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!

boy sitting alone looking out at the sea.

The Sadness of Losing Someone You Never Knew

Yesterday I found out that someone I’d never met had passed away, a whole year ago. It happened in quite a roundabout way. I’d been taking his courses online and I was looking for any events he might have coming up to use as an incentive (I’m a big fan of using rewards to motivate myself to do things) to help me commit to stretching every day. Which, as a stretching trainer you’d think would be easy, but life gets in the way sometimes (a lot of times… OK all the time). 

I suddenly not only did not have an incentive, I had a loss. One which was hard to put into words, because it’s difficult to believe that I had a right to be sad. Relatives, friends, colleagues, students and the random people of life that peopled the grocery stores and bookshops of his experience – they all get to feel sad. But why would I be allowed to?

Have you ever been inspired by someone and looked them up only to find that you had already lost the special person you only just found? It’s a specialised emotion, one only the German language would have one word for. And it would be the perfect word. It would probably mean something like the-poignancy-of-loss-without-loss. The overwhelming feeling I had was – I wish I’d met him, he’s just the sort of person I would have wanted to do something nice for, to be kind to. I feel sad I never got a chance to be kind to him. 

There are some folks who just seem like really good people, who give their experience away generously. The kind of people I want to reciprocate towards and help out, but often lack the financial or social capital to do so in any useful way, because they’re already more successful than me, which is why they were able to help me out in the first place. He’s gone and I have this feeling of wanting to do something for someone left over. 


Actually maybe that’s not sad. Maybe that’s the perfect life. I mean, the perfect legacy. If my memory made people want to pay goodness forward, or make some kind of contribution, I would be so happy. 

I meant to write this yesterday and got caught up in my middle grade fiction story. Today I went for a walk, trying to choose a café with the perfect ambience to write in. I sat down in a lovely little place and within a couple of minutes someone who could have been this man’s identical twin sat down opposite me. I’m sure my shocked stare had nothing to do with him pulling his shades down and then walking off pretty soon after.

Do you believe in messages from the beyond or from the universe? Or do you put it all down to the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon (learning about something and suddenly seeing it everywhere) and coincidence? I believe in signs (as well as coincidence), and while I also believe I shouldn’t make everything all about myself, I give myself full licence to make personal meaning out of any and everything. 

If I could help half as many people as David Farland did through his writing classes, advice and books, I think I would have lived a very good life. I hope he was happy with both his whole story and his final chapter.

Author David Farland dressed as a wizard, holding a child.

Reddit post and Brandon Sanderson’s article.

sad person head in hands

We Can Do Difficult Things

One of my favourite podcasts is We Can Do Hard Things – that’s immediately what came to mind when I realised what I wanted to write about in this post. But I didn’t want to rip their name off, especially as it’s such a great show. Seriously if you haven’t already, check it out (link below). Inspirational.

Today I finally got round to cleaning little dried stains of water that had dripped down the front of my cabinets under the kitchen sink. Not really noticeable enough to kick my will power into a high enough gear to make me lift the sponge (sooo heavy!), but noticeable enough that I felt a twinge of discomfort every time I saw them. 

So I finally scrubbed the little so-and-sos off. The relief was palpable – why had I put it off for so long? Probably because I didn’t know how good it would feel afterwards. 

Buoyed by the success of getting rid of those irksome little reminders of my housekeeping deficiencies, and a very productive morning of writing, I decided to tackle another difficult task. 

I’m ready to finally deal with the shame of being bullied as a 40 year-old. It’s a special kind of shame. Seriously – 4 decades old and I couldn’t stop someone treating me terribly during the first year of the pandemic. So now I’m just taking my hat in my hands and going to these other authorities to admit this terrible thing. 

How can I justify the fact I got treated this way? A coach, a published author, successful-ish business person. I’ve run two marathons, backpacked round the world and got an email back from Andy Weir. How could this happen to me? Undertone: how could I let this happen? I feel ashamed and embarrassed. 

