happiness, emotion, management

How to Deal With Abusive, Narcissistic and Hostile Bosses

Douglas LaBier Ph.D.


Some recent research about employees who deal with abusive bosses shows that a well-intentioned study of workplace behavior can produce findings that confound the researchers’ predictions. This research found one unsurprising result; but another part of the findings — which puzzled the researchers — is what caught my eye.

To explain, the research surveyed(link is external) the ways in which employees behave when working for abusive bosses. Those are often people who are narcissistic, denigrating, arrogant and unsupportive — or outright undermining — of employee’s learning and development.

The unsurprising part of the findings was that just trying to avoid the abusive boss or plotting ways to retaliate didn’t work. That made things worse for the employee, according to the study, published in (link is external) the Journal of Applied Psychology and summarized by Jena McGregor in the Washington Post.(link is external)

But it was the other set of findings that caught my attention. Here, the researchers predicted(link is external) that “acts of compassion and empathy — employees who assist bad bosses by going above and beyond, helping bosses with heavy workloads even when they’re not asked” would lead to diminished abuse by those bosses. And, that “acts of kindness might help lessen future rude or abusive behavior.”

The researchers were surprised to discover that it didn’t happen. Instead, according to the study’s co-author Charlice Hurst,(link is external) “Abusive supervisors didn’t respond to followers being positive and compassionate, and doing things to be supportive and helpful.” The researchers concluded that their findings seemed to “clash with common sense.”

Really? I think most anyone who’s ever worked for abusive bosses would laugh at such “common sense” assumptions. No, trying to be “nice” or empathic towards the narcissistic, arrogant boss who often makes conflicting demands on employees isn’t going to produce positive change.

What Helps?
However, a hint at what can help comes from another study. It found that employees who find ways to disengage, emotionally, from abusive bosses, experience a greater sense of managing their dilemma and its emotional impact.

That’s consistent with what I’ve found in my work with men and women who deal with these situations. That is, if you reframe how you envision your situation to begin with, that can open the door to proactive, positive, constructive actions in the situation you feel trapped in. There are several ways you can do this. It can begin with what one mid-level executive did, for example, as she looked for an alternative to just hunkering down, feeling depressed and disempowered.

She began with mindfulness meditation, focusing her attention on simply observing the negative emotions her boss’s behavior aroused in her. Just “watching” her emotions pass through her weakened her tendency to dwell in anger or pursue unproductive actions. That initiated a shift towards stepping “outside” herself — outside the narrow vantage point of her own ego — and towards seeing herself as though she were a character in a movie.

With that expanded perspective she could view her boss as simply being the person he was; no matter what the psychological reasons were for why he was that way; or how she judged them. Emotional disengagement helped her not take his behavior personally, although it impacted her personally. In effect, she remained “indifferent” to her own emotional reactions. And yet she stayed engaged in seeking solutions to her situations.

For example, she began to ask him directly for ways she could aid his objectives — rather than avoid or circumvent him. She also decided to cede control of some areas that didn’t matter to her, but which her boss seemed to enjoy micro-managing. Her disengaged perspective strengthened her confidence in her expertise; that her boss’s agenda or his abusive management didn’t diminish it.

Additionally, however — and importantly — she concluded that her career prospects under him were probably a dead end for the foreseeable future. So she immediately updated her resume and began looking for a new position. This kept her focused on her career development objectives while navigating through the situation with as little friction as possible.

Of course, it’s important to self-examine at the outset when you find yourself in a bad situation. Look honestly, with outside help if necessary, at what you might be contributing to the problem. Ask yourself, “How much is it me or the situation?” Without doing that, you might take actions that you later regret or that prove to be unhelpful.

Nevertheless the example I described above highlights some guidelines that help people deal with a range of abusive, destructive and otherwise unhealthy management. They include:

Create an emotional buffer zone. Observe your internal emotional responses to your situation, but recognize that you’re not obligated to act on them. Visualize a “space” between your emotions and how you choose to deal with them in your behavior. If you don’t, you’re likely to say or do something unhelpful or damaging to yourself. Stay aware of your buttons that your boss is pushing, but don’t get drawn into reacting to your boss’ emotional issues. Recognize that you always have a choice about what you do with your emotions in your own behavior.

Expand your perspective. The buffer zone around your triggered emotions enlarges your perspective about the situation: what’s feeding into it, and what may be driving your boss’ conduct. Seeing the problem in a much larger context includes looking at many factors. For example, the role of other players or other organizational issues and politics, regardless of what your opinion is about them. It includes considering that your boss’s controlling or abusive behavior may reflect some fear about her or his own security in the position.

Act with “engaged indifference.” That buffer zone and an enlarged perspective helps you become more proactive towards managing your situation, while being “indifferent” to your own emotional reactions that are triggered along the way. You’re less likely to be drawn towards unproductive behavior fueled by anger, resentment or self-pity. You might even decide to look for ways to help your boss feel more secure or supported, despite what you think of him or her, because doing that might diminish your boss’ anxiety and will therefore make your life a bit easier as long as you remain there.

Avoid Another Abusive Situation. If you decide you must leave, then do the research when considering a new job: Look for signs of a potentially negative situation by, for example, paying attention to what you hear during interviews; asking people within the organization what it’s like to work for that company or that boss; heed any red flags raised by what you hear…and don’t contribute to history repeating itself.


The price of doing a postdoc

Lucy’s words: These days I am struggling about whether I should go to US for postdoc research, or keep staying in HK to pursue the doctor’s dream….

By Devin Powell


For the overwhelming majority of Ph.D. holders who do not become tenured professors, spending time as a postdoc comes at a hefty price. Compared with peers who started working outside academia immediately after earning their degrees, ex-postdocs make lower wages well into their careers, according to a study published today in Nature Biotechnology. On average, they give up about one-fifth of their earning potential in the first 15 years after finishing their doctorates—which, for those who end up in industry, amounts to $239,970.

The financial sacrifice begins during the postdoc. As detailed in the new report, which uses National Science Foundation data to track the careers of thousands of people who earned Ph.D.s between 1980 and 2010, a typical postdoc in biomedicine lasts 4.5 years with an annual salary of about $45,000—as compared with the $75,000 or so paid as a median starting salary to Ph.D.s in industry. Biomedical postdocs who later enter the nonacademic workforce then face a pay gap that closes only after another 8 or 9 years. That’s evidence that a postdoc has little value outside of academia, says lead author Shulamit Kahn, an economist at Boston University.

“When you enter the job market at the end of a postdoc, you’ve essentially lost those years,” Kahn says. “You’re starting out at an entry level because a postdoc just doesn’t count in the way that job experience counts.”

