I have recently started to date a new woman, the first woman I have been serious about since my divorce, but I’m unsure if I really want this relationship. Or maybe I’m just afraid of being hurt again or feel unsure about myself and fear rejection. But I’m holding back and I feel like fear is clouding my judgment. I don’t want to ruin this relationship and run because of my fears and push her away — help.
We think what you are really asking is, "How do you know if you are holding back from something or someone for a fear reason (that you should work to overcome) versus holding back because your gut is saying it isn’t right?"
We are all faced with options and choices every day, and often fear making the wrong choice keeps us stuck. We believe if you work on getting rid of your subconscious fears first, you then gain clarity and find it easier to feel which path is right for you. So, we are going to give you some steps for doing that.
But first, understand we all participate in the world differently, according to our unique past experiences. Our past experiences, the family we came from, and the things we were taught all contribute in creating subconscious core fears and core values, which now influence our ability and enthusiasm toward taking risks.
Ask yourself, how do you show up in the world? What is your comfort level with risk within your relationships? Do you put your neck out to say, 'I love you' first or do you wait for your partner to be the first to confess their feelings? Similarly, are you a person who is comfortable with commitment, travel, responsibility and financial stretches? Or do you stay close to home and save money over spending it? Maybe your ability to commit to a relationship is not just about fear of getting hurt, but also your comfort with risk and vulnerability in general.
Many of us play small and safe in the world, we doubt our abilities, our looks, our worth, our intelligence, and our worthiness to do or have big things. We might play safe in our relationships, too. We might feel unworthy to ask out a really amazing woman or think a great guy would never be interested in us.
The fear of failure (fear of not being good enough) can cause you to compare yourself to others, feel insecure, doubt yourself and feel at risk in every relationship. It can also make you show up needy of reassurance, attention and validation, which often cause relationship problems.
People who have less fear of failure play bigger in the world. They commit faster, more forward first, take bigger leaps of faith, and feel more confident in relationships. They have a more secure sense of who they are, what they have to offer, and what they want from a relationship. They also start relationships because they want them, not because they need them — and there is a big difference.
The good news is, with awareness and conscious effort, you can shift yourself from fear of failing and losing out to trusting yourself, your value and your journey. We’ve been helping people do this for 15 years, so we know it’s possible.
If you have real regrets, pain or guilt from your past relationships, it can leave you feeling powerless and unable or afraid to move forward. Unfortunately, you can’t go back and fix the past, or erase those experiences and their effects, but there are three things you can do that will start to make you feel more confident with yourself and your choices. From this place you can accurately feel which direction your inner truth is nudging you. Here are the three tips for eliminating fear:
1. Claim your value
You get to decide how you (individually) will determine the value of all human beings. You have two options: You can see human value as something we must earn and something that constantly changes with our appearance, performance and property (and this mindset will always leave you feeling not good enough); or you can choose to believe we all have the same intrinsic worth regardless of our appearance, performance, relationship history, how many times we have been dumped, or married, how many children we have, or the amount of money we have in the bank.
And you can choose to believe we all have the same value, all the time and it cannot change ever (If you choose this belief your fear of failure will start to shrink).
The world has adopted the first option, though, and teaches us to measure our worth by our successes, our finances and our looks. However, you don’t have to adopt that system if you don’t want to. You can choose to believe we all have the same intrinsic worth as every other human being on the planet all the time, even on a bad hair day or the day you get dumped.
This belief helps us drop the comparison to the others game, and really lean into a sense of confidence and value. This mindset means our confidence does not take a hit every time we are stood up, make a mistake, or compare ourselves to the other guys and girls that our new partner has dated.
If you choose this belief for yourself, you will find your confidence grows and you will have less fear around your decisions. To live without guilt and regret, you must be able to stand firm and secure in your decisions and know you always did the best you could with what you knew at the time, and no decision affected your value.
2. Be open to seeing life as a classroom
Another core subconscious belief you may have gained along the way is the idea that life is a test (which you must pass or fail). This belief is tied to the idea that your value is in question and can change. You, again, could consciously choose a different mindset if you wanted to, that life is a classroom and the purpose of you being on the planet is growth and learning, but your value isn’t tied to any of it.