This person treated me and my work really badly. I tried standing up for myself, it got worse. I tried being nice, it got worse. I tried showing my point of view with research and logic. It got worse. I tried negotiating and finally trying to get this person to honour a contract they wrote themselves and then immediately broke, by threatening legal action. And guess what? You got it. It got worse. 

It feels almost irresponsible to “allow” myself to be treated so badly in my 4th decade sitting on top of our spinny floating ball. But I couldn’t stop it. What can we do when someone’s relative amounts of situational power vs personal power (i.e. being in a position of power, vs having integrity and self-control) are so out of whack? The side of me that celebrates fairness and justice was, let’s just say, not having a good time

What happens when there’s a road mapped out in professionalism and common courtesy but you suddenly realised it veered off miles back and you don’t know how to get back to being treated like a person? After being very self-sufficient for most of my life I realised the only thing I can do is ask people with more experience and industry know-how for help. And hope that they listen. 

That’s pretty hard, I mean, there’s a well-documented bias against people who have been treated badly – we’re not really wired to want to hang out with the injured members of the pack. That’s why people suffering from racism, ageism, sexism, homophobia etc have historically had such a hard time (of course I’m not comparing my experience to theirs). If you’re in the stronger group then why be associated with weakness? There can be a palpable physical response, a shudder and self-protective emotional closing down. People perceived as weak find themselves on the outside too easily. 

But since mental health is actually a topic with a place at the table nowadays I’m pretty optimistic. And I think these other people share my vision for a better world. A world I will be much more effective at helping to build once I no longer have to deal with unprofessionalism. It’s hard to build something lasting for the future while you’re preoccupied with stopping yourself from being torn down. I hope if you’ve ever found yourself in a similar position that you’re doing OK and you found the support you needed.

So – that was a whole thing. But what I really wanted to share with you was this: 

Out-of-the-box thoughts on tackling our to-do lists

  1. Tiny, annoying things

If there are tiny things that are bothering you a little and you feel like it’s not worth the time or effort to fix them, you might want to think about just addressing them now. It costs us emotional energy not only to be bothered by something little over and over again, but to push the feeling of it bothering you down out of your conscious and to keep on keeping it down. 

I think that’s why the relief can feel so big for just a little thing. You get the satisfaction, but you also get the rush of all that energy you spent “not noticing” it, coming back to you all at once. Ahhhhh. Feels good.

  • Big scary things

OK, there are some things we can’t handle right now. They might lead to situations, conversations and/ or emotions we just can’t deal with. That’s alright, good in fact. Knowing what we can handle and not handle is essential for mental health. But, at the same time, dealing with it and getting it over and done with can help to put a big scary thing into perspective, and your own agency and power along with it.

So if something feels huge and overwhelming but you deal with it, on the other side you may realise it was more of a medium-sized irritation and you are more resourceful and empowered than you were giving yourself credit for. But if you’re not ready today, I can definitely empathise with that. I’ve had situations where it was stressful to open my own inbox. And that’s my inbox! I should feel able to go there comfortably whenever I want. 

But difficult things are… well, yeah, they’re difficult. Whether we think they should be or not. Whether other people think something should be a big deal to us or not. We are strong and resourceful but we also hold fragile and complicated emotions. And navigating that line between pushing ourselves to be strong and protecting ourselves when we’re weak is, I think, one of the hardest things to get right in our lives. But we really know when we didn’t get it right, don’t we? 😉 

So that’s my 2 cents on doing the little annoying things and tackling those enormous hairy beasts. I want to leave you with a couple of questions that you might find helpful when you’re putting together your to-do list for the day. 

I recommend you take your time with them, let each question sit for a moment and feel for the most real answers that pop up. Also, these are mainly to gain insight, so don’t feel that you need to do everything that comes up (like I mentioned before, it’s not always the right time to tackle something). And last tip – let surprising answers come up if they want to. 

To-Do List Insight Questions

What is annoying me right now, or niggling at the back of my mind? (could be anything – in your environment, relationships, wardrobe, health – anything)

What am I scared of doing right now?

