What Does It Take To Make A Relationship Work: Couples Secrets

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What Makes a Strong Family: The Factors Involved

When we are asked about our opinions about the word family, a whole lot of us would first consider our parents, followed by our...

Meditation Prep

Get Your Sit Together: 7 Best Meditation Cushions to Support Your Practice

  Meditation cushions can make all the difference when it comes to a successful, comfortable meditation practice—for beginners and experts alike. Here are the best...

What Are Mala Beads? And How Do I Use Them?

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Get Your Sit Together: 7 Best Meditation Cushions to Support Your Practice

  Meditation cushions can make all the difference when it comes to a successful, comfortable meditation practice—for beginners and experts alike. Here are the best...

Everything You Need to Know About Meditation Posture

  Do you sit down for meditation and wonder if you're doing it right? Learn all about the universal meditation posture here. There are a million forms of meditation in...

Elena Brower’s Sequence to Strengthen Core Connection

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A Sequence to Beat Restlessness + Prep for Meditation

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Alan Finger’s Energy-Clearing Yoga Sequence to Prepare for Meditation

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Benefits of Meditation

Helping Heal The World

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This Is How Becoming A Father Transformed Me

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4 Mindfulness Tips To Reclaim Your Center & Ground Your Being

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Accessing Unlimited Possibility

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How I Climbed Out of the Valley of Loss and Healed

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3 Negative Inner Voices and How to Challenge Them

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How to Mindfully Calm Your Anger and Stop Doing Things You Regret

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Compassion Is the Key to Overcoming Hardship (and Insomnia)

