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“The girl with the cooties”

Click here to read my post on bullying…

imageThis weekend, I decided to dig through more idea files for this blog that have been filed away in the hallway closet for the last five years. Research notes on the subject of ostracism caught my eye and produced a flood of memories.  In light of recent events, reading through that file, caused me to reflect upon the impact of early childhood experiences….

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been an optimal target for bullies.  In fact, as the “girl with the cooties”, bullying has always been a constant issue: from kindergarten at St. Agnes up through high school graduation.  Admittedly, the bullies changed from year to year, but they all saw me the same way.  I was the perfect target: I am highly sensitive and don’t fight back….

imageFor those who have never been bullied, you’d be surprised to learn that the actual bullying isn’t the worst of it.  The collateral damage it sustains upon your social life is devastating.  You see, when you get picked on often enough at school people start to notice and a reputation develops.  Now a “loser”, you’re essentially walking around with a scarlet letter tattooed to your forehead.  Hapless bystanders, silently observe the altercations but do nothing.  Instead they pretend not to notice.  Fearing for their own well-being and hoping to retain their status within the social hierarchy, you’re now a social leper.  A “dork-by-association” rule starts to govern all social interactions with you.  Should someone dare say “hi” or strike up a conversation, they’ll hear about it later: “what the hell are you doing hanging out with that wierdo?!?!”

After my best friend moved away in sixth grade, school became a scary place. No one was in my corner.  Classmates avoided me and adults were oblivious to my problems.  The only attention my existence garnered from this point forward were the bullies at school. As a resulted I started thinking being ignored was better than being made fun of.  I choose to make myself as invisible as possible. During lunch I rarely ate and retreated to my favorite hiding spot, (the girls gym lockers in high school).  In class I sat in back, far away from everyone. Finally, I learned avoided all eye contact and never spoke to anybody.   In time everybody did ignore me.  It worked like a charm…

Precipitating Events

“I’m 40 years old now; it’s been something like 30 years since that sort of thing last happened. Still, the experience has not left me, it sucked so much. I don’t think about it much these days, but I know that having lived through those experiences has shaped me as an adult, and not for the better (Dombeck, 2007).”

I’ve tried my best to overcome the effects of this prolonged isolation, however it hasn’t been easy.  There is a piece missing that can’t be refilled.  Radical acceptance has been essential in coming to terms with what I can’t change.  I will always be an introvert.  I might always struggle with social anxiety.  However, I can also try and reach out.  I am taking chances and opening up to others.  Hopefully in time I can begin to establish a few meaningful friendships…

A nice group of ladies at work meets regularly on their days off for lunch.  They take turns picking a favorite restaurant and get together to chat.  These experiences are rare treats for me.  I cherish opportunities for friendship and inclusion, since I never experienced this as a child.  Over the course of our conversations they’ve been nice enough to provide some useful feedback that mirrors this distant history.   I can be difficult to approach and am often act closed off from others.  I have also been slow to trust and open up.  Not surprisingly, these research notes on ostracism put things into perspective.  Before I discuss the subject of ostracism, it’s important to first consider the long-term effects of bullying.  The bullying explains not only why I was ostracized but how I adapted to it through a self-imposed isolation.  With this in mind I want to mention briefly an online article by psychologist, Mark Dombeck (2007).  It summarizes effectively the long term effects of bullying.   Since his article resonates with my own experiences, here are a few relevant points about the long-term effects of bullying:

Shame & Self-Loathing

imageAs a form of emotional abuse, Dombeck (2007), notes that bullying is an attempt to instill shame and self-loathing within the vicious realm of social politics at your typical American school.  “The primary wound that bullying victims suffer…is damage to their self-concepts; to their identities” (Dombeck, 2007).  The DSM-5 describes identity as an “experience of oneself as unique, with clear boundaries between self and others (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p. 823)”.  In a recent blog post, I discuss the nature of identity and my own “go-it-alone-mentality”.  Attempting to understand the mindset of the crowd-follower, I learned about identity motives as: “pressures toward certain identity states and away from others” (Vignoles, et al, 2006, p. 309)”.  In other words, our identity is influenced by wanted and unwanted potential identities.  We try to magnify positive characteristics and minimize the negatives.  While research  in this post describes a diversity of identity motives, my own development was centered around a need to belong.

Depressed, angry & bitter…

imageOver time, victims of prolonged bullying internalize the messsages they receive (Dombeck, 2007).  This results in a wounded self-concept where meaning in one’s existence is difficult to find.   A deep depression sets in as you realize your situation is inescapable.  However, another insidious reaction to bullying can also emerge and eat you alive:

“Inevitably, it is the sensitive kids who get singled out for teasing; the kids who cry easily; the easy targets. Targeted as they are, many sensitive kids learn to think of their sensitivity as a bad thing and to avoid it, and/or channel it into revenge fantasy and anger” (Dombeck, 2007).

Learned helplessness…


Dombeck, (2007) states when forced to repeatedly encounter a lack of control in the midst of a traumatic event, a state of learned helplessness can emerge.  It is common as a response to prolonged bullying and ostracism (Dombeck, 2007; Twenge, et al, 2003; Williams, 2007). This was a huge issue for me.  Romantic relationships reflect the relationship we have with ourselves: we attract what we are.  With this in mind, learned helplessness set me up for that traumatic relationship in college.  I also associate these early experiences of bullying and ostracism with the emergence of dissociation as a coping tool.  However I’m probably getting ahead of myself….We’ll get to that later…

Interpersonal difficulties…

Dombeck, (2007) states that bully-victims in adulthood cam display an “Anxious avoidance of settings in which bullying may occur”.  A childhood filled with painful peer-relations left me with an anxious avoidant attachment style.  Currently, these anxieties are limited to situations in which I see potential for new friendships emerging. It is a monkey wrench in my attempts to establish friendships.  Overcoming this has taken quite a bit of effort as I’ve learned to let go of those old traumas and open up to others.

Understanding Ostracism

imageAgainst a backdrop of bullying in elementary school, I grew into a depressed, angry, insecure & bitter teenager filled with self-loathing.  Internalizing the shame-laden messages of my bullies, I honestly felt there was something wrong with me.  I felt completely helpless.  In my small hometown my options were limited to the classmates who loathed me.  My sister continually pointed out my ineptness.  My parents told me to “ignore them and be myself”.  The school counselor verified my worst fears, and told me to just “ride it out”.  After all, high school is only four years.  Yup.  These are the precipitating events which led to the social isolation which followed.  

Social ostracism defined…

imageOstracism is defined as an act ignoring or excluding an individual without any clear explanation for one’s own social benefit and/or self protection (Williams, 2097).  In contrast, rejection is an explicit declaration that you do not wish to keep company of someone.  Finally, isolation involves a self-imposed state of aloneness, where you avoid opportunities to socialize with others.

What is uniquely painful about ostracism, is that it’s not of your choosing and you don’t get to know why it’s happening (Leary, 2001).  This ambiguity begins with subtle cues such avoiding of eye contact or excluding you from conversations. It culminates in bewilderment due to an absence of explanations.  One resource I found describes a unique form of ostracism that pertains to my own experiences:

“role-prescribed ostracism is a socially-sanctioned form of ostracism, occurring when individuals are not expected to acknowledge the presence of others” (Leary, 2001, p. 29).

In this form of ostracism, the act is reflective of implicit social rules that individuals were required to respect.  In my school there was a very clique-defined social order.  The social politics were very nasty and terrifying.  With no one to back me up, the ostracism was painful, simply as an ongoing reinforcement of my role as the “girl with cooties”…

Impact of ostracism…

imageIn a recent blog post I examine my own propensity for social isolation.  At the end of this post I note that:  “Group identification is beneficial because it helps us adapt to the social world (Greenway, et al, 2015). As a result we feel more in control of our lives”.  I continue by commenting that many motivators exist in the construction of our identity.  Finally, I also mention that “belonging [in research] only indirectly influences our future predicted selves (Vignoles, et al, 2008; Vignoles, et al, 2006).”   (((This piqued my interest, since based on my experience the primary identity motivator was a desire to belong.)))

Ostracism significantly threatens our fundamental need to belong (Williams, 2007).  As it pertains to identity development, belonging can be thought of as a drive to feel accepted and validated by others, (Vignoles, et al, 2006).  In the event that belonging is threatened we are “motivated to attend more carefully to social cues” (Williams, 2007, p. 431).  Social anxiety takes over and self-esteem becomes a a “gauge for relational valuation” (Williams, 2007 p. 431).  The mind becomes adept at noting signs of a potential threat. However, over time the anxiety builds.  Your ability to accurately interpret others’ motives becomes impaired:

“Ostracism can cause such a strong desire to belong, to be liked by someone…[an] individual’s ability to discriminate good from bad may be impaired…they become attracted to any[one] that will have them” (Williams, 2007, p. 431).

Coping responses…

Initial physiological responses to ostracism include elevated blood pressure, increased cortisol levels, indicitive of a fight-or-flight response (Williams, 2007).  Additionally, research participants report heightened distress after experiencing social ostracism (Williams, 2007).  I liken this insight to the notion of a deer in headlights, or rabbits sitting motionless in the grass.  As a bullied child, ostracism was a painful reminder of my social leper status.  However, in my case it was the lesser of two evils: a painful price to pay for avoiding the potential attacks on my lousy self-image.  Williams, (2007) notes that ostracized individuals can respond in a variety of ways.  They can adapt and learn to conform, fight back, or give up.  An individual’s level of rejection sensitivity determines how they choose to respond (Williams, 2007):

“Individuals who score high on rejection sensitivity tend to chronically expect rejection…lonely people may take longer to recover from ostracism and may [display] helplessness more” (Williams, 2007, p. 439).

When ostracism becomes chronic…

imageMy bedroom was a private retreat where I could finally remove myself from the constant anxiety-filled bullshit at school.  The emotional aftermath of that day’s events could slowly melt away.   I was able to reflect upon what went down.  The inevitable conclusion I always came to was that I was helpless.  All I could do was “take it like a man”.  In time my own favorite method of coping was the freeze response:

“Another reaction to stress is to freeze, as we commonly think a deer does when facing a headlight… a concussed or affectively numb response” (Williams, 2007, p. 431)

Several resources I’ve found mention a “freeze-response” (Williams, 2007) to prolonged ostracism.  Twenge, et al, (2003), describe this freeze response as a “defensive state of cognitive deconstruction that avoids meaningful thought, emotion, and self-awareness, and is characterized by lethargy and altered time flow” (p. 409). When no solution is available, emotional numbness becomes the only alternative.  Holding one’s feelings out of awareness is the only way to survive prolonged distress of this nature. Leary, (2001) adds that “with repeated long-term exposure to ostracism…a prolonged lack of belonging-ness may lead to a feeling that one does not belong anywhere” (p. 31).  Williams, (2007) describes this state as similar to the flattened affect and detached state preceding a suicide attempt.  Finally, it is worth noting that these descriptions reflect the DSM’s description of dissociative PTSD symptoms succinctly….

“Chronically excluded individuals will be hypersensitive to signals of social threat rather than attempting to fortify thwarted needs, they appear more likely to exhibit learned helplessness and alienation…rather than seeking belonging, they accepted alienation and isolation; rather than seeking self-enhancement, they accepted low self-worth; rather than seeking control, they expressed helplessness; and rather than provoking recognition by others of their existence, they became depressed and avoided further painful rejection….Ostracized individuals report a feeling of invisibility, that their existence is not even recognized” (Twenge, 2004, p. 421).

Now What??? (((A look forward)))

This post reflects an exercise in putting current issues I’m struggling with into a historical context.  By applying insights from research to early childhood experiences, the blame is no longer placed squarely upon my shoulders.  I can stop asking myself “what the hell is wrong with you Kathleen”.  Instead constructive insight is available as a reminder that these social anxieties reflect old issues and not present realities….


American Psychiatric Association, (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. Washington, DC: Author.
Dombeck, M. (2007, July, 24). The long term effects of bullying. Retrieved from:
Leary, M. R. (2001). Interpersonal rejection. New York: Oxford University Press (US).
Sommer, K. L., Williams, K. D., Ciarocco, N. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (2001). When silence speaks louder than words: Explorations into the intrapsychic and interpersonal consequences of social ostracism. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 23(4), 225-243.
Twenge, J. M., Catanese, K. R., & Baumeister, R. F. (2003). Social exclusion and the deconstructed state: time perception, meaninglessness, lethargy, lack of emotion, and self-awareness. Journal of personality and social psychology, 85(3), 409-423.
Vignoles, V. L., Regalia, C., Manzi, C., Golledge, J., & Scabini, E. (2006). Beyond self-esteem: influence of multiple motives on identity construction. Journal of personality and social psychology, 90(2), 308-333.
Williams, K. D. (2007). Ostracism. Psychology, 58(1), 425-252.

Point #5:
“In my own defense”, I was really a deer in headlights.
A consistent diet of ostracism & bullying left me with a skewed perception of myself. I left home with this emotional hot potato…

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Understanding introverted feeling

Click here to read part one…

As I mentioned in part one of this series, I am an INFP according to the MBTI:  “Myers-Briggs Type Indicator”.  Based on insights from Carl Jung’s work, it measures an individual’s preferences along four temperament-based dichotomies.  To review, I am an INFP:

I am an introvert who is drawn towards my rich inner world to “recharge my batteries”…

I use intuition, a big-picture, future-oriented perceiving function tp seek out meaning & possibility…

I use the feeling function to make decisions on the basis of my personal values…

I am a perceiver who has a flexible and spontaneous approach to life…

imageIt is worth noting that these four cognitive functions, exist in a hierarchical order in terms of preference.  In other words, some of them have a stronger influence on our thought processes than others. For example, the dominant function exists as the ship’s captain, “with undisputed authority to set her course and bring her safe to the desired port” (Myers, 1962, p. 59).  According to, (n.d.) we tend to trust this function the most & are energized when utilizing it, since it comes naturally to us.  As an INFP, my dominant function is introverted feeling.  Additionally, since this dominant function doesn’t work in isolation, it is worth noting how the others functions support it.  For example, as a feeler, I am driven by personal values without reference to others, as an introvert.  In contrast, my sister is an ISFJ who extroverts her feeling function .  I would describe her as “miss manners on crack”: concerned with conventionality and not coloring outside the lines.    This link provides an excellent discussion of how introverted feeling compares with extroverted feeling.   In this section, I’d like to review my own personal experiences with this cognitive function and how it affects my view of the world….

Definitive Qualities of Fi…

mysterious & difficult to define…

“Introverted feeling is determined by the sub­jective factor…is ex­tremely difficult to give an intellectual account of…or even an approximate description of it…The depth of this feeling can only be guessed at…It makes people silent and difficult to access.” (Jung, 2014, p. 638).

mask-875534_1920The biggest complaint I’ve heard about INFPs are that they are very difficult to know.  I find the above quote from Carl Jung quite humorous. It’s certainly an accomplishment that we make so little sense for someone such as Jung – who is known for his intuitive understanding of the human mind 🙂 🙂 .  As I experience this difficult-to-understand nature, there are two perspectives from you could discuss it.  The fizzy pop can metaphor might be useful in this discussion. Let’s say there are several pop cans sitting on the counter.  Somebody grabs one of them and shakes it up a bit to create extra pressure inside, then places it next to the other cans.  I call this the INFP pop can. From the outsider’s perspective, it sits like there, as any normal pop can would, and basically takes up space until someone opens it up and takes a drink.  As the INFP, its important to remember that surface impressions don’t scratch the surface of one’s internal reality.  In other words, a view from within the pop can is very different than surface impressions might lead one to believe.  This is usually a surprise to the unknowing observer who picks up the INFP pop can and opens it up to take a drink….

