rising to the new year

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Hello, 2017. Nice to make your acquaintance.

I know we only just met, but I must be frank with you from the get-go: I’ve come from a pretty dark place. 2016 kicked my ass, and then some. It was one of the toughest years of my life, almost rivaling the year my father died… and from the way everyone else talks, I know I’m not the only one. People speak about being wishful and hopeful this year, praying for a more joyful time.

But this is where I diverge. 2017–I am not waiting for you. I am not going to sit around and wish for the best. I am not going to operate on the belief that the world will make things happen for me, while I do nothing to live my life.

Yes, 2016 yielded very hard circumstances, most of which were out of my control. There are still things out of my control. I cannot change my past. I cannot force my future. I cannot control how people are, or how they treat me. I cannot control whether are not people are able to see me for who I truly am. I cannot control people’s projections. All I have is now. You. In this minute, this very second. And I intend to make the most of it.

I intend to endeavor to love myself. To have compassion for myself, at my best and worst moments. To live according to my passions and convictions. To speak my voice. To take a stand for who I am and what I believe in. Because in addition to you, me is all I have. While people come and go, I am the longest relationship I will ever have.

Essentially, what I am trying to say is that I will not be passive this year. I will make the most of the gift you give in every minute of every day of every month. Yes, just like everyone else, I want a year full of love, hope, and joy–but I realize that the responsibility does not lie on you alone–as if time has any bearing on the matter. The responsibility is on me, to try my best in every goal I seek, and take the risk of vulnerability, in order to find a real love that will last. God tells us that the seeds we plant bear their fruit. My intention is to reap a bountiful harvest.

So, you may find me at times dogged and unrelenting, and other times, weak and dejected–but rest assured, that I will always eventually come to greet you every day, fighting for myself and for a better life. The universe is abundant and I know my happiness is out there, waiting for me to find it.

2017–I look forward to working with you.

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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.

illusions we keep

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Today, I found myself meditating on the concept of illusions. What are the illusions, or facades, that others present to us? What are the facades we put up ourselves? We all lie to some degree, whether blatant (cheating on a spouse) or subtle (lying about feeling “good” when someone asks how we are doing).

It struck me how very few people are exempt from the illusions they see, and the illusions they keep. I recently started dating, and I saw how especially in this setting, the concept is apparent. I see all different types of men. There are the ones with a different excursion in each photo, giving off the image that they are adventurous and fulfilled. There are men who gloat about their high-power careers and positions. Then there are some who write nothing at all, appearing aloof and cool. The unspoken norm, whether in dating or any other social setting, seems to be about hiding parts of yourself, while projecting out only your perceived “best” parts.

To take it a step further, I also saw what happens when someone “threatens” our illusions. Cue Freud’s classic defense mechanisms–projection, displacement, regression, repression, rationalization, introjection, acting out, just to name a few. Like my recent ex, when the illusion is jeopardized–risking your true, vulnerable self to be revealed–many would do whatever it takes to maintain their self-fantasy… even if it means hurting others, or ultimately themselves.

But then I turned the focus onto me. What are the illusions I try to put out for others? Being brutally honest with myself, I saw that I try to give the image of being strong, confident, intelligent, logical, emotionally held together. Even with this blog, I package my personal experiences in a way that would benefit others, while not fully expressing what lies underneath. And the parts I try to hide? Well, the reality underneath is, I have moments of severe weakness, moments when I feel like I’m collapsing and breaking. Although parts of me are confident, there are other parts that feel low self-worth, who secretly believes she deserves to be treated badly, that she doesn’t deserve better. I must always endure pain. I do not deserve joy.

I almost never let anyone see those parts, for fear of judgment or the deer-in-headlight looks I may get, when others have no idea what to say–or worse, say the wrong thing, and awkwardly change the subject. People have often preferred and admired my strong parts, and shied away, or even lashed out, for my weak parts.

Perhaps that is why we all hide away parts of ourselves. And I know I am not the only one. Even those seemingly confident, “high-status” men are hiding parts, while presenting their version of their ideal self. It is interesting, because by looking at the illusions, you can see the flip side, of what people are trying to hide. For example, the man who attempts to appear aloof and cool, may very well be trying to hide his need for others and emotional connection–because to him, this is believed as being “weak.” Or for me, I attempt to appear strong and logical, because the need for emotional help and support seems subconsciously weak. It is funny yet sad how we seem to run from vulnerability like the plague, when in actuality, embracing vulnerability is the cure to our emotional ailments.

