How to Know in a World of Believers

Photo by sasan rashtipour on Unsplash

“He who has known himself has already achieved knowledge about the depth of all.” ~The Book of Thomas the Contender

When we are born, we become an immediate recipient of external projection. We are either coddled with hope or greeted with disdain, expected to live up to expectations, or guided to repeat failures. Not only are we told how to act, but how to think, and from the very start what to believe. If we are fortunate, we are reminded to nurture our own minds and trust our innate intelligence, but more commonly we are taught how to avoid embarrassment. This is highly subjective of course, as our caretakers range from domesticated well-doers to heartless materialists, and on the bleaker end of the spectrum institutionalized systems or the cold chokehold of the streets. 

This crash course to existing creates a diverse landscape of beliefs. In ignorance, most of the world goes on to confuse their beliefs with truth, but beliefs by definition are opinions. What is also unfortunate is that people label facts as truth, when facts are merely statistics or records that are subject to persuasion, the either purposeful, or inadvertent exclusion or modification of relevant information, or are lost in translation – what can be equated to “broken telephone.” Due to the aforementioned, people become confused, and when confusion is present, it always opens the door for deception. 

The only way to protect ourselves from the Trojan Horse of belief is to opt for wisdom. When we abandon wisdom in exchange for belief, we are rejected in return to greet our detriment alone, the very thing we were avoiding. It is indeed a paradox that by creating meaning around figments of the imagination to have something to believe in, we continue to feel isolated even when surrounded by believers in common. Yet and still, we remain paralyzed by the false assumption that the voyage to seek the truth will be a much lonelier place for us and so we opt for inaction as it is more palatable than to endure the shame of failing at finding ourselves while at the same time losing everyone else. 

The truth is that the path to knowing and wisdom is difficult and often tormenting. You will be put to the test for certain, but just like an orphan goes on a mission to find their biological birth parent unsure of the reception, so you must go on the mission to reunite with yourself. It is true wisdom comes at a great price, yet once you join the dues remain free. For this reason, anyone that has experienced wisdom has a duty to speak until those that believe also come to know:

Knowing vs. Believing

  1. Don’t believe anyone, ever. Know them. – People show you who they are, that is if you take the time to observe and get to know them without projecting your hopes, desires, or motives in place of the reality of what is. When you know someone, you know what they are capable of good or bad, and you are not susceptible to living in delusion or denial. If you don’t take the time or energy to really get to know someone, you will be forced to believe them, which means they are already controlling your experience. If you ignore what you come to know in exchange for belief, looking for further proof, you are doing so at your own demise. 
  1. Know a person’s character rather than believing a narrative (either yours or theirs), and you will never be in disbelief. – Often people say, “I just can’t believe they did that!” This is quite mystifying because it didn’t take any evidence to easily believe the converse. Rather than believing, it is to our benefit to see things coming. The better we are at anticipating the actions of those around us or within our environment, the more readily able we are to positively impact the world. If we allow ourselves to be at the whim of what we believe, we are susceptible to constant setbacks or being caught off guard by others, unable to focus our energy to create and build things with meaning.
  1. Don’t believe facts because someone told you they are true. – Anyone that has worked in science or marketing for that matter, knows that data can be manipulated to achieve the desired outcome. This can be based on sample size, demographics, and a plethora of other criteria. Besides the point but relevant, one day I saw an athletic brand doing a Frontal Attack (Marketing term) on a competitor via an Instagram ad. I often read comments for the wealth of comedy and random information and happened upon a woman talking about how unkind the ad was, unnecessarily offended. But someone that had studied marketing could identify that they were leveraging a textbook strategy; therefore, not emotionally influenced. The same can be said for deciphering information on any media platform. if you are a learned Botanist and nightly news gives false information out to their viewership about plants, you will know immediately that what you heard was not true, but a statistically significant portion of the viewership will believe it because they do not know what you know. This applies to our personal relationships just the same. We can want to believe in something so easily that we fail to see what others know. Study strategy, study how you are susceptible to manipulation, and most of all ask in which ways you are looking to delude yourself by ignoring your intelligence.  
  1. Ask yourself often, “Am I being basic?” – Per Urban Dictionary, to anchor the nuance with today’s times, being basic is characterized as someone who is a total follower; a person that cannot make their own decisions or think for themselves. If you only believe information or knowledge that comes along with a logo, a false persona (reputation), or follower base, you are more than likely, basic. The same goes for believing everything you were taught in school or church I am afraid. Believers (followers) don’t seek the truth because they don’t have faith. They doubt their sovereignty and the ability to be fearless. They live under the thumb of bogeymen and die there too, contrary to what they would have others believe. Basic people are also often distracted and entertained by external stimuli, failing to distinguish themselves from the show they are entranced by. The Roman Empire was infamous for their blood sport and theatre which were a way to keep citizens and communities distracted (entertained), persuaded into autocracy through fear by suggestion and adrenaline addiction. Entertainment is a synonym for diversion.
  1. Blind trust is respectfully reserved for the blind, not the ignorant. – There is a popular saying that goes, “It is like the blind leading the blind,” in other words, those without sight attempting to lead others who too, cannot see, which is what happens most often when we believe. In our haste to turn a blind eye, we miss the glaringly obvious reality that the evil leading the blind is monumentally worse. Just like the frontal attack in marketing doesn’t care if it is mean, those that leverage you for their benefit don’t care if you are sad, jobless, or left destitute for that matter. Know that sociopaths infiltrate movements and places of power, even under the guise of good causes. This is a sweet spot for them and has been evident in foundational psychological research which has assessed the tendency for this trend in both historical and present society. Breadcrumbing the destitute or lost is entertainment for such characters. Sociopaths also permeate the hearts of weak believers through contrived intimacy and flattery. All we have to do is observe how it turned out for those lured in by the charm of Jeffrey Dahmer (technically a psychopath), but do remember, one doesn’t have to literally eat men to be a maneater. 
  1. The worst place to be in life is to not know what to believe and be unsure of what you know. – It is obvious that the only way to know something is to find it out. We can either decide to know what is in our capacity to know by seeking knowledge and wisdom, or we can wait for the unforgiving wrath of her abandonment to show up through hard lessons. Our personal regard is only one facet of how we interact with the pursuit of knowledge. For example, if we believe ourselves to be unworthy of love, there is no truth to be had, only created experiences that further support our belief. Another aspect of our relation to wisdom is our propensity to avoid acting on the knowledge we have gained. As Haile Selassie put it, “Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”
  1. Know thyself, but remember what you think you know, might just be a strong belief unbacked by any wisdom whatsoever. – How to tell the difference, let me reference the following quote, “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know,” Aristotle infers that a) you stop believing because you grow wise to your own ignorance and b) seeking knowledge becomes a lifelong endeavor and will always lead you to seek the truth. People don’t seek the truth because when they find it, they might have to do what is difficult. They may have to admit they were wrong, naïve, they may have to change their behavior, make tough choices, change jobs, relationships, or more serious consequences that involve life or death. When you do know yourself, however, you know you aren’t at risk of believing, you know that you are never alone when wisdom walks with you.
  1. Lastly, don’t be so ignorant to believe you know it ALL. – People that know anything have the understanding that knowledge is infinite. Know what you know and focus there. Make it relevant, make it just, make it resonate with your higher self and your heart. Always keep seeking, and always stand for truth. More importantly, if you don’t know something to be true, do us all a favor and stop being the truth police. 

