The Challenge of Being Thankful

“Rest and Be Thankful.” –William Wordsworth

During this month of Thanksgiving it is certainly appropriate to evaluate what you are thankful for. Now, that might be a little challenging considering the wreckage of a pathological relationship so be thankful that this article has arrived in your inbox. We would like to offer some reminders of the blessings of pathology.

Be thankful for your new filter

What the psychopath has given you is the ability to spot. That is a gift. Many people don’t know what pathology looks like and, as a result, move forward in spite of the patterns of behavior that are present. Once you move toward a psychopath it’s like you’re a fly in a web…stuck. The ability to spot the spider and the web keeps you far, far away from danger. If you made it out, then knowing the power of pathology is a gift. You have a new filter to lay over your own perceptions and understanding of the world and this filter will ultimately keep you much safer.

Be thankful for the peek deep into who you are

We know that pathology is soul stealing. It grinds you down to the bare bones of who you are and what you believe. It is a terrifying, maniacal, devastating process. There is no doubt that going through it is likely one of the worst experiences of your life. What is left when you leave is your foundation. There might even be a few cracks there. But no doubt you are seeing things about yourself that you didn’t know existed or that you had forgotten about. As you look back on the moments of manipulation, you undoubtedly see what was done to your values, your worth, and your beliefs. But through this careful evaluation you can reaffirm where you stand and what you stand on.

Be thankful for understanding love in a whole new way

Love is not fantasy. Love is not a task. Love is not excitement (it’s pretty boring). Love is not adrenaline or fear covered by excitement. Love is steady, unconditional, joyous and gentle. Sometimes we learn lessons by not getting what we need and pathology has done that for you. You now know what love is NOT. Your love is real and your capacity for love is real. In a sense, that was never the problem. Feeling love is never your problem…but being able to put a lid on your intense bonding so that you can trust what you felt about his lack of love is the problem.

Be thankful for your own humanness and your ability to bond and love other healthy people.
Your ability to connect and bond to him makes you human. You may be questioning “how could I let this happen?” or blaming yourself for “falling in love with a psychopath”. Well, thank goodness that you love, thank goodness that you bond and thank goodness that you have empathy about it. You know what it means if you can’t do those things so the alternative is much better. You CAN love and you CAN bond so that means you can do it again. Maybe not right now…but you CAN do it. Be thankful that with some tweaks to your filter, there is hope for love again.

Be thankful for your super traits

So, those things that psychopaths manipulate are your biggest asset. Do not get it twisted. Your super traits saved you. Your excitement-seeking, compassion, trust, loyalty, resourcefulness, helpfulness, and sentimentality, among others, played a role in getting you out. Take a minute to think about how each one of these traits helped you. In the end, did your compassion for the kids take over? Did your resourcefulness help you find the facts or did your sentimentality remind you of who you were before? They will be the thing that drives your recovery if you let them. You can strengthen them by combining the feelings of the super traits with what you know about pathology.

Be thankful you are safe and alive

Pathology is dangerous. Your pain, emotional or physical, is real. But here you are. There is nothing better than the awareness of our aliveness. Feel the power of being present – here – now. In any given moment pathology can bring a sense of danger and fear. Certainly hyper-vigilance can set in, if you allow it. But the alternative is much more powerful. Embrace the moments of safety and security. Create an environment that strengthens your sense of safety. In that space, your aliveness will grow.

Being thankful for pathology is a stretch – a stretch toward healing. It is a necessary step in recovery. You may not be there yet and that is OK. Don’t rush yourself. However, take this opportunity to open the door to the idea. If you are there and can feel the thankfulness then take it in.

“I fall, I rise, I make mistakes, I live, I learn, I’ve been hurt but I’m alive.
I’m human, I’m not perfect but I’m thankful.” –Unknown

Challenge the Thought

By Jennifer Young, LMHC, Director of Survivor Services

“With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

You own one thing: your mind. That’s it. There are things that you possess, like your books, your shoes, or your jewelry. But the only thing that you own is what goes on between your ears. No one can take it from you, no one can buy it from you, and no one can rent space in it. Now, I know what you are saying: “I’ve been in a relationship with a psychopath—he rented, bought and sold my mind for a nickel.” I get it, and I do agree that if anyone can make you feel that your mind has been rented, bought or sold, it is a psychopath. I might even concede that that he rented your mind. But what neuroscience has taught us is that the brain is resilient and that allows us to constantly get our mind back—even when it feels bought or sold.

When a psychopath takes control, he gets your thoughts. That’s the prize for him. If he can control your thoughts, it’s done. Your thoughts drive your emotions and your behaviors. Your thoughts are his key to getting you to feel crazy, sad, confused, frustrated, angry, elated, or excited. When you feel these feelings, you act in a corresponding way. All of these feelings and behaviorsdocument his control. They are his proof that your thoughts are turning or have turned.
Think about the thoughts that he created in you.

He enjoys my pain—I am worthless—Where is he?—I am not good enough—I deserve to be desired—I’m not stupid

And I am using the word “created” on purpose. The thoughts that were created were a result of his behavior, like water moving through the rocks creating a valley—slow, intentional and inevitable. His behavior of leaving mysteriously created the thought, “Where is he?” His behavior of smirking created the thought, “He enjoys my pain.” His behavior of insulting you created the thought, “I am worthless.”. Even his behavior of gaslighting creates the thought “I’m not stupid!” Now, think about the feelings that those thoughts elicit in you.

It doesn’t matter if the emotions these thoughts elicit are positive or negative. It doesn’t matter if the behaviors that these thoughts elicit are positive or negative. With each of these thoughts you felt something and a behavior followed. He had control of you. You and I know that he did things to you to generate these thoughts. So, he acted and you reacted. What better sense of power than to get a reaction out of someone? And what better sense of power than to get a reaction out of someone who is powerful themselves (that’s YOU)?

Since when do you question if you are stupid? Since when do you believe that you do not deserve to be desired? Since when do you need to spend time wondering where he is? You do this only in the context of a pathological relationship. Because you have always known that you are not stupid, you are not worthless, don’t need to worry about where your man is, know that you are good enough and that NO ONE should enjoy seeing you in pain. Holding these contradictory beliefs is your cognitive dissonance. On one hand you know you are smart and yet, you think you are stupid. You know you are valuable, but when he is around you feel worthless. STOP THE MADNESS!
One important strategy in ending cognitive dissonance and getting your mind back is to follow these three steps:

1.Challenge the thought.
The key here is to get the first thought. Get the thought the moment it comes. Do not let one thought become another, then another. Before you know it you are in it. That is when it becomes a problem. So, grab that first one and work on it. Once you have the thought—challenge it. If it is a question, answer it. “I miss him so much” becomes “I don’t miss the psychopath.” “How did this happen to me?” becomes “It happened because he is sicker than I am smart.” Any challenge or answer will work as long as it is based on facts—verifiable facts. And sometimes the words of another—a trusted friend or a therapist can work.