“You can never know how many lives you’ve touched, so just know it’s far more than you think. Even the tiniest acts of love, kindness, and compassion can have a massive ripple effect. You have made the world a better place, even if it doesn’t seem like it.” ~Lori Deschene I never had trouble sleeping until I got divorced. I never had a nervous breakdown either. Bankruptcy, fighting for custody of my children, and losing my business and my home definitely pushed things over the edge. What made matters worse is that unabated, stress-related sleep deprivation can lead to difficulty functioning, depression, and incredible self-loathing. In other words, insomnia completely messes with your mind. Having a psychiatrist in the family should have been helpful; at least he was well-intended. And, while it’s not exactly best practice to prescribe for a relative, I was literally frozen in my bed, eyes wide open for way too many nights in a row, with two small children to care for. I was living in Las Vegas and desperate for help. He was in New York, near the rest of my family. Out of love and pity, he conceded. We started with Ambien for the first few nights. Nothing. We tried Lunesta which made me more wakeful. I am pretty sure the move into Restoril is what made me break.  According to rxlist.com, Restoril can “cause paranoid or suicidal ideation and impair memory, judgment, and coordination.  “ Taking Restoril did not restore my sleep. It caused me to temporarily lose my mind. Lying in bed, my eyes were glued wide open in panic. I was convinced that my children would be taken away to be raised by their father and his girlfriend, while I would be locked up in some random psych ward, forever wearing a white hospital gown. I would lose everything and bring complete shame to myself and my family. What had gone wrong? I was born happy and easygoing; nothing much ever fazed me. I was an independent, self-assured child who had grown into a strong, grateful woman. I was a free-spirited artist, always known for “looking on the bright side.” Now, lying in sleepless wait, taking my own life frequently floated in and out of my extremely messed-up mind. Thankfully, I always concluded that I could never abandon my children or destroy my family. Still, I was so completely traumatized that I literally could not move unless absolutely necessary. My meditation cushion was next to my bed; I had just started this practice and did not yet have strong skills. All I knew was that after I sat, I could gather myself enough to care for my sons. I can’t recall if it was two or three weeks that passed in what I now refer to as my “psychotic break.” I do remember my relative, the doctor, saying, “Elizabeth, I’ve given you enough sedatives and tranquilizers to take down an elephant, and you’re still not sleeping. There is a chance you are bipolar. It can have a very fast onset, and it runs in our family.” Bipolar? Me? Little Miss Sunshine?? That was all I needed to hear. I had started a business designing clothes that had taken off too quickly, requiring me to spend time in Los Angeles. Since my children were with their father two weeks of the month, I had rented a tiny studio in Topanga Canyon, a beautiful, peaceful, hippie enclave between the Valley and Malibu. I knew my only hope for sanity was in that canyon, but my lease was up and I had no money. My mother, terrified for my sanity, gave me the last month’s rent. I tossed out the meds, got into my car (against better judgment), and drove the four hours from Vegas to Topanga. On the way, I stopped at Whole Foods and bought at least three different natural sleep remedies with clear instructions on how to use them. The first few nights I tossed, sweated, and pitched. My meditation cushion was the only place I could find relief, so I was sure to sit on and off, even just for a few minutes, whenever I could drag myself out of bed. During the day, I forced myself to take short walks because I knew if I did things that were “normal,” eventually I would be. After four days and nights detoxing, I finally slept. Not soundly and not all the way through, but the spell was clearly broken. I was taking Valerian, a remedy called “Calms,” and melatonin.  By the end of the week, my nightmare seemed to be over. Months later, I realized I’d had a nervous breakdown. My nervous system was shot, and I suffered tremendous repercussions for well over a year. After that, my meditation practice grew stronger by the day. And, while my sleep improved, the rest of my life was still extremely challenged. My business failed badly. My former business partner sued me and put a lien on the house I had purchased with borrowed money. My ex-husband filed bankruptcy, which fell onto me. With no business, no income, and no way to sell my house because of the lien, I was looking at huge debt plus a mortgage I had no way of paying. I had very little alimony or child support. The relationship with my ex had become a battleground, littered with the torn parts of our once happy life. I had one choice: to step up or give up. I remember wondering, if I was having such a hard time getting through a divorce, how did people overcome the worst things imaginable?  