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Everyone Says “No Regrets” Here is Why They’re Wrong.

A dear friend asked this interesting question recently. He asked, “how do you avoid the regrets you don’t want to have?”

Short answer? You can’t.

But allowing the potential for regrets to stop you is unfortunate. Without action, you have no regrets, it is true. But you also have no victory. Without action, you have no momentum.

If you want to live the life that you imagine, you have to face the potential for regrets.  So a better question to ask is, what do I do with the regrets when they happen? (Assuming you will take action, and thereby incur regret at some point in life)

No Regrets? Impossible!

Regret

“No regrets” is self-help jargon. A life without regret doesn’t exist. Everyone’s got them. So what?

Regrets are the residue of active creation. If you are doing something worth doing in life–anything at all–you will have regrets. You’re not perfect. That’s okay. (Hint: Neither is anyone else!) Once you get over that little bump, then you can deal with the real issue. What do I do now?

So you have regrets. Will you allow them to define you? Will you allow them to determine the limits of what you can and cannot accomplish? May I offer a different way to think of regrets?

Here’s the crux of the matter. Will you use regret as a club to bludgeon yourself for daring to risk, or will you leverage it as information to create something greater–to risk more precisely?

So I say, instead of avoiding regrets, collect them. Get as many as you can, as quickly as you can. Learn from them, and create some more. The effort spent trying to avoid regrets shackles you from daring greatly and creating the life you were meant to live.

The life of no regrets is not worth living. Instead, live your life with authenticity and integrity. Where you err, first pardon yourself and then ask forgiveness of others. Where you fear, walk with courage so others may follow. Where you find regret, grow with humility, confident that knowing better leads to doing better.

The question is not whether you will succeed but whether you will dare to persevere. (tweet this)

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2:001 AWAKE! Podcast – How Can I Feel Good Living in this Physical Form?

A Brand New Format!

The AWAKE! Podcast has found its voice! I am switching to a question and answer format for the podcast in order to provide practical answers to listener questions.  If you would like to submit your own question for the podcast, visit the podcast question page.

Show Notes

Season 2: Episode 1 – How to Feel Good Living in this Physical Form.
(Duration: 15 min, 56 sec)

Listener Question:
How can I feel good about being here in human form in this body? It seems like a terrible hassle to me. Like there’s so much unsafety out in the world that’s seemingly lurking to get me–when I know that there is a part of myself that is higher and beyond all of it.

How can I get in touch with living from the place where that self is the one I identify with rather than the dense, or scared self?

The AWAKE! Answer:
Great question, “Hassled”!

Your experience of life is the human experience.  Here are a few insights that will help you shift your focus so you can be happy here and now.

1. Ask “What are the beliefs I have about life which no longer serve me?”

If you can begin to challenge the paradigm; you can begin to change the paradigm.

Tweet: If you can begin to challenge the paradigm; you can begin to change the paradigm. via @stevenerice

2. What are the new beliefs you’d like to adopt regarding your life?

If you can reduce resistance to what is, you’ll automatically reduce the amount of discomfort and frustration in your life. When you feel frustrated, ask, “what are my expectations of life?”

If you can find a way to take yourself to gratitude, you will return to your Source.  You’re never truly disconnected from your Source…only when you believe that this is the case.

Fear is a natural emotion. You can heed its message and release it without anxiety.

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How to be Happy in 2014

The moment…

Image of author looking happy--with happy new year wish

There are moments in life when everything shifts—or better, when you realize they have already shifted.

One of these moments happened to me recently when I realized something profound.  I realized something for which I had spent most of my life searching. I looked up one day and noticed that I am happy.

You see, I never expected to be happy—truly, deeply, profoundly happy. Kids like me don’t get to grow up and be happy.  And yet here I am…happy.

In those moments there is only one response. Gratitude.

It percolates within. Joyful tears sting the corner of my eyes, or sometimes smiles overflow the corners of my cheeks. Beneath lies the bedrock of peace and the realization that I am loved, I am supported and that I will be okay.

2013 hasn’t been without its struggles, pain and grief (like any year). But I have learned, if you don’t stop to be present for the moments of happiness, they slip away; and you find yourself looking up in the moments of disappointment and confusion, wondering why life is so unhappy.

Maybe it’s not that life is so unhappy or unfulfilled, but that you have just failed to notice the moments of happiness that fill it.

My wish for you in 2014

My wish for you in 2014 is that you will find the deep, “toes curling in the warm sand” kind of happiness that you so desire. More importantly, I pray that you recognize that it has been there all along, and you will take the time to reach out and grasp it.

Where can you find happiness in the coming year?

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Merry Christmas and My Holiday Wish(es) for You

First, let me wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas wherever you are in the world. It is my hope that the coming year be filled with joy, peace and happiness.

TSA Happy Holidays

A Beautiful Holiday Gift

Last week, I was given a beautiful gift.  My friend, Lori hosts a biweekly Google hangout at her site. She starts each hangout with a theme and questions for discussions.  This week, the topic was “wishes.”  We discussed what we hoped and what we expected would be different for the coming year.

At the end of the hangout, Lori said, “What is your wish for each person in the hangout?”

