* This post was written by my sister, Kari:
 
“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words shall never harm me…” but they do. They sting and linger. The harshest ones repeating over and over in our minds until they make us, define us.
 
I was the girl teased for what I had always tried to cover – a birthmark on my nose and forehead. I was different, I was ugly, I was flawed. I hated myself, but I longed for love. If someone loved me, then maybe I could learn to love myself. Any time a guy showed interest in me, I was blind to everything other than his acceptance. Everything he did was okay, nothing was a deal breaker, nothing was worth not having his love.
I married young. I had just turned 22, more than a year since my parents divorced. My sister and I watched them fight our entire lives. The dissolution of their marriage hit me harder than I expected. When it happened, I felt broken. Alone. I wanted a family, stability, happiness.
For my 21st birthday, I let my boyfriend of almost 2 years know my desire to wed. He was almost 7 years older than me, and when we met, I was in awe of him and the various things he had experienced in his life. It didn’t matter to me that he would go out every night after work to bars when I was underage and couldn’t go. It didn’t matter to me that he chose video games instead of me. He liked me, loved me, found me adorable – his 6’ frame towering over my 5’ one. I used my size to my advantage, just as I had watched my 4’11” 90lb mother do to my father.
There were several warning signs prior to the wedding, and I ignored them all. “You found someone who loves you, no marriage is perfect,” I would tell myself. As I walked down the aisle, I felt beautiful, an unfamiliar and foreign feeling. “This is my happily ever after,” I thought, secure with the decision to marry him.
That night we returned to our apartment to pack for our honeymoon the next day. I expected him to sweep me off my feet, carry me to our bed, to want and desire me. After he placed the luggage by the door, he walked to his computer and turned it on, settling into his gaming chair. I no longer felt beautiful. I was insignificant, discarded, lonely.
 
Loneliness was part of this new chapter of my life. I couldn’t go back and undo my marriage. Our lives and families were now intertwined. I felt trapped, desolate, miserable. I didn’t understand why he didn’t want to be home with me. The same man who had captivated me was slowly destroying me, yet I had no idea how to tell him.
During this time, my sister was planning her wedding. We had gone to look at dresses for her and the bridesmaids. When we were measured, I learned I was a size bigger than her. I’ll never know what caused it, but suddenly, I needed to be smaller. Maybe it was because I saw how much my soon-to-be brother in law loved my sister. Maybe it was because I equated being small and cute with being loved. Perhaps I was looking for anything to overshadow my loneliness.
That night I weighed myself. I was 109 pounds. More than 10 pounds heavier than my sister. I researched how to lose weight and decided to restrict my calories. I began to write down everything I ate, cutting out 100 calories at first, then 200, 500. I began to look forward to the time alone, not having to worry about eating with my husband. Each night I’d go to bed hungry but satisfied, finding happiness in making my caloric goal.
I’d get lost in plans for the day’s meals. All day I’d revise the planned meals, finding substitutions and saving calories. It consumed me. I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself and my marriage. Every morning I’d get on the scale and weigh myself, shocked by how quickly the pounds were dropping. The more I’d lose, the more I wanted to lose.
My friends and coworkers started noticing the sudden weight loss. I welcomed the attention, but isolated myself more, making excuses for not wanting to see anyone. I waited for my husband to notice. He didn’t. I restricted more and more until I was eating no more than 500 calories a day. Never a fan of exercise, I’d walk to work and home again- an hour walk each way, making detours to lengthen the trip and burn additional calories.
I had dropped almost 20 pounds before my husband finally said something. My clothes no longer fit, my hair fell out and thinned. I was weak and tired all the time; however, I finally had his attention. He commented on how little I was. He said I needed to put meat on my bones again, but it wasn’t enough for me. I couldn’t gain weight now. I lost weight so quickly from barely eating that I thought I’d gain it all back just as quickly.
I was irrational, I was obsessed, I was taking control of my life by controlling every morsel I ate. Yet, I had never hated myself more. I refused to look in mirrors; I knew my clothes hung from my gaunt limbs. My male coworkers began to tease me, perhaps thinking it was all in jest about my appearance. All the things said to me in my youth were repeating themselves. Flawed, ugly, different.
I needed to eat. I couldn’t. It was a vicious cycle. My mother intervened, furious at my husband for standing by while I withered away. I felt like I was a burden to him and my mother. I stopped seeing my family. I wouldn’t eat all day so when he was home I’d eat, pretending I was getting better by snacking on a sugar free popsicle, knowing he would never check that it was only 15 calories.
Somehow I found the strength to look at myself, disgusted by the absence of my once slender, but curvy frame. Something inside of me surrendered, and I wanted to be me again. I got dressed and went to get pizza, something I had avoided for months. I ate 3 slices. and I felt good. The worst was behind me. Or so I thought. Addiction isn’t something we control. I controlled what I ate until the addiction took over and I was anorexic. There was nothing else to me, no traits, no personality.
Like any addiction, this will always be a part of me. I may be able to eat now, but I still know the nutrition facts to every food I eat. There is not one moment where I don’t reconsider eating or try to find a way out of eating at a restaurant. It took a few more years and another eating disorder, but I have finally found my true happily ever after.
My name is Kari. I am different. I am flawed. I am not ugly. I deserve love. I am loved….and if someone ever tries to make me feel different, well as they say, “sticks and stones will break some bones…”
living a sober life

My husband, Matt, is an addict. His addiction and his recovery are both an important part of his journey, and they are a part of our journey as a couple. Matt has been sober for five years. I am grateful that he is clean and has stayed clean, but there is so much more to sobriety than not using. I assumed that once he was sober it would be smooth sailing.

THAT IS SIMPLY  NOT THE TRUTH.

I asked my husband to share his struggle and perspective on living a sober life to provide insight for loved ones of addicts and to support others on their own sober journey.

Read his story below:

Recovering from an addiction is anything but easy. You feel alone, lost, afraid, and have no identity other than what you used to be in active addiction. A lot of your feelings are negative, and your coping strategy of using is gone. As a result, your normal way of dealing with negative emotions is no longer available. Every 24-hour period an addict is drug and/or alcohol-free is a gift. No matter what else happened that day, you can be proud of yourself that you didn’t use. It is a beginning of a long road, but it is a road worth traveling. Being in recovery and living a sober life will help reshape your life into one of confidence, health, and healing. However, staying sober is only half the battle.

LIVING A SOBER LIFE IS NOT JUST ABOUT ABSTAINING FROM SUBSTANCES

It is a misnomer that recovery is just about abstaining from the substances you used in active addiction. That is just not true. It is also recovering from behaviors and facing feeling that you used addiction to mask. In addition, there are new and emerging feelings of shame, regret, sadness, and anger that will surface, all of which were previously dealt with by burying them under the cover of drugs, pills, alcohol, etc.  You need to evaluate which people will help you to live a sober life and which will not. You also need to learn how to communicate to others that you are in recovery to avoid uncomfortable situations that might put you in a position to relapse.

The first part of living a sober life in recovery is to find a 12-step program and meetings that you enjoy. There are so many different types of meetings out there that it can be extremely overwhelming. In the beginning you need to attend as many meetings as you can. Therefore, it is a good idea to bounce around until you find one that helps you gain insight into yourself through what others share. When I was first starting out, I was told to just listen to different people share at meetings and see what resonated with me.

When you find a meeting you like, the next thing you must do is find a sponsor. At the beginning, finding a sponsor is the most important tool in living a sober life. It is impossible to stay sober on your own during the first few years of recovery. You need that guidance and support during those tough times.  A sponsor will help you work the program in a meaningful and insightful way. They have been through the 12 steps before and are a tool in helping you stay sober.

With that said, recovery is an introspective exercise.

You must be able to work on yourself and work on behaviors and habits that drove you to use in the first place. It is something that you have to do for yourself each and every day. There is no one-size-fits-all method that will work for everybody. Each person needs to do what is right for them. You can have different people give suggestions and guide you, but the end result is in the work that you put into it and what you are able to change within yourself. If you put the work in every day to work on yourself and stay sober, you will be able to look at yourself in the mirror at the end of each day and say, “I stayed sober today; I am proud of myself.”

for the 12 steps to work you must leave your ego at the door

To be honest, I had tried 12-step programs several times prior to becoming sober. Each time I would attend several meetings and then stop going. It was primarily my self-centeredness, my ego. By that, I mean selfishness, resentments, fear, the things that engulf people with drinking and addiction problems. The steps are designed to look at the world from a different point of view. There has got to be that internal surrender for sobriety to happen. That scared me, and I wanted no part of it. I didn’t have any intention of looking internally to see the root of where my addiction came from, which are my insecurities and faults.

The shame I felt was more powerful than my will to stay sober, so each time I would leave the meetings and continue my destructive behavior.

