How I Got a Grip on My Gaslighter

You have a right to your emotions!

For the first four decades of my life, give or take, someone who was a big part of my world worked quite hard to make me doubt myself. She succeeded. I am still dealing with the aftereffects of that gaslighting to this day.

In my 40’s, I accidentally stumbled upon a way to make the abuse stop, and rather abruptly, too. And I didn’t even have to resort to violence. I’m not a mental health professional, nor can I make you a promise that this particular gambit will work if you have a gaslighter in your life, but hey, it’s worth a try.

Based on the sources I’ll list below, I will discuss gaslighting in detail, but I’ll also draw upon my own personal experience to show you how I coped. (Again, your results may vary.)

Step One: Identify it.

First of all, just because you get into arguments with someone does not mean that that person is gaslighting you. Not all disagreements are gaslighting. Sometimes you’re wrong. Sometimes you’re right. Sometimes you learn something very beneficial from the disagreement and how you handle it.

Second, not all gaslighters are doing it consciously. They may have been taught by someone else that these toxic tactics are how one should behave. If that’s the case, feel sorry for them. They have led a miserable life. But do not use “intention” as your only yardstick to measure this form of emotional abuse. “He didn’t mean anything by it” is not a valid excuse. Especially since the very best gaslighters will convince you that that is the case. Gaslighting is never okay.

So, what makes a gaslighter? Here are some questions to ask yourself.

Is this person invalidating your feelings? Do they say things like, “You are too sensitive.” “You are too insensitive.” “You are overreacting.” “You’re just saying that to get your way.” “You shouldn’t take it personally.” If this person is chipping away at your self-worth, identity, or perceptions, then she/he is very likely a gaslighter.

(Don’t even get me started on the “shouldn’t take it personally” thing. If it’s a criticism of you, it’s personal. If it’s a way to get you to do or think something you don’t want to do or think, it’s personal. If someone is trying to convince you that you don’t have a right to feel the way you feel, it’s personal. YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO YOUR EMOTIONS!!!!)

Does this person act as if she or he knows you better than you do yourself? (For starters, ask yourself how that could even be possible. Then, remind yourself that this person cannot read your mind.)

Does this person try to define “normal” for you? Do they try to tell you how you should feel, react, think, or behave? Do they say things like, “You’re being overly dramatic” in an attempt to make you change your behavior?

Does this person deny the truth? If you are sure that something happened, or that something was said, trust your gut. Gaslighters will try to make you think your memory is unreliable by saying that the thing never happened, or that they never said what you are positive you heard. Occasionally that might be true. We all forget things from time to time, or have different memories of events. But when it seems to come up in every single argument, that’s a pattern with a goal: to cause you to second guess yourself and therefore be more apt to adopt their opinions.

Are you being made to believe that every single problem in your relationship is your fault? What are the odds of that? Do you find yourself apologizing even when you feel you’ve done nothing wrong?

Have you noticed that your self-esteem has lowered and/or your depression has increased since this person entered your life?

If any of the above resonates with you, there’s a good chance that you have got yourself a gaslighter. But just to be sure, perhaps read all the articles listed below.

I could go on for weeks or months, describing what my gaslighter did to me, but really, there’s no point. I’ll just pick one example. Any time I opened my mouth, her favorite response was, “You have really strong opinions.” She also had the condescending tone down pat.

Step Two: Question it.

Once you suspect someone is gaslighting you, the next step is to question what they’re trying to convince you of. Ask a trusted outside source for their perspective. Tell it to them straight. Don’t leave anything out. You’re not trying to “win”. You’re trying to gain insight. This person should be a friend or loved one who won’t just take your side because of your relationship, or perhaps a therapist, or an authority on the subject in question.

An objective person should be able to tell you if they would react or think or behave the way you did, or if they feel that your reaction is plausible. If the thing in question can be verified as a fact, research the subject on line, using well-established, reliable sources. (If you’re not sure if a site is reliable, run it through Scam-detector.com.)

Basically, you should determine if you are, in fact, wrong. All of us are wrong sometimes. It’s a rare person, though, who is wrong all the time (and most of them get into politics).

In my case, it took me decades to even realize I had the right to question what my gaslighter was saying. At some point it occurred to me that it was strange that she took so much joy in saying something that caused me so much confusion and self-doubt. Finally, I realized what was going on. She wanted me to question my opinions. She wanted me to wonder if I was wrong. She wanted me to shut up and let her make all the decisions. She even talked other people in my life into using that phrase with me. After a while, I had three people telling me that I had strong opinions. If three people say it, it must be right, surely? Hmph.