When you are open to seeing life as a journey towards growth and wisdom, you will feel the universe is working for you, not against you. You could choose to believe that every situation in your life is providing a perfect opportunity for greater growth. This means you cannot make a bad choice, because you can only, as Jason Mraz says, “win some or learn some”, and either way it’s a win in the long run. This mindset makes you feel safer in the world and braver. Challenge yourself this week to look for growth opportunities in every choice, instead of fear.
3. Trust the Journey
If you choose to see life as a classroom, it means that everything in the universe (and in your life) has purpose and meaning, and is there to serve you in some way. When we look up the stars, we see amazing order there and be don't believe we live in a world with random chaos running the show. We believe the universe is a wise teacher who knows what it's doing (We can’t prove this is true, but no one can prove it’s untrue — so we believe it is a mindset choice). This is a mindset choice you get to make every day. Will you trust the universe or fear everything?
If you choose to trust the universe, it might change the way you are looking at this possible relationship. You were attracted to this person for one reason, because there is something this relationship can teach you. What you cannot know is if it’s meant to be a short lesson or a lifelong one. But you are meant to be connected to this person for some reason.
This applies to every situation in your life, too. When you choose this level of trust in the universe, you can take more risks and embrace the journey that comes your way, and believe that no matter what happens it’s going to make you better in some way and for a greater purpose.
With hindsight, we believe you will see how all the dots were linked and why it all happened as it did, but for now, you get to embrace the uncertainty and trust the universe knows what it’s doing and there is something bigger in play. When you trust the journey you can also trust your gut to guide you to wherever you need to be.
If you will start consciously choosing to trust, your value is the same no matter what you choose, and trust the universe will only provide the perfect lessons you need (even if they are hard ones) you will feel more confident in yourself and with your level of risk in your relationships and other areas of your life.
Since learning these principles and putting them into practice in our lives, we have found huge leaps forward in progress. Choosing to trust in your value and your journey make us live bigger and it has always paid off bigger too.
Remember, life is not about having any guarantees; it is about taking the risks you feel nudged to take (which feel wise, even though they are out of your comfort zone) so you can grow, learn, progress and really claim an amazing life. Often it is in these times of growth and risk that you reap the greatest rewards.
Get in trust and then see what your gut is saying.
You can do this!
My spouse is willing to be intimate with me, but she isn’t into it. She goes through the motions because she wants to make me happy, but it feels like another chore she just has to do. I try to make it enjoyable for her, but she still doesn’t seem to want it for herself. I’m glad she is willing but I really want connection and to feel wanted, not just taken care of. Does that make sense? Is there anything I can do to change this?
We believe what you are experiencing is pretty common, because a really connected, passionate, intimate relationship takes a lot of time and work to create, and many couples dealing with the stresses of children and work find there isn’t much time or energy left for improving the quality of their connection.
Intimacy is also a complicated endeavor. There are many physical, psychological, and emotional factors in play. It’s a touchy subject and can bring up a great deal of shame, embarrassment, discomfort, guilt and disappointment. Some couples are also dealing with past abuse, which makes the subject painful and even traumatic. We aren’t able nor qualified to touch on all of those issues, so we highly recommend seeking out some professional help if your situation involves those. But for those who just want to increase the connection with their spouse, we do have some suggestions.
Before we give you our suggestions, remember it takes two for this kind of tango to work. Both partners must be committed to making the relationship rich, close, connected and loving. You don’t have to be good at it, but you must be committed to doing some work on yourself.
If you are the only one who cares about creating this kind of connection, you have a bigger problem that must be dealt with first. We still recommend you work on the four things below, because sometimes a big shift in your approach can shift your partner somewhat. But if your partner is unwilling to discuss, work on, or seek professional help to improve your relationship, you may have a difficult time solving the problem.
In order to create intimacy that is connected, passionate, fulfilling and truly enjoyable for both parties, there are a few factors that must be present. Here are some things you can work on to make your relationship better and more connected:
This is more than just believing your partner won’t cheat. We are talking about a state where your partner feels truly safe both physically and emotionally. You trust they won’t intentionally hurt you or shame you, and you know they will make your needs as important as their own. This is a big deal because you and your spouse both battle a fear of failure — that you aren’t good enough — every day.
Your partner may be afraid of being judged, criticized, or found wanting or disappointing you. Because of this, they may feel at risk and unsafe a lot of the time and they may even see you as a threat (if you trigger their fear of failure more than you cure it).