As you might have read in my initial post about how I became sober, I finally hit rock bottom and knew I had to change or else I would lose what was most important to me. I want to an outpatient rehab center 3 evenings a week for 4 months. It was a solid foundation for me to begin my journey in sobriety, and I learned a lot about myself during this program. I found a meeting that I enjoyed attending, and found a sponsor that I was able to connect with. I started working through the twelve steps with him.

The twelve steps are about spirituality. They’re not about sobriety. They’re about growing along spiritual lines, and sobriety is a by-product of that. Living by spiritual principles does not mean you have to be religious or have any religious affiliation. It means that you believe in something greater than yourself. The steps will help you look inside at yourself and the things you have done wrong that led you on that dark path of addiction. It helps flesh those things out so you can see what needs to change to be able to live a sober life.

THE PROGRAM WILL GIVE YOU TOOLS TO HELP LIVE A SOBER LIFE

After a while, I learned some helpful tools. For example, I learned how to breathe. I also learned how to check in with my body to see how I was reacting to different situations: Is my heart racing? Are my palms sweaty? I learned that I could remove myself from any situation that could affect my sobriety. My wife has been my rock throughout my sobriety journey. I know that it would have been an incredibly difficult journey for me to stay sober without her in my corner.

As time wore on, my frequency at meetings as well as my meetings with my sponsor became less and less frequent. My sponsor enabled me to blame others for my actions rather than help me hold myself accountable. I had to sever ties with him, and over the next several years I tried working with two other sponsors that I did not have success with. My meeting frequency also went from 3 times a week to once a week, then to once every two weeks. Now, I’m lucky if I go to a meeting once every 2-3 months. I stay sober by doing the inner work. I try to understand my habits and behaviors in different situations that cause me to react inappropriately. 

What I have today is a better awareness of the things I’m thinking and feeling. I’m aware of when my mind sends me a signal like, “The situation I’m in is not good for me, and it would be much easier to check out by having a quick drink or taking something I shouldn’t. Or even better ten drinks in a row.” I have a better sense of how unbearable I found most situations. Any time I was going through something that would make me the slightest bit uncomfortable, I wanted to use. These behaviors were well worn grooves in my psyche, developed over years of repetition.

What I know today is I don’t have to act on any of these self-destructive impulses.

I don’t have to drink or take drugs. In making the choice to live a sober lifestyle, I have choices. One important choice I always have in my pocket is to do absolutely nothing. If I must decide between going somewhere that might make me uncomfortable or stay home, I can decide to stay home and keep myself safe.

Breathing and meditation taught me how to sit with a feeling for a period of time, dipping my toe into uncomfortable emotional territory. I know that if a feeling becomes unbearable, it won’t stay that way. No matter how angry or sad, anxious, or happy I become, time will pass. Either I won’t feel that way or the feeling will become different, something more thoughtful and less desperate. Being open to the fact that things change helps me make it through those tough moments. Then, before I know it, it’s nighttime and I can get into bed knowing I’ve made it through another day sober. For me, that is the best part. In the morning I will wake up to possibility instead of a massive hangover.

you will need to work on yourself every day

Here’s the thing though; I make mistakes all the time. Tons of them. Sometimes tons in the same day. I will react to different situations poorly. There are days where I react out of spite and anger, doing things I will regret over time. Other days I will become distant and not want to talk to anyone. I will take things and people that I have in my life for granted, and not act in a way that I should in a given situation. There are many days where I still lie about things because I am afraid of sitting with those negative feelings and emotions. I am afraid to have conversations that deal with feelings because I still have the want and need to bury them so that it will not affect me.

These are all things that I struggle with and continue to work on to this day.

The one thing that has never wavered is that I am determined to remain sober. When I wake up every day, I make that choice. I take life in 24 hour periods. I never try to look too far ahead because that can be very scary. 

During my years of living a sober life, I have been able to live life in a healthy and more manageable way. I have found a career that I love and am proud of the accomplishments I have made every day. I have been able to have a closer relationship with my wife, which helps me to stay balanced and even keel in this topsy turvy world that we live in. 

It is very rare when I feel the need to use. There are times when I get that itch in the back of my brain.  I now have the tools to handle those temptations in a healthier way. Life is never easy, and there are times when it is a struggle to get through some days. During those times, I dive deep into doing what I love: spending time with my family, watching sports, listening to music, running, and working out.  I have learned how to cope with my disease rather than succumbing to it. I was not able to do so during those dark periods in my life.

Long-term sobriety means working on yourself every day.

A lot can and will happen to you that has the potential to derail you. Addiction is a chronic disease, not a personal failure. There is a human face behind every example, and there is real hope that addiction recovery can change your life.  No matter how many times you need to try, please know there is always someone out there that will listen. There is someone out there that can help you get through those difficult times and help you get on the path to living a sober life.

 

 

personal experiences and life

I never expected to start a blog. My personal experiences were something few knew about. What made me go from tightly lipped to my life being an open book? There is a reason why I started blogging, and it is directly linked to why I blog about my personal life and experiences.

I STARTED TO BLOG IN ORDER TO HELP PEOPLE THAT WERE STRUGGLING

Rewind to when the pandemic first began. Isolation became our way of life, and confusion and helplessness were our norm. I remember thinking about how hard it must especially be for those who live alone.

I am a child abuse survivor. Anyone who reads my blog now knows that painful fact about me. What you may not know is that this personal and traumatic life experience caused a snowball effect. I thought about others who are child abuse survivors, and how they were no longer able to seek outside support due to quarantining. My heart broke for people who were struggling alone. I decided to look up child abuse foundations and ask if there was a way I could help.

I came across foundations looking for writers to share their personal life and experiences. I have always loved writing, and I have written poetry from the time I was a child as an outlet for the pain I have felt. I decided to submit my story about the importance of awareness to two of these foundations (NAASCA.org and CPTSDfoundation.org).

SHARING MY PERSONAL LIFE AND EXPERIENCES allowed me to spread comfort and awareness

The feedback I received warmed my heart and made me feel like I was helping others to not feel alone. At the same time, I felt that by sharing my story I was taking control of my life. I cannot change what happened to me. However, if I can bring comfort to others, then something good can come from the unimaginable.

I continue to contribute regularly to these amazing organizations.  I wanted to do my part to break the stigma regarding those topics, and the only way I could do so was by example. As a result, I decided to start blogging so I could spread awareness about trauma and mental wellness. This branched into also sharing about what I’ve learned from my relationships and from parenting my daughter.

MY FIGHT AGAINST COMPLEX POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER

I mentioned in prior posts that I have Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), and that I would discuss it more fully in another post. I now feel it is the time to do so. For most of my life I didn’t even know what C-PTSD was, or that I had it. Although it is not officially diagnosed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), it is related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is recognized by the DSM-5, and it is caused by extreme fear due to a traumatic event. Symptoms include flashbacks, hypervigilance, and avoidance of things associated with the trauma. C-PTSD is also caused by trauma; however, it is caused by repeated or prolonged trauma. 

My C-PTSD was caused by my prolonged abuse due to my mother throwing me out of the house from the time I was eight years old.

My mother also vacillated between loving me and wanting nothing to do with me.  Other forms of trauma were her making me believe that it was my job to take care of her emotional needs in order to feel safe and loved. Growing up with no sense of safety, support, or love caused me to view the world as a very scary place and for me to feel frightened all the time. If you want to read more about my story of abuse, you can read about it here.

My symptoms of C-PTSD include having nightmares about what happened to me, watching something on TV or reading something that causes me to emotionally flashback to my trauma (I don’t visualize it, but I feel the sadness caused from it), and negative self-perception. Additionally, I used to have a distorted perception of my abuser, as I felt completely dependent on her. I still struggle with emotional regulation because certain things trigger me. When I get triggered, I feel completely panic stricken and helpless, just as I did when I was a child. Although I remember most of what happened to me as a child, there are some things I don’t fully remember. Having gaps in your memory or blocking things out entirely is another symptom of C-PTSD (healthline.com, 2018).

My biggest symptom is my ongoing struggle with anxiety. My autonomic nervous system is overactive due to my prolonged and intense trauma. In other words, I am hyperalert and in “flight or fight” mode, feeling continuous anxiety (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, 2020). I have written numerous blog posts about the physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety, the types of anxiety disorders, and two different articles filled with various strategies and tips to manage anxiety in adults and children .

WRITING ABOUT MY PERSONAL LIFE AND EXPERIENCES HELPS BRING HOPE

 

These personal experiences are not easy to write about. It is not easy to write about having C-PTSD. In fact, I have broken down after writing many of my blog posts, specifically the ones about going no contact with my mom, my relationship with my inner child, and my story of abuse. I am taking wounds that will never fully close and reopening them by pouring my emotional pain onto the computer screen. Despite what many have thought, it does not give me closure or help with my healing because I write from the heart. To do so, I must fully connect with the words I am typing.  In some ways, that means I experience it again.