It was the most beautiful gift.  Each of us got to go around the group (there were six of us on the hangout) and share a personal wish for each of the others in the hangout. This time was filled with affirmation, appreciation and best wishes for success for the coming year.

It was such a wonderful gift, that I would like to just take a few minutes on this busy day and share my wishes for you.

What I Wish for You

“When you wish someone joy, you wish them peace, love,
prosperity, happiness… all the good things.”
– Maya Angelou

Tweet: When u wish someone joy, you wish them peace, love,prosperity, happiness... all the good things. - Maya Angelou http://ctt.ec/cf8ej+

I Wish You…

1. Clarity – To know what you want–and what you don’t–and the courage to attain it.

2. Confidence – To know who you are and what you’re capable of–and the presence to exercise your power with grace and courtesy.

3. Joy –Last but not least.  That with it, you may have “all the good things” as well.

Most of all, I pray that today you might know that you are worthy of these wishes and infinitely more.  May you know love (and that you are loved).

I treasure you. I appreciate you. I thank you for bearing witness to my journey as I do, yours.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Is What You Want Holding You Back?

Sending Mixed Signals

Red and Green Mixed Traffic SignalsNothing is more frustrating than a night of flirting only to be snubbed at the last dance, just the other day, I realized that I was sending the Universe mixed signals.  

A week ago, we relocated to another city, several states away. My partner received one of those “pack-up-your-life-and-go” job offers, and so I folded my neatly pressed life, stuffed it in a carry-on bag and jetted out the door.

Once I arrived in the new city, anxiety started clawing at my stomach like Gollum clinging to the ring of power.  Life is the best it’s ever been and I’m still riddled with anxiety even though there is no reason for it.  Weird feeling.

So what gives? I asked myself.

What Do You Really Want?

I realized that what you really want (or say you want) may not be consistent with the energy you send out into the world, and that was my problem.

The anxiety was just the symptom.  The stress of starting over and finding a new job consumed me. I knew I needed a new job…or at least I believed that I needed one. But the truth is, I didn’t really know if I wanted a new job.

Do you see the inconsistency?

My assumptions said: I need a new job. My desire said: I want to work as a spiritual teacher.

My belief in my dream didn’t support the reality that I wanted to bring into my experience (that of being a spiritual teacher).  So, I realized that something had to give.

That’s when uncertainty attacked. What should I do?

How to Bring Desire into Alignment

Desires or dreams come easily. You were made to dream. Dreaming is a fundamental part of what makes us human. The challenge lies in bringing desire down from the clouds and grounding it here on earth.

In a recent interview with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday, Author Steven Pressfield said this about desire.

The more important the dream is to your soul’s evolution,
the greater the resistance to it. -Steven Pressfield
Tweet This

To bring the emotional energy you’re projecting into the world into alignment in a way that allows your dream to manifest you have to do two things.

1. Make sure your emotions are consistent with the desire.
2. Take informed action and allow the results to manifest.

How to Balance Inconsistent Emotions

Emotions fluctuate. How can you balance them with desire? It is easy if you don’t get too specific.  This seems counter intuitive–especially when most “law of attraction” gurus are teaching people to visualize more specifically.

But most of us get way too specific about our desire and how it should unfold, but our emotional output doesn’t yet match the intensity of the vibration of that desire. So we are already starting at a place of misalignment.  Then we get discouraged and think we’re doing something wrong when it doesn’t appear.

Instead, focus on feeling good. Find the ways that you can create and experience the feeling of gratitude and joy and you have positioned yourself already at a higher emotional frequency.

Once you are calibrated to this better-feeling emotion, you can more easily create a vision of what you desire.  A great way to begin to do this is to ask positive ‘what if’ questions.

What if I make the perfect connection in this new city which leads to a fulfilling job that helps me grow on my way to becoming a powerful and successful spiritual teacher?

Do you see how I turned my previous negative assumptions around?  That is the beginning.

What if everything works out?
What if I have all that I need to accomplish my goal?
What if I find that I can trust myself to make the best decision that serves me and all involved?

So don’t despair if you’re having a hard time realizing your dream.  Keep working toward it. It’s all part of your soul’s evolution. You will succeed if you don’t give up.

How to Take Powerful Action

Most of us jump right to taking action.  We’re an action-oriented society.  But Powerful Action means taking action that aligns with your energy and desire. Energy, Desire and Action make up the power triad. When your energy, your goal–or desire, and your action are aligned, you have all you need to create the art of your life.

Clear energy and clear desire leads to clear action. (Tweet This)

If you take the step to elevate your energetic emotional impulse and direct your intention toward a clear desire, you will see the next step in front of you.  Better yet, you will be confident to take the next step.

For me, this meant obtaining the perfect “bridge” job as I continue to build my spiritual teaching practice.  Now that I have greater clarity, this bridge job does not deflate me but it actually serves to motivate me.

If you will follow these simple guidelines, you’ll find that you have moved from simple flirtation with happiness and fulfillment. If you’ll let the creative source of the Universe take the lead, you’ll feel the exhilaration as you zip across life’s dance floor with grace.

What Is Your Plan?

