s beat. You are used to being neglected, and so, again, of course, that’s why this relationship feels like home, like love.

You did like so many things about him — and that’s OK. But you were incompatible. He did not need to be perfect, but he was not a partner. It’s like trying to make a relationship with the person who delivers your newspaper that you have nice chats with.

You have to think about what you didn’t like, what you couldn’t accept, what you didn’t have in common.

You have to also consider how you were settling for less than what you truly need, desire and deserve.

He probably has some awareness that he was awful but he’s OK with that because he thinks it’s far less painful or whatever than running the risk of loving someone.

You cannot be the solution to a problem you didn’t create. His unavailability is inside him and how available he is and was has nothing to do with you. It will take testicular cancer and many painful situations before he cracks open, and even then, he might not want to be in a relationship.

It has nothing to do with you. What has to do with you is why you were OK with settling for a sub-par relationship — and that can be changed.

What am I seeking validation about in this friendship?

I feel I’m at a person’s beck and call, being used despite working on my boundaries and self-esteem; I worry about upsetting her and haven’t been able to accept the sweet spot of the friendship or take a step back.

I don’t know why this friendship matters, I’ve had two previous friendships that were similar and plagued me in the same way; it took a long time to bounce back when these friendships ended. I have great friendships with other friends and family.

I can’t identify what I’m looking for validation about or what life lesson is being mirrored. My relationships with family, parents and sister have always been good, I’m convinced the validation isn’t linked to them.

When the previous two friendships ended I remember thinking I would rather have no friends and spend time with family, books and yoga feeling content than experience that again. I didn’t instigate these three friendships and each time I have wanted life to go back to how it was before that friendship because I was happy then. I feel stuck again; miserable in this friendship and miserable if I’m not.

Please, do you know what is happening and why? Thanks.

 

Nat’s Response

This is interesting because, from your perspective, these are not friendships you instigated, so they don’t feel like friendships you’ve chosen.

But even if you didn’t instigate them, something about these people meant that you did make choices to engage and then continue engaging.

These friendships feel like something that happened to you rather than something you co-opted into, and that makes things feel and seem as if they’re out of your hands when they’re not.

Whatever struggles we experience in the present represent the past in some way: unresolved pain, fear and guilt.

Yes, our families are often the source or certainly part of the original wound that reflects the present situation, but not always.

Sometimes it’s the obvious: previous friendships.

Where else and who else have you felt similarly with?

What were old friendships like?

Or, after the first friendship ended, what did you come away from it believing about you?

There has to be something that you want and need from these friendships otherwise they wouldn’t have existed.

Every single thing that humans do is about needs, so even if it’s not validation, you did want something from these friendships otherwise 1) you would have ended them when it became apparent that they were not equitable etc., or 2) you would not be worrying about hurting this person’s feelings.

The clue to all of this is the first line: “I feel I’m at a persons beck and call, being used despite working on my boundaries and self-esteem.”

It is wrong when people use us, and we are never responsible for their using ways.

But when you want to break free from it, you have to acknowledge where you were OK with being used because you thought it was going to lead to you getting what you wanted.

Again, let me emphasise: you are not responsible for her character.

What you’re responsible for is your boundaries, and it’s only when you uncover your true intentions and motivations that you can break free of this.

If you’re willing (even if it’s through gritted teeth) to be at someone’s beck and call, it’s because you like feeling needed, purposeful (or something similar). Something about being summoned up fulfils a need for something.

So go and have a look at the What’s Driving You? exercise in the foundational resources. In the 8 needs is the reason why you would be at her beck and call.

Also, what does her behaving in this way allow you to feel or not have to deal with? If you feel miserable, what does that allow you to no have to do? What does it allow you to say about you, life etc.? Is there even a tiny part of you that is afraid, for some reason, of what not having this problem would mean to your life?

You say you want to go back to how it was before they were in your life, but you can and yet you continue. So there is something that you perceive to be of value otherwise you would tell her to take a run and jump or distance yourself.

Do the exercise and let me know how you get on. We can get to the bottom of this.

How do I quit the narcissist ride on the devaluation rollercoaster for good?

If there is a part of you deep down that believes you are not worthy of love and you keep self-sabotaging with men who are bad for you – how do you reach deep down and wake you up for good? It’s as if I enjoy that pain somewhere in my soul and my mind is like “Dude, wtf? Stop going back for more.”

I recently went on a work trip with a narcissistic alcoholic long-time now former lover who I know is bad for me. We do the idealisation devaluation cycle, and I need off this ride. We’d been in good contact for months because I’d kept my boundaries. I’ve always known never to commit to this man, but I’ve fallen into this cycle many time with him trying to rewrite history. It wasn’t long on the trip before, of course, the devaluation cycle reared its ugly head so loudly and abusively that I went into child mode of panic trying to plead with him to stop. After all I’d learned, I still cried and begged him to be nice instead of telling him to shove off. Right now I say never again, and it does feel final as the anxiety pain was so bad this time but I want to make sure that it’s solid. I want a healthy loving relationship and feel I keep getting in my own way with this. Trying not to shame myself too hard. Regret hangover city.

 

Nat’s Response

You’re being invited to see what you couldn’t see before and open up in a deeper way.

Part of this situation came about because you ‘dabbled’. Some situations are an abstain, and some are in moderation. This is clearly not an involvement that is a moderation, so, keeping in touch isn’t workable, because you’re participating in a codependent dynamic that sucks you down a pathway that the soul will travel down for its growth but that it’s also totally avoidable based on past experience.

Narcissistic, check. Alcoholic, check. This is a bad mix.

It’s not about punishing him. People have their issues, and it’s not as if you have to cut out every person who has a drinking problem, but it is a question of whether this relationship is for your positive advancement or to your detriment.

Isn’t this a bit like having passed an exam already and being free to go out there and work with your new qualification but instead choosing to retake the exam?

If he were an alcoholic with a conscience who was in recovery and doing their best to move forward, I could see how a relationship could be possible.

But this is totally unworkable. This person can’t empathise. They can’t love you, and they will hurt you because that’s what people who don’t have the same conscience filters do.

You took a shortcut.

You see a real relationship as the long road.

This dalliance was a shortcut. You wanted something. Maybe the adulation, to feel “alive” due to the excitement and fear of the involvement.

You wanted to be in a love/validation against the odds situation where you feel as if you have to jump through hoops and flirt with danger.

He represents a fantasy of having an unmet need from the past finally met. It’s fantasy with a remote prospect of it ever becoming true, but that’s what may have made it exciting.

If you look at what is/was happening in your life that made you receptive to being involved with him again, that will explain the reconnection.

There’s likely an element of feeling afraid of whatever growth you’d experienced. Maybe also afraid of the “What if?” I sense there may be an element of being convinced that love isn’t possible for you because of unworthiness.

This man was abusing you and taking advantage of your good nature. And you let him take advantage because of the remote possibility that you might get what you want.

So figure out what you wanted from him.

Try to recognise what he is showing you about something or someone. What is this situation showing you about the past that you couldn’t see before?

You will have blamed you for something in the past. He represents something specific about that that you thought that this go-round could fix.

What have you blamed you for that if you choose to see this situation for what it is, you could now finally accept that it wasn’t your fault or that it’s not how love works?

Remember that you don’t need to ‘earn’ love. So, you don’t need to prove something or suffer or try to convert someone to be loved and worthy.

Also, read this: https://www.baggagereclaim.co.uk/why-you-havent-moved-on-self-criticism-expresses-an-unmet-need/

October 2018

How do you let go of someone who doesn't want to be in your life?

I wrote to you before after my most recent breakup. He and I were taking space from each other and expressed interest in remaining friends. We tried that directly afterwards, and I was too emotional for it. I decided to not reach out to him after he requested a week of space, and it’s been nearly a month now. He hasn’t reached out to me either. I know that taking time and space is healthy for me, but it also hurts that he hasn’t reached out. It feels like I never mattered and that he doesn’t care like he says he did. He, by the way, was the one to break up with me. Any advice on letting go in this kind of situation, knowing we may never speak again? Thank you.

 

Nat’s Response

My heart hurts for you as it’s a painful and confusing situation that’s left you questioning what was real and what wasn’t.
I think that the first thing to clear up is that just because someone isn’t in touch with you, it doesn’t mean that they don’t care and that they never cared. There are plenty of people who keep in touch with their exes…. and it’s not because they actually care; it’s because they want to be in control, to get an ego stroke, to have someone in their back pocket as a rainy day option.
We have been socialised to believe that an ex keeping in touch is a sign of our worth… even if them being in our life is incredibly destructive.
You have to get clear on what it is that you want because you have to be careful of letting your ego dictate your actions and feelings.
And it is your ego that wants the validation of him being in touch.
But by your own admission, when he was in touch with you, and you attempted friendship, you couldn’t handle it. This means that expecting him to get in touch is like expecting that you should be experiencing the torment of being in the position of pining for someone you can’t have.
You couldn’t handle it, and he needed space. Odds are, he has some awareness that if he’s in touch with you, it’s going to open up a can of worms. I doubt he wants the responsibility of you feeling bad. Part of him would probably love the ego stroke of you still wanting him (it’s what us humans do), but he probably doesn’t want the guilt that comes with it. Often when people try to stay friends, it’s to reassure themselves that they are that special. It’s like, “Look, we can still stay friends. That makes one of us really mature and valuable and the other one less of a sh*t for finishing it”.
I guess what you have to ask yourself is this: Irrespective of the fact that things didn’t work out and that, yes, things did go too fast, did and do you believe him to be a decent person? Remember that someone can be decent and not available. Also, your relationship not working out doesn’t make him (or you) a “bad” person.
If the answer is yes, then although it’s still going to take a while to come to terms with the end of the relationship, you don’t villainise him and basically erase the history of your relationship. You were there too. You know whether you had a good time or not. You also know that no good will come of being in touch because it’s just confusing for both of you.
If the answer is no, so you don’t and never did think that he was a decent person, then you have your answer to why he isn’t in touch. If this is what you actually believe, then it’s not new information, so there’s no need to be beating you over the head with this idea that you always believed him and now have discovered that he’s a charlatan that lied about the whole thing.
You don’t know whether you will or won’t speak again. Most people don’t after a breakup. Sure, maybe they know they’ll be able to stalk each other on social media and the like, and maybe they know that there’s going to be a period of awkward texting, but most people don’t know if they’re actually going to speak again in a good way as friends. That’s not something you can force; it’s organic. Speaking again in a meaningful way is something that you can really only do once you’ve surrendered: stopped trying to be in control of the uncontrollable.
Keep your side of the street clean. That means keep it truthful and boundaried.
Totally understandable that you’re reeling over the loss of the relationship, but negative feelings are in response to untruths. 
So, identify what it is that you’re saying to and about you that’s extending your pain. How are you, as I put it, “making you special”? For example, all he’s done is not be in touch. That’s the facts. You’ve taken it to, He’s not in touch because I never mattered. It’s not him being out of touch that’s hurting you but what you’re saying about it. And, I get it. We all do it when we’re hurt and angry, but if you’re serious about moving forward and not being in so much pain, you have to start being more truthful with you.
Not being in touch is the best thing for you right now. Accept that. It’s what you wanted. You didn’t want the torment.

 

How far back do I go when investigating my past?

Having recently lost an ex who was a huge part of my life for many years (on and off for 11 years) and currently still going through ‘stuff’ with my child’s father I’ve been wondering –

How far back is it wise to ‘go’ in terms of what still needs to be processed/addressed vs what can be left in the past and considered ‘dealt with’?

Before the ex who recently passed away, I was in an abusive (mentally and physically) relationship. I went through therapy after that ended (which was no easy task, getting away or going through therapy after) and in some ways, it’s easiest for me to think of that as ‘dealt with’. But I’m now reflecting on how that relationship probably has influenced those that came after it. I don’t really want to go ‘back there’ but do I need to?

How far back do I need to go to move forward now?

Nat’s Response

I’m not a big believer in excavating everything, especially because life being the funny old thing that it is, it presents you with a variety of situations and relationships that bring old pain, fear and guilt to the surface so that you can heal grow and learn.

That’s the purpose of our relationships.

The unhealthy ones force us to confront painful aspects of our past, specifically misunderstandings that are shaping the way in which we think ourselves, life and relationships.

The healthy ones also force us to confront painful aspects of our past, albeit in different ways. We’re forced to grow up and evolve.

All relationships influence the others, particularly when there’s anything unresolved. What does that mean in real terms?

What did you come away from that relationship believing about relationships, life and you? There’s likely a mix of things that you already believed that were reinforced by this experience, and new beliefs that seeped in as a result of this relationship.

Think back to who you were when you started the relationship, and you will have a sense of what you believed about you and life then. Then think about where you were when you got out. It took a lot to get out, and never underestimate that. Not everyone does. It takes on average seven attempts.

The reason why it’s a good idea to evaluate what you believed as a result of this relationship is because that influences what you do next. If a part of you was/is still on some level looking for validation.

It’s also important to recognise the progression.

So, for example, I spoke to someone the other day and explained about the whole “relationships help us to heal, grow and learn”, resolving the past etc. She was like, “I feel as if I haven’t progressed”.

Guy #1 Married
Guy #2 Attached but pretending not be
Guy #3 Single but clinging tight to his bachelorhood, so he’s unavailable

Yes, they’re all pain in the backsides, but there’s a progression. Each relationship has forced her to clean up boundaries, to set standards, to get clear about what she wants, to address pain.

It’s the same thing for you.

In terms of “back there”, do the attached exercise “building detailed pattern profiles”. That should provide clues about why you have been in these relationships without having to go on a massive excavation.

Keep in mind, also, that depending on what you’re looking to avoid or get, that is what influences the type of relationship you’re in. People who are afraid of being trapped and who have given up on love often find themselves in an affair, for instance. If you gravitate to people who you put on a pedestal, who you treat like an authority, who remind you of a critical or exacting parent, who you prioritise chemistry etc. with, these can be big factors in being involved with an abusive or absent partner.

On a side note, I am happy to give you access to Break The Cycle, but I would do the exercise first and see what you come up with from there. It is deep work on Break The Cycle, but it’s quick in comparison to, say, years of therapy. The exercises get to the bottom of things in weeks.

I take off when I experience attraction. How can I overcome my fear of rejection?

Whenever I feel super attracted or feel a strong connection to a man or woman, I take off in the other direction, can’t look them in the eye, etc. I feel like I have my self-esteem in tow most the time now but are there any other practices that will help me overcome my fear of rejection and receive the love I crave?

Nat’s Response

It’s interesting that you use the term “crave” as that suggests like a yearning hunger, this sense of something missing that’s so valuable. The thing about craving something is that when you receive it or are in a situation that offers the prospect of receiving it, fear comes racing in. This is because when you desire something intensely, that makes it valuable, which makes it something that you can lose, which makes it something that has the potential to cause you pain through loss.

Your responses in these situations suggest that in those moments where you experience a strong attraction or connection, your defence mechanism kicks in.

Think back to your lessons on the subconscious: in your mental filing system, “strong connection” and “strong attraction” equal rejection and pain. They equal very specific experiences from the past that flag in your subconscious. They also, conversely, represent the possibility of love. This puts you between a rock and a hard place because you crave love possibly to the same degree that you fear it.

This means that in terms of moving forward, you need to be very mindful in any situation where you behave (or feel) in this way.

There’s a very good possibility that on a deeper level, you responding how you do is a form of protection, especially if you’ve tended to have blind spots around attraction and connection.

1) Recognise that, yes, you do want or even crave love, but that just because you see someone you fancy or experience a connection, it doesn’t mean that they’re the ones that you will experience it with. This takes a lot of pressure off.

It’s important to make this recognition and make you consciously aware of it in situations where you meet new people or feel the way that you do because you’re conflating connection and attraction with love. Although when you do give and receive love in the future, there will undoubtedly be connection and attraction, what you’re experiencing in the situation you outlined is, well, guesswork and assumptions. If you’ve ever believed you felt a connection or attraction with someone who turned out to be wrong for you, that’s because using a perceived connection or attraction as a marker for the “best candidate” doesn’t look too deeply into what you feel these about nor does it require experience with the person.

2) In situations where you behave in this way, get your bearings. So, check your surroundings, take a few deep breaths, force yourself to make the person real. Focus not on what you think you feel or assume, but what’s actually going on. Keep in mind that your behaviour isn’t actually “unusual”. Lots of people get all funny and behave contrary to their interest when they feel shy around a prospective mate. Remember that they are just another human and you are in as much of a position to reject them as they are you. That’s not because that should be your focus but more as a reminder that it’s a level playing field.

3) Become aware of the signs of your behaviour in #2, and go back and speak to the person or join the group conversation. Don’t task yourself with ascertaining whether there’s romantic interest and both sides and instead, just task yourself with being friendly. If it helps, break down the specific things that you do in these situations into steps, and choose something that you can do differently that affects the other steps. Remember, if you keep behaving in the same way, you send a message to your subconscious that this is the “correct” response.

4) Find out what you associate with attraction, strong connection, making eye contact and rejection and anything else that comes up for you in these situations. Use the clearing and releasing exercise in the foundational resources. This will help you understand what is coming up for you in these situations so that you can start letting go of and calming down that emotional charge.

How do I begin to view self-care differently (e.g. stop thinking I'm being selfish)?

I have real problems putting boundaries in place for my own self-care. So I keep giving and giving and feeling obligated until eventually I either get sick or lose my temper (or both). I hate the thought of people not having someone to confide in as I know how that feels and I feel guilty not being there for them. I don’t like to see people suffer even if they have been unkind towards me. How do I begin to view self-care differently (e.g. stop thinking I’m being selfish)? I know this comes from conditioning that only children are selfish, so it’s almost as if I have to prove I am not.

Nat’s Response

The thing about “being there” for people is that there’s a big difference between support, help, and, well, being a dumping ground.

That doesn’t mean necessarily that the person is going out of their way to treat you like a dumping ground, but if you treat you like a dumping ground, you wind up in the same place.

The thing about when we do things for others is knowing why we do what we do. In your case, you’re doing what is for all intents and purposes a good thing (being there for people) but for the wrong reasons and without regard for your own wellbeing.

That is what self-care is: regard for one’s own wellbeing, with the irony being that people who take care of themselves and so put themselves at the centre of their caring activity and respect their bandwidth, have even more to give to others.

Giving and obliged don’t go together. The correct term to use is that you keep sacrificing because you feel obliged. You feel as if you have to give you up to prove that you are not selfish and as a way to be there, but the fact that you feel resentful and frustrated and that you sometimes get sick, is a sign that you’re not only over your bandwidth but that you are doing things for the wrong reasons.

The answer isn’t to stop being there for people. The answer is to set parameters and to use your feelings as a way to guide your behaviour.

So, for example, I too like to be there for people but sometimes not listening to my own needs has meant that I don’t get what I need to get done at work, or that I’m frazzled, frustrated and resentful, or that I feel overloaded. I, like you, was always taught that not being there was “selfish” even though, ironically, those same people weren’t always there for me.

Now, I set boundaries with myself so that I can 1) honour my commitments to myself and 2) ensure that I am doing things for the right reasons.

This is important for you to take on board because the more you sacrifice you and breach your commitments to you (or even to, for instance, other priorities such as your job) is the worse you will feel is the more you will hear your inner critic.

Simple shifts in terms of “being there” is to call back or text when you are free, not immediately. So, let the call go to voicemail and see what they have to say or text when you are free and happy to, not when you’re feeling obliged to. Notice the difference.

Set a time limit for calls and big draining discussions. 10-15 minutes is more than enough. You can say at the start of the call, “I’m happy to chat, but just so you know, I’ve only got fifteen minutes as I’ve got an appointment/I’m on deadline.

Or, when it’s about 11-12 minutes in, you say, “Sorry to interrupt but I just realised the time. I’m going to have to go in a minute.”

Other things that work: I can’t talk right now but how about I give you a call at _______________.

They pour out whatever is going on with them, and you say: I’m really sorry to hear that. I hope you get it sorted out soon.

No offering solutions, no fixing.

If any of these people say certain things that are a flag that they’re being disrespectful, use these as your signal to end the conversation. “Oh, is that the time. Right, I’ve got to head off.”

If you give an explanation, make it short.

Work out 5 readymade excuses for getting off the phone, ending conversations etc.

It’s also reining in the ego: You’re not the only person they can confide in. A part of you is gaining value from making yourself needed in this way, but you’re not the only person they can confide in.

Do you confide in them? If not, it’s not an equitable relationship, and you’re behaving like a therapist. That’s not to say that it always has to be tit for tat, but it’s very telling if they’re always the ones confiding in you and you’re suffering. Who are you confiding in?

Think of the oxygen mask analogy: so you don’t put the masks on others first. You do you first.

As a mother, I take better care of my children when I take care of myself.

It’s the same thing for you and those around you. You will have more to give if you start taking care of you and you will not have to rely on ill health and losing your temper as an excuse to finally heed the warning.

Can two narcissists be together?

Can two narcissists be in a relationship (apart from borderline – narcissist what I see quite often)? In Germany, we have the concept of “co-narcissism” which is basically codependency, but assumes there is some hidden repressed narc tendencies (a concept I can’t follow).

Nat’s Response

Yes. Two self-obsessed people can undoubtedly be involved with one another. Some celebrities engage in this kind of stuff all the time. We just won’t be aware of all of the attention-seeking and competing that goes on behind the scenes.

You see it as well with two people who get involved and don’t seem to care who they take down with them, so they’re so obsessed with themselves and obsessed with how the other person is making them look (enhanced status or whatever) that they don’t care who they hurt on the way.

Narcissists also draw in people who have what I refer to as “inverted narcissism”.

Narcissists have delusions of grandeur that basically have them believing that they’re at the centre of the universe and better than everyone else. Also, they think they’re outwitting everyone. This version of a big ego hides their very fragile self-esteem.

But people who are drawn to narcissists are trying to catch self-worth, are trying to catch what some of the narcissist has going on. They have delusions of grandeur too but in the opposite direction: so believing that they are at the centre of things, yes, but believing that everything is about them not being “good enough” and their fault. You refer to “hidden narc tendencies”, and I think if anything, it’s that people with who get involved with narcissists are often people pleasers who sacrifice themselves to get what they want and on some level, they would like to be like the narcissist, but their pleaser side wouldn’t let them.

Keep in mind that everyone on the planet can behave narcissistically, but it doesn’t actually make them a narcissist. All we have to do is look at how we behave when we’re criticised or perceive a rejection. “You can’t criticise me!” our outrage says or “They shouldn’t have rejected me because I __________”. If we behave like this all the time, then, yes, we have issues with narcissism, but most people come down from these ways of thinking and get rooted in their values.

There are plenty of people who become narcissistically inclined also quite simply because they’re emotionally unavailable. Again, doesn’t make them narcissists but it does mean that they will get involved in codependent involvements where they will, even if they don’t realise it, treat people like a means to an end.

So, yes, to answer your original question, two narcissists (so actual ones) can be in a relationship, but they do tend to gravitate to situations where they can have the upper hand and feast on the adoration of someone who isn’t a narcissist.

What are my feelings telling me?

This month I am waiting on the travel company I want to work for, my cousin works for them too and is keeping me posted. I feel, as my parents feel, we are done with our business. It does excellent, my brother only wants to keep it out of fear because he doesn’t know what else to do. He absolutely drives me nuts. I tell my mom I can’t ever get close to him because he’s still a 40-year-old child! My mom told him to close cabinets the other day, and he started cursing and saying things. I said “Are you NUTS? Don’t speak to her that way just because you don’t like correction. Move out!” He’s like you don’t even work, you barely work. I said don’t revert your bullshit to the store because you have issues. Every time it’s a fight he tells me I don’t work. I’m so over putting him down. I just block him for the time being. I don’t really work with him either. I can’t stand to be around or even talk to him. So close-minded and childish, does annoying things I tell him to stop doing ALL the time but I guess he LOVES my attention and me bitching at him, small things such as snapping and clapping all damn day. Dude, shut up, stop snapping and clapping and other dumb stuff. He’s like oh sorry are you mad? I’m like why can’t I have a normal brother like my other brother! I CAN’T WAIT to get another job and be awayyyyy from him. What do you think?

Nat’s Response

Congratulations on creating clear and healthy boundaries!

First of all, you do work, and you have worked. Your brother says that crap because he always has to peddle the story that it’s “poor poor me who has to do all of the work of the family and save your asses” when in actual fact, he would not have been able to do what he’s done without your family. He likes to be the victim, but he also likes to look like he’s the authoritarian rescuer who knows best. He then ruins this image by having a meltdown that even a teenager would be embarrassed to be caught doing.

He says that you “don’t work” because he wants to wind you up, and sometimes you take the bait.

If you’re not actually working together, he also doesn’t get to see what you’re doing but also doesn’t have control. And that’s what your brother always wants with you: control. He seems to think he’s your husband and that you have dysfunctional marriage together and, guess what? While he’s treating you in this way, he doesn’t have to face the fact that he is avoiding getting married. That’s why he’s all up in your life.

The less involvement you have with him, the better.

And you do have a “normal brother” – the other one.

Your brother is human first and foremost, and so you keep expecting him to finally behave differently to how he’s trained you to expect him to be. He’s an unhappy person who will not be able to hide out in his parents’ business anymore. If he actually goes and gets a job, he might experience a rude awakening. People might say to him that he doesn’t actually do that much work and that he has more bark than bite.

So, for you, you’ve got to stop looking for validation. If he wants to curse out your mother and she wants to let him, bite your tongue. All you and Michael are doing is reinforcing this idea that 1) your parents aren’t in charge of themselves and 2) that you are big children when you’re not.

A part of you would love Michael to give you acknowledgement for who you are and what you do. His personality means that he prefers the power of withholding it and knowing that it gets on your nerves.

Get a job, go do your thing. One day you will start your own business too. He’ll probably want to involve himself as well (don’t let him!).

Do you know what else? I’d say he’s afraid of all of the change and not being in control. Having these petty fights with you is like one last ditch effort to cling to a power he never had in the first place.

And maybe you’re nervous about the change too and so playing along with him so that you don’t have to face your feelings of discomfort.

I’m excited for you as you embark on this next phase. You will be OK.

And remember: be the adult woman, not the little sister.

 

 

How to avoid crossing paths with an ex?

While I suspected that my ex rekindled with his ex-wife, he has recently become active in attending events through a mutual meetup group. We met through that meetup group many years ago. I find it triggering to see him signing up to events that I am interested in attending. I have been avoiding those that he is attending. I have joined other groups as well, but this particular one suits my interest the best. I am wondering whether this is a healthy way of approaching this? I do not wish to cross path with him ever again.

Nat’s Response

Ah, your ex. So…. him.

I think if you have decided not to cross paths with him again, certainly in any way that you don’t have to (i.e. the group), then you are handling things correctly. Obviously, you will not be able to control “everything”, but certainly in terms of this group, you don’t have to see him if you don’t want to. My only concern with this is that you don’t know if he’s actually attending these groups. For all you know, he’s just saying that he’s going along to them so that you don’t. However, that’s neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things. You have every right not to want to see him and to be fair, if you did go, how much would you enjoy it?

I think it’s critical to remember that this was an abusive relationship and I don’t think spending time with him needs to be a priority for you. If you feel that being around him is too much for you, that you just want to move forward, what is unhealthy about that? Isn’t it self-preservation?