So why do I write about things that cause me pain?

Three words: Awareness and hope.

I want to show the world that scars do not have to be present to be felt. In fact, the scars left by emotional and mental abuse may be invisible, but that does not mean they are not potent. They cause immeasurable damage to the minds and souls of those who experience it.  It is much harder to prove emotional and mental abuse, let alone have someone intervene. This type of abuse will continue unless there is more awareness. With every story I tell, my hope is that one person gains awareness. If one person now understands, perhaps one child won’t have to experience that trauma.

HOPE IS ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL WEAPONS YOU HAVE

That is where hope comes into play. Hope. It is a word that I have clung to my entire life. Hope allowed me to keep going during my childhood. I would tell myself that maybe if I was hurting, that meant somewhere out there one child wasn’t being abused.  Albeit unrealistic, it was my hope that my pain was sparing someone else. That hope brought comfort to something that no child should ever endure.

I started blogging about my personal life and experiences, and I will continue to do so, because I want to spread hope. I want people to know that no matter what you have endured, no matter how broken and alone you feel, there is always hope. There is so much that can be taken away from each of us, so much pain can be inflicted upon us, but hope is the one thing that is ours. Even in our darkest moments, even when we feel the world has turned its back on us, hold onto hope. Hope is what brings us out of the darkness and into the light.

I hope my words bring each of you some hope. Hope that things can get better. Hope that you are not alone.

Hope that you matter and your story matters. Hope that you can rise no matter how many times life has thrown you down. Hope that you can heal. Hope that you have survived and will continue to survive no matter how hard life may be. Hope that you will remember to feel hope even on the days you feel like giving up.

I never thought I would start a blog. Yet here I am blogging my life story. I appreciate every person who has reached out to me with their personal stories or to let me know that my words brought them comfort and hope. To each of you, thank you. You inspire me to keep blogging and to keep sharing.

toxic positivity is harmful

Gratitude jars. Gratitude journals. Stay positive. Stay strong. It could be worse. Focus on the good in your life. Positive vibes only. Choose  happiness …. These are all things that we do and say to be mindful of the importance of positivity. We remind ourselves and others to see the glass as half full rather than half empty. Positivity is a good thing, but is there such a thing as too much positivity? That is where toxic positivity comes in, and it is harmful to your mental and emotional health.

What is Toxic Positivity?

Toxic positivity is the belief that the way to cope with any situation is by putting a positive spin on it. Everyone has their own feelings, and one person’s circumstances may seem minimal to another. However, positivity should not be forced upon someone due to different perspectives. Toxic positivity is harmful because it prevents a person from focusing on their painful or negative feelings and/or experiences. If thoughts and/or comments minimize, deny, or invalidate one’s feelings of emotional pain and duress, it is toxic positivity (www.medicalnewstoday.com, 2019 ).

What are signs that you are suffering from toxic positivity?

  1. Burying your actual feelings
  2. Believing that those who act positive all the time are stronger
  3. Dismissing emotions or things that are bothersome
  4. Feelings of guilt for your emotions
  5. Minimizing feelings/emotions
  6. Urging others/yourself to be happy no matter what
  7. Giving unsolicited advice and trying to change a person’s perspective about their feelings/emotions
  8. Criticizing others/yourself for feeling emotions that aren’t positive (www.thepsychologygroup.com, 2020)

Why is Toxic Positivity Harmful to Your Mental and Emotional Health? 

(1) Causes Feelings of shame

If we are told that we should always have a positive outlook, that sets us up to believe that our feelings are bad unless we feel positive. This promotes feelings of shame and guilt. We will feel shame for how we are feeling because of being judged by others.

(2) Makes unpleasant and difficult emotions bigger and more difficult to handle

When we deny, suppress emotions, and/or keep feelings to ourselves, this only puts a temporary band aid on our pain. Although we may put on a façade of being fine, that doesn’t mean that we are okay on the inside. We all need a healthy outlet to express ourselves and address our feelings. If feelings are suppressed, they will eventually come out in one form or another. Those feelings may become intensified because of the time that was spent avoiding it. One also may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms.

(3) Lack of connection 

If we feel judged or feel shame for our feelings due to toxic positivity, we may choose to hide those parts of ourselves. This results in  superficial relationships  where we only show certain sides of ourselves. As a result, relationships are disingenuous and lack honesty and intimacy.

(4) Lack of communication

Communication may be limited due to a lack of support and validation for feelings other than pleasant ones. Discussion would be selective instead of a true connection where you can be yourself with others. Additionally, problems and concerns cannot be solved if they are not acknowledged and addressed.

(5) Underestimate abuse

If we don’t allow ourselves to acknowledge our hardships, we are more likely to stay in abusive relationships and toxic situations.

(6) Low self-esteem

Toxic positivity causes us to feel badly about our feelings and emotional responses, which in turn makes us feel insecure and lack confidence.

(7) Less likely to seek professional help

If we are burying our feelings, we will not get the help we need to work through them.

(8) Psychological difficulties

A lack of processing our feelings can cause prolonged grief, increased stress, increased substance abuse, and PTSD (healthline.com, 2020). A study found that people who avoid acknowledging emotions damage their psychological health (washingtonpost.com, 2019)

tips and strategies

toxic positivity tips and strategies

(1) Accept difficult emotions

As I discussed in my it’s okay to not be okay post, it is necessary to recognize that negative and/or unpleasant emotions are normal. We are not going to be okay all the time, and that is part of life. Show acceptance for how you are feeling by acknowledging your emotions. Instead of trying to force them away, allow yourself to feel however you feel. Writing down your feelings is a good way to process them and helps us to better manage them.

(2) Validate and reinforce other’s feelings

Encourage others to speak about their feelings, and do not avoid conversations that make you feel uncomfortable. Do not try to fix someone else’s problems or feelings or offer unsolicited advice. Instead, show support and empathy. Reinforce that you understand how they are feeling and ask how you can help them. Sometimes having someone validate your feelings is all a person needs. Remember, you don’t need to feel the same way that they do in order to show support and empathy. Validation is about acknowledging how they feel without judgment.

(3) Give yourself compassion

When you are experiencing difficult emotions, give yourself the support and compassion that you should show others. Judging yourself will only cause you to run away from your feelings.

(4) Take the time to care for your well-being

Having a self-care routine allows you to take time for yourself and prioritizes your mental health. This ensures that you are in tune with your feelings instead of ignoring or minimizing them. Self-care is not a cure for negative feelings, but it helps you to be aware of your emotional and mental needs.

(5) You can feel opposing feelings

As someone who has chronic anxiety, I know firsthand that I feel anxious while also feeling grateful. One does not supersede or replace the other. We all have a range of emotions and feelings, and we can feel more than one at the same time. Recognizing that it is okay to feel opposing feelings allows us to better manage our emotions. It is important to accept how we are feeling while seeking healthy coping mechanisms to process those feelings/circumstances. Some emotions will linger more than others, and that is okay. Healthy positivity means feeling authentic emotions, whatever they may be.

(6) Set realistic goals

Instead of suppressing emotions, set reasonable goals that focus on behavior rather than emotion. For example, if you like Pilates, set a goal to do Pilates a certain number of times that week. We cannot and should not try to control how we feel, but we can choose activities that promote mental wellness and feelings of accomplishment.

(7) Set boundaries

What makes positivity toxic is when it is forced upon you so that authentic emotions are being discouraged. If you speak to someone who is promoting toxic positivity, either disengage or let the person know that you don’t agree with that message. We cannot control what others do, but we do get to choose our company.

(8) Be selective with social media

Social media is great for many reasons, but it often showcases only the happy and positive aspects of our lives. Comparing ourselves to others can make us feel shame, and it also promotes an outlook of only positivity. Recognize what is harmful for you and stay away from pages or websites that encourage toxic positivity.

(9) Seek support

Instead of keeping your feelings to yourself, find family, friends and/or a professional that is supportive. Talk to them about how you are feeling and when you are struggling. Surrounding yourself by people that encourage your feelings, good or bad, will help combat toxic positivity.

(10) Avoid labels

Instead of labeling emotions as good or bad, try to see them as messages. They are there to show you what you need and how to make sense of experiences. I remind myself often that my feelings of anxiety are not good or bad. Remember that however you are feeling, those feelings do not define you (healthline.com, 2020).

