How to deal with difficult family members on the holidays

Will you be interacting with a difficult family member as we celebrate Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S.?   (Or do you face a difficult person in your workplace?)

Do you have a pit of dread having to deal with that difficult person?  Do you react and fall back into old patterns? Are you doing the silent scream: “Why can’t they just be normal?!”

Make a pledge to yourself that TODAY is the day you free yourself from difficult people and unresolved patterns that drag you down and block your potential.

Here are 10 meaty ‘mantras’ for freedom – keep them in mind as you drive up to that family dinner or welcome people into your home…

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How to deal with emotions from the #MeToo campaign

#MeToo is revealing the true number of people – women and men – who have faced experiences ranging from inappropriate indignities and abuses of power, to outright sexual violence.

These viral stories are everywhere and may remind you of incidents in your past you might have tried to bury.

Hearing others stories and sharing your own can lead to a re-experiencing of feelings of shame, and/or deep anger at those who committed those acts and those who might have been in a position to do something about it but didn’t.

It might help you see clearly why you cut off an important part of yourself or gave up on something that was important to you or someone you know. For myself in High School, after being the only girl percussionist, and one who was selected as the All-State tympanist for NY state, I discontinued a promising music career after a series of unwanted advances from my long time drum teacher.

I didn’t even make the connection until years later when I did research at Harvard Medical School on how we develop the patterns we keep with us until today. (Which led to me developing exercises that helped free me and many others from them.)

If you have been reading and listening to these stories and notice an emotional response in yourself, it could be because:

1. You are getting triggered – You are re-experiencing painful feelings or memories of things you experienced in the past that were out of your control.


2. Vicarious traumatization – You get overwhelmed from empathically feeling the feelings of people who actually experienced the trauma, leading you to similarly feel a sense of lack of control. You might be experiencing this if you feel burned out on the topic, overfocus on the negative, or feel a loss of hope.

Any and all good self care practices are called for in these times. Sharing with friends. Journaling. Walking in nature. Exercise. Trauma therapies. Tools from my book Success under Stress….

It can be helpful for you to use the opportunity to build awareness between experiences you’ve had and patterns you still have today so you can grow into the best version of yourself.

For many of us, the ‘negative voice’ you have about yourself comes originally from ‘explaining’ experiences you had growing up in terms of how it was your ‘fault’ or because you are ‘not worthy’. If looking back its obvious that adult or person in power was in the wrong, you might ask why would YOU take on the blame and think you are not good enough?

We usually develop our negative voice to

1) Have a semblance of control – If you tell yourself you are ‘not good enough’ it gives you the semblance of control that if you could only become ‘good enough’ then you’d get what you need and wouldn’t be treated with disrespect.

2) Maintain Hope – As children we’ll generally choose to internalize what parents and important authorities say about us because we have to keep them ‘right’ in order to maintain hope that they will take care of us. If we recognized their limitations we’d realize there is no hope to be seen for who we are. And that would lead to despair. So we ‘buy in’ to messages shown to us in order to maintain hope.

3) Protect you – That voice is often “trying to help” you be the best version of yourself but its quite outdated at this point and isn’t able to see the resources you currently would have if it didn’t keep criticizing you.

(In September before the Harvey Weinstein revelations, I was asked to write an article for an international women’s blog about why we don’t leave abusive relationships – at home or at work. It gives you a psychological understanding of some of these dynamics so I’ve reposted it on my blog for you.)

If YOUR ‘negative voice’ is significantly holding you back professionally or personally, there is definitely hope for you. If you want me to help you break free from your negative voice, I have developed some exercises that will help you immediately and permanently be free of that ‘negative voice’ and finally live up to your potential with less angst. Just reply to this email and I’ll send you information about what the process is.

The world is changing and I want you to be in your power so you can contribute to that change. Thank you


P.S. Please feel free to leave comments on the blog or write to me directly with questions that I can answer for you in a future blog.

P.P.S. If you want to support someone who has #MeToo experiences, listen to them.

Believe them.