If you are someone who points out mistakes, flaws, faults, or issues in your partner and even complains they aren’t affectionate or loving enough, then your partner might not feel safe with you. If they don’t feel safe with you, true connection can’t happen. A safe feeling can only happen when a person feels accepted, appreciated, admired and wanted for who they are right now. They need to know they don’t have to be perfect for you to feel this way either. They need to know they are good enough, even though they make mistakes.
If you are good at making your partner feel safe, there is probably a good amount of trust in the relationship. If you have had a pattern of being disappointed, frustrated or angry towards each other, you may have some work to do to build up your level of trust.
Be honest with yourself about how often you make negative comments versus positive ones to your partner. Does your spouse know you wouldn’t put them down, make fun, or embarrass them in front of other people? Do they feel unconditionally accepted and appreciated? Or are they constantly afraid of disappointing you? Are you quick to forgive or do you keep bringing up past wrongs (they can do nothing to fix)?
We believe trust is the most important factor if you want to upgrade the quality of your intimacy. In order for someone to feel comfortable being extremely vulnerable — something that intimacy requires — they must trust you.
Vulnerability is about letting your guard down, putting yourself out there, and truly letting someone see you and know you — your faults and all. A good intimate relationship requires a serious level of vulnerability on both sides. This is a place outside your comfort zone for most people, but you must get brave enough to go here if you want to have real connected intimacy.
You need to ask yourself these questions: “Am I creating a place in this relationship where my partner feels safe to be vulnerable and take risks with me? Does he/she know I’m loyal and wouldn’t betray them, laugh at them, or even worse, criticize or judge them? Do they know I won't hurt them intentionally?”
You also want to ask yourself if you are willing to get vulnerable, take risks, admit your faults and flaws, apologize for mistakes and get out of your ego and into your authentic, vulnerable, heart space? If you feel unsafe to be vulnerable because of body image issues, a lack of comfort around your sexuality, or deep insecurity, these are areas where you must do some work.
If your partner is the one with fears holding them back, you might want to offer to pay for some coaching or counseling to help them overcome these fears. Until the underlying fear issues are dealt with, they will always hold back from being vulnerable and it will be hard to have real connection in intimacy.
3. Comfort level with sexuality
The truth is some people, who grew up in homes where righteousness was in the forefront, may have not learned to be comfortable with their sexuality. We know people who were taught to see physical intimacy as dirty or bad, and they really struggle to feel comfortable with intimacy now. This is not something you can change overnight. First, it’s going to take some work and some willingness and desire to change it.
If you know this is an issue for you or your spouse, we recommend talking to a professional, who can help you create a path towards a different mindset around being intimate.
If your spouse doesn’t care that he or she isn’t comfortable with sexuality, so they aren’t even willing or interested in working on it, you might want to explore what scares them about getting help or changing their mindset. They may have fear of failure around even trying, because they are afraid they still won’t be good at it. They may have fear around how much you might expect from them if they open that door at all. They may be scared of the unknown and staying with the known feels safer.
Until you deal with underlying fear issues and also explore physiological reasons for low libido, you won’t get far on changing the mindset. Make sure you talk to your spouse with a lot of compassion, and validate, honor and respect their right to feel and think the way they do. Don’t make them feel broken, dumb or bad because they haven’t had life experiences that make them feel comfortable yet. Stay out of your fear of loss around not getting the married relationship you wanted — that is all about you and won’t help them feel safer.
You must become the cure to your partner’s fear of failure if you want them to feel connected to you; you must not be the cause of more fear of failure. This means giving them lots of validation and reassurance they are amazing and loved, and not making them feel broken.
4. Desire to both give and receive
Intimacy is connected, passionate and authentically fulfilling when both partners can equally give and receive. But many of us have a subconscious tendency to do one or the other better. Some of us are more natural takers or receivers and we love being given to, pampered, and treated like a queen or king. Others are more natural givers and servers, and we feel safer when we are giving and taking care of everyone around us.
If you are a natural giver, you might not be a very good receiver. You might even be a little co-dependent and think your value comes from giving and if you aren’t giving you may feel selfish. If this sounds like you, you need to learn how to receive, especially if you want to have amazing intimacy.
