How To Tell If Someone Has A Truly Toxic Personality, According To Science

By | dating, family, Food for thought, friends, Motivation, narcissism, personality, relationships, self, self-development, Self-Improvement, stories, toxic people, toxic relationships, uplifting news

Your friend or someone you know has gotten fired from every job they’ve ever had. Their dates always flake on them and their friends always betray them. The common theme: it’s never their fault and if you press them on it you’re the one to blame.

According to a team of psychologists in Israel, these types of people may have a toxic personality disorder called “tendency for interpersonal victimhood” (TIV), which they describe as “an ongoing feeling that the self is a victim, which is generalized across many kinds of relationships.”

People with TIV wholly and truly believe they are never wrong and that their victimhood is a core part of their identity.

How to tell if someone ‘plays the victim?’

Not everyone who feels victimized is toxic. Bad things do happen and it’s okay to be upset about it.

Rather, TIV occurs when someone constantly feels like a victim and they bring others down with them.

Rahav Gabay and her colleagues determined that people with TIV tend to have four dimensions:

Constantly seeking recognition

Of all the allegedly horrible things that happen to someone with TIV, people never apologize to them. Worse, they don’t even acknowledge their wrongdoing.

While apologies can be hard to come by, this only becomes an issue when the person who plays the victim is in desperate search of recognition for the supposed bad things that are done to them.

A sense of moral elitism

People with TIV are never wrong. In fact, their moral compass is better than everyone else’s and they use this assumption to manipulate others into their own perspective.

This behavior may be a defense mechanism as a way to maintain a positive self-image.

Lack of empathy for others

Everything that happens to TIV people is the absolute worst and no one else’s pain or suffering matters, or so they think. This can especially be toxic in a relationship as TIV people only care about their own problems, never others’.

The route of this behavior can be that since the person believes they have suffered so much, they don’t think anyone else deserves empathy for their suffering.

This lack of empathy can also show up in a group or national level in the form of “competitive victimhood” or an “egoism of victimhood” where members of a group cannot see things from another group’s perspective.

Rumination about past victimization

Since romantic relationships never worked out in the past for TIV people, there’s no chance they’ll work in the future. This is a fallacy as the past doesn’t dictate the future, but it’s a core belief of people who always play the victim.

Always ruminating about past grievances and thinking it reflects the future is something perpetual victims tend to do.

Why TIV is toxic

People who always play the victim are extremely difficult to deal with because they’re selfish and never wrong.

They’re also obsessed with seeking revenge for those who’ve wronged them and may punish others who had nothing to do with it just because they’ve been wronged before.

Forgiving is part of growth

We all play the victim from time to time. Sometimes bad things really do happen to us and it makes us sour.

The problem is when the victimhood because constant and when the person never learns from their mistakes. It’s also problematic when they never forgive others – you don’t know what everyone is going through and nobody’s perfect.

Ultimately, the problem with playing the victim is it doesn’t allow you to learn or grow from the past. If you don’t acknowledge your faults, how can you make adjustments for the future?

If you know someone who’s always playing a victim, it might be time to reduce your relationship with them or have a frank discussion about it. Life is too short to be surrounded by toxic people.

More uplifting stories:

Brad Pitt is Still Fighting the Ghost of Tyler Durden

By | actor, Food for thought, mindset, self, Self-Improvement

Brad Pitt has been the prototypical American movie star for decades now. Whether being picked up on a roadside by Thelma & Louise or playing a sensitive but deadly vampire, he’s always been a force to be reckoned with, a force of great power and sensual energy combined with magnetism.

No more was this the case than when Pitt played Tyler Durden, the antagonist of David Fincher’s Fight Club. In his most iconic role, Pitt satirically embodied the point where idealized masculinity turns destructive.

Despite the movie being a deconstruction of toxic masculinity, both Durden and his portrayed have been held up as the embodiment of an almost cartoonish hyper-masculinity for years since the film’s release.

Pitt was even recently elected as the face of Boston’s much-derided “Straight Pride Parade” — though Pitt himself was quick to demand that his likeness not be used to represent it.

Where Tyler Durden got his power

“You’re looking at an era in the ’90s when masculinity becomes very self-conscious, very reflexive,” James McCormack, a cinema studies PhD researcher at the University of Melbourne, said in an interview with Vice. “Until then, there was what a feminist philosopher called ‘the view from nowhere’—the belief that men don’t have a gendered view. That begins to really dissipate in the 90s… and you get films like Fight Club.”

Durden was the alpha male, speaking to the traits of those men who see strength in being dominant or tough. But he was also the flip side of a “beta” male, who are often seen as more sensitive, but weaker.

The question is, of course, then, which one of these sides of the coin does the real Brad Pitt end up on?

What does masculinity even mean?


“I grew up with that be-capable, be-strong, don’t-show-weakness thing,” Brad Pitt said in a recent interview with The New York Times.

Now that Pitt is a 55-year-old father of 6, he finds himself emulating his dad in a lot of his roles: “He had grown up in extreme hardship and poverty, always dead set on giving me a better life than he had — and he did it. But he came from that stoic ilk.”

It was an important lesson that has served Pitt well in developing his life and career, and finding his foundation in the world.

