Toxic Hope

There are two kinds of hope for humans. The kind you need to survive and the kind you need to abandon. The hope you need to survive is the one where you do not feel absolutely hopeless and that there is no reason to live. The kind you need to abandon is toxic hope or the hope you hold on to in toxic relationships “hoping” they will change and being unable to leave.

Toxic hope is probably one of the biggest problems most humans have. It originates in trauma. When our negative beliefs are such that we are always seeking something in relationships to fill those unprocessed holes we cling to toxic hope. We go from toxic relationship to toxic relationship trying to find the one that is going to fill up the holes we have as a result of our trauma. A broken biological mother bond – we either look for someone to make us feel like they are our mothers or we mother others. A trauma of not having value or being worthwhile – we cling to someone we think is going to value us or make us feel worthwhile…one day. A trauma of needing to people please in order to be loved we keep doing everything for someone no matter how they treat us because “one day” they might love us like we seek to be loved.

Toxic relationships are formed as codependency or trauma bonding, we believe no one else will be able to accept or understand how we are except this person no matter how bad the relationship is. Fear of loss or abandonment, we must hold on to the person we have no matter how toxic they are so that we are not alone. And we keep hoping and hoping that things will get better. We keep hoping that we will get what we are seeking to find. We keep hoping that this person will wake up one day and be different.

And we end up stuck and unable to break free and spend years of our lives….hoping. And lying to ourselves.

The only way to get out of these toxic hope relationships is to examine ourselves and why we stay…why we truly stay. What is it in us that compels us to keep “hoping” to keep lying and to keep staying? We must dig deep and answer truthfully. It will always…always…always lead to unprocessed trauma.

Once you have answered the question truthfully, then what will you do about it? It can get messy. There can be children involved, divorces, and financial issues. It can be very difficult to extricate yourself. But there are only two options – free yourself from the relationship and your trauma and free your life or stay and suffer all the consequences that follow. If you have children and are in toxic relationships, you are allowing this to traumatize your children and it does not matter their age – young or older – they will be traumatized and have their views of relationships and their worth in them damaged for life if you stay. Even if you leave, they need therapy too.

You make the choice. You can go or stay. Each has consequences. Going allows you to free yourself. Staying allows you to become enslaved and damaged. But the choice is yours and whichever choice you make you have to accept the consequences. Complaining that your life sucks because you chose to stay after you have answered the question of why you are there is no one’s fault but your own.

No hope will kill you and toxic hope will kill you it’s just a matter of how and when. Seek out a therapist to objectively help you examine why you are stuck in toxic hope situations and then make a choice.

Until next time be well,


Time To Start

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Here we are another new year on the horizon. Another chance to start working on ourselves. Many people see it as a time to work on their oustide self by losing weight, getting in shape, changing their looks, but perhaps it is our inside self that we should focus on now.

Often times when clients come to see me for therapy they say I have thought about coming to counseling many times but was just too afraid to start. Starting therapy can be a very scary process. It can be overwhelming to think about opening up to a stranger about the most intimate details of your life and thoughts. It can be very scary to face our fears over possible judgment by the therapist.

Many times people feel that working on the outside is more important after all that is what other people see. The inside is hidden. Many times people can feel that they have the inside under control. They can convince themselves that the inside is not affecting them in any real way. In my experience this is never true. We cannot shut down unprocessed trauma it just finds new ways to take up residence in our lives.

When people are asked what are their resolutions or goals for the new year inevitably they relate to external things. How they look, their jobs, educational pursuits, finances, relationships are usually at the top of everyone’s lists. A lot more rarely do people talk about changing their relationship with themselves, their trauma, their negative thoughts and beliefs. That is often too personal and too challenging an idea for many people.

Unfortunately, most people also do not realize that not addressing the inside has everything to do with how the outside functions. If the inside is a mess, the outside will be also. The two are joined. The outside of you holds everything together on the inside. If the inside is not functioning in a healthy manner the outside will not either. And not just your body but everything outside will be in disarray.

This new year why not choose to work on the inside of yourself. On your trauma, your thoughts, your beliefs. Focus on the inside to affect the outside of yourself and your life. Make an appointment for therapy, go to that appointment, and stick with it even when it gets messy and hard. Keep your focus on making the inside of you happy and healthy.