You might need to start treating yourself to a massage, let others watch your kids so you can relax and do something fun without feeling guilty around it. If this sounds almost impossible to you, we highly recommend you get some help changing how you see your own value and worthiness. There are probably many areas of your life where your over-giving is creating problems.
If you are an over-receiver (taker) you might need to do some work on setting your needs aside and really give to your partner. You may need to ask more questions, read some books, or get some help on what your partner needs and wants from you.
This is a complicated question and the answer will be different for every couple, but hopefully this gives you some ideas on where to start.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the president of claritypointcoaching.com. Nicole Cunningham is a master coach and sought after speaker.
My wife and I can’t seem to get along. No matter how hard I try to please her, she says I am selfish with my choices. I am unaware of how my behavior is selfish and have taken great offense to being called this by her again and again. We have been married eight years and I am afraid this may be something we can’t come back from I’m feeling very resentful. Frankly, I think that she is the selfish one, only concerned with herself. Can you give us any advice?
It is hard to feel safe and have good connection in a relationship if you feel your partner is only concerned with their own needs and is not showing up for you. Most of us tend to pull back and focus on ourselves when we feel this too, which means we can become selfish. This is a recipe for disaster in a marriage, because if everyone is focused on what they aren’t getting — no one is giving anything.
You must accurately understand what causes selfishness though if you want to fix it. We believe the real cause of selfishness is fear of loss, and we all battle fear of loss to some degree every day. Fear of loss is basically suffering over feeling mistreated, taken from, ripped off, walked on, or not getting what you were hoping to get.
Every time your spouse does anything that makes you feel your needs aren’t being met, you may find yourself in a fear of loss, scarcity, hard-done-by state. The second you feel you aren’t getting what you expected, you can be in fear of loss and this drives you to subconsciously focus on protecting yourself, controlling things and getting your own needs met. Fear of losing out creates selfishness.
The question you must ask yourself is how much of the time are you thinking about what you aren’t getting and how often are you focused on meeting your spouse’s needs and giving to them? (The right answer is not what you might think.) Being totally focused on the other person isn't healthy either. It's co-dependent and this creates problems in relationships too. The right answer is to have a good equal balance between taking care of yourself and showing up for your spouse.
Good relationships are created when both partners are working on their own fears of failure and loss, feel secure and good about themselves and know how to ask for what they want and need (so they are responsible for their needs and don’t make it their partner's job to keep them happy.)
It is your job (not your partner's) to make sure your needs are being met and your bucket is kept full. If you are running on empty and are desperate for validation and reassurance, you are good enough, loved and wanted, you are probably not good at asking for what you need and doing self-care. This is the first thing we recommend you both work on. If you make sure your bucket is full, you will always have the energy to give to your family.
But, you could have an unhealthy partner, who despite any amount of self-care, boundaries and speaking up, isn’t interested in showing up for you. If you really feel your spouse doesn’t care and is only in this for themselves, we highly recommend you seek out a coach or counselor, who can help you both work on the relationship. If your spouse is not willing to get professional help, you may have a tough decision to make about what’s right for you moving forward.
Having said that, most of the time selfishness can be fixed if you both recognize your fears of failure and loss, and learn how to get out of them. We believe many of us withdraw when we are triggered by the fear of failure in a relationship, as we feel it’s safer to be alone and protect ourselves, especially if we receive criticism or feedback that is negative.
Your fear of failure is probably getting triggered by your wife’s feedback that you are selfish and this might be making you pull back and even become selfish because you are now focused on protecting yourself. When one spouse reacts in fear (which is selfish) it usually triggers the other person's fears and brings out selfishness in them too.
It sounds like your wife may be suffering with fear of loss, as she feels life is unfair and she is not getting the happy marriage she believed she would have. The fear of loss is triggered any time you feel taken from or your expectations are not met. Fear of loss may also be showing up in you, as you think about the impact of your wife’s criticism and the fact you also don’t have the marriage you wanted.
Instead of staying triggered in these fears you must adjust your mindset about your value, knowing it cannot be diminished no matter what your spouse thinks or says about you, and learn to see this situation as a learning opportunity.
In what ways could your wife’s feedback and comment about selfish behavior be your perfect learning opportunity right now? Would you be open to thinking about how you could use this issue to strengthen your marriage and see her feedback as just her way of trying to ask for the love she needs?