How could a mother survive losing a child? I made up my mind to find out that answer and share it with others. I knew I could write but needed help with marketing. An ad on Craigslist led me to Angela Daffron, who ran a small marketing business. She was a stalking victim who had become an advocate for other victims. Angela’s story was devastating, and she clearly had become empowered through helping others. But I needed to understand surviving pain on an even deeper level. I tracked down Candace Lightner, whose fourteen-year-old daughter Cari was killed by a drunk driver with four prior convictions. Candace had led a one-woman, grassroots, pre-Internet crusade against drunk driving and founded MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). Today, MADD has been estimated to have saved close to 600,000 lives. More recently, Candace had founded “We Save Lives,” another non-profit devoted to ending drugged, drunk, and distracted driving. I needed to know how Candace got out of bed the day after Cari was killed. I found her email online and reached out. Candace was incredibly generous with her time—that conversation was the first of many that evolved into a deep, lifelong friendship. Keeping others safe on the highway was Candace’s life’s mission, and she let nothing get in her way.  Cari’s life had to serve a purpose; through that, Candace discovered a path through her pain. I continued interviewing women who had been through hell and back, so I could learn. So I could share. So I could recover. A pattern emerged: Mary Griffith’s son Bobby was gay, and Mary could not accept him. Bobby killed himself by jumping off an overpass into ongoing traffic. Mary became one of the greatest LGBT advocates of her day. Eva Eger had been forced to dance for famed SS leader Joseph Mengele in Auschwitz. She survived the Holocaust but lost her entire family. Eva became a psychotherapist. Deanne Breedlove’s son Ben passed from heart disease at just eighteen years old. Before he died, unbeknownst to anyone, Ben made a video that shared a near death experience with all of the peace, love, beauty, and angels that he experienced. Ben passed on Christmas Day 2011. By the next morning, his video had gone viral around the world. Deanne devoted her days to volunteering at Dell Children’s Hospital, where Ben had spent so much of his life. She offers love and support to parents with sick and dying children. My learning continued. Writing stories about loss, rape, and homelessness with everything in-between, made it clear: Compassion was key to overcoming hardship. And, it wasn’t necessary to write a book, change laws, or start a non-profit. Compassion could mean showing up for anyone in some small way… even if that “anyone” was you. I became more compassionate. I meditated, spent more time in nature, and took better care of my body. I paid more attention to my roles as a daughter, sister, friend, and mother. I learned to pause and make sure that, if someone needed me, I was there. I became a much better listener, especially with my children. I was also fired up with the purpose of sharing what I had learned with others. With all of these changes, my outer world hadn’t yet caught up with my inner world. My spirit was stronger, but I was still struggling financially and emotionally. I still could not reconcile the mess I had made of my life.  I fell into the bad habit of continually beating myself up for my mistakes, spending sleepless nights doing the life review of all the ways I had messed up, over and over again. I also did not know that the unconscious mind cannot differentiate the past and the present.  Somewhere deep in my psyche I believed that difficulty sleeping meant I would go off the deep end again. The anxiety around sleep became worse than the insomnia itself. I went to a sleep specialist to ensure there was nothing physically wrong. My internist prescribed medication for when insomnia hit really hard. I found a hypnotherapist who helped re-train my subconscious. When I woke in the night, I meditated so my body could find rest. This time, sleep deprivation was not taking me down.  