love bombing and lies: the narcissist and the bachelorette

I watch “The Bachelorette.” I admit it. I do.

I mostly watch to make fun of it, but that hardly excuses my participation. I’m a huge fan of the HuffPost podcast “Here to Make Friends” covering “The Bachelor” franchise, and love the recaps so much, I started watching the shows so I could get even more enjoyment from each podcast episode.

My shame aside, it’s been both fascinating and horrifying this past season to watch bachelorette Hannah Brown be manipulated by a narcissist, namely Luke P. This week’s episode was the gratifying end to their relationship, when Luke told Hannah if she had slept with any of her other three finalists, he’d leave the show because of sin and things, and she kicked him off. ABC had been teasing it for weeks, ever since it became clear to viewers that Luke was beyond a mere “villain” of the show, a bully or poser or whatever, but was actually the toxic sociopath the other men claimed him to be. It was telling to us, if not to Hannah, that without exception the men he was living with despised him and considered him to be a dangerous and manipulative liar.

Having dated one of those myself, I totally agree.

I was telling a friend recently about the experience of watching this unfold, after having been through a similar relationship. Of course I was only dating one man, not dozens, but while it did help give Hannah some other people to focus on, what she went through in her dealings with Luke was pretty excruciating in its relateability.

That’s one of the craziest things about being involved with narcissists, though—how utterly, bizarrely similar their patterns are, even though they’re completely different people coming from totally different backgrounds. In all the self-help reading I did after that relationship, blessedly, ended, the patterns were obvious and validating. And though Hannah was on a dating show, protected by security and producers and involved with other guys, she went through all the same feelings, cycles, upsets and frustrations as I did, and so many others have.

Part 1: Love Bombing

It begins with love bombing, which is the perfect term for what they do. They blitz you, besiege you, blast you with explosions of love, devotion, never-felt-this-way-befores. It’s utterly overwhelming, making you incredibly uneasy even while you’re busy buying it. Luke told Hannah he was falling in love with her within days of meeting her. The first night of the show, while other guys were posturing or trying to get to know her, Luke stared intently into her eyes and said he saw her on “The Bachelor” and knew she was the one woman for him. Flattered and, yes, overwhelmed by this declaration of his feelings, she gave him the coveted first impression rose. The other men, watching this unfold, were quickly aware that something wasn’t right. Hannah even knew that something was off. But the love bombing had begun, seduction in its basest form, and it’s incredibly hard to resist.

Most of us struggle with feeling worthy of being loved, feelings of inadequacy and fear of rejection. Especially when we’re somewhat emotionally vulnerable—like I was as my marriage broke up, like Hannah was as the bachelorette, like many of us are at different times in our life—and even if we’re not, it’s indescribably compelling to have someone tell us that we’re so amazing and special and unique that they’ve already lost their hearts to us, even though they just met us. They want to see us every day—they’re in touch constantly (this was a struggle for Luke, given the limitations of the show, but he did his best)—they don’t let us forget that they’re seriously into us.

Healthy relationships don’t work like that. You might immediately feel a strong connection to someone, and you might act on it without needing a lot of time. But there’s typically a mutual, and equitable, movement of attachment and intimacy. Love bombing is an all-out deliberate campaign to attach someone to you, an entirely different thing. It worked on me with my ex, and it worked on Hannah. Until you’ve been through it and can identify it for what it is, it’s a dangerously effective strategy.

Part 2: Manipulation and Gaslighting

Another brilliant application of a term is gaslighting, originally from Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play “Gas Light” and made famous by the 1944 film adaptation starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. A supposedly devoted, adoring (read: love bombing) new husband uses subtle lies and tricks, including the flickering gaslights in their home, to convince his wife she’s going insane. Ultimately his motive is greed, he hopes to gain something valuable through this process, though he does seem to relish fucking with her head.

I would call Luke a master of this, except he isn’t quite smart enough. At one point in the season, he attempted to gaslight an entire roomful of men, who all stared at him in disbelief. He used it more effectively on Hannah, talking around the truth, lying about the other men and twisting words and situations to his advantage. When she began to push back at some of his behavior and language, he stated that he didn’t say what he said, a classic gambit, and that she misunderstood him. Gaslighting is about rewriting the story to fit your own narrative, getting creative with the truth, and convincing the people around you that they’re the ones in the wrong. That they are, in fact, crazy to think otherwise.

