Be True To You: Weight Loss & Self-Confidence

Self-confidence has a huge influence on weight loss. There are a lot of people who think that losing weight boosts your self-confidence and, while that does happen, if you aren’t already self-confident and sure of yourself before you lose weight, losing the weight isn’t magically going to make you confident and secure.  In fact, the more insecure you are before you lose weight, the harder it is to lose the weight at all.  While there are a lot who think this makes for a vicious self-defeating cycle, being insecure about yourself isn’t going to get any better after you lose weight.  You’ll just be doubting you’ve done enough to meet everyone’s expectations.

I like to think of self-confidence as being true to who you are. It takes some guts to be yourself, especially if everyone else in your life is telling you that you’re wrong or that you are too different in some way.  The United States is a bit of a paradox: we cheer individuality as long as it’s not too “individual,” if you know what I mean.  In short, if you’re too weird or different, you stand out and then somehow, that’s not good.  I’ve been lucky in that way: I was always different from my classmates, so what the heck? They’re going to be picking on me anyway!

Being self-confident means that you make your own decisions no matter what everyone else says or thinks, and that can mean standing up for yourself.  It can mean choosing things that are different from what your family and friends like.  It can also mean putting up with their criticism and ridicule, which as we know is uncomfortable and difficult. It can be a difficult choice for some.  Being different can be a real struggle since we usually have to fight against the tide of conformity.  Probably the best illustration I know comes from the movie Out of Africa where Robert Redford’s character Denys Finch-Hatton is explaining his lifestyle to Meryl Streep’s Karen Blixen:  “I don’t want to live someone else’s idea of how to live. Don’t ask me to do that. I don’t want to find out one day that I’m at the end of someone else’s life.” (Out of Africa) 

This quote really put the movie into perspective for me, (mainly because until this quote, I had been thinking his character was just a great big jerk).  It also put life in general into perspective because he is right: if you live your life by someone else’s rules, you will have missed out on living your own life! Maybe this sounds a bit drastic for the topic of weight loss, but I don’t think so.  Think about how many times friends, family members, weight loss ‘professionals’ and the media tell you how to lose weight. There is a lot of subtle subtext that if you don’t do it their way, you are doing it wrong or you will fail and gain it all back! It’s not their body and it’s not their life but they imply that they know better than you about your own health. Sometimes, that really is true, but it’s still your decision to make. You are allowed to ask about credentials and training and source information when it comes to your health and if they don’t want to share that information, for me, that’s a huge red flag that maybe I don’t want to listen to their advice.

I am definitely not a weight loss professional, but I am someone who has spent my life struggling with my weight.  It’s one of the many things that made me different from my classmates and it’s been the source of a lot of ridicule and criticism from family as well as strangers.  Everyone knew the best way for me to lose weight and if I didn’t listen to their advice, I was some kind of idiot or worse, I just liked being fat!  I was fat because I was a glutton; I was fat because I was lazy; I was fat because it was in my DNA; I was fat because because because! I’ve spent most of my life being told by others ‘why’ I was fat and how to lose weight even though some of these people barely knew me!

Needless to say that after a lot of tears and self-doubt, I grew a thick skin. (I’m sure they thought that added to my weight too!) When I decided to start eating Paleo, I got a fair bit of criticism. There is a huge majority that believe that grains are heart-healthy and that all fat is evil because it causes heart disease and that if you don’t eat enough carbs, you will be chronically fatigued.  I’ve been given advice to go vegetarian, go vegan, and been told countless times that “Paleo is too much meat!”  However, it got harder and harder for them to argue with my “weirdo fad diet” when the weight started coming off and staying off! Eventually, they stopped criticizing me and my diet because nothing succeeds like success. I lost weight and am still losing weight and I haven’t ended up in the hospital with chronic fatigue, deadly heart disease and/ or malnutrition.  FYI: my doctor really likes my cholesterol numbers, too!

It really can be a hard thing to stand up for yourself and do things your way when the rest of the world is telling you you’re wrong.  By the time I decided to try Paleo, I’d spent a lifetime being told I was wrong or just weird.  When I chose German instead of Spanish in college, I was criticized by family (German’s not ‘marketable’) and by total strangers for ‘rejecting my Hispanic heritage’.  When I opted not to marry or have children, I was told it’s because I’m not feminine or ‘attractive’ enough (I had a few offers– no thanks!)  When I discovered Queen, hard rock and heavy metal music in my 20’s, I was told I was going through a ‘rebellious phase’ since no one else in my life listened to it.  It’s a ‘phase’ that’s lasted 30 years since I still listen to it (my hard rock friends now roll their eyes at my growing Green Day addiction but oh, well!) As I said, I’ve got a thick skin and this is where Mr. Finch-Hatton’s quote has stood me in good stead: I choose to live my life by my rules because it’s my life!