If the above sounded a bit harsh, let us inspect some basic language and common pretexts of believers to clarify further:

Common Phrases

  • “Benefit of the doubt.” There is doubt (I don’t believe, and I don’t know) but am still believing anyway and going to opt for giving someone a benefit for no sound reason.
  • “People change.” Yes, but they change on their own accord and then give you evidence by making serious amends and substantial long-lasting behavior modification that is not contingent on your acceptance of them. In summation, they do not change because you give them another chance to slight you through blind trust.
  • “It is better than nothing.” (Lazy) No. I think we can all agree that we have all dated somebody where nothing would have been exorbitantly better than the something that experience represented. Have some standards, aim high, and for the love of all that is holy, stop disgracing yourself now!
  • “I just don’t know what to believe!” I am sure you have heard this one. We have all been there. Don’t believe anything, seek knowledge and wisdom. Undisciplined people find wisdom’s demands too hard and don’t have the determination to meet them.
  • “I choose to see the best in people.” That is the same as saying that many different wavelengths of energy do not comprise our light spectrum because you believe it so.
  • “I believe they meant well.” You are free to believe whatever you want, but only another knows what they truly intended. The meaning you place on something to believe in it is not the same as what it means.

Thus, it turns out, to know anything, we must first quit our relationship with belief systems. Unbeknownst to most, what one chooses to believe only reveals their own lack of wisdom, it doesn’t prove another’s ignorance. Beliefs are energetic prisons that inhibit freedom from tyranny, either our own or another’s. In a dualistic world, it is not negative or pessimistic to seek understanding of what lurks in the dark, it is wise. So, seek the truth and build your constitution, but to do so you may first have to call bullsh*t on yourself. 

The Real Meaning of Being a Good Person

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“Believing you’re a good person and actually being one are two completely different things.” Anonymous

We are all familiar with age-old stories of good versus evil and right versus wrong, we curate a collection of traits that we assign to decent people holding certain behaviors in high esteem. We establish these unwritten laws unconsciously crafting our experiences to anchor our core beliefs. If we were neglected, we may make it our mission that no one in our lives will ever feel the anguish of neglect. For us to take this on makes us feel good, as if we are good, by doing good. However noble, it could be that we commit to this so that we subconsciously continue the neglect we experienced, disregarding ourselves, and placing emphasis on another to avoid acknowledging the root of our pain. In order to do so, we continue seeking those that facilitate this through the blatant disregard of their own quality of life, or depending on your poison, sometimes the indifference to ours.

There are many ideas and actions we associate with “good”. We may walk an old lady across the street, open a car door, or offer unsolicited help. These actions have subjective meaning. Let me offer an example in relationship: If a man has a parent that told him only “good” guys open doors for women and failing to do so makes him the contrary, he may only open doors to feel good or get a particular response, resenting the act if it is not continuously validated and eventually projecting his feeling of worthlessness on the recipient. If a woman who has never had a door opened for her and was abandoned by her father gets her door opened, she is going to say, “Wow, this guy is amazing. I am so lucky.” With a small crumb the dance begins, and when the door is no longer opened or the resentment slams it shut, the amazing guy has turned to bad and the woman’s unlucky once more. The match made in heaven quickly turns to a living hell as both parties have confirmed their beliefs of being both bad and abandoned. In actuality, the man just saw her willingness to overlook the details of the driving motivation behind his gestures which served him just as much as it served her until the lights came on and it no longer served either of them to see the truth.

As humans, we go through our lives basing ideas of what is good on our own limited awareness of self and most often our unmet needs. We wear a good heart as a badge of honor that excuses critical thinking, discernment, and sometimes self-respect. Sometimes, we are so focused on what a good person we are, that we fail to see the truth of a situation. We wear blinders seeing what we want to see until we choose to see otherwise. We enter relationships and agreements under this premise and often unconsciously begin the story of setting up good and bad, questioning why we keep experiencing less than desirable people and situations after things no longer align with our fantasy.

According to the dictionary, the definition of bad is plentiful. It can be defined as poor quality or a low standard, worthless and not valid, and failing to conform to standards of moral virtue or acceptable conduct, to name a few. This goes to support the concept that if we have a low standard for ourselves or feel worthless and invalid, we can’t be that dissimilar to someone that rejects the idea of being virtuous or acting in an honorable manner? And, before claiming to be a good person that doesn’t possess low standards or feelings of worthlessness:

“Being a good person does not mean you have to put up with other people’s crap.” Anonymous

The dilemma in getting to know others is that no one knows another’s motivation for any seemingly good deed, and most often unless highly perceptive, it takes extended observation to gauge someone’s authenticity and altruism. It takes time and astuteness, which most of us aren’t willing to trade for instant gratification in the numbing of our wounds. When we are taking behavior and actions at face value, we essentially become blind followers of propaganda, with our unsighted willingness contributing to varying levels of collateral damage. Most often ourselves, sometimes our family, our children, and maybe our finances and health. Becoming aware of our own motivations and others is one of the core components of emotional intelligence.

