the art of moving on

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To the grieving and broken-hearted:

I know how hard it is–to have your heart smashed into pieces, to have that large void growing in your chest where your loved one used to be. And the struggle of every day, every minute, every second. Then the people on the sidelines shout to you from the comfort of their seats, “Just get over it. There’s more fish in the sea. Don’t think about it anymore. They’re gone, but things will get better.” Platitude after platitude falls at your feet and your find yourself tripping over the how-it-should-bes.

But listen to me. It’s not a matter of knowing it will get better–I’m sure, deep down, you already know that. And it’s not a matter of “getting over it” or not thinking about it–surely if it were that easy, we wouldn’t be struggling so hard in the first place. If I could burn those cliches in a glorious bonfire, I would… why? They have it all wrong.

Because it’s not about the destination, or quick, imaginary fixes. But instead, it’s about steps. One step, two steps, ten steps, twenty, hundred, thousand steps… one at a time. Slow, slow, eyes up, moving your body forward, even when you don’t always feel it. That’s it. You got it. Rain and hail pellet you, it’s hard for you to breathe, tears stream down your eyes and you can barely see, but still, you take one tiny step forward, you push through, you don’t give up on the forward motion… it’s your solace, your last thread of hope. That’s right, the rain won’t last forever, just move forward. You can do it. One step. One more step. See how they all add up? There you go, look up, the sun is peaking out from the clouds. But don’t stop moving. One step at a time.

It won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick. Take it from someone who has experienced a myriad of grief and loss experiences, from losing boyfriends and close friends, to losing her own father. There will be days that will be dark indeed, and you’ll forget what you’re living for. But if there is one thing to put your hopes in, it is not that you will “get over it.” No one “gets over it,” and if anything, we must honor the love our loss reminds us of. Yes, it’s tough, so tough. But the day will come and go, and at the rising of the sun, you’ll have an opportunity to start fresh again. And again. No feeling is final. And all things will come to pass.

Soon, on your journey forward, you’ll find yourself somewhere you would’ve never imagined. New people. New opportunities. New skies. New scenery. New feelings inside you. Yes, that grief may come to visit you along the path, but instead of devouring you as it once did, it will walk along side you, like a mournful companion–but then you keep moving, and he leaves once more.

If there is one certainty in this world, it is its impermanence. The world is always changing. So are they. And so are we.

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finding your inner worth

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I bought this poster two years ago from my favorite LA-based street artist, Morley. The words resonated with me at a deep level at the time, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized how deep.

For those of you who felt invisible in any capacity will understand the feeling. Maybe it’s being passed on a job position you wanted, getting turned down by a pretty lady you wanted to take on a date, or being left out of a friend’s gathering. If your worth rides on the success of these things, it feels like a big blow on your esteem.

I know this feeling all too well. Before, what would come to my mind would be the times kids at school made fun of me, when crushes would never like me back, when I struggled and struggled to make friends because I never felt like I fit in. I was too weird, too different. But recently, I created a project (dubbed my “revolution project”) to address my inner issues/demons, increase self-love and self-compassion, and accelerate my self-growth. What became clear to me was that I did not only feel invisible at school… but at home. My family always criticized me, pointed out my flaws to me, expected me to adjust to them or else label me as “selfish,” and tell me that they “never understood why I was the way I was.” Some people are blessed to have families or parents who see them for their strengths and weaknesses, for what they are worth and what they could potentially offer to the world. Not me. Not even to this day. My family still does not know who I am. And sometimes I still feel like I’m in the fruitless battle of getting them to see me.

This has been the theme of my life: getting people to see what I am worth. Getting validation for who I am. It’s one of the most severe lacks I’ve had, and one that I’ve tried to recreate.

But as a therapist, I can tell you that what we seek to recreate never bodes well for us. Why? Because of this: you become attracted to the people who are a match to the people you have unresolved issues with (mom, dad, brother, etc) in order to change the “ending.” In my case, I’ll finally be seen for who I am. I’ll finally feel emotionally supported. But these people we seek have the same incapabilities as the people in our past. So it’s like going to hardware store after hardware store needing and asking for a cup of sugar–and getting disappointed when they don’t yield what you need.

But the question to ask yourself is, am I seeking the right people? Am I going to the right shop? That’s what happened to me. All my past relationships, including my last one, and even many of my past friends, fell into the same category. People with narcissistic traits, people more concerned with meeting their own needs than acknowledging mine. The problem was, I was seeking the wrong people. I was going to hardware stores for sugar, only to get beaten down by their hammers. All these people were a match to my family. All these people never saw me for who I was or my worth, and as a result, actively devalued me. I always went back to square 1.

