When, "I'm sorry" isn't an apology

When people say they are "sorry", but keep doing a hurtful behavior - they aren't sorry.

I'm just saying...

I see this a lot with antisocial folks.  Since they feel no remorse, they can't really be sorry.  But they say the words "I'm sorry" because they have learned are socially expected.

So everyone says you should forgive them - because they said they were sorry.

But you can't, can you?  Because they haven't actually apologized, they've just mouthed the words.  And because they keep hurting you.  If someone says they're sorry, but continues to hit you in the head, how can you forgive them?

You can walk away from them.  You can stop allowing them to hit you in the head.  You can let go of the hurt and the betrayal and the sadness and the anger.  You can get over it and get on with your life. 

But you can't forgive them, because they haven't truly asked you for forgiveness - or earned it.




"Choosing" to be Happy

“Dwelling on the negative simply contributes to its power.”
~Shirley MacLaine

Let me say up front that Pollyanna Sunshine advice to just "choose" to be happy can really be annoying.  It is not meant for people who are seriously depressed.  If someone is so depressed they are not functioning, are suicidal, are losing the will to live, or are psychotic - this advice is at best inappropriate, if not downright ludicrous.  This article is meant as a cure-all for people struggling with life threatening depression.  However, it is intended for people struggling with the negative thinking so prevalent in depression.

From what I have experienced and observed, there is a kind of thinking that goes with depression.  A very negative outlook on life that always focuses on what is wrong, rather than what is right.  I've seen it in myself, in my clients and in people attending depression support groups.  I don't know which came first, the thinking or the depression, and I'm not going to debate that here.  Whichever came first, they do co-exist.  And our thoughts affect our mood.  However, since they are thoughts, we do have some control over them.  That is what this article if for.  It is not meant to be a miracle cure or a panacea.  I'm not advocating that readers throw away their antidepressants and consider this the Holy Grail.  But it can certainly help. 

The idea that you can change how you think about things, and that by changing how you think about things, you can change how you feel about them is the basis of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  And I think this is especially true in the case of depression.  This one of the reasons CBT is one of the most effective forms of treatment for depression - it addresses the thought patterns.  And addressing the thought patterns changes the mood.  

With that said, "choosing" to be happy is not the blasé answer it appears to be.  Choosing to be happy takes a lot of work and concentration.  It takes a lot of mindfulness.  And it takes a true desire to be happy.  Some people, for whatever reasons, are heavily invested in suffering, in martyrdom, in being depressed.  Some people are afraid to be happy, perhaps out of fear they will lose it again, or it will be wrenched from them.  In order for this to work, you have to be willing to accept change and you have to want to be happy.  If you are willing to fight for it, the benefits can be significant, even life altering.  

The word "mindfulness" is bandied about quite a bit these days.  But what do this word actually mean?  Being "mindful" can seem counter intuitive when you're in a state of life-sucking sadness and misery.  When you're really depressed, being "mindful" doesn't sound like a very good idea.  Why would I want to be more aware of my miserable state?  

Therefore, mindfulness alone will not do the trick.  You have to actively choose what to be mindful of.  I think "reframing" needs to occur along with mindfulness.  Reframing can be a conscious effort to look at things from the other side of the table.  People who are struggling with depression tend to see the glass as half empty.  Reframing requires that you be in the present (mindful) and look at how the glass is half full (reframing).  This can require a lot of effort, but the payoff can be huge.

Imagine you are feeling depressed.  And by depressed I mean, feeling sad or melancholic for no good reason.  If you are grieving the loss of someone or something, that is not depression.  That is grieving and should be experienced in order to heal.  So imagine everything is OK in your world, yet you still feel depressed.  Try this exercise.  Personalize these things for yourself.  You may like rainy days or storms.  You may like the sound of traffic lulling you to sleep or the excitement of a screeching neighbor.  Make this exercise specific to you.


Look around your world at what is going on.  How is your glass half full?  What is going right in your world?  Is the weather really good today?  Are you healthy and strong?  Has your partner cooked you a lovely meal?  Is your dog patiently waiting to be played with?  Are your children peacefully playing a game?  Is your favorite song playing?  Are you enjoying a hot bath?  Are you eating a good meal?  Are you snuggled up in a particularly cozy blanket or sitting in a really comfortable chair?  