I think you need to accept that much as you like this group, that you’ve reached the end of the road with this one as long as he’s in it. This is important because if you keep going back and forth about this group, you’re re-triggering you and maintaining angst and emotional connection. It doesn’t mean that he’s “won”; you can’t be in that group and be happy at the same time, so it’s really a no-go.

Keep joining other groups.

 

How do I deal with self aborbed person I live with? I have a good deal and don't want to move!

My flatmate owns our flat but she is married and also lives with her husband miles away. She works partly in London and so is at our flat 2-3 days a week usually and occasional weekend/bank holidays with her husband.

Generally, they are nice people. But she constantly talks about herself. She doesn’t seem to notice if I’m in a hurry to. Me just going to the fridge for one thing turns into a long conversation. She doesn’t pick up signals that I need to go and do something or go to the loo even when I start walking away she just keeps talking. She is also mostly not interested in my life or my news. Or if she is she will then relate it to her life. If I say I’m doing X, she will have done it, or her friend or family member will have and doesn’t ask me about what I’M doing.
I avoid her. I make myself scarce. I will go to the cinema or theatre or meet a friend. Avoiding her feels passive aggressive and childish. But I feel drained by her and also invisible while listening to her talk.

I often run into this type of person. She is similar to flatmates in my last 2 house shares but mostly my sister I lived with for years. I know the baggage behind it) but need advice and what to do or say in this situation.

Nat’s Response

Someone who is self-involved in the way that you say that she is doesn’t pick up hints, and so you will have to take a firmer, more decisive stance with her so that you 1) don’t get hijacked and 2) don’t feel trapped in a merry-go-round of the same situation again and again.

You have established that you like your flat, that you have a good deal and that you don’t want to move. This means that you must create the boundaries needed to keep on enjoying it and be less caught up in trying to appeal to a side of her (empathy) that isn’t very strong in her. It isn’t passive aggressive to go out: it’s self-preservation.

Make a list of the typical scenarios that happen and look at where you can halt or avoid them altogether.

Going to the fridge: She starts talking. “Sorry to cut you off but I really can’t chat right now as I’m on a deadline (or whatever). I’ll catch up with you later.”

OR “I’m only here for a second grabbing something from the fridge” and keep moving moving moving towards your room.

OR Talk the head off her first. Ramble on with your own big story!

Set a time limit. Put a clock in the kitchen that you can see when you go in there. Note the time when she starts talking, and after ten minutes: Sorry to cut you off but I need to get back to work (or whatever). Good to see you” and move away to whatever you’re doing.

“I’m busting to go to the bathroom, and I’ve just realised that we’ve been talking for X minutes. I’m gonna have to go”.

Never wait for her to agree!

Avoiding her or making yourself scarce isn’t passive-aggressive: it’s self-preservation.

If you balance that with actually speaking up instead of waiting for her to notice your discomfort or to ask about you, you will feel less funny about doing your own thing.

Stop being a listener. She is your landlord. A quick, polite chat is all that’s needed. You have been and done more than enough, and you have to be careful of inadvertently putting you in the position of not only playing this role but getting to feel a certain way around this type of person. What do you get to console yourself about each time you engage with her? At least I’m not __________________. What do you get to reassure you about? Well, at least I know that I’m _____________ unlike her who is __________. You might unwittingly be making you feel superior by basically letting her make a tit of herself week after week.

Earlier in life, you were your sister’s audience, but that’s not a role you have to continue with.

Write a list of 5 ready-made excuses and learn them off by heart as you use them over the coming weeks.

Remember also that there’s positive and negative reinforcement. If each time you end the conversation when it gets super self-involved, or she takes no interest in you, she will stop rabbiting on. I know this because I have done this with my mother and she’s now so aware of it that she actually points out that she is being self-involved. I’m not saying that your landlord will do this, but what I am saying is that you do have a say in what you do and don’t put up with.

September 2018

How do you put into practice taking a step back in a friendship?

I need to take a step back or even end a friendship because I feel I am making all the effort and the friend always takes and rarely gives.

I have been working on boundaries and have identified why I get into this type of friendship and am making progress to accept that I need to take responsibility for my side of the friendship. However, I don’t know how to take the practical steps of distancing myself from this person.

How do I overcome the feeling of giving the good but rare aspects of the friendship more credit than the frequent bad times when for example my friend ignores messages and treats me like an acquaintance.

I have tried spending less time with this friend but keep resorting back to socialing and the cycle continues. I feel guilty whenever we socialise and I can’t explain why, I spend the day after analysing the friendship and it’s not until the day after that the guilt and analysing subsides.

The insights I have into boundaries and people pleasing are changing my outlook but I am struggling to take steps to distance myself from the friendship.

Thanks for any clarity you can share.

Nat’s Response

There’s a fundamental truth in your email that represents what you need to do and why, including acknowledging both sides of the street.
“I need to take a step back or even end a friendship because I feel I am making all the effort and the friend always takes and rarely gives.”
You need to either step back or end the friendship.
You believe that you are making all of the effort.
You believe that your friend is a taker and that she only occasionally reciprocates.
This means the following:
Your friendship is imbalanced with poor boundaries on both sides. Even though you making “all the effort” for all intents and purposes seems well-intentioned it is at 1) the expense of your wellbeing and 2) the expense of the friendship.
You cannot expect to feel good about yourself when you treat you like someone who is of low value.
As a fellow member eloquently explained it yesterday, you are treating her like she’s at a premium. I’d feel pretty crappy about myself if I thought that this is how I had to be have in order to be a friend. Every time you have behaved this way, it has fed the way that you feel today — resentful. You are like a pressure cooker (pictured) that has been left on the hob for too long, and you are ready to erupt.
pressure cooker on the hob
If you always have to give, especially at Energizer Bunny levels, the other person is always going to look like the taker.
How do you overcome the feeling of giving the good but rare aspects of the friendship more credit than the frequent bad times?
Recognise and accept this truth: You mentioned that she “rarely gives”, but, you see, on those occasions when she does give, this is registered in your mind as a long overdue reward for your effort. It’s validation of something.
So you’re not actually giving the good but rare aspects of the friendship credit — after being in this cycle of The Giver Who Is Rarely Acknowledged or Validated, you’re not sure what to do with yourself.
It’s also critical to acknowledge this: What you describe is not a friendship by any stretch of the imagination. It sounds a little torturous, but it also sounds a dynamic reminiscent of one created in childhood with family (working hard for the affections, attentions, validation etc of an oblivious/unresponsive/cruel parent) or with a toxic friendship (working hard for the affections, attentions, validation etc of an oblivious/unresponsive/cruel friend or sibling who you have never gotten over that rejection from).
There is also, as is the nature of life, something being mirrored to you that has been missed in the focus of feeling away about what you are doing:
This ‘friend’ is dropping hints. She has been for however long this situation has been going on.
Occasionally, your efforts activate her conscience and so she throws you a little attention.
But after feeling guilty, one tends to feel crappy and resentful. And so the cycle of her distancing herself from you starts up again.
You, I imagine, feel guilty after socialising, because you’re doing you wrong, but you’re also continuing to socialise with somebody with whom you have a great deal of resentment towards. It might be that on some level you’re aware that you do not have to do any of the things that you’ve done, and that whether it’s her or anyone else, no friend owes you for not knowing your own boundaries.
And it’s hard, because I’ve been in your shoes, but unless you are prepared to give not sacrifice in this friendship, so only do what you want to do not what you feel obliged to do, and only giving without any expectation of how she is supposed to perform in return, you have no choice but to stop.
Next steps
Get absolutely clear on what you feel your efforts are.
“I have tried spending less time with this friend but keep resorting back to socialising”
In order for you to socialise with her, she has to socialise with you, so some effort is being made. You are not socialising in a vacuum.
So you need to write down ‘all the things’ (list them) and beside each one, what were you expecting her to do back? What does she do instead?
Also, beside each item, ask the question: Is it an irrefutable fact that this is what makes me (or anyone) a good friend?
What is it that you want from her?
 
You want something. And what you want is something very specific, so try to dig deep into what it is that you want her to give, be or do for you. What is it that you want her to validate? What are you trying to prove? What is it that you want her to notice? What is it that she has that you want so much? And there has to be something otherwise you wouldn’t keep opting into the cycle.
This could be one of those situations where you want A and so all you look for is A because you’re focusing on what you’ve done to get it, but maybe she’s giving you M.
Whatever it is that you want from her, it’s your job to give it to you. Read the attached guide about emotional needs.
Respect the sweet spot (if there is one) of the relationship
 
What are those “rare” aspects of the friendship? Is it possible to enjoy those without all the other efforts?
Also, your efforts are a sunk cost (the cost of getting involved that cannot be recouped). Sure, you’ve put in too much, but you can only speak for the efforts that you’re making now. http://www.baggagereclaim.co.uk/weve-got-to-stop-trying-to-recoup-our-sunk-costs-in-our-relationships/
Be intentional
Before you agree to hang out with her or anyone, know your intentions.
If you’re hanging out with her without an agenda, and basically all you want to do is have fun, cool.
If you’re hanging out to escape certain feelings (guilt about distancing yourself, frustration about something or someone else), or you’re trying to get something from her again, halt.
We just got engaged, but he doesn't seem to want to involve his parents in our joy

I met a guy three months ago, ten years younger than me, and we are deeply in love. I’ve asked him to be my fiancé in August, he was so happy, and I proposed the date of the 7th October to get our families together that date for the engagement. He met my parents, and I met theirs but, despite the fact that he says he wants to get engaged, I notice that he doesn’t talk about that to its parents. I notice that his parents always have something to say about age, religion, we don’t live together… He saw them twice and still doesn’t talk about that date to them. He always says that he’s OK to be my fiancé just together alone with no family and we could then celebrate later with them. Moreover, I hope I’m not pregnant this month.

Nat’s Response

Wow, that’s a lot going on! Congratulations on your engagement! Suspecting you might be pregnant is a good time to get a sense of your feelings about such a possibility becoming a reality whether it’s this month or in the future.

On to the main subject at hand:

It is clear to me that as part of the discovery of getting to know each other, you haven’t maybe both reached the deeper point of discussion about parental relationships. You’re judging his behaviour based on what you are doing with your family, but his relationship with his family might be entirely different. If you knew him better in this area, you would know why he is reticent about broaching this subject with them. Or, you would straight up ask.

Now, if you are serious about your intentions about getting married, these instances where you lack in information, or you need to understand how to move forward, are a call for an intimate discussion. Yes, it does mean getting vulnerable, but if you’re planning to marry someone, that’s a pre-requisite, so you need to be prepared to have the awkward discussions. You’re supposed to be on the same team, and you quite simply cannot support each other or grow your relationship to deeper levels if you stay in the honeymoon phase of newness. You have both said that you want to make a major commitment to each other three months into the relationship, so you have a duty of care to each of you and your future marriage to do the work of understanding your core values and having these discussions.

It sounds like you have proposed this idea of both sets of parents meeting on the 7th, and that he has gone along with it to please you.

I imagine that he’s somewhat wary of his opinionated parents. Age, religion, not living together? They clearly have a lot to say.

It may well be that he is not someone who has deep discussions with his parents or who wants them involved in his life. My friend’s sister her in-laws at her wedding. They’d already had two children together and been going out for over a decade when that happened.

I’m not saying that’s what his situation is, but maybe it’s time to register that you don’t know all there is to know about him, and this is an opportunity to talk.

I’ve noticed these last couple of times that you’ve seen/spoken to your parents since we got engaged that you haven’t mentioned the date I suggested for both sets of parents to meet up. I recognise that I just assumed that this is something that you would want your parents to do, and that in the joy of us getting engaged, that you may have just gone along with my suggestion and not wanted to burst my bubble. Obviously, if I’ve misunderstood something, tell me, but if I am interpreting things correctly, let’s talk about it.

Also, he has sort of (hinting) told you what the deal is:

He does not want to celebrate with his family.

So you could also say:

I recognise that I’m the one who suggested that our parents meet on the 7th to celebrate our engagement, but your reticence about telling them this date and telling me that you’d rather we’re alone and that we celebrate at a later date is giving me the impression that you are uncomfortable about something.

Fact is, it’s only you that wants to celebrate with your parents, and you need to discuss that with him and understand his reasons without judging him for it.

You’ve been together for a relatively short period of time, and maybe there’s a part of him that just wants to get some more foundation underneath both of your feet.

Talk to him. Calmly. Remember that you’re supposed to be both on the same team: team relationship.

 

The line between enabling and offering support

I have a dear friend who for the past year and a half has been spending most of her free time hanging out with this guy. They are friends with benefits; they aren’t dating. He has told her monogamous relationships aren’t for him, my friend is a monogamist relationship type of girl. She talks about him often, but it is almost always negative, which I have pointed out to her. For example, We never do what I want to do. He just expects me to be available. He tells me I am rude when I am being assertive etc. I have never met him, so I only know him through her lens. I told her I thought she might be addicted to their relationship dynamics as opposed to being truly interested in him. Recently he stopped talking to her for a few days right after they’d been intimate. She was gutted, and I told her maybe this is an opportunity to get a little distance from the situation and she agreed. Then he texted her, and she was back at the ready. I told her I was concerned. I was a little preachy, meaning I went on at length – which wasn’t my best moment but I feel like she isn’t hearing me, doesn’t want to listen to me or doesn’t like what she is hearing from me. When she is with this guy, it’s like she isn’t good enough, when she most certainly is and then some! She is a lovely human being worthy of respect, love and admiration. It feels like it’s okay for her to talk negatively about him but if I join in, it feels like she withdraws from our friendship. Recently she told me that at times my language can be invalidating. I explained that I was sorry, but I really wasn’t trying to make her feel that way I just have had a lot going on, and I would try to be more conscientious. My dad passed away two months ago. I want to be a supportive friend. I don’t want to see her hurt. On my end, I feel like all of this is putting a strain on our friendship. I feel like I have to mind my P’s and Q’s re him all the time. I have been trying to be supportive after she told me how I made her feel but am I encouraging her to continue investing in him when I do so? I just want her to be happy. I would be grateful for any advice or insight. Thank you so much for your work. I adore your podcasts and am glad you are back. I start my morning off with you most days.

Nat’s Response

I think it’s important to acknowledge something: you have experienced a recent loss. I’m sorry that you lost your father. I admire your desire to be a supportive friend (I went through a similar situation to yours when my father passed away last year), but I think that what you need is 1) to be a supportive friend to yourself and 2) to allow others to be a supportive friend to you, whether that’s her or anyone else.

It is hard to watch a friend do something that decimates their self-worth. As an outsider, you can see what’s going on, and you want to jump in there and fix it for them. They’re so in it that they don’t have the objectivity to see what’s going on, and maybe after having been in this situation before, you’re trying to protect her.

Your friend wants to complain about her situation (vent), but she doesn’t want anything to change at this time. She might feel that she wants a relationship, but her actions say otherwise. At some point over the last couple of years or so, she has shut down and lost sight of who she is and her worth. She might be with this guy precisely because she’s afraid of her purpose and potential. She might be afraid of actually being in a committed relationship. If she’s been very hurt by the previous relationship, she’s seeking validation in this one. Basically, she’s procrastinating in this relationship.

This situation reminds me of when people complain about their job for months or even years on end (we have a friend that did it for ten years), and then when you try to suggest things that they could do, or you ask them why they don’t leave the job, they look offended, or they tell you about how hard it is to get a job or whatever.

Your friend isn’t interested in the truth, and, ironically, she sees your language as “invalidating” while being invalidated by the man she insists on continuing with.

Quite simply, she’s in denial, and you can’t force her to see the truth any quicker than she wants to.

Step back, and avoid playing the role of The Agony Aunt or Super Supportive Friend. That doesn’t mean that you have to step back from the friendship, but it does mean that you need to mind your own business.

The best thing you can say when she brings up this guy, and his latest shittiness is:

I’m sorry to hear that. I hope it gets resolved soon.

OR

I’m sorry to hear that. {and then change the subject}

OR

That must be hard. I hope that things improve soon.

OR

Yes, that is [whatever term she used to describe it]. So, what are you thinking about doing?

Offer no advice.

Don’t be surly about it.

She’s trying so hard to cling to the fantasy, including ignoring her behaviour that your comments are seen as a threat to that, no matter how well-meaning. You become ‘the persecutor’ when really, you’re not.

You’re becoming the enemy of their fantasy relationship.

Sometimes–and believe me I’ve learned this from many of my own relationships especially due to my line of work—the best thing to be a supportive friend is to say nothing.

Whatever veneer she’s putting on things, she’s judging the hell out of herself and will see any well-meaning advice as more judgement.

This doesn’t mean that you are supporting her investment in him — that’s up to her. Her choices are her own. Some friends make dodgy relationship choices that defy our perception of them. We feel like it says something about our choices or about our ability to be a friend. They don’t.

And if it’s too much:

I’m sorry that you felt that I was invalidating you with my comments. That was absolutely never my intention. You are one of my closest friends, and it’s been hard to watch you over these last eighteen months in this relationship. Yes, I haven’t met him, but I’ve been taking you at your word when you vent about him {insert no more than three examples}. I mistook your venting as a desire for advice, and you mistook my advice for judgement. I swear I am not judging you, but in the interests of not upsetting you and being mindful of my own stuff that I have going on, I’m not going to comment about him anymore. It doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in what’s going on with you, but it’s hard after 18 months of the venting but not wanting to do anything or venting and going back.

And take care of yourself. Don’t let her drama cycle overtake your very real need to take care of you and be present to your grief.

 

 

Crumbs...why am I still eating them?!?

Currently looping around in a situation I know is feeding me crumbs… yet I’m still here (after 6 years on and off, up and down, around and around) eating them! We have a child together, and I do still love him, even though and regardless of him not being here fully for me or my/our child. I can’t seem to stop holding on to the hope of him being who I thought he was, not who he is :/

Wonder if it’s the hope/fantasy of getting to happily ever after that’s maintaining this crumbs diet? How to let go of the hope of giving my child a 2 parent family unit with her father and also the man I love? Don’t think I want to let go of hope (because surely I would have during the last 3 years since our child was born and he did a runner when I was 6 months prego!) Sometimes I do then he hooks me right back in…and I let him… and somehow his crumbs (including declarations of love but with no actions to really show it) feed my hope. Is it ok to sometimes hold on to hope in seemingly hopeless situations where only glimmers of real love are shown? Is hope a coping mechanism in a messy situation? Do crumbs ever return to meals when initially we were at a banquet?

I do know I deserve more and better, but I still want that from him, damn it :/

Nat’s Response

In your fantasy, you meet the love of your life, you become pregnant, you have a wonderful pregnancy together, he’s there at the birth, you enjoy this wonderful experience of parenthood together, including the highs and lows, and you live happily ever after. You wanted and want to give your child everything, and in your mind, that means two parents, not one.

The truth is, prior to you becoming pregnant, you accepted crumbs from this guy. Like lots of women in this situation, you thought that this would be the thing that makes him step up, and instead, he abandoned you during your pregnancy, which must have been an incredibly vulnerable time for you.

He hasn’t just abandoned you; he’s also abandoned your child.

You could have broken up and had him show up as your child’s father. Even if someone doesn’t make a good partner, they can, if it’s their inclination and desire, be a good father, and some people do far better at the latter than they do at the former.

For the sake of your child, you have to make a judgment call:

You have to accept that he’s not going to be the partner that you want so that you can redefine your relationship, protect your wellbeing, and be there as much as possible for your child. It is possible, but not guaranteed, that if you step back and stop pursuing the fantasy and so remove any agenda, that after a while he will step up and be a father.

Or, if he is not prepared to be a father to his child under any circumstances, for the sake of both you and your child, let him go.

Having two parents is an ideal, not a requirement.

It is better to have one loving, supportive, nurturing parent than to have two parents who are behaving dysfunctionally with each other or even towards the child and creating confusion.

As your child gets older, they will need steady and consistent messages and boundaries so that they can make sense of their world. Uncertainty about what is going on between you and the father, or picking up on the tensions and strain caused by you being in upheaval about him due to subsisting on his crumbs has an impact.

The thing about subsisting on crumbs is that it’s a vicious cycle. You accept the crumbs, and it sets the standard. It becomes like one of those lab experiments where they throw the piece of cheese in at random intervals. Your brain starts to work out that it might not be on the 5th or 20th try, but at some point, your ex will spit out a ‘reward’ and give you a little bit of crumbs.

While doing this though, you’re not loving you, and you’re creating the wrong impression, inadvertently reinforcing the idea that 1) you don’t want a serious relationship and that 2) he has reasons to ‘justify’ why he can behave as he does.

On some level, he reasoned before the pregnancy that if you wanted a serious relationship and were looking for genuine love, you wouldn’t give him the time of day.

His abandonment should have been the watershed moment, but now him remaining in your life in this crumb capacity and mistreating your child in the process is raising the question of just exactly how badly does he have to behave before you tell him to take a run and jump?

Very occasionally, he throws you a few crumbs because he has a moment of clarity where he realises that he’s behaving badly. He responds to that, throws you the crumbs and then resents you for activating his conscience however briefly and even blames you for why he acts as he does.

He is how he is, not because you haven’t earned the right to him behaving better, but because this is how he is.

Each time you accept crumbs, you are setting your standard below love, care, trust and respect.

You look to him like any woman who puts up with his BS, not future partner or spouse material.

You might be inadvertently validating any twisted notions he has about women. If, for example, your actions towards him trigger similar feelings that he has towards his mother who enables his behaviour or manipulates him, you are then in a mother role with him instead of being girlfriend or partner.

So, to answer your question, this isn’t a love situation.

He’s not showing you glimmers of love — he’s being really disrespectful, and you put up with it because you think that it will eventually lead to you getting what you want.

You holding on to hope prevents you from moving forward and risking being vulnerable with a new partner, a better partner. A part of you has been afraid since you met him about being genuinely open to a loving partner. A part of you doesn’t feel as if you deserve a loving partner, or you do feel as if you deserve it but don’t think it’s going to be possible.

Hope is also your way of avoiding having to accept the pain of how he has treated you and your child. Letting go means accepting how things are, what he’s done — and that will bring up much-needed grief including some other pain from the past, but it will also set you free.

You’re forgetting how much you have to give your child and that they are a gift regardless of what he does.

And no, crumbs don’t become a loaf.

He's interested, I'm not, but we have to see each other at church. How do I enforce my boundaries correctlY?

I met a man a couple weeks ago one night in my church group. Next morning he messaged me through group chat to get my number. I know nothing about him yet, just that I’ll be seeing him for rest of year in these groups.

Off the bat, I already know my family wouldn’t accept him due to his race and not sure I would want to because now that I’m single I’m keeping ALL options open. Says he hasn’t felt a connection with a woman in a long time, I make him laugh, loves to be around me etc… I did tell him it’s just going to be friends and don’t fall for me. He stated he won’t contact as much so that he doesn’t fall for me. I told him, “Sure, no problem” but that he’s welcome to contact me. I only saw him once so far because I went on vacation and I know I’ll be seeing him more.

He wants to truly get to know me while I’m half and half due to family and, of course, because I barely know him and want to keep my options open. What can I do for this situation since me cutting him off is not an option and don’t think that’s really necessary as I have many guy friends?

 

Nat’s Response

Straight off the bat, this guy seems infatuated and fast.

What did you do in the church group? An all-night performance that dominated the group? A comedy show?

And isn’t it interesting that he’s claiming this immense connection that you’re not a party to?

He’s moving way too fast. I don’t doubt that you’re fabulous, but he’s not being sincere.

I know it’s flattering when someone seems so enamoured with you without even knowing a great deal about you, but it doesn’t bode well, and it’s affecting his boundaries (and yours).

You’re not interested in him.

He can get to know you when you’re at the church group, and he doesn’t need to message you privately.

If you have to warn someone not to fall for you, that implies what the boundaries are.

Work out your own phrasing, but you need to hit on the points in here:

I’m flattered that you’re interested, but I don’t feel the connection that you do. I’m more than happy to connect at the church group, but I don’t want to pursue anything romantic or mislead or confuse you around friendship, so let’s keep contact to within the group. I really value attending church group(s), and so I recognise the need for me to start as I mean to go on. If, as I get to know you better in the group, we forge a genuine friendship free of any romantic agenda, then obviously the nature of our contact may change at that time.

I think you need to get clear on what you’re doing here.

You can keep your options open without keeping him as an option.

You already have a number of objections to being in a relationship with him, so you’ve already made up your mind. This is OK, but he is not interested in friendship, and you have to decide if it’s worth collecting attention from him for some of the aggravation that will follow.

He is not your friend. He is, at best, an acquaintance. Your boundaries need to reflect this.

Is this amount of brain expenditure and boundary organisation reflective of the nature of your relationship?

Let me repeat: He is not your friend. You are not his friend. You are acquaintances. You need to take time to build a friendship, but the truth is, he is not interested in a friendship and is hoping that you will change your mind. This situation is no different from when people fast-forward to an intense relationship and make out that it’s more serious than it is.

You also have to be careful of doing that thing that many women dislike men doing:

Saying you’re not interested, telling him not to get too invested, continuing to engage and being passive about the potential consequences because you’ve pre-warned him.

But if you have many guy acquaintances, crack on. If not, stop bumping him up to the position of friend.

Good luck!

How do you recognise and verbalise how you feel when you aren't sure how you feel?

I learnt to hide my feelings because it wasn’t safe to express them/I wasn’t allowed to have an opinion and even if I did I was shouted down and/or ignored/told to stop being sensitive/what have you got to cry about etc and so I have almost lost touch with my feelings. I have numbed them with food and spending. Even when someone safe asks me how I feel, I can’t explain it.

Nat’s Response

Recognising your feelings starts with keeping a feelings diary where you effectively answer the question of, How am I doing today?
There’s a guide for keeping one of these in the foundational resources and its a surprisingly effective practice that only needs to take a few minutes a day.
I would also recommend reading the Recognising Feelings Guide which breaks down a range of feelings and helps you to decipher your emotions.
Next is to become aware of how you feel when you are doing something you enjoy and saying yes to something in a positive way — that enthusiastic consent that we talked about.
Where do you feel it? Make a note of how it feels. Now you have an idea of what happy and yes feel like.
Next, think of two to three examples of things that have annoyed/stressed you.
Think about each one individually for 20-30 seconds. Where do you feel it and how does it feel?
So, if I think of something that recently stressed me out, I felt a tense sensation in my stomach and felt a vague anxious feeling in my chest.
The reason why you do these tasks is because it’s difficult for you to articulate something that you haven’t given you permission to articulate to yourself.
Other things that you can try are:
Acknowledge ‘negative’ feelings such as irritation, anger, frustration etc. Accept the feelings by just acknowledging their presence without judging them or expecting you to do something. Let them pass by like rain (or a storm) cloud.
To depersonalise it and make it less stressful, say, ‘Helena is feeling irritated because such-and-such didn’t say excuse me’ instead of ‘I am irritated’. I heard somewhere that studies have shown that speaking about our emotions in the third person helps us to get grounded and is less triggering. We also realise that we are not our emotions.
If you’re not sure what you’re feeling, just describe it or give it your own name. 
Keeping a Feelings Diary helps you to get context.
For instance, if you didn’t know what you were feeling, but you knew that you were feeling ‘jittery’ or ‘shaky’ or that your ‘mind was racing’, you could make a note of what was happening. Next time you feel this way, you will say ‘jittery’ or whatever, and notice what is going on. You will gradually start to pick up on a pattern. You will notice who or what sets it off.
Notice what you’re doing to give you clues. 
Obviously, we all need to eat and spend money on certain things, but if you’re eating certain things or having a sudden urge to spend, use these as clues.
For instance, I know that when my husband or I start mainlining sugar, it’s because we’re stressed. I notice it with my husband before he does.