2.Breathe in the correct thought.
Now breathe in that new, correct and rational thought. Breathe in your belief. Breathe in the thought and allow it to ease your emotional pain just a bit. You control how you feel with your correct thoughts. Take a few long, slow, deep breaths, repeating quietly the new thought. (You can even do this in a crowd with a more normal breath—sometimes even stepping away from the group or off to the bathroom to correct your thoughts).

3.Move to a healthy distraction.
Finally, take that new thought with you. Get up, move and carry the correct thought with you. If you were watching TV, then go wash some dishes. If you were reading, then go watch TV. If you are laying in bed, get up and get a drink of water. As you move, allow the new thought to take hold and move with you. Begin to focus your thought on the next task.
As with any new skill it is important to do it and be successful. It’s not about how many times you can challenge the thoughts, but can you do it successfully. So, start with one thought. Do this on that one thought for several days until you feel a sense of relief. Then try another thought.

Sandra says, “Recovery happens one moment at a time.” And I believe that nothing could be more true. What are you thinking in this moment?

Acceptance

by Jennifer Young, LMHC, Director of Survivor Services

“I’m not wise, but the beginning of wisdom is there; it’s like relaxing into —and an acceptance of—things.” ~Tina Turner

Think about standing under a waterfall. Feel the power of the water hitting your body. Now picture yourself attempting to hold that water back. Stop the water from flowing over the rocks. You fiercely and intensely use all of your power and strength to prevent the water from touching the rock or yourself. You engage yourself in a task that has no payoff. You work to achieve a goal that is unachievable. In that attempt, you create in yourself physical (pain of the attempt), psychological (belief about the attempt) and emotional (feelings of the attempt) exhaustion.

Now picture yourself standing under the same waterfall and allowing the water to do what it does. There is awareness that you are interrupting the flow of the water but not stopping it. You can sense the water, feel the water and know what the water’s intention is. And because you accept it, you do not resist. Ahhh…relief.

At any given moment you can accept what is. It is a choice. It becomes a choice the minute there is conflict and pain. It is then that you have awareness—your mind, your body and/or your spirit is speaking to you. It’s a choice to listen.

So what is it that you need to accept? It could be his pathology, or the pain that it has/is causing. It could be accepting that because he is your child(ren)’s father, the contact will never end (so you’d better learn how to disengage), or accepting that each time you have to see him, or hear about him, it will be a challenge. Maybe you need to accept that you have been negatively impacted by the relationship; that what is happening to you, your changes in behavior, or mood, or thinking, are PTSD and not you being crazy. And it might just be that you accept who he is and accept the consequences of who he is but the gift of acceptance needs to be given to you. Is it in accepting that you are a good, whole person filled with love, compassion and honesty who needs to accept that something bad happened to you and not because of you?

Whatever IT is or wherever the acceptance is needed, I beg you to release yourself from it. In accepting there is freedom. I offer this blessing for acceptance to you:
Turn your face to the sun and accept the warmth.
Release your own resistance to what is.
You are worth the peace that comes.
There is value in you and all that you know.
Blessings to you for freedom through your acceptance.

What Do You Tell Them?

By Jennifer Young, LMHC

“Staring at the blank page before you, open up the dirty window,
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find.” ~ Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield

“I was in a relationship with a psychopath.” What an opener, right? Starting with the harsh truth isn’t always the best way to begin a conversation. One of the most difficult parts of moving on with your life is figuring out how you are going to tell your story. The truth doesn’t always come easy. And let’s face it, the vast majority of people in your life will never understand. But their lack of understanding does not prevent them from asking what happened to you. So, you might as well figure out what you are going to tell them.

There are a couple things to consider when deciding what you are going to tell others. You might be tempted to tell everyone the severity of the manipulation, or the details of every gaslighting incident, or the shame he made you feel for HIS affair. But this temptation is often driven by your need for validation. You can temper this desire by validating yourself. You have to come to accept that he is what he is. When you fully understand Cluster B, you will know that it is a complicated disorder. You will know that, really, it is a disorder of social hiding. Cluster Bs, by nature, do not make themselves known. The disorder is marked by a perfectly placed mask. This is what they want others to see. They have worked their whole lives creating that mask. It was created through a process of learning what works, what can be believed and what is socially acceptable for their environment. It is pure survival for them—life or death. It is not intended that someone outside of their intimate partnership will see who they are. And it certainly is not intended that someone outside of their intimate partnership will understand the two sides. If they don’t show it, how are others expected to understand it? Because of this mask, only you might know. You will know the good and the bad, the sweet and the sour, the lies and the truth. You saw the behaviors, you heard the contradictions, you felt the fear. Essentially, you don’t need anyone to tell you that. And if you believe yourself, the need for validation ends.

Once you have established a pattern of self-validation, you can begin to determine who needs to know what. First, consider your audience. Everyone does not need to know everything. You might want to evaluate who needs to know what. Your co-worker might not need to know as many details as your sister. Your boss may not need to know as much as your co-worker. Your acquaintances may not need to know what your neighbor needs to know. Again, each of these groups may have very different experiences of your Cluster B; therefore, proving to them who he is may put you in a defensive position. That’s the last place you need to be in the recovery process. So, be honest with yourself about what your Cluster B gave to the people in his life and the people in your life.

Think about telling some people nothing. What a novel idea—not talking about your trauma. This strategy can be helpful in keeping your mind in a place of validation and away from defensiveness. You can maintain recovery thinking by not looking outside of yourself for answers once a traumatic memory has been resolved. You have done the work; you know what you know, so now use it to validate yourself. To say nothing can also protect your recovery. The co-worker who questions,

“Why didn’t you leave sooner?” might not need to know all the horrible things that he did that prevented you from leaving. But worse than that, the co-worker may not need to know that you did not leave because he continued to build a fantasy for you. That every time you finally decided to leave, he pulled you back in with roses, a romantic getaway or a sentimental recounting of your first Christmas together. If you decide to launch into positive memories with your co-workers … you are re-traumatizing yourself. You have now taken the leap back into cognitive dissonance just to explain to someone else what you already understand. What if you just said to your co-worker, “I left when I was ready to leave and I’m glad he’s gone. How was your weekend?”