I would feel proud at the end of today if I do/ finish ________ .

I will feel satisfied at the end of the day if I ___________.

Thanks for reading. As always, take care! 

PS If you have been bullied as an adult, know that there are resources out there to help you. Also, I found this article very interesting.

PPS. This is the podcast I mentioned: We Can Do Hard Things

PPPS. relatable?


PPPPS: remembered this old chestnut

Amusing to do list meme

photo of the hollywood sign

Fiction for Reality (and finally an update)

Hello! It has been absolutely ages since I posted on my blog, or did anything really and I can finally tell you why.. 

…. I moved to the States! I have only just got my authorisation to work so I can now actually get back to posting and working and writing! Phew.

After 2 years of staying within a few square miles (most of the time) courtesy of the pandemic, I moved all the way to LA, got a puppy and got married. We did a fun and small elopement in Griffith Park (we could just see Hollywood sign in the background) with a few friends and family and had a lovely time.

photo of suzanne, her husband and puppy in Griffith park

Although I miss London (especially at Christmas), LA has turned out to be a wonderful place for hiking and discovering all kinds of creatures and plants I’ve never seen before. It’s not exactly what I thought – I was mostly expecting convertibles and palm trees. Look at this little guy I found on the pavement (sidewalk) the other day:

praying mantis that looks like a sycamore seed

And it’s definitely hiking, not just going for a walk (as I used to scoff in a very British way) because the hills here are massive and most of the flat land has been built on. So it’s hills and more hills unless you go to the beach. It’s great for views and the glutes too.

In case you’re interested, this is what I’ve been up to while I couldn’t work: learning archery and Taiko (Japanese drumming), practicing the piano, learning a tiny bit more Chinese and volunteering as an adult literacy tutor (I was inspired after watching Sandi Toksvig’s program The Write Offs). I’d already been volunteering with helping young kids learn to read in the UK, but I was excited to start with adults who’d fallen through the cracks somehow. Did you know poor literacy can hurt your income, health and even your lifespan? It has been a really rewarding experience and ties in with helping me learn about holistic wellbeing in the fullest sense of the word. 

I’ve also been learning how to write fiction and have just started a children’s magical realism story about a boy with a cleft lip and palate who encounters a magical tree and has to save the world. It has been fun picking up new skills, as always beginner’s mind brings rewards beyond just learning something new. It’s great for our brains and also humility. There’s nothing quite as humbling as starting right at the beginning of something and knowing you’re bad at it! And keeping plodding along hoping to get better.

I called this post fiction for reality because I’ve been so interested in how the process of writing fictitious characters and situations calls for me to find an even deeper truth than writing non-fiction does in some ways. Learning to call upon those universal feelings we all have, those moments that shape our lives and the little day-to-day feelings we can all relate to, has taught me more about our reality and the way we live in it than writing anything else. 

During the first year of the pandemic I began a training course in Leadership Coaching. In addition to that when November rolled around I decided to participate in NaNoWrimo (a competition with yourself to try to write 50,000 words of a novel in one month). The coaching, which was based on Psychosynthesis, covered many aspects of the self, one of which was subpersonalities – essentially getting in touch with different distinct aspects of ourselves. This was so helpful when I was writing my story, I would connect to a character and walk around “as them”, not so much figuring out what they would do and why, as realising it. I managed NaNoWrimo that year, by the way, not like this year when I only managed “Na” (I got about a fifth of the way there). Hey ho, knowing when to rest is also good!

Fiction, sci-fi and fantasy have this incredible ability to help us experience our humanity in a way that is much more intimate than reading or listening to a factual story. Perhaps because we can allow ourselves to be more open, setting down the armour we wear for day-to-day life and letting ourselves feel without qualification. This is even true when the stories aren’t about humans, as I found when reading Ursula LeGuin, one of my favourite authors. Half-anthropologist half-fantasy writer, all amazing.

