Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Can You Love Yourself as You Age?


 

Will people still find you attractive and sexy as you grow older?

My short answer is, it does not matter.

If someone doesn’t find you attractive - then that is their perspective. It does not have to be our own. Don’t give up on me and stop reading…hear me out.  I know there are women reading this who may have been left by their partners for a younger women after years of marriage. I know there are young women reading this who fear their boyfriend left them to be with someone he found more hot. So many of us from teens to mature women struggle with worry that   our romantic prospects are limited by our appearance.

I know this is very hard stuff. That is precisely why advertising builds our insecurity, banks on it, and makes ALOT of money off of our insecurity and succeeds in shifting our ideals. 
I myself am a middle aged single woman.  I do not look the way I did at thirty. I know this issue quite well. Here is the simple truth: there are lots of people who won’t find you attractive. Yep. It’s true. And it does not have to matter. Believe me I have thought hard and long about this as I have approached my middle years. You have a choice to make and I suggest you make the choice to let it matter less.  Way less.

Be you young or older, slim or not so slim -you won’t be attractive to everyone. You will be attractive to some.  And the more you are able to let go of being defined by who or how many people like your looks, the richer your life will be.  I submit that the courage to move beyond the hype will actually make you more attractive.  That is because there is so much more to how you are seen than your weight or your wrinkles – and that is your VITALITY.

Don’t make yourself or your life smaller with too much focus on advertising and shallow values.  One day most of us will be very old - and we will want to have had a life of courage and depth. How will you feel if you look back and realize you chased an image?

So what is really important in aging is to get clear about what does matter. And I assert you need to let go of the need to meet some idealized standard set forth by media which has seeped into your brain of how you should look. I know this may sound annoying and simplistic. I don’t mean it to be insensitive of the reality that we as women live in a society that advertises and promotes youth and slimness.  But we have to choose whether we are going to value this above something more real.

So I am choosing to bring myself back again and again as I slip into wrong thinking; to self directed vitality. Because obsessing over my dress size, counting wrinkles and comparing myself to 27 year olds will not increase my vitality; it will diminish me in too many ways.  I am not suggesting your body doesn’t matter. It does. I am suggesting that we chose to define how it matters by what it can do for us, and how it allows us to experience the world through our physical senses. Not simply on how it looks to others.

How do I practice this? I make a choice to show up with pride, courage and self care. It’s not always easy.
The way I increase my vitality may be different than what fits for you. But here is what I mean by the shift in perspective:

I continue practicing my martial arts:  not to sculpt my body, but to feel energy in my muscles, and broadening of my physical experience.

I put on makeup most days: not to look appealing to men, but because I like what I see when I look a little more polished. I am as likely to wear it for a day in the park with my child as I am if I were going out. (OK. maybe a little more of it when I go out.)

I strength train, mostly at home:  not to lose weight, but to build strong bones and be able to swing my child in the air at the pool!

I challenge my mind: not so I can impress folks at a cocktail party, but so that my mind will be my ally well into my later years.

I (usually) eat healthy: not to lose weight, but because I notice that I feel better when I do. I try to eat as if I am feeding someone I love (because I am).

So with all this self directed perspective said, I will reveal a secret anyway: Most men will be more attracted to the average looking woman who has confidence, energy and self-direction (vitality)  than they will be to the most idealized type of woman who has let herself be diminished by this society’s silliness about age, weight and beauty.  And for those who are more superficial-we don’t need their attention.  

This took me a long time to feel, and I struggle with it continually. However, when I check in with myself I come back to the belief that it doesn't matter what others think of how I look. If I live with it mattering to me very much, I will be unhappy. I will be powerless and I will lose my vitality. I know that it is that life-energy that comes from inside, from confidence, from a bigger perspective, from self care and love and courage to be me – that makes me my most beautiful and radiant self. And that can be powerfully alluring.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How saying YES can Hurt Your Relationships and Your Health


 

Saying YES: How “people pleasing” can RUIN your Relationships and Sabotage Your Health

 

Clients and friends tell me all the time, I can’t say “NO”.

Or similar statements, like:

"I want people to like me.”

" I feel bad when I don't agree to a request."

" I take on too much.”

" I over-schedule myself.”

“ I worry about making people mad.”