 

You can then acknowledge the source of the stress.
Example: A sudden urge to eat the contents of the biscuit tin might be part of a pattern feeling angry with a particular person.
A sudden urge to spend might follow something happening that made you feel neglected.
I’ve also attached an exercise that I created years ago for a course that might come in handy.
Oh, and talk back to your inner critic if it pipes up about you being too sensitive. “No, I’m not. I’m just expressing my emotions like your average human. Back off.”
Hope this has been good food for thought to get you started off.

 

How do I get to a place where I am happy and fulfilled with being on my own?

I’ve been broken up with my ex for almost a year now. Lately, I’ve been feeling extremely lonely and discouraged. I broke up with him for a number of reasons, but ultimately, I feel that I deserve a better relationship that is an equal partnership. Through the breakup, I lost a lot of friends (we used to hang out with many other couples), and I’ve recently had a falling out with a good friend that I spent much time with. I haven’t been on any dates, am discouraged by online dating, and just feel lonely on the nights and the weekends if I have no plans, which happens a lot lately. How do I get to a place where I am happy and fulfilled with being on my own most of the time?

Nat’s Response

As it approaches a year since the breakup, there’s a shift in your grief. It’s as if once this year passes, there are no more firsts to deal with, but also, I think that everything just seems so much more real. There can be a sense of finality about things, and as much as it is the right decision, the letting go that comes with it, especially as you pass out that one-year mark, can feel very scary.

It’s like, ‘Well, it’s OK to have felt how I did over this past year and to have not done XYZ because I was trying to get over the relationship, but once it passes a year, I won’t be able to use this as a reason for why I’m doing or not doing something. There will be this expectation that I put myself back out there, and that’s bloody scary. What if I get hurt all over again?’

You haven’t just had to grieve the loss of the relationship — the mutual friends that you hung out with have fallen by the wayside, and you’ve fallen out with a close friend. That’s a lot of loss and so with it, a lot of change. I don’t blame you for feeling a bit (or a lot) funny about it all.

Getting to a place of being happy in your own company takes time and experience.

Having done the same thing myself — gone through a breakup and No Contact, stopped hanging around with certain people and also stopped doing the whole going to clubs on a Friday and Saturday hoping that my husband was there, left me with a lot of time on my hands.

Initially, I was very critical of myself.

What kind of loser stays in at the weekend?
You’re not going to meet the love of your life staying at home!
Look at the state of you chilling in your knickers watching telly. Get a grip!

Initially, I didn’t enjoy it that much. Or at least I sucked the enjoyment out of it by shaming me about staying in, but also, my thoughts were very busy initially.

And then I made it a choice because if you stay in because you’ve condemned you to be a ‘lonely loser’ or as the purgatory for whatever you feel went wrong in the past, you will feel very crappy about being in your own company.

It takes time to figure out how to enjoy yourself. It takes time to just relax.

And after a while, I surprised myself by not only looking forward to weekends doing nothing but what I wanted to do, but also, on those occasions when I did, for instance, have a date, wishing I was doing my own thing.

There is an underlying belief that you’re supposed to have plans every week. Why? Because you’re single? Because that’s what ‘worthy’ people do?

This expectation will burn you out and force you to do things for the wrong reasons.

Loneliness is an emotional state that’s caused by feeling emotionally disconnected due to not sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings with 1) close people in your life and 2) yourself.

So although it’s not going to remedy your social life immediately, part of relieving the loneliness is feeling your feelings, but also opening yourself up to speak to people. Sure, that friend isn’t around, but there are other people that you can talk to, plus there are things that you can do socially that will open you up to meeting new people.

What were the things you stopped doing while you were in the relationship? What have you always intended or wanted to do but been caught up in other things? Do that.

And the thing about loneliness is that we double down on the loneliness feelings because of loneliness habits we’re unaware of, so become aware of specific things that you’re thinking or doing that bring up those feelings, as well as recognising where you might be inadvertently avoiding social interactions or being closed off. In this way, you catch yourself and stop the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Getting to a place of being happy in your own company takes time and experience. You get there one day at a time, one step at a time. It’s not a destination — it just creeps up on you.

Check out 100 Days of Baggage Reclaim in the foundational resources as well.

How to talk to family members who label my assertiveness and truth telling "aggressive"?

My mother and sister play “victim” roles in our family dynamic and both of them are anxious people who prefer to live in denial and shut out the truth.

I know I can’t change them, but I’d like tips on how to be able to talk with them honestly and express feelings of resentment or anger without being labelled “aggressive” and being made to feel like I’m the bad guy just for being assertive and voicing my feelings.

I don’t shout, slam doors, throw things or lose my temper like my Dad, but my Mum often calls me “angry” or “aggressive” or “sharp” and gets upset or refuses to listen when I simply tell truths she doesn’t want to hear. Ironically, her doing this actually does make me feel angry inside because I resent having to walk on eggshells and feeling silenced.

My sister is paranoid and will accuse me of being angry when I’m not at all and can twist the most innocent thing I say into a perceived “attack” on her, then play the victim.

So most of the time I avoid speaking out, but when I really need to, how should I go about it?

Nat’s Response

I think that there’s a little confusion around boundaries and speaking your truth.
If you feel resentful, that’s not something that you need to express to them. Resentment is a sign that you have breached your boundaries in some way. Yes, it is a form of anger, but it’s the type of anger that only results from doing things for the wrong reasons. That means that you expressing your resentment to them would have the purpose of them saying or doing something in return that is supposed to relieve your discomfort. That’s supposed to make you feel better about the situation.
But resentment exists because you have crossed your line — emotionally, mentally, physically or spiritually — by doing things not because you want to but because you think you have to, or acting a certain way because you think it’s how you have to, not because it’s who you are, and then feeling infuriated with them when they do not change.
Getting mad at people for being exactly who they have repeatedly shown themselves to be is a futile exercise that flags a boundary issue.
Google the Karpman drama triangle.
You are understandably frustrated with your mother and sister because if they could just be a bit more positive or strive to do things differently, they would be less anxious etc. But you’re also frustrated because you see them as victims, you don’t believe that all of their concerns are legitimate, you feel under-supported by them, and you have been through your own traumas and you don’t spend your time behaving like they do.
But you are getting into a vicious cycle of being strong (rescuer) while they stick to the victim roles.
You then feel resentful that they are still victims and that you have to be strong, so you now feel victimised and they become your persecutors.
You then express your anger at them being an anxious and victimising mother and sister who continue to do so, so you become cast as their persecutor.
You feel hurt at being cast as their persecutor so you then become their victim. And round and round you go.
As long as you are comparing yourself to your dad and rationalising how your anger manifests itself, you will not be able to have a clear view of who you are or your anger.
You and are not your father (and vice versa).
When we define an aspect of ourselves through comparison to someone else, it creates a massive blind spot.
No, you are not behaving like your father but you are still angry. This means that like any human, not all expressions of your anger are appropriate and that even when they are appropriate, the other person might still take umbrage at it.
If you are going to base your anger on trying to elicit the perfect reaction out of your mother and sister, you will be blue in the face or choking with anger before that happens.
Your mother and sister react poorly to ALL anger, and are angry themselves.
“Mum often calls me ‘angry’ or ‘aggressive’ or ‘sharp’…” This is your mother expressing anger.
“My sister is paranoid and will accuse me of being angry when I’m not at all and can twist the most innocent thing I say into a perceived “attack” on her…” This is also her display of anger.
And because you are all in this cycle, when it comes to anger, each of you is the victim because if you read back what you’ve written or consider your perception of things, you see you as the victim — being ganged upon by this tag team of passive-aggressives.
You ask how to speak up:
“simply tell truths she doesn’t want to hear” No one, and I do literally mean no one, “simply” tells truths to people. It is not simple. You’re trying to make her to see your point of view and to cosign to your truth when you have strong awareness that she is not amenable to it.
And I get it because why should you be silent just because they are. But make sure that each and every time you choose to speak up, that you are owning and cleaning up the behaviour on your side, and that you say your piece and drop it. Make your point and move on, and take responsibility for making you feel better about the situation, because you have to own the thoughts and actions that you consciously respond with after your mother say or do something.
Don’t get into a discussion about it. Don’t try to get them to co-sign to your truth. State the issue calmly – letting them know — and then move on.
And stick to being factual with your sister.
If you’re not angry, just say you’re not, smile and move on.

 

How do I stop ruminating about my ex going back to his ex?

One of the reasons that led me to break up with my ex was his refusal to cut regular contact with his younger ex-wife which his family is very fond off.  I recently found out from a mutual group that the ex-wife had a baby not long after I broke up with my ex. I couldn’t help but imagined that my ex got back with her soon after (or possibly even before) our breakup. I know these are probably all in my head but I couldn’t help but felt betrayed on the possibility that he cheated on me. Any advice as to how I can move on and stop thinking about this?

Nat’s Response

The thing that’s critical in this situation is to distinguish intuition from fear or ego.
There’s the fear that you were treated on, but not the fact. You’re also afraid that you’re going to be hurt again and that you’re not good enough.
There can also be an intuitive sense that maybe he wasn’t as truthful with you as he tried to bully you into believing.
And then there’s ego, which is a symptom of fear, not the cause of fear, that wants to make you feel ‘special’ albeit in the wrong way and that represents thoughts and behaviour that are about blaming and shaming you to protect you from whatever you’re afraid of. Ego is how you behave in response to the fear when it’s not in a way that is helpful to you.
Fact is, if he has done what you fear or intuit (or even hope) he’s done, it would be just another in a long line of betrayals. It fits his pattern of thinking and behaviour.
And he would never own up to it unless he thought that it was advantageous to do so. To admit that he has done what he’s done would mean that he would have to recognise all of the other shittiness. And so it’s like he doesn’t want to give away any ‘points’.
Many moons ago, I walked out on my ex-fiance.
There were a lot of things that were wrong with the relationship, and I had my suspicions that he was playing away, although that wasn’t even the primary reason for leaving as he always lead me to believe that I was melodramatic and difficult.
Two weeks after I moved out, I went to pick up some stuff from the apartment and checked the voicemail. There were 7 messages of which 6 were for me. His message was from a woman letting him know that her flight had just landed and that she would try him on his mobile. It was just after 5am and it was just days after I walked out on him and a few days before he cried in front of me at how I’d hurt him. When I went ballistic and told him what I’d discovered, he called me a “psycho” and said that I’d made it all up. I felt like a fool. I started to wonder if I’d imagined the whole thing.
Less than one year later, my friend whose husband was his friend, bumped into him at a party. He was trying to pretend that he wasn’t with this woman. My friend made it a point to introduce herself to her, which is when the woman revealed that they (her and him), had just celebrated their one-year anniversary. I left him on June 1st and their anniversary was something like June 2nd or 3rd.
Now maybe he did miraculously find a new woman or reconnect with an old flame within 24-48 hours, or maybe, as I suspected (and now know), he did cheat, but that’s by the by. It’s just one in a long line of things.
It was the wrong relationship. It was in fact a bad relationship. I accepted treatment in that relationship that no woman, no person should put up with, and I had poor standards and sometimes behaved like a child. If I wasn’t so desperate to get settled and avoid my own feelings, I wouldn’t have given him the steam off my pee never mind the time of day.
I tell you this story in the hopes that you can try to recognise your own experience.
If anything, it should be a relief that your suspicions were confirmed. In one fell swoop, regardless of when it started, he has proven that you were right to be concerned about the contact with his ex who his parents seemed to like so much. It was not in your imagination.
Why would you focus on this as being the betrayal when there were so many things that came before that?
It’s like kidding yourself that he was/is better than he was/is.
And you don’t know that he cheated on you. You don’t. You can suspect it, but what does it matter?
It is your ego that wants to know if he cheated, not your true self. Your ego wants to be in control. Your ego wants to have something over you.
Whatever he has done with her is not a reflection of you; it is a reflection of him and her. There was clearly unfinished business.
This is a relationship where you betrayed yourself repeatedly in an effort to hold on to him. And the worst thing you could do right now is betray you even further by using this discovery as a reason to 1) beat you up and 2) avoid moving on.
What difference does it really make that you now know this? Yes, it’s shitty what he’s done (if he did it), but if you feel bad it’s not because of what he’s done but what you’re saying to and about you in response to this.
You don’t have control over your feelings. You do have control over your thoughts and actions.
So you have to make a conscious choice to be truthful with you. It’s OK to be angry. I was. Plenty of others would be. What isn’t cool is to shame and berate you. It’s not cool to put your life on hold. That wouldn’t be him causing any of those things; it would be you.
And you can help but feel betrayed about “the possibility” because you are choosing to act as if it is true without actual knowledge, but you’re also being selective, and you have to ask yourself why, at this time, would you choose to focus on this betrayal when there’s so many? Find the hidden motivation so that you don’t go down the rabbit hole.
You will be afraid of something (like moving on).
Interrupt the thoughts. Every time you catch them, redirect them. Tell yourself, “No, I’m not engaging.”

 

My sister cut me off after I got divorced: How do I deal with this?

I’ve been on this self-healing journey now a number of years. Lots of growth, reflection, discernment, and finding more authenticity. I’ve found acceptance in the end of my marriage chapter. With sadness, I’ve come to terms with the many losses – the dreams of my ideal family w/ husband & kids, missing my ex-in-laws (flawed and dysfunctional as they were), and the friends tied with my ex. Despite my introvertedness/avoidant style, I’ve worked to make new friends and find a tribe and connections. But I was unprepared for the fallout of rejection by my only sibling sister. Since the divorce, I am shunned, the pariah. No holiday invites, there is an emotional wall that’s impenetrable. She’s a hardcore perfectionist, in a codependent marriage herself. It used to feel like a friendship where you don’t see them for a while and then once talking, the bond remains. Post-divorce we had one weekend together -lots of fun, but she shared her work to save her marriage after multiple infidelities. I understand why she would stay -there would be immediate losses. No one would know this from the Instagram feed and hashtags. Maybe she’s cut me off because I represent failure even though I’m more at peace and happier than ever. How do I tolerate a fake relationship of pleasantries? How do I stand in my truth? It feels like I turned my back on living in a cult of dysfunction and misogyny. And now I have no family of origin.

Nat’s Response

It’s painful when we feel as if we’ve been unceremoniously dropped by somebody, so I understand your upset, especially as she’s your sister and it’s another changing dynamic that you’ve had to deal with.

Where it all gets a bit confusing though is this notion that it’s because she thinks you failed. What the what now?

Why do you think that you represent failure? Isn’t that both at once a judgement and condemnation of you both?

You have instinctively (or maybe chosen) to assume that your sister’s behaviour is a judgement about you, that she sees you as a failure. Why?

Marie, it’s incredibly hard to be in a painful marriage. You know this as well as anyone.

Your sister is grappling with numerous infidelities and has chosen to remain in the marriage. It must be burning at her soul.

Has it not occurred to you that it must be very hard for your sister to be around you when she would love to be as brave as you are? When she would love to be imperfect and happy?

Why must this be a competition?
Why must it be about failure?
Why must it be about her doing something to you with the intention of being a horrible person?

And it is about a competition because how you perceive the situation reveals competitiveness that exists between you both. When you think of what you or others are doing in ‘success’ and ‘failure’ terms and read their personal struggles and actions as a judgment of you, that’s the competition speaking. It’s also about making you feel ‘special’, albeit in a painful way — ‘I’m a failure because I didn’t continue a difficult marriage’.

Your sister must be in deep pain.

You call her a “hardcore perfectionist in a codependent marriage”.

Your sister is a perfectionist because she is in pain.

Her life is anything but perfect, but she insists on trying to present this image to the world, all while trying to rescue a marriage that has suffered numerous betrayals.

She must be absolutely devastated, and she is undoubtedly blaming herself and wondering why she is not ‘enough’ for this insatiable man. Shame drives perfectionism, so imagine how ashamed she must be to be stuck in this situation.

In judging you, you have revealed that you are also judging her.

This situation is not about winning or losing, succeeding or failing. You are sisters, and sure, in an ideal world, you’d have the relationship you dream of with her, but you’re expecting her to be different to who she is.

If she is grappling with her own internal struggles as well as a toxic marriage, exactly where do you expect her to find the bandwidth to be around you when she will undoubtedly compare herself?

Everyone has their struggle.

Sometimes we are not honest with ourselves about the nature of our relationships.

You talk about how you used to be like friends you hardly see, but the bond remains.

Now that you are not seeing her, it’s like resentments that got covered up by the old style of your relationship have flared up.

All you need to do is love your sister in spite of the fact that she’s a hardcore perfectionist in a codependent marriage where she is trying to rescue her marriage after numerous infidelities.

All you need to do is love her in spite of the fact that she’s not able to be the sister you desire.

All you need to do is love her in spite of the fact that like a lot of people, she presents a happier image on social media than what’s behind the scenes. But if she wants to fake happiness while you’re actually being happy, that’s her prerogative.

You live and let live. Her life doesn’t invalidate yours, no more than yours invalidates hers.

You’re sisters. Just because you’ve turned your back on misogyny and dysfunction, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have family or origin. They’re still your family of origin, you’ve just chosen to mind your own business and live your life.

You can be true to yourself without judging others. That doesn’t mean that you can’t acknowledge who and what people are about — you just don’t need to condemn them, especially because they’re more than adept at that themselves and have, are and will experience the natural consequences of their ways.

You’re not turning your back on your family by living your life and making different choices — you’re contributing to the healing of your family and breaking the cycle for present and future generations.

I'm 6 months pregnant and I'm hoping that the father will become involved when she arrives

I have been in a sometimes beautiful and sometimes crushingly painful relationship for the past 3 years with a man who struggles with emotional availability. In May I discovered I was pregnant, and am now 6 months along. My decision to keep the baby (I am 41, and he is 43) was a given, however, he feels like I took away control of his life by making what he calls a “unilateral” decision. I decided it’s best to stop trying to get him to come around that this could be wonderful, and we have broken up. He is not sure how much or if he wants to be involved. He is an incredibly tender person, and I can’t see him not participating, but I suppose I will have to wait. He is the love of my life, and I don’t know how I’ll ever come to accept this loss and/or give up the hope that he will be moved to be with us once she is here. Please help.

Nat’s Response

First of all, congratulations on your pregnancy.

This is a time of mixed emotions even when you don’t have a situation like yours factored into it. It’s critical not to try to solve the whole world as there’s something about being pregnant that makes you want to try to figure out everything until the nth of time. You want to give everything to your little girl (amazing!), and you also want to protect her. This isn’t the way that you saw having children, but it’s the way things are. Your daughter is a wonderful gift regardless of the fact that things are pretty uncertain about yours and her future with him. That is undoubtedly difficult to wrap your head around as you have been together for three years, albeit in what has been sometimes very painful ways.

The thing is, what’s best for your daughter may be different from your vision of things. He is able, if he wants to be, to be a father to his daughter whether he goes on to have a relationship with you or not. This means that you will need to decipher your position on this because otherwise, you may end up making moves to engage him thinking that it’s about her when it’s about, potentially, you finally being able to win him over.

And it will be hard if he opts to be a father but not your partner, but it’s important to recognise that someone who doesn’t make the greatest partner in the world can be a decent father if given half a chance. The wonderful thing about children is that they’re very giving and adore you despite your imperfections so it may feel less threatening to his sense of control of the world to have a relationship with her. But that will be hard for you initially (if this is what comes to pass) because there will be that sense of rejection even though that’s not what it is about. He hadn’t been available before the pregnancy, and that was always down to his personal issues.

You clearly love and care about this man a great deal, but right now, your priority has to be you and her.

You haven’t taken away control of his life; he never had control of it in the first place.

And if he was that concerned about the possibility of becoming a father, the onus was on him to take care of his side of the street.

One of the things that’s important to recognise is that pregnancy for a father is different for a mother. It’s all pretty abstract right now. He doesn’t know what it feels like to carry her, and if he’s anything like the average man who finds out about becoming a father regardless of how pleased they might be about the news, he is 1) thinking about practical things or 2) unable to picture himself as a father because, well, he has no experience of being a father and is terrified of intimacy.

I would not push him right now, and so you have made the right decision in breaking up. You wouldn’t like yourself if you continued and it would put a great deal of strain on things.

If he comes to you and your daughter, you want it to be because he wants to not because he was coerced or guilted into it. And it’s horrible at times, quite frankly, because it would be lovely to have his support, but you can’t force someone to cough up emotions that they’re suppressing or clinging on tightly too as if it’s their last penny.

I don’t know that you have to accept that he will not participate, but you do have to accept that how you saw things unfolding in your mind is not the way it will be. You also have to accept him for who he is so that you respect him as well as you and your daughter. There may be wonderful things about him, but there are very specific things and many actions that have led to this outcome. Given the context of your relationship of which only you (and him) know the content of, the situation you are both in now is the culmination of a set of thoughts, feelings and actions. He may be tender, he may be other things, but what he isn’t is emotionally available.

Yes, it is possible that this situation might be the equivalent of someone getting run over (or some other life-altering event) and having a come to Jesus moment. But it’s also very possible that it won’t be.

You will both find a way through this, and from now on, irrespective of what goes on between you both, it’s about what’s in her best interests.

You are excited about her, and he has mixed emotions. That’s not yours or her fault— that’s who he is, so his backstory, qualities, characteristics, resources etc. His own experiences as a child, his sense of self, how worthy he feels of this, are all coming into play, so he, if he uses this time wisely and that is entirely down to him, needs to reconcile himself with his past and the things that contribute to how he shows up in his relationships. That is not something you can suggest to him, though. Leave him to it.

Draw on your network. Don’t make him the focal point. I’m not saying cut him out, but step back and notice people in your life who are willing to be there for you.

A couple of years ago, I counselled a woman who found herself as a single mother. It wasn’t her plan. She grieved for who she’d hoped she’d be as well as for the relationship and for the father he wasn’t. One day, as she stood in the pool with her daughter with her three closest friends sat on the benches watching the swimming lesson, it hit her about what we’d been talking about: sometimes life doesn’t look like how we thought it should; it looks different and better. She cried as she realised that she was surrounded and supported.

Even if it all works out between you, you need to start building your network and letting you receive support. No, it’s not going to cancel out the uncertainty and hurt, but it sure will help you to feel safer and secure.

 

Moving on from the blindside of my breakup

My boyfriend of 6 months just broke up with me. I was blindsided. We had an intense relationship that moved quickly. He had been separated from a 16-year marriage/20 year relationship for a year and was in the process of getting a divorce. I was fresh out of a breakup with a boyfriend I was living with. We are both single parents (he has 4 kids, I have 2). I resisted getting involved at first, but it felt good to be so wanted. So it took off quickly. We spent nearly every day together, either talking or seeing each other. Had a lot of fun. Got along well. Could talk to him about anything. His divorce went through. I met his kids, he met mine, but things stopped there. We continued being in a relationship (he called me his girlfriend, in front of friends and coworkers, said he loved me), but it didn’t feel like it was progressing. At one point we broke up but the next day got back together. Trust was damaged. He didn’t want me to meet his family but wanted to meet mine. Didn’t want to get close to my kids or me to his, but said he could see it working. Continued to see each other almost every day. But I started getting the feeling that he wasn’t as into it. I wasn’t very happy either. He assured me everything was fine, he was still committed. I couldn’t shake the feeling. He kept reassuring me, then abruptly broke up. We wanted to remain friends and kept seeing each other, but he grew more distant, and I couldn’t handle it emotionally. He said he wanted to take a week break from talking, which we’re in the middle of. My question is…can we ever be friends? Should I wait for him to contact me or walk away and block him? What were the red flags or things I should have paid attention to so I can avoid them next time? Thank you!

Nat’s Response

I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been blindsided with a breakup. Well, blindsided but in many ways prepped for it by the behaviour that led up to it. I’ll be honest, friendship is unlikely at this point. Maybe further down the road when there’s distance between what’s happened and you no longer desire a relationship with him, but not now. The truth is, you don’t know this man very well. It feels like you do, but you’re on the comedown of a whirlwind. Right now, you not only have the pain of the loss of this relationship, but also the grief from the previous relationship that you never got to handle because you swiftly moved into this relationship. It is nice to be wanted, but the stage was set for where you are now in the way that your relationship started. Intensity isn’t the same as intimacy, and so intensity is a red flag in and of itself. It’s like both of you put yourselves on fast-forward because you were on the run from your previous relationships and wanted to feel in love again. See this post: https://www.baggagereclaim.co.uk/intensity-isnt-the-same-as-intimacy/ He was one year out of a 20-year relationship that included 16 years of marriage. That’s no crime, but your first instinct sounds like it was the correct one: you resisted getting involved. The fact that you proceeded because “it felt so good to be wanted” also gives a clue as to some of the red flags. He was pursuing you. He seemed to be more into you. It’s possible, and I’m just guessing here, that whatever resistance you expressed whether verbally or through actions, was disregarded by him. That is a problem because it points to a boundary issue. Things are also bound to be intense when there’s that sense that somebody wants you, badly. You both spent as much time as possible together, and this is often symptomatic of the honeymoon phase, but when mixed with intensity, it means that you’re highly likely to disregard very real concerns because, well, you’re high on things. You trust the intensity despite not having known each other for that long, and next thing you’re meeting kids and he yours and feeling as if you’re living the fairy tale where you exit out of one relationship and seamlessly land with the love of your life. The fact that things stalled once the divorce went through is telling. It’s very possible that now that the divorce was real, an internal panic alarm went off because there was suddenly the weight of expectations (that he’d gone some way to create) about your relationship with him. He appeared to be saying and doing the right things but the intimacy was missing, and in fact, the landmarks of healthy relationships were missing: commitment, consistency, progression, intimacy and balance. The intimacy was missing because intensity and romance are simulated intimacy. (see the cheat sheet) Also look at the ‘relationships in a nutshell attachment. It sounds like your relationship was at stage 2 but maybe felt like you were at stage 1. You have known that something isn’t right for quite some time. Do the maths on the situation, keeping in mind that you’ve only known him for 6 months. Work out how long you’ve had a funny feeling for and work out the percentage. It’s not supposed to be like that in what is a relatively short relationship in the grander scheme of things. It’s understandable wanting to remain friends because it stops you from each having a clean break and processing the loss, but it will be incredibly confusing to you, especially because the odds are that the very same behaviour that caused you to feel uncertain and after a while, distrusting, are the very same behaviours that will manifest in the friendship. You only, at this point, need to block him if you don’t feel that there can be clear boundaries between you both. Yes, he may have been the one to start out intensely, but you both created the intense relationship, so you need to decide whether based on what you know of him, whether he can respect your boundaries. If not, then it answers the question of whether you can both be friends in the future and whether you should remain in contact. For now, it’s not so much about blocking and more about clear boundaries: I know we both said that we want to be friends, but right now I need some space to come to terms with the end of our relationship, something I won’t be able to do if we’re in touch. I’m going to stop replying to texts (or whatever the contact is). Take care, and maybe we can touch base in a few months time if we’re both in a different space.

