Here is a short video from my YouTube Channel. If you like it you may like the others:
“I think, therefore I am!” Descartes’ quote was great in its time, but I think it overshadows a larger reality. Most of us spend our time fully in our brains. We remind ourselves of what we need to do, the on-going “To Do” lists. We rehash conversations, worry about our futures, count calories, rewrite the past and generally spend most of our days paying attention to the blah, blah, blah going on in our minds.
This overriding tendency is getting much, much worse with the advent of cell phones and the ubiquitous nature of technology. The word generating part of our brains can now also post to social media, send tweets, text, write emails and the list goes on and on and is likely getting longer as you read this.
Truth is, there is a part of our brains that does nothing all day except generate words. It is its entire function. If you are reading this or writing, or having a conversation, that is a good thing. We need it. We have learned to navigate our world by interacting and speaking to one another. Problem is, when we aren’t having a conversation in the real world, we are still paying attention to this voice.
To illustrate this point, I want to ask if you have ever driven home from work, or to a place you go frequently and when you arrived you have no recollection of the drive? If you have never experienced this, let me just say, it has been used as a defence in court and it was so familiar to those overseeing the case, that it was accepted as a likely thing to have occurred.
So where were you at the time? Likely, completely engaged with the word generating part of your brain. You were lost in your thoughts about whatever the word generating part of your brain likes to focus on. See list above for some examples.
Try something with me. READ THIS PART TO YOURSELF AND PAY ATTENTION TO HOW YOU EXPERIENCE READING.
That sounds abstract, so let me try to explain what I mean. Think of the bolded part above. Reread it if necessary. What actually happens in your brain when you read? For many, but certainly not all, they hear the words in their mind. Read it again and see if that is true for you.
So, if you “hear” the words, who is listening? This is important. You, the real you, is the one listening to the words. The words themselves were just what you were reading on the page. In this example, it is clear that the words are what were written on the page and “you” are the one listening.
Let’s take it one step further. If you are not reading and you are listening to your “To Do” list, for example, you are still the one listening. In other words, the word generating part of your mind is not who you are. Since its entire job is to keep babbling on all day, many of us confuse it for who we are. When it starts to tell us things, we believe we are hearing our own voice. We may be hearing something a fourth-grade teacher told us years ago. You see, it is easier for the word generating part of our mind to keep repeating itself than it is for it to come up with new material.
There is another way to illustrate this. It has become quite common in cartoons and movies to see someone trying to make a decision. In the movie, a “good angel” will be standing on one shoulder talking into one ear of the character. A “bad devil” will be standing on the other shoulder giving the opposite advice.
You can try this yourself. Hold your hands out in front of you, palms up. Picture yourself in natural, flowing carefree clothing standing on one hand. Now, picture yourself in a tight, very formal, army uniform standing on the other hand.
Take the time to see these two aspects of yourself. Now think of an on-going argument you have with yourself. Let’s see, maybe you are trying to cut out carbs, but love muffins. Or perhaps, you have promised yourself daily exercise but it is cold and wet outside. You know your own struggles, pick something that you can relate to. Visualize these two aspects of yourself arguing their points of view.
Carbs make you fat! I like muffins. You must exercise! I’d rather be warm and comfortable. … You get the idea. Take a moment to do this bit right now. I’ll wait.
I’m sure none of this is new to you, except perhaps picturing yourself standing on your hands. What I want to illustrate is that you are neither of the people standing on your hands. You are the one observing the argument. You are the one listening to the debate. The debate is being created by the word generating part of your brain. You are the one observing.
Why is this important?
This is an introductory blog, so I’ll just focus on the Top Three highlights. Let’s just say, this is really, really important.
1. If you think the words in your mind are you, you may not question what they are saying.
This is a real problem if they are mean, destructive or undermine your self-confidence. Once you realize the words aren’t you, you can question what you say to yourself, or better yet, change what you say.
2. Being lost in your mind means you are not paying attention to your life.
If you “forget” the drive in, you also didn’t notice the cute dog that was playing ball; the beautiful trees beside the road; the sky, clouds, sunshine and you didn’t notice anything going on outside of your mind. This becomes important because you miss opportunities. You might not notice something that may have brought you joy.