I was referred to a website called WIFE.org, which stands for the Women’s Institute for Financial Education. WIFE was the nation’s longest running non-profit devoted to female financial literacy. On the home page, I saw that, for $1, I could order a bumper sticker that read, “A Man is Not a Financial Plan.” In that moment, I understood that if I could personally help women through their divorces, I would survive. Two days later, I landed on co-founder Candace’s Bahr’s doorstep. She and her partner, Ginita Wall, were two of the nation’s greatest advocates in helping women become financially literate. They had also been running a workshop called “Second Saturday: What Every Women Needs to Know About Divorce” for almost twenty-five years. Second Saturday provided free legal, financial, and emotional advice for women in any stage of divorce, beginning with just thinking about it. I let Candace and Ginita know I was going to advocate, volunteer, and work for them. I told them they were “never getting rid of me.” Within one year, I raised enough money to help them roll Second Saturday out nationally. Three years later we had gone from two locations to over one hundred and twenty. Every Second Saturday, I bared my soul and told my awful tale to groups of women in the most vulnerable possible way I could. Just as I had been, they were terrified. I wanted them to know that they were not alone, and they would survive. I also wanted to let them know that their lives would unfold in remarkable ways. In sharing my darkest moments, I helped them get through theirs. From that space, my true healing began.   When I was helping others, I forgot my own pain. And, when I saw how my story helped others, my journey of forgiveness began, beginning with myself. With all of this new awareness and an amazing, supportive community, my struggles had less and less impact. I continued working with Candace and Ginita, and slowly but surely, my outer life began to shift.  I made art to soothe my soul and created a program to share artmaking with other women. My children were the true center of my world, and I made the most of every moment I had with them. I became more and more grateful for every part of my life, including—and especially—the struggles. Had I not gone through a terrible divorce, I never would have met Candace Lightner, Mary Griffith, Eva Eger, Deanne Breedlove, Candace and Ginita, and so many other remarkable people. I never would have helped thousands of women get through their own struggles. I would never have understood that we are all born with infinite gifts that we were meant to share with others. Insomnia had led to compassion and purpose. Eventually, I fell in love and married again. This time with a man who supported every part of my being, including my artist’s soul. My purpose in helping others transformed to our joint purpose: sharing the healing benefits of art. We founded “The Spread Your Wings Project,” a non-profit with a mission of being an uplifting response to the tragedies faced by our nation today. We are blessed to make massive pairs of angel wings in community with children. We are humbled and grateful to have worked with Dell Children’s Hospital, and the city of Las Vegas, in honor of lives lost on 10/1/17. Today, we are incredibly honored to be partnering with Dylan’s Wings of Change, a foundation borne of the Sandy Hook shooting. Ian Hockley lost his beautiful six-year-old Dylan on that tragic day. In Dylan’s honor, he founded DWC and “Wingman,” an educational curriculum that teaches children compassion, empathy, and inclusion. What could be more important than that? We are launching “Spread Your Wings with Wingman,” where we will build massive angel wings with schoolchildren across the country. What an incredible gift for someone who believed her life was worthless! Two weeks ago, I had a few rough nights. Instead of spiraling down the insanity vortex, my older, wiser self took over. I embraced my sleep struggles as a sign to practice more self-love. I slowed down. I listened to the trees. I created more boundaries with people and technology. I counted my blessings that everyone I love is healthy and well, at least in this moment. I sent more prayers and gratitude to the amazing people who, through their stories, helped me re-write mine. I dove into preparation for “Spread Your Wings with Wingman,” and remembered everything I learned, beginning with this: Compassion—beginning with self-compassion—is the key to a good night’s sleep. About Elizabeth Bryan-Jacobs Elizabeth Bryan-Jacobs is an artist and bestselling author of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings and Soul Models: Transformative Stories of Courage and Compassion.  She founded “Creative Awakenings,” a transformational creativity program that she teaches nationally. She and her husband, artist Bobby Jacobs, founded “The Spread Your Wings Project,” a 501 (c) 3 to share the profound benefits of the arts and art therapy.  To learn more, visit  www.elizabethbryanjacobs.com and www.thespreadyourwingsproject.org. See a typo, an inaccuracy, or something offensive? Please contact us so we can fix it!