“I’m grateful that there was such an emphasis on being capable and doing things on your own with humility, but what’s lacking about that is taking inventory of yourself,” he said. “It’s almost a denial of this other part of you that is weak and goes through self-doubts, even though those are human things we all experience. Certainly, it’s my belief that you can’t really know yourself until you identify and accept those things.”

Vulnerability over violence

Openness is something Pitt has been working on a lot lately, and it’s something that is often seen as weakness as men, and thus a quality that is not easy to come by.

It’s easy to see why someone whose private life is already at the center of public interest would want to hold back all he can, but Pitt has chosen to go in a different direction.

“The ultimate place for my style of acting, as I understand it, is to get to a place of just absolute truth,” he told the New York Times. “I’ve got to be experiencing something that’s real to me for it to read real to you.”

Recovery over rage

Pitt has been sober for a few years now, and has participated in Alcoholics Anonymous as part of his recovery after “taking things as far” as he could with drinking. His recovery group was composed entirely of men, and Pitt was moved by their vulnerability.

“You had all these men sitting around being open and honest in a way I have never heard,” Pitt told the New York Times. “It was this safe space where there was little judgment, and therefore little judgment of yourself.”

“It was actually really freeing just to expose the ugly sides of yourself,” he said. “There’s great value in that.”

It’s possible for the man who “grew up with that be-capable, be-strong, don’t-show-weakness thing,” to evolve into being a more open, vulnerable, and thoughtful man. Sometimes it takes maturity and growth, but if the cultural symbol of macho-masculinity can do it, can’t everyone else?

“The fact is, we all carry pain, grief, and loss. We spend most of our time hiding it, but it’s there, it’s in you,” Pitt said. “So you open up those boxes.”

The new frontier of manhood

With his new movie, Ad Astra, Pitt and writer-director James Grey were “really digging at, without labeling it so much, was this definition of masculinity.”

The definition of masculinity is nebulous. It has whatever meaning you ascribe to it. For Pitt, it has come to mean an openness to admits faults and willingness to be vulnerable.

Brad Pitt has discovered that true strength lies in understanding weakness, and that’s something all of us can learn from.

James Corden Reminds Us That Shame Isn’t the Answer

By | actor, Food for thought, inspiring celebs, james corden, mindset, physical health, self, Self-Improvement

It’s never acceptable to attack someone based on their physical appearance, be it their size, shape, or any other physical differences, but it’s something that happens — often with claims that “it’s for their own good.”

James Corden had a pretty busy weekend this past week, having won three Emmy awards, but he also got a lot of attention for taking time on the show he hosts, Late Late Show with James Corden, to respond to some fat-shaming comments made by Bill Maher.

“Fat shaming doesn’t need to end, it needs to make a comeback,” Maher, who is the host of Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO, opined late in August. “Shame is the first step in reform.”

Why shame is not the answer

Corden was quick to respond:

“Fat-shaming never went anywhere,” Corden said on his own TV show. “Ask literally any fat person. We are reminded of it all the time.”

Corden referred to statistics proving that fat-shaming does nothing but damage the mental health of those who are subjected to it: “It’s proven that fat-shaming only does one thing. It makes people feel ashamed and shame leads to depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior; self-destructive behavior like overeating.”

In fact, fat-shaming has even been shown to cause weight gain in young people.

Corden wasn’t done with his powerful response

In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Corden explained that he realized his responsibility to use his own past and his platform to speak up: “I saw something that I felt like I had experience with. Ultimately, I think I know a little more about what it’s like to be overweight than perhaps some other people do. So, to see someone talk like that made me feel like, ‘Well, this is something I feel like we should talk about.’”

Fat-shaming happens to many of us, and many of us don’t feel comfortable speaking about the issue and how it impacts us. Corden being open and honest is a help to all of us.

It was a beautiful way to stand up for everyone who doesn’t feel they can stand up for themselves, and a powerful reminder that shame is not the answer. 

More articles about body image and confidence:

Healing From Trauma Can Be Fun — Here’s How I Did It

By | empowering, Food for thought, personal essay, self, self-development, Self-Improvement

“We will look deep into your pain and conquer your demons.”

“It may be challenging but it will be so worth it.”

“It’s time to be brave enough to work through your trauma.”

“Don’t worry, you can do it, and I will be there to support you when it gets difficult.”

These are all real statements that I was confronted with while looking for a coach to help me overcome the trauma of a past abusive relationship.

All of the quotes seemed harmless…

All I heard was that in order to heal, I was going to have to accept that it would be difficult, challenging, and painful. And that was the last thing I wanted. 

At the time I was in a new healthy relationship but all of the PTSD from my ex was coming right back up and wreaking havoc on my life. I honestly feared I was going to lose my boyfriend because of my own toxicity.

Despite that fear, I sure as hell didn’t feel brave enough to open up all my wounds and experience all my pain all over again. I was already doing that on a daily basis.

The rhetoric I was hearing was only reinforcing my fear

Unfortunately, I was stuck in that fear and pain for a really long time. I remember thinking:

Why do I have to keep going through more and more painful things just to have the life and love that I desire?