I still love coaching and writing about self-development, of course, but I will also keep working away at my children’s book until it’s finished. And the more I learn about writing fiction, the better grasp I have on what shape I want the second edition of my self-help book The Art of Coming Home to take. I always wanted it to come from the heart, but writing well in that way is a lot harder than it looks. I’m inspired by books like Untamed and Eat, Pray, Love, that help us not only to know something factually, but to be able to experience a truth within us and feel it powerfully. 

Academic books are great, of course, but sometimes I think they could just start with a sentence “the author is really clever” and then be written in plain English, especially with the volume of information we all have to sort through and process nowadays. 

So this has been a life update and a little thought on the reality within great fiction. My goals for this week are to try to write a little bit more of that truth through my children’s book, finish off my final (hard-won British food in LA) mince pies, read my first NK Jemisin book and start on The Politics of Trauma. And go to archery if this UK-level torrential rain stops in time (which is actually great in that everything has been watered and suddenly we’re surrounded by vibrant green instead of our usual less saturated desert palette). 

What are your goals? Have you been doing well over the past year? Feel free to email me and let me know your news.

I hope you’ve been doing great!


suzanne and her dog smiling

gray asphalt road surrounded by tall trees

Polarity and Balance

I’ve been thinking about balance and polarity recently – a topic that has stayed with me since I first started tai chi at the age of 16 (just a few years ago *cough*). I realised the other day that a need in us to view certain things as excessively positive might be a strong sign that we are dealing with an excessive negative in another area – we are attempting to find balance. 

Projection is a psychological term for a process where we see outside, what we cannot bear to see or feel inside. Perhaps another aspect of this is needing certain things to be positive enough to balance out a negative we can’t deal with. 

For example, this might look like needing a certain group of people to be above reproach because we have been associated with a different group that was worse than we could handle. And if we have this expectation it will often set us up for disappointment, because people are only human and good and bad are everywhere. 

I touch on this slightly in my chapter on acceptance (in The Art of Coming Home) because in order to be at peace we need to be able to accept positive, negative, joy, pain – the whole experience of life. Not condoning everything – just not fighting against the fact that it does exist. 

This is hard because we are primed to seek out the positive, generally-speaking (although we’re also drawn to the dark in different ways – again – seeking balance). So it can be really difficult to accept certain types of negativity depending on our experience and our personality. 

For example, let’s say we grew up with very angry parents and now we can’t stand that quality at all. We might see signs of it in others and not be able to stomach it, we might feel triggered or want everyone to be above reproach in that respect. We might also need ourselves to be “opposite-of-angry-people” and that might make us act in a way that is slightly false at times, have terrible boundaries or feel resentful. We may need excessive positivity to balance out the negative we experienced, which we have not accepted or processed. 

And processing is tough because even if we’re able to acknowledge everything that happened in our heads, our hearts might still be dragging a sore and painful wound that is not capable of assimilating it at all, or our nervous system may be on a hair trigger that we have not been able to diffuse yet. 

So there are some things I’d like to suggest if you recognise this in yourself:

  • This is something that has helped you in your life, probably a lot 
  • Self-protective mechanisms come from a good place even if their effect is not always desirable now
  • Where there is dark, there is light 
  • Where there is light, there is dark
  • Finding the positive in a negative situation does not mean condoning bad behaviour or glossing over your feelings and needs
  • Just because we carry a wound that is not ready to be completely healed it does not mean we have to let it dictate how we live and relate to others
  • Everyone has some version of this
  • We all have positive and negative within us
  • Polarity is part of life, aiming for 100% positivity is not realistic, limiting ourselves to only expecting the negative is also not realistic
  • Whatever we experience, we can be kind to ourselves.

Can you see the places you put the most emphasis on necessary-positivity? Does it at all feel like an expectation carrying the weight of a wound? How can we work through the negative that is pushing us to grasp so hard for the positive, keeping us off-centre?

Perhaps by simply acknowledging that it is. 

Seeing and understanding the roots of it.

And the fact that sometimes being with our pain is enough to transform it. 

I don’t think it’s possible for us to get away from framing things in terms of positive/ negative – just as the sun rises and sets every day, light and dark are key to orienting us and balancing us in our world. And they are always there. 