August 2018

How do I maintain relationships with mutual friends after a big falling out with someone?

I recently had a huge fight with my best friend. She is single and leads a promiscuous lifestyle and ending up hooking up with my ex’s best friend.  I told her I was uncomfortable with her continuing to talk to this guy and she said she understood and wouldn’t because she didn’t really care one way or another about him.  Later, I found out she was still talking/texting him and asked if there was anything else she wasn’t telling me, and she ended up telling me that this guy told her that he “thought” my ex was cheating on me at one point. I got pretty angry and gave her an earful. Regardless of what my ex did or didn’t do, I had higher standards for her as my best friend.  I feel she acted selfishly and prioritized getting attention over our friendship.  Now, she is mad at me she because I “yelled” at her and my trust was broken in a BIG way so we don’t speak any more.  We have many mutual friends and I don’t want to avoid hanging out with them, but I don’t really want to be around her either.  How should I handle going forward?

Nat’s Response

One of the things I sense between you and your friend is judgement. Your opinion of her lifestyle might be something that’s more recent given the fallout, or it might be how you have always felt to some degree. When there is this underlying tension in a friendship—this almost gritting your teeth and going along with how they live while hoping that they do better or feeling as if you’re trying to lead a better example—a clash is inevitable. The reason why you both clashed is a question of boundaries. It wasn’t just that she slept with your ex’s best friend, effectively inviting the ‘energy’ of that past involvement into the present — she lied to you about remaining in contact with this guy and then proceeded to disclose information about your past relationship that you clearly did not want to be resurrected. Your friend is free to sleep with whoever she pleases, even if that might be more people than you feel is maybe ‘appropriate’. And, if she wants to get involved with your ex’s friend, that’s also her prerogative… but it’s fair to say that the two things (your friendship and her involvement) don’t mix. I suspect that your friend has some curiosity about your ex as well as his circle based on whatever she became privy to in your friendship where you undoubtedly confided in her about your ex. Without question, it’s a spoken (and unspoken) code in friendship that you don’t chat about your friend with their ex (or their circle). What you have to recognise here though is that even though you may have pushed the thought down, on some level, you knew that she was capable of this but hoped, maybe based on the fact that you had continued to be her friend or specific things that you had done for her, that she wouldn’t do it. She is free to be sexually liberal, and so I also suspect that while what she does is outside of the ‘norm’ of what you would be comfortable with, that the real issue is around her boundaries and some of the dramas or insensitivities that come with it. Given that, for instance, she does hook up with people on the regular, her hooking up with your ex’s best friend isn’t really that much of a surprise — you just hoped that she would make an exception. I think that the way to proceed here is to acknowledge how you really feel about your friend, even if it’s discomforting to recognise some of those judgements. Keep in mind that we’re all only human and all guilty of judging at times. But acknowledge the state of play of your friendship before this involvement. What bothered you? What were you feeling resentful about? Where were you rescuing her or settling for less than what you need? Where were you maybe hoping that she would learn from your example? Is there any ill feeling about her now getting to be in proximity to your ex? Are you mad at her for telling you something that you’d rather not have known? Try to decipher your anger. Her sleeping with this man is the straw that broke the donkey’s back, not everything. Acknowledging the above is so that you can let go of the situation, forgive yourself and move forward with self-care. It’s OK for her to be mad at you for yelling at her, just like it’s OK for you to be mad at her for breaking your trust and handling the situation so immaturely. She might not see anything wrong with what she did, and she can only learn as she goes forward as she is bound to run into further problems with that similar line of thinking. Don’t talk about her to your mutual friends. If they ask about it, tell them that you don’t want to put them in the middle or make them feel as if they want to take sides. You can admit that she broke your trust and that, yes, you did yell, but leave it at that. You can be civil when there’s a group function so just say hi and move on to another person in the group. If she tries to broach the subject, just say “Not here” or “It’s OK. We don’t need to talk about it”. Good luck. And remember: most people would have had a thing or two to say about that situation. Don’t beat yourself up for getting angry.

I have now identified masculine energy within myself, but how do I ensure it's healthy?

I recently had a breakthrough under hypnosis when I became aware of the masculine aspect of myself. I think I always had it but only became aware of it now. In the past I was afraid of it and suppressed it. This part of myself is tenacious, fiery, hard, confident, swaggering, high adrenaline, competitive and at times angry. It’s like I have a little Silverthorn living inside me, in my abs, although I’m not a violent criminal like he was! But I think the Silverthorn crush was partly about qualities I subconsciously wished to have in myself. I have always envied the ‘invincible’ slightly scary vibe tough, strong men have because as a woman I hate feeling vulnerable. I think this part of me exists to protect me, and now I’m growing more confident and less people pleasing that side of me is coming out more because he wants to get what he feels is ‘owed’ to him. How can I integrate this aspect into my personality in a healthy way without becoming like an angry man and losing control (like Silverthorn or my father)?

Nat’s Response

This is a great insight that you’ve had. As you say, it’s always existed, it’s just that now you see it. It’s like if someone didn’t know the colour red and then they found out what it is — they suddenly notice everything red. This knowledge, this power has always been there, but it’s been hidden out of view. You’ve been given clues and insight through imagery and language. It’s important also to note that women have been socialised to play down and reject ‘masculine’ aspects just as men have been socialised to reject or play down feminine aspects. In truth, we’re all a mix and tapping into these aspects is the key to being more of who we are. It’s individual and personal to each person, and sometimes we don’t even have to call it feminine or masculine, and it’s just who we are. Everything has light and shade. Those qualities you describe are not entirely negative. They have a light side to them too. It’s too great a leap, for instance, to feel that because you have abs and those Silverthorn qualities that you are similar. It’s an archetype that helps you to understand you and your life. Jung posited archetypes as something that’s existed in the collective unconsciousness. Like a primal mental image that allows us to understand an aspect of our nature of why we do what we do. Sometimes that archetype also helps us to understand who we need to be or what we need to do at this particular moment of our life. Archetypes aren’t cut and dried, so you’re not pure Silverthorn. It’s just one aspect of you. I think if you have a dig through enough films and books you will see that a character like Silverthorn is flawed (obviously) but also has his vulnerabilities. If you’ve ever read the Alex Cross books by James Patterson or watched 24, you see this in play, to the point where for me I was like, ‘What the frick is up with these guys?’ (In a good way, mostly). The reason why Alex got on my nerves is that he is presented as invincible and the person to solve these unsolvable crimes by psychopaths, and yet he can’t choose a woman to save his life. But what every single one of these characters fictional or otherwise possesses, is something or a lot of things they’re vulnerable about. No one’s interested in invincible people. It’s a nice idea but fake. People might appear invincible but pay enough attention, and they quite clearly are not. Everyone has their struggle. And you already have, are and will be integrating it into your personality. If anything, you have to be careful of overcompensating for what you perceive to be ‘negative’. In order to lose your shit with people, you need to have pent-up anger that turns into rage, or that certainly results in inappropriate displays of anger. If you consistently feel your feelings and address issues as and when they come up (obviously the appropriate ones as opposed to feeling that every battle has to be fought), then you don’t have the eruptions. It’s also not making the mistake of believing that you’re the only person who can save the world, or save a situation. That’s where people run into problems — assuming they know best and having an almost kamikaze-esque attitude to life. It’s also recognising that you’re not Silverthorn or your father; you’re you. When I found out that I was pregnant with a girl, I worried I would be like my mother. Sometimes when they get on my nerves, I wonder if I will go crazy at them like her. I don’t. We’re totally different people in entirely different circumstances. I can have enough compassion for myself and her to distance myself from that and acknowledge the differences. Even if I do tell of my kids, it doesn’t mean I’m a terrible mother, and it doesn’t make me ‘like her’. So just be careful of almost simplifying things too much. Get to know Silverthorn a bit more and put side prejudices or preconceptions. Try to notice what you hadn’t before. But most of all, recognise your own strengths.

How to get out of stuck in every life area?

After having successfully ended a very painful on- and off-affair and implemented no contact once and for all, I feel I am really struggling to get on with my life, both concerning my private life and my job. It’s not that I feel sad or desperate because this affair ended. But I feel stuck in those areas and even though I have been really, really unhappy with my job for several YEARS to the point I thought I could not work there even one more day, I really fear applying for new jobs as I am very afraid that I will fail in a new job and that I am not qualified enough, even though I have been offered two jobs recently. Even though I have taken new courses to expand my knowledge in my professional area, it never feels good enough and secure enough for me to take the next step and find a new job. I am 34 now and people my age are having babies and families and seem to get on with their lives pretty well. Recently my younger brother became a father and even though I am happy for both him and his wife, I feel somehow sad and strange whenever we meet. Whenever I compare myself with the people around me, I feel like a complete failure as I seem so stuck where I am at. I don’t really know what I want or what I am able to do, both job-related and with regard to a relationship. I feel stuck when it comes to dating as well – my last serious relationship ended 2 years ago and I have – except for the man I talked about in several sessions – not even once started to date since I fear dating the “wrong men” or repeating the same patterns again. What bothers me most is the feeling of having no direction, no goals and of, somehow, being unable to take any action. Do you have any suggestions how I can handle this?

Nat’s Response

I think it’s fairly safe to say that 34-year-olds are doing other things besides having babies and settling down. Where you’re at is precisely where you’re supposed to be at. This is your path, your life and given where you’re at, it’s clear that you’re not ‘supposed’ to be cradling a baby and married at this precise moment. It’s all very well noting that you are not doing these things and beating yourself up for it, but you’re doing the equivalent of waking up after years of, for example, travelling, spending whatever money you have on experiences etc and then looking around and seeing that some people own property at your age or have a big-ass job or whatever, and then beating yourself up about not having a house. It’s all very well deciding that this is something you want to do, but if you’ve just lived your life one way that involved you spending your money, you can’t expect to magic a mortgage out of thin air. Similarly, you don’t spend the previous two years caught up in an affair and a protracted breakup and then wonder why you don’t have a baby or a husband. That doesn’t make sense. If having a baby or a husband right now had been your priority, the past couple of years’ choices would have been different. Now that you’re not consumed by your ex and what he’s doing or not doing, you’ve switched your focus to diminishing you and your life. When you were afraid of being truly available, you were in an affair. Now that that’s ended, you still have a fear of getting things wrong, so you’ve started analysing your job, dating etc. Aren’t you being rather impatient with yourself? Can’t you give yourself a hot minute and deal with one thing at a time? The thing about hating something for so long is that hating it in and of itself is a security blanket. You get to complain about the boyfriend or the job or whatever it is without actually having to do anything. Then, of course, when you go to do it, suddenly you wonder if you’re mad, whether you have ideas above your station about your capabilities. Fact is, you don’t need to find the perfect job right now. You need to leave the job you’ve hated for several years and take a step or series of steps through getting a new job so that you can listen, tweak and refine as you go. It is too much pressure to find the perfect job after being in the sucky job. Make a note of all of the things you hated about your job. List everything. Now reword them into positives that you will be looking for in a position. Also, keep in mind that the things you hate about your job tell you about your path including your values. If you hate the fact that people are secretive and dog eat dog, connection and collaboration along with integrity etc., are clearly important to you. If you felt trapped by being hovered over, maybe you need to work in a position that offers more autonomy. Take the clues from what you hated. And anything specific that you disliked in others points to where you need to address that within you. So if it got on your nerves that someone was narcissistic, look at where you are making things all about you. If it got on your nerves that no one seemed to listen to you, pay attention to where you’re not listening to you. Get the book Pivot by Janet Blake. And you do have a direction — your values. Check out the values class in the foundation resources. Your values help you to steer your ship. I think you also need to acknowledge that you don’t know — and that is OK. You’re not supposed to know everything, and now you can pay attention to what life is trying to show you. You have a fresh start. That is not a negative. And clearly, you are employable. Take a job. Ask more questions if in doubt about any of the job offers. Starting somewhere new is always nerve-wracking, but things aren’t going to change if you stay where you are. People don’t hire you expecting you to know everything. Be teachable.

Is outgrowing friendships normal?

Many new insights/eye-openers. Felt under much pressure & smothered by a great friend, learned I don’t communicate well, kept it all in & let it fester. When I’m single she tells me I’m MIA; when I’m in relationship she tells me I fall off face of earth & drop friends — she’s the only one complaining. When I’m healing, I feel rushed, like I can’t be me & do me. I don’t heal like her just because she has kids & has to keep moving forward. She’s the same one that told me to go follow Alan when he was out with his boys to make sure only after dating Alan for 1 month & I had no suspicion. Her love & protection is too much for me. I had enough. It was tough for me. I’m so repelled by her & don’t want to see her at all. Told her I don’t like her behavior & it had to change if we were going to be friends. Of course she got angry & announced that on FB with a silly quote of if you don’t accept me for me, then watch me as I go (another close friend told me this). I never contacted her about the immaturity. I let it be because we already split. Was not easy, making room for new. I’m not proud of how I told her. I just let it all out at once & she’s like, “Wow I feel you have so much anger towards me” & maybe her friendship isn’t for me. I agreed but still the fear was like noooo let’s work this out but Carol’s true self said my inner voice has been nagging for a long time to distance myself. I feel too pressured & not good enough when she tells me I’m MIA, & I don’t do this & that. I’m sick of trying to feel like pleasing her. She has fingers and a phone to call! Distanced myself from another family friend who usually has the energy of I’m sad and life sucks because I have no man & all men are assholes~ creating room for better friends there too. I’ve simply outgrown those two. Stopped focusing on Alan so much & started focusing on me~ next man is either seasonal for a lesson or lifetime. I was not conscious in my relationship with Alan. I was dating Sam or my dad. I wanted to force him to be the one so I can avoid future dating. I missed a huge red flag about him cutting his parents out of his life- that means he has issues as we clearly saw. Intimacy blocked my mind so lesson learned to TRULY get to know the man, stop rushing. Alan was reflecting many parts of me & as a result I started talking better to myself, going to church, closer with God & knowing NO MATTER WHAT the universe/God ALWAYS has my back. I will not fall but only grow. Think I was in love with idea of marriage~ don’t think I could truly be myself with Alan, I believe he hid a lot of hurts & it reflects by the way he’s blocked me & his behavior. It’s weird to say- I feel I’d be OK to talk to him again. I let go of my anger & feel more compassion for him & for myself. I wanted to make Alan wrong but I co-created & contributed to it with my baggage. Learning how to communicate better, that I get to be present in a new relationship & learning to fill my own self up. Lots of prayer too. Any feedback on myself, my outgrowing of friends and Alan would be great.

Nat’s Response

Outgrowing some friends is a natural phase in personal growth. It’s not that you will have to kick a whole load of people to the kerb. Some people will remain in your life but maybe in a different capacity or to a different extent. Some people just aren’t going to be on this phase or the next phase of your journey.

The aim of life isn’t to cling to everyone because inevitably, we will cling to people we need to let go of while missing out on exactly the people who are in harmony with who we are and where we’re headed.
Friendships are an example of relationships that reflect the maturity and awareness in which they were made. Some, for example, childhood friendships last a lifetime. Others collapse.
Your friend was a little too vocal in your life. It might have been pitched as ‘care and concern’, but it was invasive because it crossed your boundaries and there was an air of obligation and criticism. In or out of a relationship, this person felt the need to almost shame you about how you were living your life, making it seem as if you were neglectful. And we try to be a ‘good’ friend in these situations and so we feel guilty and sometimes end up pussyfooting around them unnecessarily.
When a friend (or anyone for that matter) makes you feel the way that your inner critic makes you feel and even says the same things as your inner critic, it is a call for you to put distance between you, gracefully and with compassion.
Clearly your friend has got some things going on in her own life and hyper-focuses on you and the friendship.
Sure, it’s not ideal to let rip, but it’s actually an opportunity for you to learn that when you keep things to yourself out of fear of hurting feelings, alienating or being abandoned, it won’t be pretty when it comes out and the person will feel as if you’ve hoarded up everything. And they often focus on that without acknowledging how the situation came to be.
Her idea of friendship and yours are no longer a match. Maybe they never were.
Communicating and communicating consistently and with boundaries is the key to liberation because while there will undoubtedly be times where you don’t tell someone immediately what’s bothering you, seeing grievances accumulate will become a cue to clear the decks and admit what’s on your mind. You will want to speak up because you don’t want to damage the relationship.
Alan is a gift. I know it doesn’t feel like it, but how else were you going to get ready for the relationship you say that you want, for the person you want to be, without these experiences? Exactly.
Whether it’s with him or your friend or whoever, you have to learn this stuff. How you were responding to things, what you were carrying around with you, wasn’t going to fit into the type of relationship you said you wanted.
It is discomforting to let go of people who have been in your life for a time. We always imagine that friendships will last forever and that the trickier ones will get better. Part of growth is letting go of the old version of you. As you create healthier boundaries and live more in harmony with your needs and values, not everyone who was part of your past will fit with the evolved you. Be thankful that this friendship has shown you where you need to have less of this controlling energy in your life. Whether it’s family, friends or a partner, you don’t want to be treated like a child or be belittled.
Keep being more you.

July 2018

Is this a harmless fantasy or a sign I might still have issues?

I have a question that has been in my mind for a while. Is it reasonable to expect marriage to last forever? I have been brought up with the idea that when you married someone, you are committed to be together forever. Or is this merely my wishful/ fairy tale thinking that doesn’t work in modern dating? I find myself feeling anxious about dating and I am wondering whether it is due to this mindset – as in I have too much to lose if things doesn’t work out? What is your view on this? How does long term couple cope with changes in their significant others?

Nat’s Response

Finding men who you wouldn’t go out with in real life attractive is highly common. If you found them attractive in real life in the sense that you were pursuing a relationship with them and you were ruling out healthier partners for them, then yes, that would be an issue. It’s a fantasy, a harmless crush that you have, and it exists in part to explore aspects of you that you won’t be exploring in real life. Fact is, if he was a purely violent person with no attractive/redeeming qualities, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t have a crush on. It’s the fact that he is charming, hot-tempered and I suspect somewhat vulnerable and flawed (and possibly physically attractive too) that allows you to feel safe in having a crush on him. You get to use your creativity (your imagination, dreams etc.) to safely explore what it might be like to be with this person, but obviously, it cuts out the less savoury aspects of being with someone who is, for example, violent. In your fantasies, I doubt that it’s about the full-on reality of that heady mix or being involved with him. It also contains a valuable lesson: when you have a crush in real life, you are not crushing on the full-on reality of them either. Another lesson: a crush also represents being attracted to the part they play either in those scenes in your life or in what they’re projecting, for instance, on screen. Another lesson: your father isn’t purely negative traits. It doesn’t mean that you need to forget that he was or did certain things but it’s more that 1) he was human and 2) your mother saw other things in him aside from what you did. Having a crush on someone who has these characteristics likely speaks to a more primitive aspect of us humans. In our fantasy, someone throwing us over their shoulder, taking charge, ravishing us, beating up whoever gets in his or our way, is hot. It’s vital not to read too much into it. I vaguely recall a scientific experiment where women were shown scenes of what I think were gorillas (or something similar) mating. They recorded the physiological responses, and most of the women were sexually aroused. This doesn’t mean that they want to have sex with animals or that there is something wrong with them. So the key is not to put two and two together and come up with eighty. You don’t need to give the crush more meaning by feeding it with extra meanings.

Was No Contact the right move with our strained friendship?

When one of my best friends falls silent, it’s often been because she’s dating someone new. I confronted her a few years ago, and the friendship was strained for a couple years. But then we got back to a better place. I’m not sure if that’s what’s going on again. But in the last month, she cancelled on a weekend trip we had planned (due to finances). Then she cancelled on the free ticket (reward I got from work) to Cirque du Soleil that she’d said yes to. And most recently was a 3 day music festival we’d both bought tickets for months ago…this time she didn’t even bother to tell me she wasn’t going. I’ve tried to be understanding of her financial situation, offering suggestions of things we could do together that don’t cost money, stating the time together is more important…and got no response. That was weeks ago. She has a habit of over-committing, and then bailing. And I’m back to not being able to trust her at her word. I feel like there’s something more going on in her life, but she’s not willing to talk to me about it. So I’ve taken a step back, and gone NC, which has been hard. But I’ve been a good friend, and feel like I deserve better from this friendship, a friendship that I can trust. Is NC the right approach here?

Nat’s Response

I suspect what you’re doing here is stepping back. Tension is evident within the friendship, namely around imbalanced investment, breaking agreements/commitments and issues, whether they are personal or about the friendship going unvoiced. It’s funny, but yesterday I had to explain to my daughter about how you often have a friend who once they are in a relationship, you don’t hear from them or see them as much as you usually would. Why would I have to explain this to an eleven-year-old? Yesterday was the last day of primary school, and it was a day of nostalgia and celebrations. The girls had all talked about how they wanted to make the most of this last day and spend as much time as possible together, and one of them spent the day fawning over a boy from their class. She thinks that they’re in a relationship and is caught up in all the attention their ‘involvement’ is getting. My daughter was baffled by her behaviour because she quite simply hasn’t come across it before. I explained to her that her sister’s godmother has been very guilty of it in the past! Haha! So, back to you: Your friend is clearly caught up in something. Whether it’s a personal issue, a new relationship or just being self-involved, she is caught up.

  • She cancels when it’s something she has to pay for.
  • She cancels when it’s not something she has to pay for.
  • She didn’t even bother to cancel with another event.

You also mention that she has a habit of over-committing and then bailing, that you’ve previously fallen out over her going AWOL when she has a boyfriend and that she has financial issues. It is clear that she also doesn’t communicate what is going on in her life but also that due to you being understanding about what you assume are her personal circumstances, you are not communicating with her about the issue either. She has gone silent, and you have now gone silent. I do not doubt that you have been a good friend, but I think that you need to take a proverbial step back here and recognise that for this or any friendship to proceed, it has to be based on mutual respect and that equals mutual acceptance. Being a good friend doesn’t mean keeping you both in the dark by pussyfooting around her issues and then feeling hurt and even a bit resentful because she hasn’t met your accommodation with more effort. I think that you have been doing too much in the friendship. Your heart is in the right place, but I suspect that you’re doing good things for the wrong reasons. The more you make these efforts to be a ‘good friend’ is the more she is going to feel guilty because she is unlikely to feel like a good friend given the circumstances and even past issues. Going back to those three things: 1. She cancels when it’s something she has to pay for. 2. She cancels when it’s not something she has to pay for. 3. She didn’t even bother to cancel with another event. These are hints that something is not just amiss in her own life but also in this friendship. You don’t need to assume that she is doing any of this from a ‘bad’ place. I think that you need to accept that because she is someone who over-commits and bails that ipso facto, she is someone who tells people what she thinks they want to hear and then grapples with shame and resentment about it. It would be easier if you made arrangements with other friends. Let her come to you and suggest something. And don’t make suggestions about free stuff because if she genuinely is stressed about money then depending on her money story, so her associations with money based on past experiences, teachings etc., that might inadvertently make her double down on the shame and avoidance. I don’t think that you need to cut contact. I think you need to go your own way from a place of peace and compassion. Whatever she’s being or doing, it’s got nothing to do with how good a friend you’ve been. Know that you’ve tried your best but that you’re now going to leave it alone. If she comes back and asks why you’ve been quiet, explain that because she (the three things above) it became apparent to you that she has stuff going on and because she wasn’t saying anything, you felt it best to give her space. Also, explain that you would prefer her to be honest with you about what she can and can’t do rather than bail or go silent. And then wish her well. Stop chasing her but also, invest in your more giving friendships.

What life lessons can I take out of this?

After my ex blocked me by phone, I suspected he forgot to block through Whatsapp, 2 weeks gone by and I never contacted him again. On Whatsapp, you can post statuses as you would on Snapchat. It’s not personally sending to anyone, anyone can view it and when he viewed my bible verse, he blocked me. I felt a bit hurt, disappointed and taking it to heart, asking damn do you hate me that much? After waking up and having a bit of compassion, I decided not to make him out to be a bad person, that he’s highly emotional & it’s not all about me, he’s dealing with his own anger. Since the break-up I’ve also been using it as a way to build myself up again. -Feeding myself more loving thoughts, conscious effort to do it few times a day -I’m not a victim, practising that -Paying attention to who’s around me and which friends I’m outgrowing, who I feel good/not good around -Going more to church, doing yoga meditation -stop judging myself, know that I am worthy & don’t have to right the wrongs of the past -Learning that i carried my whole last relationship on fear of past and feel it’s just what I needed to learn from that & be a better more whole me in future -I’m responsible for my part in break up & feeling hurt & not responsible for him blocking me, it’s just how he handles it and he has his own stuff -I blamed me for a lot of break up because i thought it was only my mind breaking it up, living in fear, couldn’t see his side – The biggest thing is my MIND, my behaviours, paying more attention to thoughts I’m feeding me & beliefs -healing emotional wounds from the past I know break ups cause a heck of a lot of growth because I’m tired of my thinking/behaviours and not changing, I’m ready. What life lessons can I take out of this? I feel big change step by step, day by day coming for me

Nat’s Response

As you recognised, he has got his own stuff going on, and he will be grappling with his hurt since the breakup, too. Given that he is into church himself and, if I recall correctly, had done something not long before you met that was about affirming his commitment to his faith, it may well be that he was triggered. Maybe it was by the Bible passage (nothing you did, and it could be that just seeing a bible passage is enough to remind him that he’s been dropping a few balls both literally and spiritually) or by merely seeing you online. Given that your interactions together even since breaking up descend into an antagonistic dynamic, and it’s easy to see why it would be best that you are not in touch. And you are right not to make it about hating you. Being out of touch is just the right thing to do, even if it involves having to block. And remember that you have agency in your own life. You can make choices, shape some of your circumstances — and this means that you could have blocked him at any time over these last few weeks rather than waiting to see what he would do and then being upset when he matched WhatsApp with the other forms of blockage. Breakups are undoubtedly a breakthrough. They feel painful because you are being cracked open and what you learn during this time and apply has a great deal to do with how you will advance — so which lessons you will move on to next because of course, life is all about the lessons. Bloody annoying at times but it’s all for our highest growth. You’ve listed lots of lessons. You can learn further lessons by sticking to the facts instead of adding in stuff. Anything you’re mad at him about will point back at something within you, and this will tell you about what you need to be and do for yourself. An example of this was the taking action part, the wanting to be in control. Also look at what you’ve been mad at you about — it likely points to something that you haven’t acknowledged about him. So, for example, you’ve been mad at you for your thoughts, for how you acted, etc., while ignoring that he clearly has his issues too. Isn’t it possible that he’s not that trusting either, that he gives it the big talk, but underneath it all is hurting? The lessons will unfold day by day, moment by moment, so you can’t force you to know everything now to try to speed things up. You have to examine what you’ve noticed and recognise what it taught you that you didn’t understand before. Remember: in all of these experiences, you were being invited to see what you couldn’t see before. Wherever you see things in the same way that you have previously is where you stand to make the biggest jumps if you can recognise the lessons. Take the list you made and turn them into lessons. E.g. I need to catch myself when I jump to conclusions. I still have some work to do around trusting myself and forgiving me for the past. Also look at what you can break down into actionable steps. If you want to change, what are you specifically going to change? What specific habits are you going to take on? For example, I don’t want to be dragged down by something getting on my nerves or going wrong, and so I have started building small habits like consciously intervening and resolving not to get annoyed and to either look for a solution or to certainly focus on what I can do right now in this moment. Also, some irony in this statement as it’s a rather big lesson: “I decided not to make him out to be a bad person, that he’s highly emotional & it’s not all about me, he’s dealing with his own anger.” Sure, aren’t you describing yourself?