Once you’ve determined who to tell what, you can then begin to craft the language that you will use. Some people can understand the clinical words and explanation. These are the people who can understand what it means to be with a psychopath—someone who might read some of the books you’ve read or read an article about pathological relationships. Other people may need more common phrases like, “I was in a dangerous relationship,” or “I was psychologically manipulated.” Still others may respond to the use of a metaphor. Sometimes it helps just to say, “He’s like a little child,” or “He’s like a bad case of the flu … I just can’t shake him.”

There is never really a script that can convey what you should say or even could say to help those around you understand. Truth be told … most won’t ever understand. They can’t validate you. Sometimes it’s best to just find one person who might get it or at the very least is willing to listen when you need to talk. The rest of the time, the focus doesn’t have to be on telling your story, but rather, living your life.

As singer Natasha Bedingfield says—your story is “unwritten.” In every moment you decide what to say and what NOT to say. There are so many layers and intricacies to a pathological relationship. And each moment, each experience that you had, was traumatic. It is crucial that you manage the story that you tell. With a blank page before you at each new opportunity to speak about what happened, remind yourself that speaking the words represents your power. That should not be considered lightly, and with each word that leaves your mouth, you are risking your power.

Want to Buy Me Dinner?

By Jennifer Young, LMHC

If you owe me dinner—raise your hand. For the last several years I’ve been making bets with women all over the country. The conversation goes something like this:

Me: “So, we know that once you are in the speed dial, you’ll always be in the speed dial. Cluster B’s don’t know how to do closure and he will contact you again. Not because of who you are but because of who he is.”

Survivor: “But, you don’t understand. He’s really pissed. I humiliated him in court. He hates me, calls me all kind of names to the kids. Really.”

Me: “Ok…so,wanna buy me dinner in (enter your city here) when I come to town if he contacts you?”
Survivor: “Sure, because it will never happen.”

And, about two months later, or six weeks later, or eight months later, the text comes from him.

Survivor: “OMG, he texted me and called me ‘baby’ and said he missed being at home.”

Me: “I know.”

What I know is that Cluster B’s don’t/can’t do closure. They don’t/can’t end a “relationship” because they are not emotionally intelligent enough. They lack the skills needed to end a “relationship”.

Closure is what we typically hope for at the end of a healthy relationship. The elements of closure for a healthy relationship require two people to agree the relationship as it is should end, there should be a mutual understanding of the reason (this could come in the form of a nice talk or argument ending in resolution), and there is an expressing of emotion that matches the behavior of ending a relationship. You might see a range of emotions, an expression of hurt and empathy and an end to the behaviors related to being a couple. Doesn’t this seem like the complete opposite of what you see when a pathological love relationship is over?

Closure is a foreign concept to a Cluster B. It represents everything they are unable to do. They cannot behave in a way that matches what they say. So, when they say it’s over—they don’t leave. They cannot understand your emotions or the impact of their behavior on you, so when they say,“I’m sorry,” they repeat the same bad behavior again because they haven’t done anything wrong in their mind. They can use the words of emotion but don’t feel it like you and I do. All of the elements of relationship closure require an understanding of the abstract nature of emotional words like “love”, “sorry”, “remorse”, “frustration”, “hope”, “trust”, “intimate”, “appreciated”, etc. …They do not have the ability to read past the word to its deeper interpersonal meaning. They can’t see how the word moves us or how the word is not just one word, but often made up of many concepts that are represented by one word. This lack of understanding of the abstract nature of our emotional language is part of the neurology of Cluster B disorders.

Without the ability to give closure, they don’t leave. What remains is your need to get closure. And it is that mismatched ending that tortures you—your expectation of closure and his inability to give it. The circle is set in motion when he never goes away and you keep seeking closure. Round and round it goes until you accept his inabilities. Only then can you end some of the pain of the break-up. When you begin to accept his inabilities, you can then begin to give yourself the gift of closure, because—as we have already established—he cannot give it to you.

He will continue to reach out for many reasons. This is part of the disorder—an underlying neurological part of the disorder. He can’t do endings. But on the surface those reasons can be varied. He might get bored down the road. In between relationships he often seeks excitement (game playing) so he pulls out the Rolodex. You are in it because he knows that he has controlled you before and that you have “played”. Remember, he is not a good learner of “failure”, he just knows you played. Another reason is primary needs. He gets his needs met through control, so if he needs sex, shelter, or a cover, he will turn to those who have provided it in the past. Finally, it may be “just for fun”…he wants what he wants when he wants it. He is impulsive and cunning at the same time; he has poor behavioral controls and a need for stimulation. This means that he is coming for anyone who can offer what he needs—without regard for their safety or wellbeing.

Coming to know what he can’t do, what he is incapable of and truly believing it, is the way out. It means that each time your mind brings a thought like, “he said he loves me,” or “he keeps coming back, so he must be sorry,” or “if I just love him more, he will do better”—you must challenge with knowing he is a Cluster B. You really have no impact on WHO he is. And the key to challenging these thoughts is not having a conversation with yourself about the “why”. You’ve read over and over again the answer to the why. The researchers, neuroscientists and The Institutehas answered that “why” question so you don’t have to anymore. It is what it is. When the thought comes via question—answer it. When the thought comes as a statement— respond to it—“Because he’s a Cluster B.”

You don’t have to make that dinner bet with me or anyone else. You can accept that he will come to hook you again. Knowing that he will re-contact allows you to remain clear-minded. It allows you to “predict” his behavior. His disorder is marked by certain patterns that are predictable and this is one of them.

However, if you live in a really cool town, somewhere that has a great restaurant, let me know—I’m thinking about trekking cross country to collect my bets.

My Cup is Empty…Can You Help Me Out?

Pathological relationships might begin with the Attraction Cocktail of excitement-seeking, extraversion and competiveness but soon it evolves to something more…it requires something more to feed it.  What a pathological relationship must have is Cooperation, Helpfulness and Compassion.  I am sure you are thinking that these are not really the things that you might think of when you think of pathology but that makes it all the more needed.  Keep in mind that a pathological’s “cup” is empty…they lack a sense of cooperation, helpfulness and compassion.  So, in order to fill their needs they MUST find someone who possesses these traits.