There is no time like the present to start.

Until next time be well,


Grateful Choices

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Being grateful is a choice. It is a conscious choice that you can make in every moment of every day. Most people are too consumed with negative thoughts and beliefs that are automatic to find room for being grateful. That is where the choice part comes in.

Waking up every morning and making a conscious choice to be grateful with your first thoughts. Grateful to wake up. Grateful to be alive. Grateful to open your eyes. Grateful to see, feel, hear, smell. If you cannot see, can you hear? If you cannot hear, can you feel? Even if you have things going on that are not completely “normal” there are still things you can choose to be grateful for.

If you become aware, truly aware of what you are able to experience every day, you will find things to be grateful for. But it does require awareness and pushing the negative away so that the grateful things have a space at the table in your mind. It is so much easier to stick with the negative it is already there in your mind. It is ingrained. It is conditioned. It is automatic. Being grateful can become ingrained, conditioned, automatic but you have to work at it.

Every single thing that you do, see, hear, feel, taste, smell can be a point of gratitude. Do you realize that if you did that for each of these things in just one day, one hour, one minute how much joy and gratitude you would be able to experience? On a slow day, tens or hundreds of things. On a busy day, thousands or millions of things. Millions of points of gratitude. Just think about it.

If you spend only a miniscule part of your day choosing to be grateful instead of letting negative automatic thoughts and beliefs run the show, you can have a huge impact on your brain and your life. But what if you did it for the bulk of your day? Imagine the effect on your brain, your levels of serotonin and dopamine, and on your life.

What can you be grateful for right now? In this moment what can you choose to be grateful for? I will do my moment right now. I am grateful for my ability to type and compose blogs. I am grateful for my warm fuzzy cover. I am grateful for my laptop. I am grateful for my laptop pillow. I am grateful for fiber internet and streaming sports. I am grateful for coffee. I am grateful for the beautiful sunshine and fall leaves outside. I am grateful for a full night’s sleep last night.

I could keep going because if I stop and think about it, become aware of it, there are an endless amount of things I could be grateful for in a single moment in time. If you stop and think about it, be aware of it, you too would probably have an enormous list in just a moment’s time. Imagine what it would be like to have it for all of the 86,400 seconds in a single day. That is a lot of gratitude.

Start today, right now, what do you choose to be grateful for and keep it going.

Until next time be well,


Positive Focus

Most people in therapy do not react positively when it is suggested that they focus on the positive. To many, it seems like an oversimplification and that combatting life long trauma and negative beliefs cannot be that simple. It is not simple, but it is absolutely effective in combatting negative beliefs and trauma conditioning.

It is not simple, nor is it fast. Many people who come to therapy want both. A simple and quick solution to their problems. Likely, it is a combination of our society now where everything is easy and quick to get with just a click of a mouse or an app on our phones. The other part of the combination is that people just want their issues to go away like magic. Processing trauma and conditioned responses from trauma is work and nobod wants that.

The one thing people forget in all of this is that your thoughts are your life.

Whatever you think is how you will live your life. If you think you are not valued, not worthwhile, not lovable, not smart, not pretty, not able to love yourself this is exactly how you will live your life. It will be how you engage in every relationship from those points of view. It will be how you experience everything.

Negative thoughts and beliefs will impact every aspect of your life. Not only do they impact how you feel, but they also impact how you think others feel about you. Your responses will be guided by your thoughts and beliefs. Every decision will be based on what you think that gets translated into how you feel that gets translated into what you do.

Every negative thought and belief has an equal, absolute positive opposite you just have to be aware and find it. You have to be aware of the negative things you think and believe about yourself. The things you say to yourself repeatedly every day. If you stop and think about them you will know what they are. Your brain is intimately familiar with them. Ask yourself, what negative things do I believe and repeat to myself. Write them down just as they come to you word for word.

For each one also write down the absolute positive opposite. The brain works in absolutes. It absolutely believes you if you say I am not valued enough. It cannot differentiate between a lie and the truth or in this case conditioning and the truth. It will only believe what you tell it. If what you believe and think is I am not valued then the absolute positive is I am valuable. Absolute positive opposite.