Healing from the Trauma of Narcissistic Abuse

“Don’t blame a clown for acting like a clown. Ask yourself why you keep going to the circus.” ~Unknown When I first experienced narcissistic abuse as an adult, it was a at a time when the term “narcissistic abuse” was not so heard of or understood. I had met a handsome, intelligent, charismatic, and charming man, and as is typical in abusive relationships, had been completely overwhelmed by the intensity and ‘love’-overload of the early stages. Before I could catch my breath, though, the nitpicking started, and so did the heated arguments, the jealousy, the cutting contact, and disappearing for days on end—shortly followed by dramatic make-ups, apologies, gifts, and promises. And so had begun the emotional roller coaster ride that is dating a narcissist. Many months later, I found myself becoming a different person. I was stressed, anxious, paranoid, increasingly isolated, and cranky. I was totally lost and felt like nobody understood. Friends couldn’t understand why we couldn’t just end things. We were hooked in a destructive bond. At the worst points being caught in a toxic relationship feels utterly maddening. After months of relationship highs and lows, of it being on and off, the gaslighting, accusations, and coercive control, I honestly began to believe I was losing my mind. I was stuck trying to make sense of my experience, and the logical part of my mind was desperately searching for answers to so many questions: Why did he cheat?What was so wrong with me?Why did he lie?What were lies and what was the truth?Was any of it real?Did he ever really say the things he said?Was he even capable of love?How could things have been different?What else could or should I have done? These are some of the same questions I hear my clients ask now when they come to me for support in healing from narcissistic abuse. The Journey of Healing My own recovery started one particularly frantic night. I was incredibly upset and desperate to make sense of what was going on. Searching online, I happened to come across information about sociopaths and narcissists and this particular kind of psychological abuse. This was a pivotal moment. I had never heard anybody use the term “narcissistic abuse,” and at that time (this was many years ago), there was hardly any information around about it. But I knew, the moment I read this, that this was it. It shifted my whole perspective. It was shocking, confusing, although overall, an unbelievable relief. I realized this was a ‘thing’ and that for the first time, other people understood. More importantly, there was a way out. Reading more about psychological abuse, I arrived at my first key point in healing: I Realized It’s Not Me—I’m Not Crazy! Toxic relationships will leave you feeling like you are mad. Often abusive partners will reinforce this by never taking responsibility and constantly telling you in various ways that it is your fault or your issues. My narcissistic partner would criticize and undermine me in all sorts of strange and subtle ways, including judgments or ‘suggestions.’ He would often communicate in ways that would leave me doubting or questioning myself. As is the power of being with a narcissist, at the time, I was eager to please and impress. If I ever pulled him up on any of the criticisms, he accused me of being negative, told me he was trying to support my personal growth, that I was being sensitive, paranoid, that I was over-reacting, or that I had issues. This kind of abuse in itself is maddening. I realized that all of what I had been feeling was in itself the symptoms of being in an emotionally abusive relationship. I was not and am not mad, but I was in a mad relationship. I found as I cut contact and removed myself from the toxic dynamic that my sense of sanity swiftly returned. This is something that many sufferers I work with now also experience. You are not crazy, but if you are in an abusive relationship, you are in a relationship dynamic that will leave you feeling like you are. Letting Go of the Need to Understand and Know It’s our mind’s natural tendency to want to make sense of our experience; however, with narcissism and narcissistic behavior, there is no sense. You can’t apply logic to illogical actions. I created a lot of distress for myself in the early part of my recovery by desperately clinging onto the fantasy that I somehow could understand all the what’s and whys. Being able to let go of this need to know is a big step in recovery. This was not easy at the time, but I managed this by practicing mindfulness and learning to recognize when my thoughts or attention would drift to the narcissist or on trying to work out the answers or understand the non-existent logic. As I became aware of my thoughts drifting to such a futile task, I would then try and tune into my feelings in that moment and ask myself “How am I feeling right now?” I’d mentally label the emotion and any physical sensations that went along with it. Then, knowing more clearly how I was feeling (sad, angry, etc.) I would ask myself “What do I need? What can I do for myself right now that is a loving and supportive thing to do?” Sometimes this would be to allow myself to cry, punch a pillow, reach out to a friend, or go and treat myself to something nice—to practice self-care. It was a step-by-step process to find ways in which I could gently feel my feelings and attend to my own needs. This also included the feelings I had about not having answers and accepting that maybe I never will. You can gently let go with this refocus and self-care. Make a choice about what may be harmful of helpful to your healing and recovery. Considering My Own Narcissism I laugh now that my break-up lasted longer than the actual relationship did! The toxic dynamic was addictive and really hard to let go of from both sides. An empath will care, forgive, understand, and put a narcissist’s needs before their own. A narcissist will crave the attention, contact, and power. It becomes a dance. Narcissists tend to have a disorganized attachment style. Relationships will be push and pull, on and off, up and down. Being in a relationship with a narcissist is a lot like being on an emotional roller coaster ride. It’s exhilarating and draining, but if you stay on, going round and round for long enough you will get sick! Because of the attachment style, the moment a narcissist senses you are pulling away, they will instinctively aim to pull you back in again, throwing all sorts of bait in order to hook you back. I was hooked back again and again by broken promises and wanting to believe the fantasy of how things could be. I was also hooked by believing that somehow, I could be the one to change him, to make him see, to help him love and feel loved, to make things different, to help him be the person I hoped and believed he could be. Truth be told, I