 

 

final thought

The pandemic has brought about a world of uncertainty and fear. We have all had our lives disrupted, and many of us have lost loved ones or are facing economic hardships. It is okay to try to see the positive side of things, but those feelings cannot be forced. Toxic positivity is harmful for your mental and emotional health, and we need to put an end to it. Allow yourself to grieve and feel your emotions, whatever they are. Be a safe person for your friends, family, and loved ones.  We cannot make difficult situations better, but we can support one another.  That makes all the difference.

 

I am Randi, and I am an imposter. Yes, it’s true. I graduated with a nearly perfect GPA in undergraduate and graduate school. However, when I worked in the schools as a Speech-Language Pathologist, I didn’t feel competent. Everyone else seemed so confident in their abilities, but I felt like a phony.  When I started writing, I felt like a fraud in that area as well. I compare myself to other people who have more followers and feel like I am not as capable as them. I feel anxiety because no matter how hard I try, I’m not good enough at anything I do…. This exemplifies the thinking of someone with imposter syndrome, and this post will help you to overcome it.

what is imposter syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome is the idea that your accomplishments are merely a façade. You feel like you are inadequate and incompetent despite your talent and abilities. Success and achievement are not a reflection of your qualifications and skills; instead, it is proof of being a phony and/or merely having good luck. These types of thoughts can be very obtrusive and sometimes debilitating. As someone who has struggled with this way of thinking (see above paragraph), I know imposter syndrome quite well.

This concept was first described by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970s. They believed that this way of thinking only applied to high-achieving women. Imposter Syndrome Expert, Dr. Valerie Young, has since discovered that imposter syndrome is experienced by both men and women. Furthermore, nearly 70% of people experience this at some point in their lives (verywellmind.com, 2018). If you have difficulty feeling deserving of your achievements, then you are one of the many people that struggle with imposter syndrome. 

People with imposter syndrome usually have a cyclical way of thinking. They don’t think they are qualified to do tasks  properly. This will cause the person to experience anxiety and to overly prepare and/or procrastinate. When the task is successful, they will believe their perfectionistic tendencies (overly preparing) or sheer luck (procrastination) was the cause.  This reinforces their way of thinking to minimize their success and feel unqualified. As a result, the person will continue to feel fearful of being exposed as not good enough. 

THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF IMPOSTERS

different types of imposters

In Dr. Young’s book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, she classifies imposter syndrome into 5 different types. These types have overlapping characteristics, so a person may fall into more than one type (themuse.com, 2020):

The Perfectionist

People who are perfectionists feel like they don’t measure up unless they do everything perfectly. The feeling of inadequacy due to impossible standards goes hand-in-hand with feeling like you are an imposter. Perfectionists feel that it is a lack of competency that is responsible for any mistakes. No matter the accomplishments and talent, it is never enough to make a perfectionist feel like they are successful.

As someone who is a recovering perfectionist (and one who often falls off the wagon), I know these feelings all too well. It is a vicious cycle of perfectionism causing one to feel like an imposter, and imposter syndrome causing one to try to be perfect.

The Superwoman/Superman

These individuals push themselves in all aspects of life. They often experience burnout due to feelings of inadequacy. They feel they don’t measure up as much as others, so they work harder to try to prove they aren’t imposters.

The Natural Genius

Those who fall under this category believe that anything that doesn’t come naturally to them means they are imposters. They associate intelligence and capability with speed and ease. They have high standards that are similar to perfectionists. However, instead of solely placing value on results, they also focus on whether they get the desired results the first time around.

The Soloist

These individuals work alone and are very independent. They believe that asking for help or needing assistance is an indication of being a fraud.

The Expert

Those who fall under this type measure their competence based on how much they know and how many certifications or trainings they have in a certain area. They believe they need to know everything about whatever they do. As a result, they will always seek to know more and get more credentials out of fear of being exposed as a fake. They feel they never know enough, and they are never satisfied with their level of knowledge.

imposter thoughts and feelings

Strategies to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

 

(1) Do not ignore your thoughts

It might be tempting to push those pesky feelings to the back of your mind, but that actually can do more harm than good. It is okay to experience doubt, but you get to decide what you do with those feelings. Allow yourself to acknowledge your thoughts.

(2) Challenge your way of thinking

Now that you have taken the time to gather your thoughts, you can now put them in perspective. What are you telling yourself that makes you feel like an imposter? Is that belief actually true? If not, how can you reframe your thoughts?

For example, if you feel asking questions is an indication of inadequacy, remind yourself that asking questions help us to grow and learn. Furthermore, if you have a question, it is possible (and likely) that someone else does as well. Other ways to reframe your thoughts are that some things require practice to gain further understanding, and mistakes are a part of learning (verywellmind.com, 2018).

I had a core belief that I was not good enough if I didn’t do everything perfectly. When I took the time to challenge my thoughts, I realized that I was setting myself up for failure. None of us are perfect, and doing my best is all I can do. That doesn’t make me an imposter; that makes me human.

(3) Assess yourself

Make a list of your talents and your skills.  Based on your list, do you still feel your success is based on luck? Whenever you feel self-doubt, pull out your list of skills.

(4) Share your feelings with others

Tell family and loved ones how you are feeling. Keeping your feelings to yourself will only perpetuate this way of thinking. Allow others to help you to put things into perspective and give you reassurance.

(5) Give yourself validation

It is a great feeling to hear praise from others, but those with imposter syndrome need to learn to acknowledge our own success. Validation needs to come from within first and foremost.

Instead of focusing on what you don’t know or didn’t do correctly, make sure to applaud yourself for all your hard work and for what you have learned. Give yourself credit for your achievements and take pride in them.

(6) Be open to constructive criticism

Remember that feedback isn’t an indication that you are a fraud. Rather, it is a way to learn more and improve (time.com, 2018). 

(7) Don’t wait until it is the “perfect” or “right” time to do something

Many with imposter syndrome procrastinate out of fear of their work not being good enough. Remember that no matter how long you wait, your work will never be perfect and there is never a right time.

(8) Embrace a growth mindset

Remember we are all works-in-progress. Accepting that we all have the ability to grow and become better versions of ourselves is a way of fighting back against imposter syndrome. None of us know everything and can do everything with ease. We all require lifelong learning.

(9) Stop comparing

Looking at other people’s success can be used as a learning opportunity, but it should never be used to measure our own success. There will always be someone who knows more or does better than you at something. The only person to compare yourself with is yourself. Be the best version of yourself (verywellmind.com, 2018).

(10) Seek professional help 

If you are not able to overcome imposter syndrome on your own, then there is no shame in seeking professional help. Imposter syndrome is real, and you should get the support you need to live a better quality of life.

strategies to overcome imposter syndrome

 

 

For many of us, that voice that tells us we are imposters may never go away. That is okay. We can accept that that voice is a part of us, but that it doesn’t define us. Imposter syndrome is real, and more people suffer from it than we think.

The actual process of overcoming imposter syndrome can be slow at first. However, we can use these strategies and gain perspective to give ourselves the credit we deserve. Most people experience moments of doubt, and that is completely normal. The important part is to not let that doubt control your actions.

Success doesn’t require perfection. True perfection is impossible, so failing to achieve it doesn’t make you a fraud. Offering yourself kindness and compassion instead of judgment and self-doubt can help you maintain a realistic perspective and motivate you to pursue healthy self-growth. It is possible to overcome imposter syndrome.  Like Young says, “They can still have an imposter moment, but not an imposter life” (time.com, 2018).  

grieving the loss of my mother

I wrote a post about grief to explain that there are many stages to the grieving process. However, this post is about the grief that I experience daily. I experience what is known as ambiguous loss. I am grieving the loss of my living mother.

AMBIGUOUS GRIEF AND LOSS

The theory of ambiguous loss was pioneered by Dr. Pauline Boss. It is used to describe a loss that is unclear and lacks closure. This takes place because the loved one is physically present but psychologically absent (for example, someone with dementia, chronic mental illness, or someone who is in active addiction) or it can be a loved one who is psychologically present but physically absent (for example, a missing person, military deployment, children leaving the home, divorce) Both types of losses are not losses in the traditional sense (Adaptedtrom Boss,P., The Contextand Process of Theory Development: The Story of Ambiguous Loss. Journal of Family Theory & Review, B, pp.269-286, 2016) .

loss types and examples

Although people who experience ambiguous grief may go through the Kubler-Ross grief stages, there may also be an added element of “hope” to it because the person is not dead. Hope can be a good thing when you are able to see the lessons you learned from your pain.

However, it can also add to your grief when you cling to false hope.

Examples of this can be hoping that a person who is an addict will become clean or that a person with dementia is going to recognize you.

I believe parents experience ambiguous loss as we adjust to the changes that come with our children getting older. We are in a sense losing the child that once was as we continue to love the person they are and will become. This unclear loss is a loss, nonetheless.

