OFFICE HOURS

This is where all of my previous Q&A sessions are stored.

2020 SESSIONS

October

Should this stay a friendship?

When I moved to the place where I currently live two years ago because of a job, I ran into a man I knew from my previous position. We met each other a couple of times but I was never sure if it was a date. I felt totally attracted to him but thought the chemistry was a red flag. A year ago, he told me he couldn’t have a relationship for various reason, one of which is him being chronically ill. His statement was very liberating for me, as it made things clear. I started online dating while our friendship deepened. Now, this friend told me he really likes me a lot. That instantly triggered the chemistry again. He thinks I’m someone who wants to define everything, whereas he wants to see where this is going. I started having certain expectations towards him and getting angry when he acts differently. I immediately get dependent on his texts, calls etc. I realised how ambiguous I am, wanting and not wanting to be with him at the same time. Maybe he is someone who teaches me to explore my unhealthy emotional responses to a man I feel attracted to?

Nat’s Response

 

This sounds kinda messy and confusing, not necessarily in some terrible way, but certainly in enough of a way that you need to ask yourself: What’s really going on here?

This man has activated you. Or, put another way, this dynamic, including your expectations, have activated something.

You say that this became a friendship. Did it? I wonder, if anything, that given that, yes, he did make his big statement and you were also busy elsewhere that your attraction to him became, how shall we put it? Dormant.

When you were previously attracted to him, you felt that the chemistry was a red flag. This is a good time to revisit why that was the case. Ambiguity, not knowing where you stand, the will he/won’t he of rejection and maybe something about the way he behaved reminding you of someone from the past, may have set you off.

If, for example, he said what he said and you found that liberating, is there a part of you that maybe put him in the reserve in the background on the off-chance that maybe he might become available at another point or certainly his company/friendship might be a balm should, for instance, another relationship not work out?

Whatever it is, the wood has been missed for the trees here because a crucial aspect of this hasn’t bene acknowledged:

All this man did was say that he likes you a lot. That’s it.

Here’s the kicker: As you said, a year ago he said that he couldn’t have a relationship for various reasons. Clearly, he was sharing this nugget of information with you because there was the question of what you were both doing and this attraction and you being unsure whether you were even on a date. There had to have been some expectations there that he needed to extinguish with his explanation.

But one year on, his position hasn’t really changed. Yeah, sure, he might like you, but he didn’t say that he wanted a relationship or even that he wanted to date. He wants to keep things loose.

And that’s his prerogative, but it’s probably not going to be enough for you given your immediate change of gears.

A friendship is a mutual relationship between friends. As I said at the outset, you need to be honest about whether this was an actual friendship or something else a bit more ambiguous.

Because here’s the next kicker: You are not longstanding friends. You met through work and there was romantic intent even if that didn’t come to fruition. While the two of you have been friendly and you say that the friendship has deepened, honesty about what this has really all been about might reveal that you were two people who were friendly after tentatively exploring attraction but that you’re not friends in the fullest sense.

And now that you are attracted to him and he’s saying that he likes you but also trying to slow down your expectations, you’re not friends anymore because there are relationship expectations.

That is fine, but neither one of you can have the best of both worlds.

If you are to explore things romantically, while it might take a while to find a rhythm, it needs to be mutual or this isn’t going anywhere. He’s maybe not going to move at your speed, but you’re also maybe not going to move at his.

What was the purpose of him telling you that he likes you a lot? What is it that you’re supposed to be doing?

No, he doesn’t owe you a relationship because he’s said that he likes you a lot, but he does owe you an explanation and clarity about his intent.

At the same time, while he could be someone to explore your responses with, the onus will be on you, not him, to manage your expectations. Even though you have been friends, as such, for this last year, in choosing to be romantic, you are now at stage 1 and you have to manage your expectations accordingly. The fact that you feel that you were friend doesn’t afford you anything higher than the stage you’re in. If it turns out that you can’t handle that with him, that’s OK. You can revert to being friends and leave things be.

Podcast Ep. 123: The 5 Stages of Relationships

How does one date people with mental illness?

I’ve uncovered a pattern in all of my unavailable relationships that my partner had a serious mental illness and an emotionally or physically absent father figure. I also have suffered from anxiety and depression, and know how crippling it can be. However, I have a vibrant personality that I’ve worked hard to nurture and have repaired my relationship with my dad. I’m curious what kind of filter I need to develop to stop being in relationships with people who look up to me or admire me, but not discriminate against those who have these problems. I am very compassionate and it is often used against me – they often abandon me out of nowhere or get jealous of my growth story, but continue to say how much they love and care for me.

Nat’s Response 

It strikes me that this is about you playing a role, not so much the person having, for example, mental illness.

Having boundaries and not playing roles isn’t about discriminating against those who do have those problems, not least because having been through your own experiences, you would be judging you in the process.

But the fact that you have been in this specific pattern points to you having playing a role in each of these relationships that’s also contributed to you experiencing blind spots.

While it’s possible to meet someone and for them to already have been diagnosed with a mental illness or be going through it, humans can experience impacts to their emotional, mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing at any point. So someone not having a mental illness, as such, at the point of meeting would not mean that they wouldn’t experience it at a later point.

Mental health is health. It’s not something separate from us and our lives. As a friend of mine, a mental health advocate explained recently, if you think of how the world was previously described as having first, second and third world countries, in terms of mental health, every single country on the planet is a third world country.

People can be more than one thing, and while some mental illness can overwhelm and impede a person’s ability to be part of a loving relationship for an extended period of time, that’s not the case for all mental illness.

You are not defined by having suffered with anxiety and depression. As you note, you also have a, as you put it, vibrant personality. People can be more than one thing.

Something you need to consider is how your experience of mental health is influencing your attitude towards relationship partners. Whether it’s your actual experience or what you observed in others, how is this affecting your thought process, actions and attitude? You need to distinguish between empathy (recognising another person’s position and that they have their own, and over-empathy, hijacking their perceived position, projecting your view, experience, etc on to things and allowing that to shape or even erase your boundaries because you don’t know where they end and you begin).

You also need to acknowledge the role you play in your relationships and specific things you be, do and think. Part of your role involves being the rescuer, maybe being the listener, and something to do with being on a pedestal that effectively puts you in a role of being superior and admired, which means that they are, inadvertently, beneath you.

You also need to be honest about your compassion—back to the over-empathy thing. You can be compassionate and boundaried at the same time. If your flavour of compassion involves you feeling sorry for partners and an element of fixing, rescuing, etc., this isn’t compassion. That doesn’t mean you’re not a compassionate person, but you are misusing your good qualities and calling it compassion when really it’s a boundary issue and people-pleasing.

Get honest about the why. So, yes, you’re compassionate, but think about specific things that you do for partners. What is the why? If the why involves trying to avoid or get something, or you think it will make you or them more worthy or whatever it is, that’s where the boundary issue is coming from.

I guarantee you that ” I am very compassionate and it is often used against me – they often abandon me out of nowhere or get jealous of my growth story, but continue to say how much they love and care for me” is a sign that this is a rescuer/victim dynamic. “Abandon” is always a sign that the relationship has roles and that there is rescuing and in some respects, being in a child role and being in a relationship with someone who reminds you of a parent/caregiver.

So, yes, you can date people with a mental illness, I just wouldn’t set out to as this would point to some form of hidden agenda, rescuing and blind spot (bias). You can go out with them, but you can’t try to fix them and you will have to stay in your lane and ensure that the relationship is balanced and that you are not overcompensating.

Friends with benefits and emotional support

Throughout the years I have been friends with a guy with whom I also occasionally have had sex. I have been single for a while and I have rationalized it is OK to allow myself some pleasure in a secure environment now and then. After listening to the audios of Break the Cycle I have realized this kind of behaviour is not aligned with the person I want to be and with my wish to be in a fix monogamous loving caring long term relationship. My question is how should I handle this relationship? How can I regain boundaries to not lose it or should I just all and all never see him again? in a way this one friend also became emotional support for me and I believe he cherishes me a lot and I also appreciate him. After all, he has been my friend and lover on and off for at least 10 years. I don’t feel able to let go of this relationship even if I know is not good for me.

Nat’s Response 

 

I think what you have to be honest with yourself about is whether 1) this is a friendship and whether 2) he, casual relationship aside for a moment, fits with who you say you are and what you need and want.

If your hope is to move towards what you want without ‘losing’ anything and so as such, changing much about the dynamic between you both, the likelihood is that you will put yourself between a rock and a hard place. You also need to work out: So, OK, I’m months or a year or so down the road and I am being more of who I really am and in a loving, mutually fulfilling relationship—where does this person fit in?

Something I see people do a lot in your situation is they, whether consciously or not, look to build their new relationship around the casual relationship so as not to rock the boat, disturb the friendship, etc. What you have to consider is that if you prioritise a casual relationship over your values or a more fulfilling relationship, how will this impact the outcome?

Let’s say you meet a new partner, and you will if you are genuinely open to doing so when the time is right: Are you intending for him and your new partner to be friends? Will he be involved in your life the way that other close friends are, and how will you factor this in with the new partner given the nature of your relationship [with your friend]?

The crux of the issue here is this: “I don’t feel able to let go of this relationship even if I know is not good for me.”

This means that this neither a friendship nor a casual relationship. Given the on and off nature of things over the last ten years, this relationship has indeed been of emotional support because it’s allowed you to enjoy the fringe benefits of a relationship without having to be intimate or committed. You haven’t had to look too closely at your needs, desires, expectations, feelings and opinions, and there’s a level of security in knowing the pattern of things—feeling reassured that you will be able to sleep together and receive a degree of emotional support.

So this is the time to get honest with you about what is really going on and what you are afraid of. Being available? Letting him potentially become available to someone else? Uncertainty about the future and fear that if you own what you want but it doesn’t happen at the speed you hope that he might not be there for the emotional support because he’s tied up in someone else?

You also talk about regaining boundaries. This acknowledges the other big issue here because what you have to ask yourself is: Why if we’re both so wonderful to each other and basically all of the things I’ve listed have I not been boundaried?

You’re responsible for your boundaries, needs, values, etc., so you have to go ahead and start upleveling your boundaries to reflect the life that you say that you want to lead and the person you want to be. It’s possible that this friendship will rise to meet you there, and it’s possible that it won’t. But if your intention and desire is to evolve and to be open to more fulfilling relationships and no longer be involved in something casual, even if this friendship can’t keep up with your healthier boundaries, you’re in a better place than you were before.

We’re not supposed to cling to all relationships until the end of the time. There is something to be said for appreciating the relationship you’ve had and what it allowed you to be and do, even if it was avoidance, while acknowledging that you are ready for something else. Gratitude and appreciation for someone should never extend itself to feeling as if you have to settle for a half-life.

Does a crisis affect No Contact?

If a crisis happens and one partner panics/asks for friendship, does that affect the implementation of No Contact?

My partner and I both experienced personal COVID crises that forced us to move in together without checking in on mutual goals and values. We loved each other fiercely for five months before move-in but saw the worst and best sides of each other in quarantine. Now that quarantine is over, he moved, wants to be just friends, but asked me to join a session with his therapist. I was confused – couples’ therapy is not for people who don’t want to be together. I asked him to just face the reality that he doesn’t want a relationship. Three weeks after we both started solo therapy, he explicitly said he can’t work on the relationship right now and doesn’t know when. I stated he must be mature and just break up, we must go no contact without friendship unless/until he wants to return to the relationship. Was I premature and insensitive or was I brave for standing my ground on building a future with a recently unwilling partner? Was it too soon to go no contact?

Nat’s Response 

I feel for you, and I’m sorry that you’re going through this. This year has been one hell of a rollercoaster, and we’re still riding it.

The thing about breakups is they’re not a democracy. Once one person wants out (or both), you can’t then carry on as if you’re in unison or have one of you putting demands or expectations on the other that are out of sync with the breakup, or the other party’s expectations of the breakup.

What I sense here is that you’re less than impressed with him for not sticking things out and trying to work things through. You describe it as him moving, him wanting to be “just friends”, and now him asking you to join him for a session with his therapist.

That’s a lot, and no doubt you need some space to process. This is not where you thought you would be.

It might feel as though he is asking a lot of you and expecting to do this breakup on his terms.

And, of course, you can’t go from living together to broken up and sudden friends.

It will take time to get to that place, and if, whether it’s intended or not, his behaviour rubs you the wrong way because it feels as if it’s maybe solo-oriented, self-serving, that will only delay that time or ensure that you never make it to there.

It’s not that either one of you changed; you just got to know one another. And admittedly, it was under intense circumstances. Whatever each of you felt prior to quarantine, you felt it without enough knowledge of each other to have a good sense of those mutual goals and values. You each found out things after you each thought you loved each other that changed the love to conditional. And then it was over.

I also get the sense that you want to work on the relationship and don’t want to acquiesce to him if, at the end of the day, he’s already out. So now there’s this back and forth between you, possibly accentuating how you each approach the same thing differently at times.

So, the one thing I think you have to be careful of here is leveraging No Contact as what will happen if he’s not going to meet you in the middle and come back to the relationship.

No Contact, especially in the world we are ‘connected’ online via various means that make ambiguity, ego-stroking and not processing and moving forward is a means of inserting boundaries into the situation and grieving the loss of the relationship when not being No Contact would likely lead to boundary issues.

Boundaries are equivalent to knowing what’s your responsibility and what someone else’s is.

The fact that he has this expectation that you come to therapy with him, which you are right, is something more approbate if you were a couple or you were separating with the genuine intention of trying to seek resolution and work things through in the hope that you can start over again and that even if you don’t, you’re both better than you were before.

He has told you that he cannot work on the relationship. And that’s his prerogative. It doesn’t make him ‘wrong’, but it means that he can’t have relationship or friendship expectations at this time.

I know that it’s hard to break up for a myriad of reasons. I sense that part of what is going on here is he doesn’t want to seem like he’s that guy, and so if you two aren’t friends, he has to come to terms with something.

Sometimes, as humans, we have expectations that suggest that in that instance, we are being emotionally immature. It can’t all be about him. You are coming to terms with a breakup too in your own way, and don’t exist solely to make him.

Get clear on your why. As long as you are aware of it and authentic, as opposed to doing something to get him to do something, you are fine. And no, it’s not too soon. Otherwise, you’d still be deliberating couples therapy or being disappointed by him not being sensitive to your experience.

How do I understand where my anger comes from?

I know I suppress anger a lot and people please to manipulate a final outcome. I usually feel frustrated when the outcome does not go my way. As I have reached week 4 of break the cycle, I am really struggling to see where this anger comes from. I recognise my guilt and self blame a lot easier. How can I alleviate my anger, which I know is underlying a lot of my communication issues, when I can’t pinpoint one event or situation which triggers it? I feel as though it is a very general anger with myself that I am not more assertive with people and as though I’ve been dealt a ‘rough hand’

Nat’s Response 

 

Anger is always two-fold: we might, for instance, as you identified, say that we’re angry with ourselves. But that anger we have towards us also covers up anger with have towards others that we haven’t expressed or that we feel frustrated that we can’t do anything about it yet. Similarly, sometimes people say that they’re angry at others, and they are, but it’s often hiding the anger they feel towards themselves.

If you’ve suppressed your feelings, etc., for some time, your anger and the specifics of it may be hidden from view. Sometimes, it is easier to go hard on us than to acknowledge the actual truth, including who someone really is, what went down, or even our own actions. We’ll often feel as if we’re angry with ourselves and that we know what it’s about, but it’s very possible that we are mad at us about something that obscures the truth.

For instance, you say that you recognise your guilt and self-blame easier. Well, for a start, if you feel guilty, you feel guilty about something or a number of things. If you’re blaming you, you’re blaming you for something.

It’s like ‘I feel guilty because X’. OK, but what are the specifics about X and the situation that give you the impression that you’re supposed to feel bad about it?

‘I’m blaming me for Y.’ OK, but if it’s generalised, that’s just about being in the habit of giving you a hard time without having to be vulnerable and truthful enough to look at what’s really going on. Are you really to blame? Or are you just saying that you’re to blame because it’s your default?

If it’s not generalised, what are you blaming you for? Write it out in bullets. Then identify what is factual and that you are responsible for, and what is actually something out of your control and someone else’s behaviour.

Then you get to see that, for example, you are angry because Person A behaved ________ even though you were XYZ. Or you’ve been telling you ‘If only I ___________, then they wouldn’t have ___________.

Try 7 why’s. I blame me for X. Why? Because __________. OK, and why that? And as annoying as you think it might be, keep going.

The other thing is, if you have generally avoided your needs, expectations, desires, feelings and opinions, it’s a bit much to expect that you can pinpoint one specific event. If you only interacted with the person once, then sure. But if you’ve interacted with that person a lot, while there might be something big that set it all off or really sealed the deal on the dynamics, ultimately, it’s a lot of things.

Sometimes we miss the wood for the trees. I don’t doubt for one moment that there’s some value in getting into specifics… if the info is there. But if it isn’t, you already have the information: you are angry. You are pissed off. The clue is in how you feel, not necessarily a long list of events.

It’s like when someone says ‘Why am I drinking too much?’ And in the end, the fact that they’re drinking too much is the clue that something is out of whack.

You are angry with you for not being more assertive, as if to say you got a first-class honours degree in assertiveness and are peeing it into the proverbial wind.

Very few people actually had constructive, proper lessons on assertiveness as a child and while growing up.

Your environment contributed to why you have not been as assertive as you think you are supposed to have been. Your role was to be more passive because of how your parents/caregivers, siblings and other significant people in your childhood behaved and messages that you picked up.

The way to alleviate your anger as part of an ongoing process, not in one fell swoop, is to be more boundaried.

Forgiveness Made Simpler

 

Rather than having a generalised attitude about the assertiveness, pick a couple of recent examples, and identify specific things that you could do that would allow you to be more assertive. Do not focus on trying to change the person and generating a different event; focus on a healthy outcome. e.g. asking the question you normally avoid, voicing your discomfort, saying what you mean and intend.

E.g. I say that I don’t like X.
I let them know that I’m not coming home for Christmas.
I tell them that I don’t have the bandwidth to take on the extra work.

Mixed messages and congruency

I have been told “I’m not ready for this” by a man I am very interested in as he is still processing his last breakup. He had a massive emotional breakdown really, and I fully respect his position. I wouldn’t be ready either. I get it.

However, we volunteer together and live near each other. Our built-up emotional intimacy, familiarity and enjoyment of each other’s company when we do see each other makes it hard for me to disconnect and let go of the possibility he will be ready, eventually, even while enforcing my own barriers and respecting his. I just feel stuck, even though I’m doing the things I ‘should’ be doing.

Help muchly appreciated!

Nat’s Response 

I really feel for you as you’re clearly into this guy and it can be hard when we see potential and are also grappling with our own feelings. All that said, to fully respect his position, you have to let go of your hopes and expectations for something happening between you.

Even if he has some interest in you, he has done the truthful and respectful thing and let you know that he’s processing his last breakup. Another kind of person would be processing and dragging you through the rigmarole of their uncertainty. You’ve been spared from this, so now you have to spare yourself from any further heartache by accepting what he’s told you, even though you wish things were otherwise.

The built-up “emotional intimacy, familiarity and enjoyment of each other’s company” that you refer to is, in part, a sign of your friendship, but also your perception of the interaction.

To be clear, I’m not disputing any of that, but it’s because of this that you are attributing additional meaning and value to your relationship with him. There’s a part of your brain going

If I have emotional intimacy, familiarity and enjoyment of each other’s company, it’s because it’s a sign of our romantic connection and the possibility of a relationship.

But he doesn’t attribute the same meaning and value, not least because he’s not emotionally available for the type of relationship you want.

This man has been through an intense level of emotional upheaval between the breakdown of his relationship and his own breakdown, so what he needs is the volunteering and nourishing relationships that let him be exactly as he is and that don’t want more of him than he is. It’s critical not to wait as aside from it inadvertently creating pressure and expectations that he may not be able to live up to, you’re also setting you up for disappointment if you basically hold out for something he hasn’t agreed to and that he might not become ready for.

And, of course, you are only human, and you have your needs, but the danger with a situation like this is that it can become confusing about what’s driving the dynamic, including awareness of this person’s vulnerability and struggle, there not being a current possibility of a relationship, and any similarities that this situation or even he has to something else from the past.

Accepting his position even though it differs from yours and creates disappointment now is the way to go. Accept it without ifs, buts and maybes. Grieve the loss of your hopes and expectations. Notice where you’re breaking your own heart by not letting him go.

You mention how you’re doing the things you ’should’ be doing, which feeds back to acceptance. If you truly want to respect his decision even if initially it’s through gritted teeth, you have to want to do the right thing by the both of you even though it feels uncomfortable and maybe even painful. If it’s a ’should’, you end up going through the motions and play-acting at respecting his position while quietly resenting that you have to do it in the first place and wishing you were doing something else.

A friendship is a mutual relationship between friends. No, you can’t just switch off your feelings, but you need to step back and have an honest conversation with yourself about whether you are in a position to spend time around him at the moment. About whether you can actually be his friend without having underlying hopes and expectations for it to turn into something else. If you can’t, that’s OK! It doesn’t make you a bad person or friend; it makes you human. You will then be able to work out if you can continue volunteering in your current capacity or whether you need to take a break.

And rather than barriers, create healthy boundaries. This is where you choose to notice the difference between your position, feelings, thoughts, body, etc, versus his, and you act from how you want to feel and continue feeling and your values. This then means that by acknowledging your own needs, if being around him puts you in a position of repeatedly crossing your boundaries, you know what you need to do. It’s also a good idea to notice whether aspects of your relationship are feeding your hope because of boundaries not yet being created.

Losing hope about dating after another disappointment

I don’t know where to start….
But I am still reeling from the last non-starter of dates which led nowhere… (as I wrote about on the Facebook page)
Why does it hurt & disappoint every.single. time. something doesn’t go anywhere for me? I want to give up, I feel hopeless that I can’t find a partner at this stage… and yes I suppose I still want to fix me & anything I may need to improve about myself.
I did, by the way, write to that guy whom I spotted on Tinder (In my own words) and feel much better now that I’m not stewing over it anymore…
but I get very confused over when you say things like ‘sit on your hands, write it out & don’t get in touch with the guy… I didn’t hear anything from him back by the way…
When I do see a guy whom I admire, and find attractive, they’re most usually taken,
or I feel out of my league in youthfulnesss/age etc… Why is getting more difficult as time passes to meet someone?
I don’t even know what I’m trying to ask here…
Should I keep dating & keep going through hurt & pain of disappointment, or should I just sit back & if something comes my way, then it’s meant to happen. Do I be proactive or just passive?
Apologies for the confusing question which probably doesn’t make sense, but nothing seems to make sense to me.

Nat’s Response 

I think that there is a level of do-or-die entering into your dating experiences. This sense of lack, that there’s something wrong with you, that you want a relationship but on some level fear that you won’t get it or that you don’t deserve it means that it creates intense disappointment for you.

You just want to meet someone. A part of you is maybe like Where the eff is he? It’s like when Charlotte in Sex and the City vents her frustration about dating since she was thirteen and wondering where the hell this mystery Mr Right was. And it doesn’t help that we were brought up in an entirely different time to now that indoctrinated us into this idea that we would and should meet someone and do ‘all the things’ before the doom deadline of reaching mid to late-thirties. So there’s this underlying internal pressure, some of it coming from repeated external messages and pressure, that feeds this idea that you’ve failed.

And, of course, pandemic, biological clock and, yeah, just wanting to meet a decent, loving guy. Too much shit going on and also feeling like, Surely, I’m not asking for too much?!

Has it occurred to you that you don’t have to fix or ‘improve’ yourself? Look, I’m the first to say about dealing with emotional baggage as and when it comes up and practising self-care through the likes of healthy boundaries, but these are not a fix or improvement. You’re a worthwhile and valuable person already—it’s just that you’ve forgotten that thanks to all of the different things you’ve internalised and experienced. There’s no fix or improve. It’s more like a return to self.

I couldn’t find the post in the FB group re Tinder, so I can’t quite remember the context of sitting on hands, etc. If writing to him irrespective of whether he replies or not as allowed you to feel better and move on, and him not replying isn’t an issue, then you’ve achieved your aim of saying what needs to be said. Sometimes, as humans, we need to feel that the person has received our words as opposed to working out our feelings and position on our end, and that’s fine.

It’s ultimately about knowing your intentions and motivations. When people do what you did but they have a desired outcome in mind, it invariably backfires and/or leads to more games and heartache. This is why I suggest not firing off a reply or reaching out—so that if and when you do, it’s from a grounded place, not acting or lashing out, or even trying to regain control of situation that one can’t be in control of.

Of course, you can’t message every person from Tinder who doesn’t work out, but given the connection to your brother and some of the caper he seems to have been pulling, you can see why something would be said to him.

No matter what age you have been while dating, there’s always been men you found attractive that were already attached. Of course, as we age and also depending on context, so how often we go out and are around new people or people within our age group, that affects our perception of how many people are available. When I was dating in my twenties, the narrative was that black women were less likely to find partners of any race because they were considered the least attractive and also that there were/are no decent black men to date. The latter narrative has changed and the former hasn’t. At first, I subscribed to this and so what I felt, thought, saw and did reflected this. And then I went out of my way to notice situations that contradicted my view of things. You will need to do this, otherwise, you will write you off.

Yes, continue dating, but don’t continue doing it from a place of angst.

If you haven’t already, listen to this episode about the Recruiter Mindset.

I also recommend doing a bullet list of everything that happens from the time you meet someone on or offline until things don’t work out. What happens, what you think, feel, do, etc. Do it in order. Somewhere in there is the source of your disappointment that’s tripping you up.

 

This old audio might also help.

Are these deal-breakers and red flags, or am I running scared?

I’m in a three-month relationship. I love this man and we spend a lot of time together. He’s been there for me physically and emotionally, and there is a lot about the relationship that I like. However, there are two things that really bother me: lacklustre sex and him not really letting me into his world. He won’t really talk about the sex. He avoids the conversation or tells me I’m putting a lot of pressure on him. As far as not letting me into his world, I mean him not introducing me to his friends but always wanting to meet mine. At what point should I take these as red flags and leave, or should I stay and see if it can be resolved? I have a tendency to cut and run in relationships. Thank you!

Nat’s Response 

It’s nice to hear that you’re allowing you to brave a relationship!

You’re in the early months of your relationship, and so you are still in the unfolding and getting to know. Part of this is that you need to have consistent experience of each other and to have a reasonable sense of how boundaries, conflict, disappointment, criticism, stress and loss are handled by each of you and how it impacts the relationship. Not necessarily all of these, but all of them bar the loss bit is the stuff that comes up in the day to day of life. Even if you haven’t, for example, had criticism yet, if you see how he deals with it with someone else, this offers clues.

So, what you’ve described are not ’small’ things, but it’s hard to say how big they are, as in whether they’re a code red alert.

Lacklustre sex can mean a number of things, but without effort on both sides and a level of exploration that leaves room for things to improve, then it will remain lacklustre or become a big problem.

Sex is not something that a lot of people find easy to talk about. Some people are a bit more show instead of tell. If you tell, or basically say “Hey, the sex is lacklustre”, then they might feel as if you’re saying that they’re doing something wrong. Sex is a mix of two people, so it takes communication, whether physically or verbally, for it to evolve. You may have to find your rhythm. It might be that you give him a bit of a steer about what you like. And if you think things are “lacklustre”, then I’m guessing you have an idea of what that is. Getting specific even for yourself can help you to figure out if there’s a ’show’ element—e.g. Moving his hand to somewhere or saying “I really like when ___________” or “More of that please”.

Also, and I know it might sound strange that I’m saying this, but no faking it. Otherwise, he won’t know what you do or don’t enjoy.

If he genuinely feels like it’s pressure, showing over telling goes a long way. Unless someone is really into talking about sex, odds are, they are going to feel uncomfortable about talking about it.

If the showing doesn’t get you anywhere, then it’s worth having the difficult conversation.

Work out what you want to get from broaching the subject with him. “Better sex” is possibly a bit of a leap from what may well be an awkward conversation. If, however, you own your side of the street and so you then have an aim to, for example, ‘let him know something I like’, ‘let him know that the sex is lacklustre because (and include no more than three brief reasons)’, ‘let him know that I love him and value our relationship, and that I also value intimate communication’.

Re the friends, it’s worth considering whether he has friends or whether he has friends he’s close enough to be keen to introduce girlfriends too.

It’s hard to say whether the friends thing matters. If he’s letting you into his world, and his world isn’t big on friendship, then that’s worth acknowledging. If he has friends and sees them but doesn’t ever include you but will do things with yours, then yeah, bit of a disconnect there. If what he’s doing is emblematic of him generally not letting you in, then it’s not really about the friends.

Work out what it is that you think constitutes him not letting you into his world. If it’s just the friends, then say something:

Hey, so far, we’ve only done things that involve meeting my friends, and that’s lovely, but I would love to meet some of yours.

Keep in mind that he’s asserted that he wants to meet yours, so there’s no problem in you asserting that you want to meet his.

If nothing happens, I’ve noticed that you’re really keen to meet my friends but that even though I’ve expressed a desire to meet yours, nothing’s happened yet. Is it that you’re not ready for me to meet them yet?

Or keep it light and ask if he’s hiding you from his friends.

And if both issues continue and there’s no talking, then that’s a deeper conversation. Much as you may feel that you love him, you love someone when you know and understand them. So use this time to have what may sometimes feel like awkward conversations, to know and understand them. Even if conversations are awkward, that doesn’t mean don’t bother. It takes time to warm up to these things.

I don’t know if these are deal-breakers. It depends on what your needs are. If sex is high up on your list and it remains lacklustre plus you can’t talk and are not in his life, then you have your answer.

Hair loss

I experienced significant hair loss, I think it started towards the end of last year and continues to today, I don’t have any medical conditions, neither on my scalp nor any other part, got checked thoroughly. I did experience unusual stress last year, much more than I have ever before and researching online found a connection between stress and hair loss, oh and then Covid happened this year as well of course.

But I finally feel much happier now, I managed to stay NC and have not fallen into the trap again. Thoughts about Mr Unavailable still show up, though much less intensely and also less frequently. Every day it is getting better. Thanks for helping me on this journey! I feel like I have my life back and can finally completely focus on me again.

What worries me is the fact that I am still losing so much hair although I finally have broken things off for real with Mr Unavailable. Do you have any tips on how to deal with hair loss? Can this come from ending a relationship and after getting out of a toxic involvement?

Nat’s Response 

I’m sorry to hear that your hair is still falling out.
Obviously, I’m not a doctor, so I speak from a mind-body connection and general wellbeing perspective:
While they haven’t found a medical condition, what they maybe haven’t discussed enough with you is stress. A build-up of stress in the body and entering into a place of imbalance causes physical symptoms such as illness, intolerances or even sudden allergies. 
So, yes, it is stress, and yes, being in a situation like what you were and any avoidance, has undoubtedly contributed. 
For instance, Louise Hay says that it’s the result of fear and mistrust of the process of life. 
Or, Excerpt From

Messages from the Body – Their Psychological Meaning
Michael J. Lincoln, Ph.D.

“HAIR-LOSS
“Shut down.” It is a clamping down on their passion and/or personal potency, lest they activate abandonment or annihilation from their environment. They don’t feel free to be themselves. It reflects an underlying sense of non-deservingness of acceptance and/or a fear of becoming too noticeable in the environment. It arises when they start to manifest their true essence and destiny.
It is the result of being thoroughly trained to experience themselves as “unfit for human consumption” and/or as being “bad, wrong and evil” for having personal power and clout. Their family was intensely conditionally accepting out of a highly possessive and/or out of an alarmed reaction to their potency, potentials and passion-arousal.”

See if there’s anything at all that resonates in that.

I have another couple of books that I can check when I’m back in my studio tomorrow. 
Rather than focusing on hair loss per se, if you have a holistic approach and look to reduce stress in your life and, as such, bring you back into balance, you will raise your overall sense of wellbeing. 
Although I wrote these about tinnitus, much of the tips apply 
It is great that you have ended things, but it will probably take some time for the effects of that to ripple through, and part of it will be about noticing where you are feeding your mind with any negative or controlling thoughts about him or even your ex. 
You’ve been through a stressful time, and the distraction with this man has taken its toll. You would be better of relaxing into your life, taking steps to face what’s up ahead, and processing what happened with your ex instead of distracting yourself by chasing after this man. On reflection, you know that it wasn’t worth it, but it has taken hair loss and obsessing about him to come to this point. The body makes you pay attention and notice. 
I would arrange to see a kinesiologist if you can as they will be able to help bring your body into balance. 
Wait while he figures out if he's going to have an arranged marriage?

After a number of unavailable/casual relationships following splitting with my husband in 2019, I met a lovely guy online just before lockdown. We talked constantly during lockdown and met up and started a physical relationship as soon as it was lifted and have been seeing each other since. He is kind, attentive and intelligent. Our values are compatible as are our educational backgrounds and we even share some strong interests. We are from very different cultural backgrounds (he is Nigerian and I am white Scottish) but this has been more of a fun discovery process than any issue.

Things were going well until his family began to put severe pressure on him to have an arranged marriage. His mum in Nigeria is very unwell and due to covid, the family are unable to pay her medical bills. His father has a friend who is wealthy and offered to help with the costs if my boyfriend will marry the man’s daughter. My boyfriend does not want an arranged marriage and has been resisting but he is now under massive pressure from several family members and being told he is selfish and will be the cause of his mum’s death etc. As a result, his anxiety levels are through the roof. I think he feels he has no choice but to do this.

I’m trying to be supportive and understanding. I did suggest we end things and be friends but he didn’t want that and I agreed to give him time to try to work things out but the pressure is mounting. I feel like living with this hanging over my head is upsetting and stressful but I would also feel awful if I ended it now and he felt even more alone. I have feelings for him and I hate that he is suffering so much and I feel selfish that my suffering is so much less but that I’m still upset.

Please advise!

Nat’s Response 

So, what I want to say from the outset is this: While, as you are more than aware with your profession, there are clearly a lot of ways that humans can suffer, we’re not in the suffering Olympics. Him going through a difficult time in no way minimises your own suffering or existing needs.

If someone comes to you with a broken leg, and the next person comes in with, I don’t know, a cough that they’re anxious about, you’re not going to tell them to get a grip because someone else has a broken leg, Covid, cancer or whatever.

Both things can be true at once: He is feeling caught between a rock and a hard place with his family and anxious about the decision he needs to make, and you are rightly anxious about what on earth is going on and how and whether things can work between you.

Much as you care about him and you were having a lovely time, you have to be careful of confusing that and what he’s going through with a sense of obligation to support him through what he’s going through so that he isn’t alone. You’re not an emotional airbag or entertainment centre, and there’s also a big difference between help and support.

You have been involved with this man with the intention of having a relationship. You were, are in a relationship.

The difference between help and support here is that when you help someone in his situation even though it may well be at your expense and you might be violating your boundaries, it’s because you think, even if it’s not consciously, that he needs you to get through this. That he wouldn’t be able to do it otherwise. Support is letting him manage the situation without taking responsibility for his wellbeing about it. Yes, you could continue to be there for him, but from a place of having relationship expectations, as opposed to ‘I’ll be there for him so he’s not alone’.

There is a boundary issue here because you feel that your suffering is so much less than his. Really? From where I’m sitting as the outside observer, this is a sh*t situation all round. It concerns me that you do not take your needs, expectations, desires, feelings and opinions into account and are little too hasty to marginalise yours over his.

Actually, what you need to do at this point is to get honest with yourself about your suffering. Calling it “selfish” is, at best, a code amber alert that something is wrong and that you need to get your bearings.

This situation you’re in, quite honestly, has too much drama in it. At the end of the day, he might not want an arranged marriage, but the situation highlights that he’s in a very enmeshed situation with his family that’s really emblematic of wider issues. He needs to figure out what his position is, and you need to be absolutely yourself with the same needs as ever while also being conscious of the fact that he’s clearly going through this drama. And if, as a result of doing this, you realise that your needs can’t be met by this relationship, thank yourself for having a nice few months with him and let him go.

You mentioned that you are in the discovery phase, and you are discovering. Make sure you’re having an open dialogue and that you are asking questions: Has he ever been in a situation like this with his family before? Is this the first time he’s aware of the expectation of an arranged marriage? If, actually, there has always been some level of expectation about this, then this is a long-standing issue, not a recent one. You need to ensure that you are with someone who is genuinely open to being in a relationship, not being in relationships here while always knowing that he can never be fully serious about you. In fact, if there’s anything you’ve held back on asking, ask it.

Long-term regret

If you have made a mistake, in this case, splitting from someone and you massively regret it, how do you live with it and forgive yourself when it’s you that is suffering and you that wish you had not done it and feel like you are living in the wrong sliding doors life?
Leaving someone for another person in this case even though you recognise why (low self-esteem) but it contributes to impact your life every day? How can you forgive yourself when the consequences of your actions make your life now unbearable and you know it’s because of the wrong decision you made?

Nat’s Response 

I think you have to be careful of putting years of life down to what you believe is ‘one false move’ that screwed up your life. Every last thing that we do, not just one thing that we latch onto because we really don’t like the outcome, can be a sliding doors moment. You believe that if you hadn’t left this man for someone else, then you would be utterly happy now. How do you know? You don’t. The only actual thing you could say for sure is that you didn’t make the decision of choosing this other guy. But that doesn’t mean that because you didn’t make that decision that you would have stayed with the man you now regret leaving.

Something I ask people who, for instance, become embroiled in an affair or another painful situation is, What was going on in the weeks and months preceding it?

Why? And why weeks and months and not years? Because the previous weeks and months of our lives shape where we are in 3-6 months time. How you’re thinking, feeling and behaving now will sow the seeds of the types of experiences you’re dealing with up ahead.

That doesn’t mean that the years of our life don’t count (of course they do), but if we want to know why we’re doing something right now, feeling about in the past to something from many moons back without acknowledging the journey in between and more recent experiences distorts the picture.

Humans are not very good at gauging ‘good’ and ‘bad’ decisions because they see them as good equals everything going exactly as they would like and leading to lots of other good decisions, and bad as point-blank bad forevermore with no good decisions or outcomes that follow it. But our judgement of decisions is based on ego and with no window into the future and our ability to rewrite the past when we make decisions that we decide further down the line that we don’t like.

And the problem isn’t so much that you regret your decision, which is understandable given that you are disappointed with what door #2 turned out to be; it’s that rather than actually deal with the issues that led to the decision or actually be truthful with you about why you would give you a hard time for so long (so, what you get to avoid as a result of beating you up), you end up with more to regret.

I’m sorry that you didn’t get to find out what would have happened if you had stuck it out with the other guy. The fact that you had low self-esteem at the time though, or that the other guy turned out to be so disappointing doesn’t make the former guy Prince Charming and The Perfect Man For You. And if he was and is the right person for you, or someone like him is—life is funny in the way that you get to meet variations of people in different guises—you will no be in a position to be receptive to it if you’re still battering your self-esteem over things not working out with #2 because your self-esteem hasn’t grown.

It is not that decision that contributes to your life every day. Thoughts precede feelings. What’s contributing to your life every day is living in regret and beating yourself up. And if you genuinely regret what happened and it’s not just an excuse to beat you up that gives you a cast-iron alibi to avoid ever putting yourself out there again and getting hurt, then the response to genuine regret is to choose and keep re-choosing to forgive.

There’s no shortcut or magic remedy, as annoying as that is. You can’t tell yourself something for years or beat you up and just expect it to go. You will have to consciously intervene.

Regret Guide and the audio version

You also need to do the work of identifying what’s behind what is going on right now in terms of having this issue of your very beautiful being riding on this man. Go through The Behind The Problem Sessions.

When they finally leave you alone and you start feeling a new mix of emotions and lack of validation, how can we keep ourselves on the NC wagon?

I’d love your wonderful guidance, I am still feeling stuck in a cycle. I went no contact with my EUM at the end of Feb, then, of course, the pandemic hit, I’m still struggling to close the book. In the first few months, he made a few lazy attempts to reach out and I ignored them, for the past 4 months or so he’s finally gone and feels like it’s ended. Somehow I feel his silence is hurting me all over again, like his first discard. A friend of mine said his silence could be to try and break my silence as she had an ex who bragged this tactic. As things become tough in many lives and mental health becoming a real struggle I find myself wishing sometimes he would come back, even though I would only get hurt again. I know I’m grieving and healing, I even know it’s my ego and validation I’m seeking. I’ve had thoughts like what if he’s had covid and I chose the worst time to finally walk. Although he ended it by saying he would delete me and yet I feel guilty. In the past, his silence always made me second guess myself and give in, any top tips to help me navigate this?

Nat’s Response 

The clue as to what is going on is here: “In the past his silence always made me second guess myself and give in.”

You have been in a cycle of engaging and then not engaging or him cutting you off and then you eventually ‘giving in’. This means that you are programmed for that with him, and until you stick it out regardless of how strange or crappy it feels, that cycle remains.

The part of your brain that stores habits holds onto all habits. It doesn’t discern between good/healthy ones versus the ones you should let go of. The more embedded and associated with stressing out your nervous system the habit is, and the more your body will have a freak out.

It will not be purely about him. The fact that you have been involved with him and susceptible to being emotionally blackmailed by him or blackmailing yourself is because he reminds you of someone else, or the dynamic does. At a very primal level, your body (body and mind) feels as if your survival is at stake and that something terrible will happen because you have been in a child role with this man. You have feared disobeying him and cutting total contact permanently the way you would, say, doing that with a parent who behaved similarly.

To be in this relationship, you had to play a role, and it was a role you had already learned in many respects to play with whoever that someone else is.

That role represents a fantasy. And the reason you might feel deeply uncomfortable with no longer playing this cat and mouse game with him that you already know is a game because you played it many times is because it’s the death of the fantasy.

If he were to spontaneously combust into someone else and behave in the way you want him to, it would represent a far-out fantasy about someone else finally coming true. This is a healing fantasy. The sociopath will magically develop non-sociopathic tendencies and finally give me the attention, affection, approval, love and validation. I will finally get what I need.

Breaking out of this cycle means accepting who he is, as well as who, for example, that parent/caregiver was wholly and fully without judging you for who they are or aren’t. It means no longer searching yourself for answers to why they haven’t been who you knew they couldn’t be in the first place. It’s no longer blaming yourself. And, of course, if you stop engaging with him, you have to let go of the identity that this relationship represents, which is an identity that’s attached, for example, to your relationship with a parent, and you might not know who you are without all of this drama. You might be afraid of having to be responsible for yourself.

And guilt is a sign that this person is a parental stand-in and that you are responding, not based on the truth but on pattern.

You need to look at what is behind the urge to reach out to him or to hear from him. The Behind The Problem Sessions series in the membership will help you to deal with this.

How do I get past the 2nd/3rd date?

Thank you for this course, which I am already gaining insight from.

I am stuck in a lather/rinse/repeat dating cycle. I can’t seem to get past 2/3 dates with anyone, and this has been going on for a couple of years.

I’ve been listening to your podcasts recently and realized that I need to slow down, listen to *my* wants and needs, and develop more of a recruiter mindset. Yet I find myself in the same situation again after a couple of dates where the person seems to be losing interest and doing a “slow fade”.

I realise that sex is somewhat of a red herring in these situations; for example, one can wait a long time for sex only for the other person to lose interest straight afterwards, or have sex on the first date and then develop a relationship. However, I often find myself second-guessing myself around sex. I enjoy it a lot and tend to jump into it quite quickly, but then often find the other person loses interest after this stage or withdraws emotionally, leaving me feeling taken for a ride (even if I wasn’t sure about them either).

So I think my 2 questions are:

1. Am I taking the wrong approach to sex when combined with dating?
2. How do I get past the 2nd/3rd date?

Nat’s Response 

This is a really interesting question and rather common scenario.

Straight off the bat (and this also answers your first question), I recommend that you park the sex because for one reason or another, it is a factor.

Now, let me be clear: having sex isn’t wrong, and I don’t believe in the whole using sex as a bargaining chip to foster further dates, not least because the latter doesn’t work.

The reason why sex is proving to be a factor is because it is a recurrent theme in a scenario and the undesired outcome that results. This means that it is proving to be a blind spot and something that influences the speed of things, how you engage with the person and the outcome.

In theory, you should be able to enjoy the hell out of sex and have it whenever you feel like. The problem is that it’s not how humans and the developing of intimate relationships work in reality. It doesn’t mean that you have to behave like a nun, but prioritising your enjoyment of sex over the actual getting to know of someone is why you are in situations that are of a sexual nature, not an actual dating with a view of getting to know someone for the possibility of a relationship.

You can put on your ‘sex hat’ or your ‘relationship hat’, but you can’t wear both at the same time and expect to end up in a relationship.

Sex is a part of relationships, and, yes, it can be part of dating, but your experiences are showing you that including sex 2-3 dates in isn’t working.

If all you want is sex, great, crack on. But it’s not all you want, so you have to reshuffle your intentions and priorities.

Clearly, if you want to have sex, you can. Your experience has validated some top-line data that communicates that you’re not exactly short of opportunities for sex. So if there’s any underlying insecurity about whether you will ever have sex again, that fear has clearly been put to pasture by the reality of your experiences.

Also, and this has, again, been proven by your experiences, sexual attraction or ability is not a barometer of someone’s relationship suitability or the interest in subsequent dates.

This leads neatly into your second question, which goes back to what I said at the outset:

If you want to break this cycle, sex needs to go on the back burner in the early stages because experience has taught you that you are confusing the business of enjoying sex with the business of meeting a potential partner for a relationship.

Try to identify what has typically driven your decisions and actions in the early stages. So, what do you think, feel and do that leads to you riding the disappointment cycle where you end up having sex but you also don’t go past the third date?

Resource.

What are you afraid will happen if you don’t have sex?

What do you associate with, say, the fourth date and beyond? Is there something in this that might be a reason for inadvertently or even consciously sabotaging things with the sex? For instance, a number of clients and members parents moved swiftly into a ‘permanent’ relationship at the equivalent stage. Fear of winding up with, for example, a man like their father or being trapped in a similar relationship spurred the pattern. Of course, how relationships were made in, for example, the fifties or sixties really isn’t even remotely comparable to how we meet people now.

A friend of mine was also in a similar situation to you. Said she couldn’t go a week without sex. So she didn’t. But then she was never in a relationship. I told her the same thing that I’ve said to you: the sex has to go on the back burner.

Focus on getting to know people. Let the ones who have no desire to get to know you beyond sex go, and pay attention to being present and getting to know someone. I’m not suggesting that you do any of this three-month/six-month ‘rule’, but you need to work out the pattern of your dates—literally list what happens from first contact to when it blows out and then identify where the same things are showing up and do something else instead. Go through this list with a fine-tooth comb and notice where you’re tripping up. Zone in on those blind spots so that you have the intel to make a conscious choice to do something different.

Was I gaslighted?

I just had a revelation that one of my challenges is I am extremely vulnerable to being gaslighted. And this vulnerability along with the horrible experience itself is what makes the pain of the post gas lighting recovery so difficult. Both of my last two BFs had exes still in the picture, and they lied to me about their feelings and actions about them. And I wanted to believe them so badly because if I didn’t, I would have to give up the relationship, which I wanted so badly. I wanted what they were promising, even though their narrative made no sense and I knew they were being dishonest, especially when I tried to set boundaries. I really did know the truth but wouldn’t admit it. Which led to the anxiety as my body sent me red flags that I ignored.

I think that’s why I’d stalked both of them on social media. I’m looking for clues and hints to make sense of it all. I didn’t miss them or want them back. But I was so confused about what to believe that I sought answers from the only source available to me. (Obviously having a closure talk won’t help, because I can’t trust them.)

But I help them craft their lies because I want to believe them. I’m easy to lie to. I activate and support the lies with all my heart and mind. And when the truth becomes clear, it turns me inside out.

What do you think?

Nat’s Response 

I think you’ve made a really astute observation about the dynamics of your past relationships.

Boundaries are two-fold, and in their own way, problems are two-fold too.

For instance, when people tell me that their relationship is ambiguous because the other person is ambiguous, I point out to them that there’s no such thing as only one of the people being ambiguous.

Similarly, deceptive relationships, ones that have illusions and, yes, gaslighting, require each party to lie.

Your ex lied to you. In order to keep the illusion, to maybe avoid conflict and criticism, to not bust through the story upon which your beliefs about not just this relationship, but all past relationships and your sense of self were built on, you had to lie to yourself.

If you didn’t lie to yourself and so basically deny your reality, you would have had to face the truth. Maybe you thought it would be too painful.

The thing about being involved with someone who maybe tells what you think are ’small’ lies or they give you a version of events and then reality seems to start shifting because it doesn’t match how you think things should be given what they’ve told you or what you’ve assumed, is that it messes with your head. If you’re fairly self-aware and you don’t have a pattern of doubting or blaming you, alarm bells start to ring. If, however, you deny, rationalise, minimise, excuse and assume, the alarm bells still ring, it’s just that you might not hear them so clearly or dismiss them. You might assume that you’re only feeling this way because you’re ’too sensitive’ or ‘difficult’, or whatever.

I think that something that’s impacted you processing this relationship is an element of you sometimes gaslighting yourself due to feeling bad about having been [rightfully] anxious. There’s a part of you that still supports the lie that is the belief that things could have turned out differently or that he spontaneously combusted into this version of himself with you because you did something ‘wrong’ and that he’s spontaneously combusted into someone else now that you’re not with him. This lie supports the story you’ve already been telling you about who you are and your worthiness.

What may be beneficial is to consider where you learned to go along with things even if you were screaming on the inside. Who taught you to cover up for them? Who have you had to lie to yourself about so that you could keep their attention, affection, approval, love or validation, or avoid conflict, criticism, stress, disappointment, loss or abandonment?

You are not the first person to lie to themselves about someone because they really wanted the fantasy of what was on offer. Or what you thought was on offer. There are all sorts of factors that contribute to this, including what may have been loneliness. Whatever it is, your imagining of what you think would have happened with Paul if the fantasy worked out represents an old fantasy about meeting an old unmet need.

Write out what you thought would happen and how you thought you would feel and what you thought you would finally get. This will then help you to recognise who and what this reminds you of and what you were trying to heal via him.

September

Your top tips on managing someone who you are in NC with!!!

I’m in the awful position of having to manage (at work) a man who I had an affair with for nearly 3 years. When I say affair – he is married – I am not. I have just been promoted at work and am now his manager. I am 2 weeks into yet another NC period. I had done 10 weeks last year (record lol) and the initial high of cutting him off again has worn off and now I just feel awful. Really angry – more at myself than him – but also at him – but also sad. I can’t NOT talk to him – and am finding the calls and emails increasingly challenging due to “keeping it professional”. Like I feel – abandoned – I guess – even though it was me who ended it (again). I have such a long road ahead and it’s going to be more tricky being his bloody manager! Help – please – could I have your top tips on how to cope? Thank you.

Nat’s Response 

First off, congratulations on your promotion. You’ve earned it and no doubt it would be lovely to savour it, congratulate yourself and also be able to focus on the job at hand.

Life has a funny sense of humour. You’ve clearly attempted NC before and have gone back and forth on it. You’ve no doubt rationalised why you need to engage with him and kept trying to make nice. It’s amazing how we worry about hurting, offending, being rude or whatever with people who have hurt us. And so you go back and forth with NC.

But now you’ve been promoted, and you have no choice but to be boundaried with Low Contact that facilities your professional relationship and leaves your personal lives out of it. Anything else risks endangering the promotion you’ve earned. Unless a part of you is self-destructive and wants to sabotage your way out of the role or the company so that you don’t have to rise into your potential, you’re going to have to do the thing you’ve struggled to do. And now you have a reason that you can’t even consider personal because it’s your job and your responsibility: you are his manager.

What you’ve acknowledged in all of this is that sometimes you’re doing things for the wrong intentions.

Knowing why we do what we do helps us to enjoy more successful outcomes. When we do things with hidden or skewed intentions it leads, for example, to backtracking on NC and feeling crap about a decision we made.

The truth is, when you’ve gone No Contact before, it’s been about control and winning versus losing. A part of you maybe hoped to elicit a certain reaction from him or certainly hoped that he’d chase or feel bad which then gives you temporary validation until the next time you feel inadequate or angry.

As a result, you weren’t really NC; you were playing games and laying in wait. You were both doing the dance. And he knows that you are not, or certainly haven’t been serious about NC before because of the pattern of this dance.

Get honest about why you kept going No Contact but also why you kept re-engaging.

  • What did you hope would happen when you went NC? What did you want him to say, do and think?
  • How did you want to feel?
  • When you re-engaged, what did you think would happen then? What triggered it? What was the feeling you were trying to get rid of or create?

Do you want this new role?

This is cards on the table time. Do you want this job and the added responsibility? Are you happy in this company? You need to ensure that you are in the job and accepting the promotion because you value your career and the work you’re doing, not trying to stay connected to this guy or control him.

If you do want this role, you can’t hold on to whatever you had with him, and so the mourning of this relationship will begin. Check your terms and conditions with work about work relationships, including whether there’s any expectation of disclosure. I’m not saying that you have to disclose, but keep in mind that if you’re supposed to and you don’t, you cannot add anything else that could be misconstrued by him or anyone else.

I would be careful about having any conversations with him about your previous involvement. While you are theoretically in the position of power (manager), again, you having conversations with him or saying anything via text or email could be misconstrued and used against you.

Anything that isn’t professional in, for example, a text or email, then just don’t respond to that part. Or say, ‘As I said before, you can’t make comments like that any more, so please stop.’

You have both clearly needed something to come between the two of you to end this cycle of the affair. The promotion is it. It has to be because unless you’re both about to be together and it’s all out in the open, this relationship is done. In this #METOO era, while men have been pulled up left, right and centre for workplace relationships, women are too. You need to do what’s in your best interests here and keep your hands clean going forward. It will suck before it gets better.

The best thing you can do right now is use the next week or two as an intel-gathering period to understand what’s going on. I’ve attached some resources that will help you understand what triggers your feelings and the urge to engage.

What advice would you give to someone who always fears the worst?

I always feel anxious about things going wrong and about making mistakes. The anxiety consumes me and fills me with dread. I get a tight feeling in my chest and a funny feeling in my stomach. How do I become more sure of myself? How do I stop the intense feelings of doubt and fear from ruining my happiness?

Nat’s Response 

As a sometime catastrophisiser, I empathise. Expecting things to go wrong is a defence mechanism you’ve learned to employ against old hurts and losses. If you’re always on the lookout, the idea is that you won’t be too hurt or surprised when things go belly-up.

Part of this is driven by an underlying belief, a reasoning habit, then when it comes to you, something is going to go wrong or you’re going to make a mistake. The thing is, this is true for every human, but for you, you have a belief that it is a problem.

Becoming familiar with when the feelings show up and about what is pivotal:

Where are you?
What is happening around you?
Who is/was there?
What are you feeling in your body?
What were you thinking and doing just before?
Were you feeling something else before the anxiety?
What type of concerns set it off?
Has your overall week been harmonious or stressful?
Did experiencing it stop you from doing something else? (You then get to see if the anxiety is a distraction).

Get to know the pattern of your anxiety and what is setting it off, as the intel will help you to respond from a more conscious, aware and present place.

For instance, you might find that your anxiety shows up when something isn’t actually wrong. Like when a friend of mine felt similarly to you after she shipped stock of a bag she designed to Japan. That experience showed her that her anxiety was about doubt and fear: she couldn’t believe that she’d designed something that was going overseas and she was catastrophisising and imagining that something terrible would happen.

If you are worrying that something will go wrong or about making a mistake, go over what you have done and remind you that you have done it. If you’ve done all you can do, then reassure you that you’ve done that. Again, my friend in that situation realised that from her end of things, short of taking the bags there herself, or not selling them bags, there wasn’t anything else she could do. She had done all that she could—and she reminded herself of this.

Keep in mind that doing all that you can does not mean that something might not go wrong. You’re not God, a higher power or anything similar. You’re not in control of the uncontrollable. The idea isn’t to skate through life without anything ever going wrong or without ever making a mistake; the idea is for things to go wrong sometimes and to sometimes make mistakes and come out the other side.

It’s not worth angsting about things going wrong or making mistakes 100% of the time because things aren’t going wrong or mistakes being made even the majority of the time. Like when a man I spoke with worried about dying one day and so decided not to be close with his son. But I pointed out that all that did was rob him of a relationship with his child. What would happen if he was alive in forty years? He would have a distanced relationship with his son that impacted his child’s whole life all because of worrying about dying.

Your mind doesn’t differentiate between real and imagined, so you have to be careful of overfeeding worry. It’s like a goldfish. It doesn’t know when it’s full.

Keep a running a list of what the worst was and mistakes, and note how often it’s coming true. If the worst had happened, you would already have dealt with it. Also, look back on times when things have gone wrong. Was it really that bad? Aren’t you alive, still breathing, learning?

Anxiety always wants you to either reassure you or take some form of positive action, not to feed it with more worries. The feelings don’t mean that something bad is going to happen. If you worry a lot, your brain has been trained to associate worrying and these feelings with unrelated matters. Hence why I said to gather the intel so that you can consciously respond to it.

How to behave in the face of mutually exclusive tasks at work

My boss is giving me, and some other colleagues, tasks that mutually exclude each other, so you are always sure to fail. This is incredibly energy-draining, even more so since she can be super aggressive and exerts a lot of pressure. It’s not the first time for me to work for such a boss, and somehow the unsolvable job situation is always connected to a failing relationship. I split up with my last boyfriend a short while ago and for the first time in my life, I felt incredibly strong afterwards, because I was listening to my inner voice and trusting me for the first time ever, I saw not only the shiny surface but the red flags underneath. The double bind I experience with my boss is true for a lot of my relationships with Mr Unavailables, and now I also realized that I myself have two souls in my chest. Now, I wish I could just split up with my job, but in my field, it’s not so easy to find something new. Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with such an ambiguous and aggressive boss and not get sick from exhaustion?

Nat’s Response 

I’m glad to hear that you listened to yourself and reached a decision about your relationship. It’s not easy to walk away but it’s much harder to stay in something that’s no longer right for you and that would lead to you feeling increasingly bad about yourself.

You’ve noticed that life, as usual, is full of parallels. That how we do something in one area shows up in other ways, helping you to spot patterns and look at where you can shift.

You’re in a catch 22 situation:

You’re working for a manager who sets her staff up to fail by giving tasks that exclude each other, but you are afraid to leave because you say that it’s hard to find something new.

This is like when you are in a relationship that isn’t meeting your needs but you stay because you think that maybe if you push harder, it will get better, or that if you leave, it will be hard to meet someone else so you should just suck it up. But as you know, that doesn’t work because you feel increasingly like shit and resentment and frustration starts to grow in the relationship.

I’m going to say it: your boss has poor leadership and management skills. Now, either no one has pointed out the issue and so she’s entirely in the dark about it or they have, and she doesn’t give a shit, and no one else in leadership is addressing the issue.

To add this, your boss is “super aggressive” and “exerts a lot of pressure”, so now you’re working in a hostile environment where the boss doesn’t receive feedback or give it in a constructive way.

The fact that it isn’t easy in your field to find something new doesn’t mean you won’t and can’t find something new. It’s just not going to be the case that you decide that you’re going to get a new job and one falls in your lap tomorrow.

But you can’t get out of this bind if you don’t acknowledge that not only is this a bind but that it’s one you want to get out of. In setting that intention, you will begin looking for a new role.

I would encourage you to compare your work situations:

What were your bosses like? Do your bosses remind you of anyone in particular? For instance, if your bosses remind you of one of your parents, that might explain why you feel powerless to do something about it (because you’re in a child role).
What were the companies like?
How did you find the role?
What didn’t you ask about in each interview that you wish you had now?
What were the first problems, flags that you noticed?
What were your fears in each role and how true have they proved to be?

If you could choose the type of boss and company you want to work for, what would that look and feel like?

By comparing the work situations, you get to see where you have been inadvertently, sometimes consciously falling into the same traps. You also get to design the role and company you have in mind so that you can seek it out and ask the questions you need to ask or recognise signs that they’re a match.

In regards to your current role, flag it:

Are you aware that this task excludes the task that you set Person A and that as a result, it means ___________?

When she’s pressuring you: I appreciate that you want ___________, but given that _______________ (the exclusion), it’s not going to be possible to ______________.

I have tried to speak to you about __________, but you said ____________________ (repeat whatever aggressive thing she said). When you speak to me like this, it makes it difficult to have a constructive discussion about an issue or to flag up potential problems.

Keep a log of all discussions and instructions so that when she kicks off, you calmly list them.

When will I feel deserving of a healthy relationship enough to let go of my affair regret?

I’ve been trying to become more self-aware for the past few years. I found your site when trying to cope with dating a married man, which was two years ago. I’ve been reading your blog, listening to the podcast and journaling.
I recognise my situation and the baggage behind it very well now.

My husband left me and the children to be with someone else. I then fell in love with someone who later revealed he was married. We had an on and off affair for a year which I still feel hurt by.

I know I have low self-esteem from going to a girls grammar school and not feeling good enough, and from fighting for my parents’ attention with my siblings and my grandparents. My mum lost her mum at a young age and I’ve learnt to suppress my needs and people please my way to controlling situations.

Despite knowing this, I still can’t visualise deserving a happy relationship with someone else. Week 1’s exercise bought up a lot of regret and shame. I miss my married man very much and still can’t let go.

Nat’s Response 

It sounds to me like you have really tried to work through what happened with this married man but you are still peeling off the layers of shame and confusion.

You’re in a catch 22 situation: You want to feel deserving of a loving relationship, but now that you’ve been involved with Mr Married, a part of you has decided that this is all you are worthy of. Like you’re tainted or something because 1) your husband left you and 2) you were then involved with someone who was married.

What you describe with your husband is something I get the sense has been felt like an abandonment. This sense that there ‘must’ have been something wrong with you for him to leave you and your children to be with someone else.

Affairs are always an indicator of where someone has given up on themselves and is hiding out. After your husband left, a part of you shut down and was in so much pain that you wouldn’t have dared risk being open to being with a genuinely available man. This man who didn’t reveal his deal until much further down the road fit with where you are at.

A part of you may have also been curious about what it was to be that woman who ‘draws another man away’. This is something that women have been conditioned by society to believe — that women are temptresses that steal men from women who are not ‘enough’. That a man wouldn’t have an affair if there wasn’t something wrong with the relationship or the woman. That men leave because the woman wasn’t enough.

Affairs are what happen when two people are experiencing problem-solving issues. The attached person struggles internally with their thoughts, feelings and actions and possibly internally within their relationship. They look for an external solution to an internal issue — the affair partner becomes the ‘upper’ or someone to anaesthetise their struggles.

This experience has likely been painful because it got you to look at aspects of what your husband did from another perspective. It may even have contradicted some of the negative beliefs that you came away from the breakdown of your marriage with.

The on-again, off-again nature of your relationship will only have accentuated your pain and possibly made you question your desirability. You may be unwittingly competing with the woman your ex is with because you might wonder why this man hasn’t left his wife and see it as, yet again, something negative about you.

Over the next while, you will get to explore what’s really going on. At the end of the day, if you’re hiding your needs, whether your husband became involved with someone else or not, things were always going to blow up in a big way. And the fact that you were involved in an affair doesn’t make you any less deserving of a loving relationship. Many people have knowingly and unwittingly become involved with attached people. Gradually working out what made them susceptible to that situation and what needs they were trying to meet via the affair helps them to eventually heal. It is not unusual for people who were children who were under a great deal of pressure to perform and who were neglected emotionally, mentally, physically to be in situations like yours.

Just because he’s married, it doesn’t mean you won’t miss him. But until you’re being truthful with you about why you were involved (part of the work you’re doing here), you will miss him because of the fact that he’s filling a void. You will still miss him until you forgive yourself.

Be patient with you. It’s too much to expect that you can visualise this on week one. One day, one week at a time.

How to date as a single parent to become a non single parent!

I’ve brought my son up by myself since he was a baby, with NC from my ex. When dating I’ve never felt comfortable or known how to look for someone that I want to be with and who is a suitable dad figure for my son. I’ve started getting to know a guy and either got hurt realising they aren’t stepdad material, or I’ve led a parallel life for ages and then its ended for other reasons. I’ve always been upfront about my situation and have said that’s what I’d want long term (not from them, as such). If that doesn’t suit then I’m quite happy for them to walk away at that point. It is a need for me to meet someone who fits into my family life, though I now get all caught up overthinking it when I meet someone. I want the assurance that it can lead to something before they have even got to know me. And likewise, I want to suss them out asap to avoiding wasting time. I feel like that’s kind of reasonable though I’m not sure I’m taking the best approach! I keep meeting men who think they want something serious then decide they don’t or stay very vague about what they want. I’m now very suspicious and guarded and it’s becoming a bigger thing for me.

Nat’s Response 

I think that it’s a lot to expect of yourself and even the other party to try to assess whether they can be a father figure to your son at such an early stage.

Dating, when it’s with the intention of meeting someone with whom you can enjoy a mutually fulfilling long-term relationship based on compatibility, is about getting to know someone and assessing whether you have shared values (character and direction), first. Some won’t make it past dating. Some will make it to the point of starting a relationship. There will be someone, possibly a few where you will continue a relationship with them.

Someone who is a healthy partner for you who loves you and with whom you have a shared vision of how you want to move forward can be healthy, loving person in your child’s life. If that relationship goes into the medium to long-term then they are in a stepfather role. But you can’t make someone a stepfather before you’ve allowed them to be a loving partner first.

When you have a sense of someone’s interior, it’s easier to gauge whether they’re the right person to bring into your child’s life.

When you’re looking, not so much for a daddy replacement but someone who will provide what you feel is missing from your son’s life or live up to a certain ideal, it makes you ripe for blind spots.

Not everyone is interested in having children, whether it’s their own or becoming a step-parent. And that’s OK.

You are right that meeting someone who complements and adds to your existing family life while also co-creating a solid and mutually fulfilling relationship with you is a must.

So part of the getting to know of partners will be sometimes attempting to integrate them into your life and being disappointed. Yes, it will hurt, but it’s also OK. You couldn’t have known without trying and each time allows you to be more discerning.

So, there is an element of risk. You want the information upfront, and that’s not possible in any situation. Even if someone says that they’re open to being in your situation, how true that is will only be known through experience. If you’ve spent some time with someone over an extended period, while yes, that requires investing, you get a sense of who they are consistently. If your relationship with them is happy and harmonious, you can go deeper, but if in investing, it isn’t, then you know that this man isn’t getting to know your child.

I appreciate that you are trying to do the best you can for you and your son. As someone who was the child of a single parent until my mum married my stepfather, I understand the desire to be partnered and to also provide what you feel is the stability or father figure that your child needs.

But you are already doing that. I’m not saying that a partner couldn’t and won’t contribute to that, but if you come from a place of appreciating the life you have with your son rather than seeing it as lacking, there’s less angst about it. My mother created more chaos for us in her quest for security and shunning being a single mother than when she was a single parent. I’m not saying that she should have stayed that way, but her relationship choices were driven by fear and shame, and that had a significant impact on all of us.

It’s not ‘wasting time’; it’s dating. You’ve got to put some time and effort in. Not all of them will be suitable, although you can have a recruiter mindset to make things somewhat easier. Someone can’t really tell you that they want something serious, especially when they don’t have a relationship with you. All they can do is show you, and that will take investing time.

I didn't listen to myself and trust my intuition

First, thank you. I’ve always been pretty good at following my intuition, but recently two of my best friends convinced me to date a girl recently out of a 17-year marriage involving emotional abuse promising me she was ready after I asked. Found out she wasn’t at all and I learned I disrespected my boundaries and allowed other people to influence my decision making. I went all in and she didn’t, causing me pain. Now, this lasted only 3 months and we both mutually walked away after I stated what I was looking for and her recognizing she wasn’t ready. I felt used, but I knew her issues were beyond me and I couldn’t help no matter how I felt about her. Just in step one you have taught me and shown me how bad this situation was emotionally for me and the exercises and journaling alone have helped. I wanted it to work but what I needed wasn’t there. Helping me recognize that is huge.

Nat’s Response 

This is one of those situations that undoubtedly feels frustrating on a number of levels, not least because third parties who you clearly trust and who also very clearly swayed your opinion vouched for this person.

Your intuition is a wealth of inner knowledge that you will hone over time. Sometimes you won’t listen. Other times you will maybe misinterpret it. And other times, you will listen and fully understand it.

Your friends meant well, but the fact that they had to convince and convert you into dating her, plus the fact that they felt that they could vouch for a woman who was freshly out of a seventeen-year marriage speaks volumes.

For some reason, a part of you put this decision out of your hands. Maybe, also, a part of you was afraid of offending these people by not dating her. Like you were almost saying something about their judgement if yours didn’t tally with theirs. Logically speaking, what they were claiming about her just doesn’t make sense. I’m not sure that someone who just came out of a seventeen month-long relationship would be ready.

I can tell that this has been a very painful time for you, and I’m so glad that you are gaining clarity about what you experienced.

If you look beneath this sense of being used, you will see that yes, there’s likely an element of that. She may have wanted to escape her pain, to feel alive, attractive, whatever again. But there was also something that you wanted out of this situation that you were willing to risk not listening to yourself for. It is OK to acknowledge this. Getting into this situation only makes you human. It sounds, also, like your friends maybe caught you at a vulnerable moment or for some reason maybe thought that this relationship could fix or solve something.

Acknowledging what you thought you would get out of this relationship will also help you to understand why you feel used or why you were open to being involved with her in the first place, against your better judgement.

I’m thankful that you’re out of this situation now, and I hope that as you gradually make peace with yourself, that you are able to continue these friendships with renewed boundaries.

Incidentally, it’s not your friends’ place to try and send you in there as Mr Fixit, nor do they need to try and ‘fix’ your life. I hope that through this experience that they (and you) recognise that you have pretty good judgment about this stuff.

Talking to my Dad about my deceased Mum

My Mum died after having brain cancer misdiagnosed as an ear infection. We had about three weeks to absorb the news and then she was gone. I loved my Mum and have had a horrendous time trying to get over the shock of the loss. I suppressed the grief for the benefit of my partner and that delayed the process of coming to terms with everything quite significantly. It’s been almost two and half years now and her death has thrown up a lot of emotional baggage in terms of how my quite difficult relationship with her has informed my sense of self, my relationships with others etc

Through therapy, I’m making sense of a lot, but feel I want to talk to my Dad about this journey. That’s hard because his way of coping is the sanctification of my Mum but I feel I need to be more real world about the relationships within our family. Am I being selfish? Is this need for some truth about my upbringing Nd important enough to risk upsetting him?

Nat’s Response 

I’m so sorry for your loss. Losing a parent no matter the relationship you had with them is tough. I’m 3.5 years in and while my world doesn’t feel so topsy-turvy any more, I’ve been profoundly affected by the experience.

The thing about talking to loved ones about anything ‘difficult’ is that it’s always a good idea to have a sense of your motivations but also to make sure that they’re the right audience and/or that there isn’t someone else better. It’s also understanding the purpose of the conversation and recognising that what’s beneficial for you (or what you think will be) might not be for them, at least not in the immediacy of the conversation.

Your father has his reasons for why he holds your mother in that image, and it’s his right to, even if, for example, it’s a tad (or a lot) distorted. He has a different relationship with her, and he’s also grieving. He also suddenly lost her too. For all you know, he has mixed feelings about her that he feels guilty about and so he covers that up by making out that she’s Mother Theresa.

That doesn’t change your very real need and desire to be more real. And you can do that, he just doesn’t have to do that with you. Empathy is not about having the same position as someone but acknowledging that they have a position in the first place and that it’s different to yours. You don’t have to agree with or like it, but recognising that they have a whole inner world and set of experiences that are different to yours with the same person can help you to broach this conversation.

You can talk to him. Ask him about how he’s been with her sudden loss over these last 2.5 years. What has life been like for him? What does he miss about her? What does he find hardest? Tell him that you’re asking because you’re trying to process your own grief, something that you’ve been distracted by in being consumed by your ex. Maybe talk about that as well. How maybe you gravitated to your ex as a way to manage your grief. Tell him that part of what’s made things hard is not just the suddenness of losing her and feeling robbed by the misdiagnosis, but that sometimes it hurts to remember how things were difficult with her. Tell him that you feel guilty for remembering it even though there’s nothing wrong with that.

People are more than one thing. You can love your mother and also have complex feelings about her. Much as he may have his view of her, he’s 1) not a woman and 2) never been parented by her. You have two entirely different experiences of her.

Ask him whether he’s open to you talking to him about some of the things you found difficult about your relationship with her. See what he says. Try not to go into meltdown if he doesn’t have the desired response.

If, for whatever reason, he says no, tell him that as hard as it is to here, you are going to respect that, but that you will be investing in therapy to work through these experiences so that you can love (and grieve) your mother more fully.

I don’t know if this is so much about a need for truth as much as it is for a need for connection. In not talking to each other about anything of substance in this loss, you are emotionally adrift even though you’re not united by the person you’re grieving.

And that’s the thing about grief: you can all be grieving the same person but have profoundly different experiences that can cause you to feel lonely at times.

Does your ego want the truth, or is it the real you? What is The Truth? Isn’t it more that you want to have more connectedness and the ability to share perspectives? Because it will never be the entire truth. Humans don’t work like that. But if you each hold space for the other’s reality, you both get to love your mother and support each other.

Risking upsetting people is part of intimacy. And for all you know, maybe he would find some relief in talking too.

Confusing Mr Ambiguous

Thank you for your reply to the first question. The worst thing is that it was my suggestion to stay at his place 🙁 I just asked him if I could, to which he promptly agreed. We have never slept with each other and I made sure he knew that I wanted to sleep in the guest room during the weekend. I am so naive, I know! When he contacted me, he just suggested meeting up for food, drinks, a walk whatever. He seemed eager to meet up and said he was flexible. Me in all my anxiety of staying NC for 60 days just wanted to have all of him (!) the whole weekend and overreacted once he did not give me what I wanted within 24 hours, so I just cancelled everything and missed the chance to get to know him for real. But as you said, we are not in a relationship, we never have been… The fact that I am feeling this anxiety right now, is so discomforting. I felt so strong for such a long time. A year ago, you said I behaved in a way that I could not really like this man because I was rejecting him and that I should wait for the dust to settle. I realize that I was afraid of his rejection and preferred to reject him instead. I have met other men. Just last weekend someone took a plane to see me – exactly the way I would have done to visit Mr Ambiguous. Worse than the worst thing, however, is that during this whole time with the other guy, I just wished I was with HIM instead.

Nat’s Response 

I think that given the additional context to the recent situation, while it must have been hard to hear and he’s hardly Mr Clarity himself, his assertion that you were “difficult” makes sense.

A year is a long time to spend playing a cat and mouse game. What’s happening here is that this isn’t really about you being crazy about him; you want to win. You don’t like what you see, hear and basically experience, so you engage and set tests based on how you feel things should go down, and then act out when he doesn’t go from radio silence to agreeing to meet up, to going about his life after the texts.

There’s no “chance to get to know him for real”. You don’t get to decide that things will or should be different. He has made his position abundantly clear: If you want to hang out from time to time, you can hang out. He has his own life, he’s not up in your business, he’s not trying to have a relationship with you and he’s certainly not looking to spend consistent enough time that you would get to know him. You can go for dinner, drinks, hang out at his place or whatever. He’s cool with not sleeping with you and just fooling around. He’s made no promises and even if he hasn’t explicitly spelled it out in words or with skywriting, what’s going on is emblematic of where you’re both at.

This isn’t just a case of you rejecting him before he has a chance to reject you. At the end of the day, all you’ve done is make sure you’re not really about for something that isn’t on offer anyway.

It has suited you to play these games because it’s helped you manage your work and educational life and you haven’t had to deal with your past relationship or any new relationships. This drama has been an escape.

The other thing is that you’ve fallen into the dangerous trap of trying to make a point, which is part of the game-playing. It’s because you were trying to make a point that after those 60 days, you felt that you could engage with him because you thought that you had communicated something by not being in touch for 60 days. But you’re not in a relationship with him and your involvement with him has never relied on daily or even regular contact. While you may think to yourself that being out of touch for that long must have shown something, it didn’t. That’s just passive-aggression.

What you need to do is examine your beliefs and expectations.

Example:

If I reach out to him after sixty days of No Contact, I think that he should X.
Because he didn’t do X, I felt that he was Y.
Because I felt/thought that he was Y, I took it to mean A.
Because I took it to mean A, it means that he doesn’t think I’m good enough.
If he doesn’t think I’m good enough, then maybe it’s because I’m not.

You are the one who is breaking your own heart because you are allowing your ego to dictate and setting you up. What it ensures is that you are not in a relationship and certainly not intimate and known. It likely also provides a distraction from any career concerns or other areas of stress in your life.

You don’t want HIM; you want to win. You want the illusion of him. You are not interested in who he is. And this is OK, but you need to start being more honest with yourself.

How to cope with being left before your wedding day

After a chaotic 20s of no boundaries with men, I met a wonderful man who treated me wonderfully. He wanted to move in but I kept putting it off, he lived 3 hrs away. I left him for a man I worked with who told me he was in love with me. This man finished with me after 2yrs then after an 8month gap where he stayed in touch, soon as I stopped responding he wanted me back. I took him back, I moved back to London to share his tiny studio flat despite me telling him I wanted to stay where I had settled during the breakup, he proposed a year later, then 2 weeks before the wedding he discarded me without any explanation saying we were 2 different people and he and his whole family ghosted me. I had to unpick all the arrangements, tell everyone and I heard zero from his side to this day no one including him has even bothered to see if I am dead or alive let alone ok. How do I move on without any closure? I realise now he was emotionally abusing me and is a narcissist. Also, why did I leave a perfect man for this person? My childhood was normal I was the youngest of 6 and came from a very loving home. I am now 38, single and living alone and I don’t want to be, as soon as I finished my relationship with the original great guy I regretted it and still do, painfully now. I feel at my witts end and that I am just a person who cannot have a relationship even though it’s what I want.

Nat’s Response 

I’m sorry that you’re hurting. What a horrid situation to have been through, and I empathise that you are experiencing regret and conflicting feelings about the man you were with before.

The thing about relationships and who we choose to be with is that it comes down to worthiness. It’s why I hear from so many people, mainly women, who are confused about why, despite their desire to be in a loving relationship, do they feel repulsed or disinterested in a ’nice’ guy.

It’s because their self-worth doesn’t match the relationship that’s on offer.