Step Three: Own Your Conclusions.

Once you’ve reached a point where you know the kind of person you’re dealing with, and believe that you have a right to think/act/feel the way you do about something, make sure you feel it right down to the very marrow of your bones, because the next step can be hard, especially if it’s not something you’re well practiced in.

Step Four: Set Firm Boundaries

First of all, don’t waste your time arguing with a gaslighter. They are way too good at it. And there is no point in trying to change their beliefs, because odds are they never believed them in the first place. The only thing that you need to convince them of is that you are standing firm in your convictions.

In my situation, I had been thinking about what I believed for some time, and she just happened to hit me with the “You have very strong opinions” on a day when I had the presence of mind to be unusually quick on the uptake. So I said, “You know what? I’ve given this a lot of thought. I’ve decided that everyone has strong opinions. That’s the very definition of an opinion, isn’t it? You believe it or you don’t. It isn’t as if I expect everyone to share my opinions, but yes, I have them. You don’t have to like my opinions, but I have no intention of checking my brain at the door just because you feel my opinions are too intense for you.”

And just like that, that particular tool was removed from her abusive toolbox. She never said “You have very strong opinions” to me again, ever. I was actually quite startled by how successful that impromptu speech was.

Don’t get me wrong. She didn’t apologize. She didn’t see the errors of her ways and change. She simply realized that that sentence had no control over me anymore, so there was no point in uttering it. I consider this a success because she wasn’t going to change, but I could, and did. I took back control.

You know how bullies seem to deflate when you confront them? My gaslighter ran out of gas when I turned off the supply. It felt as though, in that one particular case, I had thrown water on the Wicked Witch and she melted before my very eyes.

Oh, she went on to abuse me emotionally in many other gassy ways until she passed away, but she found it a lot harder to do. I had my work cut out for me with that one. But learning the coping skills I describe above gave me what felt like superpowers.

The only way a gaslighter holds sway over you is if you buy what they’re selling. So learn to shop elsewhere. You can do it.

Good luck!

Update: I wrote this post just before getting the autism diagnosis that I blogged about on January 2nd. This adds a little more nuance to my situation, because strong opinions is yet another potential symptom of autism. So perhaps my gaslighter was right about that. What she was wrong about was trying to bully me to change, because if these opinions are part of my autism, then that’s most likely not going to change. But I still stand by the (strong) opinion that I don’t expect everyone to agree with my opinions. If that’s the case, what’s the harm? But, yeah, I have a lot of thinking to do.

Sources:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/social-instincts/202210/3-strategies-stop-gaslighter-in-their-tracks

https://www.marriage.com/advice/mental-health/how-to-deal-with-gaslighting/

https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-deal-with-gaslighting

https://positivepsychology.com/gaslighting-emotional-abuse/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-and-sensibility/202110/how-protect-yourself-gaslighters

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-don-t-take-it-so-personally-is-the-ultimate-gaslighting-insult-according-to-psychology-experts?utm_source=pocket-newtab

https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-deal-with-gaslighting

https://positivepsychology.com/gaslighting-emotional-abuse/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-and-sensibility/202110/how-protect-yourself-gaslighters

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-don-t-take-it-so-personally-is-the-ultimate-gaslighting-insult-according-to-psychology-experts?utm_source=pocket-newtab

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How the Patriarchy Plays Out on Female Bodies

Women must conform.

Occasionally, I meet a woman who thinks that her only currency in life is being sexy, and that never fails to make me profoundly sad. I picture her intelligence, her humor, her creativity, her compassion, and all her other skills atrophying while she focuses intensely on that sexiness for as long as it lasts. (And it never lasts, young ladies. Trust me.) So eventually she’s left with “nothing but” all those underused qualities, and she has to learn late in life how to employ them. Kudos to those who manage to put that off, in spite of so much wasted time.

The most frustrating thing about women such as these is that they definitely did not come up with those warped priorities independently. All young girls get that memo, the world over. They are bombarded with it from all sides, even from friends and family. And the messages can be mixed, too. We shouldn’t be sluts, but we should dress up as naughty nurses for that late night Halloween party. The fact that we all don’t turn into vapid Barbie Dolls who are devoid of genitalia speaks to our resilience and formidable ability to survive.