Even if layers deep our niceties or someone else’s appear kindhearted, there are sometimes dark stories of emptiness that lay beneath our motivations. There can be a lack of sincerity, ulterior motives to appear good to others and gain popularity, or an emptiness with a deep-down need to feel better about ourselves by trying to attain the smallest inkling of self-worth. When it comes to the topic of repeatedly being a good person to our detriment, we must question how good it really is and how good we genuinely believe we are. Many of the “best” of people tend to have a track record of getting the short end of the stick repeatedly, it is a theme in the stories we tell and if we are willing to look deep we can see the thread running through them. Just like “bad people” most often have recurring setbacks, slights, and grievances, self-proclaimed “good” people coincidentally have the same tales. The reason being is that sometimes being a “good person” is quite the same as being a “bad person,” just with opposite polarity.

When we are a good person, we are a hero which equates to power, allowing us to 1) set ourselves up for validation, 2) feel superior, or 3) create a villain. Like a “bad person,” this is an almost identical manipulation tactic whether conscious or not. A good person gets attention for being good, which makes them more prone to repeat whatever behavior colors them in that light. For some, it means dating “bad people” so that they can continue their story of being a good person. For others, it means giving what they don’t have so their suffering is justified. Much like a “bad person” the core issues are the same — cries for love, attention, and worthiness, or depending on the severity, attempts at self-destruction. This is why you will often see “good” people getting used as pawns by “bad” people to do their dirty deeds. We must ask what is so good about forsaking ourselves and giving away our power to create an unknown ripple effect in other people’s lives?

Whether good or bad we create our realities and get distracted from the truth. The truth is that mostly everything is an illusion. A motion picture of ego projections that brings us further from the fact that we are all responsible to ourselves for our reality, behavior, and actions all the time, for our entire life. This isn’t easy to embrace therefore there are only a handful of human beings that have grasped what it truly means to be a good person. The truth is sometimes being a good person involves being ruthlessly honest about our poor choices, bad behavior, and rectifying our negative balance even if we remain unforgiven, unpopular, or misunderstood. It may mean good deeds done in private without ever being recognized. It may involve reframing how we view ourselves and others, which can turn our world as we know it upside down. If our core isn’t stronger than our need for recognition and acceptance we may cave on our resolve.

When I had the stark realization that my identity of being a “good” person wasn’t very good at all but was really my ego story that was quite self-destructive and self-satisfying, I found the following concepts extremely helpful in addressing my defaults:

1. Be responsible for yourself and let others be responsible for themselves.

Think about how being the “hero” may have unintended consequences in other’s lives. Maybe you are enabling bad behavior, maybe you are creating a chain of events you cannot foresee. I know what it feels like to only feel worthy if you are trying to save someone or something or fix a mess, but the only mess you really can fix is the one in your heart and mind.

2. Respect the immense and miraculous essence of being alive and honor this fact. No one’s life is more important than yours.

Have confidence and an inner knowing of protecting your life which trumps anyone else’s manipulation tactics. You may not feel worthy of being here or being loved, but you are the only one who can ever change that. No one is coming to save you from your feelings. If you let others make you feel bad for prioritizing your needs and emotions you are being manipulated for the other person’s gain. If the words of another do not match their actions yet you take their words as currency, not only is the other person lying to you but you are fooling yourself.

3. Be caring and sensitive but not at your detriment.

It doesn’t matter the other person’s awareness or intention. You are liable for your own well-being. You can literally kill yourself putting others first. It takes strength to relearn that valuing your quality of life is not selfish. You should not feel guilty for standing for yourself. If someone doesn’t value you now, I am sorry they never will no matter how much you try to teach them how or how hard you work to prove your value.

4. Take personal responsibility.

Say to yourself “I am responsible for the ways in which I have chosen to destroy my life and I take full responsibility in repairing it,” even if it is hard. We believe the universe is guiding us, but the universe is just a north star after we have built the ship and set sail. We are expected to use our gifts of will and intention, skill, and invention.

5. Communicate your needs, and communicate once.

Do not act expecting a particular result. Instead, communicate your needs. If someone cares about you, you only have to tell them something once. If you continue verbalizing your feelings and doing kind deeds for another hoping to get your needs met but don’t, the only person responsible for your misery is you. If you are able to comprehend and honor when someone expresses a need to you, they are capable of doing the same, they are just choosing not to.

6. Redefine suffering. I no longer need to suffer so that I am good.

I choose what good means and it doesn’t matter who else sees it in me. It may feel like suffering initially when you change your behavior and stop people-pleasing, but it becomes easier over time. It feels extremely uncomfortable to set boundaries and enforce them in the beginning, especially when you get a poor reaction in return. I promise, eventually, it will become laughable to acknowledge that we ever even wanted someone to like a false version of us.

7. You can never ever change anyone; you can only change yourself and make new choices.

You will have to leave the comfort of surrounding yourself with scapegoats and resentment-laden sacrifice which may leave you lost for a time. Saying no to things people and places that foster you giving away yourself, your personal power, and respect is lonely and a bit humbling at first. Acknowledging the network you have created around yourself is eye-opening.

8. You will have to stare your bad behavior in the face which may be the hardest of all.

To acknowledge that you may not be such a good person, after all, is hard to swallow. Especially when you have been oh so slighted by “bad people.” To see your “good” behavior as self-serving is an ego death to put it nicely. To realize you have set up situations in your life to appear good and be a savior can be quite upsetting. Forgive yourself.

9. Lastly always ask yourself these questions:

Does it feel good? More importantly, does it only feel good because it is stroking my ego? Is it from my heart? Am I doing it to be liked? Am I doing it to feel superior? Will this cause resentment? Am I doing something for someone that they have the power to do for themselves….If so why haven’t they done it… Is the answer I get in alignment with what I want in my life right now? Am I manipulating for a particular outcome? Am I doing this to contribute to my story?

So, being that good can be highly subjective, what is the real meaning of being a good person? Maybe we are all just people with the capacity to do good or bad. We can have good intentions and our actions can be interpreted as bad. On a day not long ago I remember buying a sandwich for a homeless lady without her asking because it made me feel good to do. When I handed it to her she said, “Great I will feed this to my cat,” (she didn’t have a cat) as she chucked it in the bushes. Similarly, our “good” actions or mentions thereof no less fueled by selfish intent, can be used to garner attention and illicit a certain wow factor by those easily manipulated. You can look at 80% of LinkedIn self-promotion posts and see this rings true.