I am at square 1.

But for all of you who are in the same predicament as me, this is my advice to you: first and foremost, learn to see your worth. Start to wipe the fog away from the mirror and see your true reflection–your flaws, yes, but also all your strengths and beauty. Just like any other human being, you have them… it’s just a matter of seeing them. Maybe like me, you’ve never had the luxury of having your strengths pointed out to you growing up.

The other piece advice I have is this: allow only the people who see you for who you truly are into your life. The reality is, not everyone will see you. Not everyone will want to be with you. But that says nothing about your worth as a person. Going back to the poster, those who matter, those who see us, are going to be the ones that cut through the crowd. Do you want to be with someone who does not see your worth or all the amazing qualities you have to offer, or someone who does? Those who do see us are our truest loves–whether they are romantic partners, friends, employers, etc.

I know both pieces of advice sound like tall orders–I could probably expand into multiple blog entries on how to embark on both (and possibly will). But as someone who is taking this advice to heart and fighting to revolutionize her life, I can say with confidence that it is possible. But it’s a choice you have to make. It’s a journey, a process. And it all starts with you–loving yourself and recognizing you are worthy, regardless of how people treat you.

People with narcissistic tendencies still come to my door, but now I am choosing not to answer. Because I only want the people in my life who can see all of my strengths and flaws, and love me anyway… the people I don’t have to fight to get them to see me, but the people who already see, appreciate, and choose to be with me–those are my true loves.

And I don’t know about you, but I only want true love in my life. I’m done with the shallow and fake.

letter to my abuser

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Dear —,

This letter is not to disparage you, though I’m fairly certain that in your subjective reality, it will be perceived that way. All I can say is my intention is quite the contrary.

My desire is to actually convey that I get it. I understand why you did the things you did. Why you violently raged out of the blue. Why you stonewalled and threw sarcasm in my face. Why you blamed and shamed me, even for things you asked for yourself, and for things that were in reality yours. Why your own hypocrisy was lost on you. Why there were projection and projective identification on your end. Why it was easier to make me the bad one, the one at fault. I understand now, that you did all of these things because you were fearful. You suffer with a very weak and fragile ego, and it was your (dysfunctional) way of protecting yourself. It did not matter how much love I gave, because in your mind, relationships subconsciously mean being destroyed by the other. And you did not want to be “wrong” or “bad,” for what it would mean of your shaky self-worth, so it was easier to make me the bad one instead.

You also never had anyone in your family to model for you what it looks like to take personal responsibility. Instead, what you witnessed and consequently learned from your family was how to blame, how to shame, how to ignore feelings, how to focus on appearance, material things, and status above all else. Your family was never able to love and accept you as you are. It is no wonder why you acted (and still continue to act) the way you did.

I get it now. I don’t expect you to know better than this. Not anymore. You never had the nurturing to make it possible for you to have true empathy. And because I get it, I have compassion for you. I feel much sadness for you. And of course, I can say genuinely that I forgive you. Like an infant, you did not know better.

Yet it is apparent to me that you have not changed much since the last time we saw each other. You are still suffering with your ego ailment, and your recent actions speak of your need to first and foremost make yourself feel better and ameliorate your own guilt. That, too, I get. For someone who was never taught how to manage emotions, you depend on others to instead care, understand, and comfort you. Which is what you did to me throughout our entire relationship–which is why you got mad at me when I asked for support… because in your mind, like the infant, you believed I should be the one caring for you, not the other way around.

Again, I hope you do not take these words as criticism. My tone is equivalent to, “It is what it is.” And you are who you are. I am not asking you to change… that is on you. I realize now it is entirely your choice to change. So I accept you as you are, and feel sympathy for the causes of your wounds.

But in saying all this, I hope that you understand why I have disengaged. It is painful and madness-making to subject anyone to the kind of treatment you put me through, to expect others to emotionally care for you while shaming them for wanting reciprocity. I realized too that everything I profusely apologized for at the end, were things I needed you to say to me (again, projective identification) to amend the ways you have treated me during our year together.

Of course I thank you for at the very least apologizing for your last rage fit. But I am no longer waiting for an apology for all of the others things you did. I see that it is too much to ask for from someone like you, someone who is in too much pain that he cannot see past himself. I am sorry for your pain. But the only way I see any kind of friendship occurring between us is through your expressed remorse. Through empathy. And if I accept that this is something you’re not able to do, then it is better for my mental health if I turn my head away.

