Square Breathing, Stress Relief, And Assorted Tangents

I thought I would put this out there, as it is something I have found helpful: square breathing, also sometimes called four square breathing, is a technique that is, as I understand it, useful for calming anxiety and panic attacks, as well as a really simple, no-mantra way to meditate.

It is basically just breathing in for a count of 1, 2, 3, 4, holding your breath on the inhale for a count of 1, 2, 3, 4, exhaling for a count of 1, 2, 3, 4, holding your breath after the exhale for a count of 1, 2, 3, 4, inhaling for a count of 1, 2, 3, 4…and repeating. Sometimes I have seen it suggested this be done for four minutes, but I find even if you repeat it for a shorter time it can be helpful. You can always try for longer, too, I suppose, if it suits you. I would also add I think it is a good practice even when you aren’t feeling especially stressed or triggered or anxious. (I think overall since you are briefly stopping your breath between inhales and exhales it helps to slow your breath even if you are breathing rapidly and counting fast.)

There are plenty of descriptions out there, if you want to read a set of instructions that might be more clear to you, or find out why this is recommended, or what other people’s experiences have been; searching either “square breathing” or “four square breathing” should bring up relevant results.

This also reminded me, tangentially, of Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk, because one of the things she addresses is research that suggests that helping someone else when you are stressed out can reduce its negative impact on your health.



I don’t know if it is applicable here, since I am not even sure this will ever be read by anyone at all, and maybe it is simply the stress-relieving effect of doing something that requires concentration (which Guy Winch discusses in one of his talks, I believe the one I will share the link for here; but the reason this occurred to me to write about was waking up and being too anxious to fall back asleep, and now I feel calmer and might be able to sleep, so I am not really prepared in the moment to rewatch a long video – if I fucked it up, I will try to remember to change it later on), but I feel better now than I did before I started writing this.

Granted, I generally find writing can help, especially when ideally there would be a person to talk with and there is not, but I don’t know that everyone would feel the same. I tend to like writing, anyway. Could be some people would find more relief in doing some other activity they enjoy.



I hope this is helpful to someone – like a lot of things, though square breathing is not something I have just learned, it would have been helpful to me to have known about it earlier on in my life than I did. Maybe I can help someone else find their way to something useful sooner than later in their own experiences that might be helpful on their journey. And I think both talks are worth watching, as both provide some information on strategies for dealing with stress and other uncomfortable emotions.

Should you be more of a non-verbal mind at the moment, I will throw in another link, this one to a long version of Marconi Union’s “Weightless,” which a friend suggested to me not too long ago when I was looking for lyric-free music for relaxation/sleep.



Now I am going to try to get some sleep. Best of luck to you.

*   *   *

No dice on the sleep, unfortunately, but aside from being tired, I still feel better than I did when I woke up.

I do find myself thinking I wish I had better equipment for taking and editing photos at the moment, and for digital drawing, because I do miss this being a more art/visual blog; and for the people who enjoyed that aspect, I can understand the reversion to the much-earlier word-based blogging might be a let-down.

That is not to say I am not going to carry on with the writing – being considerate is one thing, self-abnegation another. But at some point I will either resign myself to lower-quality images, or repair or replace some equipment when I am able, and there will be visual art again. It has been a long, long, long series of…well, decades, really.

I wish I had more resources to get past the current tidal wave of bullshit and spend more time and energy on artwork. Visual art is certainly another thing I have found useful in getting through the worst of times. I don’t know whether that is something that might make for general advice – again, a thing I enjoy anyway, so I can’t even claim my own experience to be a strictly therapeutic one.

I can see where it could be a general-use stress-relief practice, provided a person is not painfully self-conscious about how well or poorly they believe they can draw or whatever. I have personally made a lot of shit even I didn’t particularly enjoy the look of, and the work I have liked I am sure many people could find fault with. The end product can be alright, but for me, the real joy is the process – and typically the pieces I like best in the end are those I most enjoyed making.