What dream would you like to make headway with? What is the next step you need to take? How will you implement these 2 principles to help you take the next step toward that dream?

Photo Credit: Paola Kizette Cimenti

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How to Trust Your Gut…Even If It Is Tied In Knots!

“I would be happy to,” you agree, while internally you are banging your head on the table shouting, “No! No! No, you idiot. Why did you ever agree to do that!?!”

Tsk-Tsk,” your Conscience disapproves, while your Better Self “harumphs,” peering from slanted eyelids over it’s upraised nose.

Regret. You fail to trust your gut instinct. We have all been there, haven’t we?

Missed Opportunities.  Bad Decisions.

image of polar bear defecating with caption: sweet jesus please let me live. I promise never to eat Taco Bell ever again

Trust Your Gut!

Image Courtesy of I’m One Sarcastic Broad

Everybody has regrets, but I want you to learn to trust your gut in a way that will serve you well your whole life, and the first step is practice!

1. Practice Makes Perfect
Whether it’s to pass on the extra serving of double chocolate cheesecake or to grab a few minutes of meditation before starting a crazy day, pay attention the next time your instinct nudges you.

Practice with the little things. When your gut taps you on the shoulder, obey it!  These promptings are often spontaneous and unexpected and so it is easy to ignore them.  Don’t.

By honoring your soul’s guidance and listening to your own wisdom, you’ll become more comfortable obeying the promptings that are sent your way.  A side benefit is that you will notice more and more guidance appearing before you when you start obeying the guidance that’s already there. (Tweetable Tidbit)

The second step in learning to trust your gut is to learn to honor and respect yourself first.

2. R-E-S-P-E-C-T…Find Out What It Means to Me!
Respect yourself.  That’s what it comes down to.

You have probably learned or been taught to doubt yourself. You have been told that your opinion or perspective isn’t as important as the expectations of others.  Maybe it’s your parents, church leaders, or friends that you don’t want to disappoint.

Confidence comes when you realize that you can
survive the disappointment of others.
Tweet Tidbit

Be willing to disappoint the expectations of others in favor of respecting and honoring your own inner guidance.

Years ago, I ran a professional massage therapy practice.  I had just finished my schooling and was working to establish myself and my practice in the community.

One day, a chiropractor called my office looking for a massage therapist to provide on-site chair massage for a community event in which his practice was participating.

“My rate for onsite services is $40/hour with a minimum of 2 hours,” I told him.

“Humph,” he scoffed, “Well I’m paying $10/hour and you can hand out business cards too.”

“I’m sorry,” I told him. “I would recommend calling the massage school in midtown.  I know they send out their students to get experience as part of their program.”

“Well, if you are in the place where you can just turn away business…” he derided.

The truth is that I wasn’t in a place to turn away business, but something in my gut told me not to sell myself short. 

“It’s not that I can turn away business, Doctor,” I told him, “but I believe in the value of the work that I do and I want others to value it as well.”

Respect. That’s what it is all about.  It’s about honoring the guidance that lies within you enough to disappoint those who seek to impose their point of view and priorities on you.

Practicing and developing this skill strengthens your own confidence and will free you to pursue the things that are most important to you.

3 Agreements You Should Embrace as You Learn to Trust Your Gut

1. I know what is best for me (Tweetable Tidbit)

2. I am competent in my own life. (Tweetable Tidbit)

3. I will figure it out. (Tweetable Tidbit)

Embrace these three agreements–or beliefs.  They will strengthen your faith in your intuition as you put them into practice in your every day life.

Your Assignment…Should You Choose to Accept

(Said in the best Mission Impossible voice I could muster)

Okay, in the comments, tell me how you plan to trust your gut more.  How have you learned to trust your inner guidance better?  What is one agreement or action step you will take to build a stronger self-confidence when it comes to trusting intuition?

 

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Why Wait for Vacation? How to Enjoy Every Moment

I was on a Google Hangout with some friends recently, discussing how we organize our lives.  The topic of vacations–and how we plan them–came up.

The host of the Hangout, Lori, made the distinction of planning for the vacation versus being on the vacation and used this distinction as a metaphor for life.

The Obstacle to Enjoying Life

In the Hangout most of us admitted that we work and live rather haphazardly when it comes to the daily hour-by-hour management of our lives.  Some have over-arching goals and priorities–like children, education, business, etc–but many of us face what is in front of us and move through life going one thing to the next.

A few years ago–like most of the world–I watched the progression and passing of the life of Steve Jobs, and it made me think.

I want to live my life in such a way that when I come to the end of it, I am satisfied.

You would probably say the same of your life, wouldn’t you?  Nobody sets out to live a failed life.  If satisfaction is the goal, what is the method?  How can we create a satisfied life?

Here are 3 assertions I made:

1. My life may end at any time.

2. I don’t (yet) know when my life will end.

3. I want to be prepared.

There’s nothing ground-breaking about these assertions, but they made me face the truth that many of us try to avoid–I am mortal.

So, you may see the inherent paradox here between numbers 1 & 2 and number 3.  How does one prepare for something that is imminent but may (or hopefully may not) be immediate?

