Which is better? Empathy or Sympathy?

Empathy is the modern-technical term for what our ancestors called “walking in the shoes of another.”

Some experts believe empathy is only possible when a person has experienced what another is going through now. Empathy cannot happen in a person who has never experienced what another is experiencing.

Sympathy can happen though. I can sympathize with a hungry child, but I’ve never been a hungry child, so I can’t feel it, but I can still give money. I can still be a good person.

Empathy happens when we’ve already experienced what another is experiencing now. A person who has been hungry as a child can do even more for hungry children than I can. I can send them money or food, but the empathic person has a super-power to truly speak to that child in ways that can bring deeper comfort to the fears and anger and hopelessness that I can only imagine might be present in a child who doesn’t know if he or she is going to live through the week.

Empathy is why recovering addicts are also the best recovery councilors. They not only know the science behind addiction, they know what the addict is thinking and feeling.

PTSD survivors should stick together

People with PTSD really need to connect with other people who have PTSD. No one else can really share in the experience in ways that can help the survivor feel connected to someone of like-mind. People who don’t have it, may truly want to help, but really only know that PTSD is a condition that makes people react to things. Their ability to help is there–but its limited. Those who have PTSD may personally know the ghosts who are now attacking another PTSD survivor, and therefor can share in the experience and can work with those ghosts in helpful ways. PTSD survivors have experienced the fears of PTSD, and know first-hand what the sleepless nights feel like, and how the triggers come from nowhere—even years or decades after the trauma. Only PTSD survivors have ridden the PTSD-Bi-Polar-Coaster and know the inner workings of the out-of-control mood swings that people who don’t have it absolutely can’t grasp.

How to be a good person

In my world, good is defined as anything we do to connect people with the social fabric of all God’s souls, while bad is defined as anything we do to hurt, humiliate or isolate people from the social fabric of all God’s souls.

Mother Theresa used say “Love not put into action is only a word.” Either way, empathy and sympathy are both good, as long as they produce in us a desire to do something helpful for someone else.

So challenge yourself to love someone today. Go on line and donate a few bucks to a reputable charity that feeds kids in your town. Smile and say hi to someone in a store today just so that person knows he or she is not invisible today. And if you have a heart for any specific issues, maybe because you are a survivor of some undesirable event, then consider using your empathy as a tool for individual or social healing. Consider giving of yourself to others who need to know that you know what they are feeling.

Every day brings another opportunity to give something simple to someone in need. So each of us can do something good every day. Whether its rooted in empathy or in sympathy, connecting with others is the root definition of how to be a truly good person.

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Even the Happy Struggle

 

True happiness is said to be found in people who feel equal to their peers. True happiness is seldom found in people who are rich. If you know many wealthy people, you probably know them to be suspicious and competitive, or perhaps even condescending and cruel. Same with overly attractive people. The wealthy and the beautiful have a lot more to lose than normal people do, which causes them more stress and fear. For most of us, equality and the ability to trust the motives of our equal peers makes true inner-happiness much more achievable.

As my 40th high school graduation approaches, Facebook is lighting up with posts from people I haven’t heard from in forty years. By their Facebook posts, many of them appear happier than me. Wealthier than me. More active than me. It makes me feel smaller, (or maybe I should say “fatter”) than I really am. But then I take a look at my own Facebook posts of the past several years, and I realize that even I myself, appear to be a lot happier, and wealthier, and more active than me also.

I guess it’s because we post what we want people to see, and we see what people want to post. So now I need to remind myself not to compare my real, daily life to others’ photographs of exotic vacations. When the cameras are put away, we’re all a lot more alike than we are different. We all have bills.

I know it is appropriate for all of us to post the pictures of our happy times, like our travels and bicycle trips, and our sailboats, and our parties. Those times aren’t fake. They really happened. I post those pics just like everyone else does. I post photos of my grandsons climbing on me, laughing. That’s what I want to show people so I can share the fact that my grandsons love me. I don’t show the pictures of me pulling my hair out an hour later when they wont’ stop fighting with each other. But know that it’s a part of my life that is also true.

For all of us, these great photographed moments of joy are spattered amid the vast playing field of real life. Normal life. The life that makes us all equal with each other. The struggles of loving our jobs on some days and hating them the next. I myself am known around my circles as a particularly happy person. I smile a lot. I inherited a sense of humor from my mother’s bloodline. I tend to find a lot of humor in daily life. It’s part of the reason I’ve survived real life for this long. But I don’t smile all the time. None of us smile all the time. When I drive in Seattle traffic I seem to show signs that I have Turret’s Syndrome. I love driving. I hate traffic. I think I’m pretty normal in that affliction. I’m not proud of it. And I won’t post pics of myself cursing another driver. But I still do it. Pretty much all of us deal with a myriad of things we aren’t proud enough of to take pictures of so we can share the entire story of who we really are.

People post photos of their bicycle trips in fancy-colored stretched Lycra, but they don’t show which complicated relationship they were ignoring, or avoiding, that day by going off on a bike trip by themselves. People show selfies at the Washington Monument but don’t post the credit card debt that they ran up for the trip. People show pictures taken by waitresses, of themselves and some friends laughing and toasting at a dinner table, but neglect to point to which friends or family should have been in rehab that night instead of at the bar drinking.

I guess my point is that it’s fun to show the party pics, and it’s fun to view them, but it is also wise to keep in mind that when we view each other’s happy posts, we are not seeing someone who is intrinsically happier than ourselves. The fun times and the hard times are as real for each of us as they are for each of the rest of us.  We are all more alike than we are different. Don’t anyone be fooled by a stacked deck of joy-photos, into thinking your peers are all having better lives than you are.

As for me, I am generally happy. But I cringe whenever I discover that my peers think it’s because I’m luckier than they are. I never want my own life to make another person’s life seem small. Six years ago, when I began writing Disaster Island, a novel in which I disclose a lot of the truth about my past and the pasts of some of my peers, and about the lasting effects of hidden trauma on many otherwise normal-looking people, I also began sharing in conversation with peers, the true story of my upbringing. I was shocked when I discovered they were shocked. All those years of my trying to look happier than I was worked. It turns out I’d fooled a lot of people who, frankly, didn’t deserve to be lied to by my façade. People that I liked would hear my stories of abuse and say “I never, ever, would have expected to hear that happened to you.” Then, to my even greater surprise, many of them then went on, “Can I tell you something I’ve never told anyone before?” Then, as they shared their own stories of struggle and trauma, I learned that it is a very blessed thing to feel the great honor of being someone they can finally open up to.

My Facebook posts of smiles and boat trips, and my humorous personality, and my tendency to look for the joy in each day fools people into believing that I’m luckier and happier than they are. For that I apologize. In some cases, because they think I’m luckier than them, some good people don’t believe they have a chance at being happy also. But when I share the rest of the story, about the horrific abuse I took as a mob-bullied, suicidal child at Catholic School in the 1970s, or about the elder sibling/narcissist that tormented me for fifty years, people stop feeling separated from me, and begin to bond closer with me. They say things like, “Oh my gosh. My family had one of those in it too.” or “I was treated just like that when I was young too.” While they  come to realize that they were not alone in their struggles, I come to the same realization that I wasn’t alone either. That moment of breaking down the wall, and of sharing a real trauma that was previously locked up and festering inside someone, is a moment of healing. The healing sends a wave of true happiness through me.

All the hell I went through with churches and family becomes the road that was worth traveling. Not ignoring the difficulties of my past is liberating. I wouldn’t want to relive Catholic school, or my own family, but I am proud to have survived them and I’m proud to share my life with those who need to know they are not isolated by their own past traumas.

Ultimately, we are all connected in this human experience. To think we need to compete with each other is thinking that perverts our connection and isolates us. Then it undermines our own happiness while it tries to undermine the happiness of the people we are actually connected to. The truth is, being vulnerable isn’t so bad. Being open begins the road to true, honest happiness.