“Saying No feels mean.”

“ I would rather make an excuse or avoid someone if I can’t do what they want.”

" I feel guilty if I disappoint someone"...

and on...can you relate to any of this?

 

 

As a therapist I am trained to look beyond the surface situation and find the deeper meaning. I usually discover that with folks who struggle with setting limits, there is a deep desire to be liked, to be considered “nice”, and to avoid what is often labeled as “confrontation”.

 

But when I dig a little deeper, here's what I find: FEAR.

 

Oftentimes people (women especially) who regularly agree to things they don't want to do or have time to do (to the extreme where it becomes a problem; because we all have to do this occasionally)...do it because of  FEAR. The fear of rejection, the fear of abandonment, the fear of loss or even physical harm rests underneath a lot of this people pleasing.

 

I believe that one big reason we fear upsetting or disappointing, or having someone become angry with us is because - Deep down we fear being alone.  And fear is never a good place from which to build a relationship – or a life.

 

Now let me say that to an extent, this is normal. We are social creatures and we have evolved to be in relationship with others. In fact in some ways being alone once meant (for women especially) serious physical and financial vulnerability.

 

But there is more than an anthropological root to this when it becomes a problem. Poor boundaries, or the inability to set limits and say No in many cases is linked to a childlike fear of abandonment. For many of us, this grew from unmet childhood emotional needs. Or if you are like the vast majority of us, you were taught that pleasing others was the key to social success, and sometimes even the key to love.

 

But is this true for you now as an adult? No. (See, I just said it and I am still here typing away safely J)

 

I argue that in fact poor boundaries, the inability to communicate limits in a respectful, kind but assertive manner is a threat to both your relationship health and your physical and emotional health. Boundaries are one vital key to healthy sustainable and close relationships.  In fact, when we avoid saying No, setting limits, communicating our objections as well as our needs and positive feelings, we sabotage our relationships; be it close ones or casual ones.

 

Studies have repeatedly linked many health issues to stress. In fact it is one type of stress that effects our health in the most negative ways; that is the stress that is born from a feeling of powerlessness. And what feels more powerless than believing you haven’t the right to say no; or lack the skills to set limits; or fear yourself worth rests on what others think of you?

 

Yet, it seems counterintuitive right? If you agree, and say Yes more than No wont people like you more?

 

NO. They will likely use you more.

 

And also, they won’t respect you as much. Hence, you end up not feeling so good about yourself, your life, or THEM. And then guess what? You may actually end up resenting them and even blow up at them or be passive aggressive because you are feeling powerless and tired and used. Then you actually lose the very thing you did all that people-pleasing to get: closeness. That warm fuzzy feeling you were hoping for cannot come to you when you feel used or abused. Healthy attachment and connection cannot be built from a place of powerlessness.  

People may even become more upset with you than if you said NO or set a boundary FIRST. Because once we become tired and overdrawn emotionally, financially or physically by not caring for yourself, you are the one who gets mad. Or you become frightened or resentful. You certainly do not feel honored because you did not first honor yourself. Even if all this spongyness doesn’t go very wrong and attract an abuser or self centered person into your life, you will likely see others as willing to overlook your needs. That will create distance as you unconsciously search for ways to feel safer.

 

So how do you start creating the health in your life that appropriate boundaries and the ability to say No and set limits can provide?

1.     First: Identify your boundaries. Begin thinking about what feels right for yu in different situations. Think emotional, physical, sexual, spiritual, verbal, social and professional boundaries.

2.     Notice how you feel when you say yes or agree to something. Does it feel good and respectful or does it sit poorly with you? Look for physical signs too: headaches, stomach aches, sweating, and other bodily sensations. Jot them down.

3.     Notice when you feel scared or uneasy. Is there a “gut feeling” you are avoiding?

4.     Set limits starting small if you are new to this. Or start in areas where it feels you already have some skill and try to really own the assertive communication and pay attention to how THAT feels. Then start trying your limits setting in increasingly more difficult situations.