I can’t even end this without saying what I think would be a positive way to deal with polarity and our wounding. But what we can do is accept that this polarity will continue to play a part in our lives, that we’re both flawed and inherently perfect, there are people in the world that act in “good” and “bad” ways and that positives and negatives are going to keep coming at us – the only thing that matters it that we strive for what we want while accepting the opposite will happen sometimes and try not to take it personally – because this is simply a natural aspect of life. 

Powerful Goals

It’s that time of year again!

Moving into the new year is a great time to start with a fresh perspective and maybe set some goals to get us closer to the life we want. 

I wrote a comprehensive guide to creating and setting goals and then I used it for myself and today is day #1! I have three different goals set out, 1 personal development, 1 admin and 1 lifestyle change. That even distribution wasn’t on purpose, it’s just what I naturally ended up with after working through the process of seeing what was lacking and where I wanted to go. If you’re interested, there’s a link to a large preview of the goal guide below. 

I realised as I was writing the guide how important it is for our goals to be in line with who we are and our overall goals for our lives. It helps keep us motivated and find our willpower on those difficult/ grey/ blah days when we’d rather stay in bed/ on the phone/ in a food coma perhaps. 

Because I coach people I see some stumbling blocks come up all the time and you can read all about them in the preview, so I won’t repeat myself here. But I do want to let you know about a couple of other ones people often come up against early on in their journey towards their goals. 

  1. Setting a goal that you’ve often set before and often abandoned

This may be a great goal, but if you don’t figure out the sticking point or other reason you gave up the other times, it may be hard to see it through this time. This is not true 100% of the time, sometimes a person has grown more determined, resilient or engaged with their goal and this time they break through. But to make that more likely, take some time to reflect on what you tripped you up last time and see if you can put something in place (i.e. rewards, support, a process) to get you through that tricky stage and on to the delights of new territory – which is intrinsically very rewarding

2. Setting a goal you don’t have much confidence in

Maybe it’s a sensible goal, maybe you don’t think you can do it, or maybe you don’t really want it. Whatever the reason, you are not feeling a lot of conviction in it and maybe you’re even trying to compensate by appearing enthusiastic when you’re not, or spending loads on equipment or other, to try and compensate for your lack of conviction. Maybe take some time to go back to basics and figure out what you want deep down. If you do deeply desire this outcome, find ways to bolster your confidence and feel like you can really achieve it and that you really deserve it too.

3. Working towards a goal you know is right, but that you feel resistant to

We all deserve great things and we also know that they take consistent effort and dedication. However, many of us can: feel undeserving deep down, want to avoid change, want to avoid taking responsibility, fear failure, fear success, fear vulnerability ( perhaps from intimacy or increased visibility) or worry about the things we’ll lose when we gain something new. 

There’s no way around it – when we gain something we usually lose something else. For example – if we gain confidence we lose excuses not to take action and stay in our comfort zone. On the plus side we’re often only losing things that aren’t right for us any more – think how heavy we’d be if we didn’t shed things as we gained new ones. But it’s human nature to get attached to things, so don’t give yourself a hard time. Just know that you’re not losing anything that makes you you, when you gain something that’s right for you. 

Feeling worthy of good things can also be hard. If we weren’t brought up feeling worthwhile then taking action can move us forward, but then our inner state can snap us right back again. Taking small steps, getting the support you need, practicing self-care and celebrating your small wins (which may actually be huge to you) along the way will help you to progress without feeling you’re pretending. At a sustainable level of progress your inner state will be fairly evenly matched with your outer state and achievements. And don’t worry if this isn’t the case yet, it can be a journey for many of us. Just try not to jump out of your inner issues by leaping forward with drastic action that doesn’t align with who you are, as you may feel lost or untethered. Just keep making those small, genuine steps forward towards goals that are as big or small as you can work with.