The new finding is hardly surprising in the wake of other work that has highlighted the perils of being a postdoc, such as the 2014 National Academies report noting that the “sacrifices” made by postdocs “are not compensated later in their careers.” Nonetheless, the new study “provides some good—if dismal—data to further confirm the picture that the production model for scientists is a disaster,” says Hal Salzman, a labor economist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

This type of information is particularly important given that many graduate students’ and postdocs’ perspectives about their careers are at odds with these economic realities. In a 2016 study, postdocs tended to correctly estimate the slim odds of landing a tenure-track academic position. But about three-quarters of postdocs in life sciences also believed that postdoctoral research was important for getting a job in industry and began postdocs with little intention of going into academia. The new study highlights the error of this approach. “If you’re thinking that a postdoc is a way to get a good job in industry, this research would suggest that you’re making the wrong choice,” Salzman says.

The new study does not, however, capture nonmonetary priorities postdocs may have, notes Henry Sauermann, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta who studies the scientific workforce and lead author of the 2016 paper. “The open question is, do postdocs get different jobs that provide different benefits that are not financial,” he says. “Many say they would be willing to take a lower salary to have freedom and continue to publish their research.”

But regardless of trainees’ motivations, the hard data provided in the new study will help graduate students think more carefully about their future, hopes Julia Lane, an economist at New York University in New York City. “They need more information about their earning potential,” she says. “They need to understand that a postdoc is essentially high-quality cheap labor for the machine that is modern-day science.”

Students are not the only ones who need to pay attention to the risks of being a postdoc, Kahn adds. “The people we really have to convince are the professors and the advisers in grant programs,” she says. “The advisers should say, ‘Look it’s in our best interest to have you as a postdoc, but it may not be in your best interest.’ It’s getting cut-throat out there.”

To postdoc or not to postdoc?

By Deborah Sweet


The latest Future of Research Symposium held in San Francisco prompted a lot of engaged discussion on social media, particularly on Twitter. The topics covered included issues related to funding, career structure, reproducibility, and mentorship and no doubt reflected lively discussion in the room itself as well.

Reading through this conversation made me think about the advice that I give to students when they ask me about whether it’s a good idea to do a postdoc to help them move into their desired careers.

Perhaps not surprisingly, as a first step, I thought about my own personal experience. For my postdoctoral research, I specifically chose to go to a lab where I would learn about a new subject and use new techniques that were very different from those I’d used during the course of my PhD. I had an underlying idea that I could parlay the experience into an independent research program that merged the two, but I’d also always thought that editorial work was very appealing and…well…you can all see where that went.

But when I look back at the postdoctoral time, I can see that it was enriching on many levels.

There aren’t many careers where it is basically a given that you move to a different location or even a different country as part of training, and doing so expanded my horizons and outlook in ways I would never have experienced if I’d stayed close to home. In addition to broadening my subject and technical expertise, I also learned about establishing myself in a new environment, the value of peer mentorship, and writing successful grant applications to get my own funding. I made mistakes, too (we all do!), and these mistakes taught me how to be a more effective professional and colleague in the future.

My stint as a postdoc made me a considerably better candidate for the editorial career I moved into afterwards, and the same would have been true for many of the other options I would have had at the time as well (not just academia!). Although some people come to Cell Press as scientific editors soon after completing their PhD, almost everyone who joins us in a scientific editorial role has postdoctoral experience, some of it quite extensive, and we value the maturity and experience that it brings.

There is much current discussion about the challenges postdocs face when considering their future careers. Many more postdocs are working in research than can hope to move into PI positions, and it’s increasingly recognized that, as a community, we need to embrace the idea that scientific training is a good background for a broad range of career options and support people who are pursuing them. The widely circulated infographic that Jessica Polka put together with the ASCB about career tracks after biology PhDs illustrates this point very well, and, with only 8% of PhDs ultimately moving into faculty positions, classifies that route as the “alternative career.”

Image courtesy of Jessica Polka/ASCB COMPASS

However, I would also note that a substantial majority of PhD graduates (70%) do take up postdoctoral positions, even if they ultimately use that training to go in a different direction.

There are some science-based careers where taking the time to do a postdoc may not ultimately be of benefit. For example, to become a bioscience patent lawyer, it’s pretty much a given that one needs to have a PhD before going to law school, and someone who is clear about wanting to pursue that path is probably best advised to just get on with it without seeking a postdoc.

As a community, we also can’t deny the pain and frustration of people who end up spending many years in different postdoctoral positions feeling professionally insecure and in something of a limbo state (for an example of that, and of moving on from it, see this article highlighting Sophie Thuault-Restituito). There are many laudable pushes to improve the working situation and security of postdocs, and hopefully at least some will be successful.

Despite those challenges, I still believe that, in most circumstances, the pros outweigh the cons. especially for roles that are based on scientific training. I would still advocate for thinking of a postdoc as an opportunity—one that, if chosen and pursued wisely, can be very valuable and enriching no matter what you ultimately decide to do.

Should I stay or should I go?

Kendall Powell1

Gut check time: should you stay in academia, on the bench or even quit science?

Do you have a nagging feeling that academic research might not be the place for you? Listening to your intuition and trying your hand at new things could place you in your dream career. Kendall Powell tests the water.

Four years into her doctoral work in organic chemistry, Sarah Webb began surfing the Internet for potential postdoc positions. Since her first year as an undergraduate, she had always thought she would become a professor at a liberal arts university. That was about to change.

“As I read research descriptions, I had this visceral, gut reaction that said, ‘Wow, this is really interesting science, but I don’t want to do it’,” Webb recalls. She then had what she describes as her mid-graduate-school crisis and a psychological meltdown. “If you think like an academic, you have your whole life mapped out and then all of a sudden it was ‘Oh no!’.”

Should I stay or should I go?W. FERNANDESJ. CHAM

Webb, now a freelance science writer based in Brooklyn, New York, approached her dilemma with a methodical plan of action to find what other careers might suit her. To avoid making a wrong move, career advisers encourage young scientists to make a careful analysis of what they like about science, what their strengths are, and how they could transfer those strengths to another career track.

Start thinking about your ‘plan B’ as early as halfway through your doctorate. Even if you think you want to stay in academia, investigate other options. And if you do plan to leave academia, the bench, or even science altogether, you should network and gain experience in the new area before making a switch, career advisers say.

Go with your gut

The academic track is a well-beaten path with a clear set of steps towards a particular destination. It can become comfortable staying on a familiar path, even if your talents and interests no longer match the end goal. “It is easy to get stuck in a rut and end up in the world of someone else’s expectations — advisers, colleagues, family,” says Webb. “Ultimately, you are the one who has to live with the career expectations you have.”

Pay attention to the warning signs, career advisers say. Are you unhappy in the lab because one experiment isn’t working, or because a particular colleague is getting on your nerves, or because of trepidation about big-picture career issues? “Do an honest evaluation and be tough on yourself,” says Keith Micoli, chair of the board of the US National Postdoctoral Association. And get evaluations from both science and non-science friends and colleagues. Ask them what they see as your professional strengths and weaknesses. Some scientists find they need time away from the research environment to answer these questions.