When it comes to choosing how you want to lose weight, the choice is yours, not anyone else’s.  The only advice I can give you is probably the stuff you know already: is it safe? does it work? do you enjoy it?  If the answers to all those questions are “yes,” then who cares if people tell you that Whole 30 is better or going vegetarian is healthier or that sticking with Weight Watchers is the way to go? If you think diets like Paleo and Atkins are dangerous, dumb or just not practical, good for you! You made a decision that works for you! It’s your body, your lifestyle and your health.  Do what works for you.  You are the one who has to live with your body. You don’t want to wake up some day and discover the body you’re living in is the result of someone else’s rules.

 

If You Can’t Hear Anything Nice, Maybe You’re Not Really Listening: Weight Loss & Criticism??

We’ve all been told at one time or another that if we can’t say anything nice, we shouldn’t say anything at all.  I think that’s good advice if all you have to say is something mean or negative. Most of us have also heard the expression “think before you speak,” but we rarely hear any good advice about listening. Maybe that’s because we’re not listening?

In all seriousness, we not only hear what we want to hear, what we hear is usually run through a filter of what we were expecting to hear.  In other words, if we are expecting negativity, that’s what we’re going to hear.  Although it sounds complicated, it really isn’t. Example: my mom has historically been my biggest critic.  All through my childhood, it always seemed like I wasn’t smart enough, ambitious enough and I definitely  wasn’t thin enough! She would be the one to point out that my clothes or makeup or hair weren’t very flattering or that I’d gained more weight.  There was usually very little that was complimentary from her unless it was that ‘I didn’t screw up as big as she thought I would!’ As a result, my knee-jerk reaction to anything she says is to ‘hit back’ since I am expecting to get ‘hit,’ so to speak. Secondly, I’m not really listening to what she’s saying because I’m already halfway to some mean-spirited retort!

The problems with this all-too-common scenario are obvious: forget about ‘listening with an open mind’! How about starting with ‘listening while not in Attack Mode’?  It would be easy to blame my mom for always putting me on high alert: “if you weren’t always so critical of everything I did, then I wouldn’t be like this!” Maybe that worked when I was a kid, but I haven’t been a kid for a really long time now.  That means it’s all on me! (Yikes! Talk about the world going crazy!) All joking aside, as easy as it would be to lay all this at my mom’s door and just walk away from any responsibility for my responses, that’s the problem right there: they are my responses!

If we are going to hold others responsible for their words and behavior, then we need to do the same for ourselves! That means instead of jumping all over someone for what they just said, maybe we should listen to what they have to say before we attack them. This idea of Listening means we first need to listen with an open mind and then think about what they said before we respond. Remember that “think before you speak” I mentioned earlier? This saying always reminds me of another line from The Simpsons: Lisa wisely telling Homer “better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt,” to which Homer makes a typically foolish response.  Key point here: don’t be Homer!

Truthfully, my mom brings out the Homer in me. It’s partly because of a childhood full of criticism, disappointment and recrimination. After thousands of verbal slings and arrows, my automatic reflex is to return fire immediately after her opening volley, but that means I’m also automatically assuming that whatever she has to say is going to be another criticism, and that’s not always the case anymore. Sometimes she has a good idea or– gasp!— something nice to say about me, which means my mean or cold-hearted retort makes me small, petty or just plain stupid.  My automatic reflex may have been born out of a painful childhood, but now as an adult, I can choose either to fix that or let it continue.  That choice is not a childish defense mechanism: it is an actual choice I am making with a clear head. That means I am responsible for my responses and my behavior! Yikes! Yeah, that’s one of those Lisa & Homer moments! Who am I going to be today?

When it comes to our weight loss and exercise, most of us are in the same camp: all we seem to hear is criticism from our family and loved ones.  The ones who were always there to point out that Boston cream pie isn’t on your diet and that the sourdough garlic bread you had with lunch isn’t Paleo are the same ones who always make you feel like a failure with their criticism.  Your diet isn’t the right one; you aren’t exercising enough and obviously you must be doing something wrong because “you haven’t lost much weight in the last month, have you?” It’s easy to run all those statements through the filter of criticism and fire off a few return volleys back at them.  It’s easy to begin to feel like “everyone criticizes” and “no one has anything good to say about my weight loss.”  After that, it’s a short ride to feeling stressed and depressed and “I’m such a failure again!” We all know the danger that carries with it: emotional eating!