It’s important to note, I’m not trying to be difficult and evasive when others try to understand me.  In my experience it seems instead as if introverted feeling (Fi) and extraverted intuition (Ne) combine to create a contrarian view of the world.  As a biracial individual and bullied child, I believe that this “against the grain” mindset was magnified highly.  When I think of introverted feeling, my own personal theory of life comes to mind. I believe that reality is a subjective interpretation and not objective fact.  As a result, I believe it is important to think for yourself, “by keeping your eyes on your own paper”.  Convenient examples of the inherent subjectivity of life can be discovered within your favorite book, movie, or television series.  It is through the character’s eyes that the story becomes what it is.  What you get is more than a plot line unfolding before you.  Instead you get a chance to “wear” a set of eyeballs other than our own, and witness life from a unique perspective….

In attempting to understand this difficult-to-know nature, it is useful to refer again to the INFP’s primary perceiving functions.  My primary perceiving function is extraverted intuition which is most effectively illuminated in the Indian fable of the Blind Men and the Elephant.  My primary judging function is introverted feeling which inherently honors individuality and the uniqueness of everyone’s experience with an attitude of empathy.  Together these functions yield a mine field of perspectives that appears much like a hall of mirrors.  Each experiential reality is a creation of self-fulfilling prophecies, whereby we project our thoughts, feelings and beliefs upon the world.  How does one begin to communicate this reality?   There are truly no words…

marching to my own drum…

“Introverted Feeling (Fi) is the attitude that everything is manifest…in the expression of a soul or life force, in terms of which everything…makes sense. Everything…is the result of a soul expressing its unique nature….each living thing is completely unique, and has unique needs. Every living thing needs to express itself …in its unique way” (MBTI Enthusiast, 2012).

horseRegarding the idea of “marching to my own drum”, the following quote from a previous post might be useful:  “As a contrarian, I feel it is important to note that ‘objective fact’ and ‘common sense’ are terms that often do not mean what we think they do.  They also happen to be highly overrated.  What is often perceived as “common sense” is instead a requisite deference to a schema-oriented social framework.  Objective facts often constitute lying by omission, when you consider their presentation often edits out the fact that our experience of reality is a perceptual construct.  Things are never what they appear to be and we need to dig deeper…”.  It is worth noting, that the MBTI is like a mental food log.  It describes my innate preferences.  With this in mind, I have an innate distaste for blind conformity and pluralistic ignorance.  My husband has a great name for people who live this way: “SHEEPLE”.  I like that term, since it succinctly describes my thoughts on conventional thinking, if it means having to sacrifice my own personal values….

…and that brings me to the issue of personal values as it pertains to the INFP.  From my own perspective, I experience my own values-laden reality as a sort of “inner knowing” of what resonates with me based on my current beliefs and experiences.  This purely subjective value system, pertains to me alone and is something which I have no desire to impose upon others.  Instead, it is reflects my belief that the true key to empowerment is self-responsibility. As I said earlier, “keep your eyes on your own paper”.  

still waters run deep…

“Introverted feeling is judgment with an emotional slant that causes the individual to view the object on a subjective level. It is primarily a silent inaccessible function that is difficult to conceptualize….and is entirely individualistic” (MBTI Enthusiast, 2012).

sunset-1227765_1920While I may have discussed this quality earlier, it is worth mentioning here again, only because it is so definitive of the INFP’s character.  The fizzy pop can metaphor is also pertinent here…. (((and it is worth noting that underestimating the INFP is a big mistake.)))  There is much of what makes us who “we are” that is unseen and overlooked.  While appearing, empathetic, idealistic, creative, and in our “own” world, there is usually much more going on.  You see, the introverted feeling function creates a uniquely personal experience in life where our values give it a unique quality.  These values are relevant to our own life experiences and we have an innate desire to live life accordingly  As I have experienced it, violating them is a mistake that (at its worst) can cause me to get very very angry.  Things can get ugly very quickly….A convenient example of this can be found in my blog posts on “A shameful Parenting Story” or “and Cancer Trumps PTSD”

…While I’m not necessarily proud of this war-path mentality, I claim ownership of it for the sake of self-responsibility.  You see, what really infuriates me is being told the reality of my experiences are irrelevant. Utilizing the above blog post links as an example…((READ THEM NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T)))… the former-friend who tells me “I’m fucked up and am fucking up my kids” violated an important ideal.  As a bullied child I feel it is wrong to blame the victim since I experienced much of this in my childhood.  As the mother of a bullied child, I’m making decisions based on my own child’s needs, and instead am told I’m not doing it right.  When its clear she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, how could a person not be angry???    Regarding the “cancer trumps PTSD” post, it hurt me tremendously to watch my parents support my sister through cancer in way they failed to do so for me.  Mind you when I was young I was very suicidal and needed help. Imagine being committed in a psychiatric hospital for suicidal ideation, and nobody visiting you.  How is it they’re surprised I’m not angry by this??

boundlessly idealistic

An INFP lives in a constant state of becoming….happiest when..our actions move us towards that Ideal….unhappy when… people or…circumstances control our ability to become our Ideal….Our values guides us towards what feels right and away from what feels wrong.  An INFP’s subjective values often conflict with external circumstances which leads to a me-vs-them mentality…[this is] the root…of our problems” (, n.d.).

INFP’s feel compelled to uphold their personal values because it feels like a “survival mechanism”. Denying us this can feel like a rejection of what “makes us who we are”.  For example, in a follow-up post to the “Shameful Parenting” post, I discuss the concept of “Good Enough Parenting”.  In this post, I reflect on my experiences raising a child with a congenital heart defect who was bullied as a child.  I consider these unique experiences, and raise him as I see fit, based on his unique needs  When someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about tells me this is wrong I get angry.  The key for me has been accepting the idea that others might not approve or validate me.  The price I must accept for following my own path, is that people may disagree with me.

subjective & empathetic…

Fi leads [one] to live a life based on empathy & harmony…and…see life as a never-ending conflict between souls that are intrinsically different…Fi naturally leads people to favor mercy or forgiveness…This use of empathy [is an]… orientation [which] leads to a resolute non-judgmentalness….(MBTI Enthusiast, 2012).

When I was a kid my parents took me to my first movie.  Since my sister wasn’t born yet, I’m guessing I about five years old.  This was the mid-70’s, and I was seeing a Peanut’s movie.  According to my parents I was enjoying the movie until the scene where Lucy is fighting with Snoopy in a boxing match.  Everybody in the audience is laughing, but I’m crying uncontrollably.  In fact, it gets so bad that that my parents have to leave the theater.  I remember vaguely being so angry that everybody was laughing at snoopy getting hurt.  He’s a cute puppy dog after all, why would you want to beat up a puppy dog?!?!

This quality has been with me my whole life.  I’m naturally sensitive and experience my feelings strongly – in a manner that is difficult to express.  When I reflect on how different I am from the rest of my family, it becomes clear that my “walls” are thinner.  I am an empathetic and emotive sponge who can’t help but notice the emotions of those around me.  My youngest son is 9-years-old, and displays many of these traits.  From a very young age, he has always been sensitive, and I have to be careful when I punish him, that my verbal communication isn’t too harsh.  I also have to be aware of any exhaustion, stress, or frustration, because he can read immediately.  He reacts with a “what’s wrong mommy?”.  He can walk into a room, and know immediately how I feel just by looking at me.  The only other person who can do this, is my hubby, (only because he knows me so well).

Click this link to read my series on the nature of emotions, as only an INFP can explain things.  
Click this link to read my discussion on the intelligence of emotions for an introverted feeler’s perspective.

Shortcomings of Fi…

A discussion of the introverted feeling would be incomplete without discussion of its inherent shortcomings.  What follows is a list of issues that perpetually plague my daily existence…

Pathological Perfectionism

perfectAs I stated earlier, INFP’s are know for their boundless idealism.  They feel compelled to live by these ideals and protect them – especially when challenged.  In some instances this can be a strength.  It provides INFP’s a strong motivational force and internal guidance system.  In other instances, boundless idealism is unhealthy and destructive – especially when it isn’t anchored onto reality. INFP’s should question the measuring stick they hold themselves to.  Are you investing in realistic expectations?  While criticism and self-responsibility are healthy – unnecessarily harshness is self-destructive.

The most judgmental type…

justice-9017_1920A blog post I found recently, makes some interesting points of INFP’s.  While we may appear fairly inert and unassuming, something very different can lurk underneath.  As INFPs, we are able to see beyond the superficialities of daily experience.  What’s frustrating, is these deeper truths underlie superficial experience yet are constantly ignored.  However much it acts as a definitive groundwork upon which we build our reality, we engage in a “suspension of disbelief” for the sake of illusory realism.  When reading books, or watching movies, Engaging in a suspension of disbelief is useful to enjoy the story as it unfolds.   While useful with works of fiction, it has no utility as a life approach.  What’s frustrating for INFP’s is a part of us desires desperately to point out that bullshit is bullshit.  However doing so can be an egregious violation to others’ feelings, so we say nothing.  Our hyper-awareness and empathy create a mental bullshit-o-meter for all that is incongruous and inauthentic.  Turning our boundless idealism onto the world when it fails to live up to our expectations can be truly ugly.  We can end up judging the world and those in it as we do ourselves.

overly sensitive….

woman-1006102_1280I grew up with an ESTJ mother and INTP father.  They are both college professors who prided themselves on their intellect.  As a neurophysiologist my father was great at reducing all thoughts and feelings to brain anatomy and function.  I remember being told as a kid “exercise your prefrontal cortex, Kathleen”, whenever I was emotional.  There is honestly a part of me that hates being an INFP.  In my next life I will be a callous bitch, just to see what that feels like.  Living in this life with such a think skin between myself and the world leaves me exposed.   Brene Brown’s concept of vulnerability is a terrifying for this reason.   However, over the years, I’ve learned how to put the insights of the MBTI into perspective and gain sone self-acceptance.  On the one hand, it is worth noting that this personality assessment describes our innate preferences.  Trying to change an innate preference is akin to “praying the gay away”.  On the other hand, it is wrong to use this as an excuse for our shortcomings.  For example, if the MBTI is a food log, I am I sweet tooth.  If I were to fully indulge this desire, I would gain 20 pounds in no time flat.  Just because I enjoy sweets, that doesn’t mean its okay to treat my body like a trash can.

A horse of a different color…

As I stated earlier, INFP’s can march to the beat of their own drum.  In some respects this can be a good thing, if it means an authentic existence based on self-awareness and personal responsibility.  However, marching to the beat of your own drum, doesn’t come without a price.  Going against the grain means accepting the consequences of “differentness”.   For me, in early childhood, I didn’t understand the underlying reasons for my oddball ways.  I was insightful enough to realize that “normalcy” was not possible, but still incapable of understanding why.  I was highly sensitive and very lonely as a bullied child. All I wanted to do was fit in, but never could.  It wasn’t until I grew older that I came to understand I was fighting my basic nature.

 Trying to be something I wasn’t for approval has caused me many problems over the years.  
Learning to provide validation for myself in the ways other’s failed to has been critical.  

Illogical & Unrealistic

“[introverted] feeling progressively emancipates itself from the object and creates or itself a freedom of action & conscience that is purely subjective and may even renounce all traditional values.  But so much the more does unconscious thinking fall a victim to the power of reality.” (Jung, 2014, p. 638).

UntitledAnother thing I hate about myself is my inability to be logical and pragmatic, especially since this causes me to stand out like a sore thumb in my family.  You see, this path of illogical unrealism goes way back, to my earliest memories.  It appears I prefer to take my current path to its most absurdist conclusion, until I find myself in a world of shit.  Here are a few examples, that I beat myself up over as a “REFORMED FUCK UP”…

  1. I was a bullied child, because others could tell I was the perfect target.  It took years before it truly sank in that their opinions don’t matter.  I allowed these unresolved hurts to exist as self-fulfilling prophecies well into adulthood….
  2. I was in a “very dysfunctional relationship” for four years in college.  I put up with all his bullshit simply because I took to heart everything my bullies said about me.  The reality of my true worth and what I have to offer in a relationship existed within me as fact.  Just like The Wizard of Oz story, I had the ruby slippers all along.  I just needed to believe in myself.  
  3. I made a series of stupid educational career choices in a desire to prove myself as “good enough” and successful in the conventional sense of the word, only to create failure after failure.  It wasn’t until I understood that success meant accepting my basic nature, that I was able to create forward progress

Click here to learn about Extroverted Intuition from an INFP perspective.  

References (n.d.)  INFP Description.  Retrieved from:
Jung, C.G..(2014) Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 6 : Psychological Types. Princeton, NJ, USA: Princeton University Press.
MBTI Enthusiast. (2012, July, 11,).  Introverted Feeling as Described by Lenore Thomson. Message posted to: 
Myers, I. B. (1962).  The myers-briggs type indicator: Manual. Consulting Psychologists Press. (n.d.) The Dominant Function.  Retrieved from:
Steele, B.D. (2009, December, 11) INFP: The Most Judgmental Type: Retrieved from: 

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Insights from Brene Brown….

For a recent assignment, I was required to select a self help book that pertained in some way to the subject of career counseling and provide an overview of it. As a Brene Brown fan, I chose to revew her latest book, “Rising Strong”.  A Grounded Theory Researcher, Brene’s self-books provide a summary of findings from interviews with research participants, utilizing a Narrative Therapy perspective. From a personal standpoint, I’ve really appreciated Brene’s books, since they summarize my own path of self-development. Underlying this process of personal growth, was an inexplicable “stuckness” that feels much like a “vinyl record with a needle stuck in a groove, repeating the same sound over and over”, (Ingram, 2012). Brene’s method of addressing this issue of stuckness, is to utilize a storytelling approach.   It is by claiming ownership of our life story, that we can find an underlying system of meaning woven throughout it (Brene, 2015).  What I appreciate about her books are they appear to follow the author’s progression of growth.  For this reason I feel they are really worth reviewing below…

So What Does Forward Motion Look Like????

In the book’s introduction, Brene Brown describes how all her books fit within as part of an overall picture towards wholehearted living which she defines as follows:

IMG_2379“engaging in our lives from a places of worthiness…cultivating the courage, compassion, connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough’” (Brene, 2015, p xix).

Brene describes in her latest book “Rising Strong” how each book she has published, fits within an overall picture of wholehearted living.  Understanding this concept has been essentially for me to become “unstuck” and get off the hamster wheel.  It has taught me to understand how I get in my own way and develop a live a life that at one point had been “impossible”.   So what does forward motion – away from where we are to where we want to get to – look like??  To answer this question, a quick review of key concepts from Brene’s books is useful here….

STEP ONE: Listening to Shame…

Defined as “an intensely painful feeling that we are flawed, and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging”, (Brown, 2006, p 45), the concept of shame is first introduced in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” (Brene, 2010).  Here, we are guided through a discussion that encourages how the concept of shame is woven throughout our personal life narrative (Brene, 2015).  As an individual with PTSD, this was an especially laborious process and the subject of several years of therapy.  However, what I discovered is that these feelings of shame pertain to messages I’ve received throughout my lifetime about what “good enough” means.  In retrospect, I realize I’m someone who has been running towards a preconceived notion of what this has meant for me.  simultaneously, I’ve been running away from what unwanted identities, comprised the messages of shame from others, (I’m not pretty enough, I’m not smart enough, etc).  Recognizing this has allowed me to accept myself as I am as good enough right now.  The journey now isn’t about getting to a place I believed was necessary to be “good enoug”. Instead good enough is now.  I can finally relax into the moments of my life and be present to enjoy it more fully.