It made me angry. And lonely — really really lonely. It honestly made me feel that I wasn’t good enough to heal. That I couldn’t conquer my pain. That my reality would just be wrapped in my past trauma forever.

It made me feel like I had lost my whole life to my abusive ex — not just the years I had given him while we were married. 

The wrong message with the right intention

Now, I know that those coaches, healers, and positive beings of light had no intention of their words having this effect. They were genuinely just trying to be supportive. And I am sure that many people don’t hear what I heard within them.

However, I also know that there are people out there that definitely, whether consciously or not, hear that discouragement in those attempts to be caring and motivating. They, too, are allowing that discouragement to keep them stuck in their pain.

Eventually, I started reading books and healed myself enough to not be afraid of diving into my pain, so I hired a coach. And then another coach. And another. But a whole new problem was coming up.

I was not getting the level of healing I needed

Yes, I learned a lot of tools but my daily anxiety was still affecting not only me, but those around me. I yearned to be free of all the fear and guilt and yet I couldn’t seem to find a program that worked for me. It was making me doubt myself all over again. 

Then one day, I was playing Dungeons & Dragons with my kids and I had an idea.

What if healing wasn’t something that we had to think of as healing? What if I could actually shed the belief that healing could only be achieved through a ton of work, effort, and struggle?

What if healing could be fun? What if it could be a game? 

That realization changed my life

Photo Credit: Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

I have always been a lover of all things fantasy and nerdy. I eat fiction books for breakfast and have watched all the anime. I cosplay and play both video and tabletop games. I even write my own fiction work. But before that time, I had not thought about the possibility that the content I adore being used as a tool, not just to bypass my pain, but to consciously overcome it. 

It is my deep held belief that as humans we have forgotten the power of our imagination to shape our reality.

Yes, with the growth of different manifestation strategies and methods that have come to the surface over the last few decades we are rediscovering that power. But, what if we used our imagination to experience the things that we are too afraid to truly dive into in our physical life?

I gave my journey a storyline

I created a character of me, a world she lived in, and a monster that I was going to overcome — the embodiment my fear of being unlovable.

When I learned a new skill, had a new realization, or addressed a new wound  I would level up my character and give her gear and storyline. I narrated her world like it was a novel. Each challenge or panic attack I faced was a quest I made her go on. I would see her overcoming things as I did. 

And it worked. Not only did I find that my healing was becoming a reality that was deeply and profoundly changing the way I interacted with the world, but I was no longer daunted or overwhelmed by the idea of my own growth. I was having fun. 

Fun is the key

Photo Credit: Mike Fox on Unsplash

It made my world feel free again. After you have gone through a traumatic experience — whether it be abuse or a bad injury or just simply getting fired from a job — the last thing you want to do is to have your journey to heal that trauma be traumatic too. 

Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that the methods and philosophies of the coaches that were trying to help me didn’t work for other people or weren’t effective. I am sure that they were. But they were giving my brain ammunition to keep me stuck and therefore nothing was clicking.

That is why the power of fun is so important. As humans we learn through stories and we deeply want to imagine and create. Give yourself the freedom to let what you imagine take you to levels you never dreamed. 

Through imagination we reconnect to our soul. To the childlike wonder we once had for the world. To the freedom that is within us. 

Since discovering the power of fun, I am no longer am burdened with the pain and the guilt of the past. My relationship is stronger than ever and I haven’t had a panic attack in years.

The best part is: my character is still growing and learning and taking on bigger and bigger quests. And I am still enjoying the journey more than I ever thought possible. 

So, stop buying into the belief that growth must be challenging but instead ask yourself, how can you make it fun. How can you make it an adventure worth having?

This Inspiring Woman Lost 100 Pounds After Health Scare, Achieved Her Longtime Dream

By | diet and nutrition, exercise, Food for thought, motivating, Self-Improvement, success stories, weekly column

Alisia McKennon had never made weight loss a priority, even as she struggled to keep up with her toddler.

Her weight prevented from her realizing a longtime dream, but even then, she kept postponing weight loss. 

It wasn’t until she had a health scare that she found her the motivation she needed to make a change.

Growing up, McKennon was “always kind of curvy”

After having her first child, she wasn’t able to lose the pregnancy weight and kept getting bigger.

“With my son, actually I only gained about 20 lbs. during my pregnancy. But after, I gained 60 lbs.,” McKennon, 31, told PEOPLE. “I never stopped eating like I was pregnant. I just couldn’t get out of it.”

As McKennon’s son got older and more active, it got harder for her to play with him.

“I would be so out of breath trying to run around and catch him,” said the 31-year-old. 

“He’s very spunky, like most little boys, and I felt really bad that I couldn’t keep up with him. I would tell him, ‘Oh, it’s too hot outside, let’s go back inside,’ just because I was tired.”

Sometimes I would cry about it and wonder, why did I do this to myself? Why did I get this big?

Her dream was out of reach

McKennon’s weight was also getting in the way of her accomplishing her long held dream of military service.

“I’ve always wanted to join the Army, and for my height, you have to be 158 lbs. to start basic training,” she said.

That still wasn’t enough to motivate her to lose weight. Nothing was — until a routine visit to the doctor’s office in December 2016 changed everything.