It is important to understand the mask that a pathological wears.  They exist in two distinct ways…the outside perception that they present and the dark, empty underside of who they are.  As they move through life they learn to compensate for their deficiencies.  One way to compensate is through using what others have and presenting it as their own.  One of the traits that they often cling to is cooperation.  They need you to be cooperative.  They need you to play along.  They are running a scam….and without your cooperation it just won’t work.  Herein lies the risk:  You are optimistic, and supportive; you are willing to go the extra mile to make things work and if there is a “problem” you are part of the “fix-it” team.  Make no doubt about it – you go along with the program.  It’s true…the program that is presented is pretty darn convincing…but still, it’s your high degree of cooperation that allows you to be the perfect partner for pathology.  In our brain, a cooperative mind means that we will stay stuck in the deceit.  We will continue to participate in the “he’s good/he’s bad” scenario.  As long as we stay there…we cannot get out.  The good news is that once you listen to the facts and make a decision about what you are experiencing…it is hard to keep playing. This is the beginning of the end of the relationship.   Herein lies the benefit:  Just as quickly and as committed as you are to cooperate you will be out…just as fast.  You are no sucker.  Because of who you are there will be no looking back once you see his two sides…once you know that you are dealing with someone who is pathological.  Acknowledging this…deeply and honestly acknowledging this… makes all the difference for you.  Making the decision to leave and get out is one thing…getting the intrusive thoughts to stop is another.  As a result of his mask-his presentation of two sides- you will continue to struggle with questioning yourself and what you experienced.  Your cooperative mind will want to go along with the program when your “fact finding” mind will tell you something completely different.    The benefit here is that you have the choice to cooperate-to cooperate with the facts.  If you can lean on those around you (who are probably telling you he is no good, he’s dangerous, he’s all wrong for you) and the facts as they are presented (he lied to you, stole from you, manipulated you); you will have a much better chance at emotional healing…healing that will last long after you have had no contact.

The next trait that a pathological relationship requires is helpfulness.  This goes hand in hand with cooperation.  You are one helpful person.  A pathological needs that too.   He needs to know that you will do what you need to do to get the job done.  He also needs to know that you will stand next to him when times get tough.  See, the program he’s running is one big con…so sometimes others challenge him.  These challenges can be direct or indirect…the can come from family (yours or his), from co-workers, from friends or acquaintances.  No matter the direction, he needs to know that you will be there beside him…to stand up for him.  You, after all, are just trying to help.  He plays the victim and you the rescuer.  It is one of the dynamics that keeps you locked in.  Herein lies the risk: you are eager and willing to get the job done…be the person to provide assistance and guidance.  You want to make things right…set things strait.  He needs a person who will make his mask seem true…someone to vouch for him.  Sometimes, you are the person who helps seal the deal…make his con appear real.  How could he be lying about who he is with you on his arm?  Herein lies the benefit: You are not going to help someone con others.  The gig will be up when you really see him for who he is.  You can then use your helpfulness to make sure no one else gets hurt.  In turn, you are helping yourself.  You are the kind of person who will be just as strong in aligning against him as you were aligning with him.  You will help yourself too…you are the kind of woman who will seek out what you need.  You will search the internet until you find answers and when you do…you apply the skills needed to disengage and begin healing.

There are a couple of ways to address these traits so that they do not become a risk but are more of a benefit.  Your cooperation was tested early on in the relationship.  You may have been asked to do things or led to do things just to see if you would follow through.  Take a moment and think about the early stage of your relationship.  Did you complete tasks that were outside of your personal boundaries…late night meetings, compromising sexual requests, unannounced visits, requests for money?  Take a moment and list these requests or experience-title them “Red Flags-Boundary Breakers.”  These represent ways in which your cooperation and helpfulness was “over-flowing” from your own cup.  Your desire to cooperate and be helpful was greater than your desire to stay true to who you are.  As you begin to heal you can use this list as a reminder of where your boundaries are…give yourself a chance to firmly instill them so that no other person will be allowed to cross them.

Breathe

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” – ThichNhatHanh

Your breath is your life.  It is the power that moves you. It is the energy that drives you.  It is the fire that keeps you alive.  Your breath keeps you focused on the task at hand.  Your breath helps you slow down and relax.  Your breath moves through your body like a river, creating life along it’s banks.

In pathological relationship recovery, all of these things are needed.  The things that your breath provides are the things that will help you get better.  You need power, energy, fire, focus, relaxation and to create life again.  So, it makes sense that a big part of recovery is that you learn to breathe again.

It seems odd that you might need to learn to breathe again, but you do.  You lost control of your breath the moment you were first traumatized in the pathological relationship.  That first red flag that rose took your breath away.  The first time he called you a nasty name, or showed up unannounced when you had said you were going to be busy, or anytime his masked slipped enough for you to see his pathology.  These are moments when your breath became off balance for the first time.  Your breath took over in a sense.  You may have not felt it; but you sensed it.

When you experience a trauma your body leaps into survival mode.  In order for you to survive, certain primary functions must lead the way.  Your breath first stops and slows which signals a release of adrenaline.  This process then tells your body to be on alert.  Other physiological symptoms occur like sweating, confusion, a fast heart beat.  Through the event your breath is moving in a pressured way…often making your chest feel heavy.  As the perception of the trauma resolves you come back to yourself.  But what happens in a pathological relationship is that you never really leave the exposure to the trauma.  So, you never really come back to yourself.  Your body and breath is always on alert, off balance, unsure of when the next moment of fear will occur.

After an extended exposure to psychological trauma, your breath is not even on your radar.  When you live “in trauma” you stop being able to sense your breath and often miss the other physiological symptoms too.  You are so busy “thinking” in circles that your body’s warning signs and symptoms are “normalized”.  This is the epitome of losing yourself.  Without this awareness and mindfulness you are not present.  Your mind is taking you on a journey outside of the present moment, “What do I do next?”, “What did I do wrong?”, “What can I do to make this stop?”  With these thoughts come the behavioral options – fight, flight or freeze.

There is another way through trauma and trauma recovery…breathe.  Being able to regain the mindfulness of breathing can change everything.  Whether you are still in the midst of trauma or working hard to recover from it; the focus on breathing is crucial.  It is really the foundation for recovery.

You can begin by learning how to take good, deep breaths.  In through your nose…count to three slowly as you inhale…and out through your mouth…count to three as you exhale.  As you breathe listen to the sound of the breath moving in through your nose, and hear the breath leaving your mouth.  Feel the coolness and the relaxing sensation of each breath.  Stay present and focused with each breath.