I experienced ambiguous loss/grief when my husband was drinking and taking pills. At the time, I did not realize the grief that accompanies loving someone who is an addict. In retrospect, however, I know that there is a huge sense of loss when the person that stands before you acts like a completely different person. My husband was the same physically, but he was not the man I knew. I was now married to a stranger as I gave birth to his baby and raised our child. Having to cope with that is grief in every sense of its meaning.

GRIEVING THE LOSS OF MY LIVING MOTHER

The most recent ambiguous loss that took place in my life was when I went no contact with my mother almost three years ago. My mother is alive, but she is no longer in my life. I made a decision to terminate contact with her. As a result, I am now grieving the loss of my living mother.

I explained in my prior post that I made this choice because of the childhood abuse I endured at her hands, as well as the psychological and emotional abuse that continued to take place when she would have nothing to do with me or my child as she saw fit.  

Although I made this choice, I still grieve for this loss. I grieve the loss of my mother in my life. I may hate what she did to me, but I still love my mother. I simultaneously grieve the loss of my living mother while grieving the absence of the mother I never had and so desperately wanted and needed.

ambiguous grief

The biggest struggle I face with this type of loss is that it is harder to recognize as grief. When someone dies, there is a sense of closure, no matter how painful. It is clear that person is gone. As result, the pain and various emotions that come from this loss are recognizable and more understandable. With ambiguous loss, it is indeed ambiguous. It is harder to recognize the feelings as one of grief.

Often one isn’t sure how to process or experience a loss that isn’t concrete.

There is understanding, support, and knowledge about traditional grief. There is usually some sort of spiritual or religious belief that guides us through the death of a loved one. Jobs offer bereavement leave to give people the time they need to mourn. Mourning the death of a person is also something that is considered normal and there are support groups and/or other means of professional help.

With ambiguous loss, there is a lack of knowledge and support because there isn’t a person who died. There is not a religious or spiritual process and there is no bereavement leave due to grieving the loss of your living mother. There is a lack of support and services out there to help process this loss. 

When a person’s parent dies, there is usually an outpour of sympathy and condolences. I have never received such words. There has never been any acknowledgment of the pain and loss that I feel. I have grieved alone.

People do not see my loss as a true loss because my mother is still alive.

As much as I understand the pain that comes from losing a parent, I know my grief is of a living parent. When I find out about a person’s parent dying, I want to offer my support.  I want to let them know that I feel that pain too and that they are not alone. However, I usually don’t say such things out of concern that the person might find it offensive to compare my loss to theirs.

What I feel it is crucial for others to understand is that just because a person is alive, does not mean that we do not grieve deeply. I did not sever ties with my mom over something trivial. I had to walk away from the only mom I will ever have out of necessity. That does not mean that it is not painful.  The conflict between my head and my heart is something I wrestle with constantly. Grieving the loss of my living mother means simultaneously knowing I did the right thing while still experiencing profound grief due to that choice.  This is merely one type of inner conflict that takes place with someone who experiences ambiguous loss and grief.

MY AMBIGUOUS GRIEF WITH MY MOTHER

My mother has sent me emails since going no contact. One was to tell me she was suing me for grandparents’ visits, one was to retract that threat since she cannot do so based on the legal requirements where I live, and the rest were various forms of telling me I was responsible for keeping her granddaughter away from her. None of these emails contained any acknowledgment or responsibility for what led to my decision.

With each letter, I feel various forms of grief.

grief process model

I initially feel hope that perhaps this email will be different than the others. Perhaps she will finally love me enough to want to make things right. This is the type of hope that is common and often detrimental to a person experiencing ambiguous loss. Coming to the realization that she is who she is and will never change was the hardest thing for me to accept in my life. Each letter only makes that wound of loss deeper.

After I read her letters, I feel waves of sadness and anger. I often cry and feel rage simultaneously. All of the pain comes rushing back to me. I then use every ounce of strength I possess to not respond to her email. My impulse is to explain how much it hurts me that she won’t admit that she abused me. It rips me apart that she won’t acknowledge that it isn’t okay to say that she doesn’t like me and wants nothing to do with me. I want to scream at her that I don’t understand why she doesn’t miss me enough to make things right, and why she is willing to miss out on watching her granddaughter grow up.

There are so many things I want to say, so many things I have said before, but things I know will never be understood by the woman I call my mom.

My mother is getting older, and the time will eventually come when she will leave this earth. It is then that others will say their condolences- or will they? Will I ever be seen as someone who is grieving their mother when I chose to not have her in my life while she was living?

The truth is, we all grieve. We grieve in our own ways and for our own reasons. Some types of grief are more understood than others. What I hope I have conveyed to each of you is that whatever the reason may be, grief is grief, and loss is loss. Just as we should respect and validate others’ feelings, it is important to respect and validate someone’s grief.

Loss is a void that never gets replaced. With time it becomes our new norm, but that absence is always there, and it is never forgotten. I live with that void just as much as any other person who has experienced loss. There is no competition for who grieves more or experiences loss more, but people with ambiguous loss deserve to have their grief recognized too.

I am grieving the loss of my living mom, and I kept that pain to myself for too long.

grieving the loss of my living mother closure

I hope my story provides support and understanding to those who are also experiencing ambiguous loss. I want you to know that your pain is real, and it deserves acknowledgment. First and foremost, you need to acknowledge it yourself. The person you love may not be dead, but you still need to grieve. 

Ambiguous loss is a confusing concept, but that doesn’t mean you have to grieve alone. Reach out to friends or loved ones and explain to them how you are feeling. Do not keep your feelings to yourself, and do not allow anyone to minimize your feelings. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling without permission or approval. I hope you show yourself compassion and understanding as you ride the waves of these emotions just as you would any traditional loss.

 

life through my eyes

I was asked by a reader named Sarah to write a post about life through my eyes. Although I welcome suggestions, this topic is one of the hardest ones I’ve ever had to tackle. I have written many posts about my struggles, but describing what life feels like for me is incredibly difficult to articulate.

I am very much an enigma. Although I have self-awareness up the wazoo, implementing that self-awareness is challenging. I have a strong sense of who I am, but I still struggle with codependent tendencies and seeking validation from others. My personality is one of an advocate (INJF),  and I will vehemently stand up for what I believe in. However, I am incredibly sensitive, and my feelings are easily hurt.  I know I am strong because I have survived a lifetime of abuse and trauma, but I still feel weak.

The truth is, we are all comprised of a series of contradictions. Our lives and experiences have formed and shaped our way of perceiving the world. For many of us, we are our own worst enemies. We go into the ring with the sense of self that knows better versus the self that is consumed with pain. Life through my eyes has been that constant internal battle.

LIFE THROUGH MY EYES

I spent my childhood in survival mode. As a victim of emotional and psychological child abuse and severe neglect, I grew up having no sense of safety or stability. I did not know what if felt like to be loved unconditionally. I was extremely codependent on my mother, who was my abuser. It was engrained into me that I was worthless, helpless, and incapable. Nothing I did was good enough to make my mother love me, so I concluded that I was broken and unlovable.  

This way of thinking was the voice of my inner child, and that way of thinking never went away. Our inner child is the child within all of us. It is based on the thoughts and experiences that took place during your childhood, pre-puberty. Every single one of us has an inner child. Your childhood will determine the perspectives, needs, and thoughts of your inner child. Due to my trauma and abandonment issues, my inner child views the world through a lens of fear, loneliness, and terror.  

For a very long time, my inner child was my primary sense of self.

It was hard for me to detangle who my inner child was versus who I was as an adult because my way of thinking never changed.  As an adult, I still saw the world through her eyes. As someone with C-PTSD and anxiety that is often debilitating, I still felt like a helpless, scared and fearful girl.

inner child

LIFE THROUGH MY EYES: MY ADULT SELF VERSUS MY INNER CHILD

Since I couldn’t save myself as child, I believed I could not save myself as an adult. I jumped from relationship to relationship, wanting the person to “save me”. I felt that I was not whole and could never be whole due to the damage done to me. However, I thought that if someone finally loved me, it could fill that void. The truth is that that void can never be filled by another person, and I kept experiencing that painful truth time after time and relationship after relationship. I was like a parasite by creating a sense of self and wholeness from another person. When the relationship would end, I crumbled along with it.

When my husband started abusing alcohol during my pregnancy, my inner child was up front and center. The man I had chosen to start a family with, the man who was supposed to love me, was not someone I could count on. I was alone again, but this time, I was about to bring a living being into the world.

How could I be a mother on my own when I still felt so very much like a helpless child?

My husband turned to pills soon after he stopped using alcohol. He spent the first four years of my daughter’s life MIA emotionally. Even after he became sober, he struggled to use healthy coping mechanisms to deal with his pain and to communicate his feelings.  Meanwhile, I had a daughter who depended on me. I promised myself as a child that the cycle of abuse would stop with me.  Therefore, I knew I had to stop viewing myself as that lost little girl. After years of being abandoned by my mother, I came to the realization that I was guilty of abandoning my inner child as well in adulthood. I had to give myself the support and love that I hadn’t received as a child.

