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Falling for a Narcissist. Part 2.

Falling for a Narcissist: A Victims Perspective (Part 2)

A relationship with a Narcissist can be a devastating and mind-boggling affair, that can take many years to process and can prove incredibly damaging for the victim. This sinister ‘Switcher-Roo‘ of relationships, where nothing is quite as it seems, delivers an emotional roller coaster of highs and lows followed by, confusion, fire-fighting and devastation. Adversely affecting the victim's health & mental well-being. The experience can leave the victim 'triggered' and in anguish in the aftermath of trauma, struggling to comprehend what has happened to them, sometimes for many years to come.

Victims may find themselves falling into the same pattern of unhealthy relationships time and time again. Unaware of what has happened to them the first time around, and that they are in fact a victim. A repeat performance further reinforces the

belief that the first narcissist they encountered must have been correct; there is something very wrong with them (the victim), and they are entirely to blame for the string of broken relationships, leaving the victim feeling ashamed and broken, and making them less likely to seek support. In reality, this is not the case.

The victim enters into a relationship>The relationship is wonderful> The relationship is terrible> The relationship is abusive=

What am I doing wrong? what is wrong with me?

In this first blog on the subject; I aim to provide some insight into what I have learned about Narcissistic relationships over the last 25 years, written from a victim view point; both as a survivor and as a professional, supporting other victims. I share glimpses into my own experience of the long and often tedious journey to recovery; and how understanding the trauma, assists in breaking the cycle. Hurt People - Hurt People, as the saying goes, so it’s important we as a society, fully understand both the effects of trauma and the process that delivered it, to ensure we recognize the impact that as survivors, we may have on others, to ensure we do not unknowingly or unconsciously continue the cycle of abuse. One of the ways the brain processes information, is by drawing on previously experience - filling in the blanks with the most likely outcome - which may explain why victims of domestic violence, duck when someone makes a sudden move, even years after leaving the violent situation.

It is important to acknowledge that when you are the person experiencing narcissistic abuse, you have no clue what is actually happening to you. I likened the experience to the cartoon character 'Tasmanian Devil', spinning rough-shod through my emotions, leaving me dazed and dizzy; struggling to find my bearings, as I attempted to re-navigate - re-navigate - re-navigate! - but to no avail. Unbeknownst to the victim, the narcissist, having identified their mark targets their victim. Often taking the time, to watch and learn about their victim before approaching them and taking them through a cleverly disguised, manipulative process, that remains invisible to the victim throughout.

In my experience, the abuser appeared to pop-up out of nowhere, but that couldn't have been further from the truth. In the aftermath of the relationship, I discovered, my emails had been redirected to my abuser's account, which unknown to me, he had achieved at our very first meeting. Although this came as an alarming violation - the discovery helped me to understand so much more about what had been going on. Like how he was always able to find me, even when I had taken myself off quietly to a remote village in Ireland, desperate for a break and to give me some space to think - he showed up unannounced the very next day, causing further panic and confusion. It explained how he was always able to anticipate my mental state; how he knew who I was turning to for advice and support, and why he always managed to discredit the very people that were trying to support me. It also became clearer, why one of my closest allies, who despised him and questioned his motives, was sent expensive, unwanted gifts, even though they were the ones suggesting I should end the relationship.

The narcissist is in complete control throughout. Even after the relationship has ended, many victims never truly understand what has happened to them, which makes falling for it again even more likely. During this process, the victim may feel as though they are losing control, but are unable to ascertain why. They may 'sense' something is wrong, but since they have no solid proof, they struggle to put their finger on what is wrong or why.

Over-riding their instincts and chastising themselves, for what appears to be foolish and petty emotions that keep resurfacing and overwhelming them. The narcissist, fully aware of this will deny any wrongdoing, acting surprised and offended at the mere suggestion; completely turning the tables on the victim, pointing out flaws, offering twisted truths; 'It's you, not me, - you are projecting your own negative emotions onto me because of your previous abusive relationships" This worries the victim, who struggles to deny it might be their fault after all. On-lookers in the form of the victim's friends and family members may attempt to point out sudden changes of behaviour in the victim, even suggesting the new love interest is the cause - they are seeing a very different picture of the situation than the victim can see. The narcissist is used to this kind of objection from the victims nearest and dearest and is prepared for it; it is all part and parcel of their existence.

Anticipating the criticism, the narcissist intercepts; able to provide perfectly plausible explanations to the victim, who is becoming increasingly confused. The narcissist will either try to win the critics approval by befriending them and taking them through the process or, if approval is unlikely, they will isolate their victim, shattering bonds and friendships that may have existed for years. The narcissist is an accomplished actor, reveling in his performance. The victim trusts and confides in the Narcissist, who will now use the sensitive information gathered to further undermine the victims confidence, silently chipping away at the victims core, leaving them questioning themselves; Gas-lighting is the term used to describe this kind of manipulative behaviour.

Befuddled and feeling like they are losing their minds, rather than seeking support; the victim, having been led to believe that they are the problem, will often do everything in their power to appear 'normal', to everyone around them, as not to draw attention to their apparent loss of grip on reality. They will soldier on, trying their best to cope with the overwhelming emotional disturbance. They keep working and going about their daily business trying to hold it together while all the time concealing feelings of confusion, shame and anguish, that is slowly driving them to despair. They may feel as though they are clinging onto their sanity by the skin of their teeth, which may be one of the reasons why few victims of narcissistic abuse are willing to seek help early on; they believe they are the problem, that their judgment is impaired and understandably they fear for their jobs and reputation. The narcissist, who is completely in control, will further damage the victim's confidence by highlighting the victims' flaws and mistakes.

Narcissistic relationships come in many different forms; parent/child, romantic partners, adult/child, employer/employee etc. however this post relates, for the most part to narcissists as romantic partners, although the process remains the same. Having been betrayed by the very people who either Present as caring or who society has taught us should be caring, i.e; parent, partner, authority figure or other; the victim is left stranded alone on an island in their own mind. Trust becomes a serious issue when you sense danger, but don't know who you can trust; the barriers go up, the victim trusts no one, paranoia kicks in, as the victim grapples for a sense of safety and control. All the while, their narcissistic love interest is suggesting to the victim - "it's you; you are nagging/controlling/ jealous/paranoid etc.. The victim, recognising these negative feelings in themselves, cannot deny what appears to be true. They are unaware that it is the narcissist who is making them feel paranoid, jealous, and as if they are losing control. In this frame of mind, the victim is unlikely to hand over what little bit of control they still have left, to someone who 'assumes' to know better. As individuals, we know ourselves far better than anyone else can know us, and when you are struggling to help yourself, it is difficult to accept anyone else is going to be able to help you, which is why the trauma-informed 'person-centered' approach underpins all of my work.

There are three phases to a narcissistic relationship; Idealization, Devaluation, and Discarding. In this post I break down phase 1, in an attempt to provide a clearer understanding of the process. Anyone who has encountered a relationship with a narcissist is likely to identify with the following experience. Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you need support.

Phase 1. Idealization

The 6 Stage Process

Having chosen their Target in phase 1; the Narcissist takes their victim through a 6 stage process. A process is a series of individual steps taken to reach the desired outcome.

Stage One: The Warm Welcome (Presenting the best self/Persona)

Narcissists present as; Attentive, charming, funny, kind, generous, likable, gentle, loving & interested. According to Dale Carnegie's best selling book 'How to win friends and influence people; to appear interesting you must appear interested; the victim has the narcissists undivided attention. Victim's often felt sexually attracted to the narcissist, who presents as a flirtatious and adventurous lover. (often this is only applicable during phase 1).

Victims will often believe that they have met their ideal match; the victim and the narcissistic suitor appear to have lots in common, enjoying many of the same interests. At this stage, the victim is blissfully unaware that this is only a persona; a mask or facade, and not a true reflection of the person underneath.

The difficulty with Stage One:
Most of us have a persona, and are capable of presenting our best selves to the world whenever we need to; a first date or in a job interview for example; Few people own up to leaving their dirty socks and pants strewn about the place on a first date or leaving wet towels on the bed. It's only natural to want to impress a potential mate, and so we share all the good stuff about ourselves; we might be a great cook or a fabulous dancer, we might even suggest we enjoy ironing (as if that could ever be true), we might even embellish our talents a little, as we attempt to impress our date. Likewise in a job interview; It is unlikely we would share information with a prospective employer that could potentially lose us the opportunity; "I tend to be late on Fridays due to getting rat-arsed on Thursdays' or "I often got into bother with my last boss for using the photocopier & stationery cupboard to furnish my local pub quiz team!". We don't tend to share this kind of information, even if its true, because it's unlikely to impress anyone. We are far more likely to sell ourselves and share all the good stuff to ensure we get the job - therefore we are all capable of presenting our best selves! Society teaches us that a persona is a good thing; stiff upper lip, keep your cards to your chest & don't wash your dirty laundry in public!
Most professions require us to use a persona by presenting a public image. No one wants to see a police officer outside a crime scene sucking on a vape because they are feeling stressed - we wouldn't consider that to be very professional. Likewise, we wouldn't appreciate Maureen in customer service yelling at the awkward customer in front of us at the counter and telling them what she really thinks of them - because that's not a professional image, even if the customer has deserved it. We expect Maureen to provide good customer service, and by good we mean - regardless of how Maureen is feeling inside, we expect her to mask those feelings effectively, smile sweetly, respond politely, swallow down the frustration and take it on the chin - We expect her to present her best self - Persona.
Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung described it like this;

"A Persona is a mask or facade presented to satisfy the demands of the situation or environment and not presenting the inner personality of the individual - The Public Image"

For the victim of a narcissist, there appears to be nothing unusual about stage one, and so the narcissist slips in undetected.

Stage Two: Build Rapport (Build Relationship and Gain Trust)

What does a Trustworthy person look like?

No one purposely enters into any kind of relationship with someone they don't trust. We wouldn't hand money over to someone we don't trust, we certainly wouldn't entrust our children to the care of someone we don't trust and we don't intentionally hand over our hearts to people we think are likely to break them. However, we live in a society where scams are common-place and heartache plentiful. We live in a world in which Children, People, and Finances are constantly being abused. As individuals, we convince ourselves, that 'it couldn't happen to me'. We congratulate ourselves on being astute; pitying those 'other people' who have fallen into the traps. Conclusion: there must be something wrong with the people who fall for what appears to be ' very obvious' pitfalls - until we are the ones on the receiving end, of course, and no one wants to talk about embarrassing, shameful 'mistakes'!

We all gain peoples trust by building rapport with them; by getting to know them; opening up dialogue; using words and actions. Narcissists excel at this, they focus all of their attention on the victim, having what seem to be deep and meaningful conversations, soaking up all the information they are being given; banking information which they will call on to use against the victim at a later point in the process. Actions speak louder than words, and so the narcissist may shower their victim with gifts and gestures. The victim understandably feels pampered and important, they may never have felt so special - further enforcing the idea that they have met Mr/Mrs. Right. The narcissist puts no time limit on gaining a victims trust - whatever it takes, they will persevere, continuing to present their 'best selves, offering examples of shared experiences, until they are sure they have won their victim over. Having reeled them in and gained their trust, they move onto the next stage.

The difficulty with Stage Two; Most of us think with our eyes; we believe what we see - seeing is believing as the saying goes. We often view in 2D, seeing only what is in front of us, because we have no reason to look beyond it. What we are seeing before we are someone who 'appears' to have, all the attributes of what we consider to be right and good in a person we trust; kind, friendly, generous, interested, attentive, funny, charming - etc. The brain processes information by drawing on experience, filling in the blanks, resulting in the most likely outcome 'this person appears to be trustworthy to me'. Even if, as was true in my own case, there comes a sense of 'something feels not quite right' - many of us have been taught not to rely on 'feelings'; they are not admissible as evidence. We persevere, looking for concrete evidence when listening to our instincts and what our body is aiming to alert us to, would save us a whole lot of pain.
Narcissists are adept at blagging their way into positions of trust and power, making their sham all the more believable. We imagine someone other than us is responsible for checking the credentials of someone wearing a nationally recognized uniform of trust; be that Police officer, Doctor, Clergy, Teacher, Nursery care worker, or other - which means we tend to trust people who 'look' trustworthy upfront, without further question. We tend to judge people based on our own understanding of what we consider to be right and wrong; when presented by someone who appears to tick all the right boxes, we have no reason to doubt them - and so we trust upfront. Unbeknownst to the victim; this is nothing more that a shallow performance, designed to gain the victims trust.

Stage Three: Qualification (Identifying wants, needs, hopes & desires)

While stages one and two are still in play; still parading as the adoring, reliable love match (stage 1 & 2), the narcissist qualifies their victim by identifying their wants and needs, hopes, and desires. Their attention is focused; they listen intently, absorbing, and banking/storing the information which they will use later in the process as a hook - to keep the victim engaged. The narcissist doesn't sit and stare at the victim, rather; they are casually engaged in conversation, just taking it all in their stride. What the victim doesn't realize, is the narcissist is completely switched on. The narcissist is taking mental notes of any potential threats here, using the qualification technique to discover who; if anyone might stand in their way (friends, family, ex-partner, etc) so they know exactly who to focus on, avoid or isolate the victim from.

The narcissist identifies any problems the victim is experiencing, usually from the viewpoint of; 'a lack of', lack of confidence, lack of self-esteem, lack of money, lack of childcare, lack of transport, lack of friendship, lack of affection, and so on. The list is endless and could potentially make anyone a target, assuming the narcissist's other criteria have been met. In my own experience, I discovered I fit perfectly into the narcissist's criteria:

Blonde, 5"5 or under, Size 10 and under, job, house, car, and single. This criterion remains static for my abuser - all of the women he has targeted fit this profile, it is unnerving how similar they all are, and how each was given the same pet name during phase 1.

Relationships do not include emotional involvement for the narcissist; every victim is merely a replay of a tried and tested method - a means to an end; a process.

In my own situation, the 'lack of' was described to me as being; "desperate to find love"

Recently separated from a long term relationship and suffering from empty nest syndrome, I found myself alone for the first time in my life. The revelation that I was considered an 'easy target because I was 'so desperate to be loved' - injured my soul, probably because I couldn’t deny it was true. I was lonely, I was hurting - missing my children; this made me vulnerable and easy pickings for a prowling narcissist.

'In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity' (Albert Einstein)

Unbeknownst to the victim, the narcissist is actively seeking to uncover the victim's problems (pains - as they are also known). They are looking for difficulties to exploit the opportunities that they present, which they use to their full advantage as they progress to stage four.

The difficulty with Stage Three; Qualification is a simple sales technique used daily in business to determine a customer's needs. It can be witnessed in our society every single day; on TV, in sales and marketing, in advertising, and throughout businesses to create growth opportunities, it is embedded in our culture. Used correctly for the purposes intended, it is both useful and harmless. However in the wrong hands, like Airplanes and Cars that have been used in terrorist attacks to kill and damage people, the narcissist abuses this technique,to exploit his victims. It is possible this goes unnoticed because we are saturated by it in our everyday lives and therefore no longer spot it, or recognise the danger in it.

Stage Four: Presentation - (An offer too good to refuse)

Armed with the information provided by the victim themselves, the narcissist becomes the 'problem solver,' the savior, 'the solutions architect', presenting an offer that seems too good to refuse. They will paint the proposal as being a 'win, win' situation, the best possible outcome for the victim, when in reality, it is always in the narcissists own best interests, narcissists don't do anything for nothing - they always want something in return, even though they will deny it completely. If the victim is struggling financially - the narcissist will offer to loan the victim money. If the victim is struggling for transport - the narcissist will offer the use of a car. If the victim is struggling for child-care services -the narcissist is on hand to provide that support; they will offer to supply food, cigarettes, alcohol; Whatever it is the victim needs, the narcissist will offer freely and bend over backward to provide it; self-announcing how 'selfless to a fault' they are, and how 'happy to do anything for anyone'. The let the victim know how their kind generosity has been taken advantage of in the past, complimenting the victim on not taking advantage of their kindness 'like all the others did'!

Inevitably, any offer of support will be used as leverage against the victim, to humiliate and embarrass them which often extends to the victim's families in Phase 2 & 3 of the relationship.

The difficulty with Stage Four; Who doesn't have problems? All of us experience difficulties in our lives at one time or another and would naturally welcome some help. When someone who we falsely believe is a trusted ally is offering support and assistance, not only is it tempting, it is also the only natural to want to accept it. If the victim was aware of the process they were in, and what accepting help from a narcissist actually means for them; they would undoubtedly decline and opt to struggle, rather than what essentially amounts to 'selling their soul to the devil'!

Stage Five: Negotiation - (Navigating problems and removing obstacles)

Stage four is quickly continued by Stage five. The victim, while tending to be empathic and sensitive, is also intelligent and proud. They are not comfortable with taking handouts, or accepting favours and are more likely to look for other solutions first, rather than accepting the offer from the newly acquired love interests seemingly ideal solution. The narcissist is not for quitting, they need to secure the deal and lock the victim in. They are keen negotiators, who would have no difficulties in selling "Sand to the Arabs", the victim is no match for this skilled con-artist. Having cleverly targeted the victim, the narcissist knows in advance that the victim's options are limited; it is only a matter of time before stage six comes into play.

The difficulty with Stage Five; The victim is oblivious to what is happening. The process does not appear broken down in stages as I am explaining it here in this post. On the contrary, the process is flowing and seamless. The victim often feels 'loved up' throughout phase 1, full of positive emotions, and looking forward to the future. The process is undetectable to the untrained eye, making it impossible for the unsuspecting victim to know what they are letting themselves in for. The narcissist dips into his/her bag of tricks time and time again - executing with stealth precision The 'invisible seduction' as demonstrated in the image below, which is taken from one of my workshop presentations.
Everything the narcissist says and the way they say it, everything the narcissist does and the way they do it; Discourse, Body Language, Eye Contact, Tone, Actions & Reactions, is designed to coerce the victim into the narcissist's way of thinking. The narcissist is confident that he can lock the victim in.

Stage Six. The Close - the deal is done, the victim is locked in.

Once the narcissist is confident the victim is completely beguiled, having secured their trust and tied them into the relationship by accepting the narcissist's gifts and or/offer of support, it doesn't take very long for phase two to come into play.

While the victim has fallen, hook, line, and sinker and are fully convinced their suitor feels the same - The narcissist feels nothing. It has all been a bizarre and lavish performance, designed to hoodwink the victim into believing they have found their soul mate. While the victim is making plans for their future, plans which are often suggested by the impostor, the narcissist who bores easily, is likely to be already planning their next pursuit. another victim. The victim still has no idea what is about to come in phase two!

If you have found this post because you are experiencing narcissistic abuse and need support - everything will be okay - you have found a safe space. Get In Touch

It is important to remember, this is not your fault!

If you have experienced Narcissist abuse and you are interested in supporting others and raising awareness of behaviours that lead to Manipulation, Exploitation, Abuse and Coercive Control, check out my CPD certified online training course;

STAND, a toolkit for the prevention of Grooming Behaviours.

Copyright ©2014. Falling for a Narcissist. D J Crozier.


Coercive Control

What does it look like?

My experience of coercive control, both on a personal level and in listening to the experiences of those I support and have supported over the years, is more often that not a silent power which makes it extremely difficult to spot - which is of-course intended by design.

At the end of this blog post, I will ask a couple of questions in relation to your experience and understanding of coercive control, which I value your input on. You can either reply in the comments section of this post, or if you would rather not share your view publicly, you can email me privately to info@apositivestart.org.uk and your input will be kept entirely confidential.

The purpose of this post is to gain a better understanding of Coercive Control and how it presents itself, so we can better support and protect victims.

While I am sharing my own experience of Coercive Control, I understand that similar situations do not necessary mean similar experiences - as individuals, our experiences often differ. This does not mean that one version is correct and the other is incorrect - it only means that our experiences may vary; they are equally valid.

It is not wrong, stupid or selfish to share our experiences and truths.

It is okay If others disagree with your viewpoint, it does not make it any less valid or any less important. It is not okay to attempt to silence people whose views we disagree with.

 

THE OUTSIDE VIEW

To the world on the outside of an abusive relationship - whether that's, partner, parent, boss or other; coercive control in my experience is often invisible, and it can appear to be invisible regardless if the person viewing the situation is a professional or not.

Coercive control is regularly overlooked by services tasked with supporting victims. It is my opinion that it appears invisible to anyone who has not had first hand experience of it. You may accurately describe an island you have never visited and only read about but can you truly know what it feels like to be there?

Can you know how it feels to feel the sand between your toes, the wind in your hair, the smells, signs and sounds of the sea if you have never been to a Beach?

Coercive behaviour is all about the senses - its about how an individual thinks & FEELS!

We often make the assumption that a trained professional is able to recognise the signs of an abusive/coercive relationship on the basis that they have studied and trained for the role and so must therefore understand it fully. In my experience it has not been the case. Judges who ask victims why they have stayed in an abusive relationship if it was really as bad as they say it was - a perfect example of a lack of understanding around the issue of coercive control. It is often devastating for the victim who comes to realize that the people who are supposed to be on their side fighting their corner, do not understand the first thing about their situation or their circumstances and so assume the problem must be them. The feeling of hopelessness is magnified by this realization further damaging the victim.

It is almost as if the outside world is watching a 3 dimensional movie in 2D - and they are not seeing, or are not able to see the whole picture. Whereas the victim on the other hand is viewing in 3D and seeing something entirely different. The abuser is fully aware of this and lets the victim know that they cannot be helped because no-one cares enough to help. The victim may well believe this as there is nothing to suggest otherwise; in reality the issue is a lack of understanding.

I have sat face to face with victims who have smiled and laughed along with their abuser, confirming verbally that everything is fine, whilst at the same time attempting to speak to me with their eyes whenever their abuser isn't looking. Silently signaling that they do not feel safe to speak. The aggressor, looking every inch the caring, smiling & friendly partner - plays the part faultlessly. The fact that the victim feels unable to say what is on their mind is a sure sign of coercive control. The problem is, unless you know this, the victims smile often gives the impression that everything is fine.

 

During situations like this, the victim is experiencing a whole range of negative emotions that cannot be witnessed by the onlooker; Panic, Anxiety, Stress, Embarrassment - all being held together by a well-rehearsed, painted smile. The victim has learned to appear calm and smiley while falling apart within. In my experience victims themselves often do not recognise how controlled they are, it is only when you ask why they feel unable to speak their truth in front of certain individuals that they begin to see the situation for what it is.

 

Even now, I find it very difficult to articulate the strength of this silent power that controls the victim. There is no need for the perpetrator to speak, or even be present - just the idea that the perpetrator is aware of what is happening, is enough to set off the negative emotions and panic within the victim who will readily conform.

In my experience, I was able to determine from the sound of the footsteps on the floorboards above me, whether today was going to be a good day for me or not. I instinctively knew what to say and what not to say to keep myself safe. I was highly skilled at navigating my way around the landmines, but I hated myself for being so weak because I would say or do whatever it took to keep myself safe. I had no control over the silent power that decided my every move and thought and I was always the loser as a result - not only losing the fight, losing important relationships, integrity, worth, financially, home, job, and so much more, time and time again.

 

I have sat in a room full of people where untruths are being spoken aloud but no one dare contradict for fear of upsetting the aggressor. A silent pull of toxic energy that everyone, regardless of age or gender, goes along with, even when they disagree or know the truth - rather than having to face the wrath that will surely come should they speak out. They have learned over a long period of time that it is far safer to smile and nod than contradict and fall foul of the humiliation, embarrassment or being targeted for abuse.

 

HOW THE VICTIM IS FEELING INSIDE

These are some of the words that victims use to describe how they are feeling inside at a time when they are being controlled by another/others. These same words are repeated by different victims of coercive control;

FEARFUL

FRIGHTENED

SILENCED

CONNED

MANIPULATED

COERCED

NERVOUS

ANXIOUS

NAUSEOUS

PANICKED

INCAPABLE OF STANDING UP AGAINST

TRAPPED

CHILDLIKE

CONTROLLED

UNSAFE

USELESS

HELPLESS

HOPELESS

LOST

BROKEN

PINNED DOWN

LOCKED IN

VOICELESS

UNSEEN

UNHEARD

WORTHLESS

EXHAUSTED

POWERLESS

 

I am interested to hear your thoughts, views and experiences, if you could please answer the question below and return

  1. Have you ever experienced Coercive Control?

  2. What is your understanding of Coercive Control?

  3. Can you relate to the image below? If yes, Please explain

  4. Anything more you would like to add?

 

What is Choice?

What do we mean by Choice?

How much Choice do you believe you have in your life?

How often do you exercise your right to Choose?

You arrived on this earth as an individual.

You will depart this earth as an individual,

For everything in between, whether you realize it or not, whether you believe it or not - you have a Choice - I am certain of this!

Choice is the foundation for the happy, healthy, wealthy, successful fulfilling & rewarding life that you would chose for yourself- or not - depending on how and if you choose.

If I were to ask you to consider the word CHOICE and what it means to you, (please think about it for a moment), how will you answer?

You may say something along the lines of; 'It means having a number of options available to me' or choice is the 'ability to decide on a preference'.

Regardless of whether you are in a relationship or not, whether you have a family or not, when you first consider a question of choice, the first thought tends to be about you as an individual and your own preferences; and it should be because that's the question being asked; 'what does choice mean to YOU' - 'Choice refers to MY preferences as an individual', the things 'I' choose for me - 'what I like' based on my opinions, whereas the 'What is your choice'; what do you prefer, consideration for others comes later on.

To give you an example of this; my husband Andy and I went shopping for a new microwave recently. The shelf at our chosen electrical store was choc-a-block with options in a variety of colour's, shapes and sizes, from simple ovens to new age 'fandango's that neither of us would know how to switch on, let alone know how to use.

As the two of us scoured the aisle with our empty trolley, mentally ticking and crossing off our preferences, we eventually decided on two options, dismissing as we went.

I like to say - luckily, (although it has absolutely nothing to do with luck), that Andy and I are very similar in nature, we like the same things, we think alike. It was no coincidence that when we had eliminated the ovens we didn't like, our shortlists contained the same two remaining options.

When I had done my choosing and pointed with; 'I like this one and I like this one' as though auditioning for a low cost supermarket advert, the response from Andy was 'great!,so do I'! Although, we had reached our decisions as individuals in very different ways.

We hadn't discussed Microwave options prior to going shopping - one of us had said 'We could do with a new Microwave, and the other had agreed, which is how it usually works in our house. On arrival at the electrical store, Andy's list of priorities appeared to be; Ease of Use, Power Outage, Size, Cost & Value for money, Colour, Ease of Cleaning; I know this to be correct because I asked him while I was writing this blog entry.

My list of priorities on the other hand were; Colour first and foremost, (ensuring the colour matches the other kitchen appliances), Ease of Cleaning, Size - will it fit where I want it to go, Cost & Value for Money, and finally - Ease of Use.

Although we managed to reach the same conclusions in the end naturally with little or no debate, our preferences in order of 'what is important to me in making this choice', were really quite different. We are similar in nature, neither of us so fixed in our opinions on microwaves that we would care to argue if the other insisted on a particular one - which I am grateful for everyday - (can you imagine if Andy had insisted on a lime green one! - this would be a very different story!)

I am grateful because I have encountered relationships where 'Choice' never really moved on from that initial 'About Me' thought, but remained entirely one sided, every time, on every decision for the duration of the relationship. It is never a pleasant experience; having your choices over-ridden, dismissed or disregarded by another - but it happens because of a choice that you made! It happens because you are choosing to accept it and it will continue for as long as you choose to accept it.

It is important to recognise this if you want to alter the outcome and live a better quality of life. Your Choices, Your opinions, what you think and feel, matters, even when its something as mundane as choosing a microwave!

After lots of moaning and feeling sorry for myself whilst living this one sided, over-ridden, less than happy version of my own life, I eventually came to realise that these kind of unhappy/unhealthy, one-sided relationships; which I once believed I had absolutely no choice or control over, without exception had been 'chosen' by me.

While I hadn't chosen the partner in the relationship, - on every occasion, they had approached me, I had chosen not to question that, going along with their choices; as if I was so grateful to be chosen and what I thought or felt wasn't important which I recognise now on reflection to be a lack of self worth.

I could have said, no - I could have said, 'we think very differently, we want, like, believe, behave - differently or 'we want very different microwaves' - I hadn't said that, essentially, I had gone along with someone else's choice without questioning beyond that and as a result I had 'chosen' to accept all of the consequences that came along with that choice.

Basically, I had chosen not to choose.

It is a fact, that you get what you are willing to accept in life and by default, that is the choice that you are making.

If you 'choose' to go along with someone else's choices without question, whether that's because you feel obligated, or because you are worried that person will no longer like you if you dare to refuse, because you are afraid of being alone, or lonely, because you believe it may improve your financial situation, because you are a 'people-pleaser' or some other reason entirely - then you are making a choice and you will live a life that reflects that choice. There is no secret to it, no mystery - you live by the choices you make or accept.

Despite going along with the choice, you may very quickly feel unhappy with it, initially moaning about certain aspects of it to those closest to you, feeling put on, used, disrespected - a whole range of negative emotions as a result. It will undoubtedly begin to wear you down, until eventually, when the consequences of that choice become unbearable, as it did in my case - you will say 'enough is enough' and you will make the choice to move on from it - instantly feeling relief that you no longer have to suffer the consequences of that choice - whatever those consequences may have been.

This process is relevant in every aspect of your life; your relationships, in your job, with your health, money, its your life - your choice - if you don't like it, choose to do something differently or live the consequences of your choices forever.

If you are fortunate, you will come to realize by process of elimination that you do not like being treated badly, being over-ridden, dismissed, ignored, let down, beaten, abused, depressed, lonely, skint, unhappy, exhausted, undervalued,; whatever consequences your life choices have led you to - and you will begin to choose differently for yourself - and there in lies the answer -YOU, WILL CHOOSE for YOURSELF, just as I chose to marry my husband and he chose to marry me, and together we chose the Microwave for the new home that we chose together.

We may not always connect the negative areas of our life as being due to our own 'choice' or lack of it. We convince ourselves that we didn't have a choice, that the situation was beyond our control. We let ourselves it's just the cards that life had dealt us. Then we justify our actions with sentences like; 'you know me, 'Anything for a quiet life' or with the 'whatever you say' whatever pleases you and keeps you happy/calm/not angry option'.

If you want to see positive change in your life, you first need to accept that making 'no choice' is still a choice that you are making and you can always CHOOSE to choose differently.

This is your life. You have a choice. Choose carefully, and most importantly, choose intentionally.

If you would like support in learning how to assert your choices or in making different choices for yourself. Choose to get in-touch!


Working after Trauma (Lived Experience)

The flexible working environment of a third sector post often appeals to people who are on a journey of recovery after trauma. Trauma changes you inside. Situations, places and people that may feel perfectly safe to someone who hasn't experienced trauma, can feel threatening and unsafe to someone who has. The world can be a scary place lonely & pressurized.

Survivors tend to response differently than may be expected, which can be difficult for others to understand.

The survivor themselves often fails to understand what’s happening, so why should anyone else.

The informal setting and laid-back culture of the third sector can offer something of a safe haven to employees & volunteers alike who are returning to life following trauma; It can provide a stepping stone for those either in search of purpose, or looking to ease themselves back into employment.

Both as a Project Manager working in the third sector, and as the founder at A Positive Start CIC, my priority is to provide a calm, supportive and compassionate, trauma informed environment, where people can feel at ease, to afford them the space they need to develop and grow.

A person-centred, people first, philosophy built on the foundations of integrity & truth.

I wasn't aware of this 'third sector' option when I set out on my own journey almost 30 years ago.

After a significant period of social isolation, domestic violence, emotional and physical abuse and the disturbing upheaval and withdrawal that followed in the aftermath,

I found myself at the opposite end of the stress-less scale, on a dynamics training course preparing for a fast paced, target driven opportunity in Sales.

 

Drawn by the pull of its positive demeanor and unwavering belief that anything is possible for anyone, I soaked up the eagerness and exuberance like a 'one sheet' super absorbent sponge. A million miles from the pit of despair where I had come from; a desperate baron landscape, where nothing was possible and everything was a problem, to the high-octane, can-do, culture of a car showroom. I was the perfect candidate for Sales. I was desperate to believe change was possible, even for someone as useless as the likes of me, and I accepted my company chip with excitement and gratitude.

 

Captivated by my newly discovered enthusiasm for life, sales training provided focus, boosted my confidence and lifted my self-esteem from the gutter. No one was aware of the back drop, it was something to be ashamed of, not talked about and you instinctively know to conceal wounds from a pride of lions. Still, I took to the process like a duck to water; it felt comfortable, familiar even, structured and organized.

Within 6 months I was invited to HQ, where I was greeted by Sir Peter Vardy himself. He took me on a guided tour of his empire, introducing me to his top team and thanking me for the fantastic job I was doing for him, shaking my hand and presenting me with a Vardy values card from his pocket. That bit of printed plastic meant more to me than Sir Peter could possibly have imagined. I was blown away by his generosity and kindness and the Values card given to remind me that respect and recognition actually stood for something here.

If only he knew who I was and where I had come from! If only he knew what it was to be me standing there, dying inside - the pathetic, cowering, idiot - worthless and shameful; nervously hiding the broken empty soul inside this suited impostor standing before him.

I was delighted and devastated in equal measure. Delighted because I had never experienced acceptance & recognition like it, devastated knowing in my heart that I wasn't the brilliant person he seemed to think I was. I looked like a competent professional, I even acted and spoke like one - but inside I was still that useless, stupid, good for nothing no-hoper that didn’t belong here, and I was certain my masquerade would soon be uncovered.

 

Once in post in the dealership, it wasn't long before the cracks in my newly formed, wafer thin armor began to show. The predominately male environment of the motor trade isn't known for its compassion or kindness.

You want equality Blondie; you’ve got it! Go grab the power pack and start that car!“

was the raw introduction to my Sales Manager. I very much doubted that he’d woke the kids, washed, fed, dressed and dropped them off at school, or prepared the evening meal in the slow cooker before his working day began, Still his ‘idea’ of equality ensued.

My first day on the sales floor, I reached out to the only other female in the department and asked for her help completing a finance form that was unfamiliar to me. "I'm not here to help you sell frigging cars" came the abrupt response as she looked straight through me,

"you'll have to figure it out for yourself like I had to"!

I quickly learned that the positive energy circulating in the training rooms of HQ, were not being pumped into the showrooms of the dealerships. If I wanted to keep this job and the new car that accompanied it, I'd have to learn how to rely on myself, and quick.

I started every month in pretty much the same way, firing on all cylinders, high on life and running at a million miles an hour. Focused and determined as though my life depended on my name being near the top of the Sales Board, and for the most part, I was pretty good at it, I usually held my own. Staying ahead of the game quickly became a matter of personal pride, my mental well-being depended on it. No one wanted to be that person not selling, whose name stood out by being at the bottom. The embarrassment and humiliation of being that guy just wasn't worth thinking about.

I needed the reassurance that I was doing okay. I didn't know that at the time. I had absolutely no idea how fragile I was and I would wager, few people genuinely recognise their own weaknesses.

Sadly for me, as the monthly deadlines drew nearer and the pressure started to mount, self doubt and panic would kick in and like a sandcastle in a sand storm, I would begin to crumble. Confusion would descend like a heavy black cloud and with it came my deepest, darkest fears; I was useless, incapable, I wasn't good enough, I couldn't cope, I was stupid, worthless, ugly,- broken. The belief that I was the failure who was failing miserably, would completely overwhelm me. Consumed by self doubt, the negative thoughts in my head would offer me a thousand reasons to leave.

I'd often find myself hiding in a car on the forecourt, or in the toilets embarrassed and sobbing uncontrollably for no apparent reason, much to the annoyance of my then, unsympathetic Manager who would promptly summon me to his office and order me to 'get a grip, give my head a shake & or get the fuck out of his garage. Sales managers aren't equipped to deal with tearful broken women in my experience, and so they don't!

 

As the self doubt and negative thoughts started to over shadow me, a few of my colleagues would come to my aid to comfort me, almost as if they could smell the fear & doubt arriving. With the warm, sweet smile of a caring friend, they would pull up a seat next to me and impart their words of wisdom;

"You're absolutely right' - 'this is a terrible environment for a female' - 'You'd be so much better off doing something less stressful' 'At least you've given it a go Lass, but I can see why you'd hate it' ', The long hours just aren't suitable for you, 'you have children to take care of & Management don't give a shit about that'! 'They treat us all like idiots' 'I don't blame you for wanting to leave - I'd quit too if I were you'!

Full of shame and self loathing, and far too cowardly to face my boss, I would scurry away like a thief in the night, posting the keys to my demonstrator through the letter box after everyone else had gone home - time and time again.

I'd lay awake all night playing the scenario over in my head, until I had a headache, twisting and turning, I'd beat myself up, my head thumping and shoulders aching with tension - I was exhausted and unable to sleep. I'd manage to drift off and the nightmares would come, he was right here by the side of my bed! I would jump up in panic, sweating and shaking, unsure if the dark menacing figure here to end me was real or not.

 

A few days would pass and the smog would finally start to drift, quickly followed by pangs of dread and regret at the realization that I now had no job & no income. I'd pluck up the courage to finally answer the phone to my boss, I'd be summoned back to work, feeling embarrassed and stupid. I'd apologise, offer some feeble excuses for my apparent crazy behaviour, I'd feel judged, but still, I'd beg my boss for forgiveness, promise never to do it again, beg for another chance, promise to try and stop 'wearing my heart on my sleeve' bury my shame and start the whole sorry cycle again. Three or four times this would happen, before either my manager just had enough, or my shame became to heavy for me to bear. At that point, I would leave for good, heading off to try and blag my way into another job without any hope of getting a reference. Luckily enough, the revolving door of sales always has enough room for one more quitter.

 

My monthly compulsion to run became something of a standing joke among my peers, regardless of where I was at. Oblivious to my previous battle for survival or the scars that endured, the judgement of others only added to my sense of failure. No matter how hard I tried to fight it, I just couldn't escape the fall. It was decided my apparent craziness was either because; I was a woman trying to 'make my mark' in a mans world, or I was a woman ‘on the rag’!.

As infuriating & ridiculous as that was, nothing I had ever experienced up to that point, gave me any reason to doubt it.

Remarkably, I kept this ridiculous pantomime going for several years, from garage to garage, town to town, desperate to find peace, desperate to find my place. Oddly enough, I never once made any connection between my previous experiences of trauma and my inability to hold it together under pressure; I always believed I was either just a really crap person or it was because I was a female out of my depth - as if that was a valid reason!

At one dealership, as the seeds of doubt began taking hold, my General Manager called me into his office "Take a seat " he said, in his usual gentle manner "I want to let you into a secret". "Do you know that you are brilliant at what you do?"

I didn't know what to say! I thought I was going to cry!

"Well, two things; 1. You need to start believing in yourself ... and 2. you need to beware of ghosts"

I don't doubt for one minute that the blank, gormless expression on my face will have told him I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about!

"Watch out for Mr Neg-Nega ( Negative),  - he'll steel the milk from your tea and the joy from your soul - now get back to your phone and sell some cars"

Leaving his office, I still wasn't sure what he meant by ‘Ghosts’, but his kind words had certainly eased my mind. It would take at least another ten years before I recognized the importance of what he had told me.

Slowly but surely, with the support of my manager, I learned to cope with the pressures at work. Even though the waves still came, they were fewer and my response to them, was less destructive.

My manager; clearly picking up signals I was unaware of, would call me into his office just to crack a joke or he'd send me out on my own to check that every car on the pitch had clean mats in or fresh air fresheners. I'd moan about these pointless tasks at a time when I was stressed out; " Why is it always me", I'd grumble. I had no idea he was doing what he could to help me focus my mind away from the negative influence of others. As my mental health started to improve, I was able to focus more. I was promoted to Sales Controller, which did far more for my self esteem than it did for my wage packet.

I took up reading, cycling and walking. Self improvement became my focus and self belief became my aim.

Eventually it dawned on me that a calmer, less pressurized working environment could potentially serve me better. I made the transition from sales to service stepping off the roller-coaster for good aiming to support others. Initially taking a role in mental health & trauma recovery before becoming a Manager for a charitable organization, and providing a calm and safe environment for others. I started to realize somethings about myself that had previously gone unnoticed.

I was a dab hand at recognising pain & doubt in others, just as my manager had once recognized the pain and doubt in me. Having previously lived on my nerves for survival, I'd developed something of a sixth sense, becoming super sensitive to the feelings of others and aware of the signals that they were inadvertently giving off; which can be both a gift & a curse. I recognized the landscape of trauma, because I had lived there for so long.

I finally came to understood what ‘Beware of ghosts’ really meant, which in turn has made me mindful of the impact my actions and words have on others - something I still work to improve every day.

'Misery loves company'; or so the saying goes; and 'Ghosts are people who are desperately unhappy in their own lives, who neither recognise or understand their own pain. They enjoy draining the joy and happiness from the lives and souls of others. Ghosts are individuals who when they sense pain; they smile kindly to your face while confirming the fears and the negative thoughts that you hold about yourself. The juxtaposition of a smiling face and destructive agenda, makes you question your own reality.

This is both confusing and damaging for people recovering from trauma. Truth is what you are anchoring for in the uncertainty of doubt, Truth that you can cope and reassurance that you will. Truth that you are a person of value, and reassurance that this doubt will pass. It is extremely difficult to know what the truth is when you are unsure of yourself, consumed by self doubt and loathing.

This is what I know to be true;

The person who is smiling at you while undermining you by encouraging your self-doubts, confirming the negative beliefs and fears that you hold about yourself, while at the same time empathizing & sympathizing with you, giving you the impression that they care when indeed they don't - He or She is not your friend - you can be certain of that as I am.

The person smiling while encouraging you in a positive way, challenging the negative beliefs that you hold about yourself, praising, empowering, supporting and believing in you, recognising your strengths, not your weaknesses; not just for a short time, but always - over many months and years - He/She is your Beacon of light.

Listen to them, believe them, focus on what they are telling you. The doubt and confusion will pass.

 

Remind yourself everyday: You are stronger than you think. You are confident, you are capable, you are connected. Whenever the negative thoughts surface, this may help -
ABC thinking -

Acceptance - I accept that I feel (nervous/angry/scared/etc)

Belief - and I still love and believe in myself, I believe things will improve

Change this moment will pass & things will change for the better!

 

At A Positive Start CIC we are passionate about  Wellbeing; Mind, Body & Soul and Recovery and Prevention.

Recovery, because those of us who have lived experience, know how incredibly important it is to be understood.

Prevention because prevention is far easier & less expensive than recovery - (in every sense of the word).

Loving yourself does not come naturally for everyone, for many different reasons. Some people have to learn how to love & pay more attention to themselves. ​ We aim to help you explore this part of yourself, not in a selfish way, and not in  a way that means neglecting other people in your life.

In a balanced way, that allows you to feel happier, healthier,  more confident & more at peace within yourself.
With a view to improving quality of life, relationships, financials, career prospects, overall health & mental well-being.

 

'If you are looking for that one person who will change your life; look within'! 


Two Wolves

Having just learned that the love of his life had been killed in a hit and run car accident, a man sat on the hospital steps with his head in his hands, devastated and sobbing uncontrollably.

After a few minutes, he sensed someone standing close by, so peered out from between his fingers to see a small boy, around six years of age, just standing there in front of him, staring.

The little boy was wearing a newly fitted cast on his arm which was cradled in a sling, hanging around his neck.

"You okay Mr?" inquired the concerned little boy,

"Not really" replied the man, wiping the tears from his eyes "What's happened to your arm"?

"A bigger boy pushed me over - he's broken it" sulked the little boy.

"What's wrong with you"? the boy responded,

"There are two wolves battling inside of me right now! replied the man.

"One is filled with anger and rage - hatred, bitterness and revenge - and the other? Well, that's just like my sweetheart - gentle and sweet; kind, compassionate, loving and caring"

"Which one will win?" asked the little boy,

"Which ever one I feed!" replied the man.

This fictional story is based on an account that I read in a book called The Power of Intention by Dr Wayne Dyer, who tells of over hearing a man speaking to his Grandchild after 9/11, the Grandfather was leading by example.

It really hits home doesn't it! because this is so true for each of us.

We all have wolves battling away inside of us, and just like the man on the steps, we may well believe that we have every reason to be angry or bitter - to want to seek revenge for pain or hurt caused to us by others. We may feel we have every right to be frustrated, to be negative and/ or to complain.

However, the fact remains that whatever we give our attention to, whatever part of our nature we focus on and feed - that will become the most dominant part of us, and the most dominant part of us does become our lives!

We all have a choice! Granted, we may not always recognize that we have a choice - but we do always have a choice.

We cannot control other peoples behaviour, we cannot stop bad things happening - but we can choose how we respond and what we focus on, the negatives or the positives.

We can choose to retaliate when we feel hard done by, or we can choose not to return the stone and choose kindness instead - because it will always be true that whatever we feed, grows and lives within us and is reflected in our lives.

Be good to yourself and have a great weekend


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