It’s also because if you don’t believe that relationships are safe or you think that commitment is a trap, or that if you go with the safe, lovely guy, you’ll be bored out of your tree or whatever, you will go with the person who’s flashy with the chit-chat and pursuit but has little substance.

Let me share a quick story: An ex-colleague of mine was going out with a guy for some time when her grandfather passed away suddenly. That night, as she reeled from the loss, he dumped her. No warning, no anything. She’d thought that things were fine before that. We were horrified by his behaviour. A few months later, she’s back with him. Months after that, he’s proposed. I’ve now left the company and running Baggage Reclaim when we meet up for drinks and she tells me about the horrors of what she’d been through. Six weeks to the day before they were due to get married, he disappeared, calling off the wedding. One week before that, he wrote ‘I love you’ in the condensation on the kitchen window and scooped her up in his arms and told her how much he was looking forward to getting married. He cut off all contact with anyone remotely connected to them. Next time she heard from him, it was on what would have been their wedding day. He told her that he had been seeing someone from their town and that he was letting her know before she heard about it.

I was unsurprised by his behaviour. What he did when she lost her grandfather was a sh*tbag move and he has such an outsize ego that he didn’t want to be That Guy so he swooped back in and convinced her that he was different. He was not.

You left a man who lived three hours away who said he wanted to move in with you for a man you worked with who said he was in love with you. Mr 3-Hours-Away may have seemed wonderful, but you had your reservations. You say he wanted to move in and how you kept “putting it off”, so you were unsure. Maybe you didn’t trust something. Maybe it’s easy to think someone is wonderful when they live three hours away but you were worried that maybe you had it wrong. Or maybe he was as wonderful as you say he was and you were scared and not feeling worthy of being with that guy.

What you have to be careful of is rearview mirror thinking. Us humans have a habit of misremembering the past. Once we know how sucky everything turned out, suddenly the person who we couldn’t commit to is the perfect man for us and we are the masterful architect of our demise.

People make mistakes, and, yes, sometimes people do break up and get back together. What I suspect is that you were with someone who was very charming and who liked the idea of getting you off another man. He then finished it with you and then kept you on a string for the next 8 months. Once you stopped responding, he wanted you back and you went back, even though on some level you had picked up that this guy wants you the most when someone else wants you or you don’t want him. He’s never sure if he actually wants you or to get married, he just knows that he doesn’t want someone else to have you, and that is a big problem.

Whatever broke your relationship and prompted him to cut out after two years wasn’t resolved. Instead, you move to London to a tiny studio after yet again, he’s ignored your boundaries and what you need and want. He’s proposed to keep you on the hook and then not been able to follow through.

This man was not romantic; he had crappy boundaries.

And I get you feeling wounded because no one likes to be ripped out of their planned life, especially when they feel as if they gave up a lot for this one particular person. Being cut off is horrific, although being in touch with, for example, their family, would be very awkward. Their hands are tied on this one.

But if there’s anything you can take away from this it’s that you must stop giving up who you are to appease men.

I would also, as you work through your loss, reflect on what’s really going on:

Be honest with yourself about why you finished it with Mr Wonderful. Acknowledge your fears or reservations. Get a journal and get it out of your system. Make sure you’re remembering honestly.

What or who did your ex-fiance remind you of? What were you trying to get or avoid by being in a relationship with him?

What need were you trying to fill with him?

Even if you had a relatively happy childhood, what is it about your own parents relationship or how you perceived other relationships that has made you wary of stability? It could quite simply be that you perceived, for example, your parents relationship as dull and were looking to be swept off your feet.

Reactivity and NC anxiety

I have been able to stay in NC for more than 60 days, then he contacted me. We arranged to meet, I would stay at his place for the weekend. I texted him that I was looking forward to it and asked what our plans would be. He said nothing. The next day I cancelled everything. He texted that I was difficult and that he was busy with work, managing his employees and dealing with covid issues at the office, that he had freed his schedule for the weekend – so why did I get so upset that he did not say anything during 24 hours, he asked. I texted that he could have at least sent a sign of life and that it felt to me like he was not really that happy to see me if it took him so long to respond. He said that he understood but that he was not a big chatter. He then asked whether I’d come at the weekend. I did not respond, he later sent me a picture of some place we had been to together and said that he felt sadder than before. I never responded and stayed in NC. 80 days have passed since then. He never contacted me again and I was able to focus on myself and finish an important milestone for my project. But now anxiety has kicked in and I feel the need to contact him again. Please help!

Nat’s Response 

The central issue here is that your reactions, responses and expectations about this man are based on your perception that you should have a different version of him and the relationship that you have. Your dealings with him come from expectations and a sense of woundedness circling around this notion that you’re in a relationship that you’re not in, or that this involvement is more than it is.

And I empathise as it can be hard to let go of our hopes and expectations for someone, but you are extending your pain, and you are the only person who can change that.

Are you NC or are you still playing a long game with this man of cat and mouse and wondering if he will come to ‘heel’?

His behaviour is problematic, but so is yours.

If you’re not in a relationship with someone and you barely dated a year ago, plus you’ve had sporadic and strained contact ever since, why would you arrange to meet him and stay at his place for the weekend?

You don’t really know him and you certainly don’t know him well.
You don’t trust him.
You haven’t had a consistent romantic relationship, never mind a friendship.
He has only ever been the way that he is.

The suggestion to meet up and stay at his place after not being in contact, nor being in a relationship, nor ever discussing anything of value about why things have been the way that they have and your agreement to do so implies that you are OK with this setup and that you understand the parameters.

If someone who you barely know, who you barely dated, has set off deep angst, and who has likely spread himself thin with various women can reach out to you, it implies that he is under the impression that this is a casual setup.

If he can get through to you (so he’s not blocked) and you reply and are amenable to the idea of meeting up and staying over with a man you don’t really know and actually, you don’t really like or trust, this implies that you are not interested in a relationship and that you were going to his for the weekend to entertain and be entertained, including possibly sleeping with other.

Sure, we can pretend to be naive in these situations. Lord knows I have, haha! But let’s be cards on the table honest here:

Women often feign naivety about what a man is doing and try to place nice and accommodating. We push down our doubts and decide that the wolf is a sheep or that even if the wolf is a wolf, because we’ve blanked them for sixty days, they’ll put being a wolf on hold and play nice. You’re overriding all internal alarms as well as what you know to be true so that you can meet up with a man who has an overinflated sense of his own importance and has the brass neck to be insulted that you don’t want to spend the weekend with him playing let’s pretend. Like, who gives a crap that he’s trying to manage employees in a COVID situation. Boo-fricking-hoo. Welcome to 2020. What? He thinks he’s special and that he can gaslight you with irrelevant information about work that you don’t have to be privy to because you’re not actually in a relationship or part of each other’s lives.

You’re not an escort. How dare he speak to you that way!

If you want to be someone’s unpaid escort from time to time or occasionally prop up their ego by text, crack on. Because, honestly, that’s about all this man has to offer.

I am glad you’ve hit your milestone deadline, but reaching out to him would not be a reward for your efforts.

You would benefit far more from being honest with you about what is triggering these urges and what you are using him to hide from.

August

Why do I feel so hurt by my first relationship with a commitment-phobe?

I was married to a covert narcissist for 7 years. We separated last year and during lockdown (while I was solo parenting 3 small children), I met a man online who I now believe is a commitment-phobe. I realise I was vulnerable and that it was too soon. But I genuinely believed it was “the real thing”. Feeling bruised and stupid and although our “relationship” only lasted 4.5 months in total, the break up is spectacularly painful. Is this normal in your experience?

Nat’s Response

Yes, it’s very normal. In fact, it’s very common. Time and again I see that people get thrown by short involvements and even ones where they weren’t even that crazy about the person more than they were from the breakdown of a much longer relationship. It’s why I hear from people who were involved with someone for as little as a few days who talk about the same thing you are.

You’re not alone, basically.

What you’re experiencing is the surfacing of old pain, fear and guilt along with grief caused by loss.

In every relationship, we invest our hopes and expectations. This means that depending on how much we put in there and banked on it, the more disappointed we will feel. We will experience loss.

Disappointment is the gap between your hopes and expectations and the reality. That gap is the loss you’re experiencing.

Each time you experience loss, it resurrects old loss, resolved or not.

This means that if after separating from your ex, you buried your grief, possibly because it triggered other feelings about loss and unresolved wounds plus maybe giving you a hard time or being caught up in parenting your three children, all of that is coming up now especially as you sought solace in this involvement and believed in it during lockdown.

Mr 4.5 Months Who Dodges Commitment has come into your life with the job of helping you face your pain, but also to help you get grounded and real.

I get you feeling bruised and even “stupid”. While you will feel bruised for a while as you process, there is no need to feel stupid.

I’m going to hazard a guess that you felt lonely, overwhelmed, neglected, maybe unattractive, maybe abandoned, maybe like your options were limited. Throw in lockdown and the reality that your ex is who he is combined with any negative feelings from that, and you have a perfect storm of conditions for falling for Mr 4.5 Months Who Dodges Commitment. That doesn’t make you “stupid”; it makes you human.

Humans do seek to escape those feelings, especially when it might seem like it’s going to be this way for a while and we’re feeling unsupported.

Would you do things differently if you had your time over? Sure. But what about if you stop being so hard on yourself and compassionately acknowledge everything you’d been through right up to that point? What if, instead of seeing his commitment avoidance as a reflection of you, that you see it as a reflection of where he is at emotionally and what happens when you don’t grieve any losses and avoid intimacy?

Try the Facing Regret Guide (also, audio version)

Be gentle with you. If you feel really bad right now, it’s a mix of two things: grief and untrue stories. If you stop giving you a hard time and keep things honest, even though that will be uncomfortable at times, the grief will evolve and move on.

How do I process my anger about feeling controlled by a friend who I also allowed to control me?

I’m realizing more and more that I’m very angry with the people who I feel like have had “control” over me for so long and “kept” me from being and doing the things I wanted to do (put in quotes because it was my doing, not theirs). I think I’m the most angry because I feel like I spent so much energy trying to make them happy with me that I wasn’t tending to my own life and now I’m very “behind” in things like buying a house, getting a partner, having kids, etc. I’m angry that these people have all the trappings (fascinating careers, large houses, children, etc) and I’m “stuck” just getting started at nearly 40. In reality, I know that we all act from our own levels of awareness at that time and that they didn’t mean to “control” or hurt me. But at the same time, I feel like I’m not actually processing the subconscious anger that I have and I see now that it’s affecting me. How does one technically process this stuff? I assume the usual around unsent letters, journaling, other healing modalities, etc. but do you have any other suggestions??

Nat’s Response

So, there’s a few things to consider here:

Your feelings are real, but feelings aren’t facts.

Nonetheless, you are experiencing anger now that you are aware of the dysfunction of some of these relationships and also frustrated and disappointed with them and you based on how you judge your current circumstances.

By measuring you materially or in terms of the so-called steps of success against these people, you see them as having used or taken advantage of you to bolster themselves and so feeling as if you’ve had the shitty end of the stick.

But at the time when you formed and continued these relationships, you were coming from a different level of awareness and looked to others to direct you because you didn’t have confidence about who you were. These people were ‘better’, in your eyes, because of how you judged you as being inferior. You were willing to trade agency with their control because when you were coming from your old level of awareness, what they were doing allowed you to not have to take responsibility. It allowed you to hide out or avoid certain things. When you didn’t like how you felt or how things were, consciously or not, you could either blame them or use it as an excuse to give up even more control because it’s like ‘Well, see how I can’t get this stuff right’. You thought you needed these people more than you do, and so you were in the role of victim and they were in the role of rescuer, and as we’ve talked about before, that always leads to resentment on both sides.

By society’s twisted standards of what ’success’ is, yeah, you are ‘behind’.

In real terms, you’re fine. You’re at where you’re at. It’s neither better nor worse; it’s where you are. You were not making the same decisions they were. Some of those people are bloody miserable in their big-ass houses with their kids and husband. Some of them, when it’s several years down the road, possibly even now, will look at you and envy your life and see you as ‘ahead’.

Yes, you are right, those people didn’t keep you from doing those things, but some of them also didn’t help. Yes, you used certain problems and these relationships as cast-iron alibis to avoid doing certain things, but let’s be real: some of these people were, as we say here in England, taking liberties.

It’s OK to be going through this period of grief as the disruption you have been through means that your bonds are changing. With loss, there is gain, but in losing, you grieve. And as part of grieving, you go through phases of feeling angry— with others and with you.

I believe wholeheartedly in being compassionate, and I also believe in no bullshit. Whether they were aware of it or not, some of these relationships were driven by their desire to control. No, it doesn’t make them bad people, but you don’t need to paint the truth in My Little Pony and call it something else.

I think that sometimes you fall into the trap of giving others grace without giving you grace.

Actually, you can acknowledge that you tried to control your life and even some of your relationships by taking the victim role, whether you intended it or not, or whether you called it that or not, just like you can also acknowledge that much as you judge you for being less than perfect or what you might deem as a ‘messed-up’ life, your friends are messed up too. Sure, they might have more ’stuff’, but it’s like you’re in the emperor’s new clothes and you’ve realised that they’re naked. Or, that they’re wearing the same clothes as you and so are no different.

You don’t need to make excuses for these people. Let you be angry first instead of doing the whole spiritual bypassing or using your rational mind to talk you out of anger. I believe in gratitude, compassion, etc, but I also believe in letting you be angry first. Let it all come out, even if some of it doesn’t make sense. Think of you like a small child. When my kids feel angry and hurt, I let them get it all out. I let them be heard. If the moment that they start talking about their hurt, I jump in there and I’m like, Well, it’s probably not what they intended or Well, it’s really your responsibility or whatever, they feel silenced. So, you need to let the rage surface instead of trying to be Mrs Nice Guy and then you get to have a conversation with yourself, comfort you, and give you some real talk without shaming you. You will not feel willing to move on from this anger until you validate you by at least giving you the space to be angry. No, you don’t need to pack your bags and take up residence in anger. But let it be. So you’re angry. Big woohoo. Welcome to feeling and knowing that you’re feeling and being willing to feel. Let the anger out. Cry, wail, shout, say awful things or whatever it is. It’s cleansing.

Try this class in the meantime.

Try this expelling the venom exercise.

Dealing with procrastination

I have a bad habit of procrastination. I am well aware of this but is finding it really hard to break the habit. I have tried various methods but they never lasted for the long term. I tried to do most things immediately to avoid giving myself an excuse of doing it later but there is only 24 hours in a day. The most frustrating thing is that I tend to procrastinate on things that really matters in the long term like going on dating sites or applying for the work promotion. I am so afraid to fail if I were to take the next step. Do you have any advice on how to break this habit?

Nat’s Response

As a procrastinator, I empathise. In fact, as I read your question, I had to do a double-check to ensure that me doing these replies wasn’t me procrastinating about something else, haha!

Procrastination isn’t about laziness. It’s a defence and coping mechanism that you developed in childhood to help you feel in control. When, for example, you grow up in an environment where there are high but unrealistic expectations, lots of criticism, pressure, comparison, neglect, abuse, parents being overbearing, dictatorial, etc., procrastination becomes a way of managing, for example, chaos, overwhelm, anger, frustration, resentment, feelings of unworthiness.

So, let me give an example: I know that my procrastination habits, including putting stuff off, doing something else instead that isn’t as important/necessary/valuable as whatever I’m putting off, is how I managed my parents (mum and stepfather), but mainly my mother. It was my way of rebelling but also giving me a break from being always ‘on’. I didn’t have much control over my life, nor was I allowed to express myself, so procrastination did that. Gradually my mother became very disappointed in me, but it got her off my back in a lot of ways and allowed me to ’stick it to her’ for the things she’d done. Like giving up athletics, the thing I knew she really wanted me to do. Before that, not coming first. The problem is that I carried on with these habits even when I wasn’t a kid, and so they were only damaging me.

Here’s the thing: If you engage in people-pleasing, perfectionism, overthinking, over-responsibility and over-giving, these are all forms of procrastination and self-sabotage. You’re trying to delay or avoid something.

At the same time, because you have such high and unrealistic expectations of you and don’t manage and respect your bandwidth, procrastination is a way of giving you a ‘rest’. It’s very possible that it’s an unconscious response to overwhelm and you being unboundaried.

Procrastination isn’t all ’negative’. Often in doing so, especially if you become curious instead of giving you a hard time, you discover creative endeavours or become more connected to you. You start to understand what you’re feeling and why, as well as whether you need or want to do something.

While procrastination can be a response to fear of failure and fear of success, it’s important to note that if you have fuzzy or absent boundaries and engage in the people-pleasing, perfectionism, etc, the procrastination also exists because you are doing too many things that you don’t want or need to do and because you are not taking care of you. Maybe a part of you wants people to steer clear of asking you this stuff. It is also a strategy for avoiding putting yourself back out there. Now you get to give you a hard time about procrastinating without actually doing something.

This is what you need to pay attention to: ” I tried to do most things immediately to avoid giving myself an excuse of doing it later but there is only 24 hours in a day. “

This is at the heart of the problem. If you are taking on too many things, taking on things you don’t need or want to do, then the problem is bandwidth and boundaries, not whether you are a failure.

You are not making conscious decisions about what you agree to or your bandwidth.
Your daily actions are not related to what you say are your goals and desirables. Either you genuinely desire a relationship and work promotion, or you don’t but you think that you’re supposed to. It may even be that there’s a part of you that wants these but because of pressure and expectations, you’ve sucked the fun out of them in some respects (a common problem for people-pleasers and perfectionists).
You do not have the bandwidth (emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually for you, never mind desires).

Spend a week observing the content of your day. What do you say/show yes, no and maybe to? Where do you feel icky, resentful, overwhelmed etc? There’s more on this exercise in this class.

Listen to this episode on bandwidth and then I want you to take notes and apply it to your bandwidth. Start seeing your time, energy, effort and emotion—your attention—as something that you spend each day, but that also varies depending on where you are in the week. If you are over your bandwidth, you will procrastinate. Guaranteed. Figure out your bandwidth and honour it, and you will make space for what you want.

Power of the pause: No more agreeing to things immediately. “Let me get back to you” and you then need to take time to weigh it against your bandwidth.

I also recommend The Perfectionism Sessions, but if you see this as a bandwidth issue, you will see changes very quickly.

Sometimes you’re not procrastinating; sometimes you are trying to get out of doing things you didn’t want or need to do in the first place.

I live a full life that I love. Why do I still feel not enough?

I live a full, wild, fun and interesting life. I work hard and just strive to be a good person to myself and the people in my life. However, when it comes to relationships I feel like a failure. I had an emotionally unavailable men addiction for years. Finally recognized that and started the work to break that cycle (thanks to your course and blogs). These toxic situationships always left me feeling like I was not enough. So I took a long break from dating, from apps, from everything and just did me. Last year I entered into a relationship with someone who didn’t fit my “type”. He was different physically and personality-wise from all the men I was normally attracted to. Felt like a breath of fresh air. I wanted to be with a “nice” guy. Well, he ended up not being that nice. Almost a year into our relationship I discovered he had been lying to me. He also turned out be really insecure and couldn’t understand why I would want to be with him. Anyway, that ended a few months ago and I so am hurt. I thought he was “safe”. We had chemistry and the feelings were genuine. I almost took him back! But I know that was out of fear of getting old, being alone, him being better with someone else and my horrible track record. My love for my work and hobbies are the only thing keeping from sinking into a dark place. My friends think I’m amazing, why do I still like I’m not enough?

Nat’s Response

The reason why you were in those relationships is that you didn’t feel worthy of a healthy, available relationship. Believing on some level that you’re not good enough causes emotional unavailability (on your end) because you want to protect yourself from being exposed to situations that will highlight your lack of enough ness, but you also consciously and unconsciously be and do things to influence and control other people’s feelings and behaviour so that you will finally be enough. Unfortunately, this also means that you can’t be yourself because you’re trying to be what you think that the person or situation wants or certainly what you think will help you get or avoid what you want. And not being yourself to hide feelings of unworthiness means that you block intimacy.

You are already a good person without having to work yourself to the bone or even do half of the things you do for others. I’m not saying don’t be good to the people in your life, but do it as an extension and expression of being more you, not as a reaction to your fear of displeasing others, or fear of, for example, abandonment, failure, rejection, etc.

So, I can see where things went awry with the last guy: you chose someone who was different physically and personality-wise from previous partners instead of based on values— his character and whether you were headed in the same direction in terms of what matters.

Sure, you may have been attracted to those different qualities which are certainly more evident upfront, but, in particular, personality isn’t the same as character. It’s a pitfall that leads to a host of problems.

You thought he was “nice” based on these differences, but you discovered that he wasn’t nice where it counts: character.

Now, what’s interesting is that you clearly have a sense of ethics and morals, and yet, I wonder if you have confused your perception of you in a similar way, and so undervaluing your character.

The other interesting thing is this: life has a funny sense of humour and is always trying to help us to heal, grow, learn and basically live more authentic lives. Professor Life as I like to call it does a lot of this through situations and people that show us our blind spots and/or reflect aspects of us.

When you engage in people-pleasing and basically trying to cover up feelings of low self-worth, you end up inadvertently, sometimes consciously, deceiving yourself and others. You pretend to be something you’re not, tell people what they want to hear, do things that don’t reflect how you feel on the inside, including saying yes when you really need, want to or should say no, and merging, blending and adapting with, for example, partners. You do what are in some instance, for all intents and purposes, good things, but for the wrong reasons.

And so you were involved with a man who reflected what were superficial reasons for choosing him and believing that he was a ’nice’ guy.

He also, however, lied to you, couldn’t understand why you would want to be with him, and was really insecure.

Isn’t part of the upset here that while his lies were about something different, that he turned out to be who he was and even made you uncomfortable about aspects of yourself? It’s not that you and he are The Same, but he has reflected what happens when your negative and untrue beliefs about you are driving the show. In a way, you’re mad at him for not feeling like he’s enough. That revelation must be super confusing because it flies in the face of what you believe about you. If he doesn’t believe that he’s enough and you thought he was so fantastic, doesn’t this mean that the reasons you use for judging you as being ’not good enough’ are not true?

Your reasons, also, for deciding that he was “safe” weren’t based on any foundation. He has shown you what you couldn’t see before: you judge men positively for superficial (and untrue) reasons and judge you negatively for superficial and untrue reasons.

You are amazing. He’s not a ‘bad’ guy; he’s caught up in his own variant of people-pleasing.

No, you don’t need to get back together with him. You may have chemistry and feelings, but you don’t have shared values (character and direction) and as a result, your emotional needs are unmet and you are not compatible.

You need to explore these feelings of lack of enoughness. They’re not based on something real.

Who is it in your past that even if you got it before, you still crave their attention, affection, approval, love and validation?
Where did you learn to believe that you were not enough?
What is it from your childhood that you blamed on not being enough? That is why you feel this way. You’re still repeating a childhood thought process.

How to deal with pattern of taking on too any things at once and not finishing things?

I have currently taken on several e-learning courses to acquire some additional job-related skills. First, the extra activities felt encouraging – I felt that by doing something productive for me, I was in charge of my personal and professional development. With time, my enthusiasm has worn off. I notice that I now try to push through the material to get the certificate than invest time and patience out of genuine interest. This has been a very frustrating pattern that I am well familiar with – any time I try something new; I experience the ‘high’ of a fresh start and the subsequent ‘low’ of frustration which comes with having to commit myself to the ‘hard work’. It often led me to quit. Or I would finish, but it would feel draining and sometimes take months or years to do so. The behaviour is related to any course, topic or activity I come across and most often, where ‘success’ is the result of endurance rather than the quick fix of immediate achievement. I know this is a broad question again, but I am grateful for receiving a short feedback or a few suggestions on how to ‘deal with this unsatisfying pattern.

Nat’s Response

As someone who can be guilty, no, scratch that, is guilty of this at times, I do empathise. It’s a work in progress thing, not a quick fix or about becoming perfect at it.

It’s important to acknowledge that it is such a good thing that your level of self-awareness is good enough that you even notice that this is taking place. You’ve been in ‘observation mode’, noticing that you are self-sabotaging or overwhelming.

The other thing to acknowledge is that in a world of online learning where there are so many options, with sometimes low entry points, but also so many offers of how to fix or change or qualify for something, you are far from being alone. In fact, it’s highly prevalent and so some of what you are experiencing is the gap in human understanding about getting into things online, versus getting into things offline. In real life, if you signed up for several courses and had to go to several places, you would know by the time you signed up for the second thing, that you’ve signed up for too much. In olden times, distance learning would have meant receiving CDs or tapes or folders full of papers. The physical sight of these would have clued you in that one was enough or that you could only take on x amount. Even the description of the course would have told you that you’d be receiving 28 video cassettes in the post and your brain would be like, Hmm, that’s a lot.

Online isn’t the same because it doesn’t have the filter that in-person or real life activities do, so you don’t get the same checks and balances, and it is easy to get carried away.

The great thing is that a lot of courses don’t have a time limit, or certainly don’t have to be done immediately. There are also regular offers. This means that you need to acknowledge that unless something is only being offered once a year or it’s got a founding offer (like when you get a super low rate for signing on at the start and it’s a legit offer), there’s no fire.

Either set a budget or limit the number of courses you can be signed up to without having finished, and you will become more discerning.

Don’t expect to finish every course. Sometimes you get exactly what you need out of a course without finishing it. I did the first module of a course and something I learned in it changed my business and caused me to really value my work and up my pricing. It was very expensive course. The goal wasn’t to finish it though. I don’t really care that much about the course. The goal was to learn things to change and grow my business. I did.

If you don’t understand your intentions and, as such, any ‘goal’ you have in taking a course, it’s just a means to an end. Get clear on your intentions otherwise you will find yourself in repeats of this situation, but will also find that you are signing up to courses (and getting bored by them) because you signed up for the wrong reasons. If you know what your intention or goal is signing up for a course, then you understand what you’re seeking to get from it, and that can happen whether you finish it or not.

If you get high on starting, low on continuing, yes, that’s perfectionism and also procrastination. Notice what you are thinking, feeling and doing around this time. What do you think is going to happen if you do the work? For instance, are you afraid of success? At the end of the day, finishing a course doesn’t sign you to a contract that forces you to take a job. My friend took a course thinking that she would add qualifications, and what she discovered by taking that and various other courses is that she didn’t want to work in that field. And if it takes doing the courses to discover that, job done. There’s nothing wrong with that.

This also means that bar situations where you just can’t stand the course, when that feeling, that habit strikes, sit with it, and then do your best to continue to the course.

But if you’re not interested, take that feedback to the bank and use it to choose a better course, a better something of interest.

Set limits. I have spent a small fortune on art supplies, and I do use a lot of them, but I’ve realised that I don’t need to buy any more for a new thing I want to try out until I’m really sure that I am going to try it out. Similarly, maybe you don’t need to buy the course now. Make a note of it, see if you still want to do it in a few weeks.

This jumps out at me “Or I would finish, but it would feel draining and sometimes take months or years to do so.”

I’m not convinced that you are doing courses you are genuinely interested in and want to do. Maybe, what you need to do is find something you take pleasure in, where the measure isn’t success, the measure is giving you the space to try something new and to enjoy it. Not everything has to lead to a side hustle, a qualification or finished goods.

Moving forward with a teen daughter

Pandemic life has not been easy on all of us, particularly my almost 18 year old daughter, Sophia.

Since January, she has been depressed, overwhelmed and stressed due to overwork in high school, a breakup of her first bf, COVID and college decisions. She opted to live ft with her dad, has changed her mind several times on colleges (now NYU w jan start), recovered from COVID, works at Target & had rhinoplasty last week.

She stopped talking to me after she and her dad had a zoom meeting with a plastic surgeon without my knowledge. I want her in therapy. Sophia and her narcissist dad contend the only one who needs therapy is me. She did not respond to texts for 6 weeks until her surgery. My plan is to work on me, send daily supportive texts that go unanswered, work a second job at a grocery for the college and hope things improve over time. Thoughts on this strategy?.

Nat’s Response

First of all, big hugs to you.

This is a lot of stuff going on — for both of you.

You have done a really good job of trying to facilitate a co-parenting relationship with your ex-husband and also developing a different relationship with your father. No, you don’t expect it to be perfect and you know that they come with their issues, but you’ve always strived to put your children’s needs at the centre. That hasn’t been easy because I suspect that sometimes, it may have come at the expense of your wellbeing.

So, fast-forward to this year and it’s been chaos. COVID has surely done a number on us and brought a lot of problems up to the surface.

Your daughter is in a high state of stress, and you are right to be concerned. Her health (emotional, mental, physical and spiritual) has been compromised by a spate of pain and problems. Understandably, she’s overwhelmed. As she’s tipping on being an adult, it has become trickier to intervene, and it must feel at times like you’re losing her.

Sophia has been through heartbreak, burnout, COVID, what seem like life-changing decisions (college), going back and forth about living with her dad and the college decisions, and having a nose job.

Your ex may mistakenly believe that he’s helping her self-esteem by arranging a nose job, but if the underlying and real reasons for how she’s feeling remain unaddressed, she will be someone with a new nose and the same problems. She may get a temporary boost from the nose job, but is vulnerable to hitting a low when the next big change or challenge comes along.

Your ex maybe seems like the person to spend time around because he’s male and she’s experienced heartbreak. Maybe he’s even a bit similar to her ex or she thinks he’s giving her validation that she think she needs at this time.

So, on to your strategy:

You are right to step back and focus on you.

The harder you push, the more Sophia will feed off and cast you as having the problem. She is going through a crisis, and it must be heartbreaking to see her struggle and to not feel as you can step in. The thing is, Sophia is inadvertently getting validated by the attention she’s receiving from the both of you. Dad enabling, you querying, her and dad ganging up. If you treat the situation similarly to how you would when you realise that your daughter’s going out with someone you disapprove of, you will see the value in stepping back and letting her make her mistakes with her father. The novelty will wear off.

Let this one ride itself out. It’s hard as a single parent when you know how your ex can be and how they might manipulate situations. There can be a temptation to tell the kids how their other parent how they really are, but that creates division and interferes with their relationship. Instead, you have to bite your proverbial tongue and let your children figure out for themselves in time. And Sophia will, and she has, whether she realises it or not, the security of knowing that her mother is there for her. And you will be.

Continuing to send her messages is a lovely thing to do, and I’m glad that you’re not invested in getting a response. Instead, it’s a gift. You are letting her know that you are thinking of her, that you care, and that even though things are as they are, you’re there for her.

Sophia is working and plotting a new course in life. Although she is clearly struggling, she also is trying her best and maybe struggling with the responsibility. Often, children want the freedom without the responsibility that comes with it.

Take care of you. Step back with grace, not resentment, accepting that this is something that isn’t in your control. The fact that she is going through this doesn’t mean you haven’t done your best; it means that she’s got some stuff she needs to figure out.

Dealing with the silent treatment - current relationship and in the future

After dating and being in an exclusive relationship for the past 9 months, my boyfriend cancelled two back to back weekends together. The first time I gave him a pass as he is a physician dealing with COVID patients. The second time I received a string of excuses that made little sense… that he was fearful of increased racism and had to train more in martial arts, he needed more time to meal prep, etc. As we had discussed moving in together and marriage, I offered to come over and help. It would be a good chance to do normal – laundry, cooking meals, etc. He quickly rebuffed me, saying he wasn’t sure he could do “normal” life while dating me. Giant red flag! I haven’t heard from him since (6 days ago). I consider the silent treatment the death knell of a relationship. Is there anything to be gained by reaching out by phone and having a conversation? In the past, I’ve tried to “talk things through” only to have the relationship end shortly thereafter. This time, I’m planning to simply mail back his things with a short note to formally end the relationship. Also, are there any red flags I should be watching for earlier to avoid this situation moving forward? This is the third relationship in 5 years to end this way; clearly there is a pattern I’m missing.

Nat’s Response

I’m sorry that your partner behaved in this way. While he very well be deeply stressed over dealing with COVID patients, that doesn’t excuse him shutting you down and then blanking you for six days. It is clear that he is not sure what on earth it is that’s bothering him (it may be some or all of those things, hence the jumble) or that he does know, but isn’t being honest (for instance, being in over his head). That jumble, if taken at face value, sounds like someone grappling with burnout or trying to take a parachute and jump while telling you that he’s just doing the equivalent of dancing around the parachute and other distraction activities.

The thing is, stress is one of life’s inevitables, and what matters is whether you’re divided by it or whether you come together. Yes, we are in an unprecedented situation, but you are also getting a window into how he deals with things: he doesn’t.

I don’t know what he meant by not being able to do “normal” life while dating you (that doesn’t make any sense), but this is someone who was shutting you out, possibly sabotaging the relationship and hoping you would take the hint rather than spell it out.

I think you need to be mindful of mixing the past in with the present. You say that you’ve tried to “talk things through” in the past and that the relationship ended shortly thereafter. But hat doesn’t mean that communication or attempting to talk things through is the problem. If that were the case, you’d never discuss anything once a problem became apparent.

To discern what to do, you need to evaluate whether this is a similar relationship situation to the past or whether he, with the benefit of hindsight, is similar to past partners. And/or whether you are thinking/feeling/behaving similarly to how you have with someone else that represents your pattern.

If, for example, you’ve been with someone similar before, then there’s a strong case for not bothering to have any lengthy discussion, because the problem will be more than him stepping back for six days; it will be attempting to build a relationship with someone who you on some level suspected that he was similar to the past.

If, however, that’s not the case, there may be something for exiting this relationship with a level of conversation.

You also need to consider whether not saying anything is a way of avoiding vulnerability (you’re only human) and whether if you just exit without conversation, you are then going to wrestle with the conversations you didn’t have. For instance, is this one of those situations where he hasn’t reached out, so you haven’t reached out (because the onus is on him to drive contact so that you don’t risk anything) and now it’s become super awkward on both sides because neither of you are saying anything and possibly misinterpreting it?

Because you say that this is the third relationship in five years to end in this way, there is certainly some value to saying something, and ensuring that you end things differently to how you did before or that you conduct yourself differently.

 

Now, you could go a couple of ways here:

1) Reach out, whether by phone or text.

e.g. Hey, I’m reaching out because it’s been six days since we last spoke. I think we can both agree that given that we’ve been in a relationship for nine months, that’s pretty odd. I don’t know what to think, and while it would be all too easy to assume that you are signalling that you no longer want to be together, I felt it best to reach out, clear the air and see where your head is at. I don’t even begin to suggest that I know exactly what you have been through over this past several months with patients and the high stress you’ve been under. Let me know if you’re open to talking.

OR

Send him his stuff and a note and/or message him first
2) e.g. It’s been six days since we last spoke, and given the trajectory of our recent conversations, I am going to assume that this means that our relationship has ended. Much as I would love to have been able to talk this through and resolve it, both of us need to want to do that. I will mail your things to you.

Try looking at this pattern the other way around: what have you been being and doing in this relationship that is similar to before? So, retrace your steps to the beginning of this relationship and try to notice your approach, attitude, thinking, etc. How are you similar to who you were, dating wise, in your previous relationships?

How do I work with my shame around dating?

I realize I have a pattern of a huge amount of shame and anxiety coming up when I date. I usually feel the shame and anxiety and tell myself I shouldn’t date and quickly abandon ship rather than work on being vulnerable and continuing to put myself out there. I think a lot of the shame is around thinking something is wrong with me for my last relationship not working out and the fact that I am 38 and don’t have a partner. I’ve been really working on the things I tell myself about dating and relationships but each time I am hit with a wave of shame or anxiety I can feel myself wanting to run away. I can usually see when I get triggered and keep trying to calm myself and just keep working through it. I have the sense that if I don’t work through these feelings it will never get better but obviously dating feels extremely painful at times. It’s like continually looking at the most horrible things I tell myself and dismantling them over and over and over.. I have done so much work and continue to see a therapist to help me work on addressing my needs and not abandoning myself in relationships. My self-care is on point I use daily meditation, work out, eat fairly well, and I love my job.

I don’t even think at this point it is about finding someone as much as not having this process be so excruciating. Is there a way to make this any better? I know I have improved because I don’t entertain situationships or men with attachments or even men who run hot and cold. I just feel like there is so much more work to do and at times despair with how much more of myself I need to work on.

Nat’s Response

Shame is your response to how you see the past, present and what you feel you’re worthy of. Because you judge you about past experiences, your age, etc., you don’t feel as if you’re worthy of connection. This then acts as a cast-iron alibi for why you’re not pursuing your desires.

Lots of people’s relationships don’t work out. No one sat you down as a child and gave you step by step instructions for how to have relationships, including choosing partners. This means that in the process of adulthood which is about unlearning all of the unproductive and harmful messages you picked up along the way so that you can become more of who you really are, your experiences, including your relationships, will help you to do that.

It’s also important to add that you’ve been conditioned to feel ashamed. While I do hear from men in their thirties and beyond who experience similar anxiety and shame, society has also conditioned many men to believe that they can find a partner at any time, no matter how busted they might be. Women, on the other hand, are conditioned to believe that thirties is the beginning of going on the scrapheap. We’re told that there’s a right way to be a woman and so we think we have to tick certain boxes otherwise we’ve failed. At what though? Men are free to be whatever kind of man they like, even if that means abusing women. Articles in the press talk about, for example, sexual assaults and dole out advice for women to protect themselves instead of telling men to stop raping.

So, combined with your own self-judgement, you’ve internalised society’s obsession and sometimes hatred of women and called it your own.

You’re 38, not 108. A significant portion of the women I’m friends with met their partners and had children in their mid- to late-thirties, into their forties. Some of friends married earlier but then had fertility issues or relationship problems, or bereavements or illness or parenting struggles. Are they all failures too because their life is less than perfect? Because you won’t find one woman who has a perfect life, including the women you judge yourself against.

Look, I know what it’s like to hate yourself or to feel as if you’re behind. Everyone has their thing. The last six years of my life has felt like my road of trials and the truth is, it was quite a rude awakening to realise that the things I judged myself for, while I wanted certain things when I examined them, I’d started to want them and beaten myself up for them not because I wanted them but because I thought that they were signs that I was doing ‘well’ and they were what I was supposed to be doing.

Everyone has their thing.

Get curious about shame and anxiety. Give them a name (or names). Hello Glenda. Surprise, surprise. You’re back now that I’m trying to date.

Is it possible that you are putting a story around these feelings rather than letting them surface and move on?
Feelings have beginnings, middles and ends. What are you feeding these feelings with? What happens if they surface and you don’t throw on judgement? What happens if you don’t ride the train of thought? What happens if even if you do initially clamber on board, you hop off at an earlier point?

You are doing self-work, but what you need to pay attention to is habit: the thoughts that you feed you and the way that you treat you matters.

95% of the thoughts you have today are the same as yesterday, last week, last month and possibly this time last year. That means that it’s a habit to feel this way in certain situations as your body associates dating with negativity. Latching on to these feelings is a form of self-protection. If you’ve felt anxious and ashamed in the same types of situation X times, you will feel that way by default regardless of whether you actually feel that way or believe it.

Getting curious about these feelings, stepping back, assessing what you say about you in those moments gradually breaks those habits down.

And sometimes it is excruciating initially. For some people it isn’t, and then it’s excruciating in what feels like ’the middle’. I was more like you. If you recognise that the feelings are habit and part of grieving the letting go of the old way of things rather than chasing the feeling, they will pass and get easier.

Keeping up the momentum of my self-work when COVID means I'm alone so much

I undertook the Break the Cycle course in April/May and go a lot out of it. I have a much better understanding of where my people-pleasing and strong attraction to unavailable men comes from however I am finding that I am slipping back to my old habits.

An ex-boyfriend wants to take me out for a meal and when I sounded unenthusiastic about going out he said he’d come & cook for me. I went out with him for years and don’t have the heart to say that I don’t actually want to spend time with him. I don’t have fun or now enjoy his company but I don’t know how to tactfully get that across.

Meanwhile, I’m returning to my default thought pattern of longing for an unavailable guy I haven’t spoken to in 6 months after I finished things with him. I know I need to challenge my mindset and stay positive but with continued working from home & living alone, I’m finding It more difficult to remain positive.

Nat’s Response

Ah, life is a funny old thing with what can seem like a rather absurd but on-point sense of humour.

You’ve done a lot of work, and part of that is that good old Professor Life is going to put that work to the test with pop quizzes and lessons to give you a chance to apply what you’ve learned.

What’s happened here is that you say that you want to be in a loving relationship at some point (and you do), but a situation that you’ve previously experienced a variation of has ‘landed’ in your path as a pop quiz. You know, like the tests at school that they used to spring on you to test out your retained knowledge and figure out where gaps are. Because this experience has come along and you’ve responded as you might typically have in the past, not because you’re unaware like you were before, but because you haven’t had the heart to say no and maybe some other reasons in there too, you’ve become a bit disheartened, maybe fatigued. Now, it’s like Hmm, I wonder what that other unavailable guy is up to. Maybe he’s changed over the last six months.

So, let’s take it from the top:

I don’t know the reasons why the relationship ended with this ex, but your lack of enthusiasm and the fact that he’s an ex suggest that you’re not exactly doing a jig to spend time with him. You have your reasons, and they are valid. I suspect that something this guy does is maybe take over or not listen. Maybe he grinds you down. It could be that he knows that you tend to acquiesce.

Here’s the thing: If you don’t want to go out for dinner, why the hell would you want him in your home?

Sure, he might misconstrue it and be like, Oh, maybe she’s wary of restaurants what with the pandemic. But even then, he’s your ex so surely you would also be wary about him coming into your home?

The answer here isn’t to go to dinner, fan his ego or have him come to the house. If you want to keep up the momentum, you’re going to have to bite the bullet and let him know so that you don’t end up shafting and hating you for not sticking up for yourself and allowing this man to railroad his way into your life with his ’niceness’.

Hi Ex. I know this might be hard to hear, but I don’t want to go out for dinner or have you over to mine to cook. Thank you for thinking of me, but it wouldn’t be the right thing for either of us. I wish you well, and take care.

If he pushes:

Hi Ex. I hold my hands up: when you asked me to dinner, I know I sounded unenthusiastic, which was when you then suggested coming and cooking for me. I apologise for not being direct. Sometimes my fear of confrontation and hurting people’s feelings gets the better of me, which, of course, can lead to me agreeing to things that I don’t want to do. This is something I’m working on. Please don’t push about meeting up as it just makes it uncomfortable for both of us. I meant what I said about not wanting to get together, and I hope that you can respect my wishes.

And if he still pushes:

I had hoped that saying that I didn’t want to go would be more than enough, after all, we’ve been broken up for X years. I have moved on since our relationship, and I know that I won’t enjoy having dinner with you. Let’s leave this now.

And then don’t reply to any further messages. Or, if it’s over the phone, say that you have to go.

Your exes won’t satisfy who you are now and who you’re going to become.

I know it’s hard working from home and living alone in the current climate, but you would be better off fostering new romantic connections and learning and growing from those. Also, get clear on what it is that you’re trying to ‘get’ from contemplating revisiting the past with the other ex — this will help you to understand what you need. Also, explore your options for meeting people.

How do I judge if there is chemistry now?

I met a nice enough guy that seemed willing to be vulnerable and up for a relationship. The trouble is. . . I truly can’t imagine myself even kissing him. And that sounds horrible and I worry that I am unable to find someone I have chemistry with who is available. I really don’t want to date someone I can’t imagine touching. Is there some in between? Can I find an emotionally available guy I would actually want to be physical with? I also want to clarify that I don’t need to jump into bed with anyone right away but it feels like that feeling should be there at least. 

Nat’s Response

At the moment, you’ve met a nice guy who you got the impression that he is vulnerable and up for a relationship. Given that you’ve neither kissed or dated though, it feels like you’re taking a rather big leap. It’s either that, or the guesswork has caused you to see him as unattractive.

The thing about humans is that our imaginations aren’t exactly reliable. They’re fantastic for creativity and dreaming, but that same imagination is what causes us to overuse the fear part of our brain. That imagination is the same thing that causes us to limit ourselves and decide that we can’t be or do something.

But if you think back through your life about things that you said that you couldn’t imagine being or doing, you’ve been and done plenty of them. There’s plenty of things you said you couldn’t do, and you’ve done them. So, your imagination is super unreliable in contexts where your guesswork makes you limit yourself instead of creating opportunities for creativity.

Here’s the thing: You’ve decided that the barometer for chemistry is set on whether you can imagine yourself kissing or touching someone.

If that barometer has proved to work really well for you in the past and so it’s led you to loving partners, crack on.

If, however, that barometer hasn’t done that, it’s not wise to use it. You’ve already proved that you’re not Mystic Meg and that you can’t figure out whether someone is the love of your life based on what you imagine about touching them when you first meet them. And if that’s the case, why would you continue to use that?

Again, if that barometer works for you, then you already have your answer: don’t date him. Job done. Don’t overcomplicate it. You don’t have to kiss or date every man who crosses your path and appears to be semi-decent or says the right things.

But, here’s the thing: You don’t know if he’s willing to be vulnerable and you don’t know if he’s up for a relationship. You don’t. That’s your imagination, and I can tell you with no equivocations that that guesswork is off base. You don’t know him, you haven’t dated him, and you have not had a relationship with him so you have no actual idea if he’s any of those things. You just imagine he is.

You met a man, he seemed something. That’s it.

Yes, you can find an emotionally available man, but you won’t know if he’s that until after you’ve dated him.

Basically, the information you are looking to find immediately in their face, chat or attractiveness is not there immediately. It takes time and experience.

You are entitled to your preferences, but you also have to know the blind spots that come with that at times. If you have to be able to picture you in bed with them, the trade-off is that you will meet people who you fancy physically but that you may not have an emotional connection and shared values with because getting to know a person for who they are is not a priority or a factor for attraction for you. That means that the onus will be on you to get clear on what you find physically attractive and to notice if there are any unwelcome patterns that come with that so that you can mitigate for that.

So, in answer to your top line question of how do you judge if there is chemistry now, you don’t.

Is it women who hold the relationships together through their emotions?

It seems anytime I experience any stress or mild anxiety in any area, my relationship crumbles, and the guy just doesn’t stick around.
Why does this happen? I don’t know how to become perfect enough for anything to flourish & for the guy to stick around through the bumps. My relationships aren’t even taking off these days.

My Brothers are both married to women who’s parents are sill together, whereas my mom left my dad for 10 years (due to infidelity) and i fear this may be still affecting my stability in relationships.

It seems these days that my relationships & my job are all short-term contracts, when all I want is a permanent relationship. I applied for loads of permanent positions during the last few months, and over the years, just like relationships, but it seems things never give & I always go back to the short, but exciting & intense, well-paid contracts.

I’m also scared that I’ll be really bored in a long-term job & will be unable to pay for my mortgage etc… I do love what I do.

Is this all a reflection on my relationships also?
I have worked so much on myself over 10 years, and nothing seems to change.

Nat’s Response

I don’t think it’s women that hold relationships together through the holding together of their emotions. Stress and anxiety are normal emotions. You experience them because it’s your body’s way of communicating that something may or may not be off or that you are putting your body through something stressful.

When you have a habit of consistently listening to you and taking action on that information, it’s easier to discern what stress and anxiety are related to. For instance, you would know whether it’s because you’re over your bandwidth or there are stressful factors contributing (e.g. work, Covid) or whether you find the early stages of dating stressful and anxiety-inducing).

But if you’ve routinely ignored your intuition in the past or have been prone to worrying but not acting, anxiety is likely to accompany intuition or even something new even if it’s pleasant.

It will be anxiety about what you’ve consciously and unconsciously picked up on, but also anxiety related to being in new dating situations. If your body has typically been under stress in the early stages of dating because of what you tend to ignore, you’re also going to experience stress in this situation even if there isn’t necessarily ‘danger’ because your body (subconscious and nervous system) recognises that you’re in a dating situation and so is responding to those stimulus irrespective of whether this dating situation is the same or different. I know, I know — us humans are fascinating.

There are a number of factors straight off the bat that I think could contribute to emotional turmoil in your relationships:

New dating situations
Wondering if things are going to go wrong/right
Thinking about the future, e.g. having children
COVID and the anxiety that brings around new situations and people
Moving too fast on yourself
Feeling like everything hinges on whether you make the ‘right’ moves (perfectionism and people-pleasing)
Liking someone and so then they feel valuable which also triggers anxiety because what we value, we fear losing
Potentially disregarding information that suggests that you need to go slower or that something is off
Ignoring needs
Repeating patterns, whether consciously or unconsciously

The aim is not to become someone who doesn’t experience stress and anxiety (no such thing) or someone who hides stress and anxiety effectively. Your aim is to learn how to glean the necessary information stress and anxiety so that you can take better care of you in and out of your relationships.

Your stress is legitimate. Sure, some people can juggle a big stress or two and start a relationship at the same time, but the truth is, most people can’t even with just one big stressor, especially if their anxiety increases or the stressor gets worse. It’s not because there’s something wrong with any of these people. One stress is a lot, and the more you have and the harder you are on you or what you have unresolved in your past, the more stress impacts you now.

Put things into context: you started dating someone and a combination of factors meant that it was cut short. Out of your hands. You’re both human and no one has done anything wrong. His priority can’t be dating you right now.

I think that speed is a factor for you and this contributes to the short involvement as speed more often than not leads to 1) short involvements or 2) starting a problematic relationship because red flags were missed/ignored due to the speed.

The other factor is that you are not clear on what you want and may unwittingly be going against yourself without realising it.

Do this exercise.

It will help you to understand what’s happening with the jobs and the relationship. Something is being prioritised over something that’s actually more important to you. It’s something to do with short term mindset, instant gratification and trying to avoid being locked into something. It’s feeding both your relationships and work, so you need to home in on that.

Use the exercise to put your priorities in there and then compare the recent involvement and jobs to see where things are falling short. So, look at the recent involvement or the jobs, and which things come out of the circle? This will tell you why you’re experiencing problems in these areas.

How can I work through my fears of letting go completely?

I’m No Contact for the second time with Mr Unavailable, approaching 6 months but have been feeling what I can only describe as intense withdrawal from an addiction. When I last went NC which I succeeded at for 18 months, I cut absolutely everything off and remember the constant feeling of regret and fear when he had no way of getting back in touch, only by chance when I bumped into him again face to face and he hit a big reset button I ended up in the same tangle as before.

I am checking my phone daily with an underlying hope, I know this is all completely unhealthy, he made a few attempts to message when I first went NC but made no real effort. Life has seemed extra hard to deal with lately and he used to bring comfort. I don’t know why I am finding this so hard to completely let go of, I feel drawn to go back and find a crumb of comfort. I know it’s my ego leading the show here but any advice on making those final steps to let go would be much appreciated.

Nat’s Response

The reason why you are going through this is that you are primed to play the game with him and because NC, on some level, is still about trying to get back control and ‘win’. When NC is purely about letting go, rebuilding your life and having healthier boundaries, you still feel horrendous at times, but you recognise that you’re grieving and that you don’t want the alternative. You see the wood for the trees.

Your whole life has been based around this person, whether you were conscious of it or not. This means that he is a habit. It is a habit to think about him at certain times and in certain contexts. It’s a habit to be braced for him. On top of this, the nervous system records everything you’ve been through, so now that you are thinking and doing a lot of the same things from previous breakups/NC with him, your body has gone into stress from clearing out but also assuming that you’re in danger. You can’t do NC for 18 months and, on some level, give you a hard time about not being in contact with him, and not train your brain to believe that NC is wrong.

The brain holds on to all habits, not just the good ones. This means that when you go NC, because you engaging with him is a habit that’s tagged on to various elements of your life, your brain is flooding your body with messages that something is wrong. It’s doing what it’s supposed to do because fear, which is managed by the very primitive part of the brain is there to protect us, but it gets overzealous.

But what if you reframed things: What if what you’re feeling now is your body’s way of letting you know how toxic the relationship is? What if your body is releasing the stress of putting you in flight-fright-freeze mode all day long to be prepared for him? What if your body is letting you know that you are traumatised and that you need to be and do things to support your body through this phase?

You can’t spend as long as you did around this man and not feel how you do because it’s habit. 95% of what you think today is the same as what you thought yesterday, last week, last month and possibly even this time last year.

You are not in love with this man; feelings and thoughts about him are paired to aspects of your day and to other thoughts, feelings and actions. 

First steps are to gather some intel and become conscious of when the urge to break NC strikes. This will help you to understand what you’re really responding to and to come up with alternative responses. I’ve attached a day tracker, NC Plan sheet and how to keep a log of your cues and triggers. Do two weeks, definitely a week, and you will know what’s going on.

Understanding, for instance, that it’s boredom or loneliness, helps you to respond with the appropriate solution. Check the self-soothing guide in the foundational resources.

Make a list of everything you associate with comfort (see attached clearing and releasing emotional charge).

Set a time limit on thinking about him. 10-15 minutes morning, lunchtime and evening. Set the timer, stop when it goes off. In between those times, you have to drag yourself back to whatever you were doing or get a change of scenery or whatever. Catch the habit as soon as you can and stick to the times. You will soon see the habit breaking.

Can an unavailable relationship be salvaged?

I’m a new student in week 1 of the program. My current partner, who I’ve been seeing for a little over a month, ended a 4-year relationship about a year ago and is still working on resolving some internal issues that arose as a response (a bit existential, working on reevaluating what his life is going to look like and so on.) As a result, he is currently exhibiting emotionally unavailable behaviours. I pointed this out to him last week and we listened to podcast 124 together. He acknowledged that he has been exhibiting these behaviours and apologised. He is currently in therapy and will work so that he can become emotionally available for himself and so that he can be a better partner for me. I, in turn, will be continuing with your class and working on my own struggles with emotional availability and self-worth. My question is: Do you think we can both do this important individual work and also incorporate it into the relationship as we are learning, or do you think it is best to step away from the relationship and only enter into a relationship once we have both worked through our issues?

Nat’s Response

This is one of those ‘it depends’ situations.

You’re in a relatively new relationship having conversations that are, in a way, somewhat more reflective of a relationship with a bit more time and experience underneath it. The reason for this is because you have become aware of signs of unavailability. What you need to be curious about within yourself is whether trying to push ahead with partners who show unavailability is a thing. Or, do you feel more hopeful for doing this even though you may have attempted it before because he is in therapy and seems more open to addressing his issues?

This is not about right or wrong: it’s about being self-aware and understanding your why.

If you’re in a month-long relationship, what is motivating you to continue with him? Being super honest about it will help you to understand if this is purely from a desire, healthy standpoint, or whether this is about fear (e.g. fear of being alone, fear of starting over), or even whether this is about seeing this as an opportunity to work out your own stuff while in a relationship.

The key, if you continue being involved, is to stay in your lane. No fixing, no rescuing, no over-compensating, no armchair therapy, no using his issues as a means to distract from or fix yours. You must know where you end and he begins, and the difference between your issues and his. If you don’t, especially at what is four weeks in, that’s a code red alert.

Continue with the getting to know. If you see that the unavailable behaviours continue and you still want to continue, check in with you about why that is. Basically, keep staying aware.

People often think that doing self-work is something they do and then get into a relationship, but whether you continue this relationship or not, you will have to do the self-work. There’s no getting away from it. You will do it in all your relationships and through, for example, work. And even when you do this, other self-work is going to come up. For instance, I was in a good place when I met my now-husband, but my insecurities showed themselves and I had to be super aware. I’d done eight months of boundary work when I met him, so it definitely helped, but I didn’t feel ‘ready’ for a relationship. It just happened because life doesn’t work on my schedule. I’d broken it off with someone else three days before I met my husband, which was three weeks before our first date. I had to learn how to have arguments like a grown-up. There was zero expectation of him coaching me through that. I became more aware of my people-pleasing when I was a few years into the relationship. It’s possible to learn and be in a relationship at the same time, but you have to be careful when you’re in the early stages so that you don’t therapise each other and cross boundaries.

Here’s the crucial thing (and I recognised this early on in my own relationship): If you decide to start a relationship without having done enough work to be interdependent and secure (knowing where you end and they begin), you have a duty of care to yourself and the relationship to step it up.

All things will become clear. You can step away, and you will still have to do this work. And you can continue, and it might be OK, or it might become clearer that you need to step away. There are no hard and fast rules on this. The flag here is that you’ve been together for a month, and it’s that piece of information that suggests that this is a code amber situation: stop, look, listen and proceed with caution. This will give you time to get your bearings and figure out what’s what.

Can the relationship still unfold to a more intimate one?

On the surface, the vacation with my boyfriend of 6 months was nice: we did lots of beautiful things together but were physically and emotionally still more distanced than I had wished for. We spent a week in his parents’ holiday home.

For most of the time, he kept getting annoyed about little things that weren’t perfect. When I spoke to him about it, he said I should just ignore him then. At one day, he got angry for no apparent reason. Next day he denied it. Speaking to him about that, unfortunately, turned into me criticising him. He replied with accusations that had nothing to do with the subject, asking me to be more thankful for him taking me along his parents’ place. He also said that his ex was even more distanced and he was fine with that. Now he promised me to do more emotional talking even so he thinks it’s not useful. Being 50, he claims he’s never been heartbroken. Eventually, I didn’t enjoy spending time with him and mostly left him alone in his bad temper. I feel like I have to downgrade my expectations of intimacy in order to enjoy our mutual activities.

Nat’s Response

You and your boyfriend are in what I call stage 2 of relationships: establishing a relationship.

Episode on that here.

This is where you’ve mutually agreed to be in a relationship and now the real getting to know each other begins. After the honeymoon period of dating and initially agreeing to be in a relationship, you begin to get a sense of what being in a relationship with this person really involves. How do you each handle stress, conflict, criticism, disappointment, loss and rejection? How do each of you handle boundaries? We don’t really know who someone is and how much potential a relationship has until we and they are being themselves, we and they have said no, and we’ve navigated through conflict and criticism. Without any of those, we don’t have intimacy.

Something that’s particular to stage 2, though, is power struggles. This is what happens when one or both parties have rigid ideas about how things should be. It should be my way… No, my way is the right way. Power struggles occur due to fear of intimacy. One or both parties are afraid of being out of control or losing control.

The purpose of our relationships is to help us to heal, grow and learn, and we do this through pain, fear and guilt that comes to the surface through our interactions.

Power struggles are very common and they either break the relationship because each party is too concerned with who’s right instead of what’s right for the relationship, or each party recognises their individual issues and gets vulnerable.

There are power struggles taking place in the relationship, along with an element of analysing things because of ideas about intimacy.

Intimacy takes time and experience. It can’t be forced, and it doesn’t happen in ‘hits’ that are easy to analyse. It’s the sum of where your relationship is at at any given point and how you each communicate.

Intimacy requires vulnerability, so allowing yourself to be seen and doing things like speaking up in those moments where it would be all too easy not to out of fear of getting hurt or rocking the boat.

The reason why there are intimacy issues in the relationship is because there is resentment about unaddressed issues and unmet expectations.

What you have to work out is whether your desire for things to be more than they are means that how things are, even when they are good, means feeling lacking.

So, what I mean by this is that by your own admission, you had a nice vacation doing “beautiful things together”. Given how things were prior to the vacation, is it possible that your expectations for the relationship to reflect one that hadn’t had those issues, was maybe a little unrealistic? It’s not that your desire for greater intimacy is ‘wrong’ (it isn’t), but you might be trying to get your relationship to run before it can walk.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t an issue here: your partner’s responses to conflict and criticism make it difficult to move through and beyond it because you end up feeling attacked and maybe a tad stonewalled and gaslighted. These don’t make him a terrible person, but they also don’t make deepening the relationship in terms of intimacy easier as without honest and resolved conflict, genuine intimacy isn’t possible.

Episode on this here.

While part of conflict is that sometimes you and he will say things that are criticisms, you both need to work out whether even if either of you do this, can your conflicts move on to being productive and loving. People have different ways of feeling criticised. You felt criticised when you brought up his anger. He felt criticised by you bringing that up. He read your attempts at broaching these topics while on the trip as you not appreciating the time away and what he might see as the specialness of bringing you to his parents. What might be a useful discussion for you both is not to criticise each other’s style of communication but to become curious about how each of you interpreted the other’s attitude and comments.

So, yes, potentially, this relationship may unfold into a more intimate one if you both address the power struggling and become more vulnerable, but only time will tell.

I think it’s worth exploring whether being in a relationship where you feel like this or where you have this struggle is a pattern.

When is the right time to have physical intimacy?

I am in a relationship for 3 months because I want physical intimacy. I have not had a relationship in more than 5 years. However there is much advice which says to move into physical intimacy much later in a relationship, some even suggesting after marriage only. The reason given is men don’t fall in love after they have become physically intimate.

I am a divorcee and my bf too, I am not sure whether I want marriage or not. The same holds true for my bf.

My question is:
1. Should we focus on developing emotional intimacy before physical intimacy? I am not sure even if this is possible? I noticed we came much closer after being physically intimate.

2. Do men lose interest after having physical intimacy? Does a man not fall in love with a woman after having physical intimacy.

Nat’s Response

These are great questions that show how much we as a society have been conditioned into certain mentalities around sex and the ‘rules’ around it.

So, here’s the deal: Rules like this exist as a means of not just controlling the outcome but managing our fears and avoiding vulnerability. If follow a blueprint, the paint-by-numbers instructions on what someone says about when, if and how physical intimacy should take place, the idea is that we ’should’ get what we want. But a rule that appears to work in some situations is the same rule that doesn’t in plenty of others.

I’ve seen people wait for months, and things blow up straight afterwards. I’ve seen others wait for months, and they continue into a loving relationship. Some of those relationships might go the distance, and others won’t. I’ve seen people wait until marriage and then stay together. I’ve seen people wait until marriage and then it all go very wrong. I know people who had sex on the first date and never heard from any of the people ever again. I know people who had sex on the first date and they’re still together many years down the road (and happy). I know people who waited, got married, and then it became apparent that there were major problems with physical intimacy. The list goes on.

The reason why this is the case is because the thing that people use to control the outcome (sex) is not what determines the outcome. In some instances, using it to control the outcome becomes a massive blind spot. For example, we might infer someone’s willingness to wait as a sign that they share all of the same values as us. They might, they might not. Another example is that if we think that what we’re doing with regards to physical intimacy is determining what we’re experiencing, we’re likely to, whether it’s conscious or not, attempt to control other things in a similar way.

Before I directly answer your two questions, it’s important to acknowledge that the reason you are in the relationship is that you want physical intimacy. Granted, you don’t need to start and be in a relationship to experience physical intimacy, but you specifically decided to be in a relationship for that reason. This suggests that your preference, so your values, are that you experience physical intimacy within the confines of a relationship. This indicates your sexual values, which incidentally, are always worth checking in with you about when you are at conflict within about, for instance, physical intimacy. It’s critical to ensure that any decisions you make are based on who you are, your values, not, for instance, outdated ideas about women’s chastity and relationship that were drummed into you as a child. Not based on shame.

So, if the purpose of starting a relationship is to experience physical intimacy, why would you then block you from experiencing physical intimacy?

That doesn’t make sense given that you went into this relationship with this express purpose.

You say that you don’t want to get married again, or certainly, you’re unsure of that, and that’s fine. But that’s not what’s on the table here, so why does marriage have to be a factor when what you want is physical intimacy?

I think you need to get clear about what you want. You are well within your rights to start a relationship so that you can experience physical intimacy, but your questions suggest that this isn’t the main reason or that you’ve since changed your mind about your motives. Entering into a relationship with the express purpose of ‘getting’ something always leads to problems. Did you, for instance, rationalise that you ‘just’ wanted physical intimacy because it meant that you didn’t have to deal with your fear of being in a relationship again?

So, to your specific questions:

1) There is no ‘should’. You’re already in the relationship and being physically intimate, so it’s like closing the door after the horse has bolted. Given that you’ve been together for a few months, why can’t you do both at the same time? Emotional intimacy and physical intimacy are not the same. Plenty of people do the latter before they do the former because intimacy takes time and experience. Physical intimacy is also more than sex, so for the sake of ease: you don’t need emotional intimacy to have sex. And if that’s your primary reason for being in a relationship, again, be honest about why you are now focusing on emotional intimacy. You can’t hover over intimacy or say ‘Oh look, we did X, so now we’re intimate’. It develops over time because it reflects the depth of the relationship. Physical intimacy can contribute to closeness, but it depends on the context of your relationship and how emotionally available you each are.

2) Masculinity isn’t a monolith. Both men and women are capable of losing interest after being physically and/or emotionally intimate. What you are talking about are rules because, on some level, you are using sex to control you and/or the relationship. If he does lose interest, it’s not because you had sex. But if someone decides that they’re done after having sex, they were not interested in having a relationship. Sex isn’t a currency to negotiate a relationship, either. You’re not a blow-up doll. If someone falls for a person based on sex, then the relationship is fragile. People who are interested in loving relationships fall for the person, not the sex. Of course, if you don’t want him to fall for you, which may be an underlying concern, that might be a reason for having conflicting thoughts about the sex.

Can I have healthy relationships and sex after such a long abstinence?

Following on from your incredible reply to my Break The Cycle week 1 question about emotional needs, I found week 2 really tough. Although I knew my hooks were sex and appearance I was still quite shocked at just how little thought I’d given (at the time) to the types of things in my Circle of Trust. So no surprise I genuinely couldn’t understand (at the time) why these “relationships” ended in such a train wreck! I’m trying hard not to beat myself up as my parents gave me no guidance on managing emotions and needs.

I really resonated when you said “The perfectionist part of you is afraid of change and taking a step however imperfect it might be.” But when you haven’t had a relationship or sex for 15 years I can’t get away from the fear that anyone I may meet in the future will think I’m utterly crazy and run a mile as soon as I even try to talk about this.

In your experience can people have healthy relationships and sex after such a long abstinence during the ‘prime years’?

Nat’s Response

It’s oh-so-important to be kind to yourself because you can’t know what you don’t know. The course offers tools to help you understand yourself and relationships in a way that you couldn’t before. What class do you remember taking about relationships? What active lessons were you taught by loved ones about how to meet needs, recognise, acknowledge and express feelings, have boundaries, etc? At this precise moment, you have more information than most people do about what they need and who they are.

You are right to want to address your discomfort about having not been in a relationship/celibate for fifteen years because if you don’t make peace with it, it will be easy for people to judge you where you’re already judging yourself. There’s another reason though: not accepting that you have not been in a relationship or had sex for fifteen years due to various reasons will become a cast-iron alibi for avoiding a relationship.

For fifteen years, you chose to be celibate and not be in relationships due to, yes, going through a difficult time but also choosing to focus on other areas of your life. When a man doesn’t have a relationship for fifteen years, he’s a bachelor. He’s doing whatever he wants. Sure, he will still attract questions about the gap, just as you might, but men are given the freedom and flexibility to get into relationships at any stage of their life without much blowback.

When women deviate from societal expectations, we imagine that we are spinsters or damaged goods. What if being in a relationship during that time, for whatever reason that may have been, wasn’t the most important thing on earth to you? What if there’s nothing wrong with you?

I guess what I’m suggesting is that you continue with the work and get honest with you about the journey you’ve travelled and why the last fifteen years have been what they have. You don’t need to hide anything, but you also don’t need to walk around with a billboard. Figure out your reason and own it, wholeheartedly and without shame. Own it with compassion and recognition of what you’ve learned.

Yes, people can and do have relationships after long periods of abstinence. ‘Prime years’ is based on skewed societal ideas that you’re basically only good for anything if you’re under the age of 35-39, depending on where you live. Your ‘prime years’ are all the years you’re alive. You are not on the scrapheap. I know of so many people who are only getting into their careers, passions, treasured relationships in their ‘later’ years, and it’s because so many of us spent our formative years, our earlier years being what others expected us to be or navigating the fallout from the trauma of our earlier years.

Cut yourself some slack and compassionately reach a conclusion about what you’ve been doing for the last fifteen years.

Episode about damaged goods.

How do I maintain my self esteem in challenging situations?

I have issues with anxiety that stem from PTSD following a very traumatic and long-term workplace bullying situation while pursuing and finishing my PhD. It was mishandled and I could not escape without a huge sunk cost in terms of time and opportunity. So I ended up taking a massive blow to my mental health and emotional well-being instead. Now, it is finally done, I am slowly getting over the traumatic events during the program with the help of therapy, and I STILL find myself struggling with anxiety when I am faced with situations that either remind me of the past or trigger underlying insecurities. One of these is regarding other women (whether junior or senior) in the workplace and in personal life – at the first hint of antagonism or unfriendliness from them, I am immediately tossed into a very reactive state of panic and anxiety at what they might do to hurt me or damage me in some way. I immediately begin to see myself as “less than” and disposable. Easily crushed. I guess I know this will take time to resolve, but what can I do to keep my self-esteem intact as I navigate my ongoing recovery? Any tips would be great.

Nat’s Response

Goodness, what I torrid time you’ve been through. Let me reassure you straight out the gate that what you’ve experienced is frighteningly common. A lot of workplaces mishandle bullying, microaggressions and burnout. It’s impossible to spend such a significant portion of your week in an environment or grappling with an issue and for it not to take a toll on your emotional, mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing. It will take time to recover — my brother has been diagnosed with the same thing for the same reason and has been signed off from work for almost a year. Companies need to do better, way better.

I also want to add that much as you may feel as if it’s at huge personal cost to you to get out of that environment, you haven’t ‘wasted’ anything. Most things take time and opportunity. It’s the cost of getting involved. We’re going to put in time and yes, we’ll gain and seemingly lose some opportunities, but that’s going to happen anyway in everything. What matters is that we get out.

You don’t and didn’t deserve to be bullied. What your experience will do is put you in a position of addressing any trauma from it or other past related events. You will have a greater understanding of your bandwidth and boundaries, and so you will be in a greater position to take care of you.

Being totally honest with you, I had a similar trigger. Specifically spaces with lots of unfamiliar women, often where I was the only black woman and situations where I picked up on microaggressions and cliquiness. It affected me to various degrees for several years but has lessened significantly over time.

Some suggestions:

Recognise it for what it is and try to say, whether it’s to yourself or out loud ‘I am safe, I am secure’. Become familiar with the sensations and thoughts so that you can quickly give you reassurance or check in with you.

Try to take in your surroundings. Notice where you are, how old you are, who you’re around, what year it is. This is a reminder that you’re not in the past. You have an opportunity to respond differently.

Don’t hop on a train of thought, or if you do, hop off as soon as you can. Part of what exacerbates the anxiety is the thought train pulls in, you hop in and then you ride it to deep anxiety. You have the thought “I am less than”, you then pile on with negativity, and then you detach from reality.

Try to pay attention to what is going on. Go into observer mode. This is where you will notice something critical: In instances where that type of behaviour is happening, it’s because the person is insecure. Bullying isn’t a sign of strength; it’s a weakness. Then you can say, ‘Ah, she’s feeling nervous/insecure’; ‘Ah, there goes Jenny with her weak behaviour’. Reframe it.

Remember that your response is a habit, not necessarily a reflection of reality. This has been a game-changer for me. In the ‘file’ in your subconscious about women, friendship, cliques, work, bullying, etc, you’ve got various different incidences filed along with what appears to be the ‘correct’ emotional response and associated beliefs. An issue that occurs though is that you start blindly filing all situations with women as this, and your body sends messages through your body because your subconscious has linked various associations. If you always respond in the same way, your subconscious thinks that the nervous system response and what you tend to think and do is ‘correct’, and it strengthens the file. If you start altering your habits and responding differently, you update the file and start altering your body responses over time. Reminding myself that I’m not fourteen at my convent school or thirty at the mother and baby group or in a work situation where the person bullied me helps me to manage my emotions there and then by talking me through a situation and noticing the difference between the past and present.

Be a friend to you. Keep talking you through these situations and learn as you go. I hid in toilets at the start of events, then by the food table — now I still do that a bit, but it’s much less than before. Really paying attention to what is going on, not what’s in your head also helps you to see people’s insecurities or even where you are misreading the situation. You are safe now.

July

How do I stop being scared of dating?

I did the homework for break the cycle week 3 and `felt like I had at least 3 different subconscious agendas driving my behaviour. (1,2, 6,7,9) I literally remember watching my dad treat my mother terribly and thinking “I never want to be married” and also just never having my emotional needs accounted for so I quit asking for what I need.  I tend to rush in and overcompensate so I don’t need to vulnerable.  I guess I am scared when I date (but am now able to slow down and ask questions) but also scared that I have years to go before I can be in a healthy relationship.  Is there hope for me??

Nat’s Response

Of course there’s hope for you. You’ve picked up messages from observing the key relationship in your life and what it means, for instance, to be a woman, or to get married, or to deal with men. As a child, when you realised that your needs were going unmet or ignored, you decided to spare yourself the rejection and disappointment by avoiding having them. That turned you into being ‘low maintenance’ or even ’needless’.

You don’t have years to go before you can be in a healthy relationship. You could be in one in a matter of months. The key is that now that you know, you can be more conscious about it instead of unconscious and feeding that agenda and going against what you say you want.

It’s important, also to remember a few things:

You are not your mother
You don’t have to go out with a man like your father
Your parents’ relationship was made in a different time
You’re not that kid any more — you don’t have to protect you from them any more or act as if you are a child without control

You can start taking care of your needs at any time, like right now, and you don’t have to wait to be in a relationship or dating

You most definitely have an abundance of hope. There’s no need to be baggage-free. Instead, you need to be baggage-aware and actively making different choices that support what you want, not what you fear from when you were a child.

What advice/insight would you give to someone who is getting to know somebody with borderline personality disorder on a deeper level?

Have you had much experience of working with people who either have borderline personality disorder or who are dating or in a relationship with somebody who has it? I have been in touch with someone who I know and he has opened up about having borderline personality disorder. He has explained why he goes from being in frequent contact with me to me then not hearing from him for a while. He assured me that it has nothing to do with me, however, it has happened again recently and it has had a negative impact on me. What advice/insight would you give to someone who is getting to know somebody with borderline personality disorder on a deeper level?

Nat’s Response

Interesting question. I’ve had a few students/members over the years who’ve had BPD or dated someone with it.

From his side, he’s having (or had) to learn how to live with it, and so may have greater awareness and self-knowledge that helps him to manage himself and his relationships. Only he knows the extent of his diagnosis and how it plays out in his life, and that includes whether it’s accompanied by other disorders. It’s typical to be very black and white about things, to go fro highs to lows, to extremes, to be very fearful, to struggle with responsibility, and the list goes on. It’s worth educating yourself on what BPD is separately to what he’s telling you.

The thing is, how he’s managing it is something that, sure, he can tell you about, but you can only really know your response to it, which may defy any explanation he’s given you. Your responses also might be to things he hasn’t articulated that you’ve picked up on but haven’t necessarily recognised on a conscious level.

Truthfully, depending on where he’s at with BPD, it’s going to be tricky to know him on the “deeper level”.

Healthy relationships even with conditions and the trials and tribulations that life might throw your way need the landmarks in order to be fulfilling and have the prospect of going somewhere good: balance, commitment, consistency, intimacy and progression. What you need to ascertain is whether despite the BPD and how you respond to it at times, can each of you conduct yourselves in a way that leads to the growth of your relationship? Do him and you embody or strive for The Four Qualities of a loving partner: emotionally available, commitment to self, ownership (integrity, maturity and responsibility), and positive outlook.

The Landmarks of Healthy Relationships
The Four Qualities 

I think that what you need to ascertain before you proceed, and it will be with caution as you need to be mindful not just of your wellbeing but his also, is whether being with someone with this particular issue who brings out these particular feelings is part of an overall pattern?

What’s his deal? I don’t know how long he’s had his diagnosis and how it has or hasn’t impacted his relationships, but what is it that’s led to him seeking a relationship right now with you? Is his behaviour even though it’s related to his condition, a trigger for you, and if so, is this really the best relationship for you to be in? The way you felt when he stepped back, have you felt that way elsewhere? Even if you haven’t been with someone with BPD, have you been with or around someone who brought up the same feelings, thoughts and behaviours? Does he remind you of someone or something from the past? This will give you a clue about what, if anything, is going on.

Is it possible that being with him is a way of trying to right the wrongs of the past? Are you trying to forge intimacy in a situation that potentially it’s going to be difficult to do that? Are you trying to rescue him in some way? Remember, pity isn’t a good reason to be in a relationship.

Yes, the things that people do have the potential to impact us and bring out painful and uncomfortable feelings, BPD or not, but what you have to ensure is that you are not putting yourself in a situation that’s a variation of one you’ve already been in. (See the attached info about recognising code red and amber situations).

Relationships with people who have BPD are possible, but they are chaotic, stormy and sometimes at extremes. Some can be very devoted and loving in a rather intense fashion (and you have to be able to manage that from your end), but others can’t. I will say that if it’s relatively early on his diagnosis, it’s too soon for him to be in a relationship as he needs time to learn how to manage his condition and what you can’t do is overcompensate and get in the way of him doing whatever work he needs to.

I also want to stress that even though he has explained what he’s doing, that doesn’t mean that your feelings about it are invalid. You will have to figure out if this type of relationship, BPD or not, is where you want to be, and whether this is the right thing for where you are in your journey.

How can I avoid Future Fakers without putting myself out there and dating?

Love your program, thank you. I was just dating a guy who kept bringing up women being (hypothetically) needy. I am not needy at all I just am seeking a healthy connected relationship! Why did he keep bringing up someone being needy?

Also, he told me that he was afraid of a long term relationship because he was afraid of someone leaving him. (He’s been divorced). However, he was the one to disappear. It was like the moment it became real he vanished. I was so confused because he kept saying he was looking forward to spending more time with me.

I do not know how to avoid people like this without putting myself out there and dating?

Nat’s Response

Humans are funny creatures. Sometimes they’re slinky about letting others know what they truly think, feel, need, want and expect. They might go round the houses about things or just straight-up say and do things that contradict something else.

What you’ve described is someone in one instance dropping hints and possibly being a tad manipulative, and in the other instance, straight-up telling you that they are not ready for a relationship and are possibly a little deluded.

When someone keeps bringing up something, they doth protest too much. In this particular instance, he kept bringing it up because he was dropping some pretty big hints about how he feels about women. You were dealing with someone who had a lot of anger towards women and had managed to rewrite the past to fit a narrative where he was some poor, poor guy who kept getting trodden on by needy, demanding and difficult women, the latter two by extension of them having needs.

His comments weren’t about you; they were about women in general. You were hearing sexism, patriarchy, delusion and his view of relationships all rolled into one. In his mind, he didn’t contribute to any problems, including the end of the marriage. No, he feels that the problems wouldn’t have happened if the woman (or women) had just had fewer needs.