5.     Give yourself lots of time and lots of room for error.

6.     Get a coach or a therapist to help. Read books on boundaries and assertiveness. Find role models.

7.     Become aware of the language of assertive communication. For starting small maybe the next time your meal is served improperly – say something. If the chicken is undercooked, send it back. Say “Excuse me. My chicken is undercooked. Please take it back and bring me a new entrĂ©e. Thank you. ” No apologies. You did not undercook the chicken!  Or, if someone has just asked you to give them your number and you don’t want to, say “Thanks for asking but I don’t give my number out.”

8.     Don’t apologize for being assertive. Apologies are for if you have injured, harmed or otherwise caused a problem for someone that you genuinely think requires a polite “I am sorry”. Get out of the habit for apologizing for your boundaries. Someone who is pushing your limits is the one being rude. You don’t say, “I’m sorry” before saying you aren’t interested in that drink he has badgered you to take for the fourth time.

9.     In close relationships, think about ways you are feeling overlooked, taken advantage of, treated in an uncaring way. Identify times where you can say something like, “Honey, I know you like it when I pick up your clothes for you but I don’t like doing it. I’d like you to put them in the bin yourself. I would feel much more cared for if you did.” Or for a more serious example, “You know, I’ve noticed that you don’t seem warm after sex and that feels bad to me. I’d like to talk about it with you.”

10.   Oftentimes there is a family member that just has no regard for your limits or personal space. Read books about family dynamics and communication. Think about why it’s so hard with certain people to feel you are being respected. Ask yourself what you are afraid will happen if you set a limit. Try, “Mom, I know you like to call late at night because that’s a good time for you, but I won’t be able to answer after 9pm because I’m settling into bed at that time. If you want to talk, we’ll have to do it before then.”

Learning to care for yourself and value your own boundaries is often quite a journey. Often you need a guide. Sometimes you experiences loss. You may move forward and then drift back. It is a process and a lifelong learning process. And it can be hard. But it can also be exhilarating. It will definitely be worth it. Good luck.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"NO! Stop!” ( Binge drinking, young women's safety, and assertiveness skills)


 

How Assertiveness can help Stop an Assault and Improve your Self Esteem:
- and the role of binge drinking on college women's safety.

Part one of three…

Powerful words and powerful action can be one of your best tools when confronted with danger or assault.

Women on campuses throughout the United States face sexual assault and harassment at a level higher than any other group of people.  We are most vulnerable between the ages of 14 and 24 to experience sexual assault, unwanted sexual contact and sexual harassment. In fact the statistics range from 1 in 4 to 1 in 2 women in this age group will be harassed, assaulted or coerced into unwanted sex.

Why is this? I have been counseling high school and college aged women for over 15 years. I have been  an instructor on college campuses, an anti-violence educator and  I have spent a great deal of time researching assault, listening to survivors, interviewing perpetrators and putting together the elements that make young women so often targeted for assault and intimidation.  I want to say that there are many things you can do to drastically reduce the chance that you will be targeted by a perpetrator and become a victim.

Young women are out on the scene, interacting with young men and women, socializing regularly and trying new things. At these ages we are new to all of the dynamics of social interaction, we are often on our own for the first time, and we are appropriately eager to make new connections and relationships. However, there are many things we need to learn and understand about all of this so that we can take care of ourselves and have a good time.  You are learning in your classes how to prepare for your chosen career. Learn just as much about how to prepare to be an aware, assertive and confident social being with the ability to take good care of you and choose wisely based on good information. Then go have fun.

Alcohol is often a factor in assaults. I am NOT blaming the victim. In fact I spend a lot of time working to change the culture of harassment and violence against women in general.  But I am writing for young women right now.  No one should ever be taken advantage of when incapacitated, or for any reason. But the reality is that anything we do that REDUCES OUR AWARENESS and ASSESSMENT/JUDGMENT will place us at greater risk. When I talk to perpetrators of date rape, other sexual assault and even harassment I usually hear (or read between the lies…oops I meant lines) that they are looking for an easier target. So based on this, I want to advocate that you work on reducing the chances you will be assessed as a target by a possible perpetrator.  

There are no guarantees that you will not be victimized. I cannot guarantee that even with 20 years of martial arts experience, and lots of training about assertiveness that I myself will never be targeted. But I can assure you that there are things you can do to greatly reduce the likelihood of assault without diminishing your freedoms.

So what makes a potential victimizer assess us as an easy target?