But it all starts with us–building awareness of the illusions we keep in our lives. If we stopped judging ourselves for our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses, then we can learn how to stop judging others for theirs. And the thing about vulnerability is, we all have it. It is like judging someone for having ears. So instead of focusing all of our energy denying the existence of ears on our body, we could instead learn how to accept and love our entire selves, ears and all. Maybe putting on the illusion once in a while can help us in some situations, but to super glue it onto our being only hurts, rather than helps, us.

 

finding my sexy

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Suffering through the wreckage that was my break-up, I am slowly starting to see the light peak out through the dark clouds.

I just finished my burlesque workshop classes, and it has been, without a doubt, the best decision I’ve made for myself in the past two months. It’s difficult for your self-esteem to not go through the crapper after a bad break-up, especially one with a partner who was oftentimes emotionally abusive. But in addition to processing what happened, I’ve been trying so hard to focus on myself and re-building what was trampled upon… a new and improved self, someone who embodies empowerment and self-love more than she ever has in her life. At the end of this, those are my goals: empowerment and self-love.

I took an Uber for my last class, decked out in my burlesque gear. I wore a sweatshirt so my revealing top would not be open for all of Hollywood Boulevard to see, but my skirt and stocking were still in plain sight. My experience was different the second I got into my Uber. The driver attempted to ask me out after a full minute of picking me up. Then he proceeded to ask borderline offensive questions, which I gently yet assertively confronted. I was glad the ride was quick, and I was able to shake him off at the end.

Then as I walked the streets of Hollywood, a cat-caller attempted to hit on me. When I didn’t answer, he proceeded to touch my back. Normally, I would’ve tried to avoid any kind of conflict, but feeling my new self come out, I told him off. Of course he became defensive and angry, but I didn’t care. I was proud of myself for asserting my boundaries.

Once I got to class and got a good look at myself in the wall-to-wall mirrors, sans sweatshirt, I stood in awe. I look so sexy. I couldn’t take my eyes away. What was once a faraway goal, was now standing right in front of me, in black leather and red garters. For the first time in my life, I truly felt sexy. Self-love was at my door too. As I danced with my classmates, swaying my hips and shaking my chest, I thought, any man would be lucky to have me. I am beautiful inside AND out.

Afterward, I went out for drinks with some of my classmates. We chatted, and laughed, and talked about what brought us to the class. I was honest and told them about my story–the break-up, and the need to remind myself that I was still sexy, with or without a guy. One of the ladies told me that she felt teary after hearing my story, and two others proceeded to tell me their past break-up experiences, giving me valuable advice.

Two pieces of advice and encouragement stuck out to me the most:

First: “After one of my break-ups, I was feeling really sad and staying home all the time. But one of my girlfriends gave me good advice, which I still hold onto. She told me that I can be wallowing and sad only for so long, and that even if I felt sad, I should still put myself out there and go out dating. Just for fun. One of the guys I went on a date with, I was straight up with him and told him that I just got out of a relationship, so I wasn’t sure if I wanted a relationship yet. He thanked me for being so honest with him. We didn’t match at the end, but we became good friends. It’s okay to have times alone to feel sad, but you have to go out and allow yourself to have fun too. And trust me, you’ll definitely find someone better. I eventually ended up meeting my husband.

Second: “When I think back on the guys I dated who ended up running away from me, at the end of it, I was so thankful that they did. I was lucky that they ran. They weren’t any good. Trust me, you’ll get there eventually where you’ll see that too.

With those burlesque classes, not only did I get to discover a part of myself that I’ve long needed in my life, I was also able to encounter positive, encouraging people. I’m grateful for the universe bringing me kindness and love in so many different ways.

Although I am still recovering from the hurt and pain my ex gave me, at the same time, I am also in the process of arriving to a place where I am actually loving myself in who I am and what I have to offer. Eventually, I’ll be someone who won’t put up with hurtful behavior again, because I’ll know I deserve better than that. I’m already getting there. I know I deserve to be treated with love and respect… and I’m starting to put my foot down  with anyone who treats me otherwise.

