My “Relationship Savvy” blog gives you tips, advice, and flippin’ fantastic feel-goods to help with your most difficult relationship challenges.

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A Strategy for Surviving Emotional Pain

Have you ever felt so shocked, that time stood still? Maybe the phone call was bad news, or the thing you wanted most became impossible, or the rejection you felt was crushing . The emotional pain you feel is overwhelming, and you know you need a strategy to move forward.

You know you have to respond to your situation, but maybe you are unsure of what to do next.

written on it

written on it

Psychologists have found that trouble, trauma and tragedies are not actually the problem. The problem is how we respond to them. We know that trouble, trauma and tragedy cannot always be avoided, and that bad things happen to good people. However, researchers report that those people who can respond to the trouble in healthy ways will be resilient, have shorter recovery times and suffer fewer negative effects.

What to do When You don’t Know what to Do

light unto my path

Some people respond to challenges with emotionally destructive means like blame shifting, addictions, and isolation. It’s tempting to respond to pain by numbing, drinking, self-medicating, inappropriate relationships, or over-shopping. Others respond by taking responsibility, problem solving, and reaching out for support. Those who take the harder, braver path choose to respond to pain by staying alert, present, creative, information seeking, engaged and positive.

How we respond to our troubling event means everything. During seasons of loss and pain, it is important to do two things well:

Do what you can,

Leave the rest.

Do What you Can. Doing what you can does not mean doing everything, or doing what other people should be doing but aren’t. When bad things happen, some may be tempted to “over do it” or “over function” or “take over” but this is not always the best thing to do. Doing what you can means being clear about your role and responsibility and doing that thing the best you can. Don’t do other people’s things, just do your thing. You don’t have to have all the right answers or a plan etched in stone. You only need to exert your power, influence and choice in a way that is beneficial. It is important to decipher what you can control, and what you cannot.

amy's coffee

Doing any helpful thing in the midst of trouble is not only good for you and for other people, it is good for your resiliency too. Trauma research shows that people who find something useful to do during a troubling event, fair better with fewer trauma symptoms. Whether it be encouraging, attending, guarding, problem solving, helping, protecting or directing, exerting some personal power in big or small ways is helpful.

Leave the Rest. Leaving the Rest is an acknowledgement that not everything can be done quickly or by you. Releasing yourself from taking care of others’ responsibilities is brave and necessary. Leaving the rest means engaging in a waiting period with hope. You know how dog trainers will say, “Leave it! Leeeeave it,” to their dogs when tempted or distracted? We may be tempted to argue, convince, lecture, shut down, or bargain our way out of the pain or guilt. But these are not helpful options for the long run. We must let go of the things we can’t control, and do something about the things we can control.

“Leaving the Rest” actually takes more energy than “Doing what you can.” Resisting the temptation to over-function or to be a control freak takes a lot of self-control. When you are actively taking care of yourself, you’ll be able to tell yourself things like, “Don’t take the bate,” and “This ain’t your circus, these ain’t your monkeys,” and “Don’t buy a ticket for that crazy train,” and “You can let it go.”


Waiting can cause a powerless feeling, but waiting with purpose, hope and a plan is very different. “Leaving the Rest” does not mean “Wait and see what happens,” as much as it means, “Wait for the right time to move forward.” For the waiting period to be manageable and positive, there are Waiting Exercises that I will cover in my next blog.

If you are in the middle of a dark season, take the small steps to Do What You Can, and the faith steps to Leave the Rest. Every small step in the right direction counts.

Kavanaugh and Ford: and the Struggle to Discern What’s True

If you opened this, then you are probably interested in how this drama is going to play out over the next few weeks. I realize this could be construed as a political post, and I’d like to assert, that it’s not. I have a very specific response to Thursday’s hearings, and it’s not a political one, but an observation that will help you in your relationships.

My response to Thursday’s hearings is an observation of two people- two people I will likely never meet, or know or having any opinion of beyond how they presented themselves on Thursday during the hearings. We had a very brief glimpse into the life of both Christine Blasey- Ford and Brett Kavanaugh, and saw how they conduct themselves under pressure and questioning. But each came to the hearings with very different demeanors. That is what was of interest to me.

Since I meet with people for a living, listen to their stories and try to help them move forward, I  practice the art of listening, watching, and understanding. For hours at a time, every day, for years.

So, during Ford and Kavanaugh’s testimonies, I watched, listened and tried to understand what they were truly saying. I took in not only the words, but also the tone, the body language, and the facial expressions. Nonverbal communication tells you just as much, if not more than the spoken word.

Here’s my run down.

