Tag Archive: self-help



Dealing with emotional trauma can be very distressing, and in some instances, very severe. When one has experienced a major traumatic life event – from surviving an abusive relationship, to losing friends or family members to a drunk driver or a hit and run, suicide, to combat, or a terrible break-up, deception, manipulation or mind control, discovering that one’s partner has been unfaithful, or being conned and taken advantage of, hearing painful news of an illness that is debilitating or life-threatening – Anything that leaves a person feeling like the floor has been taken out from under them, and are experiencing a loss of personal power, like their whole world has just spiraled out of control… These people know what trauma is.

My intention is to do a series not so much on the trauma itself and identifying it, but rather to offer some self care tips, advice on grief and grieving, forgiveness, re-establishing safety after one has experienced a betrayal of trust, or how to face the places and things that you avoid that serve as triggers for anxiety and out of control feelings due to a traumatic life event – how to face those situations and re-build safety slowly. When it comes to relationship trauma, it is important to have tools to rebuild trust and I will touch on that as well.

Today I just want to give you a sense of normalcy if you are experiencing the residual effects of a traumatic situation. I personally find that sometimes it helps to know what to expect as you go through the stages of healing to help yourself feel like what you are experiencing is normal for the situation you are going through. I find it helps bring a small measure of stability to an otherwise overwhelming sense of powerlessness over the situation, and the loss of control that causes you to feel like your foundation has been ripped from underneath you. Having a roadmap of what to expect is sort of the first step to laying a new foundation.

It may sound kind of silly at first, but identifying the trauma is a good first step – now some of you may think it is quite obvious to pinpoint, the reality is, sometimes it’s not. For instance, part of experiencing something traumatic often involves some of the same stages of grief, so denial is a normal process, not wanting to, or being unable to accept what is happening is actually normal. Sometimes the shock of what the body, mind or emotions are experiencing that a person simply goes numb and cannot comprehend the reality of the situation immediately. I think this stage of being anesthetized from the initial blow is a little of God’s kindness to shield us from taking in too much all at once. Another good example of why identifying trauma can be difficult is working through your own childhood trauma. Children cannot identify trauma as readily as an adult can. But even as adults who endured trauma as a child, you may not see your childhood as traumatic. If you were constantly exposed to abuse, you may have taken in cues that this is ‘normal’ behavior because it is all you were exposed to. So, identifying what the trauma is, is actually a pretty significant feat for some!

Once you have identified your traumatic injury, or experience, it is important to talk about it with someone you can trust – a supportive friend, a therapist, a support group, because part of the healing process is being able to share our deepest feelings to give them a voice. Sometimes it is helpful just to talk as it allows yourself the opportunity to problem solve, bring awareness to the situation, bring understanding, bring the roots of the problem out into the light to help promote self-awareness or a sense of understanding. It helps you get in touch with the emotions surrounding the trauma.

Some people also find it helpful to write about it to help sort through their thoughts and emotions about the experience. Some people organize their thoughts better through writing than verbally. The most important thing is that you are processing it in order to feel it, rather than avoid. Avoidance is normal too, but studies suggest that avoidance can increase rather than decrease the stress and anxiety, fear and anger surrounding the situation, which can lead to further emotional injury down the road, or even lead to physical health problems.

Taking inventory of what happened and how it affected you is very important, but perhaps been more important than that is moving to the next stage of repair, involving FEELING the pain, sadness, anger, hurt etc that has come up as a result of the trauma. It is common to experience shock, anxiety and depression as well – also stages in the grief cycle. The feelings will take their time to pass, each person is different, but embracing them rather than repressing them will eventually lead to subside the intensity of the emotions. Note of caution: For those experiencing intense anger, this is not code for unleash all your fury, but rather to acknowledge it and try to determine what is beneath the anger, as anger is a powerful protective emotion usually covering over something far deeper -like sadness, pain or grief. If you have trouble knowing how to effectively deal with your anger in healthy ways, you should seek out an anger management group or see a counselor for additional help.

To move forward from the initial process of identifying and feeling the effects of trauma, the stage of acceptance inevitably comes. We must at some point accept what happened. This does not mean agreeing with what happened and somehow ‘making it ok’, rather it involves a willingness to live with the outcome, recognizing that what’s done is done and we cannot change the past, and choosing to go forward acknowledging what has happened. This is a HARD step. But it is essential to begin feeling better.

Forgiveness is almost always necessary for experiencing trauma of some kind. If you lost your son to war, you may need to forgive the man who killed your son, or the political regimes that brought on the war, or perhaps your own son for willingly joining the army.

If you were in a serious car accident that was not your fault and have to live with serious physical consequences as a result, you may need to forgive the person who hit your car.