After you learn to breathe again, add daily scheduled time to practice.  It is recommended that you spend 15-20 minutes each night before bed practicing relaxation and mindful breathing.  You can start with a shorter time frame and build up to the full 20 minutes.  After you believe you have mastered the breathing, you can begin to add in mindfulness skills like turning your mind to thoughts on your immediate sensations.  Turn your mind to take in the sights around you, the sounds you hear, the sensations you feel or the scents you smell.  When your mind wanders, bring it back to the present and immediate moment. Focus on just what is within your own space.

So, now you can begin to catch your breath.  You can begin the process of calming your body, your mind and your spirit.  When you are breathing in a calm and measured way, you are at your best.  With a steady breath, you will be able to think clearly, respond smartly and behave in a way that is safe.

It all begins with one slow, deep breath.

Little Red Riding Hood Revisited

This is part of a series of articles with a focus on issues related to dating after a pathological relationship; this is one of the specific areas that The Institute is asked about all the time. It is a complicated issue, as are most of the recovery issues related to pathological relationships. I will explore and focus on strategies to that will help ensure that your most recent pathological relationship is your LAST pathological relationship.

Little Red Riding Hood walks through the forest on her way to grandma’s house. A wolf stalks and follows her, hungry to eat her. He moves more quickly than her and finds his place in grandmas home, devours grandma, dons grandma’s clothes and waits patiently for Little Red to arrive. I think we know what happens next. Or do we?

Little Red Riding Hood has been down this road before. She’s a little older now and wiser. What the wolf does not know is that she remembers who he is and he is pretty freaking predictable. He is a carnivore with a one track mind. She knows he hunts and stalks, she knows that he is sly and cunning and she knows that he hides in places to make her think that he is safe to be around. She did not always know this but because she is smart, she remembers. And, because she remembers, she is not so afraid.

I know that you can relate to Little Red Riding Hood. You were stalked and followed. He moved quicker than you, he was more powerful from the start (you really did not stand a chance) and he was a master of making you feel safe. In fact, much like the wolf hid in grandmas clothes, your cluster b hid in society – pretending to be what you thought was safe. But once you are out of your pathological relationship you cannot hide at home, never venturing into the forest again. And, you cannot go back into the forest, pretending that wolves are out there.

When you are ready, you have to get back out there. But you have to do it differently. The key to dating again is spotting it and/or getting out quickly if danger presents itself. If we revisit Little Red Riding Hood the second time around she still takes the forest route because it is the most beautiful and provides the most excitement. But as she moves through the forest, she looks up and sees what is in front of her. She notices the trees, the small sweet animals and the dangerous wolves. And when she is quiet and peaceful, safely moving in the world she can really sense danger. This peacefulness allows her to do something different when danger is afoot and she does it.

You may have never been taught that there were wolves in the world. You may have grown up surrounded by wolves so that when a wolf arrived, you thought it normal. But, once you know the story of the wolves you have a new power. You can learn how people like this work, how they come with an intensity that is overwhelming, how they seek to control and violate boundaries, how they hide in society with titles and stories that have no facts behind them, and how they talk like us and pretend to love like us but are NOTHING like us.

You can learn to spot it – the wolf in granny’s clothing. Once you see it, you have to choose to do something different. This is other part of the story that Little Red Riding Hood does different. See, all of her life and throughout time, she might have been told how to spot a wolf but she was never really told that it was ok to dump the wolf. You might have learned a similar lesson. Women are often told to “make it work” or “just give him another chance”. Women have been taught to believe that if they change, their situation will change. That’s just not always true. Whenit comes to wolves, he’s a wolf and there is no amount of love that is going to make him not be a wolf. If he’s a wolf then your only option is to run.

Dating after a pathological love relationship requires that you have the skills to spot a pathological. You have experienced it first hand and often times the only gift that comes from that relationship is that you know what it looks like. So use it. As you begin to date, watch for patterns of pathological behavior. Lies, boundary violations, intensity, stories that don’t match, history of destroyed relationships or intense blaming of past partners, lack of genuine social connections, history of legal violations or violation of social norms are just some of things you might see. And remember, that not all cluster b’s look the same but the underlying patterns are the same. So one may not do exactly what the last one did but a lie is a lie and a boundary violation is a boundary violation.

Be prepared to move on. You must be prepared to not have a second date, break up after a month or leave even after 6 months in, if that is when you see it. Any relationship requires that you hold on to you and at any moment, you must be Ok with leaving and not be an emotional puddle on the floor. You holding on to you means that you saw who he is, you know it’s not you and you leave.
Little Red Riding Hood spends a lot of time with grandma now. The wolves move in the forest the same way they always did and often a wolf stalks Red. But she doesn’t spend time in fear or worry about the wolf. She moves smartly, peacefully and quickly on her path to grandma’s house. Head up, eyes open. She saves the fear for when she needs it, to sense danger and run. The rest of her days she works hard, cares for her kids, visits with friends and travels the world. The End.

Controlled Contact

“The most dangerous thing is illusion”-Ralph Waldo Emerson

It really is.  Illusion is dangerous.  As much as you want to be rid of the horror of a pathological relationship; as much as you want the chaos to end; as much as you try to make the quiet moments a sign of peace, it is all really an illusion.  Just because it’s over does not mean that it’s done.  In fact, the relationship being over can often mean the beginning of a new phase; wash, rinse, repeat.

In many cases you may be facing parallel parenting or endless court battles.  The problem is, you are different.  You know what you are up against.  The truth is, he is not different.  You can’t forget that.  So how do you manage what is in front of you?

When “no contact” is not possible because of kids or court, you can institute a policy for yourself called “Controlled Contact”. Controlled contact as in you are in control.  You set the rules; you create and hold on to the boundaries.  There is no denying that this will be like walking on a tightrope…with gators in the pond below…this is going to be hard.  But when you have control your path will be less challenging, easier to manage.  Most importantly, without illusion you will decrease the psychological impact that he has on you.

Controlled contact begins with evaluating how you communicate.  You must look at email, text, phone and in person.  The first step is to completely eliminate contact in the most ways possible.  So, ask yourself “Do I need to see him?”, “Do I need to call or talk on the phone with him?”, “Can I limit my contact to email only?”  Make a choice to eliminate at least two methods of contact.  This means that you will no longer have ANY communication with him via those methods.  You will not respond nor will you reach out via those methods.

