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DSC00784In a talk I gave a few weeks ago about transforming toxic interactions, a member of the audience asked me, “What do you mean when you talk about boundaries?”  This was a great question from a group of people who were interested in changing their interactions for the better.

In fact, many of us have had blurry boundaries modeled for us through family interactions, TV shows and romance novels.

Boundaries define what is or is not acceptable treatment from others.  They mark you as being sovereign; a free agent in charge of your life and your choices.

When boundaries are honored, you feel respected and empowered.  When trespassed, you feel, and probably are, disrespected.

The distinction can be very obvious, as when someone eats off your plate or calls you a foul name.  When a friend shares embarrassing confidential information about you to a whole group of acquaintances, you are likely to feel disrespected and even vulnerable about what future boundary violations may be in store for you from such a person.

More insidious disrespect is often shown by those who provide unsolicited help, and such help is often a power play.  The employee who tells me how to turn on the projector which I have already powered up is being helpful.  He is also demonstrating his assumption that I don’t know how to operate the projector without assistance.

The person in the audience who interrupts the presentation to add expert information, which doesn’t really support the speaker’s topic, is pretending to be helpful while her intention is to demonstrate superior knowledge, even though she is not the speaker.

Notice the wonderful people who honor boundaries and show you respect.  Seek out more of them.  They have certain sterling traits.  Primary of these is the empathy to discern where your boundaries are.  They also respect your ability to live your life, make choices and take care of yourself.

They may seem less helpful, but they respectfully assume you are handling things until you tell them otherwise.  They won’t often rescue you unless you request their help, but when they do help you, there will be no strings attached.

Through the Portal from Avoidance to Attraction

DSC00860Those of us who have experienced power plays, bullying, narcissistic abuse and just plain awful relationships find we are much better off when we learn to identify and avoid toxic people.  Being consciously aware and cautious of the red flags which signal unhealthy interactions is critical for anyone who has been entangled with a wolf in a sheep suit.  Developing discernment is the first step to freedom.

Getting too focused on problem behaviors and red flags, however, has a downside.  It is not enough to avoid difficult people.  At some point, we want to actively attract healthy, supportive people and have easy, loving relationships.  Avoidance is not attractive.

The metaphysical minded tell us that what we focus on expands; that we attract what we think of the most according to habitual feelings.  This makes avoidance a bad strategy for finding new and better relationships.  And, indeed, avoidance is only a part of the process.

When avoiding problem people, it’s a good idea to ask, “What do I want instead?”  In this way, we move away from the competitive and move toward the collaborative.  Rather than moving randomly away from the problem, and perhaps toward another problem, we can set a course away from the problem and directly toward the solution.  The solution is the relationship we wanted in the first place, or maybe even better than that.  This is to be found in a different territory altogether.

Simple steps through this portal;

  • Believe that there exist wonderful relationships with delightful people.  Find an example of a wonderful relationship, to prove to yourself it exists.
  • Know you are worthy of great relationships.  If you have been targeted by a low-empathy type, chances are very good that you value relationships, have a great deal of empathy, and are a socially savvy person.  Your matches, personally and professionally, are others who empathize and collaborate.
  • List the behaviors and traits you avoid as red flags.
  • For each red flag, define what you want instead.  For example:  My last manager made me feel criticized.  I want a manager with whom I feel accepted and supported.
  • Seek out people with whom you feel consistently good.

Set aside any cynicism.  (It doesn’t really protect you.)  See what happens after a couple of weeks of redirecting your attention in this way.

Some Facts are Easier to Face than Others

If you have been the target of abuse, it can be easy to believe that all relationships have serious downsides.  Experts may have told you that even the best relationships are a lot of work.  Doesn’t that sound like fun?

If you have been conditioned to have poor boun
daries, people who disrespect boundaries can find you highly attractive.  It’s as if they see you and think, “Oh goody!  She’s nice and I don’t have to behave around her!”  You may meet a narcissistic or controlling person and (maybe subconsciously) think, “All my patterns fit in beautifully with his!  It’s a match made in heaven!”  Thus, you start relationships which seem great and then end up being painful.  This could make you feel that you can only draw disrespect from others, but it’s not true!

Some so-called experts suggest that a target of narcissistic abuse can never really heal, but I find this claim highly suspect, not least because it usually comes from a victim who has never really healed.  The exceptions prove that notion wrong, for me, and for clients and friends.

It is possible to identify and break the patterns that have put you in what passes for a relationship.  You then attract people with surprising depths instead of shocking shallows.

Finding good, safe relationships requires an attitude change, but it is well worth it!  Most of the new ideas you will need to accept are ones you have always wanted to believe anyway.

