photo of group of people sitting on rock formation

Calming Down Your Nervous System for the Homesick

This is just a short one. I realised that listening to the sounds of nature from back home in the UK made my nervous system instantly drop down into a state of relaxation. And then I wondered why that might be. 

I think that if you’re away from where you grew up (in a different country or even a different part of the same country), then you’re having an experience that is not always congruent with how your nervous system was formed. On the plus side you may have left old reminders of tough times behind. But on the downside, all those times you relaxed at home with the windows open, or in a park or in nature, where your nervous system learned to relax and let go, they might only be easily unlocked by the sounds (and other senses) of home.

And I believe this is true for city dwellers also, as you usually get birds and other wildlife in streets and parks. Although we might not be aware of all those sounds in the background, they sink in and become part of us. And not just when we’re children either, it’s also about the amount of time we’ve had experiences of relaxation, to build up that reaction. 

So why not find a (hopefully music-free) audio or video recording of nature sounds from a place you grew up or lived for a long time, close your eyes and breathe. See if it helps. 

And in case you’re curious, this is one I found for Britain (I think the nature may be more extraverted than the people 😀 ).

Take care!

A picture of Suzanne smiling beside a massive tree with deep vertical lines in its bark.
A photo of me in the New Forest, UK – can you believe this isn’t the Redwoods?
photography of yellow hibiscus under sunlight

Where are you spreading your sunshine? Aka the glorious and finite nature of your attention.

If we think of your attention an energy as a kind of light you can shine, where are you putting that effort? 

And who is putting it into you? 

The most satisfying relationships are the ones where the energy you put in is roughly equal (with allowances for child/ adult relationships and others where it can’t be the same). 

When we’re younger we’re a little more indiscriminate, and we tend to give our emotional energy to things that don’t always feel satisfying to us, but we haven’t learned not to yet. 

While as adults, we only usually do that when we have an issue that’s holding us back (i.e. as a wound from childhood that is trying to get healed). 

And there are different ways to put energy into people. For example:

– listening

– paying attention

– praising

– giving feedback

– supporting emotionally

– cheering up

– laughing with/ flirting

– validating

– connecting people with others

– giving advice

– problem-solving for them

– thinking for them

You might notice it as the sparkle in someone’s eyes when they talk to you, a text or call, a book recommendation, a suggestion of someone you might want to meet, a pat on the back, words of encouragement or advice, amongst many other forms. 

All these things are the little intangibles of being in relationship. And as such, we don’t always think about how we’re spending that effort. But we definitely notice when we’re starting to feel drained though. 

This isn’t a do this or don’t do this post. It’s just a question (OK, a couple): 

Is there somewhere you’re spending that energy that isn’t being reciprocated or is otherwise draining you?

Are you doing it because on you hope it will one day become mutual or satisfying? 

Where would be better to put your attention/ energy? 

I would say that even if someone is a friend or close relative, if the energy you put into them is always squandered, you’d be better off using it to cheer up your local barista. 

And sometimes people give all the appearance of reciprocating, but it’s only the appearance. The warmth and energy that should be coming through the smile or attention to energise us, doesn’t, and we can be left feeling confused and jaded – after all our brain saw we were receiving something, but at the same time our heart knows we didn’t actually receive it. It’s like zero sugar drinks making your insulin spike for no reason, because the sweetness was just a trick. And it might not be intentional, people are often doing the best they can do, but it still may not be enough for us.

And if, thinking about this, you realise someone has been putting emotional energy into you, it would be great to just recognise that and feel grateful. It’s not nothing, it’s a real effort for people. 

I hope that wherever you’re investing your emotional energy, it is paying off for you. 

And as always, take care! 

Growing Pains and Personal Evolution

Or outgrowing Your Old Life: the Discomfort of Shedding the Skin vs the Discomfort of Staying in it.

One of my most important jobs as a coach is to support people through transitional times. This is a privilege for me, as it’s a unique and special journey. But it may feel very not-special while you’re going through it! More painful and confusing, perhaps. 

Just like a snake grows and has to shed its skin, it is in our human nature to evolve. What was comfortable becomes restrictive, and we naturally set our sights on the next step up. 

But fear and comfort can stop us taking it. All that energy we’ve stored up, which was getting ready to help push us forward, adapt and grow, is now just pent up inside us. It has to come out somehow, so it may become an unhealthy habit, or a negative attitude such as jealousy of someone who has been successfully growing, or resentment towards someone we are blaming for our lack of growth. 

But either way, that energy for change will come out somehow. You can wait your impulse to grow out over time, as it can diminish with age as your energy levels diminish also. But it’s not ideal because deep down you always know the truth, that you let fear stop you from becoming more of who you are. 

Reading this, someone could definitely take it as a sign they should finally give up their job and go travelling round the world, end that relationship or start their own business. If that’s genuine then it could be your next step, but it’s often something smaller and deeper. 

Having a difficult conversation you’ve been putting off, setting up a healthy boundary, believing in yourself enough to learn a skill you’ve been wanting to for ages, loving someone more deeply, taking a chance on intimacy, being honest with people about who you are. 

A lot of self-development work is about leverage: a small but deep change is worth a million huge outer changes. 

And although many of us can get restless and feel pulled to grow, it can be hard to know in what direction. Many of us assume it should be more of the thing we’ve been doing, especially if it has paid off so far. More travel, more success, more money, more influence, more socialising. 

It’s a challenge to pause long enough to listen to what our deepest self wants, especially when we don’t want the answer (because the answer is often the thing we’ve been subconsciously avoiding for a long time). It’s the thing that is really going to make us leave our comfort zone. Not just of external things like how we dress or where we go, but in our experience of who we are to ourselves. What we know about ourselves. 

There’s a risk of shattering ideas we’ve held about ourselves that have helped us feel safe in the world. I could write a book, if I ever just sat down and wrote it – could you actually? I am a good person, even though I lose my temper – are you being a good person in that moment? I’d be a great husband/ wife, I just never felt like settling down – or are you scared of not being enough when you’re truly seen? (These are just examples, of course, and they don’t have black and white answers most of the time).

Our ideas about who we are keep us feeling safe in the world. What if we try to step beyond them and there is nothing there to catch us?