But before we open the bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and go to town, let’s try using our Listening Mode instead of our reflex Attack Mode. Not everything everyone says to you is criticism.  Sometimes it’s just an observation or sometimes it’s a question. Sometimes there is a compliment involved, but until you listen with an open mind, you might never hear anything but criticism! Sometimes just keeping an open mind when one of your critics makes a comment is much harder than it looks. It means thinking about what they just said and staying silent until you can think of an appropriate response while your emotions are screaming at you to attack. Example: you tell a family member you want to try a three day water fast and her response is “you think you can do that?”  This is one of those phrases that is open to interpretation.  If it were a text, you’d hope there’d be an emoji attached to give you an idea of how they mean it: either a Scream face; eye-roll; mind blown; or at least an OMG! It can mean “wow! that’s extreme! do you think you can handle it?” or it can mean “yikes! is that healthy?” or it can mean “yeah, right! you won’t last three hours!” Most of us who feel we’ve been criticized to death go right for that last one! We don’t even consider there are other interpretations: “Obviously, my mom thinks I have no self-control!”

That’s where the pause, listen, interpret and thinking before we speak keep us from putting our foot in our mouth and hurting someone’s feelings when they only meant well.  When I started eating Paleo, my mom kept pushing other diets at me and encouraging me to eat differently. It was easy for me to ignore her suggestions because what I was hearing was “you don’t know what you’re doing again!” when now I realize it could have easily been “are you sure that’s healthy?” It seriously took a while for that to sink in because I was hearing it through the “criticism filter” instead of listening with an open mind. It’s ironic. I try to keep an open mind about just about everything else in my life: food, nutrition, exercise, pets, books, movies, etc! But when it comes to my mom, I just automatically assume she’s got something negative and critical to say.  That narrow-mindedness is all my own fault, since it’s a choice I made.  And it’s not a good choice, either!

We started out on our journey to improve our health and our lives, and most of us were laser focused on ourselves, but that laser focus can also lock us into seeing only what we are expecting to see and hear. Changing for the better means thinking about old things in new ways, and sometimes that means realizing that the person you always thought of as a critic might actually want to help you.  We can’t make those realizations without keeping an open mind and really listening to what they have to say.  Even Homer has a good day now and then!

Weight Loss & The Sympathy Junkie: Just Say NO!

I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about “sympathy junkies” in some of my posts. I have a lot of experience with people who have this disorder.  While I know one of the terms for it is Munchhausen Syndrome and others call it narcissism, I usually boil it down the “Look at Me!” mentality.  Whatever it is going on with them, these people want to be the center of attention.  They are firm believers in the motto “there’s no such thing as bad publicity!” Hah! I can think of a few celebrities and corporations that would disagree: it’s not always a good thing to have people focused on you.

There’s nothing wrong with positive attention.  If you’ve done something good, we all like the pat on the head and the “attaboy/ attagirl!”  But most of us are also familiar with the schoolyard bully who’d hit kids just to get the teacher’s attention because he wasn’t getting any at home. For this kid, any attention was positive attention because it was better than NO attention.

For some of us, this idea of attention has become connected to our weight loss and health improvement goals.  Most times, it’s a good thing: we lose weight, we become more fit, we eat healthier and we get a lot of positive attention from our family and friends.  They’re proud of our success and the positive attention encourages us to keep making positive changes and to continue to do well.  That’s how it’s supposed to work and most of the time, that’s what happens with us.

For some of us, mainly the sympathy junkies, they’re like the schoolyard bullies: they want any kind of attention, and if they can’t get it by doing something good, they’ll get it for being helpless or having some kind of problem.  We all know people who have problem after problem and their lives are one trainwreck after another. “Poor Mimi! Nothing good ever happens to her!”  The irony is that Mimi and others like her are only happy when they’re miserable, while the rest of us just silently groan and ask “what’s wrong with Mimi today?” There is no real sympathy left because she’s cried wolf every day since you met her.

I gave serious thought before writing about this topic and I had put it on the back burner for several weeks, because, really, does it relate to weight loss?  The very day I had reviewed it and decided I was going to table it indefinitely, something happened that reminded me that yes, this is a topic that can affect our weight loss.