You must come up with these for every negative thing you think and believe. Write them down. The next step is to incorporate them into your life. The incorpoation involves saying them, repeatedly and often. Saying them when the negatives are there. Putting them where you can see them repeatedly every day. Where you brush your teeth, on the refrigerator, at your workspace, as reminders on your phone. Say them often and with belief in them.

How long will it take for you to replace negatives with positives? There is no measurement to fit every person. For each person it is different, and it depends heavily on that person’s investment in doing the replacement. How long did it take you to get where you are right now with the negatives? A long time I would guess. But by being aware and noticing the differences that happen when your brain starts to incorporate and believe the positives, you will be able to move the process along.

Positive focus is a powerful force that can change your life forever if you are willing to invest the time and energy.

Until next time be well,


Never Too Late

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Many times my clients will feel and say that they think it is too late to change their lives. They can be younger or older but because they have lived in conditioned states from trauma for years of their lives they feel that it is too late to do anything about it. They feel that it will just be too hard and take too long to change anything.

It is never too late, unless you no longer are breathing. If you are alive, there is still time to make changes in how you think, feel, respond in your life. Change can take time and it can seem like progress is very slow but every small step forward is progress.

The first piece of change is deciding that you want to change things in your life. That is a huge step forward. It is the step that propels us to all others. Deciding that living as you have always lived is no longer acceptable to you.

The next step is to seek out ways to start building in those changes. Changes in what you think, feel, believe, and the ways in which you respond to events and people. How can those be accomplished? Sometimes, we can find those ways ourselves and other times we need help to find them. Help through mental health counseling, life coaching, behavioral therapy, addiction treatment and more.

Reaching out for help can be one of the scariest things we can do. To talk to someone we do not know about the most personal things in our lives can be very frightening. To push past those fears and keep moving forward is one of the bravest things anyone can do. And it can be crucial in affecting the changes people seek in their lives.

Once people are on the path of help, moving through the changes of acknowledgement, awareness, and acceptance can take time. Sometimes, it can take a lot of time, but it can be done as long as you are still alive and breathing.

It is never too late to live free of the conditioning of past trauma. It is never too late to replace negative beliefs about yourself. It is never too late to start building a new life of positive beliefs. It is never too late as long as you are alive and breathing and there is no day like today to start.

Until next time be well,


Trauma Responses

In my work as a therapist, I have come to believe that everyone I have encountered has experienced trauma in their lives. I believe also that most people in the world have experienced at least one trauma in their lives. Trauma can be anything that affects someone in a negative way that then causes them to form beliefs and responses as a result. All trauma is personal and what some might view as a minimal experience the person experiencing it can view it as something much greater – to them.

Trauma responses which are formed as protection, or assumed protection against further trauma, then become what people view as their “personality traits” for individuals and as “family traits” for families. However, they are in fact, responses to trauma which continue with each passing day that the trauma is unprocessed. These responses lead people to react and interact with others in a variety of ways depending on what their trauma assumed as protection.

The four main responses to trauma are fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. These responses then lend themselves to a broader list of other protective responses that get incorporated into our lives and relationships.

In the unhealthy or unprocessed trauma version of fight, the assumed protection responses can be anger, aggressiveness, need for control, perfectionism, bullying others to get what is wanted, narcissism, taking energy and time from others without considering how they feel about it. The underlying response will usually be driven by a need to control situations and people to feel safe or to push them away with anger and aggressive behavior to again feel safe.

In unhealthy or unprocessed versions of flight, the assumed protection responses can be escaping or avoiding, seeking avoidance in substances such as alcohol and drugs, avoiding responsibilities, avoiding being out of your comfort zone, escaping or avoiding relationships that are uncomfortable, moving from relationship to relationship. The underlying response will usually be driven by a need to escape situations and people to feel safe.

In the unhealthy or unprocessed version of freeze, the assumed protection responses can be numbing our feelings and needs, being stuck, dissociation, detaching from everything around us, shutting down, not attaching emotionally to others, isolating, suppressing our feelings. The underlying response will usually be driven by a need to not feel or think about how we feel.

In the unhealthy or unprocessed version of fawn, the assumed protection responses can be putting all our needs aside and focusing on the needs of others, co-dependent relationships, people pleasing, trying to fix others, having no boundaries, not saying no, being used by others. The underlying response will usually be driven by a need to please others.