Have you any advice on why I am still afraid to date again?

It’s been over 4 years since my ex left me for someone else after 28 years together. I have rebuilt my life – changed jobs, made new friends and new relationships with old ones. I have an active and varied social life. I do a lot of work on self care/improvement. In all that time I haven’t dated anyone. I met someone I liked but wasn’t interested in me, and someone else who was interested in me but I wasn’t in them. I half heartedly tried internet dating and I have been speed dating once. It all feels sad and uncomfortable. I miss the companionship- someone to share my day with, cuddle at night and wake up with in the morning and I am sometimes lonely and bored alone at home. I have lost confidence in my attractiveness/sex appeal and I am scared of getting hurt again as well as not having a clue as to how to date in this era (the last proper date I went on was in 1986!). I don’t want his legacy to be that I never find love again but am struggling to move on in terms of dating and relationships. Any advice, please?

Nat’s Response

Twenty-eight years is a long time to be with someone. I know there are stories of people exiting long relationships and starting something straight away, but that’s not workable for everyone. That’s not been your path. It has taken you four years to rebuild and to, yes, discover who you are without him. You’ve needed to know that you are okay alone as well as within a relationship. Over twenty-eight years you got into habits that have been unlearned over the last four years. It’s becoming more evident to you about where you desire companionship and intimacy. These are human needs, so there’s nothing wrong with these. You might feel quite sustained by the other areas of your life but still have a desire for a romantic relationship. The thing is, I think it’s going to be difficult to start dating again when you’ve defined it as “sad and uncomfortable”, because who wants to rush out and do something like that? What you don’t want to do is begrudgingly build a life on your own post-relationship as opposed to building one because you want to take care of you and live. I suspect that there’s a part of you that is mad. Mad at the fact that you have to rebuild your life and that this wasn’t in the plan. Even if you had remained in the relationship, you would have faced a period of immense discomfort and sadness because that is how life works. If you’re settling for less than who you are, less than what you need, and staying in a relationship that might be like a comfy pair of slippers because you’d rather stay in something unsatisfactory than go, you are going to be tested out by life. It’s as if life looks at you and goes, “Hmm, what is she up? How are things going for her? Is she living up to her potential? Is she happy here? Oh, I see. She’s hiding out. OK, what can we do to force her to make the much-needed changes that she needs to live her life fully?’ It is not nice to be left by someone, but you have to be careful of self-defining on an act that as painful as it was, it exposed you to the reality that things were not working. Bearing in mind that you had 28 years together, you also have to be careful of tossing that out as if it’s a waste. Yes, you haven’t dated since 1986, but your fear of “getting hurt again” is somewhat unrealistic. It’s not as if you have been on the dating treadmill for 28 years or even that you’ve had that much dating experience. The loss you experienced after 28 years isn’t the same as things not working out with someone you’ve dated. You quite simply don’t have enough skin in the game to equate it to a three-decade relationship. Him leaving you for “someone else” doesn’t render you unattractive. The fact that you haven’t really dated since doesn’t mean that your sex appeal is gone either. You need to accept that this isn’t where you planned to be, but it’s where you’re at. And where you’re at is where you’re supposed to be at this moment in time. Yes, it has been painful, but you have achieved a lot, and I suspect that you have found plenty in it that has surprised you by being enjoyable. What good has come out of these four years? Who have you become? What have you learned? What have you been able to be and do that you weren’t able to in the relationship? Start to appreciate these instead of shaming you for no longer being with him, for him leaving you for someone else. It feels “sad and uncomfortable” because 1) you dating again means accepting that the relationship is over and moving forward but also 2) means recognising that you are not unattractive. That in itself was proven by the fact that someone was attracted to you, but you weren’t attracted to them. Subconsciously, I suspect that you were not going to pursue that opportunity because it contradicted the narrative of you not having sex appeal and you being unattractive. When you were interested but he wasn’t, that fit with the belief system. Being lonely or bored at home, incidentally, is something that can happen even when you’re in a relationship so, yes, go ahead and date but date because you want to. Join a dating site like eHarmony that asks more questions so that you have less of the rigmarole that you get on the likes of Tinder and Plenty of Fish. I wouldn’t want to dive into those either! And maybe instead of speed dating, look out for group events that give you the opportunity to meet new people and potentially meet a partner. Meetup.com is good for this. Further reading: Your Plan Isn’t THE Plan

June 2018

Is it reasonable to expect marriage to last forever?

I have a question that has been in my mind for a while. Is it reasonable to expect marriage to last forever? I have been brought up with the idea that when you married someone, you are committed to be together forever. Or is this merely my wishful/ fairy tale thinking that doesn’t work in modern dating? I find myself feeling anxious about dating and I am wondering whether it is due to this mindset – as in I have too much to lose if things doesn’t work out? What is your view on this? How does long term couple cope with changes in their significant others?

 

Nat’s Response

Most people who marry set out with the intention of it being forever. I say most because some people have an underlying belief that all relationships and marriages end or they marry for the wrong reasons and so the outcome is that the marriage ends. Getting married is a commitment but the commitment is the day-to-day actions. It’s not enough to get married and assume that’s the commitment otherwise no one would have to do any work and there wouldn’t be such a thing as people cheating.   If you get married with the genuine intention of it lasting, odds are that you will behave in a way that reflects that belief. i.e. People who believe that you get married with the intention of remaining married will invariably behave in a way that reflects this… as long as it is a healthy belief.   My personal view is that marriage doesn’t really change a great deal in a relationship that is healthy, happy and basically a mutually fulfilling one with love, care, trust and respect. Nothing really changed after myself and my husband got married six years ago. Why should it? Don’t get me wrong, we love each other dearly, we had a fantastic day etc etc, but we were already secure without marriage — it’s just an additional layer.   To love someone is to know and understand them and to be open to knowing and understanding them even more in the future.   If you’re hoping to meet someone and find out all that there is prior to engagement, you’re in for a rude awakening. A marriage that lasts ‘forever’ in a happy fashion is one that has love, care, trust and respect and that fundamentally comes down to acceptance. If you date with LCTR, move on to a relationship with LCTR, you will build a marriage with LCTR. A relationship with these weathers conflict, criticism, disappointment and loss together. This is further explained in Love, Care, Trust and Respect in the foundational resources.   I’ll be honest, “committed to be together forever” sounds like a prison sentence and it sounds like that it how you see marriage – the possibility of being trapped with someone who you can’t get away from because you made a promise. That’s not what marriage is about. Some people were married for a time and then it came to an end and they have the greatest respect etc for each other — they’re both continuing their journeys in a different fashion. They saw each other through life to that particular stage of their lives and then it was time to take their lessons and growth in a new direction — or for them to do growing elsewhere because they weren’t growing within.   Some people stay together forever but unhappily, and that’s their commitment to make.   There isn’t anything to ‘cope with’ in terms of changes. Unconditional love is not ‘I will love you not matter what you do to me’ but ‘I will love you through all seasons and conditions’. If you’ve married someone who was consistently who they were and you were not in denial, then what is there to fear? If someone you love goes through a difficulty, isn’t part of being in that marriage supporting them and vice versa when it’s you?   And you ultimately have the answer to what is going on behind the scenes because people who believe that they have too much to lose by being in a relationship or by getting married find themselves either single or in a relationship that is not going to result in marriage. They ‘lose’ when they feel single when they don’t want to or when the relationship ends but they secretly pat themselves on the back that they haven’t lost as big as they would have if they got married.

How do I get out of my cycle of feeling frazzled so that I can use my voice?

As you know from my monthly check-ins, I have felt completely and utterly defeated becoming so sick and burnt out through work. Now feeling a bit better after a six-day break with my family, and back down to reality also brings up such challenges regarding how to proceed. I am truly terrified of going through the grievance process that I have been advised to do and that I know it’s so activating because the thought of re-entering the place where the voice of the marginalised minority groups are silenced, and trying to get simple adaptations so my severe visual impairment needs are seen to broke me over the past 5 years. I am sure i did some excellent work with the people I worked with, but I just got on with the job to hand, my voice silenced too, and of course it reminded me of the traumas of being sent round and round the mental health system in the past, not having a voice, and this driving my passion for working to influence change in the system, but five years into employment not having my basic needs met broke me. I honestly don’t want to waste any more of my time in a place where I can not even support myself financially and with no professional qualifications or ability to take time out to study, so then what? I wish I had your self-discipline/balance, considering I am only two years younger than you, but I just do not have the means to be a freelancer and am still not well enough to even think about work without feeling so disempowered. Looking at jobs that I would much rather do in digital health is so disheartening- they are recruiting are qualified individuals, since when are the voices of the marginalised and minority groups’ sought out other than as a token bur those who are stories of the disempowered and living through it are the most valuable to understand people’s expertise by lived experience yet the barrier to entry into digital health is having the privilege of having a degree. How can I get beyond the frazzled burnt out crazy head state I return to whenever I think of putting my head above the parapet to speak up for inequality and influence change when the decisions that lie ahead reduce me to feeling silenced and powerless through my lived experience??

Nat’s Response

This sounds highly stressful and maybe not something that you have to do your own. It may be an idea to contact ACAS http://www.acas.org.uk/ or a similar organisation so that someone is advocating on your behalf. When my friend was signed off from work after having a nervous breakdown, she had to see an occupational therapist and they were able to liaise with her employer, and offer specific strategies and support for reaching a resolution. In her case, it was equipping her to resign from her position of over 28 years. I have some self-discipline but have my own struggles and have found self-employment hard in many respects over the last four years. It is easy to look at someone from the outside and assume that there is lots of discipline or that it’s easier because they’re doing the thing that seems out of the question for you or certainly hard, but I have found self-employment wonderful in a number of respects but also deeply triggering in other respects. It is a bit of a tightrope at times and in some respects, it would have been easy to jack it in (and I’ve flirted with the notion of being an employee occasionally) but as hard as things can be at times, I never truly want to and I’ve derived a lot of joy and satisfaction from my work. Even the most painful parts have their uses. I have taken a breather from certain things in order to protect my mental health and cultivate more energy for what I truly want. Everyone struggles. Business/career is therapy so even if you don’t become a freelancer, remaining an employee will still present you with challenges that represent where you need to grow and adapt. Not everyone is meant to freelance or be an entrepreneur. That’s why, for instance, there is a real culture of side hustling being promoted where people can remain employees and generate side income that allows freedom and flexibility. This is the mission of the Side Hustle School podcast and the book. I think that you have to, in time, look at and talk about what you can do as opposed to what you can’t. Right now you’re in a catch-22 situation: freelancing isn’t appealing, employment is disheartening. You want to speak up for inequality and influence change but then you feel powerless and silenced. So, if you can’t do those things, do something else. You are not going to go from burnt out to rallying in 0-180mph. It is a process. It is a journey. 1) Contact ACAS and explain your situation and ask how best to go about identifying an advocate. 2) Note everything that you are coming up against and that you are struggling to get answers to because if you are intending to be a voice for others then you have to do it through lived experience and so if your intention is real, even though there are going to be tiring days, tiring weeks etc, by sticking to that intention, you first of all look to identify where you can speak up about your inequality that you are experiencing and about what changes need to happen. 3) Get on Google and look up charities related to disability, advocacy. Create a short email (that way it’s not taxing) that briefly explains who you are, what has been happening, and what you are struggling with or wanting to do, and ask if they can help. If they can’t, odds are they know someone else who can. 4) As part of your googling, look up the companies where you felt disheartened about their jobs and find out which of them have returner/retention programs where they are willing to work with people who have disabilities or who want to come back into the work force. Many tech companies are engaging in returner programmes and they’re not just aimed at women returning to work after having kids but people who have had career breaks or struggled with aspects of employment and it helps them to build skills including around confidence. 5) Between where you are now and what you want to do, there are steps. You don’t need to be trying to work out right this minute how to do the bigger thing in the future but you do need to be willing to take even the tiniest of steps and then let that guide your next tiniest of steps. There isn’t a magic bullet for this and so without working out what you want to do (so you speak of influence and change but in what way?) then you can’t be open to seeing a way to get there and without taking even small actions each day, you can’t get there. And yes, it is horrible to feel burnt out. I’ve felt that way recently and I am not battling the same things as you, so it’s finding that balance between respecting your energies but also re-energising you by doing something.

How to handle on/off contact & No Contact?

I have a last question concerning the on- and off-affair I wrote several times about. He always made contact in between relationships and (emotionally) betrayed his ex-wife. During his separation, we had some ‘dates’ where it became clear that he again has become ‘seriously’ involved with somebody else. In one of our last e-mail sessions, you told me that his behaviour was emotionally abusive, gaslighting etc. His new relationship failed as he again came back to me and made out as if him being with someone else had been my fault. He wanted to meet up again and told me that he could see a relationship potential with me (after one year of non-existent to very reduced contact), but I eventually declined. And my gut instinct was right since he has started another relationship very shortly after I declined. He told me that his behaviour towards me had nothing to do with someone else but with himself and that last year he felt unfaithful towards his wife he was separated from (even though he was the one who invited me into his life). He has never openly and clearly told me this when we were together. Even though I do understand, it was very hurtful to hear this afterwards as I felt like a scapegoat; maybe he is even scapegoating me behind my back. I still don’t get why he needs to meet me when there is always somebody else in the background. Why this ‘comparison’? Last week, he sent me a job offer for the the company he works at. I really don’t get why he does this, esp. considering him feeling “unfaithful” towards his ex-wife. I have become so distrusting that I think he does this to triangulate and maybe even smear me to other people. I see that I need to cut contact ASAP but feel foolish as it was me who suggested a friendship. Should I just cut contact without telling him why? This feels immature.

Nat’s Response

I think you’re maybe ‘over-intellectualising’ this so you are trying to rationalise shady behaviour instead of accepting it for what it is and taking action. He is someone who has had affairs, who is insecure enough that he has various women lined up and bounces around between them, and who doesn’t take responsibility. That is why he is behaving in the way that he is. It has nothing to do with you. The reason why it has something to do with you right now is because you continue to engage with him. You cannot be a competitor if you stop engaging. There is always another woman so part of engaging with him is accepting that there is never just one woman and that he never deals with anything because if you say no, he always has someone else in the background and if they say no, he’ll try you again, possibly, and then start lining someone else up. That is a character flaw on his part. Nothing more, nothing less. You are reading more into this than necessary in lieu of taking action. You are behaving as if you don’t have agency – like you don’t have a say in your life, like you don’t have any influence over your circumstances. You do. You would not be entertaining this man if it weren’t for the fact that on some level, you want his validation and you gain that through the curiosity. The problem is that as quickly as you have the validation of him coming back, of him taking an apparent interest, you invite pain, fear and guilt into your life. What does it matter if he hasn’t told you directly that he was cheating? You know. That is enough. He has hurt you, lied to you, and behaved in ways that have left you feeling less than loved, cared for, trusted and respected. They are your feelings, it is your experience. He does not need to cosign to it. He is behaving as he is because he is being manipulative. Nothing more, nothing less. You can break that down into a very long thing by going blow-by-blow into it but top line data: he is manipulative. It doesn’t matter if you suggested a friendship. You know better now and you have the right to change your mind. Let me say this again: you have the right to change your mind. The mindset from which you made that offer is different to the one you are in now. You do not need to explain or justify it. And no, No Contact given the circumstances isn’t immature. Immature is believing that you can have a relationship with someone who is manipulative while they continue to lie to you while also believing that you don’t have a choice in what you do next and that you have to continue. We all engage in immature thinking and behaviour and it is part of the growth. You can, of course, continue with your course of action but your current position is the result of the previous actions, so doing more is not going to lead anywhere good.

Why can't I finish anything?

I am eight years into a five-year medical residency, with one year (and multiple exams, etc.) to go. I have been dragging my feet to take the exams, partly because they are expensive and partly because the exams are very subjective (based on an individual examiner’s impression, not necessarily on your knowledge), and pass rates are very low. It is not just about these exams though…not finishing things has been a lifelong pattern. For example, I started my pilot’s license just for fun in 2011 and have yet to even go solo. It took me almost a decade to finish my master’s degree. What is the problem? How do I fix it?

Nat’s Response

It sounds like you have a mix of things in your pattern: not finishing some things, finishing others but taking your time to finish it. That means that it’s important to acknowledge that you do actually finish some things, possibly a lot of things but that your journey to finishing is thrown off course by something or a number of things. As a creative, ideas-y person, I have plenty of unfinished things. There’s definitely been a pattern of shiny object syndrome but there has also been confidence and distraction amongst it. How do I know this? Because I’ve taken the time to compassionately acknowledge what my pattern is but also its origins. Habit 1: I get very enamoured with ideas, get cracking and then when I realise how much is involved, the desire wears off or it gets put on the back burner. Habit 2: I want to go quicker than is realistic. I come up with something, I want it finished in a week. I decide to start training from scratch for a marathon and expect to be running 26 miles within 2 weeks. To-ta-lly unrealistic. Habit 3: I try to do things perfectly which becomes very stressful and leads to procrastination. Habit 4: I have been trained to be afraid failure so that triggers procrastination. Habit 5: Knowing that I want to do something but thinking about it for far longer than it would take me to do it. So a year or so goes by sometimes! The moral of the story: know your habits but also know your associations so that you can understand where you can intervene but also so you can understand what you need and want better. My awareness of these things has caused me to note ideas but to take time to decide instead of plunging in head first, for instance. I talk to myself when I’m being unrealistic and I try to untangle what I’m afraid of.   1. Figure out what your habits are as it’s much better than saying ‘I’m not a finisher’. You finish some stuff. 2. Use the foundational exercise (Clearing & Releasing Emotional Charge) with the following (these are some prompts to get you going but you might think of some more or feel that there are more relevant ones): Times I heard or was treated as if I am not a finisher, messages about failure, messages about finishing stuff, what you heard or observed about laziness, messages about success, memories about perfection, being judged, someone being unfair and subjective or missing out on something due to someone’s lack of objectivity, ‘I won’t pass’, ‘I don’t stand a chance’. This exercise will give you clues about why you procrastinate in some instances. And it won’t be because you’re lazy and instead will be about all the fears that come up. 3. Try to identify what you believe about you in this situation. For example: I don’t want to be a failure. It’s going to be hard to get where I want to be. Do I really want what I want? Try the limiting beliefs exercise so that you can understand how this situation is coming about. I found it illuminating to understand how I end up feeling stressed out and paralysed sometimes and I was able to identify where I could make a shift.   I think I also need to point out that not everything we do, including studying for something, has to be used. Sure, it would be great to go on a solo flight and maybe you will, but maybe you got out of the experience all that you needed by doing the course. It might be that you always imagined that it was something you would love doing for fun but then it turned out that it wasn’t your thing. You might be in a situation in a couple of years where what you learned through that process comes in handy or where you feel the urge to take your first solo flight. I have a degree in product design and never worked a day in it but I enjoyed it and have actually used that experience in other ways. Nothing is a waste. Further Reading: The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks and What’s Stopping You? by Robert Kelsey.

Am I going down a good path?

Are my insights accurate? Realizing my boyfriend had to leave me in order for me to grow. Pain was necessary. I wanted him to be my life line & continue to fill me up with love, I wanted more & I see that is EXHAUSTING & MAJOR turn off. I’m able to take responsibility for my part of the road, although I am still not able to see his faults completely, but I know he had them & am not blaming me. Kept telling me to have confidence, I get it, also you only attract at the level in which you are so he must have had low self-esteem somewhere too. He would always say he’s the best etc…I saw he would take forever to make a decision & I see how I do same too, I’ve been wanting to leave my store for a longgg time, nagging feeling to go do something else, well now I am this summer. I’m learning to look at what’s right, not wrong. Learning several times throughout day to talk to myself, fill me up with love (lovable, worthy, deserve the best, I’m amazing). Realized when dad was out gambling, my “life theme” is abandonment & I chose men to abandon or in his case, I kept pushing him to see when/if he would leave. I don’t beat myself up any more to the best of my awareness. Thoughts changing. Am stuck though. Maybe my ego hurts — it’s been 16 days since the breakup. NEVER had such a clean breakup where the man & I never spoke again. Yes it’s a blessing to heal but it’s hurtful to think damn you wanted to get that far away & never look back? Am I even on your mind? Do you even hurt? Truth is I’ll never know how he feels, I can’t guess. This is where I get stuck & pain comes up for me, I try not to have hope & be patient with my healing. The focus right now is going inward, telling me loving thoughts & filling myself up with love. It truly feels nice to do NOTHING, to let the universe take care of my break up, I’m not controlling, I don’t contact him. When a man wants to walk away, I let him walk. Any other suggestions on loving myself? & am I going down a good path?

Nat’s Response

Considering the time you both spent together, radio silence is bound to be painful. When you consider your similarities both in what you both like but where you’re similarly flawed or certainly of a similar mindset, it’s quite easy to see why you guys are not in touch: neither of you would be seen to 1) be making the first move or 2) losing face. I think as well, after what has been a pretty turbulent time, the sensible thing is for you both to focus on doing your own thing. He has finals to be done with and I suspect that his mind has not been where it should be. Of course you’re on his mind and of course he is hurting. That was the case before you guys even broke up. Right now, the easy thing to do is to come up with a narrative where it’s like, ‘He didn’t give a f about me. I’m unworthy. What kind of person is he?’ That supports the lie that you’re not good enough, and that all men are bad/untrustworthy and abandon you. That’s not fair to him and it’s not fair to you. At the end of the day, you are travelling, he has his own thing going on and really, nothing would be gained from being in touch at the moment. It would only create more heartache. There’s nothing either of you can do about your relationship at this present time and sure, things could be said but you each need to be careful of saying things in the moment about things being better ‘this time’ that might not reflect the reality when you get back. You both clearly have some work to do. Neither of you have exited from this relationship unscathed and it’s not fair to say that he’s not hurting. What occurred between you both was very painful and will have been pretty triggering for him too. Your focus in this relationship has been about your issues, your perception, your triggers, but he, like anyone, has his own stuff to grapple with. The same questions you ask about him are the same you can ask of yourself — and you have your answer. You can’t just make it about him walking away. Yes, he’s the one that ended it but your own actions were your own form of walking away. They just look different to you. A decision not to trust or to undertake a course of action that damages trust and intimacy, is walking away. If you’re not fully in something because you’re always waiting for the shoe to drop so you have one eye on the door, you’re always in the midst of walking away. You both walked. Not just him. Not just you. Both. All you can do right now is be present to your feelings but also to your day to day. Accept what happened. Accept what is coming up without jumping all over it to judge it. Only then can you be in a position to think of doing anything practical. You are only human and you are and were both 100% responsible for the relationship so there’s no point in splitting hairs about who did what. Continue having the compassion to recognise why you acted as you did but have the compassion to recognise why he acted as he did. That’s how you love yourself because if you sit there and are like, ‘He doesn’t give a f about me’, you are judging him but most of all, you are condemning you.

Do I need to change in response to someone's feedback?

Some people who see my YouTube videos plus know me personally tell me I am too strict, too guarded. Not ‘soft’ enough. Not enough ‘compassion’. I experience myself as (for the first time) rigorously defending my boundaries. And am super loyal to myself and am just saying what I think. Can you shed some light on this?

Nat’s Response

The thing about feedback is that it’s not a court order. It may or may not be useful and context and intent is everything. Some people are not your audience. I’m sure if my aunts or some of the folks who don’t really get what I do were to read my work, listen to my podcast or watch a video, they would pick apart things I say or do. But they’re not my tribe. I’m not saying that everyone who criticises is not your tribe but here are a few things to consider: Are these people who you’re trying to reach? Are they paying your bills? Are they an authority on the subject of You Tube videos, branding, speaking, anything that relates to what you’re doing? Do you feel that you are too strict etc? Are people responding to your work? Criticism speaks to the parts of us that we are already critical of. That doesn’t mean that what we’re being criticised about is necessarily valid and true but what this sounds like an opportunity to do is to decide who you are and what you stand for. Let’s look at this situation from another angle: You come up with a new product or service for your business and your friends find out about what you’re doing. They say, “That’s too expensive” or “I don’t think anybody would buy that”. Is this useful feedback? Well, no. First of all, whatever the intention, this person is speaking from their money space which includes any blocks that they have about money. Sure, there are incidences where business owners get pricing off-base and that’s part of the process but if we all based our endeavours around what friends/family tell us, we’d make some very dodgy decisions. Look up the woman who started Spanx. She’s a billionaire and one of the things she attributes her success to is that she didn’t tell her friends and family for over a year because she knew that they would talk her out of it. You are sensitive to criticism because you like to please but you do not have to please these people. Do your work, learn as you go. You will hone your voice. I would pay attention to what your audience is saying. In the meantime, take your friends’ feedback, pull out anything of use, discard the rest. You must always be discerning about criticism. Is it helpful? Is it harmful? Is it relevant? Lots of people will have opinions and you can’t cater to them all. Speak and operate from your space. The right people will connect with your work and you will refine as you go.

How do I stay grounded now that I'm crossing paths with my crush every week?

Tom recently returned to London after several weeks working overseas, so now we cross paths every Tuesday again. I’m calmer around him than I used to be but still feel distracted, over-excited or anxious when I know I’ll see him soon. I’ll be fine the rest of the week but by Monday my “Tom anxiety” intrusive thoughts start kicking in. On a rational level I know I am strong enough not to need his approval but I still crave it. I also worry that if he criticises me then it will upset me and interfere with my progress. My ideal strategy is to try to get used to seeing him regularly and focus on making him real, as you advised, rather than trying to avoid him (which I tried last year but the crush didn’t go away). Soon I’ll be seeing Zoe about my Daddy and Father Figure Issues which I’m sure will help, but could you give me some tips on how to stay grounded when I’m in Tom’s presence and feeling enchanted by his compliments, looks and fatherly aura, and feeling intense longing for this man who I know can never love me?