As much as you wish otherwise, you cannot pay off the pain that was given to me. You cannot amend this with money. It was with words you did damage–so it is through words I need amends.

I wish you could’ve seen the ways I tried so hard, the ways I tried to love and understand you, but even in this, I forgive you. You could not see me. You are too burdened with your own despair. But I cannot carry your burdens and the emotional responsibility anymore. They’re not mine. So I give them all back to you. It is up to you what you do with them.

This is my sincere wish that God is with you along your journey. I hope you find healing to your pain.

Sincerely,

Anna

end of an era

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I wish I had someone to tell my intense realizations to, so blogging about them seems to be the next best thing.

You know that feeling you get, when your at the precipice of radical change in your life? You’ve gotten tired of the same shit, the same narrative–like a drug addict, you hit rock bottom and it fully sinks in you’ve been seeking after something fake, tawdry and harmful. So you make the decision to end the chaos and change your direction.

That’s where I’m at. I’m at the close.

I was in a yearlong relationship with a boy suffering from narcissistic tendencies–a boy who gas-lighted and emotionally abused me. A boy who demanded that I take on his emotional burdens and compromise myself for him, while doggedly blaming and shaming me for asking for reciprocity in emotional support. It took me about 6 months to heal from all the damage he caused. At the end of this process, everything was coming full circle. Projective identification–he did not want to admit to his own weak ego, so in protecting it, he guilt-tripped and lashed out at me and put everything back on me. He took no responsibility. To add insult to injury, he expected me to not only carry all of my burdens, but his as well.

So that is why today was so empowering, so symbolic. I walked up to his house in contained silence, holding my breath as my feet crunched fallen leaves on his driveway. I prayed that he could not hear me from inside his house, that he was not alerted to my presence. When I was at his front door, I placed all of his things down–and I mean, all. Not just his material possessions… but also all the psychic, emotional burdens he constantly shoved onto me throughout our year together. All the things that were his and he never took responsibility for. All of his pain and baggage. All the things I took on because I did not know any better, because he expected me to. All the things he blamed me for because he was too weak to own, when in reality, it was his. All the chaos and bad fruit he reaped.

But I know better now. Six months of therapy, piles of self-help books, and two journals later, I am wiser. I am not who I used to be.

I took a deep breath, and in additional to his possessions, I dumped every piece of toxicity he tried to give me. My therapist’s voice was singing in my ears. None of this is mine. So I give it back to you. May God be with you.

Walking away, I felt a sense of cleansing, as if a waterfall was streaming down my soul. I felt released. He can no longer touch me.

For me, the era that is coming to an end is the era of putting up with ill-treatment from others, of settling, of taking on all the burdens of others at the expense of myself. I am completely weary of one-sided relationships. I want something different. Someone healthy. I have every right to my needs, to my thoughts and feelings. Everyone deserves a relationship where there is mutual emotional support. It is not my job to soothe everyone’s feelings or to take care of them, no matter how much they try to hold me to them. I no longer need to sacrifice myself for others, while they do very little for me. It is okay to consider myself and my needs. It is okay to express them.

To all my like-hearted readers, this is the huge step in healing from abuse–emotional, physical, or otherwise. Reject your abuser’s worldview. They may very well only be interested in protecting their weak ego, and meeting their own selfish needs. Leave them to their pit of darkness, and know that you can reject all the toxicity they tried to give to you. It is not for you to hold. It is theirs. Give yourself permission to be free.

Now I am free. And this is my mantra for my new chapter: whatever it takes. Whatever it takes to shift my narrative, my life toward one that is healthy and positive, I will do it. I will do the work. Because I deserve better than what I have been given. I will work and grow, until I have the life I desperately need. Whatever it takes.

healing from narcissist wounds

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For months I have been toiling over a breakup I did not ask for, and healing from all the pain I had no idea I endured until I was released from my ex’s narcissistic clutches. Breakups operate much like losing someone to death in the emotions your grapple with–waves of grief, loss, anxiety, depression. It is like being thrown into the arena, forced to stare directly at your demons and fight for yourself. You feel your way around the dark, hoping and praying that light will find its way to you someway, sometime.