4. Starting a goal expecting to fail

You’d be surprised how common this is. It can be hard for many of us to leave our comfort zones and for some of us that comfort zone may be a specific idea of where our limits lie. In some people that shows up as never taking action, while for others it looks like appearing to take action but knowing deep down you don’t really want to achieve your goal. Why would we do this? For a while it appeases the part of us that wants to progress, as well as the part that doesn’t. It also gives us something to talk about with others and a temporary diversion. I’ve noticed an underlying feeling of not having the resources to actually change (whether this is courage, intelligence, strength, worth or other). But we all have the resources to achieve the things we are genuinely drawn to – perhaps not always our version of them (i.e. fastest runner in the whole world or most famous actor), but a version of them (i.e. fast runner or talented actor).

I’ve known people to get quite angry when directly challenged about this, as if this cycle has become a part of their personality. Difficult habits are never who we are deep down, so if you relate to this just know that with the right support you can actually make lasting progress towards something that is meaningful to you. I’d recommend it is meaningful first because people with this issue may feel insecure and try to cure that with a win that isn’t necessarily right for them (see the point below).

5. Going after a goal you think will get you something you want (but actually won’t)

Sometimes we have a feeling and rightly let this spur us into action. But sometimes it’s worth taking a moment to make sure we’re taking the right kind of action. Real change is hard and patch fixes can be alluringly simple – they offer the promise of feeling better without having to actually change our thoughts or behavior very much. But in the long-term they are not satisfying and they can contribute to a widening gap between who we really are and how we experience ourselves.

For example, someone who feels bad about themselves may feel very drawn to dating a supermodel. It will help them feel more successful and attractive themselves, according to their reasoning. However, it’s very unlikely that having a transactional kind of relationship or a partner that many other people are drawn is going to be a good long-term solution for low self-esteem, and would probably make it worse. If instead they spend some time figuring out why they feel bad and what kind of support they need, they’ll be able to craft a meaningful goal that leads to feeling good long-term, not just for a few fleeting moments. So do put some time into figuring out what you want deep down and where you want to go.  

I hope you enjoyed these tips, they come from a lot of experience with goal-setting so I hope you’ll find one or two helpful. 

In my guide I walk you through a process of figuring out: what you want deep down, the most meaningful way to get there and a practical plan of action you can use to reach your goals. It has helped people really turbo-charge their new years resolutions and goals all year round. And don’t worry if you’ve already started with your goals, you can still use this guide for fine-tuning or to create some powerful motivations to help you achieve them. 

If you’d like to read a large preview of it, you’ll find a free one on this page of books and guides, click on “Powerful Goals and How to Achieve Them” to get your copy. 

I wish you a lot of success in achieving your goals and a really enjoyable time getting there!

crop woman writing down notes in diary

Personal Annual Review time

It’s that time of year again! One of my most cherished rituals for bringing the year to a meaningful end, a Personal Annual Review is a general term for looking back at the year gone by. Different people do this in different ways and in past years I have set out various tips for doing your own review on my blog, focusing mainly on personal experience rather than career goals.

This year I decided to do something different, however, and I wrote a complete guide to doing your own annual review. I wanted to set all the information out in one place because I know it can be confusing, especially when self-development is not your 9-5 job as it is for me.

I loved creating this guide because I know that so many people have struggled this year, and if there is one thing that can really help us to face difficulty and pain it is to find the meaning and growth in it. Through conducting our own personal review we can look at the challenges we’ve faced, our successes, how we’ve grown and the blessings we’ve received, all at the same time, allowing us to put the year in perspective.

Perspective is very helpful because it is so easy to either focus on the negative, or try to ignore it completely as a way of coping. But in order to thrive, we really need to process what we’ve been through and also respect the fact that we’ve been strong and have grown as people.

There is something very powerful about ending things intentionally and in a meaningful way. In terms of coming to the end of the year, I think this requires us to be open enough with ourselves to admit just how hard the tough bits have been as well as feeling grateful for the kindness of others and the positives we have received along the way. Allowing a pause between an ending and a beginning, in which we can take stock and understand what we need and what we want, can make a new start that much more aligned and fulfilling when we do begin.