Even in countries where women are supposed to cover up and remain chaste, there’s this underlying lesson that their sexiness is such a force that the men around them can’t control themselves, and if they don’t dress conservatively, then they will suffer the consequences for bewitching innocent men by not keeping their own power in check.

We are told that we must sit with our knees together. We are told not to be provocative. We are told that we should smile more, even while graciously tolerating unwelcome advances.

Here’s a disturbing statistic for you, found amongst a mountain of disturbing statistics on the RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) website. Every 68 seconds another American is sexually assaulted, and 90 percent of those victims are female. Every 9 minutes, the victim is a child. Think of that the next time you’re watching the second hand of the clock, hoping for time to pass. Perhaps if we discarded minutes and instead used rape statistics to measure time, we could learn to talk about it and come up with ways to prevent these weak men from running amok.

While doing research for this post, I came across an article by Dr. Jessica Taylor that turns this female oppression into a fascinating pep talk. I encourage you to read the whole article, but here’s just one intriguing paragraph:

“Men don’t oppress women because they think they are stupid, incompetent, weak or incapable – they oppress women because they know that we aren’t any of those things. They know that given the chance, we will change the world in several ways which will permanently dismantle male supremacy. And they don’t want that.”

She goes on to explain that rape and oppression of women are found the world over, and that there’s no society on earth where females have equal control of their lives, finances, education and governments. This has nothing to do with any flaws we ourselves possess.

It is in the best interest of the patriarchy to keep us from realizing that we are just as skillful, intelligent and powerful as they are. To do so, they must keep us under tight control. They target the most private and intimate parts of us to maintain that control.

Women are expected to conform to men’s standards of beauty. As male tastes change, various female body parts are supposed to increase or decrease in size. We’re supposed to wear more or less makeup and clothing. When we can’t keep up with these ever-changing standards that are so out of our control, we are to consider ourselves failures.

We are expected to submit to or abstain from sex regardless of mood, all at the whim of our fathers, brothers, husbands and often bosses. We are expected to blame ourselves for rape. In many countries we are not even allowed to keep our sexual organs, because our pleasure is threatening and/or intolerable. And many women and girls do not get to choose their mates.

A more sobering quote from that article is as follows: “No one has to work very hard to control or manipulate women and girls who already view themselves as sex objects to be used, abused, controlled or enjoyed by men.”

Another level of control, of course, is that of our fertility. Patriarchal organizations would have you believe that birth control is evil because we must procreate, and if we do get pregnant, we must see it through regardless of our personal wishes, physical or mental health, or finances.

If we suffer when we menstruate, we are emotionally out of control. If we can’t have children, we are barren. If we enter menopause, we are dried up. If a man decides to “spread his seed” with us and we’re underage, then we are teases and jail bait. And the poorer we are, the more likely our wombs will be for sale. We can be surrogates. We can have a bride price. We are given away at the altar, from one man to the next. Having children will keep us close to home.

I had to go to ten different gynecologists before I found one who would tie my tubes, because you never know, I might change my mind. I was 35. I never changed my mind.

According to this article in Ms. Magazine, even our hair is a source of control. We are pressured to dye our hair when it turns grey because the older we appear to be, the less value we have and the less we are seen by society. We are often told how we must wear our hair in the workplace. We are told that some hair colors and textures are more valuable and more indicative of beauty than others. If you didn’t win that particular lottery, then you must spend a fortune to try to make your hair conform, and that’s money we could be investing to get ahead.

On the other hand, some parts of our bodies shouldn’t have hair at all, while other parts should be plucked and bleached and shaped into submission. If you’re too hairy, you’re too manly, too radical, and, heaven help us, unhygienic.

If we were in full control of our bodies, the make up and fashion industries as we know them today would not exist. Surrogacy would look very different. The weight loss industry would disintegrate. The military/industrial complex would be a helluva lot less complex. Plastic surgery would no longer be the cash cow that it currently is.

Every woman on earth has had her body judged. You need to gain or lose weight. Your skin should be bleached, tanned, or moisturized. You’re too this, that, or the other thing. Because of that, you’re not enough.

Your body must be used to attract others. Are you passing or failing in that quest? There is a reason why girls are ten times more likely to have eating disorders than boys. And we are told we can’t be beautiful without the help of beauty enhancing products. So where does that leave our self-esteem?