Watching Hannah go through this, especially with the omniscience of a viewer after the fact, was both frustrating and sad. The other men didn’t seem to know what to do with the situation, even as they challenged him. One of them said, “I can’t believe you outsmarted me,” when he realized that Hannah believed Luke’s version over the truth. It was shortly after this that ABC started heavily promoting Luke’s sendoff, as it became increasingly clear that if there was any chance that Hannah was going to pick this guy, it would look bad for her, and for the show. Exposing her to a personality like this wasn’t necessarily ABC’s fault, but they did cast him.

Other forms of manipulation are cold rages, which are really effective when it’s your partner and you don’t understand why they’re suddenly furious with you (on the show, Luke tried this on the other men, who weren’t impressed); defensiveness and over-explaining; guilt trips; throwing blame; abject apologies; sweeping promises; self-loathing and pity-mongering… the list goes on and on. The key is how quickly narcissists pivot if their technique isn’t working. Within minutes, they’ll go from love bombing to cold rage to abject apologies, depending on how their target is reacting.

Part 3: Confusion, Anxiety and Misery

I remember with intense clarity what it felt like to sit at my desk at work and get a text from my ex. My stomach would lurch—my body go into stress mode—my anxiety peak. Usually he would ask for something, usually money, and I didn’t know how to say no. When I did say no, he would push back—or be enraged, or both. He sucked the air out of everything, made everything about him.

I cried so much during the two-plus years we were together, once it was finally over (and the blinding relief began), I didn’t cry. Narcissists make you crazy, and miserable, and stress out your entire life. You lose yourself in the chaos, long for that hit of adoration, for the gooey sensation you got from the love bombing, willing to do just about anything to get it even while you know, deep down, and this is somehow Not Right. Hannah brought up red flags constantly. She spent an entire morning weeping on a dock in confusion about Luke. She talked at length, to Luke and to the producers, about how she knew there was a “good man” in him, how strong their connection is, how unwilling she is to let that go. When she met his family and friends on the hometown date, she was giddy with joy to learn he’s popular and liked in his deeply religious community.

Seeing Hannah talk herself into this guy over and over was all too familiar. The problem is, you’ve fallen for someone who doesn’t actually exist, but once you’re attached, it’s extremely hard to see that and to step away.

Part 4: They Won’t Go

My ex broke up with me in a fit of temper the first time, then came back the next day and begged for a second chance. He promised everything, love bombed me all over again, agreed to everything I said. Exhausted and uncertain, I gave in. Within three weeks, he’d broken every single agreement. I finally challenged him on money he owed me, we talked in circles, and he broke up with me again. Two days later he hadn’t yet moved out, and decided he didn’t want to go, after all. Unfortunately for him, it was my apartment, I was done, and he didn’t have a choice.

A few weeks before hometown dates, Hannah actually sent Luke home, but he decided he wouldn’t accept her decision. He stalked back into the room where they were having their date and told her all the things she wanted to hear… he was wrong… she was right… he just felt so much for her, he was trying too hard to be perfect for her… he’d be better from now on… She gave in, and he stayed.

This is how Luke made it to the second to last round, the fantasy suite dates, when Hannah had a chance to spend a private (not filmed) night with each man in Greece. She had lovely romantic dates on Crete with the first three men, and saved Luke the special Santorini date. They spent the day wandering around Oia, one of the most picturesque places on the planet, and it was the best day ever, full of delicious love bombing. Hannah went into the evening part of the date with the same giddy excitement she felt meeting his family. Finally she was justified in believing this guy was as amazing as she first thought, in spite of dozens of bright red flags and all the other men questioning her judgment for trusting him.

When, after perfunctory toasts, Luke informed her that the marriage bed should be “pure” and threatened to leave if she failed that particular test, the facade finally cracked. The perfect guy was revealed as a narcissistic toad who uses his religion as a seduction technique as well as a weapon and is prepared to judge her for not measuring up to the same “pure” values. Hannah was having none of that. She is also religious and rightfully resented this being used against her. It was beautifully entertaining to watch her take him down, watch him scramble to unsay his words (“I didn’t say that!” “You literally just said that.”) and walk back his do or die statements. It didn’t work. She told him to get up so she could walk him out (the way the leads kick people off the show), and he refused on the grounds that she owed him a chance to say his piece.

That did it. She was furious that he’d claim she owed him anything and firmly escorted him to the car, where he paused to ask if he could pray over her. She refused. His last bolt shot, he slowly, unwillingly got in, and she flipped him off as it drove away. After all the chances she gave him and times she defended him, she realized, he wasn’t worth any of it.

So it’s over, right? But no.

