Time to be SELFISH!

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“I don’t deserve to be here.” This is a common statement by teens feeling forced to attend therapy by their parents. Many people see a need for therapy as when something is going wrong or they’re struggling. I can understand why teens feel that therapy is a punishment; they have to meet a stranger and begin talking about their deepest feelings. It’s overwhelming to say the least!!

Therapy is a time to be selfish, no not the ‘me me me’ negative type of selfish we all think. Although, yes it is a time to just talk about you: how you’re feeling, how you see events, how life is affecting YOU. Many times in the world, we get told being selfish is a bad thing, but really why is taking time to focus on yourself such a bad thing?? Yes, we’ve all been taught to share our toys in kindergarten because we want to be nice, but sometimes it’s nice to not have to share everything with everyone!

Many teens don’t feel they’re allowed to be selfish and so they start shaming themselves. Therapy is (typically) that one hour/one time a week that they get to just focus on themselves. Trying to help teens break down the norm that it’s okay to focus on them and that therapy is a blessing rather than a punishment is a difficult task, but needed. Teens then have available a non-biased person to support them, not focused on anything but helping them better themselves. Helping them become the best self they can be!! In that term, why would therapy or selfishness ever be a bad thing?!?

Blog Roundup: Walking on Eggshells

By Amy Marlow-MaCoy

The holidays can be a hard time for a lot of people struggling with difficult (and narcissistic) families. Read these blog posts, guides, and tips to prepare for the next family gathering.

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20 Questions to Help You Find Clarity

When it comes to your family, yourself, your children, your parents, your partner, and your work – do you find yourself asking something along the lines of “Which way do I go?”

Do you ask yourself the same questions over and over again, feeling stumped and frustrated that you can’t seem to get past this point? Ever wonder if there’s something wrong with you because you just can’t make the call and pick a path?

Maybe it’s not so much that you can’t pick the path. Maybe you just need some help finding better questions. Finding the right question, it seems, is key to moving forward.

Let’s take a look at some clarifying questions that can help you better understand what you’re struggling with - and maybe point the way to a new direction to explore!

When You’re Too Much and Not Enough (At the Same Time)

Did you know it's possible to feel like you are not enough AND too much - all at the same time?

Too sensitive, too touchy, too emotional...and not important enough, not successful enough, not good enough. Sound familiar?

Read on about the phenomenon of being too much and not enough at the same time - and how to let go of those conflicting self-beliefs

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Why You Still Feel Small Around Your Emotionally Abusive Family

We often associate the holidays with connection, family, and love, but not all families work like this. If your holidays are joyous times spent in celebration with loved ones, that is wonderful! If your holidays are more like torture sessions punctuated by a lot of food, then this blog post below may help you out.

10 Questions to Help You Get Unstuck

Do you feel stuck and struggle to create change in your life, no matter how much you desire it?

Take a look at Amy’s guide to help you explore where you feel stuck, where you desire change, and where you feel ambivalent toward anything that shakes up the status quo.

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The Highly Sensitive Person in a Narcissistic Home

Have you ever cried while listening to a moving piece of music? Ever looked at an interesting piece of art and found yourself getting goosebumps? Or do you sometimes just know that someone is upset just by standing near them, without them needing to say a word? If this sounds familiar, you might be a Highly Sensitive Person.

In many ways, HSPs are a narcissist’s dream, and being highly sensitive in a toxic environment can leave deep wounds. Fortunately, even the most highly sensitive of HSPs can learn to gently place boundaries and practice self-care.

If you are a Highly Sensitive Person who struggles to separate your feelings from others, feels deeply selfish for tending to your own needs, or feels overwhelmed by the needs of others, take heart. Your sensitivity is not a curse, and it can be a wonderful gift. You can’t turn it off, but you can learn to care for and nurture yourself, just as you do those around you.

It Didn’t Start With You: Tracing the Roots of Narcissistic Abuse

This blog post focuses on how trauma can haunt multiple generations of a family, creating the perfect recipe for a narcissist. The good news? You don't have to continue the trend. Every day brings the opportunity to choose differently.

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(Un)Tangled: 5 Traits of Adult Children of Narcissists

This blog post focuses on the traits of narcissism displayed by Mother Gothel in Disney's Tangled. Read about 5 signs you might have been raised by a narcissist, as demonstrated by Rapunzel!

Do any of these posts resonate with you? We're less than a week away from Amy's wonderful support group for adults struggling with narcissistic and emotionally immature relationships. Sign up now!