wanted to be the one to capture and hold his attention and interest. However, such is the demands of narcissistic supply that it’s impossible that can ever be one person forever. Quite frankly, I had to recognize the narcissism in this. To see the narcissistic fantasy in my idea about somehow possessing some magical powers to help him heal and change. I can’t. In fact, nobody can. A narcissist’s healing and actions are their responsibility only—nobody else’s. Believing on some level you can be the ‘the one’ to change a narcissist is narcissistic to some extent in itself. This doesn’t mean somebody who has this hope has narcissistic personality disorder! It’s just helpful to recognize the ill-placed hope and fantasy. Narcissism is one of the most difficult clinical presentations for highly experienced specialists to treat. You do not have the ability or power to change or help an abuser. More to the point, why would you want to? Let Go of Fantasy Thinking and Ground Yourself in Reality Many people who’ve experienced narcissistic abuse become trapped in elusive fantasy. Fantasy thinking is clinging onto the hope of how you believe things could be, not how they actually are. One of the most confusing things I experienced when in a relationship with a narcissist was distinguishing the difference between fantasy and reality. With this there can be a discrepancy between body and mind. For example, my ex constantly told me that he was being supportive. However, I didn’t feel supported. Like in many abusive relationships, the words and the actions do not match. Nobody can really mean the words “I love you” and be violent, critical, or abusive at the same time. In recovery, it is vital to distinguish between the hope and fantasy of how things could be and the reality of how things actually are. I often hear people describe the longing for things to be like they were “in the beginning.” The start of an abusive relationship can be incredibly intense and powerful. This is the time the manipulator will ‘love-bomb’ and it can feel exhilarating, romantic, powerful, and highly addictive. Intensity is not the same as intimacy though. Real intimacy takes time and is balanced. Intensity can give you a high that you continue to crave. If you suspect you are in an unhealthy relationship, it’s important to take an honest and objective inventory of the current reality, not your ideal of how things were or could be. Right now, how safe and secure do you feel? Currently, what are the actions of your partner or ex? It can be helpful to take pen to paper and list the current behaviors or circumstances to help regain some more realistic perspective. Perhaps asking friends or family their view too. Take responsibility One of the things I feel most grateful from my experience of narcissistic abuse is that I really had to learn to take complete responsibility for myself. I had to become fully responsible for myself and my actions; my recovery, my efforts, my self-care, my finances, my health, my well-being, my life… everything. Something I see many people do while in a toxic relationship, and even following the end of one, is to become stuck with focusing their efforts and attentions on the narcissist. Over-concerning themselves with what they are now doing, or not doing, or still trying to get them to see things another way, or holding out for an apology from them, or hoping they will change or fulfil all their promises and so on. A particular hook I often hear about in my work now is the abusive partner dangling a ‘carrot on a stick’ when their partner attempts to end the relationship. This can be highly abusive as they step up the promises of providing you with whatever it is they know you wish for; be it proper commitment, a family, a secure home situation, financial purchases, or more. I have honestly yet to hear an account of when any of these promises have been honored. Instead, partners are left wasting months and years, even decades, holding on the fantasy and hope that a partner will provide them with what they need. I think it’s important to recognize the bigger perspective. If there are things you want in life, then you take complete responsibility for making them happen. Remember, too much focus on the narcissist is a big part of the problem in the first place! Healing comes with returning your focus to yourself, acknowledging your own feelings and emotional experience, recognizing your own wants and needs, and gently attending to those yourself. I truly believe that healthy relationships begin with the one we have with ourselves. That includes taking full responsibility for all aspects of ourselves and our lives. Gratitude When I was in the midst of the insanity of narcissistic abuse, I felt like I was in a living hell! At the time, I absolutely would never have entertained the concept of applying gratitude to the experience! Now, though, many years later, I can truly say I am deeply grateful for the experience. When I became aware of this particular kind of psychological and emotional abuse, the sheer depths of the pain I was experiencing propelled me to embark on a deep journey of exploration, healing, and recovery and vast personal growth, which I am now eternally grateful for. I actively practiced writing about what I could be grateful for in each part of the experience and—as difficult as that was at the time—it helped to assist my healing. I learned about narcissistic abuse, I learned how to spot the signs of both overt and covert narcissism so now I can spot this a mile off. With awareness, I have a choice. I had to take a good look at my part in the dynamic, my issues of codependency. I learned boundaries. I’ve learned healthy communication. I worked with a therapist and support group to feel and heal the family origins of some issues that related to why we attract or repeat unhealthy relationship patterns in the first place. I learned how to tune into and trust myself and my gut instinct; I always stay close to that now. I learned a huge amount about myself. I know what healthy relationships are and enjoy many of them in my life now. I’m a better, wiser, and more grateful person for going through it all. Don’t get me wrong, I would never want to experience it ever again! But I rest confident now that, because of a full recovery, I absolutely will never need to. I do not attract that kind of person anymore. In fact, I can be quite the narcissist-repellant because I recognize the warning signs. As well as spotting the signs on the outside and recognizing the abusive actions of others, I now have clear boundaries and the self-esteem to communicate them. I have also worked on what needed to be healed inside of me, and for that I am grateful. See a typo, an inaccuracy, or something offensive? Please contact us so we can fix it!

Guided Meditation

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