What if we try and we’re not enough? What if we succeed and then we actually have to like and believe in ourselves more as a result? What if we try to find love and get rejected? Or worse, are truly seen and loved, subverting our beliefs? What if the thing we’ve always been blaming (ie; I’d be happy if I got a raise), turns out not to be the thing (I got the raise, but I’m not happy) and we realise it’s been us all along?

The good news is that when we grow for genuine reasons, the path appears. But that’s not to say there won’t be hard and dark times. And it’s not to say the difficulties won’t last for longer than you want them to. For that reason, growing isn’t always the right thing to do. You have to be ready, with enough of the things you need to succeed and stay healthy. It could be money, health, emotional support or something else. 

Here are some tips based on what I’ve learned after years of supporting people through transitional phases. I hope they help. 

  • You won’t be able to see the end. You’ll definitely know you’re going through something, but the outcome will not reveal itself to you until you’re very close to it. I don’t know why, but I think it’s an important part of the process, because self-development dynamics don’t tend to be a certain way just to mess with you. It can feel disorienting though. 
  • Regarding the point above, since you may find it hard to know exactly where you’re going, it helps to try orient yourself according to your deepest self. Your needs, wants and instinctual knowing. Your deepest self will lead you in the right direction, you just have to try and make sure it isn’t your old habits and fears masquerading as your self in an effort to stop you changing and protect themselves. 
  • It may take a week, it may take years. Probably not what you want to hear, but change has its own speed and process. It’s much healthier to help it along rather than cut it off before it’s done (unless you are overwhelmed and need time off), or to hurry it up (and cause overwhelm). 
  • It may be a multi-stage process, especially if it happens over years. So you may be growing for a time, then resting and integrating for a time, and so on. For some of us this process is our whole lives, but I don’t think that’s the case for everyone. 
  • You have to have faith in yourself and your capacity to adapt. But you should also be smart and balance your material needs with your need for change. Other resources such as emotional support, nutrition, advice, practical help and more, may also become important at various points. 
  • Growing is hard work. Rest when you need to. 
  • A lot of emotion from the past may come up, so you may need therapy to help you process it. Growing doesn’t only open us up to new opportunities, it can also open up old wounds. Perhaps the scar tissue is too restrictive for who we need to become to fully be ourselves. 
  • We can get energised then a bit crazy. Sometimes throwing off a restraint that’s been holding us back (that we’ve been allowing to hold us back), for a long time gives us a huge burst of energy. Suddenly anything is possible and we feel young and vibrant. That is an amazing feeling, but I do recommend not indulging in a series of external changes, where you just go from one thing to the next and never settle. It can become addictive and a way of avoiding the deeper meaning of why you were growing in the first place. 
  • The above can also become a version of “my ex-wife never let me wear shirts like this”, while everyone thinks perhaps his ex-wife had a point. But actually there is a lot of value in trying different things to find out more about who you are and what you like. But you don’t want to orient yourself too much around the past, ie. what you were not allowed to do, how you were failed etc. New bursts of energy need somewhere to go and if you’re not certain of who you are, it can be easier to look to the past and to other people. So, I recommend trying different things, having fun, but also getting massages and meditating. It’s about getting a balance between using the energy to push outwards into new life, while also bringing it back to who you are deep down and staying grounded (and working through any emotions that come up). 
  • I also highly recommend journaling. It will help you to process what you’re going through and stay connected to yourself, even when it feels like nothing is certain.
  • I know I said it before, but it is the open-ended blank space you’re heading towards that is a vital part of the process. I think it makes you have faith in yourself, get closer to your instincts and hold a beginner’s mindset. It opens you up again, where comfort may have made you a little closed. I know it can be unnerving, but it’s really good for you. 
  • One last piece of advice: if you’ve been through a transformative time before, you may assume this one will be similar in shape, length or outcome. But it may be completely different this time, so keep an open mind. 

Although the specifics of a a transformational time look different for each of us, the general dynamics are the same. We go from a stable period in our comfort zone, to a feeling of restlessness and an urge to grow. From there we either don’t take action and the energy comes out in less productive ways, or we start to grow. As we evolve into more of who we are we also have to confront unhelpful beliefs, work through emotions, and then also re-evaluate priorities and make life adjustments to reflect our new, greater level of personal truth. We then either progress to another level of growth or we’re done for a while and we get to just integrate what we’ve learned by living and enjoying ourselves (hopefully). 

If you are currently in the restless feeling or the process of change, I can empathise. I’ve been around the transformation block a few times and experienced the unease (as well as moments of unexpected joy) that comes with it. 

Make sure you’re taking care of yourself and finding the support you need. It’s not meant to be a battle, but a natural process of growth. The difficulty is part of the process, but you don’t need to make it any harder on yourself than it is. 

Maybe the point of growing is not to become something, perhaps it is just to keep us open and supple in our spirits. If that’s the case, I think it’s worthwhile. I hate to see people sad and stuck, calcified in their ways of being, and so sure that nothing can ever change or improve. If pushing through the fear and uncertainty is the price we pay to stay open, creative alive and loving, I think it’s worth it. 

And, as always, take care! 


abandoned factory

Figuring Out How Someone Is Broken Inside

Trigger warning/ caution: I wouldn’t do this exercise if you are feeling sensitive right now, or raw from something that someone has done. As always, seek help from a qualified professional if you need to.

If, like pretty much everyone else in the world, you know someone who is unkind or has a bad habit and you want to deepen your understanding of why, this may help you. 

I thought of the exercise below just today and I like it as a way of cutting through all the logical arguments you, they and others have supplied, which don’t match up with the emotional charge, consequences, reactions or likely intentions of their actions. 

It’s best to do it with an open mind because it is a gut-reaction search for information, not an intellectual figuring-out of a problem. Also try to minimise your judgements of the person and the situation because they make us less open to receiving information. Finally, it is most likely unhelpful to tell the person your experience, this is just for your own understanding.

Exercise: How Are they Broken?