20 Questions to Help You Find Clarity

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How many times have we seen it in movies - the main character is stuck at a crossroads and asks a question of his wise old mentor figure. (It’s usually something along the lines of “Which way do I go?”) And almost inevitably, the mentor replies “That’s the wrong question.”

Usually, the main character thinks for awhile before coming up with a new, better question, gains some clarity, and is off to the races again. Finding the right question, it seems, is key to moving forward.

Have you ever found yourself asking the same questions over and over again, feeling stumped and frustrated that you can’t seem to get past this point? Ever wondered if there’s something wrong with you because you just can’t make the call and pick a path?

Maybe it’s not so much that you can’t pick the path. Maybe you just need some help finding better questions. Let’s take a look at some clarifying questions that can help you better understand what you’re struggling with - and maybe point the way to a new direction to explore!

Questions about family

Instead of asking: Do I absolutely have to see my narcissistic family at the next holiday gathering?

Try these: What do I think might happen if I chose to attend the gathering?

What do I think might happen if I chose to stay home?

How do I want to handle it if either of these situations occur? What can I do differently this time than I have done in the past?

Questions about myself

Instead of asking: What is wrong with me that I can’t just cut off my mom?

Try these: What am I worried that I will feel if I stop talking to my mom?

What do I think will change if I remove an important relationship from my life?

What kind of relationship do I want to have with my mom, and is it possible to get any closer to that?

Questions about my kids

Instead of asking: Am I ruining my kids because I’m afraid I'm secretly a narcissist too?

Try these: Am I fostering an environment where my kids can grow, learn, and develop?

Am I open to hearing feedback from them that can develop our relationship, even if it’s not always positive?

Am I supporting my kids in exploring and developing their interests and skills so that they can become more themselves?

Questions about my partner

Instead of asking: Why doesn’t my partner understand how things are for me at the holidays?

Try these: How can I communicate clearly and effectively with my partner?

What do I need him or her to know about my feelings, wants, and needs?

What do I need from my partner to feel supported this holiday season?

Bonus: What stops me from asking my partner for what I need?

Questions about work

Instead of asking: Why can’t I get myself together at work?

Try these: What is not working for me at work?

Where am I feeling stuck, overwhelmed, or confused at work?

Who can I ask for support with this project?

Questions about my self-care

Instead of asking: When can I go on a Netflix binge to recuperate from stressful events?

Try these: What do I find upsetting or triggering about this event?

What do I need in order to feel safe, grounded, or supported?

Who can I ask when I need help?

What can I do for myself to actively soothe and care for myself?

Pick at least one question from each category and cozy up with a journal to explore your crossroads with some new questions. You never know, some of these questions might also turn up at the wonderful Walking on Eggshells workshop next weekend! There’s still a few spots left - this week will be your last chance to sign up and reserve your space. I can’t wait to see you there!

I Am Grateful for Your Faults

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In the children’s classic A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle’s very relatable heroine Meg travels across the universe (several times) to save her family. Despite her fears and her belief that she is deeply unprepared, Meg faces each obstacle as it comes. She suffers for her efforts, and has to come face to face with her fears in order to save the little brother she so loves.

As Meg prepares to brave the terrible danger to save little Charles Wallace, she turns to her whimsical guides for reassurance and support. One of my favorite moments is this brief exchange between Meg and her whimsical guide, Mrs. Whatsit:

“Meg, I give you your faults.”

“My faults!” Meg cried. “But I’m always trying to get rid of my faults!”

“Yes,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “However, I think you’ll find they’ll come in very handy on Camazotz.”

Looking through a different lens

Many of the traits Meg perceived as faults turned out to be strengths in disguise. She is sensitive, smart, stubborn, and nonconformist. Her anger, and her sheer contrariness – the bane of her existence in many settings – turn out to be exactly what she needs to remain safe and strong in rescuing her father and brother. In the beginning of the story, Meg is relentlessly pressured to correct her faults. In the end, they turn out to be powerful assets.

Over the years, I have sat with many clients who feel fatally flawed, broken, or irreparably damaged because they struggle with anger, depression, anxiety, or low self-worth. So many fear that these faults they perceive mean they are ultimately unlovable, or that the abuse they suffered was truly deserved.

But here’s my big secret: What you see as faults, I see as fiercely strong protector parts dedicated to keeping you safe. In an abusive, chaotic, or otherwise unstable environment, your heart and mind will do whatever they can to help you get through. Sometimes that involves tapping into parts that society dislikes, such as angry parts, defensive parts, depressed parts, or stubborn parts.