“Ask yourself what your day job would look like if you could choose it,” says Rosana Kapeller, vice-president of research at Renegade Therapeutics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Do you love working in teams on big projects? Then the pharmaceutical industry might be for you. Do you like reading literature and figuring out where the holes are? Patent law might be for you. Do you love bench work, but hate writing grant applications? You might consider a research associate position.

Micoli says that many young scientists let their fears prevent them from searching out the best career options. It’s common to think that one step off the academic path will earn you the label ‘not serious about research’, says Micoli, now a research instructor at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. But the sooner you bring up other career interests with your adviser the better, he says.

Taking the blinkers off

How do you go about making a big career transition when you have only been exposed to academia? Michael Alvarez, director of the Stanford School of Medicine’s career centre, says that every graduate student should commit to going to at least one seminar or activity per week to explore other career opportunities and make more informed career decisions.

“I’m doing everything I can to eradicate the word ‘alternative’,” he says. “There may be 15 alternatives and one of them is academic research. To say another career is lesser is a fallacy. The scientist who does not stay in academia provides service to the overall well-being of science.” This could include expediting drug discovery and approval, teaching at school or university, increasing scientific literacy or improving investment decisions, says Alvarez.

Alvarez also suggests working with a professional career counsellor, consulting books, and doing some rough mental exercises to identify career priorities. In one test, he has the scientist draw a bar graph with three bars, one for geography, one for professional opportunity and one for personal life. The person has 100 units of value to ascribe to the different categories across three different points in time, say at ages 25, 35 and 45.

When trying to decide between two options, make the usual list of pros and cons, but set up a list of categories and weight each category by importance before making your list. Each pro or con item falls into a category and gets assigned a predetermined weight, giving you a more realistic view of which choice aligns with your goals.

Don’t make choices based on negatives, says Kapeller. For example, don’t choose to move into industry solely because of the downsides to academia, such as writing grants or working long hours. “It’s not that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but just a different shade of green,” she warns. Instead make choices based on what you like about science. But don’t be fooled into thinking the next academic stage will be easier, says Micoli. If you are stressed and overwhelmed now, moving up is unlikely to solve your problems.

Find something you’re passionate about before fleeing the lab, suggests scientist-turned-artist Tia Vellani. She finished a postdoc in biochemistry at the University of Miami in Florida before deciding to follow her passion for jewellery designing. “It was finally obvious to me that I could never be a good scientist, because I just really didn’t want to be,” she says.

And finally, if you do decide to leave academia, don’t drop a bomb on your adviser by waiting until the last minute to make your plans known. “Leave as many doors open as you can,” advises Micoli. “You never know when you might need a recommendation. Be professional.”

Landing on your feet

Open and early communication with an adviser may help you find ways to gain experience in a new area. When Webb was searching for a new path, she volunteered to do a few hours a week at a local science museum and enrolled in a science-writing course on her campus. Others have gained insights from volunteering to sit on committees for professional organizations such as the local biotechnology board or even non-science committees, just to build business skills and savvy. Kapeller suggests seeking out a 6–8-week summer internship with a local biotech or drug company (positions that are common, but often unadvertised).

Although some advisers may be dead-set against anything that detracts from time at the bench, most will be reasonable about a request to explore other interests, says Micoli. Explain that you would like to take on more teaching duties, offer to help the technology-transfer office with a patent application, or suggest an industry internship that will lead to a collaboration. Webb negotiated with her adviser to have two months away from the lab to work half-time on writing her thesis and half-time building her science journalism portfolio.

Most importantly, find people who are already doing the job you want to do and talk to them about their own transition. See if you can visit them at their workplace or shadow them for a day. If possible, find someone who has made exactly the same transition that you are contemplating.

For those pondering a switch to industry, Kapeller strongly advises doing an academic postdoc before making the jump. Not only will it let you step on to the corporate ladder on a higher rung, she says, but it will confirm your ability to work and publish independently more effectively than the doctorate alone or an industry postdoc would. If you know you will be moving to industry, she suggests choosing a postdoc with a focus on animal models, pharmacology or imaging that would be applicable in a corporate setting.

Those who have left science suggest making sure that you can live with the prospect of never being a scientist again. Being away from the swift changes in the literature and technologies of specialized fields for even a few years can make returning an uphill battle.

And finally, maybe you could learn from Katy Hinman, the executive director of Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, a non-profit organization in Atlanta that counsels religious communities about environmental stewardship. Her job certainly never appeared in any ‘alternative careers’ books or panels. But she identified two things that were important to her — conservation and her faith — and followed where they led after her PhD in ecology and evolution from the State University of New York in Stony Brook, even though it meant going to seminary.

“People get into a kind of trap, thinking that if a job doesn’t require a PhD in its description, then they are underemployed,” says Hinman. “If you are doing something you love and are good at it, then you are not underemployed.”

happiness, mindful

Why Feeling “Bad” Isn’t Really So Bad

Lucy’s words: I just started my new job in hospital for two weeks, and however, I feel not adaptable. I feel bad, stressed, and even freaking out under boss’s bad temper and pressure. I want to quit immediately. But still, I want to hold on for a while. Hopefully, little by little, I could adapt to the new environment, new people and everything.



“We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb.” ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

From an early age, most of us get the message that we should be happy—from well-meaning parents, teachers, and even perfect strangers. “Smile!” we are told. “Why the long face?” we are asked. It’s no wonder we grow up with the idea that feeling anything less than sunny 24/7 is somehow wrong.

We’re ashamed to admit, even to ourselves, that sometimes we feel down. It seems that somehow we’ve failed, or that life is cheating us of our due. Facebook and Instagram certainly don’t provide a more balanced view: Everyone else is seemingly on the constant high that has become our society’s norm.

The trouble is, life’s not really like that, and when we expect it to be we only end up feeling worse. There’s almost a sense of panic when a less-than-euphoric period lasts too long (and I’m not talking about clinical depression here, just a garden-variety restlessness or boredom). We just don’t tolerate the lows very well anymore, craving a continuous fix of what the ego calls “happiness.”

I’ve personally bought in to the continuous happiness myth many times, and still have to remind myself that it is just that—a myth.

From true valley experiences like sickness or divorce, to the days when life feels just plain old “blah,” my first reaction is usually to try to “fix it.” Something must be wrong, right? I shouldn’t feel this way—I should be happy!

Something that has helped me a great deal is to substitute another word for “happiness,” a term that’s broad enough to encompass a more normal range of emotion: well-being. 

You can continue to have a sense of well-being even in the midst of a low period. Well-being simply recognizes that life is a series of peaks and valleys, both in the macro view and on a daily basis. It is artificial (and impossible) to insist on a constantly in-flowing tide.

So how do we cultivate a sense of well-being? It starts with self-talk. Most of our emotional reactions to life come from the way we label our experience. The ego will jump to conclusions on very little evidence and then hit the panic button: “Oh, no! Depression alert! Not feeling good—this is a problem!!”