If your child was abducted or kidnapped, raped or murdered, forgiveness may seem damn near impossible! Forgiveness is one of the hardest things to do. And forgiveness does not mean you have to have a relationship with the person who injured you or someone you love, but it does mean that at some point you let go of your hatred and anger and bitterness.

I have heard it said that unforgiveness is like drinking a poison you want someone else to drink. Un-forgiveness does us more damage to us than the person who hurt us. They have already caused damage. We cause ourselves further damage by holding onto hatred and bitterness that just fills our souls and consumes us, sending us spiraling down a deep, dark hole of despair, self pity, anger, vengeance, etc. anything and everything that robs us of the opportunity to live life free, full of life and love and hope for the future. But forgiveness takes time. And that’s ok.

Sometimes it is important to confront the situation in order to deal with our anger or to release someone through forgiveness. Sometimes it is ok to address the person face to face or write a letter. At other times, especially when processing your more hostile feelings of anger, it may prove more beneficial to write a letter you don’t send, or deal with those feelings in therapy, until you can face the person without being volatile, being able to say what you need to say constructively. Some people may feel they never have to face the person directly, and walk through that process on their own or with a support group or counselor.

Letting go…. Is just as hard as acceptance, and forgiveness. But letting go of the burden and walking away and moving on are the final stages in the process of healing from trauma. They have identified the truth about the trauma and faced it head on, worked through it through talking, writing about it, finding healthy and effective ways of dealing with anger and confrontation, accepted what cannot be changed, forgiven those involved, and now they must find the courage to move on toward the next phase of life. They must learn to live in the present and let the past stay in the past.

Healing will be easier if you are able to look on the bright side. If you are able to accept the bad, but not only see the bad but look for the good as well. Most people or situations are not “all bad”. If you can find a way to merge the good and the bad, so as not to over-amplify the negative reality, you will begin to see things in a more balanced perspective. You can begin to see alternate ways of looking at the negative experience as well – not to minimize what was done, but to bring balance to your own perspective. If you cannot see anything good other than the trauma, begin to loom for what you have learned from the experience, what wisdom or coping skills you have developed to endure painful and trying times in your future.

Walking through these stages will help minimize your tendency to Medicare or turn to addictive substances to avoid or anesthetize your experience, and help you come out stronger!

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ImageI’m wrapping up my series on abuse, with some tools to break the cycle! We’ve discussed verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, as well as the subject of bullying and violence in the workplace over the past month. Today I want to equip you with some tools to know when to stay and when to go, how to hold your ground and maintain your boundaries, and respect yourself in the process.

The decision to continue or end the relationship will likely be a difficult one. You have history together, some good and some bad. You are likely fueled with hope for repair, that maybe ‘this time it will be better’. Envisioning your life free from the abuse is foreign and distant, and let’s face it, often things that are unfamiliar are fearful. What will life be like without him or her? You hold onto hope, because there is a part of you that is so attached to ‘need’ for the relationship. As I mentioned a couple weeks back while discussing sexual abuse, the same holds true for all abusive relationships: “our lack of connection is a big reason why we choose unsafe people. If we are not able to connect in an intimate way with others, then we will often pick people who are unable to connect as well. If someone is isolated inside, she will pick isolating relationships until she addresses her problem. Fear of abandonmennt fuels an ongoing isolating connection.Many times someone who is in a painful relationship should set strong boundaries or cut off the relationship altogether for a time. But he fears being alone so much that he can’t do it. Every time he thinks of standing up to the other person, or getting out of the relationship, he is overwhelmed by feelings of loss and aloneness, and he either avoids the difficult step to begin with, or he quickly caves in. Because he doesn’t have primary safe and supportive relationships, he would rather have the unsafe relationship ghan nothing at all. This… keeps the isolation and abandonment going.” Dr. Henry Cloud PhDImage

The above quote is the precise reason why choosing to end an abusive relationship is so hard.

You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.”

-William Blake

Before we examine reasons to leave an abusive relationship, let’s take a look at some good reasons to stay.

If your abusive partner has admitted to being abusive and has begun to take some of the following steps to change the abusive pattern, you may want to consider going the distance or at least staying a while longer to see how sincere or permanent this change is. The steps your abusive partner needs to take are as follows:

  • 1. Admit to himself that he is abusive and acknowledge the damage he has done.
  • 2. Understand the reasons why he abuses.
  • 3. Understand her abusive pattern and work on her unfinished business from the past that traps her in the abuse cycle (ie. having been abused as a child – hurting people hurt people)
  • 4. Admit to your partner that you have been abusive.
  • 5. Apologize to your partner and work on developing empathy for her and others.
  • 6. Learn and practice ways to identify her anger, pain and sress in constructive and healthy ways.
  • 7. Identify your triggers and false beliefs.
  • 8. Seek professional help. Be willing to see a counselor for the long haul until the root issues are revealed and being dealt with.