3. If you believe you are the words in your mind, you are not honouring your true self.
Emotions get pushed out of the way, body sensations are completely ignored and your experience of the world becomes very limited.
Take some time today and focus your attention on the world around you. There is no need to narrate what you are seeing or to make a judgement about the quality of it or whether it is good or bad. Just observe it. Expand your awareness to the temperature, smells, sounds and sensations of your body. Isn’t that a nice break from the chatter? Your thoughts are not who you are. You are way more than that.
Appearance and health usually top the list when we discuss our bodies. Perhaps sexuality comes in there a bit, but really, most people do not think about their bodies much more than that. We have been raised in a society where the brain runs the show. There is an understanding that everything should be based on facts, “Just the facts ma’am.”
Even when we are trying to make decisions, the first thing that comes to mind is the classic ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ list. We all know the drill. You take a piece of paper and write ‘pros’ on one side of a line down the middle and ‘cons’ on the other. Then, you describe in words the good and bad aspects of any decision. Sure, fine, whatever…
Unfortunately, this method excludes a huge amount of knowledge and information. Consider for a minute, you are reading this blog. Your brain is likely focused on this, or perhaps someone or something in your immediate environment also vying for your attention. Your brain might be drifting off thinking about other, possibly more interesting things.
Whether you are paying attention or not, you have sensory perception in your skin, your digestive tract and your muscles. Your ears can hear (my apologies if you are deaf), you can taste your mouth, see with your eyes, smell with your nose etc., etc. This information is sorted and what is considered the most important is presented to your awareness by your brain.
Everyone has experienced noticing an odour when you walk into a room and then it seems to disappear. The odour is still there it is just that once it was acknowledged, there was no more need to think about it and have it at the forefront of your awareness, unless the smell is outrageous or is tied to food, pleasure or some other meaningful information.
What we tend to forget is that all of that data was collected and sorted through even if our brains did not prioritize it and make it important in the moment. This vast storehouse of experience and information is not necessarily something we can put into words. Think of a bad smell. If you tried to describe it, without referring to other smells, it is almost impossible. Words fail us. It is not possible to capture the full experience or meaning of something with words alone.
But, we have decided to restrict our decision-making process to providing arguments, which are words, for and against any choice. Let me suggest another alternative.
By learning how to listen to your own body, you can tap into all of the information that is there that may or may not be part of your conscious experience. Your body speaks to you through sensations. These might be felt as heat, cold, shaking, trembling, tightening, loosening, aching or tingling. There are many more ways to describe body sensations, but that list gives you a taste of the diversity. Just like the bad odour, we largely ignore these sensations until we run into problems.
Tightening of the shoulders can lead to headaches, muscles trembling can lead to being exhausted and tightening of the digestive tract can have all kinds of digestive consequences. This is when we are forced to acknowledge the way our body is responding to the situation, but we can learn how to pay attention.
*Special note to Martha Beck, this is based on her body compass
This is how to tune into what your body is communicating to you:
1. Get into a relaxed position
It doesn’t matter if you are sitting, standing or lying down, but you need to be able to relax completely. You will not get good results if you have to adjust yourself and move around during the exercise.
2. Remember a bad memory
When I say remember a bad memory, I’m not talking about telling the story you have written about the event. Let me illustrate. Say, your dog ran out in front of a car and you saw her get hit. The story would be the last sentence I wrote. I do not want you to rehash this story, perhaps adding in the type of car or how your dog happened to be on the road. What I want you to do it “be” there.
Remember the day, the weather, the lighting. Think of whether or not there was a breeze. Were other people around? Were there smells? How did you feel right before it happened? Were there any sounds? Get right back into the memory, relive it. This exercise may bring up unreleased emotions. It is always good to let them out. If you find yourself crying, be happy that you are releasing emotions. Go with it. Let them out.
3. Scan your body
Now that you are re-experiencing this memory, scan your body. Start at your toes and notice anything. Are they cold? Do you feel the floor, or your socks? Go slowly up your legs and notice anything. If they are completely relaxed notice that. If they are uncomfortable notice that. Continue up your body. Notice everything. Be sure to not miss any body parts. Is there any tightness, coldness, pain? Make note of all of the sensations coming from your body. This is how your body says “no”.