After it is all said and done, being a good person means honoring our divinity, owning our limitations, and being true in our actions and words. It means staying aware of manipulation by others, as well as our own. It means drawing a hard line at abuse by self and others. It means having discipline and respect. It means forgiveness, but not repeating cycles. It means not intentionally hurting someone else because we are hurting. It means fostering self-awareness within to acknowledge when we do and making it right. It means saying something to someone directly with decency and respect. It also means not having to always say something. It means honoring someone enough to ask if they want a sandwich or to be walked across the street, and asking ourselves why we would assume we have the authority to decide what another wants or needs if they didn’t ask us for it.

We can live our lives repeating the same experiences in different environments with different faces. We can let our concepts and ideas of ourselves keep us stuck, attracting people to reinforce our self-concept. The one face that doesn’t change is ours. None of us want to look back and think of the life we could have led or the person we could have been. Many of us realize when it is too late that happiness and joy were available to us all along, but because we believed our own story that we were too “good” to do the deep work, we failed to recognize that maybe we are all light or shadows at any given time reflecting to each other what needs to be seen within ourselves. When we create villains in another it is only so we don’t have to be one.

3 Questions to Ask to Stop Sabotaging Your Needs

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“It’s never overreacting to ask for what you want and need.” ― Amy Poehler

Many of us have learned to align our actions with what others expect of us or with expectations we have created for ourselves to feel accepted by others. Too many times we are willing to settle or negotiate when it comes to honoring or fulfilling our needs for fear that they are either out of line, or do not deserve to be honored and fully respected by another. We are taught about compromise and memorize the “you can’t always get what you want” slogan by age 10. This statement in and of itself causes us to not express ourselves, stand for what we want, or align ourselves to all we can have and create for ourselves.

Often times we desire to have experiences with deeper meaning and connection but are not looking at how our behaviors and actions are not actually aligning with this desire. This causes our needs to move further away from us rather than closer to our “need” center. When you do a basic internet search for needs checklist you get results for moving day, the grocery store or project management. When we have learned to push our needs aside and do not even know how to identify what they are, our search provides further confirmation that needs aren’t that important unless they involve the basics — food and shelter. Joy, happiness, love, human connection are “nice to haves.” We are conditioned to believe these are selfish desires and that they are not always realistic, so we revert back to living our lives from a lack standpoint, that we must work a job we hate or stay in an unhappy marriage or relationship.

Needs are whatever we determine them to be. Sometimes we need to go through certain experiences in our life to determine what it actually is that we need. It is important that we are critically honest with ourselves when we make this determination. In order to align ourselves with what we need we must look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are making ourselves available for what we need. If our behavior is contrary to having these needs met, we are called to change our behavior. If we do not want to be in debt and we need to be financially secure for example, we must change our behavior to allow this need to be fulfilled. If we want honest and open communication with our spouse, but we always receive the opposite from them, we may need to re-evaluate the relationship with either them or with ourselves. If we need to feel loved and supported but never accept any support, cordoning ourselves off to love, we are basically doing the antithesis of meeting our needs — we are actively rejecting them. Needs align with action.

Ask yourself how it would feel to live your entire life without your needs ever being met?

The first step in determining your needs is feeling into your heart space to see what is most desired in your life. Then ask yourself how it would feel to live your entire life without it. Based on your response, you can determine if it is a “passing fancy” or a need. Desires change over time, and although needs may, for the most part they stay with you throughout the course of your life. An example would be “I need to feel loved.” I ask you to go a step deeper here and ask “In what way is it that I need to feel loved?” Get in touch with your love language. Do you feel loved when someone says it, when they give you a gift, when they do a chore for you, or when they spend time with you? How do you receive this love? Someone can love you in the opposite way of what you need. You must get in touch with your needs intimately so that they are clear to both you and articulated to others. If you need to make $5k a month to pay your bills and you get a job offer for $2k it’s not what you need. The same goes for love and friendships. If you accept things in your life that are not aligned with your needs it will begin to cause you great distress.

Are you allowing your needs to be met?

Once you determine your needs, you can then as a second step ask if they are currently being met by either yourself or your immediate circle of influence, professional and/or personal. If they are not being met, have you communicated this to the other party? Have you taken a look at your behavior and if you have allowed your needs to be met by the other? If we are fearful of getting hurt for example or we are extremely independent, have we allowed someone else to support us, have we allowed ourselves to depend on another, have we opened our heart? If the answer is yes and our needs are still not being met, we must now communicate them to the other without being afraid of what may happen. They may not be well received, acknowledged or honored. This is where we need to make sure we have tried our best to communicate to the other party in a way that they are able to receive the information. This may take stepping outside of our traditional and natural communication style. How does the other party process information? If we have tried our best to work with the other person and our needs are not respected, we must honor our own needs. We do this by eliminating the people, places and things that are not honoring our needs. You may have noticed or maybe not, that whenever you fearlessly follow the path that most honors and respects your being, the universe aligns to support this. This is exemplified in the Devil Wears Prada. When we give up self-sabotaging behavior, we suddenly find that our surroundings that were waiting to honor us come out to cheer.

Are you afraid to commit to your needs?

In order to align ourselves with our needs we have to know what we bring to the table. If we need to be respected, are we respecting ourselves enough to eliminate anything that is not respectful? I do not mean tolerate, wait for a situation to become respectful, hope it will become respectful, but eliminate. If we want honesty we need to be honest, with ourselves mostly. Am I supporting my own needs through my environment, friend, career, and daily choices? If we want faithfulness, we need to be faithful (to ourselves). If we want to be healthy we need to eat things that contribute to our health and move our body and free our mind. In order to do so we have to investigate. What is healthy, what exercises work for me, have I worked through my emotional traumas? Am I committed to having my needs met and/or meeting my own needs, or do I flake out on myself with excuses? If we are not embodying the life we need we must call ourselves to make the necessary changes. I understand that no one likes the feeling of being rejected and that is why we don’t enforce our needs, but keep in mind you are already being rejected on a regular basis my having your needs actively ignored anyway.