However, this is not the only thing necessary for change to occur. Believe it or not, the abused person needs to take some action as well in order for this process to work. If the abused partner is willing to do the following steps, there may be hope for real change in your relationship.

  • 1. Admit to yourself that you are being abused and acknowledge the damage you have experienced as a result.
  • 2. Understand the reasons why you chose an abusive partner to begin with. (ie. examine the isolation/fear of abandonment mentioned above).
  • 3. Examine and understand the reasons why you have put up with the abuse.
  • 4. Understand your pattern and work on completing YOUR own unfinished business. This can be done with a therapist if you are unsure how to go about doing this.
  • 5. Confront your partner on his or her abusive behavior. Believe it or not, but this is a CRUCIAL step. If you are unable to do this, there is little hope for real and lasting change. You will need to examine the subject of boundaries and how to set and maintain them for your protection.
  • 6. Pay attention to your feelings. Sometimes emotional abuse is subtle, and you may not even be aware that it is taking place, especially when you become accustomed, or ‘used to’ it. Notice physical reactions like knots in your stomach, or tightness in your chest. Pay careful attention to how you are feeling when you are with the abusive person. You DO have the ability to determine when things are ok, despite possible put downs you endure frequently that cause you to second guess yourself.
  • 7. Take your power back by setting up and enforcing your boundaries. I am a certified personal development and relationship life coach and spend a lot of focus on developing solid boundaries. Feel free to contact me for a complimentary coaching session with me if you feel you need help learning about and setting boundaries. You can find me on my website at http://www.freedomlifelove.com to book your free consultation to see whether working with me is the right fit for you. 
  • 8. Continue to speak up each time abuse occurs. If you let it slip just one time, you may be giving up your power, and allowing the abuse cycle to start all over again.
  • 9. Be prepared that if you confront, things MAY get worse before they get better, as being confronted most likely will not sit well with the abusive person at first. But setting limits is the only way to stop the cycle.
  • 10. Be on the alert for the moment it is not working, and you need to make preparations to leave to ensure your safety.

Other Reasons why you stay:Image

  • My partner told me it was my fault and i believed her.
  • I’m afraid I am unlovable, or unattractive, stupid, etc. because he says I am.
  • I am afraid I will never be loved by anyone else.
  • I’m afraid of what he will do if I leave.
  • I am afraid for my safety.
  • I’m afraid I can’t make it on my own financially.
  • You may also struggle with a strong desire to avoid confrontation or
  • a tendancy to try and believe that things are better than they are.
  • You feel responsible for their behavior.
  • You blame yourself for the problems in the relationship because you believe what she says that you ARE the problem in the relationship
  • You listen to the lies spoken and believe them as fact.
  • You make excuses for their behavior.
  • And once again… that dreadful fear of being alone.

Be prepared that if you confront, and say something like “I don’t want you to talk to me that way.” Or set a limit such as “If you hit me I will leave until you can calm down.” or simply let them know that their statement is abusive. In response, you will likely get an argument (or further berating or familiar abusive tendancies.) Are you prepared to stand your ground if this happens? Don’t engage in the argument. Simply stand firm by repeating the same thing you stated before. Be prepared to follow through on whatever limits and consequences you set on their behavior. They may give you the silent treatment. Don’t let him get away with that either. Remind him that this is also abusive and disrespectful and that you do not appreciate it.

If you can do all the above steps (there are tons more… too much for one blog) you may have grounds to stay in the relationship.

Another good reason to stay (at least for a time, to see how things fare) is if you and/or your partner have admitted to being abusive and have begun working with a counselor or marital counseling. Do not stay on the basis of the promise alone that she will go with you to therapy. If she makes good on her promise, then you might have a chance. If she makes a promise to seek professional help and does not follow through, her commitment is not sincere, and you are likely in store for more of the same.

If you make it clear you are unwilling to tolerate abuse of any kind, and your partner is willing to work on changing their behavior and makes positive steps toward change, then you may have a chance of making it work.

If your partner has begun already any of the processes or stages mentioned above and has become less abusive, or not as often, this may be an indication of their willingness to work on and change behavior. Change takes time. Abusive speech and actions are a learned behavior and will have to be unlearned. They may have slips from time to time, but if it is decreasing, and they have become more loving and treat you as an equal partner in the relationship and are actively working toward bettering themselves, deciding to wait and see may not be such a bad idea. Each situation is different, and if you feel in danger in any way, remove yourself from the situation as quickly as you can before it has the opportunity to escalate further.