I started to realize that my neck was getting darker, almost black

“At my annual checkup, my doctor told me I now had high cholesterol, I’m possibly pre-diabetic and the black stuff that was growing on my neck was an early sign of diabetes. That woke me up.”

She quickly made up her mind

“I’m a Southern girl, so I love my biscuits and rice, and with WW I can have that, but in moderation,” said McKennon. “It was great because I had some good weeks, some bad weeks, but they always met in the middle, and I met my goal.”

It wasn’t always easy, but she used the difficult moments to motivate her to keep reaching for her goal.

“One time I literally cried in my car because I wanted a cupcake so bad,” she says. “I said I’m not going to get it, I’m going to do good. And I felt extremely proud of myself, because I finally didn’t give in.”

Working out became her new part-time job

Once she began to lose weight, she started building a new fitness routine. McKennon began by walking on the treadmill before upgraded to interval running.

“I knew I was going to have to run in the military, so I built up my training to the point where now, I can run four or five miles a day and it’s nothing,” she said. “I treated working out like a part time job — my actual work schedule was from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and by 6 I had to be in the gym.”

A dream achieved

A little over a year after she started her transformation journey, McKennon reached her goal weight: 158 lbs.

“That’s when I joined the military,” she says. “I weighed in and got processed through, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I did it.”

She went through a two-and-a-half month-long basic training and now works as a paralegal specialist in the army.

“I feel so good, better than I could’ve imagined,” said McKennon. “If you asked me before, I would have never guessed that I would be at this point. I had some really, really dark times, and thought that this would just be my life.”

“Now I’m happy. I can keep up with my son, he’s six years old now and we run together — it’s a really good feeling to be here.”

More transformation stories:

Determined Man Loses Over 100 Pounds by Channeling His Anger as Motivation

By | diet and nutrition, exercise, Food for thought, Inspiring Stories, motivating, self, Self-Improvement, weekly column

Jake Patricio began his weight loss transformation after stepping on an industrial scale at work one day to find he weighed 349 pounds.

Shocked by the number on the scale, he realized how out of control he had let his weight get and found the motivation to change his lifestyle.

“I was just upset with myself for getting to this size and being so unhappy,” Patricio told Men’s Health. “I wanted to fix it.”

Patricio had been in shape and played sports for most of his life, but after he graduated college, things started to change when his focus became his career.

He quickly settled into a sedentary lifestyle

Patricio spent most of his time at work or at home, but his eating habits stayed the same.

He kept eating like a college athlete and his weight crept up over the years.

Doing simple tasks like climbing a flight of stairs became difficult and as his social interactions became fewer, Patricio’s mental health took a hit too.

Channeling his anger

After realizing how bad things had gotten, he was initially angry at himself but instead of beating himself up, he used his anger as a motivating force to lose weight.

Patricio’s plan was to change what he ate and what he ate, so he began a three-phase diet transformation.

During phase 1, he stuck to a strict keto diet. In phase 2, he switched to intermittent fasting and low-carb diet, and his efforts were paying off. Finally, in phase 3, he followed a low-carb 1,800 calorie diet

 “I kept telling myself I would only see results if I did what I could to stick to my plan,” said Patricio.

And, he did. He started working out again, hitting the gym three days a week, and as his strength came back he started incorporating cardio into his exercise routine.

Eventually, Patricio reached a plateau

“I realized I stayed in shape in college because I played a team sport,” he said.

Not long after, he started practicing with a local rugby team, which provided him with more steady cardio.

The new activity was challenging, but he kept pushing forward.

“Consistency is hard. There were days after work where I wanted to just lie in bed and sleep. There were also nights where I would lay in bed hungry,” said Patricio. 

“The only thing that kept me going was knowing I would only see results if I stuck to it.”

Without a specific target weight in mind, all Patricio wanted was to get back into shape. Four months into his transformation, he went down a size in his belt, and then, another.

With every milestone, his confidence improved

Today, Patricio’s lost over 100 pounds.

“Mentally I feel much better and positive overall,” he says. “Physically I am less fatigued, and my strength has increased. I feel happier, I look better, but most importantly: I’m not done yet!”

More transformation stories:

My Breakthrough Moment: Writing a Letter to My Younger Self

By | Food for thought, how-to guide, personal essay, self, self-development, Self-Improvement

If you’ve ever sat down to write a letter when you’re mad or upset, you know the experience can be cathartic. It’s the same when you address the letter to yourself — your younger self.

Don’t let the past control your present. If you hold onto things that upset you — even something you’ve done to yourself — it can create a cloud of negativity that follows you around for years.

Instead, face the past head-on with a letter to your younger self, just like mine below.

A Letter to My Younger Self

Dear Kayla,

You’re a full-fledged adult now, can you believe it? At 15, you wanted the years to fly by. Now, I just wish they would slow down. 

It’s not all bad. Being an adult, and all of the freedom that comes with it, is even better than you imagined. The ability to make a pizza at 3 a.m. without mom asking what you’re doing. Heading off on road trips with your husband. Setting your own schedule to do what you want, when you want. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

There are some things I wish you would have done differently, though. If only you had known then what you know now. That’s why I’m writing to you!