If we can identify the responses we have assumed to protect ourselves from further trauma, we can acknowledge it, name it, and understand why we are continuing these repetitive patterns of behavior. In this process, however, we must start with the root of these responses which began where our trauma began. This will likely require an investment in individual therapy to process and move through the trauma so that we can reorient our responses and change them along with changing ourselves.

Until next time be well,


Stressed Out

The main subject my clients have been sharing lately is that they feel very stressed out. They feel that everything around them is in some sort of chaos. From family life, to work life, to road rage, to being way too hot because it is summer and on it goes. Stress seems to be the top emotional state for most of them currently.

In our society, whenever the economic picture starts to look stressed people soon follow. The cost of fuel has impacted the cost of everything else, which leads to a lot of stress for many people. The more they are impacted by this situation, the more stress they feel. If they are already struggling to make ends meet then adding additional costs can make it where some feel they must choose what they spend their money on even down to choices of putting off bill paying to pay rent or buy food.

When people start to fear their economic security, it impacts how they feel about being safe in the basic needs of life – food, shelter, security. This kind of fear and stress will then seep into every aspect of life. They will find they have less margin for family, friends, and work and certainly not enough peace for self care for themselves.

To add to this economic fear, there is the unsettled political climate in our society. It seems that no matter what side of any issue someone is on, there is always something to be upset about or worried about. Something to fear and be anxious about. Something to cause stress. And this is added on and makes things all the more difficult.

When people feel this kind of stress, they can become very easily emotionally charged. It can be that something so seemingly small as misplacing something can turn into an all out come apart because the underlying stress is so great. Some small thing with family can turn into a huge argument because that underlying fear is much larger than we realize.

So how do we manage in these situations that we have no real control to exert. We cannot change the price of fuel, food or anything else. We cannot change political issues very quickly because it takes time to have elections or to lobby for changes. And we certainly cannot change the weather. What can we change? Ourselves and our responses.

It is not that easy to change ourselves and our responses when we are afraid. We must acknowledge that we are afraid and admit what it is we are afraid of. We must realize what we can and cannot change about these fears. We must know what is going on right now – what do we have right now that is still safe. We must realize that nothing stays the same forever – costs will change and they will go down at some point, politics is an ever shifting landscape, and the weather always gets cooler eventually. We must believe that we can survive this moment in time and staying in control of our responses and emotions will only serve to make things easier.

Until next time be well,


Process Equals Progress

I am often still surprised by new clients who have the mistaken belief that trauma therapy can be some kind of magical fix. That if they come to a few sessions, I will somehow give them ability to magically cure themselves of years long trauma and negative beliefs about themselves. Unfortunately, that is not true nor is it possible.

To make progress in living with traumatic experiences and negative beliefs, one must go through the process of confrontation and move to reprocessing and then acceptance building in positive beliefs along the way. This is not an easy process or a quick one. There is no magic wand to erase what has happened to us or our conditioned responses as a result of our experiences. There is only the process.

This is where the rubber meets the road in therapy. Clients will decide in the moment that they realize they will have to go through the process whether or not they wish to continue therapy. They will make these decisions based on a variety of emotions, mainly fear, and then will either never come back or gather the strength to push on.

It is not easy to process through trauma and negative beliefs that have resulted from those traumas. It is not fun. It is difficult, emotional work. However, it is the only way through to moving to a place where what has happened to us no longer causes us to believe negative things about ourselves or respond in trauma conditioned ways.

We can not get rid of what has happened to us in the past. Those things exist and will always exist. We can learn to change how we think about those things and how we let them affect our lives now. Processing is a method to change how we think about what we feel. Traumas will make us feel a multitude of emotions – anger, sadness, fear and many more. Traumas will make us feel responsible, which is not true. Traumas will make us believe negative things about ourselves that are not true and did not start with us. Processing allows us to understand all these things and change how we think and what we believe.

Processing is the only way through. It will be difficult, but to be free of the control past trauma has over your life now, the choice is only one path – to process completely.