Sometimes that even looks like developing protectors that push away the good things and people in your life. Sometimes clients sit down with parts that hate coming to therapy, that look for ways to push me away, or that will do anything to avoid looking at painful things. And you know what? 

I am grateful for those parts. 

Thank goodness for your “faults”

I am grateful for your angry protectors. I appreciate them for their fierceness and their dedication to protecting you from vulnerability. And I appreciate them for helping you stand strong in an environment that tried to knock you down.

I am grateful for your avoidant parts. You know, the ones that help you sidestep difficult conversations in order to minimize distress and tiptoe around conflict. I am grateful to them for helping you traverse the minefields. I am thankful that they can help you get to the other side just a little crispy instead of going up in a fireball.

I am grateful for your depressed and anxious parts. These are the parts that show you where the pain is.  They push you to do everything you can to control your world and reduce your pain. I am also grateful to them for letting you know it’s time to get help.

I am grateful for your stubborn parts. The ones that dig their heels in, refuse to give in, and keep you from being pushed around by people with a vested interest in controlling you. They tell you when we are approaching a tender spot in therapy. They send up a warning flag to tread lightly. I am especially grateful to them for guarding your sore spots so diligently. (Even when that means they are secretly flipping me off behind the scenes for asking questions that get too close to those sore spots.)

A gift to yourself

It would feel a bit pompous for me to gift you your faults, but I wanted to express my gratitude to the parts of you that may be unsung heroes. Yes, those parts can become overzealous and cause challenges on their own. But the fact remains that even our “faults” have value, and without them we would not be.

I am grateful for your faults, and grateful for mine.

I wish you a peaceful, relaxing, and joyful Thanksgiving.

Why You Still Feel Small Around Your Emotionally Abusive Family

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Learning the dance

When I was in middle and high school, I performed in my dance studio’s annual, original Christmas show: The Adventures of Rudolph. Although the storyline differed from the classic animated movie and song, the show was beloved by young children throughout my area. At this time of year, we would have been well into rehearsals and rapidly approaching full run-throughs of the show. Opening day would be only a few weeks away.

The process of learning and rehearsing the choreography was intense and grueling. We practiced the movements over and over, hour after hour, until they became second nature. If you played a piece of music from just about any part of the show right now, I could still tell you exactly which steps came next. The movements arethat ingrained in me even after all this time.

The reason for this was twofold. First, the constant repetition helped us build our stamina and get accustomed to the flow of the choreography. But the second, maybe more important reason, was that rehearsing the choreography repeatedly helped us develop muscle memory. Muscle memory is a phenomenon where the body learns what it needs to do so well that you don’t have to think about what you’re doing. The body remembers what comes next, and you execute the movements without conscious thought.

Ok, so what does this have to do with therapy, holidays, or narcissistic families?

The dance of family relationships

We are entering the time of year where many people spend more time than they usually would around their families of origin. The day before Thanksgiving is the biggest travel holiday of the year, and many of us will be driving or flying to spend time with family on or around the next week. This can be a wonderful, joyous time for those who have close, loving relationships with their families. For others, it is a minefield to be navigated with utmost care and caution.

One of the harder aspects of this navigation is the tendency for adult children of narcissists to fall back into old roles and patterns when they spend time around their emotionally immature parents. “I’m 35 years old!” you cry. “Why do I still feel like the 5-year-old who just got screamed at for getting mud on the floor?” Strong, confident, assertive adults can revert to anxious, withdrawn, or depressed shells of themselves in the presence of emotionally abusive loved ones. Why does this happen?

This is muscle memory of the mind: to slip back into patterns and roles so well rehearsed that they become automatic.

In a performance setting, muscle memory is a valuable skill. When the stage lights come up and you hear your musical cue, you can step on stage with confidence, and without the fear of forgetting your choreography. Drilling the choreography until you know it in your sleep lets you focus on your connection with the audience and your fellow performers. It also cuts down on stage fright, because you don’t have to think about what you’re doing – you just do it.

The steps you learned

In any family, we build relationships around learning how to interact with each other. In a loving, healthy family those interactions have built-in room for growth and change over time. Young children are more strictly supervised, taught, and attended to than older children, who earn independence as they demonstrate maturity. Teens will ideally receive more independence, as well as experiencing more natural consequences as they make choices based on their growing autonomy and self-motivation. And adult children will be given the opportunity to revisit and revise their relationship with their parents, moving from parent-child hierarchical relationships into more peer-like status.