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Imagine doing one thing that they have done, something unkind, unhelpful or unhealthy. 
  3. While picturing yourself doing it, follow the feeling all the way back to the inside of you and imagine/ wonder what you would have to feel like inside to want to act that way yourself. 
  4. When you’re ready, remind yourself that you and they are separate beings and release any feelings that do not belong to you. 
  5. Open your eyes.

This exercise, like all self-help exercises, can give us unexpected and useful information about a situation.

Of course, it doesn’t make us experts on others and sometimes our minds can step in and tell us what to see, rather than allowing our intuition to supply fresh (to our conscious minds anyway) information – especially if we’re holding a grudge! And sometimes we’re projecting our own stuff onto other people and situations. So it’s worth treating the results as a possible, not ultimate, truth.   

It’s also good to bear in mind that it’s not always useful to have empathy for unkind people, especially if your empathy has a tendency to lower your boundaries. It depends on how easy it is for you to feel empathy and have a healthy relationship with that person and care for yourself at the same time. 

But it can be an interesting exercise because we can all either down-play things, make excuses for people or judge them too harshly. Using an exercise like this to understand someone’s habitual unhelpful behaviour may give us a sense of the internal pattern that’s causing it. That can help us get more perspective and even to take appropriate action. 

Even when we’ve been severely hurt, understanding the underlying, constant state of pain a person can be living with can really help us with our own recovery (as long as we don’t decide to try and fix or save them – that’s their job if they’re an adult).

It can even help us to take it less personally. After all, hurt people hurt people (or themselves). If it’s not you, it would likely be someone else. So, as strange as it may seem, drawing the person’s dynamic even closer to us with this visualisation may actually give us more distance from it, through the perspective we gain.

I hope this was useful for you. 

And as always, take care!

Additional note: As I mentioned above if you need specific help, such as therapy, do seek it out. Also, if you’re worried about someone who is acting in a way that is harmful to themselves or others, there may be people you can reach out to for support for yourself, even if they are not yet ready for help themselves. Remember to always take care of yourself and your boundaries first, so that you can be happy and whole, a much better foundation for taking care of others. Finally, if you’re dealing with a hurtful person it may also be useful to revisit the post on dealing with narcissists in case that is relevant to your situation.

Picture of mean-looking judge in courtroom

Why Do We Care What Jerks Think? the shorter title I came up with so it wasn’t too unwieldy. What I really wanted to call this blog post was: Why Do We Care About The Opinions of People We Don’t Really Respect?

But that was a mouthful. 

Part of me wants to just say, seriously – if you know the answer, let me know, and end the post here. Because it seems like a pretty tough question. 

We all do it. We all know that person that maybe doesn’t have any expertise in our industry (or perhaps they do, but they’re not really someone we look up to for various reasons) but we still want them to have a good opinion of us and our work. Or that relative with a lifestyle that is nothing we’d want for ourselves, but we want them to approve of us/ our choices/ our home etc..

And they’re probably not bad people (although if they do routinely treat you like you’re not living up to their standards, their behaviour probably doesn’t have the best motivation behind it). There’s just a dynamic floating around the world that we don’t really talk about that often.

We talk about power, who has it, who doesn’t. The same thing with money, influence, success, looks, luck etc… We’re aware of all of that. But we don’t talk about approval as a kind of currency. 

I wonder if that person you thought of when you began reading, are they someone who often withholds praise and approval? Do you they give you appropriate credit for your achievements? Are they happy when you succeed? 

Or do they hold back, do the corners of their mouths turn down and their eyes narrow at your good news, do they point out the flaws in what you’ve done, the potential pitfalls of your future endeavours? Are they acting in some kind of self-appointed voluntary capacity as a judge or a gatekeeper to your permission to enjoy your own success?

And what is it that they’re withholding and that we’re feeling? What is it made of? When people approve of us and congratulate us freely it feels really nice, but it can flow away faster than it came. We don’t always value it very highly. 

But these withholding people – their approval sometimes seems so precious, it must be or they would give it away freely, right? We may even yearn for it. And as we yearn, they may feel a sense of control, even superiority perhaps. 

It feels like a strange kind of game where a person throws away pieces of gold they are freely given and stares rapt at a jealously-guarded piece of tin. And the person holding the tin doesn’t value it. They value the attention and power they have claimed for themselves by denying someone’s achievement. (The gold is genuine praise, the tin is praise being withheld by an insecure person, in case that wasn’t clear). 

It’s so odd. Being a person is so odd sometimes. 

What do we think will happen if we get that piece of tin, that worthless approval that is probably completely disconnected and irrelevant to the thing we have/ made/ did? Will everything be magically alright then? Will we give ourselves permission to celebrate our achievements? 

What do we get from playing along with this ancient and bizarre ritual of craving approval from the least deserving among us? (Not to say that any one person isn’t deserving in themselves, but this behaviour is not inline with the character traits of people I respect.)

So what are we getting out of it? We’re getting something out of it, or we wouldn’t do it. 

Perhaps these people are tapping into the insecurities we all carry. I am not enough, I am an imposter, I am unloveable etc etc. Maybe it even feels good to have someone confirm these familiar old feelings too us. “Ah, yes, thank you for seeing how rubbish I am – other people don’t understand, but you do”. 

Sometimes when I stand on the outside of myself and look at this dynamic and how it’s playing out in my life, well – it seems pretty perverse. 

Maybe one day I’ll just gratefully accept all the pieces of gold and treasure them, and see the piece of tin for what it is. Just let the wind fall from the sails of that particular dynamic, so it falls flat on its face. Just let it be as weak as it is and not use my energy to prop it up. 

Maybe one day the person jealously holding the tin will offer me a piece of gold with an open heart. Maybe. 

If you hate analogies I expect that this was your post from hell. 

As always, take care! 

AI art of a woman sitting in a large home library with her dog, 2 versions

Using AI Art for Self Development

When I first heard about AI art I thought the whole thing was a bit weird and sad. What about real art – what about the artists? And then I tried it. 

And I got the scariest, creepiest result – like something out of a Korean horror movie. But then I tried it again. 

And I got – wow. I think the cool thing is, you put in a specific prompt with a general idea of what you want and you are handed back something else completely original. 