Try this instead: “Hmmm. I’m feeling a little down lately. I wonder what’s up with that?” And then simply sit with the feeling, and allow it to run its course. The panicky ego wants you to do something to fix what it sees as a problem. It is not comfortable simply experiencing what it considers a “bad” feeling, and will urge you to either suppress it or run away from it.

There are lots of ways to do this (and I’ve tried them all): shopping, having a glass or two of wine, watching TV, surfing the web, and so on. None of these activities is “wrong,” unless you use it to avoid or deny your true feelings. Our emotions, besides simply being a valid part of the human experience, hold important messages for us—messages that we can’t receive when we’re running away.

So let’s say you are allowing yourself to have the experience of feeling a bit down. It might even last for a season, but you tell yourself: “It’s okay. I know that this will pass too. I can let myself have this feeling and still be perfectly fine.” That’s well-being.

With well-being, you can continue to enjoy all that is good in your life and treat yourself tenderly while simply letting your experience evolve naturally. And it will evolve. The beauty of allowing yourself to feel your feelings rather than stuffing them is that they then can deliver their messages and pass on through.

Maybe the message is: You need to slow down a bit. Maybe it’s: The work you’re doing doesn’t feel meaningful anymore. Or maybe you never “figure it out.” Your body or spirit might just need a little healing or integration time. With a sense of well-being, you can trust that life is giving you just what you need, even if it doesn’t make sense or make your ego happy.

Well-being is very similar to the Buddhist concept of equanimity, which means serenity or imperturbability. Buddhism teaches that you don’t grasp at the “good” or flee from the “bad,” but accept each as it comes.

The Western mind often mistakes this for passivity, but it is not the same. With both equanimity and well-being, appropriate action is taken—naturally and calmly. As a bonus, action removed from the drama of the ego is often much more effective!

And there’s another benefit to accepting the so-called “negative” experiences of life: They actually allow you to experience and appreciate the good times far more.

When we try to go from one peak to another, we keep raising the ante: What was once satisfying is now boring; what was once a huge win doesn’t seem so impressive anymore. There’s a kind of “happiness inflation” going on that devalues what you have and makes you constantly reach for bigger and better.

It’s counter-intuitive, but the more you experience emotions like sadness or disappointment, the more you can truly feel joy and gratitude when it comes. The poet Kahlil Gibran wrote: “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”

Hard times also temper us, making us stronger, more resilient, and more compassionate. Usually we see this only in retrospect, but we can also use self-talk to remind ourselves of it in the thick of those trying times: “This isn’t much fun, but I know I’m learning and growing from it.”

Feeling “bad,” far from being something to flee, offers so much to those who are willing to embrace the experience. You’ll have to buck the messages of the ego and of society, but you will gain much more in richness of life when you welcome both phases of the tide, the ebb as well as the flow.

emotion, mindful

Accept Yourself Unconditionally (Even When You’re Struggling)


life is a journey

“Self-acceptance is my refusal to be in an adversarial relationship with myself.” ~Nathaniel Branden

Have you ever thought that you accepted yourself fully, only to realize there were conditions placed upon that acceptance?

There was a point in my life when I realized I had stopped making tangible progress with my emotions, self-esteem, and habits. I’d made some profoundly positive shifts that remained with me, like eating healthier, practicing yoga, and phasing out negative friends. You could say I was “cleaning house” in a sense—getting clear on what I wanted my life to look like and discarding the rest.

I began my first truly healthy relationship in years, had a small freelance business that was thriving, and even became a certified yoga teacher. I was no longer a slave to self-doubt and social anxiety like I was in college. However, I didn’t feel like I could vulnerably bare all like other yoga teachers seemed to do so effortlessly.

I was still experiencing some of the same old negative feelings I always had, like dreading social situations and feeling somehow “behind” in life despite all my progress.

I would still slip into self-sabotaging thoughts, mentally talking down to myself when I didn’t teach perfectly. I would still compare myself to other women my age, coming up with stories as to why they were “better” or “further ahead” than I was.

Despite knowing how critical it was to stop doing this, the sense of self-doubt seemed overwhelming and inevitable at times. Upon realizing that these issues were still present, I promptly abandoned myself. Rather than practicing self-care, I “relapsed” into shame. I was ashamed of feeling shame.

“I’m a yoga teacher. I’m not allowed to get in these moods anymore. I should not still struggle with these feelings,” I thought.

During this period, I dwelled hard. I didn’t reach out to anyone. I felt a nauseating fear in the pit of my stomach that made me want to give up on everything. The light at the end of the tunnel had all but flickered out. Convinced that I was alone in these feelings, I stubbornly forgot that other people went through these same emotions all the time.

“I’m not normal. I’ve learned nothing after all this time. I’m foolish and completely hopeless. Who would even want to be around someone like me?”

These may seem like words from the journal of a severely depressed, or maybe even suicidal person. When you read these words you might think, “Eek. I can’t believe she shared that publicly!” Or you might wince and turn away in discomfort, briefly recalling your own dark and “ugly” thoughts. But in truth, these are just two of the sentences I spewed out into a Word document on a particularly bad day.

I no longer buy in to the belief that these kinds of thoughts make me “bad” or a “failure” as a teacher. Years ago, I wouldn’t have admitted to such heavy thoughts. However, I’ve learned not to restrict myself when I’m venting onto a blank page. I dig deep into the negativity I feel, because if I don’t, I truly don’t know what emotions lie beneath the surface—or why they exist.

Writer Flannery O’Connor once said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” I know this is true for me, and I’m sure it probably applies to many of us. Sometimes we don’t really know how we feel until we start expressing it, whether it’s through writing or speaking. We can surprise ourselves with beliefs and emotions we didn’t know existed within us.

This practice of exploring the darker thoughts led me to the realization that I still wasn’t completely showing up for myself. In other words, I needed to consciously support myself and engage in positive self-talk more often.

As a self-proclaimed self-aware person, this realization initially caught me off guard. I thought I knew myself inside and out. But as shadow work practitioners would say, nobody really knows their shadow—not until it is carefully lured out into the light.

It takes time, effort, courage, and brutal honesty to get acquainted with your darker emotions. Our instinct is to run, but we need to dedicate ourselves to our shadows rather than condemning them.

Whether you work through heavy feelings in a blank Word doc like me or with a trusted friend or coach, it’s important to stop shying away from the “ugly” stuff, like anger, jealousy, fear, and judgment.

These things shouldn’t be off limits. Furthermore, these things don’t make you bad, they don’t make you worthless, and they don’t mean you’re crazy. They are simply the heavier, unacknowledged sensations waiting to be heard and healed—waiting for their moment in the spotlight.

In addition, it’s crucial to realize that this self-awareness process never ends. You will never get rid of all the negative you experience, and frankly, wouldn’t life be boring if you did?