1.       Incapacity. Usually in the form of being very drunk. Drinking alcohol to excess (sometimes to near blackout) will put you at greater risk.  For both stages of assault where you have a chance to intervene early:  when you are being targeted; and then when you are being tested, you will be challenged to intervene, to assess, to stand up for yourself, to yell “NO”,  or to fight– if you are very drunk.

2.       Lack of capacity or awareness. Use your senses. Don’t diminish them when you are in public or with people you don’t know. Think: sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. Ear buds for instance, reduce your ability to hear someone approaching you from behind.

3.       Appearing weak, scared or lacking in confidence.  I know. I even hate saying it but it’s true. Many perpetrators, victimizers and abusers assess for this stuff.  So hold your head up, look people in the eye and walk and talk with a confident and assertive tone. If you don’t know how, take a class, or identify someone on TV maybe - who seems to have those qualities and try to mimic them.  See a therapist if low self esteem or serious anxiety or depression have you showing up in the world this way. It helps to actually feel more assertive and capable than just to act like it.

4.       Being alone and having any of the above lack of capacity. Being alone is not in and of itself a big problem. But being alone when incapacitated is a problem. Please, stay with your friend and get her home safe if she is drunk.

 

Why would anyone use, abuse, assault, force sex or intimidate a woman?

I’ll speak more broadly here; not just about violent assault or coercive sex. You have heard it before: Power. This is not the exclusive reason. But generally speaking, when someone perpetrates abuse or violence, they are getting a dose of power. The reasons for wanting or needing that kind of power in order to feel more secure within themselves are myriad and I won’t go into them here. But your job is to spot people who use others in negative or aggressive ways, cross boundaries or are impolite or pushy and assertively intervene to either get them away from you, get them out of your life, or not invite them in where they can do harm in even subtle ways.

Perpetrators are looking for anything that tells them it will easier to get away with whatever they are planning. And they do usually plan. Then they TARGET. Here is where you want to be effective.  Be assertive in language and physical stance. Take a self defense class, read some books about boundaries and test out setting assertive limits in your life. Ask yourself if you lack confidence or why you choose to drink to excess especially when out socializing. Get help from a therapist or trusted advisor about why you are doing this and how to stop.

Often when we have social anxiety, lack self esteem, feel scared or alone we will do things that leave us more vulnerable than if we approached the world from a place of pride and confidence and deeply held positive regard for ourselves. That is what you deserve. Help is available to get you there.

Last, here are some things to remember especially regarding our recent campus assault problem:

* Be a good friend. Be a responsible bystander (BY NOT BEING A BYSTANDER. Do something)

* Call the police, draw attention to, and yell! if you see someone being victimized or targeted. Victimizers depend on silence.

* Don’t leave your friend alone if she is drunk. Get her home safely.

* If you want to consume more alcohol than will allow you to be coherent, at least do it in the relative safety of people you know and trust well.

* Studies show that when women fight back, by yelling, hitting, shoving or defending their boundaries in any way that the assault is more often stopped than if she is silent. Your voice is a powerful tool!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Why Not to Marry


To marry or not to marry … that is the question


I am going to tell you why NOT to marry right now.

There are lots of lovely things to be said about love and marriage. It can be a beautiful thing if you are in love, being loved right back, and are emotionally mature. If you are thinking with a level head about your life and the future compatibility with your special someone, imagining being together forever will feel warm and good.

But I want to be blunt and list some reasons why not to get married right now.  

If any of these apply to you, I suggest you wait and think more on this very important life choice:

1.     All your friends are getting married and you feel left out.

2.     You are itching for a pretty wedding (a wedding is neither a marriage nor the reason for one).

3.     It’s the next step in Your Plan. Just because you finished college, got a job, had some fun being single, and are a certain age does not mean you marry so you can finish the puzzle you might be thinking your life should look like.

4.     You are lonely. We all get lonely.  And honestly a part of why a lot of folks marry is because they want to be coupled and not spend their lives single (and a bit lonely). But don’t let it be a big part of why you are marrying.  You might be clouded by fears of being alone rather than judging your compatibility or the quality of your commitment.