What he wanted you to do is what plenty of other people do in the same situation: reduce your needs, whether consciously or unconsciously, so as to avoid appearing “needy”.

You don’t need to defend or qualify your needs. At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with wanting the relationship you desire. The problem is that you may have sought this relationship with someone who couldn’t meet your needs because they had no interest in doing so.

As for the fear of a long-term relationship due to fears of being left, isn’t that just him taking what he does to someone else and calling it what they do? What is it? He fears his karma coming back to bite him in the arse because of the coldness of how he bailed in his situation? Sure, in that case, he fears it because he knows what he’s capable of doing and he hasn’t learned whatever he needs to. He’s too busy billing himself as the victim and women as the ‘aggressors’ because of their needs.

You should have been confused by his behaviour and comments, but that confusion was your clue that something was very wrong. If someone tells you that they’re afraid of long-term relationship but also that they’re looking forward to spending more time with you, they don’t know their arse from their elbow. They’re giving mixed messages. Wherever it’s mixed, there’s a problem.

You don’t need to avoid dating or putting yourself out there; you need to be willing to call it. You need to be willing to smell the BS and opt out. There’s no need to defend or reason with someone who is doing this. Instead, read the room, including what might be the confusion, and let them go.

 

How can I move forward when I've only just discovered emotional needs?

Apologies but I’m still on week 1 (Break The Cycle).

I feel like I’m down a rabbit hole on the issue of emotional needs and wants. This has been a huge revelation to me and describes my (nearly) 48 years on earth like nothing else ever has. I’ve read, watched and listened to all your resources on this. Your ‘needs vs wants’ audio was frighteningly accurate!

I’m worried I’ll not move forward until I’ve dealt with this fully (I’m a Virgo perfectionist!) and that it will be another reason to procrastinate and avoid sex and relationships as I’ve been doing for the last 15 years.

Any tips to keep moving forward? I guess I just need to crack on with week 2 and stop obsessing over this!

Nat’s Response

Don’t apologise! It’s your work, your journey.

I love that you’ve had an epiphany about emotional needs. That in itself is big deal. It’s major, and you’ve needed time to process and percolate. To wrap your head around things.

Here’s the thing (and you sort of know this already): there’s no such as dealing with something “fully”. Don’t panic. What I mean is that, yes, we can deal with something through self-work, but the ‘dealing’ happens in the doing that follows. You will find that you will do this work and be more connected to your needs and what’s been driving you, and so your life will be better as a direct result. You will have different experiences and be more intentional. But whether it’s weeks, months or years down the line, different challenges will come along to take your learning to the next level. It’s like Professor Life checking that you did, in fact, deal with something or giving you the opportunity to peel off another layer and go way deeper. I’m fifteen years down the road into my journey and every year, every season has been an evolution in something I thought I’d already learned.

The thing about perfectionism—recovering perfectionist here. High five!—is that your inner perfectionist likes things done yesterday. Once you learn something, you want the end result now. You want your life to change now. That’s actually about fear of vulnerability and putting way too much pressure on you because the same voice that drives the perfectionism is the same voice that tells you that you need to find out more and more information or deal with something ‘fully’. But sure, how do you know that what unfolds in the next few weeks and beyond of the course doesn’t deal with it? The perfectionist part of you is afraid of change and taking a step however imperfect it might be. You want to know all the steps and everything you’re dealing with because of fear of getting it wrong. Now that you realise what’s going on, you want to push hard on yourself and effort your way at high speed to the outcome. Not.gonna.happen. I know this as someone who started training for a marathon with pretty much no long-distance running experience. Enjoyed it for about a week and then I started panicking about what I’d got myself into and imagining a scenario where I thought I could be running a marathon in two weeks! I am too much sometimes.

So, yes, you’re trying to perfect things and so procrastinating. It’s like being used to being at 140C and suddenly your life starts heating up to 180C or 200C. As exciting as that might be, you will also find that scary and try to steer you back through sabotage (including procrastination) so that it doesn’t get too hot.

The thing about learning and gaining this insight is that it brings the possibility of change. Something you’ve learned has blown a hole in the cast-iron alibi you’ve been using to avoid relationships because of your fear of getting things wrong and intimacy. It’s OK to acknowledge this. You can do this work a step at a time. But, it starts with taking a step, any step, however imperfect it might be. And then taking more steps.

I’ve also given you access to The Perfectionism Sessions.

How do I reconcile being with a financially insecure man?

When I decided to start online dating 9 months ago, I consciously decided that I wanted to date a person who was financially secure and emotionally mature. However, 9 months later, I see myself in a relationship where the man is not financially secure and is in debt. He is however very emotionally mature.

I am questioning why I did this? He was very upfront about his financial situation. I was ok at the start but however now as I am liking him more as a person I wonder what impact it will have on our joint future.

What should I do? I also don’t want to break up over this. I believe every person I will date will bring me his own share of lessons. I rather have this lesson now.

Also, I am wondering can I respect a person who is in financial debt, I am not sure about this aspect.

Nat’s Response

When someone specifically says that they want to date someone for a very particular reason, it’s often based on a desire to avoid something from the past that was regarded as being the source of the problem. So, you say “financially secure”, which is fine for all intents and purposes, but my antennae go up because I wonder if this is partly to do with having been in a relationship where the person wasn’t financially secure. “Emotionally mature” is also a good thing and a fundamental part of being a loving partner, but, again, it potentially hints at what you think was lacking in a previous relationship.

What you have to also ask yourself is this: How do you measure someone’s financial security? Or, how would you gauge someone’s financial security whether it’s in the early days and weeks of a relationship, or further down? Debt doesn’t necessarily mean that the person isn’t financially secure, after all, plenty of people have a level of debt (mortgage, student loan, credit card(s), etc) but in the grander scheme of things, they are taking care of their finances and moving towards increased financial security. Basically, debt isn’t shorthand for something about the person or the relationship without context. Of course, if you now have context, then that’s a different matter. Keep in mind, though, that I hear from people who value financial security and think they’re with someone who embodies that because the person doesn’t have debt, but how they spend or earn their money becomes a problem because it represents another form of financial insecurity.

You ask why you did this, as in get into a relationship with someone who is emotionally mature but what you view as financially insecure, and, of course, you have your specific reasons, but ultimately, you made an exception to what you had said was your ‘rule’. You may have thought that things were less of an issue than they were or overruled your concerns because of your attraction or your desire to not have to date someone else and start over. You need to figure out that reason.

You may have been taking a shortcut to something. I talk about this here.

I think that before you judge him further or end your relationship, you need to understand your relationship with money. I’ve attached a powerful exercise for understanding your associations with money. If you don’t understand your baggage around money, you run the risk of making decisions and being in situations that you then might project on to others. Do the exercise and write down all of your associations with money, including your memories of money, whether positive or negative and sayings around them. You have a money story, and that influences why you are agitated about his finances. You will find out why him having debt is causing a problem. I want to stress, also, that it’s okay to be concerned about debt, but put context to it, and be careful of making broad-sweeping judgements. At the same time, if you have decided that you cannot be with someone who has debt, the onus is on you to make choices that align with that, not on the other party to not have debt.

Something in your past experiences communicated messages around financial debt. You automatically don’t respect someone who has any form of debt and you regard them as being financially insecure. But if that is true, how can that same person be emotionally mature at the same time? Figure out your money story so that you can distinguish between his baggage and yours, but also so that you can work out what your next move is. I also suggest that if you’re prone to making value judgments on that particular thing, it’s a good idea to get educated about debt. While there are clearly bad debt situations to be in, debt doesn’t equal ‘can’t do anything’ with their life or ‘one payment away from living in a cardboard box’. If your relationship is at a stage where you’re contemplating building a life together, talk openly about money and where he’s at financially so that you get to understand whether, even though he has debt, he is managing it and he’s also in a position to do the things you both say you want.

Couple of posts/podcasts where I talk about money

What’s your money story?

Advice Wednesday #7: My Ex Became More Controlling When I stopped Earning. Is Financial Equity Critical To Relationship Success?

Shall I give it a second chance?

My relationship of six months has turned into one that happens mostly via text messages. A few weeks ago I noticed that my boyfriend doesn’t call as often, we don’t see each other as often cause he has been working on the weekend or saw his parents (and not take me), and we have even less sex. I felt intimacy isn’t happening on any level any more. He says it’s all due to stress and defies any deeper conversation. Plus, it happened three times already that he has sudden bursts of anger and calm conversations aren’t possible. Now I discovered that his bedsheets are stained all over while we hardly sleep with each other at all. The thing is we booked a vacation starting this Saturday, four days of which are in a spa that can’t be cancelled any more. I don’t really feel like going. But maybe it really is all stress-related, he seems to be almost burned-out. Shall I go on vacation with him and find out if we can go on with the relationship? Or should I cancel it altogether? The anger thing seems like a red flag to me.

Nat’s Response

The danger in situations like this is we already feel angry and then we take all the various strands of information which we are viewing through our lens of, for example, distrust, anger, frustration, hurt, etc, and we start deciding what the situation and the outcome will be without having an actual conversation.

Now, I appreciate that he hasn’t handled conversations well on the first few occasions, and maybe he won’t handle it well next time. That said, you are in a relatively new relationship where you are each discovering the other party’s attitude to conflict, criticism, stress, rejection, disappointment and loss, and also how you handle these together. Now it may well be that this relationship isn’t going to continue. It’s difficult to say without having the awkward but necessary conversations. If you don’t go on this trip, which to some extent would be understandable given the last few weeks, you will doubt your decision and start to wonder if you were too harsh because you didn’t have a conversation with him either way and get to the bottom of what was going on. If he was some rando guy that you just started dating for the last few weeks and he’s behaving as you described, you bounce. But if you’re in enough of a relationship where you have a trip booked to go away together, out of respect for you and him, have a conversation. You are still both in the getting-to-know phase of your relationship. How each of you respond to the stress, conflict, etc., will be a marker of the intimacy and success of your relationship. You can’t do this purely on guesswork. You will need to speak up. You will need to acknowledge where his responses to things have surprised you and thrown you off. Given that you’ve been together for six months, you don’t know what he’s like in a high stress situation, so you need to empathise and be curious about what is going on with him.

Some would argue to themselves that because they’re on a trip that they can’t say anything. Actually, you can. Go, enjoy yourself, and also have a conversation or few about your lives over the last few weeks.

It seems like you’ve been really busy and stressed over the last few weeks as I know we haven’t been able to connect as we normally would. Has something been going on at work?

I know we’re away and wanting to relax, but if I don’t say what I’m about to, I’ll feel super weird and awkward anyway. Over the last few weeks, it’s felt like you don’t have as much time for me as you used to and that things are a bit distant. As you can imagine, it’s easy to jump to conclusions and imagine all sorts of things, but I realise that’s not fair to either of us and that it’s better to check in with you. Have you noticed the same things too?

I think it’s also important to acknowledge that anger, stress and burnout manifest in different ways. You are also angry with him and that’s showing up in how you interact with him even when you’re not aware of it.

And, yes, the anger thing might be a problem. But that’s actually coming from both sides. If you can’t communicate but are angry, and if he gets angry but then shuts down, there’s something off in approach and mindset on each side.

I’ve been wary of broaching this with you because when I tried to on X, Y and Z occasions (be specific but brief. e.g ‘on that Saturday in April’ or ’that time when I spoke to you about the cat’), your anger was quite intense and I wasn’t sure what to do. I hold my hands up and recognise that I’ve tip-toed a bit instead of speaking up, but I realise now that I needed to say to you that ABC bothered me rather than let it build up.

So, yes, if you can go on the trip and you care enough about him and the relationship to be curious about what’s going on, go. Obviously, if you truly don’t want to go, that decision is also fine as well. You just need to be honest with yourself at all points so that you can take care of you.

How long does career transformation take now that I'm reclaiming myself?

Doing the work on breaking the cycle led me to realize that both my mom and sister tend to react negatively if I do anything they dislike. My mom usually picks a fight with me and my sister will stop talking to me for weeks to months then will pick up like nothing happened.

I realized this has made me quite flinchy or anxious around texting or calling guys and really believing that they will leave and/or expecting them to respond very quickly. Because I get reactive on this, I tend to need to calm myself down and then will sometimes OVERgive the benefit of the doubt. Like “it’s totally ok that he never responded to my text from two days ago.” How do I find a happy medium not driven from anxiety but also not allowing for BS from guys?

Nat’s Response

I empathise. Dealing with a loved one who cuts off or acts out when things don’t go their way, sometimes for weeks or months at a time, is painful and, as you can attest to, can create a pattern in you of tip-toeing and then denying, rationalising, minimising, excusing and assuming so that you don’t have to deal with the discomfort of what’s really going on.
The thing is, your mother and your sister are your mother and your sister. No, that doesn’t mean that you should accept any and all BS from them, but what you can decide is that because they are your mother and sister, as opposed to boyfriend or friend, you will not put up with their carry-on from other people in your life. In this way, you recognise, not just how unacceptable some of their behaviour is but you also get to create healthier boundaries.
So, for example, my mother does the same as yours, right down to picking up like nothing happened. It’s one thing for me to encounter this with my mother, but recognising that her behaviour is ridiculous and inappropriate (and a legacy of how she dealt with siblings and her own mother) helped me to depersonalise it and also decide that I will not treat people like they are my mum so I won’t allow myself to behave like I do with her or engage with people who behave like her.
In this way, when you slip into this mindset of making allowances for what might be some rando guy that you just started talking to, you can check your surroundings, remember who you are and your age, and then check yourself about this person and whether your behaviour, attitude and mindset reflect that of a boundaried adult dealing with a guy or a young girl pussyfooting around her mother.
Unless these guys have very similar traits to your mother, they are not your mother or like her. And if they are like her, then this is a code red alert that you are looking for something from these guys in an effort to meet an unmet need. Or, you are slipping into the role you play by default and behaving how you do with your mother irrespective of whether they are like your mother. Either way, this can’t work for your romantic relationships because the energy you’re bringing to it is parent-child energy, not a woman trying to date and meet a loving partner energy.
I would also look at how you calm yourself down. On one hand, it’s great that you soothe you. On the other, it concerns me that whatever you’re doing to soothe and calm you down leads to you overriding your gut and boundaries. If how you calm you down is by denying, rationalising, etc., what you’re actually doing is emotionally blackmailing you into playing nicey-nice. That fear that a guy who isn’t your parent will ‘abandon’ you reflect a child fear, not an adult one. And the anxiety keeps appearing because the younger aspects of you still think that you’re back in your early childhood years — the learned emotional responses and thinking of things in terms of abandonment run right back to the early years of childhood. If, like me, you’re in your forties, for example, that would mean that the way you feel in these situations is like you’re in the 80s. But it’s safe to say that not only are you not there but that you’re not that kid any more, and you don’t have to jump to your mother’s beat.
How do I stop being so reactive to text messages and calls

I’m reclaiming myself and it is working. My core negative belief did quite a number on me. My plan is to evolve in my current work role and see if the transformation changes my beliefs, triggers and career trauma and finally other’s perception of me to see me in a bigger fitting role. My company feels supportive and is truly a family company in all aspects where I can either grow or act out. My question is that like ass clown recovery, will there be a solid shift of self-esteem when reclaiming the important parts of your life? How long does the transformation take to hit one’s career for serious transformers?

Nat’s Response

Self-esteem works on something I call the cumulative effect: steadily doing things over time gradually builds. And they’re often what seem like small things mixed in with some bigger and uncomfortable things.

So, yes, there’s a solid shift in self-esteem when you reclaim those important aspects of your life, and it provides the foundation when you inevitably hit upon challenges or stray away from yourself, as all humans do, even ones with great self-esteem. Because you’ve done some work, when you deviate, you have a sense of where to ‘go back’ to. You know what it’s like to feel good, to make tricky decisions.

It’s not really about a goal per se; it’s about consistently treating and regarding you with love, care, trust and respect by considering you in the actions you make and making conscious choices. When you have unhealthy patterns and know, for instance, that you’re not being you and not living up to your potential, it’s because you’re living life unconsciously. You do things as a reaction to your fear of displeasing, abandonment, rejection etc., rather than as a response to who you are and want to be. You think about everything and everyone else before you even throw you a nanosecond of consideration.

Everything is interconnected. There’s no point in making changes in one area and not bringing that you to the other areas of your life. That’s why you see some people, for instance, losing weight, cutting back on people-pleasing, speaking up a bit more in one area and it rippling out. Some people will then criticise them for not staying like their old self.

When I was really ill and had to make lifestyle changes to support my healing, it occurred to me that there was no point cutting out certain foods if I was going to feed me with toxic behaviour and thinking. I also couldn’t have healthier boundaries at work and then be a child around my family, and so the shifts began.

In terms of how long, that’s a How long is a piece of string? question. A lot depends, not just on what you do but what you do consistently and how willing you are to keep going even when you’re not sure what difference it’s making, you’re uncomfortable/scared and you don’t know all of the steps or what lies ahead. You do it because you know that the old way doesn’t work and you’re making a commitment to yourself. There are some things you might notice very quickly, and others you notice with the benefit of hindsight. If you don’t have over-attachment to what form the changes must take in terms of outcome, then you get to be wowed.

In terms of questions, it’s weekly for the first six weeks of the course and then monthly (schedule is on your dashboard). For sake of simplicity, 6 + monthly thereafter.

How to handle differences in financial situation in a relationship

I am in a new relationship of 3 months. We met online. When we met my bf told me of his financial situation and responsibilities, he is in a place where he is working on improving his situation and has responsibilities towards his children.

As a result, we don’t socialise in restaurants or eating out. When we meet (mostly once a week), he comes over to my place, we take long walks and then we come over to my place for a meal and sometimes tea.

However lately I am feeling a need to change things a bit, I don’t want to set a trend that every time I am cooking a meal, I want to go out maybe a coffee. However, I feel very uncomfortable suggesting it to him, because I don’t want any financial burden on him.

I also don’t want to be paying for it because in the past that was a turn off in the relationship, where the other person got turned off by my giving nature. Please suggest what to do.

Nat’s Response

I understand your discomfort. On one hand, you want to be sensitive to your boyfriend’s financial situation, on the other, you also want to experience a mutual relationship.

Here’s the thing: Him telling you about his financial situation and responsibilities isn’t, or certainly shouldn’t be, a cue for you to bear the effort load of the relationship.

You are being over-responsible. In being conscientious of his situation, you’ve overcompensated for it and taken responsibility for the date efforts by ensuring that you are not a burden on him. Unfortunately, when it comes to doing this type of thing, you end up sailing a little too close to the wind. You’ve been doing what you’ve been doing—cooking, dates at your place, etc—from a place of not wanting to be a burden. You are trying to appear ’needless’ or to minimise your expectations and his responsibilities because of his existing responsibilities. And guess what? That’s not your responsibility, but it’s also why you are at this juncture: becoming increasingly aware of your unmet needs and the imbalance in your relationship. There might be the beginnings of frustration and resentment. We want to feel invested in. We want our partner to make an effort and to, yes, hold up their end of the relationship.

What you need to ascertain is whether that conversation you had early on explicitly said that this is the way things had to be? If you did, what you can recognise is that you agreed to something then without understanding how things would be now. Or, you thought that you would be more OK with this setup than you are in actuality because of the reasons he gave you or because you really liked him and he appeared to reciprocate. I suspect that him saying that he was working on his situation also gave you this sense that his situation was evolving and temporary. It’s possible that over the last few months, you’ve picked up what might be subtle signs that are below the conscious level that you are reading as him not really looking to change the situation that much. Or, it may just be that you’ve become tired of the situation.

There’s also a part of you that is wary of being in a situation that is the same or similar to the one from before.

So, a few things:

Get to the why. Why are you doing what you’re doing, and are these something you want to do or that you on some level feel guilty, afraid or obliged into doing? If it’s the latter, as ‘helpful’ and ‘giving’ as these might be, you are doing them for the wrong reasons. You either need to change your why, be more honest with him or halt.

If giving has been an issue in past relationships, this goes back to the over-responsibility but also to where you have unwittingly been doing good things but for the wrong reasons. For instance, due to feeling unworthy or trying to encourage the other party to give. When you give autonomously and because you want to, it gives space for the other person to step up. Or, you recognise that it’s not a mutual relationship.

At the end of the day, even with his financial situation, he can make an effort. You can visit his place, he can cook for you, and, yes, you can go out. Sure, you don’t have to go to a Michelin star restaurant, but you can do stuff that involves leaving the house. Obviously, I don’t know what your pandemic situation is so that may also be a factor in where you can go and what you can do.

Say that you want to shake things up a bit. Let him make suggestions. Hang back. Don’t invite him over for dinner. But don’t do it passive-aggressively. Speak up and say that you want to get a coffee. hey’re his feelings to deal with. If he can’t stretch to a coffee, he will say so. Or, he will make a different suggestion. You are in a relationship. Each of you has needs. It’s unfair and unreasonable to meet his needs while denying yours and treating you like a burden. It’s a relationship so it’s too late to be worrying about responsibility. Both of you have a responsibility to each other and the relationship.

 

How do I trust my gut and ask for what I need?

My ex-partner was in recovery from alcoholism when I met him. He’d been sober for 18 months but hadn’t had any counselling and he wasn’t engaging with any social or psychological support. For the first two years we were together he didn’t Drink and neither did I. He smoked a lot of pot and I feel he just switched to pot rather than addressing his addictions meaningfully. Following some family stress connected with his daughter, he started drinking again and all hell broke loose, he became violent, he lied, he made my life a misery. I tried to get him into several rehab programmes but to no avail. Eventually, I had no choice but to leave and his family are waging a smear campaign against me, blaming me for my ex-partner’s relapse and painting me as the violent partner. His issues are well documented over the last forty years, he is a musician and people are aware of his history, so I know Most people will see that I was just the latest person to be caught up in his chaos, but I’m finding it very hard to deal with the gossip, It’s unjustified and it’s really hard to keep it into perspective after everything else he’s put me through.

Nat’s Response

I think you’re being hard on yourself and it feels a bit all-or-nothing.

It’s OK for you to be disappointed because the date you were looking forward to got cancelled. You experience disappointment when your hopes and expectations aren’t met.

Where things have gone somewhat awry is that him cancelling without rescheduling at that point which might be due to him being tired at the time and so not in the headspace to make a firm plan or, yes, it could be because he was blowing you off in a wider way, has set off a chain of thoughts that speak to niggling anxieties and resentments.

You have a belief and fear that if you ask for what you want, no one will want to or be able to love you.

So, you believe that asserting your needs is wrong and that it will reveal that the person doesn’t want to meet your needs or that they won’t be able to meet your needs and love you. You fear that you are unlovable and that you are ’too much’ or certainly that you’re asking for too much. That runs deeper than this guy you’re dating, and it sets you up for pain.

Your attitude about needs runs back to childhood where you seem to have picked up the message that there’s no point in voicing needs because you’re only going to be disappointed because the person will be incapable of doing so or even if they can, they won’t want to. The thing is, trying to act like you don’t have needs is like trying to hold your breath so that you can stop your breathing from inconveniencing someone else. Needs are as natural as breathing.

It’s also clear that even though you may have enjoyed seeing this guy, certain things have already poked at you:

– Rescheduling (which disrupts how you thought things were going to be)
– You confirming dates more than he is
– Being blown off on the day of the date

While you say you were “fine” about the other rescheduling, possibly because it was work-related rather than due to a late night, maybe you weren’t as fine about it as you say—and this is OK.

The thing is, it’s totally OK to want to make plans with someone you’re seeing. What is unclear here is what the need is. For instance, if your current feelings are a result of him not immediately following through with a plan, what would him making a plan on the day of mean? What he did upset you. So what does him cancelling the date due to a late night bring up feelings of? Is it that you are angry that he didn’t make you a priority? That he pushed his previous night out to such a degree that he wasn’t in a space to go out with you? Is it feeling that you weren’t on his mind enough that he would make sure that he was home early enough that he wasn’t tired for your date?

Try to decipher what this recent incident has brought up. A big clue: What else or who else does it remind you of?

Because you say that past hurts are causing you to struggle to decipher whether you’re overreacting, try to sit in a quiet space and be honest with you about what those past hurts are and what you are scared of happening again.

Keep in mind that you’ve just started seeing this guy and you have to start as you mean to go on. If you don’t normally voice needs (or show it in your actions), or you don’t ask questions, these are exactly what you need to do in this involvement to ensure that you are not repeating who you were in past relationships but also to ensure that you don’t recreate the same dynamic.

Given that you’ve just started seeing him, also, you don’t have to worry about whether he can love you. You barely know him. What you need to concern yourself with is whether you are able to be yourself in this involvement and say and do what you need.

I’ve also given you access to The Intuition Sessions. This will help you pin down what’s going on. Him cancelling the date doesn’t have to mean the end of things. Use recognition that there are certain things bothering you to step back slightly and let him confirm the next date. You would only need to stop dating if you feel angry and hurt enough over your exes that you can’t tell the difference between them and him. 

How do I cope either a smear campaign being waged against me?

My ex-partner was in recovery from alcoholism when I met him. He’d been sober for 18 months but hadn’t had any counselling and he wasn’t engaging with any social or psychological support. For the first two years we were together he didn’t Drink and neither did I. He smoked a lot of pot and I feel he just switched to pot rather than addressing his addictions meaningfully. Following some family stress connected with his daughter, he started drinking again and all hell broke loose, he became violent, he lied, he made my life a misery. I tried to get him into several rehab programmes but to no avail. Eventually, I had no choice but to leave and his family are waging a smear campaign against me, blaming me for my ex-partner’s relapse and painting me as the violent partner. His issues are well documented over the last forty years, he is a musician and people are aware of his history, so I know Most people will see that I was just the latest person to be caught up in his chaos, but I’m finding it very hard to deal with the gossip, It’s unjustified and it’s really hard to keep it into perspective after everything else he’s put me through.

Nat’s Response

I really feel for you. Unfortunately what you’re witnessing and being subjected to is the cycle of addiction, trauma and enabling that can take place within a family. The race is on for everyone to find someone else to throw the hot potato of blame to. None of them wants to acknowledge their roles in his life and what contributed to it, so instead they want to blame you, someone who has been in his life for a fraction of it. That makes no sense, especially when you are not the one who plunged him into this chaos in the first place. And that’s not to take away from his responsibility, but here’s the thing:

You have a family member who did something that amounted to selling him out. That is what triggered this. Betrayal.

Now, instead of everyone, including his daughter, recognising that this is what’s happened, everyone’s playing their version of The Emperor’s New Clothes. You’re the one saying he’s naked, and everyone else is calling you a liar and trashing your name. This means that it’s also highly likely that the people who are trashing you have a vested interest in reinforcing the lie. Maybe they’re afraid of the daughter. Maybe they’re in on it with her. I also think there’s a lot of misdirected guilt: they do a shitty thing that sparks a relapse, and no one wants to call a spade a spade. To add insult to injury, he in his addiction is a party to it. You’re now seen as the ‘Abandoner’ without any acknowledgement of the intolerable abuse that you suffered nor their part in kickstarting it all.

You’re in a tricky spot. These people are saying all sorts of things. I don’t know if it’s just crap that they’re saying amongst themselves that maybe you hear back through mutual connections or that they say directly to you, or whether it’s being said in the public domain. If it’s in the public domain, there are legal avenues that you can pursue. It may also reach a point where you give your side of the story, but that comes with its own set of hassles.

The gossip is unjustified, but it is something that comes with the territory of being with someone in the public eye. What may be the best thing to do is sever contact with everyone who is even remotely connected to him and his family. Let your silence do the talking and let things play out. There’s a reason for this: they run out of energy. If he’s running true to form, someone else will come into the frame that will become the new target. It’s also impossible for the screenplay to go ahead without her as an extension of that taking the heat that comes with that. No one’s going to see that chain of events and not put two and two together and make four.

Keep a record of everything. Any texts from the relationship, anything that remotely corroborates your version of events. You never know when you might need it, and sometimes people back off when you say the equivalent of ‘I have the receipts on my claims, so don’t push me’.

Your ex put out one fire (the drinking) and lit another (the pot-smoking). You thought he was more together than he was, and you thought that you could support him through his troubles and create a beautiful life together. I know it feels like the daughter wrecked everything, but he was a ticking time bomb. If it wasn’t her, it would have been something else because he hadn’t addressed the root of his addiction. If he goes to rehab, the fog will clear. No counsellor is going to agree that it’s all your fault when he’s honest about what kickstarted this.

But you don’t need him or his family to validate that. You know what happened. And while that might feel like very little consolation at the moment, you’re not the one in the throes of addiction or running around town blaming everyone. They are like so many dysfunctional families in the same situation: trying to keep the lie alive so that they don’t have to face their trauma or responsibilities. I know that what they’re doing isn’t fair, but look at what else their behaviour reminds you of. That might give you clues as to why you tried to rescue him in your own way but also why what they’re doing is particularly painful. In that, you can take even better care of you. You did the right thing walking away.

I'm woke, so how do I fix my career?

I wanted to tell you all about what I have discovered about my roles, beliefs, patterns, the corporate assclown(s), NC, and a beautiful awakening where light poured out of me. I could hear my body-my cohort soon after asking for better health and hikes in the woods and pursuing neglected hobbies. My story is juicy and sad, and I’m like you, that girl you used to be. My last period stopped on the previous full mood and lunar eclipse this summer. So I’m old too.

The wound is an intellectual abuse. I was loved when I acted like an air-head but told to be a doctor, engineer, or lawyer. My Dad still calls me a dummy. So I had made up a few life long curious strategies to keep me safe that I just put the brakes on. The NC with an assclown who turned out to be just charming me for years and years with love and poetry and addiction broke the spell when he admitted his current shadiness. I guess he was significant, after all.

Here I am now: I wake up again after NC kicks in and am underemployed. It is overwhelming. I’m shocked by the way I am treated by some.

I like a lot about the job and want to make it work. I have been a constant learner for 30 years, so I am highly skilled and keep adding. I can create all the creative media types, and I specialize in engineering (it’s part of the story above. However, it still works for me)
I likely make about $30,000+ less than I should and am not a manager. Women with no credentials have always been very twisted over me and try to sabotage my position.

I see change. My VP boss is coaching me. I am not making assumptions but trying to solve each daily indignity at a time. Is there any more advice for me?

The ass clown feels like a symptom, solve that and see the real problem you must solve. For me it’s the self esteem to fully be my real self in my work, my career, my knowledge and leadership. I just need your beautiful guidance. Thanks.

Nat’s Response

Wow, it sounds like you had quite a powerful experience. An awakening, for sure.

The thing about having a parent who on one hand, tells you that you’re a “dummy” but on the other, expects you to get one of the traditionally prestigious jobs (doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant, etc) is that you’re caught between a rock and a hard place. Go down the “dummy’ route entirely and you ‘disobey’ their expectation of what they deem to be successful, but go down the other route of becoming their picture of success and you think that you risk making them look like a dummy.

So… you find yourself in the middle of the road. Not too “dummy”, not too successful, but just right.

Problem is, you’re not a “dummy”. You know that and your father deep down knows that too. But your father, bless him, engages in age-old sexist behaviour. He also, like a lot of families do, seems to have pigeonholed you based on an outdated perception or a total misunderstanding. You could be Einstein level, but because maybe you did one silly thing a gazillion years ago, you’re now a “dummy”.

So, you spend your life learning and learning. And you know what? I’ve nothing against learning. We all need to be lifelong learners in some respects. I’m big into books, Skillshare and signing myself up for more courses than I have bandwidth for, haha.

But I suspect that you’re doing something else in the process of constantly learning: trying to perfect yourself in some way. Or, more importantly, you are using constant learning as a way to delay taking the next step or moving on to the next stage of your life. It’s a way of delaying your potential and your purpose. Constantly learning while under-earning and playing it small speaks to those aspects of you that are afraid of shining too brightly. That are afraid of alienating your father by not being daddy’s little dummy girl who’s being ‘good’ by being the person he expects her to be.

But this isn’t working for you. Why should your father have two lives (yours and his) and you get none?

You are a light-filled talented being who has sold herself short on men who are not particularly bright and so they talk out of their bottoms and rely on charm. Do you think that what your dad wanted was for you to be with shady guys and for you to be in pain? Do you think he was asking you to give up your career prospects and a loving relationship just so that he gets to call you “dummy” on occasion?

You can still love your father and also acknowledge that your dad had and has it wrong. It doesn’t make you a ‘bad’ daughter for acknowledging it. He is raised in a different time and has behaved in ways that mean that he has under-fathered you in certain ways in his quest to be a smart ass.

What you need to explore is letting go of whatever the role is between you and your father so that you are free to step into this next phase of your life. Yes, you are his daughter, but you are your own woman. You’re a grown-up now, and it’s your job to parent you. If a small child was in front of you right now, would you call them a “dummy”? Would you say that about a loved one? Of course you wouldn’t. So why keep agreeing with your father’s false assessment of you? Why keep holding your beautiful self back from living a full life?

Write an Unsent Letter, possibly several, to your father. Use it as a way of acknowledging the role and why he said and did what he did. Wouldn’t your father behave differently if he had a different personality, character, set of circumstances, resources, level of abundance and backstory? Of course. Acknowledge all of this in the letter. It’s time to resign from the role.

Your ex wasn’t the love of your life; he had the job of helping you to see how amazing you are and how you don’t need him or anyone like him to validate your existence.

How to not take things personally

Thank you for all your support! One thing I am working on is not taking things personally. I have a thought about my past EUM – “He would have wanted to be with me if I was XXX.” (Insert adjective here). Hotter, younger, fitter, cooler, etc.

My question is – how do I stop taking the actions of others personally? When I don’t like or want to be with someone, it is usually personal – there is something about them that doesn’t jive with me. I’m sure the EUM thought something like that about me. How can I release it and allow it to be about him?

I think this pattern comes from childhood, being blamed for my mom being upset.

Thank you for any insight you may have!

Nat’s Response

Taking things personally is something that all humans do to a degree. Why we don’t want to be with someone (or they us) feels personal because, well, it’s about us. Even if we can think of a thousand reasons why we don’t like or want to be with them, we often feel aggrieved that they have even one reason why they don’t want to be with us.

When you’re in the early stages of dating someone and you don’t feel interested, that’s largely a matter of taste. When you don’t feel any interest or attraction to someone who feels it for you, again, taste. There are plenty of things you like or dislike in your life. You probably haven’t given many of them a massive amount of thought. You just do. That’s how it can be with dating or just not being interested in someone.

When you, however, embark on a relationship with someone, while some of the reasons why we choose to end things or lose interest might be a question of taste, it’s also a question of compatibility and values, ultimately. And that does feel personal because it feels like a judgement about us or that we did something wrong. And when we consider the reasons why we want to end a relationship, it’s easy to see how personal things can feel or get.

No one owes us their interest or a relationship. Even if we’ve been The Nicest Person On Earth TM, they don’t owe us. Similarly, we don’t owe someone a relationship or our interest.

The problem that so many of us are experiencing as humans is that we’ve been taught to make things super personal that don’t need to be. When we realise that a relationship isn’t working for us and acknowledge that the person doesn’t have the character for the type of relationship that we want or that we want different things or that the interest isn’t there, we carry on as if we’re God, a higher power or Judge Judy. No, we’re just an ordinary human. Us not wanting to be in a relationship with someone (or they us) really isn’t the mighty power lever that we imagine it to be.

The next thing is that we have a habit, as humans, of making our reason personal, so about the person, when the reason is personal, but it’s about us. For example, someone we’re dating tells us that they don’t like how we dress or that they weren’t feeling a connection with us or whatever, but actually, behind the scenes, this person isn’t feeling any deep connection with anyone because they’re emotionally unavailable and avoiding commitment. We come away from that situation thinking that we did something wrong because we take everything super personal and assume that we should have got a relationship because we tried our hardest when in reality, we didn’t do anything ‘wrong’. The person just isn’t interested in a relationship because of where they are at emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. So your ex might well think that it’s something about you, but that’s because he’s deluding himself in the first place because he’s emotionally unavailable. That involves lying to yourself and hiding from your feelings.

The truth is, if someone isn’t available for a mutually fulfilling loving relationship, you can come up with a thousand reasons to blame yourself or to slag them off, but none of them matter because they are not available.

Their availability is about them, not you. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with their pattern.

Sure, you could try to be hotter, younger, fitter, cooler, but the problem you’re trying to solve has nothing to do with any of those things. If it did, we’d live in an entirely different world where we could cancel out poverty, depression famine, war and the destruction of the planet by improving all of those things.

The relationship ended. You don’t need to throw blame around. A relationship isn’t a war you wage on each other where someone comes out the winner and the other a loser. It’s not actually about ‘allowing’ it to be “about him”. It’s about being honest about all of the reasons why this situation wasn’t right for you. Use an Unsent Letter to express the anger you feel about being blamed for stuff and how this has manifested itself in you seeing things in terms of who’s to blame and trying to avoid being blamed. Like relationships are about doing things ‘right’. Nope, they’re about being human. Use the letter to express your disappointment in your ex and see his and your humanness.

How do I maintain my self esteem in challenging situations?

I have issues with anxiety that stem from PTSD following a very traumatic and long-term workplace bullying situation while pursuing and finishing my PhD. It was mishandled and I could not escape without a huge sunk cost in terms of time and opportunity. So I ended up taking a massive blow to my mental health and emotional well-being instead. Now, it is finally done, I am slowly getting over the traumatic events during the program with the help of therapy, and I STILL find myself struggling with anxiety when I am faced with situations that either remind me of the past or trigger underlying insecurities.

One of these is regarding other women (whether junior or senior) in the workplace and in personal life – at the first hint of antagonism or unfriendliness from them, I am immediately tossed into a very reactive state of panic and anxiety at what they might do to hurt me or damage me in some way. I immediately begin to see myself as “less than” and disposable. Easily crushed. I guess I know this will take time to resolve, but what can I do to keep my self-esteem intact as I navigate my ongoing recovery? Any tips would be great.

Nat’s Response

Goodness, what I torrid time you’ve been through. Let me reassure you straight out the gate that what you’ve experienced is frighteningly common. A lot of workplaces mishandle bullying, microaggressions and burnout. It’s impossible to spend such a significant portion of your week in an environment or grappling with an issue and for it not to take a toll on your emotional, mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing. It will take time to recover — my brother has been diagnosed with the same thing for the same reason and has been signed off from work for almost a year. Companies need to do better, way better.

I also want to add that much as you may feel as if it’s at huge personal cost to you to get out of that environment, you haven’t ‘wasted’ anything. Most things take time and opportunity. It’s the cost of getting involved. We’re going to put in time and yes, we’ll gain and seemingly lose some opportunities, but that’s going to happen anyway in everything. What matters is that we get out.

You don’t and didn’t deserve to be bullied. What your experience will do is put you in a position of addressing any trauma from it or other past related events. You will have a greater understanding of your bandwidth and boundaries, and so you will be in a greater position to take care of you.

Being totally honest with you, I had a similar trigger. Specifically spaces with lots of unfamiliar women, often where I was the only black woman and situations where I picked up on microaggressions and cliquiness. It affected me to various degrees for several years but has lessened significantly over time.

Some suggestions:

Recognise it for what it is and try to say, whether it’s to yourself or out loud ‘I am safe, I am secure’. Become familiar with the sensations and thoughts so that you can quickly give you reassurance or check in with you.

Try to take in your surroundings. Notice where you are, how old you are, who you’re around, what year it is. This is a reminder that you’re not in the past. You have an opportunity to respond differently.

Don’t hop on a train of thought, or if you do, hop off as soon as you can. Part of what exacerbates the anxiety is the thought train pulls in, you hop in and then you ride it to deep anxiety. You have the thought “I am less than”, you then pile on with negativity, and then you detach from reality.

Try to pay attention to what is going on. Go into observer mode. This is where you will notice something critical: In instances where that type of behaviour is happening, it’s because the person is insecure. Bullying isn’t a sign of strength; it’s a weakness. Then you can say, ‘Ah, she’s feeling nervous/insecure’; ‘Ah, there goes Jenny with her weak behaviour’. Reframe it.

Remember that your response is a habit, not necessarily a reflection of reality. This has been a game-changer for me. In the ‘file’ in your subconscious about women, friendship, cliques, work, bullying, etc, you’ve got various different incidences filed along with what appears to be the ‘correct’ emotional response and associated beliefs. An issue that occurs though is that you start blindly filing all situations with women as this, and your body sends messages through your body because your subconscious has linked various associations. If you always respond in the same way, your subconscious thinks that the nervous system response and what you tend to think and do is ‘correct’, and it strengthens the file. If you start altering your habits and responding differently, you update the file and start altering your body responses over time. Reminding myself that I’m not fourteen at my convent school or thirty at the mother and baby group or in a work situation where the person bullied me helps me to manage my emotions there and then by talking me through a situation and noticing the difference between the past and present.

Be a friend to you. Keep talking you through these situations and learn as you go. I hid in toilets at the start of events, then by the food table — now I still do that a bit, but it’s much less than before. Really paying attention to what is going on, not what’s in your head also helps you to see people’s insecurities or even where you are misreading the situation. You are safe now.

How do I manage my fear of speaking (job interview)?

I recently had a job interview where, despite a thorough preparation, I had difficulty to cope with my nervousness. Being nervous in a job interview is normal, of course. In my case, it often leads to panicky feelings with very noticeable signs such as shortness of breath, shaky voice, red blotchy skin and a feeling as if my mind goes blank or my thoughts are in a knot. It was difficult for me to answer questions coherently. I even struggled for words at times. It is very similar to giving a talk in front of people – I had situations where my anxiety was so bad that my voice was shaky and I hardly got through the talk (I had to resist the urge to just escape).

Nat’s Response

As you’ve already recognised, no matter how much one prepares, it doesn’t mean that no nerves will be experienced. I know this as someone who failed her driving test three times and melted down in some way, shape or form during each of them. I could drive perfectly fine until I was in the test situation and the moment, and I do literally mean the moment I thought that I had said or done something wrong, I spun out of control. The irony is that in one of the tests, the thing that freaked me out where I’d thought I’d made a bad mistake was not that. It was everything I did in the freakout that caused me to fail afterwards.

I did pass my test fourth time around, and it was after having a not too dissimilar experience to what you just did in the interview. I share all of this because while, of course, it’s good to prepare for the interview itself, your preparation is around mindset and keeping you calm and steady before an interview and then doing so during the interview. No, you can’t account for every possible thing you can be asked, and sometimes questions can throw you off course, but people tend to overestimate how badly they do in interviews. My friend had one like yours on Sunday and… she was offered the job. She thought she’d done a terrible interview and is in total shock.

With that in mind, and bear in mind that I’m no expert on public speaking or interviews, here’s what might be of help:

The mindset stuff begins before you set foot in the interview. This means that when you feel the flutters or your inner critic starts up, you have to actively respond to you by saying something reassuring out loud to you or inside your head. ‘It’s OK’; ‘I am safe, I am secure’,’ No, that’s not true. The interview doesn’t need to be perfect. I just need to do the best I can on the day.’ ‘It’s OK to be nervous.’

Something else that can help is instead of noticing that you’re nervous and responding with ‘I’m scared” or other judgements, say “I’m excited”.

Breathing exercises before the interview. Yoga breaths (in through the nose, out through the mouth or belly breaths where your tummy moves up and done with the breath). Even counting to ten and back down again.

Try mentally (or out loud) talking you through what’s going to happen. “Right, so you’re going to go into the interview room. Try to keep your breathing steady. Try to take in your surroundings a bit and remember to reassure yourself before you get started…. You’re probably going to feel like you’re becoming super nervous and that it’s showing. If this happens, tell yourself that it’s OK. People get nervous and show it all the time. It’s not the end of the world. Just remember to remind you that you’re OK and that you’re doing the best you can.”

Try placing a hand somewhere on you that lets you know that you are OK. It’s like a sign of reassurance. I place my hand on my stomach or hold my hands together lovingly.

If you think you’ve made a mistake, no matter what it is, say ‘It’s OK’ in your head even if it’s a few times.

‘I think my nerves got the better of me for a moment there. Can you repeat the question?’

Talk you through the interview in your head. Do it steadily and calmly. So, they’re asking a question, and in your head (and it happens in seconds), you are like ‘OK, this is where you tell him/her about ________… It’s OK’

Even if your voice is shaky, they don’t know you or how your voice sounds all the time. It’s also amplified in your head. Interviewers are used to this. As you’re not applying to be a surgeon with steady hands or applying for The X-Factor, I think you’re OK. Try pausing a couple of beats so that you can steady your breath and then speaking,

Some interviewers do try to test stress responses. Don’t take that personally and do know that every single person has been put in the same position.

Ask questions. It feels less intense when you are interviewing the company also. Remember that you need to find out about the job and the company as well.

Don’t jump on any train of thought about how badly you’re doing.’ No, not now’; ‘It’s OK, let’s just stick with the interview for now’;’ This isn’t the time or the place for that thought process’.

How do I trust my gut and ask for what I need?

Due to past hurts, I can’t tell when I am overreacting due to normal variations in dating or whether I am justified. I started seeing a guy, and it has been going well. He rescheduled a date due to work, which I was fine with. I normally feel secure and heard with him. However this Sunday he cancelled because he had a late night on Saturday and didn’t mention when to reschedule. I do find that I am confirming dates more than he is, but it is easy to bring up things with him like exclusivity during COVID. I don’t know if I have a right to be mad or ask for anything different so my normal response is to write him off rather than ask for what I need. It doesn’t feel good to be blown off the day of. I also don’t feel like trying to make a date with someone who just cancelled on me, so I am sitting back to see if he makes more effort. There is a huge fear of even saying something which relates to a belief about if I ask for what I need no one will want to or be able to love me. What do I do? Do I give up on this guy and dating until I can do better?

Nat’s Response

I think you’re being hard on yourself and it feels a bit all-or-nothing.

It’s OK for you to be disappointed. The date you were looking forward to got cancelled. You experience disappointment when your hopes and expectations aren’t met.

Where things have gone somewhat awry is that him cancelling without rescheduling at that point which might be due to him being tired at the time and so not in the headspace to make a firm plan or, yes, it could be because he was blowing you off in a wider way, has set off a chain of thoughts that speak to niggling anxieties and resentments.

You have a belief and fear that if you ask for what you want, no one will want to or be able to love you. So, you believe that asserting your needs is wrong and that it will reveal that the person doesn’t want to meet your needs or that they won’t be able to meet your needs and love you. You fear that you are unlovable and that you are ’too much’ or certainly that you’re asking for too much. That runs deeper than this guy you’re dating, and it sets you up for pain.

Your attitude about needs runs back to childhood where you seem to have picked up the message that there’s no point in voicing needs because you’re only going to be disappointed because the person will be incapable of doing so or even if they can, they won’t want to. The thing is, trying to act like you don’t have needs is like trying to hold your breath so that you can stop your breathing from inconveniencing someone else. Needs are as natural as breathing.

It’s also clear that even though you may have enjoyed seeing this guy, certain things have already poked at you:

– Rescheduling (which disrupts how you thought things were going to be)
– You confirming dates more than he is
– Being blown off on the day of the date

While you say you were “fine” about the other rescheduling, possibly because it was work-related rather than due to a late night, maybe you weren’t as fine about it as you say—and this is OK.

The thing is, it’s totally OK to want to make plans with someone you’re seeing. What is unclear here is what the need is. For instance, if your current feelings are a result of him not immediately following through with a plan, what would him making a plan on the day of mean? What he did upset you. So what does him cancelling the date due to a late night bring up feelings of? Is it that you are angry that he didn’t make you a priority? That he pushed his previous night out to such a degree that he wasn’t in a space to go out with you? Is it feeling that you weren’t on his mind enough that he would make sure that he was home early enough that he wasn’t tired for your date?

Try to decipher what this recent incident has brought up. A big clue: What else or who else does it remind you of?

Because you say that past hurts are causing you to struggle to decipher whether you’re overreacting, try to sit in a quiet space and be honest with you about what those past hurts are and what you are scared of happening again.

Keep in mind that you’ve just started seeing this guy and you have to start as you mean to go on. If you don’t normally voice needs (or show it in your actions), or you don’t ask questions, these are exactly what you need to do in this involvement to ensure that you are not repeating who you were in past relationships but also to ensure that you don’t recreate the same dynamic.

Given that you’ve just started seeing him, also, you don’t have to worry about whether he can love you. You barely know him. What you need to concern yourself with is whether you are able to be yourself in this involvement and say and do what you need.

I’ve also given you access to The Intuition Sessions. This will help you pin down what’s going on. Him cancelling the date doesn’t have to mean the end of things. Use recognition that there are certain things bothering you to step back slightly and let him confirm the next date. You would only need to stop dating if you feel angry and hurt enough over your exes that you can’t tell the difference between them and him.

Has he ghosted me because I turned down his sexual advances?

So, I recently moved and chatted with some guys online. I had great convos with one guy, and we decided to do a socially distanced walk/date. We’ve gone on three dates, and he’s consistently communicated with me over the past three weeks until now. We’ve not touched or kissed yet for safety reasons, but he sent a text saying he had “an idea.” When I asked what his idea was, he said, “It involves slamming heads against a headboard and hairpulling.” Given my history of trauma, I’ve been very conscious of not jumping into a sexual dynamic too quickly. We’ve only had lightweight flirtation, nothing this full-blown. I was immediately put off by his comment because it reads as violent to me. I’m not sure if that’s just my trauma brain talking. I told him that I needed to go slowly and build. He seemed okay with that. However, on our last date, he acted distracted, kept texting, and then announced he was going to bed. He said, “You wanna crash for a bit?” I told him I’d better get home. I haven’t heard from him since despite texting him 3x over the last four days. I’m fairly certain I’m being ghosted. Any thoughts on this? I think my instinct kicked in and maybe sensed this guy is off, but I sometimes don’t know whether to trust that.

Nat’s Response

I’ve got to be honest with you: If someone I’d met online, went on three socially-distanced dates with and basically I barely knew them suggested that we do something involving “slamming heads against a headboard and hairpulling”, I’d run a mile. I’m not looking to be in some ‘accidental’ murder where the guy claims that it was rough sex and that I was ‘up for it’.

Even if you didn’t have a history of trauma, you might still feel very uncomfortable with that comment even if in certain situations, you don’t mind a bit of hairpulling and bopping your head on the headboard.

Don’t you think it’s quite a leap to go from walking at a distance with someone and light flirtation to them making a suggestion like this?

Why does it have to be about your “trauma brain” talking? Aren’t you allowed to be uncomfortable with things, trauma or not? And, incidentally, one of the ‘gifts’ of trauma is that you are attuned to certain types of inappropriateness and boundary invasion.

But I think that one of the traps we can fall into when we know that we’ve been through traumatic stuff is to assume that we are oversensitive, maybe a tad dramatic and that we are sometimes over-reacting. Sure, sometimes we are. Like when we hear a sound that sounds just like something else from our past and our body is flooded by the same hormones and sensations. And then we discover that it’s not the same sound. We can then help ourselves.

All humans have some level of trauma even though they might not refer to it or even recognise it as such. Buried trauma is why we have a lot of the problems we do in the world.

Your job isn’t to minimise your experience nor to live in your trauma; it’s to help guide you to safe people, relationships, situations and choices wherever you can.

Look, if he’s into violent or even semi-rough sex with someone he barely knows, that’s his prerogative. He may well find someone who is into the same thing he is. That’s no judgment on you. But if you are not into that, you are 100% within your rights not to be, and you don’t need to give it even a second’s thought about why you aren’t. You’re just not.

He tested the water with your comment. Once it became clear that you weren’t going to race back to his and let him throw you around in bed, it got kind of awkward. And that’s OK. Sometimes things are supposed to be awkward. It lets you know that something or a lot of things are off or that whatever you thought was the state of play is no more.

It’s also very possible that he might be embarrassed. Who knows? What you do know is that it’s not your problem and that you mustn’t do you a disservice by chasing down Mr Hairpuller and Headboard-Basher.

How do I maintain my self esteem in challenging situations?

I have issues with anxiety that stem from PTSD following a very traumatic and long-term workplace bullying situation while pursuing and finishing my PhD. It was mishandled and I could not escape without a huge sunk cost in terms of time and opportunity. So I ended up taking a massive blow to my mental health and emotional well-being instead. Now, it is finally done, I am slowly getting over the traumatic events during the program with the help of therapy, and I STILL find myself struggling with anxiety when I am faced with situations that either remind me of the past or trigger underlying insecurities. One of these is regarding other women (whether junior or senior) in the workplace and in personal life – at the first hint of antagonism or unfriendliness from them, I am immediately tossed into a very reactive state of panic and anxiety at what they might do to hurt me or damage me in some way. I immediately begin to see myself as “less than” and disposable. Easily crushed. I guess I know this will take time to resolve, but what can I do to keep my self-esteem intact as I navigate my ongoing recovery? Any tips would be great.

Nat’s Response

Goodness, what I torrid time you’ve been through. Let me reassure you straight out the gate that what you’ve experienced is frighteningly common. A lot of workplaces mishandle bullying, microaggressions and burnout. It’s impossible to spend such a significant portion of your week in an environment or grappling with an issue and for it not to take a toll on your emotional, mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing. It will take time to recover — my brother has been diagnosed with the same thing for the same reason and has been signed off from work for almost a year. Companies need to do better, way better.

I also want to add that much as you may feel as if it’s at huge personal cost to you to get out of that environment, you haven’t ‘wasted’ anything. Most things take time and opportunity. It’s the cost of getting involved. We’re going to put in time and yes, we’ll gain and seemingly lose some opportunities, but that’s going to happen anyway in everything. What matters is that we get out.

You don’t and didn’t deserve to be bullied. What your experience will do is put you in a position of addressing any trauma from it or other past related events. You will have a greater understanding of your bandwidth and boundaries, and so you will be in a greater position to take care of you.

Being totally honest with you, I had a similar trigger. Specifically spaces with lots of unfamiliar women, often where I was the only black woman and situations where I picked up on microaggressions and cliquiness. It affected me to various degrees for several years but has lessened significantly over time.

Some suggestions:

Recognise it for what it is and try to say, whether it’s to yourself or out loud ‘I am safe, I am secure’. Become familiar with the sensations and thoughts so that you can quickly give you reassurance or check in with you.

Try to take in your surroundings. Notice where you are, how old you are, who you’re around, what year it is. This is a reminder that you’re not in the past. You have an opportunity to respond differently.

Don’t hop on a train of thought, or if you do, hop off as soon as you can. Part of what exacerbates the anxiety is the thought train pulls in, you hop in and then you ride it to deep anxiety. You have the thought “I am less than”, you then pile on with negativity, and then you detach from reality.

Try to pay attention to what is going on. Go into observer mode. This is where you will notice something critical: In instances where that type of behaviour is happening, it’s because the person is insecure. Bullying isn’t a sign of strength; it’s a weakness. Then you can say, ‘Ah, she’s feeling nervous/insecure’; ‘Ah, there goes Jenny with her weak behaviour’. Reframe it.

Remember that your response is a habit, not necessarily a reflection of reality. This has been a game-changer for me. In the ‘file’ in your subconscious about women, friendship, cliques, work, bullying, etc, you’ve got various different incidences filed along with what appears to be the ‘correct’ emotional response and associated beliefs. An issue that occurs though is that you start blindly filing all situations with women as this, and your body sends messages through your body because your subconscious has linked various associations. If you always respond in the same way, your subconscious thinks that the nervous system response and what you tend to think and do is ‘correct’, and it strengthens the file. If you start altering your habits and responding differently, you update the file and start altering your body responses over time. Reminding myself that I’m not fourteen at my convent school or thirty at the mother and baby group or in a work situation where the person bullied me helps me to manage my emotions there and then by talking me through a situation and noticing the difference between the past and present.

Be a friend to you. Keep talking you through these situations and learn as you go. I hid in toilets at the start of events, then by the food table — now I still do that a bit, but it’s much less than before. Really paying attention to what is going on, not what’s in your head also helps you to see people’s insecurities or even where you are misreading the situation. You are safe now.

June 

What to do if my relationship doesn't feel right?

I just noticed that I feel like my 6 months relationship doesn’t feel right, but I don’t quite know why. Then I got aware that this is the oldest feeling I have about myself – that there’s something not right with me. So I cannot discern if my negative beliefs about myself run amok to find fault in my boyfriend, eventually turning into self-fulfilling prophecies, or if there really is a reason to be doubtful.

He is persistent in his affection, but the frequency of our meetings and phone calls has decreased lately. I told him I’d rather speak to him than exchanging texts, and that the ongoing dialogue between the two of us is important to me, but he says he doesn’t always manage to call because he’s so busy and then he’s tired. For him, texting is a means to show he is thinking of me even when he’s busy. I’m unsure if this is a normal process of negotiating different needs, or if he keeps me at a comfortable distance. Basically we meet on Saturdays and one extra night per week due to him meeting his daughter every Sunday (when I now see friends instead).

Nat’s Response

How to communicate when not together is something that many relationships struggle with in this modern age. On one hand, we convince ourselves that keeping in touch ’should’ be so much easier given the technologies that we have but on the other, given how many conversations we may be grappling with, combined with our day-to-day efforts plus what drains us, it isn’t so easy after all.

What strikes me here is that there are two thing being conflated:

The first is that you don’t feel that something is right but also that you don’t feel that there’s something right with you.

The next is that even though the affection is there, you don’t believe that he is being as attentive as he was before due to reduced meetings and calls.

The thing is, even if the rhythm of meetings and calls has changed, something being ‘wrong’ with you isn’t what’s caused that.

And I think that the problem you’re running into here is this:

Do I think that something doesn’t feel right because I think that there’s something not right with me, or do I feel that way because we are not meeting and speaking as often as I would like to (or as often as I think we ’should’ be)?

Not everyone is into texting, and not everyone is into calls. And some of us aren’t really into either one.

Back in the day, communication was almost a bit one in, one out. If you called and the line was busy, you had to wait until it was un-busy. Or, if the person had call waiting, they had to hang up the other call to speak to you. Basically, you couldn’t field hundreds of messages at the same time. Now, even if just by WhatsApp alone, you can field a crazy number of messages. Depending then on how one spends their day, getting on the phone when they are worn out or don’t have anything particularly exciting to report can seem wearing.

But, of course, we need to make an effort in our relationships. No, we don’t need to be texting all the time, nor do we need to become a ‘phone person’, but it’s about finding a collaborative space between those that facilitates the forward motion of the relationship.

When a relationship is moving forward, you don’t get hung up on how many calls, texts or meetings there are because you’re too busy enjoying yourself and being in the relationship.

When you’re in the early weeks and months of the relationship, meeting a couple of times a week likely feels alright. But what most humans end up looking for unless they too want it to stay at that level is some form of forward motion that reflects the passage of time. There’s also something that flags in a lot of people’s minds about being at the three and six-month mark.

The thing is, before you broach the issue of your discomfort, it’s crucial to try and tune in and acknowledge whether you want to see him more often and speak a bit more often. I say this because sometimes people get stressed about this stuff but primary because they are looking for proof about something. Like reassurance that they’re not in another lemon relationship as opposed to wanting it because they’re happy and secure in the relationship. What would him calling more mean? What do you think that shift in communication and meeting means?

I think it’s also fair to say that no one likes to feel like it’s too routine when it comes to meeting up. Like you’re sandwiched in between work and his daughter. They may be a desire for less rigidity and more integration.

So, the answer in these situations is always to broach the topic. I’ve noticed over the last X weeks that we’re not meeting up or speaking as often. Even though you’re texting and when we see each other, you seem pretty affectionate, I can’t help but feel that something is a bit off. Rather than jump to the worst of conclusions, I want to be straight with you in the hope that we can have an honest conversation about where we’re both at. Given that we’re six months into our relationship, us seeing each other and speaking less is a flag for me. It would be all too easy to dismiss my concerns, but if I do that, I’m going to end up feeling resentful towards you, and I value our relationship. If, of course, I’m misunderstanding something, then at least we can get back on the same page. What do you think?

Am I moving in the right direction?

So I completed Break The Cycle week one and I would say that absolutely everything resonated with me. I have been seeing a guy that I was with last year. It ended last year because it was ambiguous and the anxiety and fear consumed me and I finally asked him what was going on with us. He agreed he didn’t want anything casual but after we never spoke again. I was very crushed about it but tried to move on. When COVID hit I used it as an excuse to contact him again and we have been seeing each other ever since. So it’s still ambiguous but things between us have changed quite a bit.

We are getting to know each other a lot more and have had deep and uncomfortable talks but I still feel the anxiety of not knowing the direction of the relationship. I completed week one and I decided that I would attempt asserting my boundaries the next time we met up. He is on night shift so we meet up on his off days when he wakes up and before I would stay up most of the night like I was on his schedule and would be completely exhausted the next day. So I told him that I wanted to meet up at a place for dinner instead of being at one of our places and after we could both just leave separately back to our own places. We had a great time and I mentioned to him that last year I viewed him as an “ out of sight out of mind” type person and I felt that if I disappeared he would completely forget about me. He said he completely understood and he has been working on being less selfish and more vulnerable but that he has never been that way. He said the way he has been is what got him into med school and the top of his class. He is also Indian and all his family are doctors and he mentioned that feelings and emotions are not what is focused on but goals, achievement and success.

I genuinely like him and think he is really special and he has treated me in a way I have never been treated before. But I also know that I don’t want to be in anything ambiguous and especially not for long. At the same time I have ADD, some mild depression, trauma. Sometimes I don’t trust myself to take care of my basic needs and some days I am stuck and stagnant and feel immobile.

My psychiatrist has recommended trauma therapy for me after I talked about suppressed experiences about race because of the recent events and after I felt relieved and cried a lot but I also couldn’t eat or sleep for a while and I felt like my body had some sort of reaction. So I know I’m not ready for a commitment just yet because I know I won’t put myself as priority. But I just want to know if I am going in the right direction?

Nat’s Response

You are in forward motion, so yes, you are moving. It’s not really about a ‘right’ direction because that makes it sound like everything neatly falls into right or wrong. You are invested in learning to take care of your needs and understanding your pattern. You are aware enough to recognise certain decisions you’ve made over the last while, things you need to speak up on, and where feelings or thoughts are showing up that show that you need to take care in some way.

Is getting together with him a ‘right’ direction? Hard to say. But looking at things on a deeper level in the context of Break The Cycle, our relationships help us to heal, grow and learn. This man being in your life now whether through your active choices or through how he came into your life in the first place has a purpose, like any relationship. You will learn more about yourself. Experiences will invite you to see what you couldn’t before now that you have more awareness. It’s not that being with him is ‘right’ in the sense of Let’s stay together forever and ever more, but what you end up needing to address as a result of your involvement is a right direction if at the end of the day, you are a more boundaried, happier, healing person.

You know that you used COVID as an excuse to reach out to him which means that what is pivotal for your sense of wellbeing is to identify and stay aware of your intentions and motivations for engaging with him.

When one looks for an excuse to do something, there’s an agenda. So, you, despite how things went down last year, were looking for something to give you the green light to re-engage.

Maybe part of you thought that your anxiety and fear was your problem, as in, a fault in your wiring rather than an expression of a situation you were in. Maybe you thought that time, space, some self-work and COVID meant that he would behave differently.

An ambiguous relationship takes two.

There’s no such thing as an ambiguous situation with just one ambiguous situation. If things are ambiguous, it’s also because you’re also being ambiguous about who you are or what you need or want. Yes, possibly because you think that the moment that you become unambiguous about it, he will do a runner. But if you can’t be honest and intentional, whatever you’re doing is on a precipice. And it might be comforting when you’re in the deep dark woods of COVID lockdown at its most intense when he doesn’t maybe have the same places to run to, but as that situation eases and a level of ’normality’ returns, what happens then?

Even though you have ADD, mild depression and trauma, you can also take care of you.

It doesn’t make you an untrustworthy person, and you can go a bit easier on you about these things and instead endeavour to try to understand how these are for you rather than generalising about what these might mean for you. In understanding your nature, what bothers you, you can allow for that rather than be run over for it. For instance, a friend of mine has just been diagnosed with ADD and understanding the specifics of how her neurodiversity manifests in her life is helping her to live her life in a way that takes better care of her. I know she’s just done an episode about it – look up Janet Murray Show. The Creative Peptalk podcast is also by a guy with ADD.

I took about ten days off from being online very much recently. Why? Because all of the talk about race drained me out. It was triggering. Things I had clearly buried resurfaced as more and more people talk about their horrors and in the process, revealed mine. I went back to sleeping heavily as I did at the start of lockdown, and it’s only the last day or two where that has eased. Yes, it might be helpful to look at trauma therapy (I know a number of people who rave about EMDR), but it’s also making sure that who you talk to about your experiences (i.e. the psychiatrist) is equipped to even broach that subject. There’s a lot of talk online about decolonising therapy. Might be worth a Google.

So, you sound like you’re doing alright, but also like you expect rather a lot of yourself.

If you can spend time with this person without it rupturing your wellbeing, crack on, mindfully.

And even if you don’t think that you are ready for a commitment yet, which is perfectly fine, you do still need to be choosy about who you spend your time with. If being around someone means that you’ll have a good time when you’re with them but that they will close you out when the date is over, and that’s something that’s triggering for you, you may discover as time moves on that you need to re-distance. And I’m glad that you have clear boundaries about spending time with him so that you are not sleep-deprived and damaging your wellbeing.

And ultimately, when it comes to getting back together, it will only work if the reasons that originally broke your relationship no longer exist or are in the process of being addressed.

Was my anxiety, hurt or intuition to blame for the relationship problems and ending?

I just listened to ep107 of the podcast and it got me thinking about a lingering doubt about my behavior with Paul that still plagues me. I don’t know what was hurt vs intuition regarding his ex and this matters to me.

When we met he was living in the basement of the house of his ex-GF/mother of their daughter. They’d broken up a year earlier and he claimed he never loved her; that he’d moved in when she was 8 months pregnant to try to form a family but never wanted to be with her. That she was all the usual bad things and made him miserable. Yet they still did so much together on weekends and vacations, including a trip to his family’s house in Mexico when we first met. I found out later they shared a bed there!

One of our first challenges was when he asked me if it was OK with me early on if he went through with their already planned camping trip, where they would share a tent/sleeping mat. I said no and he didn’t go. Within a couple of months he moved out into his own place and completely cut her off from the previous activities. He seemed to be making all the moves to separate and it didn’t seem like he loved her. He said his future was with me. It caused me great anxiety though, as he was still attached in many ways, notably that he would be ok with her texting constantly and would answer the phone to facetime with her when we were together. He claimed it was because he wanted photos of and to talk to his daughter because he missed her, which I felt obligated to understand. But I also asked nicely and patiently many times if he could do that when I wasn’t there, which he said he would but still, very often, didn’t follow through.

I would eventually have an anxiety attack (which as you know he disparaged when we broke up.) I also used to stalk her social media because the relationship photos, before they broke up, looked a lot more loving than the lack of love he claimed…a LOT more loving than the usual “Facebook happiness faking” I can usually filter out. It didn’t add up. It was all so confusing for me, especially after having been through the painful affair just a few years earlier that I’d told you about…the guy who clearly WAS still in love with his ex and was using me. That went on for years and the PTSD is REAL. I know Paul and his ex aren’t back together and I believe he didn’t love her anymore when we were together, so I wonder if I overreacted due to my past hurt. Should I have waited and been more patient as he worked through some of the attachment behaviors, like being ok with her texting photos all day? Was my anxiety hurt or intuition? And maybe the intuition was not just about this one factor in our relationship, but his broader set of unavailability issues? And why does this still bother me 4 months later? How do I let this go?.

Nat’s Response

One of the difficulties with being involved with someone who doesn’t have great boundaries with their ex who they also share a child with is that those boundaries infringe on you. And the other difficulty that then results from this is that you tend to routinely dismiss your feelings and concerns out of fear of interfering with your partner’s relationship with their child and causing issues, but also because of doubts about how ‘reasonable’ it is to expect certain things or to be uncomfortable with others.

If you get involved with someone who still lives with their partner, part of the package deal is anxiety. It is hard enough to be involved with someone where you sense or know that their ex is still a part of their lives in some way or that they’re harbouring feelings, good or bad, towards them, but when they also live with the ex-partner they’re bad-mouthing, flags will go up.

No, he doesn’t have to be the best of pals with her and yes, people do gripe about their exes, but part of the problem you had here with him is that in much the same way that certain things he said or did didn’t add up to the picture he’d painted for you, things he said and did with you also didn’t add up. Now, even if you weren’t consciously acknowledging those discrepancies in your relationship with him, it did flag on a deeper level.

Often what we experience with anxiety is about stuff that’s registered just below the conscious level that also chimes with other information we have on file.

The ‘problem’ that comes with a pattern of being in unhealthy/unavailable relationships is that just because you may not be consciously aware of certain signs or problems, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t aware at all. Your subconscious is.

Based on past experiences, your spidey sense went off in this relationship because you were picking up subtle and not so subtle cues that indicated that this wasn’t a good situation. On top of this, while yes, you experienced fear, you also had the not-so-small issue of the fact that in the past you have routinely ignored your intuition or belatedly responded to it when your back was against the wall.

It’s not an either-or. You experienced anxiety because you had both been hurt in the past and this person was behaving in questionable ways.

If it was purely about your hurt from the past, you wouldn’t have external evidence to explain why 1) you had good reason to be anxious and 2) why you didn’t need to continue in this relationship.

If you focus on how he was with his ex, you will miss the wood for the trees.

You might rationalise that you ‘overreacted’, that you were ‘unreasonable’. That’s why it’s dangerous to look purely at one thing when you have a whole picture or certainly the whole experience to draw from. Content and context.

For example, the content might be him broaching the subject of a camping trip with her. Context: you didn’t know each other all that well so he was asking a lot of you. It was also a weird one given the description of their relationship.

But at the heart of this all, what you’re looking for is cause and effect. Did my anxiety about his relationship with his ex lead to the outcome?

Well, no. His behaviour, his problems, were not caused by you.

Even if there were times where you think you ‘overreacted’, how you reacted is how you reacted, and if the relationship didn’t have issues beyond the specifics of his relationship with his ex, this relationship was going to tank, under or -overreaction.

I think that you need to keep working on getting to the truth of what happened. Unsent Letters and being super honest about your intentions and motivations. Keep on with the work. Be honest about what your motivation might be for wanting to hold on to this version of events.

Get to the truth of what happened. Not your interpretation; the facts. When you strip out any feelings and ideas you might have about him or his ex, the truth of the relationship you were in isn’t pretty.

I think, also, it’s crucial to examine why you were receptive to being with someone who spoke so badly of a woman who he ‘forced’ himself to move in with when she was eight months pregnant with his child. It’s worth considering how your perceptions of her motherhood and their relationship might reflect feelings you had, for instance, about your own mother, hence your willingness to be sympathetic about what he said about his ex.

How can I develop your thought process?

I wanted to ask why my fancy turned assclown NC affair partner of too many years – a perfect storm for obsession, now divorcing and moving away with a new girlfriend still flys his aeroplane low over my house. But instead, I want to understand how you do this. Your work is brilliant, entertaining, graphically engaging, thoughtful, and fun. Your work helps me better than all the Toltec + Jesus + Carl Jung + more study. How can I develop your thought process? Is it Love, Care, Trust, and Respect? I’m awakening to a beautiful life with the perfect family for me who I love. Thanks so much.

Nat’s Response

In answer to your first question: you get put between a rock and a hard place being with someone who is by your own admission, an assclown. In our mind, as the person who wants this person’s love, we imagine that after sticking with them, that we would be the first in line. In their mind, even though it might not be conscious, they are not going to settle down with the person who remembers exactly how shitty they are. If they have the choice between a fresh start with someone who is clueless about how much of an a-hole they are and being with the person who has put up with all sorts of BS from them, they’ll go with a fresh start. And time and again, people like your ex, especially when they are men, penalise you for giving them the time of day. They decide that there must be something ‘wrong’ with you that you stuck with them. They penalise you for being taken in by their lies or wanting to see ’the best’ in them. I know, I know. It’s messed up.

In terms of your last question, thank you! You gave me a big smile. What I do is the cumulative effect of about sixteen years of ongoing exploration. The more I’ve written and spoken about my experiences, the more I’ve developed my voice and ideas. But truth be told, I also think my brain works ‘differently’. I knew that as a kid but suppressed that. Now, I do my best to embrace who I am and listen to my intuition, but I also find that it’s like, I don’t know quite the right word but let’s go with this one: channelling. By allowing my mind to roam into subjects and writing, I find that I get into a flow state and stuff pours out of me. I look back on some stuff and while I know it’s me that created it, I don’t remember writing it.

It’s about homing in on your secret sauce. I talk about that a bit here, but it’s something I want to talk about some more, so thanks for reminding me.

But, in short, it’s a combo of reverse-engineering situations, empathy and an ability to read the words beneath words or see the patterns and dynamics behind situations.

I don’t know if you can develop my thought process per se, but get into something like regular journaling/writing or even recording voice notes on your experiences (or the topics that light you up), and you will notice themes in your thought processes too that you can replicate in more conscious ways.

I finally ended my 10-year casual relationship and he lashed out at me. Help!

Thank you for the helpful and clear advice and insight you shared last week in response to the question I asked about sending a message to break a cycle with a guy I had been in a casual relationship with for ten years. I was feeling sensitive about sending the message because his father had very recently passed away.

I felt empowered to send the message and deleted the guy’s phone number. He responded and I feel his reply had an angry tone. He said that he thought I would have been more emotionally intelligent to know that I shouldn’t have sent a message like that to him when his father had just died last month. He ended the message by saying ‘I have zero intention of ever contacting you again, all the best’.

I know that this was the ultimate objective, and he has every right to feel the way he does, but now I’m devastated with how things have turned out. I feel like I am the worst person in the world and as if I have just made the worst mistake ever. I’m a huge people pleaser, so knowing that someone I (did) care for is now hugely upset with me makes me sick to my stomach. I’m experiencing a lot of self-loathing and feeling very raw and scared (e.g. of our paths ever crossing again, of what he might say to our mutual friends) too. I’m so sad and disappointed – and also a bit disgusted in myself.

I sent the message to this guy because I wanted to get closure and now I am feeling even worse than before. I know there are no shortcuts in this process and no-one promised it would be pain-free, but how do I get through this?

Nat’s Response

I think you need to step back a moment as you are letting hurt feelings, and like all humans, the ego part of you, jump in and cloud your judgement.

You were involved with this guy for ten years in a casual relationship. He has dipped in and out of your life, often telling you that he knows he doesn’t treat you right and seeing fit to use you when it suits (and you accommodating him because you were sometimes too nice for your own good and you kept hoping that ’this time’ it meant that you were proper friends).

Let’s get something clear here: This is not the case that his father died and you decided that that was your moment to swoop in and call time on this awkward and painful arrangement, which incidentally, you are free to do at any time, including right now.

No, he reached out to you and started his usual rigmarole where he was basically soaping you up. Sure, he might want to pretend that that’s not the case, but it is what was taking place because he’s done it to you time and again. The difference, this time, is that he thought, on some level, that you would find it even more difficult to object because of his father passing.

He reached out to you. You are not friends, and he has failed to treat you like a friend on numerous occasions. You know what this dance was. You’ve been around this rodeo numerous times.

He should not have sent that message to you given that his father died last month. He does not get to cry foul just because you have declined to play ball.

He has absolutely zero right to use you for sex, an ego stroke or a shoulder to lean on, and that hasn’t changed because his father died.

He is behaving like a spoiled brat who thinks that he’s entitled to your body and your time because he’s laid claim to these when it suits. I totally appreciate that he’s lost his father, but that doesn’t give him a free pass to treat you like shit. How dare he.

Rather than take this all on the head and decide that you’re a terrible person for not being willing to be an unpaid prostitute or a pseudo friend, why not acknowledge that this guy was hurt, angry and more than a tad entitled, and that that’s okay. It’s not okay that he said what he said, but he’s human. And sometimes humans behave like dicks even when their father has recently passed away.

Let me say it again: he is not entitled to anything from you. And if you’d ignored his messages, you would still have eventually got an entitled response.

You are not the worst person in the world, and why you think that you have to offer him up your vagina or your time because his father died, when you could have sent a condolences card, kept him in your prayers, wished him well, or just acknowledged that he was up to his using ways again, is something that you need to be honest with you about.

You feel really bad right now because in ten years, he has made it all about himself. Yet again, he does a crappy thing, and now he’s centring and making it about what a terrible thing you’ve done by declining to participate without at any point acknowledging that he was doing a crappy thing and apologising for that.

And his response tells me in no uncertain terms that he has lashed out at you because what you said was the truth. And he is grieving. And he doesn’t have the option any more of deluding himself that what he was doing to and with you was or is okay. So his ego is bruised, just like yours.

If anything, you owe an apology to you for giving you a hard time about this. You do not owe an apology to him.

You have your own grieving to do. You’ve walked away from something you needed to let go of a long time ago, and this situation is reminding you of all the times you’ve marginalised yourself. Well, no more. It’s okay to be upset over his reaction, but it’s unrealistic to expect that someone who behaved as he has would suddenly be considerate.

Your mutual friends will be fine. What’s he going to do? Tell them that you’re a terrible person because you refused to be summoned for sex or ego strokes? Channel your feelings into an unsent letter. But most of all, imagine that one of your friends came to you and told you that they felt the same way as you about the same thing. Would you advise her to apologise and get her arse round there and service him? Nope.

Dating after a bereavement - is it too soon?

I have a question to ask, for your advice re dating after a bereavement (and also starting to date after a very long time of not being in a relationship). My Mum died in April after struggling with alcohol dependence for the last few years, she sadly then caught coronavirus. My Dad was diagnosed with cancer last year but hopefully, for now, has the all-clear after his treatment which is great news! I’m 33 and haven’t been in a relationship for 6 years, I was perhaps subconsciously putting it off because of dealing with family things at the time (but also realise I’ve definitely had a pattern of emotional unavailability for much longer than this)! I would really like to break it and am excited about starting your course, I’m keen to start the next chapter of my life with dating etc. and finding the right person for a healthy loving relationship. I’m perhaps putting a bit of pressure on myself to get started with this having not been proactive about it at all for a while. I wondered if, in your experience, you think it might be too soon to start thinking about dating after a bereavement (a few months ago), or if I should perhaps just give it a try? Thank you so much for your help and take care!

Nat’s Response

First of all, I’m so sorry for your loss.

It’s important to acknowledge that you’ve been through a lot. Most people struggle with one stressor, so it’s actually not that surprising that given what you had going on with family, that you struggle to have the bandwidth to be emotionally available.