Dark emotions rise up not so we can feel ashamed, but so we can integrate them and forgive ourselves. This process is the foundation of healing, self-care, and self-acceptance.

A good way to tell if you are conditionally or unconditionally accepting of yourself is to look at your expectations and attitudes.

  • Do you only cheer yourself on when you feel positive and/or accomplish external goals?
  • Are you “allowed” to have an off day or an unproductive week without lapsing into self-judgment and self-loathing?
  • Do you stand up for yourself when others discourage you?
  • Do you give yourself the benefit of the doubt in difficult or confusing times?

Answering these questions will reveal if you accept yourself only conditionally. Conditional acceptance means you only love yourself when you’re performing well. (Spoiler alert: In this case, it’s the achievements you love rather than your actual self.)

This is an incredibly easy trap to fall into, especially in the beginning of any self-acceptance journey. For many of us, self-acceptance is a foreign path that we only embark on after years of self-rejection. A lot of the things you must allow yourself to do will seem counter-intuitive, like expressing dark thoughts or letting yourself surrender to pain rather than fighting it.

So what can you do if conditional self-acceptance is the only kind you know how to practice?

For one, don’t berate yourself for it! Any berating or negative judgment just keeps you in the vicious cycle. Think about it: Yelling at yourself for yelling at yourself? Not effective.

Secondly, admit to any feelings that oppose unconditional self-acceptance. Don’t deny them or refuse to look at them. Instead, explore them. Let them coexist with the positive stuff until they have taught you whatever they needed to teach you.

And lastly, incorporate self-care when it is easy. When your mood is light and you are full of energy, use these periods to wholeheartedly implement self-care routines. I like to implement self-care through everyday sensory experiences, like lighting some incense, taking a hot shower when it’s cold, or taking the time to cook a really good healthy meal.

The momentum of positive habits will make your lows less treacherous. Having that stable found of self-respect already built into your daily life will remind you that it’s ok to struggle.

Struggle is temporary. Struggle makes you human. And it certainly doesn’t make you any less whole.

emotion, happiness, management, mindful, Uncategorized

3 Questions That Help Me Stop Worrying About Things I’ve Said and Done



“If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry.” ~Dalai Lama

Another sleepless night had passed, with me worrying about whether I’d said the wrong thing to my colleague yesterday or if the tone of my email I’d sent was too critical.

They were not the only things that kept me awake.

I would go out to dinner with friends and say some ‘bad’ jokes—bad because nobody laughed. Was I wrong? Do people not like me? They looked unhappy.

I prided myself on being the funny guy. The entertainer.

The list of worries and fears continued. It used to be endless.

I had a cure for overcoming my fears. I would talk to anybody I could find who was willing to hear about my problems. I was desperately seeking to hear “Poor you, Kieran” from someone. Anybody. 

Then everything would be okay. The problem would go away.

Strangely enough, the problem would go away. It was never as bad as I had feared. Yet the behavior—how I dealt with my fears and anxieties as they arose—continued.

I continued to feel anxious, fearful, and nervous in a wide variety of situations.

Then one day, it all came to a head.

A few years ago, I was working in a stressful corporate environment. I had a one-on-one meeting with my manager. In this meeting, he informed me that I was depressed.

It was a strange thing to say. Bizarre. I thought he was joking and rejected the comment.

I couldn’t shake this comment out of my head. I continued to think about that meeting over the next few days.

I began to realize that I had spent a lot of energy protecting myself, fearful that others might perceive any negative perceptions I had about myself and then would judge me.

As soon as somebody confronted me directly and pierced through the protective bubble I had placed around myself, I felt a sudden need to make changes.

Looking back, I suspect that I knew deep down that I was able to influence how I perceived these situations. Feeling fearful had become part of my identity, though. Like a drug, I was addicted to feeling this way and refused to believe that it was possible to change my perceptions.

I started reading countless self-help books. Some of the advice in these books I have either plainly ignored or considered too hard to implement.

However, what I noticed in all or most of these books is the need to explore and question why you feel the way you do and challenge this on a regular basis.

So I did. And after a while, I began to form my own questions to attempt to deal with all challenges and anxieties that arose in my life.

Now, whenever a fear arises, I sit down in a quiet space and write the answers to the following three questions:

What do I actually fear about this?

In other words, what is the worst thing that can happen? Maybe they won’t talk to me again if they were offended by something I said. They might end the relationship I have with them. I might lose my job. Perhaps all of this is okay. Perhaps all of this is a great learning experience. Whatever it is, I write it down.

Do I have the ability to change this?

Next, I look at what I fear. Can I change this situation?

If the answer is yes, I write down how I can and what steps I need to take.

If the answer is no, I tell myself to let it go. This is hard, but it gets easier with time.

If this happened to somebody I love, what would I tell him or her?

It is important to reflect on this. Most of us are great at giving other people advice but terrible at following it ourselves. I find that by asking this question, not only does my self-respect and self-love increase, I feel more understanding and compassionate toward others who hold similar fears and anxieties.

I have answered these questions many times.

One situation that immediately comes to mind was when, at the end of a workday, I sent an email to a client, including some confidential information about his manager. This was clearly an accident, but it was sloppy on my part.

I felt sick. What made this worse was that this day happened to be my birthday.

I took a deep breath. I got a pen and some paper and started answering the three questions.

What was my fear?

I thought the person would think I was stupid for sending this to them. I was worried that my boss might think I was ineffective, incompetent

As I began writing the answers to this question, I started to question whether I even valued my abilities and worth as a human being.

I put this down. It was hard. I realized that I’d had a negative impression of myself. It was difficult to ponder this, but it was such an invaluable experience that I used it to springboard into improving other areas of my life.

Did I have the ability to change this?

No. The email was sent. The workday had finished. I was celebrating my birthday that evening. Yet the fear kept coming up.

I couldn’t change what had happened, but the fear remained. How could I change that? I wrote down a solution when I returned home, one that would benefit me and hopefully the other person.

I acknowledged it was a mistake. I told myself that I would take care and be diligent before pressing the send button in future. I turned the negative into a positive.

Lesson learned. The fear subsided.

And onto the last question: If this happened to somebody I love, what would I tell him or her?

This is the easy bit, as it is no longer about me. I would tell them, “These things happen. We all make mistakes. Everything will be okay. This is one event that will likely seem insignificant when weighed against the many things that will happen to you over the course of your life.”

I went to bed that night feeling much better and got some sleep.

So, what happened?

The next day, the moment I sat down at my desk, I rang the person to whom I sent the email and explained the situation. I asked him to delete the email, and he said he would.

That was the end of the saga. No further communication came my way. From anyone.

Did he look at the information in the email? I don’t know. Does it matter? No. Because I could not revoke what happened in the past.

Answering the three questions helped me feel better about myself. It still does.