When you grow up in a narcissistic or emotionally abusive family, roles tend to be more rigid, restrictive, and immutable. The narcissistic parent was and continues to be the epicenter of the family well of emotions. Their needs and wants will be paramount, and the child’s changing needs and wants will be secondary. These parents enforce their expectations by rewarding compliance and punishing anything that deviates from the roles they want their children to occupy. There is little or no room for growth, maturity, or renegotiation as the children grow up. Even as adults, the children of these families may experience significant subtle or overt pressure to always remain “the child” rather than ever becoming a peer.

Narcissistic parents miss out on a great deal by trying to keep their children in a role they have outgrown. Unfortunately, their driving concern is to meet their own needs first and foremost. An adult child may rebel against their role as family scapegoat, invisible child, or even golden child. When this happens,  the parent will try to pressure the adult child back into their expected place. Resistance is not futile, but it is hard.

Learning new steps is hard

It can be terribly frustrating to go on autopilot and join in a dance you no longer want to be a part of. No matter how much you want to change, you can still get sucked into the old patterns and cycles. Falling into those old cycles can also trigger self-critical parts to take potshots at you. This can add to your overall sense of shame and failure.

Instead of hating on your autopilot/muscle memory parts, consider this: those parts of you that fall back into the old familiar roles are not doing it to stunt your growth. They’re doing it because you know this role very, very well – and when you know a role so well you could do it in your sleep, there is much less chance of making a mistake in front of a watchful audience.

Muscle memory is a powerful thing. Mental muscle memory may be even more powerful, because the cues that trigger our performance can be so subtle that we don’t even notice them happening. Or, if we do notice them, it can be hard to stop ourselves responding to them. It can feel scary, lonely, or simply flat-out wrong to intentionally miss your cue – especially when you know the choreographer is watching in the wings, waiting to address any mistakes.

Muscle memory kept you safe(r)

If you played the music from Rudolph right now, but asked me to do different choreography, I would struggle for awhile. My body still remembers the steps and performance quality for each role, and that’s just from intensive rehearsals for a few months at a time over a period of six years. How much stronger must the muscle memory of 20 years of fulfilling a role be? 30 years?

So be kind and gracious with yourself if you find yourself falling back into the familiar steps. Noticing your participation is a good starting point to begin questioning whether these are steps you want to continue dancing. Your muscle memory parts are very good at their jobs because they have had to be. Don’t underestimate the power and value of self-preservation in an emotionally abusive or toxic environment.

Curtain call

If you fall into old patterns, be kind to yourself. Be curious and compassionate with your muscle memory parts: What feels important about playing this role? What feels scary about missing a cue? And how has performing the memorized choreography helped you in the past?

Sometimes our muscle memory parts don’t know that time has passed. They don’t know we’re no longer the nervous kid waiting in the wings with costume and makeup ready. These parts have done a hard job (and done it well) for a long time, and as far as they know nothing has changed. The music, the costumes, the lighting – it all looks the same. So you may need a gentle reminder to yourself about what has changed.

Perhaps those parts will find some relief in hanging up their pointe shoes and wiping off the stage makeup. Perhaps they will have some grief about making those changes. Whatever responses you have, give yourself room to feel them all. And give your muscle memory parts a round of applause as they take a bow. After all, they’ve done a hard piece of work so that you didn’t have to consciously think about doing it. Bravo!

You are not alone

If your holidays are more commonly marked with a grimace than actual cheer, you’re not alone. Contact me today to sign up for the Walking on Eggshells workshop, where you will have space to explore your muscle memory parts and learn some new choreography in a supportive community.

Space is limited, so don’t miss your chance to participate in this wonderful workshop. Reach out today! Now is your time.

Thankful vs. Grateful

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This time of the year it is easy to examine what we are thankful for, there’s a whole day focused on it! As we express how thankful we are, think about how you feel. Expressing these thoughts can improve self-esteem, empathy, mental strength, and interpersonal relationships. Another major benefit is reducing aggression. With all these benefits why don’t we do this all year long?

Gratitude is having a sense of thankfulness and the feeling is from within. A way to practice this daily is to start a gratitude journal! Writing down morning gratitude is able to change attitude towards your day, i.e. people you’re grateful for, or ending your day with noting the best part.  

Why leave this positive feeling to one day when we can have it all year!

When You’re Too Much and Not Enough (At the Same Time)

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It’s happening again.