Having lost a parent (who also, incidentally, had alcohol issues), there is something of a ‘fresh start’ feeling that comes with it. Worrying, on some level, about a parent or feeling guilty or obliged, or whatever it is — it’s heavy. In amongst the grieving, in the coming weeks, months and years, you will find yourself (and your joy).

Grief isn’t linear so there isn’t a ‘perfect’ time to start dating. What’s crucial is to be clear on your why. Knowing why we do what we do (our intentions) leads to more successful outcomes. It also stops us from doing things for the wrong reasons.

I talk to so many people who want to date, but they don’t realise how much their unacknowledged and, yes, hidden intentions affect the outcome. Dating because you want to, because you’re relatively happy in yourself and are open to exploring is different to, for example, dating because you’re avoiding something else in your life. Or dating because you feel lonely, bored, are looking to fill an attention hole, or whatever it might be.

This means that if you are honest with you about why you want to date and you come out of that self-reflection feeling like you genuinely want to give it a go, go ahead. You will learn as you go. You might start dating and discover that you need more time. Or, you might start dating and realise that you are okay. Sometimes it’s difficult to gauge without getting your hands dirty first.

It’s like when my father died. I took several weeks off, and then it felt like I wanted to ‘get back’ to work. To get back to normal. I was in for a bit of a shock though as I didn’t fit back into my old life. It also became clear that I’d maybe started to think about getting ‘back’ to things because there was this sense of people (readers, listeners, etc) waiting on me. But I don’t have any regrets because what came from doing that was me making a series of decisions. Strangely, that journey of grief has led to so much joy for me, even though it’s also been very painful at times. But it was always going to be painful anyway.

My friend met her now-husband within a few weeks of her mother being diagnosed with cancer. As her mother’s condition became clear and worsened, she thought that she would have to walk away because it was like This is bad timing. Why would he want to be with me when I’m going through all of this? And they are still together, married, have a daughter, another one on the way. He was with her through losing her mum.

So, no, there isn’t a perfect timing for things, but there is plenty in the clean living of keeping yourself honest by being aware of underlying intentions and motivations. If anything, I’d pay attention to the pressure you mention. What do you want to do when you take the pressure out of things? But also, what is the pressure about? Explore that a bit.

And it’s important to note that if you’ve already put your life on hold due to one or both of your parents, it may very well feel like it’s time because you’ve already been going through various forms of grieving over the last few years. And, yes, you are still bereaved, but grief in some way, shape or form will be a part of your life. Sometimes acutely, sometimes the faintest whisper. And so you learn to live your life anyway. And ultimately, that’s what you want to do.

How do I center myself in my life?

How I can commit to making changes and moving forward without feeling as though I have to optimize every question (like this one) as well as research every last option and leave every door open behind me?

Nat’s Response

Centering one’s self isn’t a one-time thing or a linear process. You get centred, you get distracted, you find your way back. It’s why I don’t really believe in this unicorn-like ‘work-life balance’ where everything’s in perfect harmony all the time. The key though, is gradually coming to understand your own equilibrium so that yes, you can spend more time there, but also so that you can find your way back.

Given the times we live in, which include connection to so much technology, social media, what can often feel like intensely busy lives, it’s easy to become ungrounded. We become distanced from ourselves. We’re out of tune with our bodies and so find it difficult to sense our boundaries and parse our needs and decisions.

Making decisions relies on self-awareness and self-knowledge. People who know themselves make decisions that at the time were rooted in the best of the knowledge they had about themselves at the time. It’s not about making ‘perfect’ decisions; it’s making ones that reflect as much of your values as possible.

I came to realise that I am happiest when irrespective of what I’m doing or what my decision is, it’s based on living inside my Circle of Trust. I’ve attached the PDF resource of this and then a more detailed version of this simple yet powerful exercise is in this video

If a decision reflects a lot of what’s in my circle, I’m good to go. Often, my awareness of what feels good and right for me and where I want to go tells me more than asking a gazillion questions about something can. Or, it allows me to ask the right questions. Creating and then living in your circle of trust allows you to trust you, life and your decisions because things will feel more harmonious. It also helps you to constructively learn from decisions that turn out to not be a good fit so that you can make better, not perfect decisions, next time. You centre yourself by always coming back to your values (circle of trust).

I’ve also attached a resource on decisions.

It's the one-year anniversary of my first date with Mr Ambiguous. Does Corona make vanishing OK?

It was bloody hell when I started NC with Mr Ambiguous. It got better. However, then came the uncelebrated “anniversary” of our first date to mark one year of knowing each other or rather more like not knowing each other at all. I became nostalgic and realized it’s now been two months of silence between us. The next day, out of the blue, I get a message from him 3 AM: “Finally back home!!!”, only these three words. So, he was back in my city. Was he trying to activate the reset button? Is he sending this message desperately to all the random women he knows in the city?

When I saw his message, I was genuinely happy and so excited that I wanted to write back immediately. However, I stopped myself. Sometimes I wonder if he is just as unsure as I am and wants to but doesn’t know how to make this work. Or maybe I am just his back burner. And we seem to have serious communication issues, he is from a whole different generation. And my self-esteem was down the toilet because of my previous relationship. Deep down I wish he would be the one, but I’m giving up hope, especially if he sends me a message like this as if announcing the arrival of a king… I ended up not replying at all. Does Corona make it alright to vanish for two months? What are your thoughts on this, Natalie? As far as I know, he was not stranded on some faraway island without internet connection. Things are slowly getting back to a new “normal” around here, the virus seems to be somewhat contained. Hope you are doing well!

Nat’s Response

It’s only an anniversary of a first date when you’re still in a relationship with the person one year down the road.

What the passing of the one-year mark tells you is that it’s time to call time on this farcical relationship.

You have nothing to show for that year. You don’t know him any better than you did in those first few weeks. You are not in a relationship with him. You’re barely acquaintances.

Yes, he was pressing reset, and given that he’s done that (and you’ve accepted it) before, why wouldn’t he try it now.

I don’t know who he’s sending the message to. The message doesn’t really mean anything. It’s not like you were speaking beforehand, and he’s saying it as if it’s a continuation of a conversation you weren’t actually having.

What you’ve experienced with him over the last year is not about being unsure. You have been involved with him intermittently and the communication is appalling. This issue has nothing to do with Covid. The problem of this involvement has existed and not changed since day one.

An ambiguous relationship is caused by two, not one person. At any point over the last year you could have been absolutely straight with him and laid it out. You haven’t. At any point over the last year, he could also have done the same thing. He hasn’t.

This is because beyond having communication issues, you don’t have a relationship to be communicating about. He doesn’t owe you details on his whereabouts any more than you owe him anything. He is free as a bird, as is he. When he was about and willing to hang out, you had the option of doing so. But the fact that you did choose to spend time with him on occasion doesn’t mean that you deserved a relationship or better behaviour from him. No, he was not verbally honest and forthcoming about the state of play, but he has been forthcoming through his actions and the lack of any relationship materialising over the last year. Communication isn’t all verbal. It’s as much about what you don’t do and say as it is about what you do and say.

He has made it abundantly clear that you are not in a relationship, and there isn’t going to be a relationship. Anything else is a fantasy based on great dates that soon segued into confusing silence.

It is perfectly alright for him to “vanish” for two months because you’re not in a relationship. There’s no obligation for him to be in touch.

This is a situation that you have to be careful of dragging into a second year.

Someone who wants to be in a relationship is abundantly clear about it and doesn’t drag it out over a year.

You might want him to be the man for you, but considering that you’ve accomplished about the equivalent of a month’s dating, maybe, in a year, it would take you twelve years to get the equivalent of a year under your belt.

Dealing with envy

An old classmate has recently popped back into my life. This person was my ‘rival’ when we were studying in uni and she has done some nasty things to me which includes bad mouthing and sabotaging my work in order to do better. However, now she has all I wanted in life, happily married, with a couple of children. She is also currently running a very successful business.

I can’t help but have mixed feelings – a sense of failure, injustice and envy. I recognised that this is something that happened in the past but I can’t seem to shake off that feeling. Why do nasty people seem to fare better in life while I am stuck where I am trying to do the right thing? Do you have any advice for me to shake off this feeling? Thanks!

Nat’s Response

One of the things that’s drummed into us as children through various messaging and attitudes is that we live in a meritocracy environment. We’re taught (or we come to assume) that the key to everything is ‘effort’ and being ‘good’. Hence the harder we try and the ‘gooder’ (yes, I know it’s a made-up word) we are is the more we expect to prosper. According to everything we’ve been taught, the world is divided into ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’. This means that even though we are not the only person in the world someone is dealing with, by extension of their treatment of us, we expect bad things to happen to them.

Our ego decides that ‘it’s not fair’. We feel robbed. Why on earth does this person who isn’t a nice person or who we, on some level, think we are better than them, get to have the things that we want?

Well, it’s because all of the things that she has have nothing to do with how ‘good’ you are as a person. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have rapists, paedophiles, abusers, harassers, racists, discriminators, homophobics, and the list goes on, who did bad things to people and also managed to have success, money, family or whatever until they were finally caught (or they ended up on the wrong side of history).

The things that you don’t like about this person, like anything, have light and shade. For instance, if she’s selfish and single-minded, the dark side of that is that she will, in some instances, behave as she did towards you, but in other instances, she will have better boundaries because she doesn’t say yes to things that will compromise who she is. She might feel little guilt about saying no.

It’s also clear that having done what she did with you, that kind of thing (highly unlikely it was done one random time) may have helped her to get to where she’s at with certain things. It also means that she probably has to watch her back and keep pushing herself as there will be insecurity. After all, what she did with you isn’t a sign of strength; it’s one of weakness and insecurity.

You’re inadvertently having a zero-sum-game mentality. Like you can’t be and do what you want and her also be who she is at the same time. It’s like you think she stole your success. She hasn’t.

Women are socialised to compete with each other. We carry on as if there’s a tiny bucket that has a limited amount of relationships, children, good looks, success, etc. That’s not true.

She was unkind to you at university, but she’s also allowed to have moved on from that, as are you.

Would it really be the right thing for her to not be able to be in a relationship or have children or her business because she behaved like a dick at university? Yes, karma is a bitch, but it’s not your bitch.

The thing that you need to stop trying to do is the ‘right thing’. That doesn’t sound at all authentic. Doing the ‘right thing’ is a natural extension of being who you are. It’s doing things with intention based on your boundaries and values. It’s not about following the rules and living up to what the world has said you should do. So work out what the ‘right thing’ is, and then decide if that’s you. Because if it’s not, you’re doing things for the wrong reasons, and that determines outcomes.

I also recommend listening to this podcast.

How do I trust my alcohol boyfriend now he’s in recovery?

My relationship with my boyfriend was good. He is a musician with a public profile and because of that, we lived very privately. He was in recovery from alcoholism and I don’t drink much so it was easy for me to abstain. We had been together two years and gone through some huge life events (death of my mum, house sale, divorce, had his autistic son every weekend) we sailed through it all, three minor arguments in two years, we prided ourselves on our communication and respect for one another. His daughter, against his wishes, wrote and submitted a screenplay about his life to several production companies, he was horrified by the intrusion and betrayal and relapsed into alcoholism the same week.

For the last year, everyday life has been horrendous. I’ve stayed with him because I wanted to get our life back on track and he’s finally going into rehab to achieve this, but his daughter has launched a smear campaign against me to make people believe I’m the cause of the relapse (despite knowing that my boyfriend is ultimately responsible for his own actions and responses to any given situation). I’m struggling with the smear campaign, and although I want life to return to normal, I’m struggling with trust after many instances of my boyfriend behaving very badly when drunk.

Although he has a public profile I have supported him financially as I have always worked and earn a lot more than he does. I met him through work and his success and creativity isn’t the reason why I’m with him, I’m with him because before the relapse we were happy and very much in love. What are the chances of overcoming a cataclysmic shift such as alcoholism in the relationship?

Nat’s Response

Wow, this is a lot for you both to be going through, and I think a big concern for me is whether you are taking care of you as you seem quite submerged by your partner and his daughter.

I’m going to say something that might be hard to hear: your boyfriend’s relapse is a sign that some of the main underlying root causes hadn’t been addressed. Like a burning ember waiting for the right combination of materials to start burning.

It seems like the combination of betrayal and what sounds like a level of public humiliation has tipped him right over the edge and unleashed trauma. And as the person who lives with him and so is closest to him, you are the target of his chaos and his fallout from all of this.

All of the life events you’d previously gone through clearly gave you the impression that you were beyond the worst of it. It was like Hmm, if we can get through all of this, we can get through anything, and I don’t have to fear a relapse.

But these are very different to someone’s daughter attempting to sell the story of his life to various production companies.

And it’s not like this has gone on for a week, a few weeks or even a few months; it’s a year.

See how things were before the pandemic and how people wonder when things will go back to normal and hanker for how things were before? It won’t be how it was before.

Similarly, your relationship can’t go back to how it was before because you can’t ignore the fact that you’ve just been through this year. Whatever your relationship is going to be moving forward, it encompasses this past year and your boyfriend’s alcoholism.

He is clearly going through a lot, and he has obviously needed additional support, but you are also going through a lot, and you need support.

You are being drained of emotional, mental, physical and financial support, and if this relationship is going to continue, he needs to not just address his issues but also be of support. Even in what might seem like his ‘limited’ ability.

He could have shut down the smear campaign at any time. And he needs to. By allowing his daughter to trash you and not correcting it, it’s causing further disturbance.

Now that he’s going to rehab, there also has to be restoration and repair of your relationship. There will be opportunities for you to create boundaries and to make clear what is and isn’t workable.

I suspect you have made many allowances based on wanting to ‘go back’. As you can’t, you now have to work on rebuilding in the space where you’re at. He needs to restore trust in the relationship by being a trustworthy person. And you can’t base being with him on the past; you have to base it on what you continue to have. I would also ensure that you’re not in ‘rescuer’ mode.

You can, of course, potentially overcome this, but you can’t go back. He will have to re-earn your trust, and if isn’t over time, then no matter what you had before, it will be hard to move forward.

Make sure that if there’s any support being provided through rehab or anything else that he’s doing, that you take it.

There are a few resources on trust that I think you might find useful: Break The Cycle of Trust Issues

 

Mid-life depression and retirement options?

First question. How to handle a continuing depression? It’s been an extended tough time. My uncle died, my mother’s arthritis got 100% worse, with her finally becoming very old and frail at 89. I’m finding that very hard to handle, as apart from her over dependence on me, I’ve relied on my mum for friendship and support, have little other support in my life and I’m scared. I’m also hypersensitive, hyper edgy and cry a lot.

My GP wanted to put me on anti-depressants but I resisted. I tried to work through my problems with counselling and mindfulness but then lockdown hit. I’ve been using your resources but at the moment I’ve hit a wall.

Second problem, my job. I’ve always enjoyed teaching and been good at it, but increasing bureaucracy has turned me right off it. Add to that, a control freak of a principal who has been trying to micro manage us all to death since schools closed, Few stand up to him though we’re well unionised and I find their subservience depressing.  I’m very much a free spirit and can’t bear being bossed.  My job does provide structure, an escape [mum lives next door]  a good income and many advantages. But the relentless pressure is something I’m finding harder to cope with at 60. Any ideas? Retire next summer or wait 2-3 more years as planned?

Nat’s Response

Massive hugs to you.

All humans struggle with one big thing. When you get to the point where you feel as you do and take honest stock and count your stresses, you have several more than ‘one big thing’, and it’s no wonder you feel as you do.

While I ‘get’ your GPs suggestion of anti-depressants (and it’s not for me to be giving medical advice), the suggestion and what you taking them will mean is really dependent on the context the advice was given in. Did they fully understand what you’ve been grappling with? Did they offer any other support specific to your circumstances, such as therapy, groups, additional support for your mother, grief support, anything?

You sound understandably overwhelmed. As much as your mother may be overdependent on you, what has become apparent to you is that you also depend on her and that she is getting older and frailer. And that’s made you feel panicky about your future because a lot of your life is designed around being there for her. Combine this with losing your uncle and becoming increasingly aware of mortality during what has been an unbelievable few months for the world, and something has snapped.

I think it’s important to note that you’ve done a lot for you during this time. You’ve tried to work through what’s going on, you’ve had counselling and more. But, at the root of it is, I suspect, a sense of futility and uncertainty that you’re finding hard to ‘get rid of’ given your closeness with your mother and seeing her deterioration. You’re at a stage in your life where you need to make some changes to not just have additional support in day-to-day living with your mother, but also where you need to make some adjustments so that you are getting more of what you need. And lockdown, social distancing and the like, makes that rather difficult. There’s a lot, I suspect, that feels very out of your control.

With the work situation, you have to weigh things up and decide if you have another 2-3 years in you. My friend was in a similar situation to you, and she gave up teaching after 29 years because she’d reached the point of having a breakdown. If it’s a case that this person gets on your tits but it’s doable in the main, crack on, but if it’s taking a toll on your emotional, mental, physical and spiritual health, this lockdown situation with work may be providing an opportunity for you to reflect on what you want from the next few years so that you can get out of dodge.

If you’re a free spirit and you can’t bear that kind of malarkey, it may be time for you to run for the hills. There are so many ways to teach now without being caught up in the bullshit and bureaucracy, and it’s about How do I want to spend my time?

Picture yourself in six months, then a year, then two, then three in your job. Imagine that the boss stays the same. How much longer do you think you can do?

It might also be worth considering what you like and dislike about the job (every job has likes and dislikes). And looking at whether the things that get on your nerves are recent/short-term issues that are more reflective of the tensions of lockdown or whether they’ve been around for a while. It helps to put things into perspective, and it also helps to get clear on what’s getting on your nerves and whether there’s anything you can do to limit what you dislike or to get more of what you like.

It is no wonder that everything feels like a lot at the moment. There will be periods of feeling like you’ve hit a wall, and they shift and flow.

A suggestion, and I learned it when my dad was in his final months (not that I’m saying your mum is, by the way): A lot of the torment comes from seeing your parent struggle and feeling helpless to do much and also wanting to know how long you have left with them because the uncertainty is scary. I made my life hell. And then it occurred to me that what difference would it make if I knew when I’d lose him? All me knowing would do is make me ruin my time. So I surrendered and accepted that it was going to happen sometime, but that I needed to be present and enjoy him and our relationship as best as possible. That didn’t mean I didn’t still struggle sometimes, but it was very powerful for grounding me and looking at him and our relationship differently.

Depression is unexpressed anger turned inwards, so make sure that you have a good vent on paper.

8-minute unload

Friendship shouldn't be this hard: Am I being too sensitive?

Best friend problems, again. To refresh the story: it’s been a three-year rollercoaster because I tried to back away while gaslighting her for a year (yes – terrible). And she now knows why I did it: she is hurtful. She thinks I could be doing more in life and so she’s tough on me (she’s a psychiatrist and thinks she knows everything). Recent examples: said I wouldn’t grow without a partner, even if doing “the work”; sent me an unsolicited book on “saying yes”; convinced someone to ask me on a socially distanced date and said I missed a blessing from God when I didn’t go.

She says I shouldn’t expect her to change. Otherwise, she’s mostly lovely. We think we’re meant to be friends since we keep hurting/gaslighting each other but remain friends (perhaps we’re helping each other grow???). I desperately want this to work. Also, I’m afraid if I mess this up again, I’m going to miss her/her family and will be badmouthed. Boundaries don’t really work because I still feel like total shit after most interactions with her. I feel I shouldn’t have to fight so hard here. Maybe I’m just being too sensitive and should just shut up and listen to her? But I am doing my best to grow as a person and see very small changes in myself, even if she doesn’t. In some ways I’m conflicted and other ways I’m not, but apparently I still don’t get it even though you and I have talked about this before – so I appreciate any thoughts you have.

Nat’s Response

I agree that friendship ’shouldn’t’ be this hard, but this one is. Both of you are invested in your respective positions and it’s what keeps this flagging and tense friendship alive.

It’s not really about who’s right, but what’s right, and that’s the case in any loving and respectful relationship.

Did you spend a year backing away and inadvertently gaslighting her? Sure. Has she gaslighted you many a time with her malarkey? Absolutely. Her being a psychiatrist doesn’t make her unsolicited advice and prodding more legitimate. If anything, it makes it problematic, although she’s far from being the first psychiatrist with boundary issues. Something that always amuses me with your friend is her ability to switch on her seeming empathy for clients but for her to be unempathetic and unboundaried with you.

Your friend is so far over the line that its become a faint dot in the distance.

You’re not a charity case. Why on earth is she arranging socially-distanced walks with randos and telling you that you’ve missed a blessing from God? People grow with and without partners.

All of our relationships help us heal, grow and learn. That includes the one you have with her which is forcing you to come face to face with boundary issues and tensions with your mother that you might not resolve otherwise but that you can now do so via your friend.

She tells you that you shouldn’t expect her to change. Okeedokee.

Like in any relationship where you love someone but they’re sometimes a boundary-crossing pain in the arse, in order for the relationship to proceed in any semblance of decent and loving fashion, you have to clean up your side of the street, put some boundaries in place and accept her for who she is.

Only from there can you enjoy your friendship within its sweet spot, whatever that might be. That will be a mix of where you can enjoy your interactions with her and be yourself. What’s outside of the sweet spot is where you try to get her to be something she’s not. When you enjoy her company and then get lulled into a false sense of security. When you think that maybe she’s learned her lesson and so close your eyes on the job of your boundaries.

Expect your friend to meddle.
Expect her to be a dick at times.
Expect her to pull some weird-ass emotional blackmail stuff.
Expect her to say such ridiculous stuff that you wonder if she has a lobotomy when she’s off work.

What you don’t do is that high school or tawdry lovers thing where you think there’s such a thin line between love and hate that you figure that the shit you’re doing to each other is a sign of why you should still be in a relationship together.

Here’s something you both know: you don’t bring out the best in each other.

Your current friendship is based on history, not genuine mutual love and respect for each other.

You don’t need to end your friendship with her; you just need to stop being bezzy mates! Rather than being ’top tier’ friendship which is really reserved for close friendships regardless of length where it’s mutual and loving, she’s a friend you’ve known for a long time but that you don’t do your close stuff with.

You’re not her busted up Cabbage Patch Doll. If she needs a pet project, she needs to get a hobby!

No, you are not being too sensitive. Given everything you’ve been through, it’s no wonder that you found it difficult to articulate that she’d crossed too many lines with you and that you needed space.

Your growth is not on her dime or her time. She has no business telling you about yourself. Her criticism of you is not rooted in wanting to see you grow even if you don’t do things her way. Her criticism is based on her fear of you growing. That’s what this is about. Who will she pet project if you continue to grow? Sure, she says she’s trying to help you by sending you the most ridiculous people, but at the end of the day, she is afraid of not having the job of rescuing you any more.

 

In search of Compatibility *and* Chemistry - can I have both?

Is it wrong to want for there to be a physical attraction/sexual chemistry in a relationship from the start?

I had a strong attraction with my first boyfriend (who was also the first guy I slept with). We were together for 9 months. We broke up because he got another girl (I was 19 years old at the time) pregnant.

I made the first move with my second boyfriend. We broke up after a year because he was flirting with other women.

Over the past 17 years I’ve dated 23 guys this includes 2 one night stands (holiday romances).

I had a physical attraction with 13 out of the 23 guys.

With 5 out of these 13  – I wanted something more serious but the feeling wasn’t mutual on their part. Now that time has passed, however, I am glad it never worked out with any of them.

I had no attraction with the remaining 10 out of the 23.

6 out of these 10 expressed an interest in pursuing something more serious with me but there was no interest on my part. Again, I have no regrets.

One of the things I am most scared about, in pursuing future romantic relationships, is that I will end up with someone I don’t fancy. It seems, however, that the guys I tend to be physically attracted to aren’t actually good for me.  But the idea of being with someone I have no chemistry with is very very upsetting.

Is something wrong with me?

Nat’s Response

No, it’s not ‘wrong’, but it will sometimes be misleading.

You’ve dated 23 guys.

13 (57%) were men you shared physical attraction with.
10 (43%) you weren’t physically attracted to.

Of the 57% (the 13), you wanted a relationship with 39% of them (and they did not reciprocate). No regrets.
Of the 43% (the 10), 60% of them said they wanted something with you (and you did not reciprocate). No regrets.

So, what you can learn from this is that attraction and sexual chemistry are important to you, but that it hasn’t always come packaged with men who also want a relationship.

In the situations where one wanted a relationship but the other didn’t, the reason for that is:

1) You (and they) may be inclined to feel increased attraction with someone who doesn’t want a relationship (hard to get). Look at it from the other perspective: You didn’t feel an attraction to ten of the twenty-three men and yet sixty percent of them claimed to want to pursue something serious with you. Clearly mutual attraction and sexual chemistry was not a factor in them wanting a relationship. It’s also possible that they said they wanted it because they sensed your disinterest which made them want to pursue.

2. They were all situations where only one of you wanted a relationship. That means that these were not mutual.

It is fine to want physical attraction from the start, but don’t expect it to mean something if everything else doesn’t stack up.

People experience physical attraction and sexual chemistry with all sorts of people. The fact that you experience it isn’t telling you anything about the person, otherwise, when we are someone who values honesty, we wouldn’t fancy in a narcissist. Expecting to feel it straight off the bat is a bit like wanting your body to be a fortune teller. And that’s alright when who your body leads you to is someone with whom you can enjoy a loving relationship but is altogether problematic when it doesn’t.

What needs to occur is whether you have it straight off the bat or further on, it needs to grow relative to the relationship you’re in. That means that even if you have both of those things that you need to be prepared to walk away if you don’t have the bread and butter of a relationship. It also means getting honest about who you tend to be physically attracted to and what you consider sexual chemistry so that you notice if there are any blind spots or themes that keep coming up.

Attraction is very important. It’s what differentiates a friendship from a sexual relationship.

But chemistry is a vague thing that people talk about when they are not looking for values and are primarily going off feelings, and that might be the thing that’s catching you out and resulting in you being with partners who are not right for you.

Also, check out this old class on chemistry 

Shy or self-sabotage?

In the last consultation, I referenced that I am inhibited and shy. You pointed out that I could be confusing my competence for a job in PR with my personality. What I mean with shy and inhibited is that for instance, in my job I have to communicate with a lot of different people, e.g. in order to keep up to date on projects and developments. I also need these kinds of information to have input for press-related work etc. Granted, a lot of jobs include this. Yet, what I feel in these situations is that even though I KNOW this is part of my work and it is beneficial in many respects, I often postpone communicating with people, sending that e-mail or telephone call or engage with them in a discussion) because I feel this internal block (fear of being incompetent, asking the wrong questions,..). It also means that I would rather postpone the relevant work connected to it, which entails the danger of missing relevant information, deadlines, the ‘perfect’ time slot to send that press work etc. I know I am afraid of success because any time the possibility of an actual achievement emerges, the fear of being in the centre of attention crops up and I would rather not present my idea, my work results or speak up in a meeting. I assume that  this ‘block’ I feel is not only connected to being shy, but primarily to self-sabotage but would be interested in your feedback.

Nat’s Response

Based on what you’ve described, this doesn’t really sound like it’s about working in PR. While there’s undoubtedly elements of shyness and inhibition, what you are doing is avoiding situations where you think there’s the potential to look incompetent, and also avoiding situations where you risk the possibility of looking ’too competent’.

That’s where the self-sabotage comes in because you are caught between fear of failure and fear of success, putting you in no man’s land.

On one hand, you’re basically saying that you’re incompetent, but on the other, you clearly acknowledge that you are not incompetent.

The thing about fear of failure and fear of success is that it’s two faces of the same coin that result in the same outcome — not getting anywhere, and when you do move two steps forward, doing something to make sure you take one, two or more steps back.

You have chosen to work in a field that validates an underlying belief that you are incompetent by deliberately placing you in an impossible situation. Why would someone who doesn’t want to do those things work in a job/field that specifically requires those things? Why would you work in a role that throws the spotlight on a company or their endeavours and so by extension, calls attention to you as part of the process, if your aim is to not be in the spotlight and to always be seen as incompetent?

So, it’s interesting that you worked in a company that was ‘incompetent’. It was badly organised with all sorts of weird stuff going on behind the scenes. It meant that on one hand, you could give you a hard time and hide out there, but on the other hand, you could also give you a hard time for not being able to demonstrate skills and talents that you were trying to avoid demonstrating but also that the company problems didn’t really allow to flourish.

It is important to you or to someone else in your life that you are not ’too successful’. That maybe you don’t show them up by doing too well or contradicting what they’ve said about you.

If someone makes out that you’re incompetent, and then you get qualifications that say that you are clearly competent at something, the next thing to do from there if you’re still trying to appease the person who taught you to be afraid is to not do too well.

So, you need to identify what you think the consequences are of being incompetent. And you also need to identify the consequences of success.

What would happen if you achieved something? Who would get upset? What story would that contradict?

What does being the centre of attention mean? When you’ve experienced in your life before, what happened?

For example, my fear of success is that it might set me up to fail. People might expect more of me and then I would have more potential to disappoint them. There’s a fear that it might cause problems with my mother, or that someone will figure out that they made a mistake in saying that I was good or great at something. And so I limited myself in certain ways to protect me.

You need to figure out what your version of that is.

Exercises like the clearing and releasing emotional charge one in the foundational resources help you to identify the baggage behind what you’re doing. Do the exercise with prompts like failure, incompetent, success, centre of attention, achievement. That will tell you what you’re doing.

I would also try the limiting beliefs exercise (attached) using the work scenarios you described below so that you can untangle the sabotage.

Exhausted by my job search and its impact on my engagement

I feel exhausted. I’m putting out lots of CVs and trying to escape from my professional past life (15 years as a temp – administrative assistant).

Further to your course on the self-esteem, I’ve found my loving fiancé. He’s living fay away (2hr from me by train – that’s OK). The salaries there are lower and there are more opportunities in logistics or industry. I want to keep my apartment near the city despite him complaining that we pay double (rent…). I bought a car but we’ve got some issue on it so need to rebuy one. I don’t like his small apartment, cold, surrounded by nature. I want us to buy a house as he wants and helps him realize this dream. But it takes time because I want to get another job if I have to sign a permanent contract, a job where my voice would be heard, where I could be happy, a job in marketing, digital business (I will hopefully get a diploma by this month on this topic).

Sometimes, I feel missing my life by taking it only on searching a job for hours instead of creating, keeping up-to-date or moving. I don’t wanna move with him and be a burden.

Nat’s Response

Something that many women struggle with, thanks to years of being socialised to believe that we are supposed to be low maintenance and not put too much on men because you know, ‘Girl power!’ We’ve been told we’re bad feminists if we have to lean on men and have financial needs. It can be very confusing.

Why do you want to help him realise his dream but you don’t seem to want to let him help you realise yours? Or, why isn’t realising your dream just as important as realising his?

I’m not saying that you don’t think that it is, but why can’t you do both? Why do you feel as if you have to get your life ’together’ in totality before making the move.

You need to work out what you want and your priorities. It’s not always possible to do everything at once. It’s like when people try to job hunt, lose weight, give up smoking and plan a wedding at the same time. Too much!

You want to keep your apartment near the city. You also want to buy a house.
You don’t like his apartment. You both want to buy a house.
You’ve brought a car, but it has problems, so you need to buy a new one.
You want a new job where you will be seen and heard, in digital business, and you are getting a qualification.

If you moving house is contingent on you getting a new job, then you have the order.
If you plan to live in a house and don’t intend to keep an apartment forever, then you need to put an end date on your apartment, especially if it will financially impact on other things.

Be honest with you about why you are holding on to the apartment so that you have clear intentions and are doing what’s in the best interests of your relationship and yourself.

There’s only so much time you can spend looking for a role, but it is also intense when you’re at the stage where you’re trying to get interviews. It’s a short-term situation where you’re investing in your future. Use a recruitment consultant if you can, as that may help to speed up the process and align you with jobs that are best suited to your new qualifications. The end is in sight and you are about to be qualified — don’t lose sight of that. You might not find the perfect job straight away, but you will be on that career path exploring your chosen subject.

Talk to your partner about your fears of being a burden. These are not things you can keep to yourself. It creates a lot of stress

When my husband and I were getting married, we had additional expenses, and I am also self-employed. I didn’t talk to him about some of my stress around money. I worried about being a burden and kept trying to manage certain things on my own. I got very stressed and upset one day, and when I spoke to him about my fear of being a burden, he was like Hello! We have two children and are about to get married. We’re supposed to be able to lean on each other. It doesn’t make either of us a burden.

Speak to your fiancé and formulate a plan together.

Feeling a bit dull about life

This question feels selfish to ask, but I will ask anyway.  Lately, life feels grey and dull for me.  Life is feeling boring.  When I feel like this, I am tempted to go back to school, get a new degree, change jobs, go on a diet, or shake things up somehow, but I’m not sure that’s the answer right now.  I do have an upcoming hiking trip planned, but after all the issues in my marriage last year, quarantine, and feeling a bit bored at work, I feel rather dull about life.  I downloaded some fun novels from the library, am trying out some new recipes, listening to podcasts, but am wondering if you have any journaling suggestions or resources to look into when life is very stable and feels rather dull.  (Sometimes I end up creating drama and chaos when things feel like this, and I’d like to avoid that this time).

Nat’s Response

What you’re experiencing isn’t unusual. What you’re looking for, though, is to feel a particular way, not necessarily to do a particular thing. So, it’s like when people say that they need a bit of excitement in their life and plan to take off and move to Timbuktu after lockdown or think that they need to get a lover.

If they connected with what they’re seeking to feel, they discover that they can feel that way without having to move halfway across the world or messing around with some rando.

Is it that you feel rather dull about life, or is it that after all of the upheaval over the last year that you might be feeling as if there isn’t something to fight for or about? That there isn’t something to be tense, angry, something about?

Is it also possible that while you might not feel ecstatically happy, you’re happier or certainly somewhat more content, and that might be sending off alarm bells?

Try to decipher what’s true for you, which, for example, might be a mix of the above two things.

The reason why I ask you to explore this is because you say that you tend to create drama and chaos when you feel like this.

Think of your happiness levels on a scale 0-10.

You are maybe most comfortable around 5, so when things are above it (happier), you do something to bring it back down. When it’s below 5, maybe you feel energised for a bit but then bring it back to 5. But if you are at 5 for too long, you will do the whole chaos and drama thing.

You are allowed to be happy. And you don’t need to create drama and chaos to call attention to your needs or to give you an opportunity to let off steam or to be and do certain things.

So, maybe use journaling to find out what the aim of creating the drama and chaos is.

When do you tend to feel bored and dull?

What does ‘bored’ and ‘dull’ look like? Is it actually bored and dull, or is something else?

What does the opposite of that mean? And is that exciting and ‘bright’?

What types of situations set you off? What are the warning signs? What do you tend to think, feel and do? This helps you have a handy list that helps you recognise when you need to be attentive to your needs.

How do you typically create drama and chaos, and where did you learn to do this?

What needs are you trying to meet? Are there more constructive ways of meeting the same needs and feeling good at the same time?

There’s also the Circle of Trust exercise.

Use it to help you understand how those things that you did before that created drama and chaos don’t fit with who you are and how you want to feel.

How exactly do you know what kind of relationship you want?

This is the dumbest question. I get it. But as I tried to paint a picture of my ideal relationship, I really struggled. I’d like it to feel warm and secure. I’d like to feel calm and inspired to do more art. But is that enough? I feel like without a clearer picture, I’m setting myself up for failure.

Nat’s Response

Not a remotely dumb question at all! Take those words out of your mouth.

Right now, you have a starting point. And your starting point is telling you about how you’d like to feel in your life and what you’d like to be doing. It sounds like you’re talking about what it would feel like to be in your ideal relationship with you.

And this is OK.

What you can do to expand on this is keep painting a picture of life with you. Because even if you’re struggling to visualise the specifics of an ideal relationship, your ideal one actually reflects who you are and what you’re feeling and doing when you’re being more you.  If you look at my circle of trust (attached), you don’t see anything super specific about my romantic relationship. But my relationship reflects all of these because everything in this circle can co-exist with the relationship. I know I’m happy and myself when I’m being and doing more of these things.

So, where do you go from here?

1) Expand on warm and secure. What does that mean to you? That might give you some clues about why that came up and what that means in your relationship. So, how would you know you were warm and secure? Is that a feeling? What would you and others be doing? Same for calm, which is fairly self-explanatory, although there may be specific reasons why calm came up for you. What stops you from being inspired to do more art? That might give clues to the opposite of that.

2) Don’t pressure you to know ‘everything’ ‘immediately’. It does become clearer with each week that goes by. You will have a clearer picture towards the end of the course, but it’s also ongoing. You update what you want as you go along.

There’s an exercise in week 3 of Break The Cycle about needs that also helps you to get clearer on this. Be patient with you!

I want to get to know him, but I'm moving soon

Thanks for all your wisdom throughout these heavy times. Earlier in my letting go, I chatted online with a man. He seemed nice, but I clearly had no business doing online dating. I also expressed a concern to him that he didn’t consider my wellbeing in suggesting that we physically meet during lockdown and while he’s dating another person casually. I cut it off & stopped dating. Well, I ran into him last week (3 months later), and we seem to have a genuine connection. He said that he was struggling at the time because his brother unexpectedly died of cancer and no one could be with him in the hospital due to the virus.

We’ve since chatted, and I’m growing increasingly interested. There’s a real ease and honesty to our convos that I haven’t experienced in most dating. I am flagging his previous action, but I wonder if it’s fair given that we are all human? I’m also in a bit of a bind because I really want to get to know him, but I’m moving. I feel grounded and as if I’m starting to deepen relationships (friends, etc), yet I’m starting anew. Any thoughts on how to navigate this? I don’t think long distance works, but I feel a strong pull to this person.

Nat’s Response

In all honesty, this sounds a little… messy.

Just over three months back, you chatted online with someone who “seemed nice” but who also, at the same time, invited you to meet up physically during lockdown when he was already casually dating someone else.

You, rightly, cut it off at this time because given that you were complete strangers, you had to take a view on his actions at that point and get the hell out of dodge.

So, you run into him three months later and he reveals that he was struggling with having lost his brother unexpectedly due to cancer. This must have been a terrible shock, and there’s the added pain of being unable to be with him thanks to bloody Covid. The grief, anguish and uncertainty will have undoubtedly had an impact on him.

But this is still 1) a veritable stranger who you initially chatted to online and 2) someone who was messy enough that you recognised that he shouldn’t be online dating and 3) someone who was casually dating someone during the pandemic and who saw fit to try to meet up with someone else.

Did grief make him be and do all of those things?

Because the way you tell it, something in what he’s told you has clearly given you a green-light to reignite interest, as if to say that now that he’s presented you with what seems like a ‘valid’ reason for all of the above, that you can basically press reset.

I get that we might not be our most considerate selves in the midst of chaos and loss. Hell, we’re not necessarily our most considerate and conscientious self on a very good day.

But it concerns me that your angle here is “we are all human”. Yeah, that’s a given, but it’s not a permission slip to throw boundaries to the wall or to press the reset button.

I think what you have to ask yourself here is why are you so invested in someone you hardly know?

If you give out the ‘We’re all human’ permission slip at this point, what do you do when you’re a few weeks or months further into the relationship?

I think that this man has told you what was going on in his life at that time. What he hasn’t given you is a reason for potentially endangering your life and that of someone else’s. It’s not a solid. Given that he couldn’t be in the hospital with his brother even in his last moments, on what planet would it even begin to make sense that the right thing to do would be to meet up with you when he already had someone he could do that with?

And I know that in the midst of grief that we sometimes try to escape it, but again, that doesn’t make it right, and it’s also, as human as that might be, plenty of humans have a human response and don’t do what he did.

I’m not actually saying don’t chat to this guy—that’s your prerogative, after all—but what I am saying is don’t start any relationship, any interaction based on over-empathy and fuzzy boundaries. You are making up something about this guy with the narrative of ‘Oh, look, he’s human’. There’s no need. Let what he did stand. See it for what it was. Get to know him with what happened in mind, not erased.

And given that this is a veritable stranger and you’re already doing the ‘He’s human’ thing, that’s a code red alert that you need to get grounded and interrogate this ’strong pull’. Who or what is that about? Have you ever felt that before? Why has his confession of a loss created this strong pull? Is there a part of you wanting to rescue him in some way?

How can I build trust?

Through this week’s exercises, I got aware that I have a hard time trusting my romantic partner. I am a bit like one of the Mr Unavailables you described in your book: an egotist seeking perfection. I usually see my boyfriends’ shortcomings as worse than mine, and I follow the old Marx Brother’s motto: I DON’T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT PEOPLE LIKE ME AS A MEMBER.

During the past years, I worked hard on accepting myself. Now, when my current boyfriend of 5 months is doing something that reminds me of one of my countless negative experiences, I get suspicious and start ruminating if this is again another failed relationship. In many cases, it turned out my negative assumptions where wrong and there is a perfectly understandable explanation for what I thought was a sure sign of Unavailabilty. I grew up with parents who wouldn’t tell me what’s going on but sugar-coated every disharmony, so I became extremely wary about sensing or figuring out what’s really going on, developing negative believes about myself. So ultimately, I have a problem with trusting myself, my inner voice, and how to judge other people’s behaviour.

Nat’s Response

I will not lie, I howled laughing at that Marx Brother’s line. Up there now as one of my favourite emails ever! Weeping! Anyway, let me answer your question:

I think a lot more people are guilty of behaving by that motto that we realise. People who don’t know, like and trust themselves are often inherently suspicious of people who like them. It’s why some people cheat. They’re like, Can’t you see I ain’t shit? What kind of loser must you be to actually believe in me or want to be with me? There has to be something wrong with you.

What we do in these situations is project our self-dislike onto others and call it their feelings, thoughts and problem. But all we’re showing is our intense dislike of us, not proving that the other person is a numpty.

The thing about trust is that aside from it being a gamble, it’s also imperfect, as in, the people you trust and who are trustworthy will still be flawed human beings.

Trust is about taking a punt that someone values the benefit of building a long-term relationship over screwing us in the short term. We need trust to avail of benefits and resources that we quite simply couldn’t on our own.

But trust is also about gambling on us— who do we think we’re going to be in the future? Do we trust ourselves and how we’ll show up?

And that’s what’s at the crux of trust issues: the trust we have in others is a reflection of the trust we have in ourselves. If we don’t trust others, if we’re wondering how to build trust with them, it’s because we don’t trust us. Sure, we might trust ourselves on occasion, but the moment we think that we or others eff up, we snatch it away from us, so it’s hard to build it. We can’t when we keep knocking down any blocks of built-up trust.

Trust is not about living perfectly or invulnerably. The fact that someone messes up, for instance, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are untrustworthy. Of course, it might, if they’ve actually breached trust. But deciding to trust someone on the basis that it’s only there as long as they never basically show humanness and put a foot wrong is a flawed premise.

Deciding that we don’t trust them because our antennae’s gone up about something that it’s gone up about before (and proved to be off base) makes it impossible to build trust.

Withdrawing (or never giving trust) because the person disappointed us (or we expect that they will in the future), means that it was never trust, because it’s an unrealistic expectation to believe that someone won’t annoy or disappoint us.

What you’ve experienced are false negatives. I’ve included a PDF of a really old class that talks about this. There’s also an old video class about negative associations

How does a twenty-something stay positive when dating experiences have been disappointing?

What would you recommend that someone in her late twenties could do to stay positive when dating experiences to date have been disappointing? It can be very hard to feel positive when things never seem to work out. It makes dating stressful rather than enjoyable. The more negative experiences that there are the more fear there is in putting myself out there.

Whenever I have been rejected in the past, it has resulted in me feeling very low and negative about myself for very long periods of time. This is an area of my life that I really struggle with. It is something that really bothers me and makes me feel very down about myself. It has made me feel unlovable and not good enough. What would you recommend that I do to feel positive about myself and stop letting this aspect of my life bother me so much?

Nat’s Response

Anger is something you experience when you feel that there’s been an injustice or even that you’re under attack. It’s a clue about what is going on in your inner world as well as notification to yes, take action where needed and/or be more boundaried.

Disappointment is basically loss. It’s the gap between reality and your hopes and expectations. Each dating situation does create a level of hopes and expectations, so you do have to mourn the loss of them. But when every dating situation is taking personally, deeply, and as a total rejection of you, plus you also have high expectations of what dating someone is going to create and lead to, you are setting you up for a painful cycle of disappointment.

There’s nothing wrong with being disappointed that a date didn’t work out, but if you’re disappointed that every single dating situation didn’t work out, that sets you up for further pain because the disappointment is the correct outcome for the situation so that you can have more awareness of who you are and what you need, and, yes, choose better next time.

If every dating experience is a source of disappointment, it means that you were more invested in the picture you painted in your mind and not operating from a place of discernment.

Given that someone you date is a stranger at the outset and that dating is a discovery phase that allows you to get an initial gauge of who they might be and what they might want as well as who you are, you’re angry and disappointed still because you think that the person changed from who you imagined them to be instead of recognising that they didn’t change, you just got to know them.

If every person had the potential to be the one, then you weren’t into any of them. And believe me, I empathise, because I did the same thing. I was disappointed about relationships not working out that it would have been an absolute nightmare if it had continued. I was disappointed that The Great Guy I Thought They Were ‘didn’t want me’. I came to realise that the rejection I felt so acutely was about the story I told myself.

This is creating a cycle of disappointment because you’re going in with the same hopes and expectations into situations where you don’t know the person well enough to be that invested. So, you meet someone or they express interest. Your hopes are raised about something. What is it? Then you expect something. What is that? Then you get to know the person or things don’t proceed. You feel disappointed. You lick your wounds. And then the cycle starts again.

Why? Because after you experience disappointment, you get so angry and hurt about it that you decide that it’s a total rejection of you, when all that happened in truth is that the relationship didn’t work out. It’s also about what they’re saying no to. Why does it have to be about you?

There’s a class I’ve taught on rejection that I think will help you. 

I also included a couple of old posts.

You’re not the only one who’s afraid of rejection. 

Coping with feeling rejected by Mr Unavailables & Assclowns Part Two

 

How do I meet my needs for myself?

I understand that I have to find ways to meet my own needs, I’m just struggling to find the ways to do it.  For examples, I seek a lot of attention and validation from others, but I don’t know how to get these needs met for myself. Any advice?

Nat’s Response

This is a really good question.

A good place to start is identifying what it is that causes you to look for attention and validation, so what triggers that habit. So, what specific things do you do that are about trying to get attention and validation from others? You might include specific thoughts, a feeling that you describe in a particular way, something that gets on your nerves, something that your family do. It will be personal to you, and that list might be long.

Then it’s considering what the habit looks like. You might break it down into I think/feel/do X or Someone does/doesn’t Y or Z happens and then I think/feel/do _______. I would also include who you engage with these habits with, and who you tend to feel worse around.

Add in why you do that particular thing. And whether it’s healthily effective. If you’re meeting your needs in a healthy way that doesn’t cause problems for you and keep you in a perpetual groundhog day, crack on, otherwise, it needs reviewing.

And then it’s about looking at how could you do the same thing for you.

There’s a reason for this, and let’s go from the top:

Let’s say that you start exploring the triggers and you discover that feeling lonely, feeling unsure of yourself about something at work, criticising and shaming you in your head when something goes wrong, remembering how your father let you down are just some of items on the list.

Then you take each item. For example, feeling lonely.

E.g. I feel isolated and alone when I don’t feel seen, heard and understood. Like when {insert specific examples. e.g. like when people like Karen wonder why I haven’t moved past something and then expect me to just ‘man up’ and move on}. I tend to feel hurt and angry inside. While their attitude and insensitivity bothers me, I end up raging against myself, telling me that it’s my fault that {insert the things you tend to blame you for}.

When I feel like this, I’m most likely to, for example, go on a dating app, message an ex, pick an argument with someone.

I go on the dating app because I get to forget about the real world for a while. I get to squash the feelings of loneliness and shame. When we’re exchanging messages, I feel really attractive. But then when I get off the app, sometimes even when I’m on it, and I feel so low.

I tend to seek attention from {insert people}. I tend to feel even worse with randos on the apps or when I seek attention and validation from people in my life who are self-absorbed, opportunistic or prone to putting me down. Somehow I feel even worse than I did before.

This is where you discover that how you are meeting that need for attention isn’t working healthily for you. It’s not because trying to meet people is ‘bad’, but the aim of healthy dating isn’t to soothe needs for attention in that way. Note, this is all an example to illustrate the point.

This brings you back to understanding what you are looking for attention and validation about. If, for example, you keep going to a friend for advice and validation about something but you don’t heed it, it’s not advice you’re looking for; it’s attention. But in that situation, you don’t need to create a problematic situation to honour your need for attention. You could hang out with that friend and have fun. Or, you could talk about the real issue with them or an appropriate person. That allows you to meet that need for you through your own actions as well as your interactions with others.

If you have a need for, example, attention, be specific about what you are looking for attention about. And then make sure that what you seek in others is what you are also doing for you in your own way. So, looking for attention from others is also a sign that you need to give you attention. To literally do what they (the healthier ones, obviously) do.

I’ve learned over the years that I don’t need to draw attention to how exhausted I am or be unwell to get attention, a habit, incidentally, that I learned in childhood. What I need to do is 1) acknowledge that I am exhausted or unwell and attend to it and 2) communicate what, if anything, I need from that person. That might mean asking my husband or children to do something. It might mean talking about the issues that led to the exhaustion. It also, however, often means attending to my most basic needs and literally giving me attention without being critical.

Have you watched this class about needs in relationships? 

I’ve also got an upcoming additional class on needs that will be addressing meeting your needs when you have to start from scratch.

 

Colourism, Comparison and Compassion Fatigue

I have a friend who I’ve known for 23 years and at times I have considered her one of my best friends. There are a lot of things I do love about her – she has been very supportive when I’ve gone through challenging experiences; she’s fun to be around, and we both share a lot of things in common. There are, however, some reoccurring issues that have resulted in me developing emotional unavailability in this relationship.

Both my friend and I are black women. I have a lighter skin colour compared to my friend. On a number of occasions, my friend has spoken about feeling sorry for herself because she doesn’t have some of the physical features I have. She also feels upset that sometimes friends have tried to set me up with guys but haven’t done the same for her. I now no longer share very much with her about my dating relationships for fear that it will make her feel bad and trigger her insecurities and I feel I now have developed a bit of shame around my dating. Sometimes I feel like I’d need to wait for her to be in a relationship first before I can try to be in one myself.

I think there exists quite a bit of comparison and competition between the two of us. Where I am more introverted – my friend has a ‘life-and-soul-of-the-party’ personality (which I also love about her) and thrives on being the centre of attention. I sometimes feel that she is ‘spoilt’ and has a habit of making things all about her (either it’s ‘look at me and how great I am’ or ‘look at me and feel sorry for me’) and as a result, over the years, I’ve allowed resentment and compassion fatigue to build.

What might be the role I am playing and the pattern that has developed here. What can I do to break this cycle? What might be some good boundaries to put in place in this friendship?

Nat’s Response

I feel for you. I think that there’s an underestimation of some of the exhausting dynamics that take place within black relationships, which when you take into account what black people and other ethnic minorities experience outside of their black relationships, makes it all the more painful.

Something that is likely taking place in your relationship with this friend is her projecting her feelings (as well as those of others) on you and calling them something you’re doing or that you should be responsible for by extension of your ‘lighter’ complexion. And you are overcompensating for the guilt you feel because you think that you are having things ‘easier’ due to your shade or that she is suffering in the friendship with you as a result of the colour differences.

The issue you are experiencing with her isn’t just about race; it’s also about being a woman.

Women are socialised from the day they are born to compete with women. We are groomed to compare ourselves on our looks, intelligence, abilities, relationships and basically everything, and we behave as if there’s a tiny bucket that has a limited amount of relationships, good looks, etc.

As a result, we are competing and comparing even when we don’t realise that we are, and this can extend itself to unconsciously gravitating to relationships where we inadvertently get to be perceived as superior or we get to validate feelings of inferiority.

Take me for instance: One of my closest friends and I used to go partying pretty much six nights a week in late teens and early twenties. Unbeknownst to me, or maybe I’d shut signs of it out of my awareness, my friend began feeling passed-over (she’s white). I didn’t know until several years later when we were on an overseas trip and she got drunk and vented her resentment and exasperation about how everyone was wondering where I was and talking about how much fun I am and blah, blah, blah. Note: I was in bed with sunstroke! I was wounded beyond measure by her comments, and I knew she had no recollection of it, or if she did, she made no mention. So, I distanced myself from her on our return and let her get on with her life. We live in different countries anyway, but I threw myself into going about my life and not behaving as if I had to apologise for my existence. At the same time, I also had empathy for her experience without losing sight of myself. She took her own struggles and insecurities and threw them at me, but her experience felt real to her, I guess, although I do think it was twisted and distorted. I do think that she probably thought that I loved being the centre of attention, even though, from my point of view at the time, I was just having a laugh. I was also likely to stand out because I was, at the time, often the only black person in the place.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, there was a rescuer/victim dynamic. Don’t get me wrong: we had a blast together and our friendship’s recovered albeit changed over the years, but we partied a lot because of our personal pain.

So, I took a step back and asked myself if this issue was familiar in any other relationships, and the answer was yes. She is not the first friend to tirade at me or to feel as if I was ‘outshining’ her. So then I asked myself where outshining or dimming my light shows up in my life, and it was rife: dimming my light to protect my brother (and give him ’space’ and dimming my light so as not to outrage my mother.

I share all of this as a [slightly long-winded, haha] example of how to examine this without blaming you for her stuff.

Colorism is exhausting. The people who do it and make out as if your shade is a pass and that you are not experiencing difficulties due to being black, as well as the objectification of you is unfair.

What you have to work out is whether this friendship is strong enough to sustain honesty (the truth with respect). Dimming your light, having to be ashamed of who you are is a code red alert that something is very wrong with this friendship. What you have to work out is whether you truly had to silence parts of your life or whether you assumed it was the way to make things better. I think that dating and relationships can be a sensitive issue in relationships, but the danger with overcompensating for it with shame and silence is that you breach your boundaries and fuel resentment.

Let your friend’s feelings be hers. Sure, don’t be insensitive, but don’t erase yourself. I was sensitive, for example, to the fact that my friend was struggling to conceive, but I didn’t pretend that I don’t have kids and I didn’t start erasing babies from the conversation because that builds a wall.

Have an honest conversation with your friend if you think that this is a close friendship to save. Tell her that you value her friendship, and that it’s because of this why you are being honest with her and admitting that you’ve become wary and ashamed because of how you think she might react and some of the comments she makes (give specific examples). Tell her that you will, of course, strive not to be insensitive, but that you need to be able to be more yourself in the friendship.

Or, you stop hanging out with her and orient towards a friendship where you can be yourself.

And ask your friends why they suggested you and not her. That might be those people’s unconscious bias at work. Or, it might be that they prefer you to her.

What advice would you give to a person about moving forward after thinking she found a person who could potentially be ‘the one’?

What advice would you give to a person about moving forward after she thought she had potentially found ‘the one’? There was an instant connection and feeling of familiarity. There was a feeling that the person was known from before – a feeling of ‘home’. This feeling was there from the beginning and she had never felt that way before about anyone else. They had great chemistry, many similar interests and got on very well. Due to an incompatibility with regard to sex (wanting to wait to have sex on her part), being in different places in life at the time, personal issues and distance (about to become a factor), it did not continue at the time. What advice would you give to someone to move past this when she doesn’t form romantic connections easily in general? Things were not perfect at the time, but it is hard to forget the chemistry, connection and intense feelings felt at the time. What would you recommend that she does to move forward from this and form new connections when this feeling from a previous connection keeps surfacing?

Nat’s Response

When you think you’ve potentially (or actually) found The One, but then reality diverges from your hopes and expectations, it can take a while to come to terms with.

My job isn’t to convince you that they are or aren’t The One, but it is to offer you some information to put things into context so that you don’t torture you, but also so that you don’t keep using the same thinking and end up feeling stuck.

“An instant connection and feeling of familiarity” is assumed to be a good or even great thing, but more often than not, it’s a sign that you are in your pattern and that you are engaging with someone who is similar to the original person connected to your pattern.

If ‘home’ and ‘familiar’ are wonderful and healthy, crack on. If what tends to draw you to people leads to happy, healthy outcomes, again, crack on. If someone with whom you have an “instant connection and feeling of familiarity” with, also leads to a happy, healthy, successful outcomes, again, crack on. What was home like? What does ‘familiar’ mean?

But if it doesn’t, the story you’re telling you about your feelings or what you thought you knew about this person is causing a massive blind spot.

While we can certainly click with someone out the gate, the measure of the relationship isn’t what you thought you knew or felt at the start, but the relationship you co-create.

Given that when you meet someone, you’re starting at Day 0 and don’t know them at all, if what you think you feel or know from the outset is on point, getting to know each other and intimacy should add to, not take away from it.

That doesn’t mean that you didn’t enjoy an initial great connection or that you didn’t have similar interests or chemistry, but those only carry you so far. If you don’t share core values in terms of character and direction, you’re incompatible. You can share interests, connection and chemistry with someone you don’t share core values with. It’s why people get caught up in highly dysfunctional relationships with sociopaths and narcissists. But if you don’t have those things and shared values, you don’t have that much.

It’s also important to note that chemistry is something that we defer to when we don’t have a deeper connection based on a mix of core values and attraction.

But chemistry is the mix of people, not necessarily the quality of the relationship. You are likely to reference chemistry and feel the strongest chemistry with people who destabilise you in some way, often because of what they’re doing (or not doing) or because of their similarity to someone who represents your past.

I would identify what the feeling is really about: who and what he represents. That feeling keeps resurfacing, not just because of what it represents from the past, but also because of the story you keep telling you. But if you change the meaning of what you picked up about this person at the start when you didn’t know them at all and that you then projected onto them because you decided that they were home and familiar, you can reconcile this with what you got to know.

Class about chemistry

Working out the small steps to take

This week’s work has been interesting and I realise that how I feel today (I can’t get what I want, no matter what I try) must be exactly what I felt as a child.

Locate the Untruths brings up that I’m the one who must have no needs and my fears around that are of being seen as I really am but also there is a fear of having nothing to say (which seem a little contradictory to me).
So the steps I think I need to take are to
1. tune into my feelings as I recognise that I often don’t question or react to certain things until later as I don’t know how I feel at the time
2. Not feel responsible for others needs (while ignoring my own)
3. Not look for validation by proxy through the life & soul of the party type of men
These seem big steps to me!
However, if I do that will I then be attracted to & attract men who are a better fit for me?
At 55 despite being fairly active and doing internet dating, there isn’t a great deal of eligible men to choose from (a negative belief I know!)

Nat’s Response

It’s wonderful that you’re experiencing these insights. As always, be patient with you and go from a place of curiosity. You’re right: these steps do feel very big. I felt exactly the same way. It’s not like you go from being a pleaser who takes no account of her needs and who focuses on everyone else’s, to making that realisation and then, shazam, it’s easy to change.

It’s a bit by bit, step by step, day by day. Rather than seeing it as something drastic you have to undertake, see it as a way of being, a lifestyle you’re moving towards that doesn’t have a destination.

I do those three things way ‘easier’ than I did when I first started, but it’s a process, a journey, and an evolution.

And it’s only when you look back when you’re further down the road, that you see how even the small, tentative steps you took at the beginning that probably felt super scary at the time (I know mine did), made big ripples.

I am way more able now, but what I managed back then drastically changed my life, and I had a fraction of the awareness that I have now.

That means that even with what you might regard as small steps, that probably feel really big, you will make progress.

When you shift your boundaries and take better care of you, this does change the type of partners that you become involved with. Now, you might decide that you are really into someone who is the ‘life and soul’, but you won’t live in the shadows, and you will be aware of your reasons. There are people who are the life and soul who are bad news for you, and there are people who are the opposite of that who are also bad news for you. So, it’s more about how you show up. There’s no need for you to dim your light. If they always need to be Diana Ross and make you a Supreme (or they have to be Beyonce or whoever — you get the analogy, haha), then that’s a problem. If, however, you are around someone who is the life and soul and you also appreciate them as a person and you’re not hiding out and they totally want to be with you and support you whether you’re being loud or quiet, crack on!

You can meet someone. Will there be as many as say, when you were 20? Who knows? Maybe not. But you’re better placed to choose now than you were back then anyway. And if you’re in your fifties and finding yourself and looking for love, isn’t it possible that there are men out there doing the same?

If you look around in life, you will see that people find love at all ages, not just below 35. You would be shocked how many readers and listeners who are telling themselves that it’s all downhill from here, who have parents who are in their fifties, sixties, seventies and beyond, dating, marrying, falling in love. If you don’t write you off, you won’t write men off.

And even if it might take a bit of time to meet someone, don’t let that put you off. I think sometimes we tell ourselves that dating is dead and there are no decent people to date so that we don’t have to change. But you will be far happier being even a bit more you than staying where you’ve already discovered that it doesn’t work for you.

 

Is my anger a habit?

I’m still struggling with anger at Paul although I wonder if a lot of this is habit at this point, as you say. I’ve retold the stories so many times but I don’t think I truly feel or believe the stories. But that’s only part of my current struggle.

The exercise about what am I avoiding by holding onto my emotions regarding him was helpful and terrifying. I feel like I almost have PTSD when I think about letting go and starting over, especially when I think about dating.

I feel like I’m so unworthy, broken and unlovable and that’s all going to surface again once I begin to put myself out there. I realized that, while most hate online dating, I especially get traumatized by the experience, and can usually only do one date a month maximum before having to retreat and lick my wounds. Every date that doesn’t work out or ghosting or blow off is so painful. I’m amazed when friends continue to put out effort with mild annoyance at the experience.

And the way Paul broke up with me was so awful because it reinforced all of my worst fears and feelings. He basically said he didn’t think I was worth the effort because I was so broken. I can retell that story until I’m blue in the face, but the hurt is scalding, as well as the anger at him unnecessarily putting me through that. He didn’t have to break up with me that way FFS! Now I’m stuck with climbing back from the even deeper emotional hole I was already in with my fears about myself being unworthy, unlovable and broken.

I don’t know what my question is. I just feel despair and anxiety about my feelings toward myself and putting myself out there, even with friends. I think the work I’m doing is probably helping, but I’m also feeling raw. I wish I could just feel better about myself, to the point where all these experiences wouldn’t be so traumatic. Where I could brush Paul’s comments off as his own darkness, not mine. And have a few dates with more control over what I want or don’t want, versus a firing line of rejection that I somehow deserve. Or not have this trepidation that in my next relationship, I will once again experience his slow and inevitable realization of my unworthiness.

Nat’s Response

The anger at Paul is a habit. You can’t go from being angry with someone for however long and then expect it just to disappear when certain thoughts are now paired with aspects of your day or specific feelings and situations. I know people, and I’ve certainly experienced it myself where you can actually be done with something for all intents and purposes, like, for months or even years, and then something happens that reignites some of the anger just because you happen to be pissed off with something else.
Anger often has grief mixed in it too, so there can be a resistance to not being angry because it means having to move on and take action. Or, having to take a closer look at our own stuff. So, yes, anger is a funny thing. 
I encourage patience. 
Perfectionists, people-pleasers and overthinkers want to get things done yesterday. It’s less vulnerable than it being open-ended. The idea of having to be vulnerable and take it a day at a time without knowing exactly what steps to take or for how long flies in the face of being and doing our usual habits to try to control the uncontrollable. You might be putting undue pressure on you because you may be imagining that not being angry is a terrible fate or just generally scaring the crap out of you. 
The PTSD thing shows up in subtle and overt ways. It can be waves of feelings through the body when you hear a sound that even though it’s not actually the same thing, it reminds you of something that used to shoot fear through you as a kid. It can be feeling terrified of saying no and experiencing genuine panic about it. It can be the thought of starting dating again. It can be the traumatic events of a past relationship making you super wary. 
The truth is, those feelings might surface at times even though it’s not how you truly feel about you or how you feel most of the time. It doesn’t mean you are those things, but sometimes you all be triggered, but as time goes on, it is less intense than before. For example, I got triggered about something today that I haven’t for a while. Feelings of being unwanted, not good enough, excluded, etc, surged up. But I didn’t feed them, and I was able to gradually stand back a bit and soothe myself and talk to my husband and a couple of friends about it. 
Paul is someone who is in a very dark place. What he did is cruel. His actions, though, reflect his own trauma and issues. How could someone who is already putting himself through a load of stuff also not put you through that by extension of being involved with him? Yes, he did do a shitty thing, but you’re expecting him to break up with you like he isn’t the man you were involved with. Why would he break up with you as if he weren’t dysfunctional?
So, keep working through the anger, because part of it is about him, but part of it is about anger at you for trying to take a shortcut with him
And work out what triggers you in online dating. Make a list of what happens from day 0 to the end of that month (cues, triggers and responses resource attached).
Write Unsent Letters to Paul. Do a hundred if need be. That will help you to purge these feelings so that even if you still have some anger, it’s a clean anger, a clean pain, rather than the dirty pain of beating you up and reliving the wound. 
The dates will come — but that’s not a priority right now. Sometimes in the process of purging, you feel a bit crappy. You have some bumpy days or weeks. But you are chucking out stuff. You are cleaning house. Instead of judging you like what you’re experiencing now is a permanent statement of the future, try not to jump on the train of the feelings and thoughts, or jump off as soon as you can. See How To Self-Soothe in the foundational resources of your course. 

 

What do I do when feeling drained triggers me into wanting to reach out to my ex?

I struggle with discerning what is my “part.” I think I’m owning more of it than is actually mine, i.e. with my mom or with the recent ex. I think this hinders me letting go. I’ve found that all the protests happening in America compounded with my existing grief/trauma tied to being a black woman has me struggling. It all seems interconnected, resulting in spiralling and not shifting my thinking. I’ve been trying the EFT and emotional clearout, but find myself feeling even more drained by that process. And then when I feel drained, I get the urge to reach out and tell my ex all about his lack of congruency. I know that doesn’t necessarily serve me, but it could be a form of agency? I feel increasingly disconnected. How do I overcome this? Through consistent practice?

Nat’s Response

The anger at Paul is a habit. You can’t go from being angry with someone for however long and then expect it just to disappear when certain thoughts are now paired with aspects of your day or specific feelings and situations. I know people, and I’ve certainly experienced it myself where you can actually be done with something for all intents and purposes, like, for months or even years, and then something happens that reignites some of the anger just because you happen to be pissed off with something else.
Anger often has grief mixed in it too, so there can be a resistance to not being angry because it means having to move on and take action. Or, having to take a closer look at our own stuff. So, yes, anger is a funny thing.
I encourage patience. 
My goodness, be patient with yourself. Personally, I would love a magic bullet action that just, boom, you do it and you’re all sorted, but that’s not how life works. Even when you have a big mindset shift, it’s the consistent actions, step by step, day by day, falling and getting back up, that creates a lasting shift. 
 
Now, I also think it’s critical to take into account that right now, it’s an especially traumatising time for black folk. I think you’re asking a lot of you to not be impacted by what is taking place. There is so much pain and so much noise. The struggle, the trauma and the grief is real. It’s something I think that I myself will grapple with at varying levels for a long time to come. Obviously, I wish it wasn’t that way, but man, we’ve been through some stuff, and we’ve buried a lot of our pain. The intensity right now is resurrecting a lot of stuff that we forgot that we buried. And as much as so many of us are and will be grateful for the amplification, for any change that comes about, those of us who have struggled don’t know when we will tangibly experience the effects of that change in our life. So, it may all feel a bit abstract and confusing. 
The fact that you feel how you do sometimes doesn’t mean that you aren’t making progress. You are. 
Even noticing that you went to reach out to him when you felt drained is a sign of much greater awareness. Now you know that when you are feeling low energy, maybe a bit meh and hopeless, you reach for him (and others) as a pick-me-up. It’s not that reaching out to others is ‘bad’, but it’s about safe people and reaching out to the right people. Otherwise, you’re doing the equivalent of self-soothing with, for instance, food or booze, where you get to drown out the feelings or even eat or drink them, but you feel rubbish afterwards, plus it doesn’t address the root issue. 
Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated. Keep in mind, also, that your body is releasing some big emotions around some big stuff. Wouldn’t you expect to feel a bit (or a lot) drained when you’re calming the emotional charge attached to some heavyweight stuff that you’ve carried all or most of your life?
Go slow and steady with the process. It’s the cumulative effect — you realise how much you’ve been impacted further down the road, not necessarily moment to moment. 
I didn’t know that the work I was doing for me was having such an effect until I found myself in situations where I zagged instead of zigged, or I felt my feelings instead of running from them, or I handled myself and a situation with the boundaries I wanted and needed even though people weren’t necessarily saying and doing what I wanted.  
If I haven’t sent you these two classes already, please check them out. 
I have a very old class called Learning How To Parent You and another Raising and Nurturing Your Inner Child 
Also check out the How To Self-Soothe guide in the foundational resources. 

 

May

How can I stop being angry at people in my past with whom I am no longer in touch?

My mother and I don’t speak and my father died a decade ago. I’m told over and over that so many of my patterns are rooted in my persistent anger at the awful (neglectful, abusive, narcissistic) behaviour of my parents and I need to address that. But very few actually tell me how to do that. You talk about setting boundaries, but that doesn’t feel like a tool to use to address the deep-seated anger toward them that resurfaces and transforms itself into negative patterns. Similar, I have no intention of talking to Paul again, but I’m still so angry. Do you have a secret sauce for dealing with anger for important figures in my life with whom I will no longer be in touch? Any tangible actions and steps, since I already buy into the theory of my anger holding me back, but am stuck as to what to do.

Nat’s Response

Anger isn’t a one-time thing. Sure, with minor stuff, it can be, although you’d be surprised how even that can resurface for people.

The way to process anger is to express it while also updating the story you tell you about what happened. It’s having compassion for your younger self, and humanising the other parties without whitewashing it and deleting your feelings about it.

Unsent Letters have changed my life (they are the secret sauce), as has tempting out when I experience a rip-tide of anger. If you’re still talking about your parents in the same way that you always have, that means that you haven’t updated the story you’re telling you about them and/or you.

Let me tell you something as an aside: My father and I didn’t speak for just shy of four years. He stopped speaking to me after my wedding because he was hurt that I’d originally asked my stepfather who raised me, and then in the end, both of them walked me down the aisle. But he was wounded, and he likely thought it would be for a bit, and then when I realised what was going on a few months later, it broke me. We spoke briefly two years later on my second anniversary and he sort of apologised, but then talked about himself. The next time we spoke, I was finding out that he had cancer. Even before we were told the prognosis several weeks later, I knew that he wasn’t going to make it. A lot of anger came up in those first few weeks, and then I went to see him, and something shifted. But then anger would surface again from time to time, and I felt it and was kind to myself. I also came to understand a lot about myself and him. I was with him when he died, and those last ten months of his life were profoundly difficult and profoundly healing. And I have still felt angry in the three years since he died, and that is OK. There’s a little kid inside me that will always miss and want her dad and feel wounded, but there’s also an adult me that feels that way too sometimes.

My mother is still alive. I experienced a lot of abuse with her — verbal, emotional and physical. The former two continued well into adulthood. We have a better relationship these days even though she was who she was and she’s still got some of her shady ways. Processing my anger and being boundaried has profoundly changed our relationship — from my end. If I told you some of the things my mother has done, it would likely blow your mind, unless we have super similar mothers, haha.

My point in telling you all this is that I was abused, neglected and abandoned as a child, and I did not deserve that. Much of mine and my brother’s pain is that my dad didn’t rescue us from our mother and actually thought he’d done the right thing. But we have two parents who were abandoned, and one of them, my mother, was also abused and neglected. Both experienced profound loss and pain. This is no way diminishes my experience, and of course, it would be great if I’d had better parents and I never went through those experiences, but I did.

There will always be some anger there and it flares up and down depending on where I’m at. But I live my life in a way that means that because I take care of me, anger cannot drive and derail my life. I do not feel that I have to rescue anyone or pay off the horrific shit I went through.

I think about the guy who was supposed to be my friend who assaulted me, no, scratch that, raped me in my own home, probably every week. Of course, there’s a part of me that is angry at the idea that he’s just living his life, but it doesn’t consume me. You can be more than one thing — you just can’t make anger the thing you want to focus on, nor can you pretend you don’t feel it.

Boundaries are a way of dealing with anger, including some deep-seated anger because it is impossible to have the same thinking that drives the anger, and you also make better choices so you don’t keep stoking and reinforcing the old anger.

But what I used to deal with deep-seated anger are unsent letters and journaling, especially unloading (attached). These combined with boundaries and general self-care practices have helped me calm my body and lead a healing-driven life. And while I’m not averse to therapy and I know that plenty of people do it, I haven’t been to a therapist.

Also a video on anger feelings. I’ve also taught a number of members to do EFT (emotional freedom technique) 

Or, you can do the simpler exercise of the clearing and releasing emotional charge – foundational resources. 

Is this emotionally unavailable behaviour?

I was recently broken up with after a 3-month exclusive relationship, one that started fast and came to a screeching halt. What baffles me is 1) the reason she gave was simply “I lost the butterfly feeling recently” and 2) that just one week prior to breakup I attended a cookout to meet her sister and cousin that she invited me to a few days prior. Went fine. Who invites someone they are supposedly “losing interest” in to meet family? Odd. Looking back, it feels I ignored some major EU behaviour and I just want to confirm:

1. In the middle of a 1.5 year separation and finalizing divorce; says she no longer is emotionally attached to her husband but anger towards him is palpable. He cheated on her towards the end marriage.

2. Anxiety of a relationship title came up in discussion naturally 2 months in and label of boyfriend/girlfriend freaked her out – even though we were exclusive at time and she expressed she wanted a relationship.

3. Literally said one time to me that I was a nice distraction from her divorce stuff.

4. Had sex for the first time about a month ago and She sends me unsolicited seductive pictures of her just two weeks before break up even though supposedly this was a time when she was losing interest?

I feel used but wish I wouldn’t have invested without seriously taking a step back at these moments. Says a lot about me. Hurts even more because the reason given was akin to losing attraction even though there’s clearly other factors going on here.

Nat’s Response

What you’ve experienced is really common. If I had a pound for every person who said they’d been dumped after meeting parents/coworkers/friends, going away for the weekend or spending the birthday with them, I’d be rolling in it. In fact, in a lot of cases, they unconsciously invite you along to these things to push things to the point where they feel overwhelmed and bail because they don’t want to handle the intimacy or any expectations.

The “butterfly feeling” is something I empathise with. I based all of my relationship history prior to my now-husband on whether I felt the butterflies with someone. And it was a lousy barometer, not least because what I was feeling was the familiarity of my pattern. Sometimes, the moment you become ’too’ normal and real, is the moment they lose interest.

Of course it’s odd to meet someone’s family one week and be dumped the next, but you (and probably she) didn’t realise that you were being set up to fail. I have a feeling her family liked you, and that triggered anxiety. I’m pretty sure that she’s not looking to be loved and provably feels weirded out by someone who treats her with a modicum of decency.

On to the points you raised:

Even if she doesn’t want to get back with her husband, she is not over him. And that means that she isn’t emotionally available for a relationship with you. That’s before you account for her being mentally, financially and legally tied to him.

Your ex was rather partial to mixed messages. Wanted you to confirm exclusivity, said she wanted a relationship, threw a fit when you talked about ’titles’. She wasn’t and isn’t ready for a relationship. Believe me, if calling her your girlfriend scared the shit out of her, meeting her family will have made her take a parachute and jump.

Girl was dropping major hints. It’s like she was saying Can’t you see I’m not over my ex? Can’t you see that I’m a hot mess? Can’t you see that I’m toying with you?

Yes, she did tell you that you were a distraction, and for some reason, you thought this was OK. Note to yourself: it is not.

On the whole sexy pictures thing: being emotionally unavailable can, at times, make someone rather contrary because they’re out of touch with their feelings. It’s like Hmm, chocolate ice cream is my favourite. A few hours later… No, it’s strawberry.. And a few hours after that Hmmm, chocolate. And maybe the following day, Vanilla is my favourite and my best…… Wait, chocolate is.

You’re not in relationship court where you have to try to prove at exactly what point she lost interest. The fact is, when someone is emotionally unavailable and they’ve hit the panic point that makes them shut down, they do lose interest even if twenty-four hours before, you were the messiah and love of their life.

Also, if you saw how many people send dirty pictures to veritable strangers online, you realise that people don’t need to be crazy about you to send pics of their bits and pieces.

You know and I know that this isn’t about losing attraction. Stop kidding yourself. Bearing in mind that you didn’t take the hint from all the other stuff she said that was actually telling you the truth and showing you who she was, in the end, it’s the lie about this all being about losing the butterfly feeling that you’ve paid attention to.

You are better than allowing you to be used. You went along with it because you thought that you would get what you wanted out of things. Maybe a part of you wanted to rescue her. But that’s not a relationship, and you deserve more than crumbs.

What would you recommend doing to stop associating a place with a person?

What would you recommend doing to stop associating a place with a person you had a very strong connection with? What could you do to stop associating it with that person whenever you are back in that part of the country yourself, even if you both didn’t live there when you were seeing each other, and you were only in that area once together? When there you were introduced to his family and friends and there were very deep feelings involved, however distance (about to become a factor), not being fully compatible, personal issues and not being in the same place in life were factors in it not continuing at the time. There was a lot of hurt. What ways are there to stop the anxiety and tension building at the mention of going back there be it to visit another friend from there or for different occasions? What ways are there to stop all of the mixed feelings about the person surfacing when in this place? It is a beautiful place in general and is a very popular place for people to visit and live in. It is a part of the country that I want to visit again and it is a part of the country that I could possibly see myself living in, but then this association gets in the way. How can I get past this?