I mean this literally. You have built up negative energy in your body. Get up, shake, move around, dance if you feel like it but physically move your body until it no longer feels like you are re-experiencing the bad event. The emotion attached to the experience may hang around still, but you want to move your body and let that part of the energy go.
This time use one of your favourite memories. The same thing applies. You do not want to tell the story of how wonderful the day was, you want to re-experience the sights, sounds, smells and atmosphere.
The only mistake I have seen people make here is they go to one of the classic, “BEST DAYS” of my life which is often a wedding, or the birth of a child, or winning the award. These may work if you are being interviewed about the best day in your life, but often a wedding is stressful, there can be a lot of fear, pain and worry during childbirth and winning that award, took a lot of work and a lot was at stake, so these are not good examples.
What you are looking for is a day when you felt loved, happy, or content. One of the times when you were completely at peace and things were OK.
6. Scan your body
Repeat what I described above. Start at your toes and look for any sensation in your body. Make note of what you feel. This is how your body says, “yes”.
7. Using the information
Now that you have an idea when your body is trying to say yes and when it is trying to say no, you can apply this to everyday life and decision making. Instead of setting up ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ on a page, sit and picture yourself making one decision and check in with your body. Then, picture yourself making the opposite and see what your body has to say.
Learning this technique will allow you to tap into what your body knows and what it is trying to communicate to you, even if it can’t be expressed in words. If you practice paying attention, eventually this information will be available in real time. Like when you are asked if you want to go to a party, check in and see what you really want to do, your body will know.
Joy, or her gentler sister, happiness, can seem elusive. We have been told by our society we will be happy when we achieve a goal or gain an item we have coveted. I’m here to tell you joy can be found without any of that. Not only can it be found, without those items and experiences, but pursuing them at all costs can interfere with joy.
The reason many of us find happiness so elusive is that we have decided to shut the door on emotions. Let’s back up a little. Emotions can be labelled “good” or “bad”. That is a simple idea. Anger, envy, jealousy and hate are seen as negative. Even sadness and regret can fall into the “bad” category. We all seek the “good” feelings of joy (that’s what this blog is about!), happiness, love and contentment, for example.
Social rules of engagement further say we can express the good emotions, usually, in public, but not always. Try laughing out loud during a eulogy if you don’t believe me. The bad emotions, however, should be hidden and denied. If you are really angry, it is generally not acceptable to express it in the moment, especially if when angry you throw and break things.
So, what am I getting at? We have been taught to greater or lesser degrees when and how and if we can express the emotions we are feeling. Truth is, if you feel impatient, you feel impatient. It is neither good nor bad, it just is. The trouble starts if you decide to lash out at someone because you are feeling this way, but I digress.
When an emotion is created energy is built up. There are tons of hormones, bodily reactions and sensations associated with all kinds of emotions. If you choose to repress them, in the moment they occur, that energy does not dissipate. It stays somewhere in your body and waits to be released.
We are all familiar with someone who strikes out in anger at some small slight. In some instances this can simply be a build up of anger, that was not expressed at the time it formed. The energy from the anger is still trying to escape and a small thing sets it off. It is expressed in an inappropriate situation and seems out of proportion to the small slight that set it off.
Forcing ourselves to not experience emotions, when they occur not only can backfire, like described above, it takes a huge amount of energy to keep your emotions under control all of the time. Enter addictions. If we have anger, sadness, hate and other “bad” emotions we are trying to suppress, not express, and their energy is building up, one of the ways to deal with this is to avoid it. Shopping, gambling, legal and illegal drugs (governments decide on this distinction so I would argue the distinction is not real), over-working, over-exercising…there are too many to list. These things numb us and allow us to ignore the pent up emotions we have stored in our bodies.
Unfortunately, this does not work long term. Unexpressed emotions can erupt at unexpected times, can lead to illness, stress and depression and worst of all, we cannot just block the unpleasant or “bad” emotions. When we block emotions, we block all emotions.
In order to get to joy we must feel all emotions, the “good” and the “bad”. This includes all of the emotions we have failed to express in the past. If we want to get to a place where we can feel joy, happiness and contentment, we must feel and express what we have been told are unacceptable, or what we have found are unpleasant emotions.
Here is a step by step guide on how to release repressed emotions:
1. Find Time
The actual exercise can last from a few minutes to over an hour depending on you personally, how many emotions you have repressed, how long you have been storing pent-up emotions and how painful the experience is.