5.     You are afraid of losing him if you don’t tie it down right now.  (Fear is not a good place from which to make decisions. Especially big ones)

6.     Your family thinks you should. This is YOUR LIFE.

7.     Your friends think it’s time. (Ditto.)

8.     You are pregnant.  This may be an arguably good enough reason to marry given many other factors. But marrying someone who isn’t right for you,  isn’t kind, or doesn’t love and respect you -  just because you are pregnant and planning to have a baby – is not good enough reason alone to marry.

9.     You are engaged. Yep. You heard me. Just because you are engaged and have been planning to get married, doesn’t mean you should go forward if things aren’t going well. I hear people say it a lot, “We already told the family, bought the rings and everything, so I felt like I had to go forward.” This is not a good reason or place from which to start a lifelong commitment. If the relationship is showing distress, seek counseling or postpone the wedding. Figure out if it’s right to marry this person for a lifetime, not if you will be embarrassed in the short term by changing course.

10.                         Just because you are invested. This is a term I hear too much. We do invest. We invest our time and labor and love into lots of things. If you think you are invested now, just imagine 15 years from now after your heart wasn’t in it from the start.  We spend time with people, we love, we share joys and sadness and live our lives in relationship to others. Sometimes that ends. It doesn’t mean what we shared wasn’t or isn’t important. It also doesn’t mean it must last forever if the elements for continued shared joy and commitment are no longer present. Move on if this is the main reason you are deciding to move into marriage.

 

It might seem from what I have said that I am against marriage. I am not. However I see a lot of folks get clouded as to why they are marrying and what is motivating this huge decision. 

So let’s face facts: A large percentage of marriages will end in divorce. I know I may sound cynical, but I work with clients going through divorce and let me tell you, you want to choose your next ex very carefully.  I am serious. If you marry and divorce this person, chances are you are going to have to negotiate the most important aspects of life with him or her: children and money. You don’t want to do this with an unkind, deceptive, uncaring or disrespectful person.  It will be hell. Choose marriage wisely, as you may very well be also choosing your co-parent during a divorce.

And last, we live alot longer than ever in human history. Marriage was so very useful, and in many ways imperative (especially for women) in days past. The factors that made marrying as vital as it once was have changed. Today we can marry for love, and to add value to our lives.  We can take our time and choose wisely.

Just think, you can wait until age 30 to marry and still spend easily 5 to 6 decades with this person. Don’t you think you should be very clear about why you are choosing this person, and if you are ready before you promise yourself for the next 50 +years?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

How to be more Resilient through a Break-up


Break-ups Can Really Hurt.

 

A break up is an ENDING.  I have found that endings are very hard for a lot of people. Any ending can feel challenging:  be it a job change, graduation, moving, letting go of a friend - or an intimate relationship ending.  And so, endings are often avoided. 

But being able to do endings well is a wonderful skill.  I don’t mean that there won’t be hurt, sometimes an enormous amount of hurt, attached to ending or letting go of someone. If you love or loved that person, it certainly will feel sad to let them go. Sometimes the sadness feels so heavy you think you cannot manage it for one more minute. 

But how you think about this loss will be key to how well you manage the process.  Resilient people heal. Their perspective about their loss and pain is what allows them to get through hard times without completely falling apart, or giving up on themselves and others.

Life changes.  Endings are inevitable. Some are chosen by you, some are chosen for you. Some are happy endings you planned and some are completely unexpected. But if you resist change and if you believe that things should be able to stay the same as you expected, you will experience a great deal more difficulty than is needed.

Intimate relationships often end after a period of pain or struggle, betrayal of some sort, or at least time spent sorting through hard issues. So when it ends you may already be worn thin. Even if you ended it and know it is for the best, letting go of someone we have spent time and intimacies with is usually a hard process. But it is a process. It is a process that can feel like a severed limb, or a bitter-sweet relief. If you are reading this I am guessing your recent or impending break up or even a more distant one is still causing a good bit of discomfort. So how do we orient ourselves to toward healing?

We have to expect that it will hurt.  Break ups and loss are truly an inescapable part of life. The hurt, loneliness, grief and even agony need not be avoided, disavowed or resented.  People who are resilient are not without deep pain in their lives. They are not without loss.  They know that they are experiencing a normal human difficulty.