One of the main tools I use with people is visualisation -using your mind to generate an image to do something for you. What if you also used this technology to provide you with powerful images to help you connect to something you want to access inside yourself, or to a vision for the future?

Let’s say you’re about to go into a difficult meeting with two different groups who are in conflict and you need to be the peacekeeper. Well, you can use a program like Dall-e or Midjourney to quickly whip you up a picture to inspire you, like a warrior on a bridge between two warring tribes. Or a politician making an impassioned speech, perhaps.

Or perhaps you had a bad day, someone cut you off in traffic and you have anger to vent – why not ask for a picture of a Godzilla-like monster crashing through traffic and throwing cars into the air? 

There are quite a few different possible applications: 

  • You can create image that will make you feel something, like calm for example, 
  • Or you can make an image that can help you connect to a future self you are aspiring towards
  • Or you can use it cathartically

There’s only one small caveat – I wouldn’t use it when you’re new to it if you’re feeling very sensitive as occasionally the unpredictable nature of AI means you get something you might be disappointed by, or that even looks a bit scary. But if you’re feeling fairly robust, why not dive right in?

After a couple of practice gos (and some looks at how other people have phrased their prompts), you’ll probably get the hang of it very fast. 

Here is one I made earlier (on midjourney) with this prompt: “enormous personal library, floor-to-ceiling books, bay window, natural light, dogs by the fireplace, woman drinking tea with paul rudd, 4k, photographic quality”

4 versions of AI images of a woman sitting in a big beautiful library alone apart from a dog by the fire.

Ummm.. you missed something Midjourney. Never mind, you get the gist!

AI can’t replace art, but as a new tool with emerging uses, I wonder if there are other ways it can assist us in our self-development.

That’s all from me, I hope you’re having a great week.

And as always, take care!

PS. If you’re having a hard time finding your images in mid journey, try this.

Photo of a broken bridge

Reclaiming Parts of Life Others Have Ruined for Us

I wanted to write about this topic because it’s another area of life that isn’t usually talked about directly. 

Before we begin, I need to say that if you need to reach out to a therapist for help with any issues that come up, please do so.

Trigger warning: If the subject of bullying or abuse is too triggering for you right now, skip this article. 

OK, with that said, let’s start with me giving you an example, because I know this concept may seem vague. 

Let’s say you were bullied in school by someone who loved a certain band. In fact, you used to like that band too, but the association with the bully ruined it for you. Years later you could be driving along and one of their songs comes on and you’re right back to feeling angry and insecure. 

The interesting thing about this to me is that it appears that the bully has more power. They have, in a way, claimed the band for their own, perhaps even intentionally ruining your love of them. Because bullies are (acting like) £$%holes. 

But let’s say you grow up and one day meet the band and realise they’re great people. They wouldn’t even like the bully or want to be associated with that person in any way. In fact, they would think they were an £$%hole too. 

So all these years, the association of the bully has stood between you and your love for a band, even though that person has no more power than you. In fact, they’re weaker because their personal power is so low they have to try and steal it from others. And the band isn’t associated with them at all and if they were, wouldn’t like them.

This kind of pattern can apply to almost anything:

  • Hobbies like cooking, painting, dancing. 
  • Smells of any kind you associate with someone you dislike, colours and sounds. 
  • Places, restaurants, entire countries or nationalities – perhaps even races and in extreme cases genders. 
  • Aspects of life including: self-care, intimacy, exercise, healthy diet
  • Names (you wouldn’t name your child after your school bully!)
  • Entertainment such as books, movies
  • Sports, games
  • Style choices, brands
  • Jobs. 

The list is endless! 

I currently have a negative association with a certain smell and right now I have something very similar melting in my wax burner. As the smell is released, I’m sitting here and trying, with an open mind, to rediscover what that my relationship to that smell is, without interference from the memory of the other person. I’m finding, as is often the case, that I’m detangling my true self and experience of life from that person’s pain and poor behaviour. 

This isn’t like the process of desensitisation that therapists will take you through when you have a phobia (although if the thing triggers you strongly, perhaps you should reach out to a therapist). It is about finding how you relate to that specific thing in a genuine way. 

And this is important, because I believe when you get disconnected from something because of a person or an association (such as a negative event) – you haven’t only lost your connection to that thing. You have lost connection to a part of yourself. 

The part of yourself that enjoys that band, that colour, that hobby. That smell. 

It isn’t always so easy to reclaim something when it triggers difficult emotions. But it can be a wonderful way to start working through those emotions. It may take you a long time, you may need to take baby steps and spread your efforts out over time. I think the key thing is not to try bypass your emotions or take back your power by convincing yourself you’re OK (which is really common when you feel someone has taken your power away and you want to get it back as quickly as possible by pretending you’re OK). As you reclaim that part you will also get more of your power back naturally. 

Whatever you are reclaiming for yourself, it is your birthright. No one can dictate your relationship to yourself or the world around you – there shouldn’t be another person stuck in there (or their “stuff”). 

Here is my crude diagram of that:

diagram of person in centre and things they relate to in circle around them, including smells, music, jobs, sports etc.

Unfortunately abusive people are often trying to insert themselves where they don’t belong, so if you have suffered from that, reclaiming this space can take a bit more effort. You have to separate who you are from how they want you to react, from who they actually are and from how they want to appear and other issues. It gets a bit tangly and messy. 

So take your time, follow your instincts, and just remember that any time you sense someone else has come between you and your relationship to something (or someone) and it no longer feels genuine, that you can always reclaim that for yourself. 

I have done another basic diagram where I labelled the person who ruined something for you a “boundary breaker”. Of course, you might have a negative association with someone who didn’t even do anything wrong, but it’s a bit less common. 

Diagram is explained in text below, shows person a circle in 1, in 2 with section missing, in 3 section is reconnected

As you can see in step 1, your relationship to a thing (I’ve labelled it “anything specific”) gets a bit weird when someone interferes with it by crossing a boundary into the space between you and that thing, where it should just be you and your personality. 

In number 2, part of you splits off from the rest of you, showing that when your genuine connection to something is damaged, it can also damage a part of your connection to yourself, usually a specific aspect of yourself. The boundary breaker is shown as having that thing (and part of you) in a net – because that’s how it feels, not because they could actually ever take that thing from you.