How to Enjoy Life

For me it came down to a matter of training myself to find joy in every moment–even the ones that frustrate, anger and bewilder me.

How can you find joy in every moment?

  • Be clear about what brings you joy
  • Do what brings you joy

When I first started down this path, I didn’t know what brought me joy.  Do you? Really?  Think about it for a minute.

Set aside the cars, boats, planes, houses, etc.  What brings you down-in-your-soul, curl-your-toes joy?

Image of the authorFor me it is flexibility, spontaneity, stillness and the ability to express myself creatively.  (Is it any wonder that I fall deeper in love with my photography hobby every day?)

So you say, “Yeah, but Steve, you can’t just run around taking pictures every day without making any money to support yourself!”

You’re right. I can’t. My skill isn’t developed enough to live from my hobby…yet. And honestly, I don’t know if I even really want to make a living from photography. Probably not.

Here is the key: Look for ways to enrich every moment of your life with what brings you joy. (Tweet This)

It would be weird–no, actually it would be creepy–for me to take my camera to work and snap pictures of everyone and everything.

Here’s what I mean.  Uncover the keystones of what bring you joy–in my case, independence, stillness and creativity–and look for ways to bring that to your life in every moment!

You can create ways to feel joy even in the most mundane and dull moments of your life. You may not love your job, but start finding ways to bring your joy with you to work, and you’ll find your perspective toward that dead-end job shifts dramatically.

You cannot travel within and stand still without.
- James Allen
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Your circumstances will shift when you do.  That’s the bottom line. You always control your thoughts.

So even if you find a circumstance to which you can bring no joy at all (like losing a loved one), you can still find joy within the stillness of your soul and in the quietness of your thoughts.  The presence of joy does not mean the absence of sorrow. Joy exists, as a matter of will, in spite of the sorrow.

A Final Warning on Enjoying Life

Many people mistakenly believe that a dramatic shift in circumstances will bring greater joy to their lives. In every case where my circumstances shifted for the better, the level of my joy remained fairly consistent.

Some of us want to dive off into our hobbies–either as a career or as a distraction–before we have the stability or ability to do so.  Don’t make this mistake.

I would have been foolish to grab my camera, march into my workplace and drop my resignation letter on my boss’s desk, and say, “I found my passion. I’m outta here!”

Your hobby may become your career at some point, but it may not. Search beyond your passion, and uncover your true purpose. What makes you come alive? What is it that brings you joy.  Then, set to work creating a life from that, and you’ll find that the circumstances will realign themselves in an almost magical way.

Castle quote by Thoreau

 

(click the quote/image to tweet it)

What Do You Do to Bring Joy to Your Moments?

Please share this article.

In the comments section below, fill me in on what you do to bring joy to the everyday moments of your life–particularly the more mundane or frustrating moments.  Do you have any stories of when your circumstances shifted after you shifted yourself?  I want to hear your stories. They are so inspiring.

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Do This When You’re Blindsided by Criticism or Facing Disapproval

Woman wagging her fingerA couple of days ago, a friend and I were talking about her business and the topic of criticism–and how to respond to it–came up.

Her client was complaining about freelance work she’d already completed, insisting that it wasn’t good enough (even though it fulfilled the terms of the contracted agreement).  My friend was stressing out because she didn’t know how to respond.

In a recent article on at the Middle Finger Project, Ash Ambirge lays out a killer tip for saying tough things with power and finesse.

Getting blindsided by the criticism and the disapproval of others can be one of the most frustrating experiences.

You Have Two Choices

Really, when it comes down to criticism, you have two choices–respond, or don’t.  Why does the disapproval of others create so much anxiety for us?

Here’s the deal: most of us care way too much about the opinions and expectations of others.  I know. I’m a recovering people-pleaser.

I’m not advocating that you treat others with disrespect or unkindness. I do want you to be able to recognize the blessing–yes, blessing–that the criticism of others offers you, and be well-equipped to respond, if you choose to do so.

You all know that it’s about self-reliance and practical implementation more than simple self-help aphorisms here at True Spiritual Awakening, so let me give you some new thoughts to consider and then some helpful hints for dealing with the criticism of others.

3 Steps to Follow When Faced By Criticism

1. Stop - Stop and take a breath. Have you been conditioned to react when someone criticizes you? Do you get angry, defensive and aggressive?  Or do you withdraw and try to protect yourself?

Take a moment to recognize your own pattern.  I tend to be rather non-confrontational, so my natural conditioning was to back down and to avoid conflict until it blew up in my face. Even then, sometimes I would try to ignore it, hoping it would go away.  It rarely does.

I’ve found that it’s better to face a situation directly and choose my reaction consciously. I feel much more empowered and the stress and drama generally drains quickly from the situation once it’s been properly addressed.

2. Reflect – Take time to observe what’s happening. Ask yourself smart questions. What is really going on? What is this really about?

Hint: Don’t always believe the first answer your mind presents to you.

Ask, Why am I triggered?  What is this bringing up for me? Why does this matter so much for me?

And the power question: Is this something I have any control over?

We all want people to like us, to think we’re competent, to think that we have things under control. Taking a moment to stop and reflect on the criticism you’re receiving allows you the time to engage your logic before you respond.