Your heart is starting to pound, your palms feel sweaty, and that little voice in your head won’t stop shrieking the same thing: It’s happening again! Those same little “jokes” that always seem to contain a sharp little jab; that same somehow challenging laughter as everyone looks at you expectantly, waiting to see how you’ll respond. The same conundrum - show them your honest, hurt reaction and risk the eye rolls and the angry dismissal? Or laugh it off, act like it doesn’t bother you and wait until you get home to cry.

It’s happening again.

Ah, holidays with (a narcissistic) family.

Captain Obvious incoming: Holidays with difficult families rarely look like what you see on TV. The holidays are one of the few times of year that even people who have gone low- or no-contact with emotionally abusive or neglectful relatives feel pressure to connect in some fashion. For those wavering on the fence about whether to continue a relationship with a narcissistic or abusive loved one, all this "family time" can feel like torture.

The high expectations we place on holiday gatherings can heighten what would have felt fraught on a random Tuesday in March. Many a wife knows the existential dread of bringing a side dish to her mother-in-law’s Thanksgiving table. The holidays bring a uniquely sharp focus on the ways that adult children of emotionally immature parents are simultaneously not enough and too much. How do they manage that? you may wonder, and it’s a fair question to ask. Let’s take a closer look at how narcissistic families trap adult children in the double bind of being too much and not enough.

When you're too much

“You’re just so sensitive! It was a joke, why do you always have to take things so seriously? I can’t even talk to you anymore!”

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard some version of the above commentary, especially after reacting to a hurtful comment, backhanded compliment, or mean-spirited “joke” at your expense. These comments are usually made with a dismissive wave, scornful sneer, or genuine anger that you did not play along and accept the dig without complaint. For a Highly Sensitive Person, being called too sensitive is tantamount to being called fundamentally defective, since sensitivity is not something they can turn off.

Worse, calling you overly sensitive can be a way to shut down an adult child who steps out of their usual place. Telling hurtful jokes and passing it off as "you need to learn to laugh at yourself" deflects from the uncomfortable truth that what you responded to was hurtful or inappropriate in the first place. If you question, assert yourself, or try to break a pattern of being someone else’s emotional punching bag, you may become the target of a "get in line" campaign. These messages about how you are too much and not enough are meant to shame you back into compliance. 

It’s also an effective tool in that it often causes the recipient to question and doubt themselves. Am I reading too much into this? Am I overreacting? It doesn’t seem to bother anyone else, so maybe it really is all me. These questions can throw off even the most strong-willed, assertive person. If get easily derailed by accusations of being too sensitive, don’t be too hard on yourself. Remember that your sensitivity to the unspoken, the nuance, and the subtext is one of your adult child of narcissist superpowers. Just because someone else doesn’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

When you're not enough

Then there’s the other side of the coin: the part where you’re never quite enough. Not smart enough, pretty enough, financially successful enough, married enough, etc etc etc. There can always be more ways for you to fall short, if you’re getting too comfortable with yourself among family members who need you to stay a level down.

“That promotion you were so proud of? It’s not as good as your brother’s, but good for you for finally moving out of that mid-level position you were stuck in for so long!”

“Oh, you lost weight? That’s nice, it’s good to see you finally caring about your body.”

“Your study is being published in a scientific journal? Well, that’s nice if you’re happy to stay in your ivory tower. The rest of us grunts know how things work in real life, but you know book learning has its place, too.”

A narcissist may express your “not enough-ness” as a direct comparison (in which you inevitably fall short) or through more backhanded compliments, non-responses, and facial expressions. Sometimes an eloquent “oh” says everything you need to know about how another person perceives you. The trickiest expressions come couched as a faux compliment. In these instances, your Spidey sense alerts you correctly, but there’s enough ambiguity for plausible deniability. These situations can make you want to tear your hair out.

When you're both at once

Adult children of narcissists live in the paradox of being simultaneously too much and not enough for their narcissist. Too sensitive to criticism about not being enough? Check. Too emotionally reactive to a backhanded compliment? Check. Reading too much into an “innocent” joke at your expense? Check and check.

This is hard for adult children of narcissist. You developed certain skills to survive in an emotionally abusive or neglectful home, such as attuning to your narcissist's emotional state. That awareness helped you avoid as much emotional blowback as possible. But when you utilize these skills in a way that does not suit the narcissist, they can become a tool to use against you. You are sensitive - but that doesn’t mean you are wrong.

In the same way, being not enough in some way keeps you in a one-down, off-balance position relative to the person making the value judgments. If you feel inferior to someone else, self-doubt creeps in and you may think twice before speaking up for yourself. If you’re both too sensitive AND not accomplished enough, you’re effectively sent to the kids’ table while the “real grownups” sit at the big table.