I now had my own little girl, and her safety and well-being were my responsibility.  

Having my daughter helped me a long way towards realizing that I had a sense of self separate from my inner child. It was my job to take care of my daughter and step-up as an adult. In doing so, I learned that I could stand on my own two feet. I had an obligation to teach my child that she is in control of her life and that happiness is in her own hands. Therefore, I had to start practicing what I preach.

I still vacillate between seeing life through the eyes of my inner child and the eyes of a woman who is a survivor. There are instances when I am triggered, resulting in me lashing out and feeling out of control. I know in those situations that that scared little girl within me feels frightened and scared, and that my inner child is reacting out of fear and feeling unsafe. I know my inner child is in survival mode because she had no choice but to do that growing up.

However, I am learning that through recognizing the needs of my inner child, I am showing her that she is safe.

inner child safety

By listening to her and honoring her feelings, I am giving her the love she needs.  She isn’t being abused anymore. She isn’t in danger anymore. There is an adult who can care for her, love her, and make sure that she is protected. After years of looking for someone to rescue me and my inner child, I am learning that I am the person that needs to proudly take ownership of that role. I am my inner child’s source of safety and support.  It isn’t easy to stare your pain and your past in the face, but I now know that my inner child deserves to be loved. I now know I deserve to be loved too.

I am by no means “healed”, and truth be told, I don’t I don’t think anyone is ever fully healed. 

We all have wounds and bruises. Some are merely knacks, whereas others are deep. Some are physical in nature, and others are invisible, but oh, so potent.  We are all damaged, but being damaged does not mean that we are broken. 

Living life through my eyes means that I will always struggle with anxiety. After being thrown out of my house from the time I was 8, I am very much shaped by the message etched into the recesses of my being that the outside world is a scary place. Although I am aware of why I feel that way, it doesn’t change those feelings.

As a result, I feel fear doing things on my own.

I feel tremendous anxiety making phone calls, going on errands, and even going to a doctor’s appointment for a check-up. Additionally, I do not drive on the highway and will try to drive somewhere in advance to make sure I know where I am going. I also have social anxiety.

That said, I have driven without practicing in advance when it is last minute, I have taken my incredibly hyperactive daughter on errands, and I have had in-depth phone calls with my daughter’s pediatrician.  Although I don’t think my fears will ever go away, I still try to face them. I will fight to be the best version of myself until the day I die.

I used to feel a lot of shame about my anxiety, and most people don’t know the extent of it. Outside of my husband and my immediate family, nobody knows that I have debilitating anxiety. However, I spent too many years feeling shame about those feelings and judging myself for it. I now know that my anxiety is a by-product of my abuse, but anxiety doesn’t define me. 

I spent too many years staying in inner-child mode, instead of incorporating her into my life.

There will always be someone who will judge me for my struggles. They won’t understand why a grown woman has these difficulties.  However, I also know that I am a warrior for getting up every single day and fighting. It is a daily internal fight to not allow my fears to define me. I fight daily to be the best mom, wife, and person I can be. I also fight daily to not let my past control my present and future.

There will always be things that others do easily that are incredibly difficult for me. I now accept that. However, I am determined to show my daughter that bravery isn’t measured by success, but in having the courage to face your fears and keep trying. It is a lesson I have to remember and implement every single day.

MY BALANCING ACT

my adult self versus my inner child

I now try to view life with a balance between grown-up Randi and inner-child Randi. My inner child will always be a part of who I am, but she isn’t all of me. I learned that it is not okay to stay trapped in the past, but I need to honor the feelings of my inner child and hold space for her. I am proud of my inner child, and I remind her of that daily.

My inner child is here to stay, and I now embrace her.

I am able to see the world through her eyes, while also noting when it is time for me to remind her that it is my job to step-in and protect her. I didn’t get the love I needed as a child, and there is nothing I can do to change that. However, I can now give that love to myself and to my inner child.  I keep that knowledge in my mind and in my heart as I view the world and my life through both pair of eyes.

how to tell if someone is a narcissist

How can you tell if someone is a narcissist? Narcissism is a topic that comes up quite frequently. It seems that everybody knows a person they’ve deemed a “narcissist”. That word is commonly used to describe a person with an inflated ego whose focus is often on themselves and their own well-being.

CRITERIA TO TELL IF SOMEONE IS A NARCISSIST

Unfortunately, the term of being a narcissist gets thrown around often and sometimes recklessly. True narcissism goes way beyond someone monopolizing the conversation at dinner. It causes someone to have an extremely inflated sense of self-importance, a pattern of self-centered, arrogant thinking and behavior, and a lack of empathy and consideration for other people.

It is not easy to tell if someone is a  narcissist. However, there is a criteria to determine if a person actually has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a person has NPD if they exhibit five of the following criteria (ncbi, 2020):

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements, expects to be recognized as superior without actually completing the achievements).
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty, or perfect love.
  3. Believes that they are “special” and can only be understood by or should associate with other special people (or institutions).
  4. Requires excessive admiration.
  5. Has a sense of entitlement, such as an unreasonable expectation of favorable treatment or compliance with his or her expectations.
  6. Is exploitative and takes advantage of others to achieve their own ends.
  7. Lacks empathy and is unwilling to identify with the needs of others.
  8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of them.
  9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors and attitudes.

NPD usually develops either in adolescence or in early adulthood. It is very common for children and adolescents to display personality traits that resemble NPD, but such occurrences are fleeting and register well below the clinical criteria for a formal diagnosis of NPD. True symptoms of NPD are apparent in many different social situations and are extremely consistent over a period of time (psycom.net, 2021)

The 4 Different Types of Narcissism

types of narcissists

Narcissists are very charming and charismatic. Therefore, it is very easy to develop a relationship with one unknowingly. For purposes of deeper clarity, there is research that labels narcissists with different types and subtypes. The DSM-5 doesn’t group narcissism into different types, but some experts classify narcissists into four different groups:

Grandiose

This is typically what we think of when a person is described as a narcissist. These people perceive themselves as superior to others. Grandiose narcissists are extremely entitled and expect special treatment. They are desperate to maintain this illusion of grandiosity and will do anything to maintain their perception in the eyes of others.  They display arrogant behavior.

Vulnerable

This type of narcissism is hard to spot, because it is more subtle and less recognized.  With that said, it may be the most common types in younger generations (Millennials, Gen Z and Gen alpha) (psychologytoday, 2020). Vulnerable narcissists feel constantly victimized because they believe they are superior and the world fails to recognize their superiority.  They prefer to receive attention from selected people rather than be the center of attention. Vulnerable narcissists often suffer from child abandonment issues and because of that they tend to exhibit codependent behavior. They will also pretend to be selfless to get the admiration of others.

Communal

Communal narcissists get their validation from helping different groups of people (e.g., charities). They get involved to feel needed, and they want to be liked and appreciated. However, their intentions are impure. They do good deeds to receive validation as opposed to caring for others.

Malignant

Malignant narcissism refers to a very specific, but less common version of NPD. This is considered the most severe type and the one to cause the most harm to others. They are highly manipulative and will exploit others with no remorse. The symptoms of malignant narcissism overlap with antisocial personality disorder (APD). To be considered a malignant narcissist, those individuals need to be diagnosed with both features of NPD and APD (verywellmind, 2019).

Malignant narcissists are paranoid and are sadistic while taking pleasure in the pain of others. Sociopaths are an example of malignant narcissists, and they are very hard to spot. These individuals believe they are exempt from normal societal rules and are cold and calculating, which often makes them very dangerous.

The Toxic Subtypes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

subtypes of narcissism

Falling under each type of narcissism are two subtypes that classify how these traits appear to others dealing with a narcissist.

Overt vs. Covert

Overt narcissism is what we think of when we imagine the typical narcissist. They are usually the most confident and arrogant person in the room. Overt narcissists dominate the conversation and bask in the attention that they receive.  They demand admiration and charm their way through life with false intimacy to those they want to impress. Overt narcissists are prone to rages way beyond normal anger, and they may ridicule and mock others. Grandiose and communal narcissists will always be overt (psychologicalhealingcenter.com, 2020).

On the other hand, the needs of a covert narcissist are much less obvious. A person with covert narcissism might come across as shy and withdrawn. Covert narcissists are still self-absorbed and believe that they are better than everyone around them.