On the previews for next week, he’s back, crashing the rose ceremony and insisting that he’s there to propose to Hannah. He has a ring. He isn’t going to take “no, leave me alone” for an answer. Of course ABC and the show are highly complicit in this, they’re the ones driving him around and giving him the ring. It’s good TV, after all. In the teaser, we see Hannah telling Luke to leave, see him refusing, see the other finalists trying to intervene and Luke facing off with all of them. Great TV. And also all too real. Most of us don’t have three other people we’re dating to stand up for us. We’re on our own if, or when, they come back and insist that we give them another chance.

I’m not sorry I got involved with a narcissist. It left a lot of damaging scars on me, caused me to do a lot of things I regret. It took a long time to heal and restore my life. But it also was a massively transformative experience in terms of understanding what’s acceptable and unacceptable, that not everyone deserves a second chance, that my gut is actually an incredibly wise guide if I only listen to it and actually pay attention to red flags. When I started dating again more than a year after the breakup, I did it with my eyes wide open and my instincts on full alert. I cancelled one date on the day of because the guy started love bombing me before he’d even met me and my gut said “DO NOT GO NEAR THIS PERSON.” So I didn’t.

Whatever happens in Hannah’s future relationships, I hope she can get as much out of the surreal, stressful, upsetting experience of dating a toxic narcissist as I did, and find a more authentic connection because of it.

When it’s all over, if we’re open to the lessons, they give us much more than they realize.

 

“I can breathe again.”

-Me, the day after my ex moved out

 

 

being overwhelmed

If someone were to describe the kind of life most of us lead to a truth-seeker living 100 years ago, I really do believe the person would feel a mixture of horror and pity along with their curiosity about what the future holds.

Many aspects of life are better. We live longer, we have fewer (or at least not as enforced) conventions, medical breakthroughs like vaccinations and artificial limbs and neurosurgery help us heal and thrive in incredible ways, technology has changed how we communicate and participate with each other on a global scale, creating new opportunities for connection, growth and effective change.

It’s all pretty awesome, and I’m grateful for all of it. Of course, the planet is in horrifying shape due to over-consumption and pollution. People are polarized and hateful and use the internet to spew that hate. And the pace of life is not only light-speed compared with that of a century ago, but ever-increasing, requiring us to constantly adapt to more, faster, better without a lot of room to rest, recharge or process.

It’s just so easy to become overwhelmed with the day-to-day. It doesn’t matter if you’re retired or just starting out at your first job, if you love your work or barely tolerate it, if your days are full of meetings or social events or childcare or nothing at all. Overwhelm happens to nearly everyone, students and yoga teachers and entrepreneurs and writers and doctors and office clerks, those who work 20 or 40 or 80 hours a week and those who don’t. Overwhelm isn’t simply caused by doing too much, though that can be a huge part of it. External forces like increasing demands at work, stressful relationships, financial difficulties and class workloads certainly impact how relaxed, calm, centered and capable we feel.

Those are actually the easier things to pinpoint as causing overwhelm. That isn’t to say it’s easy to address them or the anxiety, physical and emotional exhaustion and suffering they can cause us, but rather that, whether they creep up slowly or land with sudden violence, it isn’t all that hard to identify them. Our schedule is absolutely full, we have no time to think or eat lunch, the kids are driving us crazy, homework is taking hours every night, there just doesn’t seem to be enough to pay the bills. We struggle, and feel like the tides are rising until we can heave ourselves out of it—or until they overtake us completely, and our health breaks down.

The overwhelm that’s more insidious is one that has few external causes, and is rather created by internal conflicts, repressed emotions or other forces affecting us from the inside out. Without any particular change in my day-to-day, I’ll find myself less inspired by the things that usually inspire me, more inclined to chafe against certain tasks that aren’t hard, but feel hard, and longing for a day alone to just do nothing at all. Not a sick day, but one where I read, or think, or wander around the house looking at things and don’t accomplish anything worth noting. This is very different from my normal state of mind, when I not only enjoy but thrive in little tasks and productivity, feeling satisfied and confident in what I’ve done and want to do.

I believe that sometimes we just need more fallow times for no reason at all, when we’re less productive and social, less inclined to take action of any kind, and more inclined to let time pass in quiet idleness. We need those down times to recharge, to process, to release, to simply be—ideally away from the addictive, mind-draining distraction of technology. We might accomplish or DO less externally, but that doesn’t mean we’re not productive internally, using our energy for less obvious things. Anything that feels draining, sapping, uninteresting or just too damn hard can be shelved for a different season, when we’re in more of an outward doing mode.