STEP TWO: Being Vulnerable…

In her second book, “Daring Greatly”, Brene defines her concept of vulnerability as “having the courage to show up and be seen when you have no control over the outcome” (Brene, 2015, p4).  Vulnerability has produced a sense of vibrant fear in me.  Yes, I am aware that vulnerability is crucial for full engagement in life or,”Being all in” (Brene, 2012, p. 2).  However, unresolved traumas throughout my life have taught me otherwise.  Vulnerability produces fear because it means I have to be seen, and risk criticism or judgment.  Being “perfect and bulletproof are seductive” (Brene, 2012, p. 2) for exactly this reason.  The practice of vulnerability in an uncertain world has taken time for me.  The first step happened as I addressed old hurts.  The second step came as I learned to become more secure in who I was and validate myself in ways others hadn’t.  In time, the fear of vulnerability has gradually subsided.

STEP THREE:  Growing from Failure…

Overcoming shame and becoming vulnerability can be difficult when you stumble and fail.  However, failure, as Brene notes in her latest book, “Rising Strong” is an inevitable part of progression though life.  For this latest book, Brene (2015) gathered stories of sucess in a series of interviews to uncover any commonailties.  What she found were narratives mirroring Joseph Campbell’s (2008), book “The Hero with a Thousand Phases”.   In the first act of this book, the main character finds himself in a situation, which is the onset of a new adventure (Brene, 2015; Campbell, 2008). The second act finds our hero in a situation in which he has to take drastic steps to solve his dilemma (Brene, 2015; Campbell, 2008). The final act finds our character doing what is necessary to achieve his goal, resulting in a conflict resolution (Brene, 2015; Campbell, 2008).  In sum, her latest research has uncovered stories of success arising form failure as a learning opportunity to along a spiritual path towards wholeness.  The final section of this post provides a brief overview of these steps:

Rising Strong: An Overview

“If we are brave enough, often enough, we will fail; this is the physics of vulnerability.  Once we fail in the services of being brave, we can never go back.  Courage transforms the emotional structure of our being” (Brene, 2015, p5).

In her latest book, “Rising Strong”, Berne (2015) provides an overview of how to move past failure.  The first step, known as “The Reckoning”, (Brene, 2015, p37), involves acknowledging our story and accepting responsibility for our narrative role. The second step, known as “The Rumble” (Brene, 2015, p37), involves taking ownership of our story and involves an honest examination of it. Along the way, we’re forced to acknowledge truths and erroneous assumptions. Finally, Rising Strong process involves a “Revolution” (Brene, 2015, p37), and involves rewriting our narrative and learning from our rumble to create a new story. What follows is an overview of the steps in this narrative process….

STEP ONE: “The Reckoning” (Brene, 2015).

 In her discussion of “The Reckoning”, Brene (2015) states: “you either walk into your story and own your truth or you live outside your story, hustling for your worthiness” (p45).  Brene, (2015) notes that fear and trauma often complicate our efforts to claim ownership of our story.  To explain this desire to resist our life story, she utilizes the concept of chandelier pain as an exquisite and intolerable hurt which one cannot ignore (Brene, 2015, p16).  Rather than owning it, it isn’t uncommon to medicate, numb it or stockpile it.  Taking time to work through the unresolved traumas in my own life has been critical to the initiation of forward motion in life.  In order to “get unstuck” this was an absolutely essential step for me.

STEP TWO: “The Rumble” (Brene, 2015).

The next step in growing from failure involves examining our life story, and how we have created it as the narrator.  This process, which she calls “The Rumble”, (Brene, 2015), mirrors narrative therapy.  She encourages readers to examine the stories behind our emotions.  As I’ve said often throughout this blog, there’s a big difference between thing through your feelings and not with them.  I believe this is what Brene is speaking of here.  What stories, believes, and thoughts underlie your emotional responses to life events?  What triggered the emotions?  How does this narrative exists as a self-fulfilling prophecy, by creating the life experiences which reflect it?   The section ends with an overview of questions that might be useful in examining our narrative: (1) what do I need to understand about the event? (2) What do I need to learn about from other people in this story? and (3) what do I need to understand about myself in the context of this story? (Brene, 2015, p92-93).  Finally, Brene (2015) states this process simply begins with an attitude of curiosity and willingness.  

STEP THREE: “The Revolution” (Brene, 2015).

            The final step in this process of growing from failure is revolution: a “no-turning-back” Brene, 2015, p 254) stage.   This “revolution” involves a renewed sense of clarity this process starts once insight is put into practice (Brown, 2015). In a step-by-step manner, this process involves a gradual change as we create new stories based on altered narratives. A convenient example, would be my latest (and successful attempt to lose weight). Rather than chasing a physical ideal based on what I considered to be “good enough”, I’m instead assuming “good enough” is now. The result is, a sense of peace in which self-care is the priority, and getting there occurs one step at a time.


I owe a debt of gratitude to Brene Brown for helping redefine the concepts of failure and success. When I was younger, success was always a “then point” where I could work my way into being “good enough”. Success was conceived of as a state of invulnerability, in which I was delivered from my own shame-laden life story. Failure, in turn was what I didn’t want to be in the present. As I have (long since) learned, success requires us to examine our past and any underlying narratives. Acting on these insights on the road to success, taking a chance not knowing the outcome, and risking failure.  This means acting on faith, that the journey contains the lessons we need to find our way there.


Brown, B. (2006). Shame Resilience Theory: A grounded theory study on women and shame.  Families in Society. 87(1), 43-48.
Brown, B. (2008). I Thought it was Just Me: But it Isn’t: Telling the Truth about Perfectionsim, Inadequacy, and Power. Gotham.
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are.Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden Publishing.
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. London, England: Penguin.
Brown, B. (2015). Rising Strong. Random House: New York.
Campbell, J. (2008). The hero with a thousand faces, 3rd ed. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Ingram, B.L. (2012). Clinical Case Formulations: Matching the Integrative Treatment Plan to the Client. (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.



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Psychology of the Trump Supporter…

I have to be honest, listening to Donald Trump’s speeches doesn’t exactly leave me with a warm fuzzy feeling inside.  However, since I live in the Midwest and come from a very conservative family, ignoring his rhetoric is impossible.  As the political minority, I find myself doing a lot of tongue biting.  On occasion, when I feel the need to speak my mind, I struggle.  It’s as if a I’m trying to bridge a divisive cultural gap.  The experience is much like traveling to another country where you don’t speak the language well.  Culture shock sets in as you realize much of what you’re intending to say gets lost in the translation.  For this reason, I’m hoping to better understand the psychology of the Trump supporter.  What do they see that I’m not???

To answer this question, I decided to do some random googling one late sleepless night.  What follows is a synopsis of what I’ve learned:

FIRST, a few introductory comments…

When comparing my own opinions to the rhetoric of the typical Trump supporter, I find differences in temperament-based preferences and moral perspectives.   Since I was raised in a very diverse environment, (culturally, socioeconomically, politically and racially), differences such as these are “normal”.  They are not a source of disharmony or strife by any means.  I have learned three lessons from this:

  1. FIRSTLY, the advice of John Malkovich on acting rings true here.  You can’t truly understand a someone until you suspend all judgment.  As it applies life, this means engaging in an empathetic listening that involves suspending my own view of life for another one.  What is it truly like to walk in those shoes???
  2. SECONDLY, an essential counterpoint to empathetic listening is remaining true to my own personal values. This has meant accepting that reality is ultimately a subjective creation relevant to my own life experiences.  I acknowledge that others’ may not validate or accept my perspective.  I am at peace with this and have come to realize serenity comes through being secure with who I am and what I stand for.
  3. THIRDLY, A Hegelian dialectic is always useful to resolve these competing perspectives.  According to Hegel’s dialectical theory, when one perspective (i.e. thesis) meets with a competing viewpoint (i.e. antithesis), and when they are merged together, you have a higher level of understanding (i.e. synthesis).  

In moving forward in the creation of this post, these life lessons exist as a guide.  I am willing to entertain perspectives other than my own but still hold onto my own system of beliefs.  Social reality is complex multifaceted and ever-changing.   The personal benefit of this exercise, is in that it can help me understand a facet, very different from my own lived perspective.

A “Cult of Personality”

It is important to note that Trump’s views on matters have been far from one-sided. His political beliefs and actions, over the years, fall all over the ideological map.  As many diehard conservatives have noted: “he’s like all the others, riding somewhere in the middle”.  With this in mind, I’ve asked what is the nature of his appeal is then?  Many Trump fans I’ve talked with explain his appeal simply in the following statements: “he tells it like he is”, or “he doesn’t take shit from anyone”.   As I interpret it, comments like this reflect a “cult of personality” mindset (Ben-Ghiat, 2016; Tracinski, 2015).  A cult of personality, might be conveniently defined as: “a system in which a leader is able to control a group of people through the sheer force of his or her personality and is often portrayed as a god-like figure” (, n.d.).  There are two critical psychological components underlying this insight one pertains to the trump supporter, and the other to Donald himself.  As it pertains to a cult-of-personality figure, Ben-Ghiat (2016) notes the following as essential characteristics:

“the leader has to embody the people but also stand above them. He must appear ordinary, to allow people to relate to him. And yet he must also be seen as extraordinary, so that people will grant him permission to be the arbiter of their individual and national destiny” (Ben-Ghiat, 2016).

Throughout Donald Trump’s own unique rhetoric, several unique traits can be observed: a complete disregard for the standards of political correctness and narcissistic ego.  I find it fascinating how politically divisive the responses are to these traits.  While I find him to be a disrespectful bully, Trump supports find him “refreshing”.  I’m perplexed by this.  In an attempt to understand how someone might find Trump’s rhetoric “refreshing”, I found the following commentary on Trump’s perplexing Cult-of-Personality appeal:

“People are projecting onto Trump what they want to see. They are pouring into him their fantasies about what could be accomplished by a strong leader who doesn’t care about making people angry. But that’s a dangerous fantasy to indulge” (Tracinski, 2015).

These observations about Trump and his supporters, provide me a bit more clarity on the nature of his perplexing appeal. Still, I’m left with more questions.  What specific characteristics about Trump standout in the minds of his fans, as most appealing, as source of projective fantasy?  What temperament based-characteristics in the Trump Supporter do I not yet understand as an explanation for their response?  What follows are more interesting insights to shed more light on matters:

Trump’s Extreme Narcissism

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual describes narcissistic personality disorder as follows

“A pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy…as indicated by…the following: …sense of self-importance…sense of entitlement…fantasies of unlimited success…[and requiring] excessive admiration” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

While a formal diagnosis cannot every be made without seeking the help of a mental health professional, many of Trump’s display’s reflect extreme narcissistic personality traits.  As the video above notes, narcissists see the world in terms of winners and losers.  As a result of this black and white thinking, a compulsive need to win exists over “the losers”.  This compulsive need is a way of reflecting one’s own personal insecurities.  Joseph Burgo, Phd, (psychotherapist and author of the book: (THE NARCISSIST YOU KNOW: Defending Yourself Against Extreme Narcissists in an All-About-Me Age), notes Donald’s extreme narcissism, is a large part of his appeal to populist voters (Burgo, 2015). In particular, Donald Trump’s appeal pertains to a key defense mechanism which he displays as an extreme narcissist. Underlying a need to avoid one’s personal insecurities, is a compulsive desire to win in order defend his inflated sense of self through: “righteous indignation, blame, and contempt” (Burgo, 2015).  Trump’s rhetoric models “a simplistic way to vanquish self-doubt and defend oneself against existential anxiety” (Burgo, 2015).  This insight is helpful in shedding light on the personality traits underlying Trump’s cult-of-personality appeal.  Still there is much more to be said about the Trump supporter to better understand this perspective.

An Anti-P.C. Mentality

Fear of The Unknown….

An interesting three-part series of articles on the psychology of trump supports can be found at Scientific American’s website titled “Decoding Trump Mania the Psychological Allure of hating Political Correctness”  – by Melanie Tannenbaum.  As Tannenbaum (2015), notes, there is no U.S. president in recent history who is more anti-P.C. as a”blatant racist…[and] sexist”.  Still, its surprising to note the divisiveness of reactions to his inflammatory remarks.  There are those like me who find them very distasteful and off-putting (to say the least). His fans, on the other hand appreciate, his rhetoric as “honest”.  What is meant by this?  Tannenbaum (2015), first theorizes that trump supporters display a low temperament-based preference for ambiguity and uncertainty:

“Did you have one friend who embraced that sense of uncertainty, viewing it with a sense of enthusiasm and thrill, excited about the prospect of embarking on an unknown adventure? Did you have another friend who hated every moment of not knowing what would come next, feeling anxious and uneasy until the minute that every single detail of his/her plan had fallen into a definite, guaranteed place?” (Tannenbaum, 2015)

Uncertainty is associated with the unknown.  For those with low tolerance to such things, a greater degree of anxiety is produced.   Knowing where he stands provides a bit of relief for those with a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality, common amongst ultra-conservaties (Tannenbaum, 2015).  Still, the perplexing perception that Trump is a “straight shooter” is perplexing, given his “winning at all costs” mentality?  What else can be said about this???….

Misperception of Non-Normative Statements….

In part two of her article series, Tannenbaum, (2015) cites research on the misperception of non-normative statements:

“When people say things that are non-normative, unexpected, or non-self-serving, those things are seen as more likely to be true, and outside observers are more likely to think they have a good chance of really knowing the authentic, deep-down, true personality of the person saying them. (Tannenbaum, 2015)”

In other words, if somebody is speaking off-the-cuff in an unedited fashion and saying what is on his mind without thinking, he is at least perceived as honest.  This is despite the fact that his statements are off-putting, and that he is a flip-flopper on many issues…

Pluralistic Ignorance

Tannenbaum, (2015) completes her three part series by commenting on the distaste of political correctness common amongst Trump supporters.  A quick online search for a definition of this “Political Correctness” yields the following:

“agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people…conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated…” (Politically Correct, n.d.)

What I find most interesting about Tannenbaum’s (2015) article, are her observations on this concept and the varied responses to it.  In particular she states:  “If you’re conservative, you may believe that the PC movement is a harmful push to censor free speech and limit the expression of free ideas: (Tannenbaum, 2013).    Indeed our culture is very “pro-P.C”.  It is useful to consider the two sides of the coin on this issue of political correctness.  For example, I value the ideals of equality, empathy and inclusiveness.  I believe it is important to show respect of others and avoid utilizing rhetoric that can be perceived as disrespectful.  Consequently, I find Trump’s rhetoric distasteful.  In contrast to this vantage point, my husband might bring up the idea of pluralistic ignorance.  This concept is best summarized in the fairy tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and can be defined conveniently as “the bullshit of the many”.  It is a dangerous byproduct of a culture which is too politically correct.  My husband is more open to hearing rhetoric like Trump’s because failing to question conventional thinking is dangerous.  In conclusion, underlying an anti-p.c. mentality in the Trump fan, is a distaste for pluralistic ignorance, ambiguity, and misinterpretation of non-normative statements.  