Since covert narcissists believe they are superior to others, they may avoid situations or tasks that they feel are beneath them and challenge their sense of superiority. They are hypersensitive to criticism and will become defensive very easily. They can act in a vindictive or passive-aggressive way if they feel slighted by another person. Additionally, they have delusions of victimization and may cry on cue to manipulate others, as well as stage a crisis to gain attention. These individuals typically have a long history of depression and anxiety and are likely to experience other personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder (medicalnewstoday.com, 2020). Vulnerable narcissists will always be covert, while malignant narcissists can either be overt or covert.

Somatic vs. Cerebral

Narcissists as a whole are either somatic or cerebral. In other words, they feel superior based on their bodies or their minds.

Somatic narcissists obsess over food, weight and their appearance. They will spend a lot of time talking about activities like going to the gym and dieting. Somatic narcissists are very sexually active. Since they gain their self-esteem from sex, they have a very hard time remaining faithful in their relationships. They can’t stand criticism, but will constantly criticize others based on their appearance (mindbodygreen.com, 2020).

Cerebral narcissism is found in a person who feels superior based on their intelligence. They want to be the center of attention and need to feel smarter than everyone else.  They have a vast array of knowledge and tell stories (either real or make believe) that illustrates how smart they are. Also, they will point out others’ failures, and will often show a great amount of hatred and disdain for those people they feel are not as smart as they are.

Like somatic narcissists, cerebral narcissists enjoy having power over others. However, they gain that power with their mind rather than their body and charm. Since cerebral narcissists derive their self-esteem through intellect, they often lack an interest in sex.  Therefore, they can remain faithful and be in romantic long-term relationships (thenarcissisticlife.com, 2019).

My Relationship with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

As I mentioned earlier, it is very hard to tell if someone is a narcissist.  With that said, a relationship with one is usually very damaging to your mental health and self-esteem.

I spoke HERE about the relationship I had with my mother. She meets the official criteria for having NPD. I tried to (unsuccessfully) have a healthy relationship with her. Throughout my childhood and most of adulthood, I tried very hard to gain her love and approval. It took years to learn that this was an impossible task. I realized that if a person is unable to have empathy or recognize that their actions are unacceptable (in my case, abusive),  that person cannot meet your needs and/or respect your feelings and boundaries. As a result, I went no contact with my mom 3 years ago.

Over the past 3 years she has sent me several emails. She has never acknowledged or admitted fault for the hurt she caused me. All she talks about is the perceived wrongs done to her, and how I am at fault by not allowing her to see her granddaughter. She has no empathy for the pain and abuse that she inflicted upon me or my child.  Each email speaks about herself and her delusions of trying to do the right thing by emailing.

It is a hard pill to swallow that your own mother does not love you and care about your feelings.

I now understand that narcissists are not capable of admitting they have done anything wrong. They are also completely unable to show compassion for the hurt and pain they cause other people. It is that knowledge that has helped me to realize that my mother’s actions are not a reflection of me. I used to think it was my fault that she didn’t care about me and treated me so terribly. I now understand that narcissists are experts at making others feel they are to blame for the pain they cause.

SIGNS AND BEHAVIORS TO TELL IF SOMEONE IS A NARCISSIST

Narcissists don’t have many long-term friends. If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, they will lash out if you want to hang out with your friends because it damages their fragile ego and sense of self. 

Another agonizing aspect of being in a relationship with a narcissist is that they think they are right about everything.

They will never admit wrongdoing and will never apologize. You can’t debate or compromise with them. Therefore, it is important to avoid negotiation and arguments with them. Narcissists love being in control.

People with NPD value themselves over others, and will typically disregard the wishes and feelings of anyone else.  They expect to be treated as superior, regardless of their actual status or personal achievements.

Narcissists are very charming and will do almost anything to get what they want. That is one of the many reasons why it is difficult to tell if someone is a narcissist. Narcissists think that they deserve to be with other people who are special, and that special people are the only ones that can appreciate them. With that said, once you do something that disappoints them, they will turn on you. It can be subtle at first, but over time you will start doubting yourself more and more. This will often cause you to feel like you aren’t good enough and can’t do anything right to make the other person happy. Your self-esteem will begin to strip away, and you will often walk on eggshells in order to try to appease the person.

It is extremely difficult to tell if you are in a relationship with is a narcissist because of all the manipulation and gaslighting.

The most popular tactic used by every type of narcissist is gaslighting. Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic that makes victims question their perception of reality. Their behavior turns your world upside down so much that you no longer know what to believe. Narcissists are typically emotionally abusive and cannot have a healthy relationship with others. This includes romantic and non-romantic relationships. 

Do not hesitate to reach out to a professional to tell if someone is a narcissist (healthline.com, 2019). When you’re in the middle of a relationship with a narcissist, few things make sense and your world is never stable. You will not feel supported or validated by a narcissist. Therefore, seeking outside help and support is the best way to deal with being in any type of relationship with a narcissist.

I understand how difficult it is to walk away from a narcissist. However, I am proof that ending a relationship with a narcissist is possible. Remember to value your well-being and happiness. If a person disregards your feelings, ignores your boundaries, makes you feel badly about yourself, and doesn’t prioritize you, it is necessary to walk away. It might be difficult at first, but loving yourself means removing toxic people from your life.

 

five stages of the grieving process

Grief is something we have all experienced at some point in our lives. Death is not the only factor that evokes grief and loss. It is important to understand the five stages of the grieving process in order to identify and process your emotions, as well as empathize with others who are grieving.

What Causes Grief, and is there a right way to grieve?

Grief is caused by a variety of circumstances, including the ending of relationships, illnesses, the end of a project or goal, or perceived or real changes in your life. This includes changing schools, locations, or jobs. The pandemic has caused social isolation and tremendous change for all of us.

The truth is, we are ALL grieving in some form right now due to the loss of our old way of life.

 “Everyone, from all walks of life and across cultures, experience loss and grief at some point” (psychcentral.com, 2021).

A psychiatrist named Elisabeth Kubler-Ross created the Kubler-Ross model, which is the theory of the 5 stages of grief and loss.  These stages were described in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying.  Although Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ model was initially based off of working with terminally ill patients, it has been adapted to include all types of grieving and loss. The five stages of the grieving process are popularly referred to as DABDA.

the five stages of the grieving process

It is important to note that although she described 5 stages of grief, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Some people will experience only certain stages of grief, where others might experience all of them. The stages are not linear, so they can be experienced in any order as well. The extent to which you feel emotions and symptoms associated with grief will vary as well. Additionally, the amount of time in which you experience a particular stage and/or grieve in entirety will vary from person to person. In other words, everyone grieves and feels loss differently.

The Five Stages of The Grieving Process

(1) Denial

Denial is considered the first stage of grief, as it can initially help you to cope with your loss. It might be hard to fully comprehend and acknowledge. Denial and disbelief is a coping mechanism that allows the impact of the news to not happen all at once. Therefore, denying the news, feeling shocked, and going numb are common symptoms associated with this stage. Typically, this stage is about living in a preferable reality as opposed to the actual reality. Physical symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, increased heart rate, and difficulty sleeping. This stage will end when the feelings that were being buried start to come to the surface (psycom.net, 2020).

(2) Anger

Feeling intense anger, frustration, irritation, and anxiety all encompass this stage of grief and loss. Pain from loss may result in feelings of helplessness, which then turns into anger. Those in this stage may feel angry at a person, a higher power, or a general feeling of anger. You might also feel guilty for feeling angry, which will make you feel angrier. It is also common to feel angry at the cause of your loss (webmd.com, 2020). 

Pain is the source of this anger and allowing yourself to feel this way is part of the healing process. Pushing your emotions aside will not allow you to grieve. Therefore, it is important to hold space for these feelings.

(3) Bargaining

This stage of grief takes place as a way of holding onto hope and trying to prevent a loss from becoming permanent. There are often feelings of helplessness and desperation. For example, a person may pray that they will be a better person, become more religious, etc. in exchange for sparing the life of a family member who has a terminal illness. You might also feel guilt as you think over if there was something you could have done differently to prevent this situation from taking place (psychcentral.com, 2021). If bargaining and circumstances don’t improve, it may lead the griever to experience denial and pain again.

(4) Depression

This is the stage when emotions are very raw as you are fully facing your present reality. You may feel heartbroken, intense sadness and despair, and fully realize the loss. Additional symptoms include feeling overwhelmed, loneliness, hopeless, inability to get out of bed, and not wanting to participate in activities. Physical symptoms during this stage are changes in appetite and sleeping, headaches, stomach aches, fatigue, easily distracted, isolation, and physical pain.

Remember you have people who care about you. Allow others to support you during this difficult time.

(5) Acceptance

During this stage the loss is accepted. That doesn’t mean you are happy about it; however, you accept and acknowledge your new reality. “Acceptance is more about how you acknowledge the losses you’ve experienced, how you learn to live with them, and how you readjust your life accordingly” (psychcentral.com, 2021).