Some questions to ask yourself to determine the amount of good will in your relationship, as well as to help you determine if getting out or staying is the best choice for you at the time are:Image

1. Do you and your partner have an equal footing in the relationship?

2. Do you have an intimate connection?

3. Do you feel like your partner’s intentions are good when it comes to how he/she treats you?

4. Do you have much in common?

5. Do you experience more joy than pain in the relationship?

6. Do you believe your partner genuinely wishes you well, and may just have some bad communication habits, rather than an intention to deliberately undermine, control, manipulate or destroy you?

Even if you want to say yes to staying based on what I have said above, here are some things to consider when it comes to whether you have endured too much pain in the relationship to stay.

ImageGood reasons to Leave

If your partner refuses to acknowledge and take responsibility for his abusive actions, or admit to being abusive, he is beyond reasoning with, and needs the limit of your leaving to protect yourself from further injury.

If your partner does not seek out help for her abusive behavior… on their own. If you have to do it all for them, you are taking responsibility for something that is not yours to own. They must see the reason for help and seek it out on their own, thereby taking responsibility for their own actions.

If you have made yourself clear that you will not tolerate any further abuse, but she still continues to abuse, you should leave.

If you or your partner are unwilling to follow these suggestions and/or the ones given to you by your therapist, there is little hope for things to be any different. As the saying goes: “The definintion of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result!” And another one I particularly like is this: “Until the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change, then you will change.” If you continue to stay involved in the same cycle over and over, nothing will change until you are tired of the cycle and finally the pain is too much to remain trapped in the abusive cycle.

WHEN YOU DEFINITELY NEED TO LEAVE!!!Image

  • If you or your children are being emotionally, physically or sexually abused by your partner. If your partner is overly dominating, controlling, critical or rejecting of you, this pattern may be passed on to other members of the family, such as your children.
  • If your children are being damaged by the emotional abuse between you and your partner.
  • If your partner is physically abusing you or threatening to do so.
  • If you have reached a point where you now have become physically abusive as well.
  • If you are fantasizing about ways to kill or harm your spouse.
  • If you are seriously questioning your sanity.
  • If it becomes clear to you that your partner has no respect for you at all.

Seek outside help immediately. Go to your supportive friends or family members, or an agency in your area that can help you get the help you need.

Learn how to prevent abuse in the future.Image

Ways to spot an abuser:

  • someone with poor impulse control
  • low self esteem
  • selfishness and narcissistic
  • being needy and demanding of your time, attention, etc.
  • Alcohol or drug abuse or addiction
  • A history of abuse (either as an abuser, via his/her reputation among peers, or experienced it as a child growing up. Most kids who were abused grow up either as abusers or the abused.)
  • Any history of mental illness
  • If they exhibit anti social behavior, have a personality disorder.
  • Becomes agressive, demanding or abusive.
  • A need to feel powerful and in control.

Make a list oImagef what you will not tolerate in future relationships. For instance, “I won’t have a relationship that is not equal”, or “I won’t stay in a relationship if it becomes clear that it is all about him/her”, or “I won’t be in a relationship with someone who criticizes me,” or plainly and simply, “I won’t have a relationship with someone who hits me and does not have control of their anger.”

Make your list and set your limits. These will prove to be the boundaries you need to stand on and enforce when and if the time comes for you to have to confront the issue.

If you still wrestle with how to find safe and supportive relationships, circle back to a blog I did in my boundaries series a while back on identifying safe people if you have not already read it, or need a crash course reminder on the subject!

I hope that this information has been informative and beneficial to you, or as a tool to offer someone you know who is currently in an abusive relationship. Please tell them to read this blog and encourage them to seek outside help!

If you’d like to look at another great resource, check out my one-on-one Boundary Development Program which will help bring control back into your life!

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If you have any questions on today’s blog or would like help on taking steps forward, I’d love to hear from you!  Post a comment below or visit my website and register for your Complimentary Strategy Session to discuss your situation in more detail.

Katie Meilleur – Certified Life Coach

 


Check out my life coaching website for more information!


Self compassion. What is it?

To understand this concept better, we must first understand the concept of self worth. For people who generally already have a pretty good sense of self esteem and who recognize that their worth does not come from something external, such as how you perform or whether you are accepted or rejected by the people you love, self compassion is a relatively easier concept to understand. These people have either taken in enough emotional object constancy from their formative years and taken in enough nurture and love from their parents at that crucial stage of development, that they have enough love within themselves to understand self compassion. Or, they have learned the tools to develop a positive sense of self esteem later on in life. And yes! Self-esteem can be taught, learned and appropriated!