Whatever kind of year you’ve had, whatever joys and challenges you’ve encountered, I hope you find time for your own personal annual review and that it brings you meaning and clarity.

More About the Guide

You can pick up your copy here and there is also additional support for the Guide available as a series of emails (which you can sign up to here), to help you get the most out of it.

This 39-page guide has all the info and exercises you need to do your own review and it has printable exercises at the back, so you can return to it year after year. I can vouch for the fact that it is really interesting to look back over past years’ reviews, knowing yourself better and with greater insight. It is an amazing way of seeing your progress through life.

And if you’re not ready to buy the guide but you’d like to do your own review, why not check out my blog articles from previous years for hints about creating your own personal review?

Surfer paddling out in the ocean

Riding the Waves of Change

I’ve been thinking about change as the wind starts to feel a little colder, the leaves are turning to beautiful reds and oranges and the nights are increasingly encroaching on my evenings (and why does it feel like such a surprise every year?). And more specifically, I’ve been considering how we’re dealing with change during the pandemic.

Change and the pandemic

We’ve all experienced such a massive shift in our lives over the past year and a half, and many of us have navigated this without any explicit support. While a company going through a transition might use change consultants to come in and help employees adapt – most of us have been just trying to ride out the shifting currents and keep our head above water, while also keep an eye on the horizon. 

Change pretty much always guarantees that we will gain something and we will lose something. So, it’s very likely that something about your life changing dramatically was a kind of loss, whether you thought of it that way or not. You may even have some residual grief or charged feelings about it that are still affecting you on some level. 

If you’re wondering how this would manifest, here’s an example: as the world opens up more and more, a person feels strong emotions arising, but part of this is actually residual after-effects of that initial shock and period of change. Or, someone seems to have coped well on the surface but deep down they’re not feeling good, or they seem fine but every now and then bite someone’s head off, then maybe there’s an edge there that needs to be addressed. 

So what can we do, if we still have some residual baggage to shake off? 

It goes without saying, but if you need help from a pro then seek that out first. 

But, if you’re doing pretty well, a good first step is to look at the way change affects us. One of my favourite models for this is the Kubler-Ross change Curve, and this is interesting because it is basically the same as the 5 stages of grief. It helps us to understand the complicated emotions we go through in response to a significant change. 

Looking at this diagram you can probably relate to at least a couple of things you felt when the pandemic started, and perhaps at different points through the whole 18+ months. It’s helpful to know that while we generally move from the left to right, we can also slide back a step or two, or get stuck at one of the stages (except the last one). For example, some people who are not coping well may be stuck at the frustration/anger or depression stage (although some groups seem to have taken up camp in the denial stage, they actually appear to be stuck at anger to me). 

Can you identify a stage that you are currently struggling with? If you can, try to keep an open mind and wonder what the best way to move through it would be. 

Emotions, triggers and perspective

It’s also a really good idea to try working through the emotions you’re feeling that are not resolving themselves. There are loads of different ways to process emotions, too many to cover here – but talking to a therapist, doing some creative self-expression or writing in your diary (journal) can all really help. 

Another helpful step is to identify anything that is currently a trigger for you and think about the reason for it. Some examples of triggers include: someone may have found lockdown hard because the isolation may have reminded them of not having friends at school, but another person may hate it because they feel powerless and they usually feel safe by staying in control, while someone else may detest being told what to do by the government because it reminds them of their unkind and controlling parent. There are so many ways we can be triggered and most are specific to us, shaped by our experiences growing up and our personality.

There’s an exercise in another post that I think you may find helpful if you’re having a really hard time accepting the situation – whether that is the pandemic in general, returning to the office, or another tricky situation. On the 2nd half of this page you’ll find an exercise called Embracing the Challenge designed to help you get more perspective and feel more empowered, positive and in control. If you enjoy it, why not send it to a friend?