Since I have implemented this into my life, most of these troubling events have started to disappear. Well, maybe they didn’t disappear, but my perception of them as being problems, which causes anxiety, has disappeared.

In the past, I had conditioned myself to feel bad all the time. It was who I was. Today, referring back to this list whenever I have a problem or anxiety is immensely therapeutic.

It does take time to make this a habit, and it is certainly not a quick fix to eliminating all anxieties and fears. It is also confronting, initially, to spend time exploring how your fears manifest.

However, the rewards, in my case, have been very satisfying. I have developed a sense of love toward myself, which had never existed before, and more importantly, I feel more love toward others.

What do I fear most now? That I might revert back to the “old Kieran” and start worrying about every little thing. Oh, great, now I’ve identified this fear, I need to ask myself the three questions again!

law of attraction, relationship

Does True Love Exist? 15 ways to Find your Life Partner.


How do I find my life partner?

When will true love strike?

What can I do so I don’t spend my life alone?

These are some of the many questions people write in about after reading my blog.

While I’m touched that most people would think I’m qualified to answer such questions, I’m also a little bewildered.

I could tell you what doesn’t work in a relationship and how my marriage failed.

I can tell you how love can fizzle out.

I can tell you about lost love. Shattered love. Painful love.

But true love?  

Asking me for love and relationship advice is like asking Jay Z how to live the simple life.

Or Donald Trump for hair advice.

It’s inquiring Lance Armstrong about how to win the Tour de France clean. Ouch!

I don’t know the answers and am by no means an expert on the subject.

What I can tell you though, is that this post is based on personal experiences, conversations with married friends and couples, and insight from dating Casanovas.

And having read plenty of magazine articles and books on the subject of love and relationships, I know when the advice doesn’t resonate or is just plain wrong.

See, at Cosmo and Glamour, they solicit your attention through steamy and provocative articles meant to arouse and entertain. And designed to get you to buy their magazine!

Over here, I try to dispense practical and common sense advice (I guess now I know why you’re reading this completely free while those slick glossies charge $10 bucks an issue).

Anyhoo…love may be a knocking so let’s get straight to it. Here’s a practical no-nonsense guide to finding your life partner. 

1)    The secret about true love that will bring you back to reality.

I hate to break the news to you, but true love doesn’t exist.

In the book, Marry Him; The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, author Lori Gottlieb cites biological anthropologist Helen Fisher’s studies on the physiology of romantic love.

“She found that when you feel that strong chemistry with someone, the brain system that becomes activated is the reward system, which is what also lights up when you reach for a piece of chocolate or cigarette or an amphetamine.” Gottlieb writes.

Fisher’s research shows with all the dopamine floating around, it’s hard to realize that you’re simply experiencing a chemical state which can last anywhere from 18 months to 3 years.

“Fisher isn’t saying that chemistry isn’t important. It’s just that it helps to know that it might take time to develop.” Gottlieb writes.

To start looking for true love, know that you might be looking for compatibility – someone who you can grow with, a partner and a friend.

If you change your mindset about love, you’ll quickly let go of tingling love notions, passionate romances and breath-taking chance meetings.

While chemistry will cause your heart to flutter, compatibility will make for a meaningful lifetime relationship.

2)    The more of these you have in common, the more compatible you will be.

I wanted to carve out this section on mindset to encourage you to be conscious of your mindset. Being more aware of this concept could change your entire approach towards dating and relationships.

Even those who are looking at the prospects of arranged marriages can use this tool to determine if the person being introduced to them is the right person for them.

Life coach, Tim Brownson, talks a lot about value systems in life. You can use a set of values to determine what makes you happy. Once you are clear on your values, then you can be uber-clear on your priorities.

Not only are values important to your life and your goals, but I’ve now come to believe this values-based approach can apply to every single area of your life, including relationships.

Determine what your core values in life are, ideally your top 3 or 4.

Do you value freedom the most? Do you value family? Independence? Love? Justice? Spirituality? Faith? Freedom? Compassion? Humility? Adventure? Loyalty?

Figure out what values you’re seeking for in a partner.

And I’m not talking about qualities like, “tall, hot and handsome.” Or someone who looks like Matthew Mcconaughey, Piercce Brosnan or George Clooney.

Or even qualities like, “I’m looking for someone who likes to water paint in the nude, rocks Bikram yoga or delights in gluten-free restaurants.” While you can consider shared interests and preferences (see my tips below), I’ve become a big proponent of a values based mindset to finding true love.

And the best part about this is that you get to do this now before going back out into the dating world. Doing this ahead of time and sober, allows you to be more conscious about your priorities, values and ideal life partner.

And yes, you can pick up Tim’s book here to understand your values and determine the values you’re looking for in a partner.

3)    Too good to be true or good enough?

Often, and especially when you’re younger in life, you tend to have improbable expectations and a long list of traits you desire in your partner. But sometimes  almost always “good enough” is all you need, which is exactly the journey author Lori Gottlieb had, as she’s written about in, Marry Him; The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.

Dr. Michael Broder, a psychologist Gotlieb talks to, had this to say: “‘I hear all the time, ‘If I can’t have a guy who is this, that or the other thing, I’d rather be alone,’ he told me. So I say, ‘Okay, but be prepared to get your second choice. Because with that sense of entitlement, that’s what you’ll probably get: being alone’”.

Dr. Broder believes many people bring a sense of entitlement to dating, including the desire to be adored in a ‘fantasy’ way. People seem to be “looking for an idealized spiritual union instead of a realistic marital partnership.”

So, let’s cut out the fantasies, starry-eyed expectations and 200-item checklists. (That’s what my friend Janet did here.)

Humans are imperfect, have shortcomings in different areas of their lives and make mistakes. Shocker! If you reduced the expectations, even cutting them down by half or a third, more people would become appealing to you.

4)    Sailing to the same destination?

In Marry Him, the author relates the advice of matchmaker Lisa Clampitt,who matches people like this: “Number one, I look at whether two people have common relationship goals. Number two, I look at values…”

The notion of a relationship goal in regards to your relationship is important. You have to know for yourself if you want kids, if you plan to stay at home or be the bread-winner.

Having a general idea of your relationship goals will help you find someone who shares those goals with you.

Talking about this in the initial rendezvous can avoid future misunderstandings and conflict.

5)    The person who can truly complete you.   

Never go into a relationship needing to feel whole, fulfilled or complete.

If you think that someone else will make you happy, you probably still believe in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy and Cinderella.

If you’re over the age of 8, however, you know you can’t compensate for your happiness with or through someone else.

If you’re feeling needy, broken or incomplete, let me suggest an afternoon rerun of Dr. Phil or visiting a good therapist, instead of getting yourself a man!

A partner cannot make you happy, complete you, erase 20 years of trauma, or turn you into Wonder Woman.

You can do that.

Before you go out seeking for someone else to fix or heal you, take on the task yourself: get therapy if necessary, start on your path to self-improvement, start a mindfulness practice so you’re more in tune with yourself.