It is for those who have come from a more traumatic background of neglect or abuse of any kind or who lacked the nurturing or a stable, consistent environment while growing up who will likely find this subject of most value. A stable consistent environment can include anything from receiving consistent messages of worth and value as a person, not by what you do or don’t do, but just for who you are, to having steady, consistent people in your life, to living in the same neighborhood, growing up with the same kids from your school to increase the sense of bondedness and connection. Kids who grow up with one parent who has several partners who come and go frequently lack the steadiness of knowing both parental figures will be there for them. When families move frequently to different cities, uprooting their kids and planting them in new schools every couple of years or so, even if it is necessary for work related reasons, the child learns to adapt, but not to feel a sense of consistency or attachment with peers, which is also essential for the stability necessary to build into a child a healthy sense of connectedness. Even those who grow up with healthy parenting can be affected by low self worth for a variety of reasons. No family is perfect, and you may miss out on one or two of the essential pieces necessary to build a strong sense of worth, as in the above examples. The nurturing may be there, but moving a lot can affect the child, or if the nurture is inconsistent, or a variety of other factors may affect one’s sense of self esteem. So the bottom lime is, everyone can benefit by understanding more about self worth and where it comes from. So let’s take a look at a simple definition of it, before we unpack how to build that self esteem by introducing self compassion.

Self esteem is a realistic and appreciative opinion of oneself. Realistic meaning an honest and accurate assessment of yourself. It involves having positive feelings toward the self. It involves the ability to know that you have worth regardless of external circumstances.

Trauma has a way of re-wiring the brain to de-rail one’s sense of worth. What then begins to happen is that a person begins subconsciously speaking negative messages to the self. “I am not lovable because I was abused” or “I can only be worth something if I perform well” or telling oneself messages like “I’m a failure.” “no one loves me.” “I’m worthless.” “It would be better if I were dead”, etc. These are a few examples of negative self talk. The more you listen to these subtle statements, the worse they become. A person can begin to self-sabotage themselves and give in to self pity, or reject love when it is offered by dismissing it with reasons and assumptions as to why it can’t be true that someone loves us. Why? Because we have re-programmed our brain to only listen to negative messages that we use as a wall to protect ourselves. That’s right! Pain can be a protector. So can anger and rage. Anger and rage turned inward on ourselves is deadly to self worth. The sad thing is, most of this is going on subconsciously as we go about our day to day life, battling depression, despair, or self hatred, not realizing where it stems from, due to a lack of mindfulness about what we are allowing our minds to dwell on. There is a lot of research on how our brains work, and in many studies revealing ways to by-pass the trauma centers of our brain to re-route as it were, by reformatting the messages the brain is taking in. I do not have the time to go into that further. But the point is, there is sufficient evidence that our brains can learn new messages. We do not have to stay in trauma forever!

The bible suggests that ‘ whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” Philippians 4:8 NIV

This is good advice and wise counsel. Buddhism and Psychology also offer good tools for paying attention to what we are thinking about, called Mindfulness.

“Mindfulness is the practice of skillfully managing our attention and awareness. Attention regulation leads directly to emotional regulation.”

” Mindfulness is…knowing what you are experiencing WHILE you are experiencing it. Moment to moment awareness. Paying attention to our stream of perceptions rather than our interpretations of them… It is both knowing where our mind is from moment to moment AND directing our attention in skillful ways.”

The above quotes are from the book “The Mindful path to Self Compassion” by Christopher K. Germer, PhD.

The bible discusses this concept as well when it instructs us to “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ” 2 Corinthians 10:5

Joyce Meyer teaches on this concept as well, to “think about what you’re thinking about” instead of carelessly allowing destructive thoughts to take up residence in your mind.

Before I get into self compassion, I must look at the flip side of the coin. There are those who dwell on pain and allow pain to be their protector. The same applies to self hatred. But, there is another aspect to take a quick look at. Studies show that the mind naturally wants to avoid distressful events and uses denial and all sorts of other coping mechanisms like projecting our distress on others, etc. The problem with this is that denial amplifies the problem. Seeking pleasure or addictions to numb pain are temporary fixes that inevitably make things worse for us later on.

“The ability to see things as they are, with acceptance, gets us through.” (taken from the book, the mindfulness of self compassion, Again.)

Suppression actually ends up becoming preoccupied by what is trying to be avoided, causing all sorts of anxiety, self hatred, depression, etc.

“New research suggests that establishing a new relationship with our thoughts and feelings, rather than directly challenging them, makes the difference. This new relationship is less avoidant, less entangled, more accepting, more compassionate and more aware. Leaning into our problems with open eyes and open hearts – with awareness and compassion – is the process by which we get relief…Resistance creates suffering. Acceptance alleviates it.” (The Mindfulness of self compassion)

Now acceptance is not embracing and feeding the negative emotions and coddling them and making them right at home where they can wreak havoc on our souls, but rather to take a look at what is happening in our emotions. I have had it explained to me to try and look at those problematic emotions as a cloud passing by in the sky. You watch it with interest, apply compassion, and allow it to move on.