Actually, there is a powerful truth here you must understand -- all bad behavior is really a request for love. Most of the time this person who is attacking you is really subconsciously begging for validation and reassurance to quiet their fears. It is their fears of failure and loss that are driving the attacks. When you see their behavior accurately, you can handle it in a way that will create connection, not conflict.
Many of us are ill equipped with how to see behavior accurately, communicate, and ask for what we need in our marriage in a healthy way. Instead, we create hidden expectations that our spouse is supposed to fulfill, yet we don’t communicate them well, so they aren’t met, and we end up disappointed and even angry at our spouse. Where does the fault really lie for this? We believe it takes two scared people to create this dynamic, so you both have some work to do.
When expectations aren’t met, resentment begins and the label of "selfish" comes in. Instead of accepting this as a fact in your marriage, here are some things you can do:
1. Make time and space for some loving conversations and ask your partner how you could show up better for them, and let them ask you for what they need. ‘Honey, in what way can I support you right now and make you feel more loved?’ Ask your spouse this weekly.
2. Make a rule that neither of you will bring up past bad behavior, but focus only on the good behavior you want and need moving forward.
3. Pick one thing to work on doing to love your spouse better this week.
4. When you feel the triggers of self-pity, criticism or fear show up, remember your value can’t change and is the same no matter what and this is just this week’s lesson the universe has provided to give you a chance to practice being more wise and loving. We are on this planet to grow and learn. We believe your spouse can help you grow by pushing your fear buttons and bringing out your worst behavior so you can work on it, but these experiences are not a curse, they are an opportunity to become more mature, wise, strong and loving.
You can do this.
There is a free worksheet to guide you through having mutually validation conversations with your spouse on our website, and the Choosing Clarity workbook would also really help.
My sons are very close in age: 15 and 17 years old. They seem to have this constant need for competition and they put each other down all the time. As their mom, it breaks my heart that they need to compete like this and that they can’t see the goodness I see in each of them. How do I stop the bickering and the constant competition and make sure my boys leave for college with healthy self-esteem?
Thank you for asking this important question. So many parents ask us this same thing — why is there so much competition between kids?
Realistically this is not a teen or child issue. This is a global issue we see in people everywhere. We see it within families, at work and even between neighbors.
Recently over the Fourth of July weekend, all our street was camped out on deck chairs on driveways lighting fireworks. It was beautiful; there were spectacular sights in every direction. But I overheard our immediate neighbor say out loud to his son, "Go to the truck and get the extra box, we must beat the Johnsons," who live on the other side of the street a few doors up. The question is, what is driving our need for this competition, even as mature adults?
Deep down every one of us, including your boys, is struggling with worthiness. The question they (and we) ask ourselves every day is, are we enough? Do I look good in this? Do my shoes match my earrings? Am I good enough to make the team? Will my score be enough on the test?
We all question every day whether we are enough, what value we have, and how we compare to others. This fear appears both consciously and subconsciously for our children. Every day they mix with other kids who are better, smarter, more capable and more talented than them, and this even happens at home. This is a reality in life, not just childhood, so we must help them build an "emotional resiliency muscle" — this is one of our greatest jobs as parents.
An emotional resiliency muscle is the aspect of yourself that is secure in your personal worth and value, that doesn’t have a need to compare yourself to others and feels secure in the knowingness that your life has purpose and meaning in every circumstance. We want to help you achieve this for yourself and teach it to your children.
Here are the steps to building an emotional resiliency muscle:
1. Remind yourself and your family that we all have the same value all the time and it never changes.
There is nothing your children can do to achieve or earn more value nor lose it. Your neighbor doesn’t lose value when he irritates you, and no one you know is better than you either. Human value is unchangeable and every person is a one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable human soul that has infinite worth and value.
Therefore, when your child comes home with a 4.0 GPA you should celebrate their efforts, but remind them they still have the exact same value as their sister who only received a C on her math test, who tried just as hard and did her best.
When we truly show our children we celebrate their efforts, not only their achievements, they understand their value isn’t tied to appearance, performance or property, and they will feel more secure in themselves. For this to really work and improve their self-esteem, it has to be something you talk about daily — that no matter what you do you still have the same intrinsic worth as everyone else. You may not get the rewards that come to those who work harder, which is an important lesson, but your value as a human soul doesn’t change.