When emotion and logic are locked in conflict,
emotion always wins.
Tweet This

Just as you can’t reason with a person who’s distraught, terrified, or angry, if you are triggered emotionally, your logical mind will be disengaged and you’ll have no objectivity with which to provide a rational response–even if you’d wanted to.

3. Respond – As we’ve said, to respond or not to respond, that is the question!  Bad Shakespeare rip-offs aside, this is the important choice that always lies before you when you’re confronted by the criticism or disapproval of others.

Here are some points to think about…

Dislike

A few months ago, a critical message popped up in my inbox on the Facebook page.  It took my completely off-guard.

Complaint

At first I thought it was just a “spam-bot” of some sort, so I responded.  He replied with even more sarcasm and disapproval, so I decided to let it go at that point.  It was a quick lesson that you can’t please everyone.

It also gave me a wonderful opportunity to stop, reflect and the tweetable above came to me. I realized that to do the work that I feel that I am meant to do in the world, I have to become confident with my internal voice and comfortable enough with the disapproval of others that I could continue on the path that I know is right for me.

Criticism will blindside you at some point in your life. Be ready for it. Remember the three steps: Stop, Reflect, Respond (or don’t).  You have the power of response in your own life. This is the meaning of response-ability.

How you treat yourself

Most of us receive our response conditioning when we’re children. We develop habit patterns of thought and behavior that may or may not serve us as we mature into adulthood.  The criticism and disapproval expressed by others is the perfect opportunity to take stock.

Next time you face criticism, instead of flying into a rage, or instead of retreating from criticism, take a minute to take charge of yourself and your emotions.  Look at your natural tendency and ask, does this response/reaction serve me well?  If not, you have the power to change it–right there in that very moment!

One of my favorite philosophers is the psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl.  He said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

How Do You Handle Criticism?

Do you handle criticism well?  What programmed behavior or thought patterns have you recognized become engaged when you are criticized?  What helpful hints can you share for handling criticism or the disapproval of others in an effective way?

Photo Credit: Lara604

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The Truth No One Ever Told You (but should have) About Ending A Toxic Relationship

There’s No Easy Way To Break a Toxic Relationship!

There. I said it.

I know. I know.  I can hear you now…

But, Steve, I don’t wanna hurt her feelings.

But I really love him…

I don’t mean to be uncaring, but you’re gonna have to suck it up, Buttercup.  There is no easy way to break ties with the junkyard dogs in your life (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you should go read this article on setting boundaries and then come back–right away–and finish this one).

The #1 Don’t–DO NOT Equivocate

Don’t waffle. Make a decision and communicate your decision. Don’t play games. Clear decisiveness is not unkindness.

Remember the first time you stood up to the bully on the playground, or the “mean girls” in junior high? The bully’s reaction to a new boundary can get loud and nasty. Or, it may not be loud at all, it may be subtle and passive aggressive, but this does not mean that you should second-guess your decision.

I’m giving you permission to do what’s right for you.  When you do what’s right for yourself, you have taken the first step toward being able to do what’s right for others in your life.  If you want to help someone else heal, the best way to do so is to get well yourself.

You have played a part in this dysfunctional dance–whether it is with a relative, lover or colleague.  You must overcome your part in the dysfunction.  That means taking action.

Here are the Steps to help.

Steve’s Steps for Ending a Toxic Relationship

“Ending it” is often used when we talk about romantic relationships but terminating a relationship can apply to any situation that you currently find yourself in.

Let me clarify. When I say “ending it,” I’m referring to ending the way in which you have been in relationship with the offending personality.  So, although it may mean terminating the relationship completely, it may no necessarily mean that.

There is a distinction between terminating a relationship and terminating the influence someone has over your life or the access they have to your life.

Here is how:

1. Limit the access or influence that person has in your life.

Decide whether you need to terminate the relationship completely or whether you need to limit the person’s access to your life.

NOTE:  Beware of the “Equivocation Monster”
One sign of dysfunction that I’ve seen many people fall pray to when seeking to limit a toxic person’s access to their life is that they mitigate their decision and refuse to make a clean cut by saying, “well Sally is my best friend, so I can’t cut her off completely,” or “He is my dad. I have to respect him.  My kids need their grandpa.”

This is a sign of codependency–that you need something from the other person to survive.  The truth is that you don’t need anything to be well except the will to do the work to get well.  The inability to set boundaries and stand by them is insecurity on display.

What you are really saying when you use an equivocation such as these is “I don’t feel worthy of a healthy friendship, so I’ll hold on to what I have, even if it’s bad for me,” or “I want my dad to like me (or approve of me), so I’m willing to put up with bad behavior so my kids can have the grandpa I never had as a father.”

Give up the fantasy!  As harsh and difficult as this is, you must give up the wishes and dreams that things might be different.  The only way to build something new for the future, is to admit the truth of what now is.

2. Make the Cut

If you struggle with a toxic work environment, get out.  No excuses.  You must do what you need to do. Don’t blame it on the economy, where you live, how worn out your are.  Dig down deep in your soul and start doing what needs to be done.