For starters, we definitely do not want to be Mimi the Munchhausen Moaner whom no one wants to be around! There’s a reason no one likes her: she’s always complaining, always helpless and always wants all of your time and attention.  (For the record: it can be Mike the Munchhausen Moaner, too!)

For most of us, when we hit a snag with our workouts or a plateau in our weight loss, we bring up our problem because we are looking for a solution. We’re obviously not doing something right or we’ve injured ourselves or we need to make a change, so we’re asking for help.  Sympathy is nice, but it’s not going to help me recover from my injury or make progress with my weight loss. Solutions only, please!

The sympathy junkies don’t want solutions- they just want your sympathy and attention! When you start coming up with alternate workouts or changes to their eating plans, they usually start coming up with reasons why that doesn’t work for them. They can’t change their workout because of this ailment or other injury; they can’t change how their eating habits because of blah blah blah.  That’s a huge clue you are dealing with a sympathy junkie: they’ve got an infinite number of excuses or failing that, they’re great at failing! They tried and failed and now they’re just doomed. (Cue the melodramatic music!) It’s also a huge clue if you find excuses tripping glibly off your tongue: you are not looking for an actual solution to your problem!

Most of us don’t have this problem: we want a solution so we can move forward.  Mimi (or Mike) is our real problem: we have one or more of them in our lives! To be blunt, they are giant sinkholes. They waste our time and our energy and frankly, they wear on our nerves.  It would be different if they wanted to improve or a solution to their problem but they don’t.  They just want you either to do something for them or pay attention to them.

Believe it or not, they do affect our weight loss because they are sapping time that could be put to working out or meal planning or another activity.  They sap our energy so that by the time we are done dealing with their “Drama du jour,” we’re too mentally or physically exhausted to take care of ourselves, and they add to our stress since we are usually expected to drop everything to deal with that Drama du jour again in the middle of our day or week. So much for our workout/ walk/ grocery trip! Goodbye healthy lunch since now we’ve got to scarf it (or something else) on the way to deal with Mimi or Mike! Not to mention keeping us up nights either with resentment or just fretting over what they’re going to drop on us next!

Lack of sleep and chronic stress trigger our bodies to hang on to our energy stores, aka body fat.  We’re fighting the tide when we don’t get enough rest or are always stressed out. (Haven’t we all got enough of our own problems?) Not to mention the sabotage to our healthy meal planning, eating habits and workouts.  We might have something healthy at home ready to prepare but then we get stuck at Mike’s house because of another disaster he needs our help with so by the time we get home, it’s either eat nothing at all or what’s quick? (Too often, ‘quick’ ends up being the healthiest option at the drive-thru.) It interferes with meal planning or meal prep for the same reasons: we set aside time to do it and then Hurricane Mimi hits and all that goes out the window! So when we go to bed that night, we may not have accomplished all we needed to, so now we’re fretting about “what do I do for meals the rest of the week?” and “what’s next with Mimi?”

Obviously, if Mimi / Mike is not a relative, removing her/ him from your circle of friends is easier, but if they’re relatives, then it’s more problematic. Telling them you’re too busy may not be a viable option, but ultimately you need to understand that while he and she are not doing you any favors, you are not doing them any favors either by jumping every time they call.

One of the issues Dr. Nowzaradan (My 600 lb Life) has to deal with on a regular basis is his patients’ enablers.  These are the people who make it easy for his patients to eat 10,000+ calories daily because they either buy it for them, bring it to them or both! Obviously, if it’s hard for you to walk or drive, you’re not going to be wandering around the grocery store filling your cart with brownies, chips or candy and if it’s hard for you to fit behind a steering wheel, you’re not going to be hitting Dunkin Donuts, Sonic or KFC multiple times a day.  His patients get to 500 lbs or more because there are people who do this for them, and they are obviously not doing these super morbidly obese patients any favors.  This is what an enabler does: make it easy for the bad behavior to continue.

Every time you come when Mimi or Mike has their daily disaster, you make it easy for them to continue this attention-seeking behavior. When their toilet gets stopped up or their cell phone dies or they have a flat tire, they can do what everyone else does and call a plumber, the auto club or take the phone to the wireless store. When they have a problem and call you, give them a solution and go on with your day.  When they keep calling with excuses or why they need your help, you do not have to answer! They’ll either take your advice or eventually stop calling you. FYI: be prepared for a tantrum and a lot of passive-aggressive retaliation about how you’re too busy to help them out.  The answer is “Yes, I am too busy! Sorry about that!” I know this sounds harsh, especially if Mike/ Mimi is a relative, but the more they lean on you, the more dependent they become.  Unless they are an actual invalid, this is not good for them because when the time comes for them to act on their own (and it always does), they won’t know what to do because you (or someone else) has always taken care of them!