“Self compassion is a form of acceptance. Whereas acceptance usually refers to what’s happening to us -accepting a feeling or a thought- self compassion is acceptance of ourselves while we are in pain… Self compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others.”

“Mindfulness says ‘feel the pain’ and self compassion says ‘cherish yourself in the midst of the pain.'”

The bible, as does like every other religious teaching out there, the golden rule: To love others as you love yourself.

I invite you to practice kindness toward yourself. Give yourself grace for when you feel like you have failed at something. Every time you want to automatically criticize yourself, you are hurting yourself by engaging in self-sabotage. Some of you believe that is all you are worth. It is a lie in it’s ugliest form. We were all made in the image of God and are dearly loved by Him. We were all designed with dignity and incredible worth. My heart goes out to those of you who believe you aren’t worth much. My advice: If there are people who are contributing to this message of a lack of worth in you, that you separate yourself from them, at least for a time, to begin to practice self compassion and self worth, until you recognize that your value does not come from external validation, but that it is innate within you.

I could say SO much more on this subject… It is very near and dear to my heart. But I can only say so much in one blog.

Remember to think about what you are thinking about and extend kindness and compassion to yourself!

If you’d like to look at a great resource, check out my one-on-one Personal Development Program which will help you overcome this and other struggles such as depression, unhealthy thought patterns and so much more!

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If you have any questions on today’s blog or would like help on taking steps forward, I’d love to hear from you!  Post a comment below or visit my website and register for your Complimentary Strategy Session to discuss your situation in more detail.

Katie Meilleur – Certified Life Coach

Identifying Safe People


Wounded by Relationship

Many of us have at best, been wounded in a relationship at one time or another, whether it be by a friend, co-worker, peer, boss, significant other or a family member or friend of the family. At worst, we may have suffered abuse or severe betrayal by someone. Sadly, what often happens as a result of ‘being burned’, we learn not to trust again, or to harden ourselves against further injury elsewhere and are constantly on the lookout for it to happen again. We have endured trauma. We begin to develop coping mechanisms and hiding patterns and build secure walls of protection around our hearts to prevent re-injury, all the while, looking around every corner expecting it to happen again and projecting past injury onto new people in our lives who are unlikely to be exactly the same as the person who initially injured us.

Why Does This Keep Happening?

While it is true that we do psychologically develop patterns that tend to draw the same type of people to us, because of that feeling of familiarity, the good news is, this cycle can be broken, and changed by identifying characteristics of both safe and unsafe people.

Now, before I go any further and dig a hole for myself, I have to clarify that there are no truly perfect people out there, and we all have flaws and potential to harm each other, which literally means there are no perfectly safe people out there. Everyone will fail you at one time or another. No perfect people exist. If you are looking for perfect, I recommend God.

Now that I have prefaced that, there ARE however, characteristics you can look for to find people who treat you differently than those who have harmed you in the past! This is the good news. The bad news is, you might possess characteristics yourself of an unsafe person. Because we all do, or have the potential to at some point or another. Reality suggests ‘hurting people hurt people.’ Meaning, if you are or have been hurt recently, you have the potential to cause injury to those around you while you try to heal yourself. But hopefully by the end of this blog, you will be able to identify several ‘unsafe’ characteristics and have tools to change them if you find yourself identifying with those patterns, and know what to look for to find the ‘safe’ people, and tools to know how to become safe yourself, for others who need you to be a safe person in their life.

Characteristics of an ‘Unsafe’ Person

Here are a few qualities and characteristics of an ‘unsafe’ person:

-People who act like they have it all together
-Self-righteous
-Demand trust without it being earned
-Controlling
-Treat you like you are less or one-down from them
-Abusive (I will do a series on abuse soon to further unpack what this means)
-Manipulative
-Unreliable
-Competitive
-Defensive, not open to constructive criticism or feedback
-People who ‘may’ apologize but never change their behavior, or who simply never apologize
-People who avoid working on and dealing with their problems
-People who don’t take responsibility for what is ‘theirs to own’ (see previous blogs on boundaries to know what each of us is personally responsible for in life)
-People who lack compassion, empathy or concern for others
-People who do not forgive others ever (we all know forgiveness takes time, I am referring to people who never let go of grudges and offenses and hold it over someone else forever!)
-Blame others for their problems
-People who live a continual lifestyle of lying
-People who are not growing, keeping the same unhealthy patterns and don’t want to change.