 

The Supernatural Power of Forgiveness

Forgiveness, if done a correctly, summons miracles that transcend human understanding. With it, people have broken life-long curses, have washed themselves with inner peace, have gained better careers, have secured quieter homes, and have been party to countless other solutions to otherwise unfixable life problems. The results of practicing unconditional forgiveness are three-fold; psychological healing, physical healing and miraculous changes.

Psychological Healing
Beginning with the obvious, holding grudges or fear brings the opposite of mental peace. Non-forgiveness becomes judgment when we believe someone is “bad.” Judgment then becomes grudges. In more extreme cases, grudges become hatred. Hatred morphs into obsessive thoughts and inner voices. The person you can’t forgive does not haunt you, but your own obsessive thoughts about that person DO haunt you through sleeplessness and bad dreams. If you could bring yourself to accept complete forgiveness for whoever is haunting your psychological mind, you will lose those obsessive thoughts and become free to focus more time and thought onto happier things. Life inside your mind will improve.

Physical Healing
Hate, which is the opposite of forgiveness, can feel like a burning acid in your heart or gut. And as it turns out, the reason it feels like burning acid is because that’s exactly what it is. Years of churning the bile of non-forgiveness in the esophagus, the heart, throat, lungs, adrenals and immune system bring diminished quality of physical health and in the worst of case, premature death—not to the person you chose not to forgive, but to you, the one who didn’t practice forgiveness.

NEWSFLASH! Miracle Making
Mystical benefits transcend obvious quality of life improvements when the art of unconditional forgiveness launches inexplicable miracles in the lives of those who practice it. I can find no better way to explain it than to list a few of my own experiences.

Forgiving myself brought companionship

    At twenty-three, and after two years of mind-numbing loneliness, I forgave myself for being unable to trust a loving relationship and I stopped looking for a woman to keep me company. Every frustrated molecule of my body found release from the new belief that I could be very, very happy to live alone as a single man. One week later I met Colette. Four weeks later we married. We’ve been married now for thirty-three years and are both hoping for many more to come.

Forgiving an obnoxious neighbor quieted the neighborhood

    Two months ago, I stopped hating the noisy, arrogant neighbor who had lived across the street from me for eleven years. “City life is city life” I said. It worked. I began to feel the relief of release around no longer obsessing about his behaviors. I could sense that my forgiveness of him actually took hold in my inner life, and I had come to finally accept him for everything he just was. I never spoke to him. I changed nothing except my inner feelings. To my utter amazement…One week later…he moved!

Forgiving a childhood enemy broke a curse and stopped a repeating story

    At fifty, I forgave my childhood best-friend-turned-arch-nemesis, who had lived in my nightmares for forty years. In 1970, after establishing himself as my closest ally, Marcos surprised me with an overnight switch. He used everything he knew about me from our years as best-friends to turn me into a target for several years of atrocious mob-bullying, leaving me suicidal and unable to trust anyone I loved. Like a curse over my life, I spent the next forty years being attacked at least four more times by friends-or-family-turned-enemy, almost as if there were some grand lesson I was supposed to have learned at ten, but neglected to understand, and had to keep trying. At fifty, I asked a friend, “What is it about me that keeps attracting this same kind of villain over and over and over?” That friend asked me to share the entire story of how the original betrayal went down. She saw, with amazing clarity, that Marcos did what he did because of his own pain and shame. She helped me to understand why he became who he became. I immediately began to love him again just as I had before the betrayal. Forgiveness washed through me like warm milk. Then the life-changing miracles began to fall like dominoes. First, psychological relief released me from nightmares, and translated to physical relief. What happened next was impossible to explain in any way other than as a miracle from above. Within only months of my unconditional acceptance of Marcos, ALL the friends and family who were behaving as badly as he had done, left my life for different reasons, all at once, and all permanently—as if by magic. For the first time ever, I can honestly say that I can trust and love everyone who is in my life right now. I had apparently learned my lesson and was myself forgiven from having to endure it ever again. I forgave Marcos, and then somehow enjoyed a new peace when other people like him stopped coming around.

How to Bring Miracles through Unconditional Forgiveness
To use forgiveness correctly is more of an art than a science. Simple forgiveness is enhanced into the realm of superpower when it is better practiced as “Unconditional Forgiveness.” The trick is to actually accomplish it in its purest form. Its lesser version, “Conditional Forgiveness” is little more than the act of bestowing my benevolent grace onto someone who I first judged as having done something bad. Unconditional Forgiveness blows the doors off of that. It travels far, far beyond the limitations of person to person judgment, by reaching a place of absolute, pure acceptance of another person for being who that person already is, whether I like it or not.

In the amazing movie, “Ender’s Game,” Orson Scott Card writes,

    “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them…. I destroy them.”
    ― Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game

To me, to destroy an enemy is NOT necessarily to hurt that person, but to destroy the role they play as an enemy in your life. By converting a person to a friend, you have essentially destroyed him as an enemy. I have lived this quote and that’s why it spoke so loudly to me as I watched the movie.

True, unconditional forgiveness is an art that requires practice. I tried to forgive the three people I mentioned above many times before it finally took hold. Whenever I try to force forgiveness, especially when I misinterpret it as little more than “bestowing the grace of my tolerance onto a person that I have judged as having done something bad,” it doesn’t physically change anything. It doesn’t produce a positive result. It’s just a word. It doesn’t actually work. I could say “I forgave him/her” but obviously by the fact that I still haven’t seen a miracle, the evidence says that I have not completely accepted who they are and have not yet decided to live my life my way and let them live theirs their way. For me, once I can successfully reach a point of complete acceptance, that is when the miracles fall like refreshing spring rain upon my life.

This blog post isn’t meant to teach the art of forgiveness. Others have already written those books. My message is simply that unconditional forgiveness is worth practicing because it brings miracles. Books and articles teaching the art of forgiveness are all over the bookstores and the internet, but be cautious of who you learn it from. Scores of religious sources teach it as if it is nothing more than being the “grace” part. If you forget that God said we are equal and that none of us are qualified to judge another as bad so we can grace them with our Godly forgiveness, then forgiveness is little more than a kind word that brings no physical miracles to your life.

The reason unconditional forgiveness launches miracles from above is that unconditional forgiveness is the act of practicing unconditional love, which also happens to be the act of reuniting and bonding our lives and souls. Hate and judgment are the act of separating and isolating. God responds to love (connection), not to judgment (disconnection). And divine connection happens to be the reason we’re here in this life at all.

Ultimately, I happen to know that I am as bad and as good as anyone I’ve ever needed to forgive. I recommend learning unconditional forgiveness from the perspective of learning to accept all life as equal life. Once you can forgive unconditionally, God, whose Love is also unconditional, will move in your life in ways you never expected He ever could.

Interview With an Emotional Character

Ever heard of “the boring, creative type?” Me neither. If anything, creative people are more often called eccentric, non-conforming, one-of-a-kind, “out there,” expressive. At times we are accused of being high maintenance, emotional, fickle, excitable.

To that, I say “Good!” It makes life fun.

But I admit it can be challenging at times for those of us who can’t just sit quietly, but who need to express ourselves through creative outlets. We may struggle from feeling a lack of respect from the “strong, John Wayne stoic types,” or like we have a target on our foreheads so others can more easily make fun of us. We may witness more than occasional eye-rolls from people who see expression as frivolous or “silly.” We may even fall prey to our addictive personalities more quickly than do others. But all in all, in the day of a creative person, a lot happens to make life exciting. For me, the benefits most certainly outweigh the struggle.

A Fiction Character’s Interview with His Author

If you could interview your Creator, what would you ask?