Nat’s Response

The short and simple answer is to keep going there, and make new memories. If you avoid the place or you keep reminiscing about it and always in the context of him, you strengthen the association. It’s not that you will obliterate him from there, but you will make new associations with the place over time. 
He doesn’t own the place, especially as you both just went there once. 
I don’t know that you can eradicate the funny feelings altogether. It’s better to acknowledge their presence and talk you through them without latching onto them with a story. 
So, for example, I used to work in a denim shop in Dun Laoghaire shopping centre in the 90s. I was bullied and sexually and racially harassed by my manager. Even though I left, and even though he was sacked a few weeks later, I wouldn’t walk by the shop for an extremely long time. Then one day, about three years ago (probably twenty years later), I was back home in Dublin and in that centre. I decided for the first time since I left that job to walk past that shop. Even though it doesn’t exist there any more and it was like a frickin ghost town in that part of the centre, I actually felt gripped by anxious feelings and had to take deep breaths as I walked through there. I talked myself through it, reassured me, and reminded me that I did the right thing in telling him to go and eff himself. The feelings subsided. 
Around Oxford Circus is littered with places that remind me of the guy with a girlfriend. I walk through the side alley where we used to argue and then make up. Now I laugh. 
Things change. The places where even if you went once, they stop having that strong meaning if you don’t feed it. 
Associations are habits. 
If you get up each morning and think about your ex after you open your eyes, then as you go for a wee, have a shower, etc, do that enough times, and you will associate waking up and getting ready with your ex. It isn’t because you care a great deal about him; you’ve paired the habit of ruminating about him with your morning routine, and now those thoughts happen automatically. 95% of the thoughts you had today are the ones you had yesterday, are the ones you had last week, last month, and possibly even running back to several months to a year. 
You have another friend from there. If you think about your ex, say ‘And [friend] lives up in that part of the world too, along with goodness knows how many other people’.
Get a guide about it or read up on other parts of the same area so that you know more about it than that visit. 
When you go there, take a moment to bid him farewell. Each time you think of him, smile and refocus on the time. 
But given that you’re not at the place yet, I think you have to be careful of using thoughts of visiting this place as a distraction from your hurt and anger, or from other areas of your life. What is thinking about this trip a distraction from?
I’ve also given you access to The Anxiety Sessions 
Confidence in my own power

I found differentiating my baggage from someone else’s very useful. Quite why I’ve not automatically done that to date seems nuts! However, I tend to blame myself for everything & that of course ties in with putting men on a pedestal. I’m wondering if I see them as they really are or just what I want them to be – not a very authentic connection if so.

My question was around personal power. The exercise re What are you Carrying brought out the I’m angry & resentful at life for not giving me what I need. I have previously recognised that I feel there’s a secret re love that I somehow wasn’t told! Obviously this isn’t a very good mindset as it takes away my agency.
Also, I feel annoyed when my efforts don’t pay off ie I’ve done X, I’ve done Y (internet dating, courses etc) and my efforts haven’t paid off. How do I manage my expectations?
Many thanks for your insights

Nat’s Response

What you’re feeling isn’t unusual. If you weren’t feeling it about dating, you might, for instance, like me, sometimes feel that way about work.

I think that many of us have been raised to believe that we’re in a meritocracy environment where what happens reflects our effort and our worth. If that were the case, the poor wouldn’t be poor, and some of the rich wouldn’t be rich.

Blaming yourself for everything is just another manifestation of the ‘My efforts determine everything that happens to me, so if I haven’t got what I want, it’s because I did try hard enough but nothing is ever enough, therefore, I am not enough’. Blame puts others on a pedestal because you don’t actually take responsibility; you focus on finding fault and end up blaming you for other people’s stuff.

I think that sometimes, quite honestly, it can feel like there is a special line that some of us are not aware of. Other people’s lives can also appear pretty amazing. But then someone out there is envying who you are and what you have. And there isn’t a special line.

You have no doubt tried, but if your pattern is to blame you, then you have engaged in try-ing and efforting, which is very different. These mean being and doing things as effort, but feeling that you have to do them a certain way or try that much harder because of underlying feelings of low self-worth and trying to protect you from having to take the blame in future. This is something I talk about here and here. That type of effort means that you’re likely to gravitate to people and situations that validate the idea that you are indeed unworthy. You’re likely to be with people where you overcompensate and overfunction, and you’re also likely to be involved in situations that are about struggling because you’re programmed to believe that everything is going to be super hard and so by extension if it’s not hard, you’re probably not invested or interested.

So, you manage your expectations by changing the why. If you do things for the wrong reasons or based on the idea that it will regenerate Z outcome and Y behaviour from others, you will not be authentic and you will wind up with undesirable results. You will also get angry. Start getting honest about your why. Get honest about your intentions. The person who dates because they are genuinely open to meeting someone but they also understand the process and so realise that part of the early stages is having to walk away or realise that someone isn’t a fit, doesn’t take it personally. Someone who sees internet dating as an escape, who thinks that a stranger is going to reward them for their efforts, who maybe looks for things in strangers that they need to be and do for themselves, will set themselves up for a fall and feel wounded by having to walk away or discovering that the person is different to how they imagined.

So manage your expectations by being responsible: being honest about your why and going into things with conscious intentions. That way, you don’t have to deceive yourself afterwards (or during something) with blame.

How do I move past the sting of rejection?

I am taking my recent breakup as a personal failure and the sting of the rejection has been affecting me. I can’t eat and I can’t sleep. Since we are still living together (until the end of June, I’ve found a place!), he has been very short with me lately, but only after weeks of pretending to be together again, managing down my expectations, and reaping the benefits of a boyfriend without the commitment. I had to tell him to stop giving me false hope and respect my boundaries. And now that he is respecting them, I feel like I’m getting rejected every.single.moment. I don’t understand why I care so much about being rejected by a man I know isn’t any good for me. I spent a few days at my parent’s house and being away from him felt like a relief. I get so anxious and insecure around him. It was like that during our relationship too. He feels like an addiction. I never felt like this over a man before, not even my ex-husband. Maybe it’s compounded hurt from a failed EU marriage immediately into a failed relationship with an EUM that I hopelessly tried to rebuild a future with.

Nat’s Response

The reason why you feel this way is because instead of recognising that the problems you’re experiencing in the relationship are a rejection of being emotionally available, of being in a mutually fulfilling loving and healthy relationship, you see it as something about you.

This relationship is toxic. It’s destabilised you even before the breakup. Being around this person has made you a shadow of your former self and this man brings up such anxiety and distress that you can’t eat or sleep. Thank goodness you’re moving out soon and you have the option of spending time at your parents, because this can’t go on.

It’s not that you have actually been rejected in the way you think.

The ‘problem’ here is that you are wounded by having had boundaries.

Up until the point before you spoke up and told him to stop messing with your head, you were able to live in some level of fantasy about him. But you (and rightly so), had a limit. Seeing this person now pretending that you were together, managing down your expectations and basically reaping the fringe benefits without being in a relationship made you realise that the fantasy couldn’t continue.

So, you told him to stop giving you false hope, and when he responded by being short with you instead of promising to give you what you want; when it became clear that all of the things that you’d suppressed and repressed about him in the relationship could no longer be denied and you saw how mean-spirited and using he could be, it wounded you beyond measure. It’s like having gone along with the pretence that the emperor has clothes on when in fact, he is naked. And now you’re admitting that this person has been a source of torment for you, and you feel trapped with this person but also hurt that everything you’ve tried to be and do in this relationship, including ignoring yourself, hasn’t led to what you hoped it would.

This man represented a fantasy about an unmet need from the past. If you’d been able to make him change, it would have righted the wrongs of the past. In having to admit that he fantasy isn’t going to come true, it’s activated a lot of pain from the past, plus there’s everything you’ve held back in the relationship.

All old losses are coming up, especially anything you did not resolve or grieve.

I suspect that this man has messed around with your head and hijacked your reality, and that’s why you feel so thrown off. You also seem to associate saying no with being rejected. You did the right thing by drawing your line.

Work out what this man represents. What does this loss represent for you? Who and what is he similar to? Where else have you felt similar? What were you trying to get or avoid with him?

Spend as much time as you can at your parents in the meantime.

How to stop how to stop selling myself short in jobs/relationships?

I was wondering if you could give me some further advice on how to stop hiding/playing myself down in jobs/relationships that are not reflecting my true talent, intelligence, purpose? As well as some advice on how I should access my true talent, intelligence and purpose when I feel so limited and creatively blocked? And practical tips on how to handle unfriendly/hostile coworkers until I’m able to raise my self-esteem enough (as well as find the right opportunities) to extricate myself from this situation. Again, thank you, I really appreciate your support.

Nat’s Response

There isn’t a giant step or magic bullet for this. It’s small stuff every day and getting clear about who you are, how you want to feel and basically your values. If where you work or who you’re spending time with matches your values, crack on. If they don’t, you have unarguable information telling you what choices you need to make.

For example, if you value working somewhere that values employees, invests in your growth, manages staff, promotes diversity, inclusion and bias awareness, and then you’re working somewhere that doesn’t do, you know to leave the job and what to look for.

If you’re someone who doesn’t like people who are indirect and passive-aggressive, it means that you are direct and assertive even when it’s uncomfortable. It means noticing what you dislike in others and recognising what that’s telling you about you. Sometimes it’s that you’re guilty of the same thing, and sometimes it’s that you dislike them because they’re doing the thing you won’t do or they’re highlighting what you’re not doing.

Example: Some people dislike people they call loud or aggressive. I get that. But they’re intense dislike of them often highlights where they are too quiet and passive, and secretly envying the person for being assertive where they won’t.

There’s a book, The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks — if you’re looking at ways to explore your potential further. Playing Big by Tara Mohr is also good. Pivot by Jenny Blake is an excellent book for anyone who is considering a career pivot and underplaying themselves. These are also great for exploring talent, intelligence and purpose.

Do the circle of trust exercise and then see how it shows up in your life each day, and then update as you go.

Accessing “true talent, intelligence and purpose” are not a one and done. It’s ongoing and at varying levels depending on your life. You don’t need to access your intelligence. It’s already there. You’re using it. You’re playing yourself down, but it’s not like you’re spending your days pretending that you’re dumb.

Get two months of Skillshare membership for free when you sign up and have a go at their classes.

What did you want to be when you were growing up? What were you interested in before someone else told you to be interested in something else? What were your hobbies? All of these things give you clues about how to open up and explore your talent, etc. They also provide clues about classes, books or things that you can do.

And as for co-workers (I’ll have to be brief as you’ve put several question in what is a ten-minute email): you don’t need to ‘handle’ your coworkers. It’s none of your business why they have a problem. If they don’t like you, they don’t like you. Work is not about being friends with people; that’s a bonus. They do need to be professional, but some struggle with that. What you have to be careful of is projection: thinking that someone is in a mood or whatever. That’s none of your business. A lot of issues occur in work because of people assuming and deciding that someone has an issue with them because of a look on their face or them being unfriendly. These same people are embarrassed when they discover that the person wasn’t giving them a look or that they were quiet that day because their father died, they’d had a cancer diagnosis or another colleague had been awful to them. Unless they’ve come to you and said that they don’t like you or are literally doing something to you, mind your business (unless there’s something to report about what they’re doing to someone else). If you’re not reporting it, you either let it go or leave. If you’re not speaking to them about the issue, you either let it go or leave. Listen to the what’s the baggage behind it part of this episode. Work out what’s yours, work out what’s theirs.  I also recommend The Drama Sessions.

How to forgive myself, stop comparing and get well again

I am much better, finally managed to go zero contact with Mr. Ambiguous for more than a month! Staying strong!

There are some things which are still holding me back, though. For example, how can I keep myself from ruminating in the past and blaming myself for what I feel has gone wrong?

I realised that I took on problems that were not really my own, e.g. my ex’s problems or my parent’s problems. I analyse way too much etc. This continued mental state of anxiety has had an impact on my body, I lost a lot of hair!

And how can I stop comparing myself to other people? For example, some of the people I studied with seem to be much further in their careers, also some of my friends are already married and have kids … and I basically moved back to my parents’ home after breaking up with my ex, so I have no boyfriend, not even the prospect of one and still trying to finish my degree, struggling to find focus and sit down to do the work. All of this leaves me feeling less than …o I know if I’m making decisions out of fear?

Nat’s Response

Congratulations on making the leap and cutting off contact with Mr Ambiguous. It means that you are no longer ambiguous about your position on this or on what you need or want.

Get to know your rumination: When does it happen? What is it about? What specific criticisms, worries and doubts are there?

I’ve attached a workbook that looks specifically at NC doubts as well as a day tracker sheet that helps you to gather intel on contributing factors to the ruminating.

But also consider: What is ruminating about the past and blaming you or worrying a substitute for?

Worry is like goldfish: it doesn’t know when it’s full and will eat whatever you feed it. Pay attention to signs that the thoughts that you’re feeding you are changing your emotional state and even your physiology (like when you start breathing funny, or your chest gets tight, tummy fluttering, etc).

The How To Self-Soothe Guide in the foundational resources can also help you to consider ways that positively soothe you and ways that don’t. Clue: worrying and ruminating is a form of self-soothing. Figure out what it is that you’re trying to soothe and identify a different way. It’s also about noticing the thoughts.

Case in point: My husband went out about an hour ago. I didn’t hear him say where he was going. Because he mentioned something about the dog walker, I thought he was going to pick up cash for him. After forty minutes passed, it occurred to me that he’d been gone a long time. I tried him and his phone went to voicemail. On and off for a few minutes, I was like I hope he hasn’t been in an accident, and my mind got busy with those thoughts. But I noticed them and had a conversation with myself.

Start having conversations with you so that you get out of your head.

As for the comparison, that’s just another distraction activity that’s yes, yet again, about unhealthy self-soothing. Worry and anxiety are a pastime for some of us: they are what we use to fill spare time the way some people knit or sew.

Stay in your lane. You’re trying to run everyone else’s race. I learned this from when I ran the marathon. When you try to run like others and start comparing you, your running goes to shit. You have to run your own race.

I did two podcasts about comparison: part one and part two

How do I know if I'm contemplating getting back with my ex out of fear?

Lockdown is making my head spin tbh. All the stuff I thought I have dealt with is coming back now I have so much time to think. My ex is back in the picture and wants to try again, he’s off drugs for more than a year and is generally doing well and has been reliable and relatively consistent in his actions. We spent a lot of time together before isolation and had sex couple of times but I was not able to fully let go and kept thinking that I’m doing something wrong. Also, deep down I feel resentful and think I want to punish him for hurting me in the past. On one hand, I still have feelings for him but I’m scared I’ll get hurt again and don’t know if I will be able to fully trust him. On the other hand, and I know it’s terrible and I feel embarrassed for writing this, I’m 38 now and what if he’s my last chance for having kids? Maybe we could be happy? How do I know if I’m making decisions out of fear?

Nat’s Response

Lovely to hear from you, albeit under tricky circumstances.

All of the thing you’ve said point to this being very much for the wrong reasons:

You’re trying to relive the fantasy of benefitting from his drug recovery as you always felt uncomfortable with the idea that someone else would benefit from it.

It did not feel good to sleep with him. It didn’t feel right to you.

You feel resentful. This is a major no-no and a sign that you’re doing things for the wrong reason — people-pleasing, guilt. It’s great that he’s been sober for a year, but that doesn’t mean that he’s entitled to another go-round with you. In fact, him trying to restart things with you even though there are clear signs from you that this isn’t a go, indicates that he may be trying to avoid going forward on his own and is instead trying to go the easy route and ‘go back’.

You want to punish him for hurting you. Again, this is anger. Resentment is as well.

You don’t trust him, and you’re scared you will get hurt again. These aren’t terrible things given what you went through with him, but coupled with everything else, this is a recipe for pain.

He is ’there’ and you’re thinking that you might as well have a baby as he could be the last chance saloon. Sure, if you let him go and stopped going back and forth with him, you could meet someone else. Plenty of people do. I know plenty of them.

Look, if you want to have a baby and you’re okay co-parenting with him after you go your separate ways or when there’s a possibility of him still having drug problems, crack on. Obviously you need to ensure that he’s OK with having a baby with you in this way.

But don’t feel as you do and then think it’s a good idea to see him as a means to an end because that’s not who you are and it will only lead to pain.

You always know you’re making a decision based on fear when you say that you’re afraid, when you say that you’re still angry, and you’re not going into this from a place of desire. Instead, you’re going into this from a place of not wanting to be on your own or start fresh. Not wanting someone else to ‘get him’.

If you get back together with him, you will have to accept him as he is and forgive him for the past. And if you can’t do that, then you have your answer.

I know it’s hard, but neither of you owe the other your growth or a relationship. If you can’t love him and love yourself at the same time, you also have your answer.

How do I deal with the restraining order?

I think you may know some of my story on FB. My now-ex moved me to NJ and then I find out he’s been rotating women, and married one while still with me. For the night I went to his house and caught him, he has now served me with a restraining order for scaring his wife and kids. I didn’t do any of these things. How do I deal with this?

Nat’s Response

This is one of those situations where I really feel for you. If I could stick my hand through the sky and reach into the past and make you dodge that situation, I would do.

The thing about going to someone’s home when they’re Class A Liar is that they will twist what you’ve done to fit their narrative so that they can keep up with the lie. Wife and kids? If he has a wife and kids, which I’m assuming you didn’t know about, he’s served you a restraining order to cover up the fact that he was having an affair. If he doesn’t have a wife and kids but has managed to get a restraining order, you’ve either got a very lazy officer, he knows someone there, or it’s made up. It may be a temporary one subject to further information.

Typically, in order for someone to serve you with a restraining order, they need to provide information to corroborate that. If you can provide information to the police which shows that he’s made a malicious and fraudulent claim, then the police are under obligation to correct the order. Or, if it’s got to the stage where the court has to review, then it gets passed to them.

To be honest though, if anyone should have been receiving a restraining order, it’s him.

You need to seek legal advice. You might be able to have a conversation with someone in law enforcement who can explain how this works. They can also tell you what proof they have. Keep in mind that if he has something like a Ring Doorbell and you are on camera, that can be sometimes taken as trespassing. But for them to serve you, they would need to know that it’s you in the first place. You can’t just randomly serve restraining orders. So what has he provided to the police? That’s what you need to find out.

I would also screen grab any messages, your call log, everything.

Why say that he 'gets' abandonment, and then blank me?

I am currently listening to the masterclass on you’re not going crazy. They’re unavailable. And you speak about fear of abandonment as adults and how we’re the only person who can abandon ourselves. I went through a breakup and my ex told me at the end, “I don’t want you to feel abandoned so you can call me anytime.” I was very offended at that comment. When I did try to call him post break up he ignored me. When a guy implies abandonment why would he say that and does it mean anything? Honestly, after I took time to process it I realized over the course of the relationship he left halfway through. I allowed myself to feel abandoned.

Nat’s Response

I must say, I winced at that comment he made, and given that he said that and then you didn’t see hide nor hair of him, that’s pretty off.

I don’t know exactly why he made that comment.

It could be that it’s a stock comment he makes at the end of relationships because he seems himself as the rescuer of damsels in distress who will wither away without him.

It’s extremely possible that it’s just a thing he says at the end of relationships without actually expecting you to act on it. Some people would get so offended by that comment that they’d refuse to call on point of principle. It could be that based on, rightly or wrongly, how he perceived you, he thought that you have ’no one to go to’. Or, it’s possible that based on something you told him about your childhood or previous relationships, he took it to mean that you would take a breakup ‘badly’ and feel ‘abandoned’. He could be someone who tends to be in relationships with women he thinks have daddy issues or where he plays out his own issues and plays ‘daddy’ regardless of whether it’s called for or not.

Now, the thing is, you say you were offended, but you still called him up.

If you look at the deeper meaning behind this, something about this relationship is supposed to be a lesson that brings you face to face with the knowledge that you don’t always have your own back, and that you have been willing to abandon you for a relationship.

You’ve called him, and he’s ignored you — so now what? You have to rely on yourself. You have to see that he’s not the right person for you, and that you’ve sold you short.

Even though he stated abandonment and so implied that you had experienced it, he doesn’t have the right to parent you, and you don’t have the right to expect him to take care of you after your relationship ended even though he said what he said. Him ignoring you makes clear that he wasn’t sincere and that expecting someone to be there for you after the relationship when they weren’t there during it is a leap too far.

He made you a promise he could not keep. It was also patronising. He’s not your therapist or your father. You’re not this fragile thing that can’t manage without him. But hopefully, you realise that now.

 

How can I manage my anxiety around mistakes as it happens?

During lockdown I had months in which – I realize – my anxiety was “turned down” most of the time, (meaning: things that give me anxiety where blocked out), but as I kept working I would feel anxiety coming back (even physically) only when I made mistakes. It is mainly happening in my job. My first impulse is to hide the mistake, so not to take responsibility, because I feel terribly ashamed, so I have to put a great effort into picking up the phone or sending the email and then I feel ashamed for the rest of the day and anxiety stays with me. While I feel that after all I am human and it’s too much asking of me not to make any mistakes ever, nevertheless anxiety kicks in. I think it means I still cling to external validation to feel I am good enough. Which is different from saying “I did my best but mistakes happen.” Sometimes my response changes (Ie I realize I couldn’t do better and so on) other times (most of) the anxiety is big, is there a way to manage it better? I don’t trust myself to react calmly if something happens. What do I do?

Nat’s Response

I think you’re expecting a lot of you to not experience even a little anxiety when you make mistakes. Sure, there are some people who let it roll of them, but most of us don’t. It depends on past experiences and how we handle ourselves presently and going forward.

The aim is not to eradicate anxiety entirely, after all, all it’s doing is offering a clue into your inner state and allowing you the opportunity to calm you down through self-talk and how you conduct yourself. It is too much to expect that after years of making mistakes and criticising you for it, panicking, or, yes, even being shamed by others, that your nervous system and subconscious would automatically know to stop.

It is up to you to do the conscious work of pointing out to you that you’re a grown-up woman who isn’t about to get into trouble with her parents or teachers. It’s up to you to put context to a mistake, after all, on a scale of 0-5 or even 0-10, not all mistake are a 5 or 10. It’s down to you to point that out to you and behave accordingly. It’s up to you to remind you that you’ve taken action to remedy the mistake. And it’s up to you, not to never make a mistake again but to be willing to admit that you have, even to yourself, and learn from it.

The problem isn’t in making mistakes; the problem is in acting like you shouldn’t or denying your mistakes.

Your anxiety is a trained reaction. I have the same anxiety when I make mistakes. Not all mistakes, but ones where I think someone else is affected or they might think something of me, cause me to make a drama out of it until I realise that I’m making a drama out of it.

The way to manage making mistakes is to allow you to continue making mistakes and to continue responding as soon as you can to the anxiety. Note progress. Don’t feed the anxiety. Do notice if it took you less time to notice your anxiety or the effect of your reassurance. Don’t make a big deal out of the fact you felt anxious. So what if you did? It’s just a feeling? Telling you that it’s a bad thing that you felt anxious reinforces that feeling. You also find that it gets better over time, but that it also increases in new situations For example, when you achieve a new level of success. But then it subsides again if you keep calmly talking you through it instead of judging the feeling.

Also, watch/listen to The Anxiety Sessions 

I can't channel my rage/grief/frustration productively

I’m a writer and creative person. And yet I haven’t been able to create anything in the last 2 months aside from a few short journal entries. I can’t even read or watch Netflix because I can’t concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes. The only thing that seems to give my life meaning is endlessly scrolling through social media for news about the pandemic and sharing it/arguing with people about it, which I know isn’t healthy, but I do it literally all day. I feel I’ve channelled my rage/grief/ frustration into that, but I feel so disappointed that I haven’t been able to direct it into something creative or “meaningful.” Even worse, the few times I have been out, being forced to social distance seems to fill me with the kind of rage that scares me. I can identify the feeling but I’m afraid I may not be able to control it so I leave the situation; I find myself sometimes avoiding people now in public because I don’t trust myself to react calmly if something happens. What do I do?

Nat’s Response

Jaysus, I think you’re being very hard on you.

Look, I know some people took up an instrument, discovered a new vocation, baked every day, or discovered that the pandemic was the elixir of their creativity, but a hell of a lot of people haven’t. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

I think a lot of people think that grief and pain is a magical source of creativity. Some even think that they have to be miserable to create their best work. But, while you can create some great works from that place, it can also be an incredible block.

If you’re experiencing grief and rage and that hasn’t been acknowledged, never mind processed, you will develop apathy for your creative work. It’s also a lot of pressure. You say you haven’t created anything in the two months, but who’s to say that what you’re experiencing now isn’t contributing to a creative work that you birth in the next few months to a year. Why does it have to be in the last two months? This isn’t the pandemic olympics.

I have a list of things I thought I’d do with my work because of lockdown. They haven’t happened. The first several weeks I felt paralysed and anxious. I watched as people announced new products, classes, freebies and goodness knows what else. I froze. And initially, I did give me a hard time about it. But I was also exhausted and couldn’t seem to wake up before 8 even if I went to bed super early the night before. Before that, I was sleep-deprived. I read the news several times a day and surfed social. And then I noticed how awful I felt. I haven’t been on BBC News for 4, maybe 5 weeks. I’ve stopped reading about coronavirus. I deleted Twitter around the same time. I feel 1000% better.

For some reason, the pandemic has triggered a need for you to be right. It also seems to have pushed buttons due to, like so many of us, feeling out of control. It might be why you’re trying to control other people’s narratives. Maybe you could go back and look through what you’ve posted. It sounds like there’s something in there that’s material for something. Or, it might provide clues to something you do want to talk about.

You say you’ve been “forced” to social distance. Is it possible that seeing things in those terms has triggered something in you almost like an angry teenager who’s raging at her parents for grounding her or trying to have some form of discipline? What is this situation reminding you of that you haven’t acknowledged that it’s reminding you of?

What happens when, given the situation we’re in, you say that you’re choosing to stay home and social distance for your own wellbeing? What happens when you see it as a temporary situation that’s abnormal and annoying, but not a forever thing? What happens when you decide to take back control by calling an end to the social, after all, there’s nothing new to say. There’s nothing new to look at.

Try the 8-minute unload when you feel particularly angry, or try writing to coronavirus (or whatever you’re angry at). In fact, I would recommend when you get up, that instead of going online, you empty out for a good 10-15 minuets on paper even if it’s pure doo-doo.

But, also, if you know what the feeling is, look for the baggage behind it. Where else have you felt similarly? Who else have you felt you felt this way around or about what? Now you have the real source and can work through that. It’s not that the pandemic isn’t bloody upsetting, but you wouldn’t be responding in the way that you are if it didn’t remind you of something else from the past. Find the ‘something else’.

Tips for giving up control?

So don’t ask me why, but I finally recognized that needing to be in control is literally ruining my life in all areas, and I feel like what I’m experiencing is helping me be on the way to letting go. I finally met the guy from California, and it went very well. Things are coming up for me such as anger and control, and I’m starting to recognize it when I want to get aggressive and he does quite well with knowing how to diffuse it, which is nice. I feel like every time I say I will or won’t do something, I lie to myself and do exactly what I say I won’t do, it feels like an internal battle like I can’t even trust me. I can’t tell exactly what is happening, can you?

So now that I met Mr California, I communicated Hey, I know before I was trying to control when we communicated every 2-3 days but I’m dropping all of that control, I know how I can be. I’m learning to go with the flow and communicate my words more instead of going off and being so rigid.

Nat’s Response

Wellllllllll, you’re not in control. You never were and you never will be. All of the things you’re doing are a false economy left over from childhood where you learned to control as a means of making you feel safe and secure in what felt like a chaotic environment at times.

First, you need to become familiar with your controlling habits. Literally keep a running list. Be curious and notice it coming up.

You need to note things you tend to say, think or do. But you also need to make a note of which people or situations are most likely to bring it up. Don’t be generalist. It’s better to say ‘When I start feeling like I might like a guy’ instead of ‘dating’. It’s better to say ‘When my brother and father start getting loud and I become enraged at why they’re behaving this way and say XYZ to my mother/brother/father’ than ‘fighting’.

See this guide about logging cues and triggers so that you start to recognise what sets you off.

Next, while you’re at it, you need to acknowledge signs of passive-aggressive behaviour.

Again, make a list and identify alternative responses so that you can intervene.

You are someone who hates when people go back on their word, so have an honest conversation about what agreement you want to make with you. If you tell you that you’re not going to do something that deep down, you know you’re going to do because you also know that afterwards, you’ll give yourself a hard time for and say that you feel guilty, only to do it again because you don’t want to change it, you will do it again. But if you’re serious in your commitment to being more available for the relationship you want, set the agreement. See it as you letting universe know you’re not effing about. You don’t have to be perfect about it, but you do need to be committed to it.

And, incidentally, you’re doing what you say you won’t do because you’re either sabotaging you or because you’re not ready to date yet and are looking for an out.

But I’m glad that you called it and spoke up. Progress!

How to handle partner not taking care of himself

I have been married for 17 years and I really don’t know what to do at this point. My husband is a great guy, and we are best friends. He is a recovering alcoholic and is not interested in sex very much. We have had penetrative sex maybe 5 times in 10 years. He says he loves me but there is no physical chemistry between us anymore. We are able to hug, but I don’t want to kiss him or anything else after all we’ve been through sexually.

In spring 2019, a much younger man at work was flirting with me. During that time, my husband had a drinking relapse (I was really upset about the relapse) and I decided to flirt back – not the best choice, but someone was giving me attention that I wasn’t getting at home. We began an emotional/texting affair. I felt horrible about it and began talking to a sex therapist to process all the things going on with me that were leading me to cheat in this way. Nothing ever happened physically, and I ended it this summer.

My husband and I continued to work with the therapist, but it wasn’t working, and the chemistry was nil. As a last-ditch experiment, we decided to open up our marriage – HUGE MISTAKE! I went on some apps and immediately began meeting people. I got involved with a much younger man who had just broken up with his girlfriend. We started a sexual relationship. My husband was incredibly hurt by the fact I was dating other men (even though he agreed to it initially with the therapist and me), and we decided to separate. I moved out and continued seeing the man. He turned out to be a user and didn’t care about me at all in even a basic way. It was devastating and awful to be used in this way and very confusing. I moved home after 4 weeks and ended it with the guy. Honestly, that was one of the lowest points in my whole life – being used for sex and moving back home.

Now I’m back home, and we are working on things. Recently he has admitted to having erectile dysfunction and little to no sex drive. He is under a doctor’s care and is beginning a treatment of ED medicines. However, his hormone levels were normal – so this is partly physiological, possibly from his alcoholism.

My husband has been my world since the year 2000 and the idea of leaving and starting over is devastating to me. I can’t imagine someone else caring about me the way he does, but I also crave physical intimacy and sex.

I don’t know what to do and I’m feeling so low and down about this. We don’t have kids.

 

Nat’s Response

This sounds like a very painful situation where each of you are trying to rebirth individually and separately. Neither of you are the same people who started this relationship — and that’s okay. But for your relationship to begin to work, you have to re-establish your relationship on shared core values that acknowledge who you are, who you want to be and where you want to go. You are clearly attached to each other and love and care for each other, but it remains unclear as to whether you are together because it’s so familiar and comfy even if it’s painful, or whether you both want to be there because you want to grow the relationship. Are you there because you want to be or because you’re afraid to be alone and start over? It’s two very different things, and it may take time to see it. Similarly, for him, is he staying in the relationship and clinging to you because he’s totally committed to working through his issues and reconnecting with you on all levels, or is he afraid of having to be on his own and figure out his stuff? With codependency involving addiction, he has to be careful of putting out one fire and lighting up another.

Even though he’s a recovering alcoholic, you are also a full-bodied, vibrant woman with needs. Of course, you acknowledge that he’s got things to work through and that certain things are not going to be a high priority right now (the sex), but at the same time, there’s only so long that can go on for. This is why you end up being drawn to the flirt or entertaining an open relationship. You want to feel and experience something you’re not in your relationship, but experience is also telling you that what you’ve done so far isn’t the answer.

You were both drawn to each other for various reasons, and over the course of your marriage, whether you’re aware of it or not, you’ve each fallen into roles. I suspect that you’ve had one that’s involved a level of caretaking, rescuing, sacrificing your needs, and that he’s had a role that’s allowed him to have less responsibility in the relationship. He’s not coming from a bad place. It’s very possible that he was over-responsible earlier in life and due to his own pleaser ways, learned to anaesthetise himself against the needs, expectations, desires, feelings and opinions he was swallowing down with alcohol.

He has unmet needs from the past, as do you. Neither of you are as fulfilled in your marriage as you might want to be, and that will vary for each of you. As you each become increasingly aware of the existence of your needs, desires, expectations, feelings and opinions, you each have to figure out how to be you and co-exist in the relationship.

As much as your husband needs to figure out who he is and what he needs (alcohol has been a way of avoiding his needs and intimacy), you also need to figure out who you are and your needs. You need to do that irrespective of what recovery your husband attains. There may be a fear that the more you know and understand your own patterns, the more you risk losing him, but if you can’t grow, you will be stifled by this relationship.

At the end of the day, his growth, like his recovery, contributes to the growth of the relationship, and vice versa. The truth is, it’s possible that through this, you will figure out how to meet your needs via your choices including how you interact with him in the relationship, or it will become clear over time whether you are holding each other back. You’ve both been gifted to each other for your journeys. Nothing has been wasted. But you each need to grow.

You do need physical intimacy and sex, but your experiences last year tell me that it’s something else that you need that you thought sex and attention would provide, or that you do, of course, need these things, but there’s something else of a higher priority.

If you haven’t already, read the emotional needs guide. Do the What’s Driving You? Exercise and then read the follow-up guide (the foundational resources). And then also do the limiting beliefs exercise with “I can’t imagine someone else caring about me the way he does”. 

Where is the line between seeing red flags and opting out and trusting people and giving them the benefit of the doubt?

Looking back at my past relationships, there have been a number of times where early on I saw red flags such as feeling someone wasn’t over an ex, someone had trust and insecurity issues, etc. I spoke with those people openly and honestly up front about my hesitation about them not being over an ex etc. They then swear up and down that they’re over them, say all sorts of horrible things about their ex and that relationship, how things are so much different with me, they’ve never felt this way, etc. I then believed them and gave them the benefit of the doubt, got emotionally and physically involved, and as you can probably predict, I end up getting burned and hurt by exactly what my concerns were from the beginning.

I’m not near being ready to date again, and have a lot of work to do before I get to that point, but where is the line between seeing a red flag, jumping ship and protecting yourself and trusting someone, believing them, and giving them the benefit of the doubt? I have tried not to be judgmental, want to trust people, etc and it has come back to bite me every time. I now know to make sure their actions match their words, but in the past issues are discussed, they put on a show, things progress, then they fall apart, things are talked about again, and repeat cycle. When you see that is that your proof, do you bail then? Because at that point I’m emotionally and physically invested and want to fix things and looking back in hindsight I’m not able to fix that and it’s not my problem to fix…but I’m the one that ends up hurt.

 

Nat’s Response

So, the line between seeing red flags/opting out and trusting people/giving the benefit of the doubt is not denying, rationalising, minimising, excusing or assuming.

Here’s where things are going wrong:

Giving people the benefit of the doubt is an overvalued thing, because we already give people the benefit of the doubt by extension of trust. When we actively go out of our way to give people the benefit of the doubt, we are literally giving them the benefit of doubting ourselves.

I know something about you or this situation, but I’m going to go against reality, my better judgement and myself to give you a chance to tell me and show me that what I see is wrong. Um, no. No, no, no, no, no.

You saying that you give them the benefit of the doubt is like saying I go out of my way to trust people over myself and then get surprised and hurt when I feel the pain of ignoring myself.

Here’s the craic:

Trust is an expression of how much trust you have in yourself. You only trust people to the degree that you trust yourself because you can’t give what you don’t have. When you have a reasonable level of self-esteem and so you have self-awareness, self-knowledge and boundaries, you do the equivalent of giving people 70% trust. From there, you’re either going to increase or decrease trust, or, yes, possibly not move off that needle.

Trust is a gamble. You extend trust because you need it to avail of benefits and resources that you couldn’t otherwise. You are gambling that the person values the benefit of building a long-term benefit over screwing you over in the short term.

People and relationships unfold. Pretending that you know someone you barely know is dodgy. As is picking up vital information, dismissing it, and then placing your bet anyway. It’s like I see that you’re a three-legged donkey, but you’re telling me that you’re going to be a four-legged one, and so even though I see the three legs, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and expect you to become four-legged.

And you keeping giving the benefit of the doubt because they butter you up. It’s downright flattering when someone tells you a big-ass story where someone is the villain and you are so much better. They’ve never felt that way with you. OK, but they’re still lit up in red flags!

The things that you pick up on and ignore or play down in the beginning are always the things that come back to haunt you further down the road. And then you kick yourself.

If you see a red flag, it doesn’t matter what they say to you, you saw a red flag. All that they or you trying to rationalise or convince you out of seeing what you saw does is paint a red flag green.

It is not ‘distrusting’ to pick up on red flags; it’s quite the opposite. You’re showing trust in your judgment. You’re not judging them; you’re judging the situation.

And sometimes, the red flag is in what you want to do: if you’re trying to fix a red flag, it’s a sign that something was already wrong with the way you entered into the relationship.

How to heal yourself without falling into the perfectionist & people pleaser trap

I’m a new member and really excited to be here since I’m following you for YEARS. You even answered one of my questions in your Podcast (I think it was nr. 25) and this helped me A LOT in that time.

Recently, I experienced burnout. I’ve been working on myself for years, but a lot has happened in my life and continued to happen. I’m at the point now that I cannot do it alone anymore.  

I’m on leave from work atm and working on myself with psychotherapy and EMDR. There is a lot that I need to work on, especially people pleasing, my self-worth, being a perfectionist and having healthy boundaries.

Because my new and healthy behavior now is mixed with the old patterns, I sometimes don’t really trust myself anymore.

Examples: am I getting back to work because I’m ready or do I feel guilty for taking my time and am I people pleasing? Do I have healthy boundaries with my mom, or am I stonewalling her? Do I really never want to date again, or am I just not trusting my own judgement skills?

How to navigate these waters?

 

Nat’s Response

If you recently experienced burnout, it is a sign that you were and likely are still way over your bandwidth. Because burnout means that you’ve ignored messages from your body and you’ve done the equivalent of running a load of amber and red lights, you need to take longer than you think you need to recover.

So, for argument’s sake, let’s say that you’ve taken a month or two and are thinking that you need to get back to work, I would sit with that feeling rather than act on it because it may well be the same voice that convinced you that working the way you were was the right way to go that’s also telling you to get back to work.

It is great that you have psychotherapy and EMDR (along with tools like this membership), and I really encourage you to go slower than you think you need to. Sometimes what happens is that you start to do the work and experience some changes and the pleaser/perfectionist in you wants to speed things up and get back to things.

If you’ve had any thoughts of guilt about taking your time and being off work, that is a sign that you are not ready to be back. I’m all for conscientiousness, but this is the same place you’ve worked for that accommodated you burning out. They benefited from you not knowing your limits. They’ve already had more than enough of you. Think about everything you did that led to burnout, and you will see that this is more like time in lieu! Again, you’re a conscientious person, but if you go back to work because you feel guilty about being off, you will feed the same pattern of behaviour that led to burnout. You need to stop trying to manage other people’s (or even a company’s) feelings and behaviour with your pleasing and perfectionism. Let people be uncomfortable. It’s a j.o.b. It’s definitely not worth sacrificing your emotional, mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing.

Let me share something with you Dawn: I burned out for a while. It took losing my father and taking time off to realise that I was operating in a way that wasn’t working for me. So I took a lot of time off, including a 10-month break from the podcast. When I first came back to the podcast after dad died, I felt guilty about being off and felt like I ’should’ be back. And I knew it was a mistake soon enough and that’s why I stopped the podcast for a long time. Of course, it took more than that to learn as I went and did a marathon and melted down 6 weeks afterwards. Me and my perfectionist and pleaser ways have been on quite a ride.

You have to slow down. But do you know what? Even if you do go back to work soon, you won’t fit back into doing things the old way and so you will have to figure that out too — and that’s part of it.

If the boundaries you have with your mother are about trying to control her or you’ve shut her off because it seemed less scary than being boundaried, then, yes, you might be stonewalling her. Embrace Healthy Boundaries will help with that.

I recommend that you listen to The Intuition Sessions and The Perfectionism Sessions as your first port of call. And then keep notes on how you’re feeling and decisions you’re making. Be curious rather than looking to be right. It will be easier to notice whether decisions feel loving for you.

Rejection, rage and forgiveness

I’m still on week 2 [of Break The Cycle]! There is so much I’m spending time working on and the exercises are great. Today I want to ask you about forgiveness and rage.

One pattern that I uncovered is the rage I feel after having been broken up with. You’ll recall I have a pattern of staying in relationships too long, even when I don’t like my partner anymore (if I ever did). Then once I’m broken up with, I feel rejected. Rinse. Repeat. This week I recognized a “sub-pattern” in that I feel intense and lasting rage at the rejection. I recognize it’s a normal reaction, but I think mine is more extreme, as even as the other negative feelings subside, the anger lingers for a long, long time.

I’m not surprised considering how angry I am at my parents. My father has passed but I still suffer from his ignoring and rejecting my needs. My mother, as you know, is just plain toxic and continues to be after having dramatically disowned me. When we were still speaking, it was hard for me to contain my frustration over her same toxic behaviors and I felt like an enraged child again when we were together.

I’ve thought a lot about, and attempted, forgiveness with my familial and romantic relationships. I don’t mean communicating forgiveness to them, but rather trying to find a healthy path toward letting go of the anger through forgiveness. I’ve read a lot about forgiveness and buddhism, and attended a meditation or two on the subject, but struggled with the concept of being forgiving of everyone. (I could never get past the Hitler test, much less my exes.) I attended the Hoffman Institute, which is all about recognizing the damage caused by our parents, the patterns we adopted as a result and ultimately, how to let go and forgive them by being compassionate toward their own damaging past and subsequent pain. I love the IDEA of looking at Paul, or the married guy, or my long-term ex who cheated on me, and just feeling compassion.

But I am always only able to get rid of the anger by waiting a very long time until it recedes for that person. But it feels like, due to my cycle of unhealthy relationship choices, there is always a new source. So my question is, is there a way to forgive someone who has hurt me by rejecting me? And will this help reduce my rage or is there something else I should be looking at and doing?

Thanks again, Natalie. You’re words are like magic.

 

Nat’s Response

I’m glad you’re enjoying the exercises! Love it!

The thing about anger and forgiveness is that a lot of people struggle with both.

If you’re not in the habit of feeling all of your feelings, anger will be a problem. You will experience rage in the form of imploding or exploding. Or both.

This is because if you don’t consistently feel your feelings, you will unconsciously create situations that give you the opportunity to release off. So, for example, lots of people carry barely concealed anger towards family that the moment things don’t go their way or something kicks off, they tell the other person about themselves or cut the off. But it’s often not about what happened but finally having an opportunity to release some of the anger they’re carrying.

My mum cut me off a few times in the early years of me becoming a parent. Eight months here, a year there. In fact, I just remembered that she did it about four years ago as well. And I didn’t bother chasing her down about it, and truthfully, I would breathe a sigh of relief that I didn’t have to deal with her for a while. But it occurred to me that even though she was out of order and that I had every right to create healthy boundaries, wasn’t I part of the problem if, by the time she decided to kick off, I was happy for her to do so because she’d already done various things to piss me off? So, I cleaned up my side of the street and made clear to her that if she cut me off again, she’d better stay away.

If you don’t consistently acknowledge, recognise, and express your feelings, you will experience rage. When people really let you down, it will take a while to put it out because it’s like you have a bush fire due to lighting up the embers of all of the unprocessed stuff.

Forgiveness is not about going ‘Mum, Dad, I forgive you.’ While your present-age self might agree with that to an extent, I’m pretty sure your five, ten-year-old self does not feel the same way.

Forgiveness is about letting go, and you let go by being more boundaried.

The rage stays when you refuse to have the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual boundaries that communicate to you and life that even though you cannot change the past or who or what the other person is about, you’re letting go of any parts of the story that mean that don’t have healthy boundaries. When you practice healthy boundaries after something has gone down, you cannot be open to it happening again and going down in the same way. But if you tell you a story where you’re like, The whole world is against me. He should have done X and I should have got Y. And I’m a fool. No one will ever love me. No one is to be trusted. It was all my fault why mum and dad did what they did, then you just busted the shit out of your boundaries and threw a load of fat on the fire.

This is something I wrote about here

And the reason why you’re angry is that you’re saying they rejected you. No, they didn’t. Your ex rejected being in a loving relationship, getting help, addressing his issues, being an honest person — and he was doing that long before you came along.

How to recognise our core values and differentiate them from familial system of values?
One particularly important task for me is to recognise and define my (core) values. I followed your advice to highlight those values that ‘resonate’ with me (as opposed to choosing those that ‘look good’ on paper). It appears that whilst I find integrity/empathy/kindness e.g., necessities in my life, I also rely on values that reflect an appearance-oriented mindset such as achievement, success or being acknowledged for one’s contributions.

It does not surprise me since I grew up being compared to other children with regard to appearance and school achievement. I have done a similar task whilst in therapy and back then, I chose a similar set of values. The therapist asked me whether those values that signified a ‘hierarchical worldview’ with achievement, success etc. were my personal values or whether those were family values I chose because I grew up under the influence of my parents’ perspective onto the world. I assume that our values are shaped based on our experiences which include the environment we grew up in. Is there a way to differentiate the two? I assume that, following your advice, even though values can shift in priority, resonance with a value signifies that it is strongly relevant to us personally.

Nat’s Response

Resonance with those values really comes down to how self-aware you are. Did you choose those ones based on preference or programming? There’s a difference.

It’s also about looking at how prioritising those values functions for you. Are they making you happy? Do you feel good about yourself? Are you achieving your aims?

The thing is, your values need to reflect your character as well as where you want to go. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with valuing achievement, success and being valued for one’s contributions, but, for example, prioritising these over your wellbeing or prioritising these without ensuing you are being and doing things that reflect your others values and that allow you to feel purposeful, energised, etc., isn’t achievement, success or being valued for your contributions. There’s also another reason why though and it’s this:

They are really about external sources of esteem. Being and doing things to get noticed or to make others feel good so that you feel good, or being means goal-oriented —focusing on attaining something because you think it’s what will make you happy or it’s what society (or your parents) said make you successful and accomplished.

When you focus on who you are and who you want to feel along the way, achievement, success and being valued for your contributions are a by-product.

When you focus on achievement, success and being valued for your contributions, you become like a bottomless pit. It won’t matter what you actually accomplish or achieve because you will move on to the next thing or be negated if you don’t think that people are noticing and praising you enough. It means that you will sometimes be and do things, not because you want to but because you think it’s what’s expected of you or is most likely to lead to you achieving, succeeding and getting nods. But doing the latter for the sake of it feels hollow.

There is an exercise in the foundational resources called What’s Driving You? I’m pretty sure that if you do this, a combination of your choices will show you that you prioritise status, acknowledgement and recognition above all other needs. Now, the thing is, all humans need a level of status, acknowledgement and recognition, but we never need it more than we need, for example, love, care, trust and respect, to feel purposeful and to yes, be able to take care of ourselves.

Yes, you were taught values growing up, but you’re an adult now. It’s about unlearning any unhelpful and unproductive messages and lessons that you picked up along the way and figuring out what’s true for you. If your parents’ values were to be homophobic, racist, anti-women and to base everything on shame while growing up, it wouldn’t mean that you had to continue with those same values. It’s the same with anything else. It’s not a criticism of your parents if you don’t have exactly the same values as them.

The way to acknowledge whether it’s preference or programming is when you consciously choose to focus on those values, does it feel good? If it doesn’t, then they resonate because you’ve been programmed to think that they’re important. What happens when you consciously choose to do these things in your way? Again, if you feel bad at the thought of figuring out how to do things in your way, even if it’s different, then it’s because it’s not your values.

My subconscious agenda leads to feeling powerless

I think my agenda is to not be seen. I have even been consciously aware of disappearing myself at times particularly during conflict.

I don’t recall feeling that as a child (but don’t remember a lot of my childhood). My mother was busy & angry so I suspect my emotional needs were not met and I learnt to hide them. And I think I decided not to be like her in that way. In my significant relationships (with men I put on a pedestal) I felt that I didn’t have any leverage or that they didn’t like me enough to do what I wanted Eg budget, not go to the pub. The latest fling told me upfront that he didn’t want a relationship which morphed into didn’t want a conventional relationship as he didn’t want anyone relying on him again (to be fair his life did seem extraordinarily busy and despite being separated from his wife for 2 years their lives did still seem quite entwined, possibly unavoidable with 2 teenagers). Anyway, I think if someone says that upfront but then enjoys the fringe benefits of a relationship, I’ve allowed myself to be in a situation where I was powerless again. Presumably, feeling unseen & powerless must be related to self-worth? In general, I think myself worth is good UNTIL I get into relationships!

Nat’s Response
The thing about not being seen is that you keep people at a distance and you think it will keep you safe. But being unseen means that you have to be in the shadows and that you might feel ’safe’, but you don’t feel secure, loved or nurtured. You can’t be an equal partner because you’re always overshadowed.

Not being seen is something you can stumble into when you’ve learned to keep a low profile as a means of trying to manage someone else’s moods. It’s also what you might do when you’ve worked out that your parent can’t meet your needs or that they’re not going to listen to your needs anyway. You learn to hide your needs as a way to ‘help out’ the family in childhood, with it then extending into adulthood. Not being seen also means that you don’t have to be visible in a way that you associate with your mother and her moods. You don’t get angry like her, but you find that you don’t really express too much of anything, lest anyone form an opinion on you or it causes an issue.

Now, in adulthood, there’s a theme of you being with busy people who don’t make time for you. And this plays out a familiar pattern from your childhood. You have an uber-busy mother who gets angry. Now you have uber busy partners who seem to be living their lives elsewhere or claiming that they don’t want a relationship. You then, as soon as you pick up the busy vibe, go into Good Girl Low Maintenance Mode in the hopes that they will eventually notice you. Each time they don’t, each time they won’t compromise, collaborate, anything, it reinforces this idea that you’re not worth spending time with and on.

You felt powerless as a child because, like any child, you didn’t have control over your circumstances. You shut out a lot of what was going on because you shut out your mother’s anger. I empathise as chunks of my childhood memories are patchy and it coincides with where my mother was most verbally, emotionally and physically abusive. In blotting out their anger, you don’t realise that a lot of other aspects of your life are going in there too. If you’re trying not to feel too much and be seen too much and think too much, you will have memory gaps. 

Relationships based on a sense of power are always unhealthy because you end up trying to get it back or feeling as if you’re always losing, or trying to earn the credits so that you can leverage whatever you’ve tolerated. But you don’t have to do your relationships in this way.

No, you can’t get your childhood back, but you can begin to tell yourself a different story about who you are and what you’re worthy of. You keep trying to satisfy unmet needs from the past with these men because you blamed you for why your mother behaved as she did. I don’t know the deal with your mother, but her actions suggest that she was in a great deal of turmoil and struggling with aspects of motherhood. Whatever it is, your younger self didn’t deserve her rage or her neglect, and the powerlessness will ease when you refuse to be with men like this and parent that part of you that still feels wounded by being unmothered.

I have a couple of really old videos on this subject of nurturing yourself that I think will help:

https://vimeo.com/48368204/9b7fa42196
https://vimeo.com/47529879/c12d6ba104

How do I move past the anger when I'm stuck on thinking I can change things?

I’m struggling with moving past the hurt and anger of what’s unresolved with my ex. I can’t get past feeling wronged. Despite recognizing that many of his actions were abusive/narcissistic, I persist in sadness and obsession, especially since he left the door open for friendship and “casual.”

I keep thinking I could be more vulnerable with him and get a different result. He said he had a “gut instinctual feeling that something” wasn’t “right” about me. I want so badly to rationalize that as his inability to see his projections/actions as not conducive to building intimacy. But then I think, what’s wrong with me?

I’m angry that my ex projected assumptions onto me, but also that I didn’t respond. I’m unsure if this was manipulation and the outcome would’ve been the same regardless or if my non-response was passive-aggressive and I should respond so that it isn’t one-sided. I keep going down the rabbit hole.

I’m definitely desensitized to anger. Everything upset my mother as a child. I default to inadequate and depressed in these situations wherein I should be angry. I’ve defended myself reasonably, but I get the whole invalidating “you’re aggressive” response.

Nat’s Response

The problem with being in situations that you know on and off paper, they’re a bad idea, is that you will feel like crap until you accept the truth of the situation even though it’s different to how you want it to be. You will also continue to feel bad if you keep being untruthful with you about what happened and you then paper over your feelings and try to be his friend.
Here’s the thing: He’s definitely pulled some dick moves here, but this is not a ‘robbed’ you kind of situation. You didn’t have a relationship. This was evident by the nature of it, how he behaved, how you felt, and even how well you knew him in actuality. So it not working out how you wanted it to and then remaining mad at him is like buying a lottery ticket, deciding that you’re going to win, mentally spending the money, and then being outraged that your numbers didn’t come up.
I think, also, there is this sense of He did something wrong, and I didn’t do anything to deserve that.
 
But you are the one doing you wrong. He’s some rando guy you barely know who has a penchant for talking out of his bottom, waxing lyrical over text, being uber busy and seeing himself as ‘saver of the people’. Yes, he’s been self-serving and downright weird and creepy with some of his antics, but he doesn’t owe you a relationship. If he wants to be emotionally unavailable, live on text and chase women who are barely out of their teens, that’s his prerogative. He’s not doing anything to you. It only seems like that because you are ignoring the fact that he is the person who is and does these things and trying to make a connection with him that just isn’t possible.

If you want a relationship with someone who doesn’t want a relationship, and even if he did, he’s wholly unsuitable for you, it’s you who’s wronging you, not him. 

That doesn’t mean that some of the stuff he’s said and done isn’t downright annoying and upsetting (it is), but if you are still upset over this guy who’s been in your life for a drip in time, it’s because of all of the stuff you’ve thought, done and said to you in response to it, not because of what he’s done.

The truth is, the real you knows the deal and doesn’t want to give this guy the steam off your pee, never mind the time of day. Your ego, which is the aspect of all humans that is obsessed with image, who’s right and who’s wrong, winners and losers, who has the power and basically trying to control other people’s opinions, is what is driving things here. Your ego feels wronged, and you’re feeding your ego.

‘He said he had a “gut instinctual feeling that something” wasn’t “right” about me.’ Really? Because his actions say otherwise. If he’s that frickin smart, why drag it out? Why is this all playing out over text? Why is his story all over the place?

That’s also an incredibly arrogant thing for him to say. Pot calling the kettle black.
But the problem is, I’m pretty sure that you had that feeling about the situation and ignored it, and you are mad at him for getting there first.

It’s like Why is the guy who I know isn’t right for me getting in there first when I should have spoken up?
 
And as angry as you are about him projecting assumptions on to you, it’s like being angry at the world for turning. Fact is, all humans project all sorts of guff on to people. You can’t Jedi mind trick him. You also have your assumptions and opinions on him.

So what if he has that opinion? Who is he? The Grand Poobah? Again, it’s an ego thought to believe that you have any say over someone else’s opinion of you.
The thing is, this isn’t a situation that you need to defend yourself in. Given the nature of your relationship, you have to say your piece, and then agree to disagree. It’s not about trying to change his mind.

Breaking the cycle of a 10 year casual relationship - when his father's just passed away?

I’ve been in a 10-year casual relationship cycle with a guy I met at a friend’s party. Although we’ve dated other people during this time and lost each other’s contact details we somehow get drawn back to each other. We have never been boyfriend and girlfriend. I feel we’ve both used each other for an ‘ego stroke’ and for sex. In the cycle, I’m the one who wants to call things off and he’s the one who wants to start things up again. When I’ve asked him why he won’t leave me alone he said he doesn’t know but he’s admitted to me in the past that he knows he’s behaving in a selfish way. And I still give in, telling myself that ‘this will be the last time’ or that we won’t have sex because we’re just meeting up as friends. Then I feel crushed and disappointed in myself.
He recently got back in touch with me and shared that his father passed away. Since then, he’s been messaging me on a weekly basis. I have drafted a message to explain that being friends with him doesn’t work for me and I don’t want for us to be in touch with each other anymore but I don’t want to send it because I feel sensitive about his father’s passing. I’m not sure what I should do or when would be the right time to send him the message I’ve drafted?


Nat’s Response

Ten years is a long time to be in a casual relationship, but it’s far from being uncommon. I did it for four years with someone, and if he had his way, it would have rumbled on. I randomly bumped into him eight years after we started. It turned out, we’d worked around the corner from each other in London for years. He did the same old, same old, and I declined. 
You’re right: you’ve both used each other. It’s suited you each at different times. You’ve each filled in when the other has been at a loose end between relationships.
Now, as hard as this may be to hear, he is getting in touch with you because his father passed away and you’re the crutch he’s reached for every time he hasn’t felt like dealing with an uncomfortable feeling or aspect of his life. Granted, you’ve no doubt done the same, but if you take off the sympathy goggles for a moment, all things suddenly become clear.
For ten years, each of you has avoided having to deal with what is going on within yourselves and having to process your other relationships as well as figuring out what you need and want. This has established a pattern. When things feel difficult for this guy, he reaches out to you for comfort. When he feels better, you’re discarded.
You are not friends; you’re people who’ve slept together on and off for ten years. It is, of course, sad that his father passed away but that doesn’t give him a free pass to use you.
Past experience has taught that this man comes packaged with crushing disappointment. You keep raising your hopes that you’re friends or that this will be the last time. Please do not expect a bereavement miracle to occur. You might think that because he’s lost his father that suddenly, he’ll be struck by the Holy Ghost and feel inclined to stop being selfish. Even if it’s not that, you might hope that him grieving the loss of his father might open up the empathy bank and cause him to spend a few coins from it on you. 
 
You are not a blow-up doll, nor are you his armchair therapist. He has actual friends that he can call on. And you are contemplating engaging with him for the wrong reasons: because he’s guilted you into it and because you’ve emotionally blackmailed you into it. This would be the wrong reason. 
 
He would using you as his emotional support girl, and you would be letting him use you as a means to an end in the hopes that he will finally step up or as a means of avoiding a difficult decision.
Here’s the thing: it’s okay that you slept with him on and off for ten years. It was a habit. But a habit can’t be broken if you don’t break it.
It is precisely because you’re being sensitive to his father’s passing why you need to draw your line in the sand and leave him to get on with his grieving. It is wrong for you to expect that he should be allowed to use you because his father died. There, I said it. It’s always wrong. If you don’t draw the line now, this will still be going on in a few years because then you will feel bad about ending it because you let him use you when his father had passed and now you’re associated with that time.
I know it must be so hard for you having lost your father, but I can’t and won’t do this any more. It wouldn’t be the right thing for either of us. I wish you all the best. 
Baggage behind needs?

Could you clarify what is meant by baggage behind one’s approach to meeting a certain need? This one feels a bit convoluted to me. In my case, I’ve been in an on-off cycle with a man who from the start has been the same person of shelling out crumbs and I take that to mean something. I’ve tried managing my expectations down such that I can “change” myself and no longer need certain things from him. With him, we have a great sexual connection but with that comes needs that I feel aren’t met. I don’t voice them and usually end up exploding at some random moment of being triggered and thinking of all the lies and awful things he’s done in the past.

He allows me the space to vent, he may block me then unblock me after I apologize. I’m left feeling like he will never meet my needs.


Nat’s Response

Every single person has emotional baggage, things from the past that we carry around emotionally that represent old pain, fear and guilt. In any given situation where we are triggered or we respond on autopilot or certainly based on pattern, it’s because our ‘baggage’ is coming up at that moment.

How each person does the overwhelming majority of things in their life is on habit. If we did everything as if we were fresh off the boat every day, we wouldn’t get past the first minute of the day.

If someone approaches a need in a way that is more harmful than helpful, it’s because of the baggage that affects the way they approach the need in the first place. If we soothe ourselves with unhealthy means, we only do that because of the baggage behind that need or how we take care of us in the first place. If we don’t take care of us, if we get into painful relationships in an attempt to meet unmet needs from the past, it’s because of our baggage.

In any given situation where we or someone else are getting on our nerves, upsetting, frustrating or whatever us, it’s not that they are not doing what they’re doing but we wouldn’t respond in the way we do if it weren’t for the fact that something about the present situation reminds us of the past. There’s a podcast episode that explains the baggage behind it things.

It’s not really about whether it’s “convoluted”.

  • You have been in an on-off cycle with someone. Fact is, you wouldn’t do that unless something about this relationship and the ‘on’, ‘off’ or both parts represented unmet needs from the past (baggage).
  • He’s shelled out crumbs from the start. Well, you wouldn’t do that if you weren’t basing your identity and your perception of relationships and what you will and won’t accept on the past.
  • You take him shelling out crumbs to mean something. But if you don’t see crumbs as crumbs, again, it’s your baggage influencing you to make a meal out of crumbs even though it leaves you hungry. In the past, you learned to exaggerate someone or to get by on very little.
  • You’ve tried to manage down your expectations. Again, that’s baggage. You being codependent and imagining that you can change something ‘about you’ to make his crumbs turn into bigger crumbs or a loaf, is baggage. Otherwise, you’d walk away.
  • Convincing yourself that you have no needs or less needs, again, that’s baggage. You learned at an earlier point in life to act as if you had no needs, even though you do.
  • Thinking that you can sell out real needs for a sexual connection, that’s baggage because it says that you haven’t learned to acknowledge, recognise and take care of your needs in a healthy way.

And so on and so on.

The answer to someone not meeting your needs is not to try to minimise them so much, it’s like you’ve taken an eraser to you. That won’t solve the problem because you still have the needs, only now you’re putting up with unacceptable behaviour while pretending it’s okay. It’s to walk away and take the hint that you need to learn to meet those needs in a healthier way rather than beating you up on this relationship.

What advice would you give to someone who suffers with anxiety when dating?
What would you recommend doing to feel positive and good about yourself when getting to know somebody new with the possibility of it becoming a relationship? What would you recommend doing to ease an anxious mind that fears rejection, even when things are going well? What would you recommend doing to stop worrying about what the other person is thinking and how they are feeling about you and instead enjoy getting to know them and just see what happens?


Nat’s Response

When you’re in the pre-relationship stage of things, it’s the first discovery phase. You’re getting an initial sense of who they are and how they’re coming across. I call this stage 0 (when you haven’t met yet or been on a date) and stage 1 (when you’re going on dates).

These stages help you to manage your emotional, mental, physical and spiritual boundaries.

If, for example, you’re at stage 0 and are already worried about things going wrong, this is a sign that you’re moving way too fast on yourself and creating anxiety by worrying about a relationship that doesn’t exist. You are overinvested. Given that there is no relationship at this point, you need to pull you back to earth so that you can have the appropriate boundaries. e.g. continuing on with life as normal, not behaving as if you’re dating, not pretending to be something you’re not, not saying or doing things that are out of sync with this stage (e.g. sexting).

If, for example, you’re at stage 1 and are worried about things going wrong, rejection, this is a call for you to get grounded and identify where this is coming from. Is it because you are being who you actually are? Is it because you’re behaving as if you’re auditioning for a relationship? Is it because a part of you expects that when things are going well, it means that something might go wrong?

When things are “going well”, as humans, this creates a sense of value. It suggests possibilities. But because we’re now thinking about this and starting to ‘value’ what’s taking place, it also now means we think that there is the potential for loss. We only fear losing what we value.

At stage 1, you are not in a relationship. Even if things are “going well”, it’s relative to what you regard that as as well as what they might say, do, or what you might infer from their behaviour. But the whole idea of dating is to spend time with someone getting a sense, not just of how they come across and what they’re interested in, but who you are around this person and what you might be interested in.

If one or both of you decide that this isn’t going to proceed to a relationship, that’s not ‘rejection’; it’s information. Some people don’t proceed because they like the person, and that means that they avoid moving to a relationship because they don’t want to get invested. Some people don’t proceed because even though they’ve enjoyed things, there isn’t enough of a connection for things to proceed. It’s a lot of guesswork, and there’s plenty of reasons.

Your fear suggests that because you think that things are “going well” that if it doesn’t proceed to a relationship, then it must be because you did something wrong.

Worrying is like praying for what you don’t want. It’s important to recognise that you don’t know this person yet. It is okay to like them, fancy them, be hopeful that it might progress to something, but at the same time, you also need to stay aware of the fact that you don’t know this person yet and that you are dating. Rather than being invested in whether it will become a relationship, invest in being who you are. When you worry about what the other person is thinking, you’re trying to control the uncontrollable. So, acknowledge what thinking about what they might be thinking is a distraction from? What are you thinking about? What do you feel about them? How do you feel about you, and how might you be projecting it onto them?

I highly recommend keeping a feelings diary during these early stages so that you can stay grounded and notice what’s triggering the anxiety. That way, you can notice certain thoughts or situations that set it off and choose to respond differently.

I can’t emphasise this enough: if you are not present in the beginning of an involvement because you are too busy auditioning and trying to listen out for cues about who you think they want you to be and then changing yourself to suit that, they are not getting to know you. That sets the stage for rejection, not because they do it, but because you do it by extension of what you’re doing.

I would also be honest with you about who this is really about, because someone you’ve just met setting off these feelings implies that you’re carrying feelings about an ex and a previous situation. Distinguish between the two. But also ensure that you’re not anxious because you’re going out with someone who is similar to your ex.

Putting my future on hold?

I don’t know if this is a question or just experiences for you to comment on…we’ll see! 
I have already filled out five pattern sheets from Week 2 and wrote something that felt very triggering and meaningful. It happened when I was describing my “big” relationship with Kip of 10 years, that ended about 12 years ago. This was someone I really didn’t love when I moved in with him, something that I was pushing for more than he was. I wasn’t even attracted to him sexually and eventually, that just stopped for years. We shared good times and passions, like literature, political activism, dogs (!!!), travel, NYC and our weekends in the country. But it was a friendship, albeit a comforting one. We never married or committed further after I moved in. Neither of us were good communicators of our needs and both of us avoided conflict, so we both remained a couple for many, many years too long. We finally broke up when I discovered he had an escort for 3 years whom he saw on work trips to San Francisco. 

So here’s the sentence I wrote that knocked me over. You asked us to list negative feelings, behaviours and thoughts when around the person profiled and I said I felt like I was putting my future on hold. It made me think of other relationships. With Paul, as you know, I knew going in that there was a grave danger of his being unavailable, as he still lived in the same house with his ex and their child AND he wasn’t as smart, curious and passionate as I am. (He was unavailable as you also know for more reasons than that, but the living situation was the risk I was most conscious of going in.) Another example is my trying to get an Argentine boyfriend (when I lived there a few months) to commit to me after a couple of months, even though it would mean I’d have to upend my life. My first longish relationship (6 months) in my early 20’s was with an investment banker whom I think I actually hated! My first real relationship (2 years) was with a fun, loving but politically conservative guy whom I couldn’t stand being around for the last 6 months until he ultimately broke up with me. There are more examples of what I think is diving into something, pistons firing, to relationships that won’t work and then clinging to them desperately to make them work even when I’m not happy. (And always being the “dumpee”.)

Ugh…this is so hard to write. What do you think about all of this? My head and heart feel very muddled and while I feel a pattern surfacing around avoiding a future I claim to want, it hurts too much to fine-tune it.


Nat’s Response

It sounds like you’re having some big breakthroughs. Make sure you give you time to let this percolate. It’s almost like ‘Okay, life. I’ve noticed this theme running through my relationships of putting my future on hold. I’m super curious and open to discovering what that might mean.’ And things will pop into your head. You might even experience some strange coincidences.
Now, on to my thoughts:
There is a theme of you trying to get people to be or do something. You’re trying to get or prove something. It’s almost like you get involved with someone and (*adopts robot voice*) you go ‘Challenge mode has been activated. Make the object of your affections prove their feelings for you with a big ask.’ And when I say a ‘big ask’, it’s a big ask of you. It’s a lot to expect you to take on guys and upend your life or your self-esteem with them about two seconds after meeting them.
These men are diversionary tactics. It’s like you’re going along through life and maybe just as you’re starting to get a sense of who you are and what you really want and need, you latch on to the next guy that sniffs around. Suddenly, you’re shuffling away from your potential and your purpose. You’re not going through with something.
And, of course, you’re going to put your future on hold if you keep hitching your wagon to men that you are not genuinely interested in, attracted to and compatible with. Each time these relationships fall apart, you reel. The focus then becomes on ‘fixing’ you. Only for you to start the cycle again.
You keep trying to ‘get’ men to do something. It doesn’t matter that they’re the wrong men for you.
There is likely an element of escaping something.
Each relationship represents the opportunity to met an unmet need from the past. It’s a far-out fantasy. If what you wanted were to happen, you think that it would fix something. ‘Make me more important than X. Choose me over X. Be a different person to how you normally are.’
It also just popped into my head that aren’t all of these relationships like procrastinating in the wrong relationship because you don’t feel worthy of being in the type of relationship you really want. Like earning your stripes. And you move super fast on yourself at the start of the relationship and then you move super fast to make this person be or do something. Which, on some level, must validate something you believe about men and relationships.
If you’re always in relationships where there’s a moderate level of like but it’s really about them showing an interest in you and you then eventually disliking them, is it that you don’t think it’s possible to be with a likeable man? Or, is it that you don’t think it’s possible for you to be with a loving, available partner?
And if a part of you doesn’t believe that relationships work or you believe that they’re hard work, isn’t it possible that you might design situations that ensure that you don’t get trapped with the wrong person.
Step back from your exploration, and let the dust settle.
Avoiding repeat patterns

A few things coming up for me this week – I’m feeling sad & raw ( not even quite sure what I mean by that word!). This is in part due to my course work but also the current lockdown. In particular, I am sad when I see families walking past my (lovely) home or when people at work mention their family. At 55 I have missed out on having children and there is nothing I can do about that now.

I knew my pattern already which is to go for larger than life, strong life & soul of the party types. I recognise this as having a fear of running out of things to say.  I’m not generally like that in other areas of my life But of course, there are very few people you’d spend as much time with as a partner. Ironically I end up feeling unheard!

I suspect that is from childhood, I had a brother a year younger than me who died and my mother was very angry and overwhelmed with 4 daughters to look after. My memory of parents was that they were always busy providing but I can’t recall anyone talking to me. This I know intellectually to be true but I don’t remember feeling anything.

So I know I need to go for better character and someone who I have a voice with. All well & good but at this age, I don’t get many chances and in lockdown, there’s none at all ( except virtual). This will pass I’m sure but I’m scared it’s too late for me which relates back to my 7-week fling taking on too much significance. I am journaling which does indeed help.


Nat’s Response

I’m sorry to hear that you’re feeling raw. I totally get what you mean. It sounds like you’re mourning what you feel is the you that you didn’t get to be and the life that you didn’t get to live with children. What you will decipher over the coming days, weeks and months is whether what you’re feeling is an indicator of something that, yes, you missed out on as such by not having children but that you want to satisfy in some way, shape or form in your life going forward, or whether it’s something that you’re acknowledging and that you’re letting the feelings come up about, but that you don’t have a desire to implement in your life in some way. 
It’s also important to point out that even though you didn’t have children, it doesn’t mean that you’ve had a wasted life. There are plenty of women who don’t become biological mothers (or even adoptive/foster ones) but who mother plenty of people and experience deep satisfaction and a sense of purpose. 
I think it’s all too easy for us to look back when we’re fairly certain we’re enough of a way down the road that there isn’t any danger of us having to necessarily do anything about it, to look back and view our life with failure goggles on and give ourselves a hard time about things that deep down, we maybe didn’t want to do or that there wasn’t the space for at the time. We have a way of looking back and now that we know how things have turned out, rewriting history in such a way that we cast ourselves as the masterful architect of our demise who deliberately screwed themselves over. 
What it might be is that we experience these pangs and grief due to suddenly being self-aware enough to recognise that this could have been something we could have allowed ourselves to be and do. And there are plenty of other things that we can feel this way about. 
I guess I’m saying, be gentle on you. Yes, acknowledge the feelings, but don’t judge you.
It is hard in lockdown. You’re making realisations, but you can’t exactly skip on down the road and start trying to meet people, although lockdown won’t last forever. 
You gravitated to these big energy people because of how you imagined they might be and who and what you thought would come with that in the relationship. These relationships have overshadowed you. I think, as you acknowledged, that part of you didn’t believe in your own interestingness and attractiveness. Like you needed someone like your exes to light up the two of you. But you’re beaming light all on your own.
It’s not uncommon for people to do what you’ve done, and it can actually be okay when it’s a healthy relationship and each person doesn’t get entrenched in roles. But if someone always has to be leading the way and the other always has to take a back seat, those roles shape the relationship in ways that can make one or both of you lost and resentful. If they always need to be ‘on’ and hearing the sound of their own voice and so they need an audience, they might not take too well to you being vocal, but you might also feel that it’s wrong to speak up. 
The best way to avoid these dynamics is to avoid playing a role of any kind. They pigeonhole you. 
And, you’re 55, not 105. It’s far from being too late. You’re not on the scrap heap. Believing that you are is exactly how you end up settling. Plenty of people your age meet loving partners. It’s critical to acknowledge that our ideas about being on the scrap heap by a certain age are based on outdated notions from when we are growing up, but also from listening to distorted crap in the media. For as many people who have crap dating experiences, there are plenty who go on to meet loving partners. My friend met her now-husband at 53 after her friend told her not to bother dating as the world is full of charlatans. Thankfully she didn’t listen. Don’t keep paying attention to that sexist, ageist chatter!
Am I avoiding commitment, or was I right not to commit? Or is it both?

I resonate towards the interest, connection, rejection hooks(somewhat also status, sexual chemistry) and have had various relationships that were long term struggles. I realise I have codependent/love addicted traits and don’t get my needs met and overtry to make things work, thereby betraying myself in the process. I have never felt sure to commit, and have attracted fairly narcissistic type partners. My ex was an emotional rollercoaster, and in the end, I absorbed the blame of not moving in with him as my fear of commitment. I do fear it, but I also didn’t feel safe around him. Did I choose this person to fulfil the non-commitment fear I have within and justify his behaviour so that I didn’t commit, or was I actually laying down boundaries and protecting myself? Or both?


Nat’s Response

When you’re afraid of commitment, you are going to be and do things to protect you from realising that fear. The reason why you are afraid of it is because of your underlying associations with commitment, so the consequences, of making certain types of commitment, but also, on some level sensing that you are with someone that who you shouldn’t commit to because they are dangerous or certainly not the right person for you. 
The things that you are drawn to don’t require a commitment. They are things that you can get pretty much from the get-go and that don’t require too much vulnerability. These hooks, though, mean that what you build from that place is unstable. You’re drawn to the heady rush, intensity, how things look, and, of course, reality starts to creep in, plus you haven’t taken yours or their character as well as your needs into account. 
None of the things that hook you in will meet any real needs. They will satisfy short-term needs because of instant gratification and the ability to project your idea of who the person is or how things are, but they will leave you hungry. 
If you’ve given little consideration to someone’s character at the outset and have been drawn in on superficial information, you’re going to get caught out by things that imply or outright tell you that they don’t have the character for a long-term relationship. On top of this, what you’re drawn to doesn’t cater to anything that makes you feel genuinely safe and secure because choosing to be with someone for these reasons isn’t a safe or secure choice. 
 
So, it’s a bit of both: Yes, you are and have been afraid of commitment and have ensured that you’re with someone who allows you to be ‘right’ about why you fear it, but you’ve also been with people who it’s difficult, if not impossible, to make a healthy commitment with. And it’s not that you are ‘right’ in that, commitment is ‘bad’ and to be avoided. What you’re doing is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by choosing people and relationships that validate the belief. 
If you chose partners for more substantial reasons and were in a genuinely loving relationship, you’d have to change the beliefs. 
When you betray yourself, everything falls down. You are not to blame for your partner betraying you, but look beyond their own lack of character in those moments and notice where you were also betraying and lying to yourself. 
Moving in with someone who is an emotional rollercoaster would not have been a wise or safe move. Telling you that you were wrong not to move in with him when all signs tell you that you were right causes you to betray you further. 
You were protecting yourself, but you put up a wall instead of a boundary: your guardedness is a wall, not a boundary. A boundary would have been to stay honest with you even when he wouldn’t. A boundary would have been to acknowledge all of the reasons why you felt unsafe and use that to navigate out of the situation. 
When you look beyond your ex and consider why you are afraid of commitment and what you feel angry and sad about, you will see that being in this relationship was a way of protecting you and defending against being hurt like you have been in the past. But it was a false economy. It would be better to address why you feel as you do and stop going against yourself than to continue with the pattern. 
I want to change jobs during Covid-19 but feel irresponsible

I’m contemplating making changes either in my work schedule by moving to a floating position, or changing jobs altogether. I have been working with another person full-time weekends, 15 hours each day on Saturday and Sunday for two years! and I feel that it’s taking a toll on me. My co-worker is very negative, says insensitive things, complains about others, work needs to be done her way (if it’s not then people are “stupid”) and I feel like she is untrustworthy and I’m always on alert. At first, I thought it was me being judgmental and I continued to work with her. I also am aware that I did not have very good boundaries and now I’m voicing my concerns more, and when I do, she takes it well as long as it doesn’t contradict what she wants. It’s a toxic work relationship but I feel guilty for wanting to pursue something else while covid-19. This for sure I know, either I need to learn ways to cope until I can find another job or pull the trigger and request to move to a floating position. I feel that I’m being sucked dry of empathy and understanding. What are your thoughts on this issue?


Nat’s Response

It seems quite harsh to judge you as “irresponsible” for wanting to change your job.
Let’s consider what that means: You want to change your job after diligently working at the company for over two years with a very negative and controlling co-worker, and you think that you are not showing a proper sense of responsibility.
The job is not your life, and all you ‘owe’ the company, as such, is you doing the work. You don’t owe them your emotional, mental, physical or spiritual health, nor do you owe them your personal life. Sure, feel a sense of obligation about doing a good job, but doing a ‘good job’ doesn’t mean suffering to be there. If this co-worker has managed to behave that way for that long, something is wrong with how your team is managed. There may be a wider issue with the company structure. But it’s not your job to dance and pussyfoot around her ego.
You have recognised that boundaries were an issue for you in the past and have become more assertive. Still, another area where you need to be more boundaried is with regards to your mentality about this company and your co-worker. It’s a company. They are paying you, and you are giving them your labour in exchange for that. Hell, you’re giving them ideas, your time, etc., so that they can make money and grow. Acting as though you have a responsibility to stay with this company because of how ‘it’ or society might feel about it, isn’t good boundaries. They don’t have to live your life, but also, someone else can work your job. If everyone stops selling or changing jobs, etc., that effects the economy in a major way. There needs to be movement.
Thirty hours (!!!!) every weekend with this person? Nope! That’s a hell of a lot of time to give over to pandering to their nonsense. Working two fifteen-hour days takes recovery time. You probably feel alright for a day or two, only to then have to go back into that cycle. You’re also having to psych yourself up to be with this person, and that’s eating up your bandwidth.
If you can move to a floating position, run, Forrest, run. While you might a bit guilty about it because you’re a conscientious person, don’t let that stop you.
Needing or wanting to do something has nothing to do with worthiness or deservedness. So, the world does not need to be okay with you leaving your job. You do. You’ve done your time. My friend resigned from her job two hours ago. She doesn’t have another job to go to, but she won’t have a life to go to if she continues working for the company. Yes, like you, she is aware that this Covid times, but business is still going. You wanting to pursue another position during this time doesn’t mean that you are unaware of the impact of Covid; it means that you want and need to change jobs.
Please, put your needs and wants first. They’re your responsibility, not your colleague’s or the company’s.
Be more like my overachiever colleagues even if it busts my boundaries?