If there is a cause for internal overwhelm, it can be things like repressed emotion that simply won’t stay repressed any longer, or working through transitions as we process changes happening in our lives (and happening far more frequently than they did 50 or 100 years ago). Repressed emotion requires us to feel what we’ve avoided feeling, while transitions require that we go through the steps of letting go of an ending, adjusting in a neutral period and committing to a new beginning. (Transitions by William Bridges is my source for this, a brilliant and compassionate resource.) Changes like new jobs, marriage, divorce, parenthood, illness, retirement, job loss and death often set off a long series of transformations in our lives as well as in ourselves, which simply won’t be ignored—and then simply entering different stages of life transforms and challenges us, even though nothing on the outside is different.

And, just with external forces, we can be experiencing more than one internal conflict or issue at a time, creating different domino effects throughout our life or psyche.

Whether brought on by internal or external forces or both, so often overwhelm is affecting us before we understand what’s happening, taking its toll on our health and well-being, our relationships, our jobs, our creativity. And then at some point it goes so far that we simply can’t ignore it any longer. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later, we finally recognize it and can acknowledge it to ourselves and to others—and that’s where our work begins.

Only we can own our overwhelm, and only we can be the catalysts for reclaiming our balance. Sure, we can try to simply adapt to it and survive with the increased stress, shorter temper and high anxiety, but ultimately that’s not going to work. The whole point of overwhelm is that it’s a symptom that what’s going on simply isn’t sustainable, and can’t be addressed in the usual way.

That doesn’t mean we necessarily need to quit our jobs or school, walk away from our debt, leave our partners or some other dramatic act—though of course taking dramatic action might be exactly what we need, we’re the only person who can determine that. But it does mean that we need to shift our thinking and attitude about ourselves in order to effectively deal with the external and internal forces that are causing us to suffer and struggle.

Even if we’re still working productively at office jobs and taking care of families and teaching classes, we may need a few weeks to slack off a little, to let ourselves off the hook when it comes to extracurriculars, social media updates or social plans, to avoid stressful situations and give ourselves lots of compassion and understanding. We may need to take sick leave, or plan a vacation, or drop a class. We may need to say “no” more than we say “yes,” at least for a while—or forever. We may need to start therapy, start meditating, or stop spending. We may need a weekend to binge watch Game of Thrones in our pajamas with the phone on silent, only leaving the house to stock up on ice cream and frozen pizza. We may need to tell our kids they can’t be in both soccer and softball, tell our boss that we’re having a hard time and really need their support, tell our partner we need a week of takeout dinners, tell a friend that we can’t help them move. We may need to take some serious action on our finances, take more walks during the day, take a break from a relationship, take medication, or take a nap.

We may simply need to be more aware of ourselves and what we’re feeling—to honor a role that we’ve outgrown or new direction our ambitions are taking, honestly face how we feel about a job, family member, friend or partner, allow ourselves to grieve or be done with grieving, or finally feel a deep and long-suppressed anger toward someone from our past. Nothing outward may need to shift at all, and yet the inward shift will free us to greater alignment and balance.

It could be the biggest change we’ve ever made, or the smallest of small adjustments—but the point is, only we know what the right action, or inaction, is to take. And only we can take it.

I gave myself a day off this week to do one important early errand and then go home and do very little. I read, dozed, wandered around the backyard, jogged a mile on the treadmill. At some point I felt like starting laundry and did so, made a casserole I’ve been craving for dinner. The time went quickly and quietly. I moved through it with a sense of ease and gratitude, and felt much more centered by evening. I’m not sure why I needed that day, but I listened to myself and honored that need, and it helped me recharge whatever needed recharging.

Overwhelm isn’t something you fight or can overcome by simply “powering through.” Powering through is why we’re overwhelmed in the first place. Accepting that it’s here, and that things can’t continue in the same way they have, is the only way through it.

 

the benefit of remembering

“We forget things we try to remember. We remember things we’d rather forget. The most frightening thing about memory is that it leaves no choice. It has mastered an incomprehensible art of forgetting. It erases, it smudges, it fills in blank spaces with details that don’t exist. But however we remember it—or choose to remember it—the past is the foundation that holds our lives in place. Without its support, we’d have nothing for guidance.” –Brigid Gorry-Hines

This morning I was thinking about how easy it is to get so caught up with the now, with the struggles and pressures and distractions of now, that we lose all perspective. We forget how it feels and what it means to be any other way.