For this exercise, I try to be hyper aware of what is happening to my body right now.  And to be hyper aware of what is not happening to me right now.  I'm not in pain.  I'm not paralyzed.  My body is functioning pretty well.  I'm not too hot or too cold.  I'm not being annoyed by my screeching neighbor or the sound of traffic.  It's not storming and there is no freezing rain.  My new job is calm and fairly peaceful. I'm no longer terrorized by my work environment or sick with dread at the thought of having to return to work tomorrow.  I'm no longer dealing with that nightmare of a relationship I was in.  I have no family drama plaguing me.  All my bills are paid and I have an adequate paycheck coming in.  The weather is beautiful and I'm walking my fabulous dog who is thrilled to be alive.  (I have a lot to learn from her.)  

Having accurately assessed what is not wrong, I want to look at how the glass is half full.  I tune into the pleasant activity (and this should be specific to you).  Focus your mindfulness on what is going right, instead of what is going wrong, then turn up the volume.  Choose to enjoy what is going right and really get into it.  Use your five senses as a guide.  Try to use them all in your experience of your pleasant activity.  If you are standing outside in beautiful weather, can you feel the sun warming your skin?  Stand still and try to feel it.  Take a minute to just be happy and feel the warmth of the sun on your body.  Choose to enjoy it. Can you feel the breeze on your skin, or hear it rustling the leaves in the trees?  Is the sky a particularly beautiful shade of blue?  Are the clouds a fluffy white?  Take an hour to cloud watch and see what shapes they form.   (Or feel the waves lapping on your feet if you are a beach person.  Or the silence of snow fall and the way if gently lands on your face if you are snow person.)  Choose to get into the experience and really feel it.

Repeat weekly, daily, even hourly if you can manage it.

This exercise is not easy and takes a lot of effort.  I don't want to minimize or trivialize that, especially if your are struggling with depression.  But it is worth the fight.  Think of it like any physical exercise.  It's really tough to get off the couch and get started.  But the more you do it, the easier it gets.  The more you practice it, the more natural it becomes.  





What They Say vs. What They Do

In abusive relationships it is not uncommon for the victim to feel that the abuser loves because they say they do.   

Abused children believe their parents love them because they say they do.  And children will believe this even when the parent has a long history of beating the child or profoundly neglecting the child.

This is why it's important to watch what people do, rather than what they say.  The predators and abusers of the world often display "empathy gaps", gaps in their ability to feel compassion or empathy for others.  Their words are very charming and full of "love", yet their actions tells a different story.  



The Healing Power of Animals

A hospital in Kentucky is reviewing their "No Pets" rule for patients after a terminal patient improved when he was allowed to see his dog. 

A Huffington Post article points out that having a pet will cause you to get more exercise (I know mine does) and helps humans realize that love can be unconditional.   I still remember a client who, after decades of drug use, got clean and sober but had no idea how to socialize with other people.  He also had no faith that other people could be trusted in relationships.  Then he rescued a dog from the local animal shelter.  And joined the dog club at his apartment complex.  And everything changed.  As his faith in living creatures was restored by the love of his dog, his faith in the human race was restored as well.  He made friends in the dog club and was welcomed back into the human race - all through the love of a dog.

And an article by NPR, cites medical studies performed 30 years ago which showed that petting your dog could lower your blood pressure.  More recent studies show that interacting with animals releases oxytocin in the brain which promotes healing and the growth of new cells.  Oxytocin also makes us feel happy and trusting.  Another study found that heart attack patients with pets lived longer than patients without pets.

In therapy with traumatized children, animals have a calming effect.  They can center and ground a child who is hypervigilant or anxious.  Grieving clients will take comfort from a therapy dog and clients struggling with a substance abuse issue will often befriend a therapy dog before they are able to re-establish their broken human connections.  

Service animals have been helping patients who were blind or deaf have more active lives for a long time.  But we are only now beginning to realize that our pets can help us with emotional issues as well.






The Advantages of Being the Scapegoat

Why would anyone want to be the scapegoat in their family?  Could being in the scapegoat role be a good thing?  Might the scapegoat of a family benefit from being scapegoated?

If you think about the purpose of scapegoating in the family system, it is the practice of piling the "sins" of the family on one person.  One person is sacrificed for the "good" of all.  And that is not good for anyone, but it can be really damaging for the scapegoat.  However, it may have one benefit.

The scapegoat is typically indoctrinated to believe there is something wrong with them.  If they are a child or teenager they may be dropped off at the therapist to be fixed, the "identified patient".  And this may be what saves them.

