You can change your version of normal at any timeWhen you’ve witnessed or been through a lot of stuff as a child, a chunk of adulthood is spent trying to work out what’s normal because it quickly becomes apparent that what was ‘normal’ to you isn’t how things are in general or what you want to continue with, especially as you’ll be feeling the pain of putting your pattern on repeat.

Normalising what may be really poor behaviour and dynamics only really equips you for abusive and dysfunctional relationships. It trains you to be a pleaser devoted to trying to influence people’s feelings and behaviour while also trying to minimise conflict, criticism, disappointment, rejection, and abandonment. It trains you to stay when you should run, and to run even when there’s an imagined threat.

One teen summer while camping in Brittas Bay (I was raised in Dublin, Ireland), I witnessed a woman being beaten by her husband. Even though my friend and I were scared, we stayed until he took his hands off her and backed off. I know a lot of women who ‘walked into doors’.

I was a kid who walked into doors. I went to school with bruises and was terrified to go home around report time, begging and pleading with teachers to amend a grade that I thought would result in severe punishment. I was raised during a time when unless you were turning up almost dead at school, no one was going to say anything or investigate issues.

The funny thing is that when you don’t talk about this stuff, you can feel ashamed and even crazy but talk to people and you will find kindred spirits who understand your experiences. Sat with a friend a few months ago, we found ourselves weeping laughing at the absurdity of parents who go batshit on your birthday, cuss you out, scare the crap out of you, and then the doorbell goes and it’s your friends and your parents are like “Hi!” and going into Crystal Carryington hostess with the mostess mode while you’re thinking, Erm, did that just really happen?

Over the years I’ve met and corresponded with many people who had similar childhood experiences and a very confusing aspect of being physically punished as well as getting what may have been verbal tirades and/or mind effery, is that it teaches conflicting messages when you have good times and you’re hugged afterwards or they seem really remorseful, or they even say that they wouldn’t have ‘had’ to do what they’d done “if only” you hadn’t done whatever it was.

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It's not judgmental or oversensitive to register discomfort about something; it's healthy, helpful, and necessary

Due to the nature of my work and in particular my spidey senses and sniffer dog nose for shadiness and assholery, I can pick up on very subtle early warning signs that someone else may construe as me being ‘negative’ or even ‘too sensitive’. For example, a few months back, I met up with a business acquaintance and when parting and discussing another meeting, they quipped that I’d better not be giving them any of that “sh*t” and pointed to my herbal tea. I felt slightly disconcerted. It niggled because it felt over the line. Now some people might think I’m crackers for thinking that but that warning turned out to be ridiculously true. It’s not about jumping all over what may be innocent or ill-thought-out comments – those are distinguishable from the stuff that blossoms into a problematic relationship. If you look at your mutual and healthy relationships you will see that these people don’t put you down and rarely cross the line and if they do, they feel bad about it and don’t keep repeating it. They make amends. Your instincts are correct when the behaviour you witnessed keeps showing up.

It’s the very subtle yet niggling stuff that sets the stage for what can turn into an untenable situation or even an abusive relationship. Watch out for Choppers with their insidious erosion of your self-esteem, self-image and even your perception of reality with their putdowns and passive aggressive mind effery. They don’t punch you in the face on day one or come out with something directly offensive but they do slip in a putdown where you think, Did he/she just say that?, Am I being too sensitive? or, That’s a bit over the line. Or they do/say something about someone or something else that when you look back on things further down the line, you realise that it was indicative of things to come.

Sometimes when attempting to decipher situations and wanting to be perceived as generous with our chances, we don’t consider what a person’s actions towards others may mean.

We don’t see it as something that can affect us…yet… which is why so many of us have been or are with people who behave pretty damn badly with others and now do so with us. We thought we’d be the exception to the rule or that what we picked up was irrelevant to a romantic relationship or could be overcome with our love and pleasing.

Classic examples are people who are discourteous to, for instance, restaurant staff or who rage at others right in front of you. One reader went on 4-5 dates with somebody who went absolutely ballistic while driving with her on all of the dates – warning sign of anger issues. Early jealousy and possessiveness is another classic – one ex had a hissy fit when he found out that my ex boyfriend was helping me with a project at uni – we’d been dating for four days when this happened and lo and behold, he was very controlling and jealous throughout the relationship.

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Happiness isn't a finite resource. If you don't feel it today, you will feel it again. Be vulnerable enough to belive. by Natalie Lue

Penny intended to feel on top of the world but ended up getting in her own way. She aced it when she’d showcased her work to respected people within her industry but enjoyed that feeling for all of a hot minute because she ended up ‘celebrating’ with Mr Miserable, her sometimes charming Mr Unavailable who from the moment that he knew he’d won her over, he started up with the sniping, criticism and other such passive aggression before his pants had hit the floor. Penny’s achievements were quickly forgotten and barely acknowledged.