I want you to know I’m not writing about this in a cerebral, detached kind of way – I’ve had to process a lot throughout the past year and a half and I continue to work with my emotions as I move forward through inner and outer change, while supporting my coaching clients in their own similar-but-different processes. This isn’t self-indulgent – it’s a way of staying connected to yourself and what’s important to you and making sure you’re moving in the right direction. 

Look ahead to where you’re going

Generally speaking, although it’s great to keep an eye on problems, we want to be moving towards something positive instead of away from negatives. It helps us stay in a more open and creative state, consciously choosing the right kind of life, instead of living defensively. This will look a bit different to all of us, but if I use myself as an example, I was getting a bit down over people not wearing masks because I have a long history (20 years) of working with clients to keep them healthy, many of whom are vulnerable and will be affected both by rising infection numbers, and psychologically by not wanting to leave the house. However, the stress was very bad for me and it wasn’t going to change the behaviour of the general public, so I still wear a mask in order to live in line with my values, protect others and stay healthy, but I try to orient myself towards the projects I am working towards and supporting clients in having the quality of life at home and work that fulfils them.

Getting the balance right between working through your emotions to surf the waves of change, while looking in a positive direction is tricky, and we won’t get it right all the time. It’s easy to “decide” to be positive while deep down we’re feeling a bit low or angry, but this work is not about perfection, it’s about checking in with ourselves and making adjustments – sometimes just tiny, but important ones.  

Whatever direction you are heading in, I hope this has helped a little. Feel free to share this with a friend if you know someone who’s been going through a challenging time and could use a little boost.

And I want to leave you with one last question – if change is always a gain as well as a loss, what is it that you have gained over the past year and a half? It might feel good to take a moment to be grateful for these unexpected gifts. 

Would you like to read my free short guide to the important self-development tips I wish I’d known when I was younger? You can sign up for your copy here.

fashion people woman girl

Perfect: the Cover Reveal!

Finally, I am so pleased to be able to share with you the cover for my picture book Perfect: a Self-Love Adventure!

I have finished the manuscript and even had some reviews start to come in, you can read the first one below. And with no further ado, here is the cover:

What do you think?

I have heard from my advance readers that the little ones they are reading with are enjoying the book and also having some interesting talks about the topics covered. Here is the very first review, from a parent who enjoyed reading it with her little girl:

Review from an advance reader:

My husband and I are both British Born Chinese and we are now parents to an almost 2-year old toddler. Both my husband and I absolutely loved growing up in this country but we both grew up questioning our identity for at least part of our childhood because of our culture and how different we looked to all of our other friends. Now we are parents, we’ve been thinking ourselves about how to talk about these important themes of culture and diversity with our extremely chatty daughter and ‘Perfect’ is the first book I have read to her about these topics. Although she’s only 2, I was personally really impressed at how much she engaged with this book from the first read. The pictures are beautiful, colourful and original and the text engaging and thoughtfully and sensitively put together. As with ‘open-ended’ toys, I see this book also as being ‘open-ended’ – at a younger age you can use it for vocabulary, the rhymes and to look at pictures and colours. As my daughter gets older, I can see myself using this to ask her questions about the various scenarios being presented, to reflect on how different characters might be feeling and how we might react ourselves if we were in their position. The activities in the book as well as the colouring sheets are also genius ways of making the book even more fun and to reinforce the learning!  

‘Perfect’ is a great book that offers a safe space for ourselves and our daughter to start having these important and sensitive conversations about diversity, self-acceptance and emotional regulation. It deserves a space on every child’s bookcase and I know that we will be revisiting this book with our daughter time and time again
– Lily Lai

If you’re interested in buying a copy or even recommending it to a friend, pre-orders are available on Amazon for the ebook in the UK, US and Australia among other countries, Barnes and Noble, Apple Books, Thalia, Bolde and other sites and shops soon. The paperback and hardcover copies will be available to buy from the 7th July.

I will also have some signed copies I can send out directly, feel free to sign up to the mailing list on this page to be notified when the book is released, and to receive some free colouring pages. 

In our great big world

some things are always true.

I am perfect just the way I am, 

and you are perfect too.