The second step in controlled contact is to follow some simple communication rules.  Begin with limiting the words you use.  This means that instead of a lengthy email or text you limit your words to 3 or 4.  You can respond with “OK.” or “Yes.” or “No.” Those are complete sentences by the way.  Next, if you must use more than a couple of words eliminate all emotional language.  You can do this by not using phrases like “That’s not fair.”, “You keep hurting me.”, “You just don’t get it.” etc.  All of these phrases and phrases like them convey emotion.   This emotional language is just the thing that he needs to hook you…just the thing that he will know has you still hooked.

The third step is to be an observer during contact.  Stay alert by using linking and labeling.  Linking and labeling is a technique to link the behavior of the cluster b with the label of the behavior – identifying it as projection, gaslighting, crazy-making triangle, etc.  For example, pay attention and identify when you see the crazy making triangle.  Listen to his words and the position he speaks from, is it victim, persecutor or rescuer?  When you know which role he is speaking from it will help you to remember that you do not want to be in any of those positions with him…so be the wall.  Give him nothing back.  You have to stay outside of the crazy-making triangle because he never will.

The fourth step is to track your success.  Write down what works and what doesn’t-when you make a mistake, write it down and don’t do it again.  When you do this you are paying attention to patternsof his reaction to things.  This allows you to get your feet back underneath you and actually be able to predict his responses.

Finally, write down rules for yourself.  For example, when I talk I am only going to talk on the phone to him for more than 15 minutes.  Another rule might be when you talk stay on a certain topic-like the kid’s school issues.  When you set rules for yourself you are taking back your power.  Throughout the relationship he controlled the conversations, content and all.  Now, you decide.

For you to preserve your mental health you must stay in control when you can.  The aftermath of a pathological relationship is not perfect and it can often leave you feeling like you will never get control back again.  But, the truth is, once you rid yourself of the illusion that he will ever be any different, you gain some power back.

Feeling Sentimental?

By Jennifer Young, MS
Director of Survivor Services for The Institute

Valentines Day, Easter, Memorial Day, The Fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas; Your birthday, your anniversary, the birth of a baby, a promotion, a graduation. Feeling sentimental? I bet you are! You might be feeling a bit of tenderness, compassion, joy, sadness or anger. It doesn’t take much. Just the idea of these holidays or events can elicit a wave of emotion.

Sentimentality is a feeling. That’s it. It is you, responding to a memory. Feeling sentimental is not the memory but the feeling that it elicits. That is important to understand. Pathologicals want you to feel. When you feel, they are in control.

Herein lies the risk:He used your sentimentality against you. Think about how many times you were in a disagreement and he brought you roses. In that moment your emotion instantly shifted away from his offense and on to the first time he brought you roses. He might have manipulated your sentimentality when he talked about your children-their birth, their accomplishments, their struggles. In those moments your attention turned away from his betrayal or lack of parenting and towards the idea of “family” and the bond that was crafted. He would send loving cards to you as he’s wooing someone else. He used your sentimentality as a distraction. When you were overwhelmed with the feeling of sentimentality, you certainly struggle with staying angry or confused or disgusted.

Additionally, when the cognitive dissonance of “he’s good/he’s bad” is in full swing, this strategy of sentimentality manipulation is one of the things that pulls you back to his side. It’s the part of the relationship that you buy into with so much intensity. You have 5, 10, even 20 years of memories that he can draw on to pull you back to him. Each one of those memories is a point of manipulation on their own…but then he uses them over and over again to reinforce his mask. And you thought it was just another Christmas!!!

Herein lies the benefit: Let’s face it-it is healthy to feel sentimental. Your sentimentality is a reminder that you can bond, in a healthy, emotional and equally connected way. That’s good news. You also have the ability to rationally reflect on the reality of those dates. If you can step back and be an observer of those days you can see the pathology. Being an observer means that you look past how you felt to see what you saw. When you look back at the facts, the pieces come together. You see the flowers he brought with the shifty smile as if he gotten one over on you. You see the pretty birthday jewelry followed by the night he didn’t come home. You see the holiday dinner that included insults, projection and persecution. By the time the relationship ended, your sentimentality had been drained. He kept you spinning with the emotions of sentimentality so much that now…when it’s over you probably want to run and hide as these dates approach. It’s this disdain and disgust that contributed to you leaving. Again, it’s a good thing-that is the benefit. It was part of your awareness process that leads to a full awaking. As hard as it is to look back at those dates, it is powerful to know that SEEING the pathology is what freed you from it. And as usual, once you saw it you left.

Ultimately, if sentimentality is just a feeling then the dates are just the dates. He doesn’t own them. You do. They are just days in the past, events in time in which you were manipulated into believing the picture he painted. Once you begin to separate out those days from the new dates head, healing can be enhanced. Easter of 2009 will look nothing like Easter 2013. Your birthday in 2002 will look nothing like your birthday in 2013. This year, this date, this event you will be in control. You will be in the place you want to be, with the people you want to be around, accepting and giving gifts of your choosing in a fully present and genuine way. No manipulation, no gaslighting, no devaluing, no cognitive dissonance.

Don’t ever run away from your emotions. They are powerful tools-you need them and must treasure them. They do help us give meaning to every moment, every event, every day. They are a part of a very valuable human experience. Together with rational thoughts, reflection and perspective, emotions can create strength in you like you have never known. This year, be strong. Take on each event with a new sense of vigor and excitement. Take your days back-make new memories-feel new feelings. The further you get from pathology, the more your mind will become filled with the genuine feeling of sentimentality. Each year that passes you can look back at the events of 2013 with tenderness and joy-it was the year you ROCKED IT!

7 Ways to Reduce Relationship Stress

Do you feel like there is a huge brick wall between you and your significant other? You’re screaming at each other trying to make yourself understood but this wall keeps making your message come through garbled on the other side?

You’re not alone. This is one of the biggest problems with relationships. So many so called experts say there is a lack of communication. I disagree, I believe most couples communicate quite a bit (at least until the frustration becomes too much). The problem I’ve seen and felt from couples is a lack of effective communication.

Here are some specific ways you can reduce the relationship stress at home (and reduce stress breathing):

1. Get clear on your wants and needs. Everyone has specific wants and needs that they have to have fulfilled to feel loved, significant, and worthy. Countless problems occur because couples expect their significant other to intuit or “just know” what makes them happy.

2. Communicate in the same “language.” People experience the world differently. Many couples experience struggles simply because they don’t understand how the other person experiences the world. Most people experience the world mainly through vision or mainly through feelings. A wife may struggle to explain how she feels about a situation while a husband will tell her what it looks like to him.

3. Spend time together. Yes this is a simple idea but it is essential. Spending time with your spouse is important in so many ways. For instance, sleeping in the same bed results in a couples hearts beating in sync.