When everything is said and done, I hope I can give to others what those ladies gave to me. My friends have all commented on how much progress I’ve made in two months… and truthfully, I’m only beginning to see it. But at least I can say now, with tears in my eyes as I type this… that I am wonderful, beautiful, and sexy. Just like how someone can claim that the sky is purple, it doesn’t change the fact that it is blue. I am always wonderful, beautiful, and sexy, regardless of what people say or how they treat me.

Self-Empowerment

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Any woman will tell you, it’s almost expected to take a hit to your self-esteem when you break up with someone. Even for the most evolved human being, it is hard not to hurt when any kind of attachment is severed, especially if you were not the one to do the cutting. Particularly in those cases, it is difficult not to think, was it something about me? Am I not good enough?

That same old tape plays, over and over again. All the negative thoughts and beliefs about yourself. It’s been the same since childhood, it comes up without you having to push play. Like some sick joke, it plays during the worst moments of your life, and during your best. When the kids taunted me as a girl and called my ugly. When I make a mistake at work. When I trip on the sidewalk. When someone asks me out. When someone pays me a compliment. The tape goes on, and this break-up is no exception.

But there is a clear difference this time around. I’ve had years of self-awareness of my tape, but oftentimes struggled to press stop. It was too overpowering, it sounded too true to my ears. However, after a long time in this battle, I have now finally found myself at a point in my life where a still voice is breaking through the noise, saying, I’m done. I’m so over beating myself up. I’m so over letting people treat me like shit. It ends today. It’s done. This is it. No more. We all have our own journey and timing, and now, I feel truly ready to throw the tape out. It is no longer serving me. It is killing me. And with that, the truth sinks down to my very bones: I am good enough. I am worthy. I am a human being, prone to make mistakes, but I also have so much to offer. I take responsibility for my actions. And most of all, I always strive to do better. There is nothing more the universe could ever ask of me. No one will ever get me to believe otherwise again. Absolutely no one.

At the beginning of this process, my favorite word in the English language came to mind: empowerment. It is a value I’ve come to hold, and in this season, I am challenged to live up to it. And that also speaks to one of my other values. Integrity. It means living and always remaining true to your values and what is good, even in the face of temptation. My tape tempts me. My ex’s words reverberate through my broken heart. The pain sometimes clutches too tightly. But I will not waver. I will stand strong, knowing what is right and true, and never let go of that.

And this is how I empower myself. I remind myself of all my good qualities… I am intelligent, good-hearted, compassionate, empathetic, resilient, beautiful. I refuse to put up with any kind of abuse or ill-behavior. I speak out against injustices. I give kindness to those I meet, yet never allow anyone to take advantage of what I have to offer. I value every single fiber of me, physical, mental, spiritual, or otherwise. I give thanks to the good the world offers me, and use the lemons I am given to build strength and character. I will not allow for any person or circumstance to define me; I will define myself. In everything.

This is my path toward self-empowerment.

freeing ourselves from others

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I’m sure that there are those out there who feel pressured and overwhelmed by the thoughts and opinions of others. Everyone has their say, and there are some out there who feel a particular strong need to impress it upon others… even if it means ignoring someone’s free will and individuality. This has been getting to me as of late.

Lately, I’ve been getting headaches. And I knew it’s all been psychological; our feelings can manifest in our bodies in this way (i.e., somatic symptoms). When we get anxious, we feel tense. When we’re depressed, our bodies feel zapped of all energy. Our body, mind and spirit are all connected.

With all the craziness that has been happening in my life, I spent a good hour meditating last night and soon realized why I was having so many headaches. Everyone’s voices have been in my head, mucking up my thoughts and consequently my being. Anna, do this. Anna, do that. Anna, you’re squandering your potential. Anna, [insert opinion on my life here]… on and on it goes, all the things people are telling me to do, telling me how to see it and how to be. Until my brain finally exploded in pain, screaming, shut up! I’m so sick of hearing all of you!

I just want to hear me. I just want to hear what I need, and what my Inner Voice says is best for me. Only I know what’s best for me, no one else. Who makes you think that you know what my potential is? What makes you think you know what’s right for my life? No one knows that, except for my Maker. So don’t act as if you have some authority over my life.