Support their efforts to take their power back.

Encourage them to do a form of counseling that helps them reframe their experiences and rise above their continued negative self perception.

Educate your offspring and friends that they have the power to get themselves out of situations that feel uncomfortable.

Teach them self defense skills to ward off violence.

Tell your friends or colleagues to knock it off if they are saying things that are or abuse power.

Encourage them to go for a position for leadership in which they can change and role model the rules. Report people who harass to authorities at work or in your community.

7 Reasons You Stay in Abusive Relationship & How to get the MOJO to go

You have the instinct that the partner relationship, family situation, or the job is unhealthy for you.  Your friends and family members have told you to ‘leave’…but you just feel like you ‘can’t’, at least not yet.  Why?

1. You Don’t Realize it’s Abusive 

People can hide their abusive nature by also having positive traits. Some might be successful or upstanding citizens in the community (like a leader, priest, or teacher). Sometimes they are generous, helpful, or vulnerable, which endeared you to them and makes you want to be close to or take care of them. This behavior pattern – being ‘nice sometimes’ and ‘controlling, mean, or inappropriate’ at other times – is called ‘Crazy-Making’.  Why? you keep flip flopping whether you think they are ‘nice’ or ‘controlling’ and it makes you feel like you can’t figure them out. It’s also called ‘Crazy-Making’ because the abusive person highlights all the ways they are ‘good to you’ and denies the ways they control you.  Even though you know inside something doesn’t feel right, you ‘feel bad’ saying negative things about them and there is no external validation to ‘know what you know.’

2.You Think it’s your Fault– You might explain the situation as your fault even it’s not.  Abusive people usually explain situations by blaming you or external conditions, or suggesting that you are ‘not enough’. They never point to the effect of their own behavior.  And if you have a history of people blaming you for their limitations, it might seem familiar to ‘buy into’ this view.  It’s possible that you have done things you regret in an effort to try to get that person to change, so you might have things you feel bad about yourself for.  Thinking its ‘your fault’ keeps you involved  to ‘try to make it better.

3.You Have Hope it will Change– After their behavior is particularly inappropriate or hurtful, you might start seeing their behavior as abusive – then feel empowered to create distance or not continue to give them the attention they seek.  The abusive person will sense this distance, and apologize or otherwise indicate they will not continue their behavior.  Seeming genuine, you might be tempted to believe them, giving you hope that the situation will change. However, someone who is capable of being abusive is someone who is split between their ‘good side’ and ‘bad side’ – by definition they are not well self managed.  Its can be hard for you to remember that they are not capable of reliably keeping their promises.

4. You Need the Money – You might need the money you get from that job or that person to support yourself  – but only for the short term. YOU are the one who is capable of being the source of your income, it doesn’t have to come from any particular job or person.  Today can be the first day you plan out how to make money for your talents in another situation. Then you won’t be dependent on them.

5. Feeling like a Victim is Familiar – You may have grown up with role models who were also controlled by someone, and/or with an important person who controlled you. With this history, the picture you develop is that relationships always involve someone who is controlling and someone who is controlled. That feels familiar to recreate.  And there might be people in your current life who give you sympathy for being in such a hard situation – then it might seem like a way of getting positive attention you’re not getting in your adult life.  You deserve attention for being someone who is talented and loving, that’s the kind of attention you deserve and want to seek out.

6. You’re still developing Confidence and Courage – As a child and young person, it’s normal and adaptive to look to parents, teachers, peers, and bosses to grow self esteem and evaluate our abilities. This is how we get our ‘emotional oxygen’ (e.g., love, praise, attention) growing up.  As we develop, we shift to get that self-regard from within.  You might still be involving others to get a feeling you are worthy, it might look like: seeking other’s approval,  preventing their criticism and rejection, or pressuring yourself to be perfect – these behaviors make you focus on how others are treating you and keep your attention away from taking a stand for YOUR life. In this scenario, you care too much what they think of you, or keep trying harder to get them to treat you with respect. As you can source confidence from within you’ll have the courage to say “I don’t need you in order to feel powerful in myself, in fact being around you is keeping me from living MY life purpose”. And it will be easier to leave.