From experience it starts with building value, love, and respect within. This is not an immediate and straightforward path and it is not for the faint of heart. Once you start and the more effort you dedicate to it however, the better you can define your needs and the less you accept treatment, environments or experiences that don’t honor them. Don’t get me wrong, you will still encounter challenges because this is life, but you won’t stick around for long.

7 Ways to Tell if Your Relationship is Just Self-Sabotage

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“What is required for many of us, paradoxical though it may sound, is the courage to tolerate happiness without self-sabotage.” — Nathaniel Branden

There are many types of romantic relationships. Good, bad, mediocre, dangerous, life changing, short-lived, sometimes ethereal. One thing they all have in common is that from the time we are young, we are taught that we should have one. We should hunt for it or let it find us. We should become worthy of one, change for one, or even compete for one. Some of us witnessed horrible relationships as children and so we fear them, avoiding them at all costs. Or sadly, we repeat what we learned from our misguided teachers, perpetuating harmful lessons.

Depending on our idea of what defines a relationship, we may work quickly in the selection process, or withhold full benefits until the individual has proven competence in the position. Sometimes we interview overqualified candidates and work hard to convince them they should accept our offer. Or for some of us, we welcome entry level experience hoping that with our guidance and investment, they can reach newfound success. This may be a realistic theory for a recent high school graduate, but the probability of an adult changing into someone other than who they have long chosen to be, just because we have decided to love them, is possible but unlikely.

When a person chooses not to invest in themselves, their personal growth, or in us, it is unwise to become one of their high-risk investors, especially when we can’t afford to lose. If we throw caution to the wind, it may be that we are misdirecting our time and energy in another so that we don’t have to look at the ways we have historically or are presently sabotaging ourselves. If we are not interested in investigating and addressing the root of our recurring aches and pains, it is not realistic that a partner or lover will ever cure them for us. A relationship may offer temporary relief, but once the euphoria wears off, there are typically two people left standing comparing battle scars and blaming one another for the infliction of more.

Many times, it takes such pain in the context of a relationship to learn some of our most valuable life lessons. But first, we must be willing to learn. It is much easier for us to look at relationships as hurting experiences with a hero and a villain, rather than what they truly are, opportunities for our healing and growth. Others of us just blindly stay in unfulfilling, toxic, or abusive relationships because we are afraid that there will never be more, we believe we have no other choice, or we simply feel that we are not powerful enough to make a change. Maybe we are in a relationship right now, questioning whether we should stay or go. It can feel very difficult to make such decisions, when we are not comfortable putting ourselves first, or if we don’t feel brave enough to acknowledge the dull ache of things that don’t quite feel right. Feeling confused, we justify bad with good, believing our own words or another’s, rather than reality and verifiable action.

No matter where we are at in our life, if we have never taken time to identify, define and prioritize our needs and evaluate our own areas for development, we cannot expect another to honor us in relationship or elsewhere. We may become more prone to self-sabotaging behavior if we are unaware of our impairments and how we may be attracted to complimentary impairments in another, or vice versa. According to Psychology Today, self-sabotaging behavior creates problems in our daily life and interferes with our long-standing goals. It is the action of damaging, obstructing or impairing ourselves whether consciously or subconsciously.

If you feel something may be out of alignment, yet continue to participate in a relationship anyway, some of the following clues may help you identify and break the self-sabotage you could be inflicting through your relationship:

#1. Energetic Decline or Disruption of Natural State. Have you experienced an inexplicable change in your energy levels? Have you had a decrease in passion or motivation? Are you normally calm and relaxed, but now are uptight with little patience? Is anger bubbling below the surface, causing you to feel hostile or critical toward others? Is your living space usually organized and now it is disheveled? Do you skip classes or activities you used to enjoy? Are you normally social and find yourself avoiding others or being reclusive? Have you lost interest in your appearance?

#2. Excusing Unacceptable Behavior. Are you excusing behavior that you would never find acceptable from another person outside the relationship, or even from yourself? Are you choosing your partner over trusted longtime friends after they have voiced their concerns? Are you forgiving actions that you believe to be unforgivable, but for some reason you have created a reason in your mind to do so anyway?

#3. Continuous Self-Talk and Overthinking. Do you find yourself constantly trying to convince yourself things aren’t bothering you; they are not as bad as they seem, or maybe you are crazy? Are you thinking to yourself maybe you did something to warrant mistreatment? Or maybe, you are justifying your partners offenses because they “just have had it rough?” Well you have had it rough too remember that, or maybe you haven’t…but I have, and it doesn’t grant someone a free pass to lie, steal, cheat, take from, or mistreat others.

#4. Ignoring Your Needs. Are you staying in a bad situation so you don’t hurt the other person’s feelings, even though you are not happy most of the time? Are you putting off endeavors or activities that are important to you, to focus on your partner or their goals? Do you allow yourself to get steamrolled, finding yourself trying to have boundaries, but quickly giving up when you get some resistance? Have you become resigned to the fact you must live a life different than the one you desire or have the potential to create, because you know that it will never be possible with your partner? Do you downplay your successes or strengths because it makes your partner feel uncomfortable?

#5. Change in Habits. Do you find that you are saying yes to things that you want to say no to, such as sexual activities, alcohol and drug use, or smoking? Have you started spending more money in an unhealthy way? Have you changed your normal self-care routines? Have you stopped exercising? Have you begun stress eating, maybe putting on a few unwanted pounds? Have you felt anxiety around keeping your phone close as to not miss a call or text, feeling responsible for responding immediately to your partner? Again, have you stopped interacting with your friends?

#6. Focused on the Future. Do you think that someday things will be different in your relationship? Maybe things will change for the better? Are you being carried by promises that have yet to materialize? Do you invest in your partner in hopes that they will become the person you envision, yet they never seem to make a drastic change? Do you romanticize the relationship through your future visions rather than what is happening in the present? Do you think that maybe you can change them if enough time passes? Maybe they will realize one day soon?

#7. Erosion of Boundaries. Have you noticed that the lines between you and your partner have become illegible and you are losing your sense of self? Do you feel that your partners reality is not your reality, but you are constantly made to feel it is? Are you not honored with privacy and personal space to pursue your goals or personal endeavors? Are there not clear rules around food, shelter, and other responsibilities? When you try to have boundaries are you personally attacked, guilted, or even covertly manipulated?