In the following interview, I, the writer of Bullies & Allies, am the overseeing author of Kyle Rickett’s teenage life. I am in 2015 while for him the year is 1978, and his coming of age story has just reached its conclusion. I am armed with the clarity of hind-sight as I reach back in time to discuss the outcome of the story I wrote him into. He has questions for me, his creator, and since I know his past, present and future, I’m able to answer him openly.

In this interview, a slightly irritated eighteen-year-old Kyle wants to know why his life couldn’t have been easier and less confusing. As his creator I have good reasons for how things worked out for him and am able to overlook his irritation.

The Following Interview is Fictitious

    Me: “How are you, Kyle?”
    Kyle: “I’m an emotional basket case, thanks to you for creating me that way.”
    Me: “You’re welcome.”
    Kyle: “I wasn’t being funny.”
    Me: “C’mon, Kyle. You’re important.”
    Kyle: “You could have written me as a lucky lottery winner who gives millions to the poor. I’d have been important then too.”
    Me: “Now you are being funny. No one needs to read about a lucky millionaire. You’re important because of the intensity with which you feel things. A lot of people are emotion-based, and they need a character like you to show that it’s okay that you are so.
    Kyle: “Well I don’t always feel like it’s ‘okay that I am so.’”
    Me: “Trust me, you’re okay. In fact you’re better than okay.”

    Kyle: “Okay? I have PTSD for God’s sake. I work hard to be stronger than average, but when the tiniest stress comes my way I shiver and shake like a feeble old fool that needs tranquilizers. It’s not fair. It makes me look insane in front of my friends…in front of girls! Do you know how hard it is to live with something like this?”
    Me: “Of course I know how hard it is. But I see your situation differently. You’re standing up to a world that tells boys like yourself that because you have emotions you shouldn’t be taken seriously. To make your message even more impactful, your emotions have been maliciously tampered with so as to make you appear broken and out of control. You, sir, are the poster-child for showing that men with emotions can not only be okay, but can rise beyond it all and become better than okay. I did you a favor by writing you the way I did. I gave your life a noble purpose. PTSD is not the end of the world, but it’s seen by the public as something only women and soldiers can suffer with. As it turns out, you are not the only civilian boy who has it. I created you to be a voice for a lot of real people that need to be heard. Not everyone gets that honor.”
    Kyle: “Well it sure has caused me a ton of grief.”
    Me: “At first, maybe. But in the end, you were given a lot to be thankful for.”
    Kyle: “Ah the ‘be grateful card.’ The boobie-prize for people who have to find a reason to be glad they have a disease or a broken arm or something. So for your information, Mr. author/creator, your decision to make me this emotional nearly cost me my life. So, gee—thanks.
    Me: “C’mon, Kyle, I saved you before things got too unbearable. The ‘gratefulness card’ isn’t just for people who’ve been in accidents. Everyone needs to remember to be grateful, and accidents serve to remind us of that. Gratefulness is an important perspective to everyone, no matter what. Now that you’re on the mend, I’m sure you can see that a lot of good came from your experience.”
    Kyle: “Sure something good came from it, but with all due respect, that was thanks to Tuck, not you. He’s the one who showed me how to trust people again.”
    Me: “Um…I wrote Tuck also you know. I made him close enough in age for you to feel like he could relate, but gave him seven years on you so he could fill in for the less-than-honorable older siblings you couldn’t trust. To get him ready for you I put him through two grueling years of college that he didn’t want to go to, just to teach him the right things to say to you. I made him do service work at Crisis Intervention so he’d see and recognize your own Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I saved him from dying when he was fifteen so he’d be empathetic to your own near death experience (NDE) at fourteen. That poor guy went through hell so he’d be ready for you. So again, you’re welcome. And he’s a good guy. I’m glad you liked him right from the start.”
    Kyle: “Well we started out a bit rocky, but yeah, he’s the best friend a guy could ask for. You sure took your own sweet time with him. You could have avoided a heck of a lot of my grief if you’d have introduced us a few years sooner.”
    Me: “On the contrary, if I’d have introduced you two sooner, no one, not even him, would have been able to save you. You were sliding too confidently down a slippery slope, growing complacent—too comfortable being uncomfortable. You had adapted too well to your overshadowing troubles to recognize your need for someone like him. You thought your life was normal but it was far from it. You needed to be brought right to the bleeding edge of life and then to be shaken at the core to wake up and see what was happening. You needed to be shocked out of your comfortable journey to hell.”

    Kyle: “What’s so wrong with being comfortable?”
    Me: “Comfortable people don’t change. They soak, like dumplings in slowly heating water until cooked. It takes discomfort, or all-out-pain, to drive change. And from my author’s perspective, people who don’t change don’t have stories I can write about.”
    Kyle: “That’s why I was torn open in an accident? To shake me up?”
    Me: “Damn straight. You needed a physical crisis—one with real blood—to wake you up from a bad dream you didn’t know you were having.”

    Kyle:“Oh, so you had to make me miserable so that I could become happy? My story is about how I changed?”
    Me: “Aren’t all good stories about transformation? Learning? Overcoming? If you’d have met Tuck before your life had degraded into crisis, you’d have shrugged him off as just some nameless busy-body wedging himself into your complacent life. You’d have let him slip past you, unwittingly avoiding a sorely needed rescue. Then the only story I’d have had to tell would have been about another mysterious teen suicide that didn’t appear to make any sense—even to you. I’d have talked about how everyone had thought of you as happy, energetic and likable. I’d have called your death a senseless tragedy that shouldn’t have happened. No one would have ever figure out why such a promising, cute youngster took the ultimate way out.

    Kyle: “I admit, I was pretty confused at one point.”
    Me: “Yeah well, I knew it was coming. I spent four years preparing Tuck to intervene at your crisis—and trust me when I say that after everything I did to him, he needed your friendship as badly as you needed his. I couldn’t let all his suffering be for nothing. He saved you (and you saved him) at exactly the right moment, and he helped us show the world a deep truth about how secretly defeated you felt and how you’d come to be so distrusting of your own allies.”
    Kyle: “What’s weird about that is how I didn’t realize that I didn’t trust people. I thought every family was like mine and that love included having to watch my own back. They were my family. I thought it was morally wrong for me to question their motives.”
    Me: “The whole family wasn’t to blame. Certain antagonists had spent many years covertly, but tenaciously undermining your self-image and quieting your screams for help. It was they who confused you so that whenever you did try to reach out for help, you’d sound crazy and no one would take you seriously. You needed Tuck, but first you needed to know that you needed him. When you became aware of how desperate your own situation had evolved you became ready for me to introduce him to you. That’s when you would allow him to reach in to your insanity for a rescue. Seeing how close you were to your own demise prompted you to reach up and grab his hand.”
    Kyle: “Thank God for that. Okay, I’m starting to figure this out. I’m another bullied character in another novel about being saved from suicide by another caring person?”
    Me: “Don’t minimize this, Kyle. You’re a complex character in a story about being seriously overwhelmed by a sense that you aren’t acceptable to the world. In order to feel as alone as you tend to feel, you needed more than just a sense of confusion. You needed villains.”
    Kyle: “Villains? Plural? Since you’re an author, shouldn’t you stick to the rule of simplicity and have only one villain so you don’t make the plot too difficult to track with?”
    Me: “Normally that is a good rule to follow in novels, but, Kyle, this is more of a true story that’s meant to resonate with a sense of being involuntarily confused and alone in a busy world. I’m kind of annoyed by normal bully stories that don’t address how hard it really is to stand up to enemies you can’t identify—especially when you yourself have been convinced of being too crazy to know what’s going on. If there was only one bully then all you’d have to do is stand up to him. That’s how most novelists do it. They name the one obvious dragon so as to depict you as a hero when turning to face it. But Kyle, real life isn’t always so simple for everyone. Telling a person to ‘stand up to their bully’ isn’t going to help someone who is too confused to identify exactly who that even is. One easy-to-spot antagonist isn’t enough to tear you down the way you were torn down. You actually thought that you were born flawed and that the entire world would see your shame if these extortionist bullies exposed you. How does a boy stand up to that?”
    Kyle: “I guess I really couldn’t.”