How do you implement boundaries when it goes against things that overachievers in your office are doing and worry it makes you look lazy or your boss mentions you should take note of the things the overachiever is doing? For instance, if you are given the assignment and do it to the best of your ability within a reasonable time frame, but then the overachiever does it and adds sprinkles and whipped cream on top, spends evenings and weekends doing it and then makes sure that everyone knows that s/he did? Do you break your own boundaries / personal bandwidth to make sure that you’re on their level? I’m sure the answer is no but I need tips navigating boundaries around this!


Nat’s Response

The thing about boundaries is that it’s based on who you are, not on who others are, after all, someone else’s boundaries or lack of them reflect their self-esteem and values. 
What many people do is make the mistake of mimicking the behaviour of others or disliking it but feeling as if they have to continue because it’s what others are doing. But it’s a bit like watching lemmings creeping along in the same pattern and going over a cliff, but because ‘everyone’ is doing what they’re doing, you go ahead and follow them. 
So, for example, I know someone who was an overachiever. She worked extremely long hours because of her perfectionism, inferiority complex and feeling as if she had to live up to ideals about working that her immigrant father installed in her as a child. It was this idea that if you’re basically not burning out and sacrificing your wellbeing, you’re not working hard enough. She certainly did well at work and was liked by some colleagues, but was disliked by plenty of others who often felt that she trying to show them up or implying that they should work like her. In the meantime, she got pally with her boss who was also an overachiever. They took on work that plenty of others refused to, burning the midnight oil together. The project was a massive success — and days later, her boss collapsed due to burnout. It shocked her to her core because she realised that this is where she was headed. She also realised that her overachieving ways were not a badge of honour but more an indicator of her feelings of low self-worth and her doing things to escape an image she wasn’t.
If your boss is an overachiever, or they don’t value wellbeing in the workplace, then, yes, she may well congratulate overachievers and encourage others to follow suit. 
Don’t get me wrong: contained in overachieving are positive attributes, talents and skills. But it’s often not so much what we’re doing, although sometimes it is, but why we’re doing it (the feelings of unworthiness, trying to escape ourselves or something else in life, trying to prove things that we don’t have to prove). 
Spending evenings and weekends working on something isn’t a sign of dedication; it’s a sign that you’re not managing your time very well and/or that you have more work than you are supposed to be doing. It’s okay to do this kind of thing occasionally, but when it’s the way of working, it’s just a sign that this person undervalues themselves, is possibly overworking a project, and, yes, potentially escaping their life or hasn’t got something to do other than work when they are bored. 
There are people who deliver great results that are comparable to that of an overachiever within their work hours. And there are plenty of people who would rather have a life, feel good about themselves and work effectively with the time they have, than burn themselves out. 
If you want this person’s job and/or to be like this person, then go ahead. 
If, however, you’re contemplating this because there’s always someone you’re comparing yourself to, no, it’s not a good idea because there will just be something or someone else once you do what they are plus you will also burn out. 
If there are ways in which you can push yourself during work hours from a place of using the most of your creativity, ingenuity, etc., during work hours, crack on. My friend is not working a minute more than she is contracted to, but during those eight hours at work, she is pumping out three hundred emails a day, attending the video classes/conferences that her company has scheduled during these lockdown times and basically, she’s absolutely focused. But she does not work outside of work. 
Do not try to be someone else. Sure, learn from others. Take what works for you, remix it to what reflects your values, but don’t copy others because of the image you think they have or this idea that they are overachievers. You are seeing a tiny bit of what’s going on. You don’t know who they have to be in order to work like that. And if you do, you might not even want to be that person. Rather than judge the person as being an ‘overachiever’ that’s showing you up, note what they did and if it really matters. Could the cherry on top be put on during work hours? Is the cherry necessary? What is your icing and cherry?
If you want to up your bandwidth so that you can do more at work, then the best way to do that is 1) taking care of you in and out of work, and 2) doing things because you want to, not because you feel as if it’s what’s expected or you’re feeling scared and obliged. If you want to try new things from a place of curiosity, you’ll probably shift your day to fit that in.

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Can a committed person be unavailable?

After letting two Mr Unavailables go for the first time in my life, I met my new boyfriend online and we slowly and organically grew into a relationship with mutual values, trust, commitment, and steadiness. After three months of being together, I discovered what could be signs of unavailability: him blocking difficult subjects, extensive monologues, lack of physical intimacy. He is particularly stressed out due to a job critical to the corona crisis now, so I decided to cater for his needs more than mine, only to unwillingly slip into in my old pattern of people-pleasing, fuzzy boundaries, and dependency. Now I am wondering if we can turn things back to the mutuality and lightness the relationship had at the beginning.


Nat’s Response

The thing about relationships (and people) is that they unfold. There is no way that you could know from the outset that you and he shared core values or who each of you might be when you experienced life’s inevitables (conflict, criticism, stress, loss, disappointment and rejection). In this case, you have each experienced the trauma of the corona crisis which has brought about a mix of how each of you typically respond to a stressor as well as what might be some uncharacteristic behaviour depending on the level of stress you’re each experiencing. 
It’s great that you both got off to a great start, but you’re only really getting to know each other now. Thinking that you knew who and what he was about and how committed he was within the first few months is a sign of having things back to front. 
You don’t know who someone really is until you’ve seen them in a variety of circumstances. How are each of you when your experience stress? Have each of you said and shown no when you’ve needed and wanted to? Are each of you being yourselves?
And this explains what you’ve experienced recently: Your current circumstances have caused each of you to behave in ways that are typical of you as well as what might be uncharacteristic. 
What I do know is that when he became stressed, you reverted to people-pleasing, fuzzy boundaries and dependency. It seems that he is not the only one who’s been triggered. 
 You’re three months in, which for a lot of relationships is where you start to get into more of a, not a routine per se, but there isn’t the shiny ‘We just met each other and we are both perfect’. It’s where the real getting to know begins. 
Your relationship is at stage 2. 
You say that you’re experiencing stuff like “him blocking difficult subjects, extensive monologues, lack of physical intimacy.”
Well, the first is because that’s how he deals with difficult subjects, and you might only be discovering this because 1) you’ve only been together for three months and 2) you didn’t have any “difficult subjects” prior to your experience of this. 
The second indicates something else about his communication style and what might be his way of avoiding difficult subjects. Or, he might like the sound of his own voice. Maybe this was there all along in another form and you didn’t notice it because it was the honeymoon period, or maybe it’s something that’s become apparent now that your relationship is trying to move forward in terms of intimacy. 
And the third might be because he’s, well, stressed. Some people aren’t that physical when they’re stressed. His fight-flight-freeze response might be in high alert if he’s feeling deeply uncertain or stressed out by his work. Depending on what he’s doing, he might have to shut down at work to be able to cope with what he’s going through, and it may have spilt over into his personal life. Or, he might be someone who after the initial honeymoon, the expectation of increased intimacy results in him not being as physical. Or, yes, maybe he was always this way in some way, shape or form but it’s become more apparent in your current circumstances. 
Your relationship cannot go back to the beginning because you didn’t know each other then. Unless you don’t want to grow the relationship in depth and intimacy, and you want to keep it light, then the only way this relationship boat can continue sailing is by continuing to get to know each other and working through that. 
But part of getting back to what you felt was a mutuality and lightness is getting back in your own lane. You can support your boyfriend without giving you up. Your needs can co-exist with his. At the end of the day, the reason why you responded in that manner is because it’s what you’re used to doing, and it’s easier than being vulnerable and intimate. So, each of you in your own ways have behaved in ways that caused each of you to potentially show unavailability, but if you drop all of that and be who you are and were, then you will be able to gauge where you are at with him.  
How do I stop wanting him and the relationship?

My boyfriend and I been together for 3.5 years. First two years were toxic; on and off, hot and cold, etc. I came back because he said he was committed, and we moved in together. We are both separated although I’ve filed for divorce, he hasn’t. I have two kids, he has none. I’m sure he has ED but won’t see a doctor. He likes to drink often, no friends, barely talks to family. We spend all our time together. He doesn’t initiate sex, no intimacy. He doesn’t communicate at all, he just stares at me; no reassurance unless I pull away. I confronted him about intimacy (…again) and he broke up with me. He felt like “he’s just here”. Now we’re stuck living together in a quarantine. For three weeks after the breakup it felt like we were together again, but when I tried to initiate sex and he rejected me. He told me nothing has changed, he didn’t want a relationship, he doesn’t know what he wants. I feel like I’m being blamed for his ED. Maybe I pushed him too hard. I know it’s not MY problem, but I can’t help but feel unloved and unwanted. How can I stop wanting him and this relationship?


Nat’s Response

I think it’s important to acknowledge that it’s tricky to stop wanting someone and the relationship when 1) you feel as if something about you is responsible for their actions or why the relationship hasn’t or isn’t working and 2) when you also have to live with this person. And actually, 3) when you don’t have a realistic perception of who and what you’re dealing with because of how this relationship developed. 
The first two years of your relationship were very unpleasant. After he said he was “committed” (whatever that means), you came back and moved in together. But there are very specific reasons as to why your relationship was how it was in those two years, and if those reasons where never acknowledged or addressed, they’re the exact same reasons why you have problems now and then some. Those first two years also tell you about who he is and his habits, as well as the availability of you both. 
The fact that you both think that you can restart a relationship that was very toxic by one announcing that they’re committed and the other accepting that and moving in, suggests that each of you were not being realistic about each other or the relationship. 
You are both separated. One of you has filed for divorce, the other hasn’t. It strikes me that both of you are reeling from the breakdown of your respective marriages and have sought to escape those feelings and losses by starting something else. Now, three-and-a-half years down the line, you are both experiencing the pain of that escapism. 
ED can be physical or emotional. I suspect, given everything this man is going through and showing you, that it’s emotional. Sure, some people can shut down emotionally and shag around and even become sex addicts, but plenty lose their mojo, especially when the issue remains unaddressed. 
It is clear that this man is in a very dark place within, and it’s not something that can be solved by moving you in with your kids. Sure, he may have hoped that doing this would perk him up, but it’s just a whole lotta expectation and commitment that he doesn’t have the wherewithal to back up. 
You have someone who has no friends, hardly talks to family, drinks a lot, barely communicates, stares a lot: this man is feeling low. You are not the solution to that because this is about his stuff, not yours. How you are feeling, what you are doing, is about your stuff. 
If you can look at someone behaving like that and somehow draw the conclusion that it has something to do with you, you need to really step back here and be very honest about what is going on with you. I totally appreciate that it’s hard to see someone you love and care about struggling. It’s incredibly tough when you feel as if you’re making a massive effort and that they’re barely doing a thing. But making this a you-problem, so something to do with your worth or something you’ve said or done wrong, or your attractiveness or whatever, is causing you to not see the human struggling right before your eyes. 
This man cannot give you a relationship. How is a man who can barely take care of himself, take care of you? He can’t. It needs to go to him first. He needs to sort himself out before that’s even possible, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a gold-plated Best Woman On Earth TM — it’s not a you-problem. 
 
What has gone on in your past that would make you think that this is a viable relationship? Who or what are you trying to escape? Who does this man remind you of? What do your feelings in this situation, the whole blaming you for his ED, remind you of from the past? Who is it from earlier in your life who had big problems, major mood swings, couldn’t be pleased, couldn’t sort themselves out, that you, on some level, feel bad about because you weren’t able to make them be who you needed? Where did you learn to be the fixer/healer/helper?
That’s what you need to focus on. 
You did not push him too hard. His behaviour has nothing to do with you being unwanted and unloved. He’s depressed. 
Need help releasing the fantasy of who someone is and putting lessons into practice

I dated a woman for 6 turbulent months. When we were physically together, I really enjoyed being with her. When we were apart I was constantly accused of things, she constantly instigated fights and sabotaged things, and said the most ignorant and rude things anyone has ever said to me…ever. I would then back away, she would chase, and the cycle would repeat every week. There was never any true progression. I never cheated on this girl, I cared for her, and I was always there to support her. I didn’t want to be with anyone else. I said this directly to her to trIED to ease her massive insecurities. She was the one that originally asked me out and pursued me so I never understood why she was continuously hurting the relationship by accusing me, starting fights, and saying really hurtful things. I finally ended up ending the relationship due to the horrible things she said to me. My question is related to tasks 1&2 and your most recent podcast. When I performed tasks 1&2, I can honestly say that she didn’t possess one value, trait, things I want, etc., that I put in my circle and in fact she was the opposite of everything I wrote down. So why a year and a half later do I still obsess over this girl and see so much potential in her? It’s so strange because in my personal life I have cut off so many “friends” and immediate family that treated me disrespectfully. Why am I not thanking my lucky stars that she showed me who she is and that it didn’t work out? Why am I struggling to let her go? I’ve had other opportunities and I’m not even interested, all I think about is her. I read your posts, listen to your podcasts and have plenty of lightbulb moments. I don’t disagree with one topic that I read or listen to, feel good for a bit, and then slip back into thinking she’s got so much potential, she can change, she’s so special. One other point that I don’t know if it’s relevant or not is that I connected with her on a physical level more than I ever had with anyone else. Am I stuck on that? Thanks for your help.


Nat’s Response

Whenever I see something like this—someone who knows that the situation isn’t right and that there’s incompatibility and your emotional needs aren’t met—and yet the person can’t shake it off, it’s because of underlying loyalty.
 
Now, let me be clear: not loyalty to her; loyalty to who and what she represents. 
This woman reminds you of someone. And you, on some level, feel bad about admitting the truth about who she is or why this relationship didn’t work because you feel as if you’re making a judgement about the person she reminds you of. You not wanting to let go of the potential you see with her is about potential someone else didn’t realise. 
It’s not that your ex is a ‘bad’ person, but you’re not compatible. There is no way you can be if you have to exit yourself in order for her to be in it. You can’t be if you can’t have healthy time apart, build a future and, yes, build trust. 
The thing about falling into the trap of trying to ease someone’s insecurities is that it becomes a cycle. You end up behaving as if it’s your responsibility, and you communicate to her that it is your responsibility, even though it isn’t. 
All that you were giving her was temporary reassurance against doubts that had nothing whatsoever to do with you.
 
This is about her pain, fear and guilt from the past. This about her trust issues stemming from whatever she experienced in her past that she’s then projecting onto you and making your problem. 
Each time she felt this way, she blamed it on the relationship because on some level, we hope in these situations that our partner will make things go away. Ipso facto, when the bad feelings don’t go away or our trust issues and insecurities emerge again, we blame the person and the relationship. 
So you’d give her reassurance and she’d feel better when you were around her because she could feel in control, and then it was only a matter of time before the doubts re-emerged. And round and round you go. 
Letting her go means having to let go of the fantasy about someone else. And you’ve resisted doing that because it feels painful but also because when you do, you have to allow you to become who you really are and move forward. A part of you might feel as if you’re judging whoever this other person is or that you’re leaving them behind. 
But whoever this person is (likely a parent, caregiver or sibling, but certainly someone significant from your early life), you’re not going out with them. They’re two separate people. But it’s also okay to admit that you didn’t get what you needed and that this person is and was a flawed human being. People can also be more than one thing. So, even though this woman may have had a lovely points, as a whole, whether you think of her as a whole or just how you combined together for a relationship, it didn’t work. 
I think, like a lot of people, you’ve over-correlated the fact that you had this deep physical connection. You imagine there’s more to her and your connection than there is. But it’s very possible that the rollercoaster of how things could be when you were apart plays a huge role in that. It’s also likely that because this relationship was destabilising that this had an effect on the physical connection. If she also reminds you of someone and there’s almost an excitement about feeling as if you’ve pleased her, that can play a role too. It’s great to have a physical connection with someone, but you have the equivalent of 20/10 chemistry. What I mean by this isn’t that you have great chemistry. What I mean is that if you pretend for a moment that chemistry is on a scale of 0-10. On some level, when we don’t understand what we need in a relationship, we look for chemistry to be the equivalent of 10+. We overvalue things like ‘chemistry’ and tend to base it on a sense of connection from destabilisation or the sex. But that kind of chemistry makes a relationship impossible because it’s based on unhealthiness. It can’t function in a healthy way. 
You’re into the fantasy of her and the intensity of your involvement, not actually her. 
Making major life/relationship decisions during Covid 19

Do you have any advice in terms of making major life changes during this time of coronavirus?

It seems like it’s going to a long time before things will get back to normal or a new normal but our relationships can’t really be put on hold for long especially toxic ones, if anything this period has brought the issues into sharper focus and is showing us what is really important and what people we want in our lives.

At the same time, there is a hesitation to act given the uncertainty and how our actions could adversely affect others and the feeling that we are being selfish.


Nat’s Response

This is a tricky one. We’re clearly not going to be in lockdown forever, but it’s a little open-ended at the moment in terms of the lockdown itself. Will we, for example, start to ease up in a few weeks? Will it take longer? Will there be more lockdown? And, of course, we don’t know.
Our relationships can’t go on hold. As you’ve seen, bloody Covid brings a lot of things into sharp focus. It’s brought a lot of clarity to who we are, what we need and want, and what does and doesn’t work. Some of us have discovered that we actually want a very different type of life to what we’ve settled for, and the lockdown has created an opportunity to see that.
I was asked about big life decisions on a recent podcast I guested on, and my friend used a great quote from Speed 2. Something about not making big decisions in a crisis.
I do think that’s true of decisions that are very knee-jerky and almost like a holiday romance/new year’s resolution fantasy. Leaping out of bed and deciding to quit everything and go and live in a cave on a whim, probably isn’t the way to go.
But if what you need to make a decision about is something that you’ve delayed on making a decision about or that you’ve struggled to own the decision before now, and now, it’s so clear, then yes, you can make a decision. And that includes big ones.
My friend’s husband advised her not to quit her job yesterday after she worked another thirteen-hour day. But something I pointed out to her is that, okay, she doesn’t necessarily have to quit this second, but she’s hated the job since about two seconds after she started working there eighteen months ago. The move was a mistake. And she’s known that but didn’t leave because she thought that she needed to stay there for longer. When she became ill from burnout and couldn’t work for several weeks, she came close then. And now corona has made her see that this can not go on. So she has to make a decision and accept that it’s time to leave her job at some point soon.
As for adversely affecting others: I understand your concern, but there’s also a question of boundaries.
If you need to, for example, end a relationship, what you can’t do is come up with how that person will be adversely affected about you ending a relationship and then decide that you won’t make a decision. Because then you’ve made a decision without their input, to keep them in a relationship where you don’t want to be there and feel a certain way about them. It’s not up to you to decide how they will be adversely affected and then make the decision for them. While you can undoubtedly be conscientious, you need to communicate where you’re at with this person.
No, it isn’t a black and white situation, and yes, there will be upset feelings, on both sides. But selfishness presents itself in many guises, and you have to be careful of making decisions based on how you think you will be perceived or how you think it will affect others without actually giving them a chance to be affected and see how that pans out. 
Generally speaking, if we’re not a sociopath or a narcissist, or we’re not low on empathy and self-involved, we will feel guilty about making decisions and taking care of ourselves even when it’s the right thing to do, not just for us, but for the situation. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take action.
If not now, then when? If this is a matter of waiting a few weeks, which potentially it is, then, sure, hold fire for a bit. But if this is one of those ones where it’s never going to be a ‘good time’ because you will always feel selfish, then while you might not end the relationship right this minute, you can accept that you will always feel funny about it because you’re a conscientious person, and still make the decision at some point and take action. 
Letting go and moving on after another disappointing unavailable relationship

I seem very typical of the target for the Break The Cycle course. My 2 long term relationships were similar, starting off wonderfully but me putting unavailable men on a pedestal only to eventually become desperately unhappy & resentful. The relationships ended and I then spent several years happily single. Eventually, I found myself hungry for a partner again & I started to see a similar but even less available man. This time I could see I wasn’t acting in my best interests as he had told me he didn’t want a relationship again. Over 7 weeks we had a passionate fling and I hoped it would lead to more. However, It became clear to me that I would never have anything more than peripheral status so I ended it. Sadly that hasn’t made me feel any better ! I’m now second-guessing myself partly due to feeling that I didn’t handle it as elegantly as I would have liked- he became defensive & I think I came over as attacking him. The upshot is that now in lockdown I’m thinking of him too much and when visualising the relationship I want I can only see this latest ex which I fear could limit my progress. Any advice would be appreciated.


Nat’s Response

It’s a good thing when relationships start off “wonderfully”, after all, if they started off unpleasantly, why would we want to be in them? But… when our relationships are wonderful at the beginning when we don’t actually know the person (and they us) yet and intimacy hasn’t been established, and then the relationship gets progressively worse the more you try to, well, progress the relationship, it’s a sign that something is very off in the beginning. 
This means that:
  • Your intentions (why you get into a relationship were likely the same or certainly very similar).
  • You likely fell for similar types of people or fell for them for similar reasons.
  • You felt, thought and behaved in ways that were similar in each of these relationships that led to not just why you would get involved but why you stayed. 
  • You move too fast at the beginning of a relationship (emotionally, mentally, physically)
When you become “desperately unhappy and resentful”, it’s because, yes, your needs are unmet but also, how you are showing up in the relationship is on some level about worthiness and trying to be and do things to get them to meet your needs, only for them to fall short. 
The clue is in “putting unavailable men on a pedestal”. If you put someone above you, the only place for them to look at you is from above. That makes you lesser and lower, but it also hurts when you not only do this but you put people up there that have no business sitting on that perch in your mind. 
If I put someone on a pedestal only for them to disappoint me whether it was in not being who I imagined and hoped they would be (or how they portrayed and promised themselves) or by the relationship being unfulfilling, I’d feel bloody unhappy and resentful too. It’s galling to be at this lesser status and be so sorely disappointed by this person you’ve made King of the Hill in your mind. 
So, something you need to look is why these men are put on a pedestal? And think about how dangerous it is to put a veritable stranger on a pedestal simply because you’ve become romantically involved or they’re promising the sun, moon, stars and a field full of ponies. Or, yes, simply because they’re a man who’s in your life. 
If you are in a pain after a 7-week fling that you hoped would be more ended, it’s because you moved way too fast on yourself and hoped that participation would be the shortcut to getting what you want. 
What did you pretend not to know already when you became involved with this man? What did you turn a blind eye to?
And, did you really handle it that badly? Isn’t it possible that he became defensive because there was some or a lot of truth to what you were saying, even if it was packaged in your hurt? Maybe what you need to notice here is that you’re not the only one who was lying to themselves about what was really going on. That’s why he was defensive. 
It’s interesting that you mention hunger because it strikes me that you go through a seeming period of self-sufficiency only to then become embroiled in an unavailable relationship. What is it that you stop being and doing when you meet someone? That’s also a clue to what you need and want.
Inner critic or sixth sense?

I am reading “Get out of stuck” and loving it. I am kind of stuck on chapter 9 🙂
How do I know if I am acting/reacting based on my beliefs and fears or if I am following my wise guts?
How can I know if I reacted out of fear when I lost it in my previous relationship, or if I was actually being true to myself?
Thank you as always. Love.


Nat’s Response

This is a great question, and one I’ll answer in two ways:

First, I’ll give you an answer here, and then I want to point you to a great resource for this: The Intuition Sessions. 
When it’s your “wise guts”, it’s neutral. It’s steady, calm, compassionate, and isn’t highly emotional or shaming. It might be quieter if you tend to pay a lot of attention to your inner critic and are actively self-critical in your conversations with yourself (thought process, how you talk about you). 
Fear, on the other hand, is emotionally charged and triggers your fight-flight-freeze response. It will bring up ego-driven thoughts and behaviour including wanting to defend, be right, being concerned with power, how you look, getting things wrong, looking the fool, etc. Fear, like your gut, is useful and necessary, but you feel it whether you have a reason to be afraid or not. And that’s the problem, because most people treat it like it’s not just the gospel truth but also that it’s the most important emotion as opposed to being on the same level as every single other emotion. Most of the time when we feel afraid, it is nothing to do with reality and fact. Fear, in fact, like beliefs, can be a habit. Feel afraid of the same thing a few times, and you can be sure your nervous system will send you a stress and fear response next time your body thinks you’re in the same situation, even if you’re not. And it is the meaning we attribute to fear as well as the lack of discernment about it that leads to the bulk of our problems. 
Many humans ignore their gut feeling. Or they think that fear is their gut. Both are gut responses, but one is steadily supportive whereas the other is like a helicopter, and, yes, sometimes abusive parent that will scare the bejaysus out of you to keep you in your comfort zone. 
Unfortunately, if you routinely ignore your needs, desires, expectations, feelings and opinions, you will have a problem with registering your gut as well as how you respond to fear. This is where the confusion comes from because after a while, you start getting messages from the gut and feeling afraid at the same time. 
 
This is best explained here in this paragraph from the sessions:
“Fear can be a response to our intuition. These instances can lead to a sense of messy confusion. Which came first — the intuition or the fear?


If, for example, you’ve routinely ignored your intuition when dating and in relationships, maybe putting libido, fear of being alone, fear of rejection, avoiding feelings, your lack of self-worth and what you hope to ‘get’ from them ahead of your wellbeing and being authentically you, guess what? You are going to feel afraid the next time you date or are in a relationship regardless of whether they’re similar to the past or are a healthier partner. Those experiences and your responses trained your subconscious to believe that you in a dating or relationship situation equals danger, distress, crying and obsessing for months on end. You can’t exactly blame you for being afraid!

This is one of those situations that causes the greatest amount of angst about discerning intuition from fear. Both intuition and fear produce gut responses — you feel them in some way. If you habitually disregard your intuition, although it will still keep trying to communicate with you, it may be difficult to hear it over the chatter, the rational thoughts, the hyperbole of the inner critic. It’s also vital to note, though, that sometimes fear and your intuition are telling you the same thing. One will be calm about it, and the other will possibly go a little OTT about it, but it’s worth considering whether fear is going extra OTT because you don’t heed your intuition.”

Losing it with someone is a response to anger and fear. We don’t get ‘intuitively’ angry with people.
Anger is a necessary and valid emotion, just like fear. 
You experienced anger, which always has an element of fear in there because you felt that you had or were experiencing an injustice. He was doing you wrong, and you were doing you wrong. 
 
If you ignore messages from yourself and also repeatedly ignore boundaries, you will ‘lose it’. If you consistently listen to you and have boundaries and, yes, express anger where needed, you will be more true to yourself. 
I’ve given you access to The Intuition Sessions  (you need to already be logged in to view it)
Getting started with expressing my needs

Since taking care of my own needs and expressing them have never been a priority in my relationships. 

I’m really struggling with coming up with ways to actually do it. 


Nat’s Response

If you taking care of your own needs and expressing them hasn’t been a priority in your relationships it’s because your focus has been on taking care of someone else’s needs, expressed or assumed. 
It’s not that you don’t have needs. It’s also, actually, not a case that you haven’t ’taken care’ of your needs, it’s that how you’ve unconsciously gone about meeting your needs is, ironically, by acting as if yours as less important and focusing on someone else’s. It’s a round-the-houses way of meeting your needs without having to get too vulnerable. The hope would be that because you are doing this that somewhere along the way, it would create a tipping point where you start getting some of this flowing back to you through their actions of care. You didn’t verbally express your needs, nor did you consciously assert your needs through action, but you have expressed your needs by hinting. 
You’ve literally dropped hints or been passive-aggressive, possibly without realising it. These might be round-the-houses comments about something you like or need or when you’ve felt pissed off, frustrated, resentful, or when you’ve been your lovely self in an attempt to take care of them and meet their needs. 
The latter is about showing others how to behave so that they will be and do what you need and want. 
So, let’s look at a starting point:
1) See all of the things you do for everyone else, possibly without giving it too much thought — do that for you. So, try to think of a few things you’ve done for people this week: Maybe shown patience, not assumed the worst in them, wondered how they were feeling or what they were doing, behaved in a way that didn’t endanger their safety, gave consideration to what they needed and wanted, so you gave over emotional, mental, physical and even spiritual airtime for this consideration — you can do all of these things. 
2) Look at a list of needs (Emotional Needs Guide — it’s in week one of Break The Cycle) and pick out a few. Sometimes it helps to start with the most basic and then work up from there. Then try to be literal. So, for example:

Safety and security: What are the things that I need to be and do for me to make me feel safe and secure? When Ive felt unsafe or insecure, what have I needed or wanted others to do? Okay, how could I flip that around and figure out what I can do? 

So, let’s say that you move really fast at the start of relationships or you go out with people who are volatile and have you walking on eggshells, and you do either of these because you’re afraid to be alone and afraid of losing the person. So you get to feel ’safe’ and ’secure’ because you are going out with someone, but you feel unsafe and insecure because you are endangering you by going too fast or making you stay in the relationship. So a way to meet this need would be to go slower and learn how to be in your own space so that you can be choosier about who you get together with you but also so that you can take care of you at the same time. 
3) This then leads me to: do a mix of dating and parenting yourself. Use this time to get super curious about how you tick as a person and then try to respond to you with care. Let’s imagine that your younger self (let’s say five years old or whatever age resonates for you) had to be taken of by you (he does, by the way). How would you do that? Would you keep him up all night? Would you ignore him? Would you tell him that he has to go without or go to the back of the line because someone else is more important? Would you tell him it’s all his fault? Nope! You’re like a Russian doll — there’s a version of you for every age you’ve been. The reason you don’t know how to take care of you, bless you, is because the little boy within you didn’t get what he needed — and still doesn’t. 
I have a couple of [really] old videos on younger selves that I think will help:
I also think that the attached guide will help. And I’ve also attached my How To Say No book as I think it could open your eyes about ways of expressing needs. 
How can my ex be so different to his image? Is he similar to my mother?

In a recent breakup text, my ex said what a “good person” I am and how I “didn’t do anything wrong.” I told him “I know I didn’t” and that how he treated me (stonewalling, subtly undercutting by saying things I say/do are subpar, withholding affection/reciprocation, flaking on dates) wasn’t ok. I’m struggling with not responding to multiple long texts from him. He’s an artistic, intellectual social worker surrounded by dynamic types. He said it was a “visceral gut feeling that can’t be explained,” that he’s “uncomfortable continuing,” that he has “apprehensions,” and that he’d be better about showing up “going forward with others.”

I can’t reconcile what feels like a cruel rejection with his image. I’m disturbed by what appears to be him (33) dating his 21-yr-old “ex” on social. I think he lied despite claiming that he was “trying to be transparent because [he] respects and appreciates” me. He ignored texts/calls in the days prior while still being on profiles that lack his name/image. Why treat me this way and then profess to be such a socially conscious person?

I feel like these men never choose me. They may mirror my critical, narcissistic mother. I often had to regulate her toxic relationships with men, contribute to rent, etc. I was a quiet, self-sufficient, studious, “good” kid. She offloads, shames/judges, says I’m imagining the toxicity I witnessed, and that I had a great childhood so there’s no excuse for playing the victim when I express feelings. She recently said she doesn’t want to be my mother. I see the overlap, but I don’t see it when I date these men. This man seemed dynamic/kind throughout the majority of our interactions.


Nat’s Response

Something crucial to acknowledge about life is that it’s not about worthiness and deservedness. So, to be clear: life isn’t working on a brownie points, gold star system. Bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, and people can and will disappoint no matter how lovely you are. People will also fail to live up to your expectations even if you haven’t done anything “wrong”. 
This relationship not working out has nothing whatsoever to do with whether you are a “good person” and what you did “wrong”. It’s absolutely the right thing that this hasn’t worked. You busting a gut wouldn’t and shouldn’t have changed the outcome. All you ‘efforting’ does is destroy your self-esteem and make it all the more painful when the relationship you know isn’t right for you still doesn’t work out. You are ignoring very clear signs from him that he is not available, but also that he’s not the person for you. 
I totally get that all of that malarkey, including stonewalling and withholding, is painful, exhausting and confusing. I do not blame you for being angry and hurt. But the more you make this about your worth and deservedness, the more you will put your self-esteem on the chopping block and call it something he’s doing to you, all while ignoring that this is a no-go situation. 
It really doesn’t matter that “He’s an artistic, intellectual social worker surrounded by dynamic types.” That has nothing to do with with whether you and he are compatible and whether he can meet your emotional needs (he can’t and he isn’t). 
All of his waffling about on text drags this out. And it’s ridiculous given that this is the man who has no time for anything, including basic calls. But he has time to pontificate about the relationship. 
He is not “going forward with others”. That’s laughable. I mean, he is in the sense that he’ll be pulling this rigmarole on someone else, but he isn’t going to ’take on board’ what you’ve said. And I suspect that his suggestion that he would is offending you because you’re like Why the eff would you ditch me to go and try this out on some random when I’m right here practically begging to have a relationship with you? What’s so wrong with me that you wouldn’t fix up and apply this to OUR relationship?
 
Listen, this isn’t his first time around this rodeo. What? You think that you’re the first woman who pulled him up about his ambivalence, lack of attentiveness, dodging of, well, everything, and his stonewalling and withdrawing? Nope! Sure, he might say that it is, but this is a lie. And you’re participating in it if you actually start to convince yourself that something about you ‘made’ this man behave as he did. Nope! 
Why do you care about his image? It’s like going I can’t believe that the cool, likeable guy that’s a politician/works with kids/goes to church every week/does such a caring role is different to the image he projects and the picture I’ve painted in my mind. 
 
So he says he’s a “socially conscious” person. He doth protest too much. I’m not saying he doesn’t do stuff, but he’s not so socially conscious that it extends to his intimate relationships. He’d rather play Saviour of the People or put on a show about all of the things he supports (virtue signalling) than actually live and breathe this in his values right down to his intimate relationships. This man is not congruent with his values. 
And people can be more than one thing: People can be socially conscious AND behave like a dick. Someone can be The Best Entertainer of All Time and possibly be someone who messes with kids. Someone can do things for the community AND have a whole secret life on the dark web that will make you shudder. 
What you have to ask yourself is why you care more about image than you do about content and truth?
You have what I call The Other Mother — the type you don’t see when you do a google search of motherhood or when you look on Getty Images. She’s different from the social construct of motherhood never mind what we inherently understand of the role of mother. I get it. I have one too. And it’s a source of shame for a long time until you realise that 1) you have one, 2) you’re not alone and 3) who she is has nothing to do with you. You weren’t under-mothered because you were inadequate. It’s who she is based on her backstory, character, etc. You’ve spent your whole life feeling as if you’re not good enough because your mother didn’t and doesn’t mother you. And, no, you didn’t have a great childhood. And believe me, if you co-sign to that, it’s all too easy to blow smoke up men’s bottoms and let them hijack the narrative. 
Your ex is not dynamic and kind. 
How do I stop my online snooping of my ex?

I cannot stop stalking the social pages of my ex who broke up with me 3 months ago after a 7-month relationship. I did the same for a previous ex until I was fully over him. I know it’s bad for me and delays healing. But it’s just so darn easy to do, unlike other no contact rules. Blocking doesn’t really help because I can unblock. Unfriending, unfollowing helps to a degree in that it limits what I can see, but I still try. If I knew I’d “get caught” I’d stop. Other than that, I’m no contact with him (as I was for the last one), but I’d love suggestions on how to address this last, giant addiction.

It’s not like I find anything interesting. He rarely posts so I end up looking at his co-parenting partner’s profiles for clues. But you may recall from my last email that it ended poorly with him lashing out at me. Maybe I want to know that he’s unhappy without me? Or that he is still depressed to validate why he broke up with me? With the previous ex, he dumped me to get back with his ex. It didn’t work out in the end with them, but damn if I didn’t trace every step of that happening for a couple of years!

I feel creepy and out of control.


Nat’s Response

You’re stalking your ex as a way to manage your feelings and thoughts about the situation. It’s a way of staying on top of the narrative, but it’s also a distraction from something else in your life. It’s like Let me just check that they’re really as effed-up as I know they are. Let me make sure they haven’t moved on. Ooh, I’m feel like I’m feeling and thinking too much. Let me go and distract myself by looking him up. 
 
I know for sure that if Facebook and Instagram told people who was looking at their stuff, that would be the end of their platforms. A big part of their business is the snooping element! It’s because our behaviour can’t be observed why we continue stalking exes or rifling through rivals pages to compare ourselves.
I suspect that you take a bit of convincing that the reasons why someone isn’t right for you or why the relationship broke down are the case. Deep down you know that this person is wrong for you and that the relationship is unhealthy, but it’s like you need to spend time doubting that until you finally agree with yourself and/or until someone or something else comes along.
It’s also habit. I always know when my husband’s reached peak stress with work because he starts mainlining sweet stuff and crackers and cheese, stuff he eats in moderation otherwise. By doing this, he’s taught himself that these are his go-to’s. He probably doesn’t have to give it much thought. It took me pointing out that he does this for him to fully notice it. And I noticed it because I noticed myself doing it in the past.
So, you do this, not because you actually want to but it’s more force of habit. If you think about your ex every day when you wake up for a few weeks, odds are that you will keep doing that, not because you consciously thought of your ex but because your mind sends down the thought. Something like ninety-five percent of the thoughts we have today are the same as the ones we had yesterday, last week, last month and even last year.
So, you are snooping because it’s habit. It’s likely paired up with certain aspects of your day or when you think or feel something in particular. It might be a stress response. It might simply be the thing you start your day with or what you do to pass half an hour in the evening.
Spend a few days observing this habit. When do you do it? What were you thinking, feeling and doing beforehand? How long do you do it for? What are your thoughts while doing it? You’re responding to something with this ritual, so find out what it is. Once you bring this awareness to it, you will start to break the pattern of the habit because there will be something else you can do instead. I would also set a time limit and make it a once-a-day activity (initially). Something like five minutes. And set the alarm. Going to the trouble of doing this will make you think about whether you want to bother. And once time is up, time is up. You have to wait until the following day.
But most of all, figure out what the something else is. After all, if you’re looking up your ex because you’re saying something untrue about you or him that’s making you feel like shit, being more honest with you will soon put an end to the snooping.
Should I tell him that I know about his girlfriend?

I found out that my husband had been seeing someone for at least 6 months when he left for the army in February of this year. When I went to the girl’s house (crazy on my part), I was told she wasn’t there, left my number, and she called me back two minutes after I left. She said she knew who I was and that they were just friends and she was just helping him out. She blocked me on FB back then and for some reason unblocked me the other day and I was able to find out through that, that he had been writing her letters and calling her (no calls to me) while he was in Basic Training so I’m assuming she told him about my visit. He is in his 2nd phase of training in another state, I spoke to him on Sunday and no mention was made of the girl. I blocked both of them on FB and IG. I’m not sure how to handle it regarding No Contact. We are married and the army is paying for my/our rent because of that. Should I tell him I know about her?


Nat’s Response

Right now you’re in that rather difficult spot where you know what your husband has done but you don’t know if he knows that you know. And you also know but aren’t telling him that you know. It probably all feels a bit cat and mouse. 
You must feel incredibly hurt and let down by his actions. It’s not just the whole seeing someone else. I get the impression that there’s a sense of neglect, like How the hell are you writing letters and calling her but you’re not calling me? 
And then he acts like nothing’s up, and you’re hurting. Is it that she hasn’t told him and so he’s acting as he has over the last few months (operating on the basis that you don’t know), or is it that he does know but he’s not going to be the first to admit it? Not sure how the whole calls thing works when you’re in the army, but if you haven’t called him and ripped him a new one straight after finding out, he might not know how to play it. 
I don’t know that you were “crazy” to visit the woman’s house. Plenty would do exactly the same thing, especially when a part of them just cannot believe that what they’ve found out is true and they want to confirm it, or they want to make absolutely sure so that they can nail their partner. After all, if someone’s been cheating on you, there’s a distinct possibility that depending on how they generally are with the truth that they will lie about what’s been going on. Sure, some will break down in tears and fess up immediately, probably relieved at finally being caught, but there’s plenty that will play the I’ll-only-admit-to-what-I-think-you-know game. 
I think that before you cut him off, give that you’re married, you need to let him know what you’ve discovered. Don’t ask, tell. 
I know that you’ve been seeing X for the last six months. Please, don’t lie about. Don’t make out like I’m imagining things or that you’re just friends, because that will only make this even more difficult than it already is. 
 
Let him know that you know about the letters and the calls, and that given that he didn’t call you, it makes his betrayal even more of a blow. 
If you have already made up your mind to divorce, that is okay, but you need to let him know that you know and that you are filing for divorce. 
I don’t know the ins and outs of your marriage. This may be the last straw, or it might be the red line. It is hard to be an army wife, and you need to know that the person has your back. 
Given that he’s away, let him know what you know and what your next steps will be. Then you can stop talking to him. You can, of course, before you speak with him, find out how the whole divorcing an army person works, but I doubt they’re going to kick you out of the house.
I’m sorry that you’re going through this. 
Stick with the break, or close the distance?

My partner and I are taking this course together, and we decided to “take a break” for the 6-week duration of the course. We did this so we can become healthy on our own and break any co-dependency and gain some perspective on our relationship without influencing each other. As I discover more about myself through this course, I am also finding myself desperate to discuss with my partner, especially where it is most relevant to us. Tbh I am very torn between taking this break and wanting to grow closer to him through this process. I feel confused about what would help and what wouldn’t and what my intentions actually are and if I am seeking him as a way to distract me from other anxieties.

Although I am the one who has insisted over and again that we need the distance, I feel some anxiety now that we will only grow apart. I want some feedback on how I can go about objectively assessing how to best go through this course. I see incredible benefit to doing it alone, but I also know discussing things with my partner reveals our blindspots and generally results in a more well-rounded perspective on a given topic… Or am I doing mental gymnastics to be able to talk to him? ..Help!

Nat’s Response

This is a really interesting question. 

In everything we do there is a ‘why’, and knowing why we do what we do helps us to make better choices and enjoy more successful outcomes. When we aware of our intentions, we make very different choices to the ones we make when we’re unaware. 
If your respective intentions for taking a break were indeed about breaking codependency and gaining perspective, what you have to look at is whether your intention with now wanting to discuss it are in alignment with that. 
Does your desire for closeness after requesting distance stem from a place of fear or a genuine change of heart about how to work through your issues? And note that I say “your”, because what you feel now doesn’t necessarily reflect how they feel. That’s the danger of codependency: we have a change of perspective or feel certain things and then imagine that it’s the case for the other party and the situation. 
My concern would also be about whether this is a response to discomfort and then wanting to alleviate those feelings by regaining closeness. 
If the original reasons that you took the break haven’t been resolved, or the two of you aren’t more aware of what is going on and similarly (but also individually) resolved to being more aware, then the problems that triggered this will manifest in a different way. 
Is it that discussing it with him is assumed to be the only way to get closer to him?
Because the truth is, if you both do the work, even if it is separately, you will still be closer than you were before you were doing this work if the heartfelt intention for the two of you is to better your relationship. 
I think that it’s understandable to experience some anxiety about growing apart. You can only account for your learning, and maybe part of what scares you is that if you’re not there to oversee or discuss what you’re learning week by week that when it gets to the end of the six weeks, you might be:
1) Disappointed because he is not where you are or
2) Disappointed because you are not where he is 
There’s also possibly some fear that he will learn something in this work that will put him off. 
But you have to do this work, not just for your relationship but for you full stop. Irrespective of what happens between you both, you still have to address this stuff. 
Go back to basics: Revisit your reasons for why you insisted on that distance and be honest about whether a week or so is enough to have caused that big a sea change. 
I would sit with the feeling for now and see how it unfolds over the coming days. Note it in your feelings diary. 
Something that will help to decipher these feelings is my Intuition Sessions. I’ve given you access. 
And I think you need to trust yourself a bit more even though you are also scared. You can be more than one thing. 
How to stop thinking about a partner's past relationship and sexual experiences

What would you recommend doing to help stop thinking about a partner’s past relationships/sexual experiences so that you can enjoy your relationship with the person and not allow a partner’s past experiences to play on your mind and bother you?

Nat’s Response

This is one of those ‘It depends’ kind of questions. 
If your partner’s past relationship/sexual experiences are problematic (shady, abusive, into something dodgy sex-wise, run-in with the law), you have good reason for these to weigh on your mind somewhat. 
If it’s not that, while having some awareness of your partner’s past relationship experiences and a little on the sex front, maybe, it’s not something that’s material to your relationship. I’ve been with my now-husband for over fourteen years. We’ve rarely spoken about what the other did with a past partner sexual wise (very briefly in the early days). We have spoken openly about past partners, but they’re immaterial to our relationship. 
Now, going back to the first one: If you are aware of something about your partner that you’re trying to play down with denying, rationalising, minimising and excusing, you will not be able to get rid of it. It will keep resurfacing as these thoughts and insecurity because you are ignoring something about what you know that tells you about what you’re experiencing now. 
Assuming that it’s not the first one, you then need to have an honest conversation with yourself. So, if you’re thinking about your partner’s past relationships or sexual experiences, what you have to explore is what that’s a cover for. What does you thinking about these mean that you’re not thinking about or doing instead? What does it mean that you don’t do? After all, if this is what you’re thinking about, it means that you’re holding the past over your partner and potentially comparing you to people he’s not even with any more. That means that when you have the option of being present and intimate with your partner, you’re opting to think about these instead, which stops you from relaxing into the relationship and having to either trust him or be open to seeing how the relationship goes. 
Unless you know their past experience in intimate detail, which would be concerning(!!!), the only reason why his relationship or sexual past can play on your mind is because of the story you’re telling you. Again, assuming that this person isn’t shady and they aren’t using their past as a weapon against you to manipulate and control you, this insecurity about their past exists because of your imagination. It’s a means of keeping you at an emotional distance due to not feeling that you can be yourself or feeling that you are maybe unworthy in some way. It’s projection: taking what you think and feel about you and calling it something that he’s doing or calling it a problem in your relationship. 
Thinking about their past is a habit. You have learned to respond to certain thoughts, feelings and actions with thoughts about your ex’s past, which create more thoughts, which create more feelings. Let’s say that each time you think about being sexually intimate with your partner, you think about what they may have done with a partner or what you haven’t done. Do that a few times and you’ve got a habit on your hands. Or, let’s say that you’re feeling insecure about the relationship because you like them, and so you respond with thoughts of his past. Do that a few times, and you’ve got a habit. Now, each time you feel insecure, your mind will send up those images, feelings and thoughts. Something like ninety-five percent of the thoughts we have today are the same as the ones we had yesterday, last week, last month and even last year. 
Your thoughts about their past are paired-up with certain aspects of your day or when you think or feel something in particular. It might be a stress response. It might simply be the thing you start your day with or what you do to pass time. 
Spend a few days observing this habit. When do you do it? What were you thinking, feeling and doing beforehand? How long do you do it for? What are your thoughts while doing it? You’re responding to something with this ritual, so find out what it is. Once you bring this awareness to it, you will start to break the pattern of the habit because there will be something else you can do instead.
Feeling smothered by my lockdown Tinder date

Met Jon on Tinder three weeks ago (I’m in Texas, he’s in California). He asks me out on a couple of video dates LOL, conversation good, discuss emotional intelligence. A few days later he became very consistent: text morning, send a check-in text afternoon and a video chat at night. 2.5 weeks later I feel within me ugh I’m smothered. Stop! Why are you so easy? Lol 🤦🏽‍♀️ Like, play a little hard to get, geez.

So I ran, but then the next day I opened up and I said I’m scared of love, to lose, and also to be smothered. I like my space, we haven’t met yet. Like maybe we can talk every 2-3 days and reevaluate until we meet. Cali visiting Texas has to home quarantine for 14 days. My family lives out there so I decided to visit them and I’ll spend an evening with him to see how it is.

When he is too there, I am like, Back off me. I know it’s called healthy behaviour lol. I don’t know if I’m bored. He’s very kind. One day, like a jerk, I decided to tell him about himself — that he’s a people-pleaser with his friend. He was beside himself and said what I told him is true, nothing new, didn’t expect me to speak out, but complimented me in the same time that I’m brave and loves a woman who speaks out. He just always has right things to say. When I’m sparked- he knows how to bring it down and assures me that I’m still great. I’m like, Are you REAL? He’s like, Well you keep bringing up how I am with conflict so I figured you’d try to start something LOL. He’s very handsome, has 2 kids, has told me he’s used to travelling for his job so it won’t be a problem with kids because you know I’m honest like hey if I want to go to islands in 3 weeks, we’re going (yes my selfish ways). Very kind, emotionally intelligent so far……only 3 weeks not much else to say, connect well but I don’t know if he’s boring yet. I feel like I bring the spice lol.

Nat’s Response

I think it’s a lot to converse at that level when you haven’t met yet. Sure, some people can do it, but plenty can’t. There’s a part of you that is rightly feeling a disconnect between reality and what’s taking place over video chat, etc. 
You have a mix of things taking place:
  • Things are moving too fast in terms of the level of communication. Given that your therapist recommended that you weren’t ready to date, it’s possible that some of that is triggering conflicting feelings as you’ve already disregarded that advice to explore this option. But you may not have enough awareness of why you respond in this way or why you are dating right now when it can’t, well, go anywhere in the literal sense. 
  • I don’t think that your intentions for dating are clear to you, hence this ambivalence. Because you aren’t aware of your intentions, you are seeming surprised by the current state of play (him trying to be in touch) and feeling weirded out by it. 
  • It might feel like there is something of a ‘demand’ (even if there isn’t per se) in him wanting to talk as often. And that might feel a little or a lot invasive given that you haven’t met and are not in a relationship. 
You say that you are scared of love, to lose and to also be smothered. Very common, but given that you’re talking to a dude from Tinder that you haven’t met, you don’t really have those things to be scared of. Instead, if you are more honest and clear about your boundaries and you do things based on values and intention, you can literally say “Let’s chat on Saturday {three days away}” or “Talking every day feels like a bit much for me. I’m enjoying chatting with you, but I am mindful of doing this every day and rushing ahead emotionally and mentally when we haven’t actually met and interacted in real life.”
If he’s as emotionally intelligent as you and he claim he is, 1) he should be able to read the room and adjust to a schedule that’s mutually agreeable and 2) you should be able to turn around and express your discomfort. He’s a veritable stranger at this point. If you can’t say it now, when the frick can you?
And it does sound like he can handle you speaking up (in a boundaried way). Maybe instead of doing things to spark a reaction and test him out, sit with that feeling. Try to understand where that’s coming from. 
Also, if what you learn from chatting with this guy is that you are very used to drama and sparring with someone, that’s something you can take to the proverbial bank and address. Because clearly, a part of you doesn’t know what to do when it’s not kicking off. You don’t know what to do when someone responds calmly. I think it’s also worth exploring whether you are displacing irritation and anger you feel elsewhere but that you are trying to keep a lid on. If, for example, you are trying to be ‘less angry’ with family but you’re actually swallowing it and not dealing with it, it may manifest itself with this diversion of trying to create a bit of drama with this guy. 

April

What advice would you give to someone who wants to wait to have sex?

I have always liked the idea of waiting until marriage for sex. I am almost 29 and have never been in a relationship. I have dated some lads for short periods of time, but have always found it difficult to be vulnerable due to low feelings of worth and how I feel about sex. I don’t mind sharing a bed, but I like the idea of waiting until I am married to have sex or at least until I am in a long-term, trusting, secure relationship. I know it is not common nowadays and therefore find it limiting and disheartening when it comes to dating/relationships. When I was young it was what I was brought up to believe to be right, but I know that it is also because I have a fear of getting hurt, regretting it and unplanned pregnancies. I also just like the idea of having sex with one person. This has played on my mind for years. Whenever I like someone, in the back of my head I feel it will never work because they won’t want to wait. I dread telling them and knowing when to tell them. I have only told 2 lads.


Nat’s Response

This is one of those situations that can become a catch-22. 
Wanting to wait until marriage before you have sex is fine, but knowing why you want to have sex ensures that it’s a decision made from a place of desire and choice, not one from fear, avoidance and wanting to control something. 
There are people who wait until marriage for sex. In fact, I have a friend who did. But it takes owning your choice and your value by living up to it to really funnel you towards people and relationships that respect that value. Someone who wants to be with you and who can be okay with that isn’t going to be every guy, but then you’re not looking for every guy. There will be people who want to be okay with it because they like you or even because they like the idea of being someone who practices that restraint, but the reality of such a decision might be too much for them — and this is okay. It’s not for everyone and it’s a big decision. 
I think what you need to ensure even if you proceed with waiting until marriage is that you have addressed the fear of vulnerability and the low self-worth. You also need to address the feelings about sex because getting married will only provide temporary relief. Being honest with you about what your feelings are about sex and why will ensure that you are not using marriage as a way to avoid emotional and sexual intimacy or that you’re not using marriage as a way to protect you against something you’re afraid of. Because the thing about doing things from a place of fear and guilt is that we create rules to protect us from what we’re afraid of and to make us feel better, but the fear (and often the guilt remain). 
To be in a long-term, trusting and secure relationship, that will take vulnerability and the intimacy that comes with this. 
You mention that you’ve dated some lads for a short period of time, but if you have a fear of vulnerability and things getting too intimate and what that might involve or you’re afraid of rejection and dealing with the conversations around waiting and sex, your involvements will be short to ward off that possibility. 
You also have to make this decision based on being twenty-nine and who you are, not on what you were brought up to believe is “right”. There are things that some people were brought up to believe are wrong such as being gay, marrying someone of a different religion or race, masturbation. That doesn’t mean that this is what they actually believe or even that these are relevant to their present-day life. So you need to put what you learned into the context of being a freewheeling adult and work out why you believe that you sex should wait until marriage. You need to ensure that your decision to wait isn’t because of fear of disapproval from a particular person in your life or this idea that having sex would put a black mark on you. 
Shame is something that’s taught to so many women and so we don’t embrace our femininity, sexuality, our needs and rights because of what we’ve been socialised to believe is being the ‘right’ kind of woman. 
You have associations with sex, vulnerability and marriage. 
I recommend that you use the Clearing and Releasing Emotional Charge (foundational resources) exercise on those three subjects. Do the exercise three times so that each topic gets its own list. See what comes up as there will be clues in there about why you are in this bind. 
But ultimately, it is always okay to wait to have sex, but it is always about the why behind it. When that is clear, you can be intentional and make the right choices. When that’s unclear or there are other unacknowledged reasons (which are going to come up as part of this process), then you can feel stuck and scared. You will get this figured out. 

 

Getting Over 'Friends with Benefits'

Two months ago, I ended a ‘friend with benefits’ situation with a friend and work colleague. We ended up becoming best friends, and I developed feelings for him. He didn’t treat me great at times and maintenance of the friendship was important to us both. I felt he was also giving me mixed signals, and I realised the reality that friends don’t casually and often sleep with each other. We had both blurred the boundaries of FWB, i.e. sleepovers, spending time together outside of sex.

We went back to being friends, seeing each other daily at work. However, we ended up in an emotional-charged fight which pushed us apart. Due to work and having mutual friends, we agreed to clear the air. He did not say much (he is emotional avoidant) but that my words hurt him. I expressed my own hurt. Since then, we have maintained a friendly friendship, interacting daily, but I am finding it hard to create new boundaries and create separation. I want space to heal fully, but I miss him/am disappointed when we don’t interact. I know what I have to do to heal, i.e. limited contact, but I am breaking these promises to myself.

Nat’s Response

The thing about these situations is that they’re never really as ‘mutual’ as each party would have the other belief. Somebody wants more, but is pretending they don’t or that they’re okay with the situation, and someone is pretending that this is ‘mutual’ while advancing their self-interest and acting like everything is above board when it isn’t.

Let’s say that you became friends with a woman at work, but she didn’t treat you well at times. Wouldn’t that give you some big question marks over the friendship? If not, why not?

I don’t know how things were before you started sleeping together, but I suspect that there was always an undertone to the relationship, even if it wasn’t acknowledged. It’s not that men and women can’t be friends (they can), but sometimes, in fact, often, these friendships have something else going on behind the scenes that isn’t acknowledged. If one or both parties, on some level, associate friendship or even just engaging with the opposite sex with romantic inclinations and sexual possibilities, it’s only a matter of time till one has a crush or they start sleeping together.

It’s like each party pretends that there isn’t flirtation or some level of, yes, inappropriateness, and so this makes it open season for the flirting and ambiguity.

This was an ambiguous romantic involvement with a work colleague dressed up as being besties to make things that weren’t palatable about the arrangement more okay. Well, we’re besties, so it’s okay that he _______.

It sounds like it appeared to be the best of both worlds: the trappings of a relationship and friendship without having to fully step up to either one. And this is something that felt okay for both of you until it wasn’t.

You had an emotionally-charged fight because you’re two humans engaging in a big pretence. He doesn’t want to be That Guy (seen in a bad light, being a bit of a user), and you don’t want to be That Girl (seen as making a big deal or catching feelings and ‘wrecking’ the arrangement with ‘drama’).

He is “emotionally avoidant” and says that your words “hurt him”. Well, okay. It’s great that he can acknowledge this, but it’s avoidance if he doesn’t acknowledge his actions and that you are hurt as well. It can’t be You Mortally Wounded With Me By Speaking Up About The Crappy Thing That We Were Doing Together show. It can’t all be about him, and it can’t be about him wanting to come up smelling like roses.

Yes, you are both participants in the situation. I’m not taking away your responsibility for you. But he took advantage. And, yes, he took advantage in an atmosphere where you were willing to let him because you thought that this ‘friendship’ would protect you and that you might get what you want in the end, but his avoidance meant that he took advantage of your vulnerability in allowing him to use you in the first place. Not treating you great and then saying ‘Ooh, maintaining this friendship is important’ is a classic way of avoiding looking too closely at your (his) actions. Because if you’re still acting like bezzie mates, he then thinks that surely there’s nothing wrong with what he’s doing.

I hate to break it to you, but you will have to be okay with being disappointed at not interacting. You will not know if a true friendship is possible, nor will you be able to heal and not be in this situation again, whether it’s with him or someone else, if you keep trying to paper over your feelings and needs. You hope that you guys can act as if nothing happened or be The Best of Pals. You weren’t The Best of Pals in the first place, and that’s why you are disappointed. This situation will not experience restoration and repair if you do not address the problem. And if you have to lie to him and yourself to be friends, and you have to pretend you’re not angry, then the situation will rumble on. You will also cross yours and his boundaries because you will keep engaging with him and expecting him to be different than he is, and then saying that he’s upsetting you. So you have to step back and leave it be. It’s okay for him to be hurt, and it’s also okay for you to be hurt.

 

Moving past the discovery of being cheated on

How do you move past it when you find out your bf has been cheating probably with more than one person and didn’t even try to keep you when you found out? I feel like it would make me feel better to know he cared and now I don’t know if anything he said was true.

Nat’s Response

It won’t make you feel better to know that he ‘cared’ enough that he would be honest with you about the fact that he was sleeping with other people behind your back. It wouldn’t prove that he ‘cared’ if he tried to keep you after he found out. Why?
You’ve been in a relationship with someone who’s been screwing around behind your back. That means that he’s had to lie to and deceive you in order to maintain what he’s doing. 
When someone cheats, it’s nothing to do with the worthiness of their partner or spouse. They cheat because they are not a problem solver. When they experience uncomfortable feelings and thoughts, or there’s something going on in the relationship or another area of their life, they look outside of the relationship for an external solution to an internal (their feelings and thoughts inside them) issue. The person they cheat with is like an ‘upper’ or someone to numb them. They are an escape. 
Some people cannot handle intimacy. They start relationships hoping they will be different and will fall for you to an extent, but once they start to have feelings and care for you, it becomes something that they have to neutralise with their cheating. They feel uncomfortable in a relationship and, yes, grapple with feelings of low self-worth. The more you love and care about them, the worse they feel. The nicer you are to them, the more they want to repel it. 
Some people don’t believe in being faithful because they need constant validation of their attractiveness from a ‘fresh’ source. 
Some play hooky on their relationship to relieve the feeling of commitment. There are a number of reasons for cheating. 
If this were about not caring at all, then surely there’s no need to cheat. 
But there’s a big draw to being with more than one person, especially when there’s secrecy, because it boosts their ego. 
Someone who has a modicum of shame about their actions, while they might try to get back with you, they’re unlikely to stay. The nicer you are, the worse they will feel, and they will often respond to that with more cheating or some form of shitty behaviour. 
You are a reminder that he did wrong. It’s easier to mess around with women who don’t know what he’s about or who he hasn’t said things that implied that he’s a much better person than he is. 
What would be the point in trying to, as you put it, ‘keep’ you?
He’s just lied to you for the entire relationship. He has not addressed his issues. That would take more time than he’s currently spent on the issue. He would just be lying to you to keep you and then you’d be hurt when he didn’t change. Wanting him to soap you up with lies so that you can feel like he fought for you isn’t the way to go. 
You move past it when you accept that it’s the right thing that the relationship has ended and the right thing that you’re not currently fighting for it. You move past it when you stop treating this like a competition between women for someone who isn’t a prize. You move past it when you’re honest about why you need to be with a man who cheats so that you then have to get him to prove that you are ’The Best’. You move past it when you’re super honest about what’s really going on here. You move past it when you accept that there are times when he lied to you, and that means that you can’t be together even if he cares. 
 
If you keep saying that this is the man for you and waiting for him to prove you are worthy, then you will only be available for the same guy or another guy like him.  
Feeling bad about myself and not knowing how to change things

Apologies for being late with this… when I was writing to decipher what to say in this session, I ended up in floods of tears… I have no idea why, I haven’t been feeling too great in the last 3 days, so perhaps fear is unknowingly getting to me. Despite really minding myself, sleeping load, eating good food and chilling.

I’ve had dreams about an ex (My epiphany) who broke my heart, I spent years getting over this, and working really hard to, but he’s come back into my life again through my dreams! I know that he is now engaged or married, and everyone from my life at that time, seems to have moved on, are pregnant & married & I’m still single & living on my own…
Since that period of my life 9 years ago, I feel I have become more & more of a shrinking wallflower, I no longer ‘self’ promote work wise or personally… I can’t figure out if this is due to laziness, focussing on myself rather than outside recognition, or that I am becoming more introverted as time goes on. People valued me a lot back then.. especially when I was in a relationship – as I had a lot more outer confidence in myself.
I am also feeling lonelier…that everyone else including all my peers are too busy with their own lives to ever think of me. I seem to be always at the beck & call of everyone else lives.. I have time on my hands always for everyone, but they don’t have the time for me…only when it suits them…This makes me feel less & less valued by others.
The constant kick in the face comes with everyone else showing how happy they are on Facebook…pregnant photos, engagement photos, its a constant borage of this, and it makes me feel down, knowing that all these people much younger than me are constantly moving on in life.
I know I am on a rant of feeling sorry for myself & believe me I am very conscious & grateful of what I do have, but sometimes I am so sick of trying to keep strong.
I don’t know how to change things…
I constantly wonder if I have put myself into a ‘zone’ of flying solo.
Is there more I need to do to change to attract the right partner, (I seemed to attract plenty of men & friends 10 years ago  – the old me – I miss that).
Do I need to work on shining my light brighter? It all seems to be about marketing one’s self these days.

Nat’s Response

Goodness, it sounds like you’re having a bit of clear-out, for one reason or another. It might not be any one thing and so it’s a build-up of things you need to release. Or, it might be the whole lockdown thing and you being still enough for old pain, fear and guilt to come up to the surface. 

It sounds like your ex is what you see as the marker of where your hopes and aspirations ended. Like everything was contained in him and that after things ended, it was as if you, well, gave up. It’s like, Well, I thought I was going to have it all with him. He was my last chance, and now that it’s over, it’s not going to happen with anyone else. It might even be I blew it. I obviously wasn’t enough. Sure, that’s the end of the road for me now. No point in getting too into anything with anyone because they all leave in the end. At least if I’m with people who there’s an outside chance, I’m quids in if it works out but not massively surprised if it doesn’t. 
 
Something snapped after the relationship ended, and I think a part of you gave up and resigned yourself to not finding genuine love because a part of you thinks that it hurts too much. That men aren’t to be trusted and that they let you down or flake out. Maybe even an element of believing that men only cough up the commitment for the right woman and that you already know that you’re ’not enough’ so it’s not going to happen for you.
I don’t think you have to “keep things strong”. It doesn’t mean you’re ungrateful either. Acknowledging your grief and pain, and, yes, acknowledging that you find it hard to see what everyone else is doing is pivotal to actually opening yourself up again. I think that when we try to be strong as an identity, we engage in spiritual and, in fact, emotional bypassing. I’m all for being grateful, but sometimes, things suck. Sometimes, you’re f*cked off as hell and raging at the world. Sometimes you feel eaten up inside by what others seem to be, do and have. No, you don’t have to take up residence in these feelings and thoughts, but when you acknowledge their presence, you can move on from them. You can give you what you need. You can be honest about what you’ve been doing or not doing.
Two years ago, I woke up and melted down one morning after yet another night of sleep deprivation due to my tinnitus. I was in a dark place for a few weeks, and while I wouldn’t wish to be there again, it was what I needed. I felt as if tinnitus was destroying me, and I couldn’t understand why I had it when all I seemed to fecking do was listen to myself. But breaking down somewhat allowed me to go to a deeper place of listening and honesty.
I know that you want to change things, and you will. You are. This is stuff that you’ve had rumbling around inside of you for a long time. Let the grief come up. You don’t need to coddle yourself in gratitude. It doesn’t mean you’re an ungrateful person that you feel like this.
Surrender to what is even though it isn’t where you want to be. After resisting it and berating you about it, surrender to it, not because this will be your reality forever, but so that you can feel what needs to come up and also stop persecuting you.
I get the sense that you think you’re a shadow of your former self and that the bit that people love and like went when your relationship ended.
You’re still her. You’ve just gradually retreated because of how hard it’s become to see how people’s lives appear to be moving forward. Yours is and will. 
 
I get the whole not wanting to be shouty. I think this video of a talk I gave last year does a better job of explaining it as I felt very much about the same about ‘marketing one’s self’!
How can I put my anger and shame in the past and finally move on?

The last couple of years have been pretty tumultuous for me. I got involved with a guy who had a girlfriend, after what I now realise was a Lean Period in my own life, so when he made the move on me I was taken aback but fell in love with him very quickly. He was the typical Mr Unavailable and for the year and a half we were together whilst he was still with his girlfriend I had some very dark moments. I remember a period of months where taking my own life seemed like a valid option. She found out about us, they broke up, he broke up with me also. A few weeks later we started things up again, and I found out he had been lying and also seeing her behind my back. I’ve been on and off this rollercoaster with this guy for the past two years and a couple days ago attempted for the 100th time to start the no contact rule again, after finding out he was in contact with her and me not trusting him at all. I know he gives me only crumbs, and I am shocked at how little self esteem and self respect I have been showing myself over the past couple years as I always thought of myself as a strong and confident person. My question is how do I put myself out there in the world, write/speak/follow my goals if I am thinking in the back of my mind, will she see this, will she hear this, and how can I ever be proud of anything personal I put out there if I know she could be part of the audience. This comes down to even posting a simple photo on instagram, to writing a post about something important to me. I feel frozen and hidden because I am ashamed of what I did, and I am also harbouring so much anger and resentment at her too. She did nothing wrong but she was the obstacle to my happiness for so long, or what I thought was the case at the time. She sent me a horrible message that I sometimes wake up dreaming about in the middle of the night. I’m stuck in the past, and struggling to forgive myself and her and him in order to move on.

Nat’s Response

I think that what you need to acknowledge here is that you’ve been in a painful and dark place for a couple of years. Before this guy came along, on some level, you’d resigned yourself to something. Maybe you’d given up.
Then this man comes along without very much to offer at all, but it’s the some crumbs is better than no crumbs mentality. The affair also means that you don’t have to fully immerse yourself in a relationship or realise your goals. It ensures that shame and anxiety are near-constant companions.
It’s not that you are not a “strong and confident” person, but something has deeply hurt you. I come across so many women, also, who are “strong and confident” in other areas of their life, but as soon as they are in a romantic context, it’s like the wheels come off. They are triggered. Because a romantic relationship feels so pivotal to their survival, a whiff of interest and it activates unmet needs and wounds from the past, in turn setting off a dependency.
This is why I hear from so many people who say that they would be totally fine on their own, that they know who they are, that they’re confident, etc., and then their relationship ends or they meet someone and they become a shadow of their former selves or say that they can’t survive without this person. The relationship or person reveals where they are deceiving themselves in some way so that they can address what needs to be healed or implemented in their lives.
Let me tell you something: you’re a human who wants to love and be loved. The majority of women whether they’re aware of it or not have been caught up in some level of affair. It doesn’t make you a bad person, and it most certainly doesn’t mean that you should sentence you to purgatory. I remember when I was coming out of the fog of my own affair and watching Oprah explain how she had not only been the Other Woman, but it turns out, the Other Woman to the Other Woman also. Anyone can get caught up in an affair. 
You are not malicious; you are in pain. I am not taking away from your responsibility for yourself, but it’s also important to acknowledge that the sheer level of mind effery in an affair situation is not to be underestimated. He has lied to, deceived, manipulated the both of you. She’s not getting a loaf; you’re both getting crumbs. You’re the Other Woman to each other.
Make her human. She is grappling with the same issues that you are. Otherwise, she’d have told him to take a run and jump ages ago.
Make you human. You have detoured from who you are and hit such a low that at one point, you contemplated not living any more. It pains me that you felt this way, but I’m also not surprised. I felt that way too at times. In fact, it was contemplating no longer being here or moving away or being pregnant and whether he would step up that made me realise how bloody desperate and awful the situation was.
Love and loving person do not make you feel this way. 
 
I also felt the same way about my ex’s girlfriend — that she was the obstacle to my happiness. No, I was. Okay, and his shenanigans didn’t help, but it was me blocking me when I pandered to him.
For all I know, that woman reads my work. Maybe she figured out who I was. That’s okay.
So, of course you can be proud of anything you do. You’ve been in an affair, not because you’re a ‘bad person’ but because you reached breaking point with the baggage you’re carrying. Would you or I go choose the same path again to learn what we need to? Of course not, but it’s what we needed. 
 
How you got here is how you got here. Don’t waste what you’ve learned by giving you a new reason to give up on you (what she might think).
You were not the obstacle to what she wanted either. It’s easy to lash out at you because she couldn’t do anything about the man she was with. He was only going to lie to her some more. So she thought she could lash out at you so that you would stay away. But he would just have messed with someone else.
So, post whatever you’re going to post anyway. Do it scared. Do it doubting. 
 
Make what you’re doing a message to your younger self and actions of hope and forgiveness.
Write her an Unsent Letter. Write as many as you need to. Keep in mind that the anger and resentment you feel towards her is partly about what you feel towards you, after all, you’re both mirroring the same thing. So whether you write to her or your younger self, it will clean up the anger. Get the anger out first. Get it all out. Then you can get on the other side of that. 
Write as many as you need to him.
Or, try writing to your younger self and expressing some compassion.
The resources for these are in the foundational resources.
How can I change my life-long habit of being afraid of others?

I realised that ever since childhood I have been feeling inferior to others, as I had been taught I was less than others: less then in money and skills, in particular. So I took on the habit of considering that basically everyone had more than me: more chances, more money, more skills. Even now my first reaction to anything goes like this: I am doomed, I will never manage to do this while everyone else can. When I look back at most of my social interactions, they were based on fear: I was afraid of most of my school mates, than of colleagues, but also of people I considered friends. I desperately needed to be liked, most of the time by people that in hindsight I realize I did not even like at all. My friendships were me being a people pleaser to narcissistic people. Only when I went on my own and met new people did I get out of my pattern a few times. Still, most people feel dangerous to me, like they have taken away something I could have had. How can I change my approach to a life long habit?

Nat’s Response

You change it by acknowledging that these thought processes exist and why, and then you consciously choose to zig where you would normally zag. 

I’ve had the same teachings. All of what you’ve listed, I’ve had the same teachings. I still feel like an outsider in certain situations and get panicked or weirded out or whatever, but I also ground myself and make it a part of my life to create new habits that update my identity.
It is an ongoing thing. You don’t change the habit of a lifetime in one day. It’s bit by bit, brick by brick. At one time, you had low awareness of this. Now you have more.
What you are struggling with is identity: who you thought you were because of what you assumed and were directly taught, and who you are.
Unless you are a child still (you’re not), then you’re not in the circumstances you were back then. You have agency. Your parents are no longer in charge, but you behave as if they are. And it’s something that we all do to an extent until we become more conscious of it.
  • Are you questioning any of this stuff that comes to mind?
  • Are you reminding you of your surroundings?
  • Are you acknowledging what isn’t true and accurate?
  • Are you aware of the difference between the past and the present?
  • Do you acknowledge that how your parents went about things was not what you needed but also that whatever they did isn’t the gospel truth of life?
  • If something comes up from the past, do you still tell you the exact same story in the exact same way despite the passage of time?
Because even if ‘all’ you do is change the last one on that list, none of the other things can exist.
How can you still feel, think and act about something the same way that you did however many years ago? That doesn’t make sense. But it’s what we do. But if you acknowledge what you’re thinking, feeling and doing and acknowledge the truth and why you’re doing it, then you are already breaking the pattern.
At the end of the day, the reason why the habit still exists is either because you are still feeding it in some way because it benefits you to do so and/or because you are unaware that you are doing it in the first place.
Spend a week noticing how this is showing up in your life and take notes. Bullet points are just fine. But note when these thoughts, feelings and actions show up so that you have the intel to change them. 
Use the Clearing and Releasing Emotional Charge exercise in the foundational resources to explore the prompts “people are dangerous”, “someone took away something I could have had” and “I have less money and skills. Everyone has more than me.”
When will I be ready to pursue a committed relationship again?

I am a nurse and I am working on a COVID unit so I won’t be seeing anyone other than my dog at this time. I used to think that I wanted to be in a committed relationship and that has been my focus for a while. But recently as I have been exploring more angles I think that I don’t really want the dream I have been chasing. my normal is to feel like a hamster on a wheel. I get by but I feel all over the place most of the time. I am on medication for ADD and I have improved but the medication has done all it will do and the rest of the work will depend on me. I am trying to work on adding the habit of meditation this month. I realized that my needs have not been met consistently my entire life. Diet, exercise, water, sleep, meditation and journaling is what I want to establish as a base before I add any other habits. I also realized that I have been using dating as a distraction and to meet my needs that I am not meeting for my own life. When I am dating I think it is just a coping mechanism I use to avoid myself. So what do you suggest as a way to reassess during this journey when to go about pursuing a committed relationship again when I feel ready?

Nat’s Response

Sending you a big cuddle, and thank you for all that you do. I hope that the hospital is giving you all the protection and support that you need. 
I think it’s great that you are getting in touch with your desires and how you may think and feel about things, and I think you’ve already acknowledged something: It’s not static. 
You’ve realised that the heavy pursuit you’ve engaged isn’t authentic to you because it’s not in alignment with your values and intentions. It doesn’t mean that you don’t want a relationship at all, but it does mean that you don’t want to do it how you have been and that you would like to approach things from a more grounded place. 
Make the habits that you want to create ’small habits’ (where applicable) so that they are easy to implement. 
For instance, if I do meditate, I probably only do it for a few minutes. There’s a meditation I listen to on the Buddhify app which I particularly like because I listen to it while lying in bed and it’s not about meditating in a particular way. I also use it on walks. So the maximum time I ever meditate for is probably 8 minutes, but most of the time I do it for 2-3 minutes because it’s what suits me. 
I do yoga stretches (sun salutations ) for less than five minutes, but I do them most days. Legs-up-the-wall pose is my go-to for back, shoulders and neck. 
Sometimes I journal for a few minutes, and sometimes I ramble on for the best part of an hour. 
The key thing is, they’ve all become habits that if I don’t do them, I miss them, but I also tend to recognise when I need them. They’re ’touchpoints’ where if I notice that I’m not doing these very much or at all, including things like reading or getting out for a walk, then I know that something is out of whack. Oh, and early nights.
So, I say all of this because the habits you want to implement don’t have to be complicated to be nourishing and beneficial and to meet your needs. 
 
Use this time to let go of dating with grace and love for yourself, after all, it’s just not the time for it. So you now have full permission to breathe out and just be. Get to know you like you would someone else. Be curious about who you are without all the doing, without all the dating. Notice what dating covered up so that you can respond to it with something else. 
 
Once you have built in some habits and they’ve become something consistent for you, plus you’re responding to the old triggers differently, try dating then while also keeping the same habits. 
It’s also about being intentional: dating as a distraction is different from dating because you’re genuinely open to meeting someone. 
If the need to distract doesn’t exist, your intentions for dating change in the process because you are more conscious, aware and present. 
So, gather the intel about your distractions. 
Find new ways to respond to you. 
Get into the habit of doing these, but treat it like a work in progress that’s becoming part of your lifestyle. 
Try dating again when you are ready and intentional.

Resource: How to keep a log of your cues and triggers

Distinguishing what I want from what I think a 'lady' is supposed to want

I have realized that I think I have been confusing my obsession with finding that commitment with the need for attention. It’s like deep down I want the guy to be completely obsessed with me, to adore me and to tell me they want to be with me and only me. I also realized that I don’t think I am opposed to a casual relationship as I have always thought I was. I think that I get caught between what has been ingrained in my brain since childhood. That a lady doesn’t sleep around or have anything casual and that one day someone will come along and be something like a prince charming while I am waiting and being good in the meantime.

But when I think of it the times that I have felt more like myself in dating have been when there’s no agenda, laughing, goofing off, dancing, having sex, having deep conversations without having to discuss where the relationship is going and just being in the moment. But then it’s like I feel conflicting thoughts. That I need to be committed and they need to only want me and I demand that they let me know every intention. How can I differentiate what it is that I actually want and need without being blinded by what I think I am supposed to do because I’m a “lady” and I can’t possibly want anything casual or to “think like a man” as they say?


Nat’s Response

Attention and commitment are two very different things, and the type of attention dictates the type of relationship you will have and how you will feel. 
 