You don’t know it yet, but after you graduated and moved out of mom and dad’s, you struggled to find my place in the world. You bounced from dead-end job to dead-end job. You felt unsatisfied with life. Then, when you started blogging, you finally felt a sense of satisfaction — accomplishment. It took a long time to get there, though.

Be serious about school. It may not seem like a big deal now, but it will later. Listen to your teachers, strive for good grades, study for the SATs and get into a good college. It will make things easier, I promise. Education is how you challenge your thinking and become a better person.

It was in college that you learned more about meat production. It’s where you decided to give up eating meat. It’s been a great decision, and you feel healthier every day for having done so.

I don’t hold my past decisions against myself — don’t worry, you can keep the bacon for now — but I wish there were some other things I had known. Maybe if you would have changed majors, you would have been a little happier? (We both know you love writing poetry, but were too afraid to do anything about it!)

Now, you have a career you love and write poetry as much as you like – just not professionally. Who knows, maybe you’ll get there!

Though you probably should have done some things differently (i.e. branched out more and joined a few clubs and organizations), you’re right where you need to be now.

Don’t give up, even when you feel like you should. Life gets a whole lot better.

How to write your own letter

If you want to write a letter, you may not know where to start. To get a sense of what you want to get out of the letter, start with a simple goal. Maybe you want use the letter as a topic for a college essay. If this is the case, jot down some key areas you wish to address in your letter to get an idea of what points to talk about.

You may not even know what you want from the letter, and that’s okay, too. Just write!

I wanted to confront my mistakes, so I wrote about what bothered me, what I wish I had done, and where I ended up in life.

Doing this felt sort of like a diary, but because I directed the letter towards a more naïve, younger version of myself, it was easier than I thought.

After writing my letter, I felt a sense of clarity like never before. Almost like my life flashed before my eyes, though less dramatic. 

The process meant I had to be honest with myself. What’s the point of writing a letter made for someone else to read? Dig out the heavy stuff.

Who can you get personal with, if not yourself?

If you plan to write your own letter, it’s crucial to detect self-deception — when you lie to yourself.

It can be easy to believe your own lies

We all want to paint ourselves and our past actions in the best light, even when it’s far from the truth. However, real growth comes from brutal honesty. Here’s how writing your letter will open things up for you:

A confrontation

In writing a letter to my younger self, I can confront my decisions and gain peace. It’s over — done with. I can’t change it. All I can do is hope to get closure.

The same goes for my decision to stop eating meat. When I first discovered how manufacturers made meat products, I felt guilty for my participation. I believed, because of my purchase habits, I was responsible for the horrible conditions. I lacked compassion for my own choices, whether right or wrong.

At 15, I know I wasn’t thinking about where my food came from and how it was made. I was thinking about boys and college and getting my driver’s license.

In college, I was afraid to pursue a career that I’d really like because I didn’t know how successful I would be. Even if I worked hard, how good could it really get? I decided to major in English instead, which proved to be just fine, but I beat myself up a lot after college for chickening out.

Feeling bad for myself did nothing constructive.

In the end, I was able to write for a living, which is just what I wanted. Though it’s not poetry, I can still pick up a pad and pen whenever I please. Even though it wasn’t in the cards, maybe it will be someday.

The idea is to confront your emotions in a raw and honest way.

If you have any trouble, start with a sentence a day and work your way up to a letter.

How was your day today? How will you make tomorrow better?

Eventually, the thoughts will just flow, and you’ll have written a page in no time.

A sense of peace

If you’re exceptionally hard on yourself, you’re not alone. I’ve gone through the negative cycle of berating myself for past mistakes, even though the outcome can’t be changed. However, self-criticism can take a toll — on both our minds and bodies.

Our brains are trained to distinguish the good from the bad. When we sway from our goals or expectations, we assign a negative value to the experience. 

Writing a letter to my past-self allowed me to access the more compassionate side of my brain — to analyze the situation in a new light.

We’re human, and we all make mistakes, no matter how evolved we are. The trick is to learn from mistakes in order to not make them again. So far, I think I’m doing alright in that department. 

You’ve written the letter — now what?

Once I wrote my letter, I signed it, sealed it in an envelope and — stuck it in a drawer. Sorry if that’s anti-climactic, but it’s the truth.

It’s not about who reads the letter or where it ends up. It’s about the writing process. Typically, dwelling on the past is a vicious cycle, but writing is a healing process that has real benefit. 

When you talk to someone, as in traditional therapy, you get the opportunity to vent your feelings and frustrations. When you write a letter to your younger self, you try to understand and learn from past decisions and emotions.

Don’t just relive past events

Focus on the emotions you felt and consider how you changed for the better as a result. This exercise can be especially beneficial for those who are introverted, like me, and prefer to keep to themselves.

Writing a letter to your younger self isn’t hard. Just pick up a pen and get going. Consider life events that have shaped who you are and how you think. When finished, seal the letter away to reflect on later. Likewise, you can toss it in the trash and consider it the end to a healing experience.

What will you write next?

My Journey From Panic to Public Speaking

By | empowering, Food for thought, how-to guide, personal essay, self, self-development, Self-Improvement, success stories

When my anxiety was at its peak, I had multiple panic attacks every day. My body was always on high alert, fight-or-flight always active, heart-rate always elevated. My “worst case scenario” mind was overactive and incessant, fuelling a constant sense of foreboding.