We can’t be allowed to have positive self-esteem, because that might lead to self-confidence. Then we’d be considered too outspoken. It would be preferable if we didn’t speak at all. We are set up for failure, because our success would lead to patriarchal chaos.

The FBI tells us that 97 percent of crime is committed by men. The femicide rate increased by 33 percent in 2020. Women are all but trained to live in fear of violence, and that impacts our ability to act independently.  How long must we lie back and take this?

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia for you: The verb cleave, according to fundamentalists and Promise Keepers, means sticking to something like glue. As in, we should cleave to our husbands. But they neglect to mention that this word also has another meaning that is equally valid, that of cutting or splitting something apart with a sharp instrument.  

If anyone ever dares tell me I should cleave to a man, I’ll be tempted to say, “Okey Dokey… Brace yourself…”

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The Silent Treatment is Child Abuse

The damage may not be physical, but it’s there.

As an adult, when another adult gives me the silent treatment, I have to laugh inside. Clearly, the two of us have issues, so does that person really think their silence is a punishment to me? A recent coworker used to do that to me, coupled with a glare that was dripping with contempt. Actually, I viewed her silence as a nice respite, because, let’s face it: please shut up. Please.

I know that eventually these misguided adults will figure out that this lack of communication isn’t going to further their agenda very much, and they’ll either speak to me or they won’t. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to speak to them when the need arises, but small talk will cease. Works for me. It gives me an opportunity to catch up on my reading.

But it’s very different when the silent treatment is directed at a child. I had one relative who would do that to me for months on end unless my mother stepped in and forced her to stop. Until the next time. It was worse than toxic. According to a psychotherapist interviewed for this article, the silent treatment is an abusive method of control, punishment, avoidance, and disempowerment.

You don’t have to physically or verbally abuse a child to damage them. The silent treatment is emotional abuse at its most insidious. According to the article, it is “manipulation, a twisted way of regaining authority over someone, making the victim feel powerless, intimidated, guilty and insignificant.”

The messages I received when this relative hit me with her stone-cold silences were, “I care more about hurting you than communicating with you.” “You are unwanted.” “You do not matter.” “You are insignificant.” “If you don’t want to be ignored and rejected, you have to give in to all my demands, beliefs, and opinions, and squash any of your own.” “If you want to avoid conflict, just shut up and do as I say, no matter how irrational it may seem.” “You have no right to question anything.” “I don’t take you seriously.” “To get along in this world, you should allow yourself to be manipulated by others.” “Anticipate my needs to the point of having anxiety attacks if you want to be loved.” “Doubt yourself.” “Nobody has your back.” “Nobody will stand by you.” “You are completely and utterly alone in this world.” “The best way to communicate is by not communicating at all.”

These are horrible messages to send to a child. Children who are stripped of their self-esteem in this manner are definitely not being set up for success. In fact, quite the opposite. To this day, my gut reaction when someone gets angry at me is that they’re going to stop loving me. I have to remind myself constantly that that’s not true. I should know it. I deserve to be confident about love in times of strife. That was taken from me.

I never thought about this behavior as actual abuse until the subject came up recently with a friend. Then I started reading more about it. Then I got really angry. Then I gained some insight about the person I have become.

My mother was not the best communicator either. When she’d get mad at me, she’d write on her day planner, “You are mad at Barb.” That way she could emotionally color all our interactions with that fact. So I’d sneak in her room when she wasn’t there and erase that note. (Thank goodness she always wrote in pencil.) But even at her very worst, she didn’t hold a candle to this other relative.

For several years during my childhood, I truly believed that if I wasn’t right in someone’s line of sight, I no longer existed for them. That’s why, to this day, when someone does something that shows they’ve thought of me when I wasn’t present, it means so much to me that it often brings tears to my eyes. In a way, I’m glad I have this heightened level of appreciation for thoughtful gestures. It’s the silver lining to this messed up cloud. But the cloud remains.

A healthier lesson to teach a child is that there is a rational way to get through conflict. Talk problems out. Listen to both sides. Compromise. Come to an understanding. Kids should learn that everyone deserves respect. Everyone has a right to be heard. Everyone’s opinion has value, whether you agree with it or not.

Healthy communication is the very bedrock of love, and it provides children with the tools to function well in society. So if you’re supposed to be the adult in a relationship, please act like it. Your ability to do damage is greater than you think.