If any of these questions caused you to think that you may indeed be a victim of your own self-sabotage, the great news is, it is never too late to do something about it. At certain times in our lives we have all fallen prey to our own desertion. And if we never learned how to decipher the difference between the languages coming from our head and our heart, it is difficult to know which one is sending us messages to save us from ourselves. We are all born with an internal compass that alerts us when we start going the wrong direction, but for some reason many times rather than trusting our intuition, we trick ourselves with our thoughts, convincing ourselves what we feel is wrong. The only true test we have, is to quiet our minds and ask ourselves how we feel right now. If something doesn’t feel right, most likely it is because it isn’t.

4 Ways to Know if Your Comfort is Really Pain

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“Growth demands a temporary surrender of security. It may mean giving up familiar but limiting patterns, safe but unrewarding work, values no longer believed in, and relationships that have lost their meaning.” — John C. Maxwell

We all have one thing in common as humans, the fact that we are here on this earth breathing and none of us know the hell why. We live on an emotional spectrum that ranges from elation to agony. Some of us work our whole lives to understanding it all, trying to reside in one feeling more than another, always proving elusive. Depending on what we find, we either work hard to extend the life experience or work hard to end it. There are others of us that find that our realities and what we really desire never align. What we long for doesn’t appear to come our way no matter how hard we seem to work for it. We read about manifesting and begin to resent the word, writing it off as new age propaganda. We aren’t yet aware that we can never attain a state of being that we long for if we don’t really believe deep down that we are worthy of it or that it can exist for us.

Life can turn us into melancholic prisoners yearning for an understanding of the undeniable “truth” that everyone speaks of: That we are all worthy of love, respect and to be treated with dignity, that we deserve to be happy and successful. Sure, the concept makes sense, but we are living in the reality of our memories, everyday relationships, jobs, and what we interpret to be options. When we keep encountering similar experiences that feel familiar, it seems to speak the contrary to what is possible for us and what is articulated to us through books, guides, leaders, and dogmas meant to help us on this journey. We then start throwing around the slogan, “that’s life.”

We settle in. Into the reality of us, our habits, shortcomings, and idiosyncrasies. At the hint of the smallest connection be it physical, emotional, spiritual, we are excited to find these elusive truths, temporarily in another. We think maybe we have finally found what we have been searching for. It is hard not to feel grateful when someone appears with hints of the answers we seek. Only the hints are a mirage. They appear to be a vision of beautiful lakes and shady palms in our desert of desire for meaning and validation. We give the truth bearer our rations and justify trading one version of hunger for another. We get angry after time passes and we realize that we are still in a desert. But all too familiar with the feeling, we navigate the temperature highs and lows. The desert is our reality and we know how to survive there. We figure a few mirages here and there are enough for us and they will help us make it through the blood, sweat, and tears. There is a faint outline of a rugged mountain range off in the distance, but we doubt we could ever make it there, and even if we did, we have no idea what is on the other side. Maybe we are just seeing another mirage. So, we stay. We stay in our designated “comfort” zone.

The curse of comfort can display itself in many ways, it doesn’t always show up in mom jeans, dad bods, bodily disease, or pay ceilings. Sometimes it shows up in being highly successful and painfully lonely. Other times it rears its’ ugly head as abusive relationship dynamics, setting ourselves up for failure, or as constant discomfort reflected in our need to control everything around us. To remain comfortable, sometimes we even continue abandoning ourselves and our needs, because taking a stand would exponentially compound the loneliness inherent in selling ourselves on our present situation.

How do we give up something that our mind deems comfortable, but something else unidentifiable screams otherwise? Deep down, this “comfort” we feel is just acceptance of the monstrous discomfort that we have never been able to heal but just cover with one band-aid or another. The painful acknowledgment of not being heard, loved, accepted, valued, respected, honored, protected, wanted, or enough. Maybe our father never valued us, now our husband doesn’t value us. Our mother didn’t respect us, so now our wife emasculates us every chance she gets. We were never loved quite right so maybe we stack up possessions and accomplishments to prove others wrong, but we can’t even manage to prove our own mind a liar. When we face the known versus the unknown with only one chip to bet, it seems like an easy choice. But we lose every time when we don’t bet on ourselves.

When trying to understand harmful behaviors, Daeyeol Lee, Yale’s Dorys McConnell Duberg Professor of Neuroscience and professor of psychology and psychiatry states, “The brain may erroneously decide it does not need to learn more, and bad habits become entrenched. Understanding the nature of neural changes associated with learning might allow us to find remedies to such maladaptive behaviors.” One thing is for certain, getting to the root of what weeds have grown in the gardens or wastelands of our lives is our responsibility. If we truly desire to experience fulfillment on a deep level, because let’s be honest, no one knows how long we have or if we are coming back, we must start with an honest inventory and identification of our pain points and our story. In looking deeper, we can see how negative emotions may be the driving force behind some of our painful comforts:

Comfort in Blame: Blame and denial are close friends. Denial is a failure to acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion or to admit it into consciousness, used as a defense mechanism. Blame is to assign fault or hold someone else responsible (many times for our emotions and situations), or self-blame which assigns too much responsibility to ourselves denying a situation or relationship that may be toxic. How to tell: Am I remaining in harmful patterns and justifying them with excuses (also fear)? Am I blaming myself for other’s bad behavior in order to be a prisoner to an unhappy situation? Am I blaming another individual for my lack of happiness or fulfillment? Do I lack the ability to recognize the level of availability in another, romanticizing reality (denial)? Am I rejecting my responsibility, judging others, and projecting my fears? Do I have a lack of empathy for myself and/or other’s experiences?

Comfort in Shame: Shame greatly contributes to the deterioration of self-esteem. When we feel flawed in our core we look to confirm this truth through thoughts and actions. Shame tells us what we are worthy of in this life and it disconnects us from connecting authentically with others through intimacy. It keeps us in harmful cycles that act as outlets for self-punishment. How to tell: Do I feel unlovable or that others will not accept me or where I have been? If so, do I stay in situations even if unhappy because I feel this person is the only one that will accept me? Do I invite others to reject, shame, or express anger toward me? Do I pull people toward me only to push them away (also fear)? Do I project feelings of inadequacy onto people around me? Do I shame others to get the desired result? Do I create situations or make bad decisions to reinforce feelings of shame? Do I attempt to feel superior to others so that I can avoid my own feelings of shame?