Moral Taste Receptors

One final article worth mention comes from, titled: “Donald Trump supporters think about morality differently than other voters. Here’s how.” (Elkins & Haidt, 2016).  In this article, the authors apply insights from Moral Foundations Theory to better understand the unique perspective of Trump Supporters.  Moral Foundations Theory states the following:

“our moral judgments verbalize unconscious and automatic intuitions that are only justified post hoc vis-a`-vis others…these “intuitions” reflect biologically prewired sensitivities regarding certain events in human social life” (Musschenga, 2013, p331).

Additionally, Moral Foundations Theory also describes six moral preferences or “moral taste receptors” (Elkins & Haidt, 2016), including:  (1) Care/Harm – (i.e compassion for others); (2) Fairness/Cheating (i.e. monitoring equity & balance); (3) Liberty/Oppression – (i.e restrictions of choice); (4) Authority – (i.e. hierarcy & order); (5) Loyalty – (i.e. us vs. them mentality); (6) Sanctity/Degradation – (i.e. elevate the “good” from harm of daily profanities).  In a public opinion poll including 2000 participants, the authors of this article found firstly, that Trump indeed rank as a moderate on a scale of 1-5 with 1 being very liberal and 5 being very conservative, (Elkins & Haidt, 2016).  While I won’t delve into these results in detail, I found the following very interesting….

Preference for Care/Harm

A preference for Care/Harm can be defined as a “compassion for those who are vulnerable or suffering” (Elkins & Haidt, 2016).  It’s not surprising to note that in this poll, the democratic candidates ranked high in a preference for care and harm.  In contrast, republican candidates – and Trump in particular all had negative scores, indicating that this consideration was a low priority.  This is very much in sync with what I notice as a key difference between my own political values and those of my conservative family members.  The idea of the “bleeding-heart liberal” is often thrown around when I discuss beliefs pertaining to this value of care and empathy.  In contrast, I don’t understand why Trump Supporters aren’t offended by his comments.

Loyalty, Authority, & Sanctity

A preference for Authority can be defined a “value order and hierarchy; we dislike those who undermine legitimate authority and sow chaos” (Elkins & Haidt, 2016).  In contrast, a preference for loyalty is associated with an “us vs. them” mentality.  Finally, a preference for sanctity pertains to “a sense that some things are elevated and pure and must be kept protected from the degradation and profanity of everyday life”(Elkins & Haidt, 2016).  So how do my beliefs on these issues compare to the typical Trump Supporter?  I found the answer to this question quite intriguing….

Democrats scored low on all three factors.  This reflects my own political values as well.  A low desire for authority indicates an openness to change and a progressive belief system.  A low preference for loyalty indicates inclusivity and multiculturalism as personal ideals.  Finally, the notion of sanctity reminds me of a religious ideal that divides the world into the pure vs. profane.  As a “spiritual but not religious” agnostic, I have a strong distaste for this notion.

In contrast, Donald Trump scores high on Authority, Loyalty, & Sanctity.  A preference for order and status quo reflects a dislike for ambiguity as discussed earlier (Tannenbaum, 2015).  This “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it mentality”, is often associated with an idyllic perception of “the way things were”(Tannenbaum, 2015).  The slogan “Make America Great Again”, summarizes this preference ideally. The idea of loyalty, can be linked to feelings of patriotism and a heightened fear of terrorism.  Finally, the idea of sanctity, can be linked to values such as an anti-abortion stance and view favoring “traditional marriage”, (both of which I happen to disagree with).

Preference for Fairness:

A preference for fairness can be defined as a desire to “constantly monitor whether people are getting what they deserve, whether things are balanced. We shun or punish cheaters” (Elkins & Haidt, 2016).  The authors also note that those who prefer fairness believe: “people who produce more should be rewarded more than those who just tried hard” (Elkins & Haidt, 2016).  This ideal is helpful in explaining the perplexing fact that lower-income conservatives support the “trickle-down” notion of welfare for the rich.  When discussing this idea with Trump Supporters, I hear an espousal of “working class” values.  The idea of not working for what you get is distasteful.  This ideal presupposes any other thought process that might allow one to consider the complex ramifications of a “trickle-down” economic plan…


One of my first jobs out of college was working for a law firm as a “jack-of-all-trades”.  I answered the phones, prepared documents, and even did billing.  Several of the lawyers in this firm had practices focusing specifically on family law.  As a result, I found myself in the middle of many contentious divorces.   Interestingly, much of the political rhetoric today mirrors the arguments of two bitter exes fighting for custody of the house or division of assets.  The idea of “winning at all costs” (Burgo, 2015), takes presidence over any other considerations.  As I observed, during custody cases, the children were left in the middle as the ones with the greatest losses to bear.  The parents are busy trying to “get one over” on the other while the child is left in the middle, to lose no matter what the outcome.  Its in this respect that Trump is providing us a public service:

“How could a crass, bigoted bully with a narcissistic-personality disorder and policy views bordering on gibberish ‘defy political gravity,’ dominate the national stage…In the short time since Trump declared his candidacy, he has performed a public service by exposing…the posturings of both the Republicans and the Democrats and the foolishness…of…the political culture they share” (Frank, 2015)


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Ben-Ghiat, Ruth (2016, January, 15).  Donald Trump’s cult of personality.  Retrieved from:
Burgo J., Phd. (2015, August, 14) The populist appeal of Trump’s narcissism. Retrieved from:
Elkins, E & Haidt, J (2016, February, 5). Donald Trump supporters think about morality differently than other voters. Here’s how. Retrieved from:
Frank, R. (2015, September, 20).  The Importance of Donald Trump.  Retrieved from:
Manheim, F.T. (2016). Trump cards II: Significancr of the Donsld’s rise, his audacious two-layered campaign, and his Achilles’s heels.  Retrieved from:
Musschenga, B. (2013). The promises of moral foundations theory. Journal of Moral Education, 42(3), 330-345.
Politically correct. (n.d.). Retrieved from correct (n.d.) Personality Cult. Retrieved from:
Rich, F. (2015, September 20) Donald Trump is saving our democracy.  Retrieved from:
Tanenbaum (2015, August, 15). Decoding Trump-Mania: The psychological allure of hating political correctness, Part 1-3. Retrieved from:
Tracinski, P. (2015, August, 15). Donald Trump’s paradoxical cult of personality.  Retrieved from:

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Stages of Change

That Nike commercial that tells us “Just Do It!”, irks the hell out of me.  While intended as an inspirational message of empowerment, it misses the mark on how to create and sustain lasting change.  As I’ve come to realize (both professionally and personally) change is a process that takes time.  When I reflect on my own steady progression of growth thru life, two resources seem to describe this journey well.  The first is the transtheoretical stages of change model which addresses feelings of ambivalence toward change:

“People who successfully make changes in their lives progress along a continuum of predictable stages: 1) precontemplation – not aware of, or minimizing the problem; 2) contemplation – acknowledging the problem and considering possible changes; 3) preparation – making plans; 4) action – following through with plans and 5) maintenance – keeping the new actions as a part of daily activity” (Frasier, et al, 2001).

The second resource which inspires this post is a book by Carl Rogers (2012) titled “On Becoming A Person”.  While the stages of change model provides a witnesses acount of the change process, Roger’s description is a first-hand perspective.  In one interesting segment of this book, he describes a continuum of openness to change.  In an attempt to describe this continuum he makes the following observation:

“[this] Process involves a loosening of feelings. At lower end remote and unowned…At the upper end process of experiencing a continually changing flow of feelings becomes characteristic of the individual.” (Rogers, 2012, p. 157)

It is worth noting that while Rogers, (2012) description of change is similar in many respects to the Prochaska’s Transtheoretical model, it is comprised of 7 stages. Additionally, Rogers theory describes an abstract growth process as we move from ridgidity toward openness to change.  What I like about Rogers theory is it describes this process of change as a gradual transformation in how we relate to our feelings.

In this post I intend to discuss the process of change from two unique standpoints. One perspective will provide a theoretical overview of the stages of change from those in the helping professions. Another perspective will be a first-hand accounting of my experiences in a past relationship.  In this emotionally abusive situation, I underwent the very stages of change described here.   With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, I am grateful for where I am today.  That experience is a stark contrast to my current marriage to a wonderful and loving man, almost 17 years.  I’ve honestly had to step back and debate whether or not I wish to share this experience in such an open forum. My decision is that openness & honesty will be 2 essential guiding standards in the creation of this blog.  After all, hiding experiences like these implies shame – which is unwarranted.  It just also happens to be the “badass” alternative, 🙂 🙂 🙂 …



22033“Precontemplation is the stage in which there is no intention to change behavior in the foreseeable future” (Norcross, et al, 2011, p. 144).

Second Hand Observation

According to Prochaska’s Transtheoretical model of change, individuals here are unaware of their problem and are reluctant to discuss matters in detail.  Rogers, (2012), notes an “unwillingness to communicate [about] oneself…communication is [instead] about externals…feelings are neither recognized or owned.  Personal constructs…are extremely rigid” (p. 133).  Feelings are managed with a goal of repression, in order to maintain a sense of security thru avoidance.  Unwilling to seek help independently, clients often enter counseling at the insistence of someone else.

First Hand Experience: “The ‘IT’ years…”

First Year of College…

“There is no need to talk about it: it won’t change a thing,” (Fraser, et al, 2001, 214).  This was my attitude in the first year of our relationship.  I felt a sense of complete hopelessness and lived in denial of the problem.  It was my first serious relationship and introduction to the dating world.  I was in my second year of college when we met, although not your “typical young adult”.   He was my first serious relationship:  prior to him I hadn’t even so much as even kissed a boy before.   I had just left high school that previous year, with a huge chip on my shoulder.  I was a bullied child with a well of unresolved hurt.  Since my best friend, Ruby Stricker moved in sixth grade, I hadn’t experienced a feeling of acceptance or belonging amongst peers.  I was the girl with the cooties that got picked last in P.E., and sat alone at the lunch table.  By the time I reached high school, I would go weeks without speaking more than a few words to people.  These exchanges included “pass the salt” (at home), or “can I use the bathroom” (at school).  This left me with six full years of stagnation in the area of social development.  While I was eighteen chronologically, an insecure sixth grader still lurked within.  As a result, I had huge expectations for my freshman year.  I hoped to make friends & wanted nothing more than to be accepted.  As you might expect, reality didn’t live up to expectations.

While I did experience some companionship with fellow dorm residents, a cavernous divide separated us.  They were your typical college freshmen, and I was  “different”.   Conversations with fellow dorm mates provide a unique window into this divide and my “burgeoning issues”.  Concerned for my level of naivety, the developmental divide between us made it difficult for me to be regarded as an equal.  I recall being very frustrated by this: their parental concern angered me.  Today, I realize I had misperceived it as a demeaning insult.  I wanted nothing more than to be like them, but had no idea of how to make up for “lost time”.  I finished that first year with very few friends and still had yet to go on my first date.

As I entered my sophomore year, I was still completely ignorant of my “issues”.  The consequences of my own chosen methods of adaptation to bullying continued to play out.  The self-imposed isolation throughout teens, now made it difficult to relate to those my own age.   Desperate to solve the problem, I was eager to to take the first “zero-to-sixty” route to maturity I could find.  Little did I know, I was to meet a guy who would deliver just that “and more”.

Meeting “IT”

(((FYI – in conversations with my family about this time of my life, my mother has requested we not mention “that name” .   In time we’ve adopted the nickname “IT” to refer to him.  I use this in reference to this individual throughout the post))) 

…From the moment we met, we were like moths to a flame, drawn to each other for all the wrong reasons.  We were the other’s “quick fix” solution to unresolved hurt.  His involved a complicated relationship with a “domineering” mother.  Mine involved a chip-on-your-shoulder mentality in the aftermath of prolonged bullying and emotional neglect.    We never did have that “honeymoon period” common in most “unhealthy relationships” (Burman, 2003; Fraser, et al, 2001).  Instead, I would describe our relationship from the start as a “boot camp” in which IT made the development of a traumatic bond, his priority.  I lost my virginity very early.   It happened so fast, I remember it in retrospect as an unreal “out-of-body” experience.  It was only when he crawled on top, that it dawned on me what was happening .  My head spun: it was over almost as suddenly as it began.

He immediately set a plan in motion, to turn my insecurities into a certain self-perceived fact that I was totally worthless and helpless without him.  Reading me like an open book, he berated me for my inability to fit in.  I was ugly and stupid.  He told me there was no way any other guy would want me.  I believed him, (based on past experience, it appeared a logical conclusion at the time).  This resulted in the gradual reinforcement of learned helplessness (Burman, 2003; Fraser et al, 2001).  He would push the boundaries of what I would put up with, by using my naivety to his advantage.  He dangled “girlfriend” status in front of me like a carrot on a stick.  Achieving this status meant doing what he said, no matter how crazy, willingly and without complaint.  If not, I was to receive anger and rejection.  This was an unthinkable horror I intended to avoid at all cost.  I “NEEDED” him.  Before long, I was his personal slave –  the sole reason for my existence was to do his bidding.

Now under his “complete control”, the next phase of his plan was set into motion.  He started to isolate me from others, insisting I move to another dorm and take a single room.  Away from my friends, I was alone again, just like high school.  Old insecurities re-emerged and with it, crippling depression.   I only wanted love and acceptance. He utilized these urgent needs to his favor.  He was very possessive and insisted I never leave his sight without his say.  However, he cheated on me constantly – openly and without apology.  In fact, he would share intimate details of his “trysts”.  He insisted I listen attentively without complaint so he could drive home the idea that I was lucky to have him.  Fearful of rejection, I complied as instructed.  At first, it was difficult to conceal my feelings.  I would sob uncontrollably while he laughed and called me pathetic.  In time I learned to separate myself from my experiences, as if I were floating outside my body and witnessing the events like an observer.  He could do as he pleased – I felt nothing.

In time, he was my “sole source” of acceptance and love.  Desperate to have somebody in my corner, “losing him” was now a source of fear and panic.  I was “lucky” to have him and fell for his plan; hook, line and sinker…


image“Contemplation is the stage in which patients are aware that a problem exists and are seriously thinking about overcoming it but have not yet made a commitment to take action.” (Norcross, et al, 2011, p144).

Second Hand Observation

In the contemplation stage, a growing ambivalence begins to emerge as individuals begin to struggle with their own self-evaluations of dysfunctional behavior, (Norcross, et al, 2010).  Aware that a problem exists, individuals often describe feeling “stuck”.  Concerned about the energy and risk involved in change, resistance prevents further action.  Stages two and three in Roger’s description of growth/change provide additional insight on the nature of this resistance.  In stage two, problems are acknowledged but externalized (Rogers, 2012).  Feelings start to ‘bubble up’ and are unacknowledged.  Emotions are used to assess what is of value to us.  In phase three, an emerging understanding develops of how emotions exist in reaction to events while also defining their nature.  With this realization, we begin to re-examination our perceptions and beliefs of the situation. “Is all as we perceived it to be?” Questions such as these produce a growing awareness of our problems.

First Hand Experience

The move to New York…

The burgeoning depression I felt as a result of his imposed isolation was now intermingled with a constant state anxiety and feelings of hoplessness.  My body was a jumble of nerves, I couldn’t keep food in me, my heart was pounding out of my chest.   This state of “near panic” was due to the unthinkable:  losing what I perceived was my only real chance at love and belonging.    The very idea of this terrified me.  While I didn’t have the courage to “hurt myself”,  the emotions were overwhelming enough, that this option was starting to become quite attractive.