Make it staaahhhp

The same answer applies to both situations. Fair warning: It’s gonna sound cheesy, and it’s easier said than done.

The antidote to both of these is to form your own beliefs about your self-worth. Don't allow the judgments of others to make you smaller in your own eyes.

Basically...you have to believe in yourself. Know yourself, affirm yourself, and Stand in Your Truth.

People who need to feel better than you will employ many strategies to make you small. And when they’ve been effective for most of your life, it’s hard to stop responding to them as an adult. But you can heal the parts of you that believe, deep down, that you really are small and inferior. You do that with kindness, gentleness, compassion, and acceptance of yourself - ALL of yourself - regardless of what the other person does.

I’m going to say this again, because it’s that important: developing self-compassion and finding your self-worth happen because you show yourself love, regardless of whether anyone else does.

Too often, we think we can’t really believe in ourselves until someone else does. Hollywood is lousy with movies about girls who don’t know they’re pretty until a boy tells them they are, or men who think they’re too broken to love again until the right woman breaks through his walls. The truth is, healing begins inside. Only when you’ve begun to cultivate love for yourself can you truly bring your best self into relationships with others.

So what do I do?

Don’t wait until after another painful set of holidays to lick your wounds. Start your healing work now, and give yourself the gift of self-compassion. Prepare for family events with difficult relatives by reminding yourself that your worth is not contingent on their approval. Practice kindness by going through affirmations, such as I am worthy, I am enough, and This is their stuff, not mine. I don’t have to hold what isn’t mine.

Give yourself permission to feel what you feel. Honor every part of you that reacts to something in the presence of a narcissistic or emotionally immature relative. You have a right to feel how you feel, full stop.

Finally, it doesn’t hurt to have a few responses prepared for when you get those "get in line" messages. Think about where your boundaries are, and how you want to respond if someone pushes them. What will you and won't you do? Remember: boundaries are about what YOU do, not what you want the OTHER person to do.

This is a hard area for a lot of people. One of the most popular parts of the Walking on Eggshells group is where we practice scripting. Scripting is basically planning out some ways you can consistently respond to baiting statements, gaslighting, and other manipulative tactics. We will also dedicate a full block of time in the Walking on Eggshells workshop to scripting. If you're struggling in this area, sign up for the workshop! I promise, you're not alone in this.

The holidays are coming. Don’t face them alone! Contact me today to reserve your spot in the workshop.

10 Questions to Help You Get Unstuck

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A few months ago, I downloaded several years’ worth of music from CDs to digital format (Legally! I paid for all of it!). Since then, I’ve started listening to songs I hadn’t played in years.

It’s funny how music can transport you to a different point in your life. When the first few notes of that college-defining album reach your ears, it’s like stepping back in time. At least it is if you’re as deeply affected by music as I am. Perks of being an HSP, I suppose.

This week, as I was driving around blasting a 15-year-old hardcore album I haven’t played in at least 10 years, I was struck by how much can change and not change in such a span of time. I still love that album, even though many of the lyrics no longer feel as relevant in my life. I get goosebumps in the same places of the same songs, and I do the same silly head motion at one particular line that I have done since the first time I heard it. Listening to that song, on that album, really started me thinking about change.

Everyone’s favorite frenemy

A frequent flyer topic in therapy is how hard it is to actually create change in your life, no matter how much you desire it. Part of that is that human nature is to be ambivalent, where we simultaneously want and avoid anything that shakes up the status quo. Part of it is that change can be scary and full of unknowns.

And sometimes there’s actual benefit to not making a change – at least, enough benefit to outweigh the cost of doing something different. It can be frustrating to feel torn between parts of you that desperately crave a change and parts that are so scared of it they’ll keep you paralyzed for years.

So let’s see if we can’t bring some openness and curiosity to those places where we feel stuck, where we desire change and shun it at the same time. The rest of this article will be less about explaining why you’re stuck than about guiding you to exploring your own parts through a series of questions.

This is the interactive portion of the article

Ask yourself each question, and see if you can sit quietly for a moment to hear the answers. Notice where you struggle, where feelings of shame or failure rise up in response to a question. Pay attention to the questions you want to avoid: they’re telling you something important about what goes on in your inner world.

And try to stay open to even the answers that feel uncomfortable. You may not like the responses you get from parts that fear change or doubt your ability to create it, but this information is important, too. Listen not to argue those parts down or win them over, but to understand them. Understanding is valuable in and of itself, and without it change is at best temporary.