Set out to make changes and transform areas of your life that need work.

No matter how much Enrique Iglesias wants to take your pain away and be your hero, you can’t find salvation in another person.

You have to be the hero of your own life.

6)    Wanted: The Real You

If you’re putting on airs about yourself, trying to be someone you’re not and playing the role of a confident, loving and down to earth person when you’re not – stop!

You have to start from where you are.

Don’t get caught up with how other couples you know are doing, compare yourself to your friends vacationing in the Bahamas or dress like you’re a Paris runway model. Unless, of course, you are a Paris runway model.

Allow spiritual practices to get to your core. Move away from materialism, superficiality and frivolous pleasures for more meaning and purpose.

Once you stop living your life like a reality TV star and go within, you’ll come to a better understanding of who you are. Now, make improvements and nurture the real you.

Let go of a lifetime of customization and being shaped by society. Be your own authentic self: the person underneath the baggage who lost their identity over the years.

7)    Raise the roof. Ok, how about your vibrations?

To meet a man or woman, you have to be in a good place yourself and align yourself with your higher energy.

Law of attraction sage, Melody Fletcher, discusses going up the vibrational ladder so you’ll be vibrating more positive energy.

When you take the woo woo or mystery out of vibrations, it’s as simple as this: more good things happen in your life when you’re vibrating or exuding more positive energy.

When you’re feeling happy, confident, peaceful and joyful, you’ll attract more such experiences (and people) into your life.

If you’re an angry, maniacal sociopath with vendettas to fulfill, you’re going to attract shady characters with prison records into your life.

Try the various exercises Melody talks about over at Deliberate Receiving by working through emotions and moving towards healthier vibrations. Work through your emotions, change your thoughts and find techniques to put yourself in an optimal place.

8)    Strive to be the person you’d want to date.

This tip is a combination of all the tips here. It sure would be nice to dream up a perfect person with wonderful characteristics who can become your hero and savior.

Once again, this would require you to do no work on your own.

If you’re confident, at ease with yourself, grounded with healthy habits and a balanced emotional human being, then congratulations Kate Middleton, you’re already married to a prince and have given birth to the future King of England.

For the rest of us mortals and royal subjects, we have self-improvement to work on.

If you are seeking someone who is financially stable, work on improving your own financial condition.

If you are seeking a kind-hearted, patient soul who serves the poor and attends mass regularly, work on your patience and generosity.

Become the person you want to date.

9)    If you think you can change another person…

Anyone who’s in a relationship believing they can change the other person is naïve, foolish, or single. Or will soon be!

Simple advice here: know that you cannot change anyone. Even if you’re Gisele, Heidi Klum, Beyonce or Hillary Clinton, you can’t change your man, so don’t even try.

Once you know this, you have two choices: work on yourself or walk out of the relationship. If the person you’re with is worth it but has some less than desirable qualities, try to embrace and accept the person anyway.

Or you can be honest with yourself and walk; skate like Catriona Le May Doan out of the relationship.

You can’t change your man or woman just like you can’t change the weather.

Just like you can’t get the Starbucks barrista to spell your name right on your cup. (Oh wait, is that just me?)

Just like you can’t get your cat to respect you. Or your dog to get off your bed on wintery nights.

Some things in life will never change.

10)  Look out for shared interests and background.

Remember in the mindset strategy above, I suggested that finding someone who has your shared values is the most important.

Once you have the most important qualities down, you can also be on the lookout for common interests and qualities. Don’t overdo it, but I think it’s perfectly acceptable to look for someone who also has the same cultural, spiritual or religious background as you.

You’re entitled to find a partner who enjoys listening to Kenney Chesney, vacationing in Yosemite or playing ultimate Frisbee on the weekends.

Your hobbies, sports, music, movie, travel, food and interests are what makes you unique.

Don’t expect or demand your partner love weekend trips to the Bahamas, Broadway plays, church with Michael Beckwith or joining you at your next Oprah book-club event.  You can absolutely be compatible with someone who doesn’t, and they certainly can grow to enjoy those activities over time.

11) What you can do alone, do with others.

And no, this point has nothing to do with sexual satisfaction – come on people, we’re having a semi-serious discussion here.

When you’re trying to find that long-term relationship and sick of random-blind date hook-ups and online dating, try to explore your interests and passions in a group setting.

If you’re a runner, join a running club. If you’re a yogini, go to busier yoga classes or do yoga in the public park. Enthusiastically and boldly attend events with other people.

A group scenario will allow you to find others with similar shared interests. Be more enthusiastic to say yes to shared group activities. Look for opportunities to meet more people.

12) Shorter and more plentiful dates.

Why have long lunches or dinners when a brief coffee will give you all the details you need to make a decision about the person?

Intentionally, set up dates for 30 to 45 minutes and let the other person know ahead of time. You’ve already figured out your values and know what your relationship goals are.

When you’re clear about yourself and the other person, you’ll know very quickly if a person is right for you or not. You don’t need 12 dates or even 2 hours.

By cutting down on the length of time you meet someone, you’ll get good at dating and determining who’s right for you and who isn’t.

On the same note, you can also increase the number of people you’re meeting with. It’s a numbers game, folks – the more people you meet, the more likely you are to find someone compatible.

Having said this, do trust your instinct. If you can’t make up your mind after a lunch or a couple dates, give it a chance and keep an open mind.

13) Test their commitment.

Once you think you’ve landed on Mr. or Mrs. Right, or Mr. or Mrs. Good Enough, your next step is to see their life situation. Is this person looking for a long term relationship and commitment?

If they’re testing the waters, throw them into a shark-infested pool and get the heck out.

If they’re finding themselves, you don’t have to play hide and seek with them.

If they’re on a one-way trip to the Himalayas, bid them adieu and tell them to seek extra blessings for you. Tell ‘em to look me up when they get there 🙂

If someone is not sure of who they are or what they want in life, you sure don’t have time to help them figure it out. You’ve got a partner to find, not tango with the lost and the confused.

14) Postpone getting physical.

I don’t think there’s much more to say to this other than don’t get physical! No matter what Olivia Newton-John coons about in her song, “Let’s Get Physical”, don’t get physical!

Turning a relationship into a physical relationship early will hide many of the qualities that really matter to you.

Once your hormones have hijacked your rationality, your heart and your mind are simple prisoners of war. If you want more heartbreak, painful relationships and frustrating flings, get physical. Otherwise, I’m with Steve Harvey’s 90-day rule.

Steve says that you have to wait 90 days before getting into bed together. If it takes 90 days to get the “benefits” at the Ford Motor company, Harvey encourages you to wait 90 days before handing out the “benefits” of a relationship.

Check out the clip below.

15)  Meet many new people and be willing to say goodbye to many more.

Be willing to say goodbye to people you’ve gone out with once or twice.

Have the courage to talk about the relationship and its long-term potential.