When we have a cold, we forget what it feels like to be well, and when we’re well, we forget what it feels like to be dragged down by a cold, congested and miserable with a raw nose and sore throat, sucking cough drops and chugging DayQuil. When we’re exhausted, we forget what it feels like to have energy, and when we’re energized we don’t particularly think about what it feels like to be dropping and sick with exhaustion. When we’re not angry, we don’t think about being angry, and when we’re not lonely, we don’t think about being lonely, and when we’re not grieving, we don’t think about grieving. And when we’re sad and discouraged, we don’t spend much time remembering how it feels in mind or body to be thrilled and uplifted. We just feel sad.

In some ways, this amnesia is blissfully beneficial and helps us move through moments as they arise. It means we aren’t caught up in loops and emotions of the past—we felt them, they happened, now we can move on to what we’re feeling now. But in other ways, it doesn’t serve us to forget. In other ways, forgetting means we tell a different story and lose the perspective that remembering can give us.

To me, this is the same as the difference between forgiving and forgetting. We can forgive other people as the need and desire and opportunity to forgive arises. But that doesn’t mean we forget what the person did that required forgiveness. It doesn’t mean we should dismiss how what they did affected us. By the same token, it often benefits us just as much to remember and honor how we felt at a given moment, even if we don’t continue to live in that emotion any longer.

I often think in passing of how miserable and trapped and desperate I felt with my last partner—and also how gorgeously light and free and joyful I felt when that toxic relationship ended. I like to remember this when something inspires it; I like to remind myself of both the horror and the glory, because I know what I lived through and why it matters so much to make different choices now and in the future. I don’t relive it, I don’t re-feel the emotions, but I reach a calm, exultant, and grateful plane where I stand firm in what I survived, and the new reality that misery ultimately produced.

Within my new partnership, I sometimes reflect on the different things I felt as a single person. The sense of complete freedom and independence, balanced by a sense of loneliness and yearning. Now I no longer feel the loneliness or yearning as my partner is my life companion and constant friend, nor do I feel the same freedom or independence as I’ve tied my life to his. In both cases, I had and have a clear understanding of the choices that led me to this place, and I sit with that until I begin to experience deep, centering gratitude for what the moment offers me, knowing that it’s rich in lessons and opportunities for growth. Without a partner, I was able to learn to fully partner myself—and I continue to do so even with a partner. With a partner, I continue to learn to assert myself and prioritize my needs and boundaries. Neither is better, both experiences offer me much to learn from, especially when balanced with the other.

It’s helpful to remember that the loneliest I’ve ever been, I was in a monogamous relationship. First with my ex-husband, during his drug addiction (codependency is incredibly lonely and isolating) and after our physical separation. Then with my ex-boyfriend, a toxic and abusive narcissist, who was always physically surrounding and stifling me, but never emotionally present or accessible. After that relationship ended, I spent a lot of time taking stock of where I was and where I’d been. I remembered every emotion I’d felt in both relationships. The rage I felt at my husband when he duped and abandoned me. The feelings of utter helplessness and confusion when my boyfriend dismissed, betrayed and manipulated me. The anger and remorse I felt at myself for allowing all of it to happen.

Without those memories, without the hours I spent recording how I felt in my journal and rereading it and pulling it apart, I couldn’t have found my way to centered alignment. Balance would have been impossible, not merely challenging, without a deep understanding of my own passage and growth.

The morning after I met my new partner, I woke up hung over and full of shame for what I might have said the night before. I was only mildly drunk, but buzzed enough to feel the pain of both my social anxiety and the alcohol. After I struggled with feeling miserable for a while, I stumbled into the bathroom and, while there, suddenly reminded myself that two years before, on that same day, I’d been with my ex-boyfriend, and been utterly anxious and unhappy and exhausted with the strain of that relationship. I remembered every holiday with him (it was MLK Day), and I felt my spirit lifting immediately in response to the memories. I didn’t have to feel everything again to remember how awful it felt, nor to understand how far I’d come. Though nothing had changed—I was still nauseous and mildly embarrassed at something I’d said the night before (which my partner didn’t even remember), I felt completely different about everything. I could step into my day with a light, positive perspective.

I remember enjoyable times as well, of course, both when I’ve been in relationships and single. Those times and the emotions they inspired also bring me greater understanding. I don’t think of them when I’m unhappy to remind me of how happy I could be. But I do think of them, and they do remind me of how glad and satisfied I’m capable of being, even in difficult or inauthentic circumstances. Just as I don’t re-feel the sadness or anger or loneliness, I don’t re-feel the gladness or joy, but I think of what caused that emotion, and I know that the sources of joy, gratitude, laughter, love, excitement, anticipation, fellowship, compassion, pride, fulfillment and peace are all just as available to me now as they were in the past, if not more so.