The rest of the family denies any wrong doing.  They have no problems, there is nothing wrong with them, they don't need treatment, they don't need to change - they tell themselves.  It's all the scapegoat.  So the scapegoat grows up believing there is something wrong with them and fighting to change it.  The family, by contrast, believes they have no problems and do not need to change.  So they don't.  

People who can't, or won't, change are locked into their behaviors.  Because they cannot change, they cannot heal, they cannot do anything different.  They are doomed to be just as they are.  If they are raging narcissists, they are doomed to die narcissists.  If they are alcoholics, they may die of liver disease.  Since they won't take responsibility for their behavior, they cannot change it, so they are doomed to keep repeating it.  

But the scapegoat can change.  They can heal.  They can move past it and learn a healthier way of being.   For that reason alone, being the scapegoat may make one stronger.  Because the scapegoat is willing, and able, to admit there is a problem - they have the power and the freedom to change it.  


The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us

Robert Bly writes about "The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us" which is filled with all the things we deny in ourselves, our Shadow parts.  If we think it's bad to be angry, we may throw our anger in there.  Some members of my family think humor is a waste of time, so they throw their silliness in there.  Sad, I know.  Some religions may require you to throw your sexuality in the bag.  Men may throw their sensitivity in the bag, women may throw their strength into it.  If, when you were young someone made fun of your artwork, you may have thrown that in the bag.  Many of our "negative" emotions get put in the bag;  jealousy, hatred, vanity or fear.  The seven deadly "sins" go in the bag;  anger, envy, lust, gluttony, sloth, pride or greed.  

Whatever you throw in the bag, you don't have access to it.  And the more you throw in the bag, the heavier the bag you drag behind you.  And the more you put in the bag, the less that is left of you.  Pretty soon there is only a sliver of you left.  And this is the part that you present to society.  

The parts of yourself which you deny become twisted and contorted to where they are unrecognizable.  If you put anger in the bag and you are angered, instead of expressing it directly, openly and honestly, it may come out as barbed sarcasm, sabotage or even retaliation.  

And the parts we put in the bag at 5 years old or 15 years old don't develop or mature.  They are frozen in that primitive, undeveloped state in which we first put them in the bag.  Primitive and immature they erupt from the bag when they can be contained no longer, twisted and contorted into something we no longer recognize as human.  

"Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is."  Carl Jung

The parts we deny have the power to drive us.  A man who denies his sexual desires to himself and in public may spend vast hours watching porn in the secrecy of his home.  A woman who denies her anger may seethe behind a sugary sweet smile.  A child denied his playfulness may retreat into a make believe world in his mind.  







Signs Someone is Passive Aggressive

First let me say there are times when passive aggressiveness (PA) is a coping mechanism.  In an oppressive work environment, smiling and pretending to go along with an unreasonable boss may be the only way to survive.  The same can be true in an abusive relationship with a toxic person.  It may be in your best interest to smile and nod and plan your escape.  But in healthy relationships, passive aggressive behavior is a manipulation.  It is a dishonest way of interacting with people.  As a result it compromises trust and creates a lot of hurt.  How do you know if you are dealing with a passive aggressive person?

1.  They say "Yes" when they really mean "No".

Personally, this is the one I find the most maddening.  Because they said "Yes" you rely on them doing whatever they agreed to do, only to find out they didn't do it and never intended to.  So you have to run around playing catch up.  The feeling of betrayal doesn't foster a trusting environment either as you learn not to trust what they tell you.

2.  They engage in sabotage 

Passive aggressive people will smile in your face and agree to most anything, only to sabotage it when you're not looking.  Their methods of sabotage are limitless.  They are often predictable, but can be very creative.  Some of their more common methods are:


They have a million excuses why they didn't get something done.  They "forgot" or they were "too busy".  This isn't an occasional thing.  We all forget to do things.  We all get busy sometimes.  This is different.  It is a pervasive pattern of always "forgetting" to do the same thing(s),  something they either don't want to do or something they dislike.

Feigned deafness

They consistently didn't hear you ask them to do something.


They are constantly "forgetting" to do things they agreed to do. 


Graceful PAs can become very clumsy and competent PAs can become very inept when asked to do something they don't want to do.  That vase your mother gave which they hate "accidentally" fell and got broken.  There are glaring errors in the report you asked them to write.  


There are glaring errors made in the context of otherwise meticulous work.