2. Teach your children to celebrate their wins and their losses.
This may sound counterintuitive, but when we place the same value on wins and losses and see them both as important parts of our development and growth, we teach emotional resiliency. We do this by highlighting the fluctuations of life and role modeling for them that every circumstance and situation, both the good and the bad, are here to serve us and help us grow. We can show children by example that they can feel safe in every circumstance and we can and do bounce back from failures.
It is important for your children to watch you show this kind of emotional resiliency with life’s ups and downs instead of panicking or becoming despondent. To achieve this, you may need to adjust your perspective to see life as your perfect classroom instead of a test that determines your worth. When you see life as a test, you feel enormous pressure to succeed and compete against life and others. You view it as a mountain that must be conquered, instead of a process of enjoyment where you will grow and be strengthened.
With your current level of emotional resiliency, you can show your kids a realistic picture of life, learning and growth or you can paint a picture of fear about the future and life itself. When we role model strength, wisdom and accuracy about the lessons of life for our children, showing them every moment of life enables us to grow and is here to shape us in some way, we are teaching them to see the universe as for them, not against them.
3. Detach from perfectionism.
Many of us can live lives attached to unrealistic expectations for ourselves, others and our lives in general. Idealism and perfectionism are one and the same, a toxic monster that can make us feel like we are failing constantly. How many times do you find yourself thinking, “If I just earned more money I would be happier,” “If I could just lose this baby weight I would feel better about myself” and “If my children were more obedient we would not be having these problems.”
Emotional resiliency and the happiness that comes from it require us to have correct expectations and intentions for ourselves and our lives. Do you set yourself up to succeed through setting these realistic parameters in which to measure your worth and success or are your children watching you crash and burn constantly because you are engaged in a game of perfectionism? You must show emotional resiliency and set expectations that are practical, logical and pragmatic so you can feel good about your efforts and model this for your kids. If this is hard for you, we recommend you find a coach or counselor to help you let go of perfectionism.
4. Teach your children to be compassionate people.
When we and/or our children put others down to make ourselves feel better, we are not being compassionate people. We must know our intrinsic value without the need to position ourselves as superior or above others to feel good. What you are describing with your sons insulting each other is just this projection of superiority our egos use to cover our insecurities and fear. This is very common for children, teenagers and adults.
Be mindful of your own behavior so you can catch yourself putting another person down, even about something small such as their cooking, housekeeping or ability to drive. It’s hard but important for us to notice our behavior when we do this. Most of this behavior is done subconsciously as our mind and ego play these tricks to make us less threatened in the world. Instead of trying to feel good by placing ourselves above others, we must celebrate our uniqueness and know no matter what others do around us, they and we have unchangeable and infinite value.
Obviously, the most important thing you can do for your kids is to work on yourself and make sure you are modeling confidence, compassion and resiliency yourself.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles and Nicole Cunningham are the coaches behind Claritypointcoaching.com. You can get free resources on parenting and raising confident kids at http://www.claritypointcoaching.com/worksheetsdownloads
SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice Coach Kim shares questions you can ask yourself to see if you might be the problem in your relationship.
I loved your article on toxic people, but I do have a follow-up question. Toxic people believe they are the ones surrounded by toxic people and that they themselves are not the toxic one. Is there a test or a question we can ask ourselves to determine who is actually the toxic one?
You are absolutely right, many toxic (difficult) people cannot see their part in the "people problems" around them. They are often overly focused on the faults and flaws in other people so they won’t have to look at their own. They usually suffer from a huge fear of failure, which means they can’t handle seeing their bad behavior — it would hurt too much if they did. Instead, they practice psychological projection.
Projection is a subconscious defense mechanism to protect us from pain, and we all do it to some degree. There are three types of projection we want you to understand:
Or a wife who is really bothered when her husband texts while driving, but she does the same thing. She knows she shouldn’t do it and feels guilty about it, though, so it bothers her a great deal when he does it.
We all have a subconscious tendency to project our bad behavior, thoughts and feelings onto others (missing our own issues completely). So how can we ever be sure we aren’t the difficult person? How can we become aware of our real behavior?
First, you might want to ask for candid feedback from the people who know you best. This takes courage, though, because your fear of failure will be triggered by their answers. If you remember you have the same value as everyone else and that can’t change no matter what you do, it is easier to handle though. You may also have to reassure the person you ask and convince them you are really open and can handle the truth because you want to learn and improve. If you really want to be a better person, you may want to ask the people closest to you to share one thing you could do to improve and show up for them better and do this on a regular basis.