If you don’t think it’s the right person, relationship or situation for you, be willing to call it quits.

For longer-term relationships that come to an end, go through the grieving process and work through the pain to get back on track. Be grateful that the relationship has ended and move on by realizing that you’ve just completed a full cycle of growing and learning immeasurable life lessons.

Be willing to let go and say goodbye. Only when you take your mental and emotional energy off the previous person, can you move on to find the right person for you.

Choosing the present moment, instead of lingering painfully in the past, is one way to move forward after heartbreak and loss.

As a matchmaker, Lisa Clampitt, points out, “Long-term compatibility is about respect and common values and building something, not about judgment of imperfections.”

That’s it, friends – 15 strategies to find someone you’re compatible with which can often be more fulfilling than your dream knight in shining armor or flawless prince (both who don’t exist!).

My final caveat is simply to take things slow and not rush into anything you’ll regret later. If you think someone is compatible, give it some time to see if the person has long-term potential.

Be conscious in your dating by being aware of some of the advice here and allow your intuition to lead the way.

law of attraction, relationship, Uncategorized

How to Prevent Fear and Insecurity from Ruining Your Relationship



“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” ~Jack Canfield

Buried deep within the broken heart of every great loss is a nugget of wisdom. I experienced the greatest grief of my life just a few months ago, and with it came an opportunity to uncover ugly truths about myself I’d been hiding from.

In facing my pain, I have discovered that underneath the conscious, big-hearted, beautiful person that I am lives a small girl who is terrified of being misunderstood and abandoned by those she loves most.

The surface signs alerting me to these fears looked something like this:

My boyfriend and I are lying in bed reading one night. His mind is lit up in fiction while my soul is on fire with a spiritual book. We have often shared these evenings with one another, smiling and supportive.

This night I want more. I want him to be as excited about this chakra healing book as I am. I want him to crawl into my body and feel everything I’m feeling and see everything the way I’m seeing it.

I think he can feel me wanting more, and it freaks him out. He energetically hides in the bushes, further away than I’ve ever felt him go, and I panic.

The warning signs that go off in my body read: IF HE DOESN’T GET THIS HE IS GOING TO LEAVE YOU. DO YOU HEAR ME?! YOU ARE GOING TO END UP ALONE.

I don’t actually hear those words, I just feel a need to push my feelings onto him and basically tell him he’s wrong for not feeling the way I do. He looks at me with big, helpless eyes and responds:

“I think it’s okay that we’re different.”

I stare blankly back at him while an inner struggle ensues. I can feel my ego fighting. It wants to win. It wants him to see things my way. It wants to be right. It wants him to be just like me.

But I know better.

I move from my head to my heart, and I know it’s okay that we are different. What is important is that we love each other, respect each other, and support each other. So I melt into his arms with a smile, an apology, and a “You’re right.”

But I don’t let him be right. That night I do, but every incident after that I don’t. And he never says it again. He never reminds me that it’s okay that we’re different.

So the other times, later on, when he doesn’t see things the same way as me, the warning signals go off, and no one reminds me that it’s okay. So I panic, and I spin the fear into all kinds of stories that justify me bullying him into being like me. All because I’m afraid he is going to leave me.

And he did leave me.

There are many ways I could tell the Leaving Me story, but the truth is that it’s as complicated as human beings are. One part of it, the part I take responsibility for and the part I’m focusing on here, is that I fought his perspectives that were different from my own, leading him to feel like he couldn’t be himself with me.

I did this because I was afraid to lose him. I was afraid that if we were different in some big ways maybe we wouldn’t make it. I felt safe when we were agreeable and felt unsafe when his thoughts differed from mine.

But I was safe. I am always safe. A part of me knows this, but the part of me that comes to life when the fear arises is the part of me that needs a reminder. I didn’t know I needed to be reminded at the time. I didn’t even know I was doing it at the time.

But now I know. I just needed those simple words, “It’s okay.”

It’s okay that we’re different.

He is someone who doesn’t know how to fight for himself. It’s not something I understood about him at the time, but I see it now.

I am strong in my conviction. I am forthright. I speak my feelings decisively and with ease. He sweats and stutters, but mostly he shuts down.

I suspect he shuts down because he is afraid. He is afraid of losing himself, but really he is afraid that I won’t love him for who he truly is. He doesn’t trust that he can speak up, that he can challenge me, that he can tell me it’s okay and that I’ll believe him.

The tragedy is that I don’t know it. Neither of us knows it, really. We’re blind to our shadows, only seeing our own reflections after we’re over.

I don’t know he is shutting down because he’s scared, and I don’t know I am trying to make him see things my way because I’m afraid. It’s all this delicate dance that happens backstage, until one day he tells me he doesn’t feel like he can be himself with me, and everything comes crumbling down.

You might be thinking that we were too different, and maybe the truth is that I should be with someone who can share my excitement about chakras. I don’t know.

I do know I loved him more deeply than I’ve ever loved.

I know that our relationship was the healthiest, most beautiful relationship I’ve ever experienced.

I know that I messed up by not letting him be him completely, and I know that he messed up by not sharing his true feelings with me.

That is a lesson, yes. But there is a deeper lesson, and it’s a lesson about fear.

I acted controlling because his differences triggered my fear of abandonment, a nerve that runs all the way through my heart and back into my childhood. The irony isn’t wasted on me that my reaction to my fear inevitably created the very thing I was attempting to avoid. And that is the lesson.

When we act from fear we begin our journey to the guillotine.

Fear hides behind many guises, ruining plenty of love lives.

We’re afraid we’re unworthy of love, so we push our partner away when things get too intimate. We’re afraid to be abandoned, so we try to control the relationship or smother our partner. We’re afraid we won’t be accepted as we are, so we don’t show our true selves. 

We act from fear when we’re too busy to pay attention, when we’re too stressed to slow down, when we make assumptions instead of asking questions. The very thing we are afraid of often becomes our reality when we live from our fears. It’s an act of self-sabotage.

Relationships are a beautiful opportunity to see ourselves more clearly, but we each have to be looking. You have to be willing to see you, and your partner must be willing to see them. And this all needs to move very slowly, very delicately, and very lovingly. It’s the way we make it through.

Fear has a million different faces, but your soul always knows the way. When you feel your body tense, when your voice rises, when you begin to shut down, when you begin to explode, when you run away, when you shake with anxiety, your body is telling you.

Slow down in those moments. Breathe. Let your breath open you up into the vulnerable space of love, and let it cocoon you until you can step out from that place.

Tell your partner all about it. Tell them about your fears, your discovery of your fears, and how they can help you through it. But don’t put it all on them. This is your work, and this is a practice, one that you have to keep coming back to over and over again.

You might need some gentle nudges along the way. It’s okay to be different. But if you keep showing up, and if you continue to be willing to see the truth about yourself you will break through the boundary of fear and into the heart of love.