At their core, people are whole, perfect and complete.  This means you!  When I coach clients to get the messages from their emotions and release them instead of stuffing them, we always uncover the same core state.  The underlying energy is love.  Just as the sun shines steadily behind a storm, love is the steady force
behind swirling emotions.Depositphotos_6988428_s-2015

As you begin to function on this deeper level of love, you are more genuine and you attract people on that level as well.   There is always access to more love.  There is no need to settle for painful relationships. There is no rejection at this level, either.  You either fit with another or not.

Meanwhile, you do have to become more mindful and present, and you do have to learn to begin relationships more slowly.  Give yourself time to identify personal boundary gate-crashers, and to mark the contradictory messages from crazy-makers with “return to sender.”

You may have to just trust that there is something worth holding out for.  But you can hold out for soul connected partnerships, sane and loving friends, a therapist who is actually therapeutic, honest attorneys, a reliable hair stylist (I’ve seen it happen!) and maybe even collaborative workplace relationships.

Teaching Kids about the Domination Culture

A Harvard study of 10,000 middle and high-school age youth across all income levels and ethnic backgrounds between 2013 and 2014 discovered that children are taught to value personal success and happiness over caring.

Of those studied, 75% said they valued personal success over being kind.  More telling is that  80% said their parents emphasized personal success over being kind and over happiness.  The prevalent rhetoric which bemoans bullying, disrespect and unkind behavior is obviously not convincing our children, who are learning largely selfish notions of success.

The Harvard study seems to treat success caring and happiness as mutually exclusive values as it asks young people to rank them.  Success and caring are not necessarily separate, but statistics back up the finding that success is valued at the expense of caring.

Half of high school students admit to cheating on a test and nearly 75% admit to copying someone else’s homework (Josephson Institute, 2012). Nearly 30% of middle and high school students reported being bullied during the 2010-2011 school year (NCES, 2013). In that same year, over half of girls in grades 7-12 reported at least one episode of sexual harassment at school (Hill & Kearl, 2011).

These values stress children, encourage them to harm each other psychologically and promote a depressing and dysfunctional world view in which most people cannot win.  The predominance of evidence actually indicates that our survival depends on collaboration and caring, (See The Bond, by Lynne McTaggart) but without believing and living it, parents cannot promote the value of civility to their children.

Dr. Ruth Defends her Stop Bullying and Anti Abuse Thesis

My recent life experience leads me to consider that I am completing an unofficial PhD in bullying and pobabswer plays.  Like any other PhD candidate, I am a bit weary of the topic, so have found it difficult to blog on it of late.  Like other PhD candidates, I am also grappling with some of the more complicated aspects of the subject in an attempt to learn them.

Where most PhD candidates must defend their thesis in a formal way, I have had to refine my defense repeatedly in impromptu challenges from the power hungry or the insensitive in my environment.

There have been one-up interactions with co workers.  “I can help you run that report” says another manager in a way that suggests I am too old to grapple with point and click technology.  Later when I call
in his help to set a filter on the report, I discover he knows less about it than I do.

I have faced sabotage by colleagues:  “I forgot to tell you we changed the location of the event,” the event being one I need to publicize.  This is from a colleague who is not forgetful and who remembered to tell everyone else involved.

I have held my ground in combative conversations with disordered personalities, such as a lunch date who yelled at me for asking a question then scolded me for an unrealistic point of view then told me I’m her best friend.

I have observed extreme bad manners such as the committee member who rolls her eyes dismissively as others express their opinions.

As a person with an odd personality (INFJ shared with only 2% of the population,) and its different way of perceiving and processing, it is easy for me to be the outsider in any group and while I’m not especially controversial, I do consider and question things others take for granted.  I realize that all of us who are different can be annoying to others.  But as Steve Martin used to say, “Well, excuuuuse ME!”

However irritating my experiences, they have helped me distill my thesis into its most important essence.  Here is the shared power thesis:

As humans, we have a need for belonging so intense that not belonging can kill us as infants.  A sense of belonging in adults is one of the most important indicators for health, far outweighing other lifestyle factors such as tobacco use.

Experiments in which subjects were caused to feel like outsiders resulted in social pain in those subjects, and their resulting brain activity is the same as the brain activity associated with physical pain.

Therefore, it is just plain unkind to be unkind.  If you lack empathy, you won’t get this point, so just read on.  There’s more.

Humans are social animals and evidence indicates that we fare better as a group when we collaborate than we do when we compete.  Our brains function best when we feel cared about.  The individual who feels like an outsider experiences pain and stress, which detract from productivity.