The Mimi in my life sparks a lot of anger and resentment which not only keeps me up nights, but I’ve recently learned that I do not make the healthiest meal choices when I am angry at her. When dealing with her daily disaster, I am more prone to grab something that I know is not good for me because I am not paying attention to what I am doing: my focus is what she just dumped on me and how angry I am. While blaming Mimi for my bad choice is one excuse I can make, the truth is that it’s my fault for not dealing with Mimi. Allowing the Mimis and Mikes in our lives to run roughshod over our plans and goals is simply an excuse we make for our own failures and in the end we become mini versions of them by blaming them for our behavior: “I’d have reached by goal by now but Mike/ Mimi kept getting in my way.” Sound familiar? Sounds a bit scary to me!

 

 

A House of Cards: Building Tolerance

This is a tough topic for me.  I try very hard to cultivate patience and tolerance, mainly because letting circumstances stress you out is just so unhealthy in every way.  There are some situations that I tolerate that make other people absolutely nuts and they think I am some kind of Zen meditation guru because I don’t flip out. These are mainly things like traffic or the general public.  I commute two hours each way five days a week and flipping out whenever there’s an accident slowing everything to a crawl or complete stop isn’t going to speed things up one iota.  Dealing with the public takes a little more patience, but people are people. When I was in college once, I was reading in the cafeteria and a small group of students sat down right next to me (although there was plenty of space) and they started pawing through the parts of the newspaper I had finished and they were chatting loudly, and I just ignored them.  It wasn’t until one of them grabbed a napkin off my tray and sneezed that I started to leave.  That’s when I found out they were actually psych students and they were testing personal boundaries: how much do people tolerate others invading their personal space.  They asked me a lot of questions because I had put up with a lot, and basically when you are in public, you are in a shared area, so I put up with it.  Just like in traffic, I am one of many in a shared environment.  I do like a bit more manners than I used to (meaning use your blinker when you change lanes, dammit!!) but like the table in the cafeteria, it’s not all mine and I am not the boss.

Believe me, I am not as patient or as tolerant as I seem. There are a lot of times where I am swearing under my breath or I am biting my lip to keep from saying something rude.  I just have no tolerance for a lot of things anymore.  I remember one day I was at the supermarket and a family with a lot of young children was basically letting them run wild through the store.  They were really running through the aisles, and one little girl in her pretty frilly Sunday dress was happily poking a rainbow trout in the meat department, calling out “Mami!  Mira! Mira!” (Mommy, look, look!”).  I have no patience for situations like that (it happened again just the other day).  It’s not that I don’t like kids: what I don’t like is when people don’t exercise a few manners.  I feel the same way about people who let their dogs run wild: you aren’t doing the kids or the dogs any favors by not teaching them manners or self-control.  It just makes things harder for them later on. When I go to someone’s house and their dog jumps on me, I doesn’t bother me. Odds are, I already have dog and cat hair all over me, their dog is smelling my pets and unless they have muddy feet, I’m okay with a big ‘doggie hug.’ But I have to take my cue from the dog owner: if they are telling him to get down or lie down, I have to back them up and tell him no because they are trying to teach their dog manners.  Not all guests are as dog friendly as I am. The same is true with kids: we’ve all been talking to a parent when the kid comes rushing in and interrupts. The kid doesn’t know any better and a responsible parent will gently instruct him. What tries my patience are the parents (of kids and pets) who don’t teach manners: it creates problems for the kids/ pets who don’t understand why people react negatively to them as well as creating problems for the rest of us who have to deal with out of control kids/ pets.

Usually, those kinds of situations just result in me swearing quietly and rolling my eyes.  It’s the ‘trigger’ situations where I really need to build tolerance.  Those are the situations where I usually have to deal with someone difficult.  I don’t mean someone in the general public, although it can be. It’s usually someone who is inconsiderate or self-absorbed or who is just plain rude and/ or ignorant. One of my little mantras used to “I have no tolerance for the intolerant.” Yeah, it’s pithy but it also doesn’t mean much! Rude intolerant people are the ones we should be most tolerant of, and they are the ones who cause me to lose it almost every time. Being rude back to them only reinforces their wrong behavior, while being more accommodating to them and ignoring their rudeness (ideally) should make them more aware of how wrong their actions are.  In other words, it makes them feel stupid. I find this is pretty much the only thing that makes them aware of how inconsiderate and foolish their behavior really is.  Basically, someone is being obnoxious and when you don’t rise to their bait, it only emphasizes how childish they are.  This is the person in the store who is obnoxious or condescending to the person behind the counter (and you are standing right there next to Ms. Loudmouth), or this is the person who has a tantrum because you won’t drop everything to handle their problem.