    Me: “I needed to put my readers inside your head, so they could experience with you, your true belief that no one understood you. You were that kid whose allies didn’t see your pain because they mistakenly saw you as having a great life. You’re cute, intelligent, close to your parents, cousin Scooter and your amazing best friend, Connor. You worked tirelessly to pretend that you were doing fine in life, and unfortunately for you the ruse worked. By outward appearance you had what a lot of people thought they wanted, so they didn’t look any deeper. People needed to get inside your confused head and experience how you came to the place where you actually saw your own allies as your bullies and subsequently lost your ability to trust anyone.”
    Kyle: “And so one villain wasn’t enough to do me in?”
    Me: “Nope. Not in one blow. You’re too strong for that. You were whittled down slowly by a mob. You looked out to the world for help, but they didn’t respond so you assumed they were part of the mob. In a social structure peppered with various bullies and allies, you didn’t know which was which. Kyle, you represent a category of real people who feel relentlessly overwhelmed by humanity. You’re not the only emotional person out there. As an emotional teen, you look for acceptance in people who don’t understand how to give it to you. You believe criticism much more deeply than you can accept praise. You feel outnumbered and outmatched, even though you aren’t. Your life in Bullies & Allies is a representation of a boy who was driven ‘crazy’ by three key people who had one thing in common: They wanted something from you and didn’t care how they got it. They each made way into your heart so that you’d be too bonded with them to fight back. Your kind spirit and compassionate spark made you an attractive target. Once they had your respect they put their sins on to you and you took the punishment. They used common manipulations to isolate and trick you into believing the whole world was on their side rather than on yours.”
    Kyle: “So my only three bullies were Fran, Andreo and Dr. Krieg? Everyone else was—”
    Me: “—Everyone else was just minding their own business. But when they didn’t announce themselves as being part of your solution, you lumped them together as part of the problem and you became overwhelmed. The true antagonists were three disconnected individuals, each exhibiting a different variation of a single anti-social personality disorder.”
    Kyle: “They were meanies?”
    Me: “They were sociopaths. People who, without the annoying burden of conscience, can say or do anything they want without having to feel bad for it. Fran represented a family member with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) who used divisive gossip and lies to trick unsuspecting family members into a permanent war-like state of defending themselves against each other. Andreo was your former best friend who was fighting with demons of his own. Demons which he eventually transposed onto you and then coldly attacked you for. Dr. Krieg was a common pedophile, empowered by his sociopathic ability to see the world as a playground to feed his obsessions. But he was a family friend and a community pillar, and you were not a fool. You saw the risk of being hated by everyone if you had been the one small boy who’d tried to expose that disgusting mess.”
    Kyle: “And this is supposed to be like a real-life story? Do real people usually have three sociopaths trying to get something from them?”
    Me: “Usually? No. But if you were to go out into the city streets and interview enough runaway teens, you might find that your fictitious story of being manipulated when you were too small to fight back is lame compared to what some of them have been through in real life. Your story is not in any way a far reach from normal life for some. Your life wasn’t violent—which made your abuse a tad more difficult to notice.”

    Kyle: “Whoa. That hit home. I almost became one of those runaway teens, remember?”
    Me: “I remember. Your case was a real eye-opener. You were a normal, middle-class fourteen-year-old with no bruises, but still you believed that the pain of staying with your family was greater than any fear of trying to make it on your own. I guess we humans tend to move away from the greatest perceived pain. The fact remains that evil strikes all classes, and kind-hearted, peaceful, creative, sensitive people become targets for sociopaths a lot more often than the general public can see.”

    Kyle: “But three? How real is that?”
    Me: “You’d be shocked to find that a general rule of thumb in crisis intervention is that people are seldom targeted by bullies only once in their lifetimes. For some reason, no one is sure why, it seems like abuse either never happens to someone or it happens multiple times.”
    Kyle: “Like having the proverbial ‘target on my forehead.’”
    Me: “Exactly.”

    Kyle: “This is making me nervous about my future. As my creator, can you tell me…do I still have a target? Am I cursed for life?”
    Me: “Yes and no. One thing I want you to understand is that life isn’t always so much about miraculous cures as it is about gaining control through awareness and acceptance.”

    Kyle: [heavy sigh] “I’m always going to have PTSD, aren’t I?”
    Me: “They’re going to be working on finding a cure for quite some time, yes. And men without war experience is going to be the last group to be readily acknowledged.”

    Kyle: “Crap.”
    Me: “It’s okay, Kyle. Things work out well for you. I’m thirty seven years in your future and I’ve seen how things turn out. You’ve got a long, exciting, sometimes bumpy ride ahead of you.”
    Kyle: “Is it worth it?”
    Me: “More so than I can even describe. You’ll marry someone who finds you worth the effort it takes to put up with your PTSD episodes. Your kids and grandkids are going to love the two of you because of how attentive you’ll be to making sure they’re never bullied like you were. They’re also going to love you because you’re never going to fully grow up. Neither is Tuck. He’s going to be their favorite uncle and a friend for life that will never stop mentoring you. Oh…and when you’re thirty-six, your sense of humor will make you into a successful stand-up comedian.”
    Kyle: “Woo-HOO! I’m going to be famous?”
    Me: “Mmmm. Not necessarily.”
    Kyle: “Oh.”
    Me: “It will be by your own choice not to pursue show business. For someone like yourself, who struggles with interpersonal trust issues, you’re going to find yourself too uncomfortable by what you’ll call ‘a lack of integrity in the back-stabbing show-biz community.’”
    Kyle: “Oh! Ha ha! I’d feel like I was back with my siblings again?”

    Me: “Exactly! Ha Ha! Also, you’ll find it much more difficult to connect one on one with ‘regular people’ during the time that you are seen as a professional entertainer. You’re all about connection and trust, so you’re gladly going to allow yourself to fade from the public’s eye. On a positive note, what you learn from your year on the stage is going to give you an edge when you become a writer and a public speaker on the topics of mob-bullying and non-military men with PTSD.”
    Kyle: “A writer versus a comedian? Isn’t fame fame?”
    Me: “Not necessarily. Being a writer is much more discrete than stage-work in this star-struck world. You’ll be able to reach out to your audience while enjoying the anonymity of walking around unnoticed in public.”

    Kyle: “Will it make me rich?”
    Me: “Not with money.”

    Kyle: “Again, one of those things you say to someone to make them feel better about being poor?”
    Me: “Trust me on this one, Kyle. You’re an expressive soul. Finding your voice and your perfect fit in life is worth far more than cash. All too often, money-rich people go to bed each night fearing that someone will steal it all. You’ll live in the peace of knowing that no one will ever be able to take this from you. Becoming the man you are meant to be really is going to be better than having money to spend on unneeded luxuries. Excessive money can actually separate you from other people. Being rich sets you apart from a predominantly middle-class culture. You hate feeling alone, so for you, excess money does not bring happiness.”

    Kyle: “I hate to say this, but your reasoning actually sounds pretty realistic.”
    Me: “It is. But be aware of the fact that your ability to connect with others will always be a double-edged sword, making you a ton of friends, both good and bad.”

    Kyle: “Both good and bad? It can’t get easier?”
    Me: “It’s life, Kyle. It’s that way for all of us. Being forewarned is being forearmed. When you make a ton of friends a certain percentage of them are going to be less than honorable—it’s simple math. As a giving person, you will attract a large number of people over the coming decades. Some will seek to take from you. The gift you received by being enlightened at eighteen was that you became able to fully appreciate the trustworthy people, while gaining the ability to heal quickly from the selfish ones.”