Please note that you will still have bad days and may still experience anger, sadness, feeling heartbroken, etc. You may feel like you have accepted the loss at times and then move to another stage of grieving. Remember that grieving and healing are not stagnant.

Eventually, you will remain in this stage for longer periods of time and move forward with your life. You will figure out a way to live life with this loss. At this point you will start to reach out to friends and families, be more involved in activities, and you will start to feel more hopeful (www.betterhlep.com, 2020 ).

acceptance is acknowledging your new reality

Additional Stages of The Grieving Process

There are current adaptations of the 5 stages of the grieving process. The 7 stages of grief are an extension of the original with overlapping stages ( www.betterhelp.com, 2020). Similarly, there is no order to these stages:

  • Shock and Denial– feel shock and inability to grasp reality
  • Guilt and Pain– experience feelings of heartbreak and emotional pain as well as grief
  • Anger and Bargaining– feel anger and also try to bargain for a different outcome
  • Depression, Reflection and Loneliness– reflect upon the loss and feel depressed and lonely
  • The Upward Turn -grief starts to become more manageable and less difficult
  • Reconstruction and Working Through -start to set realistic solutions and work through changes due to this loss
  • Acceptance and Hope– accept circumstances and begin to feel a sense of hope about the future

When to Seek Professional Help

If your feelings of depression are getting worse, you have thoughts of harming yourself, or you are turning to drugs or alcohol to numb your feelings, it is important to seek professional help. This can be done in the form of a support group or seeking out a bereavement counselor. Both of these can be sought out online.

Coping Strategies for Loss and Grief

coping strategies for loss and grief

Although you should not rush or force your way through grieving, there are things you can do to help yourself during the grieving process:

(1) Practice self-care

Pick something that you feel comfortable doing during this difficult time. Whether it is exercise, mediation, or pursuing a hobby, focus on implementing things that will improve your emotional and mental well-being.

(2) Reach out to others

Do not isolate yourself. Whether it is talking to a friend or joining a support group, do not deal with loss on your own. Speak with others who can empathize or who can offer additional insight and support.

(3) Create small, attainable goals

This enables you to feel a sense of accomplishment and responsibility for your life while allowing you to grieve and process your loss.

(4) Give yourself room to heal

Understand that grieving takes time and moving through your grief is the only way to get passed it.

(5) Avoid harmful behaviors

Do not turn to unhealthy behaviors to deal with your pain.

The Grieving Process

Grief is not a one-size-fits-all process. It is an individual path, and it is one that has no rhyme or reason. There is no valid or correct way to grieve. However, understanding these stages of grief enables you to understand your grieving journey. Allow yourself to mourn in whatever way that you experience your feelings of grief and loss. Recognize and hold space for your emotions, give yourself the support you need, and remember that healing takes time and patience.

I hope this information is helpful and provides you with support. If you know someone who is grieving, remember that the most important thing you can do is to let the person know you are there and willing to listen anytime.

 

judge a person

“You can never truly judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in another man’s shoes.” 

THE ASSUMPTIONS WE MAKE AND THE PEOPLE WE JUDGE

We assume we know people’s lives by the mere glimpses they show us. We think we know someone based on the brief encounters we exchange on our way to work or when we bump into each other. The playdates where we talk about our kids. The smiling family photos on Instagram. The superficial exchanges we have over text. The times when we politely ask how someone is doing and they say that they are fine. That isn’t someone’s full life. We shouldn’t judge a person by what they choose to share about their life. It is what they allow you to see. 

Take me, for instance. Most people would describe me as peppy, outgoing, bubbly, happy, and exuberant. That is a part of my personality, but there is so much more to me that people don’t know (unless they read my blog, that is).  

In reality, I feel fearful most of the time, I’m quite shy, I have social anxiety, and I am afraid to tell people about my past. I care deeply about others, and I also feel deeply. I put my heart and soul into every post I write, and I grieve for the childhood I never had. Each time I write a post about my past, my vulnerability takes a huge toll on me.  I put my stories out there to try to break the stigma and shame associated with it, and it saddens me that some people I consider friends have not reached out to me about these private and traumatic details. 

I typically show people the side of me that is full of life and contentment; the parts of me that are filled with loneliness and anxiety I tuck away when I am around others. Although talkative and engaging in groups, I am usually exhausted emotionally after a social event. I’m a true introvert, although you’d probably never know it.  

DON’T JUDGE A PERSON BECAUSE THERE IS ALWAYS MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

happiness on the outside doesn't show pain on the inside

Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. I am not putting on a show when I’m around people. We show different sides to ourselves around different people. I am simply showing one side, and that is a genuine part of who I am. However, there is so much more that doesn’t get seen. There is often much more to someone than meets the eye if you get to really know them and don’t turn away. 

Never judge a person unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

I have gone through hell and back, but I learned at a very young age to keep my pain to myself based on others’ reactions.  Many have gone through their own suffering. They have experienced loss, divorce, miscarriages, bullying, loneliness, depression, and pain.  Most of us keep that part a secret, because society has taught us to “tough it out” and “stay strong”.  The people around us feel discomfort about those situations and don’t want to acknowledge them, so those that are struggling often don’t share the full extent of their pain. As a result, it is easy for those of us who are suffering to look around at others and feel inferior. We live in a world where everyone appears to have it all together. I call bullshit.  

I wrote a post about always being grateful, but not feeling grateful this Thanksgiving. Many understood the point I was trying to make and told me how much they appreciated it. It warmed my heart when I was told they felt less alone and more accepted because of my post.  Others commented that we should always be grateful. I was also told that I shouldn’t write about this topic on a public forum out of respect for those that enjoy the holidays and who do feel grateful. 

IT’S OK TO NOT FEEL JOYFUL DURING THE HOLIDAYS

My response to that last statement is that those who are miserable over the holidays should have a platform to be understood. The suicide rate is highest during the holidays because of feelings of isolation and depression.   I am by no means telling others who feel gratitude and enjoy the holidays that they shouldn’t feel that way. In fact, I hope people who are able to do so have a wonderful holiday season.  I sincerely hope my words will not dissuade someone from enjoying their holidays or feeling grateful. However, I pray my writing will help someone feel less alone and more understood.   

Let’s take it a step further. I agree we should be grateful.  However, in my opinion I don’t believe we should always FEEL grateful. For example, I didn’t feel grateful when I wasn’t allowed back into my house and slept in the mudroom the entire night.  Whereas we all have something to be grateful about, some of us have lived through horrors that many cannot begin to imagine. We have no right to tell others how to be or feel. 

Don’t judge a person unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. 

FEELINGS SHOULD NEVER BE JUDGED

your feelings are valid

Feelings are never right or wrong. They simply are what they are. Others may not agree with our feelings, but that does not make our feelings any less valid. Yet feelings are often met with resistance. We are told to suck it up, count our blessings, remember that it could be worse, and sent the underlying message to not speak our truths. Our truths may be different than others, but we are entitled to voice them. Our pain, our truths, our stories- they are all unique and all deserve to be respected and heard. 

We shouldn’t judge a person unless we’ve walked a mile in their shoes. 

We must stop assuming, and we must start spreading kindness and empathy.  I write this blog and use my platform for all those who have suffered and haven’t had the support of others.  Let us accept that we all have our own unique journey. Let us not perpetuate the shame and pain others feel during this time of year or at any time of year.  

GIVE A VOICE TO THOSE WHO ARE SUFFERING

Let us start acknowledging the sorrows that exist around us, instead of trying to micromanage those feelings. We must stop ignoring and minimizing what/how others feel.

Those people that exude confidence, but feel lost, this post is for you. The children that put on a brave face at school, but go home and cry because they are being bullied, this post is for you. The people who try so hard, but feel so very lonely, this post is for you. For every person who has so much more going on than meets the eye, this post is for you. For every person that is struggling with the stigma of mental illness, this post is for you.  On behalf of those who are told to be strong no matter how much their heart is breaking, this post is for you. This post is for me too. 

This holiday season, and moving forward, I hope we will stop assuming and start reaching out more.  It is often the ones who seem the happiest that are suffering the most. People are more likely to show different sides to themselves if they feel safe doing so. Let’s be a safe person for others. 

Don’t judge a person unless you’ve walked in their shoes.

Don’t sum a person up by their smiles and laughter. Instead, talk about topics of sustenance. Reveal matters that others wouldn’t know by common banter, and give space for others to do the same.  If someone bravely shares something private and difficult to share, express kindness and empathy. Do not turn a blind eye to their pain or tell them what they should or shouldn’t say or feel.  

Life is hard enough. Choose kindness.  We don’t know what burdens people are carrying, but we can help them unload that baggage if we assume less and open our minds and heart more.