I would like to say that I handle these situations with grace and aplomb and I make them feel stupid and ignorant every time.  Oh hell no!! I usually do the exact opposite and have a fit at them. I feel my stress level starting to rise; my sighs grow deeper; I start grinding my teeth and then I usually snap at them.  I just lose my patience.  These are the times that I really need to work on building more tolerance.  It’s easy to be tolerant in difficult situations where everyone else is being calm and understanding. I’ve been the caller who’s trying to get information and the person on the other end trying to give me what I want is having a hard time finding it. It’s easy to listen to apologies and commiserate patiently with them. When someone is polite, even if you are not in a good frame of mind, it’s easier to be patient and understanding, but when they are rude or childish and you are not in a good mood, this is when it’s hardest to be tolerant of bad behavior.

So why does this matter? Because stress has such a negative effect on our health: it manifests in things like poor sleep, poor concentration/ focus, poor food choices (as in “I’m having a bad day so I need a treat!” or “I don’t have the patience to cook tonight!”) It also effects our blood pressure (no kidding!), our cortisol levels (which lead to fat storage and increased hunger) but also other things that we may not attribute to stress.  In my case, I have noticed that the more stressed I am, the more I am likely to grind my teeth (bruxism) when I sleep, which leads to jaw pain and toothaches, which in turn makes it hard to eat, especially things like healthy crunchy vegetables. Aside from having trouble eating anything that isn’t highly processed, walking around with a painful jaw isn’t a whole lot of fun either!

We can’t always avoid unpleasant situations, so the best action is to be more tolerant of obnoxious people.  When we allow them to trigger our stress and our own obnoxious behavior, we are the ones who suffer. Our quality of life is less because we allowed their bad behavior to influence ours. Their quality of life is most likely not good to start with: can you imagine how it must feel walking around all day every day believing that you are constantly under attack? (I think this is how most of them feel because in my experience this is how most of them act.) Unfortunately, we learn how to cope in bad situations by living through bad situations.  It’s how I learned to be more ‘Zen’ about traffic and it’s how I learned to be more tolerant of the public in general.  Maybe because I am around the ‘problem people’ in my life so much that I have lost patience with them.  Maybe I should try taking advantage of all the opportunities to practice and be more grateful for the practice, but so far, it just keeps getting harder…..

 

Baggage Claim: Love, Apathy & Forgiveness

One of the mantras we hear about a lot from therapists and other health care professionals is that “forgiveness is for you, not for the person who hurt you.” The bottom line is that as long as you are hanging onto the anger and hate, the person who hurt you has some kind of control or influence over you.  People often say that the opposite of love is hate and that’s not true: the opposite of love is apathy.  Basically, if you truly don’t care about the other person, you don’t care enough to think about them or allow them into your life at all.  Hating that person keeps him or her in your life; apathy removes all traces.

I was watching the TLC program 90 Day Fiance: Happily Ever After? where one of the women had just gotten a divorce from her foreign-born husband and made a big deal of getting in his face to make sure he knew that “I’m over him!” The truth is, no matter what she’d telling herself, the fact that she is going so far out of her way to get in his face and make trouble for him with Immigration tells me that she is most definitely not over him.  While I think she has a valid point that her ex is a slug who used her to get a green card, the fact that she allows so much of her life to be influenced by him and what’s he’s doing shows that she’s not ready to cut ties with him. While she probably does not love him anymore, she still ‘cares’ enough to want to hurt him.

Apathy means letting go of the person who hurt you entirely.  It means you don’t care if he or she meets someone else, moves away, or drops off the face of the planet. It means you have gone on with your life and this person is just someone in your past who no longer has any effect or influence over you.  It’s a wonderful thought to contemplate, but much harder to accomplish than it sounds.

Therapists like to promote the idea of ‘Forgiveness,’ so you can have some kind of ‘Closure.’ The point is that this is all about you and not about them. I frankly prefer the “I-Don’t-Give-A-Damn” philosophy that comes with apathy.  Who they are and what they did is all over with and they can either go to hell or go to Texas because I don’t really care anymore. For me, the idea of Forgiveness means I have to care enough about what they did to me to warrant closure, and while I like to talk tough, sometimes letting go of the anger is much harder than I’d like it to be.