This is the benefit of remembering, with clarity and intention. We don’t glorify the past or the present, but we understand that we have the power to make choices in our circumstances, whatever they are, to tap into what fills us and lights us up, and reject what brings us down and makes us miserable. We know that the lonely times don’t equal loneliness forever, and the successes don’t keep us on a high forever. We know that feeling intense grief, or intense love, or intense anxiety, or loneliness or fear or excitement, is only a place to start, with everything possible beyond what those experiences offer us.

We don’t have a cold forever. Now and then when we’re feeling great and probably not even noticing how healthy we are, it might benefit us to remember how awful it is to be sick, feel grateful that we’re not, and take some extra Vitamin C.

 

january blues

Where I live in Northern California, January shows up with fog, rain and cold. We’re lucky not to have to deal with winter storms of ice and snow or negative temperatures, but it isn’t warm and balmy, either. Here and there we might catch a sunny day, usually with a biting chilly wind—not the best weather for being outside, but still more livening than fog or a thick layer of clouds. The holidays are over, but winter has only just begun, with springtime still months away and summer a far-off glimmer in the distance.

This is the time of year when I often experience a low. I’m in it before I really understand what’s happening. And then I see friends and family going through something similar, reminding me that I’m not alone in this.

It helps to remember that it isn’t unusual to feel an emotional lull in January. Finances can be tight because of holiday spending, outdoor activities limited, and social plans suddenly dwindling—which in my case doesn’t help counter my tendency to curl up under thick blankets in my softest, most forgiving pants. From being invited to an almost overwhelming number of holiday gatherings with a long list of presents to buy and wrap and travel plans to make, suddenly nothing seems to be happening.

Of course we can make new plans, start new projects and think about trips we want to take in the coming year (even if we can’t afford them yet), but it’s not the same when you feel a little down. It’s more work, and harder work, to get excited about things, and even though the payoff would be bigger, knowing that doesn’t seem to increase my motivation. Anything extra, even the fun of organizing and anticipating a trip or a party or an outing, feels like too much to take on.

As with most funks, the very things that would probably make us feel better are the same things we feel most like avoiding.

So that’s where we are. Kind of stuck.

Stuck between the bright rush of the holidays, however stressful, and the bright warmth and energy of spring. Wedged oddly in a place where we feel sort of bleh and lousy because we have nothing to look forward to, and feel too bleh and lousy to start actively planning things to look forward to.

Dampened by the weather, weighed down by internal baggage (not to mention all the celebratory food and drink I consumed in December), I don’t feel inclined to start a new writing project, book my summer travels or commit to more than a sporadic evening out in the coming weeks.

There’s nothing wrong with feeling this way. We don’t need to feel lousy about feeling lousy and make the whole thing worse by rampant self-judgment and even more intense cycles of sloth, shoulds and guilt—but we also don’t need to aggressively push ourselves out of it.

We’re feeling this way for a reason. It’s the fallow of the year, and while it isn’t something we’re required to enjoy, we also don’t have to reject it. We can find a way through it that allows us to have the experience it but not wallow in it.

After I’ve acknowledged that this is happening, and that it’s OK that it’s happening, what helps during these doldrums is just to give myself a little more room. I consciously try to loosen my expectations and open my mind.

I allow myself more space to feel vulnerable and weird and loose-endish, if I need it. It isn’t comfortable to feel those things, but not allowing the space to feel them doesn’t help, either. I allow for more time in my sweats on the couch—especially if I’ve managed to jump on the treadmill for a walk or quick jog first, but even if I haven’t. More room to imagine what might be next, without having to do one damn thing about it. More quiet to call in what I want, even if I’m not ready for it to arrive.

I don’t make long lists of every chore I want to do or everything I want to accomplish this year. Not unless I feel inspired to do that, which, let’s face it, I probably won’t. I spent 10 minutes looking at flight and hotel deals the other day, was quickly overwhelmed and immediately closed the browser. There’s time to decide later on. I’ve thought about my next book, even scribbled a few notes for it—and that’s it. When I’m ready to start writing, I will.

Our emotions, minds and bodies have cycles for a reason. We need the fallow, subdued, empty times, whatever season they happen to fall in, in order to have the creative, exciting, dynamic times when we stuff our calendars and achieve goals right and left. It also makes so much sense that a lot of us would experience an emotional down after the holidays, which can be such an emotional high, or just heightened emotionally, or both.