You’ll be surprised at how the universe will come to your aid when you begin to make steps in the direction of health and wholeness.

“If one advances confidently in the direction of one’s dreams,
and endeavors to live the life which one has imagined,
one will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
                                    -Henry David Thoreau

Years ago, I found myself trapped in a toxic work environment…and what was even more frustrating was that this wasn’t my first time in this sort of a situation!  I finally, just got fed up.  I knew things had to change.

I was working in a large hospital, so I applied for a job to move to another department.  It was a lateral move, but at least my day-to-day experience would improve, I thought.  When I got the job, I gave my two-week notice in the department I was working in.

In a seeming unrelated situation, my partner interviewed for a job out of state.  This was right in the middle of my two week “notice” period.

The new employer offered him a the job paying more than he asked for, with a full moving package and additional moving bonus to move and start work in 2 weeks.

It was crazy. When I took action to change my circumstances, the Universe shifted in a way that I never could have imagined.  Within about 3 weeks, my life changed completely.  We moved to a new state, started a new adventure, and the old experience was left behind rather dramatically.

I know it’s scary to consider making drastic changes in your life. Especially if you have mortgages to resolve and jobs to consider or businesses to close, and children to think of.

Change is tough, but it is not as tough as
staying stuck in pain and dysfunction.

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If you’re stuck in a family relationship that is toxic, get help.  Get support.  If there is no help in your family, reach out to your community resources–churches, synagogues, government agencies.  Do what you have to do.  You can do this. Make a plan and start executing your plan.

3. Communicate the Change.

This can be the hardest part of the process–especially if you’re a nice person or are like me, a recovering people-pleaser.

There is no “nice” way to tell someone that you don’t want them in your life. Just do it.

Here are the 3 “B’s”: Be clear. Be kind. Be firm (final–don’t leave all sorts of doors open).

At this time, I can’t be in relationship with you. That is all you have to say.

If they beg and plead and promise, go back to your 3 B’s: Be clear. Be kind and be firm.  Don’t offer any sort of reconciliation.  Let them react however they are going to react.  You are doing what is right and you have to affirm this within your own mind.

If the person is aggressive and refuses to respect the boundaries you have set, block their e-mails/social media contact with you.  Change your phone number.  Tell friends and relatives who care and are supportive what’s going on and help them to support you.

In the worse case, don’t hesitate to get a restraining order and use the authorities if the person becomes belligerent.

When boundaries break the relationship, get support

Relationships can’t continue the same way
when one person gets well, and the other is still sick.
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Battered Fort Wall

When this happens, it’s vital to get support.  This is about you reinforcing the fortress that has been battered for years by resetting the patterns of behavior that are unhealthy within you.

If you don’t become aware of these patterns and do the work to correct them, you’ll end up attracting the same dynamic in a different set of circumstances.

1. Educate Yourself
Search out a good relationship/family therapist to help you remap the behavior patterns that are the root of your own family emotional pathology.

2. Build a Support Network
Build a support network separate from the dysfunction.  This might be a house of faith family, a group of friends or other family members who can support your growth.

3. Create New Habits
It takes some practice, but you must create new ways of being within yourself first, and then teach this way of relationship to those around you

As you begin to heal, your interactions will automatically be more healthy because you have changed the relationship you have within yourself.  You are more congruent so your interactions with others will have integrity as well.

Finally, as you begin to heal the wounds in your own fortress wall, you’ll find that you’re able to provide a safe place within which others can hide to heal and grow.  All because you’ve done the work.

The Rest of the Series…

Part One: How to Break the Power of Toxic People In Your Life
Part Two: How to Set Boundaries for the Junkyard Dog in Your Life

Photo Credit: Steve Rice

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How to Set Boundaries for the Junkyard Dog in Your Life

The Truth About Toxic People (Your ‘Junkyard Dog’)

Snarling DogJunkyard dogs bark and snarl and lunge against the chains that hold them.  It can be the same when you start to set boundaries against the toxic behavior of those in your life.

In the first post in this “toxic people” series, I made the assertion: There are no toxic people, only toxic behavior. Your negative judgment of another person is an indictment of yourself.

As you might imagine, I got some kickback on this point.

“But I don’t see how my sister’s toxic influence is a reflection of me,” I was told.

Another person said, “It’s hard for me to believe that my brother’s craziness has anything to do with me.”

Let me take a moment and clarify.  Another person’s bad behavior is 100% their responsibility!  You are only responsible for your reaction to that behavior.

Negative judgement is always a defense mechanism–we criticize people when we’re afraid, uncertain or angry.

Think about that for a moment and think about the criticism you’ve most recently made of the person whose bad behavior impacts your life.

Did it come from a position of fear, insecurity or smallness?  Were you afraid that they would damage or disrupt a part of your life or experience?

Even a helpful criticism is often grounded in the perspective: I want you to be different than you are, so I am going to criticize your methods, manner or message in an effort to shame or guilt you into complying with my desire.

Judging other people is the ego’s defense against the soul.
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The soul would speak the truth. It would have you free of limitation, fear and smallness. Your ego must defend and attack the truth to preserve itself, and so it deflects your attention to the perceived faults of another and begs you to judge your sister or brother.