So understandably, I’ve been tired. Exhausted. But it’s a bone-deep tiredness, one I’ve had for years and years. It took this event in my life to help me realize how subconscious it was. I’m tired of helping and caring for people. I’m tired of giving and giving, while receiving very little in return. I’m tired of being made selfish when I ask. I’m tired of people expecting me to be perfect, to never express any “negative” emotion to save their feelings or ego. I’m tired of being shamed for my feelings. I’m tired of being so understanding, and people asking me to be so, when they have no empathy to give to me. I’m tired of not being valued. I’m tired of being made at fault for not feeling valued. I’m tired of being lacerated for having weaknesses. I’m tired of the emotional abuse. I’m tired of being the victim.

As a therapist, I knew where all this was coming from. I imagine this is how a doctor feels, when he feels a sickness coming on. Monitoring his symptoms and diagnosing himself, treating himself once he checks himself in the hospital. Just like the doctor, I’m in my own hospital, treating and healing my emotional wounds. So what is the cause of my illness? Family of origin. And the diagnosis? Dearth of self-love.

Even before all of the shit hit the fan, I knew this fact: it all starts in you. But it took shit hitting the fan for me to realize what that meant for me specifically in my life. I did not love and value myself. I saw myself as a piece of crap, so therefore, I accepted it when people treated me like crap. I saw my value predicated on how much I gave others, and if they weren’t happy, I was not deserving of love–which made me a perfect match to my narcissistic ex. But I did not even realize he was a narcissist until my own, post-breakup therapist diagnosed him… because I was so stuck in my low self-worth. I did not value my wants and needs, so I accepted it when he shamed me for expressing them to him. I sustained his verbal lashings and took on all the blame, because I did not love myself enough to trust my thoughts and gut feelings.

He is the kind who cannot see how his actions affect others–cannot even see past his own nose. He even told me on the day we broke up, “I don’t like how actions have consequences,” and “I don’t like you having reactions to things.” Aka, he lacks empathy. He projects his fears onto others and lashes out on them, because it is safer to lash out on someone else’s weaknesses than to look at your own. He refuses to take responsibility for his actions… he rationalizes and rationalizes so that he can be made the victim and others (me) are the bad one. He shamed me for my weaknesses and expected me to never express anything bad or negative. He guilt-tripped me, even if I was the one hurt. He has no awareness of how he hurt others, and if he does, engages in mind jujitsu to avoid taking responsibility. This is what we call a narcissist.

But you must always look at yourself, to see what allowed you to keep such a person in your life in the first place… asking yourself, what made me a complete match to this kind of person? Who does this person remind me of in my life? I was neglected and emotionally abused as a child. So I recreated an exact match to my family and past experiences. I sought what was familiar to me. Someone with higher self-worth would’ve seen his actions and said, “Okay, it looks like you have a lot of issues. Thanks for the memories, but you need serious help. I’m out.” I started at a low point as a child and thereon, and presently, it has been my goal to work myself up to that high point.

So what is the antidote? Self-love. And it’s more than just appreciating you strengths and talents. But it is also about loving yourself and giving yourself a right to have wants and needs, and to express them. It means giving yourself permission to not take all the blame for everything… and to blame others, rightly, for their own actions or wrongdoings. It means expecting to be respected by others and valued by those you love… and not keeping those who cannot do either. It means not internalizing every negative comment or blame people shove at you, and giving yourself permission to say, “I understand you feel that way, but that’s complete horseshit.”  It means accepting yourself fully, even the weaknesses, and being unconditionally present with every emotion you hold. It means not denying yourself the right to speak up for yourself… and maintaining ground even when someone pushes against you or worse, shames you. Because you know who you are and you have every right to be exactly that.

In all of this, I also want to add: while you take responsibility for your issues and actions, in the same vein, others are responsible for theirs. So if you’re anything like me, the constant giver or empath, resist the urge to pick up others’ baggage or responsibility, even if they guilt-trip or shame you for it. Because it is not yours to pick up. It is theirs. So leave it there for them… it is their choice to own themselves or not.

behind the facade

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It’s been mentioned, time and again, how social media can warp our perceptions of reality, in addition to increasing our anxiety and depression. But it is only a manifestation to a greater phenomenon: we often define ourselves by others’ actions and choices, based on where the herd walks.

Social comparison theory, formed by Leon Festinger, states that humans have an internal drive to evaluate their abilities and opinions, mainly through their comparison to others. Hence why it is not very surprising that social media becomes a means of ultimately evaluating ourselves and our lives, whether we realize it or not. We all want to know we are good in some way… whether it is a good person, a talented pianist, an attractive performer, an excellent engineer, a great writer.