When even the smallest interactions and everyday challenges trigger extreme anxiety, you can begin to lose hope.

Indeed, I did — I felt I couldn’t cope with life’s challenges. How will I ever thrive and be free to live the life I want, if I’m forever crippled by fear?

Fear was my default state

So imagine my response to genuinely nerve-inducing situations. Catalyzed by the addition of normal nerves, these situations felt unbearable. My anxiety was often triggered by anticipation alone.

Panic attacks became so frequent I lost count — but one moment has stayed with me.

“I can’t cope”

Public speaking is challenging at the best of times, but during this period of my life, it was the cause of despair. Even the vague possibility of public speaking caused vivid mental images of nightmare scenarios. Choking, losing track, stumbling over words: “I can’t cope…”

It’s a normal day. I’m at university. The workshop is relaxed; I’m not. There’s a group of around 12. These are my peers; many are friends. With a couple of sentences, we’re asked to share our ideas for an upcoming project. Just a few words. Just speaking. In public…

As soon as I hear the sentence “let’s go around the circle,” I begin to lose control

The usual symptoms are there — the lump in the throat, hyperventilation, racing heart, a sense of utter terror. But I remember this panic attack because it was different.

It was the first time I left the situation. It was the first time I walked away. I didn’t attend further lectures that day.

Instead, I walked home, closed the curtains, got into bed, and shut myself away from the world, as “I can’t cope, I can’t cope, I can’t cope…” played on loop in my mind.

Taking the stage and finding the flow

Fast forward a few years: it’s not quite a normal day. I’m in the exquisite and enchanted Castello di Titignano for SAND Italy 2019. The room is relaxed. Weirdly, I’m relaxed too. This is weird because I’m about to step to the podium and present at a conference for the first time.

The crowd of faces aren’t just peers, but respected artists, philosophers, scientists, writers, and spiritual teachers. A subtle hum of imposter syndrome resides, somewhere, in the recesses of mind. But I don’t pay attention.

As soon as I hear a volunteer utter the sentence “where’s the next speaker?” I feel calm. I take to the stage. I clear my throat. I speak. I don’t choke. I find flow. I enjoy myself. Me. Speaking publicly. Enjoying the experience. Thriving… 

How did I make this journey from panic to public speaking?

Naturally the journey has been long and full of challenges. I can’t summarize the entire journey in one article, but I wish to share four key pointers that have helped the most. I believe they will assist your journey, too.

1. I used the power of vulnerability

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.

Brené Brown

When I reflect on those days of panic, I’m struck by how much energy was used trying to “hold myself together.”

I was terrified of being seen. I was so terrified of my anxiety being detected that I became a master of disguise. Many close friends and family had no idea what I was going through at the time.

The more anxious I felt, the more I tried to hide. I was attempting to veil my vulnerability. This was intensified with public speaking. The moment my hands started to shake or my voice trembled, I’d do all I could to pretend I was fine, okay, calm.

Slowly, I found the courage to remove the facade

The process of vocalizing brings anxiety from the shadow into the light. It reduces energy wasted with futile attempts at concealment. To my surprise I felt instant relief when I labelled my anxiety. Later, I realized this was the first step in the process of acceptance.

2. I took a mindful approach

Panic disorder is the fear of anxiety itself. It’s anxiety about anxiety! Nerve-inducing moments were so difficult precisely because they triggered this chain reaction.

Mindfulness is the practice of non-judgement. Through meditation, I learned to accept thoughts, feelings, and sensations. I paused the chain reaction.

Then, using mindfulness, I started to deconstruct “panic” into its individual parts.

I broke panic down into the stories I was telling myself.

I noticed I was oxygenizing panic by telling myself I was weak or foolish or incapable. In the light of awareness I was able to challenge these thoughts. Further still, I noticed resistance to the physiological “cues” of panic. I sat with them in meditation.

Like apparitions, they lost their believability over time. Thoughts are just thoughts. Feelings are just feelings. Sensations are just sensations.

Through awareness and non-judgement, my reaction to anxiety decreased. I was no longer afraid of anxiety. I welcomed it.

3. I built a connection with the crowd

You feel nervous. You’re counting down the seconds until it’s your turn in the spotlight. You take the stage. You look out to a sea of faces. The rich tapestry of unique individuals is now dehumanized and threatening. You feel disconnected and separated: it’s you versus the crowd. 

My toughest moments with anxiety were fused with a sense of isolation. Perceiving yourself in opposition to the crowd only increases anxiety. It’s impossible to feel supported and loved. It’s impossible to sense the crowd wanting the best for you.

Breathe individuality into the crowd.

Don’t look out at a sea of faces. See an opportunity to talk one-on-one with a room of beautifully unique beings. Make eye contact with individuals, and every time you do, have the intent to connect, human to human. Transform “you versus them” to “us.”

4. Step aside and surrender

Separation, fear of being judged, fear of failure, catastrophizing… these are ego traits.

We often associate ego with narcissism and pride, but our egos are equally active in moments of self-doubt or insecurity. From this perspective, fear of making a fool of yourself is a form of narcissism; it’s just motivated from the other end of the ego spectrum.

The good news is — you are not your ego.

Once you feel comfortable on stage, the next challenge is to embrace it, to enjoy it.

The best way to do this is to surrender completely. Move out of your way and let your authenticity speaks for itself. Surrender fears, doubts, concerns.

This takes great courage. It’s the ultimate act of vulnerability.

Never forget…

If you’re suffering from anxiety, I want you to remember hope is not lost. Take small steps. Aspire. Create a vision to move towards and know one day, you’ll look back at the path you’ve walked and you’ll be amazed.

All the habits, mechanisms, and tools you apply in your return to baseline don’t lose their power — they place you on a path of life-long growth.

Self-Care Isn’t Self-Love — and It’s Not Enough

By | challenging, emotional health, Food for thought, how-to guide, self, Self-Improvement

If you pay attention to trending conversations, chances are you’ve heard talk of  “self-care.” It’s not like the concept of caring for oneself is new, but the way we talk about it is.

My first encounter with “self-care” occurred during my 6-year stint at Montreal’s Centre for Gender Advocacy—a feminist & anti-racist social justice organization.

My job? Working ‘round the clock with countless volunteers on difficult-to-navigate issues: gendered violence, missing native women, reproductive rights, and transphobia—for starters. We organized educational workshops, lectures, marches.

It was meaningful, yet exhausting. And thankless, in many ways. Anyone with a background in social justice organizing will likely know what I mean.

Enter “activist burnout”

A few years ago, self-care workshops began to surface, largely in response to this widespread tendency to work without rest or repose until one feels like a hollow shell of oneself. Yet I, who was sorely suffering from said burnout, had a negative reaction to these workshops, almost one of revulsion.

My self-care is going the hell home, I would think to myself, ironically and judgmentally. What can I say?

Burnout, for me, meant losing interest in work that was really personal and important to me, and beginning to resent anyone who made demands on my time.

Personally, I attribute the rising level of discussion about its importance to a more obsessed all-around work ethic. Self-care has seemingly surfaced in tandem with terms like “work-life balance.”

While some might blame the omnipotent constant known as the internet for our ability to work from anywhere, anytime, the deeper problem is an inherent lack of deeper self-love — rather than an easily prescribable need for better self-care routines.

Self-care vs. self-love in the world series of happiness

What is self-care, anyway?

Photo Credit: Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

Essentially, it’s the act of taking care of yourself — both physically and emotionally. In other words, it’s making sure you take the time you need to feel generally at peace.

This could take the form of spending the night in rather than going out, limiting your social media time, getting a facial massage, going running, reading more novels, or eating something that makes you feel good.

Self-care is allowing yourself enough good stuff to help you grow

To really love yourself, however, you need to dig even deeper. Self-love means learning to manifest gratitude and acceptance toward yourself—both physically and emotionally. 

This could mean revising your self-talk to make it more positive, throwing out your scale, or letting go of regret and jealousy of others.

Self-love, by its very nature, is supposed to be unconditional and unapologetic, while self-care is about taking time needed to feel good in your skin.

Why is self-love more important than self-care?

Here are the kinds of problems that I have observed with notions of self-care in the social justice world, which I also apply to the corporate world — and many other contexts as well:

1. It’s so surface-level

Let me rephrase: the problem isn’t so much about self-care as that the conversations around it tend to remain insular, not expanding beyond self-care.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ll be the last to nix self-care, but I’ve never met someone who needed more bubble baths without also needing deeper self-love, understanding, and kindness.

This wouldn’t be a thing if baths, face masks, and the like didn’t often get treated as a stand-in for more deeply rooted peace of mind.

2. It shouldn’t create more work for you

In my former line of work as a social justice advocate, people approached the perceived need for self-care… with workshops.

That’s right: workshops to counteract the effects of too many workshops.

While this route most definitely works for many people, it seems to me that self-care needs can be as personal as the palm of your hand—if you let it be.

In my case, my needs involved finding a way to take an extended hiatus from work that involves constant interaction with others. I felt guilty for a long time that my way of caring for myself was on the antisocial side. But I needed a break from work — and that’s what a lot of people need.

3. It should be integrated, rather than occasional

The entire urge for self-care to begin with comes from a lack of ability to integrate relaxation, fun, and good health into your day-to-day life.

Although we don’t like to face it, often what is truly needed is a reimagining of our life as we know it — because the way we structure our time is often detrimental to our mental and emotional health.

Not what you want to hear? I know, I hear you. But it happens.

How to turn self-care into self-love

Here are a few helpful strategies I have learned in my colorful trek from burned out to rekindled:

1. Say no — just do it

Lots of us have trouble saying no to requests and/or expectations of various shades, be they at work or at home or even among friends. Especially women.

Don’t feel like doing something, or simply don’t have the energy? Say so.

Having less time to play roles or engage in activities that deplete you means more time for welcoming brighter, better things. And those things don’t always take the form you expect.

2. Get over the need to be liked

While you’re relinquishing your need to say yes, you might as well relinquish your need to be liked too.

As someone very wise once said, “if everyone likes you, you’re doing it wrong.”

It can be a tough and toxic world out there, and staying healthy in body and mind can mean existing somewhat at odds with its stickier elements. It’s important you find peace in that.

3. Discover what you’re capable of giving on a full tank

Bottom line: Don’t stop taking bubble baths — just don’t confuse the bubbles for hearty, messy, enduring self-love.

Once you feel true self-love, there’s no telling what you’ll have to give others.

If what you want is to increase your capacity to do, then loving yourself is a great start.

Cold Shower: How Complaining Made My Life Miserable (and How I Stopped)

By | challenging, Food for thought, friends, mindset, personal essay, self, Self-Improvement

My optimism used to be my greatest strength. Whatever happened, I always had the power to genuinely smile.

Smiling made me feel better, and I was ten times happier when my good mood made others around me smile too. I felt like it was my responsibility to lift up other people’s spirits, even those who were not so close to me.

I never thought that I would ever become bitter, but certain life events can completely change you without warning. I went from optimist to trapped in a cycle of misery,

Here’s how I lost my optimism:

I had a chance to give hope and make a difference

I was 21, studying hard for my finals, and doing my research, which involved interviewing children with cancer as well as their parents — not just regular interviews, but listening to life stories. Needless to say, it was consuming me, but those children had someone to play with, and their parents someone to talk to

Playing with these children was part of the process, since I couldn’t directly ask them about their illness — the situation was too delicate. After that, I would listen to their parents’ stories. It was hard seeing those children and their parents in so much pain. But seeing them smile during our sessions was so amazing that, at the end of the day, the fact that the whole process took a toll on me didn’t seem to matter.

But in those six months of visiting children with a 25% chance of survival– constantly lying to them that things will get better and they’ll soon be able to go back to their homes– I began to face my own share of tragedy.

Broken inside, with a huge smile for pictures

I lost those dearest to me: both of my grandparents that raised me. I would’ve given my life without any second thoughts if it could’ve saved them. But unlike in fairytales, there was no devil to make a pact with.

As they say, life goes on. I was on autopilot, desperately trying to find comfort in the arms of my high school sweetheart. But he didn’t love me anymore — he pitied me and didn’t have the heart to leave me in such moments. Silly me! He ended our relationship the night before my graduation.

I couldn’t sleep that whole night. The next morning, I got up, put on some makeup, and went to celebrate. I didn’t want to look sad in the photos that marked an important moment of my life, so I pretended.

The great pretender became the great complainer

All the pretending started to backfire. My pain began to surface and I slowly turned into one of those whining people no one can stand. The kind that we consider toxic because they constantly complain and see the negative in everything.

I could’ve won the lottery, found a thousand people to care for me, had a great job, and I would still have complained.

I was indeed toxic… to myself and everyone around me.

But I didn’t realize it. How could I? I was in pain and had reason to complain; my reasons for being unhappy were serious. I didn’t complain because I couldn’t find a pretty pair of shoes. I’d lost the people I’d loved the most and the longest, then my first love left me.

Regardless of reasons, I was sabotaging myself. The people around me were getting tired of listening to the same tape on repeat.

The cold shower that woke me up:

Waterfall man is happy

Thankfully, I have a blunt friend who would always “slap” me in the face whenever I took it too far. We promised each other that we would tell the truth, even when it hurt. We need someone to put us back on track, so this was a mutual favor we would do whenever it was necessary.

After two years of hearing me complain about everything, my friend confronted me. She was patient enough, but I began projecting my negative feelings onto everything and everyone else.

I was seeing the worst in everything — always suspicious, always cynical — and my friend inally flamed up!

You’re driving me insane! Aren’t you tired of talking about the same things over and over again? It’s been two years and it seems like you’re not even trying to get over it.

It was painful — but necessary

I was offended! Of course, she was supposed to tell me the truth — that’s why we were friends to begin with. She always told me if she thought I was making a wrong decision, and I loved her for that. But this time I was in pain. I thought if she couldn’t give me any advice, she could’ve at least listened.

My friend’s verbal “slap” was like a cold shower. It even led met to start questioning our friendship. My simple response was “we’ll see how you cope when stuff like this happens to you. Then I just changed the subject.

Then something weird happened:after changing the subject, I was able to actually laugh at some stories she told me.

When I got back home I thought a lot about her words and finally realized the obvious: she was the one trying to help me– and I was the one resisting it.

I forgot the most important thing:

There was nothing great happening in my life back then, but neither was anything terrible. I had no reasons to suffer — other than the ones I couldn’t let go of.

My friend confronted me with the reality that I wasn’t even trying to get over my problems, so I started there: with trying. I forced myself to see and be grateful for the things that were neither great nor bad.

At first, I wasn’t able to use the term “good” so I would just say “it’s not that bad.”

It took me a while, but I managed to practice gratitude in my own way.

Now I can be grateful simply because it’s sunny outside. Sometimes I want to hug my coffee mug, sometimes I see someone randomly smiling on their way home and it fills me up with joy. No, I’m not crazy — I still can’t help being cynical at times — but at least I try to see the good things happening around me.

There’s always something to be grateful for, but complaining takes away our ability to see it. My friend’s blunt approach opened my eyes and now I know better than to dwell on the negative.