Comfort in Fear: There are certain universal truths around fear. There are also unique and individual ideas around fear customized to our personal experiences and behaviors. We can be afraid of failure, fear success, be afraid of relationships, or even fear germs. It is an emotion that motivates action or inaction in our lives. How to tell: Am I afraid to be alone? Am I attempting to conform, obey, and/or people please even if I don’t want to or agree? Am I attempting to govern, regulate, and control others? Am I attempting to suppress, withhold, or evade emotions or facts? Am I being overly critical of others that are attempting to do something I dream of doing? Am I avoiding feeling vulnerable with others? Am I perceiving many people to be threats?

Comfort in Guilt: Depending on how we were raised, we may feel guilty for not being able to be a good enough son or daughter, not being able to save our mother or father from disease, destruction, or death, or not fitting into societal norms that were unjustly assigned to us. We may now play this guilt out in many areas of our lives. How to tell: Am I acting or making choices from a place of low confidence, self-respect, or unhealthy self-esteem, not because I actually want to? Am I overlooking my needs for everyone else’s needs? Contrary to past evidence, do I believe that making changes or putting in more work will change an unhealthy and toxic relationship or situation? Do I find myself more concerned with other individuals, organizations, or group’s feelings, than my own? Am I unable to articulate my feelings or needs, and when I do, I feel bad or like apologizing? Am I overly responsible?

Now that we have identified some of the ways that we may be stuck, what are we going to do about it? In looking deeper within, we can begin to see how some of our core desires have shaped the behavior, identity, and actions that we have taken to build our lives around our unique versions of pain. In order to break free from this, we first must admit how uncomfortable we truly may be. We have to own that we cannot complain, nag, or punish a true feeling of comfort into existence. We also cannot blame others for withholding it or not giving it to us right. The most painful part is acknowledging that we may not even know what it is supposed to feel like because all we have ever known is discomfort. Only after experiencing awareness, are we able to then start working on healthy choices and behavior that may feel unfamiliar to us. If we are not self-starters, we can enlist the assistance of a confidential objective professional to help. We can then create a new framework for ourselves to follow after we have identified some of our true discomforts.

Even if we do not feel we have the understanding or courage to choose differently than we always have, we must summon the strength to try. We may slip up or take a step forward only to take two steps back, and that is ok. The process of venturing out of the desert of our past is a challenging journey, to say the least, but please find solace in the fact that our future self is standing on the mountain range enjoying the view, waiting to thank us.

5 Things Love is Not

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“What is love? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.” — Haddaway

As human beings at our core we desire to be loved and accepted for who we are. We are willing to work for it, act for it, lie for it and hell sometimes even die for it. Some of us are satisfied with the mere illusion of love. We justify our feelings, other’s behaviors and the notion that love is a scarce resource and start living the old adage of taking the good with the bad. We live in a state of limbo between what we desire and accepting the idea that what we desire does not exist.

We have watched a lot of movies, both on the big screen and in our personal lives. These movies have taught us polarities of love. It is either perfect, romantic and serendipitous; or excruciatingly painful, abusive, even maybe a boring lifeless dead-end job. This contributes to our confusion of what actual love is and what we should accept as the happy medium. If you are anything like me, you may have gone on for most of your life not knowing how healthy love is supposed to play out between two willing participants. You may feel that you will know it when you see it, you will feel it.

This is a great notion if you believe that when love appears it is going to rescue you. It is difficult to get rescued from a sinking ship on the high seas when your counterpart is on the ship with you and does not have advanced aquatic skills. You guys are in the same boat, as the saying goes. When one incomplete person meets another, the only loving that is happening is the love of the fantasy you both are living in. The fantasy can look good too, sometimes even materializing into shared wealth and ostentatious possessions.

Many times, what we think of as love is just a mirror of our wounds reenacting themselves through an interaction with another. We develop a bond to the experience of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, rather than addressing the hole itself. The hole could have come from anywhere, but most likely it came from other’s beliefs or actions that either punctured you quickly or wore through you over time and experience. Now you just want the hole filled even if you have to jam a piece of shit in there! Well let me tell you, there are only so many times that you can do this before it becomes unbearable and you must take a shower of truth.

Love is many things. One of love’s attributes is having great interest and pleasure in something. We must ask ourselves if we really have a great interest and pleasure in our interactions with this person, or if it is causing discomfort, confusion, angst, or an excuse to numb our emotions. It could be a mix of both. It could be that you have built a neural pathway through repetition of enforcing self-limiting beliefs, so your “love”, is actually just the same as the interest a heroin addict has in continuing to get high. Maybe none of us know exactly what love is, and it may appear in many different forms. But it wasn’t until I was faced with acknowledging my unhealthy feelings and beliefs that I had toward myself demonstrated in relationship, that I was able to learn more about what love isn’t.

Love is not:

#1. Imbalance — Most of the strife in relationships comes from the game of transactions, whether it be of time, resources, validation, money, sex, attention, awareness, you get the gist. When disproportionate, a general lack of respect toward the other manifests in one form or another. If we were more concerned with managing our energy for our own nourishment first, we would then be able to love and give from the heart, without over giving beyond our reserves expecting it to be reciprocated. When we give to get something in return, and don’t, we create a relationship of exchange by either continuing to give to someone who is incapable of showing up in the way we need to be repaid, or simply does not want to. If you feel an imbalance, check in with your motives and see if you are acting in love or just acting in hopes that someone will love you.

#2. Cyclical — When the same behavior, patterns, or painful lessons keep permeating your relationship and you desperately try to figure them out, justify them or fix them in the name of love, this is not love, but a traumatic bond otherwise known as codependency. This typically happens because the words and actions of one person are not aligned leaving the other person confused, trying to reconcile their cognitive dissonance. When one person is looking for answers in changed behavior from the other rather than looking to make changes within or to change what is in their control, this pattern can be repeated indefinitely. When we start noticing patterns of behavior or recurring “what the hell’s?” we need to ask ourselves why we are committed to something that continues to hurt us.