    Kyle: “But all in all, I’m going to be okay?”
    Me: “You’ll struggle but you’ll enjoy a deep richness you’d never appreciate if life had been easy. You’ll have times during the year—every year—where you can’t seem to get away from the trauma memories. But you and your family will call it ‘the flu’ and deal with it appropriately. On the nights you can’t sleep, which will be many, you’ll quietly go downstairs and write the things that you learned from your struggles. You’ll never get over your hyper-anxiety, but it will make you into a harder worker among your peers while giving you and your friends an endearing humor around your overactive sense of panic. Like always, you’ll make the best from the hand you were dealt. You’ll have trust issues with everyone you ever meet, but over and over again you’ll work through them. You’ll learn so much about the art of trust that you’ll write books about it. Meanwhile, you’ll be there for people. You’ll give a lot of money and help to friends who need it, but you’ll also give a lot of money and help to people you’ll wish you’d have never fallen victim to. Being gullible will frustrate and often embarrass you, but you’ll brush off the dust and move on.”

    Kyle: “Good God. I’m in for a ride.”
    Me: “A good one, Kyle. You’re in for a good ride. You’ll come to understand that a good life isn’t defined by what is done to you, but by how you choose to grow from it. You’ll find help. Your friends will see that you’re worth their patience. You’ll find a therapist that grounds you. You’ll stay with him for life. Good, steady therapy is sort of the right medicine for someone with your level of trauma-driven anxiety.”

    Kyle: “So…I really am crazy?”
    Me: “Not by a long shot. Just by saying you are…you aren’t. Truly crazy people don’t know they’re crazy. Only sane people have the wisdom to question their own sanity.”
    Kyle: “Then I must be really, really sane…because I feel really, really crazy.”
    Me: “Congratulations on that, and welcome to the club.”

Trust: The Cure for Isolation

It’s almost humorous to say that millions of lonely souls struggle to connect with others on an overcrowded planet.

An alien watching from space might ask, “How could anyone feel alone there?”

Here we are, living elbow to elbow with family, neighbors, classmates and workmates, while suffering a deeply internalized sense of being completely and utterly alone.

Alone in a Crowd
People often say, “I’m going to a movie alone,” or “I’m going shopping alone.” But that is hardly possible when on any given day, thousands of people are sharing the mall with them. How does one shop alone? Answer: By not connecting with any one of those thousands of people. Realistically, people can’t shop alone, (unless they’ve broken in to the store during the night—but that’s fodder for another topic). During the business day they might shop while in an internal state of isolation.

Isolation
Isolation, while not a disease, could be called an epidemic that distresses some lives and takes others completely. I contend that the rising rates of depression and suicide are not comprised mainly of people who feel trustingly connected to others. It seems to me, that because we are social-based creatures, then isolation works against our very wiring, making it one of the more dangerous epidemics we can succumb to. Insidiously, not all isolation is self-induced. A lot of people are driven to it by someone else.

Who feels isolated and who did it to them?
I’ll give 5 common scenarios of people who are driven to isolation:

Survivors of abusive childhoods: Children who survive childhood neglect, abuse or childhood sexual abuse often spend their lives feeling singled out and isolated. Lifelong trust issues are common in their world.

Teens feel isolated when they struggle to find their place in the world. If they feel pressure to succeed in grades, sports, and social activities that they aren’t passionate about, they might feel like a square peg being unfairly forced into a round hole. They might believe the adults who are driving them in the wrong direction don’t see them for who they are. Or if their social life becomes a battlefield of rumors and lies because of adolescent jealousies at school, then they learn not to trust sharing their vulnerabilities with other teens.

The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender (GLBT) community suffers a 4X higher suicide rate than the straight community NOT because they are GLBT, but because their peers and superiors have intentionally humiliated and ostracized them for being who they were created to be. How can they trust a world who pre-hated them without giving them a chance to show who they really are?

Abused wives are often intentionally isolated from their families and friends by sociopathic husbands who want full control. A person without allies is very, very easy to bully.

Victims of Sociopaths/Narcissists/Psychopaths: Anyone with a sociopathic boss, parent or older sibling will experience the phenomenon of being intentionally isolated by that sociopath, through a relentless, daily stream of accusations, rumors, lies, and humiliations. Sociopaths use these divisive tactics to isolate and overwhelm individuals, hoping to create the sense that the whole world hates them. They sometimes do this simply to enjoy a sense of empowerment. They view life as a daily competition for situational dominance. Their most common goal is to make their victim feel crazy in front of others so that all credibility is lost, which isolates the victim, making him or her even easier to torment. Why do they do it? Because to them, it’s fun. A perfect example of this is when nine-year-old boys gather with salt shakers to laugh at their power to melt slugs alive. “Stupid slugs!” they’ll shout. But soon enough those boys evolve consciences and outgrow their enjoyment of watching slugs suffer. Sociopaths never develop consciences and so they don’t outgrow that morbid enjoyment of watching torment. They feel empowered and god-like when, for no other reason, it’s just fun to watch animals and fellow human beings squirm beneath superior war-like evil.

Trust
Trust lies at the root of our inability to connect with the scores of people we share the earth with daily. It’s not that we don’t see the crowds around us, it’s that we don’t trust them with our vulnerabilities. In each of the examples above, the isolated victim could easily have made multiple attempts at asking for help, but for a number of reasons the people they approached may not have recognized the seriousness and so they failed to offer the help sought.

We humans learn by repetition. The more often we see a similar outcome, the more solidly we learn. Trust is little more than the ability to predict the future based on what you know from the past. When a child reaches out to his/her protectors twelve times, only to be told twelve times that he/she needs to handle his/her massive problems him/herself, that child learns through repetition to stop asking for help. He/she learns to trust what he/she knows to be true, which is: Adults don’t understand what’s really happening.

When adults say, “If you are being bullied, all you have to do is tell a parent or teacher,” they are further isolating those children who have tried that tack a dozen times but with zero success. Those children know that the message is naïve and therefore flawed, so they don’t hear it anymore. They are left utterly alone with no way to trust what they are being told: In essence, the message as they hear it is that the thirteenth adult will somehow be different than ALL the others. –Yeah…right. I don’t think so.

Connection cures isolation
If you are feeling isolated then you need connection. Being in a packed bus is not connection, it’s crowding. My experience of isolation turned me suicidal beginning at twelve years of age. I’ve since lived a long life on the brink of my own demise because of a sense that no matter how many people are in my life, not one of them really loves me for who I am. It wasn’t until fifty years of age, when I closed the door between myself and my life-long bullies, that I began to experience calm, genuine, compassionate connection with the people who always did, and still do love me. Before then, I gave love with all my heart, but couldn’t accept it in return. Because of the irresponsible messages given by the people who I wrongfully trusted, I had been repeatedly taught that the love people showed me was conditional: I thought I was loved only if I took people’s crap, painted their houses, helped them move, gave them money, etc.

What’s working for me?
I am grateful to say that I am losing my sense of isolation. My life is improving through efforts that are finally working.

1. I got out of the abusive situation: The first order of business was to distance myself from the bullies who used their connection to make me miserable. The first rule of thumb is that standing up to bullies makes them cower. But that only works when it works. If the bully is an entire school, (a term called “mob-bullying”) or a sociopath, then standing up to them risks igniting a fury that the victim may not be strong enough to stand up to. If the abuse has gone on long enough, that victim may be too badly worn down to be expected to stand up to a monster or a mob.

My second rule of thumb is that no one can hope to heal from the damage done by abuse while the abuse is still happening. During abuse, the goal should be to rescue the victim. Once the rescue is complete and the abuse is history, then a sense of personal safety can be instilled and healing can begin. Five years ago my healing began to take hold because I had put a permanent distance between myself and the people hell-bent on making me miserable.