And in 3 you’ve reclaimed that part and by doing so you are more integrated within yourself. Your relationship to that thing is your own again. The boundary breaker is less relevant and you no longer give them as much power. 

That is a topic for another day, but it’s important to mention that although the title of this article is about other people doing something to you, to a certain extent we have also allowed them to do it to us. This can feel very triggering – especially if someone was abusive and even more if they were in a position of power. It is not to say your experience is not real. It is more a sense of shifting our own power back to our centre, and knowing we are the masters of our own inner experience. 

It’s not easy to do. I often fail. I often feel like people are taking advantage, or doing something to me. And to a certain extent, they are. But we mustn’t overestimate the power of weak people, or spend too much of our time or energy on them. This also extends to not allowing weak people to dictate our inner sense of ourselves and our relationship to the world around us, as I’ve spoken about here.

And “weak people” isn’t the kindest term. I really mean people who aren’t currently acting out of their best selves. But it is accurate in terms of what they are often putting out into the world. 

If you’re an HSP (highly sensitive person) like me, you may attract, and be affected by, more than your fair share. However, it is something we all have to deal with on some level. 

So if you want to try an exercise I just wrote for this, I’ve put that below. I hope you get to enjoy that smell, eat that pizza, listen to that song, wear that colour or any other thing you’ve been avoiding!

Let me know how it goes and what you’re reclaiming.

And as always, take care!

Exercise for Reclaiming What’s Yours

Have a think about the people who you dislike and/or who treated you badly and just wonder with an open mind – is there anything they ruined for me? 

And now try really clearly telling yourself that they don’t own that thing. (It may help to imagine the thing as really big and the person as really small).

Finally, see if you can ask yourself with an open mind, how you can reclaim that thing back for yourself? And maybe also wonder what that would mean to you. 

photo of woman carrying stack of books

The Body Eclectic: Coaching in a Messy and Multifaceted World

By now you may be wondering why a leadership and holistic coach is writing about so many random subjects. If so, I completely understand. Focusing on the specifics of leadership coaching, or holistic coaching would seem to make more sense. 

But being a leader, being a person, is complicated nowadays. It’s not just about understanding the best strategies or choosing great goals. Clients bring so many diverse topics to the table because, in real life, things are messy. We have to deal with challenging people, including narcissists, we have to work through our emotions, learn how to harness our will power in appropriate ways, learn how not just to make smart decisions, but authentic ones. 

Having an eclectic background allows me to think outside of the box when I’m coaching. It helps when clients are trying to figure out a way forward, but normal strategies are not working, or there’s more to the situation than meets the eye. Although having a holistic perspective might sound wishy-washy, it really just means that you understand how one aspect of your life, or the world, is connected to others and what the impact of that is. 

For example, if you want to take a more active role in shaping the culture of your team, you may need to become more emotionally available as a leader, which will also benefit your personal life. Or you want to become more decisive, but find that skill easier to practice at home or the grocery store and then implement it at work later. You may need to connect more deeply with your values and you find it easier to do that through exercise, time with friends or a spiritual practice, before bringing that self-knowledge in to inform your leadership style.

There are so many different aspects of life, it is impossible to learn how to lead through textbooks and seminars alone as if it is one self-contained subject. Your whole life informs your leadership style and can strength it (or limit it) also.

To be a great leader we need to know who we are as individuals, what makes us thrive, what drains us, what inspires us and our “why”. We need many skills such as: processing emotions, communication, freeing up will power and resting effectively. It is also important to be able to switch from a big-picture eagle’s eye view to the detail-oriented view of a magnifying glass. This ability to be adaptable, in-the-moment and to shift between different ways of being can be an innate gift, but for many it is a learned skill that comes from working on themselves. 

And this is very important with the clients who come for holistic coaching (closer to life coaching), who feel that there is more they can be, more they can experience, but something is holding them back. It is usually not the obvious thing that is limiting you, it’s the dynamics and beliefs underlying it, as well as its connection to other aspects of who you are. For example, you’re trying to get in shape but keep craving sweets and the feeling of fullness. An underlying belief may be “I am empty, something is lacking, so I need to fill myself up”, while the dynamic could be looking for comfort through food instead of being brave and going after what would really satisfy you (a better job, method of self-expression or experience of intimacy, for example). This habit may be connected to other areas of your life such as self-esteem and the way you talk about yourself to others, your boundaries, the way you relate to people, your expectations, how much money and time you’re willing to spend on self-care and fulfilment, how far ahead you look in your life, whether you are looking mainly to avoiding your fears (while mostly believing they’ll probably come true anyway) or to moving towards your passion and joy, etc. etc. I could go on for a long time, because all aspects of ourselves are related!

So, whether a client comes with an unexpected blind spot (such as a prejudice), a difficulty with a co-worker, a resistance to a particular task or a confusing group dynamic, taking a holistic view can be powerful. And any issue can be a wonderful way to begin an exploration of areas for growth and insight. With coaching it almost never matters where you start, it is all about the journey and the lessons you learn along the way. Great coaches know how to guide you on that journey. 

So, I write about eclectic topics, more than the behind-the-scenes coaching tools I use, because real life is where the growth and learning happens. It’s messy and diverse and unexpectedly challenging sometimes. The skills we are expected to develop as a leader and a person nowadays require unprecedented amounts of self-knowledge and personal growth. But the beauty of that is just how much we can use real-life situations to bring us closer to ourselves and to others.

Because real self-development isn’t about living far from antagonism and meditating on perfection (for most of us). It’s about being in the messiness of life, and using the opportunities it presents us with to grow as people, and to bring that growth back into our lives to enrich it for ourselves and others. A great leader isn’t only skilled at leadership in one specific environment, they can use learning and growth from different aspects of their lives to embody their own leadership style as well as a genuine way of being. 

Life is much more complex today than in years’ past, and we’re expected to draw from many different sources of knowledge. But although that can be a challenge, it gives us so many opportunities for growth and for fun.

I hope you continue to find value in my eclectic blog. 

And as always, take care!

reflection of woman s eye on broken mirror

Dealing with Narcissists (Part 2)

OK, we’re back, and I have four more aspects for you to look at to help you in dealing with the narcissist in your life.