Characteristics of Safe People

Compare the above list with the characteristics of a ‘safe’ person:

-People who react to you differently than those who have hurt you, over a period of time (even unsafe people can appear ‘safe’ initially until the ‘romance’ phase of any early relationship wears off.)
-People who are loving and who have a good reputation for being loving over time. Watch their actions. Not just what they say.
-People you can watch and observe from an emotional distance and who are gentle with you during the trust earning phase
-People who are willing to earn trust, rather than demand it.
-People who can accept imperfections in others
-People who have grace for imperfections
-People who have endured pain themselves, but are recovering or have recovered, who can be empathetic to your pain
-People who can speak the truth to you lovingly
-People who bear good fruit in your life… If you find you are becoming healthier and are encouraged to grow and your identity and independence and limits are respected, these are good qualities to look for.
-People who can be intimate, who know the difference between intimacy and enmeshment.
-People who can confront gently, with compassion
-Honest
-Not controlling
-Views relationships equally, rather than a one-up, one-down perspective.

Some of you reading may say to yourselves “where are these people?” And you may be right. They are fewer and farther between. But don’t give up looking. Perhaps you should look in different places than you usually do to find safe people. If you still have trouble finding them, look for a support group you can join in your area in the meantime, so that you can learn to become a safe person yourself. “like attracts like” they say. If you become healthier and ‘safer’ in the way you interact with others, you will begin to attract safe people, and will become less attracted to the ‘unsafe people’ as you begin to value the attributes of what a safe person possesses within them.

How to Become a Safe Person

1. Learn to ask for help, ask for what you need. Asking develops humility, it develops the skill of taking initiative and ownership and responsibility for yourself. It produces an attitude of gratitude when we have received what we asked for. Asking also increases the possibility that your need will be met.

2. Learn to need. Confess how difficult it is, or your inability to express need. This next step is hard… But necessary. Confess the need. If you don’t ask, you don’t receive. People are not mind readers. Here are a couple examples to help you along:
I need to know I matter to you.
I need to know you love me.
I need to know you understand.
I need to know you won’t reject me when I express who I am.
I need to know you will accept that I have different opinions than you sometimes.

3. What evokes your hunger? What is that ache that is unfulfilled? Learn to identify your feelings so you can express your needs. Learn what you like and dislike, and ask for more of what you like.

4. Work through resistances. “Resistance is our tendency to avoid growth”. (Drs..Henry Cloud and John Townsend, authors of ‘Safe People’, where I have gleaned from for this material)
A) Identify your resistances to love. What are you doing when someone is expressing love to you? Are you diminishing it? Dismissing it? Disbelieving it? These are examples of resistances to love.
B) Bring these resistances into relationship.
C) Allow the needs beneath the resistance to get met.
D) do the opposite of what the resistance tells you to do.
Ie. the resistance says “handle it yourself. You don’t need help.” instead, ask for help. Delegate responsibilities, etc.
E) Be open to truth
F) learn to give and receive forgiveness. Both from others and yourself. Forgive yourself!

5. Give something back.
Understand what you have gained from the above exercises and learn how to identify your friends’ and family’s need signals. Ask to help others. Learn to ‘be there’ for others. Be a truth teller, and someone who loves truth.

Many thanks go out to Dr’s Henry Cloud and John Townsend for their extensive work on the subject of boundaries and healthy relationships. I have learned much from their resources over the years. I highly recommend their literature on these subjects.

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Need help with breaking the cycle and identifying safe people?

Check out my one-on-one Boundary Development Program and bring control back into your life!

Katie Meilleur – Certified Relationship Life Coach

Our Need For Adulthood


You might think, at first glance, “what a strange title” to this blog, since we all become adults eventually, and function in an adult world. We might even scoff, brushing it off as insignificant. But have you thought of what it is exactly that adulthood involves? Are you aware that it is actually a difficult process to come from a position of a one down relationship with our parental authority over us as we are growing up, and trying to learn how to mature into adulthoood, emerging successfully with the ability to have peer to peer relationships and feel fully sustained? Do you know what makes an adult an adult? Do you know what symptoms exist if your maturing process was incomplete when you first entered the adult world?

This is the fourth segment in my series on boundary development, that I blog about on Friday’s.
Over the last few weeks, we have looked at four major components to growth and development that we all require to grow up into healthy and whole, functioning adults with the proper sense of authority that comes with the position of being an adult. To quickly recap, in case this is the first blog of mine that you are reading, three weeks ago, I wrote about the first essential ingredient in boundary development: the need to attach, connect and bond with others. Week 2 was about the need to separate and individuate and begin the boundary development process, involving discovering what we are each responsible for and what we are not. A critical stage in development, no doubt, that unless we truly feel bonded, we cannot successfully develop a real sense of self. The third stage of growth was our need to know that we are loved completely, including our perceived ‘good’ parts and ‘bad parts’. To know that you are loved unconditionally. Reaching our climax in today’s blog, we find that we need to properly maneuver into adulthood, gradually taking on more and more responsibility, influence, power, authority and the like. To quote author Dr. Henry Cloud, from his book “Changes that heal” which has been my influence for this series, he suggests that:

“Authority has a number of different facets: power, expertise, office, influence and submission. Adults have the power or right to give commands, enforce obedience, take action, or make final decisions.”