In addition to the time spent doing the work, you will need recovery time. This is not the type of exercise you should do right before going to work, or before a social outing. Leave time to take a walk, have a shower or bath, get outside, listen to good music or some other activity that will act as a balm over the wounds you are about to open. This is not the best time to turn to any addictions or bad habits you may have.
2. Find a place
You are looking for a place where you will have the maximum amount of privacy you can muster. This may be more difficult for some, especially if you live in a home that does not afford you privacy. You may need to find a wooded area that is not heavily populated, or park your car in a secluded area. You may need to ask a friend if you can do this exercise at their home. Do whatever you can to find a place where you can make noise, feel safe and not have to worry about your surroundings.
Depending on you personally, you may prefer one of the two following things:
1. Some individuals need to have a place where they cannot break or damage anything. If you know or suspect this may be you, plan for it. Have things you can break, pillows you can punch, paper or cardboard you can tear, that sort of thing.
2. Others need comfort. If this is you, grab a blanket or shawl, wrap it around you and sit somewhere you feel safe and secure.
3. Do the Work
a. Think of things that have rattled you. Remember times you were wronged or shamed or felt hurt. Play music that makes you feel sad. Watch a movie you know dredges up emotions. Do what you need to do to have any emotion surface. Allow yourself to feel and express the emotion.
b. Be prepared for rage, anger, crying, sobbing, yelling, laughing or any other way an emotion can be expressed. Let it happen. This is a highly personal and individual experience. Do not get pulled into a thought process about why you feel this way, or that you shouldn’t feel this way. If your brain is demanding attention, focus on describing how the emotion appears in your body.
c. Create a picture in your mind about the sensations. “My stomach is a red ball of liquid” for instance. Do not say, “I am angry”, describe the sensations using colours, textures and shapes. There can be no judgement. Do not berate yourself for being weak or for having the emotions. Try to stop the part of your brain trying to understand and explain what is happening. Allow yourself to fully express the emotions that come up.
d. It is normal to start with one emotion and have it evolve into another. Do not judge yourself for starting with sadness, for instance, becoming angry, feeling hate and then laughing out loud. This is normal. The order I gave was just an example. The emotions will come up in an unpredictable way.
Note: even the most painful of feelings will last a maximum of 90 seconds. There may be more than one wave of emotions, but each will only last 90 seconds. You can allow even the most uncomfortable sensation to last that long.
e. When no more emotions surface, or you’ve reached your limit. Stop. Do the activity you planned for before you began, like go for a walk outside.
It is not possible to do this exercise wrong. As you do it more often you will become accustomed to how to release the emotions without trying to “think” your way out of it. You will know you are doing it correctly when you feel slightly “lighter” afterwards. If you feel like you have re-experienced the trauma that caused the emotion initially, you are in your thoughts too much. Practice describing the sensations visually while doing this exercise, that will help.
This should be repeated as often as possible. The sessions will decrease in time and intensity. Piece by piece you are dismantling opening the door to emotions. This is when joy starts to flow into your life. It is not possible to feel joy exclusively, you must feel all emotions and this exercise will help you to do that.
When someone says they exercise, it really does not describe what they do. That’s not to say they may or may not actually exercise, it is just that what one person considers exercise may be the typical day for a person who does not consider themselves an “exerciser” at all. A completely sedentary individual may feel that a twenty-minute walk is exercise, whereas a triathlete would have a totally different set of criteria.
Meditation is the same. Eckhart Tolle prescribes to “being present” as much as possible and he does this instead of having a set practise to sit and meditate. Monks can meditate for hours on end, without moving. There are as many forms and levels of commitment in meditation as there are for exercise. So, when someone says, “I meditate” it really does not describe what they do.
Mindfulness, the scientific community’s word for meditation, has been shown to be beneficial in many aspects of your life and health. In order to reap these benefits, it is not necessary to join a monastery, all you need to feel the initial benefits is five minutes, yes, five minutes per day.
Shutting off all of your electronic devices and sitting alone with nothing to do can feel like a colossal waste of time, but believe me, it is worth the effort. I know, another thing that you are supposed to add to your “to-do” list may seem like a great inconvenience, in addition to having nothing concrete to show for it. There will be no posts to Facebook, emails answered or tasks completed, but it is still worth the time. Some benefits include more restful sleep, less stress and better health. Need I say more?