Added to that are also the physical repercussions of a lack of vitamin D, a nasty flu season and the possibility of winter-onset seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which can hit hard in these darker, colder months.

So let’s give ourselves a little more room. Prioritize the basic things we need to care for ourselves like drink water and walk and sleep and eat well, and not worry about anything too ambitious over that—not unless it feels good. Ignore the pressure of resolutions and instead set authentic intentions. Allow ourselves space to dream, to journal, to call in, to go to the movies, to binge watch Stranger Things again, to doze over a book. Feed ourselves good things, mind and body: healthy food and funny shows and compelling stories, and avoid junk as much as we can.

And if we need a little moderate junk here and there, an Its It or “The Bachelor” or a glass of wine? That’s OK, too. I feel better when I indulge myself right along with jogging and cooking vegetables, and it keeps me from swerving into any exhausting extremes.

If we can acknowledge and honor this letdown feeling, we can use it as a time of finding our balance again, of consciously slowing down, becoming more mindful of ourselves, and looking forward to what the year can bring. We don’t have to rush through the low, or judge ourselves for our desire to hide, or worry over our lack of plans to look forward to. We can let ourselves be in it and see what it can offer us.

It starts with giving ourselves a lot of extra compassion, reaching out to people we trust (who are probably feeling the same, if we only knew it), and taking the extra space we need to re-align with what bring us joy, fulfillment and gratitude.

And, if nothing else, remembering that spring will be here soon.

 

the heavy weight of shame

I carry some extra weight with me right now. Some of it’s on my body, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Recently one of my coaches talked about feeling stuck with weight loss—you might be doing everything right, eating well, exercising, sleeping, doing all the things that being health conscious asks of us, yet not making progress. I think that describes me pretty well. I can’t seem to lose the extra weight that has slowly crept onto certain parts of my anatomy over the past three or four years, so I related to what she was talking about.

At times I’ve been able to lose up to 10 pounds by what can only be called crash diets. They do work, but they aren’t sustainable, and my weight creeps back up. I can cut way back on alcohol and sugar, eat only low-fat protein and vegetables, work out every single day, and only see a small effect or no effect.

Of course, it could very well indicate some kind of imbalance in my body, thyroid or hormonal. But it could also be something more covert than that, in addition to, instead of or even a cause of the imbalance itself.

When it’s not affected by lifestyle, the coach brought up the idea of our extra weight serving us, in some way. To protect us, to cover a wound, to hide us, to make us invisible or bigger, to manifest an emotional burden. She suggested we first thank our body, thank the weight for serving us, and then spend some time asking it what purpose it serves and feeling grateful to that purpose. I do believe that our feelings, beliefs, emotions, repressions, fears and traumas manifest themselves in our bodies, especially if we aren’t conscious about releasing, feeling, addressing or accepting them. With that in mind, I started reflecting on what purpose my weight could be serving.

I’ve thought a lot about this. I now know that the weight, whatever its cause, is there to make me whole. In what way, I’m not sure, but that’s what it told me very clearly. Knowing that, the question I’ve opened myself to is why? Why have I felt it’s been necessary to create this extra padding in order to be whole?

Over a number of days of coming back to this, asking for guidance, and meditating about it, I realized this morning that I do have a heavy emotional burden, manifesting in the past few years, which I haven’t fully processed. This burden is a deep mortification, shame and anger toward myself.

While I’ve processed a lot of trauma in the last decade, I recognize that I’m still deeply ashamed that I let myself down, compromised, disrespected and betrayed myself by choosing to be involved for more than two years with an abusive, manipulative and dishonest partner. I take no responsibility for his choices or actions, but I do for mine. I allowed him into my life. I participated in the process of conditioning and manipulation. I knew it was wrong from day one, and I overrode all my instincts for the sake of a fantasy, instant gratification, the drug that he became to me.

Do I hold this man accountable? Absolutely. But I’ve spent a lot of years effectively dealing with my fury, resentment and contempt for him. I’ve purged him through fire and water, written angry letters and poetry, poured out my feelings in my journal and released his toxic presence from my body, home and mind. I came face to face with him earlier this year and felt nothing but a sort of glad gratitude that I felt nothing else—not fear, not anger, not even scorn. He’s nothing to me now, no longer the bogeyman that he was during and right after our relationship nor the dark shadow once I’d started to heal. That’s been the easy part.