Open mindedness, inclusion, tolerance and respect are simply efficient.  They may be a little less comfortable, but they get bottom line results.

OK.  What’s your thesis?  Let’s hear your defense for exclusion, power plays and disrespect?

Your Feelings are Showing

Communication is often equated to finding the right words to express oneself. This may be sufficient for writing an email or a thank you note, Boredom in the officebut when communicating in person, there is a huge portion of your expression of which you are probably not conscious, and those you speak with don’t have to be super intuitive to pick up on these messages.

When I was a teenager, my mother told me, “Rolling your eyes or sighing are just as much talking back as a verbal argument,” and there were consequences for these expressions even without my verbally talking back. And honestly, when a coworker rolled his eyes in response to the speaker in a meeting, it felt just as rude as if he had verbally called her stupid. He wasn’t even aware that he had done that and now wonders why relations with that coworker are strained.

Unconscious communications are hard to hide for those of us without certain personality disorders. A coworker turns red in the face and scowls whenever anyone disagrees with her in even the most polite way. A customer service representative says he’s sorry he can’t help you and yet smiles as he disappoints you. You get the message loud and clear and yet may feel you cannot complain about the behavior because it isn’t overt.

We don’t always get the expressions right. The person scowling in the audience may be seriously considering what you say. The one who is smiling at your presentation may be thinking about last night’s date. But in most interactions, you really can’t fool anyone about your true feelings, and your true feelings are not always acceptable ones. How do you communicate without inadvertently offending people?

You can become hyper aware of your expressions and keep a lid on any which convey unacceptable messages, but this takes a lot of effort and you will probably forget and let the mask slip when you get absorbed in the business at hand.

When you do catch yourself sending a potentially offensive message with your expression, it can help to explain yourself. “If I’m scowling, it’s because I can’t figure out a foolproof way to implement that policy,” or, “I’m sighing as I try to imagine how we could do what you suggest,” or, “I’m sorry, that reminded me of something funny, I’m not laughing at what you said.”

If you really want to communicate constructively, it may be wise to cultivate a basic respect and patience for the people you deal with, so your expressions are less likely to convey contempt or anger. It isn’t a quick trick, but it is quite foolproof.


Nick Morgan “Power Cues” author Gives Great Advice for Finding your Power

This is a link to a great blog post about getting your subconscious on board.  The source of your power comes not from the intellect but from the unconscious parts of the mind.  As long as the unconscious belief is that you lack power, you won’t fool anyone else.  Nick Morgan tells how to change what you project.  Check it out here.

Quick and Dirty Body Language Reading Tutorial

Skeptic. Doubtful woman looking at youIf you hope to avoid unsafe people, it helps to be able to read the non verbal cues.  The interviewer tells you, “I have a collaborative management style.”   Your date says, “We are so similar it’s scary!”  Your coworker assures you, “You can trust me to support you.” It sounds great. Is it true?

When we think of communication we usually think of language; written and spoken, possibly illustrated with pictures, facial expressions or gestures. When we listen to words, we focus conscious attention on an estimated 7% of of the communication.

Almost all of the information we communicate s is not verbal. Most of us pick up this information without being consciously aware of it, and nonverbal communication may be far more reliable than spoken words. It is easy to lie verbally. It is not so easy to get the body to go along with the story. But how to read what the body says?

You could watch The Mentalist for some tips, but then, you look peculiar when you peer into someone’s face to see if their pupils contracted or their lip twitched. You can learn to read eye movements which indicate whether another person is remembering or fabricating, but you run the risk of misunderstanding these cues if you are the least bit dyslexic, and once you figure out that you are talking with a left handed person, you’ve missed half of what was said and he’s written you off as flaky and inattentive.

If you do not read social cues, (and some of us don’t,) you might want to learn how, bit by bit, The Mentalist way. For others of us who do not play professional poker and just want to know if there’s something fishy about the hiring manager, or the guy we met on, that much skill and detail are not really necessary. You probably already read nonverbal language fairly accurately all the time. You’re just not conscious of it.

The short cut for becoming aware of non verbal cues is your feelings. How do you feel? Do you feel queasy in the job interview? Or, do you get a peaceful easy feeling with the guy you met online?  Do you get vague feelings of unease when your coworker enters the room, or is it more like a sharp pain?  The feeling gives you an executive summary of the entire interaction.

Appreciate the validation of feelings which support the words you are hearing.  Be alert to the feelings which are incongruent with the verbal conversation.  There’s always a chance that heavy feeling is something you had for lunch, but once you rule out the food,  attend to feelings of dread, anxiety, suspicion, or any sense of disempowerment.