So here are the basics, Meditation 101:
1. Find five minutes
This is the largest stumbling block to getting this done so I’ll put it first. Take into consideration that it is five minutes. You do not need to change your shoes or shower afterwards. There is no specific wardrobe or equipment necessary. You do not need a meditation room or a special pillow. Just you and five minutes.
2. Become aware of your thoughts
During this five minutes become aware of your thoughts. We all have all of this stuff that goes on in our minds all day. You may have music playing, sometimes affectionately called an earworm. I usually do and I listen and can sing along if I feel like it. Then there is the tyrant that can tell you everything you are doing wrong and how you should be doing it properly. Many people have a parent (not necessarily one of your actual parents) but a voice that tells them what is good for them and how they should behave. In addition to that, you may run other scripts such as counting calories or planning meals; paying attention to your “to-do” list; or planning the next hour, day, week or decade.
You may have any or all of the above and you may have other things in your mind, not mentioned. This background noise will continue regardless of what you are doing. Notice it. Notice it but don’t pay attention to it. If you are having difficulty conceptualizing what I am talking about. Stop now and read this: “Can you hear this sentence being said in your mind?” Were you able to recognize that when you read you were actually saying the words in your mind and listening to them? This is true for most people, but not all.
You are the one who “hears” what you read. You are not the voice you hear, especially when reading! When meditating, try to “observe” the flotsam in your mind. Pay attention, but don’t get pulled in. For instance, if you remember you forgot to take the turkey out to thaw for Thanksgiving dinner, although important, it is not important now. You do not have to engage and think about what pan you will thaw it in, where to put it, whether or not to take the wrapping off… Be confident you will remember to take the turkey out later and let the thought pass out of your mind. Five minutes won’t matter on a 20 lb turkey anyway!
It is helpful to use visual imagery. I like bubbles. Each word becomes a bubble that floats to the surface. The meaning of the word is lost. The word is visualized as a bubble and it just floats up and pops. Cars passing by on a highway, or stones being thrown into water will also work. Use your imagination. The important thing is to ignore the meaning of the word and let it pass away.
3. Pay attention to your breathing
There are a lot of variations on this, but this is the simplest. When your brain wants all of your attention and keeps blathering on, focus on your breathing. Think about how it feels to breathe in and breathe out. Does your chest expand? Does your abdomen expand? Can you tell the air coming out when you exhale is slightly warmer than the air going in? Think about this.
4. To sit or not to sit?
That is the question. Many individuals cannot sit still for five minutes. I mean this literally. They are simply too anxious, too wound up and too restless to sit. If this describes you, choose a moving meditation. It is OK to walk, ride a bicycle, swim, run or any other activity. The one caveat here is you must be doing this activity in a situation where you do not have to pay attention to your surroundings.
Walking into traffic or running on uneven ground where you must avoid rocks and the like, will not work. The goal is to not have to pay attention to that voice that keeps you safe. If you ignore your brain when it says, there is an oncoming train, your meditation will not be helpful. So find a place, like a shopping mall, or a track where you can run or walk without paying attention. The same applies to swimming, cycling any other type of movement you prefer.
If you decide to sit, the lotus position is not required. You may also lie down, but it is more likely you will fall asleep. For stationary meditation, you should be comfortable and it is preferable if you close your eyes. This is not recommended if you are running, for instance.
That’s it! There is no more to it. You can begin to feel the benefits of meditating with just this amount of understanding and five minutes a day. Good luck.
The overlaps between both the ancient and the modern spiritual philosophies is significant to me. Recently, at my Vipassana retreat, Goenkaji spoke about “Saṅkhāra” he explained craving and aversion as causing these. Basically, he was discussing thoughts that form when you are not happy with the present moment. All of the regrets, worries, hopes and desires form Saṅkhāras.
When you do not accept the moment as it is without craving or aversion, you create a sankhara. These are the source of all misery. For instance, if someone insults you, it can create aversion in you. It is unpleasant for you and then you build up dislike or hate towards this person. The saṅkhāra or hate that you feel gets embedded and when you see this person again, you feel the hate. The hate can be used to justify treating that person poorly, for example.