The hard part is forgiving myself.

My closest friends know the truth about the relationship. They know—not during it, but now—that he stole from me repeatedly over two years. That I supported him and his children by other women and received no repayment of any kind, in spite of endless empty promises. That he emotionally abused me, using intense manipulation techniques from rages to coldness to accusations and word garbage to love bombing when he wanted something. They know that sex could be nonexistent or aggressive bordering on violent, depending on his mood, and that I believe that he was cheating on me throughout the entire relationship, going on late night “music drives” in my car in order to engage sexually with other women.

This was just some of it.

I’ve never told my family more than the barest shreds of these truths. I’ve been far too ashamed to admit that I allowed this. Not once, but for 26 months. I allowed it, allowed him to use and disrespect me, to violate my boundaries, my home, my body, my emotions. Not only that, I protected him, lied to my loved ones and made excuses for it.

I imagine most victims of manipulation and abuse, any kind of abuse, will understand this self-recrimination. It isn’t unique to me, and it’s very real. The trauma isn’t just that I was violated, but that I, in some measure, chose the violation. Invited it into my home. Offered it money, and more money. Said yes.

Said yes.

I wasn’t robbed at gunpoint by a stranger. I was robbed by my trusted partner—and robbed again, and again, and still trusted. I was so desperately attached I couldn’t see any other choice. I didn’t even end it. I was starting to become stronger and less tolerant, less emotionally flexible, and that set him off so that in a fit of pique, he broke up with me. Then demanded, and got, I’m sorry to say, a second chance, which he naturally blew by violating all our new agreements. When I worked up the courage—and it took great courage—to ask for an explanation, he suggested we break up. I agreed.

From that moment on, I’m not ashamed. I stood my ground. I said no when he asked me to get back together, two days later. I said no when he asked me for money. I was unmoved when he tried to manipulate me. When he wrote pleading emails, I saw through his lies and exaggerations.

From that moment on, I’m proud of myself. Proud that I took the chance offered to gain freedom and make the most of it. That I chose not to date for a year so I could focus on healing myself and figuring out what the hell I was doing with men who let me down. Proud that I worked extremely hard to make reparations to myself, to repair my home and finances, become a much better friend and partner to me. To understand why I’d been so vulnerable at the time we met that I was a perfect target for him, and heal those older wounds as well.

The choices I made from that moment on brought me here today, in a place of authentic contentment and alignment. I’m in a secure, loving second marriage, financially stable, firmly centered in self-respect and the practice of listening to my instincts.

I know that my growth required those 26 months of anxiety, pain and struggle. I wouldn’t be the person I am without them, and I’ve learned to be grateful for that. I see that it had a real and positive purpose. It’s helped me forgive (not to accept his behavior, but forgive) the man for his failures and transgressions and learn about the psychology of narcissistic personality disorders, sociopaths and aggressive personalities, leading to my growth in setting boundaries and recognizing manipulation. Without that relationship, I might very well not have chosen to date my husband, or been able to create our partnership. I wouldn’t have become so committed to following my instincts even when they don’t make rational sense, and to fiercely honoring my own needs and feelings.

I’m always going to be lugging some kind of baggage around. Life creates baggage, we never get rid of it all. And aging changes our bodies, there’s no denying that. Maybe my extra weight is purely physical and I just need to eat fewer and burn more calories, or cut out all cheese and chocolate entirely. (As if I could.)

Maybe. Very possibly.

But it’s also possible that this deep shame is a burden that’s manifesting in some extra pounds, or compounding an existing physical imbalance. It said its purpose is “making me whole”—perhaps it’s helping me understand that this trauma and mortification is still a part of me, a literal weight that I carry. And while I’ve done a lot of impressive work in processing and forgiving and healing, there’s more to be done.

I deserve it. I deserve to forgive myself as I’ve forgiven the man who abused me.

It’s hard to talk about this, to be honest. Even as I write this post, I feel the choking hand of shame at my throat, the tingles creep up my neck, as if something menacing is standing just behind me. But hiding it only gives it more power, which is why I choose to share my experience today and commit to bringing it into the open and the light.

I may never tell my family the full truth of what I went through. I may never share every sordid detail with my husband. And I don’t have to. I will find the support I need to let go of my anger, disappointment and humiliation, and to be whole in a healthier way. I will invest in the resources, the time and the honest reflection to come to a place of self-acceptance.

I’m ready to release this weight.

 

 

If you have any resources to recommend, books or support groups that have helped you through releasing shame and self-forgiveness, please share them in the comments.