“I want the guy to be completely obsessed with me, to adore me and to tell me they want to be with me and only me.” That’s ‘attention’ alright, but it’s not healthy attention. It’s difficult to forge a committed and healthy relationship with someone who is controlling, jealous and possessive. Control is not love. Obsession isn’t love.
It’s like when I talk to people who have the same need for attention and it manifests as “I want to meet someone” or “I want to feel attractive.” So they keep being in a cycle of going on a few dates and it ending, or they spend a lot of time on dating apps. They’re getting attention, but because their intentions are out of whack with what they say they want, they’re achieving their short-term aim, but actually not meeting their needs or goals.
So, it’s important to differentiate between obsession and love. Love is the result of how each of you shows up. If you are intentional and treat and regard you with love, care, trust and respect, you don’t have to seek out someone who you’re essentially trying to get to make up the deficit of what you are not doing for yourself.

Most people aren’t really anywhere near as ‘opposed’ to a casual relationship as they think they are. If they were, we’d have a lot less people being in ambiguous relationships, sex or not! 

Women, in particular, are socialised to feel almost dirty about their sexuality and sex itself. Men can sow their wild oats, women have to save themselves, and blah blah blah. But your childhood is different to adulthood. There are far more same-sex relationships but also our attitudes towards sex have evolved. Keep in mind as well that one-night-stands, flings and casual relationships have always existed; we are now somewhat more open about it thanks to the likes of dating apps and a general shift in attitudes due to the lack of emphasis on marriage.
Challenging your notion of what a “lady” does is crucial to lining up with your values. Frankly, at the end of the day, you are the only one who gets to live your life. There’s no point in trying to be a generalised “lady” because you get to be no one in the process. All that being a “lady” refers to is an idea some people have about how one should be. It’s a construct that actually serves to marginalise and control women. And sometimes, as women, we unwittingly partake in patriarchy, hence why we must be aware of where we are shackling ourselves to values that don’t reflect who we are.
The key with casual relationships is to always be honest with yourself about what you’re doing and why.
 
It’s when you delude yourself into a casual relationship because you’re hiding your needs and you think that this is a back-door way to getting the trappings of a relationship without having to give too much in return or get hurt where you run the risk of medium to long-term hurt in exchange for instant gratification.
It’s fine that you have enjoyed casual relationships, but know your limit. Be honest with you about what worked and what didn’t. Why you were carefree. And, of course, it can be easier for some to feel relaxed in a casual situation because you don’t have to care too much. And this is also fine until you can no longer be casual about being in a casual relationship.
And this is where you have to work out what your intentions are because if you make those demands, you are not really in a casual relationship at all and are now trying to turn it into something else in an attempt to meet a need.
Work out what you feel obliged to be, do and have in terms of dating and relationships. e.g. What do you think you’re supposed to do? What does a “lady” do?
What do you want to do?
 
It’s the difference that you need to let go of.
Use the Clearing and Releasing exercise in the foundational resources to pull out all of the associations you have about being a “lady” and sex. This way, you can decide what is true for you, and keep a running list so that when you are in future dating situations, you can actually confirm or deny the relevancy of the belief.
How to strengthen emotional intelligence?

Wow! For the first time I think I finally grasped emotional intelligence (EQ). I had to go off on my brother about corona and being around my parents from the grocery store. After I spoke with my therapist about it, something just clicked like Ok, Carol, we can’t live like this anymore, reactions and going off. Like, there’s a new language. You must learn new ways to respond and think about your emotions.

I’m reading a couple books on it, I literally started praying and begging God to finally show me how I can be better/strengthen this part of me. My therapist keeps telling me I’m not ready to date because I don’t know how to communicate my feelings and I finally understood it. I got on Tinder dating and was on my way to delete it after therapy and prayer, meet this guy from California. Natalie, I’m not kidding, the weirdest thing. Day 2 of talking I say something and he’s soooo calm with his responses I’m like WTH lmao! He’s like My emotional intelligence is pretty high, I did therapy as a kid and learned how to be aware of feelings and emotions, I love discussing feelings and emotions. I’m over here like what in the world? Lol!!! So, of course, I’m trying to practice being open and vulnerable just to practice. I said I need to have a safe space and he’s like I want to be your safe harbour. I’m like boy stop, what is this? 😂 def not used to it. Anyways, I digress, so yeah currently finally understanding EQ.


Nat’s Response

We can use our emotions to orient and push us to take action. Every emotion offers up clues about what we need, our emotional state, surroundings, etc. They help us understand what is going on.
Our emotional intelligence helps us to recognise emotions, both our own feelings and those of others, and use that to navigate our world, create healthy boundaries, live by our values and, yes, interact in and manage our interpersonal relationships. 

Our emotional intelligence, unlike our IQ, is something that can be developed over time. It’s not static.
It’s strengthen by the deeper connection we have to ourselves, so it requires us to be conscious, aware and present. When we live in the past, take up a child role or have fuzzy or absent boundaries, we can’t behave in an emotionally intelligent manner no matter how much of a genius we consider ourselves to be. So, we have to distinguish between the past and the present and not treat feelings as facts, or, more accurately, our perception of our feelings as facts so that we can feel out what is going on within us and our surroundings. It also means that we recognise when we are over-empathetic and when we are projecting on to others. It’s even noticing, as you have, Hmm, that seems a bit off. Or, Hmm, the way I’m responding there isn’t reflective of who I am in the main. 
 
So having a ‘high’ emotional intelligence requires us to be aware of ourselves and others without losing ourselves in other people’s stuff or even the narrative in our head. It is not about being ‘perfect’; it means that even when we err, that how we feel afterwards and also what we know of ourselves and life helps us to reconnect to our emotions and decipher us, the situation and our world so that we can gain more intel.
It is not a static thing. If you become curious rather than having a fixed attitude of ‘People should do this’ or ‘If it were me’ or “Oh, here we go. It’s the past’, then you are always evolving your emotional standpoint, in turn, positively impacting your relationships. Because you own your side of the street, you don’t spend your time expecting others to change who they are to suit how you see things because you’re boundaried enough to recognise that it’s you who needs to stay in your lane and be what you seek. 
Keep going with the books and certainly enjoy the opportunity of chatting with someone who appears to be self-aware. Of course, how much he truly is will be in consistent actions.
Feeling guilty for being not as busy as my co-workers

I’m feeling left out of the extreme busyness that my coworkers have. Everyone else seems to have so much more work to do. Everyone is working late hours and weekends and I’m not. I’m absolutely doing work, it’s that I feel that I have less to do. I was working on several things that could show “output” until last week when my boss told me all efforts would be focused on the pandemic (understandably so). This is different than the direction I previously received, which was work on pandemic stuff plus regular work. I have plenty of pandemic related things to do, but those things are reaching a level nearing completion and/or a point where it’s out of my hands for a minute. I’ve come up with an idea for something else, which I will present to my boss. But I feel guilty for just not having all these other things fall into my lap as it seems to have done with others. It’s not at all personal, it has to do with the nature of things as they are set up in our office, but I still feel guilty.


Nat’s Response

But how do you know it’s fallen into everyone else’s laps or that you won’t have opportunities emerge over the coming days and weeks? If you had more work than you can handle, you may have been way over your bandwidth due to feeling compelled to work after hours and at the weekend. You also don’t know why these people are working extra hours or at the weekends. 

Some might actually be behind on work from a while back. Some might not be working strict work hours because they’re now at home and so it might suit them to not work in the mornings (even if they’re pretending they’re online and working). Basically, it’s not a badge of honour to work super long hours when you’re an employee. You’re either not managing your time, taking on way too much stuff (which is still part of the first issue) or avoiding participating in your personal life by focusing on work. Plenty of people work after hours and at the weekend because they don’t have to feel or to avoid connection with, for example, a partner or family, or because they don’t know how to occupy themselves when they have free time. 

You always have to be careful of using other people as your barometer because aside from the fact that they have different boundaries, bandwidth, values, etc., to you, you also are not seeing the whole picture. You don’t even know if what they’re telling you is the gospel truth. 
What is wrong with being on task with the work you have to do? Why is how well you’re doing based on whether you’re put into a state of fear and stress due to having to bust your boundaries and bandwidth to accomplish what you’re doing?
What does “less to do” mean? Is that relative to what they’re doing, or relative to the workload you have?
If you want to make yourself available for extra work, you must always do it from a grounded, genuine place, not out of fear. So asking for extra work because you’re ahead on current projects and would like to get your teeth into a new challenge, great. Asking for extra work because you feel insecure and are trying to compete with your co-workers or prove something to your boss, not such a good idea. 
It also strikes me that if you know that it’s not personal and due to the workings of the office, and in fact, nothing whatsoever to do with you, you’re feeling guilty for the sake of it. Is there a part of you that feels uncomfortable with being okay? Like you have to create fever in you by making you feel bad? You haven’t done anything wrong. All of their workloads have shag-all to do with you!
So start there: I am safe, I am secure. 
I am doing the work I’m meant to be doing, and I’m doing it well. 
And when you feel guilty: What do I feel guilty about? Is it a real reason? I don’t have anything to feel guilty about. I’m running my own race. 
Deciphering romantic interest during lockdown

I know you did a session about not jumping into anything at the moment just out of loneliness, well… Myself and a guy have been texting and I’m now wanting to take a step back, as I don’t want to lead him on or give him the wrong impression. He has asked me out a few times over the years, he’s friends with my brothers and their friends, so he’s always been lurking in the background. I may have snogged him once in a drunken stupor back in my early 20s…

He contacted me on LinkedIn and we started chatting. My housemate had just moved in with her boyfriend for the lockdown, and my job shut down, I had a bit of anxiety and panic at the beginning of this all, but now feel totally fine being on my own. (I have lived alone a few times over the years). I have also connected with my neighbours and friends a lot more over the past few weeks.

We started texting every evening which was actually nice & comforting, but he still wants more. I Just am not physically attracted to him. I never have been, but I thought that maybe if I gave him a chance and got to know him, things might change on my part.

Now I feel a little bad, as it’s nice to have someone to chat to, but he’s always going to want more. I also get an inkling that he’s a bit of an ‘Eeyore’.

Am I expecting too much from someone to be as ok as I feel (At the mo’)?
Am I trying to force myself to be attracted to the one guy who actually shows me any interest?
Any guy who I have a small bit of respect for, doesn’t seem to be open to getting to know me…is that because I am still attracted to disinterested guys?
I just want to meet someone who I have a mutual attraction to… and it’s not really happening!


Nat’s Response

It sounds like you’ve experienced quite a bit of upheaval alongside the onslaught of this bloody pandemic. Work and housemate moving to her boyfriend’s. A lot of the things that were touchpoints in your life have changed, and this has triggered you. It’s important to acknowledge this. Most people can barely handle one big thing. This is why you need to cut yourself some slack while also bringing some awareness to the decisions you’re making (or have made). 
Now, for this guy:
This is a context and content situation.
The content is that you’ve been texting back and forth and he’s been making out that he wants more. He’s a lurker.
The context is that we’re in the middle of a bleedin’ pandemic and you’re not in any danger of seeing him face to face at the moment. He’s friends with your brothers, you had a cheeky snog back in your twenties. 
I think he’s expecting a lot of you to ‘commit’ to goodness knows what at this time, but I also think you’re expecting a lot of yourself to think that you’d be able to take a punt on him at this time given the context and, yeah, the content. 
It’s all a bit abstract and you don’t and didn’t have a deep enough connection and relationship prior to the pandemic to help the context of things. Chatting on LinkedIn and text is great and all that jazz, but it can be tricky to pin feelings, intentions and hard facts to. 
Also, it’s very easy to say that you want something when you don’t actually have to do anything about it because, well, you can’t! That’s why I hear from people who were seriously ill and thought that it was the end for them, and then their ex was around 24/7 and talking about marriage. And then they survived and the ex was nowhere to be seen! And I’m not saying that it’s him, but I think that given your frustrations with past dating experiences, you need to start as you need to go on and not set you up for an awkward fall when you both have to actually interact in the real world. 
You also need to be more assertive here. One of the traps we can fall into is worrying about hurting feelings with directness and feeling as if we’re kicking a puppy. What would take a lot of pressure off here is if you said Look, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m getting the impression that you want more to happen between us. Given the situation that we’re in, i.e pandemic, lockdown and social distancing, plus the fact that we haven’t actually dated, that’s not something I can commit to at this time. With that in mind, much as I enjoy our chats, I think it would be better for us to touch base when a level of normality has returned.  
So, yeah, it does sound like you’re forcing yourself, but also, I think that you just don’t know — and that’s okay. If you’re going to fall for someone, you want to know that you’re falling for the real person, not the picture in your mind or the desire to avoid your feelings about the pandemic. 
What is something to consider, not because you’re trying to convince you into being interested in him but to understand you further, is what typically attracts you to someone and why. If you’re typically interested in men that aren’t in you (or who are but can’t commit), that’s a pattern and there will be distinct similarities. It can also explain why you might feel turned off when someone appears to be interested in you — it won’t match your pattern or your self-worth. 
How do I address issues with my boss?

I’m struggling with how to advance in my career while dealing with a boss that has a pattern of getting too involved in my areas of responsibility and it often feels like she is trying to steal the limelight.  She has given me feedback that in order to advance I need more interaction with senior colleagues, but when opportunities are presented for me to do that she always beats me to the punch by running to them with information I would present, often excluding me from those conversations.  On top of that, I feel that she resents me because I have a close relationship with HER boss (she has mentioned it a few times).  I am really struggling with how to address it.  Do I try to talk to her about it?  If I did I don’t think it would be received well.  Do I talk to her boss, who I am friends with, about it for advice? If I do that I feel like I am going behind her back and also don’t want to get anyone in trouble.  Given that at the end of the day this person is the one writing my performance reviews and ultimately responsible for nominating me for a promotion, I don’t want to do anything that will hurt me professionally.

Nat’s Response

If you’ve watched ‘Friends’, you might remember an episode where Rachel went for a promotion and her boss sabotaged it because she wanted to hold on to her (and was clearly somewhat threatened by her too). Your description of your boss reminded me of her. 
So, here’s the craic:
Your boss gave you feedback about the need for you to interact more with senior colleagues in order for you to advance your career. 
Was she specific about what form these interactions would take and how this would be measured? I mean, I get what she’s saying, but it’s a bit woolly in terms of feedback. If you’re going to be rewarded or penalised for something, it needs to have some clarity about what you are supposed to be doing. 
This means that a particularly good manager/boss will explain that at the time. Or, you have to ask. 
Given that she gave you this feedback, it makes logical sense to raise the issue, after all, isn’t she the bottleneck (based on your description)?
In our appraisal meeting on X date, you explained to me that for me to advance my career, I need to have greater interaction with senior colleagues. Can you give some specific examples of what you’re looking for? OR Would this be instances where, for example, I present [type of information] or where I get involved with Y conversations?
 
When she says yes, you say something like Okay, well I’m glad I clarified this because I’d felt a little confused given situations I’ve encountered recently. For example, an opportunity would have been (and include no more than 3 specific and brief examples) when there was the Z information to present or the meeting about A. As my boss, I, of course, don’t want to tread on your toes, but I’m getting mixed messages from you. 
 
Or, you could cut straight to the chase:
 
In our appraisal meeting on X date, you explained to me that for me to advance my career, I need to have greater interaction with senior colleagues, but when opportunities occur to do so, such as {insert no more than three brief and specific examples}, you’ve done it instead. I am very keen to advance, but it’s difficult to step up to the things you’ve suggested when you get in there and do them for me. Given that these are my areas of responsibility, when you jump on these, it gives me the impression that you don’t trust me to handle them. Aside from my desire to progress, I also don’t want to find myself in a situation where I’m penalised for something I haven’t been given a chance to do. 
 
And then ask her how you can both make this situation work for the both of you. 
 
I don’t think that there’s any harm in talking to her boss if you’re both friends as long as you also have a chat with her. Make it an off the record chat. Or, hold fire on the conversation after you’ve at least attempted to broach the issue with her. What you want to avoid is replicating the same issue: You feel that she gets too involved in your areas of responsibility but then you don’t tell her about it while also then telling someone else who might then get too involved in her areas of responsibility. 
You have a right to broach the issue, and it’s part of your progression to a more senior post because awkward conversations abound the higher you go. She can’t become a better manager if you don’t voice issues, and you can’t advance if you don’t get to do your job. So you will need to speak up even though it’s also uncomfortable. 
The feedback you were given sounds like appraisal feedback. It’s certainly information that stands between you and a higher position/money. As a result, you have a right to query any feedback and also ensure that there are clear and tangible means to meet the appraisal objectives. If your manager hasn’t clearly communicated that to you, make it a priority to have a conversation about it. If she’s even a semi-decent manager, she will take no issue with you asking for clarity plus you will know better for your next appraisal. 
Feel bad *benefitting* from death via inheritance

So after tackling issues with person that did not think I *should* inherit.  I *know* he was *wrong*, out of order and behaved badly and have insight into why and it is about him, not me…

After keeping my side of the street clean.

Don’t regret or wish had done above differently so that’s good.

I *still* feel awkward though in myself, not guilty as such, although what do I know…  I think it is because I have benefitted financially from the death of the person I was closest to in the world and I would much rather he was alive.

It has not stopped me putting some of the money to good use.  Today though I stumbled across his death certificate while having a tidy and his suicide note.

There is *still* this part of me that wants everyone to agree with what I have done and *know* that I would much prefer he was here.  I accept both are *impossible*.  

Impossible question for you, how do I feel OK?

Maybe I can’t feel comfortable, maybe it is simply the grief and circumstances.  Maybe what I feel is understandable. Maybe the money is what I am pinning my misery re his death on, I don’t know.

Nat’s Response

I’m glad that you’ve tackled the issues and that you acknowledge that his behaviour was out of order. 
Whatever the circumstances of death, sometimes, not always, it brings up the question of inheritance and who gets what. If we are fortunate, the person leaves instructions, but even then, sometimes the family don’t agree with their wishes. And then sometimes, the person doesn’t leave any instructions. In these situations, depending on how the family get on, it’s handled relatively smoothly, and for others, it signals the Great War. 
If there is something left behind by the person (possessions, money, etc.,) someone receives that. It’s not a reward for their passing; it’s a gift.
It doesn’t matter what his brother thought; your husband and best friend chose to leave his estate to you. It doesn’t matter how your relationship had been; your husband and best friend chose to leave his estate to you and you were a primary source of comfort and support in the most difficult months, weeks, hours and minutes of his life. 
They were his wishes, and, yes, it did drop you in it, but here’s something I know for sure:
Even if your marriage was “perfect”, his brother was always going to kick off about what he saw as his and what the family were entitled to. It doesn’t matter what you did or didn’t do, because of his unhappiness and the strained family relationships and what I suspect might be a level of competing with his brother and maybe feeling like he’d been ‘robbed’ of something’, he was always going to kick off. You’re just the person who’s there, and he’d be no different with another woman unless she was like Tanya from Footballer’s Wives as she’d have his guts for garters!
how this iconic eastenders moment became a viral, gay meme - i-D
And of course you’d much rather he was alive. That’s a given. And part of the grieving is wrestling with that while also being aware of his presence and his desire to make yours and your mother’s life better. If you can try to approach his gift with even a teensy little bit more joy, you will have a sense of him even though he’s not physically present. 
I know that the situation has been tough, but I also think that his gift put you in a position of having to go through some much-needed challenges so that you would stand up for yourself and own your place in the world. You stood up for yourself and lived your truth in a way that he was never quite able to. And so as much as you see this as you benefiting from him, remember that he’s also benefitting from you. 
Grief is something that brings you to your knees but also, often with the benefit of hindsight, brings you joy and so much closer to yourself. It can be very lonely at times because even though others are grieving for him, no one is going through your exact experience. Whether it’s about inheritance, strained family, time you wish you’d spent, unspoken words or whatever, the question of how to be okay is one that lingers. The thing is, you are okay, it’s just that sometimes you forget that you are. You will not be able to go back to who you were before, and there will be times when you forget what you know deep in your heart and soul and you want everyone to agree with you. 
Your comfort is fluid and ever-changing. Sometimes we focus on how okay we are or how okay we can ever be to feel purposeful about our grief. Like we’re not grieving and are being too happy if we don’t make ourselves feel bad about, for example, the money. 
But you can still miss him, grieve and enjoy your life. People can be more than one thing. You learn to fit the grief into your life because you expand around it. 
How to stop seeing my boss as my mother

As I was listening to the playback of last week’s live class I realized that all of my issues with my boss have to do with my issues around wanting to please my mother! And this has been my issue with ALL of my bosses in my whole career! You know that I’m a recovering people pleaser, but it’s especially bad with bosses.

My current boss has told me several times that I often act that I cannot handle things on my own and often don’t offer my own opinion. My complaint has always been that she takes over and that she thinks that I can’t do anything right. Even in my written product, I don’t write in my own voice if I know she’s going to see it because I think she will think it’s wrong. So instead, I write based on what I think she will want me to say and phrase it in a way I think she’ll want me to phrase it. And even then, it’s still not perfect and she has several edits. I realize now that I’m just too scared to try or do anything differently because I think I’ll get in “trouble” if I do anything wrong.

My mother was not the easiest to deal with when I did “bad” things as a child. So my perfectionism often prevents me from even trying, procrastinating and sometimes overdoing it. My boss is very nice and accommodating but she’s tough. Even still, I can see that I’m seeing her as my mother, not as her. When I talk to my boss (even on the phone or Skype while working from home!) I get so nervous and it’s like the adult me leaves the room and the little girl shows up! I stumble over words, say things that I don’t mean and forget facts that I know. I know that this will take time, effort and mindfulness to change, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on ways that can help me engage with her while a) keeping “little me” tucked away, b) not being so scared, and c) engaging with her like an adult and professional. This is a huge realization for me — thanks for the last class!


Nat’s Response

This is a huge revelation that helps you to rejig your relationship with your boss. It will not be an overnight thing, and it will take work, but you can’t unsee this, and it will become increasingly difficult for you to continue. 
My friend was at a workshop at Google HQ several years back. I think it was all female and mostly mothers. The guy gave them a task to do, and hands shot up all over the room and some went into a state of paralysis. Some went into teacher’s pet mode and some were in a faff about wanting his approval. 
He shut it down immediately: I am not your father. This is completely unnecessary! Please stop!
Mouths flapped open in shock. My friend was cracking up laughing. 
What you’re experiencing is highly prevalent. I think that it plays a significant role in work stress, burnout and bullying at work, as well as coasting, under-performance and going round in circles on issues. 
What you have finally recognised is the baggage behind what you’re doing. You’ve realised that this isn’t about your boss; this is about your mother. 
This tells you that you go into a child role and stop being the grownup, which means that in any given situation that encompasses this dynamic, you have to work out what a grownup would do. 
Keep in mind that when you’re in a child role, a lot of it will take you, at its most basic level, to being around five or six years old. That isn’t appropriate for you or your work environment, and it’s safe to say that the emotional drivers of a five-year-old don’t fit for an adult. 
First, gather intel. Spend a week observing and noting the elements of your working dynamic with your boss. Where does Little You show up? List the types of situation, how you tend to feel even in advance of something, what you think, what you do, etc. What sets off the worst of the feelings, thoughts and behaviour? You’re now getting together a list of cues, triggers and responses. 
Next is to look at how you can consciously uplevel your response (the thought and behaviour) even if it’s just a little at first. Thought precede feelings. So look at where you can change the thought and remind you of your age, experience, etc., and basically ground you in 2020. 
Acknowledge what isn’t working in the list. You’re trying to curry favour with your boss and avoid conflict and criticism by behaving like her daughter and making her your mother, but it seems to be alienating her. I don’t know if she has kids, but odds are, even if she does, she’s not looking to take on another. I think, also, that what isn’t often acknowledged in all of this is that when we behave like we’re someone’s daughter, we can potentially set off feelings and thoughts in them about their own relationship with their mother or their children. 
 
I think that before you begin work or get on a call, or even work on something, take a few moments to get grounded in the present. Notice the year, where you are and reassure you even if you have to say it twenty times until the anxiety subsides “I am safe, I am secure”. Don’t start tasks in this anxious mode, and keep circling back to being grounded and consciously choosing the grownup response. Avoid being or doing anything that makes her a teacher or parent. 
Humanise her. Get your journal out and turn her into a human by writing about what you actually know about her. Has she made mistakes? What doesn’t she know? Who does she behave strangely with?
This is a starting point. Some resources:
Work situation still bothers me

I had to read this several times and let it sink in. I have been holding on to it and it is a habit, yes. Trying to work on finding out why this is. I am in another job now and still find myself playing this same role. Earlier this year, I thought that I hated my job and that it was time to move on. Then since Corona, I’ve been working from home and do you know what? It’s not the job I hate. It’s the office environment and how I keep playing this same role in every job with an ever-changing cast of colleagues! I know its a connection to school – every workplace is just another version of school. This is something major to work on for sure. Thank you! I hope that you and your family are well during this unprecedented time! 


Nat’s Response

I think it’s really good that you asked her why she said what she did. A lot of people don’t ask and then make up a whole load of stuff, which only makes a painful situation even worse. 
The irony of the situation is that what she deemed as you being “different from everyone else” is the very thing that caused her to have poor boundaries and lack of empathy and professionalism in that moment. 
I think that what was also missed in this, ironically, again, is that your boss was not looking to hire someone else like her or the other members that were so similar. So even though it was tactless and inappropriate to single you out in such a way, it’s also not necessarily a criticism of you. It’s just a tactless way of pointing out that you have a different personality to people who, well, you probably already knew you didn’t have the same personality as but also that you possibly didn’t want theirs. 
 
It’s also a broad-sweeping generalisation that this manager made. Personality and character are not the same thing but are often mixed up. Different, also, doesn’t mean wrong.
 
The thing is, though, she didn’t actually say that who you are is wrong. That’s how you felt because of your past. And, of course, she wasn’t to know that her comment would be triggering, although it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that you don’t say something to a group that appears to, even if it’s not meant in a nasty way, single out one person. 
It also didn’t help that your colleague made that comment and laughed. That could have been nerves and not knowing what to say, but, yes, it can also be the same lack of boundaries, empathy and professionalism. 
Honestly, I’ve seen people older than you cry in meetings and in an open-plan office. People aren’t robots, and sometimes people’s childish, gang-like behaviour does push us to breaking point. My friend cried (and shouted) in front of everyone after our old boss made a similar type of comment to her. And the irony is that another friend (a guy) who thought it was funny that she got upset, lost his temper and basically had a tantrum. 
 
We’re all only human. Instead of shaming you for crying in the office, show you empathy. Otherwise, you’re only doing what others did in that situation. 
In environments where there’s a herd mentality and there’s a lot of seemingly similar personality types, you are going to be noticed if you are not in the herd even if you try to hide in the back. 
 
This means that when it comes to applying for jobs, choosing friendships, etc., you need to be mindful of choosing environments with strong values, not ones where, whether it’s consciously or not, you’re slipping into an old role and then trying to prove yourself, hide out and/or gain validation. 
It’s also safe to say that people can only get you that affected by a comment like that if you are already critical of you in that same area. 
As someone who has struggled with outsideriness feelings all my life, my experiences of feeling left out or singled out dropped dramatically when I stopped thinking and behaving like an outsider. When you’ve been criticised for being different (or you’ve blamed you for being different), you don’t realise how you’ve got into certain thought habits and outsider behaviours. You don’t realise how you default to the habit and also shame you for being “different” when there’s nothing wrong with you. 
The reason why trying to find her reasons won’t make you feel better is because you need to find your reasons for continuing to hold on to, not just what she did, but what others did. You need to get into why you shame you for being who you are. 
 
Sometimes people behave like dicks. You don’t need to get a PhD in her motives. Given that it was a few years back, but also, it’s her crap that drove her behaviour, it’s like ‘How long is a piece of string?’
Forgive you for crying that day (letters to your younger self). 
Work through your anger towards her (Unsent Letters)
Work out what you’re getting out of holding onto this. There is something
Decide and keep re-deciding to let go. Humans think something like 95% of the thoughts they had the day, week, month or even year before. You are thinking about this because it’s a habit, not because you care that much. It’s a security blanket of some sort, so you will need to consciously intervene on thoughts about it to break the cycle. 
Triggered during Zoom meetings

During the lockdown I notice I have been triggered by things people message. So much can be lost in translation over things like WhatsApp but understandably people often don’t want to go on webcam because they are still in their PJs (I am guilty of this), I was wondering if you have any suggestions. Another example, I have to go on a daily work call where my colleagues talk about things which upset me (that they couldn’t know would upset me)


Nat’s Response

This is something that is highly common even without the lockdown but that has intensified as a result of it. What you’re experiencing, basically, is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation but also, it reflects your bandwidth and boundaries. 
WhatsApp has experienced a huge issue with inappropriate messaging in recent weeks, with some types of content automatically being flagged by them because of misinformation being spread during the pandemic. I know so many people who are talking about the ‘aunties’ who send all sorts of weird stuff. 
Change your WhatsApp settings so that nothing is automatically downloaded. Go to ’Settings’ -> Chats -> Save to Camera Roll, and make sure that it’s turned off. That way, you have to actually click on a video to see what it is, but you also don’t end up with a load of stuff on your phone that you don’t want. 
Turn off notifications for any WhatsApp groups where it’s just pinging stuff in there all the time. I muted some groups for a year.
 
Don’t feel obliged to read or reply to anything. My daughter is receiving two to three hundred messages a day and she just ignores them. She doesn’t see why she should stress herself out trying to wade through them all. Us adults can learn a lot from this. 
If someone chases you up about whether you’ve read/watched/listened to Yet Another Mystery Expert That’s Crept Out of the Woodworks (or whatever weird/scary/whatever info they’re sharing), just say ’Thanks for sharing, but I’ve reached a point where I’m no longer reading/watching/listening to anything about [for example, Coronavirus] over WhatsApp.] The bulk of people won’t chase you up though. And some will stop sharing. Like my mother-in-law and my aunt who likely figured out that I’m not reading the messages. 
If a conversation is getting lost in translation by text, say so. “How about we catch about this on the phone for about 5-10 minutes at X time?” Or, “Correct me if I’m misunderstanding this, but are you saying [insert your interpretation].” Or, “When you say {insert what they said}, what do you mean by that?”
Set a ‘rule’ with you that if it’s not a basic-ass chat by text like exchanging pleasantries, reminders or whatever, that you will move the conversation to the appropriate channel. Pinging messages takes far more time than a call or even an email that gets straight to the point. 
If you have a daily call that lasts, for example, for thirty minutes and the first five or so are spent chatting about whatever upsets you, mute the call for the first few minutes. Or, come onto the call after that. Or, drop an email to the organiser or everyone and let them know that right now, you’re not in a space where you can talk about the topic, and will be joining the call afterwards. Or, you have a confidential conversation with HR where you explain what has been taking place. Stress that it’s not about a complaint but about mental health management so that the company sets parameters for these daily call interactions. Or, excuse yourself when they start up and say that you’re making a cuppa or answering the door and that when they’re ready to start, you’ll come back on. Or, be straight: Guys, I know you like talking about this stuff, but honestly, I don’t feel great when I do. If it’s alright with you, I’ll come on to the call a few minutes after because these chats tend to be for about that long. 
Acknowledging you have needs

My question is how you begin to acknowledge it is ok to have needs and ask for what you want when you have a belief it is selfish and almost, I don’t know, weak (?) to have them. Where do you start?


Nat’s Response

So, here’s the deal:
Acknowledging that you have needs is like acknowledging that you breathe. 
Do you know when you won’t have needs? Without meaning to sound morbid, it’s when you’ve passed on. 
From the moment we are born until we die, we have needs. And every single last thing that we do is about meeting a need. We literally cannot survive or thrive without meeting needs continuously, and we do it consciously and unconsciously. Some of it is done with our direct intervention and others take place, for example, within our body without us having to do the whole thing. 
So when we tell ourselves that it’s “selfish” to have a need, it’s like saying “I’m a bad person for needing to breathe.” Are you? How is you breathing taking oxygen from someone else? It’s not. How is you having needs taking something from someone else? It’s not. 
The only person who can breathe for you is you. The only person who can actually meet your needs both directly and through your choices is you. And it’s the same for everyone else. 
Sure, you could decide to try to use less breathing capacity. That gradually affects how your body works and how you feel when you do things that require, well, breath. 
And sure, you can decide to have ‘less’ needs and shrink yourself. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have needs. The needs are there. You cannot get rid of them. They exist. So, you can either breathe and oxygenate your body, or you can hold your breath and feel physiologically stressed out, but you’re still breathing. And you can be you and take ownership of your needs (or not), but you will still have needs. 
Needs extend far beyond sleep, rest, shelter, hydration, etc. But they are your basic needs. Is it selfish for you to eat, sleep, drink and have a roof over your head? No. Is it taking from someone else? No. 
So, how can you be weak for having those needs, never mind any others? You can’t be. If you’re weak, the other almost 8 billion people on the planet are weak as well. Given that we all have the same needs, you’re giving you a hard time about something that doesn’t make you any different to anyone else on the planet. 
This is about identity. You have built your identity on not having needs you already and always will have. 
Why? Because it’s what you thought you had to do to feel safe and secure. To earn attention, affection, approval, love and validation, or to avoid conflict, criticism, stress, disappointment, loss, rejection and yes, abandonment. 
So who is this identity for? It’s ‘benefitting’ someone. 
Think about someone you care a great deal for and then acknowledge the needs they have. What do you think of them?
Then I want you to imagine a small child and all of the needs that they have whether they are an only child or a sibling. You can imagine your younger self or any child. Spend a minute visualising that child and what needs they have. Are they selfish? Are they weak? Because it’s that same child in you that learned to be this way for her protection. 
Try this exercise (Identifying Your Blocks To Self-Care), but also, use the Clearing and Releasing Exercise in the foundational resources with the prompts “selfish”, “weak” and “having needs”. If you haven’t already, do the Needs Masterclass and the exercise and then submit yours for feedback as it will have clues as to why you are doing this. 
How to cope with the lack of human contact when you live alone during this pandemic?

I live alone and on week 3 of social distancing in Canada. I’m not going to lie, I’m really struggling with the lack of human contact. Video calls just aren’t the same as having in-person contact 🙁   And I really don’t think my friends with partners/kids truly get the level of isolation right now of living alone. I’m finding it hard to see and hear about how they’re all getting more quality time with their loved ones…movie nights, boards games, crafts, hugs, etc.

And to hear that some friends returning from travel did not obey the 14-day self-isolation because they had “cabin fever” by day 8, really made me angry! I lost a lot of respect for her and her fiance, and haven’t talked to her since that call.

The more people that don’t comply, the longer this will go on for…Just really, really wish everyone would do their part so that we can all visit/hug our family and friends sooner rather than later. I’m a hugger, those tight full-body hugs…and what I wouldn’t give for someone to hold me tight and reassure me it’s all going to be alright. xo


Nat’s Response

Lack of human to human contact is hard. It is especially so when you live alone, but I’ve also found that people struggle with the not socialising, not seeing the people they normally would. I think that while some people are doing movie nights, et al, there’s plenty who aren’t. I know that we’re definitely not in a rosy cosy bubble, although, of course, we appreciate being around each other. But truth be told, much as my youngest loves us, she would give anything to be going to school, seeing her friends, romping around the park. 

It’s the radical shift from our typical routine and whether you are alone or living with people, for many, there’s a grieving process. 
Look, people, including loved ones, are being and doing things right now that irritate or infuriate us. Every single person is coming from their own level of awareness and it became quite clear early on that people did not fully grasp the situation we were in and the stakes involved. I’m sure a lot of the people who didn’t take it seriously if they haven’t already, they will soon grasp the gravity of the situation. 
You take offence at your friend because, on some level, you don’t feel that she had any reason to experience “cabin fever” when someone like you is living alone and would give anything to be living with someone at this time. I mean, yes, they also potentially endangered others because they may have been silent carriers, but the fact that they did it as a two really grated. 
Something that this experience teaches us is that we are not in control. I mean, we never have been and there’s always been uncertainty, but this is a stark reminder that a lot can change in a very short period time, but also, that much as we might want people to be, we are all different. There are a lot of things that many of us, including you, wish that we could do at this time but we can’t. 
But this time at home isn’t going to last forever. You will be able to visit family and friends again even if not everyone does their part exactly as you or I do. It’s just not right now. I totally appreciate how frustrating it can be when you see someone doing something that flouts the rules, especially when you are someone who upholds their morals but will also follow the rules. But for your own inner peace and mental wellbeing, you have to consciously choose to release you from the need to keep score. 
If you’d had your way, you would be loved up and living with someone now, but you’re not. This is a time to be kind to yourself and to not get so caught up in the anger and fear about being alone that you become angry with everyone else who you think has it hunky-dory over you. No, video chats aren’t the same, but take ‘em. If, like us here in England, you are allowed to get out for walks, walk (socially distanced, of course) with a friend and enjoy the spirit of the connection even though you can’t hug right now. 
Until you can give a hug, something, incidentally, that even people who live in the same home aren’t all doing given the times we’re in, give yourself some super tight hugs. If you don’t enjoy talking to your friends with kids, then don’t. If you can’t talk to them without feeling away, don’t force yourself to. This is a good time to break your own rules. 
Professional betrayals - Trust is a delicate thing

I realised that some people have either used me or even stole ideas from me. I organized a professional event with a friend of mine (not a friend anymore), it was very successful but the following year, she just did it on her own and did not include me – no explanations, not even an apology, as if this was completely normal. I could not believe such lack of consideration- but she did send me an invite to the event, well thanks. Another example is a former professor of mine; I pitched a book idea, she said it sounds great, some weeks pass by and the prof sends out an email, informing people about her new book coming out and asking for contributions – well, the book idea was the one I pitched, she did not include me. Again, no apology, no nothing. Do these people that I have interacted with, even trusted and collaborated with on a professional level, who I even considered friends/mentors, not understand that this is unethical behaviour? I just don’t get it, I would never do anything like that, I don’t understand – maybe I give off a vibe that people can just screw me over, and that nothing bad can come out of it?


Nat’s Response

Sometimes people are unethical in their dealings, or, just not collaborative. 
So, in the case of your professor, technically, they are supposed to be ethical, but it’s extremely common for unprotected IP to fall into their hands and it then be pitched as their idea. This happened with an old professor of mine who took a fellow student’s idea and pitched it to a company. He was sacked. It really wouldn’t make sense, though, for someone to call you up or email you or whatever and say ‘Hey, just a heads-up, but you know that idea you showed me? Well, I took it and called it my own.’ Nodding to you about the book legally implies that the book idea is yours. 
If you have a book idea, you pitch it to an agent who is bound to standards of professionalism that if they breach, they not only lose their job but can get kicked out of agent organisations and be blacklisted. That doesn’t mean that all agents are above board in all they do, but the process ensures that should your work appear elsewhere that you have a trail to back it up. 
In terms of the event, that’s a bit more of a grey area. You are free to organise that event again, but given that a year has passed (and I’m assuming there wasn’t a no-compete clause), she is also free to organise the event. I think a bit of courtesy wouldn’t go amiss, but it’s very possible in this instance that she believes that the event is “different” to what you organised with her. The fact that she sent you an invite means that she’s either very high-handed or she didn’t seem to understand the issue. 
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t collaborate with others, but it does mean that you need to do it in a boundaried way and communicate expectations. 
Ideas spread. Unless your idea for the event is a totally new type of event that’s never been done before, it’s an iteration of an existing event. Yes, it’s your idea to do the event, but once you put it out there, it’s possible that others will do it too. If you don’t share your ideas, whether it’s through collaboration or communicating whatever message you want to share with the world, not only would you do you a disservice but it will also likely take flight and show up somewhere else. Granted, it won’t be your take, but someone else will have the idea. Elizabeth Gilbert does a great job of explaining this in Big Magic. 
 
If you have an entirely new idea that you want to nurture and put out in the world, by all means, keep it to yourself or be careful who you share it with. The Spanx woman didn’t tell anyone what she was doing for an entire year because she knew people would try to put her off. 
 
Share your ideas in a boundaried way. 
If you genuinely feel that someone has taken your IP, it is your job to say it, not theirs to come to you and say it. That doesn’t make sense. If they have the impression that they can do it without you saying something and you haven’t said something, then their impression is right. And you could most definitely have said something to the professor. 
Use the experience to choose better collaborators. Believe me, you won’t find anyone who hasn’t been burned in some vein by the same thing. But you gradually lose attachment to things otherwise you wouldn’t do anything. And in instances where you can clamp down on them, you do. 

 

Adjusting to what is

So last Monday my travel company furloughed 92% of the company. As you can tell no travels happening. On Monday I felt really sad in the evening, I let myself go through emotions because we love what we do and I love my co-workers. After that day, I’ve been feeling pretty good, actually enjoying not working and truly enjoying what’s in front of me from books, to movies, to relaxing, to taking walks with my family in which I don’t think we’ve ever done, doing zoom/FaceTime with my co-workers to visiting a select few family members but staying outdoor 6 feet away on the driveway, sitting, it’s actually been nice not working and just going outdoors for a workout and thinking to myself Wow I have no plans for the rest of the day.

I look at virus as a blessing which we all may not see now, but it has many lessons to it, especially financially too for those who are stressing. Our company is planning to invite everyone back, who knows when as they can’t run it without people when it gets busy again. For now, I really don’t know what to do except enjoy my home and my family lol. I do like that I have my own home to still enjoy peace after I visit my parents and brother lol. Realised watching too much news is unnecessary, staying informed is fine. I’m thinking to myself maybe I should volunteer in these times.


Nat’s Response

Your email brought a smile to my face despite the difficulties it includes. 

I’m sorry to hear that you were furloughed, although, of course, it was expected given the industry. There’s a grieving process that comes with it, but you have already connected the dots with the bigger picture. That doesn’t mean that you don’t struggle with what’s happening; that you don’t feel scared, anxious, angry, frustrated, confused, missing a partner or whatever during these times, but you understand that something bigger, deeper is happening here. 
It would be great if we could hug family or hang out with them, but we can’t, so we have to make the most of what we can do before we drive ourselves crazy with the uncertainty and unfairness of it all. 
All you can do now is slow down, something that the overwhelming majority of humans have struggled with to a degree prior to the pandemic. It’s time to take stock, re-evaluate, nurture your self-esteem and your relationships. It’s time to clear out. For some, it’s time to hunker down. I’ve chatted with several people who’ve felt paralysed over the last few months, and now this situation is forcing them out of freeze mode whether it’s with work, relationships or decisions they need to make. There’s nothing like a pandemic to put things into perspective!
Keep even a brief journal whether it’s daily or just a couple of times a week. 
Notice what energises you. 
Attend to the things that you put off on doing because you were busy and didn’t have time. 
Allow you to be bored or to do nothing — and see what you learn from it. I’ve come across so many people who take time off (under different circumstances) and after a few days/weeks of slowing down, the chatter in their head tells them that they should be busy. They fill up their calendar or they try to turn into Wonder Woman, or they start pressuring themselves to return to work, when what they really need to do when this discomfort emerges is acknowledge and sit through it. We’ve been socially conditioned to be in a state of busy and achievement. We can’t even have a hobby without trying to turn it into a side hustle!
I suspect that you might also see a whole new side to your family now that you are in this situation. Enjoy it where you can, and learn from it, also, where you can. 
What to do with a family member?

So for the longest I’ve had issues with my brother: immaturity, anger outbursts and so much more you know about. Well, I’ve just been sitting back and viewing him when we’re both at my parents (he finally moved out but still goes there a lot). The smallest things he starts yelling at my parents. I’m like oh no sir, your voice is scaring no one. Calm yourself.

Yes, my dad can be very frustrating because he goes 100mph and wants answers now, and my brother has YET to learn how to deal with him and my dad puts him down a lot too. I’m trying to figure out why the hell do you keep returning to dad if he treats you like that? They do business together, we all do, but my brother is just strange. Book logic, amazing, and socially, different.

He starts cursing at my mom and dad. I’m over here like oh hell no, but not much I or they can do. He’s a monster now, they can tell him to shut up. My mom’s always asking me what’s his resentment with me? It’s like his anger with dad goes to me. I try to tell her it’s not about you, he has issues within he has to figure out. I’ll text him gently and say dude your behavior is ridiculous and lashing out over small things, yelling, cursing, all unacceptable, you have to figure out your resentments and anger yourself. It’s always been the same story for years, seems he gets worse. I tell my mom just walk away and go to your room. I started just leaving the house and going back to my own to keep my peace. My dad and him enable each other almost because when my brother is not there, my dad calls him to come eat and things like that. They feed off each other and feel like brothers constantly looking for approval- I don’t know. What is happening and what do I do on my part? It’s pretty sad.

Nat’s Response

You don’t have to ‘do’ anything about your brother’s interactions with your parents even though it won’t always be easy to bear witness to or be in proximity to. 

Your parents are proper grown-ups, but your brother is too.
Because this is not something you have 100% control over, but also because you are not any of the people in this, anything you do has limited effect. 
Let’s say that you sit your bro down and let him know what’s what. Your dad is still going to do whatever he’s doing. Your brother, even if he’s cognitively aware that he is not having the best reaction, he is reacting, not responding. 
 
I also think, and I know it sounds batshit to an extent, that some people just communicate in a very heated and, yes, inappropriate to us way. 
It’s taken me years to let it roll off my back, but my brother-in-law and my husband are so loud when they get into discussions. It sounds like they’re arguing. Actually, my brother-in-law is way louder and loves an argument. Never knowingly wrong, that one! I would feel very funny in these situations and started excusing myself. But on speaking to my husband, he was rarely bothered by what had taken place. Yes, sometimes they were arguing, but most of the time they were actually having a heated discussion and doing it in the style they are accustomed to. Honestly, throw his mother into the mix and I’m outta there. They love loud chat!
It strikes me that there’s a strong element of this going on here because, honestly, I don’t think your brother or father care about it anywhere near as much as you do. Your dad’s even inviting him around for food and more loudness, haha!
It’s not really about whether you or I agree with how they do things (it’s not our style and it’s not the most appropriate way of conversing and engaging), but it’s their relationship and they seem super content with the status quo. 
If your mother gets drained by it, you’re right to encourage your mother to just move out of the way and let them get on with it. In fact, I’d encourage you both to stop giving them an audience. Then they’re only loud to themselves.
You do not have to stick around when they do this, either, and I’m glad to hear that you head home. Be consistent in doing it without making any announcement about it. When the communication is calm, you hang about, and when they kick off, you make your exit. Done often enough, it does register in their brain because it’s positive reinforcement.
And yes, it is somewhat sad that they don’t have a better way of dialoguing, but they’re not sad about it. I think that when we let go of our need to be in control (I feel the similar to you when two of my brothers always act up when we’re together at my mum’s), you learn to mind your own business and focus on who you are and how you want to be. Make sure that you don’t do the things that they do, and your side of the street is clean. Remember, it’s not your job to fix grown-ass men, even if you’re related to them.
Writing habits

Can you share some tips and resources on how to organize oneself and on how to get better at writing and create better writing habits? Are there any apps you would recommend? How do you keep track of your habits and how do you implement more good habits into your day? With such a vast amount of information available, how do you make a good selection?


Nat’s Response

Interesting question!
This is one of those It depends kinda questions and ultimately, it’s about gradually homing in your personal formula rather than trying to follow someone else’s practice to a tee. But trying out other practices helps you to tweak. 
Work out your writing habit, and then build from there. Write daily even if it’s total tosh and even if it’s ‘only’ 500 words, which actually adds up over the weeks and months. This gets you in the habit of getting into your flow. If daily isn’t possible, and it might not be, then set a time once a week or whenever, and stick to it. I know someone who wrote what is likely to be a bestselling novel in a couple of hours every Sunday because that was all the time she had. So, be realistic about the time you have rather than coming up with a schedule or word target that doesn’t suit you, and go from there. I write 5-7 days a week at the moment, and right now, it’s not about number of words but just the habit of writing something
I’m very much a paper and pen gal, but I also really enjoyed using 750words.com, which does a free 30-day trial and after that, it’s $5 a month, I think. You can use this for journaling where you empty out your thoughts, or you can use it as part of a project. 
For bigger writing projects, I recommend the Scrivener app
Have places that you keep notes. But, learn from me, and don’t have so many places that it gets a bit unwieldy. So, I’m a heavy notebook user, but I have periods of flitting, plus I scribble on whatever is to hand if my notebook/journal isn’t, which means that aside from a large collection of journals, I also have a pile of scraps to make sense of. I also use Evernote so I stick notes in there too, both photographed and typed. So, as time goes on, have a system that makes sense to you even if it makes sense to no one else!
Don’t aim to write ‘perfectly’ and definitely don’t edit as you go. Write first as it will take form. 
Don’t try to write like someone else. 
Although I’ve always enjoyed writing and keeping notebooks, I first entertained the notion of having any ’talent’ when I had to do an English class as part of an art degree I was doing in the U.S. We had to write 500 words every Monday on whatever topic she gave, and you couldn’t leave until you were done. The first Monday, I experienced sheer terror and wanted to melt down, but using the structure she gave us, I did it. I got straight As and she said that she sometimes wept laughing reading them. This sowed the seeds for me blogging a few years later, which at one point I did every day. 
The structure she gave us was: Intro including the three key arguments/ideas, followed by a paragraph for each argument/idea, followed by conclusion. 
When I track habits, I do it in my bullet journal (I gave up using a planner or any form of diary several years back when I found out about bullet journalling). Literally write a mini calendar with the habit and mark off the days. I don’t do it every month, but I know plenty who do. 
In terms of implementing habits, I’m very much about keeping them small (e.g. 5 minutes of meditation, 10 minutes of journaling, 5 minutes of affirmations or whatever). I don’t have a long list. I just pick a few that I want to do that month or week. 
Dating while social distancing?

I’ve not taken advantage of office hours very often, and hope you’ll permit a second question this month. I do want to respect your time, so answering it next month is ok, if you already have many questions to answer this month.

I met someone on an online dating site before social distancing went into effect. We exchanged some great emails, and then moved onto phone calls. We have really great conversations, each call lasting 2+ hours. It’s been so refreshing to meet an emotionally intelligent man! The timing is a bit ironic though, right? 😉

Due to social distancing, the only thing we could do in person was go for a walk on our first date, from a safe distance of course. We text every day and talk on the phone a couple times a week. We have no choice but to take things slow, which I’m grateful for since it’s more my pace anyway. I feel like I’m talking to a great friend. Romantic feelings usually only come for me, by spending time in person, holding hands, hugging, kissing. I get the sense that he has romantic feelings already, which I don’t quite understand under the circumstances. He has admitted that he falls fast and hard when he likes someone. The reality is that social distancing will continue for weeks, possibly months. How do I navigate the emotional vs. romantic connection under these unusual circumstances? I’m trying to enjoy the companionship, but my logical brain says what’s the point in pursuing anything right now?


Nat’s Response

People can have romantic feelings and ideas about someone without having met, so what he might be experiencing isn’t odd per se, just different to how you roll. 
I think that what you need to figure out are your intentions. Knowing why we do what we do is pivotal, not just to our sense of self but enjoying more successful outcomes. When we have low awareness of our intentions, we find ourselves in situations that don’t feel good or that represent a pattern. Sometimes it might mean being in situations that look or feel different to how we envisioned things. 
Intentions while dating are a key driver of outcomes and confusion. 
The person who chooses to date because they’re relatively content within themselves and are open to meeting someone without attachment to the outcome or basing their self-worth on how the other party does or doesn’t behave has a totally different experience to the person who chooses to date because they’re looking for attention, validation, to escape or whatever it might be.
It’s not about one way being ‘right’ and the other being ‘wrong’; it’s about understanding that the intentions with which we approach things shapes how we feel, think, behave and the outcome. 
Like when a person meets up with friends for drinks because they want to escape their feelings versus meeting up to socialise. One likely gets absolutely hammered and the other is more chill. 
So, you need to figure out what your intentions are for meeting up with and chatting with this guy and make sure that what you’re doing matches your intentions and values. 
Truth be told, why wouldn’t he gain interest, feelings or desire for a relationship if you’re dating? You’re not related, working together or good pals — you met on an online dating site which implies, unless you both discuss a change of direction, that you’re dating with romantic intent. 
If your intention, however, was to use a dating site to meet a male companion to hang out with that has the trimmings of romantic intent and exploration without the romantic investment, then a conversation needs to be had so that he doesn’t continue to think, whether it’s ‘realistic’ or not, that you are both engaging in something from a romantic perspective. 
But it’s possible that the interaction will end because if he’s started down the romantic road and has been doing all of this with his romance hat on instead of companion hat, he would need to process that. Given that you have no prior involvement before the dating site, it might be tricky to be pals, especially if there’s a possibility that he’s still interested and invested and basically holding out hope. 
I think it’s important to note, also, that context, as in, the coronavirus and social distancing have likely played a role in the intensity of things in terms of maybe how long you talk for each day or, yes, how he might feel. And I say “might” as this email is based on you having the “sense that he has romantic feelings already”.
So, get clear on your intentions and the type of interaction you want to be involved in. 
Communicate this even if it means having what might be a super-awkward conversation. 
Don’t tell him that he has romantic feelings for you. Saying “I get the sense that you possibly…” or something to that effect is less intense. 
In these situations, it’s always about being the thing that you seek. Living by your intentions and values even when it might mean speaking up on tricky things. The emotionally responsible thing to do is to let him know where you’re at so that he can also make emotionally responsible decisions. That’s how you navigate the emotional connection and show your emotional intelligence. 
Good luck!
Blindsided by a breakup and shamed for my anxiety

My boyfriend of 7 months broke up with me 3 months ago, about a month before sheltering in place started in California. It was a horrible breakup that blindsided me. He really lit into me with everything plus the kitchen sink that was wrong with me, including some very vulnerable things that I thought he was ok with, like my occasional challenges with anxiety. It went on and on until I finally got up and left because it was a lost cause and my self-esteem was shattered.

He was a classic fast-forwarder with us and suffers from pretty severe stretches of depression, which I had to draw out of him as he harbours a great deal of shame about it. He grew up in a family that didn’t allow emotions and as a result, he bottles things up, doesn’t work on himself at all and, I realize now, projects his shame on others when they appear “weak” because of their emotions. (I was always very forthcoming about my anxiety and, if we ran into an issue around it, I plunged into therapy and figuring out ways to work through it for me and us.) The problem was he knew just enough about the language of empathy to fake it, fooling me completely that he was OK with me and whatever I was feeling. But it was clear he was disgusted by my anxiety and intensity. He actually said during the awful breakup that he was worried he was, once again, falling into his usual pattern of cutting off a relationship at the first sign of “trouble”. 

There’s more but I won’t list all the things he said. I wonder how much the list even matters versus the reality that his dark side took over and he threw everything on me. I broke no contact once to write him an email to “tell him about himself” because I never got the chance to tell my side of the story. I let him know how hypocritical he was for shaming me for anxiety when I was supportive of his very difficult depression, despite how his defensive and denying way of coping with it often hurt me. And that he needs therapy to work through the childhood issues he denies that make him so closed off, ashamed and angry. The only thing he responded with was a lame recognition and apology focused only on how he broke up with me, versus everything else I raised around his underlying issues, and a promise to write more to explain what he was really feeling. I told him not to bother. To be honest, I feel like until he gets therapy and works through his own demons, anything he tells me will only be shortsighted, unproductively painful and not useful to my own growth.

I should also note that I’m not even convinced I liked him. I got caught up in the fast-forwarding because I really wanted it to be real and to have someone there for me. I knew there were flags, including the fact that he was about to move out of the basement of his ex’s house where he’d lived so they could co-parent their 4-year-old, and not being with his daughter full time would be painful. (I don’t think he has amorous feelings for his ex…truly…but he does still feel anger toward her which is still a form of attachment.) He’s pretty interesting but, to be frank, not up to my level of curiosity, passion and intellect. And his increasing depression-fueled anger and sullenness became really difficult as it was so often directed at me, which made me fight harder to try to make “it” work.

Sooooo here’s my question (finally). How do I get past the pain he caused me that evening and the shock of finding out he was faking his support for me while actually being disgusted by me in many ways? He said things that made me feel unworthy and unlovable. He basically told me my anxiety drove him away, which gets to the very core of my insecurities…that he loved me like mad in the beginning but then found out who I really am. He told me he was worried he’s breaking up with the “love of his life” but yet, in his words, the relationship is too difficult and not worth the work. He called it unhealthy. (OK maybe I am listing out everything after all.) I know logically I’m not broken and I have to use this as a challenge to make myself even stronger. And I don’t miss HIM. I miss being in a relationship but when I think about being in his apartment again when he was sullen and angry, or even just how boring it could be because he so rarely left it, I truly don’t have any desire to be there. But I’m really struggling with the rejection, the wound from his words and the slap in the face of uncovering his dishonesty.


Nat’s Response

Can I just say that that is a horrendous break-up experience? Before I’d even read the second paragraph, I knew that this person was taking our his deep-seated anger about himself and his life on you. And, yes, pushing you out of his life with ferocity so that you keep your distance.
Taking things that you shared with him and using them against you is beyond the pale. I think it’s important to acknowledge a few things:
You were with someone who has a lot of unexpressed anger and hurt from the past that he’s turned inward on himself, hence the bouts of severe depression. It doesn’t excuse what he did, but it does tell you why he did it.
He carries a lot of shame, whether it’s about his depression, feelings in general, his family, and the list goes on.
This is someone who is also used to being in the role of victim. This means that someone else has to be the rescuer or the persecutor. What he can’t have is someone who, like any human, has issues of their own.
People who do what he did, including the fast-forwarding, put you on a pedestal to satisfy their needs and escape themselves. You won’t even realise how you’re on borrowed time, because the more human you and they become, it means that they can’t escape themselves. When the same crappy feelings and thoughts return, you get blamed for not being perfect. For disappointing them.
Part of the fast-forwarding is about him indulging a fantasy and going through the honeymoon phase. I have no doubt in my mind that what he did with you at the end is not a first for him. This is a tried and tested pattern. It’s a means of hitting the eject button before you see him for what he is or call him out on his behaviour. If he insults the hell out of you and takes all of the shitty things he thinks about himself and calls them your problem, you’re so blindsided by that that you don’t call him out. He gets to control the narrative.
That same fantasy is why he fools people at first. But he ends up disliking you for being taken in by him, and so it becomes his perfect excuse to lash out you.
He lashes out at the likes of you because you see more in him than he is, but also because he doesn’t do that with the people he’s really angry with.
I suspect that he has some awareness that he did an incredibly nasty thing — and the correct thing to do is, yes, apologise but even more so, get help. It’s also the right thing that he’s not in touch.
I think that feeling angry with women is, well, kind of his thing. He has a lot of anger towards women that runs right back to childhood. Of course, he always the victim because he thinks that if he genuinely acknowledges his problems and takes responsibility, he can’t hold stuff over people any longer. Or keep telling the same stories, and his pattern is his security blanket.
He did not love you at the beginning of the relationship. No one does. You’re not a baby that came out of his womb, so why would he? He was infatuated with the fantasy, not just of you but of himself. I don’t think he’s actually disgusted with you; he’s disgusted with himself. After all, given that his problems extend way further than yours, he’s only criticising you for the thing he despises in himself but seeks to hide. You didn’t know him at the beginning of the relationship, and he didn’t know you. Intensity isn’t the same as intimacy.
You moved way too fast on yourself and you allowed him to sweep you up in his BS because you wanted to believe the lie so that you could try to achieve a far-out fantasy where this situation would have allowed you to meet an unmet need from the past if he had spontaneously combusted into someone else. You were, on some level, trying to rescue him so that you could save yourself. It also feels, in a way, like you set yourself up for a fall. It wasn’t necessarily that it was consciously, but you became involved with someone who confirmed your worst fear and what you think about yourself, not because it’s actually true but because you engaged with someone who on some level, you knew that they were not legit and would lash out. He reminds you of someone else from your past, and I actually think that this was part of your anxiety — you just didn’t know he was not healthy for you on the most conscious level.
Like him being angry with himself, I also think it’s the same with you. Yes, you are understandably hurt by his nastiness, but you know deep down that he was talking complete crap and lashing out. The problem is that you already had that opinion of you, and that’s what you need to work on. You need to be more honest with you over the coming weeks, and then you will be able to forgive yourself and move forward.
Also, try the Facing Regret Guide.

March

How to self-care in midst of chaos?

I’m in the travel business. Ever since the news hit, people panic so much, it’s crazy!! I’m like relax your March and April trip isn’t going. Anyways from rescheduling land tours and flights, to cancelling, to every client hit you all at once, to losing hundreds of thousands, I think I’m doing quite well with my spirit and energy.

I do my best to lift up my struggling coworkers, to tell them Let faith be bigger than your fears and Let’s go, we got this! We just have to get through the rough times. No business goes down without going back up! Company is helping us out a bit because we are 100% straight commission and boy we were doing so well in January. Anyways, I figure if I accept and assist client by client, it’ll all be okay instead of fighting what’s really happening and wishing it wasn’t so. This too shall pass. I feel like all I make time for is workouts, work and home. I watch romantic comedies at night to just relax and love lol. Not as stressed as within last month because figured out how to deal with clients (I THINK). All of this is going to be okay, and it will pass sooner than later. You guys stay safe and indoors for the time being. I personally believe it’s all too strange and there’s a definitely a bigger scheme of things behind the scenes.

Nat’s Response

Oh, goodness. I have a few friends in the travel industry, and one already lost her job just a few days ago. I don’t blame you for feeling unsettled and confused, and I admire that you are keeping a relatively level head in what must be an incredibly difficult situation, especially as you don’t have a base salary.

This is one of those times where steadily doing small things every day even if it’s for five minutes a piece, signposts you for self-care as you’re touching base with yourself.

So, for me, I had a few days where I felt deeply anxious:

I journaled in the midst of it and got to the bottom of what was going on, figured out solutions.

But, here are other things I’m doing without having to be anxious:

Taking a minute or two to do deep breaths (in through the nose, out through the mouth, or my favourite, belly breaths where you return to how you were as a baby where you breathe, and your belly moves up and down instead of it being up in your chest.

I journal even if it’s for two minutes.

I read even if it’s for just a few minutes (or I do it while in the car).

I sing in the shower or have a dance around in my kitchen or office.

I am limiting news and social media because I’ve noticed that my most anxious times are when I’ve checked the news a few times or I do the endless scroll.

I still do about three minutes of yoga every morning — I do sun salutations.

I notice when the anxiety is creeping in, and then I notice the thoughts but deliberately choose not to jump on them. So, I’ve been having a lot of conversations with myself.

I’ve decluttered something on most days — like a drawer or cupboard.

So, what you need to do is figure out your personal formula. I quite like the idea of watching rom coms! Someone else was telling me about how they’re watching old Disney films. I recently saw a list of great films from the 90s, and I’m going to revisit some of those.

You are right: there is deeper meaning to what is taking place. We are being forced to slow down, to sit still, to reevaluate, to take care, not just of ourselves, but to even give the planet a bit of break.

As difficult as this time is, use it to make space for who you are and what you need – bit by bit, step by step, day by day.

I love your spirit of generosity where you, even though you are understandably scared, you are focused on serving, client by client, moment by moment, one day at a time. Because you don’t have the answers to life, and trying to figure it all out will cause you deep angst. That doesn’t mean that these aren’t frightening times, but you are in a position to adapt and figure out what to do when you need to because you haven’t been overtaken by fear.

Please stay safe and take care of each other.

Love as a drug

Have you ever addressed the biochemical effects of falling for someone in your blog/podcasts? It makes it really hard to act rationally and follow your advice even though you know what you really should do in screwed up situations where you’re getting used, getting crumbs etc. I’m a sensible guy normally, but once they kick in, I’m a lost cause!

Nat’s Response

I hear you. 
So, I have deliberately steered clear of the topic of love addiction/limerance. It was something I’m sure I talked about in the early days of the blog because there was a period (I think it was maybe 06/07), when limerence was a big topic online. 
But… having come from an environment where I had/have family members and other folks who grappled with alcoholism, drugs, gambling and the like, and also having been through what you’ve described, I decided to approach the same topic but from a different angle. It can be a very dicey area in terms of exploring this subject when making a like-for-like comparison between drugs, etc., and love because then there can be this sense that Well, it’s an addiction so I can’t do anything about it.
 
Something I’ve talked about is activation and being triggered. 
 
Your body remembers everything. You have your subconscious and your nervous system. Both have recorded everything that you’ve experienced even though you’re unaware of the overwhelming majority of ‘data’.
In situations where your body thinks that it’s in a similar situation to the past, including where it thinks that you have an opportunity to meet an unmet need and possibly rewrite the wrongs of the past, it sends emotions, hormones and other bodily reactions.
Now, here’s the thing:
Your subconscious is not based in the present; it’s based in your early years. I’m 42, so mine’s back in the early to mid-eighties. A lot’s changed since then. 
Go here: There’s a video on beliefs. Watch that. 
Long story short: You’ve filed everything away that’s happened to you, including how you think you’re supposed to respond emotionally and what you’re supposed to do. Each time your body thinks you’re in a similar situation, it pulls the file — and you might respond automatically or almost automatically if you don’t check yourself. 
The more you respond the same way, is the more that your body thinks that it is sending you the correct information. 


Now, you might be thinking, Why in the bejaysus is Natalie telling me this?
 
Without even knowing the ins and outs of your situation, I can immediately tell you the following from what you’ve shared:
You have experienced something or a number of things earlier in life that you internalised as unworthiness. 
A part of you feels that in order to feel worthy, valuable, wanted, purposeful and needed, that you need to allow people to avail themselves of you. 
On some level, you allow them to use you because of what you hope that you will get back in return: affection, approval, attention, love or validation. 
You get crumbs because you don’t feel worthy of better. 
The reason why you do what you do in those situations is that you are playing a role that you learned in childhood. This means that when you encounter someone who reflects the role that fits with yours, you pretty much go into autopilot. 
But the only reason you are playing the role in the first place is that you’ve mistaken it for who you are or how things have to be in order for you to be okay and to take care of someone else in your family, possibly a few people. 
Someone in your life, thanks to their personality, characteristics, resources, circumstances, level of abundance and backstory, did not meet your needs. That is where you learned to accept crumbs and to then allow yourself to be used by others to make up for their deficiencies. 
This is a deep source of pain, fear and guilt for you, and it keeps resurfacing in these situations because it wants to be healed. 
You are not a lost cause. You are not. 
What you are is scared. You don’t know who you would be without the role and might also feel disloyal. And that’s why you’re basically saying that you are hopeless and powerless. 
So, after you’ve read this (and possibly thought What the…?), listen to The Drama Sessions I’ve also attached a couple of resources to go with these classes. 
Do I HAVE to check on family?

I ended up not going on the trip to see my family last weekend (long story but coronavirus related). Besides my father returning my “stay safe” text, he hasn’t checked on me (PS if you’re wondering why I don’t call, its because he doesn’t answer and then later sends me a voicemail as a response). Neither has his mother, my grandmother. They, nor anyone else on that side of the family, NEVER check-in during any type of natural disaster or anything related. I ALWAYS check on them, sometimes waiting a few days to see if they will. But now, I don’t feel like checking on them because I realize I only do those things out of obligation.

I’m not saying I hate them, but I am always pulling the weight in the contact department. On the other side of the family, I sent a text message to a group of cousins asking how everyone was doing and saying that I am working from home for the time being and saying otherwise I was. ONE cousin responded. The rest ignored it. When others initiate conversations, many people respond. Literally, no one pays me ANY attention unless I’m standing on my head. I would say “maybe the problem is with me”, but these are issues that have been going on since childhood. But I’m exhausted now. How do I manage my people-pleasing tendencies and checking on people during this pandemic? Also, how to handle realizing that my family really just doesn’t pay me any attention? I’ve known this for a while now but this just really hurts right now for some reason.

Nat’s Response

No, you don’t.

I’m a big believer in something fundamental to how I do life and every bloody time I deviate from it, it always leads to crappy feelings and problems:

Do things from a place of desire, not obligation.

If you do it from the latter place, you will be inauthentic in some way, but you are also guaranteed to wind up feeling guilty and resentful, and this leads to far more problems than if you said no.

So, using my own father as an example:

When I got word that he potentially had cancer (and spoke to him), I didn’t see him until three weeks later when he was in the hospital. Some people would have felt obliged to hightail it up there or start having calls every day. But my initial feeling was that I would be going up there to look like The Good Daughter. That I would be doing it, not necessarily because I consciously wanted to be like that but because of how I thought I would look to everyone around me. And I knew I would dislike myself and him. So, I went when I felt ready, and it was 100% the right thing to do.

You know when you want to do something versus when you feel obliged or coerced into it.

Yes, there are things in life that we sometimes feel a sense of obligation about: case in point, family.

Here’s the craic though:

So, here you are, and we’re in the midst of this pandemic. You think to yourself I should probably call my family or I should probably call grandma, dad, etc.

Nothing wrong with that.

Here’s where it gets dicey.

I should call dad. If I don’t call him, he’s probably going to think I’m X. Ugh, I hate calling him and on and on with the thoughts.

That’s not someone who wants to call their dad. And if you can’t get to a place where even if it started out as an obligation, you can’t create a desire to call/text, then don’t.

Note that you are the only one feeling this sense of obligation!

It’s not your job to prop up your relationship with your father!

I think it’s also important to note that everyone is responding differently to this bloody virus.

Do not take your family’s reaction personally because the truth is, a hell of a lot of people are burying their head in the sand and do not get the severity of the situation. So when you text and check in, they might not get it. I know you’re a tapped-in person who lives in the epicentre of news in the U.S. — they’re not in your world. They might not mix in your types of circle or have the same conversations or even worry about the same thing.

And a lot of people are already tired of talking about it or are too busy being privately fearful for their wellbeing, job or survival to text.

And I get it. You feel neglected.

But part of the feeling neglected is caused by creating an imbalance by doing what are good things but for the wrong reasons.

Don’t check up on people unless you want to. And don’t do it to show other folks how to behave, which is what people-pleasing is all about.

Figure out what your close circle is. Chat with them. If you try to check up on ‘everyone’, you will feel exhausted and petrified soon enough.

Send a text, voice note or whatever acknowledging that these times are difficult, what you are up to, and that you are thinking of everyone at this time. Tell them that they are under no obligation to respond as you understand that they are caught up. Some will respond. Maybe not immediately, but at some point.

It might be an idea to look at how you can rally the small community of people who live in your apartment building so that, for example, if someone needs help, then you can communicate with each other.

I would also look at the conversations where people have responded. What’s the difference between you and them? Do these people think that you’re more self-sufficient?

I would also evaluate your relationship with these people, and if you aren’t close and this is legacy of trying to maintain a connection, this is the time to distance yourself and accept that these people aren’t your people, blood or not. No more texting those cousins!

What do you do when the world is on fire?

I have been following the news too much lately, got sucked into the negative spiral around the coronavirus tragedy in Europe and the world. I simply cannot believe what is happening, have never experienced anything like this – as probably no one has.

What is your advice to cope with this extreme uncertainty that surrounds our lives now? Everything is cancelled, everything closed, everyone is trying to stay home as much as possible, the streets are empty and I can almost breathe in the fear when I go out.

Nat’s Response

What you’re experiencing about Corona isn’t uncommon. We don’t really have anything to make a direct comparison to, especially given that we haven’t experienced famine, war, etc., unlike other nations. We’ve also been free to do whatever the hell we like even if it wasn’t in ours or the planet’s best interests. So to have this hidden invader running rampant and also have our freedom curtailed for the sake of ours and other people’s wellbeing is pretty challenging.

You have been plunged back to what might feel like to your body (including your mind) as if you’re back in childhood. Or certainly back to a time that felt very uncertain and scary for you. Or, you are responding to what your body’s filed away as signs that something terrible is going to happen. This time will feel very triggering — and it won’t necessarily be your present self being triggered but your much younger self.

If you think of you as being like one of those Russian dolls — there’s a version of you for every age and moment of your life. Younger aspects of you are deeply rattled, and you will feel as if you are ‘back there’ as opposed to being in 2020.

That’s not to say that you, right now, aren’t scared (and understandably so), but what sets you off feeling that way, especially if you’ve felt this way before, are habits of thinking and behaviour.

Something that affects your emotional response now is what you’ve learned ever since you were a child to stay in control, protect you, manage chaotic environments and uncertainty. For instance, lots of people use people-pleasing, perfectionism, overachieving or overthinking (or all of them) to control themselves and their environment.

But what do you do when you have something that doesn’t really give a hoot how much you please, perfect, overachieve or overthink?

What do you do when no matter how much effort you put in, you have very limited control over the thing you don’t want to be dealing with?

Coronavirus, Covid-19, it doesn’t care for these things. It’s indiscriminate cutting across ‘class’, race, appearance, good, not so good, wealth, education, age (to some degree), and more.

No, you are not in control of what happens over the next while, but for whatever reason, we’ve all been forced to slow down and stay home. These are things that we’ve actually needed to do for some time but have resisted. We didn’t want to see ourselves, to feel our feelings, to deal with our lives. We’ve sometimes insisted on making choices that go against our values. We’ve held on to people, things and situations that we’ve needed to let go of. We’ve needed to take better care of the planet. There are jobs, relationships, things that we’ve said that we don’t want to deal with but don’t feel as if we can do anything about — and now we may have been forcibly distanced from those same jobs, relationships and things.

Now we have no choice. Now we have to deal.

Accept the uncertainty, after all, worrying about it won’t change the situation but it will literally change your emotional, mental, physical and spiritual state, not least because your mind doesn’t differentiate between real versus imagined and so will have the same physiological response.

Yes, you are going to feel anxious and afraid, but you also don’t have to ride the train of thought. You can get off when you realise what you’re doing.

Sit still. Catch up with all the things that you’ve put off because you’ve been so caught up in other things. Journal. Explore. Grieve. Laugh. Limit the news. Don’t spend too much time on WhatsApp, Facebook et al. FaceTime party with your pals. Process. Get fresh air when you can. This situation isn’t going to last forever, but you also won’t be able to do what you were doing before if it wasn’t working for you — and that’s not bad thing, but it will take some grieving.

Married man went back to his family during pandemic--I should have known this would happen!

Against my better judgment, I’ve become involved with a man with a wife in another country 6 hours away from the one in which we live. We were friends for a long time first, and I told him I wanted more right from the start and he agreed that I deserved more, but here we are. Then enter COVID-19. He could have chosen to stay in our country where his job (and me) are, but he returned home. We have kept in touch, and he’s made it clear that he misses me, but he’s not there to offer the support that I need. Everything’s on hold obviously, so I don’t what there is to do or even if I should do anything. I should have known this would happen–he’s married. At the same time, we have an amazing bond, and he sometimes feels like the one good thing in my life when everything else is going to shit. To lose him now would just add to the pain of this whole awful situation, and it’s not like I’m going to miss out on some available man in the meantime–I live on an island, and it’s a pandemic!

Nat’s Response

This is one of those situations that’s the epitome of Whatever you’re prepared to settle for is what you’re going to get. 
 
The problem with being in an affair is, well, it’s an affair. It’s like having a partner on loan for a few hours (or however long), and then you’ve got to drop them back. Like a rented gown.
You say that you wanted more from the start which acknowledges that from the outset, he gave (and you accepted) less. 
“He agreed that [you] deserved more” How very noble of him! But the fact is, you both entered into this situation knowing that it would be less. On some level, possibly quite consciously, he reasons that if you did indeed want more, you wouldn’t settle for a married man when you are literally free to pursue another kind of relationship, specifically the one you say that you need and want. 
Because you are prepared to be with him, you have unwittingly communicated that you don’t need or want more and that you’re not, in fact, looking for commitment. 
Much as you wanted him to stay in your country, it makes total sense that he got on a plane and went home to his family — and deep down, you would not have respected or trusted someone who would choose to abandon his family when he could be at home. What would that really say about him?
Do you want a man to be with you because he decided to do a runner on his family or because he faffed about for so long that he had no choice but to stay behind because he couldn’t get a flight home and was maybe waiting to be repatriated? Would you really want to have lived in the shadows each time he had to call home? Would you really have felt that comfortable pretending that he was all yours while knowing that the moment that this is over, he would have to go back?
Yes, these might sound like tough questions, but they’re necessary. Is this the way that you really want to come by a relationship?
The thing about affairs is that they invite pain, delay and guilt into your life. 
He can’t offer you support because he, rightly, is supporting his wife. And that sucks because you want him to do for you what he’s doing for her, but if you want that kind of support, you have to give up being in an affair. You can’t have both. If you try, you will always get bounced when sh*t hits the fan for the priority of his marriage. 
It takes more than an “amazing bond” to make a relationship. It takes compatibility and that person meeting your emotional needs. Fact is, we can experience an “amazing bond” with the wrong person. What would serve you well in this time is to examine why this bond exists. 
Who does he remind you of?
Where else have you competed for someone’s time, energy, efforts and emotions?
Where else and with whom have you felt like second best?
Who is it that even if you got it in the past, you still crave their attention, affection, approval, love or validation?
And what happened in the weeks and months prior to this involvement that you basically shut down and gave up on love?
This is the time to work through this because as crap as this pandemic is, it’s also a time for a big clear and to finally face the things that we’ve been reluctant to. 

February

Why did he mention parties and not invite me?

I thought that hearing from him again would make me feel better, not worse. I don’t even know how to begin telling you what happened… Well, he texted me the day before yesterday to see if I was in our hometown to which I responded the next day (yesterday), telling him that yes, I was here. He answered when he woke up in the afternoon (jetlagged), saying that he arrived the day before (when he first texted me) and spontaneously decided to go to a ball the next day and if I was going there, too (“by chance”). It’s ball season; there are many high-profile balls happening that are quite fancy. Usually, tickets are sold out way before. He seemed to have gotten tickets through friends and people he knows in high places. I told him that I was not going. It felt quite awkward because I thought the nice thing to do would have been for him to invite me (!!!), I would have said no because it’s too last minute, but still… what is he thinking?

Then he asked whether I was going to this other ball on Saturday, that he just got a ticket through a friend, that it would be nice for a dance! I told him, yes it would be nice for a dance, or two or even three, I could dance the whole night through. Then he asked me whether he could sign up to dance with me on Sunday at least. I began teasing him, telling him that he could do that if he picked me up in a horse carriage (our city is full of them, usually for tourists), to which he responded, sure. I told him that Sunday, however, is full moon day. So he asked me whether I was afraid of werewolves, to which I responded: haha, of course not, otherwise I would have never accepted to enter his chase. To which he responded: haha, be careful, they say we are very strong physically. Then he asked me whether I could make it at 7 pm. I asked him which day, he said Sunday.