I know I am not alone in feeling bogged down sometimes by the opinions and feedback of others who think they know what you should do with your life. I hope these words can help someone else, as they are the reminders I need constantly. Only you know what’s best for you. Only you know who you can and want to be. This life is not for others to live, but yours. You’re the one who’ll have to face all of the consequences of your choices. Not them. So they don’t get to have any say in how you live your life.

One technique I’ve been doing that has been helping is mindfulness meditation. You can find apps or scripts online, but it helps train your mind to be rooted in the present and to let all thoughts and people’s voices in your head go. And specifically in this case, it also helps to let go of all those opinions and should-bes. Mindfulness is a practice that orients your mind to accept yourself and the world as it is in the present moment. It’ll clear out all the junk in your mind, and give you the clarity you need.

We need to learn to let go of other people’s opinions of us, to stop letting their thoughts control us. It’s the only way we’ll be able to be who we are, our true selves. What they say does not have to go, and does not have to hold significance we do not want it to. It’s a self-care and self-love practice, by not forcing ourselves into a mold or into a kind of thinking that is not truly us. Some people may be too dogmatic, too judgmental, too needy, and try to force you to be someone you’re not, but they are who they are. It has nothing to do with us. Just let it all go. Let it all pass without judgment. It is what it is, and people will be who they are.

And the same also applies to us… allow yourself to be who you are. And let the rest of it go.

rejecting perfection

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Vulnerability is difficult. So difficult, that most of us spend our time avoiding it at all costs. We throw up defenses, guard our hearts, put in electric fences and moats filled with alligators… anything to keep our inner (vulnerable) selves “safe” and from being seen.

Perfectionism is one of the many, many defenses we use to avoid vulnerability. Dr. Brene Brown elaborates that perfectionism is essentially the avoidance of three things: shame, blame, or judgment. In its root form, we attempt to maintain a perfect facade, or force ourselves into an impossible mold of perfection that will, in reality, never come into fruition. Because the concept of “perfect” does not exist, especially as we apply it to humans, who are designed as imperfect.

I am a perfectionist, so Dr. Brown’s words resonate with me very hard. As I chewed and chewed on this idea, I came to see how my “I have it together” facade is a part of my perfectionism. I avoid asking for help as much as I can, I try to figure everything out on my own… and as a result, I don’t allow myself to ever be vulnerable with others. And here I’m wondering why I can’t get the support I need from other people, or develop very intimate connections in my relationships? If you’re putting up a constant front that you have your shit together, then the obvious conclusion is that people are going to assume you don’t need any help or support. You basically look like you only need a relationship with yourself, and no one else. We need to look at our role in creating the dynamics that perpetuate our misery.

Today, I was with my supervisor and she challenged me as I was discussing a case with her. Taken aback, I thought about my reaction, and I realized that I became defensive not only because I got caught in my client’s “sob story,” but also because if I were being honest with myself, I was subconsciously trying to hold up my “I have it together” and “I know it all” front. But the truth of the matter is, I don’t have it together all of the time. I don’t know it all. And I need other people to help me, and to provide me with their perspectives.

In one of my sessions with another client, we talked about this very topic, as she has the same issue as me. I had told her to practice saying to herself, “I don’t have it together all of the time, and that’s okay.” After my meeting with my supervisor, I saw that I needed to take my own advice and do the same with myself. The thing is, as difficult as being vulnerable is, we need it. We need to be vulnerable in order to develop deep, intimate connections with others; intimacy cannot exist without vulnerability. We need to be vulnerable in order to learn, grow and become the person we have the potential to become. We need to be vulnerable if we want to heal our deepest pains, fill the empty trenches in our souls. Embracing our limitations, weaknesses and “ugly bits” in truth empower and liberate us. Yet the funny thing is, many of us choose to avoid vulnerability, and thereby keep ourselves stuck in the hole.

Being a therapist doesn’t mean I am perfect, or have everything figured out. I don’t have everything figured out; no one does. But I am committed to self-growth and self-love, even if it means loving those pieces of me that I internally fight to reject. And I choose not to live by the dictation of shame, blame, or judgment… because no matter what others, or even I, say, I am imperfect by nature. We are all imperfect. Simply, it means practicing what I preach, not only as a therapist, but as a friend or human being. I have limitations and I make mistakes… but that’s okay. I am human. I am me. And we all wired to need one another.