As the semester came to a close, he began planning our next move.  By this time, I had managed to alienate myself from all the friends I made first year.  We were spending every minute together.  He refused to let me out of his sight.  During finals week he made an executive decision that we were to hop the next Greyhound to New York City – his hometown.  Plopping down two duffle bags in my room one day, he told me to fill them up and “leave the rest of your shit here”.  I did as I was told, and only informed my parents of our move after arriving in Staten Island, where his mother dropped us off at an apartment she found.  With only $1000.00 in our pocket, it was my job to figure out how to support both of us.  I got a job at a restaurant, and begged my parents to help and they relented.  However, I received an angry letter from my father shortly thereafter, demanding “how could I do this”.  He told me I made my mom cry in attempt to induce guilt.  In short: I was “disappointing them”.  My sister, then only 12, was incredulous at how stupid I was.  “I would never hurt mom and dad like that”, she exclaimed, and set forth a path toward “being perfect”, that involves always following the rules as the “good girl”.  I was angry, for their failure to be there when I needed.  Couldn’t they see how this was an end result of years of many years of bullying and torment?

It was when we arrived in New York, that a new phase of our relationship began –  10x worse than what I had experienced previously.  Every second of my day was lived in a “pins and needles” like environment.  Trying desperately to “hold my head above water” emotionally, my only concern was to please him.   This meant stressing over every little thing.  The food was too “salty”.  I forgot to “lay out his clothes”.  Every little misstep was intermingled with negative commentary about my ineptness.  He called me “pea-brain” because I was so stupid.

The control was also amped up by this point, since we lived together.  There wasn’t a single move throughout the day that I could make without his say so.  He controlled the money, so I couldn’t do anything without his permission.  I was only allowed to eat small amounts of food, including oatmeal and ramen noodles 1-2 times daily.  My weight plummeted to around 90, (at 5’8″).  I was anorexic looking.  Meanwhile he ate like a king and started gaining lots of weight.  I remember watching him consume food longingly while crying inside because the hunger was beyond bearable.  He did this intentionally because it drove me crazy.

The demeaning and controlling behaviors steadily increased as his demands became more and more insane.  I was to sleep on the floor next to his bed like a dog because this enforced my status in the relationship.  I only entered it when he wanted “to get him some”.  I spoke only when spoken to.  I was to refer to him as “Sir”.  I had to ask permission to take a “piss”.  I was allowed to bathe only once every week or two for minutes at a time or he would pour a bucket of ice water on me.   After months of this, I was dirty and smelly since I rarely bathed.  My hair was greasy and tangled since I rarely had an opportunity to groom.   My clothing was usually disheveled since I only had minutes to dress.  I now looked like a starving, homeless, crazy drug-addict.   People walking down the street would stare at me visibly in horror.

The return home…

After a year of this, he decided a move was in order.  He felt moving to my hometown was a good idea since it was more affordable.  He also discovered he could manipulate my parents into giving me money, due to their concern for my well being.  By this time, I felt stuck and totally helpless.  I was certainly sick and tired of his treatment, but felt there was no other option.   I did recognize by this time that our relationship was a repeat of my childhood.  I knew it wasn’t a coincidence, that old traumas and fears from then were  re-emerging.  He was my “band-aid”: used to conceal issues I hoped to avoid. Like an addict in need of a “fix”, he had me where he wanted.  There was nowhere I could go.   By admitting this to myself, I was able to examine how the past explained the present.   However, I was still not strong enough to process those old memories.   I preferred, instead, to box them up in the attic of my mind with all the other baggage.


22039“Preparation is the stage in which individuals are intending to take action in the next month and are reporting some small behavioral changes” (Norcross, et al, 2011, p144)

Second Hand Observation

In the preparation stage, clients begin making “baby steps” towards lasting change (Norcross, et al, 2011, p. 144).  With a full awareness of one’s problems, clients in this stage are ready to begin taking action in the upcoming months.  In this stage our goal is to begin understanding our situation more fully as we prepare to institute some big life changes.  Emotions are expressed with greater intensity regarding current experiences and past events.  The client begins to understand the importance of accepting and claiming ownership of all emotional experiences (both good and bad).  However, especially hurtful and traumatic experiences are still met with resistance.  Underlying a desire for change “is a realization of concern about contradictions and incongruences between experience and self….Example: I’m not living up to what I am” (Roger, 2012, p. 138). 

First Hand Experience

Fast-forwarding a few years, we now live in my home town and are working on completing a bachelor’s degree.   The relationship – as described above –  is otherwise unchanged.  I learn to acclimatize through a state of (almost perpetual) dissociation and numbing.  I am much like a marathon runner, emotionally conditioned to the situation.  Gradually, I gain awareness of the patterns in our relationship.  I come to understand that the unresolved insecurities from childhood bullying are a core component.  A sense of incongruency develops when I recognize this emerging clarity isn’t reflected in my dysfunctional life choices.   I desperately desire to leave, but feel incapable and stuck.  There is no pond to jump to where acceptance and love lie.  The only other option is aloneness – which frightens me.  A series critical incidences occur during this time which force me to examine our relationship further…

The first incident occurs just before Christmas break….

We had just finished our first semester back at school after a move from New York City.   We were living in the dorms at that time and planned to move in my parent’s apartment house once a vacancy opened up.  As Christmas neared, my mother insisted I come home to spend time with the family.  Her parents had just moved into the house after immigrating from the Philippines and she wanted me to spend time with them.  I was happy to see my grandfather, and desired to see him more.  Our last visit was when I was nine and he spent the summer at our house.  I remember growing close to him and being sad when he left.  When my mom stopped by the dorms to pick me up, IT forbade me to go.  A shouting match occurred between them and before long they are each holding me by an arm, pulling me in opposite directions.  After what seemed like an eternity, my level-headed father tells us to get in the car so we could discuss this.  Once we climbed in the car I noticed IT was crying(!).  I was shocked in that moment to discover IT’s “iron clad” armor was actually just show.  In reality, he was a scared and insecure child inside.   The only compromise we could come to, was for IT to accompany me to their house during the day and sleep at his place at night.  Mind you, the dorms were closed and he had nowhere to stay.  The only spot he could find was a van with and extended cab, in the driveway of a university maintenance worker’s house.  It was cold, dirty, and smelled of gasoline.   I hated him for ruining my Christmas and returning all the presents so he could spend the money.  I hated him for the time he took away from my family.  I hated him for making me sleep in that disgusting van.  Still, I felt completely helpless….

The second series of incidents involves encounters between IT and my former classmates.

On one such occasion, he informs me of two new friends he’s made: former bullies of mine.  IT talks about the time they enjoyed hanging out and describes their conversation.  He makes sure to tell me they thought I was a loser and I should be dumped.  On another occasion, I discover he was cheating on me with the most popular girl in school.  Again his storytelling involved a detailed accounting of their times together.  After years of this same treatment, I began questioning these stories as part of his plan to brainwash me.  However, when this girl started following me around in her car whenever I went out, I thought maybe there was a grain of truth to his story.

With every incident like this, the chinks in his armor start to appear.

I come to realize in time that he is completely full of hot air.  Underlying a thin veneer of confidence and good showmanship, is a well of insecurity and ineptness.   Underlying his assertion that I’m a helpless idiot is the reality that I’m pulling all the weight.  I work hard to support the two of us, (he is unemployed and only receives tuition money from his parents).  I work hard to help him get good grades (while holding down a full schedule myself).  I wait on him hand and foot, (he does nothing).  My hopes for love and belonging are now shattered.  I am now completely numb to any and all emotions – like a robot.  He is an asshole and I despise him but feel stuck.

Inside my mind, an emotional equation functions much like a “scale of justice”.   On one side, are the emotional burdens associated with being in this relationship.  On the other side are insecurities, feelings of worthlessness, and traumas I hope to avoid.   As each day passes, a few pieces fall from one side of the equation to the other.  The options of staying and leaving play out in this manner as I weigh this decision.  It is only a matter of time before the scale finally falls in the opposite direction….


 image“Action is the stage in which individuals modify their behavior to overcome their problems” (Norcross, et al, 2011, p144).

Second Hand Observation

The action stage is observed through changes in a client’s behavior with the commitment of time and resources to sustain such a change (Norcross, et al, 2011, p. 144).  Rogers, (2012), provides commentary regarding Stage Five of his own theoretical model in the following statement: “There is an increasing quality of acceptance of self-responsibility for the problems being faced, and a concern as to how he has contributed” (p. 142).  Client’s in this stage display a heightened emotional awareness expressed as a desire to gain clarity.  As a result, feelings are experienced in the present.  This is accompanied with a “desire to be the ‘real me’” (Rogers, 2012, p. 142).  This need for change is goaded by a desire for honesty and self-responsibility (Rogers, 2012).

First Hand Experience

My Grandfather’s Passing….

In my junior year, my grandparents decide to move in with my aunt who lives in Texas.  As Filipinos accustomed to a tropical climate, they disliked the South Dakota winters.  Sad to see them leave, I promised to myself that “someday” I wouldmake time for them.  However, later that summer, my grandfather is hit by a drunk driver while out enjoying a bike ride.  I packed quickly and traveled to Texas with my family for the funeral.  I was numb and quiet throughout the visit.  I got my first taste of “freedom” in four years at this time. I could eat whatever I wanted, I didn’t have to ask permission to piss, and took leisurely showers every morning.  After relaxing into these experiences, nagging thoughts began to enter my brain.  My grandfather would never get to see me “well”.  His last memories of me woud be in this state of “fuckedupness”.  Of all my grandparents, I felt closest to him.  Our only time meeting was during the summer before I turned nine.  I began reminiscing about that time and was saddened by the fact that I lost our final opportunity to spend time together.  The real “kick in the gut”:  I chose instead to focus on appeasing “that bastard” waiting at home.  I knew there was something I had to do.

The London Trip.

On the way home from our trip to Texas, my mother expressed her concern.  I was quieter than usual, and she didn’t understand “what was wrong”.  An overwhelming sense of dread washed over me as I admitted to her that I wasn’t looking forward to getting home.  I didn’t elaborate but she knew implicitly what I had meant.  “Serendipitously”, just weeks after that exchange, my mother arranged a two week family vacation to England.  She then called IT’s family back home in New York and encouraged them to fly him home, since IT would be alone during this period.  They do, and somehow, (despite “his” protestations), I have a two week vacation to look forward to.  While over there, I’m treated to another two weeks of complete freedom.   On our third night there, I confess to my mother I needed to leave and felt now was my only real “safe chance”.  She gave me a hug and promised to be there for “moral support” during this call.   Our conversation was very brief and I’m not sure what I said.  I only know my heart was exploding out of my chest and my hands shook uncontrollably.  After a quick “I can’t do this any more”, he says “okay whatever” and drops the phone.  IT’s father then gets on the line and says he has to retrieve his son, who is outside in the snow without shoes or a shirt on.  I’m bawling at this time, but grateful for the courage I’ve mustered.  My mother gets on the phone and exchanges pleasantries with his dad.   I’m shocked – it’s over as quickly as it started.

The rest of the vacation is a blur.  My mind is muddled and my emotions are up and down like a roller coaster.  No longer numbed and in a state of robotic dissociation, my thoughts and emotions run wild.  While grateful to be out of the relationship, years of emotional brainwashing still remain.  I am still that addict in need of her “drug of choice”.  The emotional withdrawal of going cold turkey is unbearable.  “White-knuckling” it inside, I do my best to give “good face”.  I am strangely fearful and anxious without him nearby, (knowing we will probably never see each other again).  While I was able to contextualize these fears as based on his “emotional conditiong”, they remained unabated.  Unable to enjoy the vacation, I tried my best for my mother’s sake.  From an observer’s perspective, this decision might seem courageous.  From my own, this decision amounted to me “yelling uncle”.   Emotionally, I just had the living crap beat out of me.  I left the relationship that day, an empty shell with nothing left to give, a shadow of my former self…

((In the video below, Gabriela Andersen-Schiess crosses the finish line completely exhausted, after running a marathon during the 1984 Olympics.  It visually depicts my emotional state during this time:))


24816“Maintenance is the stage in which people work to prevent relapse and consolidate the gains attained during action” (Norcross, et al, 2011, p144).

Second Hand Observation

The maintenance stage can be observed as the sustained maintenance of behaviors incompatible with one’s problems for a sustained period of time (Norcross, et al, 2011).  Rogers, (2012), describes stage six of his model of change by stating: “Once an experience is fully in awareness, fully accepted, then it can be coped with effectively” (p. 145).  Where there was once stuckness there is now allowing.  Where there was once resistance there is now acceptance.  As a result, the client is able to handle the problem effectively.  Problems are not externalized as “somebody else’s fault” so we can play victim.  They are not taken inward with a sense of shame while we “beat ourselves up”.  Instead, “he is simply living some portion of it knowingly & acceptingly [one step at a time]” (Rogers, 2012, p.150).

First Hand Experience

The aftermath…

With IT out of my life, I was able to move forward.   I began to relax into the simplicity of daily life.  I redecorated my apartment, and removed anything that reminded me of him.  I enjoyed  the pleasures of complete freedom.  My grades and overall health improved and I got my emotional “sea-legs” back.  After graduation, I moved to be closer to my sister and found a job.  Still not “over” the effects of all these experiences, I tried my best to manage them.   In those early years, I began to focus upon healing and addressed the most raw wounds of that period.  The support groups I attended were a vital lifeline.

20-20 hindsight…

It is now over 20 years since I broke up with this guy.   I don’t know where to begin discussing this last stage of change.  It just might need to be the subject of another post, since this one is already much longer than I had intended.   I can, however, reassure you that in time even the deepest wounds heal.  It’s taken a long time to work through the effects of this experience and put it into perspective.  In fact the last reminants of baggage from that relationship have finally been put to rest in the last few years as I’ve worked in repairing the relationships in my family.  In case you are wondering, I’m happily married now to a loving man and enjoy a relationship that once seemed impossible.  Today, memories of this experience rarely come up. I can honestly say I hold no ill-will towards IT. Healing began as I examined those reasons for entering and staying in such a relation.  I took a DBT therapy skills group and started procrssing old traumas.

In time, I discovered that in order to move forward, I would need to forgive and begin healing.  Doing so has been essential to make room for the “good stuff” that has since followed.  In fact, this experience provided me a chance to grow.  Strangely, the relationship I enjoy now, stands on the shoulders of lessons learned during this time…

Over the years I’ve learned that guys like this follow their own fucked-up rule book.  Click here for insights on how to spot a guy like this…


Burman, S. (2003). Battered Women: Stages of Change and Other Treatment Models That Instigate and Sustain Leaving. Brief Treatment & Crisis Intervention. 3(1).
Brown, B. (2015). Rising Strong. Random House: New York
Frasier, P. Y., Slatt, L., Kowlowitz, V., & Glowa, P. T. (2001). Using the stages of change model to counsel victims of intimate partner violence. Patient education and counseling, 43(2), 211-217.
Norcross, J. C., Krebs, P. M., & Prochaska, J. O. (2011). Stages of change. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 67(2), 143-154. doi:10.1002/jclp.20758
Rogers, C. (2012). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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Ego vs. Shadow

I found this strange table in an old journal titled “ego vs. shadow”. It described the consequences of denying certain parts of myself while presenting other parts to the world.  I’m sure its a byproduct of the Jungian and Transactional Analysis stuff I’ve been reviewing.  Since I thought you might find it entertaining, I’ve reproduced it here.  This divisiveness of self starts out with a description of my hidden self and lived self.  Keep in mind,  I wouldn’t describe it as an iteration of theory but instead application of insights.  