Allow the pain in and feel it.  Process it by writing about it, talking to a friend, seeing a therapist, reading books, moving through it - not around it;  and after a bit:

Choose to heal.  To heal the loss of a relationship we have to choose to value ourselves, choose to find help (many current endings will bring up unresolved losses from an earlier time, especially childhood, that may need attention from a therapist), choose to review what has been lost and why, choose to learn from it, and choose life rather than hiding from future connection.

Much of the unnecessary pain I see in my practice and in my own life has been caused by the things we do to AVOID pain.  Resiliency is increased when we expect that hurt will come; try our best to face our truth and the truth about others;  believe that loss is a process; and know that you won’t feel dreadful forever. Resilient people don’t make avoidant choices to end the pain of loss.  Accept what has happened and sit still with it and it will move you toward growth - if you let it.

 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why Do I Keep Getting Hurt?



 

Do I Have an “Abuse Me" Sign on My Head?  

 (Please note: I was asked to write this for women dating men. Please insert your gender pronouns to suit your situation. Lesbian, gay, transgendered and all folks entering into intimacies need to know about abusive personalities as they come in any gender.)


Many clients have asked me that very question. And while I certainly cannot answer in the affirmative, as no one asks to be abused – there are indeed many ways that we advertise” our susceptibility to being a good Target.

Let me first say that no one deserves to be used, abused or in any way taken advantage of by another.  And though we can not foresee the outcome of any relationship going in, there are things you can do that will reduce your chances of attracting the bad guys. This article is addressing the situations where relationships are really problematic. I am not talking here about simply poor matches, commonplace relational issues like differing life goals, drifting apart, of even situations where he stopped giving you the attention and love needed to sustain a healthy connection.

I am offering a perspective for women who are finding that they have had a couple or maybe many very bad relationships. These are situations where you have been harmed, lied to, taken advantage of, manipulated, intimidated, controlled, or physically, verbally or emotionally abused.

Along with having a career as a trauma therapist (child abuse, sexual abuse, and sexual assault mostly), I also have taught self defense classes for 19 years and have been a student of martial arts for 22 years. I have researched violence against women, and have listened intently to hundreds of stories of abusive experiences.  I have learned a lot about how women are chosen for attack physically, but also targeted for emotional abuse.  I have also worked with and listened to the perspective and intentions of perpetrators of violence, abuse, and other forms of harm. The tactics used by the guy with intent to date rape for instance, are very similar to the person who is looking for a target to scam money,  - or the guy who is looking for the next relationship within which he will lie, betray, manipulate or otherwise harm someone new.

Here is a quick summary of a common process used by harmful guys, that I call “Targeting and Testing”.  

1.     TARGETING: This means he observes you for signs he believes indicate that you will be a more malleable or passive person upon which to prey. Depending on his game, he will look for slightly different things. But know that if someone intends on using you, they usually watch early on for signs that you have weak boundaries, low self esteem, or are in some way needy for attention of some sort. (And aren’t we all at times?).

2.     Next, he will TEST: This means he will engage you and cross subtle and sometimes not so subtle boundaries…”Oh come on, don’t be rude - let me buy you another drink”... (After perhaps you already said ‘no thank you’ to the prior offer).

It’s after he has determined that you are a good candidate for whatever he is looking for, (and for the purposes of this article we are talking about men who want to become involved with a woman who will be easily manipulated, lied to, or in some way allow themselves to be treated with less than genuine good intentions) that he will move forward with next steps. (Like starting a relationship where he can get his needs met without regard for your well being).

Now I don’t mean to frighten anyone. In fact, this knowledge is power. But it is estimated by many researchers that sociopathy and other severely maladaptive and pathological abusive personalities are more common than we think.  Estimates suggest that as many as 1 in 10 males have a pattern in their behaviors that put them in the “he will abuse me” category. The good news is that leaves about 9 out of 10 guys who are OK.

So your odds are very good that if you choose a guy to get to know, you are likely to choose someone who (while they may not be THE ONE) is unlikely to be abusive in any way. But if you are spending your time and energy with the yucky folks, you’ll be in the weeds. It won’t be easy to see the flowers. So let’s clear out some of the weeds. By the way, did you hear me say “you choose”? There is power in being the chooser. You are more likely to pick someone good than be picked by someone good. 