While I am definitely not a therapist or any kind of health care professional, I know my own emotional landscape and its pitfalls pretty well.  For example, I know it takes a lot to make me angry, and I mean really angry.  Irritation comes up pretty quick and usually fades about as fast. (I admit I am easily irritated which is getting worse the older I get.) Real anger takes a long time to build up and it doesn’t go away anytime soon.  If you’ve gone to the trouble to make me that angry, I’m going to stay angry for awhile and if you try talking to me, you are flat out wasting your breath because 1) I am too angry to pay any attention to what you’re saying; and 2) I am not done being angry yet. You’ve gone to a damn lot of trouble to get me that worked up and it takes me a while to expend all that energy that you’ve stirred up.  Once I’m done being angry, I’m much more amenable to listening to what you might want to say, but until then, fat chance!

The point is that holding onto negative emotions like rage/ anger, hurt, hate and fear keep the person responsible in your life.  That means if you are trying to grow into a healthier person, you aren’t going to get very far dragging all that baggage with you. These kinds of negative emotions are what keep us eating all that supposed ‘comfort food’ and it’s what keeps us reliving traumas that drive us to eat.  Plain and simple, they keep us from moving forward with our lives: we never move beyond the point where they hurt us.  When we hang onto that anger, hurt or humiliation, we keep reliving the moment and ‘refreshing’ the negative emotions. Letting go of those emotions and the person involved with them, whether through Forgiveness & Closure or plain old apathy,  allows them to fade away at last.  We all know that negative emotions can make us eat more, can undermine our confidence, cause us to doubt our judgment, make us feel insignificant or stupid, but they also make us physically ill.  Those who hang onto negative emotions have more physical health problems and illnesses (including things like cancer) than those who learn to let go of them. Some health care professionals theorize that the negative emotions fester like an infection until they actually take a physical form.  In other words, our negative emotions can be strong enough to kill us if we aren’t careful.

As I said above, we all know what we should do, but actually doing it is a whole other thing.  There is one particular family member in my life who is a completely toxic person and being around her is completely unhealthy.  I have developed a thick skin when it comes to her rudeness and narcissism, but it’s a lot like eating something to which you have an allergy, i.e. “eating gluten gives me terrible cramps, but I’m going to eat it anyway.” If only avoiding this person were as easy as avoiding gluten! Reaching a point of forgiveness with this person is nearly impossible for me, because- simply put- I’m not done being angry yet.  However, I have found that with each of her thoughtless narcissistic transgressions, I am getting closer to apathy.  I don’t want to ‘forgive’ her because, to me, that means I require some kind of closure to be shut of her in my life: frankly, I’d just rather close the door on her and move on. Right now, because she is still connected to other people in my life whom I care about deeply, that is not possible, so I am stuck in an unenviable middle ground.  Until I learn either to ignore her narcissism or not allow her to make me angry, I’m going to be carrying around a lot more baggage than I care to.

 

Unexpected Poisons: Toxic People & Relationships

Most of us who are trying to be healthier work at eliminating toxins from our lives.  These are things like chemicals in our food and environment.  Most of us know not to use Teflon or plastics with BPA and we avoid crops grown with Round Up.  We consciously choose organic and non-GMO to stay as healthy as possible.

But when it comes to the toxic people in our lives, we have a lot more trouble spotting them, and even when we do recognize them as being toxic, cutting ties with them is much harder than switching the brand of detergent we use.  For most of us, the toxic people in our lives tend to be the ones who are hard to avoid, like bosses, coworkers, or family members.  Realistically, if you have a friend who is an emotional drain on you, they usually don’t stay your friend for very long.  I had a ‘friend’ who only called me when he needed something; the rest of the time, he couldn’t be bothered with me, so one day when he called and asked me for a favor, I just flat out told him: “I haven’t heard from you in more than 6 months and the first words out of your mouth are ‘can you do me a favor?’ Call me back when you can be a real friend.”  He did call and apologize and ‘make nice,’ because he really needed the favor, but it was the last time I spoke to him. No loss there.

The toxic people we have real trouble with are the ones who are fixtures in our lives.  How can you cut ties with your boss or coworker without changing jobs?  Is avoiding someone who is a real drain worth the hassle of finding a new job? And why should you be the one to leave when the other person is the problem? Chances are they are a problem for others also.  Then there are the family members: cutting ties with them can be cutting ties with a whole section of your family, and if you happen to live with them, almost impossible.  In these cases, we usually just put up with the ‘toxicity’ rather than causing major upheaval in our lives.  It’s an unconscious cost-benefit analysis: is cutting ties going to be worth all the drama and uncertainty that’s going to come with it?