6. They Make You So Very Confused

This also relates to my previous point about them telling you an issue is X, but it’s actually something very different, usually behind the scenes. But it’s not just that.

Octopii flood the water with ink to defend themselves from predators. To a narcissist anyone who can see them clearly feels like a predator. That’s way too vulnerable for them. 

Their kind of ink is mental confusion. The confusion they create is its own reward for them, they get more room to pretend and to manoeuvre and to make out that the facts aren’t the facts. It’s a win, win, win for them. 

They have various methods, the most well-known is gaslighting – where they essentially make you doubt that a fact is a fact and at the extreme end make you doubt even your own sanity. Because they are so brazen it can be hard to spot them doing it, especially as we all make some allowances in differences in communication between individuals. Surely they can’t really have meant that, tends to be the general feeling.

Often they have nothing to back their arguments up with so instead they use a sense of their own superiority as a battering ram, accompanied by a vague phrase meant to override your well-explained arguments or evidence. These may include: “you clearly don’t understand/ are exaggerating/ misunderstood/ wasn’t my intention” etc etc – anything that is so vague they can use it as an excuse not to provide any actual information, but with a tone that conveys that specifics are beneath them. You are beneath them. 

This is just one example of the extremely slippery nature of dealing with communication with a narcissist. And although the mechanism is interesting, it’s really the effect we should focus on. The mental confusion. 

If you leave a meeting or read an email etc and all you feel is a brain fog, or a sense of disorientation, or other confusion, that feels much more untethered than normal confusion, you need to take a step back. 

Take a moment, centre yourself, breathe. 

Have someone else read the email, or listen to you recount the conversation. See if there is any clarity to be found. Are there any answers there? Or was the main purpose to make you feel confused? 

“Why are they causing confusion now?”, you may ask. Perhaps they’re about to lose face, perhaps they feel threatened. It doesn’t matter. Get back to a sense of clarity within yourself, grounding yourself in the facts and breathing, then if you need to continue with communication, stay polite and stay clear. I’m a big fan of short sentences and numbered points. People who are refusing to give you information, or want to confuse you, will struggle to do that more with numbered points, probably because there is more pressure to give solid facts in answer to each. 

7. You Feel Strange Emotions That Are Hard to Process

When you pick up other people’s emotions, they’re really hard to process – probably because you don’t know where they’re from or have any information on what caused them. 

If, for example, someone drops something on your foot and you get a rush of self-protective anger, that usually passes easily (if the person apologises and there’s no lasting damage). 

But if someone dropped something on a narcissist’s foot and it triggered them and they felt rage, but they supressed it because they were with someone they wanted to impress, but the rage lingered and then they took it out on you – you wouldn’t have any of the context to deal with the rage they had shifted onto you. It’s kind of – sticky. (And icky).

I think that often what the narcissist is trying to make you feel, that’s how they feel deep down inside. So if, when you’re dealing with them, and you feel small, insignificant, uninteresting, wrong, strange, unattractive, for example, – perhaps that’s how they feel deep down about themselves. 

But let’s shift the focus back to you again. You may be feeling some emotions that are strange for you, or normal emotions but of an unusual intensity. 

Your mind is probably stuck on the details of the conflict, and while it is, it’s really hard to deal with the underlying dynamic that’s going on and to work through the emotions that have been put on you/ engendered in you. 

This isn’t about avoiding responsibility for our own feelings, it’s about the difficulty of navigating feelings we have, that were probably the underlying goal of a strange interaction. This is something a lot of us are unprepared for because we think people are using communication to share information with us, rather than to hurt us. In this context communication becomes something else. 

But back to the emotions! Something is dropped on your foot – “ow! Hey! “sorry”, “OK”, is my very rough summary of this. But if anger is dropped on you from out of nowhere, it lingers, circles, confusing us, making us stub our toes, drop things, we just don’t know what to do with this foreign body. We don’t even know it’s not of us

So here’s a rough guide to dealing with these “foreign body” emotions:

Step 1. Acknowledge the things you are feeling that are unusual for you, and what you think was the trigger. If it’s been going on for a while, see if you can spot a pattern of triggers and the emotions that result. 

Step 2. is to understand the dynamic that is leading to these feelings and then gracefully bow out. If you do not accept the emotions it is harder to put them on you, and this is easier when you can clearly spot what is happening. You can even try saying “no thank you” when you feel them arising and visualise releasing them back to their rightful owner. You should feel a shift, and feel lighter, freer or clearer.

(If these steps don’t work for you, you can also try processing your emotions using the methods I’ve spoken about previously on this blog). 

If you already have a wound that fits that feeling, it’s much easier for someone to make you feel it. In this case you can wonder when you first felt this way, to find a clue for inner-child work you might benefit from. Working with a therapist can help a lot in this area. 

8. You May Find Yourself Addicted to The Struggle/ Relationship

Whatever situation you have found yourself in with the narcissist – whether it’s romantic, work, family, or other. It may be addictive.

The drama, the highs and lows, the desire to win, the lovebombing or breadcrumbing, the intensity of it. It can really make you feel like it’s the biggest deal in the world. 

I understand. When someone hurts you really badly and you just want to win your power back. When a narcissist withholds love and attention but then shines that spotlight on you just as you’re about to leave, and you feel all the love you were hoping for. That desire for vindication, for validation of the effort you’ve put in or the suffering you’ve endured. 

All that can never come from a narcissist. 

Sure, they convince you that this connection is the thing, that they’re important, that you need them to love you or approve of you, or that you are powerless unless you “win”. 

All of that is fake. The only victory worth winning when it comes to narcissists is to get away as cleanly as possible from them. And then have, or keep having, a great life.

Of course, there are exceptions – you could win back a sum of money, or they could be fired, or face other consequences of their actions. 

But your power lies within you, that’s where it has been all along. You can’t wrestle it back from them – they don’t have it. Your power is in you, your passions, your goals, your sense of self. That’s all within you. 

So if you believe on any level that you may have become too caught up in a relationship or a struggle with a narcissist, try the following steps (if it’s too much just do the first two). 