2. I accept the reality: The damage is done. It’s water under the bridge. It’s time to accept what can’t be changed, and to work on what can be fixed. I have accepted that not all disorders can be cured, but almost all can be embraced and mastered. Nobody I’ve met yet, has had a particularly easy life. Truly successful people almost always have difficult pasts but have learned to make something productive out of their struggles. This truth is demonstrated best by those who’ve lost limbs that cannot be reattached, and go on to lead productive lives by learning how to get around the lost limb. Acceptance is a beautiful thing: By no longer expecting a “cure” I am no longer disappointed that there isn’t one.

3. I now trust myself and those who can be trusted: I now see that I love and am loved by many people. And yet, several times a year, I still fall into the trap of believing I am utterly alone. Learning how to trust means learning who to trust. I am learning to trust myself and how my own brain works.

Trust, as it turns out, is less of a feeling and more of a behavior that can be learned. I am now learning to trust reality over my misguided feelings. EXAMPLE: I often feel alone, but reality tells me that I have felt alone before—and things still got better. Therefore I exercise trust in repetitive history and I decide to trust that this is only a feeling. I can go one step further and trust that I will handle it correctly. I have proven to myself that I know ways to overcome the feelings of isolation, and so I trust that I will again overcome it this time. This works more quickly each time it happens.

4. I seek qualified help: I have a long-standing relationship with a highly qualified, well educated, compassionate, professional therapist. Not some well-meaning but poorly educated church minister. Not a school councilor. Not a self-help book. Not an internet support group. But an actual college-educated, psychology-trained psychologist with years of practice and success. It took years for me to learn to trust him, but that trust has become the very key to accepting the healing and making it work. Now that I’ve broken the poisonous relationships with the people I should have never trusted, and built a connection with a person who has proven he can be trusted, my ability to learn and heal is taking hold like never before.

5. I get out there and connect: When given half a chance I still isolate myself. On long weekends when my wife is working I often stay in my pajamas all day regardless of weather. Some weekends I never even open the blinds. If this goes on for a few days in a row, I find myself recognizing symptoms of loneliness as they creep in. So I use that as a trigger and I muster the strength to reconnect in some way with someone. I go shopping alone (or rather—“in an internal state of isolation”). The shopping trip is meant to get me into a crowd of people so I can challenge myself to connect with someone and make someone else feel heard—usually a store clerk. I have found it to be true that the Universe gives when it receives. In order to stop feeling misunderstood, I have to try and make someone else feel understood. In so doing, I end up creating the very connection that I need.

6. I count my blessings: I intentionally look at the people I love and then I express gratitude for any positive connection I now have. At nearly fifty five years of age I am both dumbfounded and elated at the realization that people actually love me. When my wife, children, grandchildren or peers tell me how valuable I am to them, I struggle to avoid tearing up from thinking about how I’ve wanted to hear that my entire life. I told one peer, “If you could have seen how beaten down I once was, and how horrifically vulnerable I felt in my family, you would know why you mean so much to me today.”

7. I know that sharing is caring: I openly share my struggles with others. The benefits are three-fold:

7a. It helps me to treat everyone as equals: I now know that isolated people don’t advertise “I’m isolated.” They quietly smile and nod and try to fit in. So the truth is that I have no way of knowing for sure who is and is not feeling like an isolated outcast right now. So by sharing my story with everyone, I am not accidentally withholding what I know from someone who might be too isolated to tell me that they wanted to hear it.

7b. People think they are the only non-Brady kids: An isolated individual will often perceive that the rest of the world has life all figured out and that they are the only ones who don’t. At work I drink coffee from a Brady Bunch mug. Peer comments allow me to joke with the statement “This is my family…that’s my story, I’m sticking to it!” The laugh opens the door for me to confess that I grew up thinking all other families were built on a foundation of mutual respect and of “having each others’ backs.” When I tell that my family was more indicative of a competitive sports arena, pre-loaded with gossip-traps and chronic criticism, and that my life didn’t calm down until I broke all contact with 99.9% of them, they almost always tell me that they thought they were the only ones who didn’t come from a Brady Bunch family. My confession to them gives them a new perspective about their own lives. Maybe they’re not so alone after all.

7c. I don’t want to be mistaken as being on the “other team”: The book I’m about to publish is called “Bullies & Allies” because those two terms, a bully and an ally, often describe the same person. To an isolated soul who believes they are the only lost soul in a world of people who have it all together, they can see the world as divided into two teams: bullies versus allies, or them versus everyone else. Therefore they may automatically assume that I am on “the other team” with everyone but them. I want them to know that I’m not.

However, I now know that I have done a good job impersonating a “together” person, and so I understand how people could mistake me for one. I have learned how to laugh and present myself as if nothing really bothers me. To my shock, that façade has worked, and here’s why I constructed it: In my particular family, if I had problems, I risked being humiliated for not being perfect from birth. So what I learned about family life was that it was more of a competitive sport rather than a loving fellowship. For my entire life, I worried, like many do, that I might one day lose my job and then my home. That concern by itself isn’t unhealthy. Sadly the reason I worried was a bit more neurotic. Being homeless was not my worry. Being utterly humiliated by key members of my own family for being the incompetent fool they’d always said I was, is what drove my high stress levels around employment. My point is: In order to survive my own team I learned to appear as if I had it all together.

Sharing is caring. It’s good for me and good for others. We’re all not-so-different after all, and no one needs to feel isolated in this world. Over the past five years, since walking away from my antagonists, I have many times witnessed that my confessions of struggle and of the sting of betrayal by family and friends have opened doors for people to trust that I’m not so different from them. First they say, “I never would have guessed…oh my gosh…” Then they see a chance at talking with someone who might understand them. To my joy, they often open up to me with: “You know…I’ve never told anyone this before, but…”

And for the duration of a single conversation, the two of us connect. We later carry with us the feeling that maybe—just maybe—we are both not so alone.

Balancing Love with Trust for a Good Relationship

“I can love you…if”

by James F Johnson (C)

I can love without trust,

…from a safe distance

I can forgive without fear,

…if you cannot find me

I can forget and move on,

…knowing I’ll never return

I can learn to trust again,

…but I will set boundaries next time

Loving another person can be one of the most beautiful experiences in human life. Participating in a successful Love relationship can be both a wonderful and demanding task. If done well, the act of working through a long term relationship will provide us the most valuable personal growth of any other experience in our lifetime. It’s why people sometimes say “You make me want to be a better person.” The feeling of wanting to be a better partner drives the positive changes we put ourselves through because we love someone else.

Of Love versus Trust: Not the Same Things

Separate these two words. Love and Trust. They have different meanings. A lot of couples have legitimate trust issues between them even though they are truly in love. By bundling “Love and Trust” into one idea, we add the potential for misery into a relationship. Love and Trust are not the same things—and we don’t need one to have the other.

“If you love me then you’ll trust me” is a phrase used to manipulate. The phrase is meant to unfairly leverage a friend, relative or partner’s long-standing love in order to guilt them into adding trust so as to get something they want. The arguer wants support but isn’t providing proper evidence that they can be trusted. Saying “If you love me then you’ll trust me” is like saying “If you drive a Toyota then you’ll let me borrow it.” How does the first half of either sentence support the second half? It doesn’t. In either case, the first half might be correct, but it doesn’t lead to the second half.

Anyone who’s raised children knows that a parent’s love is unconditional, but that their trust is based on having once been a child themselves. Parents know the process children go through as they learn, in sometimes difficult ways, how to become honest people. A parent who chooses to grant unearned trust just because they want their child to feel loved and respected, is teaching that child that lying works so it’s okay to do. It also frees that child to sneak out at night and risk unknowingly wandering into a dangerous world, unprepared for reality’s traps. In the case of child-rearing, a parent shows love by guiding the child through the process of learning how to earn trust. Not by giving free trust cards so they won’t feel unloved.