One, Christine Blasey-Ford came with composure, a vulnerability, a willingness to follow procedure, and quiet strength. Her voice was timid at first, but seemed to grow in confidence as she went on. Attentive, confident, and patient. She stayed on point, and submitted to the process.

The other, Brett Kavanaugh came with anger, volume, twisted facial muscles, and disrespect for the time and structure of the process. Interruptions, impatience, and blame. Angry, rude, and combative. He was unwilling to submit fully to the process, but attempted to control it with retorts, sarcasm, tears, and shouting.

I was convinced MORE of Kavanaugh’s guilt AFTER he testified. His demeanor sent up too many red character flags.

How we respond to an accusation tells a lot about our own character. We show our true selves when faced with our failures, our shortcomings, our weaknesses and yes, even our guilt. I don’t have any idea what truly happened 35 years ago in their lives, I only know what these two witnesses conveyed for me. We don’t often have video screens playing of people’s lives to corroborate the stories they tell about themselves. We often have to make judgments and decisions about who we trust, who we work with, and who we marry without the luxury of character witnesses, surveillance cameras and lie detectors.

So we rely on what people say, how they act, and how congruent those two things are. Why did Kavanaugh send up red flags for me? Because what he was saying (I’m innocent) and how he was acting (I’m combative.) Those two things were incongruent for me. They didn’t jive. I chalk the incongruence up to one thing: PRAT

Personal Responsibility Avoidance Tactics

Personal Responsibility Avoidance Tactics often show up in marriages and families and work places. They are not isolated to Republicans or men or Right Wing Evangelists or Left Wing Liberals or long time tv stars. They are tactics used everywhere by all kinds of people who don’t want to be held accountable for their actions. They are defense mechanisms against shame. If you’ve ever been in an argument with someone who uses PRAT (Personal Responsibility Avoidance Tactics) it’s enough to make you bonkers. PRATs are used to convince you that “there’s nothing to see here,” and “you’re the one with the problem, not me,” and “if you keep pressing me, I’ll make it worse for you.”

Common Tactics to get out of Responsibility

  • claim to be the victim,
  • evoke sympathy by crying,
  • change the subject,
  • shout louder,
  • interrupt,
  • list all the good things you’ve done,
  • counter attack with new complaint,
  • make stuff up,
  • give the silent treatment,
  • misrepresent what others are saying.

Trying to have a conversation or worse, disagreement with someone who avoids personal responsibility is exhausting and crazy making.

You and I have nominal power over how these hearings play out. But we do have power over how we respond, and what behavior we tolerate in our own lives. No matter what this Senate Judiciary Committee decides, the real questions are with all of us: do we use these tactics to avoid personal responsibility? And do we tolerate the behavior of those who do?

Want more information? I’ve written a book just for you! Check it out here to have more clarity and confidence in your relationships. You can get the clarity you need to have the strong relationships you want.

Click here for more information on how to have healthy relationships.



Crazy Making Relationships

You know something isn’t right. Maybe it’s the baffling mood swings. Or maybe it’s the way your partner is cruel one day, then sweet and loving the next without explanation. Or maybe it’s the lack of self-awareness your partner has when it comes to how they affect those around them.

Last week, we talked about how sane people living in crazy family systems, end up feeling crazy themselves. Click here if you missed it. If you think you may be in a dysfunctional relationship with a dysfunctional person, reading it will help you feel less out-of-control and more grounded in reality.

What is a Personality Disorder? For our purposes, I’m going to condense a BIG and COMPLICATED topic with diagnostic considerations into a tiny little definition.

A Personality Disorder is a pattern of lifelong maladaptive behaviors.

Want to read that again?

A pattern of lifelong maladaptive behaviors. Basically, ineffective behaviors practiced over and over again for the span of life.

Personality disordered people are sometimes tricky to recognize. They may look, act and talk the same as everyone else you know, but at second glance, have some glaring problems. Maybe its the string of failed jobs, wrecked relationships, run-ins with the law, sporadic and unpredictable behavior, or addictions. These things are red flags to the casual observer, but if you’re in a relationship with a Personality Disordered person, you’ve heard 100 excuses for each one.




My hope is that after reading this, you will be able to feel less guilty, less self-doubt, and less blame for the craziness in your relationship. By recognizing common traits of personality disordered people, you can  get the support you need to make changes in your relationship. Here are common traits among all the Personality Disorders (For the folks who like the deets, here ya go! All Personality Disorders like Narcissistic, Borderline, Obsessive Compulsive, Antisocial, and Histrionic, but except Avoidant or Schizoid Personality Disorders- those are different.)