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Body Acceptance

You learned to hate your body because you were taught.

A friend of mine posted this meme on Facebook, which says “Hating your body is a learned behavior.”

It triggers me. I imagine it triggers a lot of women. Because it’s true. We are raised up to hate our bodies, because it’s impossible to meet the exacting standards of many men.

We’ll never be tall enough or thin enough or have big enough breasts. If we have big breasts, then they won’t be perky enough. Our skin will be too blemished or too dark or too pale. Our legs will refuse to avoid rubbing against each other when we walk. Our hair will be too short or too long or the wrong color or texture. Our backsides will be too broad or too flat or too small or too big. We’ll wear too much makeup or not enough. And heaven forbid we wear glasses or braces or walk with a cane or refuse to wear high heels. We’ll have a double chin or a turkey neck as we get older. We have acne when we’re young and liver spots when we’re old. And we’re not supposed to have scars of any kind at all. We’re should be much more careful than that.

In general, you’ll probably show too much of your body, substandard as it is judged to be, or not enough of it. We should all have corrective surgery of some sort. And are you height/weight proportionate? (Read what I’ve previously written about that idiotic concept here.) What does that even mean? How can you know? Who decides? And what is it supposed to achieve?

And we women have bought into this for so long we even judge each other. We measure each other by that male yardstick. Admit it. We have laughed or pointed or criticized or bullied, too. We secretly or not so secretly hope we’re prettier and more acceptable than the woman standing next to us. Whether conscious of these things or not, we’re also guilty. There’s rarely a safe harbor for any of us, even amongst our own.

I hear women dissect themselves all the time. For example, I hate my double chin and am embarrassed by my perpetually swollen feet. I’m fat and have been for decades. I don’t like to look in the mirror. I have a red dot on my right eyelid and a weird blemish on my left cheek. My surgery scar makes my belly look strange.

Chop, chop, chop. I’ve turned myself into pieces and parts. It’s as if they’re all individually wrapped and up for sale. And most of them have been passed over, found wanting by others, and eventually thrown in the emotional dumpster by me. Not even fit for a food bank or a pot luck. Why am I a product?

I remember the first time anyone called me fat. I was 12 years old, and this label came from another 12-year-old girl. She said it like it was common knowledge. I remember being shocked. (That’s a credit to my mother.) And in retrospect, I know that I wasn’t fat at all. I have the pictures to prove it. Not that it should matter except with regard to health. But it made me worry and inspect myself, and I began to be increasingly self-critical over time.

The compliments I received from my family were all related to my smarts. No one ever told me I was pretty, and I went through life thinking I must look like a freak. I spent much of my youth hiding. And now I’m decades past believing any compliments I get regarding my appearance, even though I have no doubt many of them have been sincere. Too late. Way too late. And why is validation required in the first place?

I don’t expose my soft, flabby and scarred underbelly to you because I want your sympathy. I’m not fishing for compliments. And I certainly don’t need you to tell me what a toxic roller coaster I ride, and that I need to think otherwise.

No. I write this so that women and girls can see that they’re not alone in swallowing the poison they are fed every single day. I also write this so that the patriarchy can see just how much of a pervasive meat grinder they put women through. I write this so that we women can stop being complicit in each other’s corporeal rejection.

And men have the gall to say that we should have more self-esteem, as if we got here all by ourselves. Well, you know what? F*** you. You reap what you sow.

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Positively Introverted

Introversion is not a mental illness.

As someone who is the poster child for introversion, I’d like to clear up a few misconceptions that even some fellow introverts seem to have.

  • No two people are alike.
  • Not all introverts see themselves as victims who are put upon by society.
  • Not all introverts act strange in social situations. We just don’t feel as comfortable in them.
  • Introverts are capable of making friends. In fact, we are really good friends to have. We just are more likely to enjoy those friends in small groups, and not on a daily basis, rather than in large crowds, all the time.
  • Being an introvert is not the equivalent of hating humanity.
  • Introverts don’t need to be cured of their introversion. (Those who think they do have other issues.)
  • While all recluses tend to be introverts, most introverts do not become recluses.
  • Introverts don’t need to struggle to succeed, because they’re not failures in the first place.
  • Introverts don’t need to change simply because they’re introverts.
  • Not all introverts have low self-esteem. Many of us are fine with who we are. In fact, we like ourselves enough to be entertained by our own company. (If you have low self-esteem, please seek help.)
  • Not all introverts are profoundly depressed. (If you are depressed, please seek help.)
  • Introversion is not a mental illness.
  • Not all introverts are angry at the world. (If you are angry at the world, you have other issues to deal with.)
  • Not all introverts walk around wearing a crown of thorns because they’re bitter about how they have been treated in the past. Introverts can get past traumas at about the same rate as the rest of humanity. (In other words, with mixed results, but we’re not a guaranteed failure at it.)
  • Not all introverts blame everything on past relationships or the idiots they encountered in school. A healthy introvert is capable of realizing when to focus on being his or her best self, because the past isn’t going anywhere, but you still can. I promise.

Yes, I’m an introvert. It is a trait I was born with, like having blue eyes. I enjoy my own company. I have friends. I also enjoy their company, just not on a daily basis. I’m not bitter or angry or a victim. I’m content. I’m happy. I like who I am. I’m not misunderstood by me, and that’s what matters most, but it would be nice to not be misunderstood by you as well.

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Having Something You Rock At

The zone is an awesome place to hang out every now and again.

I was just about to blog about the importance of having something that’s yours, all yours, that you do well. It does wonders for your self-esteem and it helps you find joy in life. It doesn’t necessarily have to be your career, and you don’t necessarily have to be the best of the best at it, but I think everyone needs to feel, at least part of the time, that they’ve got this, whatever “this” may be for each person.

But just as I sat down to write, I came across this quote. Trust Kurt Vonnegut to make me see things in a whole new light. I still believe the above, but now the below adds nuance to my theory.

“When I was 15, I spent a month working on an archeological dig. I was talking to one of the archeologists one day during our lunch break and he asked those kinds of “getting to know you” questions you ask young people: Do you play sports? What’s your favorite subject? And I told him, no I don’t play any sports. I do theater, I’m in choir, I play the violin and piano, I used to take art classes.

And he went WOW. That’s amazing! And I said, “Oh no, but I’m not any good at ANY of them.”

And he said something then that I will never forget and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before: “I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.”And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from a failure, someone who hadn’t been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them. I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of Talent, that I thought it was only worth doing things if you could “Win” at them.”

-Kurt Vonnegut

So, in light of this new insight, thanks to one of my favorite authors, I now have this postscript. I genuinely think that people should try a wide variety of things. And I agree with Kurt that the experience is the thing. You learn from everything you do. It adds to your skill set. And it makes you a well rounded individual.

I still think you should find something you rock at, but I think that trying a variety of things is how you will find that special thing that will give you joy. I also think that you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. That one thing doesn’t have to be huge, like becoming president. It might seem small to someone else. They might not see making delicious cherry pie as a life-changing skill. But that pie (or whatever else) might be where you find yourself in the zone. And that is an awesome place to hang out every now and again.

Rock on, dear reader. Rock on.

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Mid-Month Marvels: Young Women Empowered

Girls’ self-confidence peaks at age nine, then drops as they advance through high school.

A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least once a month. I’ll be calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!

When I read the first line on the “our story” page of the Young Women Empowered website, it gave me pause. It says, “Research shows that girls’ self-confidence peaks at age nine, then drops as they advance through high school.”

It gave me pause because, instinctively, I knew that this was true. I know it because I lived it. And I’ve seen so many other women and girls live it. We are taught to be our own worst critics. If it’s not body shaming, it’s assuming that we’re inferior in a whole host of other ways. And it has to stop.

Enter Y-WE (Young Women Empowered). I’m so proud that this Seattle-based non-profit exists and is celebrating its 10th year. It is a safe space for all young women, including people of color, trans, and nonbinary individuals. It’s a place where, to hear one participant describe it, you can “feel heard and loved and valid and smart and worthy 100% of the time.”

Y-WE is a leadership program that helps build confidence and self-esteem through a variety of activities, including camping, coding, artistic pursuits, performance, health and wellness, creative writing, and social justice. It currently serves 845 young women a year.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting this amazing organization! Please donate here.

YWE

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People Who Are Important to Me

Never forget that you have value.

One of the lessons I seem to be forced to learn over and over and over again is that just because I consider someone important to me, that does not necessarily mean that I’m important to them. That’s always a heartbreaking realization. Upon discovering this, I’m learning to reduce that person’s importance in my life as well. But it isn’t easy. I am loyal to a fault.

I tend to take the initiative in friendships much more often than I should, for example. I seem to forget that I deserve to be prioritized as much as the next person does. All relationships should be give and take. Not that I think one should keep score, but sometimes the imbalance becomes blatantly obvious. This lesson has intensified, for some reason, since I moved to the Pacific Northwest. The Seattle Freeze is real.

If you trust someone and they do not trust you, then they don’t think much of you. Not really. And if someone is quite happy to do things with you only if you come up with the ideas and make the plans every single time, then clearly they’re not seeing you as someone who is worth the effort.

So the lesson for today, for me, anyway, is to never forget that I have value, and that value deserves acknowledgement.

Value

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Hiding behind Your Hair

I know you’re in there somewhere.

The first time I saw Violet, in the Pixar movie The Incredibles, I instantly related to her. I was that girl when I was in school. I was the one with the low self-esteem, who just wanted to disappear. The only way I could do that, really, was to hide behind my hair.

I’m beginning to see that girl again when I look in the mirror. Not because my self-esteem is back to rock bottom, but because thanks to COVID-19, all the hair salons are closed. I’m beginning to look as though I’ve been raised by wolves. I’m seriously contemplating shaving my head.

I’ve known a lot of people who hide behind their hair. I have one friend with a foot-long beard, a la ZZ Top, who swears it’s just a fashion statement. But he is very reclusive and tends to keep people at arm’s length. I think that beard is one of the many walls he shelters himself behind, and it makes me very sad. He’s an amazing man, and I think he’d see a lot of positive results if he removed that barrier.

Yes, everyone should be allowed to express themselves any way that they want. I’m not hair shaming here. And I certainly don’t mean to trod upon your cultural beliefs. I’m just speaking from personal experience. Your situation may not be the same, and if it isn’t, more power to you. But if you think your hair might be a wall, consider tearing it down, or pulling it back or putting it up at the very least.

Come out, come out. I know you’re in there somewhere.

Violet Parr
Violet Parr, The Incredibles

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Anthropomorphize Much?

You have got to be kidding me.

Just when I thought I’d seen the most ridiculous product to waste money on, another one crosses my path. I can’t even… Just… Sigh.

Neuticles, y’all. Neuticles.

According to their website, these prosthetic nuts for pets “allow your precious pet to retain his natural look, self-esteem, and aid the pet and pet’s owner with trauma associated with altering.”

As they say in the South, Jesus, take the wheel.

I mean… I’m struggling to find the words to adequately express how… (the enormously long pause while I gather myself has been deleted in the interest of space) nonplussed, stupefied and generally flipped out I am by this product.

Oh, where to begin. I can’t even…

Okay. First of all, do you honestly believe that your dog’s self-esteem is shattered when you get him neutered? Really? I mean, I’ve had a lot of dogs fixed in my lifetime, people, and not one of them has appeared to have sunk down into a bottomless pit of depression afterward. Granted, I don’t know what they’re thinking when they wake up, all alone and nutless, at three a.m. on a random Friday night, when all the other dogs are all nutfull and partying, but whatever it is, they seem perfectly willing to play fetch the next day. Life goes on.

Trauma for the pet? Well, yeah, I’m sure it doesn’t tickle, but they seem to recover quickly, and their health and life expectancy vastly improve, all while reducing the stray dog population. (Talk about trauma. Try being a homeless dog for five minutes.)

I’ve often said that I wish my veterinarian had done my hysterectomy. It would have only cost about 75 bucks, and I would have been up and running the next day, rather than flat on my back for 6 weeks. And I think my self-esteem would have been just fine.

And trauma for the owner? For heaven’s sake, get a freakin’ life. If that’s the most traumatic experience you’ve ever had, then you must be living in a plastic bubble. I certainly wouldn’t recommend that you be subjected to the average Seattle commute or, heaven forfend, a Brazilian wax. You wouldn’t survive.

But hey, Kim Kardashian’s dog Rocky has neuticles, so we should all rush out and get some, in order to keep up. Visit the website to find a participating vet near you. (I truly hope my vet isn’t on this list.)

Oh, and while you’re there, you can also order PermaStay! Those are ear implants for dogs, “to correct broken, bent or floppy ears that should otherwise stand up straight.” Because the world can’t abide dogs who don’t have perky ears.

Give me strength.

Dog
This dog fears for your sanity.

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