If those feelings don’t motivate you to get outta Dodge, then ask searching questions, read the fine print a couple of times, and sleep on the decision.

Non Verbal Abuse

If you want to insult or criticize a friend, family member or co worker without having to confront them or account for yourself, then abusive body language is a skill you should learn.

Say you want to argue with a coworker but you don’t have the courage to confront him and risk being wrong or unpopular.  You can easy dismiss whatever he says as incredibly stupid without saying a word.  It’s quite simply done by casting your eyes heavenward and sighing.  If you are male, you can lean back in your chair to emphasize your point.  Nine times out of ten you will get away with it.  The tenth time, your expression may be met with an impatient, “What?!?!”  At that point, as a coward, you shrug innocently.

If you don’t feel like going to the trouble of counseling a subordinate, you can use such techniques to make that employee feel very uncomfortable.  As this person talks you can use the eye roll and sigh, or better yet, you can look out the window and tune completely out.  Just don’t listen.  This expresses your desire that this employee doesn’t even exist.   Since this method deals with wishful thinking rather than reality, it isn’t very effective.  The employee will probably not take the hint and tender her resignation immediately.  But at least you can avoid the difficult and embarrassing conversation with the employee about her performance that would probably end with her challenging your evaluation.

Let’s say two of your acquaintances are disagreeing.  You want to be on one side of the argument without having to say so and then risk the bad opinion of the person with whom you disagree.  It’s simple.  As the one you agree with makes a point, you slowly grin a wolfish grin.  Without saying a word you have said gotcha!  If you are called on your rude behavior you can claim you remembered a joke.

Grinning while hearing of someone’s misfortunes is also a way to really put down one of your friends.  Hey, wait a minute!  What kind of sick person wants to put down one of their friends?

You might want to think about that.

If you are reading this, chances are you cannot identify with these behaviors.  They are abusive and obnoxious.  If this sort of body language has been directed at you, perhaps you wondered if you were overreacting.  No.   You were not.

There’s a Wolf in that Sheepskin!

SheepWouldn’t it be nice if difficult people were labeled clearly with helpful hazard warnings so you could simply avoid involvement?  But they are not, and in fact, covertly aggressive, controlling, and narcissistic people are deceptively charming at first.  It can take being stung repeatedly to realize that the abusive behavior was not a mistake.  The damage is done before you know you have been targeted.

Early detection of a toxic partner, boss or comrade is not really that difficult.  I have tangled with bullies and worked with their targets enough to know that controlling people invariably tip their hand and, subtly but surely, show their true nature early on in a relationship.  Mixed in with the charm, are fleeting antisocial behaviors which we tend to dismiss as anomalies.

Instead of dismissing odd, out of character behaviors, consider them red flags; warnings to watch a person’s behavior more closely, paying more attention to actions than to words.  A feeling of confusion is the early warning sign that you have perceived inconsistent behavior.  If you feel confused around someone you do not know well, that person’s behavior bears watching.

Toxic people are usually short on empathy and you may see occasional evidence of this.  When a new person in your life fails to respond to your remarks or does not listen to your end of the conversation, they are likely to have a bit more narcissism than the norm.  This doesn’t make for rewarding relationships.

Watch for facial expressions that are not appropriate to the conversation, such as smiling while hearing about another’s misfortune, rolling the eyes dismissively, or turning red in the face and looking angry in an ordinary conversation.  These can indicate hostile feelings.

Attend to any confusing behavior or inappropriate reaction.  When a hiring manager snaps at you during the interview, your new friend is critical, or a date claims he’s interested but shows up late without phoning, don’t write it off as odd.  Question why you are seeing unfriendly behavior in a situation which should be friendly.

Disrespect indicates a lack of empathy.  If a hiring manager wants a decision on the spot in the first interview or a blind date pushes to come to your house, your needs are not being respected.  Disrespect can also take the form of criticism from people who have no business criticizing you. And really, most people have no business criticizing you.  Making assumptions about you can also be disrespectful, such as presuming to know what you think or acting as if you have a closer relationship than you do.

To more quickly evaluate someone you have just met, ask appropriate questions about their relationships to elicit information about whether they empathize with others.  Watch for expression and attitude as much as what is said as you ask how your date gets along with his mom, or how the employees felt about the reorganization.

Follow up on your suspicions.  Always feel justified in running background checks on anyone you date.  If you interview for a job, see if you know someone who has had experience with, or heard gossip about, the company or the reputation of the manager you would work with.

See whether the confusing behavior is really an anomaly before dismissing it.

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