The Beginning of Boundaries with Toxic Behavior

Boundaries start with recognition. We are each living in our own realities.  You live in yours, and I live in mine.  I don’t react or respond to true reality.  I react or respond to my reality and you do the same.

In his book, The Power of Intention, Dr. Wayne Dyer says it this way:  Your family relationships are in your mind…your relatives exist as thoughts in your mind.  

He goes on to state, whatever power they have, you’ve given to them. In order to change the nature of your family relationships, you’ll have to change your mind about them.

Changing the way you think about toxic people in your life can be so hard to do! Even if you understand (and agree with) the basic philosophical point.

Those who are closest to you should protect you, not perpetrate injury against you.  They should be the ones coming to your defense, not the ones against whom you must construct a defense.

So it is really hard to acknowledge that we have to change our way of thinking with regards to our loved ones or those who have behaved badly in our lives. It’s just easier to blame them.

They are the one who needs to change. And we use examples of their bad behavior to feel justified in judging them.

Remember this: You are not in relationship with a toxic person, you are in relationship with your image of that person.

So in relationships, you are not reacting to a “toxic” person in your life, you are responding to your reality of toxicity and dysfunction.  The wound that causes you to react to someone else’s bad behavior is always there if you will have the courage to uncover it and heal it.

When you recognize this, you empower yourself to heal any injury or wrong in your own life. Only then can you bring healing to another. You must do your work in order for the scar to heal.

This process is like a physical wound…as long as it is open and sensitive, we protect it and cater to it.  Once it is cleaned out, bandaged and healed, the scar tissue that replaces the wound is no longer sensitive and, in many cases, is stronger than it was before.

Why Do We Allow Toxic Behavior to Hurt Us Again and Again?

We allow our own emotional wounds to fester because we don’t know how to set proper boundaries. Let’s just be honest…in a way, we like the drama (or something that it gives us–sense of significance or importance).

I know this is another one of  those statements that your ego will probably want to push back against. Test it yourself.  If the drama (or some aspect of it) is not serving you, there will be no difficulty in releasing it.

So maybe you’re shaking your head saying, But Steve, that’s the whole point. That’s why I’m reading this article. I want to let it go! I’m ready to release the drama.  Great! That’s the first step.

Have you heard the maxim, “things only change when you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired”?

You’re on the right track. The next step is learning to set healthy boundaries and practicing this skill until you’re an expert.

Setting Boundaries Shows Kindness

In reality, it is unkind not to set boundaries.  Society has conditioned us to “go along to get along” and engage in all other myriad of ridiculous, unwise (and even unhealthy) patterns when it comes to dealing with dysfunctional behavior from those around us.

It is unkind NOT to set boundaries
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As children, we’re encouraged to “honor” our parents and respect our elders.You may have been taught that setting boundaries with those around you was improper or disrespectful.

It would be far better to teach our children to love their bodies, trust their instincts, and set boundaries in a respectful and healthy way.  But most adults are dysfunctional, so that emotional pathology is passed to their children.

To begin to restore a relationship that has been damaged by bad behavior, you must first…

Recognize and claim your “stuff.”

You must have a clear understanding of the part you play in the co-dependent dance with dysfunction.  This has nothing to do with the other person. They are merely the the puppet dancing at the end of your marionette strings.

If you find yourself saying,  “I don’t know what it is, but that person just makes me crazy,” it’s a good indicator that you’re face to face with your dysfunction. It’s your job to uncover and expose it so it can be healed.

How can you recognize your stuff? There is an emotional charge you feel when it is confronted (usually best recognized through the behavior of someone else in your life).  This emotional ‘charge’ will be an undeniable need to defend and protect–to be “right”–your point of view.

Once it has been healed, you can release the need to defend and protect, because the wound is healed.  You will know this happens when the emotional charge disappears. This doesn’t mean that you quit caring, it simply means that the behavior no longer triggers you.

Once you do acknowledge your part in the play, you’re ready to move onto the next step:

Recognize and return the other person’s “stuff.”

Years ago, I knew a brilliant therapist who taught me a wonderful technique.  “When you recognize that the monkey on someone else’s back has jumped to yours, give it back to her,” he said.

Baby gorilla on the back of mommy

He stated this lesson with such simplicity and surety that I’ve never forgotten it. When you recognize that the monkey has jumped (or in some cases been thrust) onto your back, give it back.  It’s not your monkey.

How do you “give back” the monkey?  You give back the monkey by refusing to take emotional responsibility for another person’s well-being. You give back the monkey by refusing to engage emotionally in another person’s drama.

This is the height of compassion and kindness.  It doesn’t mean that you become arrogant, inconsiderate or hostile. Instead, you are firm in saying, “I recognize what is yours and what is mine in this situation and I’m giving yours back and will no longer take responsibility for your behavior.”

This doesn’t necessarily have to be said in these words. It’s better said through the action of setting and maintaining healthy boundaries.

Dr. Henry Cloud’s work on setting boundaries, is a great place to start if you recognize that you need some practice in setting healthy boundaries in your life.

Steve’s Tips for Setting Healthy Boundaries

Here are three steps to help you use boundaries to create a place for wholeness and healing in your life.