  1. Take a deep breath, let it out. Do that a couple more times. 
  2. Think about the things that are really important to you, the things that give your life meaning and the things that make you feel joy. 
  3. Say to yourself “I choose where my power goes and how I use it”, feel your power within you. 
  4. Call to mind the connection with the narcissist briefly and say to yourself “I am ready to let go” and feel that in your whole being. Visualise the connection floating away into the distance and disappearing.
  5. Bring your attention back to your power. And now also to the things that are important to you. Visualise your power flowing towards the things that are important to you. 

9. They Try and Get Into Your Idea of Reality and Mess It Up

This ties in a lot with several of the points above – the mental confusion, making you think the explicit issue is the issue when it isn’t, undermining your power. 

But I want to talk about your sense of reality as a separate issue before we finish because it is such a common theme with everyone I’ve seen who has had to deal with a narcissist. 

Even the really level-headed clients I’ve had, who have had a run-in with a narcissist where they had ample evidence and support to back them up as well as an infrastructure that made dealing with them fairly simple. Even their sense of reality had a ding in it afterwards.

It is most likely the gaslighting, but I think it is often also the damage to their sense of reality is that they had an idea of what was a minimum of good behaviour or professionalism – and then that was thrown out of the window. Because narcissists try to make everyone stoop to their level and normalise bad behaviour, many find their ability to assume the best in others and trust people is damaged afterwards. 

In the worst case scenarios the narcissist causes the person to doubt themselves, their worthiness, abilities and even their knowledge of who they are. The damage to their reality – to how they experience themselves – can be long lasting and painful, and usually needs professional help to get over. 

For others it’s just a lingering confusion around what happened – like however much they puzzle over it, they can’t get it straight in their mind. 

If you’ve had an interaction, a struggle or a relationship with a narcissist – how has your sense of reality changed? Think about both your experience of the world, and also of yourself. 

If you can’t grasp the answer, try casting your mind back to before you met this person. What has changed?

So, in these two pretty long and eclectic articles I’ve tried to cover many of the most important dynamics of dealing with narcissists. Although understanding their actions and behaviours is very important, it is often the underlying dynamics that I see eroding people’s wellbeing the most, so I hope you have gained an understanding of how to deal with these more explicitly.

At the end of the day, it’s very sad that people suffering from narcissism are wounded and will most likely die with those wounds, never fully knowing themselves, because they hardly ever seek help. But we have to release ourselves from any responsibility for their lives. We can only ever really be responsible for our own lives and we can only bring all of the gifts we offer into the world if we stay intact and healthy enough to do so. 

The healthier our cultures become, both psychologically and in other areas, the less narcissists will be able to victimise others and benefit from aggressive behaviour. So, I believe effort is best spent keeping ourselves healthy and contributing to the growth and evolution of the cultures we are a part of, rather than trying to “fix” narcissists. That is best left to the professionals. 

If you’d like to know more, I enjoy Dr Ramini’s videos on youtube. There are some amazing books and other resources out there also, but if you’ve been badly affected I think your first stop should be to see a therapist if you haven’t already.

If your wellbeing has taken a beating from dealing with a narcissist, I also have an exercise for boosting self-love you can try here

Finally, if you know someone who has been affected and you think this article could help, please share it with them. I love helping more people. 

And as always, take care! 

reflection of woman s eye on broken mirror

Dealing with Narcissists (Part 1)

It’s not great when you have to deal with someone suffering from narcissism. A large part of the difficulty is the level of psychological manipulation that goes with it, as well as the self-doubt and the damage to your self-esteem that can result. 

If narcissists looked and sounded like the wounded animals lashing out that they are, we’d all be saved a lot of time, effort and heartache. But unfortunately for us, they are often charming, intelligent, in positions of influence and are well-thought of by many people. This makes any situation where you have to stand up to one, or prove your side of the story, a real challenge. 

I’ve experienced the hardships of dealing with narcissists first hand and supported many clients going through it too. I’ve both witnessed and felt the emotional, physical and mental impact of prolonged abuse from them, and one of the most effective self-defence weapons we can add to our arsenal is getting informed. So in this blog article I’m going to talk about what I’ve learned about recovering from difficult situations with narcissists and regaining your sense of self, agency and strength, I hope it’s useful to you.

Before we start I just want to remind you that I am not a psychiatrist/ psychologist and also I don’t recommend diagnosing others. I should also mention that we all have a bit of narcissism, a bit of “please delete that photo and post the one with the nice light where I look cute”. The difference is really the extent and whether or not you are leaving a trail of wounded people in your wake as you move through life. I’m taking an educated guess that if you’re reading this, you’re not. 

With that said, let’s look at some of the main traits of narcissists: 

They feel like they are entitled to what they want

They need attention, admiration and praise

They lack empathy for the feelings and suffering of others 

They rarely take responsibility for their own actions

They see themselves as better than others, when not treated this way they can become rude or even abusive.

The last example reminds me of a time I went on holiday to Greece and this terrible (IMO) couple kept walking around the beach saying “boy, bring me my towel”, “boy bring our drinks” – and then to each other “he’s a good boy”. The “boy” was a Greek man in his 40s. When they finally settled, the woman waded into the sea and half a minute later started screaming really loudly – the water was full of biting fish that had surrounded her and were nibbling rather aggressively. If you’ve never felt the joy of a whole beach-full of people smiling silently at the same time, well, I recommend it. It feels a bit like a summer breeze.  

A well-adjusted therapist would most likely tell you they could have been going through something etc. And perhaps that’s the case. But I thought if you’ve been having to deal with a narcissist you could probably use a little pick-me-up right now, like an example of instant karma.

Because dealing with them can be protracted and messy and difficult. If there is either: 1. no way for them to extract themselves from a situation with you while saving face or 2. they’ve been using you as a scapegoat and they have no better options, then you may be in for a rough ride. Sorry. 

But it’s my aim to share what I’ve learned about how to protect and handle yourself through the self-development tools I’ve gained over the years. Again – not a therapist though – if you need one do go and see one, I can’t replace them. 