  • Self-Awareness Deficit: don’t recognize how their dysfunctional behavior may be negatively impacting others.
  • Self-Absorption: Consumed with their own pain or needs, they don’t value the importance of other’s pain or needs.
  • Unwillingness to Admit They May be Wrong: Defending, excusing and justifying themselves are constant mechanisms to keep avoid personal accountability.
  • Entitlement: feel entitled to and vehemently demand preferential treatment.
  • Compete Instead of Cooperate: there always seems to be a win/lose or one up/one down scenario. They use power plays with others to show dominance in intelligence, wealth, beauty, popularity, or power. They are unwilling to collaborate or cooperate.
  • Disinterested in Reality: Creating their own, unchecked and often self-righteous world view, unwilling to see things from other’s perspectives.
  • Emotionally Dysregulated: unpredictable mood swings, outbursts, cold silence or agitated anxiety keeps others walking on egg shells.
  • Lacking in Empathy: this trait goes hand in hand with superiority. Having empathy is the ability to metaphorically walk in another’s shoes and relate to how another is feeling. Empathy is beneath them.

With this line up, you can see how maintaining relationship with a Personality Disordered person can take quite a toll on partners and family members.

Partners and family will often feel exhausted being their constant source, anxious trying to keep the peace, and crazy with the mixed signals.

So what should you do?

The first step is to get some professional help. A counselor or coach who is knowledgeable about personality disorders will be able to help you set boundaries, communicate your needs, and follow through. Read the difference between counseling and coaching here, and sign up for an appointment here.

Next week, we will talk about the specifics steps needed in order to change the dynamics in the relationship. Stay tuned! (But if you need more help FAST, click here for more help on living with personality disordered peeps.)

Feel Like You’re Going Crazy? Could it be your Relationship?

Ever get so confused in your relationship that you wonder if you’re losing your mind? Your partner’s words and actions are so inconsistent, you start to doubt your ability to reason. You may even start to feel anxious or depressed. But what is really going on? Are you crazy?
Or are you living in a crazy system?

Today, and for the next couple of posts, I want to explore what it feels like to be married (or related to) someone mentally or personality disordered. When I hear people talk about their confusing, inconsistent and emotionally irregular relationships, I help them gain insight into what is really going on. When they discover that they are not crazy, that they are just living in a crazy system, they immediately feel relieved and empowered.

I recently finished the fascinating Tara Westover memoir, “Educated”. It is a great example of how people with mental or personality disorders alter the dynamics of a system (in this case, a family system) resulting in extreme dysfunction among the family members. The sane people in the system often begin to question and doubt themselves, and even worse, blame themselves for the disordered person’s infractions. Living in a system ruled by mental illness is like living in an upside down world where things have the illusion of normal, but are governed by nonsensical and even dangerous rules.

Growing up in a disordered world, Tara Westover learned to doubt herself. She wanted, like most children, to believe the best about her parents and siblings. Even when their behavior was erratic, dangerous or unreasonable, she unwittingly saw them as faultless, and herself to blame. However, through self-discovery and education, she slowly learned she had a voice and an opinion worthy of recognition. She learned to trust herself and her ability to reason. Once she recognized reality, she could no longer submit to the upside-down expectations made by an upside-down system.

Maybe you can relate.

Hallmark to a dysfunctional system, is its inability to accept responsibility for the dysfunction. When mental or personality disordered behavior continues unchecked, it establishes itself as the norm. Narcissistic, chaotic, perfectionistic,  or addicted systems exist in a vacuum of secrecy and denial.

As a result, the people in the system suffer from exhaustion, fear, self-doubt and bewilderment. They are faced with the decision to stop and set strong boundaries, or give up and join the circus. The first, they risk losing the other person. The second, they risk losing themselves.

What should you do if you believe you are in a relationship with someone with a Personality or Mental Disorder? Because this is such a big topic, I’ve broken it down into three posts designed to inform you, empower you and give you some options.

1. Feel Like You’re Going Crazy? Or is it Your Relationship? (that’s this one.)

2. Something is Off: Understanding Personality and Mental Disorders

3. Someone I Love Needs Psychological Help

For now, familiarize yourself with what you are experiencing. You don’t have to be in the business of diagnosing or treating psychological problems to have an informed understanding for practical purposes. If you, like Tara Westover think something might not be quite right, get some help from a professional, and tell them what you are experiencing.

Becoming informed will help you recognize disordered behavior and thinking, and how you can improve yourself and maybe even your situation. Counseling can help you discern fact from fiction, set appropriate boundaries, and make informed decisions.

Need Help Soon? Click here to order my recent book, “Losers, Users and Abusers, and the Women Who Love Them.” This book addresses how you can recognize disordered functioning, how to address it, and how to take care of yourself in the process.