The same phenomenon is described by Eckhart Tolle when he talks about “pain bodies”. He speaks of pain bodies being activated when some thought or experience brings you into alignment with old emotional scars. So, let’s say the same person insults you. They attack a part of you, you are sensitive about. Now, when the person who did the insulting is around, you feel “justified” reacting badly to anything that they say or do.
Byron Katie comes at it from the other side and reminds us that we don’t know anything for sure. This would include anything we can describe to ourselves. Her solution is to ask yourself, “Is it true?” leading to the foregone conclusion that there is no way you can ever know absolutely for sure.
Her perspective challenges us to look at the person, and decide if we believe what we think about the person who said it. We may immediately think the insulter is wrong, bad or out to hurt us. Instead of the insult resulting in bad feelings towards the person, we ask ourselves, “Is the person insulting us a bad person, or are they just saying something we find unpleasant?”
So what are they all talking about? They are describing the little voice in our heads who tries to rewrite history, “I shouldn’t have”, “she shouldn’t have”, “it shouldn’t have”. Or, “I wish … blah, blah, blah”. We have told ourselves a story about the way we judge things or people would be better. Our stories are told through craving, aversion; pain or fear or longing; and telling ourselves things are not OK, they should be different.
In essence, our thoughts not only create our perception of the world, they also contribute to how we feel in the world and how we respond to the world. If we build up enough saṅkhāras we can justify harming the person or mistreating them. In Eckhart Tolle’s model the “pain body” becomes activated and we act before we think. In Byron Katie’s we know the other person is out to get us, therefore justifying bad behaviour.
These explanations all point to the same thing. If we tell ourselves stories about people — whether they are based on facts or not — we can justify treating them badly. This is not a good thing. We are always responsible for how we behave. We can never justify hurting someone else, especially when that action is based on a story. A story we told ourself about that person and their intentions.
Make Me Cry by Noah Cyrus ft. Labrinth, is a song written about how it feels to be in a pathological relationship.
“I’ve never needed you like I do right now.
I’ve never hated you like I do right now”
This is the epitome of being with someone because you are addicted to drama. The passion, the conflict, the make-up sex all become a part of the dynamic. It is intense and overwhelming and can destroy your life.
Once you have removed yourself, you realize the pre-occupation with the pathology in the relationship has had an impact on your work, your hobbies, your relationships and quite likely your health.
I love the way the song ends. She sings, “all you ever do is make me…” Automatically, my brain corrected it to finish with the word, “cry”. But the truth is, these relationships change who you are. So, it is more accurate for her to say, “all you ever do is make me…”.
“This is the best relationship that I’ve ever had!” is often part of the description of the problem. You see, narcissists know what you want and like. They have no trouble lying and telling you what you want to hear. This makes it very confusing to determine if they are “the best” or “the worst” thing to happen to you.
It is important to observe what they do. Try to ignore the promises and excuses and examine the irrefutable evidence of what actually happened.
So, look backwards, do not consider what you’ve been promised. There are two key questions that usually get to heart of this:
Think of a situation where you wanted conflicting things. No chance for compromise like, if we buy this we can’t afford that, or, if we do this we can’t do that. I want to stress again, agreeing that “next time” will be your turn is just an illusion.
Do you ever get your first choice in these matters? I’m not asking whether or not he/she gets you to agree that their choice is better–that’s not the point of this. Do you ever get your first choice in these situations?
One small caveat. If you have been fighting and a concession is made to win you back or to keep you from leaving, this does not count. We are only discussing when you are deciding on making a choice, not in the “win you back phase”. Pause for a moment and consider a relationship where-in you only get your way by threatening to leave. That is a nasty arrangement, but I digress.
Second question: you’ve had a bad day, or you’re ill or you got into a disagreement with someone you like. How does he/she respond? There are two broad categories. She either does what she can to listen to you, support you as best she can or make your life nicer, maybe suggest dinner out or a good movie. Or, his day has been worse! He has a lot of work to do and he is busy. Things are bad for him as well. You should get over it. You always complain and are never happy. You are making things unpleasant for him. “Suck it up!” “Get over it.”