OK, let’s start! These are the main issues I see people having:

1. The Person Suffering From The Narcissist’s Behaviour Believes the Named Issue Is the Issue

So many people (including myself) are so rocked by dealing with these people (which is part of their strategy by the way), that they’re desperate to right the situation. So the narcissist complains about X and you reply in a reasonable way, but somehow it gets worse and you become more confused. Perhaps you come up with more options, perhaps you spend a lot of time trying to figure out their point of view, or understand what they need. 

What ALL my clients struggle getting their head around is – it’s not about X. Most of the time it was never about X. You’re trying to make everything better by fixating on X. But really X is, and has always been, a decoy. 

The narcissist’s goal wasn’t fixing X. It was to get you to think about X while they cross your boundaries, make you doubt yourself, make you spend a lot of energy thinking about them, give themselves a power trip, take pleasure in your discomfort, discredit you, or boost their own ego by making you look incompetent.

If you see what their actual goal is you will manage to alleviate a lot of the confusion you are feeling. It’s not about X (or if it is, that’s only 1% of the story). It’s about the dynamic, the power struggle, the energy drain. 

So, if you are dealing with a narcissist right now – what is X in your situation?

And what is their real goal? 

You may need to go with your gut on the second question. If you are completely stumped you might be able to figure it out by looking at the effect they are having and working back from there. 

2. The Self-Esteem Ship is Sinking and Sinking

This is one of the hardest aspects of dealing with a narcissist – that they love to see you suffer. It’s the polar opposite to being an empath. 

I have seen clients get into really bad shape when involved for too long in a struggle of some kind with a narcissist. I mean, it’s not great to be around them in general – usually the health of the culture around them ends up suffering at least a little from their presence, or a lot if they are in a leadership position.

But going head-to-head with one, or being the punching bag of one… I’ve seen it have long-lasting detrimental effects. 

Things that make it worse seem to be: a tendency to be self-critical already, being a people-pleaser, having been bullied in the past, having low self-esteem to start with, lacking emotional support and/ or a tendency to be hyper-responsible. 

And if you identify with any of those points, don’t worry! It’s never too late to get therapy and/ or work on yourself to start feeling better. And it’s worth saying that a ton of people share these issues, so if you’re feeling alone at all – you’re anything but. 

Things that make it better: having a whole rich life that is nothing to do with the narcissist, good levels of self-esteem, ways of finding self-fulfilment, a sense of being in a community, good levels of self-respect, being clear about one’s own “rightness” and boundaries, feeling good about yourself, having fun, feeling love, feeling connected, healing experiences (like being around kids/ animals/ water/ nature etc). 

So if you find your self-esteem has taken a plunge I recommend plotting out a plan to restore your self-esteem and connection to yourself and to the world (and you know, to colours and fun and pleasantness) and putting into action. 

3. They End Up in Places They Shouldn’t Have Access to 

Boundaries are often more of a hypothetical to these people – well, unless you’re trying to cross theirs! And then it’s a very tangible concrete and barbed wire affair. 

While they’re distracting you with other things, trying to disarm you with charisma or insults, using the element of surprise or coming at you over and over again to wear you down, they’re trying to cross a line. Holding the line is tricky, but it’s easier once you know that’s what they’re trying to do. 

If you’re dealing with a narcissist right now – what is the line they are trying to cross? 

And is there also another, less tangible one they’re trying to cross also? 

For example, let’s say you’re in business with one and they broke a contract – that’s crossing a line in an obvious way. But underneath that, perhaps they have also crossed a line of where you feel safe. Say you used to trust in people to be professional, and now your trust has been shaken. In a way, they crossed a boundary into your inner life, making it slightly worse. 

(let’s set aside the argument right now of: they didn’t make you feel anything – you decide how to feel. Let’s just keep it simple for now – a snake bites you and you feel pain. That’s actually a pretty good metaphor…)

So, considering that – what boundaries have they actually crossed?

As I mentioned in the self-esteem bit above, some of us are more vulnerable than others (and there’s no judgement there – we’ve all got stuff to deal with). If you start with a larger void inside you where ideally self-love and self-esteem would be, the more real estate a narcissist can try and take up. I mean, they’ll take up as much as they can when they’re interested in you, whether that is to be liked by you or to hurt you – or both. Either way they’re “space-invaders” and they’ll take as much as they can. 

4. They Make Our Healthy Anger Seem Unhealthy

It’s natural to push back against boundary-invasions with anger but I’ve found narcissists tend to use this against us, either muddying the water by confusing the facts, or calling us “emotional” or “irrational” (more likely if you’re female, yay!), or insinuating to others that we’re unstable.

You might feel like reacting in the heat of the moment to a narcissist: shoot out an email, make an angry call, make a fast decision. But that is usually what they want and you often come off worse. If it is a situation where it is safe and sensible to wait, then I recommend writing in your journal, talking to a friend or a sympathetic co-worker, or anything else you can do to vent your strong emotions. Then take a step back and think about what you actually want. 

Then, you can use your anger, but you should try and use it for controlled, purposeful steps that are well-thought out and logical. 

5. They Often Steer Your Goals Without You Noticing

You’ll nearly never win an ego-battle with a narcissist. But your goal should never be to win that struggle – what’s the point in beating someone who is broken at being broken?

You have to think about what your end goal is. They will make you so angry you may think about them way too much, fixate on proving them wrong or stopping them from getting what they want. That’s all about them. It’s already way too “about them”. 

What do you want? What is the best goal for you?

And what have they made you feel (reactively) like the goal is?

If there’s a difference – how are you going to shift yourself to work towards your real goal?

Keep coming back to what you want, how you want to show up in the world, the kind of person you want to be, even when dealing with someone suffering from narcissism. Especially when dealing with them, because it’s so easy to get blown off-course. 

And even if your intention is “I don’t want to be anything like this person”, you’re still letting the narcissist dictate the direction. 

Keep coming back to what is genuine for you. 

OK, next week I’ll release the second half of this article. I didn’t realise I knew so much about them until I started writing! I will give you 4 more important tips for dealing with them, but until then try and use the information and tools above.

And if you have been adversely affected by this issue I recommend you reach out to your mental health provider and/ or find a local support group to help you (This article has advice on finding a support group).

As always, take care!