Knowing there are people who will target you for a relationship based on their belief that you will allow a certain level of abusive, manipulative or just plain cold behavior to occur without consequences – is your power. And let me be clear, I do not mean to say that if you have had a few or a string of “bad” relationships that this is your fault. Spotting someone who is controlling or dishonest or even abusive is not something we can do with complete accuracy. And it is not something many of us are ever taught to even think about.

I am also not saying that most poor outcomes or less than stellar relationships are the result of someone’s bad intentions. If you have had one or two relationships where you felt you weren’t treated well, it’s possible you were just a bad match for each other, the guy was just lacking in some relational skills, or other elements were present that mark a relationship for failure. Good people mess up. Relationships are complicated by both partner’s histories, and we play out some of our best and worst traits in the context of an intimate relationship.

What I am saying is that I have seen too many women who are repeatedly targeted by those with unkind or selfish intentions and I want to open lid on this phenomena and expose steps you can take to decrease your risks of attracting this sort of person. Be it romantic relationships, friendships, or even workplaces – we deserve to know more about how to spot an abuser. Watching for and observing boundary violations, disrespect, limit crossing or pushiness is your key to sorting through the weeds. Sometimes the boundary violations of an abusive person are subtle and stay that way for many months. Sometimes they are obvious and show up right away.  But if you are watching for boundary violations early and often, you are in a good place to make valuable judgments about who you allow to get closer to you.

And this is a key: Allow close in, only those people who treat you with fairness, honesty, authenticity, respect and good intentions – and you will know the life of good connections. This isn’t to say people don’t mess up, let you down, or sometimes act poorly. I am talking about a set of behaviors that indicate good intentions.

And it is behavior that counts! Promises do not count. Words only count if they are consistent with behaviors.  Abusive types will say one thing and do another. They will lie to you while looking you in the eye. They will deny what you know or feel in your gut to be true. They will leave you confused and bewildered and sometimes feeling like you are in a hall of mirrors.  But that is usually only if you are listening to what you want to hear rather than facing squarely what you see and feel through their behaviors.

OK -

What do you do to at least LIMIT the chances you will be a more welcoming target for bad guys?

1.     Know your boundaries.

2.     Practice your assertive body language. Look straight ahead and keep alert when you are walking;  stand up straight;  pay attention to your surroundings; look confident (even when you aren’t); make eye contact as needed; use an adult form of speech and voice tone.

3.     Do not feel the need to answer every question. Keep your privacy (especially with folks who haven’t earned your trust).

4.     Be willing to open your eyes to when people are testing you or crossing some limits (even if you haven’t verbalized them).

5.     Set limits. Use assertive communication to enforce a boundary: “I said no thank you” (to that 2nd offer of a drink where you ridiculed me and called me rude for not accepting) “and you need not ask again.”

6.     Stop worrying so much about pleasing people who aren’t respectful. Stopping someone’s attempts to push you is not impolite. The pushing they are doing IS!

7.     Check in with what matters more: your safety and the possibility of better relationships in the future, or being called mean or bitchy.

8.     Know that having calm, self contained, assertive communication and using boundaries as needed is an excellent way of getting valuable and needed information about people.

9.     Your demeanor and assertiveness are your protective advertising. It is not foolproof but it is an excellent way to keep yourself safer, happier, and attracting better people.

10.  Start thinking about places in your current relationship (if you are concerned) that may need a dose of level headed, calm and assertive limit setting, or even self protection. (Think verbal, emotional, sexual, financial etc).

 

Good guys don’t test your limits. They have no agenda and do not need to scout out if you are a weak target. When your limits, even subtle ones, are being crossed – look very carefully at the person crossing them and do not let them closer to you (physically or emotionally), until you find out more about them, or maybe not at all.

I have said this before I my articles. Using your judgment and assertiveness does not reduce your connection to the world and people – it increases it. We are safe to be open when surrounded by caring people we attracted through our maintenance of self worth, as demonstrated using boundaries.

So this isn’t about acting like a “bad-ass”. It’s not about looking tough. It is about holding your demeanor, self awareness, and countenance in a place of self care. You can work at this even if it feels awkward. Think about what you would say, how you would communicate, and what you would allow in to your personal life space if you did value yourself more than any other thing in the world.