At its ugliest, this Love-Trust entanglement is often used to keep abusive relationships from ending. It holds abused spouses imprisoned in bad relationships that last far longer than they should. “If you love me then you’ll trust me” often allows an alcoholic to sneak off to bars when asked to pick up groceries. The phrase is used to sneak off for illicit love affairs, illegal activities or even brutal nights of child or wife beating.

Some siblings use family love as a strategy for obtaining unearned trust in order to “borrow” money, solicit support, or coerce a brother or sister into taking a risk he wouldn’t take for a friend, coworker or stranger. A general rule of thumb, that many forget to follow, is if you wouldn’t trust a friend in this situation, why would you trust a relative? Because you love them? Because if you don’t, that means you don’t love your family? Because Love is exactly the same as Trust?

No.

Love is

Love is an indescribable emotion that can come over us, sometimes at the first sight of a stranger’s smile. We’re hard-wired to love our children unconditionally, no matter how good or bad those children are. Love requires commitments and unconditional forgiveness and it bores roots deeply into our hearts. If we lose the person we’ve loved, we feel an invisible, but gaping wound in our chest that cannot be reasoned away. Only time heals the wounds, but only to a certain point of acceptance. We can forever be prisoners of love.

Trust is

Trust is nothing like this. We’re only prisoners of trust if we choose to be. To trust or not to trust, is a decision we have the right to make—and with everyone. It’s a concept we are wise to understand. Put into simplest definition, trust is little more than “the ability to accurately predict.”

The $5 Example: Trust

If my hypothetical friend, Chris had borrowed $5 from me four times, and had returned it all four times the next day, I would not be crazy to trust (predict) that if I loaned Chris $5 today, I’d probably get paid back tomorrow. Chris has now earned my trust five times. I have five reasons to trust (predict) swift repayment.

Does it mean Chris and I have to be lovers now that trust (predictability) has been established between us? No, of course not. Chris could just be an office cube-mate who routinely forgets to bring coffee money to work.

Does it mean I’ll never be betrayed by Chris? No, not necessarily. Trust is not a guarantee, but by learning how to take the proper chances with trust, I’m reducing my odds of falling into a larger number of dishonest traps over my lifetime.

What would it say about Chris, if after paying me back five times, I refuse to trust a sixth $5 loan request? In this case, it really says more about my inability to give trust, than it does about Chris being trustworthy (predictable). Perhaps I have classic trust issues that I’m taking out on Chris.

The $5 Example: Love

Now let’s say that Chris and I are boyfriend and girlfriend. Chris has borrowed $5 for coffee five times but has repaid it only twice. Today, Chris asks for a sixth $5 coffee loan. Do I give the $5? Probably—but here’s the difference in the scenarios: I won’t loan the money because of trust (predictability). The odds are against me ever seeing that $5 again because Chris’s track record is marred with failures to repay. In the matter of coffee loans, Chris is unpredictable.

Does it mean I can no longer love Chris? No, not at all. I may choose to give Chris the $5 because I feel love in my relationship. I may roll my eyes in a joking response if Chris says, “I promise to pay this back.” In this case, having a partner who I occasionally have to buy coffee for is an acceptable part of our relationship. But it does not mean that I have to trust (predict) Chris’s promises to repay loans. I can untangle love and trust by saying, “I love Chris, but not with money.”

What would it say about my relationship now, if I were to choose to trust Chris with borrowed money? Again it says more about me than it does Chris. I might be confusing my love for a partner with my ability to count the times money is paid back. If nothing changes, the past will repeat itself. I have a chance today to stop any future frustration if I accept the fact of unpredictable repayment before it happens. Chris has proven to be untrustworthy (unpredictable) in this respect of our relationship, and it’s “shame on me” if I choose to overlook that untrustworthiness (unpredictability) in order to sign up for a huge mortgage on the condition that Chris will pay half of it every month for the next thirty years.

What would it would say about my relationship if Chris became angry at my distrust of ever getting back the $5? Is Chris the one confusing love with trust? Is this anger fair to me?

Summing it Up

What do we do with all this? Loving another person is a wonderful experience. Trusting another person is also a wonderful experience. I can trust my boss without loving him. I can love my teen child without trusting him. I can love an old car I don’t trust, or trust a new car I don’t love. The sweet spot is when I can legitimately enjoy both unconditional love and trust in a single person, place or thing.

Understanding trust is a science unto itself. Just because Chris seldom pays back $5 loans, it doesn’t mean that he or she isn’t a trustworthy friend who would fight to the death for me. I may choose not to trust a person’s money handling, but I may have all sorts of evidence to trust their admission of friendship, love and respect.

Trust is not unconditional. It’s situational. You don’t have to trust someone either in everything or in nothing to prove you love them. I trust my own wife to always tell the truth, to treat me with respect and dignity, and to support me in all my endeavors, but I would get out of a jetliner if I found out she was going to try and fly it. I don’t trust her as a pilot, nor as a brain surgeon, nor as a lawyer if I was in trouble. I trust her in the things that she has proven herself predictable in. If I live within my ability to know when to trust and when not to trust her, I’ll be a happier person for a longer time in this marriage.

In any relationship, work-related, neighborhood, friendship, family or love, those who learn when and how to give trust when and where it is appropriate are the people who are least often let down by the people they love.

No-Complaints Challenge (Update)

It’s been 2 months since I committed to living out a full twenty-four hour day without lobbing a single complaint.

Though I never fully succeeded at a full twenty-four hour period, my attempts still changed me for the better.

I still work to avoid complaining, and that, in and of itself, is a successful result of the commitment. I’m like a dieter who documented all my calories for a month, lost a bunch of weight, and learned enough about calories to become consciously aware of what I’m eating on a daily basis.

Also like a dieter, I need to make periodic commitments to document again for a few days when weight starts to creep up. So today, November 16, 2014, I’m restarting the commitment. I’ve been awake since 4:00 AM and haven’t complained yet. So my timer is running and I’m off to a good start.

People can change, but slowly. This September first commitment has changed me slightly, and I like the change. I can now “feel in my gut” when a complaint is churning and hurting my chances at having a good day.

Through my September efforts, I have established a new baseline, so that by going back into today’s no-complaints challenge, I’m starting a little higher up the staircase than I was at two-and-a-half months ago. I have nowhere to go but up.

Ultimately, I am the only person who can improve my own life by choosing to celebrate its positive moments and simply accept its not-so positive ones.

Comments by readers and things I’ve learned in my psychology classes this month are:

1) Complaints are the opposite of gratitudes. When I choose to be grateful for what I do have, I’m doing the opposite of complaining about it. So perhaps I’ll try this: Each time I’m tempted to complain, I’ll require myself to make restitution by offering one earnest gratitude in its stead.

2) We’re more empowered than we give ourselves credit for: In most situations, we do have choices. Most of us become sick in life because we don’t admit we have choices. All too often we say, “I don’t have any choice but to; work here; stay with him/her; go to Thanksgiving with those people I hate; be a member of this group; pay these bills; etc, etc, etc.” But the truth is that we almost always do have choices—we just don’t like those choices. Learning to admit that I can quit my job if I want to, or not attend a party with people I don’t like, or whatever, empowers me to remember that I am not trapped in my life. I really can change things if I want to mitigate the risks. Making this a more automatic response in my own head will only serve to make me better and better at quickly seeing my choices and possibly become better and making better choices going forward.

The No Complaints Challenge

I challenge myself to go twenty-four hours without uttering a single complaint.

Three days ago someone told me that if a person could go a full day without complaining, that his or her life would change. Two days ago I decided to take his words and carry them to the next step: Action.

WHY AM I DOING THIS? I’m working to change how I think. Complaining is a statement of defeat, which leads me to feel as if my life is in control of me.

WHAT IS A COMPLAINT? I’m calling any internal comment on life’s unfairness a complaint. I’m even calling a “Damnit!” a complaint. I’m calling any comment, verbal or internal, any eye roll, heavy sigh or grunt a complaint because I use these non-verbal “words” to give away my power and accuse life of abusing me.