Nat’s Response

Isn’t this all building up in your head a bit where now that you see him, it’s as if your brain has switched over to ‘I see Tom on Tuesdays’ mode? So it’s like hopping on a train of thought on a particular day and riding that through to Tuesday. Each time you’re winding up in the same destination: feeling emotions that are causing you to feel uncomfortable your interactions with Tom. Part of this is that I’m assuming you enjoy his company. Next, you have him on a bit of a pedestal. And third, you see the emergence of these feelings, even though they are less than what they were before and there’s clearly a progression, as a sign of something. You can’t expect to have a crush on someone over an extended period and for those feelings to vanish into thin air. Part of this is not always assuming that these feelings equal Tom is The Paternal Messiah and I Have Mad Feelings For Him. People who are anxious about something, whether it is about seeing the person they used to have a crush on, conflict, criticism or whatever, experience the feelings that you are. You have to be careful of attributing the same meaning over and over again. The natural outcome of worrying about somebody or something is that you’re going to experience anxiety. You can’t blame all of the feelings purely on the aura, compliments etc. If you look at the content of your week, so where you’re expending your thoughts and energies about him, there’s clearly reasons for why you feel as you do come Monday. You’re also worrying about something that is a non-issue: if being criticised by Tom could derail your progress, being criticised by anyone could. That is not how progress works. You are always going to experience challenges. You will always come up against stress, conflict, criticism, disappointment etc. Not all the time, obviously, but they are baked into life. This isn’t really about Tom; this is about you having something (current happiness and position) and fearing that any minute now it could be snatched from you. You can’t believe it. Not that you don’t want to but more that you are enjoying life and how you’re feeling so you are trying to anticipate potential threats and iff-ups. The aim is not to be happy all the time; the aim is to be you as often as possible, to be present as often as possible. You are OK. Even if he does criticise and upset you, you will be OK. Your progress isn’t contingent on never being upset otherwise you’d be toast. Come up with some mantras to coach you through each day, particularly on a Monday and Tuesday, so use the mantra whenever thoughts of him pop into your head and when the anxiety builds. Bit like when I have something I’m anxious about and I reassure me with stuff like, ‘I am safe, I am secure. I am OK, I will be OK. I can handle this. X is a human being just like me. They don’t have that kind of power over me.’ Basically, talk back to yourself. Have a conversation with you. Prepare for success instead of failure. You will be okay.

How do I calm down my ruminating and obsessing about the past?

I noticed that you are going to be talking about anxiety. I have a particular issue in that I am finding that I am having a lot of trouble with excessive/obsessive going over and over and over things in my head in recent months, these are things that have already been dealt with and although there is some scope to change how I have dealt with them I don’t actually want to make any changes to how I have dealt with them. My moving on has ground to a halt almost or at least it is very tentative with anxiety / fear seemingly ruling me 🙁 Making it really difficult for me to function day to day although I am but it is at a cost to me of what feels like mental torment at times. I have gone back to beating myself about things big time I am really sad and embarrassed and ashamed to say 🙁 I hope this is a *blip* but been sinking for a few months now. How to stop beating me up again? I could cry (have been lots). In addition to all been through last 18 months or so my mum is now exhibiting severe memory problems which is feeling like the last straw.

Nat’s Response

The classes on anxiety are now available – you may have seen them already as they’ve been there since Thursday. I think with regards to what you’re going through, a couple of things strike me: 1) There’s likely a specific trigger from a few months back that set off the current train (or cycle) of thought. If you can try to pinpoint what that is, it could bring relief. Not only will it not feel as if you’re just doing this for ‘no reason’ (you’re not) but it will help you to understand what the train of thoughts are trying to protect you from having to deal with. 2) I think that given your circumstances, it’s not surprising that you’ve felt triggered and overwhelmed. You have in many respects, more freedom and flexibility to do what you want. You have wanted to be able to say and do certain things. You’ve felt bad about how you have been treated and even where you have put your needs on the back burner. You’ve now done a number of things that you’re going over in your head. You’ve dealt with them and interestingly (and wonderfully) you don’t have regrets in the sense that you don’t want to change any of them. And yet here you are. Is it possible that even though you know that you’ve either done the right thing or certainly the best you could under the circumstances, that because it’s new for you, the guilt is maybe causing you to ruminate? I also suspect that the payoff of what you’re doing is not moving on. Maybe something has panicked you. Maybe you feel guilty about it even though that’s not what he would have wanted. Let me share something: you are only human and what you are feeling or have been feeling isn’t a sign of some deficiency of yours. I have not felt particularly ‘mentally strong’ for several weeks and a lot of it is to do with tinnitus but also mixed in there is grief, still feeling unsettled about certain things and yes, going over things. We all do it. I’ve acknowledged why I’m vulnerable to that at this time and the thing I’ve asked of myself is patience and compassion. Some days as you put it, have felt like a big mental strain but I think it’s important to note that you are doing the best you can, just as I am. Instead of listening to the criticism, try to listen to what might be a tiny voice that’s hinting at something that would make even a bit of difference. And it is a blip. I (and I’m sure many others) have thought the same as you and worried about whether it isn’t. I think you’re expecting a lot of yourself and not giving you enough credit. Not only are you grieving but you’re trying to reconcile you to a new sense of self. That in itself brings more grief. I might be wildly off base here but I’m just throwing this out there, but is it possible that what is causing some of your anxiety and rumination, is you maybe staying in a place such as working in a job that you don’t have to? Maybe not using the options available to choose the type of life you want to lead? The other thing is of course, your mother. I’m sorry to hear that she’s having severe memory problems. I have a few good friends whose mothers are going through the same thing – don’t try to deal with this on your own. It is too much. I know that you weren’t crazy about doing a morning or afternoon but if it helps at all, we could instead make it a two or three call sessions over the next few weeks?

May 2018

Why do I feel annoyed when my friends don't agree with my advice?

My friends are smart and intuitive and yet when they disagree with my opinion or advice I feel annoyed. I feel like I can see their situation from a wider view point since I am not in it. For example, my friend is dating a guy that she sees once a week. He is flaky and plans things and gives gifts that are convenient or work for him. I worry that she is falling for this charismatic guy that isn’t giving her the commitment she deserves. I think I take this too personally because I have gotten burned by these situations where she has warned me about these similar traits. I don’t want to be annoyed about this subject! Help! Thanks for your time 😀

Nat’s Response

I understand where you’re coming from. It’s hard when you see loved ones doing something that, in a way, seems so obvious to you is wrong. Whenever we’re not in something, we are seeing it from a different perspective. One of the things I’ve learned about opinions and advice is to give it without feeling invested in the other person heeding it. In this way, you can ensure that your side of the street is clean and that you’re not projecting your stuff. It also ensures that in those instances when you do feel resentful, frustrated etc, that you are able to tune in and ask: What is going on here? I suspect that there’s a part of you that feels invalidated by their lack of ‘compliance’, for want of a better word. You regard your friends as “smart and intuitive”. This means that one of a few things could be inferred when they disagree with your opinion and advice: 1) That they are not smart and intuitive and maybe you don’t like being ‘wrong’ about people. 2) That they are smart and intuitive and so them disagreeing with you suggests that you’re not smart and intuitive. 3) That they are smart and intuitive and so doing something that seems so obviously wrong to you is stupid, especially when they have someone else trying to point out where they are going wrong. 4) That the reasons you blamed on your own relationship issues were untrue. I think that you love and care about your friends and want to protect them. Your advice and opinions are well-meaning but they are just that — advice and opinions, not a court order. And it’s the same for you — you don’t have to take all of their opinions and advice on board to be a “good friend”. You are biased because you have been in their shoes and maybe a part of you doesn’t want to see your “smart and intuitive” friends doing this because it flies in the face of everything you’ve previously told you about why you had the experiences that you did. If “smart and intuitive” people can be human and make mistakes, doesn’t that mean that you were also “smart and intuitive” in spite of any mistakes? Is it possible, also, that you have your friends on a bit of a pedestal and so when they don’t co-sign to your opinions and advice, you feel rejected? It’s also important to note that people give advice and often don’t take their own. So, your friend warned you about something because she was on the outside and could see more clearly and now there she is making the same mistake. Yes, I know — humans are funny creatures! You, in a way, already know what is going on here: you see things as you do because you’re not in it and she sees things differently because she’s in it. In fact, she might even see things the same way but her judgement is clouded because she’s emotionally involved. Instead of being irritated with your friends, which, incidentally, is a natural reaction to these situations sometimes, especially when it’s a recurring situation or complaint, have compassion for her and so in turn, you have compassion for your younger self. You can be a genius and intuitive and get it wrong. There’s nothing wrong with that. Being a friend is not about always agreeing with each other. It’s about supporting your friend even when they choose a path that doesn’t reflect what you would do. Obviously if she was doing something criminal, you wouldn’t want to be on board with that. But this is a case of your friend dating a man who she’s selling herself short with… and that’s her lesson to learn. How wonderful it would be if we could take other people’s lessons and advice at face value and not go through them ourselves. Some suggestions: Don’t feel that you are under obligation to give advice or opinions. This is something I’ve learned over the years given the nature of what I do. Let them ask you but only give it if you can remain fairly chill about it. Ask if they want your honest opinion or validation. Often that brings clarity to that person about why they’re asking. It’s like when I say to friends, ‘Do you want my Baggage Reclaim hat or my friend hat?’ Be mindful of your biases. That doesn’t mean that your opinion of him isn’t on the mark but remember that she’s not you and it’s not your relationship. Each time you feel tempted to be in control, remember that Polish proverb that did the rounds – Not my circus, not my monkeys. It doesn’t mean that you don’t care but it’s more important to be a friend than it is to be in control of what your friend does and doesn’t do. Make sure that you are keeping honest interactions with your friends. Are you agreeing with their opinions and advice because they’re your friends even when you might feel differently? Do you feel obliged to always agree? On those occasions when you don’t, notice whether their attitude changes towards you. If it doesn’t, you have a learning moment. If it does, then you know that part of the tension is about you all thinking that you have to do what one of you says in order to be friends — not true. You can then look at whether you can rebalance the friendship with honesty going forward.

How do you move through adversity and stay focused?

How do you edit your words to say what needs to be said in a calm and succinct manner when the self compassion inside sees the injustice and marginalisation but only a calm and professional approach will get your voice taken seriously? When the effects of marginalisation, being so frazzled and as you can see, so chaotic and besides myself with worry about how to stand up for myself as an adult to communicate in a professional manner to be taken seriously, for the sake of justice being served to make our society and workplace equal and diverse. I represent myself so accurately in my words and flaky actions, how do you ensure that the reality does not stop you to get your words to say enough so that you are taken seriously and justice can prevail?

Nat’s Response

This is a really good question. The most useful thing that we can do before we speak in situations where we feel that we are experiencing an injustice is to pause. That pause which we can use to take a few more calm breaths, to get our bearings, to see a bit more of what is going on, can play a vital role in what and how we communicate. Far too many people put pressure on themselves to speak perfectly immediately. They want to get fired up and know exactly what to say or do immediately. But if we’re operating purely from the emotional part of our brain, we might not give ourselves enough time to step into our actual selves. The emotional part of our brain does 1) skip over what might be vital pieces of information and 2) see things in terms of it being many thousands of years ago when you would have been using that part of your brain to alert you to predators so that you can protect your own survival. Pausing even for a few moments can be the difference between approaching saying something in a manner that reflects who you are or where you want to grow, or responding purely from an emotional place and feeling foolish or humiliated. The emotional part of your brain is critical and useful but it does get things wrong especially in situations where you feel triggered because it reminds you of the past. The answer is not to ignore that part of you but to ensure that you don’t exert pressure on you to instinctively have the perfect reaction. It’s important to pause, even for a few moments, and give you time to calm down enough that what you say will have the impact you want it to instead of it distracting from what you wanted to convey. I don’t think that “calm and professional” is always the solution. I think being professional in a professional environment is undoubtedly needed but if you are upset by something, there can be a calmness about how you approach it despite the fact that you don’t necessarily feel calm because you are bothered by what has happened. It’s OK to show some emotion. You’re only human. It’s just making sure that your emotional response isn’t overshadowing your true intentions. In the end, it’s more important to communicate full stop than it is to analyse the sh*t out of how you’re doing it or what you say. You can learn from speaking up and sometimes getting it ‘wrong’ but you will not get better at communicating if you’re mostly in your own head. You don’t need to find the perfect words. Facts are helpful. I saw this. You did ______. You said _______. This happened _____________. I am experiencing ___________ because ____________ or I am experiencing _____________ because I feel/think that ____________. Using facts gives people the opportunity to see the situation, words or their actions clearly without you inserting your opinion of their motivations or getting too personal. Because you ________________, it’s created the impression that ______________. This is far better than, ‘You did ________ and it’s because you’re a beep and you’re trying to destroy me.’ I would also not try to bite everything in one gulp, so to speak. If you genuinely want to do better for your workplace, speaking up is undoubtedly more beneficial than silence, but don’t expect to speak up once and for all things to be solved. You don’t know how your words have a knock-on effect. They plant seeds. Even if a company appears slow, you don’t know how what you said is turning the cogs. Other people will speak up and there will be other incidents. Changemakers don’t create change from trying to find the perfect words. They just go ahead and speak up and learn as they go. Don’t put too much pressure on you to say everything perfectly. Speak anyway.

How to care less about my ex's [shady] opinions?

I met my ex via meetup events and we shared many common interest groups. Since the breakup, I have been reluctant to attend events organised these meetup groups for fear of seeing him again. Or letting him see that I am out there making friends and dating again, showing him that I am indeed desperate for a relationship. Logically I know that I should not care about what he thinks but in some way, I felt guilty that I have broken my promise to him that we were committed to each other. I remind myself all the time that the promise was made before the time I get to know the real him. I thought about joining new groups but these were groups that I enjoyed hanging out with before I met him. I ended up not attending any. Should I give up my old group in order to move forward? How can I make myself care less about what others would think of me? Any advice will be much appreciated.

Nat’s Response

Does your ex having a new girlfriend make him desperate for a relationship? Is is that you don’t want your ex to see you making friends and dating again because of fear of looking “desperate” or is that you don’t want to give him the impression that you’re moving on with your life? Relationships begin and end. When the relationship ends, the commitment ends. It does not make either of you a bad person; it means that whatever your relationship has been, it’s been. You do not have to shut down your life because you made a commitment to a guy who you are now broken up with. Believe me when I say that he will not be holding himself back. You made that commitment with the best of the knowledge that you had at that time. Your relationship was in a different space and you maybe knew each other less than what you came to. A commitment isn’t a permanent statement of the future. You both have a right to change your mind. If the circumstances and assumptions upon which you made that commitment no longer exist, it is time to end that commitment. Decisions are commitment. Most people run into problems with decisions and commitment because they either don’t make the decision and give it time to take hold, often backtracking in panic, or because they don’t know when to fold. With the latter, they ignore signs that the decision isn’t a good and continue. Your relationship is over so you cannot, out of respect, not just to you but also to him, continue as if you’re still together. Basing your actions on what he would think won’t give him the responsibility for them when it becomes clear to you that these are not actions that are in your best interests. It won’t ‘prove’ anything to him either. He is not your boss, god, father or authority. He’s the man you used to go out with. You making you suffer won’t make him feel worse. it won’t make him feel guilty and it’s only going to damage your life. I know that he behaved in an unfair manner and made cruel comments. At times he has been nothing short of abusive. But, you are out of the relationship and now it is about breaking the cycle of having conversations with him in your head and co-signing to his opinions. None of his stuff makes sense. If you’re desperate for having friends or dating, then he is too. So is any woman he is involved with. So… he’s blown a hole in that argument. Dating doesn’t mean “desperate for a relationship”. It means moving on. You are allowed to move on. If you want to stop caring about what he thinks then you need to start telling you that what he says/said doesn’t matter. Go to the events. Go and meet people, whether it’s for friendship. You can’t ‘make’ yourself care less. You behave in a way that contributes to that over time. You putting your life on hold is caring too much. You going ahead with meetups despite the discomfort is not caring too much.

How do I address my perfectionism?

My perfectionism tendencies seem to have led me into stuckness. For example, wanting people to see me in the most positive light resulting in me being a people pleaser as I feel badly about rejection. It takes a while for me to start or try something new because I usually thought or worry about it for a long time deliberating whether it is a good idea to do it (procrastination?). Sometimes, I have the “all or nothing” approach. For example, I am trying to eat healthily at the moment, but as soon as I gave in to my sweet tooth, I lost the motivation to eat healthy for the rest of the day. After that, I felt bad about not committing to what I set out to do (as in not having my own back). Do you have any advice in terms of how to shake perfectionism off? Thank you.

Nat’s Response

You are indeed very hard on yourself but that’s no surprise to you! The thing about perfectionism is it’s fear parading as help and skills. It’s takes a long time for you to do things because you get into your head instead of into your heart or action. It’s a defence mechanism that keeps you stuck in the past. These are not recent habits you have developed. You have been responding to starting something, trying new things and sticking to them, in the same way since you were a child. Experiences as a child of feeling as if you failed, that you let people down, that you were not good or perfect enough, were responded to in a similar fashion. Stalling is your way of protecting you from failing, from having to be vulnerable, from making mistakes, but also from being successful. Many people who are afraid of failure are just as afraid of success. If they were to be successful, they wouldn’t be able to cling to the old stories. They would also, in being successful at something, open themselves up to more scrutiny and/or in some cases, open themselves up to what they think is alienation or abandonment. Using the clearing and releasing associations exercise (foundational resources) will help you to understand your associations with perfectionism. So, messages about failing, mistakes, expectations as well as any experiences you blamed on you not having done something perfectly enough. It might also be cultural messaging, so examining messages from your parents about doing well. Were you allowed to make mistakes? Were you taught that effort matters or were you taught that getting as a high a mark as possible counts? Understanding your associations helps you to recognise the emotional charge that is coming up for you each time you try to do something new. You will understand why you sabotage. Because perfectionism is sabotage. People procrastinate, not because they’re lazy but because as they start to experience their own creativity, success, potential etc, they get scared by it. People often procrastinate at the point when real change is happening or about to. You are getting something out of being “all or nothing”. It means that you don’t have to be vulnerable. It’s like, ‘Get it perfect every day or don’t bother’. As a recovering perfectionist, I get it. I wanted to run a marathon after one week’s training. I didn’t want to have bad run days. This was highly unrealistic to say the least. It’s not because I’m a lunatic but I was putting myself outside of my comfort zone and wanted to be in control. I was also, quite simply, scared. I had to put myself in a very vulnerable place where I didn’t know how every day was going to go or whether I would even be successful at running the marathon. In the end, I focused on progress. The other thing though, and this might be particularly relevant to your healthy eating situ, is that if you’re doing things for the wrong reasons, you are always going to crash and burn at some point. All perfectionists run out of steam and start rebelling against themselves and others. Why eat healthily? I’m not saying that you shouldn’t but why are you doing it? What does it mean to you? I want to eat healthily (and do) but I’m also human so I have a biscuit (or few) on occasion. That doesn’t mean that you or I are not healthy eaters. If there isn’t a clear why, eating healthily just becomes another thing to beat yourself up over. So get clear on why but also understand your parameters. Some people can cut things out. I can in certain circumstances (Lent, health reasons) and other people can moderate, so cut down. It might be that all or nothing does not suit your personality. Is it really worth giving up eating healthily some or most of the time because you had a sweet tooth day? That doesn’t make sense. This is where you have to talk to yourself. It’s also looking at 1) why you gave into the sweet tooth (e.g. stress) and 2) what’s on the other side of success? Change. You will not be who you think you are anymore if you consistently eat healthily and you might be thinking that to be different is something bad. Also look at why you lost the motivation: because you had, for example, a biscuit or because you shamed you? That’s two different things. The likelihood is that it’s the latter and you can intervene on that chatter. Check out day 22 on the inner critic course for more on perfectionism. In fact, that whole course is about perfectionism.

How can I find a way to keep going when I’m burnt out but can’t take time off?

When I started working in Finance I hated the culture so much I told myself I’d only be there for another 6 months. Fast forward 7.5 years later and I still haven’t gotten out. I am studying part time so I can get into teaching which is my true passion but when the work day is over, I am so depleted with trying to survive in a culture I don’t fit in with that I struggle to get my studies done and I just feel so hopeless and stuck that I cry nearly every day. For financial reasons I can’t leave my job yet. Do you have any advice on how I can get myself through on days I am struggling so much that even breathing or blinking feels like a big effort? Any advice you could give would be great.

Nat’s Response

It’s funny. I’m reading books at the moment about purpose and calling and some of the stories I’ve read definitely dovetail with the frustrations and concerns you mention. I think it’s vital not to give you a hard time for still working in finance. It isn’t a waste that you’re working there — it’s just unclear to you right now how this experience parlays into your future work. You think you’re almost ‘stealing’ from you and wasting your passion but what if this experience of you working in finance will play a vital role in how and what you teach in the future? You have undoubtedly picked up skills that you will use outside of finance but you have also developed emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. You are clearly unhappy with where you’re working. The culture is sapping the life out of you but you feel that you can’t leave due to financial reasons. First up, make sure that those financial concerns are legit because you would be amazed at the sheer number of people who say that they can’t leave due to financial reasons and who are imagining themselves destitute living in an alleyway, whose reality doesn’t match that. You will always have financial reasons, even when you’re a teacher. That doesn’t mean that I’m saying that you should jack your job in tomorrow but what I am saying is that you have to decide how much you want to be a teacher and commit. Commit doesn’t mean run out the door tomorrow and jack your job in but it does mean, “Right, I am ready to find a solution. I am open to a solution presenting itself”. It means that you have to work out what the next steps to teaching are and agree on a timeline. The other thing you have to do is work out what your finances are, so what you need rent, bills, living expense wise to cover off each month. It’s then surveying your options:

  • Is it that you stay, save up 3-6 month’s salary and then make the leap?
  • Is it that you look for an interim position that pays a similar salary but isn’t sucking the life out of you?
  • Is it that you identify what you have that’s saleable skills wise and look to freelance?
  • Can you freelance in your industry instead of being an employee?
  • Are there grants/bonuses available for people who sign up to be teachers?
  • Can I transfer to another department?
  • Can I speak to HR about support available for people who are studying part time?
  • Can I speak to HR about support for mental, emotional and physical health? (Note: I did this when I worked in a very corporate environment and ended up with shorter days and later starts for a few months to help me get back on track and manage my health)

I would also identify what’s sucking the life out of you. So, yes, culture, but what is it about the culture? Identify what you’re saying, thinking and doing each day that’s sapping you. If you’re going in there every day saying that you hate the people or the place or that you’ve failed by still working there, then, yeah, you’re gonna feel pretty crappy. Journal: Keep a What I Did Today list so that you focus more on who you are and what you do as opposed to thinking about what you haven’t. Note three things, no matter how small, that you are grateful for each day. Sounds sappy but every time I get into a funk about how I’m not doing whatever it is I’m supposed to do, I try to drink in life a bit more and notice things. You say that you feel depleted so that suggests that self-care has to be the high priority. Getting some fresh air during the work day, getting out of work as soon as possible, not answering emails once you’ve left and not personalising any of the BS from the day, is a big help. Keep a note of where your energy is being sapped – people, the types of situations, the work you’re doing. No, you can’t necessarily get rid of certain tasks but you can potentially shift them to a point in the day where your best energy isn’t being used or you can ensure that you’ve taken care of you before hand. You can minimise interaction with the people or situations. When people say or do stuff that gets on your nerves, observe instead of judging you. ‘Oh look. There goes Mandy trying to control what everyone’s doing. Looks like she’s as stressed out as I am in her own way.’ Most of all, acknowledge that you’re doing your best and that you might be expecting too much of you. In the future when you’re a teacher (and you will be), you will have students who feel as you do right now. I doubt you’re going to shame or criticise them. You might tell them to park the studies for a little bit and to focus on getting fresh air, sleep, letting their mind rest. These are not cure-alls but what you will find is that if you can slow down and focus on your wellbeing first and foremost, you will be able to hear yourself more clearly and give you what you need. Pivot by Jenny Blake is a really good book. I’m reading The Art of Work by Jeff Goins and I think it will really resonate with you. I want to add: be gentle with you even when you feel like clobbering is the answer. Your body, your life, is speaking to you. I have felt as you have recently. Two days ago in fact. I think it’s all too easy to beat ourselves up. My tinnitus is back and has been pretty bad for a few weeks and I felt very depleted. I noticed something: when I get up and expect more of the same [whatever has been bothering me] or I focus on how crappy I feel, I feel worse. Monday was awful. Yesterday I got up and I endeavoured to approach the day from a different place. I went on a massive walk, managed to get quite a bit of work done and picked the kids up from school and took them for an ice cream. I do feel pretty tired still but I had a better day because I was kind to myself. I haven’t fixed ‘everything’ but I do feel better. I hope that helps.

How to cope with "falling off the wagon" and how do I get back on with dignity?

What exactly can we do if we have fallen off the wagon and broke no contact with a man we are better without? It concerns the man I have already talked about in e-mail consultations. After a long silence, I answered his contact and I feel as if I have lost my dignity (though we haven’t met which he wanted to). I know that his words are without substance and I also know that you indicated that his behaviour is classically disordered and that he might be a ‘true narcissist’, so I consider his attempts as ‘hoovering’ for supply. I think, despite all facts, I still believe that everything was only a mistake because he seems so sweet and collected and often times, it is really enjoyable to talk to him and we could do this for hours without any awkward silences. This confuses and deeply bothers me as I rationally know that, what you say about him is the truth. How can I proceed now? Because honestly, it was me who suggested a ‘friendship’ (instead of a relationship which he said he wanted). I know that my actions are also quite twisted and that my words do not match my actions either. But I do not know, after all, what to do.

Nat’s Response

You learn as much from having fallen off the wagon as you do from staying on it. Falling off brings clarity, especially if you have been prone to ‘What if?’ and imagining all sorts that by engaging with the person, these are clearly disproved. Falling off the wagon, whether it’s with No Contact, diets, exercise, chocolate, or whatever it is, is normal. You feeling as if you have lost your dignity isn’t about falling off the wagon. You feel this way because it’s what you associate either having reached out to him or the end result with. This is where honesty is needed because when you ask yourself what you were trying to prove by reaching out (so what you wanted him to see/think/feel or what you thought it would say about you), you have your answer to why you you feel as you do. You were trying to prove something that you didn’t need to and in doing so, you were ignoring the truth which you had always known deep down. This isn’t really about whether he’s a ‘narcissist’. I think some of his behaviour is certainly narcissistically inclined, as in, he is self-oriented while trying to pass himself off as being Mr Nice Guy, but that’s really not the main issue because sure, he can try and do certain things but you wouldn’t be receptive if you weren’t trying to prove and ‘get’ something from him. It’s like you think he has something that you need to try and get back. Most people, unless they have lost the plot altogether, are “sweet and collected” but that’s not really got anything to do with, as we say here, the price of milk. Even serial killers have their helpful, sweet and collected moments but it doesn’t mean that you should use this as a basis for a relationship. I’m not in any way comparing him to a serial killer; I’m saying that if you’re going to hang on to this wondrous notion that it’s all a “mistake”, you will need to find a far stronger argument than “sweet and collected” “enjoyable to talk to him [without awkward silences”. None of these things in any suggest that he’s boyfriend material. None of these things mean that he’s not the other things. The two things can be true at the same time. They both exist. He is someone who you can talk easily with (on occasion) and who is sweet and collected but who is also pretty flakey, flip-flappy and basically not great boyfriend material. The qualities you mention suggest that under other circumstances, he might make an alright friend, as long as you’re not expecting ‘too much’. I think what you’re doing is conflating two sets of information and calling it Great Boyfriend Material: you’ve taken the fact that he’s sweet etc and that he’s a man and assumed that this suggests that he’d be a good boyfriend. I think even he would tell you that he’s not great boyfriend material and this would in no way take away from the fact that sometimes he’s great for a really good chat. Believe me when I say that if it is a boyfriend or even a future husband you’re looking for, you will need to look for a damn sight more than the three things you’ve mentioned. And, yes, it may disturb you that you can get on with somebody who can be so self-serving in other respects. It’s like you on some level think that it’s a blemish against your personality or intellect. It’s not. It is possible to have great conversations and get on really well with people who, when you get to know them in far more intimate ways (or attempt to), it turns out that they’re narcissistically inclined or that you have different values. It’s up to you to figure out what you want. It’s not down to him to decide. If you feel that your actions were/are twisted, only you can untwist them and that’s with honesty and responsibility. That doesn’t mean blaming you for his behaviour or for the fact that you’re in a situation that you don’t like but it is about recognising that you had a hidden agenda of proving something to/about yourself and that you are/were trying to ‘get’ something from him. When you are honest about the latter, you will see that this is about an unmet need from the past. You try to ‘get’ this from him through this fantasy outcome. It’s a long shot but if it happened, then it would finally give you the ultimate validation. By looking at the similarities between your feelings and thoughts now and where you felt and thought similarly in the past, you will see what is coming up for you. Friendship is a mutual relationship between friends. It is quite clear that you are not in a position to be friends right now. You might be able to in the future but not now. If you want your dignity back, stop engaging and change the narrative. Write down everything you’ve said to or about you and this situation, get to the truth and cease contact with grace. Don’t do it to punish him. Don’t do it to lay low until you can have another go. Go No Contact out of respect to the both of you and in recognition of the fact that this is not who you want to be or are.

How do I co-parent with my narcissistic ex-wife?

My presumably narcissistic ex-wife now uses also our children. For example: I do not something she wants and she tries to punish me by canceling school dinner of my son (which she has to pay). My children do not get it or understand her gaslighting. Normally I just ignore everything but if she uses my children for blackmail it gets difficult. Any idea how to act?

Nat’s Response

This is tricky and is more a case of managing boundaries rather than trying to find something that ‘eliminates’ her behaviour. Her behaviour is aimed at getting your attention because that’s how narcissists work, hence the less value there is in her doing something is the less likely she is to repeat it. She wants to continue having a hold over you and that is likely why she is taking aim through the kids as she gets little value doing it directly but knows that you love and care about your children. If, for instance, you are responsible for school dinners but are giving her the money for it, it might be better for you to organise them directly with the caveat that they can only be cancelled by you. It might also be an idea to set up counselling for your children so that they have an opportunity to discuss their feelings and concerns but also so that an impartial third party can help them make sense of their world. If they’re unhappy about the school dinners and are blaming themselves (for example), chatting with a therapist would help them to make sense of it. Your ex-wife will also be somewhat curtailed by them going to a therapist and probably won’t be too keen on it but it will give them the support they need. As annoying as she is, you can’t ever be in a position of bad-mouthing her to the kids because she will use that against you but, also, the kids will become very confused and divided. They love both of you. It’s the right of passage of kids — loving a parent even when they might be very dysfunctional in certain ways. Divorces from narcissists are ‘high conflict’ because, well, it’s their nature so it’s making sure that your lawyer is absolutely clear about her narcissistic inclinations but also limiting, where possible, her interference with certain things. Failing that, as in, if your lawyer already knows and is at their limits of what they can do for now, it may be having a mediator or similar that is appointed to act in the best interests of your children and manage her boundaries. If it’s reaching a point where you feel that she is now blackmailing you via the kids, a mediator who speaks with each of you individually, as well as the kids (possibly) and then you and your wife together, may be the next step. It might also be an idea, where possible, to get further insight into a decision but without being antagonistic, which, I know, often takes the patience of a saint with someone who is narcissistically inclined. ‘I heard that school dinners have been cancelled. Is that because they wanted pack lunches or was it for another reason?’ That gives her the opportunity to clarify her position and, of course, if she says it’s because they wanted a packed lunch, then you know she’s BS-ing, but she also might have some other reason. Pick and choose your battles. You probably don’t want to go to your lawyer for each thing she does — that might be her intention (to have you running in and out of your lawyer’s office peeing money into the wind). So, pick and choose your battles, particularly as it makes it difficult for her to work out how best to wind you up. Level 0-5 with anything moderate at 3. It might not be worth spending £1000, for example, at your lawyer to hammer out school dinners and make a point. Play the long game. I would also get some clarity around your children’s living environment. Obviously if your ex is abusing your children then that’s very serious and intervention is needed but if they are, by and large, happy with her albeit confused on occasion when she pulls her BS, you can breathe out to a large degree. They might not be suffering over this lack of school dinner thing. Be the authentically solid parent that you are, so be a steady emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually supportive parent. They will learn from you. I think, also, if you accept that your wife is dysfunctional but that it has nothing to do with you, you won’t feel emotionally responsible for her and so you won’t feel that all of her behaviour is targeted at you (or care about it). Take solace in the fact that your children will get older and wiser. If you remain steady in the face of her doing her malarkey, they will figure her out in time.

How do I address relying on an identity of being strong?

I realised yesterday that I derive a lot of my self-worth from being a fit, strong and positive person, which I self-identify as and it’s one of the things I get complimented on most by other people. I’m not an exercise addict in an unhealthy way as I eat well and take care of my body and it brings me genuine joy, and strengthening my body played a vital part in my recovery over the years from PTSD and gaining confidence. It’s a core part of who I am, and it’s an area of my life I can -mostly- control regardless of whatever else is happening. For example, I might feel gutted about a rejection or a failure, but I can still have a great time when I train, and feel successful when I win fitness challenges. But occasionally I enjoy training so much, I exhaust myself without realising it, and only realise I pushed myself too hard when the weakness hits me. Then I have to take it easy and recover for a while, but I don’t feel like “myself” when I’m not feeling strong. Last week I trained too hard and paid for it this week- I had little energy, and on Monday night I had a nightmare in which an aggressive man was preventing me from using the heavy weights in the gym (but I got around him by stacking my bar with lots of lighter weights). Then I looked out of a window and saw a nearby tower block was on fire and it was spreading rapidly (which could have been triggered by a memory of the Grenfell fire, but I also have a personal association with tower blocks as I was stabbed in one). Then when I went to a fitness class yesterday, I felt stronger and assumed I was back to normal, but then all of a sudden I found that I couldn’t jerk a 25kg barbell onto my shoulders to do squats. All my strength and technique had just GONE. I tried and failed again and again to lift it, then I found myself completely freaking out. I burst into tears, ran out into the corridor and sat on the floor crying uncontrollably and hyperventilating and I couldn’t think straight and I was really scared and I struggled to speak when people came to help me. I think it might have been an anxiety attack? My inner critic returned with a vengeance: “Look at you, you’ve failed again, you’re pathetic. Nat finished the Marathon but you couldn’t even jerk 25kg. Imagine if Tom could see you now! You’re a fraud. You’re not really strong or positive. Your identity is a lie!” My overreaction took me by surprise and really distressed me, but it was a wake up call that I’ve based my identity too much on being strong, so I need to address this. How can I go about it?

Nat’s Response

I think it’s important to recognise that exhausting yourself periodically and being hit by weakness is as an important part of the journey of exercise as it is to enjoy it and gain strength from it. I’m not suggesting that you exhaust yourself all the time but what I am saying is that these experiences are there to help you to learn from and listen to your body. It’s like when I and many others train for a marathon (or other races) — some days, you head out for a run and surprise yourself with how much you do and how brilliant you feel, and others, well…. it’s a disaster. Now, you or I (or whoever) can kick ourselves in these instances for having a bad training day, race or whatever. Or, we can learn. In order to understand your limits or where you need rest, or even where you need to adapt your training, you need the exhaustion and weakness. It’s great that you’re upbeat, strong and fit but that doesn’t make you a machine and knowing when to rest, when to say, ‘I’m doing brilliantly in this session but it’s time for me to wind this up’, will make you more positive, strong and fit. No one feels like themselves when they’re not feeling the way in which they’ve identified as. A big part of your identity is strength but what you have to also recognise is that everything has it’s shade. There’s a duality with everything and we have to respect that as well as learn to navigate it if we are to truly harness the lighter, more positive side that we identify with. It’s like when someone says that giving is a big part of their identity. Great—but they will also encounter times, just like you, where they have to give to themselves in order to make the most of this part of their identity but to also avoid burnout. It’s fine to identify with being a positive person but don’t mix this up with bypassing your feelings, whether it’s about recognising your tiredness or irritation. It doesn’t make you a negative person to recognise emotions that you don’t necessarily bag and tag as “positive”. While we undoubtedly feel certain emotions in a negative way, all emotions are there to help so they all have a positive role in, ironically, helping us to become more positive. Now, look-ey here: The experience of not being able to lift the barbell is more emotional and mental than physical, something that’s been proven by the fact that a few days later, you lifted it. A couple of weeks into training, I had to do a 1.5k run — about .4% of the entire marathon total. It took three attempts and I eventually did it but it felt like nothing short of a disaster. A week later, I ran 7k and I hadn’t even run 2-6K before. On another occasion, three days after I had that incident with the woman on International Women’s Day, I set out to do my first major long run (21K) and had to be picked up by Em just short of 13k, after struggling from about 9k in. My head and emotions were too busy and it affected my physical form. A few weeks later, I ran 21K and didn’t even feel discomfort until 18k in Three weeks before the marathon, I set out on what should have been the second last long run and had to be picked up at 4k. From 1k in, I knew something was wrong and could not get on form. There were signs from my body. The moral of the story: sh*t happens. Am I weak because my injuries kicked in at mile 11-12 in the marathon? I’ve certainly had my moments when I thought so but that’s not a truth no more than you struggling to lift the barbell. It was a moment in time and one outing on what is many outings on your journey. Take note of what your mental, emotional and physical form is like on the days when things go really well but, equally, learn from those tougher days. Your fitness journey has parallels with life. It’s telling you not to dwell on a rough day. It’s saying, ‘Yeah, sure — get pissed off and frustrated and then remind yourself that it’s happened before and you’ve been fine afterwards. Now, when you’re ready, go out there and try again.’ And actually, I think it’s OK in these instances to tell your inner critic to sit the eff down and be quiet. I’d like to see it lift 25kg (I’m weeping at the thought myself but well done to you). You struggling to lift a barbell has nothing to do with you being weak. It just wasn’t your time on that day. Just like my friend who has run several marathons and who was out at 12 miles with heat exhaustion but also from knowing from listening to her body that it just wasn’t her day. She had known this deep down from before the race due to experiences in training, probably just like I knew I was going to have to walk part of my marathon. Instead of branding it as an “overreaction”, which it wasn’t given how scary the incident was, acknowledge that it was your emotions coming into play. Use the associations exercise to identify messages you learned about being fit, strong and positive. Also try to identify what you think that being fit etc protects you from. It’s to ensure that you don’t have associations/vows in there about using these things to protect you from something from the past happening again because it’s also recognising that those things didn’t happen to you because you were unfit, weak and negative. Start there because something from the past is coming up for you and so when you felt upset, it was as if you thought that you were in line for something happening again.

Am I taking care of myself, or terrified of taking an opportunity due to low self-confidence?

I am struggling with forgiving myself for genuine missed opportunities and a current decision. I just got rejected from my dream graduate program. To be honest, I have been dreading going back to school, but co-workers have told me not going will limit my career later. I have been progressing well in my career for the last three years and in independent study which works well with my schedule and manages my stress levels, which a grad program while working full time would destroy (though most of my co-workers have done it, so this is embarrassing to admit). My undergraduate performance was poor, because that was when I had the most self-destructive habits (in retrospect, back then I thought I was not Ivy League smart). I’ve made so much progress since then, and am far happier, but my college self removed opportunities which continue limiting and shaming me now (bosses wrote my recommendation letters, so they are checking in). I’m waiting to hear back on one other program, and cannot decide if not attending is truly the best thing for me, or if I am just scared I’m not strong enough for working and school at the same time. Thanks 🙂

Nat’s Response

First of all, massive hugs to you. I see that there are some conflicts here. You are caught between who you really are and what you want versus what other people tell you that you should be doing. You talk about this being your “dream graduate program”. Believe me, if it was, you wouldn’t have been dreading the idea of going back to study. Now that dread is either telling you that going to study at this school isn’t your path or that dread is telling you that you need to address the source of it. I’ve seen time and time again, both personally and through the many stories shared that failure often isn’t failure. You’re often being spared from doing something that you either didn’t want to do in the first place or that isn’t right for you. At the time, so for you that will be right now and for some time in the foreseeable future, that feels crappy and uncertain, but in several months, a year and then many times in the future, it will become clear about why you have gone through what you have. You will see how this ‘failure’ to get into this program communicated something to you, not about your worth or about your abilities but about making sure that you tune into what is right for you. I can tell you also from personal experience that applying for or going on to study something under duress or certainly from a place of doing it out of obligation or a sense of it being everyone’s path is bad news. That’s how I ended up failing an economics exam on an undergraduate degree that I didn’t want to be doing in the first place. For someone who had had it stressed to her not just about the importance of always doing well but how I was a “genius”, failing that exam and actually, not performing well on end of school exams, was a huge blow… until it wasn’t. I was a very bright kid but you can’t put a kid like that in a toxic home environment and under a huge amount of pressure and it not go awry in some ways. By failing, and failing rather spectacularly, I came to realise that I would survive. I eventually found my way via a few jobs and a spot of travelling to a degree where I was far happier. When it turned out that that wasn’t what I wanted to do in life, I was disappointed but went off and worked and thrived, while listening to a very real voice within saying that this was not where I was supposed to be. And blah blah blah until I started writing full time. Even today, I am still harmonising with my path. I say all of this to you because it’s you who has to live with your choices and there’s few things worse in life than ignoring your own inner voice, listening to the shoulds and trying to live other people’s choices for you. Those people by and large mean well but they are speaking from their own experiences, desires and fears, not yours. Who says that the path they tell you is the path, is the path? Go and talk to a few people and you will see that not everyone does things the way that those people have said that they have to be done. You will also, if you pay close attention, notice that the people who tell you that their path or the proposed path is yours, aren’t happy. You’re not that kid anymore. So what if you didn’t have great habits back then? Show me someone who hasn’t had dodgy habits about something in the past. You are allowed to move on. What you did or didn’t do on the undergraduate degree isn’t material to the decisions you have to make today in terms of whether you are ‘allowed’ to do something. What those experiences offer you are clues to how you have grown, clues to what feels good and right for you, and clues about your purpose. Are those bosses shaming you by checking in? Really examine that. Yes, they wrote a recommendation letter but it’s not a court order. That recommendation letter is based on their experience and knowledge of you and they wouldn’t have written it if they didn’t want to. A program can’t accept everyone and there’s all sorts of reasons why they don’t. You can always ask for feedback. But what concerns me is that because you have received these recommendation letters that you now feel obliged to go and do something with them. No you bloody well don’t! You can’t go and put yourself into a program that’s going to take over your life for the next few years just because you don’t want to disappoint some people who pulled their pen out or who typed a recommendation! They’re not paying your tuition. They are not you. It’s time to hunker down and tune them out. They’re not your parents or even the authority on what is good and right for you. I also don’t know that this is all about fear of not being strong enough for work and school. Fact is, people think that they are strong enough for both and discover that they’re not and some think they’re not and discover that they are. So maybe it’s time to be open with you about your own fear. Why don’t I think that I can do school and work? It might bring up stuff from back in the day. You can answer back to that. “Yes, I didn’t have great habits back then but I was X age and I gradually learned how to build healthier habits such as ________, __________, and _________.” “Yes, my co-workers have done it but that doesn’t mean that I should. When I’m honest with myself about what these people are like, we’re very different in character and personality. We each have our own strengths but when I look at how they live their lives, the way in which they work, I see __________ and __________ and ___________ that signal that I don’t want to be like them” This is a good time to check in with yourself: Do you like these co-workers? Do you look at them and think, They’re doing what I want to be doing in the future? How has them juggling work and school affected their lives? “No, I didn’t perform too well on the undergraduate degree but what’s that got to do with the price of milk? This is a totally different situation.” “What if it’s too much to study and work? Then I’ll listen to that. It would be no big deal to admit that because work and school is a huge commitment. It’s not a badge of honour to do both. My emotional, mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing are important to me” Another thought: Everyone has missed opportunities all of the time. Literally. It’s impossible to avail of every opportunity and not every opportunity needs to be availed of because it’s not the opportunity we think it is. Also, remember your own words: I’ve made so much progress since then, and am far happier.

April 2018

Breaking boundaries by overcommitting myself

I’ve always been prone to overcommitting myself and messing with my boundaries due to a fear of missing out. I’ve been focusing on self care, and I committed to taking 6 months off from dating and pursuing personal projects that have been on the backburner for well, years, and are important to me. However, a part of me is terrified that I’m antisocial so I’ve been overbooking myself and have little energy left over after. I’m really not, I have a small circle of close friends from college (we skype and fly to see each other) and a good relationship with my family, but I haven’t really formed close local friendships after graduating. I’ve clung on to unsuitable dating partners to stop feeling lonely. There’s also a weird feeling that I don’t do enough socializing to run across potential partners. I’m enjoying my 6 months off now, but am super worried about the after, since admitting what I really want and it sounds unattainable. I love going out, but to pursue my interests, not socialize (it’s fun, but my projects are getting sidelined and I’m frazzled from going in too many directions). Thanks!

Nat’s Response

I think it’s important to acknowledge a key piece of information here: boundaries bring more into your life, not less.   People who say yes to everything due to fear of missing out significantly compromise their wellbeing as well as their professional and personal relationships as well as their aspirations and ambitions. Something has to go. You try to be all things to all people and you end up being nothing and often feeling like nothing too.   Believe me, as a recovering pleaser and perfectionist myself, I can assure that you that overcommitting isn’t noble or healthy. Your life will increasingly wake you up to this through either strained relationships or genuine missed opportunities that occurred while you went after things that did not matter.   Where does this terror of being antisocial come from? Literally write down what antisocial means to you and take the time to understand what it is in reality: choosing not to go to something because you simply do not want to or because you have something else going on, or because you value having time to yourself, or because, for example, going would create more problems rather than add to your life, is just straight up common sense. I am currently being “antisocial”. I am tired after the London Marathon, four weeks of Easter holidays and a variety of things so I am doing more chilled out solo things this week. Sometimes I am “antisocial” because I do go out but don’t drink or I only have a couple of drinks or I know when I’m tired and go home at that point. It’s my job to listen to myself and meet my needs though.   It’s the same for you so if you’re saying yes from a place of fear while also trying to effectively keep up with the Jones’, that buck stops with you. I suspect, also, that your own friends, when they’re ready to say no to you, will go ahead and do so, which might make you feel pretty weird considering your own overcommitment habits.   There’s a lot of shoulds that I’m picking up in your letter and you know what? It’s only you who made these rules up! It’s your life, your values. Someone might think it’s their dream job to swing up and down a pole all night and serve drinks – that might not be the thing for you.   Take the time to understand your own energy levels instead of disrespecting it. Your relationships will benefit profoundly from it, as will your dating life.   Introversion and extraversion have little to do with being shy or social and everything to do with where you lose and gain energy. No one, except maybe very disordered people, are purely one or the other but often lean towards one. If you lose energy by not having enough down time, it’s because you are ignoring your very real need for rebooting. If you lose energy by being on your own, then you know that you gain energy from being in social situations.   But losing energy because you’re either shaming you for wanting to focus on you or because your relationships are not healthy is nothing to do with being social and everything to do with your relationship with you.   Use the clearing and releasing exercise (attached) to evaluate your associations with friendship, being social, missing out, being on your own etc.   Loneliness has nothing to do with how social you are or how many friends you have; loneliness is an emotional state that comes about due to becoming emotionally disconnected from the close people in your life due to not sharing your innermost feelings and thoughts, plus it is also about being disconnected from yourself.   If you are overcommitted then you are not keeping your integrity because you are afraid to take care of your needs through being you and are afraid to be honest with your friends etc for fear of being judged. This is isolating and this then shows itself when you stay with people, not because you want to but to avoid feelings that they’re only going to exacerbate.   So, yes, you do need to commit to your six months and you need to use it to listen to yourself. Is it easy? No, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it and it’s incredibly rewarding. I know this because I used to force myself to go out several times a week and took to staying home at the weekend instead of prowling nightclubs looking for men all the flipping time.   It also doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You don’t have to accept every invitation. Decide on your priorities and how you want to feel and use that to gauge what you say yes or no to. The exercise on boundaries that I’ve attached is perfect for that.   Good luck and enjoy!

How do I cope with working with my ex?

I’m having issues with anger while working together with EUM who broke up with me and is now trying to be friends. Mainly I’m struggling to stop the negative beliefs loop in my head, I feel victimized and I’m also furious at his positive and happy attitude while I struggle with blame and guilt and anger…. Any suggestions Natalie? He’s literally sitting in front of me and his endless chatter on the phone is getting harder and harder to stomach…

Nat’s Response

I have personal experience of this so you have my full sympathies, right down to him sitting across from me and sometimes having to go on client meetings together or have him on company outings. Fact is, you don’t need to be friends but you do need to be civil and professional. There is a difference. Anything that facilitates the work requires civility because you’re operating within professional boundaries that respect you both as well as the workplace, including team members. Outside of that, you need to create your boundary by deciding how you want to feel and the level to which you want to engage. First of all, you are the feeler of your feelings. That’s not to say that he might not have been a jackass at times but you are the feeler of your feelings so if you feel this way, take responsibility for anything you have said or done to create these feelings. He is not responsible for how you feel right now. You both participated in a situation and each of you had your own motivations for doing so, some of which may or may not have been obvious to you at the time. In being involved, you both took a risk that yes, may have felt good in the short term but has made it pretty awkward now that you’re no longer together. That doesn’t mean that he hasn’t done things but you will stop feeling so victimised when you acknowledge those split-second decisions that resulted in you going ahead with your involvement despite on some level being aware that it wouldn’t be a good idea. Again, this doesn’t make you responsible for his actions. If he finished it with you in an uncaring manner or he didn’t treat you well, that’s about him. You have a choice here: You can accept that whoever got in there first and finished it, it’s finished. Whether you ended it or he did, this would be an awkward situation all round. Sure, you might have taken comfort in the fact that you got in there first but odds are that you would be behaving like he is — trying to smooth things over so as not to create an awkward situation but also doing that because he knows that he has acted in a less than decent manner. You can be very upfront with him, as I was with my ex and it made things clear: let him know that you are aware of what he’s doing with the whole trying to be friends and that he needs to stop. You are ok with engaging with him for purely professional reasons but outside of that, he’s to leave you alone. Tell him that he can’t {whatever he did} and then expect you to go back to being friends (especially if you weren’t friends in the first place) and that if he sends you anything that isn’t professional, it will be ignored. Don’t apologise for how you feel. He’s not dumb and if the shoe were on the other foot, unless he was trying to audition for another go-round, he wouldn’t be rushing to be your friend. Accept that in terms of what happened and how that’s affected you, you are both responsible for that situation but blame is about finding fault and responsibility is about taking care of your side of the street and learning what you need to. Again, it isn’t about trying to whitewash his behaviour; it’s recognising that you don’t have to victimise yourself. When we, for example, tell ourselves that we have been taken advantage of in a situation that until it wasn’t going our way, we were willing to chance it, we need to be honest and admit where we were willing to participate in the situation and allow ourselves to be taken advantage because of what we thought we would ‘get’ from the person and the situation (or what we got to avoid about something or someone else). He has a positive and happy attitude because he’s at work and he’s compartmentalised what has happened. You don’t know what’s going on in his head. Spend some time being honest with you about what you feel guilty, angry and blaming about — and then focus on getting to the truth. We only stay in these feelings when we’re living off untruths hence if you want the feelings to go, get truthful.

Should I forgive an old friend who did wrong and am I being too harsh in ignoring her?

A friend did something bad (too long to explain in 250 words!), confronted them, they showed no remorse, told her again she was out of order and she said all this stuff about how I was a bad person (basically nonsense to deflect from her). Weeks later, she texted to finally apologise. Admitted he was wrong and that she did the original thing because she was jealous and insecure. And she apologised for the hurtful things she threw at me, admitting they were untrue and that she was just hurt by something I had said (which I had taken responsibility/apologised for straight away). I haven’t seen or spoken to this friend in 2 and half years and then she emailed me 2 weeks ago to ‘see how I am’. She was 40 in March and my 40th birthday is this week and she got in touch to tell me she was in Austrailia for her b’day, visiting soaps sets etc (we both were soap fans as kids,she thought I would get a kick out of it). I have not replied yet. We met when we were 19 and after we stopped talking I could see that we were stuck there. I don’t know how to respond. I hate ignoring people (I hate this done to me). I don’t want to be rude, or harsh but I just don’t know if we are good for each other any more. Or should I forgive and try to set a new day in this friendship?

Nat’s Response

Whether or not she’d gotten in touch, the question of forgiveness and whether or not you’d done it, is something you would have had to address. The alternative would have been harbouring anger towards someone over a medium to long-term basis, which is a block. We are all energy and we don’t have infinite capacity. In our emotional suitcase, that contains the space we have for the good as well as the not-so-good stuff in our life. In a nutshell, harbouring anger towards people over an extended period of time takes up all of that space and overflows into our system. It’s like bursting at the seams and so it taints our sense of self, our interpersonal relationships and basically our emotional and mental health. It’s right that things piss us off, create anger etc — that’s part of the human experience — but it’s working through it so that it doesn’t become something that’s poisonous to our life. We’ve all held onto stuff, often since childhood but it’s recognising when it’s time to update our perspective on something and let go of aspects of it in any way that we can. How do we know when we need to do this? When we don’t feel particularly good about ourselves or our life, when we are triggered, and when the person or the situation comes around again. So, for example, she has popped back up in your life because you both have a milestone birthday and she’s done something that was associated with you via conversations you’d both shared. This opportunity to handle your feelings about this situation though, could have also come up via a run-in with a different friend. It could have come up through a combination of situations that would have revealed to you that you still harbour some anger towards her. This is fine. It’s normal and part of the human experience. The question here is really about what you want. Your email gives the impression that your friendship wasn’t healthy and so you have doubts about her being in your life. But forgiveness doesn’t mean that you need to let the person back into your life to the same extent that you did before or at all. It just means letting go through better boundaries for you. Read more about that topic here. I don’t know that you can go from 0-180mph via email and I think you may be expecting a lot of yourself. Keeping it short, simple but kind is a starting point. E.g. That’s brilliant that you’ve made the trip to Australia for your 40th and that you’re visiting the film sets. I’m doing good {insert short example of something that’s going on in your life or mention that you’re looking forward to your own birthday}. It’s nice to hear from you. I hope you’re having a wonderful birthday trip and take care. That would be your forty-year-old self (or almost) replying. Engage with her from that place. You were both friends for a long time and often that pettiness comes from you both being in outdated roles that have created resentment. Her getting in touch is not an invitation to go back. Of course, if you don’t want to get in touch, then don’t but do so without anger and be resolute in having a bygones attitude to what happened between you.

Should I have given him more time to get used to being in a relationship?

I’m still recovering from the break up with the EUM (Mr Unavailable) I wrote to you about. Last time I wrote to you about emotional vs. mental commitment where I told you that I felt he was already committed on the emotional level , just bulked at the “idea” at the level of thought. You then said if he’s unwilling to say you’re a couple in a committed relationship, then he’s not committed. But he did say that we’re a couple. Many times. He acted like that for sure. He also said that he loves me and is committed to our relationship and. So I still beat myself up for bringing up questions about commitment (and breaking up bc I didn’t like the answer that he didn’t even see us moving in together in the future ) at 6 months mark. I feel I should have given him more time to get used to our relationship and “incredible love and joy” (his words) we felt around each other. I just can’t shake off an awful feeling of ruining a beautiful relationship with my own hands.

Nat’s Response

I think there’s a confusion here.   A person can be married and be no more committed than say, someone who has said that they don’t want a relationship and only want to be casual.   Marriage doesn’t equal commitment. Saying that you’re a couple doesn’t equal commitment.   Sure, it’s an indicator of it but without the action, which is the commitment, saying you’re a couple means nothing.   Let’s imagine that Peter and Jane are dating. Peter tells Jane that they are a couple. To Jane, being in a couple means intimacy, sharing lives, developing the relationship and moving forward with increasing intimacy and commitments over time. To Peter, even though he stated that they are a couple, he doesn’t want to be committed in the fullest sense. By telling Jane that they are a couple, she takes that at face value, and so he gets the benefit of a woman who is devoted to him like a girlfriend might be expected to be, but he is not committed emotionally, mentally, physically or even spiritually.   Peter has one foot out the proverbial door, still has a profile on some of the dating sites and harbours negativity towards various exes. On a good day, he likes the idea of commitment, especially if by voicing this, it leads to lots of goodwill from the girlfriend (attention, affection etc.) but if she so much as puts a foot out of place, then commitment is off the table. Which means it was never on it because when someone is committed, they’re not playing around behind your back, withdrawing commitment or debating about and resisting commitment all while claiming you’re a ‘couple’.   ‘Couple’ is a title.   Yes, you’re not in a relationship if you both haven’t explicitly stated and agreed that you are in a relationship but what relationship you’re in comes down to the quality of the actions and the commitment.   If you are not both on the same page about what a relationship means, you’re not in the same relationship.   If he doesn’t want to move in in six months time, that’s 100% fine just like if you want to move in together in six months, that’s 100% fine too.   But if you don’t have the relationship including the partner that wants to move in with you and who won’t even allow himself to see a future, you’ve got problems.   You say that you should have given him more time to get used to the relationship. OK.   Here’s the reality:   You wanted to know at six months whether he saw the possibility of living together in six months. The man who said that you have “incredible love and joy” then told you, when asked, that he didn’t see you living together in six months time.   OK.   You previously said that he was not able to do mental commitment, but he could do so emotionally.   From a logistical point of view, that’s not possible. That’s not how the brain works. Someone who is shut off emotionally isn’t using their emotional and mental capacity, and someone who is closed to something mentally has to close off emotionally to facilitate that because, by your own description, he was resisting, not ready and was holding himself back. This is fine. That is how he felt and what he thought.   For example, your anxiety is not just an emotion on its own. It is an emotional state supported by thoughts and actions. The feelings don’t exist in a vacuum.   You were both on different timelines. You are now prepared to ignore your needs now that you know the outcome of the relationship.   You are doing something that is common with all humans: now that you know the outcome, you are adjusting the narrative to suit your agenda so that you look like the architect of your demise.   Fact is, if it were true that you were so brilliantly happy in this relationship, that conversation would not have come up because you would have known where you stood by extension of the relationship you were in.   If you were more honest with yourself, you would not be relying purely on his version of events or the fact that he took you places, introduced you to this one and that one etc. — you would be acknowledging the niggling inconsistencies that raised doubt and contributed to your anxiety.   I would also be very careful about blaming and shaming you as if to suggest that anxiety is the entire cause of what happened here.   You are not solely responsible for the success or failure of the relationship.   If you feel as if you needed to give someone more time to “get used to the relationship” then by extension of that, you are acknowledging that you were having to adjust yourself, overcompensate and basically put aside your needs in order to make him feel as ultra comfortable as possible about seeing a future with you.   If this was a “beautiful relationship”, what I would suggest is that you get a journal and you start at day 0 of your relationship, so rewind your mental tape to the very first day you encountered him and play back the relationship. Make a note of everything you recall. If what you say is true, there will be no evidence of any code amber or red issues on his part.

I spotted that my ex is having a baby on Instagram. How can I prevent regressing and negative thoughts?

So it’s been 13 months since my ex and I broke up, almost doesn’t feel appropriate to call him my ex bc that word makes me still feel connected to him as disconnecting was incredibly difficult but I am 90% healed and I’ve been feeling great. Still not ready to date yet. On Tuesday I saw a picture on Instagram explore of my ex and his girlfriend . I haven’t seen anything in probably 5 months and then viola (Intsagram apparently likes to torture me lol). She has to be 6-8 months pregnant bc her baby bump is huge. Whilst I’m incredibly happy for them (I don’t understand why) and I don’t feel a smidge of ill will or resentment, I can’t stop my brain from questioning why I wasn’t good enough, how he could move on so quickly and why it is taking me so long even now that I’m starting to feel whole and like myself again. I just don’t want to regress in thought. And the fact that I even think I could regress tells me I still have self esteem work to do.  I haven’t cried over him in a very long time but as I write this message I can’t turn the tears off.

Nat’s Response

First of all, your feelings are very natural both at once being pleased for them (or as much as you can be) and at the same time feeling a pang of unworthiness. What is always very dangerous with breakups is to compare your healing or current position with that of your ex’s. The fact in the 13 months he’s managed to meet somebody and she’s now at least 6 months pregnant doesn’t mean that you haven’t moved on fast enough or that you weren’t good enough. You also can’t compare your relationship to theirs in the sense that, now that you know that she’s pregnant in that timeframe and under goodness knows what circumstances, now retrospectively applying that to your past and wondering why you didn’t get that out of him. You each have different background, qualities, characteristics, resources, abundances and backstories. You each have your own feelings, thoughts, actions and a unique set of factors that influence your fears, desires, habits, motivations etc. How each of you processes loss, what is coming up for each of you is entirely different. It’s not about someone being right/wrong/better/faster/slower or whatever. Yes, there’s something to be said for the speed at which some people move on as some, in fact, may people move on without having addressed their recent or even any past losses and basically avoid their feelings in new involvements or other endeavours. Other people, instead of moving on to a new relationship, bury themselves in work, drugs, overexercise, shopping, sleeping around and the list goes on. Sometimes what someone does in their next relationship is the cumulative effect of a series of wake-ups, so the fallout of the relationship ending may have given them a great deal of clarity. When I met my now husband, I had just ditched a guy I’d dated for 3 weeks but I’d also been NC with another ex for over a year and had told another ex where to go the month before. Sure, if I’d based whether or not I could move forward on that, I might not have at all but actually, all of these situations woke me up to myself and my choices. I’m sure some of my exes were shocked that I was pregnant several months later. No, it wasn’t planned although we had started living together several weeks before but thanks to a lot of self-work and a willingness to continue addressing my issues, I had a lot of clarity about who I had met and the relationship I was in. I’m not saying that you will meet someone and bam, you’ll be pregnant a few months later but what I am saying is when you meet somebody from a place of having processed that loss and what it showed you about other grief and loss you were carrying, you will know whether they are right for you and you will operate in the relationship from a far different space. I can’t say whether she’s “right” for him, no more than you can. You don’t know the state of their relationship or on what basis it’s built. What you do know is that if you were holding out any residual hope for him, you can let go with grace and self-care. You yourself said that it was “incredibly difficult” to end the relationship. This is OK. It was horrendous when I ended it with the guy I was NC from for a year (and fell off the wagon temporarily at the end of it). I used to beat myself up sometimes for not being more ‘over it’ and if I’d known that I myself was just a few months away from meeting my now husband, I wouldn’t have wasted my breath or the brain expenditure! It’s not taking you “so long” at all. You’re only running your own race, not anyone else’s. Given what you went through, you seem perfectly fine to me and you would have been feeling that way if you hadn’t started comparing yourself to his pregnant girlfriend. What’s really changed though? Nothing because how you’re healing has nothing to do with what he is or isn’t doing. I don’t know that you’re “regressing” – what you have to do is be conscious about how you’re responding. It’s 100% OK to have instinctively felt away about this news. Where the problem comes in is the story you tell yourself, so how you respond. If you tell you that he’s living the fairy tale and that he shouldn’t be because he’s a nob or whatever and that it should be you first and you mustn’t be good enough, then, yeah, you’re gonna feel pretty crappy and it’s not because she’s preggers but because you’re making someone you rightly let go of and a situation that has nothing whatsoever to do with you, have something to do with you. Talk back to yourself kindly, correct the story. It’s not a habit yet so when the thoughts pop in, speak back to them with the truth. And if anything, I actually think that this might be one of those twisted signs from life that you are indeed ready to move on and that you don’t have to wait to be perfectly healed.

Reoccurring dreams

I’ve been trying to shake off the habit of associating things and experiences with my ex. But, recently, I have been dreaming about him frequently which is terribly annoying. In particular, his words in one of our last arguments sticks in my mind and gets repeated in my dream. It was along the line of ‘there are plenty of other women out there who are younger and more beautiful than me finding it difficult to find a husband’ and that ‘he wish he could fast forward time to 20 years later and tell me what a big mistake I made for breaking up with him. Because he can see me lonely, miserable and childless or raising someone else’s child.’ Rationally, I know this comment says more about him than me but I think it hits right into my deepest fear. I wonder how I could get myself out from this. Any pointers?

Nat’s Response

Dreaming about your ex while processing is entirely normal. It’s part of the letting go and things that are being disrupted on the emotional seabed of your subconscious are filtering into your dreams to be processed. The key is not to make the big leap meaning of ‘I’ve dreamed about my ex so it must mean I still want them’. In your dreams, even if you don’t recall them, you may be confronting certain aspects of your relationships or just being presented with information that may not make sense to you in a conscious way but for whatever reason, it made sense to your subconscious. If something is however, coming up again and again, i.e. the repeating of the conversation, you can journal about that conversation each day to ‘push’ the processing of it in your dream. Sleep is where the day’s conscious and unconscious rumination get processed so a spot of journaling can help you to organise your thoughts so that it doesn’t come back at you in a messy way in your dreams.   I’m actually taken aback by your ex’s words. The vitriol. The mean-spiritedness. The sheer arrogance and narcissism.   This man actually hates women. He seems himself as a prize specimen and vehemently believes that women are at a disadvantage and that men are the key to their happiness. He thinks that it comes down to youth and beauty but then by his own admission, shoots himself in the foot by claiming that those same women with what he deems to be ‘better’ attributes struggle too. That’s because youth and beauty have nothing to do with whether someone gets married. I know it’s what they like to peddle in terms of ‘survival of the race’ but if that were the case, no model would be single and there wouldn’t be any older and attractive single women because they would have been married off when they were younger.   The thing is, as appalled as I am by his comments, I think that you also have to recognise that this man is the physical embodiment of what you think about women. This man couldn’t so much as have pubic hair over the threshold of the door of your life if it weren’t for the fact that you believe these things. His comments are appalling and it’s because he’s using them to shame and emotionally blackmail you but it’s equally as appalling to your sense of self that you believe these things about you and other women.   Nothing is coincidental in life.   Women who think that they have to be super thin always find themselves a partner who has equally if not slightly more unrealistic body expectations for example. It’s because the job of that person is to show them through an external party how badly they are treating themselves so that they can do the healing work.   This man is the physical embodiment of your own beliefs. That’s why he was in your life and it’s why his thoughts have stuck with you.   Two places you can start:   Use the clearing and releasing exercise in the foundational resources with the prompt ‘only women who are youthful and attractive are marriage worthy’, messages about women and appearance, memories of comments about your age and appearance, memories of anyone else in your life connected to this subject, women have to be married by a certain age.   Also look at the Get Out of Stuck guide with the belief, ‘Only women who are X age and below plus attractive can be married’ (or whatever your belief is) and use that as your prompt. I also want you to look for evidence of whether that belief has at least one example of being untrue. In fact, find as many examples as possible and find out what reasons you’re using for why someone who contradicts your beliefs is married.

How to deal with resentment and frustration towards my mother?

Recently I was helping my Mum carry a ladder down the street and the ladder hit me on the leg and I swore, not AT my Mum, but because it hurt. My Mum then loudly publicly berated me for swearing, which I found ironic because she married a man who would aggressively swear AT her all the time when he was alive (but when she remembers my Dad, she only speaks about him positively). She also called me “aggressive” because when we were talking about my sister’s insomnia and anxiety, I said I’d read that those symptoms could be effects of the prescription drug my sister is hooked on. My Mum denies my sister is addicted. My mother’s a people-pleaser who has an outlook of peace at any price- she stood by when my father verbally and occasionally physically attacked me, and forgave a cowboy builder who conned her and pretended to have cancer. She calmly tolerates outrageous behaviour from other people, but gets angry with me over stupid little things. She sees me as a safe target for her frustration. I’m worried that I’m going to lose my temper with her soon! How can I avoid this?

Nat’s Response

I don’t know that you can avoid a run-in per se but you can certainly pre-empt blowing your gasket with her. The reason why people lose their temper in a way that might leave them feeling crappy afterwards is because it’s hoarded feelings. People pleasing is a form of silent rage that stokes a fire of resentment while the person may have an outward appearance of calm, pleasing etc. When we are a pleaser, it is a role, an identity that we’ve taken on to gain attention, affection, approval etc but to also avoid conflict, criticism etc. People pleasing is showing other people how to behave and it’s like creating debt and then expecting other people to pay it off for you. Because people pleasing is about showing others how to behave, when people don’t meet our expectations by playing their role, resentment builds. Your mother is a martyr – she continues to do something despite it being increasingly obvious that it is not in her best interests, never mind anyone else around her. Resentment can only exist when there is obligation hence if you lose whatever obligation there is, the resentment fades. To be clear: We feel resentful towards people when we do things, often good things but for the wrong reasons and often because we feel obliged to do the particular thing(s). That means that in your case, if you feel resentful towards your mother it’s because the way that you’re interacting with her (your role) is covering up old hurt and loss. You’re still playing the dutiful daughter and she is not meeting your expectations of being a mother. You’re feeling obliged to behave in a certain way (and she’s obliging you through her own pleasing ways) and when she says and does this stuff, you are now reminded of all the things that you based your own identity on as well as your unmet needs. You feel resentful because you’re interacting with her in whatever way you are and you learned, in part, to be that way as a result of how both she and your father behaved and now she is chastising you despite all the things that you do and have done and you resent her for playing nice, for taking a back seat to your sister, for not giving you your turn. See the resentment sacrifice dynamic for more insight on that. The way to lose the resentment is stop being so nice about it. No one’s suggesting that you go and cuss her out but goodness — you’re pointing out how your mother lets these things happen and tries to act like they don’t bother her (they do) and how she takes it out on you while not telling her to stop. Deal in facts but compassionately. For example: Mum, I’m a thirty-something-year-old woman. I swore because the ladder hit my leg and it was an instinctive reaction to that. I apologise that it’s upset you but please stop shouting at me in the street and calling me aggressive. We are not the same person. You handle things very differently to me and I try to respect your decisions even when I don’t agree with them and I’d appreciate if you’d respect mine. What you do works for you – it doesn’t work for me. When you _____________ (give three examples of her taking out her frustration on you), it feels as if you are taking out your frustrations on me. I don’t hear you speak to [my sister] this way and I watch you go around being forgiving and patient with everyone else while having an air of exasperation with me. I am not being aggressive in pointing this out to you. I’m being honest and it’s because I love you and value our relationship that I’m telling you this because each time you guilt and shame me into trying to do what you want me to do or you take out your frustrations on me, I feel resentful towards you and I don’t like feeling this way. It’s because of this why even though you might not like it, I will have to speak up. I won’t be doing that because I want to hurt you but because I want to have a better relationship with you. But also, be honest with you about anything, no matter how small it is that you do (or don’t do) out of obligation with her. Either change it to a desire or drop it. Then look at anything that winds you up about her and acknowledge whether it is something that you yourself are guilty of, not because it means that she’s not annoying but you can use this insight to focus on what you need to address. If it winds you up talking about your sister’s issues, which may feel weird considering that you might not feel as if you’ve gotten the support you need, don’t get involved. “I’m sorry to hear that” or changing the subject can work wonders.

How do I get through the party with my overbearing ex-friend?

I have been on Baggage Reclaim for some time now… I felt that by this time I would have found myself…healed…had healthy boundaries…found a relationship and all of that but instead I feel that I am at my lowest point in life ever. My sister is pregnant and apart of me is jealous… my best friend is no longer my friend because after thinking to myself that I need to get my finances in order I dropped out of being in her wedding party… the fact that she was a super bitch to another friend played in this as well… I felt bad and tried to reach out to her but she had chosen to ignore me but carries on with my family (texting my sister, coming to her baby shower next weekend, inviting members of my family to her wedding). I finished yet another relationship with another Mr. Unavailable. I feel like an outsider in my own family. All my friends are married except me. I am the oldest of this group of friends who probably aren’t my friends any more. How do I start living a life that I am happy with? How do I get past me and make changes I can stick with? How do I get through baby shower with an overbearing ex best friend who I know will make the party uncomfortable for me?

Nat’s Response

Often what feels like your lowest point ever marks a pivotal turning point. It can also be that even though it’s a low point that paradoxically, it may be a sign of a big shift. Working on one’s self takes a lot of faith and investment. You don’t do it to get something although you receive wonderful things in your life as a by-product; you do it because the old way doesn’t work and you want to become more of who you are and connect with making your desires happen. Beginning something with the end in mind lets you know where you want to end up, what you’re aiming for. In this way, you can know whether you’re on or off track. You can know whether your thoughts, feelings and actions are taking you towards it. You can know what you need to let go of. Any work that we do on anything comes down to whether it’s our smartest, most authentic, most productive work. One can study something and even pass exams at it but not have applicable knowledge. Just ask the people who have first class honours degrees but lack common sense or can’t get a job. If working extremely hard was the road to success, everyone who works hard would achieve it. If being ‘good’ via being a pleaser and settling for less than what you need and being less than what you need was the path to relationship success, again, all pleasers would have the best relationships. These things as piling up in your life because you need to make a change in a big way. You need to take your self-work and… >> Admit that you feel that you earned pregnancy more than your sister. You’re only human. Admit that you want what she has and that you don’t have to do all the things that you thought you had to be and do in order to get pregnant. I recall that you’re the most successful one in your family – your sister doesn’t have that same expectation of herself in order to do what she needs to do. >>Cut yourself some slack and remove the restrictions. Get honest about what you want and what you are and have been doing in your life that isn’t conducive to that. Before you hate on you or wonder why you are not getting what you want, do a stock take. What choices are you making at work, with friends, money, romance etc? You have been doing the work but do your choices match your work and your intentions and desires? >> You have the perfect problem. It’s something (or a number of things) in your life that are designed to distract. They hide the fact that you are afraid of your potential and/or purpose and that you’re afraid of moving on to the next stage of your life. If you acknowledge how having these things going on in your life is giving you an excuse to give you a hard time and an alibi to avoid making right choices, you can see that you are afraid still. You’re only human and this is OK but tap into your spirituality, to your inner wisdom and be open to being the change, to receiving a solution. >> Acknowledge how having this problem is also making you special – the best of the worst. It’s an identity you have that isn’t you. >> The situation with your friend has come about through delayed action. You tried to be the exception to her rule of behaviour but you also delayed on letting her know your situation. That’s okay, things happen, but be honest with yourself about 1) why you delayed on it and 2) whether she is the type of friend who you were willing to put yourself out for? Her behaviour is out of line but it is ok for her to be upset that you can’t be in the wedding party. Her reaction is not your problem. It comes from her sense of entitlement and rejection. Acknowledge that she’s not a happy person and that changes with weddings are stressful, and pray for a resolution that respects the highest good to come about. I’m out of time as there’s a lot going on here to cover in 10-12 minutes so very quickly: You are the feeler of your feelings. Your friend is not behaving kindly but you feeling how you do is more about the narrative you have. It is within your power to decide how you want to start feeling about this. Fact is, there’s no such thing as someone being overbearing with you without you being passive and letting her direct you. Your friend is upset because you have challenged the status quo but it is also the right thing for both of you. She actually resents you for facilitating that role and you resent her for being overbearing. You’re not responsible for actions. You need to own the fact that for a time, you were willing to settle for a sub par friendship and now, you’re not. You are raising your standards. On the other side of this discomfort is your happiness. Go to the baby shower and support your sister. Throw your back into it. That’s how you don’t let this woman take over and you show up for your sister

How to get over my ex quicker?

Despite knowing in my head that breaking up with my ex is the right decision, I couldn’t help ruminating our relationship. Seeing certain things, being in certain places, being in certain scenario or even certain time of the day reminded me of the better memories that we shared together. When things get tough, I miss his embrace and him holding my hand. Being the only single person in my family doesn’t help either especially when I see that they always have each other. My left hand holding my right is no comparison to having someone else holding it. Throughout the course of our relationship, my ex had also taught me many things that has become part of my lifestyle (such as eating healthily, being more physically active and being more open to try new things). I am upset with myself for missing someone who disrespect me. How can I get over my ex quicker? I have gone no contact since the breakup. How do I know whether I am ready to date again?

Nat’s Response

Your body and mind is trying to reconcile reality with what you have been through and what you’re experiencing is all part of the grieving process. It’s unrealistic to think that you won’t think about him and that you’ll forget him altogether, especially given the way in which he behaved. There is an element of gaslighting that has gone on in this relationship (hijacking your reality and making you doubt yourself) and so of course you’re going to replay aspects of the relationship. All that said though, while part of this is natural, part of it is…. habit. This is something that I quickly explain in this post. While part of this is about getting over him (the thinking about him), you need to look at where you defaulting to thinking about him is allowing you to create a perfect problem in your life. A perfect problem is one that by design, it serves a distraction from you having to feel, be or do something else. You get to hide from your potential, your purpose, from having to take the next step or move on to the next stage of your life. Having this problem serves a purpose. You get to tell yourself that you are something or that you’re not something else. Maybe it validates ideas you have about love, relationships or particular aspects of your past, such as your family. Often having the problem makes you feel “special” as part of its purpose, albeit special in a negative way. You get to be the best of the worst so while in some respects you may complain about the existence of the problem (Oh no, I’m in my thirties and single), on the other hand, you get to feel different from other people in your family in a way that secretly allows you to feel validated. Examples of making you special are in the attachment but I also talk about this in this post here. You can have someone else holding your hand but time spent serving the agenda of thinking about your ex is time taken away from moving forward with your life. Nothing wrong with desiring companionship but using your fear of starting over to hide out by thinking about him all the time, isn’t going to help you reach that aim. All that’s left to do with your ex is accept that who he is is who he is and it hasn’t got a damn thing to do with you. You did the best that you could. Instead of berating you for failing and cross-examining you to try to figure what you did to make him behave as he did, accept that how he behaved represents his values, not yours. You’re the feeler of your feelings. He’s the feeler of his. You are the feeler of your feelings and because you ignored them in the relationship, and let his take precedence over yours because you saw him as a last chance saloon, that’s why you feel bad. You can’t hold that man’s hand with accepting what else comes with him. You were not happy in the relationship. The start of getting over him is letting go, accepting that the relationship is over and that you both did the best that you could but that it wasn’t a right fit. You cannot hold onto investigating him in your head and have the space for a relationship so it’s time to make your choice. You have no control over the future. You have control over how you proceed. Start by breaking the habit (see the first link). And everybody misses their ex, including the ones that disrespect them. It’s because they weren’t ‘all bad’ – just not the one for you. You can miss those aspects while admitting that he’s not the one for you and your needs run deeper than eating healthily or having your hand held. Thank him for his time (in your head) and send him on his way, metaphorically speaking. You can date whenever you like. Your readiness will reveal itself and it’s one of those things that once you’re beyond the first few months of the breakup, you run the danger of trying to find the perfect moment. Also listen to the first episode of the podcast.

How can I meet my need for affection?

My question is around physical affection outside of a committed relationship. I’ve never been one for casual sex. It’s been 3 years since my last relationship. I’ve dated intermittently but, apart from kisses, have never got truly close to someone again and haven’t had sex in this time. I’ve been journalling to healthily self soothe feeling lonely. I don’t want to put myself in a situation where I feel I’m being used for sex but haven’t met anyone I want to pursue something serious. By not fulfilling my need for physical touch, affection, intimate hugs etc I’m feeling starved. I almost don’t trust myself to not be taken advantage of so I never let it go ‘there’. I’m wondering if I’m halting natural progression of relationships by being so guarded. Friends think I’m weird because I’ve come to view sex as something quite sacred. How can I meet my need for intimate affection outside of a relationship without hurting myself or anyone else?

Nat’s Response

Everyone has different views on sex and so you can’t measure your values against someone else’s because Rosie might be cool with having no-strings-attached sex but you might not be. If anything, it’s not about comparing your sexual values to someone else’s; it’s about getting clear on why you believe what you do. This isn’t because you’re questioning your beliefs as if to discredit them; you are questioning your beliefs to gain deeper understanding and to ensure that you are conscious, aware and present. Many of our beliefs are just there, unquestioned. Some are helpful and others need a bit of tinkering to ensure that the shame and fear element is taken out. If you’re not having sex because you know yourself enough to know that you struggle with the emotional consequences of having casual sex, that’s different to not having sex because you see sex outside of a relationship as being taken advantage of. Fact is, plenty of people have been in unhealthy relationships and felt uncomfortable about the sex. That’s not to encourage you into casual relationships but more to highlight that you need to put your sexual values into a context of love, care, trust and respect. Having sex outside of a relationship doesn’t automatically equate to being used. When there is this sense of being used, it’s often because one person doesn’t have agency in the situation and sees the other person as having soaped them up to get laid etc. It becomes about ‘they only spent time around me and said those things because they wanted to have sex with me whereas I was thinking that we were broaching the possibility of a relationship’. But if you come into a situation knowing yourself, knowing your opportunity to choose, then it is possible to, for example, have a fling, enjoy the sex and leave it at that. But it’s not for everyone. Every decision comes with trade-offs. If you choose to work for yourself, you get freedom and flexibility, for example, but it also means that you have greater responsibility. If you choose to become a parent, that brings many delights with it but it also means that you can’t just walk out the front door without having to make a trillion arrangements. If you choose not to have sex because you prefer it to be in a relationship, you are spared from a lot of the shenanigans that come with sexual contact in dating but it also means that it might be a while before you have sex. If you choose to have sex while dating, you get laid, you enjoy sexual affection etc, but there’s also some potential emotional consequences, the possibility of sleeping with more people than you might have intended, and there possibility of disappointment. Every decision has trade-offs. I think that you also need to get clear on your emotional needs and the context because, yes, there are clear needs for sexual intimacy within a relationship, for instance, but not all of those needs (physical affection etc) have to be met solely within a romantic relationship. That doesn’t mean that your desire for these within a romantic context aren’t valid but what it does mean is that if you’re not in a relationship, these don’t have to run dry. It may be that you need to evaluate your sexual values and be open to finding a middle ground – only you can be the determiner of what your middle ground is. I think, as well, it’s important to acknowledge that having sex with someone doesn’t have to amount to “hurting”. Clear, open, honest communication and conducting yourself with integrity. I would also consider going through the experiences that you associate with having been used because clearly you have a lack of self-forgiveness there and have put up a wall instead of establishing a healthy boundary. Your way of protecting you against what happened in the past is to refuse everything beyond a kiss but fact is, those past situations weren’t solely down to sex and if you can forgive you, then you won’t carry each of these situations into dating. Use the clearing and releasing exercise in the foundational resources to go through memories of being used sexually.

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