I’m devastated; the second ball is on Saturday! He basically told me he is going to two balls, has not invited me to either of those but wants to see me on Sunday, after he had all his fun. I have not responded anything yet. I don’t know what I could possibly say to this. We have been in contact for seven months, ambiguously, as you pointed out. He seems to be making it obvious, however, that he does not want to commit to me… and wants to go to all the parties as a single man… but if I am up for it, that he can meet me afterwards… what a joke. Feeling even worse than when I sent you the first January office hour letter.

Nat’s Response

I think that there’s a breakdown in communication occurring between the two of you which is resulting from ambiguous but also, misunderstood communication. Your relationship, so how you engage with each other, is ambiguous and so conflict is ambiguous too because you are upset about something or confused by his actions or feeling concerned, and you are not communicating any of this to him or using it to guide your subsequent boundaries and interactions.

When he spoke to you about the balls (it sounds funny when I write it like that, haha), he was asking if you happened to be going to any of them because if you were, then it would be an opportunity to hang out. That’s it. It’s like if someone else said ‘Are you going to such-and-such on Tuesday?’, and you said no, because you’re not. It’s just an enquiry. And under any other circumstances, or certainly most of them, if someone asked you if you were going to something (and you weren’t), it would not bother you.

You said yourself: there are lots of balls taking place in the city. I suspect, based on what you’ve described, he assumed that given the culture and maybe your line of work, people you know, maybe things you’ve said about your social life, that he assumed that you might be going to some of these balls and hoped that you might be going to one or both of the balls he mentioned.

The thing is, if you were in a relationship or you liked and were comfortable enough with him, you would be able to ask: So, are you inviting me? Or, you would be able to let him know that you felt left out or disappointed (or whatever).

I get that it’s hard to hear about arrangements that someone you like is making that you’re not included in. Sure, one could end up wondering why mention it if you’re not inviting, but then, wouldn’t he have had to have had a ticket? What if you’d said no because it was too short notice? What if you already had a ticket?

So, yes, maybe you would rather not have known that he was going to these balls, but the upset you are experiencing is from the story you are telling you as well as from the ambiguous interaction and misunderstanding.

You’re caught between a rock and a hard place: If he was in town and going to these balls but didn’t mention it, you wouldn’t like it either.

The truth is, this is not about the balls; this is about your expectations about this [ambiguous] interaction. You feel that there is something between you and that when he decides that he’s going to be in touch, that he should make an invitation. And he has. But awareness of his other social interactions has brought up feelings of unimportance. You feel as if you should be included in this event. You want this to be more, and you are disappointed that it’s not.

Unless you are prepared to be more direct with him, things cannot proceed with you both because this situation is entirely avoidable.

And remember: you don’t have to be up for it. If you don’t want to hang out with a guy when he’s in town, you don’t have to.

 

Advice for creating boundaries with a depressed partner?

Over the last nine years, I have got stuck in a pattern where I have become my husband’s therapist, his emotional crutch and his coping mechanism for his depression and anxiety. His own self-care is inconsistent and only really initiated when I finally reach breaking point with an emotional outburst. Inevitably this has massively affected our relationship. We have been together for 26 years since we were teenagers, and have two daughters. I first learnt how to deal with depression as a child, appeasing my Dad’s behaviour and adjusting my behaviour to meet his needs, keeping my true thoughts and feelings under wraps. I’ve told my husband that I can accept his depression and it’s up to him how he decides to live with it, but I can’t keep living in a relationship like this, without emotional support, intimacy or respect (how I feel my Mum and Dad are now) I constantly think the worst about what will happen to us. Advice greatly appreciated.

Nat’s Response

Goodness. I think that you need to acknowledge that you have done the best that you can under the circumstances and that you found yourself in this dynamic because it was familiar. This is a role you learned to perform in childhood. You love your father and wanted to be a Good Little Girl and help out. Sparing him (and your mother, who you also love) from what is going on with you, from your needs, desires, expectations, feelings and opinions is what you’ve learned to do. What you, on some level, feel that you weren’t successful with when it came to your father or where, maybe, you thought that you could do things differently to your mother, you’ve tried to rectify via your relationship with your husband.

You’ve been The Rescuer, and he’s been The Victim, and that’s frustrating for both of you even though it’s also familiar and maybe what one or both of you find ‘easier’. Well, obviously not you at this time, but your husband, even though he may resent the role at times, he also doesn’t quite know what to do now that you’re not playing this role or willing to at the level you did previously.

Even though you are right to establish boundaries and start attending to your needs, including what has led to you being in this pattern in the first place, it’s going to take a bit of time for him to get used to things. It might feel like you’re hurting him by doing this (you’re not), but you will both have to work through how you arrived at this juncture.

So, you will need to continue on this path while also not taking it too personally that your husband isn’t maybe ’thrilled’ with you at the change. But he has no right to expect that you will be subjugated by his depression. He may feel somewhat abandoned, but that is not what you are doing.

Fact is, so much focus has been on his depression, feelings and needs that you have lost yourself in the process and will be feeling low in your own way. I’m not saying that you are depressed, but there’s a lot of unexpressed feelings that have led to where you can no longer tolerate what has been going on.

‘Support’ doesn’t mean ‘be the solution’; it means being there for them. It’s trying to see and hear them without judgement and doing what we can without doing it for them and without losing ourselves. This is where, I suspect, that things became confusing between you both.

Let him know that you do love and care about him, but that after years of being all things to all people, you can no longer cope and you need to do more things for you.

I don’t even think that it’s about ‘accept[ing]’ his depression; it’s about how you’re not going to make you responsible for making him happy. You can’t cope. You need emotional support. You need to talk to someone. Who’s going to do that for you?

So, while you can and will be conscientious of his own struggles, you can start asking him to do things. For instance, you don’t have to act as if you don’t have any needs or problems. While you don’t need to make him your armchair therapist, humanise yourself by talking about things that bother you. Not always about him or the relationship, but even other things in your life.

Ask him to do things if you tend to let him off doing things around the house. Don’t be a dogsbody.

Tell him that it’s time for him to have professional support so that someone who is qualified to deal with these issues can help him. You’re not a nurse or rehab — this is way outside your ‘expertise’. It may be that you can accompany him to some sessions. Let him know that you are not dismissing at all what he’s been going through, but that after twenty-six years, you need more. Ask him what he’s prepared to do.

I would also have an honest conversation with him and let him into your world: you have spent your entire life suppressing yourself and, yes, pussyfooting around someone else’s depression. You’ve done all of this with your dad, and you don’t want to replicate their marriage, but also, after a lifetime of doing this, you just can’t do it any more and need to figure out your own feelings, needs, etc. Tell him that you’re not blaming him for that, but you both have to figure out a different way to interact with each other so that you can both have your needs met.

Write down a list of everything you do that’s basically the rescuing (therapy, emotional crutch, etc). Identify where you can do things even a little bit more differently, and you will be more boundaried. Having been through some of this with my mother, I totally empathise. But resentment and guilt are not love, but also, none of this is ‘fixing’ anything.

Avoid basically trying to provide answers or listening for long periods of time. Set time limits, and if you are not feeling too great, say ‘Do you know what? I’m not feeling too great right now, so this isn’t a good time to talk about this.’

Think of all of this as a starting point.

 

Gut feeling with friend

I have serious problems with my buddy J. There were several incidences when I felt treated unkindly and unfriendly. Now I learned by “accident” he has a birthday party today and I got no invitation (which we did all the years). I felt bad, got in contact with him, and had the feeling he is not fully honest. But….I made a false accusation, he used (very odd) a Facebook Event to invite, and I never saw this invitation. Obviously, he was not puzzled at all that I did not react to the event. We even talked in the morning, and he hinted at no time at his party. I feel a bit bad (I apologized), still there lingers a bad gut feeling. Should I go to the event now or listen to my hurt gut?

Nat’s Response

This specific incident sounds like a miscommunication/misunderstanding that coupled with other tensions in the relationship, has caused you to think that something is off about what’s going on.

You feel that he has been unfriendly and unkind over a period of time. There are reasons for that.

I don’t know that you made a “false accusation”; I think it’s more that you jumped to a conclusion because you were not invited in the typical manner of which you have come to expect.

It also bothers you that given that you hadn’t replied at all to the invite, that he hasn’t thought, “Hmm, how come he hasn’t responded yet. Let me just double-check that he knows about it”, so you find some of this uncaring like he isn’t that bothered about you being there.

I’m inclined to think that someone who sends their birthday invite on Facebook is being pretty generalist as opposed to making a grand effort. I think people are sometimes naive about Facebook and assume that everyone is on there or that sending invitations on there is the ‘cool’ thing to do.

I think that if your gut feeling is that something is off about the whole thing and that you don’t want to go, don’t go.

But I also think that after today has passed and the dust has settled somewhat, that you and your friend need to clear the air. Or… you maybe need to acknowledge that your feelings about your friend suggest that this isn’t the friendship you want it to be. That doesn’t mean that you have to end the friendship, but it does mean that the next time he’s unkind, etc., that it’s time to say something.

 

Feeling overwhelmed & cynical about relationships

I have thought a bit about your answer to my question about casual relationships. You said to examine whether I’m getting involved in these relationships because I’m trying to fulfil other needs with sex, i.e. validation, feeling attractive etc.

I think those things are true, I mean, my self-esteem is not in the greatest place right now (though I’m seeing someone about it). I do enjoy sex and physical contact and am finding the lack of sex being single quite challenging. I think what I’m truly missing is a sense of intimacy, though.

I feel that this is something you can only get in a relationship of a certain length, and I worry about whether this will ever happen for me again. I get panicky at the thought of having to live the rest of my life without love and intimacy. I feel so cynical about the chances of finding someone with whom I can share love, care, trust and respect though. Between the way my husband has treated me and the Mr Unavailables I’ve met since

I feel like it’s too much to ask, that maybe men are just incapable of that or that maybe I’m just not a person that people value that way. How can I deal with feeling cynical about love?

Nat’s Response

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying sex and physical contact, but the fact that you are finding, as you put it, the “lack of sex” quite challenging suggests that there’s a close correlation between it and your sense of being in a relationship. When you throw in that the intimacy is something that you feel that you can only get out of a relationship of a certain length, and you’re caught between a rock and a hard place. Do you delay gratification and learn to tolerate it to be more open not just to a different type of relationship but also to yourself, or do you satisfy the sex itch but run the risk of delaying/halting intimacy?

Barring very cataclysmic circumstances where you’re thrown together in such a way that you get to know a person in a way that you wouldn’t ordinarily (held hostage, for example), emotional intimacy takes time, experience and vulnerability. There are people who are more vulnerable and intimate in six months than some people are in six years. It all comes down to how emotionally available you are and how you show up in a relationship.

This is where I think that people get tripped up on sex. Getting naked with someone feels intimate, but it’s not the same as letting someone in emotionally and allowing you to be seen. This is why, for example, you have some people who are sex addicts or use people for sex. They gravitate to people who they recognise, even if the other parties don’t, that they are not looking to go too deep. For the people on the receiving end of this, it’s quite a jolt when they realise that not only have they been involved with someone who was shut off from going to any emotional depth but that they themselves were willing to engage because they were not willing to go much further emotionally than the person.

Do you really feel cynical about finding someone? It’s okay if you do, but sometimes people say that they do because it seems ‘easier’ and ’safer’. It also gives them an opt out, after all, if you think that there’s no love left, they don’t have to try, and they don’t have to risk. But the problem with being cynical is that you meet people at that level and keep looking to prove yourself right. You think you’re just wanting someone to come along and disprove you, but when you’re cynical, you see things through that lens and make your choices through it too.

You had a long marriage with your husband. No, it hasn’t turned out the way that you planned, and, yes, he could have approached his change of, how shall we put it, ‘direction’ better, but is it fair to write off your entire marriage and the life you built together or the children you raised?

He’s one person. I think if you do a survey on anything and only use one or a few people, it gives you pretty distorted results. And that’s not to say that there aren’t people out there that aren’t your cup of tea, but you’re not emotionally available at this time anyway. And that’s understandable given that you are hurt and grieving, but when you’ve taken a bit more time to process, you will see opportunities. This isn’t the life you planned for yourself, but there are good things happening and on the way.

Don’t write off all men or yourself because your marriage hasn’t worked out.

You need to dig into the anger first. Unsent Letters (foundational resources) are where it’s at. It’s the thing that so many avoid, and then they wish they’d started sooner. Write as many as needed, but start confronting your anger, and you will confront your cynicism, but you will also find that your self-esteem goes up because it’s not decompressed by anger.

Feeling guilty and confused about ignoring my [shady] ex

How do I stop feeling guilty about ignoring an ex? He didn’t treat me very well in the past, and I never expressed my thoughts/feelings effectively at the time. I’m sure my behaviour sent confusing messages. He doesn’t believe he did anything wrong and even said that he asked someone (a person he asked out whilst involved with me) what they though and that they basically said that it wasn’t his fault, that he didn’t promise me anything and that it was all on me. I get the impression he thinks i’m just being immature and petty by ignoring him rather than acting in a friendly way.

Nat’s Response

Are you feeling guilty about ignoring your ex?

He didn’t treat you very well. That behaviour is on him. His actions and feelings are his to own, as are yours.

Even if someone didn’t tell you to your face and spray paint it across town that you didn’t treat them very well, wouldn’t you have a level of awareness about your actions towards this person?

Here you are feeling guilty about ignoring someone who didn’t treat you well. So, even though you have every right to stop speaking to an ex even if they didn’t mistreat, you say that you feel bad about it (guilty) which is either because you think that you’ve committed a wrongdoing or saying that you feel guilty is a way to 1) make you feel bad and 2) stop you from moving on.

Here’s the craic: if you want to talk to your ex, no one is stopping you. People talk to exes they don’t like all the time. Some of them even continue to sleep with them or vie for their attention.

So what you have to work out is: what is the purpose of me having this particular problem? Given that I can speak to this person or I can continue to ignore him and also be fully aware whether he agrees with me or not that he didn’t treat me very well, why am I still pursuing this?

Do you want to be friends with him?
Do you want to make a point?
Do you want to get back together with him?
Do you want to ‘win’?

It doesn’t matter if you didn’t express your thoughts and feelings effectively at the time. Most humans are not expressing their feelings’ 100%’ effectively at any time.

Why are you taking ownership of a situation that had two of you in it?

Surely if you feel that you didn’t communicate effectively, wouldn’t it be better to take that knowledge forward into other interactions and communicate effectively there, after all, people who don’t behave nicely are all over the place. It’s not like you won’t encounter your ex in another guise, so it’s not as if all of your life’s options for having your’ shot’ at speaking up died a death with the end of the relationship.

And here’s something I know for sure: if this guy was a decent person, he would never have responded to his awareness of your subsequent feelings about the relationship by telling you that he spoke to someone who you don’t give a rats about to ask if the story he told them about his behaviour towards you was okay. Only the absolute shady of people do that kind of thing.

Decent people, even ones who are embarrassed and even angry about being pulled up about their behaviour, don’t say stuff like he did. They want to know why you feel as you do even if they don’t 100% agree with it or it makes them super uncomfortable.

Saying that he didn’t promise anything, so he was free to behave badly is a cop-out. Yes, you are responsible for you, but he took advantage of a situation.

Unless you’ve heard it straight from the horse’s mouth that he thinks you’re “immature and petty”, then it is you who thinks that you are “immature and petty” for not acting friendly towards someone that you don’t like and who you don’t want to be a part of your life. “Get[ting] the impression” and using that to feel guilty is projection. You’re taking your feelings and calling them his. Is he that invested in what went on between you?

Work out the amount of time that’s passed since the relationship ended. Does it warrant this investment? If it’s a long time and you still feel guilty, then that’s not about guilt: it’s about not taking action on something. Using it to not allow you to move on.

How do you stop feeling guilty? Each time the thought comes up, remind you that you did the best that you could at the time. Ask yourself: What can I do instead?

Do the forgiveness work: Unsent Letters and Letters To Your Younger Self.

It’s possible that it might change to what’s underneath the guilt: feeling angry. And then you can work through that.

I don't know what I want

I think and act like I know what I want, but I don’t think I do… I just cruise in life I use to plan, but I don’t anymore. I have goals down the road I give up, or something change with work or whatever and the goal just slips away. I am afraid that I don’t even have a vision of where my life will be five years from now. I feel like a robot sometimes, wake up do the same thing and repeat. I don’t know where to start. Have clarity? Know myself? I don’t know. I feel lost.

Nat’s Response

I think it’s crucial to acknowledge that not knowing what your life will look like in five years time and not knowing what you want is normal. It is normal to go through phases of this. I know I have been through this and still am to a certain extent. When you put pressure on you to have an end-to-end plan, especially when you’ve done a lot of planning in the past or been a high achiever or pushed yourself a lot, it just makes it harder to see and know what you want.

Sometimes the phase you have to go through is not knowing. And it is bloody annoying and terrifying at times. You might look for signs: magpies, message in a bottle, spirit guide. A part of you when you speak to people is like ‘Please, just tell me the plan. Tell me what to do.’ We often secretly, possibly openly, want someone else to figure out our life.

And even the people who appear to know what they want have their own bumps ahead. There will aspects of it that they will find difficult. They might change their mind. They might also be so rational that they get too invested in their own thoughts, think that they know ‘everything’ and then it all comes crashing down.

Retrace your steps. When did this phase begin? What happened in the weeks and months beforehand? That gives a clue as to what is really going on here.

What did you used to want, and why did that change? That’s not because you’re supposed to second guess that, but there’s a reason why you have let go of certain things.

So, for instance, I went through a phase of planning a lot of stuff with work, and then I became demotivated when certain things didn’t happen or, yes, in some instances, I think I panicked about the ‘loftiness’ of the goals. During this time, it became apparent to me that I had some fear around success but also about failure. If we let go of a goal, we think that we don’t have to look like a fool, but then we feel bad about ourselves when we start to feel as if we don’t have purpose.

I think that something that gets missed about goals is that it isn’t necessarily about hitting the goal and getting the thing. It’s who we become along the way and what we learn. Even if we ‘miss’, we gain other things.

So, for example, I’ve been very ‘loose’ about work goals over the last few years, but I did set a goal of hitting 10K Instagram followers by the end of the summer because the’ swipe up’ feature comes with that. I hit it in the first week of September. Halfway through August, I was 100 away from my goal, and then Instagram did a big cleanup and I lost another hundred followers overnight. And then as if the universe knew that I was now obsessively watching, it was a slow crawl to the last two hundred. So, I decided to let it go, and instead took pleasure in a ridiculous number of good things that happened along the way that I didn’t plan for. So many opportunities arose because in the process of pursuing this goal, I became more visible and that changed lots of things. I’m glad I didn’t plan for them. And, to make it funnier, two weeks after I hit 10k, I was featured by a couple of magazines and grew by another four thousand within a few days.

Now, I don’t tell you all of this to waffle on about Instagram but to show you how life works. Swap Instagram for something else and start showing up for it, and things will happen. And then you can tweak as you go.

If you feel like a robot a lot (I think there can be a lather, rinse, repeat element to life, and that’s not a bad thing per se), then this suggests that you are bored by what you are doing with time. So, it’s also time to acknowledge that something about your routine needs shaking up. Do you know why? Because you don’t run your own company. If work is getting in the way of being you, and you’re not satisfied by your work, it’s time to explore what the next stage could look like. You work to live, not the other way around. Yes, you do have to work, but it’s not doing it for you any more.

I recommend that you read two books straight away: Pivot by Jenny Blake, The Big Leap by Hay Hendricks.

ake you feel bad and 2) stop you from moving on.

Here’s the craic: if you want to talk to your ex, no one is stopping you. People talk to exes they don’t like all the time. Some of them even continue to sleep with them or vie for their attention.

So what you have to work out is: what is the purpose of me having this particular problem? Given that I can speak to this person or I can continue to ignore him and also be fully aware whether he agrees with me or not that he didn’t treat me very well, why am I still pursuing this?

Do you want to be friends with him?
Do you want to make a point?
Do you want to get back together with him?
Do you want to ‘win’?

It doesn’t matter if you didn’t express your thoughts and feelings effectively at the time. Most humans are not expressing their feelings’ 100%’ effectively at any time.

Why are you taking ownership of a situation that had two of you in it?

Surely if you feel that you didn’t communicate effectively, wouldn’t it be better to take that knowledge forward into other interactions and communicate effectively there, after all, people who don’t behave nicely are all over the place. It’s not like you won’t encounter your ex in another guise, so it’s not as if all of your life’s options for having your’ shot’ at speaking up died a death with the end of the relationship.

And here’s something I know for sure: if this guy was a decent person, he would never have responded to his awareness of your subsequent feelings about the relationship by telling you that he spoke to someone who you don’t give a rats about to ask if the story he told them about his behaviour towards you was okay. Only the absolute shady of people do that kind of thing.

Decent people, even ones who are embarrassed and even angry about being pulled up about their behaviour, don’t say stuff like he did. They want to know why you feel as you do even if they don’t 100% agree with it or it makes them super uncomfortable.

Saying that he didn’t promise anything, so he was free to behave badly is a cop-out. Yes, you are responsible for you, but he took advantage of a situation.

Unless you’ve heard it straight from the horse’s mouth that he thinks you’re “immature and petty”, then it is you who thinks that you are “immature and petty” for not acting friendly towards someone that you don’t like and who you don’t want to be a part of your life. “Get[ting] the impression” and using that to feel guilty is projection. You’re taking your feelings and calling them his. Is he that invested in what went on between you?

Work out the amount of time that’s passed since the relationship ended. Does it warrant this investment? If it’s a long time and you still feel guilty, then that’s not about guilt: it’s about not taking action on something. Using it to not allow you to move on.

How do you stop feeling guilty? Each time the thought comes up, remind you that you did the best that you could at the time. Ask yourself: What can I do instead?

Do the forgiveness work: Unsent Letters and Letters To Your Younger Self.

It’s possible that it might change to what’s underneath the guilt: feeling angry. And then you can work through that.

Goals With Soul

Friend's advice about my new man has triggered doubts and anxiety

I recently met a guy who I’ve been dating and carried on getting to know online as he is now based overseas. Things have been going well, and he’s revealed to me things from his past that I’ve accepted. I feel it’s made us stronger. I shared that I was dating this guy from a certain ethnicity with my trusted friend/spiritual guide. He told me to not go there as in his experience, men of this ethnic background are not really husband material and that pre-marriage they will promise the moon and the stars. While I’ve ignored his advice, when communication breaks down or something happens in the relationship – his words come to mind and make me doubt everything. A marriage to this guy would mean moving abroad and remote working so big changes ahead. I’m scared of his words coming true and me being so far from home. Help.

Nat’s Response

This is a tricky situation.

Given that it’s early days, and that a lot of this (or all) is taking place online, you may be jumping too far ahead in terms of marriage and making a move.

Even if you are getting along really well online, a whole other getting to know is going to have to begin when you meet face to face. I’m going to assume that that wouldn’t be when you are walking down the aisle or making the move!

While I take your trusted friend’s/spiritual guide’s point, I am a little wary of broad-sweeping generalisations, especially when they’re based on ethnicity. But you have opened Pandora’s box by having this conversation so you can’t ‘unsee’ or ‘unhear’ what they’ve said. And it might not be what you want to hear, but you could look beyond the generalisations to the wider point:

You are talking about a man who you’ve been communicating with online and calling it “dating”. Given the nature of the internet, it’s not that you have to play Columbo or Jessica Fletcher per se, but you do need to be street smart and discerning. Before you both get too carried away by chatting online, you need to meet in person. You need to spend time together, and you need to understand each other’s worlds. Even if you were talking to a man of a different ethnicity (one that your friend deems ‘marriage material’ or whatever) who lived far away enough that you hadn’t met him yet and being with him would involve moving away, you would still have the same issue: you are at Stage 0 because you haven’t met yet. This means that you can continue getting to know him but that you also have to allow for the fact that until you meet and continue to see him, you don’t know him for real even if it feels like it.

When communication breaks down, or something happens in the early stages of any relationship, never mind one that involves talking to somebody who lives far away, this is always difficult. I guess what you have to ask yourself is: If your friend hadn’t said this, what would you have blamed these things on?

This is also a good time to ask: Why did you go to that specific friend? Was it because a part of you wanted to hear what this person would say? Was a part of you already feeling distrusting but then you had the conversation with them so that you now have something else to pin your doubts on? Also, even if your friend hadn’t said what they did, surely you would feel disconcerted when communication, etc., broke down because you don’t have enough experience of him to say what it’s about?

There’s no easy answer here. With or without your friend, that possibility existed.

Given that you started this question with the word “recently”, you are going too fast — emotionally and mentally.

If anything, this is all a sign that you need to slow down, but also, that if you are going to continue talking with this man, that you are going to have to proceed with a level of caution and make it a priority to meet in real life. I would also do a little homework and make sure that you are talking to who you say you’re talking to.

I don’t know what these things are that he’s revealed to you from his past that you’ve accepted, but I would caution you on mistaking these ‘confessions’ (that’s what they sound like) for intimacy. That takes time and experience, and mustn’t be confused with intimacy or appearing to share big things. I’m not saying that these weren’t intimate conversations, but against the backdrop of hardly knowing each other, you have to be careful of assuming that you know him more than you do.

**Please note: due to it being subsequently clarified that this isn’t purely an online relationship and that he’s met her father, I updated my reply — see below*

Well, that does put a different spin on things.

I think that if you date to marry, which isn’t unusual but does, as you say, put the kibosh on something open-ended, which isn’t a bad thing but may speed things up where it can, sometimes, require you to go slower, you have to ensure that you get to know this person over enough time to establish a sense of core values (character) and shared direction. You need to know what this person is like when they experience stress, conflict, criticism and disappointment. You need to have been yourself.

At this point, you have to assess your tolerance for risk. Are you OK with ignoring what your friend said and proceeding? The answer, well, is no because you are already judging your relationship, your partner and your own doubts on what this friend has said.

Has this person earned enough of your trust that you feel that you can speak for him and jump on a plane to wherever he lives and marry him? Probably not. It takes time.

Whether your friend said this or not, there is and always has been a possibility that this may not be the man for you. There’s also a possibility that it is.

While I get that you date to marry, your current reservations and responses suggest that you don’t trust and know this man as much as your friend, but also that you don’t trust yourself enough. This doesn’t mean that you need to end things, but if you are that worried about making that kind of move, it’s not that you should date open-ended but that you will need to give things more time than maybe you would have if you lived in the same area code and could see each other a lot.

There is a business exercise called a premortem. I talk about this in the 360-degree check guide:

“Handy trick: try doing a premortem on a situation. So, look ahead and imagine that whatever it is hasn’t worked out. What would the reasons be for that? This is a business strategy that can be surprisingly effective in our personal lives. Write down the reasons. Then strip out anything that’s basically you just being critical of you and blaming it on flaws, your worth or something you know isn’t true. What nuggets of knowledge and insight do you glean from the exercise?”

Imagine that it’s the end of the relationship or that you have got married, but it’s not what you thought it would be. What would the reasons be? See if there’s anything else besides what your friend has said.

It’s also a good time to ask: if you trust your friend, and you went to them to get their take on the situation, why do you think that your situation is different to the other women? That may give some clues as to what is going on here. If this is the first time you’ve thought that you may be the exception, then maybe nothing to be concerned about. But if this is a pattern, then this can help you to get grounded about your situation.

There’s no fast track here, so you will either have to take a reading on your situation and decide to opt out, or you will have to opt to continue and learn as you go, prepared to accept that there’s a risk that this is not the right man for you, but also there’s a possibility that he might be.

 

Feeling like I can't win no matter how hard I try

Whether it be in relationship with friends, work, family…. Everything! I feel beaten up from running in circles, and I just can’t win. I just feel that my efforts are not enough. At work, I always have to prove myself to the people I work for and with, it is a never-ending competition even though I don’t want it to be that way, but sadly it is. I do run my own race doing what I know and try to excel. I am one grade level away from taking a project on my own to run, but I haven’t had the chance to do so every year my grade is “developing” it’s been five years, and it is always that. It is linked to our yearly raise as well, so it is a bit frustrating because I’ve been in that developing stage. What about my other efforts from doing something I am good at? They have us write our goals. Of course, I tie it to where I want in the next level, but if I don’t really have my hands on it, how would I be better? I was told that I have to go in that direction and not be consumed by what I am currently doing. I get that. The goals should be what you want to excel and do next. I agree.

When I talk to them about my raise and where I stand, it’s like talking to a wall. The raise and grade is what it is and not negotiable. Family, no matter what I say, I am always at fault that it is all about me, or that I am old and should figure it out. Why can’t I just have a conversation with my mom without any judgements or ill words that gets stuck in my head? As a result, I resent her. I see how she treats her family… I mean if tough love is what she is applying to me, then why do I see her all out for her family. It’s unfair, and I just can’t win. Same for everything in my life, I feel like I can’t win. I have this gratitude book that I update daily because I am not a negative type of person. I try to always see things in a good way. I know I am my own competition. It is me vs. me I just feel defeated all the time.

Nat’s Response

You sound like you’re experiencing burnout. It’s a state typically associated with work, but that can happen when we don’t consider our needs, expectations, desires, feelings and opinions and basically keep pushing ourselves to try to ‘win’ and make efforts. We try to be all things to all people, and eventually, because we are not listening to ourselves, our body and mind (so our body) start to say no to let us know that how we’re going about things isn’t The Way.

You are trying too hard. For some reason, you feel inadequate in your relationships, and you operate from a role of feeling as if you have to work that much harder — and then you feel unappreciated and unloved. You associate effort with the outcome, so the reasoning is that the more you try, the more things and people’ should’ change. This manifests itself by you playing a role.

So you play your role, but it creates expectations about what you will get back in return whether it’s in the form of reward or what you get to avoid.

You don’t play your role in isolation. If you play this role, it’s because you are trying to show others how to behave. You are trying to fit around their role or trying to get them to play a different role. So, you might play the role of The Dutiful Daughter to get your, for example, mother to be The Mother You Want Her To Be. Or, you might play this role because your mother has always expected you, even if it wasn’t conscious and intentional, to rescue her.

When you then look to orient yourself in other relationships, you’re going to play a similar role that’s possibly adapted a little to fit the situation. Or, it’s exactly the same role but just called something different (The Great Friend, The Hard Worker, The One Who Always Helps, etc).

You do whatever you do because it’s how you coped and survived your childhood. Where it’s become a problem is that if you continue using these coping mechanisms in adulthood, it becomes maladaptive. It blocks you from being you because you’re 1) stuck in a child role based on a reality that doesn’t exist (you’re an adult now) and 2) you’re in a near-constant state of stress because roles trigger your fight-flight-freeze mode. We only play a role because we’re not conscious (in pattern) and afraid, so this is having a physiological effect. It gradually drains our bandwidth.

Although it can feel as if aspects of your life are separate, they’re not. So there will be stark parallels between different areas once you start to play attention. For example, a common pattern that I see with clients and members is taking whatever job they’re offered, including sometimes never having interviewed for a role and being head-hunted, and them also taking whatever relationship is on offer. Another one is staying in jobs where they’re miserable and finding it difficult to make a decision even with that data, and staying in relationships where they’re miserable and experiencing the same thing.

Now, there is undoubtedly a ‘competitive’ element to work environments where you have more than a handful of people working there, and there’s a whole jumping-through-hoops process. It’s not in every environment, but it is in some, and a lot of that is culture and control. After all, if a company promotes this, they get more pounds of flesh for their money.

I think that if your grade has been ‘developing’ for the last five years, it is a must that you query it. Do it either in your next appraisal if it’s imminent, or arrange to have a meeting with your manager. Even though it can feel daunting to broach these topics, it is pivotal, not just to your wellbeing and sense of agency, but also to feeling safe, secure and motivated in your job. You need to know why you are in ‘developing’ and what needs to happen for that to change. Here’s something that often comes out of this:

People often blame themselves for why they are not at a higher grade or for why they haven’t had a promotion yet. Or, they assume that because they haven’t received it yet that it means that they haven’t done enough yet.

The overwhelming majority of the time that is not the case, not least because if it really were, you would know about it in concrete terms and have been given some form of performance plan. You would know the clear steps to move from where you are now to where you want to be. It would not be a secret.

Many companies rely on the majority of existing staff ‘waiting’. They pay new staff more money than existing staff, and they tend to reward and respond to staff who make the most noise. Passive staff; staff who come in, do a good job, work hard and expect that it will be noticed and rewarded are often the ones who end up feeling behind and passed over. If you are accommodating, passive, keen to help out, go with the flow, while these can certainly contribute to you being a good or even great employee, they don’t help you be a great, assertive, happy employee if you don’t also consistently advocate for yourself.

If your company cannot offer you concrete steps and a timeline to move from developing (your manager should be embarrassed that he has staff sitting on developing for so long), you would be far better moving to a new company and having a fresh start. You would increase salary and responsibility. Odd as it may sound, management are often unconsciously, sometimes consciously waiting for people to speak up. It’s why you see pay rise and promotions after people say that they’re leaving.

As for your mother, you can’t have a conversation with her without any judgements because 1) she’s not that kind of person and 2) that’s not the relationship you have with her. You have a mother-daughter relationship that will be, to a degree, complicated by her relationship with her own mother, especially if she has low awareness of how that impacts on you. You don’t have to do a jig about who she is, but you do need to accept who she is so that you can work from that space instead of feeling resentful that she won’t change for you. It’s not because you’re inadequate; she is that way because of her own blocks. In an ideal world, we’d be able to go to our family about our problems. That’s not the world we live in. Some people have that kind of family, but plenty don’t. You don’t. And not accepting that is frustrating you. It’s their individual personalities, characteristics, circumstances, resources, level of abundance and backstories that make them who they are. Not you. Yes, it is disappointing. Yes, there’s grief that comes with the acceptance. But there’s also freedom.

 

Sexting and then suddenly ghosted

So being in this very ambiguous multi-month non-relationship with a guy has definitely had its ups and downs. And now comes a twist… because suddenly we had a (rather romantic – or maybe I just want to see it that way haha) sexting session out of the blue. Let me explain.

We have met a few times, not even ten I believe, spoke on the phone a couple of times, texted here and there but the frequency has been fluctuating. I basically stopped initiating contact because I was upset about a certain time when he asked me out for a Sunday but made it clear he was going to other parties on the weekend, so I declined that time. I made an offer to meet up the following weekend, which he declined because he was sick (again). So a couple of days passed, he asked me an innocent question, I responded in a teasing way… which led to us basically sexting at night. I won’t go into all the details, let’s just say it didn’t go all the way to virtual sex because I said I was going to sleep, after which he basically said he was embracing me, kissing me everywhere.

Next day I said he would not be able to deal with so much sexy, he would give up his most beloved passion in favour of being with me and that I could not possibly be held responsible for that – which was obviously again me teasing him, not meant in any way to be taken seriously… but he never replied and that has been days ago, basically a week ago … I have seen him online various times, he has not reached out, not even a simply “hi” … this made me feel like he was talking to all the other women he is probably dating… it’s not like he’s dropped dead or anything. I feel sort of… bullshitted, deceived.

Nat’s Response

I don’t think that he’s bullshitted or deceived you. This encounter follows the pattern of your own responses to him as well as the pattern of your involvement, so if anything, it’s you bullshitting and deceiving you. That’s okay. You’re only human, and we all do it. We all have a habit of being and doing things to ourselves and then calling it someone else’s behaviour.

You deceived you by pretending that you were okay with things that you’re not.
You were not willing to reveal who you are or what you want.
You have felt anger and disappointment many times over the last several months and have not expressed it.
You were so upset by him having other plans that you refused to meet up with him by way of punishment and hinting at your hurt and resentment.

This is just a sample of things that took place before you sexted.

If you needed to know where you stand and an explanation for things that had or hadn’t been said or done, that is something that you needed to drive, not him. He’s responsible for his own feelings, behaviour, needs, etc. If he has things to say but isn’t, that’s his stuff.

If clarity was material to you sexting, you wouldn’t have sexted.

I know that dating and chatting with people who you’re not exactly sure what you’re doing can be confusing and even a little scary at times, but it’s something you have 100% choice about.

You are making up this relationship because you will not be direct with him or opt out. To you, anything that you’re doing means a lot, but he doesn’t know that. It’s just chatting, hanging out, sexting or whatever.

Time and again, you have both corresponded via text and it’s led to miscommunication or you feeling as if you’ve been left hanging around waiting for a response. You are ignoring the fact that these ambiguous, jokey-but-not-really-that-jokey, flirty-but-also-anxious texts do not work. They backfire. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon.

You have known since very early days that this isn’t a relationship and that there’s other women who he hangs out with. You have both teased each other with your communication. It isn’t one-sided. Even though you feel as if you want to be his special woman and that you want more, you don’t, otherwise this whole interaction would never have gone past the first few weeks, and you would not only have made your position abundantly clear, but you would have backed it up.

Is his behaviour annoying? Absolutely. But your own behaviour is frustrating you because you keep chasing after him and engaging even though you don’t like it.

And I think, if you’re honest with yourself, you know that you have not been ghosted. You’re just not chatting at the moment until next time (if you’re willing for there to be a next time).

How do I stop viewing myself as limited?

It has become apparent that I view myself as a limited person. This view of myself has shown up in all the romantic and platonic relationships I’ve gravitated to. It has shown up in the jobs I’ve gravitated to as well as in sabotaging opportunities. I don’t know how to get out of this mindset. If I have an exciting idea, I quite quickly find myself talking myself out of it and saying someone like me couldn’t do that, date that person, be thought well of and so on.

Nat’s Response

What you’re talking about is, yes, about beliefs and identity, but it’s also about having a fixed instead of a growth mindset.

We operate from identity, so what can happen is that, for example, we have an idea, but habit means that we instinctively shut it down because if we follow through on the idea, that is a change of identity.

The reason why you go along with what your ‘view’ says is because of the fixed mindset, so believing that who you are is decided and unchangeable.

I talk about this in The Perfectionism Sessions:

“Do you know what a growth mindset is versus a fixed one? These terms coined by renowned psychologist Carol Dweck are about attitude to learning. Someone who has a growth mindset believes that basic abilities and qualities like talent and intelligence can be strengthened and developed through dedication and hard work, whereas someone with a fixed mindset believes that these are fixed. They spend their time supporting this mindset, so basically documenting ‘proof’ of this more than they do developing it. They also believe that talent alone, not talent with effort, creates success, which isn’t true. While it’s easy to assume that perfectionism is about having a growth mindset in general, so pushing you to achieve, accomplish and basically be and do more, it’s why you’re doing what you’re doing that points to it being a fixed mindset.

When you believe that you’re not good enough, that is a fixed mindset. Otherwise, in instances where things don’t go as you would like, you wouldn’t blame your worthiness. You wouldn’t assume and decide that something fundamentally wrong with you that you have repeatedly identified in the past has yet again been proved. You could show up in the world without feeling as if you have to try so hard or as I call it ‘efforting’. It’s this whole being and doing things because you think it will control or determine outcomes.

Perfectionists believe that talent/worth creates success or that their efforts do indeed drive success, but if things don’t work out, it’s because what they did wasn’t enough or that it was, but they were fundamentally untalented or unworthy to receive what they want(ed).”

Here is an example of how identity plays out (and this is a real one based on quite a few members):

Let’s say that you come from a poor background where maybe people weren’t expected to amount to much and you were told that you are ‘big for your boots’ if you talk a certain way or you show signs of intelligence. Even though you might do well at school and go to university, shame about your background, whether it’s about coming from a poor background or feeling shame about ’showing your family up’ means that you will consciously and unconsciously sabotage your career and relationship prospects to fit in.

But why should someone’s identity and future prospects be defined by the past? To my knowledge, you’re not a serial killer or doing heinous things to children, grown-ups or animals. That type of thing is pretty tricky to shake off.

Who or where you’ve been doesn’t matter. Or, it only matters as much as you decide to let it.

So you have to consciously intervene and question the shutting down of things.

Where you are now is based on habit and who you’ve been or thought you’ve been.

If you want to go from here to somewhere else, that involves a change of identity. I don’t mean literally where you change your name or decide to go into witness protection, but it means that you have to different things.

So, I would do the connecting with limiting beliefs exercise as a next step. You need to see how it plays out so that you can see where you can intervene.

I would also do the clearing and releasing exercise (foundational resources) after you’ve done this exercise, and then see where you’re at then.

Connecting With Limited Beliefs

Stopping self-sabotage and building my low self-esteem

My ex tried to take the best of me. If I wanted to go to the gym regularly, everyday, he used to say that this is not healthy; if I wanted to stop eating sugar, same answer.

There was this mental thing going on. I cannot explain it. He said my friends didn’t really like me, criticized me whenever he could and put a lot of blame on me where I honestly couldn’t see anything wrong. It was as if he was inventing negative situations to make me feel bad. He was just negative all around, always seeing an obstacle where I would see a way. I’ve always been pretty successful in my studies and career, he said that he could be a stay at home dad, so I could just go and make the career I wanted, but at the same time he showed no real happiness in my achievements, I felt as if I had to hide my success from him.

After that relationship ended, my self-esteem was at lows never before seen at any time in my entire life, to a point where I pretty much fell in love immediately with the next best guy that came around to a point where it became an obsession – although he lacks all the major characteristics I value in life, such as living a healthy lifestyle.
I just want to heal myself and stop self-sabotaging myself, stop obsessing about someone I don’t know, get my career back on track, be unapologetically proud about my success, and finally build up my self-esteem. The question is how?

Nat’s Response

I think that something that needs to be acknowledged is that you were either in a controlling relationship or one where you relied on being directed even if you didn’t always or even often like it. You gravitated to being in a role where you deferred to him and ended up taking on a child role in the relationship where he was the boss of you.

Acknowledging where else you have been like this or who or what this person and the relationship remind you of will help you to understand what was really going on here.

While I do think that there is undoubtedly a strong element of you wanting to be directed and trying to please in this relationship, your ex was also controlling. He was emotionally abusive under the guise of ’support’, ‘advice’ and being what he may have termed as a Good Boyfriend (or similar). He was a Chopper

There was a dynamic of him, on one hand, being the person you associated with criticism and feeling bad about yourself. But when he also told you that he would be a stay-at-home dad so that you could be career-orientated, even though it sounded like he was being supportive and maybe was in a way, on the other hand, him being so critical of you and seeming unhappy in everything you did meant that you suspected that the thing he told you that he would be okay with doing was going to be the thing he blamed his own unhappiness on. I suspect that he didn’t have the emotional awareness or sense of accountability to acknowledge that what he was doing was what he was doing.

The answer to improving your self-esteem is to 1) end your current involvement with Mr Ambiguous who you fell in obsession with as soon as your relationship ended and 2) to compassionately confront your feelings about the relationship with your ex and grieve the loss of it.

The thing that you’re avoiding is the thing that you need to do.

Yes, in there, you might see things that you think you’d rather not, but then you can set them free and let them go.

You were in this relationship because you felt guilty for being who you are but also because, on some level, you were trying to rescue him or prove something to him. Maybe he was another achievement hurdle that you thought you had to push yourself for. I also think that whatever role you played in this relationship is something that you need to acknowledge about your wider life and recognise where it comes from. It doesn’t take away from having parents that you love, but as long as you avoid understanding the journey you’ve travelled, the focus is always going to be on some guy.

Your career isn’t ‘off track’. Nothing is linear. It’s not like you can clobber and push and achieve and not have effects from that. If you were happy with your career or certainly not afraid of success, you wouldn’t have chosen to be with this guy at the time when you are in the final lap towards the next qualification and moving on to the next stage of your life. I’m not saying that this is the wrong career or that you don’t want this qualification, but you are afraid of the success you say you want. And this is probably a good time to check in with you and ensure that the career path that you have chosen, the things you say you want, the achievements that you’re chasing are yours and for you, not for someone else. It is amazing how many people are doing ‘all the things’…. to try to please their parents or avoid disappointing them.

When you reconnect to who you are and what you want, even though you will still have some fear because you’re human, you can authentically take steps to move towards it.

Next steps

Use Build Detailed Pattern Profiles to evaluate this last couple of relationships.

Also, try this: Sit down somewhere for 5-10 minutes where you can have some peace and quiet. Have your journal or a sheet of paper handy. I want you to close your eyes and take a few deep breaths (in through the nose, out through the mouth, or do yoga breaths with your belly) and then imagine that you didn’t want to be a career woman (or whatever words you normally use). Imagine that you didn’t want to get a PhD or go and work in whatever field you’re going to. Imagine that you weren’t going to do any more study, achieving and basically all the things that you’re expecting to do career-wise. In this imaginary world where you are this kind of person who doesn’t want the PhD or the career etc, what would your reasons be? Write them all down.

 

Is it ok to go out with men you know there’s no future?

So I got a new work schedule, and I’m off better days and earlier on weekends, so I’m like hmm maybe I can date someone easier. Well, I go on Tinder and met a super-fine man and you know I’m all about that super-fine man lol! Sorry Nat, but in Houston they just don’t have as many as Florida and New York so I feel like if I can round up 5 of the finest, I’ll be okay- just kidding lol! Anyways this guy is Arab, different religion and previously married with two kids. I automatically put him in the books as Man I Won’t Get Serious With or future wise. He wants to meet up for the first time, and I kinda do too, just to see if he’s that fine! I know I sound shallow, but I’m also like why not go out and have a good time? What’s the problem? Ehhhh- thoughts?

Nat’s Response

I think the question you’re asking has to be reflected against your wider intentions and values.

How does going out with a man who you’ve already decided that there is no future with sit with your stated intentions and values? Is it a vote for or against them?

Of course, it’s “okay” to go out with someone you have no future with. That’s your prerogative. It’s not like you’ve never done it before! It’s not a crime, and in the grander scheme of things if it’s not a pattern or going to impact on you emotionally beyond the very short term, not really a big deal.

As humans, we give ourselves permission to be, do and have things that are not necessarily reflective of who we are in the main or our stated intentions and values. We say that we want to cut back on sugar and then when we’re stressed, give ourselves permission to eat more of the things that we know don’t fit with that. This is an element of life. There will always be something that we give ourselves permission to do that isn’t in our highest good. We’re, well, human.

I think that if you are someone who can go out and have fun with dating without getting hung up on outcomes or without trying to switch gears and trying to the relationship or guy into something else, dating someone you don’t see a future with for the hell of it is fine. I just don’t happen to think that you’re that person. You’ve been frustrated and wounded over people you don’t know not texting back or the guy not being able to be who you want him to be when you sense or outright know that there’s no future. Unless the reason why you don’t see a future isn’t legit (I don’t see a future with us because he drives X car or has Y-coloured hair), then it’s worth acknowledging why you don’t see a future and weighing the decision. If you can’t handle the emotional consequences of being involved with people who are different to how you want them to be, it’s best to focus on working through your own stuff before you date again.

You don’t sound shallow for wanting to meet up with a fine-ass guy. I just think that you need to have clear intentions and understand your motivations. I think it goes back to what we’ve both ‘discussed’ over the last few Office Hours sessions:

If you’re serious about being in a serious relationship, accept no substitutes. Show you and life that you’re serious.

January

Should I give up on dating?

I’m 58, two daughters who are students and left home two years ago. I’ve stopped dating for three years after I ended my last relationship with an addicted man. It lasted ten years. I went to therapy, started painting, lived with my 2 daughters, until they graduated and left home to study. Then I started dating again, after 7 months I ended up with this unavailable, unkind, man who couldn’t stand any intimacy. He was very controlling and there was no consistency. I did realize after about a month that this was not good, but I was very much in love (he was a smooth talker) and so I continued for TWO years. During the summer, I started to take care of ME again, took up classes, organized a weekly dinner group with four nice women and decided to end the relationship before X-mas. I did manage that, and I’m in NC since 1 November. Now I’m 58 and lost courage. I did better, it lasted two years instead of ten years, but still I did fell in love with an awful man. I’m quite upset about that. Obviously, I’ve not healed enough yet. Or is it that I was not able to take the appropriate action.

Nat’s Response

No, you shouldn’t give up on dating. That’s not the message from these experiences.

What you need to understand is the baggage behind how you approach dating.

The type of man you feel a connection with is someone who cannot meet your emotional needs. One was addicted; the other was very unkind and couldn’t stand any intimacy. I’m sure that this is not how either of these men presented to you on day one, but I do know something from both of these relationships:

You don’t feel into a guy unless you have to work hard to be prioritised or treated with affection, etc.

The addicted man is someone who had a greater priority — whatever he was addicted. Consciously or not, your relationship was about trying to either get him to ‘fix’ himself or at the very least, put you ahead of his addiction. That’s a lot of hoop-jumping.

The last guy also had you jumping through hoops because you were working hard to try and get crumbs of kindness from him and probably wondering what’s wrong with you.

I’m going to hazard a guess that between any pain that you’re carrying from earlier in life and the father of your children, by the time you got into a relationship with the first guy, you were feeling wounded and lost. Something about him gave you a sense of purpose and focus, but his problems may also have meant that you didn’t have to have a man in your life to the fullest extent. After your time out, you tried again, and the relationship was shorter, but still painful.

But, it’s still progress.

There seems to be a big difference between life with a man, and life without one.

When you’re not in a relationship, you take care of you. Therapy, art, time to yourself, nourishing relationships.

Man comes into your life, it all goes out the window.

Is it that you care about you enough to reboot and start dating again?
Is it that you stop doing these things as soon as you get into a relationship?
Is it that you associate men with not being able to take care of you?
Is it that you think that a man should be able to take care of you if you’re willing to take care of him? So, it’s like a bit of a swap?
Or, is it that you feel guilty for taking care of you and so punish you by being with one of these guys?

Healing is a work in progress. Sometimes we fall in love with the wrong person. Sometimes people will let us down or we’ll have a bad day, week, month or few months. These don’t mean that whatever work we’ve done so far is wasted.

So, what you need to identify here is:

Who or what are your relationships about?

Who do these men represent? Even if they’re not similar, say, in personality or looks to someone from your past, who does their behaviour or the situations remind you of? Where or with whom else have you felt similarly? The problems that you experienced with them — even if they weren’t identical problems, who else had similar problems? Think of the way you felt: what does it remind you of?

That will help you to understand why you were 1) drawn to them and 2) struggled to walk away. Recognising this is powerful and will allow further healing.

Next step resources:

Clearing & Releasing Emotional Charge 

Build Detailed Pattern Profiles

Trying to forgive my ex-husband

First of all, please let me say thank you for doing what you do. I’ve been going through a horrible time over the last year and finding your work towards the end of 2019 has made a huge difference to how I feel about things. I joined Reclaimer Membership because I feel that it will really help support some of the stuff I have already been doing to try to move on with things.

I met my husband when I was 17 (I’m now 37). He left in March 2019 after a lot of turmoil, and I have been struggling to move on. We have two children (boys aged 17 and 11), so I need to get to a place where I can forgive him (and myself) for everything that has happened so we can co-parent effectively, but I’m not there.

In late 2017, he told me that he would like to “open” our relationship. I was devastated and felt betrayed. I did try to see things from his perspective. However, my long-standing self-esteem issues and anxiety were deeply triggered by this, and I found it very hard not to feel like this all meant that I was just not enough for him. We argued constantly during this time, and eventually, he moved out. This was only months after buying a house together to renovate.

Very soon after we split, he met a new woman and started a serious relationship with her. He has been reluctant in dealing with joint responsibilities. I’m now left coping with trying to sell the house alone, I’ve had to give up our dogs all while dealing with a lot of turmoil in my demanding career. I feel overwhelmed a lot, as well as lonely. How can I try to move on and forgive?

Nat’s Response

I don’t blame you for feeling angry, hurt and lost. You’ve been with your husband throughout your formative years, you’re on the cusp of one of your children going into adulthood and the other heading into their teens, and your husband has left, and dropped you in it at the same time.

Much as you’re angry with him for moving on at high speed and leaving you to deal with everything, plus he pushed for an open relationship prior to that, the person you’re really angry with is yourself.

I’m not saying that you’re not angry with him; I’m saying that the intensity you feel about it mirrors what you feel about you.

His actions have turned your whole world upside down, and a part of you feels rejected and abandoned. You’ve probably questioned your attractiveness, worth and desirability. But you’ve also likely given yourself a hard time for actually trying to go along with his shenanigans and trying to see things from his point of view. I suspect that in the process of that, you were forgotten.

Look, if he’s into open relationships and that’s something he has only come to understand about himself later in life, but it’s also not something you want to do, your paths were going to diverge. You met back in the nineties when things were nothing like they are today when it comes to open relationships, gender, sexuality and fluidity. It’s not that open relationships didn’t exist back then (they did), but most who suspected that they might want one wouldn’t have had the balls to ask for one. I also think that even if someone didn’t want one back then, it’s something that they might become curious about at a later age.

But, suggesting an open relationship in an already long-established relationship tends to flag one of the following:

They’ve always wanted to do it, and maybe asked before but got shut down, and are now leveraging problems in the relationship and the possible threat of the relationship ending to make it happen.

They don’t want an open relationship for the both of you; they just want to do it to legitimise their cheating or what they’re going to do.

It’s a segue to breaking up. It’s like the romantic relationship equivalent of constructive dismissal: create an impossible situation so that you either have the perfect excuse to go while appearing like you gave it your best, or you create such hostile or painful conditions that the other party (you, in this case) ends the relationship. Either way, they get what they wanted even if they won’t admit it: the end of the relationship.

To add insult to injury, he’s promptly moved on after buying a renovation property with you and appears to be in a serious relationship, although for all you know, it might be open. But you’re likely confused about who he really is, or what these last few years have been about. He’s also been very unsupportive in terms of just stepping up with the basics with the house, kids and the dogs. So his life seems hunky-dory, and your world feels upside down.

The answer isn’t to work to forgive him right now this minute; the answer is to go a lot easier on yourself and accept what has happened. You don’t have to like it, this isn’t where you planned to be, but it’s where you’re at. Beating you up while fuming at him is draining your bandwidth, and right now, you need it — for you and your boys.

He’s moved on in haste to assuage his guilt about you and the boys. I know it hurts, and it’s selfish, but that’s what’s happened. It’s possible that he wants to live in the cocoon of the fantasy with his new girlfriend so that he doesn’t have to face the destruction in his wake.

Work out a list and reasonable plan for what feasibly needs to be done in the short term.
Arrange mediation sessions so that a third party can speak to you individually and together to come up with a joint plan for taking care of the boys and responsibilities.
If he is not helping with the house, reflect it in the cut, or certainly deduct any costs from having to cover his end of things from his profit.

Channel your anger into Unsent Letters so that you can relieve some of the loneliness.

When the dust has settled a bit more, reassess how your life is configured so that you have a little extra space to do what you need to do.

Don’t pressure you to forgive.

Can casual ever be healthy?

Since the difficult breakdown in my relationship, I have engaged in a number of “flings” (mostly with slightly younger men). After reading “Mr Unavailable…” I realise that these have been with total Mr Unavailables because I haven’t been (and probably am still not) emotionally available myself. Actually, I now even wondering whether I even was in my very long relationship with my husband (but that’s for a whole other question!).

I think I started having these flings because I wanted to prove to myself that I was still attractive enough (at 37 after having two kids) to get laid – plus I have a pretty high sex drive. Sometimes I have been upset over these short relationships inevitably ending, but I’ve had some good experiences too.

I really do want to move on and find an available relationship with someone great. However, I’m doing a lot of work on myself right now, and I don’t know if I’m capable of that yet. Is it inherently unhealthy to engage in casual? When will I know I’m ready to have an available relationship?

Nat’s Response

It’s not inherently unhealthy to engage in casual relationships. Where it becomes unhealthy is when you’re not honest with you (and possibly the other person) about what you’re doing. Or, where in advancing your self-interest, it compromises the other party or compromises you because you’re not self-aware enough to understand and own what you’re doing and why.

Engaging in casual relationships as a booster or something in between a breakup and starting over in a new relationship is highly common. In going through the experiences of engaging with someone at this level, we can come to understand ourselves better and figure out what we need. We also, potentially, in the process of doing this become increasingly aware of our level of emotional availability, which it sounds like this has happened with you.

So, yes, casual relationships can help you move on, it’s just that in the process of doing so, you are going to get used, or you’re going to use someone else. This is especially so when it’s a clearcut case of rebounding.

When what you’re doing is mutual and boundaried, each of you engages from a place of being above board. You’re not pretending that it’s something other than what it is, but you’re also not being disrespectful to them, either. It’s a tricky balance, often, simply because no one likes to be treated casually, but we also, as humans, tend to want to look a certain way or hide our real needs behind the pretence of having lesser ones. And sometimes we don’t even know we’re doing this until we’re already in it.

Being in a casual relationship doesn’t make either of you a ‘bad’ person. That said, it’s important to recognise when you’ve crossed that threshold from it seeming to be something mutual to something imbalanced. Or where it’s dragging on. Or, where it’s just exacerbating your pain because in trying to escape something, you’re prolonging that or inadvertently allowing whatever you’re avoiding to create other problems.

It’s totally fine to see being in another relationship as something down the line, not a now-thing. And it’s also okay to still want to get laid in between.

I think what you have to be careful of are your intentions: Having sex because you want to is different to having sex because you’re pissed off with your ex and feeling unattractive and so looking for validation. It leads to two totally different outcomes because the scarcity feeling, the sense of lack, puts you in situations where you’re going to gravitate to people that make you feel edgy about your validity and worthiness, but that also might be a’ type’ that reflects your insecurity.

Learn from the situations where it was good versus not-so-good. Discern the difference and aim for more of the former and less of the latter.

This first episode of the podcast is a good primer on being ready to date. 

Basically, if you’re still not mostly emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually and even legally and financially over your ex, certainly enough that you can distinguish between the past and the present and that you’re happy in yourself, you’re not ready yet.

I guess you have to ask whether you feel you’ve been on your own for long enough to know who you are after spending two decades since your teens in a long-term relationship? Who are you independently of a man and a relationship? When you’ve got a good grasp of that, you will feel safe and secure approaching being in a relationship again.

 

Staying focused is a huge daily practice

I took your advice and took time alone to myself to chill out. I’m so much better. I made a firm decision to focus on therapy, to take advantage of my very busy work season and working out, and I have been doing so well at work. My mom asked me to call the last guy back that I put to the side because I didn’t feel ready and I told her no because my focus is at work since I took the first year to learn everything and now I can really excel, and it requires a lot of my focus. I told her sorry, but I’m not focused on texting, calling or even spending time at this very moment in this month. Maybe in a couple of months. Who knows? My daily affirmations have been really helping me and have been paying attention when my mind tries to feed me negativity, and I replace it. I feel in a good place, and I’m working on trusting, trusting life, God, everything. I came to realize I wasn’t even trusting small things such as when my trainer says he’ll be at the gym at noon, I doubted and called around then to really see because I thought he would be late. Let me tell you! Wow, when we become very focused on our goals, there are things that really try to distract you, and I continually have to be like That’s not my focus. Stay focused!

Nat’s Response

This news gives me a big smile.

I’m a big believer that life has a sense of humour and also takes you at your word by throwing you pop quizzes and experiences that reflect what you’ve said you want or who you said you’re going to be.

If you say that you’re going to focus on you, it will literally throw distractions your way in the form of the very things that distract you. The pop quiz question is: How serious is she about what she said? She said she’s going to focus on therapy and leave dating alone. Is that true? Is she willing to delay gratification and move past discomfort to get the other side (growth)?

You are getting to learn about trust, anxiety and not white-knuckling your way through life.

For instance, do you want to spend life energy checking up on an instructor to see if they really will be at the gym at 12? That’s not your big aim in life. In shifting the focus from ‘Is he trustworthy? Am I going to catch a mofo out today?’, you are shifting the focus from an energy of distrust to an energy of being present to yourself.

If your mom keeps trying things, approach it gently and with love: Mom, I appreciate you trying. I get the sense that you’re worried about me meeting someone and are trying to make it happen. Thank you. I know that my life looks very different from yours at the same age, but I am enjoying it. Do you know when I don’t? When I make myself miserable over men because I’m trying to force things to happen. So, while I will meet someone in future and date again, right now, I have to focus on me and leave meeting men alone. Please don’t keep asking me to call that guy or meet whoever. Instead, let’s talk about other things!

Keep doing what you’re doing. There will be more tests from life. There will be more distractions. The key is to recognise that they are distractions and to stay focused on your intentions.

Knowing why we do what we do and having a sense of who we are and want to be, as well as how we want to feel, allows us to be more intentional. In doing that, we enjoy more successful outcomes. By setting the intention to focus on you, you get to vote for and against it with your choices. Keep being intentional. Keep voting for you.

Where am I going wrong with avoiding a showdown?

I was reading through previous correspondence with you. One thing you advised me when I was asking about an ‘ex’ that I felt very hurt and used by, but who I also struggled to even register my feelings and to show by my actions that they should bog off, that I needn’t have a big showdown. I’ve done this on several occasions, not just with them but a few others. However, I’ve noticed that these people seem to develop amnesia and are relentless. I’m not sure if I’m doing it wrong. I’ve ignored them – made conversation only when I absolutely have to engage and been polite – any insight would be appreciated.

Nat’s Response

The thing about people who basically have little or no shame is that irrespective of what you do, they do what they do. That’s why it appears as if they have amnesia and are relentless. Even if you cussed them out, there’s a distinct possibility that they would still do the same thing.

I would take the Goldilocks approach with this: not too much, not too little, somewhere in between that feels just right.

Showdown, too much. Being polite or maybe saying but not saying something, so more like hinting, too little.

I would take what you’ve done previously, and uplevel it a bit.

So, if your actions suggest that they should bog off, write down what these actions are.

Are they clear actions? Is it a total blank, for instance, or, is it that you don’t speak to them, but you look scared of them or like you’re freaked out.

Do you engage with them on a polite level when you don’t have to?

Have you categorically said: Don’t ever speak to me or approach me again.

Or, I don’t want to speak to you.

Or, Just in case I haven’t been clear, I don’t want to speak to you.

Others include:

Go away.
Leave me alone.
Why are you talking to me?

I don’t want to get into this here, but have you forgotten that you X and that we don’t speak anymore?

I know that you’ve clearly forgotten about [insert what they did into a few words], but I haven’t.

Break down making conversation, so you’re clear that that’s what you’re doing. So, if someone is abusive, you don’t need to make conversation with them. This is where you use and…. move. So, they approach and say hi, you say it back, and then you move away. And repeat as necessary.

Making conversation is tricky with people like this because it gives mixed messages and is a form of intermittent reinforcement that can also act as a reset:

You ignore them.
Next time you make polite conversation.
They have that whole gambling, rat in the lab cage getting off and not knowing when the next spin of the wheel will put some food out feeling. You engaging in conversation, possibly because they’ve forced it, becomes a ‘win’ for them.
Next time, they speak to you as If you aren’t ignoring them. Their rationale is that you didn’t ignore them the last time or that you only ignore them sometimes.

Why do I feel like I failed my relationship with dead relatives?

Is it alright for a teenager not to visit her relatives if it’s a long journey alone to get there, and her parents would not let her? Shouldn’t they have invited us/me instead of passively waiting? Holidays this year made me feel that as I was growing up, most adults in my family failed me, and I failed them. They would think that everything was alright at home because my mother wanted to be sure this was what they thought, while home was a mess. As a teen, I became anorexic, something which also happened with no adult in my family actually caring. My mother could not stand her sister, so I slowly lost touch with a lovely aunt who died when I was at university. I regret not being in touch with her on my own as I grew up and the regret comes back on holidays, even if I tell myself she could have been in touch too. Your podcasts on acceptance and comparison, together with the Hub masterclasses on self-care, helped me get through the holidays but I guess on the next Easter or summer holiday it will happen again.

Nat’s Response

I think something critical to remind yourself of is that it’s not a child, including a teenager’s, responsibility to manage adult dynamics and dramas.

I spent the latter part of my childhood in Dublin, and after a while, I stopped seeing my dad, who lived just across the waters in the West Midlands. My call efforts dwindled too, and it became clear that unless I did the runnings, it wasn’t going to happen, because, between my parents, politics got in the way. I spent my entire childhood feeling guilty and confused.

Thing is, it wasn’t my responsibility to manage the fallout of my parents’ breakup, nor was it my responsibility to maintain the relationship between myself and my father.

You’ll find that most teenagers don’t just take off on long train rides across the country to a relative. I know you didn’t grow up during World War 2, so it seems that you are giving you some rather lofty responsibilities.

It’s also very difficult for a child to maintain a relationship with an adult that their parent dislikes or has fallen out with. Again, I have plenty of experience of that too. You end up feeling as if you’re disloyal to your mother for loving your aunt or wanting to see her, and you might fear that she will take issue with you if you don’t ignore your aunt. There can be a question of boundary issues, too. It’s one thing when relatives don’t get on but they value preserving the relationships between, for example, the cousins, or they make it a thing not to involve the children. But if your parents don’t facilitate the relationship, there isn’t much you can do, and it’s not fair for the blame about the relationship with the relative falling apart to be laid at your door.

It’s your parents and aunt.

And it is really hard when you lose a loved one when you didn’t get to spend enough time with them. My friend has just been through the same thing as you, losing her aunt who she hardly saw for 25 years because of her and her mother’s feuding. She, too, wishes she had done things differently but is forgetting just how awkward things were and that she was a child, and then it just became too awkward.

Grief is something that pops up on occasions, like anniversaries and holidays. I think that the key is to evolve your response to it, not to expect the grief to disappear. Grief is also unpredictable, so as much as you might expect to feel away about it at Easter, you might not. You also have to be careful of whipping you up and almost planning for misery, as even that can be an anti-climax. Rather than feed the memory of her with something negative like “I should have visited… Well, she could have visited too”, why not switch to a positive memory of her? Why not take the holidays to do something fun for you? Why not use remembering these experiences to remind you to 1) be kinder to your teenage self who you seem to think should have had adult and parent responsibilities and 2) make the most of the relationships you treasure?

Write an Unsent Letter to her, and write a letter to your younger self. She sounds like she went through a very difficult time, and that this hasn’t been acknowledged by you.

I like to plan and set goals, but I'm in flux

I like to plan and set goals. For example, I plan my weekend where to go and what to do… I list all the grocery items to get etc. I set some “lazy” day, usually on Sundays. This is when I relax, recuperate and prepare for the week. However, I find myself narrowing plans because of frustration. The frustration root problem is the “unknown”, and I know l can’t predict life, so I try to have a good attitude and be ok with not knowing. I try to tackle life “one day at a time”, but I feel like because I don’t have plans the wind just takes me in all directions, and I feel like I don’t have any control of my life. I also know that there are things just outside my control.

So what am I saying here? Plan things and cross the bridge when you get there? Plan things and when something changes react to it and re-organize? Is this a better approach? Sometimes my plan doesn’t happen, and I just get on with life. It is what it is. My line of work is the biggest factor of this as I am a project base accountant. Basically, where the project goes, I go. When the project is done, I go back to our corporate office, where I live and call home base. I am home right now, which I enjoy but after a while, I get bored and ready to roll again. I chose to be at projects because the setting is more fun for me, I learn more, I like the travel, more money and the experiences it has to offer. And since I don’t have a family yet, I am taking advantage of all of that. The only dilemma is that I feel that everything is up in the air until I hear about the new project, if we won the job, when we are mobilizing, what are the work conditions, where and what are we doing etc… and we don’t usually know all these information right away. Like right now, I am at the corporate office, and the project we are targeting is supposed to start early Feb. My family planned a big birthday celebration for my Aunt a while ago, but I can’t plan until it gets closer because I don’t know where I will be 1.) where to fly out from 2.) if I will even be allowed to go etc. And there is another project that we are starting early Feb, but because my name is slated for the other one, this other project is contingent if we win the other one project or not. I would rather go to the other project, but I haven’t gotten a final answer for it. If we win the other one where my name is slated for I will go there instead even though I would rather be at the other one. That is another thing I feel like I can’t win, no control or whatever…

And there is this transformation challenge at the gym I go to, and it starts on January 20th the registration is $35 I want to join as it is one of my goals this year to be fit and healthy, and there is that question that I don’t know where I will be come February. I feel that I’ll waste the $35 since the program run thru March and I might not be here. I just feel like everything is up in the air. If I plan either my plan doesn’t happen because of life situations and or that work schedule and location project base is always unknown. It is very frustrating. What insight and suggestions do you have for me?

Nat’s Response

So, it sounds like you plan a lot, with much of your sense of control and stability being based on your work, but it’s unclear whether you actually like to plan. There’s a difference between liking to plan things because you get a boost out of it and it’s energising, and planning as a way to be in control. Or, planning to feel in control of certain areas of your life because you feel so out of control of another.

You’re caught between a rock and a hard place:

You’re doing a job that (I think) you enjoy or that you enjoy aspects of it, but the job is running your life.

Even though you know that this is what the job is like, it seems to catch you off guard between projects, or it proves to be reliably upsetting between projects.

This suggests one of two things:

You are not acknowledging certain needs and values, and so you’re in this vicious cycle.

OR

This job is meeting your needs and values for now, but you’re in the habit of giving you a hard time.

Circumstances, people and needs change.

Maybe when you first took this job, it fit where you were at. Maybe being uprooted was perfect for you then. But it’s possible that like any job like this, it might not suit who you are now, or you need to re-evaluate the way you work with the company. If you love the role, but not the organisation of it, it may be that you can have a conversation with management about how to mitigate for some of these elements. Because you work to live not live to work. And right now, everything revolves around this role.

I’m not saying that they can necessarily do everything you want, but conversations are always valuable. My friend was in a very similar position to you but with a husband and two children, and it all became too much. Because they valued her, and realised how they did things was running the possibility of losing her, they rejigged some stuff for a while. But they couldn’t really change the role itself, and so another year went by and she left.

You have to decide if this lifestyle is for you. Not forever, but try to look ahead. Imagine you living your life as you are now in 3 months, then 6, then 12, then a year, and so on. Where’s your point of discomfort?

The variance in projects also reveals that you have a preference for one over the other, and given that you give over so much of your life to work, it sounds like you also need to be choosier about which projects you want to work on rather than just going wherever you’re sent. That in and of itself would help you to feel like a stakeholder rather than just being sent off.

Given that you like to have a sense of what you’re doing, structure in your life, it seems wise to at the very least evaluate your working life and get a sense of whether it feels good and right for you.

You have a lot of unknowns. If you don’t feel as if you can broach a conversation with work, then what you have to do is accept the unknowns, let go of the gym plan, and choose something short term that fits over these few weeks that isn’t going to frustrate you from the outset. Sure, you might argue to yourself that for all you know, this project isn’t going to turn out, and you will end up missing the challenge, but if you do something else you want to do in the meantime, it won’t feel so bad or bad at all.

Or, you spend the $35 and enjoy the hell out of it for a few weeks. It’s not that I’m like “$35 is nothing”, but if you weigh up against the value of having a few weeks of fun, missing out altogether, or stressing yourself out now, you could argue that $35 isn’t worth you giving you such a hard time over. Will it be a waste if you don’t get to go to all of them? No. You still have the experiences. You still get to take what you learned. Why should you put your life on hold?

Instead of focusing on the plan not happening, focus on how you want to feel. How do you want to feel doing the things you do? Or how do you want to feel when you have this time between projects? It’s probably not just about feeling in control.

And, I do get that it’s frustrating when best-laid plans go awry, but I think that you need to get in tune with whether you want to do this role and whether what comes with it is acceptable. If it is, then you work with that, and you accept that you will have to rejig things sometimes. If it isn’t, you’ve got to look at whether changes can be made about how you are brought into projects, or you’ve got to start working towards transitioning to a new role elsewhere that offers you more of what you need and want.

Dealing with ticking biological clock when dating

This new year has been particularly triggering for me as it’s my first after turning 40. I currently don’t have a boyfriend and am increasingly concerned with the reality that I may not be able to have my own child. This feeling has been amplified when I found out that my younger sibling is having a second child and a close friend falling pregnant. How do I date healthily with this anxiety/sadness at the back of my mind?

Nat’s Response

Turning forty is something that can feel pretty triggering, as I can attest to. Whether we are aware of it or not, we’ve been conditioned to believe that we want certain things or that they should have happened by a certain age, and that we’re going on the scrapheap when we enter our forties.

And the truth is, partner or not, child or not, it’s highly likely that you wouldn’t be feeling too great right now and that you would be feeling the pressure about something. Most of it will be internal pressure that fuels panic.

It sounds, also, like you, on some level, have already decided that you are not going to meet someone or have children because there is the anxiety and sadness:

Anxiety about ’lack’ and fearing that it isn’t going to happen for you.
Sadness because, on some level, you’re already grieving as if it is already a done deal.

It is hard when people around us are doing the things that we say we want to. Whether they’re younger or the same age, it brings up feelings of inadequacy because of the comparison we engage in.

Look, they’re younger and are doing X. What’s wrong with me?
They’re the same age as me and have what I want. What’s wrong with me?
We come from the same family, and she has what I want. What’s wrong with me? What am I doing wrong?
Everyone is passing me by. What’s wrong with me?

You are going to experience anxiety and a level of sadness (how much will depend on what you tell you, not necessarily the reality of things).

Get informed, and get to an honest place about what you want.

Before you panic about your literal physical ability to have a child, visit your gynaecologist or a fertility specialist and have a check-up. Do your homework before choosing one to make sure that they’re not the scaremongery type, as I know far too many people who have gone to the wrong kind of person and been given incorrect information and made to feel bad about their age, only for each and every one of them to go on to have children. And a lot of them were in their late thirties, right into their forties.

Keep in mind that it’s possible for a woman in her twenties to have less fertility than you (I also know some of these women), and it’s best not to subscribe to the bullshit that so many of us have been indoctrinated with.

Work out whether you want to have a child. Is this something you really want? There’s a big difference between giving yourself a hard time about something because you know that it’s in no danger of happening or because of your age, and genuinely wanting to have a child. Try to get a reading on your feelings.

Do you want a child so much that you are prepared to have a child on your own? Keep in mind that this doesn’t preclude you from meeting someone afterwards. Plenty do. Or, do you feel that you only want to have a child if you are in a relationship? Whichever one you believe is true for you, you need to have a gauge of whether this is something you will be okay with ten years down the line. For instance, if you say that you only want to have a child if you’re in a relationship, this is okay. It means that the two dreams for yourself are intertwined, but you just need to be honest with you about whether not being in a relationship is a big enough reason for you to forgo the other dream. Do your homework about having a child on your own. Keep in mind that even if you have a child with someone, that doesn’t mean that it’s easier or that everything will go according to plan. It’s just the way life is.

I think that it’s easier to date from a mindful place when you’re honest with yourself about what you want. I see all too often that women are chasing this because they think it’s what they’re supposed to chase while secretly avoiding it or being terrified of it. We’re all only human, after all, but you need to tap into your feelings about what you’re doing. You turned forty. I get that it’s a milestone birthday, that you have less years to play with than a decade ago in terms of having a baby, but you’re alive, kicking, well, and able to meet someone and have a baby.

Lose attachment to the outcome. I would personally panic if I thought that I had to everything yesterday or by age 40 years and 364 days. What I mean by this is focus on meeting someone you feel good around first. Be open to things happening but not in the exact way that you’ve forecast. Be serious about meeting someone, but also not so serious that you obsess about why someone isn’t right for you or why they’re not over their ex. They’re just not. Let them go. You don’t have time to obsess about why another human has problems.

Get excited about the prospect of meeting someone instead of doom and gloom. It’s a totally different energy about things. It doesn’t mean you won’t have any anxiety at all, but you will have far less because you’re not writing you off or imagining that each person could be the one or that they will be an asshole. Take your thoughts away from thinking about not having a relationship and baby, to envisioning meeting someone and the positive feelings that will bring. Be okay with saying no to someone because your aim is to meet your life partner, and to clear the path to him, you need to be willing to say no without shame.

Keep dating. Don’t dwell on the ones that aren’t right. Be focused on letting them go to meet the right person.

How do I get rid of my panic when it overwhelms me....

Is there any way I can curb my body clock panic when I start dating someone, or when someone shows interest in me? I know that if someone is on the same page as me, then it shouldn’t really be a turn off, should it? Will my wants for a relationship and/or baby only turn off the wrong guy?

I have got to a place now that if I meet someone I like, should I be flexible on this and just see what happens…and just chill, and hope for the best, which may cause me to accept less than what I want and possibly not-so-great treatment.

I am torn, which is keeping me in a stress & panic state over the past few years, as I cannot decide to just do it on my own (which I don’t really want) or to hope for the best, and hope that I meet someone, within the short space of time, who will want exactly what I want….. it hasn’t happened yet. This is keeping me stuck in indecision because I want both, but really running out of time…

I know that I have written about this before…. and probably a little boring at this stage.

But I just don’t know if I will meet someone in time, it’ll be like finding a needle in a haystack & I will also need time to build a relationship. It’s a lot to ask. I have done so much research, therapy on having a child on my own, but my desperation is getting the better of me. I’m so stuck on indecision! Thanks

Nat’s Response

This is one of those chicken and egg situations:

You want to be in a relationship, and your mind is on having a baby.

But you don’t want to have a baby with just any ole guy (I’m assuming), so you also need to ascertain that putting baby aside, that this is someone who you’re experiencing compatibility with so that your emotional needs are met.

A guy may have his eye on having kids.

But in the early stages of a relationship where you haven’t established an actual relationship yet or spent enough time together to have a sense of what the relationship could be, it can, depending on the nature of things, be a bit fast to ask if they want to have a baby with you.

Someone can tell you if they want to have children, they just might not be able to tell you at early doors whether they want to have a child with you.

Thing is though, it’s okay to say that you’re not messing about and that you’re focused on meeting someone who you can enjoy a long-term relationship with and have a child (or few). The key is to own what you want without making it into ‘Right, so are you going to give it to me or what?’

If you are intentional about this, then this will direct your interactions. You won’t play about. You’ll take a bit more time to feel out who the person is.

People always panic about this as if to say that they’re expected to go at a snail’s pace. They say stuff like “I don’t have years for this.” Erm, no.

Taking your time in the beginning and as you date and move into a relationship means that once you’ve established things within a few months on an open, intimate, mutual footing, you can pick up the pace about things you want to do together. This is why I know loads of people who met someone in their late thirties, into their forties, who met, got together, were enjoying themselves for a few months, and then they did the whole moving in, getting pregnant or going off travelling or whatever it is. It looks fast to an outsider, but they took it easy at the start and genuinely got to know each other without the games, BS and doing stuff they used to do in past relationships. It’s like they took all of their learnings and so they were able to recognise what they needed to do or a different type of partner.

If you accept less than what you want, you will be fur