For me, what is also wrapped up in appearing as if I have a good life, is the social expectation to be happy and positive all the time. I post pictures on Instagram of my delicious Italian dinner, or a selfie during a fun day out with friends. Yet again, my mind goes to the same bigger picture. I should be happy and positive and always good. Everyone around me comments on my wise words and my positive mindset, and gives me multiple likes for posts that show my rolling every setback off my back. Thus, the pressure builds and mounts, and soon I am burdened with the need to be a person I am not. Deep inside, I begin to cry out, why can’t I just be honest? Why must I pretend that I am okay when I know that in reality, I’m struggling to stay afloat?

And this is my reality: I’m not always okay. Perhaps I am strong, but I have my breakdowns when I feel quite the opposite. I have garnered many scars in my life, and they have made it difficult for me to overcome as I would like to. And honestly speaking, the setbacks are getting to me. Submitting my novel to multiple agents and receiving rejections one by one twist my insides with pain. I am discouraged and fearful, and losing touch with the passion others have frequently admired. The worst is when they say I should stay positive, not giving heed to the emotions and pain I express. The silent message is not lost on me: just get over it. The pain does not matter, just be happy and positive.

But it’s never that easy. If there is one thing I have learned in my work as a mental health therapist, it is that healing from pain is never as easy as “getting over it.” It’s okay to feel angry, sad, discouraged, fearful, anxious, nervous, etc. Those emotions matter too, just as much as the happy ones. Contrary to what we think, ignoring those emotions only make matters much, much worse. I have seen it too many times in others in order for me to say this with full certainty. It is the pressure, the facade that are now choking my passion, creativity and ability to overcome.

The herd has a tendency to lead people into a shallow, confined existence, one we never come to see until the nihilistic thoughts and empty feelings gnaw us from the inside out. Social expectations can silence us and severely restrict us from actualizing our true individuality and potential. But the antidote is this: we need to give ourselves permission to feel, to experience the full spectrum of emotions in this life. We need to allow ourselves to simply be who we are. We cannot live a whole-hearted life if we do not acknowledge our full humanity. We are wired to feel, and things won’t always be easy or good… so we don’t have to lie and pretend that it always is.

Sometimes putting down the facade, in whichever form we have, is what we need.

resolution

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Unresolved feelings. Loose ends. Throbbing scars. Heavy silences. Suffocating gloom.

There are the things that come to mind when I think of my hometown.

Last week, I went back to my hometown partly to visit an old friend, but also to seek resolution, to breathe new life into a tattered story left hanging, to re-acquiant myself with an older version of me, one that I have been trying to deny for years after I left. If I were being honest with myself, I have been trying to prove to myself, and to those people of my past, that contrary to what I was made to believe by everyone around me, that I am worth something, that there was more to me than what they believed.

But I see now that that was a fool’s errand. As I sat at a coffee shop, staring pensively out of the window at the glum clouds and barren desert, I arrived at the conclusion that has been staring at me in the face for a long while: what I am looking for is not in the place where I grew up.

Resolution resides within myself.

Case in point. I continue to live out my past in the things I do, the decisions I make, the way I perceive the world, myself and the people I encounter. The fears, detachment, anger, voicelessness, inner suffering, despair… these things live inside of me, and nowhere else. The only logical conclusion then is that the healing I seek therefore must be instigated from within.

Since I was young and up until I was 21, I lived a numb existence and hated myself, mechanically tearing wounds into my heart and soul in the way others have done to me. Despite all that has passed, my resolution became clear to me. I must love myself and believe in my worth in its entirety. I can only become whole if I accept all parts of me, including those parts of my past that I hate and attempt to forget or reject. I must put each piece of me back together, and say, “You did the best you could with what you had. You hung in there. I love you and accept you, exactly as you are.

We cannot self-actualize, reach our potential, be who we are meant to be, until we accept and love our whole selves. Before I thought moving on and focusing on the present and future were all that mattered. Yet to embody true self-love, you must accept everything about you, including your past mistakes, failures, and all of those “ugly” bits, and tell yourself, it is all beautiful. I am beautiful. And I accept all of these imperfections as perfectly me. I can still do so much with my imperfect self.

Telling ourselves this is difficult if we do not readily believe it. But it is part of the healing process. We fake it till we make it.

For the rest of my visit in my small, desert hometown, I held onto young Anna’s hand with gentle care, and kept reminding her that no one else defines us now. Not our past, all those people we knew, or even this town. We are in control, and we are beautiful. We’ve got this.