Until next time be well,


Beyond Fear

For many people, choosing to start therapy can be a very scary decision. Opening up to someone you do not know about the intimate details of your life can seem very frightening. Many people who feel that “everyone is judging” them in some way may also feel that their potential therapist will judge them in the very same ways. Still others are afraid of the changes that will come as a result of how they may change during the therapeutic process.

During my time as a therapist, I have had many potential clients come for the initial consultation, which is a time to see if we are a good fit and they seem willing and ready to start therapy. They will then come for one or two sessions and then I will never see them again or they text to say they are not ready to proceed. They can get beyond their initial fear of making a consultation appointment but when things become more in depth they are too afraid to continue.

I know that there are many others who cannot get over their fear even to make the initial consultation appointment. There are potentially thousands and thousands of people in the state where I live who contemplate therapy or who want to reach out for help and try to change their lives, but they cannot get beyond fear.

It is true that the therapist does not know the client and vice versa. However, this is a good thing allowing the therapist to be objective. It is also true that there are some therapists, unfortunately, who will make judgments about clients even though one would hope that they do not. Therapists are still human beings and as such are not always capable of separating their personal views from the counseling office. It is further true that if clients change during the process of therapy and the people around them do not change or do not accept their changes, relationships can be impacted and even ended.

I always try to get clients to do a risk/benefit analysis of continuing therapy in spite of their fears. What are the risks if they continue and change their beliefs about themselves and others, their boundaries, and what they are willing and not willing to tolerate in their lives. What are the benefits of these changes in their lives? Will they be able to live happier, stronger, less toxic lives? Is it worth the risks?

Only the client can decide these things. No matter how much the therapist might wish that they choose therapy, the client is the only one to decide to proceed and the only one to evaluate the risks they are willing to accept. The client is also the only one who can decide to do the work of therapy and implement the skills and tools the therapist provides. No matter how much the therapist provides, the client decides what they will do with it. The work resides with the client as does the decision to do the work.

If you are trying to decide if therapy might help you navigate your past, present and future please consider the risks and benefits and decide if the benefits can help you get beyond your fear. You might find that it leads you to a better life and a better you.

Until next time be well,


Necessary Awareness

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Awareness is a necessary ingredient for change.

In order to change anything, we must first be aware that there is something that needs to change. Anyone with trauma will have great difficulty finding this awareness due to the ongoing conditioning and responses caused by internalized negative beliefs and subsequent responses to those beliefs.

In fact, most people find it difficult to be aware of things outside of their normalized thoughts and behaviors. Only through awareness can thoughts and responses be addressed. Only through awareness can we know what there is to be addressed.

In order to be aware, we must be able to recognize the thought processes we have. Recognize that they are there. Recognize where they began. Recognize how we internalized them. Over time, these thoughts, that we gained from other people, become internalized in our brains as truths about us. The become so ingrained in our beliefs that we start to think we started them. Most all my clients will say that they have always believed the negative things about themselves as if they were born with them. They were not and neither was anyone else.

To be aware of these thoughts, we must be able to pause the process when it starts. The process of thought, emotion, reaction or response. This cascade happens instantaneously with the normalization of the process. This is the thought we always have. This is the emotion we always have with this thought. This is the reaction or response we always have with this thought. So we just let it flow without awareness.

To pause the process, we must be able to name the catalyst. The thought or thoughts. They must have identifying names and we must understand how we came to believe them. Where they started, with whom, and in what circumstances. Almost all will be traced to our initial caregivers as they are the teachers of all things including the beliefs about ourselves. From birth to age seven, these beliefs are taught to us just as we are taught to talk, eat, dress, read. Name them, know them, recognize their beginning, and know they are not true nor are they yours.

It is then that we can have awareness when they come up to have the margin or pause to stop the cascade of events that follows. With awareness, we can say, I see you thought. I know you thought. I recognize where you came from thought. I do not have to respond or react to you thought. I can pause and replace you thought. I know it sounds like a lot but with practice it can be done. Over time, negative thoughts can be replaced with positive truths that do come from you.

Start with one thought that causes you the most negative emotions about yourself and the most issues with relationships with others. Name it. Name the emotion. Name the reaction and responses. Name the starting point. Accept that you did not start the thought. And start to replace it with an opposite, absolute positive that comes from you.

Do that repeatedly. Form a new habit. Create a new normal. Foster awareness as a necessary component of change.

“Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh