Tag Archives: Mental Health

Great Expectations – A Story

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EVERY year my mother would hope, in her heart of hearts, that my father would think about her and get one small thing, anything, something, as a gift under the tree.

And every year my mother “ran” Christmas single-handedly. She was the planner; shopper; cook; Santa; tree trimmer; gift-giver; guest-list maker; party-thrower; Christmas Card author and holly-bough-swagger while my father kept well out of her way.

In his defense my Dad was one-eyed and color-blind; had lost his sense of taste after a war-time head wound and had lost the feeling in his hands and feet after taking Thalidomide for insomnia in the 1950’s. This meant he covered everything he ate in tomato ketchup and tended to break glassware, tree ornaments and tiny Christmas lights.

He was, in his own terms, “a man’s man” and back in the day “manly men” didn’t help with Christmas. One year he and the Uncles were deputized for Santa duty, but that was also the year the pre-Christmas party rendered all the Santas overly merry, and they were summarily fired by the women “so as not to wake the children.”

Every year my mother would drop tiny hints as to suitable gifts. However, her hints were so small even her own mother would have missed them and they certainly blew right past my Dad. Until the year something landed and my father actually did what my mother thought she wanted.

Some back story:

DSCF2053.jpgMy mother had a sense of style and an eye for beauty. She was formally trained as a dress designer and raised in a home speckled with antiques. She herself haunted local auction houses and slowly built up a small but tasteful collection of Georgian and Edwardian items which added a certain flair to parts of our home.

Whether she was nesting in a British-army-issue barracks, or in the occasional civilian home my family bought, she made the place lovely.

DadMy Dad – “the man’s man” – was one of five Irish boys who attended an all-boys boarding school; played Rugby for Ireland; joined the army; fought in WWII; and worked most of his career in an all-male environment. Living in a houseful of women (wife and five daughters) he had three modest demands for happiness on the home front: 

  1. A male dog (we always had one);
  2. A sturdy arm chair positioned by his book shelf with a bright light;
  3. Tomato ketchup with every meal.

All this not-with-standing, when I was about 14 and the only daughter still based at home, he approached me in mid-November with a conspiratorial air.

Gem, I need your help! I’ve got an idea for your mother this Christmas.”

I was thrilled! Things between them were perpetually dodgy and maybe this spasm of thoughtfulness signaled a fresh start? They’d be loving and attentive and happy… my mind took off down a rosy-tinted Rabbit hole.

Then my father produced his idea in the form of a catalog of the most ghastly, fake-looking reproduction antiques I’d ever seen. I think I gasped.

Marvelous, eh!” beamed my father.

I’m thinking your mother needs a nice new bedside table,” and he turned to a page of beauties. Sickly cream-colored edifices, with channeled spindly legs poorly painted, and with a sort of glazed faux-marble surface that looked like a 1950’s kitchen counter tear-out. 

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I was now on the horns of an excruciating dilemma. An exquisitely designed web of expectations beset all three of us ~

  • my father expected to make his wife happy, for a change;
  • my mother expected to be disappointed, as usual;
  • I expected the above two expectations to collide, unhappily.

Here is how things looked to me that November.

Screen shot 2015-12-16 at 7.55.45 AM.pngFrom my mother’s viewpoint, she had a wonderful bedside table but it had perplexed my father for years since it had a hole in it.

A bit like this one, these Georgian mahogany commodes had a spot for the porcelain chamber pot in that lower drawer.

Pre-indoor plumbing at its most gracious.

My mother’s explanations about the beauty of the wood, the elegance of the form, the particular joy it gave her to pop flowers in the porcelain pot – left my father bemused and seemed to call forth some here-to-fore dormant “man-must-fix-problem-of-hole” instinct.

I knew, without a whisker of doubt, that this reproduction side table my father favored would elicit a reaction closer to nausea than joy from my mother.

From my father’s point of view, he’d totally scored. He’d paid attention to this issue of the hole in his wife’s bedside table; he knew my mother was fussy about furniture and preferred old so clearly new-old, “functional but-elegant” (as the brochure copy reassured him) was clearly what she needed.

I also knew, without a whisker of doubt, that if my mother reacted to his gift with anything other than delight she might as well kiss goodbye to any future attempts. This was my Dad trying something new and it had to go well.

From my point of view . . what can I say?

I desperately wanted my parents to connect. I needed (but did not expect without my intervention ) ~

  • my Mum to see the intention and effort behind the actual (hideous) offering;
  • my Dad to feel effective, like he could get things right with my Mum sometimes;
  • to feel emotionally safe that Christmas.

So – facing my fears  I started down the path of managing expectations, with a delightfully unexpected outcome.

I spent time looking at the catalog with my Dad, making appreciative noises and steering him toward what I thought was the least objectionable choice. He settled upon a piece that would more or less fit the space the Georgian commode occupied. It was lower (a much better height don’t you think Gem? ) and given the “some assembly required” warning, I felt the two of us could put it together with minimal chaos.

And then I agonized as to what to do about my Mum’s reaction. Would she wince and smile wanly? Would my Dad notice her lack-luster response? Would she run from the room in tears? Which, as I thought about it, would be preferable as I could interpret this for my Dad as “tears of joy.”

But maybe she would be genuinely delighted. I mean – how many years had she wanted him to make an effort?  Who was I to blow the surprise? And around the worry wheel I’d go again.

Fortunately, a truck delivered the large flat package on a Saturday while mum was out shopping. The box was clearly crushed on one corner which initially my father did not notice. We smuggled it up to his study and opened the thing.

“Some assembly” is apparently not new to IKEA and as multiple parts spilled out from the crushed cardboard box my father’s face took on a look of mounting horror. We encountered ~

  • 4 spindly legs with flimsy off-center screws at the top end;
  • 1 “realistic faux marble” top with a slightly crushed corner;
  • 4 “gilt-embossed” edge pieces which neither one of us remembered from the catalog photo;
  • 1 lower level shelf also graced with “realistic faux marble”;
  • dozens of loose screws and instructions written a language neither of us could interpret.

It dawned of both of us at the same time I think  – the gift was a disaster.

We took to our task however with fine British/Irish fortitude, stoicism and a mis-placed optimism entirely fueled, I remember hazily, by sherry.

Two days later, when we’d done all we could with the side-table, it looked like a distant runner-up at a middle school wood-working expo. There were minimal 90 degree angles. The damaged edge revealed the telltale sawdust of cheap chip-board. The legs with off-centered screws gave the thing a distinct lopsided air.

My father and I surveyed the replacement for the Georgian commode. We were in too deep to bale now. He covered it with a blanket and wrote a gift tag: To Tina, With All Love, Charles.

“It’ll be alright Gem” he said. We both highly doubted it.

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I’d managed nothing concrete with my mother – although I’d tormented myself (and possibly her) with my own version of little hints.

  • “Mum – you like any gifts – right?”
  • “It’s the thought that counts isn’t it? You always say that.”
  • “I don’t mind if I don’t get gifts this year . I mean, Christmas isn’t about the gifts really , is it.”


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Christmas dawned. Our home had filled up with returning sisters;  aunts, uncles and cousins. And the un-nerving presence of my Dad who was showing up in a way I wasn’t used to. Despite the fact mornings were hard for him (he never slept well after the war) he was attentive. He was – what? Nervous? 

For reasons I never fathomed, my father had decided it would bode best for his foray into gift-giving if he positioned his present where it was destined: next to my mother’s bed where the Georgian Commode used to be. So sometime during the day’s festivities he must have made the switch. As the family gift giving wound down and the pile of gifts was replaced by a pile of wrapping paper, my father took deep breath and said, looking at my mother,

“Could you come upstarts? There’s something I’d like to show you?”

I felt all the air leave the room. My hearing went. My heart pounded so violently in my chest I thought folks could hear it. Ought I go up there too? Dad hadn’t invited me. I looked at my mother – kinda sorta hoping she’d fix me with a pleading look. She didn’t.

Oh heavens Charles, what do you need...” but she stood and followed him upstairs.

No one seemed to know how enormous the moment was. The Uncles cracked jokes. The aunts fussed over wonderfully home-made gifts. My sisters did whatever older sisters do when satiated by Christmas. 

I strained to listen.

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It wasn’t until much later that night I caught up with my mother. She’d been gone for ages and then bustled about making sure the guests had libations and the kids were happy and the next food-event served. We all chipped in and the mood was warm, a bit hazy with champagne and brandy and I was altogether exhausted. Finally, I took her arm and asked:

What did Dad want upstairs?” 

“Oh Gem darling, you know perfectly well! Your father gave me an extraordinary  bedside table and told me all about how you helped him choose it, and assemble it, and how he was a bit worried about the quality. But you know, I’m so happy he went through with it. That you both went through with it!”

“But – it’s so ugly, isn’t it!” I ventured, now snuggled into my mother’s bed beside the darned thing.

“Yes, your father and I both agree, it’s a disaster. But neither one of us can remember laughing so hard together for ages and ages and that – my darling – made it the best gift of Christmas!”

I had just asked,   “Will you keep it?”

when my Dad walked into the room.

He answered for her.

She’s agreed to keep it until she can’t stand it any more. And then, you know what, we’ll find someone who needs it. Something born from such noble expectations deserves a good home!”

Wishing you & yours a wonderful Holiday Season.

May you find yourselves long on laughter, short on expectations and filled with gratitude for the chaotic wealth of life, exactly as it is.



This is the penultimate article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality


SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

SKILL TEN ~ Apologize & “Do Over” When You’ve Blown It

SKILL ELEVEN ~ Forgive and Move On When They’ve Blown It

SKILL TWELVE ~ Let go. Relationships end. You’ll learn, grow and carry on.









In This Moment, Let This Go…

and you’ll open yourself up to more ~

  • calm
  • clarity
  • confidence
  • compassion
  • creativity
  • connection
  • courage
  • happiness
  • patience

in your life and your relationships.


You think I’m pulling your leg.

Or writing one of those over-promise/under-deliver catchy titles.

 You know the sort…

“Click here to see THE funniest home video” and you click and it’s just lame.

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But I actually mean this.

I really want you to know that there is one thing you are probably holding onto in most – if not all – of your moments and that if you released this one idea, this one belief, everything would shift.

But because you don’t know about this one mind-trap you’re caught in you un-knowingly participate in undermining some really important relationships. Relationships that mean a huge amount to you because you want very much to enjoy your ~

  • partner
  • child
  • parent
  • friend
  • co-worker

but this way of thinking is distorting your view of them.

Before I share this one thing I’m inviting you to release, here’s a personal story about that moment when I first recognized it’s power.

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In the mid 1980’s I volunteered for the King Country Crisis Clinic because I was terrified a complete suicidal stranger might randomly phone my number one night and shout:

I’ve got a loaded gun. It’s pointed at my head. Give me one good reason not to pull the trigger.

Sounds like an odd fear, but it was hearing a  BBC news story about exactly this that triggered both my concern, and my decision to learn all I could about working with people “in-extremis”.

So, I approached the King Country Crisis Clinic because I figured they’d have to teach their volunteers to handle calls like that. Folks call a crisis line when they’re homeless; frightened of their abusive partner; lonesome; delusional; drunk; about to be evicted; contemplating an overdose and yes – in the midst of what was called “an active suicide.”

By way of learning, we potential crisis-desk-phone-bank volunteers role played practice calls about all sorts of things, and one night it happened. I picked up the phone and heard:

I’ve got a loaded gun. My wife just left and took the kids. I’m broke, alone and done. I’m going to pull this trigger unless you can think of one good reason I shouldn’t.

And I froze!

In the BBC story I write about, the woman responds simply with “Because I don’t want you to” and I was contemplating giving the same response. But time stood still and after a ridiculously long pause during which – had this been a real call – I’m sure I’d have heard gun shot, a trainer materialized by my side. I leapt up from my seat frantically gesturing that she should role-model how this ought to be done.

She settled in and calmly took the phone. Here’s how it went.

*SANDY ~ I’m so glad you’ve called. My name’s Sandy. What may I call you?

BRAD ~ Huh? Call me Brad – why do you care?

SANDY ~ Brad, I care very much. I really hear there’s a part of you in so much pain right now that you’re ready to pull trigger to end your suffering. And Brad, I also hear that there’s another part – a small part maybe but a part of you none-the-less – who picked up the phone just now to see if there might be one good reason not to pull the trigger. Can I speak with that part Brad? Can I speak to that part of you who wants to talk about reasons to live?

(* Confidentiality is important to have everyone feel safe. Real names do not need to be used.)


Sandy had not frozen in the face of the call because she had not seen Brad as 100% suicidal. And in truth, if he had been, he’d have pulled the trigger and not called the help line.

But that’s the magic folks.

Sandy had released her thought that what was coming out of Brad’s mouth, what Brad was saying to her right then, was “the all of Brad.”

She understood that there might be other parts of Brad who might want to speak up but – because we don’t have that Vulcan mind-meld thing quite down yet – we have to say things in a sequence over time.

While she heard that there was a sad, hopeless part of Brad who had teamed up with his take-action-to-end-the-pain part who held the gun, she also heard a different part. The part in fact who initiated the call because this part was holding on to a sliver of hope.

Dramatic as it may sound – this was one of those life-changing “Ah-Has” for me.

I have gone on to study the idea of multiplicity of the mind in greater depth with particular thanks to Richard Schwartz  and his Internal Family Systems model. As a relationship therapist using this idea with my clients, it’s revolutionized not only how much more fun this inner work is, but also how quickly people can make changes that bring them happiness.

It’s an idea that makes all the difference, and I’ll show you why.  But first I’ll remind you that you probably already think this way sometimes.

  • Your friends call to invite you to join them at the pub. You find yourself thinking,”Hum, part of me would love that, but part of me is content reading my book by the fire at home.
  • Your boyfriend sometimes seems like two people. Home with you, out on dates, hanging with your family he’s gentle, funny, kind and thoughtful. But get him around his old college friends and he’s a knuckle-dragging-grunting-monosyllabic throw back. 
  • Or do you remember as a kid, how you were terrified of Sister Francis (if you went to Catholic Boarding school like me), or of Mr. Mean (if you attended another school which hired monsters) and you absolutely knew this person thought of you as a delinquent imbecile permanently up to no good. Until one day you saw them with your parents – and suddenly they beamed sunlight, said kind things, looked at you tenderly and reassured your parents you held “promise.” Huh? 

So why do I make the claim that when you let go of your belief that both you and the person you’re communicating with are totally of one mind  you’ll open yourself up to more ~

  • calm
  • clarity
  • confidence
  • compassion
  • creativity
  • connection
  • courage
  • happiness
  • patience

in your life and your relationships?

Here are 3 reasons.

  1. Because people are so rarely ever of one mind it’s a false and unhelpful assumption.
  2. We’re all complex with layers of thinking we’re mostly oblivious to. I mean right now – what are you thinking? And what do you think about that thought? There – you’ve  already found two parts: the one thinking a particular thought and the one with an opinion about that original thought. And that’s just the start!
  3. Becoming aware of how your thoughts reveal an inner community of parts with a variety of feelings, needs and beliefs means you have options. You go from believing you can sing only one note to becoming aware of your 2 to 3 octave range. Now you can get creative with your responses. And once you start getting creative and flexible, guess what? The folks you’re talking to will feel more expansive and free as well.

Here are 2 examples of how this looks in practice.


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Your child is angry or sad, but definitely emoting.


Before you do anything, remember – think Parts!

And these 3 simple steps.

#1  Ask yourself – who am I right now? What parts of me are “up?”

This is important, because how you show up to your child will impact how she shows up.

What context are you in? This tends to impact who we are in any given moment.

If you’re feeling judged (in a supermarket; by your in-laws) you may notice that part of you who parents for the onlookers more than for your child. Maybe you’ll be tempted so hush your child, handle her a bit roughly to show them you mean business, or to get angry back at your judging audience.

If you are feeling supported (with your spouse or friends with kids) you may notice that part of you who is calm and able to prioritize your child’s needs.

Take a breath and notice, and do your best to choose which part you want to show up with. Calm is clearly preferable!

#2  Ask yourself – who is my child right now? What parts of her are “up?”

This is important, because who she is right now will determine who you need to be for her.

What context is she in? What just happened in her world?

What might she be feeling? Jealous? Hurt? Frightened? Lonely? Mad? Frustrated? Kids are complex, but their emotional range when upset tends to reflect one of these feelings. Then say to yourself, “OK, right now, my child is showing me that part of her who feels  [pick one].”

Your job then is not to stop her feeling what she is feeling. Your job is to help her understand and name her experience and help her move on when she is ready. Which could be in 3 seconds, or 30 minutes.

#3  Acknowledge what you see with your child.

Hummm, I see a little girl who’s got a big frustrated feeling going on right now.” [Guess…. she may even correct you if you’re wrong, depending upon her age and level of emotional understanding]

Do you know what she needs?”

If you can separate the child from the feeling – as in you see a girl who is experiencing an emotion rather than a girl who is that emotion then she begins early on to recognize she is more than any one emotion. And, in fact, she can experience several different emotions at the same time.

Usually we say something closer to “I see you’re frustrated.” That’s not bad. It’s shorter and less cumbersome. But do you also see how it blurs the distinction and continues to reinforce that all-of-one-mind, less-helpful thinking?



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Your sweetie comes home down-hearted and grumpy.

Typically this goes badly. You try and cheer him up. He gets more distant and you both end up grumpy.

Before you do anything, remember – think Parts!

And these 3 simple steps.

#1  Ask yourself – who am I right now? What parts of me are “up?”

This is important, because how you show up to your partner will impact how he shows up.

What mood are you in? Listen to your thoughts and feelings and see if you can identify –  from the scripts running through your head and emotions running through your body – which parts need your attention right now.

If you notice parts who feel grumpy, drained, or in need of attention after a tough day, it may be hard to give attention because these parts really want to receive it.

If you’re noticing parts who are impatient or excited to get into your next event, it might be hard to listen to your partner because you’re a twitchy little ferret inside.  

Take a breath and notice your choices. You could be honest and let your partner know you’re feeling a bit grumpy and needy too. You can let him know you want to be there for him, but need to go let off steam first and take a run. Or, maybe just noticing these parts will allow them to calm down, and you can listen with neither neediness nor resentment.

#2  Ask yourself – who is my sweetie right now? What parts of him are “up?”

Unlike dealing with a child (see above), your spouse can possibly tell you what’s going on. Or, you may know him so well that as soon as you hear him walk down the hall, you think: “Yup, here comes Grumpy!”

Take heart! Remember, he’s not 100% Grumpy. He’s only somewhat Grumpy. And that will make all the difference.

#3  Acknowledge what you see with your partner.

 “So – I have this sense that Grumpy’s in. Tough day? I really want to listen to you and, I gotta say, I’ll be a whole lot nicer after a run. I was fit to be tied by lunch and still had to make nice to that irritating off-site manager and do most of Felicity’s work. Would you be up for a nice long de-brief over drinks in 45 minutes?

Might not be Grumpy’s first choice, but you’ve probably reminded your complicated sweetie that he is not 100% grumpy . Which means he might bump into a calmer inner part and be much better company when the two of you meet later.

So – now that you’ve heard my claim, which is that when you let go of your belief that both you and the person you’re communicating with are totally of one mind  you’ll open yourself up to more ~

  • calm
  • clarity
  • confidence
  • compassion
  • creativity
  • connection
  • courage
  • happiness
  • patience

in your life and your relationships

What parts come up for you?

* * * * * * * * * * * 


This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality


SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

SKILL TEN ~ Apologize & “Do Over” When You’ve Blown It

SKILL ELEVEN ~ Forgive and Move On When They’ve Blown It

SKILL TWELVE ~ Let go. Relationships end. You’ll learn, grow and carry on.









The Art of Apologizing ~ in 5 Calming Breaths

Screen shot 2013-06-07 at 2.35.49 PMWhen someone you love does something that hurts you, it’s quite common to find you are caught between two opposing desires:

  • Revenge – make ‘em pay for your hurt
  • Forgive – and forget as quickly as possible to remove the pain.



However, neither revenge nor forgiveness are the best idea on their own, since they can both block genuine reconciliation. This is the place where each of you gets to do some emotional homework .  Screen shot 2013-06-07 at 12.51.58 PM


If the hurt partner stays in revenge, it will eat away at their soul, heart and mind and destroy them from within like a worm in an apple.

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If the hurt partner is too quick to jump to forgiveness, they run the risk of losing their voice, and becoming  dis-empowered, like it feels when someone offers you a limp-fish handshake.



This is where the Art of the Apology comes in.

A genuine, full heartfelt apology – coupled with the self-awareness this process fosters – can actually serve to bring two people closer.  While the person who has been accused of doing (or being) hurtful can do an awful lot of reparation using the Breaths I suggest below, if the two of you get fully engaged, you can use this episode to create a deep and genuine reconciliation.

I use the metaphor of the Breath (rather than the Step) for two reasons:

  1. When we are stressed it really helps to breathe: Keep breathing!
  2. There are in-breaths and out-breaths.  To stay alive, you need both.  This process works to bring two hurting people closer because it softens those edges between in and out, right and wrong, accused and accuser,  victim and culprit.

This is what makes apologizing an art form. With practice you can cultivate this ability to mastery. And as you do, you’ll be modeling the process for your partner and your children. And they, in turn, can model it for theirs. Lord knows, we need more reconciliation on the planet!

NOTE: Each of the Five Breaths has a role for both the Accuser and the Accused. Try on both roles from some past issue. Walk yourself through how the process might have gone had you tried it.  What do you notice?

Breath 1  ~  STORY

ACCUSER   Just let it out!  Tell your partner the story of why you are so upset  ~  Give as many details as you can to help the accused see things from your point of view.

“I’m never ever going to an office party with you again! You abandon me the moment we get there, you schmooze with everyone and don’t introduce me to half of them. And then, at dinner, you sit next to that new woman and spend the whole night in quiet conversation leaving me across from you between two crashing bores whom I didn’t even know!”

ACCUSED   Listen quietly to the accusation  ~  Face your accuser. Breathe deeply. Give this issue your full attention. Do not, under any circumstances, explain, justify, defend or deny. Zip it and listen. If your mind is busy doing anything other than listening, you’ll miss too much.

Breath 2  ~  FEELINGS

ACCUSED   Acknowledge the other person’s FEELINGS  ~  Put yourself in your accuser’s shoes and imagine how they felt, even if they have not expressed any feelings beyond anger. Until you have done this they have no interest in anything you have to say. Trust me! It will not help them one iota for you to tell them:

  • But I didn’t mean to . .
  • You have no idea the pressures I was under!
  • Hey, you could have  . . .
  • No, I did not do these things!
  • In fact, I did the opposite of this most of the time.

So, do not. Instead, try this ~

“Oh Fiona, you felt awful that night!  You felt abandoned by me when I did not introduce you to those folks we were talking to. And then at dinner, it sounds as though you felt jealous that I had someone to talk to – and it did not help that it was a woman – and you were stuck between two folks you did not enjoy.  And for sure you don’t want to get put in a situation like that again. Did I get this right, or am I missing some parts still?”

ACCUSER    Continue to clarify your  FEELINGS   ~  Did they express accurately how you were feeling? Do you need to have them understand any aspect of that painful event more fully?  Now is your chance to see if you feel genuinely and fully understood. It’s your job to help the accused understand you – there is only so much they can guess.

“Well, you’ve got most of it right. I did feel abandoned and jealous. I think what made it worse for me is that you know how vulnerable I feel amongst your super-smart financial market friends. Right in the midst of my six month parenting leave and all I can think to talk about is Sylvia sitting up and how cute she is. I ended up feeling boring, dumb and unattractive.”

ACCUSED   Repeat Breath 2  ~  Keep going around by inviting the accuser to say more about feelings while you continue to acknowledge what they are saying.

Again remind yourself – you are not pleading guilty. You are simply helping someone in pain name their symptoms.

Breath 3  ~  REPENTANCE 

ACCUSED   Say Sorry  ~  If you can hold-on to the idea that this person is simply telling you they are hurt; and if you can refrain from taking the focus back to you by explaining,  justifying, denying, or accusing*,  you may be able to offer a heartfelt. . .

“I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry you felt abandoned by me and jealous and boring and all those awful feelings you just shared with me.”

ACCUSER   Receive their sorrow  ~  Listen with your heart. If the accused has genuinely sought to understand how dreadful you felt, you can most likely be sure that they are genuinely sorry you felt that way.

Breath 4  ~  OWNERSHIP

ACCUSED   Accept responsibility for the parts you feel you can genuinely accept responsibility for. This empowers you to see how you could have done things differently  ~  Not everything is 100% within our control so the trick here is to take ownership of what is  Own up to the parts you can own up to.  You do not have to lie down and be a whipping boy. If there are things beyond your control, or actually more within your accuser’s control, don’t take those on.

“Fiona, I totally see how I blew it with the introductions. Truth was I blew it even more by not remember those guys names. I could have just spoken up and said ‘Hey – I’d like you to meet my wife” and hoped they’d have offered their names! And I did get way too interested in the things Betty had to say – that woman you spoke of. She’s from corporate so I was being a bit of a brown-nose I know. I can see how that must have looked to you.”

ACCUSER   Listen as your partner accepts responsibility  ~  You’ll know if this is genuine. You may find he or she is not taking responsibility for absolutely everything.  This is actually good. If you choose to notice what items were left on the table, you could – under calmer conditions – explore the extent to which you could have done something to help yourself under those circumstances. Own your own piece.

“Well thanks. I know I blame you for the two bores I sat between too – but I see I could have asked them about their kids and maybe sparked some sort of conversation I was interested in. Hey – I possibly could have asked to swap seats with someone after coffee too.”


ACCUSED   Seek forgiveness  ~  After you’ve heard the story and understood the feelings, after you’ve repented and taken ownership for what went down and how things could be different next time, you may want to ask for forgiveness.  I have noticed that when this process has moved successfully through these four stages, not everyone feels the need for this final step.  However, it can’t hurt!

“Fiona – I’m really glad we talked about this today. I want us to be close again. I’d love it if you could forgive me. Is there anything else  I need to do? Will you tell me?”

ACCUSER   Offer forgiveness when you are ready  ~  You may need some time;  you may not. Sometimes it helps to have a little ritual – like the confessional for Catholics when the priest dolls out “Five Our Fathers and Three Hail Marys”. 

“Yes. I’m glad I got this out. I felt so hurt I thought it was the beginning of the end for us. But I see things much more clearly now.  So – I’d say forgiveness will cost you dinner for two at that new wine-bar next week!”

That’s it. Give it a go. I’d love to know if you have anything to add.

*  So what to do with all your pent-up desire to explain, justify, deny or counter attack?  I’ve noticed one of two things might help.

  1. You may just be able to let them go. The whole point of all that was to try to make your accuser feel better and not think you were a jerk – right?  Well, now they feel better and probably feel great about you too. Can be best to just dump ’em.
  2. If you feel stuck, then one day – when the issue has cooled down a bit – you could bring these up more as a reporter of the event than protagonist.  “You know, I find I still hang on to wanting to let you know why I didn’t introduce you to those chaps at the office party. Funny really. I guess I wanted you to know I didn’t intend to hurt you. Can I tell you about things from my perspective, now that it’s all behind us?”



Dating~When to call it quits

Twelve Questions to ask yourself if you’re wondering whether you are dating the right person

Show up honestly to these twelve questions and really listen to your answers. If you are still not sure, seek a few sessions with a good relationship therapist since possibly some family-of-origin ghosts are getting in your way.

1. Do you like who you are in this relationship?

2. Think of someone who loves you very much (parent, sibling, grandparent, coach, your child…) would they think this was the best you could do relationship-wise? If not, what’s getting in the way of that?

3. Are you growing in a way you like, or stuck in a place you dislike?

4. After a fight, can you get back together and talk about what the real issues were until you each understand what precisely each of you was upset about? In other words, do your fights bring you closer or build a wedge between you? *(see NOTE below)

5. Is there a healthy balance of give and take? If any of these statements are true, read number #6

  • “I show my love by fixing my sweetie’s problems.”
  • “My sweetie is just going through a rough patch.”
  • “Love is all about giving.”
  • “I’m sure my turn to receive will come.”

6. Do you know the difference between healthy helping & enabling helping? Healthy helping is stepping in when someone really can’t manage on their own, like driving someone to the hospital when they are sick. Enabling helping is preventing someone from experiencing the consequences of their own behavior or choices, like endlessly listening to your friend kvetch and complain about how much they hate their life – so you run around endlessly trying to make the edges better – when actually, your friend needs to make some drastic changes.

7. When you think about yourself 3 years out – do you feel excited at the thought you’ll still be with this person, or  poundingly depressed?

8. Do you know, in your heart of hearts, you need to move on, but can’t bear the pain this might cause the other? If so, read #9.

9. As a parent, will you let your kid’s teeth rot in their heads rather than expose them to the dentist? Will you continue to enable this person to live a lie? If they’d be devastated by you moving on, they must think you love them more than you do. Respect them enough to tell your own truth. You will both be the better for it.

10. Are you stuck because you made some dumb decisions that have you all muddled up financially – like buying something big together (house, car, boat, time payments on a costly trip?)  If yes, see #11.

11. Debt together is different from life together. Grow up, get out the spread sheets and talk to a lawyer if you need to get some teeth into independent repayment plans for these once joint financial commitments.  You get to enjoy the consequences of your action which means you won’t make this mistake again – right?

12. Do you keep circling around to “But I love him/her?”  Love is so much more than a fuzzy feeling. It’s a verb in the most life-affirming sense. Love is a crucible for growth like no other. If – despite your fuzzy, lovey-dovey, achingly addictive feeling – you can also check these boxes…

  • It brings out the best in each of you;
  • Your friends and family see you expand in confidence;
  • You care enough to drill down to understand your differences;
  • You willingly try on new ways of being;
  • You allow one another to take risks and to comfort one another when you fall – you don’t wrap each other up in cotton wool and hide;
  • You savor the moment and feel optimistic about the future;
  • Your expression of love and your experience of love are fully congruent;
  • You can show up wholeheartedly and truthfully;
  • As a team you are more powerful than you were as two individuals;
  • Your love is emotional (and chemical) yes, but also born of intellect (you’ve thought this through) and spirit (you choose to grow within this co-created crucible) and flesh (you willingly surrender your precious body into those arms for cherishing);

. . .  why then, you might be on to something very valuable.

*NOTE ~ While the content of each fight can vary, the values you each hold that might have been compromised are often the same ones.  So, if you can’t figure out what the real issue is now – before you make a long-term commitment  – it’s like jumping into a swimming pool with alligators in. If you know there are there – better to get them out first.

Coming:  Dating~How to call it quits


Suicide Survivor

When someone you know and love deliberately ends their own life you get a free, lifetime membership into the not-so-very-exclusive  “SOS Club” club. Comes with this fine label too: you are now forever a Survivor Of Suicide, or a  “suicide survivor.”

If you lose someone to death by natural causes, or even if your loved one is murdered, you’re not called a “someone-murdered survivor” or  a “death-by-natural-causes survivor.” Only suicide brings with it such a complicated mourning, and the following bewildering array of  emotions:

  • “Shock is often the immediate reaction to suicide, along with a physical and emotional numbness. These are the ways of temporarily screening out the pain so that it can be experienced in smaller, more manageable steps.
  • Depression may appear as disturbed sleep, fatigue, inability to concentrate, change in appetite, and the feeling that nothing can make life worth living.
  • Anger may be part of the grief response, whether directed towards the deceased, another family member, a therapist, or oneself.
  • Relief may be a part of the reaction when the suicide followed a long decline into self-destructive behavior and mental anguish.
  • Guilt often surfaces as the feeling, “If only I had done.”, “If only I had said or not said.”
  • Why? Many survivors struggle long and hard with this question”

Taken from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Possibly because so many people kill themselves (twice as many as are murdered in many countries) and possibly because the rule-of-thumb wisdom is that each death impacts at least 6 other people deeply, (which gives us almost a quarter million new “suicide survivors” a year in the USA and 3 to 4 thousand new suicide survivors in New Zealand) there is a lot of very helpful information already published on the web.

Downloadable right here [ SOS_handbook ] is the Handbook of Survivors of Suicides, a wonderful small booklet, written by Jeffrey Jackson, and published by the American Association of Suicidology.  I quote from the beginning:

This is a book for people who have lost a loved one to suicide, written by someone who has suffered the same loss. I lost my wife, Gail, to suicide several years ago. She was 33 when she took a deliberate overdose of pills.

And downloadable right here is  [ Surviving a Suicide Loss-resource_healing_guide ] , published by the American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide.  The following words are from the front page:

We encourage survivors to gather, to remember, to speak aloud the precious names of those lost to suicide. You are in a safe place with those who understand. If you are very new to the tragedy of suicide loss, despair may be your companion. We hope you find some time to rest your burden and share it with those of us who need no explanation. There is no map on this path to becoming whole. It is the most painful of journeys — full of twists and turns, bruised hearts and misunderstandings. Small wonders appear on this path but we may be too sore or fragile to recognize them. But there will be a day when you can look back and know that they were there. We share your loneliness. We share your sorrow. We share your questions. We honor those we love who have been lost to suicide. May the radiance and beauty of their lives never be defined by their deaths.
Survivors are the most courageous people we know. Be well, be peaceful, be hopeful.

Resources for those in New Zealand

For  The Newly Bereaved After Suicide

Support Groups around New Zealand for people bereaved by suicide

Resources for those in United States

American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide

  • The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) is the nation’s leading organization bringing together people across communities and backgrounds to understand and prevent suicide, and to help heal the pain it causes. Individuals, families, and communities who have been personally touched by suicide are the moving force behind everything we do.
  • We strive for a world that is free of suicide.
  • We support research, because understanding the causes of suicide is vital to saving lives.
  • We educate others in order to foster understanding and inspire action.
  • We offer a caring community to those who have lost someone they love to suicide, or who are struggling with thoughts of suicide themselves.
  • We advocate to ensure that federal, state, and local governments do all they can to prevent suicide, and to support and care for those at risk.

The American Association of Suicidology   whose  mission is to:

  • Advance Suicidology as a science; encouraging, developing and disseminating scholarly work in suicidology.
  • Encourage the development and application of strategies that reduce the incidence and prevalence of suicidal behaviors.
  • Compile, develop, evaluate and disseminate accurate information about suicidal behaviors to the public.
  • Foster the highest possible quality of suicide prevention, intervention and postvention to the public.
  • Publicize official AAS positions on issues of public policy relating to suicide.
  • Promote research and training in suicidology.

Thanks for visiting. You can find the the rest of this mini-series on suicide here:

Suicidal Friend?

If you know someone who may be talking about taking their own life – read on.

This article is part 3 of a 4-part mini-series on suicide, inspired by the recent loss of a dear friend – Simon “Sketch” Ellis – who took his own life in early 2013. This piece is dedicated to friends out there all over the world who might – one day – have the opportunity to help someone they know and love to make a different choice.

Given that for every murder you hear about in the news, there are 2 to 3 successful suicides, a suicidal friend might be much closer than you think.

If you’re worried about a friend, pay attention to ~


  • “Nothing brings me pleasure any more.”
  • “You’d all be better off without me.”
  • “Life’s pretty pointless.”
  • “I’m in so much pain.”
  • “I can’t face another Christmas like this.”
  • “It’s too late – I’ve nothing to live for.”
  • “Nobody understands.”


  • Have they given loads of stuff away lately?
  • Have they bought something expensive like a boat even when facing financial hardship?
  • Do they have wild mood swings from very low to very manic?
  • Are they overdoing drugs or alcohol?
  • Are they reading about suicide?
  • Are they hoarding pills or buying weapons?


  • Have they ever attempted suicide before?
  • Have they just ended a close relationship?
  • Have they lost a loved one to suicide?
  • Have they had a recent “bad-news” medical diagnosis?
  • Have they been recently discharged from hospital?
  • Have they been recently discharged from prison?
  • Have they been through a painful, ugly divorce?
  • Has someone close to them just died?
  • Have they recently been in a war zone?
  • Have they been bullied?
  • Have they recently “come out” as LGBT and been met with hostility?

 Any one of these alone isn’t enough to lead a person to suicide, but if you begin to connect the dots and have some inkling your friend is in deep emotional pain,


  1.  Very few people are 100% committed to ending their life. This means they will have mixed feelings: part of them just wants to end the pain, but part of them is scanning for any signs of hope and help. You’ll be speaking directly to that part of them that wants to live.
  2.  Talking about suicide does not make someone suicidal.
  3. You won’t get this wrong if you care.


Part 1 – Connect

  • Ask for some time with your friend.
  • Share what you’ve noticed (see the indicators or clues above).
  • Let them know you are concerned.
  • Ask them what’s going on.
  • Listen very carefully.

Part 2 – Understand

  • Work to understand all the things troubling your friend.
  • When you think he or she has said everything, ask “What else is troubling you”?
  • Stay warm, empathic and attentive.

 Part 3 – Ask the 5 Questions

If the list of painful feelings and events is getting pretty long and you can tell your friend feels overwhelmed, ask each of the five questions below,  pausing between each question to listen to the answers:

  1. “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”
  2. How do you plan to take your life?
  3. Do you have what you need?”
  4. Have you ever tried before?” If so, when and how?”
  5. What’s the hurry? Why now?”

Part 4 – How “LETHAL” [to themselves]  is your friend?

If your friend answers “Yes – I have been thinking about suicide actually” notice how the answers to the next four questions will frame what you do next in terms of how LETHAL their plan is.

You ask   “How do you plan to take your life?”

  • Low lethality response:   “Well, you know, I wish I could just take a few too many pills one night.”
  • High lethality response:   “I plan to shoot myself.”

You ask   “Do you have what you need?”

  • Low lethality response:   “I’ve got a few tramadol, but I guess I’d have to get a prescription for a whole lot more.”
  • High lethality response:   “Yes, I have a loaded gun in my house.”

You ask   “Have you ever tried before?” If so, when and how?”

  • Low lethality response:   “Oh no – I’ve felt bad from time to time like this, but even though I talk about it – just as a way to feel like I could end the pain, you know – I’ve never tried anything.”
  • High lethality response:   “Yes. Took an overdose 6 months ago – ended up getting my stomach pumped since I didn’t take enough and my wife found me. This time I’ll make sure I finish the job.

You ask   “What’s the hurry? Why now?”

  • Low lethality response:   “I’m not sure why now – I’ve been slipping in to a lower and lower mood I guess, but come to think of it, I’d like to see my granddaughter’s Christmas play.”
  • High lethality response:   “Well, tomorrow is the 5th anniversary of my son’s death over in Afghanistan. I’ve never forgiven myself for pressuring him enlist. Told him he’d amount to nothing if he didn’t get some discipline. The wife left me over it. I told myself last year when she left me, that I couldn’t face that anniversary again.”

You get the picture right – the person who is thinking about maybe getting a prescription is not in the same urgency bracket at the second man – whose pain is exquisite, and whose means and timeframe are immediate.

If you are still not sure however, you can always ask

“On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is no way will you kill yourself any time soon and 10 is you don’t plan to see tomorrow, where are you?”

Part 5 – Take Action

Remember – you are talking to that part of this person who wants to believe there is hope for a future. Hope for the pain to pass. Even the broken father in the scenario above will have a small % of himself clinging to life.

If your friend’s plan is on the low lethality spectrum, let them know~

  1. You are concerned.
  2. You care about them and want them to find more happiness.
  3. You know they have mixed feelings – part of them just wants to end the pain and part of them wants to believe life can be good again.
  4. Ask them if they will commit to getting some help – seeing their local doctor, talking with family, meeting with you again,  etc.

If your friend’s plan is on the high lethality spectrum, let them know~

  1. You are very concerned.
  2. Even though it seems as though they are hell-bent on ending their lives, let them know you know there is some small % of them that wants to live.
  3. Tell them you are talking to that part – even if it is only 2% of them.
  4. Tell that part you are taking them to the hospital right now.
  5. On the way, brainstorm for the names of any other beings on the planet who might be devastated if this person killed themselves – grand-kids, spouse, children, siblings, dear friends, dog… hunt for whatever you can that will connect this person to life.
  6. Remember – IF you’ve had this conversation it has clearly all been with the part of him or her who wants to live. If your friend wants to kill himself, he still can. Another day. Not on your watch.

Part 6 – Take Care of Yourself

Whether your friend is successfully helped and ends up living a happier life, or becomes one of the “successful” suicides, you’ll probably need to talk about this with someone yourself. By all means use the resources below to get some help.


Avoid the following ~

  • I know just what you mean.”  You don’t, and it’s not about you just now.
  • Don’t worry – things will all work out.” Again, you don’t know, so don’t lie.
  • You do it then – just go ahead and kill yourself!” Bluffs won’t make you feel good when they are carried out.
  • You’re so selfish to even consider suicide – you’ll just mess up your family.” Someone considering suicide is at the end of their rope, already strangled by guilt, and feeling un-entitled to pretty much even their next breath. Adding a guilt trip (however true this may be) will not help alleviate their mood of despair.
  • But you have so much to live for!”  Again, you are not talking to a resourceful, rational being here.


  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354
  • National Healthline  0800 611 116
  • Depression helpline: 0800 111 757
  • Youthline: 0800 376 633
  • Samaritans: 0800 726 666
  • Great web site for depressed teens


(I’ll add more as I find them – especially for the USA)

Other Articles in this Mini-Series

Suicide, who’s at risk?

If you’ve stumbled upon this post, it’s part 2 of a 4-part mini-series on suicide, dedicated to a dear man, Simon “Sketch” Ellis, who spent over 20 years travelling the world, making friends as he went. Sketch ended his own life earlier this year and those of us left are wondering what drew him toward that decision. This post  explores some of the facts about suicide, and draws attention to the risk factors that are most typically in play for someone who opts for death at their own hand.  The final 2 posts offer suggestions for how to help a friend in need, (what to say, what not to say, how to think about your friend so you feel empowered to take action), and finally how to survive life after death, if you’ve lost a loved one to suicide.

First of all, if you are in crisis now, or if you know of someone who is, take action. It is the rare soul who is 100% committed to death (see April 2nd post). Intervention can help.

In Crisis Now?

In New Zealand call            0800 611 116 National Healthline

In United States call            1-800-273-TALK (8255) National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

 These lines are free, open all the time and available to anyone in need.

A few facts

  • In New Zealand in 2010 ,
  • of a total population of 4,367,700
  • 522 people killed themselves
  • Thus in 2010, the average suicides per 100,000 people = 11.9
  • In the United States in 2010
  • of a total population of  308,745,538.
  • 38,000 killed themselves
  • Thus in 2010, the average suicides per 100,000 people = 12.3

Read by friends at Sketch’s Memorial

He was humble, kind, generous, and considerate. His positive energy permeated into the souls of us all. He followed his dreams. He led the most colorful life filled with challenges that he embraced with open arms. He travelled the world; saw places, experienced different cultures that would make the likes of David Palin and Richard Attenborough jealous! Unlike the great explorers, we read about in our history books, he did not come to take he came to give. His ability to communicate with every walk of life, the nomads in Mongolia, the one-eyed guard in DR Congo, the Pakistani patient in the hospital in Qatar, the Cambodian rice farmer to name a few, made him welcome everywhere. He radiated trust and kindness. He was never afraid of hard work. He was happiest getting his hands dirty to help others. He was the most giving person I have ever met.


Drilling into the data a bit more we learn that  ~

  • Suicide is around the 10th leading cause of death
  • In most countries, women continue to attempt suicide more often than men
  • Men however, tend to be 4 times more successful
  • Firearms are the most common method of suicide in the USA for men
  • Suffocation (including hanging) and poisoning are the next most common methods
  • There is 1 suicide for every 25 attempts
  • The poor, minorities and disenfranchised kill themselves more often

In autopsies of those who commit suicide, US data discovered:

  • 33.3% tested positive for alcohol
  • 23% for antidepressants
  • 20.8% for opiates, including heroin and prescription painkillers

Not only did you travel to all those many countries, cities, towns and villages… You helped make things better along the way, fighting against poachers, helping reintroduce rehabbed  rhinos back into the wild, working with children just to name a  few…. You always gave so much of yourself and asked for so little in return.

Suzanne Stafford, USA

What are the risk factors for suicide?

More than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have these risk factors ~

  • depression and other mental disorders, or a substance-abuse disorder (9 in 10 report this)
  • prior suicide attempt
  • family history of mental disorder or substance abuse
  • family history of suicide
  • family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
  • firearms in the home (used in more than half of suicides)
  • incarceration
  • exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, such as family members, peers, or media figures.

And maybe this explains what happened to someone as vivid and vital as Sketch –

  • three out of four individuals who take their own life had a physical illness when they committed suicide.

Well Nomad, you wandered this earth living life to the full and I was lucky enough that our paths crossed in Hong Kong in 96 and we traveled on in 97 to Cambodia, laughing a lot and having an adventure. It was good to catch up with you again in Cambodia just over a year ago, just didn’t expect that your travel’s would end on this earth. I expect you’re up there with your pack on your back moving from star to star ‘cause that’s what you were like. It  was a pleasure to have known you…happy travels on the other side.

Richard Williams

There’s so much yet to understand as our attitudes toward death-by-choice (including euthanasia) are pushed by the data. However, it’s important to remember that suicide is NOT a normal response to stress! Whilst the number of people suffering from depression, other mental illnesses and addictions is on the rise, “new research is showing that the risk for suicide is associated with changes in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, including serotonin. Decreased levels of serotonin have been found in people with depression, impulsive disorders, and a history of suicide attempts, and in the brains of suicide victims“.


  • What to do if a friend is suicidal?
  • Life after death (by suicide)



“I’ve got a loaded gun . . .

. . . .it’s pointed at my head.  Give me one good reason not to pull the trigger.”

“Because I don’t want you to.”

That’s all she said.  Just, “Because I don’t want you to.”

I was in my late 20s when I heard this story on the BBC. A woman had answered her home phone one evening and on the other end of the line was this desperate man. Apparently he thought he was dialing his brother, whom he hated. Instead, the wrong number led him to a very calm, compassionate, ordinary woman. A wife, a mother. She simply responded from her heart.

“Because I don’t want you to”.

Oh my goodness!

I was haunted by that news story. The woman, and the man who credits her with saving his life, were reunited in the interview as they re-told the story from their own perspectives.

The man said he felt heard for the first time in ages. Even though he had no idea who this woman was, it mattered to him that she did not want him to pull that trigger. He was pulled in by her presence.

From her perspective, she was stunned. What on earth else could she have said? She answered initially,  she says, purely selfishly. The last thing she wanted was to hear that gun go off. It terrified her.

They had spoken for nearly an hour. She began to understand the man’s pain. He began to trust her with his story. After time, the man had allowed her to take his real name and address. She had kept him on hold, gone to the neighbour’s house and asked them to call the police to attend to a suicidal man (this was long before cell phones). The woman was on the phone when the police arrived. The man received help. He was now still alive, and gratefully so.

I was stunned.

What would I have said?

This story is what ignited my passion for figuring out how to be with another human being, no matter what they felt. I wanted to never feel stuck or tongue-tied in the face of another’s pain. I started volunteering for the then King County Crisis Clinic ; amongst many skills I learned how to handle suicidal callers and eventually I co-taught that component of our training. I went on to get a Masters in psychology at Seattle University and the rest, as they say, “Is history”!

Fast forward about thirty years. It’s a beautiful autumnal post-Easter morning here in Auckland.  Back to work after a lovely 4 day Easter break.  And there in my in-box was this message:

I never would have imagined in a million years he’d take his own life, but that’s exactly what he did…. After he left Iceland and went home to the UK to be with his mom and family for the holidays. I really have no details on how or why, but he did leave some letters, I assume for his family.

And so I heard that my most itinerant friend “Sketch” (Simon Ellis) had taken his own life.

I met Sketch in Costa Rica in the summer of 2010 – we’d stayed at the same small hostel and I’d been fascinated by his travels. He’d been on the road for over a year back then and had no end-date in mind. Managed his life and finances to live lightly. Last I heard he was leaving Iceland mid-December.

As far as I knew, Sketch was healthy, utterly alive, zesty, planning, adventuring, staying connected. And now poof. Proving once again, you never know what another human being is dealing with. Did I miss something in his letters? Was he running away from something? Could I have been more aware and helpful?

In memory of Sketch, I’m dedicating this week’s blog posts to suicide.  Not sure how things will evolve, but I plan to cover at least these issues, and maybe more:

  • Suicide – the facts
  • Who’s at risk?
  • Signs to watch for
  • What you can do to help another
  • What you can do if you feel suicidal
  • After a suicide

Take care out there. It can be a rough and lonesome world.

Narcissist ~ Healing From One

If you’ve stumbled upon this article, it’s the last in a 5 part mini-series about living in relationship with “Narcissism.”  (Click here for Part 1, 2, 3 & 4.)

This final piece offers you my humble “take” on what others more experienced than I  (see Resources below) have identified as 6 significant rest-stops along the spiral of healing. I offer one “Top Tip” per rest-stop.

1.  Re-encounter Yourself  ~  Most everyone who emerges from time around a narcissist looses something of themselves. No matter how long this contact with narcissism has been, there will be less of the essential, unapologetic, robust, connected-to-your-own-soul YOU now than there was before this contact.  First job is to find that person once again.

Top Tip: Do The Artists Way.  Julia Cameron’s 12-part process will help you discover you are a unique, worthwhile, creative being whose only job is to express yourself. This book is a life-saver!

 2.  Embrace reality  ~  Question every assumption; examine every thought. Is this truth, or is this still crazy-talk? Come on back to the community of earthlings where you belong. Try listening to a reliable news source; go to the public library and watch normal people come and go; call a childhood friend and reminisce.

Top Tip from Blogger Lisa Arends (sent as a comment to my last postI found it invaluable to have “reality anchors,” tangible reminders of reality that kept me anchored while I navigated through the world he created through his lies. My favorite? I kept a copy of his mugshot with an article about the bigamy in my purse for several months. One glance at that paper reminded me of who he really was and motivated me to keep fighting to get away.  (Thanks Lisa!)

3.  Set boundaries  ~  It’s hard to be in relationship with someone who has no idea who they are or what they want. This is where boundaries come in: you get to say “I feel X and I need Y” and then let go. Just the fact of naming what you feel and need is a huge boundary-setting skill.

Top Tip from Life Coach Cheryl Richardson (on Oprah.com) walks you through How to Set Boundaries.

4.  Cultivate reciprocal relationships  ~  You’ve been giving, giving, giving – right? You need to discover that it’s OK to receive: To imagine you are worthwhile enough for someone to want to share with you.  If you want the safest possible two-way friendships I’d recommend animals or small children. They are genetically engineered givers.

Top Tip (not scientifically tested, but from my experience, this Tip’s from me).  Volunteer some time each week at your local Humane Society. For the gift of your time and presence, you’ll be rewarded with unconditional love from most of the four-footed brothers and sisters in the shelter. Lap up their love. Bask in it. Slowly make the transition to humans.

5.  Integrate Your Past  ~  It’s tempting to want to forget the past – especially if it now seems so false (Did my partner ever really love me? Was it all a sham?) But burying your past in an ugly bin in the basement will cause it to rot and smell.  Putting it instead in a pleasing, open wooden-frame box, turning it over, splashing it with some fresh insights, tumbling it with compassion, mixing in some understanding and wisdom will deliver a deliciously usable compost.

Top Tip  Write!  You’ll find lots of people on the Internet who have turned their difficult pasts into fruitful books, blogs, and even full “recovery courses.” 

6.  Help Others  ~ Once you’ve climbed back from the brink, re-calibrated your sense of “normal”, practiced setting boundaries and expressing feelings and needs, re-joined the larger community, made a few genuine friends and gained some perspective on your past, you’re ready for the fulfillment that comes from reaching out and helping someone else.

Top Tip Be inspired here 


Caveat emptor” ~ 3 Main Points

  1. Be slow to trust.  There’s a lot of unhelpful information in print and online. Look for resources authored by professionals in the field of mental health. If you are considering a book, or reading an article on-line, read the brief author bio. Check to see if the author has an advanced degree from a reputable University. Are they working the field? Do they have a website and testimonials? Can you call them or email them if you want to? Not all information is equal.
  2. Free is good.  The library is your friend. You can spend a small fortune on books and courses and consultations.  You do not have to.
  3. Value a second opinion.  Part of your “reality check” work here. If you feel drawn toward a book you want to buy, or someone you might want to consult with – run it by someone you know and trust.  If your friend is suspicious, maybe wait a bit. Or seek a third opinion. The topic of narcissism has created a very “narcissistic” (i.e. exploitative) on-line environment and you don’t need to get burned.

That being said, there are lots of books you should be OK to review at your local library. Here is a short list. You can also go to Amazon.com and type “Narcissism” in the subject box for a longer list.

  • Why Is It Always About You? : The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism, by Sandy Hotchkiss
  • Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed by Wendy Behary
  • Freeing Yourself from the Narcissist in Your Life by Linda Martinez-Lewi
  • The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love, and Family by Eleanor Payson

In terms of on-line resources. You can trust articles posted on ~

www.psychologytoday.com   (You can type “Narcissism” in the search box top right, or visit Topics and browse by Parenting, Divorce, Personality etc.).

http://divorcesupport.about.com   (Again, type Narcissism in the subject box top left. This is a direct link to a good article on  co-parenting with a narcissist )

Marc Hafkin also posted on this Blog – his web site seems worth reviewing.

One of my clients found this site, and I figured it might help others:  http://www.daughtersofnarcissisticmothers.com/

This seems helpful (if anyone has feedback feel free to post) http://blog.melanietoniaevans.com/

And I follow Lessons From The End of a Marriage because I’m inspired by it’s author, Lisa Arends. Lisa’s been through what she describes as a “Tsunami Divorce” but has emerged with a terrific sense of self, a good job, a luscious pen and some piercingly clear insights.

For the other posts in this series see ~

Narcissist~Leaving One

If you’ve stumbled upon this article, it’s Part 4 in a 5 part series on Narcissism*.  Today’s article offers the Top 10 Tips for how to successfully exit a relationship with someone suffering from severe narcissism.

  1. Do The Math  ~  If you’re unhappy, seem to have always been and can’t see things changing; if you’re beginning to feel you’re crazy; if fights far outnumber fun, take stock. Start a daily log of the lies, infidelity, insults, rages and abuse. After a few weeks or months do the math. Calculate what percentage of your life with this person is happy. If unhappy is a much bigger percent than happy and if every attempt to change things has resulted in things getting worse for you – it’s time to go.
  2. Prepare to Prepare  ~  Most people who leave abusive, narcissistic relationships report several “false starts.” Spontaneous “I’m leaving you” tantrums (initiated by either partner) do not last. If this is to be a true break from this nightmare you need to plan.
  3. Get Emotional Support  ~  By the time you’ve recognized how bad your relationship is and are making your plan to leave (which is right when you need to be super strong) you are probably feeling drained, lost, fragile, alienated, crazy, stupid, worthless and more. Priority #1 is to find someone who understands the nature of narcissism to help you: a therapist, minister, support group for abused women, or a forum on one of the many web sites about being involved with a narcissist. You need someone to confirm you’re not nuts, it’s not your fault and you deserve better.
  4. Get Tangible Support  ~  Since you’re planning to leave someone for whom life is “all about me” you are unlikely to get a fair distribution of your shared assets. So, get strategic. Do you have anything in your name? A car? Jewelry? Savings?  It can be wise to have a plan for where to go for the first few months – family out of the area, old friends? Take an inventory of what you might be able to hang on to, and what you are most likely to have to leave behind.
  5. Get Financially Savvy  ~  To the extent you can, take stock of where you stand financially. Familiarize yourself with credit card balances; bank balances; the mortgage; other monthly debt. You may be in for some surprizes. As you can, start a cash-stash. Even $1000 is better than ending up on the street with nothing.
  6. An Element of Surprize  ~  Be careful to keep your plan a secret. As you know, you are overly connected / addicted to the charms and terrors of the narcissist in your life and can easily fall prey to the pleas to stay, hand over money, take care of him/her etc.  Consider your safety above all else.
  7. Burn Your Bridges  ~  As miserable as you may be, the majority of people who have successfully made the break from a narcissist report it takes every ounce of their strength not to go running back. You’ve been so emptied, manipulated, put down, “rescued” and oriented by this toxic system that life beyond it seems vapid, empty, frighteningly without meaning. This is where your support system comes in. Buy a one-way ticket; have someone expecting you; make it impossible to go back.
  8. Build Your Boundaries  ~  You fell prey to the narcissist because you weren’t sure about the line between  “being nice” and “being used/abused.” There is one and it is never too soon to start building stronger boundaries. A great place to start is by reading Melody Beatie’s Codependent No More.
  9. If There Are Children  ~  Many divorces are caused by the narcissistic behaviour of one or other parent so you are not alone. Your children will survive. It will pull forth more from you than you thought you had to give but parents who’ve had the courage to leave their narcissistic partners will tell you that they are particularly motivated to make this break for the children.
  10. Harbour Hope  ~  Hold on to your self. There is no greater gift you can give yourself (or your children) than to make this move. No amount of money, real estate nor high roller distraction is worth the sacrifice of your very essence. You are not alone. Others have walked this path before you. You can make it!

*I am running a 5 part mini series ( 25-29 March 2013) on Narcissism. I am seeing more and more clients impacted by living with someone who suffers from NPD and the first step in the healing process is to learn as much as you can about this disorder.  I’ll print a list of helpful resources in Part 5.