And without further ado…

10 questions to help you get unstuck

  • What has changed in your life over the last ten years? How about in the last five years? In the last year?

    Think about how you saw yourself, the world, and yourself in the world ten years ago. Do you see things through the same lenses now? If not, how have those views changed?

  • What changes are you most proud of having made in your life so far? Are there any that you regret?

    Think about the changes that you feel most strongly about, whether in favor of or in regret of. Would you do anything differently if you could know then what you know now?

  • What has helped you make those changes?

    Change is hard! What supports, whether internal or external, helped you make a shift? Do those supports still exist in your life today?

So far so good….

  • What changes do you want to see in your life?

    Think about the areas of your life that feel incomplete, unsatisfying, problematic, or not-quite-right. What do you keep coming back to when you think about how you want things to be different?

  • What do you think will be different in your life if you do make these changes?

    When we strongly desire a change in some area, we usually have an idea of how we think that change will improve our lives. What’s on your vision board for this change?

  • What do you fear will happen if you never make these changes?

    If you try and fail, or you can’t bring yourself to try, or your efforts just don’t quite make it – what feels the worst about that possibility? What would be the most upsetting part of not making this particular shift? Pay special attention to what comes up around this question!

Now the hard part

  • Look over those last months and years again. What has remained the same? Are there things in your life that you don’t want to change?

    Sometimes we want to hold onto things we feel proud of. Moral codes, personal values, promises and patterns – what are the things you want to remain solidly in place in your life? Are there things you used to want to change, that you now value about yourself?

  • What kinds of things have you tried to change, but been unable to?

    No one succeeds at everything they try 100% of the time. What changes and shifts have you struggled with? Again, pay attention to the feelings that come up around trying and falling short.

  • What keeps you stuck in those areas where you desire change but can’t make it happen?

    Special note: This question is NOT about cataloging all the ways you are weak, prone to failure, or how you just plain suck because you couldn’t get un-stuck! This question is about bringing compassionate curiosity to the parts of you that struggle with or resist doing things differently in a certain area. THERE IS A REASON FOR THAT. See if you can be curious about why the parts of you that can’t or won’t shift feel the way they do.

  • What do you believe it says about you if you can’t make the changes you hope to make? And where do those beliefs come from?

    Sometimes we believe that our ability or inability to accomplish something indicates something about our character (e.g. failure = I am a weak-ass loser). This is not necessarily truth, but we may still believe it. What beliefs do you hold about yourself if you can’t move forward where you want to? What does it mean about you if you’re stuck?

That was more than 10 questions!

Ok, ok… so brevity is not really my strongest suit. But in fairness, the above questions are unlikely to have quick, simple, cut-and-dried answers. And if you skirted around that by answering solely based on how your favorite foods have changed or stayed the same? If you did that, be curious about the parts of you that want to avoid looking deeper.

You may notice that none of these questions really give you a clear-cut plan for getting unstuck. What they do instead is to focus your insight and self-awareness on what’s actually happening inside for the parts of you that feel stuck. When you understand the fears of those parts, you can support them in exploring and facing the fears.

Be gentle with your stuck parts. Stuck-ness can be a good indicator that there is pain in need of healing, and you can give yourself that gift.

Be curious, be compassionate, and be open. You are worth your own time.

November 17 is National Unfriend Day

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You are whom you surround yourself with. Meaning it is easier to be happier when one surrounds self with people who are positive, although most of us surround ourselves with people that will ‘co-sign’ our negativity.  

Stated on the radio the other day, on average Android users are on their phone 3+ hours a day and iPhone users 4+ hours. One can assume users are on social media the majority of these hours. Let’s take a challenge and examine our friends and those we follow. 

Could there be 5 people that seem to only post negative comments/posts you could unfriend or hide? 4 people? Even 3 people could make a difference.

 

The Highly Sensitive Person in a Narcissistic Home

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Have you ever cried while listening to a moving piece of music? Ever looked at an interesting piece of art and found yourself getting goosebumps? Or do you sometimes just know that someone is upset just by standing near them, without them needing to say a word? If this sounds familiar, you might be a Highly Sensitive Person.

As I discussed briefly last week, Highly Sensitive Persons (HSP/HSPs) are estimated to make up about 15-20% of the population. HSPs receive and respond to sensory input at a much more subtle level than most. They are also very skilled at sensing the intangible, like the overall energy of a room or another person’s emotions. All adult children of narcissists develop a Spidey Sense to some degree, to protect against their narcissist’s explosive anger. HSPs, however, take this to a whole ‘nother level.