7. You are Afraid of Being Alone – There might be reasons it’s hard to leave: You may have a sense of loss to give up the fun times or the way the person has been helpful. Or the opposite, you might be concerned you will face violence (that might be a real and valid concern, if so, you should seek legal help and get an order of protection) or the person might pester you emotionally as you start to remove yourself from their life. Finally, if things are calm and you don’t have to constantly react or resent the other person all the time, it might even feel boring or lonely.  Yet when you firmly make a decision and have faith you can have all good things you want once you are on your own, it will help you stay strong in your boundaries.

If you recognize that you are staying in an abusive situation because of any of these reasons, know that you can decide to leave. You got this!

How to be resilient in anxious times

Wow, it is some time we are living in! Natural and man-made disasters.  A polarized political environment that makes you mad, and an uncertain future that makes you anxious.

Here are some thoughts I’ve put together in terms of how you can stay resilient in anxious times.

Think bigger picture –

News events can activate our fear center which makes you see whatever is happening as the final data point – i.e., this is the way its going to be going forward.  It can help to take a step back and see what’s happening from a 50k foot view – This gives you perspective.  For things going on that you don’t agree with, it can help to see these events happening in order to create an effective counterforce. For example, many of us –  women and men – are disgusted about the recent revelations of sexual predation by Harvey Weinstein. It can help to view the benefit of this as creating a lot of awareness and giving voice to people who will set new standards for what will be tolerated.

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How to communicate confidently when you don’t have all the answers

The opportunity is to come across as credible and trustworthy even as you indicate you don’t have all the answers.  Here are 3 ways to do that:

1. Speak powerfully about what you DO know.  You might be tempted to react ‘unpowerfully’ by saying “I don’t know” (and criticizing yourself for not knowing). Instead,  sort out what do you DO know in the situation and what you DON”T know.

Say with a sense of conviction and authority: “this is what I know” and “this is what I don’t know”.  Share confidently what you know.   Or state confidently why that information is not ‘know-able now’ and what actions you will do to fill in the blanks over time.   Another variation is to say “here’s what I know, and here’s what I would speculate.” You’re communicating what you don’t know in a way that is trustworthy and has authority.

2. Describe the uncertainty with certainty.  Say “Here are the 3 risks in the situation.”  or “Here are the 3 things we are uncertain about… These are the contingencies we will be on the lookout for, these are the unintended consequences that could happen…”

Or you could say “here’s my educated guess and it’s based on this reasoning”. Then share your reasoning with the group.  “If it’s x scenario then the answer would be in the range of ___.  If its Y scenario the answer would be in the range of ___.”

You could showcase your experience:  “I think that there’s a 50/50 chance that X is going to happen/not happen, or that Y is that answer we’re looking for. I’m basing that conclusion on the following pieces of data: 1, 2, 3.”

3.    Give an authentic response.  If you don’t know the answer it’s better to be straightforward then to try to fake it and come across as nervous.  Say “I don’t know but I’ll find out for you” in a way that emphasizes the specific plan. It’s the plan they will remember and not your lack of knowledge. “We have that information in our x report, I’ll ask IT to pull it and send you an answer after lunch.” or “We’ve been reviewing industry practices on that, let me pull together our conclusions and follow up with you this afternoon”. If you have a team member in the room who would be able to speak to the issue, it might be appropriate to pull them into answering with you as well.

Keep track of and analyze the questions you are asked so you can start to “think like” a senior leader or someone who’s in a position to hire you. You can ‘put on their head’ before you go into your next meeting and be more prepared for the kind of questions they might ask.  Build this ‘anticipatory questioning’ into all your meeting preparations.

BONUS: What you can do before you ever walk into the room:  Make it a practice to use language that is concrete and evidence-based. Develop a reputation as someone who always has concise information to support assertions. When you do this you train other people to trust you, even when you don’t have all the answers!