The problem is that a lot of us are not ready for adulthood by the time we get there, which is why we see people abusing power in abusive relationships, because they have not yet resolved the issue of one up one down relationships, and are defensively taking on a persona of being one up from everyone else, while inside, and well hidden, even from themselves, they still battle feeling like they are incomplete inside. This of course is only one example out of so many.

Let’s take a brief look at some of the symptoms of an inability to properly move into that position and authority of the adult life:

If you relate to any of the following, you may still need to do some inner work and learn more about boundary development in order to successfully take your proper place in the world as an adult. Here they are:

-Inordinate needs for approval from others
-Fear of disapproval
-Guilt
-sexual struggles
-fear of failure
-need for permission
-feelings of inferiority
-feelings of superiority
-competitiveness
-loss of power
-judgmentalism
-looking at the world in black and white terms
-anxiety
-hate towards or issues with authority figures
-parenting others
-impulsiveness
-dependency
-depression

If you find you relate to any of the above, you may need to develop a few skills to exert your God-given authority you were meant to function in as He intended.

Here are a couple of skills needed to complete the maturing process and enter into adulthood, as a whole and complete person:

-Reevaluate your beliefs. As children, you were taught what to believe about a variety of issues, everything to do with family values, to religious opinions, to cultural convictions, and traditions. As an adult, you have the ability to decide what family beliefs and values you choose to hold onto, and what to let go of. To decide for yourself what you believe. This is a very difficult task in itself as it is often met with resistance from family members if we deviate from the expected family beliefs and traditions. But experimentation is a necessary part of determining for yourself who you will become and what you will believe. It is a difficult process for parent and maturing child.

-This is a toughy… The ability to disagree with authority figures. A lot of times, whether in the family unit, or at work, or in religious settings, this is met with extreme resistance. Believe it or not, but a lot of people in authority positions feel threatened when they are questioned by someone who is an adult in their ownership of themselves. Likely because they hold a position of authority but have not yet themselves graduated into adulthood themselves. As a properly functioning adult, being questioned or challenged on your opinion is most welcomed, as this person knows who they are, what they are responsible for and what they are not responsible for, and openly welcomes criticism as an opportunity for growth. How many people do you know who actually function in this ‘unthreatened’ way of true adulthood?

-See Parents and Authority figures realistically. Stop putting them on a pedestal or thinking and believing they will not fail you or are ‘super human’ in some way. Eventually, you will become disappointed and disillusioned when you realize they are not perfect either.

-Learn how to make your own decisions. Start taking initiative for your own behavior, choices, responsibility and the consequences that result from your choices and decisions.

-Practice Disagreeing when you disagree with someone else’s opinion on a subject.

-Give yourself permission to be equal with your parents.

-Recognize and pursue your talents and abilities.

-Learn to discipline yourself.

-Submit to others out of your sense of freedom, and out of a position of love.

-Deal with your sexuality. A lot of sexual issues in adulthood have a lot to do with how your parental system viewed sexuality. For instance from a religious background, one may feel shy and even like sex is a bad thing, causing you to shrink back from your sexuality in adulthood. Or coming from a sexually permissive background, you may lack a sense of commitment sexually in a marriage relationship, or struggle with body image or have come from some abusive situations because someone in your past has violated you while you were expressing your sexual freedom, leaving you more vulnerable and less sexual in your adulthood. There are so many different possible scenarios that may affect your sense of ownership in this area of adulthood. Are you able to clearly communicate to your partner what it is that you like or dislike sexually? These are other indications that you may need to finish maturing if you are unable to clearly articulate your sexual needs.

There are other tips as well, but I will leave you with this last one:

-The ability to love and appreciate people who are different from you.
This is probably the biggest indicator that you are well on your way to maturing into a healthy adulthood. This suggests that you have learned from the previous three stages of growth and development and are able to love people truly, flaws and all, without expecting them to be perfect and ideal people. It also indicates that you have been properly nurtured yourself, and have learned to develop boundaries and a sense of self to know who you are and who you are not, in order to be “ok” with others who are different from you, and to still love and appreciate them.

If you’d like to look at a great resource, check out my one-on-one Boundary Development Program which will provide you with many of the tools you need to help identify and move past the barriers that have been holding you back in life!

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If you have any questions on today’s blog or would like help on taking steps forward, I’d love to hear from you!  Post a comment below or visit my website and register for your Complimentary Strategy Session to discuss your situation in more detail.

Katie Meilleur – Certified Relationship Life Coach

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