I was working on a gardening project with a passive aggressive friend once who "agreed" to every plant I suggested.  So I worked my heart out, in the Texas heat, planting these plants.  A month later, the plants she did not like had met with "accidents".  One hadn't been watered, another had been eaten by the sheep which lived there (but the plant right next to it which she had planted had been carefully fenced off and protected) and one had dug up by the dog.

Accidents happen and they aren't all sabotage.  The difference with passive aggressive people is there is a pattern of this behavior.

 3.  Indecisiveness

PAs can be appear very indecisive, but it is a ploy.  They know what they think and what they want, but they refuse to take a stand or voice an opinion.  This is a powerful strategy, if they never make a decision, they can never be criticized.  So you decide - and they critique you.

You:  "Where would you like to eat dinner?"

Them:  "Oh, I don't care.  Whatever you would like."

You:  "How about the Italian place?"

Them:  "Oh, do you really want to go there?"

You:  "We could go back to the Mexican place."

Them:  "Did you really like that?"

You:  "OK.  What about Chinese?"

Them:  "Chinese doesn't sound good right now."

See how this is going?  Or they will go along to the restaurant sighing all the way.  Or even go to the restaurant and order, but then pick at their food and complain about it.  Now some people really don't care and are happy to go along to your favorite Italian restaurant.  But passive aggressive folks will feign indifference - until you leave for the restaurant.  Then they will often complain or find endless fault with your choice.  Some toxic people have learned that not having an opinion is a position of power - if you don't choose, you can't be criticized for your choice.  So they leave it to you to choose so they can criticize you.  This gives them the upper hand.  But the upper hand should not be the goal.  Healthy, caring, trusting relationships should not be based on who can one up the other and should not be fraught with power struggles.  This is just another manipulation.

4.  Backstabbing/Splitting/Triangulating

People with passive aggressive behavior like to address things indirectly.  Instead of telling you something to your face, they will often stab you in the back.  They may even work to turn other people against you by engaging in "splitting" or "triangulating" behavior, inserting themselves as a wedge between you and another person and either turning the third person against you, or turning you against each other.  Passive aggressive people may portray themselves as a victim and you as the aggressor to bring someone to their side of the dispute.  And this will all take place behind your back.  

5.  Manipulation

Passive aggressive people have trouble asking for what they want outright, so they engage in manipulation to get their needs met.  Instead of asking you to help them with something, they may employ guilt, "If I tear up my back lifting this it will be all your fault" or play the victim, "I just don't know how I'm going to be able to lift something so heavy" instead of being straightforward.  They don't mind being seen as weak or having people pity them, as long as they get what they want. 

6.  They Mask Their Resentment With a Smile

Underneath that phony smile is a lot of aggression.  But they will not express it directly.  Sugary, sweet comments will accompanied by a dash of sarcasm or a cloaked barb.  

7.  They Retaliate

Instead of telling you they are angry or upset with you, they will plot revenge.  Nasty rumors, anonymous emails, turning the boss against you or exposing your secrets are some of the methods employed by PA people.  They may give you the silent treatment, withhold praise or intimacy, be hyper critical of you or your work or engage in sabotage.  But they will get back at you on the sly, not daring to confront you outright.

Dealing with Passive Aggressive People

So how do you deal with passive aggressive people?  I'm not sure that you can.  It's like playing cards with someone who cheats.  You are trying to be honest with someone who is not.   What can you hope to gain from that?

You may try to bring their behavior into the light, to confront then directly or discuss the situation openly, but they will dodge and parry, lying and hiding and perhaps resorting to retaliation on the sly.  They abhor open confrontation and cannot tolerate dealing with things directly.  If you are in a personal relationship with a passive aggressive person, you may have to reconsider it.  If it is a work relationship you may have to force their hand and hope your colleagues see what they are up to, or bite your tongue and wait for everyone else to see what they are dealing with.  Either way, remember not to be swayed by their sweetness and light.  They may be this way to your face, but if you've become aware of them sabotaging you behind your back, remember this and don't fall for their smiles.   


When someone shows you who they are...

"When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”

Maya Angelou

How many of us have looked back to the beginning of an unhealthy or toxic relationship and facepalmed when we realized we had seen the problem all along?  I know I have seen the warning signs early in a relationship only to talk myself out of them or provide some rationalization for why they weren't as bad as I thought.  Only later did I recognize what I had seen from the start and felt so stupid.