*I hate pronouns! Narcissists are just as likely male as female. Males make the news more, because these traits benefit men. Women with these traits can be seen seen as “bitchy” and tend not to be as visible or successful with these traits. This makes it seem like there are more men, but it is not my experience as a coach that works with people who have had to deal with a narcissist. So think of the pronouns as interchangeable.
The examples I’ve given are stereotypes and over simplified, but directly address whether or not he cares about you and your needs. If you do not get what you want when his needs are in conflict–ever, and if your emotions are downplayed and you are not supported, you are with someone who does not care about you. Lack of empathy is what defines a narcissist.
Final point. His words are not what are important. His actions are what matters. He can say whatever he wants and he never really has to do any of it. Look at the pattern of what has happened.
If you’ve ever ended up with a narcissist before, or if you are out there in the dating world, these are some of the things that you should be aware of when you begin to date someone new. These tips may keep you from realizing that you have been “captured” by a narcissist.
1. In initial conversations make sure you ask them as many questions as they ask you. Wait for an answer. If they say that they like something, ask a more specific question.
Why this is important
Narcissists actually probe you for information so that they can learn as much about you as possible. By asking them questions, you force them to tell you about themselves. This slows down the process of them collecting data and allows you an opportunity to determine if they are lying.
For example, you say, “I love dancing the Macarena” They reply, “I do too!” You can ask, “Where do you usually go dancing?” This next direct question forces them to be more specific. The first set of lies is very simple, but the more detailed the questions the more likely you will catch them in a lie. Also, it can put them off balance and make them less attracted to you.
It is important in any relationship that there be reciprocity, so asking someone about themselves as much as they ask you, is a good thing.
2. Never reveal personal or private information early. The rule of thumb is that if you wouldn’t tell everyone at work, it is not something to share in the first couple of weeks of a relationship.
Why this is important
Sharing personal information has two effects. The first is that it gives you a sense of intimacy with this person. Exchanging private information is one of the ways that we get close to someone. Narcissists use this method to get close fast. Getting really close to someone before you know them is never a good thing. The second problem is that sensitive material can be used against you and if the person turns out to be a narcissist you will regret sharing things that you did not want everyone to know.
Realize we all crave intimacy.
There is a strong urge to reveal things to the same level as someone else.
It is good to base any relationship on trust and intimacy and these things take time. There will be time in the future to share these details if this is the right person.
3. Don’t fight for the relationship right at the beginning. If someone that you are just starting to date tells you that their friends or family would not approve of your relationship or if they let you know that they are leaving town or that they are worried about you breaking up with them right away it is a warning sign. They are looking for assurances, way before it is reasonable, for you to say that you would not leave. If for any reason, the relationship seems to have opposition or an expiry date, see it as a red flag. Statements like, “This is just a summer fling” are a warning sign.
Why this is important
Think of dating a narcissist as a job interview. They want someone that will be there for the long haul. They want to know that you will go the extra mile to make the relationship work. All of these things are desirable in a good, long-term relationship, but they show you are desperate in the short term. Narcissists are attracted to someone that is too desperate to easily leave any relationship, even a bad one.
If their friends or family wouldn’t approve, why would you want to be with someone when you would be an outcast or disliked? If the person you just started dating may have to leave town for a job or to go back to school, recognize that it is too early to make that kind of commitment and don’t. These situations can also be a ploy. If you move to another town with them early in the relationship they have you trapped because you are relying on them for everything and none of your friends or family are around.
If early on you get the impression that there might be opposition to your relationship or an expiry date you are being pressured to make a commitment prematurely.
4. Maintain your private time. If you are being flooded with attention it may initially feel like you are loved. This is not the case. A narcissist will flood you with attention as a way of controlling you. You get used to this level of attention and then you expect it, long after it is taken away. Try to not respond to the multiple texts, messages and calls. Don’t respond until it is convenient. Constantly interrupting your time with other people is one of the ways that narcissists distance you from your friends.
Why this is important
Narcissists need constant nourishment from others. They are trying to figure out if you are the one that is going to give it to them. By not giving it to them, you are less likely to be pursued.
A person that actually loves you, respects your right to privacy, time with your friends and your need to have time to yourself.
5. Keep seeing your friends, doing your hobbies and pursuing your interests. If your new dating partner insists on seeing you every minute, it as a sign of pathology not adoration. The beginning of a relationship is too early to be spending most of your time with someone.