Sonya raves about her boyfriend who for the first time ever, and that includes a couple of marriages, she is enjoying a relationship with love, care, trust, and respect after a period of self work. Despite this, Sonya’s taken to flipping out periodically, whether it’s in her own head, with him, her parents or at work. The first time it happened, I thought, Hmm…Does Sonya have a problem with being happy? A few times in, I knew she did. I’ve worked out that the longest that she can go without her own episode of Dynasty is about 2-3 weeks tops.

What you’re seeing here is two people who don’t allow themselves to feel happy.

You will also recognise this if you’ve ever been in an unavailable relationship and had a great weekend / birthday / night out / been introduced to their parents or friends / planned a holiday / said the L word or whatever, only to then be unceremoniously dumped from a height (or disappeared on) with claims of not being ready for a relationship (if you even manage to get an explanation.

Some of us don’t feel comfortable feeling good. We feel afraid to feel good and even feel suspicious, waiting for the other shoe to drop. We sabotage good feelings as well as good things that are happening to us because these take us out of our uncomfortable comfort zone.

When we don’t allow ourselves to feel happy and to internalise our achievements, accomplishments, our good fortune, and basically don’t appreciate the good things for what they are, we undo our good work. We throw it back as if to suggest to the universe or whoever else is involved made a mistake.

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Woman looking for a reason to break up

Breakups, even expected and mutual ones, often feel like a kick a teeth, but a breakup feels like a mugging when it comes to light that our ex has been in effect, poisoning the waters by saying things about us that are not true or are certainly exaggerated.

Why would somebody who we shared a relationship with and who we believe that we were loving to, choose to spread misinformation designed to discredit us? 

There’s a common misconception that breakups only happen to ‘bad’ people or where something terrible happened, which is akin to suggesting that breakups are an emergency measure reserved for the most horrific of relationship illnesses, when in reality, you could be The Nicest Most Fabulous Person Ever TM and short of only ever being in and staying in one relationship, you’re going to be broken up with and do the breaking. That is of course unless you’re one of those people who always gets in there first, but that’s the subject of another post.Wanting to break up is a legitimate reason in itself. You don't need to make up reasons about the other party. Be a grown-up!

Because of that misconception as well as another – we have to have ‘legitimate’ reasons about the other party before we can break - some people do the dishonourable thing and the moment that they feel in over their head, or the moment that they suspect or decide that they want out, rather than be a grownup and say so, they look to build a case around it, which is similar to deciding that a suspect is guilty with no evidence and then looking for ways to fit a preconceived agenda and conclusion around them. It’s shitty and lazy.

 

A person who is looking to make a strong case for an exit will manage their way out of it by looking for reasons to justify the decision that they’ve already made, a decision I might add that they’re free to make without having to drag your name through the mud. That’s why I hear from people who feel so damned confused, betrayed and blindsided because they realise that they were in effect set up to fail. This type of ex doesn’t give you a heads up as to what is going through their minds because they have already decided.

When this person shares their reasons with you or you hear it through the grapevine, you struggle to reconcile this version of them with the person you thought they were or the relationship experiences that you had. And of course you want to almost shout this at somebody but you don’t want to look as if you’re losing your marbles or ‘shrill’.

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Don't cater to other people's egos by playing it small.

Last week I had what I refer to as a ‘punchbulb moment’ – a lightbulb moment that punches you in the head, aka an epiphany. I have them every once in a while, like when I suddenly clicked that what had happened to me with my father and his family (being frozen out and the Chinese whispers) was part of a bigger pattern that had existed before I was even born and the grief anguish dried up, or when a series of incidences related to having failed my driving test twice while pregnant with Nia along with a few work-related things, had shone a light on the fact that I am a perfectionist (a recovering one now thankfully although it takes vigilance!)

Anyway, last week I failed my driving test for the third time. Guess what? The sky didn’t fall down although I did bawl my eyes out a few times on the day although it wasn’t due to being ‘hangry’ and more about feeling a bit embarrassed (I didn’t realise that the car had crept up to 35 in a 30 zone) and desperately overtired. I’ve rebooked my test and have done plenty of self-soothing.

Anyway, I digress…

A couple of days before, I had a light hypnotherapy session – I went last year and my tendency to have a dodgy tummy when feeling stressed pretty much vanished – and I was sitting there in the chair, chatting what to my own ears sounds like crap, when I had my punchbulb moment. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but it was along the lines of, “For some reason… I’m thinking of my brother [the one who's eighteen months younger than me and we were almost like twins growing up]…. I used to feel bad because I was always made out to be the brainy box, almost genius and they were always making out that he wasn’t… I learned to feel guilty and wanted to protect him… I wanted to give him a chance…” It felt unrelated to whatever I was talking about at the time and yet, it felt so vital for me to sit up and pay attention.

I rambled on some more including about how I’d learned to rebel and not stretch myself so as not to invite even more expectations but also because I didn’t want to lose him. In the days since, lots of things have started slotting into place and I see something so clearly now:

I was a perfectionist but more importantly, I’m someone who has unwittingly trained herself not to outshine.

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My Book - Mr Unavailable and the Fallback Girl

Stop believing that you did something to make them unavailable or that their inadequacies are down to your inadequacies - it is not about you; they are unavailable!