1. Create the Boundary

First, you have got to set a boundary.  If you haven’t done so before, you need to be aware that it will feel strange because it’s a new experience.  That’s okay.  Do it anyway.  Be clear about what you want. Draw the line.

I recommend you write it down and run it passed a trusted friend or confidant (who’s not engaged in relationship with the toxic person).  Think of someone who has very clear boundaries in their life and has shown that they have developed this skill set.  They will be best able to give you objective insight.

Be sure you can state the boundary clearly in one or two sentences.  If you’ve ever watched those “intervention” shows on TV, think of the segment of the show when everyone sits down with the addict and starts the intervention.

You want to be able to state this boundary clearly for yourself first.  At first, it will be tempting to project it onto the person who’s behaving badly by saying something like, “I’m no longer going to let you hurt me.”

If you find yourself stating your boundary and intention as a projection, turn it around.  Instead, state it from the perspective of what you intend.

For example, you could say, “I deserve respect. I will no longer allow myself to be bullied or abused.”

This seems like a small shift, but it’s vitally important.  If you can articulate your boundary with clarity from your own perspective, you begin to empower yourself.

The truth is that you have no control over the other person’s behavior. They may continue to behave badly even after the boundary is in place, but by stating your boundary from your personal perspective, you empower yourself to then take action that lines up with your intention no matter what the other person says or does.

2. Communicate Your Boundary Clearly

Communicate your new boundary clearly. Immediately, people who have had unfettered access to your body, mind, time and attention will react to a boundary being set with them.

Don’t get sucked into manipulative or passive aggressive conversations or arguments meant to deflect attention from the fact that you’re setting a new boundary by baiting you into defending or explaining your position.  If you need to have support in communicating the boundary, I encourage you to ask a friend to stand with you as you set the boundary.  You may even ask the person you went to in Step 1 for feedback, to support you all the way through this process.

Be ready for this reaction. It may be aggressive and overt or it may be more subtle and passive aggressive. Make sure you’re safe, number one.  But allow them to react.

Remember you’re not accusing or making a judgment of the other person’s behavior.  You are simply communicating your new boundary: “I am not going to allow myself to be bullied or abused” (for example)

You don’t have to respond to someone else’s negative reaction or hysteria. You don’t have to be sucked into discussions justifying your position or your decision. And you never need to stay in a place to be hurt, abused, manipulated or mistreated.

3. Respect Your New Boundary

In order for others to abide by the “new rules,” you must respect and uphold your new boundary first.  You are the one responsible for a new way of being in the relationship.

Be consistent. If the person you are in relationship with will not respect your boundary, share with them the consequences of disrespecting you and then follow through.

For example, “If you continue to yell at me, I will not continue to visit/call you.”

Do not use hyperbole (exaggeration in order to manipulate).  “You always scream at me…so I’m never calling you again!”

Use a specific behavior (don’t attack the person).  In the example above, we used raising one’s voice…instead, for example, “If you continue to disrespect me…” (disrespect me is too vague).

Above all, be clear. Be careful of the temptation to “soften” the blow–I get it, you’re a nice person–by waffling on your decision.  Speak with compassion, but with clarity and confidence.  Use a “matter of fact” tone to avoid excess drama. Tell it how it is.

Ultimately, it is your responsibility to respect yourself and to re-teach others how to be in relationship with you.

What to Expect Once Boundaries are Implemented

We talked about the potential negative reaction to a newly-set boundary.  However, when you are able to open up communication, you may find that what the other person was trying to communicate was exactly the opposite of what you were receiving.

For example, when you were a child, your mother might have raised her voice to you because she was afraid you would disobey and put yourself in danger.  She was expressing love, but you received it as aggression or intimidation.

You may be surprised to find that intimacy is restored and even deepened once you set and enforce a healthy boundary.  Trust can be rebuilt. The person engaged in the bad behavior may recognize your love and seek to join you on the path toward a more healthy relationship.

A Short Personal Story

Several months ago, I was treated in a way I felt was inappropriate at work.  Honestly, I got angry and bitter.  This situation consumed me every time someone would ask, “How was work today?” or “How do you like your job?”

I realized that I had to let this go. So, I started in exactly the manner I’m recommending to you. I took responsibility for my “stuff”.  Once I could see that clearly, it began to heal.  Next, I acknowledged the part of my employer that wasn’t my stuff.

In my situation, things began to change.  The circumstances didn’t improve, but my perspective of them changed. I began to put my focus and energy on projects that served me. I let go of the past.

When people asked, “Do you like your job?” instead of complaining about what happened to me in the past, I became eager to talk about what I had planned for the future.

It made all the difference.  It gave me the confidence to set proper boundaries with my employer and my colleagues because I was able to siphon away the drama that had triggered my own emotional reaction.

It really is true, when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.  James Allen said it this way: “You cannot travel within and stand still without.

In the next part of this series, we’ll discuss what to do when the toxic relationship breaks down as a result of setting boundaries.

NOTE: Don’t forget to check out Part One – How to Break the Power of Toxic People in Your Life

Photo Credits: Creative Commons License  trung1145
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