Honestly, this is where most of us sigh and ‘man-up’ and just live with the ongoing stress and negativity that comes with having these people in our lives.  To use another business analogy, it’s ‘the cost of doing business.’ There’s the sense that we are overreacting or being childish if we refuse contact with someone in our family.  We think we may cause a major family rift if we cut ties with someone or it could mean that cutting ties with one person means we lose contact with someone we really want to stay close with.

It’s not an easy decision to make either for work or for family, but sometimes the poison that is making you sick in your life isn’t what you’re eating: it is an actual person in your life.  If you were gluten-sensitive, you wouldn’t think twice about avoiding bread and telling others that you are gluten-free.  The same if you have a peanut allergy or any other kind of sensitivity: it’s a fact of life- XYZ makes you sick!

I have mentioned The Boss From Hell before in this blog and I know there are a lot of people who make similar references to ‘bad bosses’ in their own lives.  This woman literally made me ill and nearly killed me, and not just me either!  The Associate at this job also suffered from similar panic attacks, anxiety and stress related problems.  He and I both had trouble sleeping, concentrating and I actually developed a slight tremor and heart palpitations while at that job. What was worse was that it didn’t stop when I left the office: this woman would call and text me while I was at home, on my commute and on weekends, and as far as she was concerned, it was part of my job!  And she did the same to the Associate.  The last straw was when I was driving home and she called to complain about what I hadn’t done that day (namely call FedEx to see why she wasn’t getting a discount on the mirrors she’d ordered for her home that FedEx had delivered broken) and why I hadn’t finished my other duties that day (mainly because I spent much of my day on the phone with FedEx and the mirror retailer).  I practically had to pull over on the freeway because I was so upset.  The next day, I went to work and quit. And she could not understand why I was quitting or why a few months later, the Associate quit too!

Of course there was a lot of stress and uncertainty with finding a new job, but by the time I made the decision to quit, it was pretty much black and white: I either take my chances with the Unknown or I die at this job, because it was no longer a matter of ‘if this job will kill me,’ but ‘when this job kills me.’ [ Just as a point of reference, there were a lot of people who kind of giggled and said I had the boss right out of The Devil Wears Prada.  I didn’t see the movie until my job had already begun making me ill, and I could not (and still haven’t) seen the whole movie because certain scenes cause stressful flashbacks but if you have seen it, my boss was a lot like Meryl Streep’s character, only not as nice. ]

Most of the toxic people in our lives are not as black and white as The Boss From Hell, but the point is that they are just as toxic.  Sadly, most of us are familiar with the domestic violence situation where we are on the outside shaking our heads: why do they keep going back to their abusers? Because behind all the abuse, the victim remembers times when their abuser was kind and sweet and a different person.  Once they get some distance on the most recent abuse, they start missing the ‘good times,’ even if we can’t see or identify them as being ‘good.’ I think this is why we put up with toxic family members: underneath all the poison, they are ‘family’ or ‘blood’ and so we put up with being treated like trash, being taken advantage of or being verbally or physically abused.  “It’s family and that’s what we do for family.”

The truth is that ‘family’ isn’t any more synonymous with abuse than is ‘friendship’ or ‘work environment.’  We should not have to put up with being victimized or abused or mistreated because someone is a ‘friend,’ ‘family member,’ ‘coworker,’ or ‘boss.’  If a stranger treated you the same way, most of us wouldn’t hesitate to call the cops or walk away from them forever, but because there is this connection, we accept their bad behavior.  The result is that the situation causes you stress and quite possibly illness.  Oftentimes, once we get some distance on the most recent instance of bad behavior, like victims of domestic violence, we start remembering when times were better and that ‘they aren’t always like that.’  The truth is that when you go back to socializing or working with them, you are condoning their bad behavior of you. Many of them, like The Boss From Hell, do not even accept that their behavior was bad.  You need to decide if they are worth the abuse.  Looking back on my situation, I confess I stayed with her for much longer than I should have, because as is often the case, the relationship didn’t start out awful and I thought of her for a long time as a friend, even after people starting telling me- in earnest- that this job was going to kill me. Only you can decide if the toxic people in your life are worth the pain and stress, but frankly, the ones we love shouldn’t be the ones who hurt us.