EGO – lived self
SHADOW – denied self.

Area of active thought and conscious awareness
Subconscious blind spot, area of repressed memory.

Conscious memories and thoughts created within the prefrontal cortex.
Emotion, imagination and bodily responses from limbic system.

A perceptive object of my own conscious self – it is what I present to the world
What I deny and fear about myself out of shame – a concealed truth I try to avoid.

My Ego-based presentation to world perpetuates lies, illusion and bullshit.
Reflects back consequences of this denial while insisting on wholeness of self. 

EGO – defines who I am being and acting in life.  
SHADOW – presents the hidden reality of my “concealed-self”.

So what are the consequences for my lived daily experience?  If there are certain elements of myself I deny, what happens to those avoided components?  “Emotions tend to be present on two levels. They are ‘out there’ in relation to our goals, the environment and others. They are also ‘in here’ in response to the inner life of the self” (Wiley, 2003, p510)

My emotions are outward responses to people, and events in life.
My emotions are limbic responses to thought content and belief systems.

The outer world causes me to feel as I do – emotions are reactionary.
My brain provides limbic memory whereby  – emotions define experience.

My emotions are adaptive responses to goal-seeking behavior.
My emotions are self-fulfilling prophecies reflecting unresolved hurt.

If emotions are indeed bilevel how can we be certain about them as a guidepost for what we desire and want most in life? How can I know if what I want is really what I want?

Outwardly, the object of my desire is sought for enjoyment through attainment.
Inwardly this desire is understood as a product of affective forecasting (Wilson & Gilbert, 2005).

When I see my value as extrinsic, I create a “missing piece”.  Desire is about me.
My shadow recognizes this faulty thinking & reflects this thru disappointment upon attainment.

If I see my value as intrinsic, I want from a place of wholeness, desire is about the object itself – nothing more.
When my shadow recognizes this wanting from place of wholeness I can relax into the fulfillment of desire by giving into it – fully.


Wiley, N. (2003). The Self as Self‐Fulfilling Prophecy. Symbolic Interaction26(4), 501-513.
Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2005). Affective forecasting knowing what to want. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14(3), 131-134.


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Good Enough Parenting

This post touches upon the same subject matter from the last post, in which I share a triggery shame-laden parenting story of how my son repeats my own life history and this fact is then thrown in my face.  Mind you it is at a point when I was already very vulnerable and trying to reach out to a friend. Instead she states the following:

“Your Fucked Up & You’re Fucking Up Your Kids”

While I’m sure not everybody has shame-based parenting stories this extreme, the efforts we put forth to raise our children on a daily basis, are laden with opinions from others that can produce this problematic emotion.  In fact, everybody seems to have an opinion that there is a “right way”.  There are those who feel stay-at-home mothers are best.  There are those who feel working mothers are best.  I’ve heard it all:  We eat out to much, we have too many electronic devices, we stay up too late, they’re too rambunctious and “free thinking”.  The list is endless.  In fact, everyone has an opinion. Despite the fact that nobody has a window into my heart and soul and understands my struggles, it still hurts when I receive this criticism.  Despite the fact that nobody knows my two boys like I do, I still question myself when people list the pragmatics of “good parenting” vs. “bad parenting”.  For all these reasons, a concept from my course textbook: “Good Enough Parenting” (Ingram, 2012, p317), is worth examining closely here. It provides a useful and much-needed counterpoint.

“Good Enough Parenting suggests that parents need to be competent in necessary conditions, but they do not have to be perfect.  In fact, to be perfect would result in more harm than benefits” (Ingram, 2012, p317) .

Its about who you’re “being” & not “what you’re doing”

In order to expound upon the whole this notion of good parenting, my textbook states that“It is not so much what the parents do that will influence the character of the child’s self, but who the parents are” (Ingram, 2012, p317).  So how can we begin to examine “who we are being” with our children, and in what ways are we “falling short” of Toni Morrison’s ideal?  In an effort to examine our relational capacities, my textbook describes two extreme relational patterns.  In the “I-it relationship” (Ingram, 2012, p316), individuals fail to acknowledge the “personhood” of another. Instead people are possessions to own and control.  The fulfillment of your own ego-based needs is always THE priority over all other things.  My textbook provides a convenient example of this by citing a pivotal moment in the movie “Rebel Without a Cause”.  When James Dean tells his parents of the death of his friend “Plato”, his mom’s first response is: “how could you do this to me?” (Ingram, 2012, p316). In contrast to this, the “I-thou relationship” (Ingram, 2012, p316), requires a relational maturity that includes growth beyond narcissism.  An ability to acknowledge another person’s freedom and empathize with their perspective are requirements for this relationship.  What follows are a few quick rules-of-thumb pertaining the Good-Enough-Parenting standard:

*Can you appreciate the uniqueness of your child’s experiences, acknowledge their thoughts and empathize with their feelings? Can you love them as they are without trying to change or fix a single thing? (Ingram, 2012)

*Can you appreciate the fact that parenting young children does not involve reciprocation? A parent’s gift is instead found in what is invested.  The lasting impact this leaves upon our child’s soul, stands as a living testament of “who we have been”.

*Are you able to provide a child’s fluctuating needs for both autonomy and dependency? (Ingram, 2012).  This delicate balance of support and letting go requires that we pay attention to a child’s needs while setting aside any ego-based insecurities.

*Can you provide “optimal frustration” (Ingram, 2012, p316) so a child can develop a sense of self-efficacy and emotional regulatory ability? Children need opportunities to succeed and fail based on their own effort, with us as a foundation to fall back upon.

When reading through this description of “good enough parenting”, it is becomes clear that the particulars of day-to-day experience, play a relatively minor role.  Instead, an appreciation of what makes our children unique is critical.  Utilizing this knowledge as a guide, we need to examine what is required from us.  In other words, within each mother’s and child’s story is a unique set of concerns.  I’ve learned over the years, to focus on my child’s developmental needs and inward toward my current psychological tool set and connect the dots.  What are my concluding thoughts regarding others opinions?

To hell with what anyone else thinks!!  What follows are two parenting stories to illustrate this point since nobody else walks in these shoes. One of these stories is mine and the other is about my mom.

Congenital Heart Disease – Developmental Considerations….

My son was born with a congenital heart defect and has had five surgeries thus far.  While he is basically your typical well-adjusted teenage boy, he has been through quite a bit in his life.  However, his entrance into our lives was marked by drama.  At two months of age, he was diagnosed with a heart defect called “pulmonary atresia”, after going into “cardiogenic shock” at home.  What follows is a quote from a research article, that describes succinctly my reactions to this news:

Usually mothers do not grasp what they are told and they tend to react with denial and disbelief at the diagnosis. They may also experience high levels of distress and guilt feelings about their responsibility for the disease. These reactions may be aggravated in severe forms of CHD, in which mothers face the gloomy possibility that the infant may die or may not survive medical procedures” (Berant, et al, 2001, p. 210).

Not surprisingly, research consistently shows that parents of children with heart defects display higher degrees of stress and anxiety, (Gronning, et al, 2013). Associated with this anxiety and parental stress is a deterioration in overall well-being as well as higher rates of psychological problems and psychiatric diagnoses, (Gronning, et al, 2013).  It is also worth noting that parents of children with secure attachments display greater comfort with closeness and are more effective in soothing their infants. This attachment style is a key resource in parents with CHD (congenital heart defect) children, and is inversely correlated with psychological distress (Berant, et al, 2001). Interestingly, the main coping method used in such cases is a distancing strategy that helps to set aside painful thoughts of uncontrollable threats (Berant, et al, 2001). This strategy is useful since it allows parents to develop a positive appraisal of their daily experiences raising a CHD child (Berant, et al, 2001).

In a study I found, 29 individuals ranging in age from 26-56 years with congenital heart defects were interviewed (Horner, et al, 2000).   This article provided an interesting developmental life-summary and also showed that denial existed as a key coping strategy for CHD kids (Horner, et al, 2000).   This isn’t surprising given previously cited research that also highlights denial as a key coping strategy for securely attached parents (Berant, et al, 2001).  During early years, this denial strategy serves as a useful normalizing function, and coping tool for stressed parents.  Nonetheless, as individuals progress from adolescence into adulthood the utility of this coping strategy begins to run its course. Unresolved losses and uncertain feelings about a future are often dealt with quietly (Horner, et al, 2000).   Feelings of isolation and being ill prepared are found to be common complaints of CHD adult survivors (Horner, et al, 2000). What follows are bullet points which summarize key developmental considerations for CHD kids:

***CHD kids are unable to attend school on a regular basis and frequently excluded from many school activities due to health concerns.  This results in delays in a child’s ability to develop key social skills, especially for boys who cannot participate in sports (Horner, et al, 2000)
***Parents of CHD kids, encouraged them to focus on areas they could excel at (Horner, et al, 2000, p34). Avoiding sports, CHD kids tend to be more academically focused and report greater difficulties in the area of dating (Horner, et al, 2000)
***Overwhelmingly, study participants with especially severe heart defects were found to be grateful for having survived into adulthood (Horner, et al, 2000, p34).  In young adulthood, individuals with severe CHD’s often experience a deteriorating health and uncertain future  that healthy young adults cannot conceive of or understand.
***Denial [as a coping strategy] obscures serious emotional distress as indicated by high rates of undiagnosed and untreated mood and anxiety disorders found in our patients…..The appearance of being happy deniers often covered underlying fears of decline and premature death, as well as loneliness, isolation, anxiety and depression. These feelings were particularly disabling if the individual was single, unemployed and isolated.” (Horner, et al, 2000, p37)

In light of all these developmental considerations, raising my son, has required me to address unique concerns that other healthy kids can’t understand.  All in all, I would have to say the emotionality around this parenting experience might be like getting the emotions of parents in response to raising healthy kids and multiplying these feelings by a power of ten.   Initially, news that your son has a defect and might not survive is devastating in ways I cannot describe.  Hearing that your kid probably will never develop to experience “A” or “B” is is truly heartbreaking.   In my case, memory of these experiences stands in stark contrast to what I’m witnessing.   Watching him grow and flourish is an experience that produces gratitude that I cannot describe.  The “over the moon feeling” of witnessing your child become that which was once conceived as impossible, produces a feeling of gratitude for life itself.  I cherish my two boys for this reason, and tell them every single day that I love them.  Check out this link written by a father:  “To My Daughter With Down’s Syndrome On Her Wedding Day”.  

Traversing the Cultural Gap in Parenting…

Now, before concluding this post, I’d like to share a brief snipped from a paper I wrote that touched upon my relationship with my own mother:  “The singular most beneficial lesson throughout this course is the realization of how culture exists as an unseen paradigmatic influence in our lives. Definitive of our worldview, it represents a learned perspective that consists of instilled values, beliefs, and norms. Beyond these obvious influences, are less visible factors such as identity, emotion, and metacognition. This paper will provide a sociocultural perspective of empathy.   Defined as an ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, empathy is a culturally relevant concept. Traditional perspectives of empathy are self-limiting, based on a perspective that is empirical and individualistic in orientation. In contrast, culturally inclusive empathy, (Pederson, et al, 2008), is a dynamic perspective that requires a merging of diverging viewpoints whereby we hold our own while acknowledging someone else’s and then bridge the gap through effective communication.  In fact, this insight has been personally valuable in bridging a cultural gap between my mother and I, as described in the following quote:”

“To the Filipino, actions always speak louder than words, so instead of conveying love and fondness with words, parents will endure extended periods of separation and/or hold down two jobs so that they can send their children to the best schools, pay for lessons and activities, and provide material support and other opportunities. This is the way they express their affection, and children are expected to recognize and value it. If they do not express or show appreciation, parents might perceive them as lacking utang na loob –serious infraction of social mores.” (Fortune, 2012, p12).

“This quote manages to summarize a huge misunderstanding that existed between my mother and I throughout much of my childhood. As an American child, I failed to understand my Filipino mother’s expressions of love through action, (Fortune, 2012). Preferring to hear and witness outwardly visible affective indicators of her love, it was instead an unseen dedication to her duty as my mother. As I only am able to contextualize now, it seems the underlying the cultural gap between us, was the byproduct of a failure to acknowledge key differences among us. At the core of these differences were varied views of what it means to be a person in the world, and what perspective we are to take it in from.”


Berant, E., Mikulincer, M., & Victor, F. (2001). The association of mothers’ attachment style and their psychological reactions to the diagnosis of infant’s congenital heart disease. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 20(2), 208-232.
Fortune, B. V. (2012). Acculturation, intergenerational conflict, distress and stress in Filipino-American families. (Order No. 3535626, Regent University). and Theses. Retrieved from (1283231958).
Grønning Dale, M.,T., Solberg, Ø., Holmstrøm, H., Landolt, M. A., Eskedal, L. T., & Vollrath I. E. (2013). Well-being in mothers of children with congenital heart defects: A 3-year follow-up. Quality of Life Research, 22(8), 2063-72.
Horner, T., Liberthson, R., & Jellinek, M. S. (2000). Psychosocial profile of adults with complexcongenital heart disease. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 75(1), 31-6.
Ingram, B.L. (2012). Clinical Case Formulations: Matching the Integrative Treatment Plan to the client. (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. ISBN: 978-1-118-03822-2
Pedersen, P. B., Crethar, H. C., & Carlson, J. (2008). Inclusive cultural empathy: Making relationships central in counseling and psychotherapy . American Psychological Association.

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“Getting Unstuck” & Why I Started This Blog…

20160214_111134000_iOSThe purpose of this blog, is to address directly a strange and inexplicable “stuckness” that has plagued much of my life.   In fact, when I originally sought out counseling just over five years ago, my primary complaint was that I “felt stuck”.  A review of my journals from this time are filled with complaints of Hamster-Wheel experiences and unresolved hopes for my future. Vivid descriptions can be found throughout these journals of what I wish I wasn’t and who I’m not right now but want to become.  The familiar variety of this complaints included most often are: (1)  a desire to lose weight without the follow through to back it up, (2) a desire to start a blog, but an explicable fear of failure, (3) a desire to make friends and overcome my isolative tendencies, (4) a frustration with my job as a source of ongoing stress in which I leave feeling depleted shell of my old self at the end of along day.   Underlying these frustrations and desires was a narrative perspective that had skewed my perception of life events.  Unbeknownst to me, this problematic narrative was what caused my “stuckness”.   As I have stated repeatedly:

“the problem had nothing to do with what I was looking at, but I how chose to look at it.”

Defining “Stuckness”

In a research article I read recently titled “Stuck in a Moment”, I uncovered an intriguing perspective on the nature of “stuckness”:

“Transactional analysis often regards the experience of ‘ feeling stuck’ as the manifestation of an impasse or an intrapsychic conflict or interpersonal roadblock…my own aim here is to broaden the theory of impasses, exploring whether and how ‘stuckness’ may constitute a developmental opportunity” (Petriglieri, 2007, p185).