If the thought of doing that scares you to death, you may want to work with a coach or counselor to build up your self-esteem first. They may also be a safer place to get feedback from because you don’t have a close relationship (like you do with friends or family).
An objective third-party person can often tell you things a family member or friend would be too scared to say. If you are resistant to both the idea of asking for feedback and working with a coach or counselor because both scare you, you definitely need to get some professional help to change your beliefs around your value and what it means to ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help, it’s a sign of maturity and strength.
We also believe that no one is broken, bad, wrong or worse than anyone else. We are all just totally different and in a unique classroom journey, which no other person can really understand, and we have the exact same intrinsic value. We all have strength and weaknesses, good behavior and bad behavior, and being vulnerable enough to see yours and ask for help to become better means you are accurate, strong, out of your ego and humble enough to be teachable and ready to grow.
Here are some questions you might also ask yourself to determine if you are the problem or a toxic person:
Don’t have any shame around this. Just own that you may need some life skills you haven’t had the opportunity to learn thus far in your life. It does not make you less valuable than anyone else; it just means it’s time to upgrade your people, healthy thinking and life skills.
It’s time to find a professional you feel safe with to help you change the underlying fears that drive your dramatic, selfish, protective or toxic behavior. You are not a bad person, though. You are just a scared, insecure, worried person, who needs to learn another way to process life and what happens to you.
You can do this, and it’s easier than you think.
To my reader who asked this question: Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely that the toxic people in your life would even read this article nor answer the questions honestly. They would feel too vulnerable and their ego would really resist going there. Again, this is just their fears at work. You would have to really reassure them of their value to you and your belief in them to make them feel safe enough to be open to looking in this mirror.
Kimberly Giles is a popular author, speaker and coach. There is a worksheet on her website to help you see if you are the problem in your relationship http://www.claritypointcoaching.com/worksheetsdownloads
SALT LAKE CITY —In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim shares some tips for surviving your dealings with toxic, difficult people.
Why are ex-spouses so mean and vindictive? I've been divorced almost seven years and my ex still never misses a chance to tell the kids what a loser I am. It can be petty things like,"Your dad doesn't know how to make healthy meals" and "You'll get fat if you stay with him" or "Your dad no longer believes in (our church) and is not capable of loving you like I do because real love comes from Jesus." How do I even address this type of nonsense? I can cook, by the way, let's be clear on that. How do you deal with this kind of person?
You asked a bunch of questions here, so let me address each one, and for my readers, these answers can apply to any toxic person in your life, not just an ex-spouse.
First, you asked, “Why are ex-spouses so mean and vindictive?”
Most of them are committed to a story that casts you as the bad one, and they need to put you down constantly to distract their focus from their own fears of inadequacy and loss. Most hurtful people are hurt themselves and they focus on judging and criticizing you because dealing with their own issues would be too painful. They usually have a huge fear of not being good enough (or being inadequate, broken or messed up in some way). We all have it to some degree and it drives a lot of our bad behavior too.
Having a marriage fail usually triggers the fear of failure in a big way, so most people after divorce (consciously or subconsciously) create a story that casts the other spouse as the problem. They can be very attached to this story because their self-worth is literally dependent on it. They may even need to feed the story and make it bigger by adding new faults and flaws all the time. Adding to this story may even become their safe place and they may spend a great deal of time here.
Remember, they do this to avoid the deep pain that comes with recognizing they might have issues and problems too. The more fear of failure they have, the more committed they may be in blaming you and making sure everyone knows you were/are the problem.
We call this behavior the “Shame and Blame Game” and we all play it to some extent. You might notice it when you forget to do something you promised to do, and instead of owning the mistake, you go off about the stupid people at work that messed your day up. When any shame experience hits you, you will subconsciously jump to the nearest plausible person to blame.
(If you watch for this behavior you will see it in yourself and others all the time. It’s a common tendency of human nature.)
You will also see people (or you might be someone) who is quite judgmental of others and find yourself involved in gossip, criticism and backbiting now and then. We do this because, again, it subconsciously and temporarily distracts us from our own fears of inadequacy. We might also complain about the company, the schools, the government, the church, the neighbors or anyone we can see bad in, because this subconsciously makes us feel like the good guy, in light of how bad all these other people are. This is just a trick our egos play to feel better.
Really toxic people (I’m talking about those that are almost impossible to have a productive, respectful relationship with) are usually deeply afraid they aren’t good enough and are afraid of being mistreated or taken from. They may hide these fears behind a great deal of ego and act very arrogant, but underneath it, they are a very scared person. Seeing them as scared, and not just offensive, will help you to have more compassion and less anger around them.
We consider these types of people toxic because their fears keep them focused, day and night, on getting, doing, saying or creating whatever they need to quiet those fears. In this state, they are very selfish and are mostly incapable of showing up for anyone else. They are so busy guarding, protecting and promoting themselves, they have nothing left to put into relating with the rest of us.
I tell you this, not so you can stand in judgment of them, but so you can have some accuracy and compassion for what’s behind their bad behavior. Having said that, it does not mean you have to continue to deal with them. Your best bet is usually to love them from afar. It is perfectly reasonable to have firm boundaries and stay away from them as much as possible.
It sounds like your ex is one of these fear-driven, scared people, who sink to the level of tearing others down, so they can feel better. It sounds like she has launched a campaign to convince your children she is the good guy and you are the bad guy. That is really sad because, in the end, it is your kids who will be hurt by this behavior. Your ex may also feel threatened by you and be afraid the kids will end up taking your side or liking you better, and this drives even more bad behavior.
Your next question was, “How do I address this type of nonsense? How do you deal with this kind of person?”
Here are some tips for dealing with toxic people:
1. Take the high road. Don’t sink to her level and say negative things about her to the kids.
The kids will figure out on their own the truth about who both their parents are. You show them every day with your behavior. If you continue to be mature, kind, respectful, loving and calm, your kids will adore and respect you no matter what your ex may tell them. If they believe her lies now, be patient because the truth rises to the surface on its own. If they ask you directly about things she says, answer honestly, but be careful not to sink to her level.
2. Remember your value is the same no matter what she says about you.
She cannot diminish you! She can’t change the truth about who you are. Hold onto that and don’t react to her darts. Let them all bounce off and don’t even be offended by them. They can’t hurt you unless you pick them up and stab yourself with them.
3. Choose to see this situation as an interesting classroom that apparently has something to teach you or is meant to grow you.
If you choose to, you can see every experience in your life as something that is here to serve and grow you. If you choose to see life this way, it feels like life is serving you, not trying to crush you. In this place, you will see each experience as a chance to rise and do better or become better.
Take the challenge to rise and be a better version of yourself in spite of (or even through) this experience. I believe difficult people are here to show us the limits of our love and stretch us and help us learn to love (or have compassion) at a higher level. This doesn’t mean you accept abuse from them, but it does mean you handle it with as much class, maturity and kindness as possible— while protecting yourself too.
4. When you have to respond and interact with a toxic person, choose to make yourself bulletproof and undiminishable so that nothing they do or say can anger or upset you.
You are in control of how much another person’s actions affect you. No one can anger or upset you without your participation and willingness to experience that. You are responsible for how upset you choose to be. You may have an unconscious upset reaction to a situation that shows up so fast you didn’t consciously choose it. But as you realize you are upset, you then have the power to choose how miserable and upset you want to stay and for how long.
5. Give yourself a set amount of time (a reasonable amount) to be really angry and upset. Then choose something better.
I usually need 15 minutes to really be mad and upset about what someone said or did, and I make those 15 minutes really count and I allow myself to really suffer in the hurt and anger.
Then, I decide I really don’t want to live in this state because it will hurt me more than the person who upset me. I choose another emotion that I deserve to feel instead. (I sometimes have to take my anger and put it in a closet and lock the door for now. That way I know I can go back in there and dwell in it again if I really need to.) But for now, I will choose something more constructive, like gratitude for what’s right in my life, love for my kids, or kindness toward others.
Do not let other people decide how happy, miserable, peaceful or upset you will be today. Consciously choose for yourself. Choose the emotions inside you in every moment because letting others dictate how you feel is letting them have power over you, which is what they want.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the president of claritypointcoaching.com and is a popular speaker. Get her Don't get Upset Ebook here at this link http://www.claritypointcoaching.com/worksheetsdownloads
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.