4. Have fun together. You don’t have to like all the same activities, just make sure you go to the same places together. Perhaps you may like to read on the beach while your significant other plays in waves. You’ve now both experienced joy at the beach, this is a shared experience which helps reduce tension together.

5. Stop being so judgmental. Life doesn’t ever go 100% right. Cut your spouse some slack. It’s a team effort. If they need help, jump in and help rather than nagging and demeaning them.

*Children and parents alike need to know that, when they make mistakes, they have a loving family that will back them up.

6. Have clear rules. Women especially like to have a clear set of rules or behaviors that as a couple you have decided is acceptable. Remember to be fair. If you’re allowed to look at other women realize that she can do the same. Having clear rules from the outset helps avoid stress later in a relationship.

7. Introvert or extrovert. This one is important! How do you “recharge” your batteries? Do you like to be alone with your thoughts, read a book, go for a walk or do you like to talk the problems out, go to a party, or have a barbecue. Is your spouse the opposite? This can lead to a endless problems if you don’t respect the other persons needs.

A happy and stress free relationship is one built on understanding and communication.

Sources:

  1. Negative Memories
  2. Diet and Stress Levels
  3. How to Sleep Well

Signs of Relationship Stress

We are all searching for the perfect relationship. We have ideals of what the perfect relationship should be like. In a perfect world we would all have that. It is unrealistic to expect that all of your relationships will be perfect. Many relationships will contain signs of relationship stress that we may choose to ignore simply because we want the perfect relationship. Some relationships will naturally be better than others. Some we have to work harder at. Knowing how to identify the signs of relationship stress will help you handle your relationship problems.

Most of us would like to be in a relationship that consists of friendship, trust, understanding, caring and clear communication. It doesn’t always work that way. Often times our relationships are full of problems in all of these areas. We may not address the problems right away or we choose to ignore them hoping they will go away and instead they just get worse. Sooner or later those signs of relationship stress that we chose to ignore are so overwhelming that we feel there is now way out.

If you are in a relationship that is less than perfect then you may be experiencing some of the following: feeling sick, inability to concentrate, depressed, anxious, fighting about the same things repeatedly, ignoring problem situations, distance from your partner, not talking to each other, sleeplessness, mistrust, decreased sense of loyalty, decreased sense of caring, unwillingness to try, irritability, anger and resentment.

These are all signs of relationship stress. You might experience one, some or all of them. If you are at the point where you are experiencing the majority of these symptoms then your relationship is likely in a lot of trouble. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the relationship will end. You do need to address these issues quickly in order to restore your relationship to the way it was before the problems began. You have to change things and you can make a difference.

Sources:

The Gift of Time-Managing the Pace of a New Relationship

This year I will begin a series of articles with a focus on issues related to dating after a pathological relationship; this is one of the specific areas that The Institute is asked about all the time. It is a complicated issue, as are most of the recovery issues related to pathological relationships. I will explore and focus on strategies to that will help ensure that your most recent pathological relationship is your LAST pathological relationship.

“Time ripens all things; with time all things are revealed; time is the father of truth.” ~Francois Rabelais

There is one task in dating after a pathological relationship: to discern pathology from non-pathology before you are hurt. In order to achieve this task, you must be prepared to buy yourself some time. Pathology is not decided by one event– not one lie, not one affair, or not one nasty fight. Pathology is discerned over time by watching for a pattern of behaviors. Your experience with one pathological will help you know the behaviors and pattern however, if you do not give yourself time you will NOT see it.

The very first thing that happens in a pathological relationship is that you are overwhelmed. A pathological often moves fast and hard. They love-bomb, they challenge your “no’s,” they show up unannounced, they come along just because, or after you tell them that you have plans with friends they send text after text. When you tell them that you’d like to see them Sunday, instead of Saturday they send flowers on Saturday letting your know you are missed. While you are at work they send emails, call, or even show up. They are beginning the process of control. Each one of these events is part of a pattern that serves to overwhelm and manipulate you. You perceive the attention as loving, sensitive and compassionate or it maybe even something you have not felt before. You hear the talk in your head that says “he must really care about me because he wants to share every moment with me.”

The problem with pathology is this intensity in the early phase takes away your ability to “feel” the danger. The intensity blinds you making it nearly impossible to see the boundary violations, see the tests that you are being put through, see that the acts of “love” are really fantasy development. What I hear most about this early phase is feeling fear and excitement at the same time. But what inevitably happens is that the fear is squashed by excitement. He pulls you in with flowers and scares you with a boundary violation. As you begin to question the violation, he sends a sweet text message so the fear fades quickly.

The solution is giving yourself the gift of time. Slowing down in a relationship allows both the fear and excitement to be sensed.If the relationship is built on fear, you need to know that. If the relationship is built on excitement, you need to know that too. Our feelings are a tool…a warning sign. They let us know when something good is happening and when we are in danger. You need to feel the fear so that you can decide how to act. But, if you are moving so fast that you cannot feel these emotions, you will miss the warning signs.

Time will reveal the truth. Not only will going slow help you to feel the danger if it is there,time will allow the patterns of behavior to reveal themselves. For pathologicals with good masks this may take a while for them to slip. Your task is to put the pieces together and when you see who he is, believe it and do something about it. It might not be one lie, but two or three is a pattern. It might not be one boundary violation, but two or three is a pattern.

In this day and age, slowing down is not really part of our lives. We move fast today. Technology makes things so easy and allows for quick, direct (sometimes even intense) communication. We are often under pressure to move fast in relationships,having put off “love” for career. So the task of slowing down requires that you look at how we date today.

  • Technology: Focus on limiting the amount of texts and emails that you send while in early stage dating. Limit texts or emails to once a day or less and limit content to setting up dates or quick check in. Leave real conversation for the face to face meetings. Take a look at your facebook friends and consider not adding a new friend until they are an actual friend. Adding a person that you have not even met in person or who you have had one dinner date with might not be the best choice. When using online dating sites keep emails simple, straight forward and of a non-intimate nature.
  • Contact: Consider dating once a week. Leave Friday and Saturdays for a traditional date night and hold firm to your boundary. Even if you are not mutually free on those days for two or three weeks,you just bought yourself some time. Hold firm to boundaries regarding when you are available. If you have plans with friends or family, do not cave when the pressure comes for him to participate.
  • Time: Be vigilant about how long you spend with one person in early stage dating. Allow yourself two or maybe three hours for first, second and third dates. This would include a dinner date, an outdoor activity date, or a group date. Keep phone calls short and pleasant. Again, leave real conversation for face to face meetings.
  • Relationships: You can slow things down by keeping your early stage date just that, a date. He does not need to meet the kids, the parents or any other close family. The process of bringing a new person into your intimate circle only intensifies the relationship in your eyes and puts you at risk. The person you should introduce him to is the non-tolerant best friend. The friend that warned you about the last one!