It is one thing to say, “I’m going to the movies with friends.” But if someone you have just started dating digs for more detail: which friends, which theatre, which movie, are you going out afterwards? It is best to not give it. “Hiding” information from a narcissist will drive them crazy and they will not want to date you.
Why this is important
The ultimate goal of a narcissist is to have you all to themselves. This is part of the control that they have over their partners because the narcissist manages to eliminate everyone else from your life as much as possible. Having only one person in your life makes you very dependent on this person.
Realize you may want to be “good”
and not realize that you are wired to “obey”
when someone asks you to do something.
In a healthy relationship your partner will want you to be happy and having friends, hobbies and interests is a large part of that.
6. Maintain your private space. Agreeing to have someone move in right away, or suddenly noticing that one “sleep over” has resulted in the person never leaving is a major red flag. You should make other plans and tell them that you want to go out with your friends and that they can’t stay at your place.
Why this is important
This is just one element of how a narcissist moves in and takes control of your life. Suddenly, you will realize that they are living at your place full time. The longer they are there before you stand your ground the more difficult it becomes to maintain your space. Having someone move in right away does not allow time for you to balance this new relationship with the other priorities in your life.
Realize you are fighting biology here.
We instinctively want others around. It feels good to have company.
Quality relationships are not based on spending as much time together as quickly as possible. They are based on mutual respect for each other’s lives and priorities.
7. Resist the urge to “take care of someone” you just met. If someone tells you early in a relationship that they have come upon bad times at work, in health, a tragedy, ask yourself why you want to take care of them and why there is no one else in their lives to fulfill this role.
Why this is important
This is one of the tactics that narcissists use to get close to you. Examples are, “I’ve just lost my job and have no money”. “I was living with my last lover and I ended it, so I have no place to live”. “I just moved into town and have been living on a friend’s sofa but I’ve outstayed my welcome”. If they say that they just got out of a bad relationship with an awful person, insist that you don’t want to be their rebound person and move away quickly.
Realize that you are fighting instincts here.
We all want to pick up the fallen bird and nurse it back to health.
Healthy relationships are between two self-sufficient individuals. If this person cannot support themselves now, they are unlikely to take care of their half of the responsibility in a relationship.
8. We all like to dream and plan, but the beginning of a relationship is a bad time to be planning to be together forever. Try the phrase, “I think we are getting ahead of ourselves”. This allows you to be honest and can be used like this: “Yes, I would love to move to New York City with you and pursue my comedy career, but I think we are getting ahead of ourselves.”
Why this is important
One of the tactics narcissists use to keep you from leaving is to point out that you “agreed” to this relationship and wanted this relationship from the beginning. Now you are a “quitter” or “selfish” or “mean” if you are just abandoning this dream. Often, the dream was premature.
It is good to have dreams and long term plans together but these should be based on a solid relationship, not an elusive goal that is agreed upon before all of the facts are in.
9. Pay attention to how your date treats others. Ask yourself if you want to be treated that way.
Why this is important
Narcissists often think that they are justified belittling those around them. They think that they are superior and therefore they can treat others badly. In any relationship, how your partner treats others can be how they will treat you — eventually.
A nice person has respect for others and respect for you and treats people accordingly.
10. Focus on reciprocity. If they compliment you, compliment them back. If they ask about you, ask about them. If they do something for you, do it for them.
Why this is important.
Ideally, we all want good relationships. Keeping things in balance is a good starting point for a relationship based on mutual support. By treating them exactly how they treat you, you will become aware of whether or not it “feels normal”. For instance, if they buy you several gifts and it feels abnormal to buy someone you just met that many gifts, you realize that this is a red flag. This method helps you see past the joy you felt in receiving the gifts and puts them in context. If you feel like you are being disingenuous complimenting them repeatedly, realize that their level of compliments may be abnormal and this is certainly a red flag.
It is easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of a new relationship and suddenly realize that your whole world has changed. With a narcissist it is important to be very aware at the beginning and not let this happen.
This is kinda a good news, bad news type of post.
The good news is that this information will help you side step a relationship with a narcissist, someone that can wreak havoc on your life for decades.
The bad news is that your next new relationship might not work out.