#3. Synthesis — Being tied at the hip, giving up your interests because your significant other doesn’t understand or is insecure, not keeping any thoughts for yourself, going along with whatever your lover wants, not having your own opinions or identity; this is not love. How can you love someone or how can they love you if you are not able to be yourself, or don’t even commit to being who you are? How can you love someone truly when you must give up who you are so that they will accept you and be with you? Love is acknowledging the beauty in another, not forcing your partner or yourself, to be the same person or have the same thoughts, dreams, or desires in order to be accepted by the other.

#4. Substitution — Love is not a substitute for the gaping holes you have neglected in yourself, it is not as simple as putting Splenda in your coffee instead of sugar. If you attempt to feel better by simply having a relationship, I assure you it is not going to taste very good. It will always be bittersweet. The relationship of love you need to have is first and foremost with yourself. Maybe you are still figuring that relationship out and that is ok, but you must want it above any other.

#5. Destination — When I fall in love…… Love is a way, a continuous practice, mostly involving you. If you haven’t learned to love life, love yourself, your darkness, your quirks, your scars, and ghosts, how can you expect anyone else to ever accept them. That is a salesman stumbling, stuttering and not knowing any facts about a product, but still expecting you to buy it; they are not going to be very successful. Love is not like a vacation you finally get to take after working yourself to the bone; it is a permanent residence in your mind body and spirit. No one is going to want to visit if you don’t clean house.

Learning how to love yourself is tough for certain. It comes through many trials by fire, failures, successes, relationships, maybe through looking into the eyes of your child. It is a commitment that stays with you until the end. You will be challenged by external factors that test your resolve. If you are not willing to do the work to learn it and feel it, you will get worked by those that have no respect for your complacency. In order to master anything you have to know it inside and out.

You may be in a romantic situation now where you find yourself questioning your feelings or the feelings of your significant other. You may have already exchanged the vows of “I love you” many times or may still be tossing around the idea. One thing is for certain. Love is many, many things, but to ever truly find it you must know what it is not.

Tolerance in Love

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“In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair…the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.” ― Dorothy L. Sayers

Just a few short years ago I never would have envisioned that I would have shifted my career trajectory, had a parent die, shed my ego-based image for more passionate pursuits and practical possessions, and most of all fallen deeply in love after many years of living in an emotional fortress. This “falling” led me to feel accepted in a way that I never had before, creating the desire to accept another too. My relationship forced me to confront outdated beliefs about myself, which ultimately dictated what I would come to find acceptable from others, including my romantic partner.

Almost from the start, I was met with an abundance of opportunities to accept another individual for their shortcomings and process the continued jewels inherent in “getting to know someone”. Unbeknownst to me at the time, everything I believed I had accepted, was in fact not being accepted at all but like a dead-end job was merely being tolerated. Not dissimilar, I was left hoping there was better but feeling immobilized to go after it due to the daily erosion of my belief in the future. The slow murmur of discomfort continued to pulse, slowly leaching joy with each movement of the hand on the clock.

The things that were tolerated ranged from the innocent to the heart-wrenching, making the innocent like ants on an open wound. Soon the big and not so big blended together to create a cushion for my high horse and pedestal. Falling into childlike traps I would try to fix everything, thinking the more I threw at it, the better it would get. The more I “taught” my partner through anger filled glances, sighs, and unsolicited lectures, I would advance to the front, in some invisible know-it-all perfection board of love chess. I would become victim yet again of someone seizing my kindness for weakness, reaffirming my story I had created and keeping me trapped in a cycle of enmeshment.

I failed to see that my tolerance was not only a lack of boundaries, but a lack of clear guidelines of what was acceptable for me within the bounds of love. Just because you love someone does not mean that you must tolerate certain behavior or acts. Accepting someone for who they are, does not mean tolerating them to hurt you or repeat toxic behavior in the name of love. Just because you want to be accepted for who you are, does not mean that you should tolerate other people’s actions and label it acceptance. Which leads me to my point. There is no tolerance in love.

According to Merriam-Webster, tolerating is by one definition, “the capacity to endure continued subjection to something”. By contrast love is by one definition, “a great interest and pleasure in something.” To gain great pleasure in enduring something is almost by definition a masochist, “a person who enjoys an activity that appears to be painful or tedious.” Although it may seem required of you to endure certain discomforts in a relationship, there are a few guidelines that may help you to see if these are healthy discomforts that create growth, or if they are discomforts that are detrimental to your emotional, physical and spiritual well-being.

Guideline #1: Has my passion for life, experiences and accomplishments increased or decreased?

· Do I look forward to my future independently and/or with this person? Make sure that this gut check is in comparison to what you know to be true about yourself. Was I goal oriented in the past; did I explore my passions before being in this relationship? E.g., Did I go to art classes before, read books, trips, look forward to career milestones?

Guideline #2: Do I feel freedom to grow, explore and most importantly be myself?

· Am I able to do basic activities I was able to do before I was in this relationship without receiving guilt trips or resistance?

· Do I have the freedom in this relationship to try new things that are not harmful to the other person? Am I met with support or objection? *This objection can be overt or covert with subtle body and expression cues as well.

Guideline #3: Do I feel confused often whether I should continue to be in this relationship?

· Am I often left questioning my own feelings or questioning if this relationship is for me? Am I often hoping it will get better or reminiscing on how much better I felt in the beginning or prior to the relationship?

Bonus Guideline: Am I getting back what I give?

· Does this person respect and honor my concerns and feelings, expressing their own? Or do they often disregard my concerns and press their agenda? Does this person take more than they give, do I give more than I receive?

For anyone that has been in a relationship whether romantic, platonic or professional, it is common knowledge that they can indeed have challenges. Challenges push us to grow and come out the other side better than when we came in, stronger, more polished and confident in new found strengths. Accepting what is offered in relationship and in turn reciprocated is fine-tuned through years of building confidence, self-esteem, acceptable boundaries and baseline standards. Some young people seem to come out of the gate with this knowledge, good for them (and their parents)! There have been many people that have had to tolerate treatment without the consent that acceptance requires. They have had to endure mistreatment because of race, gender, handicaps and at other times for maybe more subtle reasons.

Love always provides the opportunity to accept another for exactly who they are, it does not however ask us to tolerate them, or tolerate an unhappy, undesired reality.