And a word about sex and slowing down: think about it. That’s it. Just think it through. Whatever you choose, make sure you have taken the TIME to think it through. Sex means that your neurochemistry will shift and you will sense a deeper attraction, a deeper sense of relationship investment, and even craving. Those are all neurochemistry shifts you cannot control. Sex means that your mind and your beliefs about the relationship will change. Sex means that you could be triggered or struggle with the intimacy involved…are you ready?

The task of pacing and slowing down gives you control. When it comes to discerning if your potential date is pathological you will only be able to do that if you remain in control and you control the pace.Give yourself a chance. You knew the first time around too but he was better at being a pathological. You knew the first time around but he moved faster and moved with an intensity that was meant to overwhelm you. This time you will know, you will see and you will be able to choose differently if you give yourself the gift of time.

 

Touched by Tragedy

On Friday, December 14, 2012 America was touched by tragedy again.  In Newtown, Connecticut 27 adults and children lost their lives and all of their family and friends felt the ripple of fear, anger, loss, and grief.  This type of tragedy unfortunately is not unusual in our society.  Across the country there have been countless mass shootings in the last several decades from Seattle, to Aurora, to Jonesboro and Fort Hood.  These shootings don’t even begin to complete the list of national tragedies.  Each day in America we are touched by other tragedies- a catastrophic weather event like Sandy, forest fires like those in Colorado, California earthquakes, or the loss of military service personnel.

So what do all of these events have in common with a pathological love relationship?  They all elicit a potential trauma reaction in you.  Being touched by tragedy is more than just a little sadness or empathy if you are suffering from the symptoms of PTSD.  When you are exposed to national tragedies your brain registers the event as real, vivid, and live.  Your unconscious brain has a hard time distinguishing what is happening now and what has happened in the past.  When this happens, any event can seem like it is happening to you now.  You begin to sweat, your heart beats fast and your breathing pattern changes.  Your mind flies into survival mode and you may even feel the need to isolate as a measure of protection from harm.

Beyond the physical symptoms are the thoughts that begin to swirl around.  When you are traumatized or triggered, your brain is flooded by emotions and so often these emotions cause confusion and cover up clear thinking.  Your brain links the trigger you are exposed to with the trauma you have actually experienced. So when you feel fear today, you are reminded of your fear from the past.  When you feel sadness today, you are reminded of sadness from the past.  When you feel confusion today, you are reminded of confusion from the past.  These links then drive the thoughts.  Your thinking turns from “that must have been so scary for them” to “I am so scared he will come back”.  Your brain is tricking you.  It might be one of the things about our brain that is “faulty”.  Our brain is an amazing organ and every day it does amazing things.  But when triggered as a result of trauma, it fails us.

Cluster b’s love to keep you out of the present moment.  In your relationship with the cluster b your mind spent many moments outside of the present.  When you were not present, he was in control.  It might have been after a gaslight when he touched you on the arm and your mind when back to the first time he touched you.  It could have been after discovering a text from another woman and he yelled at you for being jealous and not trusting him.  Your mind when back to the first time he ever yelled.  It may have been after he was late for the kids school performance and he brought flowers and a lie.  Your mind went back to the time before when he brought you flowers and a lie.  Each time he took you back, he re-hooked you.  That’s because your mind went back and before you could respond, your emotions had resolved back to peace or calm.  The event was over.  The fear, anger or confusion was over.  You stayed.

Your task is to stay present in recovery.  When you are touched by tragedy after a trauma your task is to stay present.  At any given point in time, you must remind yourself that you are safe and not at risk.  This is mindfulness.  Mindfulness is staying actively focused on the present moment.  It is a skill that is crucial to recovery from a pathological love relationship and it is especially important in getting through triggers related to national tragedies.  You cannot control the outside world but you can control your world.  Take some time for yourself.  Take some time to focus on your environment, whether it be turning off the TV, spending quiet time at home or getting outside to spend time in nature.  Recovery is a process and your healing depends on how well you move through it.  Each day, each week, each year is an opportunity for you to heal-to do better and be better.

My hope for you is peace this year.  And I hope that when peace is disrupted you face it mindfully.

Reducing Relationship Stress This Christmas

For many couples Christmas can a stressful time. What is meant to joyous and relaxing time can simply become a stream of expectation management with ‘trying to keep everyone happy’ being the ultimate goal.

The irony is the more we try to keep everyone happy the less happy we are and the more pressure we end of placing on our loved ones. Understandably, the first step in reducing our relationship stress is to let go of trying to keep your relatives, kids, and partner happy this Christmas.

This may sound ‘harsh’ however with some reflection you will discover it’s an impossible goal. Instead allow everyone to take responsibility for their own happiness this Christmas including yourself. The most painful thing about trying to keep other people happy is that ultimately we never succeed and in the process of trying to keep others happy we make ourselves unhappy by over-committing and not being true to ourselves!

Having made this decision, the next step is to identify and let go the expectations that you feel have been ‘put on you’ by your relatives, your children and your partner. To discover what these expectations are simply write down on a piece of paper. ‘With respect to my Children/Partner/relatives at Christmas I should or I have to .. and see what comes out. It’s essential that you actually write these answers down as opposed to simply think about them.

Once you have completed your list of expectations accept that while it feels like they come from ‘outside of you’ in fact these are your own expectations of yourself. Then ask yourself whether holding onto this expectations is going to give you or your family a holiday stressors free time. Finally make a decision to let this go simply by taking a deep breath and saying or writing ‘I choose to let the above expectations go.’

Having cleared the slate in terms of all the things you think you should or have to do ask yourself: ‘What be a truly relaxing, enjoyable and meaningful way for me to celebrate Christmas this year?”. You can write this down and share this with your partner and ask for their input. If there are differences between your dream Christmases, firstly help your partner let go their own expectations then explore how the essence of what you would both love can be honoured.

Once you and your partner are clear about your dream Christmas you can share this with your children and family and allow them to be involved within the terms you have set up. Remember you are not trying to keep anyone happy. Those friends, relatives and children who were going to be stressed and disappointed will find a reason to be regardless of what you do around Christmas. At least this way you and your partner will feel fantastic!