HOW WILL I BENEFIT FROM THIS CHALLENGE? As an author, I have to learn this for my books. I’m currently writing a story about a sociopath that is destroying the life of a child because she’s envious. Nobody wants to read a book where the author exposes his/her opinions about who is right or wrong in the book. The author must remain neutral for the book to have power. This is true for my personal life as well. Being a neutral observer, and a compassionate contributor is a much more powerful position that being entangled with the anger at life’s unfair—even cruel—circumstances. If I want to help myself and others, I need to rise above the “unfairness” of the world around me. I need to be neutral and effective.

TIME: I have a stopwatch app in my iPhone. I restart it every time I catch myself complaining verbally or mentally. So far I’m up to about three and a half hours between complaints.

NEAR MISSES: I’m calling “near misses” successes. If I am tempted to blame my discomfort on someone, but stop myself before blurting it out, then I’m not resetting my timer. A near miss is a success because it proves that I consciously decided not to complain at that very second.

If you choose to try this yourself, I recommend not expecting it to work too quickly. On the first day, you may have to reset your timer so often that your biggest complaint is that you have to keep resetting your timer. Take note at that point to challenge yourself to stretch your non-complaint time to one minute longer than the last time. Then five minutes longer. Then an hour longer. The only punishment for failing is having to live a few more moments in the same self-deprecating dialogue that you were already living in when you started the challenge. This is a positive, and fun exercise, not a competition. Nothing is lost if you have to reset your timer. No one will become more of a complainer by doing this. The only change this exercise can possibly make in your life is a positive one. You have only to win.

No one will get drenched in ice water with this challenge.

Men Without Scars

This morning I listened to a radio interview of an author who’s written three or four novels around characters who suffer with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from having experienced such traumas as deadly floods, school shootings and childhood abuse.

Being man who has dealt with PTSD most of my life, I expected the interview to be enlightening and helpful. Instead the author’s words led me toward a familiar feeling of depressed isolation, when once again, my specific situation was ignored completely. I briefly wanted to abandon the writing of my own novel, which helps readers live inside the mind of a boy during the onset of PTSD, because the author left me abruptly ashamed again of being who I am because of my lifetime struggle with PTSD. Once again I didn’t fit the social mold of who is allowed to get help and who must quietly suffer in silence. Do I truly have the right to process my feelings? (I’ll grant this author the immunity of anonymity for anything he said that may have led me to grief, because his work has done a lot of good for a lot of women over many years).

His characters are men and women who’ve seen inhumane suffering, contracted traumatic brain damage from it, and then gone on to interact with each other in unhealthy ways. Very realistic. The problem is that his male sufferers contracted PTSD from exciting, violent crashes, and his women from being sexually or mentally abused as girls. In his interview, he referred to only one male character that’d been sexually assaulted as a boy. Guess who that character grew up to be; none other than the pedophile who gave PTSD to the main character when she was a girl.

Is this a fair message to send to the unknown number of men in our world today who have seen no warfare, weren’t beaten to a bloody pulp by an alcoholic stepfather and have never watched six people burn in a fiery plane crash, but who still find themselves in the grip of lifelong traumatic responses? Is a victim of childhood mob-bullying only able to suffer PTSD if she was a girl, but not if he was a boy? By glancing over the top few websites that come up in a casual search, the men who’ve survived are given little excuse for their uncontrolled bouts with depression, self-destructive actions or for quietly drinking themselves to sleep each night. Women are emotionally traumatized and qualify for help, but men are weak and need to man up. Since help is not available to them, they suffer in shame.

Google searches on PTSD in general bring a lot of hits for women molested as girls and men who were soldiers. A quick Google search of “Men molested as boys” yields a nice selection of information about the negative emotional effects on them, but the highest hitting sites that caught my own eye make no mention whatsoever of PTSD. A quick Google search of “Men with PTSD” brings up a fair number of military-centric sites. I opened an article from a recovery facility in which they posted reasons why men don’t get PTSD like women do. They said it was because men have less hormones than women, and because men don’t have emotions like women. Personally, I wonder how many men just don’t know they have it—or worse—they’re afraid of being targeted or written into a book as a pedophile. And if the recovery site was correct, that less men are prone to PTSD from mental, emotional and sexual abuse, then who’s speaking for those few who do?

By the glaring lack of information, it seems that unless there was gunfire, there’s nothing that can be medically wrong with men. They can call themselves depressed, overly-emotional, addictive-personality, wired-too-tight, day-dreamers, unable to trust others, or to handle daily stress. But what do they call their dissociative trances, illogical fears, flashbacks or nightmares? Again, these are the men with no bruises or stories of hearing the screams from within their sinking ship. Women’s voices are more quickly heard by media and writers who don’t need to see scars. But then—according the research, women have emotions.

I Dreamed I Was Alive – By James F Johnson

The prince lay still. Asleep beneath a layer of plush, silk quilts. The glow of a warm fire dances on the walls. The quilts gently rise and ebb with his steady breath. Beside his large bed sets an ancient, sturdy wooden chair easily supporting the weight of his formidable Father, the King. Strong. Compassionate. Fair. His Father waits, holding the limp fingers of the boy whose face shares outlines of His own.

The King’s eyes watch the closed lids of His slumbering child. He moves not a muscle and listens only to their synchronized breaths and the fire’s occasional crackle. Every minute or so, He gently utters words, “Wake up my son. I love you. It’s Dad. Wake up.”

The son is dreaming. He’s in a place where he can’t find his Father. During parts of this dream, he believes he’s being chased by animals and can’t lose them. In this dream he calls out for his Father to protect but can’t find Him. Meanwhile, that Father, detecting panic, leans closer and whispers again, “Wake up, my Son. Nothing can hurt you. Just open your eyes. I’m right here.”

The son can’t hear his Father’s words because the dream is noisy. Inside his mind are jetliners overhead, fire engines in the streets, barking dogs next door and people arguing over nothing on television news. Each time he solves a problem a new one crops up. He’s distracted by a demanding job, worries about the children he’s dreamt of having, and whose struggles are breaking his heart. He can’t sense the stillness in the room he’s sleeping in. He can’t hear the still, small voice of his Father’s whisper, now leaning only inches from his panicked face. “Wake up my son. I love you. It’s Dad. None of it is real. I’m right here.”

In the dream, he grows increasingly frustrated at his Father’s refusal to come to his aid and who doesn’t seem to hold to any of his promises to “always be there for him.” Has he offended the King? Is his Father real or not? If He’s so “loving” why doesn’t He intervene and make this dream more pleasant?

Sometimes the prince calms enough to wonder if maybe this really is a dream. Once he turned on a thug in chase and yelled, “Stop right there! This is MY dream, GO AWAY!” And it worked. The thug vanished. The son had performed a miracle. He tried to perform more of them but the dream became noisy again and he dreamt instead of losing his job. The worry brought him back into the illusion. How will he dream of eating food without an imagined job? His Father, all the while, remains at his side gently caressing a shoulder, whispering again, “Wake up my son. You’re in the Kingdom. Everything I have is yours. I love you. It’s Dad. Wake up.”

The wise King knows not to awaken the boy too violently, because the dream is so real to him that waking up and seeing his Father’s face won’t make sense and he’ll close his eyes and fall back into another dream. So the King continues to whisper words of peace and Love. He knows that subconsciously, his son, at times, will quiet down enough to hear the still, small voice reminding him that he can let go the fantasies of noise and strife and anger and hatred—he can completely forgive every person in the dream. No one’s really done anything wrong. Every person really is a part of himself. The King is patient and will sit and whisper for as long as it takes. When his son one day tunes in with his Father’s voice, that son will simply open his eyes, see his Father and smile.