When I read this quote, I decided it was worth “blogging about” .  The idea that stuckness isn’t a roadblock but instead developmental opportunity is not only inspiring, it reflects my own experience.  As someone who has progressed from stuckness into gradual forward motion, I see my own stuckness as a reflective byproduct of unresolved traumas, missing pieces, and a shame-based identity.  These personal “monkey wrenches” existed as self-fulfilling prophecies until I was willing to face them head on.  In retrospect, I see oppositional mindsets fighting for “control”.   On the one hand, an “inner critic” fills my mind with  shame-based messages of what “good enough” means.  The effective solution according to this inner critic is to work at “being good enough”.  This may have meant weight loss or getting a new job.  In response to this mindset, I believe there was a “hurt child” who held an unacknowledged wisdom all her own by reflecting the emotive consequences of this thinking.  After all, how is it that “good enough” means something that I am not now based on messages from others growing up?

An overview of Transactional Analysis….

matryoshka-970943_1920Before I begin discussing how I “got unstuck”, I’d like to provide an overview of transactional analysis.  Utilizing insights from this theory, my therapist keeps nesting dolls on the coffee table in her office.  Utilizing them in conversations from time to time, they have been productive tools for reflecting on the opposing ego states underlying my stuckness.  it seems my own “inner critic” and “hurt child” are fighting for “control” and as a result I’m getting nowhere.  Now that I’m a student, and reading Eric Brene’s works, it may be useful to quickly review some essential concepts.

According to Eric Berne, “The human brain acts in many ways like a camcorder, vividly recording events.” (, n.d.).  While not necessarily remaining available for conscious retrieval, the emotive consequences of these events and our experiences of them remain.  It is only when interactions and events, trigger these memories that the effects of these events arise.  This cognitive process is much more complex in an individual with PTSD as you might imagine.  In an effort to provide convenient constructs to discuss the transactional process between these ego states, Eric Brene created several key concepts in this theory.  For example, structural analysis involves an examination of the various mental states I described earlier (“inner critic” vs. “hurt child”).  In contrast, transactional analysis examines the dynamics of social interaction and how these elements of our psyche play their role.  The nesting dolls in my therapy sessions provide a convenient method of illustrating Eric Brene’s concepts of ego states.  Rather than conceiving of these ego states as Freudian structures in the brain, Berne states they are “phenomenological realities” (, n.d.), that represent consistent patterns of reacting to life events.   For example, my own “hurt child”, reflects Eric Brene’s child ego state in which past experiences are experienced from the standpoint of their emotive impact.  In my specific instance, this is where most of my unresolved traumas exist.  In contrast, the Parent ego state, represents my own “critical parent”.  The critical parent’s camcorder provides an overview of early life experiences and the implicit messages they contained.  Finally, as I understand it, Berne’s adult ego state, reflects closely Marsha Linehan’s wise-mind concept.

Getting Unstuck – First Steps…

In retrospect, two key sources are most effective in describing how I became unstuck: (1) Rising Strong, by Brene Brown, (2) and Petriglieri’s article on the stuckness as a developmental opportunity. Combining insight from these readings with my own journal, what follows is a description of how “getting unstuck” happened for me.

Radial Acceptance…

In his article, Petriglieri, (2007) states the following as an underlying cause of stuckness:  “…we feel unstuck instead of accepting & allowing ourselves to feel that we are not, at the present moment able or willing to change” (p. 187).  Early on in my therapy, I was encouraged to participate in a DBT Skills Group.  Throughout my participation in this group, I kept a journal, and recorded my progress….


As I noted in my journal, like the concept of forgiveness, accepting something doesn’t mean you’re saying its okay that painful things have happened to you.  For that matter, it also does not mean that you’re “giving up” or “giving in”.  Finally, it also important to note that refusing to accept something doesn’t effectively change things.  Instead things remain the same and a painful experience morphs into unbearable suffering.  As I have learned personally, letting go of my need to “fight reality” means I’m turning an unbearable trauma into something I can at least cope with.  Admittedly, this is easier said than done.   After all, coming to terms with a truth that appears unbearable at first, is often like a grieving process.  The loss, while not readily visible, creates a before/after experiences: events have profoundly affected you, and you will never be the same.

Today, I find myself viewing this old journal entry with two mental states.  An adult-oriented wise-minded self, acknowledges the hurt that acceptance requires us to face yet is able to provide the coping tools necessary to move forward and face truth.   In time, this choice to “turn my mind” toward acceptance, has been truly transformative.  Today, I’m grateful for everything that brought me to where I am today.  Honestly, as crazy as it sounds, if granted an opportunity to change anything from my past – I wouldn’t change anything.

“Bob, like almost all the other POW’s we got to interview and got to know very well, said in response to the following question: ‘if you could have eliminated the POW experience from your life would you do so?’…and Bob like many of the others said ‘No’ because I learned things about myself during that experience, and I learned tools – psychological tools, tools in which to handle my life, that I probably could have never learned any other way…”

Owning My Story…



For a course I’m taking on career counseling, I have to complete a paper on a self-help book.  Naturally, as a “Brene Brown Fan”, I picked her latest book, Rising Strong.  In it are insights on the process of getting unstuck and what is required to “make things happen.”    Utilizing insights from Narrative Therapy, Brene Brown (2015)  describes “The Rumble” (p77) as an essential turning point in “getting unstuck” that requires us to examine the perceptions and meaning systems weaved throughout our lives.  Developing a sense of clarity about our personal history is critical if we are to understand what got us where we are today.  As the saying goes, you cannot change what you’ve refused to acknowledge.

Facing Unresolved Trauma…

“…Impasses occur each time we encounter a situation in which our current adaptations cannot make sense of or handle meaningfully….our cognitive framework, emotional capacity, and behavioral repertoire, do not allow us to make sense of…and deal with our present reality” (Petriglieri, 2007, p187).

Petriglieri’s (2007), view on “Stuckness” as a byproduct of trauma, hits home for me, since I lived for much of my life with symptoms of PTSD while undiagnosed.  Its surprising how much these unresolved issues have managed to pollute all areas in my life. Fortunately, I’ve always had an intuitive wisdom to move in the direction of continued growth.  As I reflect on my life’s course, any forward progress, has occurred, only after I came to terms with how these unresolved traumas have affected an area of my life.  For example, I couldn’t be in a happy marriage today, if it weren’t my efforts to overcome the aftereffects of an “unhealthy” relationship in college.  For that matter, if I hadn’t resolved unresolved issues within my family of origin, I wouldn’t be the mother I am to my kids.  Finally, resolving underlying motives has been important in my ongoing efforts to lose weight and switch careers.  While these issues may seem disconnected, the underlying common cause of “stuckness” is unresolved trauma, that kept me where I didn’t wish to remain:

“Hurt doesn’t go away simply because we don’t want to acknowledge it  In fact left unchecked, it festers, grows and leads to behaviors that are completely out of line with whom we want to be.” (Brene Brown, 2015, p59).

Concluding Remarks…

Having discussed my own experiences of “stuckness”, I’d like to revisit the subject of why I’ve decided to start this blog.  As I mentioned earlier a series of a troubling hamster-like replay of failures originally brought me into counseling.   These failures began as I found myself finishing a degree in a field I had little interest in, due to a controlling and dysfunctional relationship. These “missteps” continued when a rental business I worked hard to build, resulted in a series of foreclosures and bankruptcy.  In between these stumbles my career history was peppered with a series of “dead-end” jobs.  My academic efforts didn’t fair much better after college, as I found myself attempting to enter field after field, only to quit in frustration.  The final stuckness experienced occurred just prior to therapy and revolved around a desire to start a blogging.  I had worked hard to prepare, read lots of books and even outlined many ideas that have filled several file cabinets.  However, a fear of failure held me back just prior to any efforts to begin taking action and establish an online presence.   This blog, represents a big step for me – a journey towards “unstuckness”.

What did I not get through this history of  “missteps?”

Underlying my stuckness history are misconceptions of what success and failure are and the pathway leading in either direction.  At the time I entered therapy, I would have described success as a preconceived idea of shame-based messages gathered throughout my life.  In this respect, success became a preconceived cure to heal past unresolved hurts.  Success became a desire to avoid what I was, and become what I defined as “good enough”.  In other words, a pervasive resistance and unwillingness to accept what I was, motivated all efforts to create success.  In this respect, failure was defined as what I was currently.   The path to success meant, running away from my story, myself and what hurt to much to face.

What do I now understand about getting unstuck?

Today, I understand success is a byproduct of my own desire to live an authentic and whole-hearted life.  In this respect, I realize taking ownership of my story is critical in order to move forward. Creating forward motion happens only when I follow the insights of the serenity prayer: changing what I can and accepting what I can’t.  Last but not least, healing old traumas was a final critical piece in my own journey toward “unstuckness” and slow progressive forward motion.

As a result of this view of success, I’m now prepared with a clear perspective on the journey required to work towards my goals. Having examined carefully the underlying motives of my life goals, I now realize that the “reckoning, and rumble” Brene (2015) speaks of are part of this process. I am no longer engaging life with an unresolved desire to cure to trauma, pain, insecurity, and avoid shame.  Instead good enough happens now in which I’m at peace with the journey it took to get to “here”.


Berne, E. (1961). Transactional analysis in psychotherapy: A systematic individual and social psychiatry.
Brown, B. (2015). Rising strong.  Random House:  New York. (n.d.) A description of transactional analysis.  Retrieved from:
Petriglieri, G. (2007). Stuck in a moment: A developmental perspective on impasses. Transactional Analysis Journal,  37 (3), 185-194.

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Transactional Analysis…(A Move Beyond Misunderstanding)

This Monday after surviving another work weekend I came home to find myself alone with two elderly cats. Evidence of my husband’s morning remained throughout the house. The boys had shed their clothes on the floor and half eaten cereal was left on the counter. After a quick shower, I threw my scrubs into the laundry and fired up Netflix. While lounging on the sofa I grabbed my iPad to quickly check my email. Scrolling through this week’s reading assignment for school, I find it ironic that it pertained to transactional analysis. Having just written a post which touched briefly on this subject I was delighted to have an opportunity to learn more about it. As an approach to therapy, this theory always reminds me of those nesting dolls on my therapists coffee table… Later that evening after dinner with the family, I settled down to read that week’s assignment. The following is a quote from my textbook:

“Resistance is often explained as a battle between inner parts: one part wants to change, while the other does not…” (Ingram, 2013, p 234).

This quote hit me as I read it like a bucket of cold water. Contemplating insights in my latest posts, I couldn’t help but note I had just made this conclusion regarding my own stuckness history. In fact, the above video succinctly summarizes my latest lightbulb moment:

70239“…it’s not other person’s behavior but our own state of mind…” (Theramin Trees, 2010)

It is this statement from the video that requires a close consideration. After all, we all have those issues that we try to get unstuck from, only to be frustrated with the same old repeating patterns. Reading through my post on “Anatomy of a Misunderstanding” I can see the very ego states battling it out within me.  To add to matters my hurt child has managed to maintain a consistent dynamic with my sister’s critical parent.  Samples of these separate egoic selves can be found everywhere in my old journals.  Before attempting to apply transactional analysis to this situation, I’d like to first examine these ego states.

T.A. Ego States…

529807In transactional analysis, ego states refer to experiential realities that also represent a consistent pattern of relating with the world around us (Ingram, 2012). Three primary ego states exist in transactional analysis: parent, adult and child. The parent ego state is a representation of the way parents and other authority figures conduct themselves. The parental ego influences us by echoing the learned rules and morals communicated to us from authority figures throughout our life. Two main forms of parental ego states include the nurturing and critical parent. The child ego state, in contrast, is archaic and emotionally 490629driven. Comprised of our own first-hand early childhood experiences, it reacts impulsively with others on the basis of these deep emotional memories. Two versions of the childlike ego state exist: the rebel and hurt child.  Finally, The adult ego state is much like the wise-minded DBT perspective. In this respect, it is fully present in the moment and is capable of making realistic appraisals based on all perspectives, including thoughts and emotions. As somebody who is trying to lose weight, a funny description of each state is provided in my textbook:

“[rebellious child] I’m going to eat what I want and you can’t stop me…[hurt child] I know I am bad; what’s wrong with me. I’m trying, but just can’t…[nurturing parent]…don’t worry, I know you’re stressed. Go ahead and have some ice cream…[critical parent] you should take those pounds of. What’s wrong with you?! You’re an indulgent loser…[Adult] Lets come up with a plan where I can maintain a steady weight loss of one pound a week yet still eat foods I enjoy and have certain meals where I can disregard the rules.” (Ingram, 2013, p 295)

Recurrent Patterns

So what does this quick and dirty overview of ego states have to do with my sister and I?  As I continue with this week’s readings yet another quote jumps out at me: “Many problems in adulthood can be understood as efforts to resolve conflicts and satisfy unmet needs.” (Ingram, 2012, p301).  This quote confirms my suspicion that we inadvertently “trigger” each other quite often.  Preferring the ego state of a critical parent, this adaptive perspective has provided my sister with the structure she needed growing up.   Her conversational statements reflect a need for clarity and structure.  Made in an assertive and pragmatic manner, she states her opinion, directly and unapologetically.  I end up hurt by her and somehow made to feel I’ve overreacted.  Since her comments bring up old issues, I react by sharing my these feelings to her comments.  She states I overreacted.  Here are some examples:

Scenario one:

During a visit with my sister, I was discussing how difficult it was to for me since dad was more “hands off” and focused on his work while our mother acted as disciplinarian.  As the oldest child, I feel the cultural gap between my mother and I was a big problem for me socially.  My sister still doesn’t realize this since my mother changed her parenting to adapt to American culture, after learning a few lessons the “hard way with me”.   At any rate, our mother held me to many standards consistent with her upbringing and cultural values.  I did not date, I did not wear makeup, and only wore very conservative clothing (by the time my sister was in high school, my mom relaxed these rules).  As a result of these rules, I was not allow me to wear regular underwear.  My mother instead bought me the “granny panties” and would also forbid me from shaving my legs.  I went to school hairy most of the time, unless I was able to smuggle a razor  from somebody.  I will spare you the story of how much teasing I receive as a result of all this.  my sister’s reaction was: “Wow, there’s no way I would have ever allowed that to happen.  I would have found a way to go to school properly groomed!”  Mind you this was several years ago and the bullying of my childhood was fresh.  The “critical parent” in my sister, made it clear that what I did was stupid.  While not stated verbally, her comment implied the statement: “What the hell is wrong with you?!?!?

Scenario Two:

Around the time my sister started dating her husband she converted from Catholicism to Evangelical Christianity, (I am agnostic).  As a result of new spiritual beliefs, her thoughts about a woman’s role in society changed to reflect this fact.   As a result, her views are a stark contrast to my mother, who is an M.D. and was raised in a very matriarchial society.  In her family education is instilled as a priority, and all the women in her family have advanced degrees.  I have to say, I respect my sister for following her beliefs and doing what felt right in her heart.  At the same time, I respect my mother for her accomplishments and feel its best to simply “do what works”.  In the early years, my son was very ill, I had to stay home.  As he grew older, our financial situation changed and I worked full time.  Consequently, my husband and I examined where we were, and where we wanted to go, then drew a straight line between points.

One day while visiting with my sister I shared my frustrations of balancing home, work (and now school).  At one point she mentioned that part of her reason for staying home was wanting to develop a close attachment for her kids.  She then states at one point: “There are only 24 hours in a day.  Any parent who works should understand this leaves less time for their kids.  My family comes first.”  This again triggered me emotionally.  We ended up getting into the same stupid argument where I have to repeat what she says and I get a response: “I didn’t mean it that way”

transactional deconstruction

64794In the second of his videos (theramin trees, 2010), delves into how our own ego states interact with significant others.  Throughout our day, experiences, thoughts, memories, often cause us to float from one state to another.  In the case of my sister and I, we’re engaged in a fairly “complimentary transaction” (theramin trees, 2010).  In fact our entire dynamic is complmentary and very much in sync.  I play role of “hurt child”, and she is the “critical parent”. Her “critical parent” consists of messages she receives on how to “do the right thing”.    This has served to provide a sense of structure, clarity and meaning in her life while she “raised herself”.  I play role of the bullied child (see pick to the left).