Need Coaching? I offer support through life-coaching and consultation by telephone. So, if you’re newly enlightened about your role in the crazy making system, and you need help setting boundaries and goals, you can set an appointment with me here.

Communicating Boundaries (without losing your cool)

As I write this, I’m on a plane next to a mother with a baby. This baby is trying to type on my keyboard with her sippy cup. And it reminds me that boundaries are hard…. Really hard…. To set.
What should I do? Should I say something to the mother? I don’t think she is aware. Should I let it go and just use my delete button? Should I close my lap top and call it quits?

Boundaries are hard. Whether we are on a plane with strangers and their children, or in a long term committed relationship, synchronizing everyone’s needs and desires seems an impossible task.

Why we don’t set them: We usually will have reasons why we don’t set boundaries in the front end of a relationship:

  1. We don’t want to seem selfish, uncaring or high maintenance.
  2. We don’t want to imposition others.
  3. We hope the situation will get better, so we say nothing.
  4. We were taught that our needs weren’t as important as other’s.
  5. We are afraid of potentially negative or awkward interactions.

Can you relate to any of these reasons? You may find yourself right now, regretting or rehearsing one of these boundary-less situations that didn’t turn out well. I’ve been there.  Avoiding boundaries may seem like the “peaceable way of least resistance.” However, being boundary-less can sabotage what could be a great relationship.

Here are some tips that I’ve learned and now practice to help relationships navigate healthy boundaries.

Communicating a Boundary

  1. Communicate the value of the relationship. When a boundary has been crossed, unintentionally or not, the relationship can feel stretched, stressed or burdened. It is like different ingredients in a pot with the burner on. Things are going to bubble with enough heat. It’s important to say things like, “Our time together is important to me,” and “I really value our friendship,” and “your happiness is just as important as mine.” These statements help both parties to keep the main thing the main thing. They help us remember that we love each other and that we want what is best for both.
  2. Review your feelings and needs. Depending on your personality, you may be more practiced than others at sharing your feelings and needs with others. For those of you who have difficulty tolerating disagreement or discomfort of confrontation, you may avoid sharing your feelings. Here are some options of what to say, “When you tell me how to drive, I feel stressed,” and “I need support when I’m offering child raising ideas,” and “When you go grocery shopping, I need specific things too.” Stating your thoughts, needs and feelings is an exercise in self-respect. When you respect yourself and your boundaries, you are teaching others how to respect you as well. Communicating boundaries with people who value you usually goes much better than anticipated.
  3. Communicate a couple of solutions. After you have got your courage up to ask for what you need, (whew, you did it! Good job!) then you can brainstorm some ideas that will be beneficial for both parties. Maybe it can even be an opportunity for increased understanding and closeness. If you come in to the conversation with a couple of solutions, it may communicate to the other person just how committed you are to making the relationship work.


  • Don’t wait until you’re mad to set your boundary. Has this happened to you? Yeah, me too. Luckily, I’ve learned the importance of setting the boundary early on in the relationship so that expectations are set for all parties.
  • What if you already are mad? You may need to apologize for losing it, for snapping, for saying things you shouldn’t have. After you apologize, and seek to make a mends with the person, you may want to ask for a boundary to be set. I can imagine a conversation could sound like this, “I’m sorry for over-reacting and the things I said. I let my anger get the best of me. Would it be ok if we figured out a different solution for _________________. The way it is now really isn’t working for me.”
  • Remember to keep an “Us Together” attitude instead of a “me vs. them” attitude. Togetherness, mutually understanding and partnership is the goal if at all possible.
  • Caveat: if the other person is indifferent, unable, or unwilling to work together toward a solution, then togetherness and closeness is not an option. Most of the time, people are able to work toward some level of agreement and mutual respect. But on occasion, some won’t. It’s ok to stop trying in these cases.

Communicating boundaries is not easy. Doing it often and early actually gives the relationship opportunity to self-correct. It is a means toward togetherness, not away from it. What feels awkward and uncomfortable in the beginning, can produce wonderful results in the long run. Greater safety, shared experiences, and tighter bonds can be the result of boundaries handled well.

Need additional help? If you’re in the Seattle area, there is a great workshop I’d like you to know about. The name of this two day conference is “Is Childhood Trauma Intruding into Your Relationships?” Discover the Fullness of Joy You Are Create to Experience with keynote speakers, Dr. Bill & Pamela Ronzheimer, Marriage Reconstruction Ministries. I’ll be there too! Click Here for more information.

My “Relationship Savvy” blog gives you tips, advice, and flippin’ fantastic feel-goods to help with your most difficult relationship challenges.

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