Sensing what’s really there

In many ways, HSPs are a narcissist’s dream. Narcissistic behaviors are heavily focused around meeting the narcissist’s emotional needs with little or no consideration for anyone else. The drive to relieve their own pain, to feel important and loved, and to feel in control override any sense of others’ needs.

Highly Sensitive Persons, on the other hand, are acutely and uniquely aware of the physical, mental, and emotional state of people around them. They will often – consciously or unconsciously – work to make the other person more comfortable. It’s a match made in heaven for a narcissist, who gets to enjoy being taken care of and attended to.

Unfortunately, it’s less heavenly for the HSP in the relationship. One of the challenges of being highly sensitive is that you can’t really turn it off. HSPs are the first to notice the “black cloud” that always seems to hang over a narcissistic home. They can often tell when there’s trouble brewing just by stepping into the room, even if things appear outwardly calm. For the HSP, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” is not just a Star Wars quote but a prophecy. Being so aware of those vibes can weigh on the HSP, causing distress and pressure to somehow fix everything.

An impossible expectation

Sensing another person’s needs can create the expectation that the Highly Sensitive Person should be able to do something about it. Both the HSP and the narcissist may come to believe that the HSP’s job is to take care of the narcissist and meet all of their emotional needs. It is an unrealistic and unfair expectation, but a common one. Because they are so aware of the needs of others, HSPs often assume caretaker roles in their relationships. These roles require a great deal of emotional energy, wearing down and exhausting the HSP who can’t say no.

When an HSP becomes overwhelmed by sensory stimulation or depleted from caretaking others, they often need to withdraw in order to recover. Narcissistic parents or partners may misinterpret this withdrawal as the HSP abandoning or rejecting them. They perceive this withdrawal as stemming from laziness, lack of love, or selfishness and punish the HSP accordingly. Guilt-tripping, gaslighting, and projection are common strategies that narcissists employ to pressure the HSP to return to their post as carer-in-chief. HSPs, who tend to be overly hard on themselves, may take these messages to heart and believe them. This spurs them to work harder, burn out faster, and the cycle continues.

The spoken and the unspoken

Another tricky spot comes in when the Highly Sensitive Person is led by their intuition to notice discrepancies, see through misleading double-talk, and hear what isn’t being said through the spoken words. HSPs are excellent at discerning the truth in the lie, or finding the subtext that most would miss. Unfortunately, most narcissistic people will deny or gaslight anyone who questions their version of reality. 

This creates a conundrum for the HSP, who must decide whether to pursue their intuition or accept the narcissist’s version of truth. Pursuing the HSP’s truth puts them at risk of rejection, gaslighting, and having their sensitivity used against them. “You’re too sensitive,” or “you’re reading into things that aren’t there” are two common phrases narcissists use to silence and confuse Highly Sensitive Persons. It is a form of gaslighting with a nasty edge, as it denigrates a core personality trait for the HSP.

Balancing compassion with self-care

Finally, Highly Sensitive Persons often struggle to balance empathy with assertiveness – generally erring on the side of empathy. As deeply caring, intuitive, and empathetic individuals, HSPs genuinely want those around them to be happy and healthy. They are also very aware of the pain that most narcissists try to hide and avoid at all costs.

HSPs can often see how trauma affected their narcissist and turned them into who they are. Seeing the trauma makes it harder for many HSPs to feel like they can assert themselves to set boundaries. They know the narcissist will feel angry and rejected, and they have a hard time saying no to someone that they know won’t understand their reasons.

Turning that care and compassion inward

Being highly sensitive in a toxic environment can leave deep wounds. Fortunately, even the most highly sensitive of HSPs can learn to gently place boundaries and practice self-care. Highly Sensitive Persons have a rich, complex inner life and a deep capacity for compassion. When they give themselves permission to turn that compassion inward, healing becomes possible.

If you are a Highly Sensitive Person who struggles to separate your feelings from others, feels deeply selfish for tending to your own needs, or feels overwhelmed by the needs of others, take heart. Your sensitivity is not a curse, and it can be a wonderful gift. You can’t turn it off, but you can learn to care for and nurture yourself, just as you do those around you.

You deserve the compassion you so freely give to everyone else. It’s your time now.

Contact Amy today to begin your healing journey, either through individual therapy or by signing up for her upcoming workshop for adult children of narcissists.