“Many children grow up with deep feelings of shame – that they are defective and inadequate to the core and, if others find out that secret, they will be rejected, humiliated, and abandoned.  The childhood solutions keep painful emotions out of awareness.  For that reason they are resistant to change…” (Ingram, 2012, p 302)

The solution???

150339Why is it this endless cycle occurs?  In answer to this question, (theramin trees, 2010), mentions the concept of “life positions”.  In transactional analysis, this concept refers to a consistent belief about ourselves in relation to others.  As a broad stance we take in relation to others, it might convenient to think of “life positions” as self-imposed roles.  We distort our realties through these life positions, and utilize patterns of interaction with others as preferred coping tools.   Naturally, the benefit of a “life position” is its pay-off.  While I can’t speak for my sister, my own “life position” allows me to play victim.  The needs that are fulfilled as a victim, are that people acknowledge my hurt so I can receive compassion and feel better (things I didn’t get as a child).  Theramin trees (2010), suggests to viewers, that in addition to desconstructing transactions to gain clarity, we should let go of the payoff that allows these cycles to continue.  Without the payoff (i.e. need fulfillment) the “life position” is no longer a logical choice. For me, letting go of the victim role, means not expecting that others can or will ever understand or acknowledge all the painful experiences of my childhood, including family.  The radical acceptance and forgiveness I’ve worked on to get to this place has taken time and continues still.   As I have expanded my “adult ego state”, my relationship with my sister has improved substantially.  In fact, if we can both learn to develop greater tolerance for negative emotions the old baggage can’t replay itself continually.  Once this happens, we can begin to learn valuable lessons from one another.

addendum…(one week later)

I’m here trying to sort out my family relationships and my role in them.  What follows is an email snippet with my mother.  At the time it was sent I was trying to process some traumas regarding early childhood bullying.  It is an email from my mom, after I told her I wanted to speak with my old counselor in high school.

“Kathleen, in this venture you have to be ready to hear things you may not want to hear.  I told Barb to give her impressions as she remembers them.  If all you want from her is a statement that others were bad and were really after you, then you are only looking for vindication of the righteousness of the stance.  If you are willing to accept that you may have had a hand in creating an atmosphere of aloofness around yourself, a cocoon of leave me alone I hate you all; then you are more likely to come to acceptance and resolution.”

This perception of events blames me for what happened.  What she still doesn’t realize is how suicidally depressed I was then.  I remained strong and didn’t do anything stupid.  I needed comfort and I got criticism.  Once I developed the courage to tell her this in a conversation, she reflected on it a bit gave me a hug and sent me the following email after arriving home:

 “I agree. I do not fully understand the pain that you suffered as a child. I also was not there to hold your hand. I am sorry………Mom”

My heart melted when I read this and the hurt disappeared.  With my “hurt child” satisifed, the adult ego state has taken over.  I immediately felt bad for having to bring up this old shit.  As a mother, with the shoe on “the other foot”, I now realize how difficulty parenting is.   You have no guidebook since there is not “Right Answer”, everybody has an opinion, and “making mistakes” is scary – (especially if our kids pay the price”).  I share my own shame-laden parenting story here and commentary on the concept of “Good Enough Parenting” .


Ingram, B.L. (2012). Clinical Case Formulations: Matching the Integrative Treatment Plan to the client. (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. ISBN: 978-1-118-03822-2
Theramin trees [screen name] (2010, June, 10) Transactional Analysis 1: ego states & basic transactions  Retrieved from:
theramin trees [screen name] (2010, June, 17) Transactional analysis 2: games. Retrieved from:

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Anatomy of a Misunderstanding

“I am extremely hurt by this labeling Kathleen.  I am COMPLETELY misunderstood.  And I don’t think there is anything that I can do about it”

The above quote is my sister’s response to an email I sent to my family when I first entered therapy back in 2010. I became interested in the insights from therapy models (like the DBT Skills Group I was enrolled in at the time). I applied these skills daily and found them very beneficial. I also was fascinated by the results of some MBTI assessments of myself and immediate family members. It presented an honest reflection of everyone’s temperaments, and was useful in understanding areas of miscommunication in our relationships. With this in mind, I reflected on these results in order to gain perspective on unresolved misunderstandings. At some point during all this I wrote an email describing my insights to my parents and sister. The following is a quote which produced the above response:


Missing Pieces & Triggers

65681With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight it’s clear that our misunderstandings were never what they “appeared to be” about.  Instead, they reflected something much deeper. This email reflects an attempt to examine “missing pieces”, (i.e. holes) in my own self-understanding.  As I have since learned, missing pieces are shame-based minefields of insight regarding how we are in relation to others.  They reflect our unwanted identities.  For this reason, addressing “missing pieces” is a bit of a double-edged sword. While facing the full truth of our life story empowers us with a unique and transformative self-understanding – it also forces you to face the unresolved hurts that come with it.  I guess what I failed to realize is my sister wasn’t as prepared to handle these honest realities as I had been.  I am at fault for failing to get this fact.

For both of us, underlying this misunderstanding are temperament-based coping mechanisms. Her methods of coping in childhood produced missing pieces that were reflected of the personal narrative I created in childhood. In other words, I lived in a reality that reflected those things she overlooked and ignored.  They pertained to hurtful pieces of information regarding who she was in relation to others.  Additionally, in a mirror-like fashion, her childhood narrative was rich with trigger-producing elements I hated to face, but needed to understand for the sake of personal growth.  Her perspectives on our childhood experiences have forced me to acknowledge those missing pieces in my own understanding.   It is for this reason, that I often marvel at how divergent our perspectives are on various childhood events.  How is it we could have experienced the same thing and yet each interpreted things so differently?  I have since come to the conclusion that there is much we can learn from one another. Allow me to explain…

“Dorene is afraid to open up to me because I’m unable to take criticism….”

“It seems as though all I’ve managed to do is cause you more hurt. I believe that the loving thing to do is to step back and give you space. I don’t feel it is a good idea to continue our relationship in the same way.. The truth is, the only way I can see of interacting with you without hurting you is to simply sit and passively listen until you are done sharing. That’s not a relationship.” – Dorene

This quote was pulled from an email my sister sent me a few years after I sent the above email. In the interim between these two exchanges we struggled – and mostly faltered – in our interactions. In fact, I now realize there are times in which her assessment of matters is correct.

Relationships require us to accept people as they are and not expect them to change to suit your needs. I failed to understand this and was wrong to expect what she was unwilling to give. As a pragmatic individual she is very direct states things as she sees them. As she had also admitted in this email, “I cannot be the source of validation for you. I will fail.” While I will touch upon this in greater length at a later point, I feel it is worthy of mention here. Interacting with my sister means taking things as she intends them, brushing aside misunderstandings, and clarifying my perspective only when absolutely necessary.  There are many respects in which her words provide useful insight into my own traumas and their pervasive effect over my entire life, ((More on this later)).

For now, I wish to make it clear that my goal is to utilize a “wise-mind” as described by D.B.T.  Wise-mindedness is a “decision-making process that balances the reasoning of your thoughts with the needs of your emotions”. (McKay, et al. 2010, p. 75). It is for this reason, I’m using this post to sort out and clarify my role in our past misunderstandings. I’m trying to remain diplomatic and am wary of the usage of sentences that include “buts” – since this conjunction creates a comparison out of two connected statements. For this reason a “but statement” implies an inherent oppositional negation of everything which lies before it.  Instead, I feel comfortable saying that my sister states things as I see them, and I have difficulty coping when verifiable proof is present that I still have “missing pieces” to resolve.   In this respect, the resulting emotions are evidence of an unresolved trauma and not the immediate event.  It appears that “claiming ownership of my story” is a lifelong struggle and not “end goal”.  It is my hope that I can learn to let go of what isn’t offered, and instead focus on myself.

I’m afraid to open up to her because she represents what I try to avoid – the potential judgments of others.”

“I have been afraid to open up to her because Dorene has represented for me through our childhood, everything that I’ve rebelled against.  She was convention and I was nonconformity.” – Kathleen.

I believe it is this statement in my initial email that yielded my sisters response:  “I am extremely hurt by this labeling Kathleen. I am COMPLETELY misunderstood. And I don’t think there is anything that I can do about it”. Naturally, hindsight is 20/20. There are some things better left unsaid.  We were both guilty of making statements that appeared neutral at the time, but brought up old hurts in the other. Sometimes there are truths that slap us in the face and cause a full-on rush of emotions, once a specific comment is brought to the forefront in a conversation. At the time this email was written (over 5 years ago), there was much I didn’t know about PTSD, and it’s pervasive effects. Its surprising how much the symptomatology associated with this issue became “my normal”. I didn’t know anything else. It is for this reason I had difficulty explaining what I was experiencing and the needs that result from this. In her latest book, “Rising Strong”, Brene Brown describes chandeliering as exquisite and unbearable pain:

“[Chandeliering is] used to describe the kind of pain that somebody can’t hide even if they’re trying their best to be stoic…chandelier pain…hurts so much to the touch that people jump as high as a chandelier…one of the outcomes of attempting to ignore emotional pain is chandeliering. We think we’ve packed the hurt so far down that it can’t possibly resurface, yet all of a sudden, a seemingly innocuous comment sends us into a rage or crying fit. (Brown, 2015, p. 60).

Time and time again, my interactions with my family have yielded emotive chandeliering.  Throughout the course of our get-togethers with my family of origin, events and/or comments would trigger a huge unresolved well of emotions. The comment might be something seemingly innocuous, regarding my childhood, yet it would produce a well of anxiety and pain I could not dissociate or numb my way thru. At the core of these comments was a realization of the extent of my family’s emotional absence.  Unaware of my childhood experiences due to an emotional absence they can only conceive of these events according to their own memory of things.  What’s more, since the “majority rules” notion is in effect, I’m understood to be the one who has the misunderstanding – not them.

What I’m sure they still do not realize is, the problem wasn’t what was said, but their inability to acknowledge my feelings.   The response, “I didn’t mean it that way” always came up.  Family events, where I had to “fake normal” also became a struggle, since my unique history made this impossible.  In the end, during this difficult time, my therapist warned me things get worse before they get better. (If you’re wondering, things are much better now). However, this time was a crazy-making experience.  I endured much exquisite chandelier pain in my interactions with them.  Their responses to my feelings mirrored experiences of childhood bullying and an emotionally abusive relationship. In both cases, when I was hurting, their reaction was either ignore me or utilize those “but” statements to indicate I implicity caused my own pain.  This was too much to bear with family. While not intentional, it was still exquisitely painful.  What follows is an email I sent to my family which summarizes my feelings during this time period:


and the plot thickens….


With the above as the relational backdrop, I’d like to share how the misunderstanding referenced in these emails came to a conclusion. Things quickly got ugly for me when my mother sent me an email that included the above quote. I felt an immediate rush of anger at the fact that my mother required an apology from me when it seemed we were both saying things “that weren’t meant”. In my response to my mother’s request for an apology, I responded in email by describing events just prior to this whole exchange.  Interestingly enough, a similar “misunderstanding” came up between Dorene and I during Josiah’s B-Day just prior to this series of email exchanges. It was as a result of similar innocent comment – like the one in my email.  I was talking about the childhood bullying Josiah was going thru and how it reminded me of my own experiences. I shared my concerns since it triggered some old unresolved hurts and I was having difficulty coping.  Trying to get through my day meant attempting to keep chandelier emotions at bay. When I shared this, Dorene said what she felt was an innocent reflective observation – and mentioned how what happened was a byproduct of my own doing.  Stating, that I chose to be a victim, she believed I could have made more efforts to make friends.   In sum “I just needed to get over it.”  Mind you – like my email – it was intended as a casual observation regarding events in our childhood. This comment – while not intentionally hurtful, lacked compassion. What’s more, my emotions were glossed over, leaving me with the triggery blow of unacknowledge hurts to work thru as the evening dragged on.

As the day progressed I tried to shake it off. I tried to enjoy Josiah’s birthday – (and did for the most part). However, my emotions became overwhelming in the final hours of our get-together. My husband pulled me aside and asked me what was wrong.  As the pain kept building up, I reached a point where I could no longer ignore my feelings.  I quietly bawled like a baby with him for 30 minutes before returning to enjoy the ongoing festivities. Concerned, Kelly told me I should talk to my parents – because he thought it would be a good way for them to understand where I’m coming from. I then talked with them about it, simply to help them understand my hurt – and the nature of it.  They listened quietly and attentively, but chose to “stay out of it”.  No need for apology from my sister arose in the conversation.  With this in mind, what follows is an excerpt of my email response to my mother’s request for apology:

“You see I’ve buried it so deep, I’m not sure the family knows the extent of it. I’m also able to hide it from myself – so I’m assure I’m not aware of the extent of it either. Nonetheless, while hiding it from you guys, causes less drama – it hurts me. I need to get beyond it and heal it. This means speak my truth, owning it, and understanding how I created it that way.”

Now What???

Sometimes misunderstandings must be managed if they cannot be resolved. This series of events is reflective of an ongoing dynamic in my family of origin which I’ve learned to manage, (so it doesn’t drive me crazy). You see, these events aren’t just about a series of incidental occurrences.  Underlying these occurrences are repetitive patterns set at auto replay. By asking me to apologize for a comment made in an email, my mother is expressing acknowledgement of Dorene’s feelings. By responding to my own hurt feelings with a “just get over it” sentiment, I am left feeling like my emotions don’t matter.  This response of “get over it” implies a negative judgment of my feelings – as unworthy of compassion.  Jumping to my sisters aid when our misunderstandings cause her hurt feelings pains me to see.  Why is it I get the stoic and observational approach that expresses a desire to “stay out of it” – at those moments I needed them most???

By asking me to apologize to my sister in this email, I felt like I was asked to respect her perceptions of reality, when she was unwilling to do the same.   Keep in mind underlying these hurts are missing pieces we both need to resolve in order to achieve clarity.  In this respect, both perceived narratives of childhood events warrant examination. What’s so frustrating about repetitive experiences like these woven thru the familial dynamics, are the baggage they leave me with.  When my emotions are treated with a stoicism and implicit assertion that “no one can truly understand anyone else’s feelings” this really stings.  My other favorite is the family’s claim that “If valid means true, why should I acknowledge feelings based on misunderstanding (i.e. incorrect info)?”   Given the nature of the traumas woven throughout my childhood, listening with an intent to understand and provide a compassionate ear is essential.  I can only interpret refusal to do so as matters of unwillingness rather than incapability.  What follows is my final response to my mother’s request for apology:

“SHOULD I HAVE APOLOGIZED? if it means being made to feel I’m denying my reality – NO!!!. Sadly, I hate to say it but since you are all very ignorantly unaware of my reality that’s how the apology feels – to me.”


Brown, B. (2015).  Rising strong.  Random House:  New York.
McKay, M., Wood, J., & Brantley, J. (2007).  The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook: Practical DBT exercises for learning mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation & distress tolerance. New Harbinger: Oakland, CA.

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