Again, I’m not really feeling like reviewing something I have watched previously to summarize it in detail, but this talk seems relevant, insofar as the speaker talks about a lot of the benefits of idly drawing, and I think it applies whether or not you think of it as art, or yourself as an artist, or believe you have any particular skill:



Personally, I think all of the limitations people try to put on what gets to be called art or who gets to be called an artist is mostly people doing what many people who are injured, insecure, and immature often do – trying to dictate a set of “rules” that include themselves where they wish to be included, but fear they don’t belong, while simultaneously excluding a lot of others. Both because of projecting their own insecurities and self-loathing onto other people, and wanting to limit the in-group to themselves and people who have qualities they envy or admire or both, with whom they wish to be equated – the unhealthy, ineffectual practice of trying to counter insecurity by seeking to associate oneself with others with admired qualities, thinking those will then be seen as belonging to oneself, while simultaneously seeking others to feel superior to, others I tend to think are perceived as possessing the very qualities the person who feels insecure feels insecure about. And before I digress into subjects I have already discussed and provided links to related material about, I will just throw a link to that piece here, if anyone feels inclined to follow the digression elsewhere:


I think if you create something, without doing harm, with honest intention, expressing truth as you understand it – not trying to mess with people’s minds to sell a product or a candidate or a belief – with some honest feeling behind it (for the sake of the artist, I hope some enjoyment in the process), then calling it art and the person creating an artist seems well fair. That doesn’t mean everyone (or anyone) will like the end result, but that is rather my point. You don’t have to let someone else decide if you are an artist, or what you make is art. If they don’t think so, well, no one is obliged to agree with you. And you can still think so. In short, I guess, I see artists very broadly as creators. I think there are artists in every non-harmful profession and pursuit.

I also think I am just one person and not the be-all, end-all, and someone else’s definition of art might be different from mine and just as valid, provided, from my point of view, that it is not exclusive based on superficial bullshit.

You don’t have to go to school for art to be an artist, you don’t have to use certain materials, you don’t have to be an adult, you don’t have to be a “fine” artist. You don’t have to be getting paid to be making art, any more than you have to be getting paid to be doing work. There is nothing, I think, inherently pretentious in calling yourself an artist or your pursuit art, unless you are a person who fits the selfish, insecure, exclusive-of-others model I described above.

Pretentiousness comes, I think, from believing oneself to be the arbiter of something that is bigger than oneself. “Oneself” being a deliberately chosen word here. One self. One individual.

There is no one living (no one at all, I would argue) who can claim to be the originator of art as a pursuit or a concept. Art has been around for a lonnnnnnngggggggggg part of human history. Long before there may have been a word for it. Hell, I would have to look up whether estimated times for the origins of language predates estimated times for the origins of visual art. One could even argue that a lot of what defines us as human, as we think of that word today, is creativity, is art, whether the earliest simple tools made by our ancestors, or cave paintings, or the oldest sculptures. (Which if I recall correctly are “Venus” figures. My trivia-brain is coughing up “The Venus of Wallendorf,” but whether that is correct I will have to look up. I think it was last I studied the subject, but that was probably twenty years ago, and even if it was the oldest known piece then, could be there have been new finds…

Did a quick search, turns out I was nearly right. Ish.  I was one letter off, the Venus of Willendorf is probably in the vicinity of 30,000 years old; but there has been a more recent find, in 2008. That figure, known as the Venus of Hohle Fels, is estimated to be 35,000 to 40,000 years old. And based on Wikipedia-quality evidence –



– so, you know, probably double-check the information if you are looking for a reference for some scholarly biz. No offense to Wikipedia. It is supposedly generally as reliable as print encyclopedias, at least according to my recall of a description given by Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture – which is an actual lecture he gave, and a book based on the lecture, worth watching and/or reading, in my opinion.



Pausch was a Professor who took an old teaching practice of some professors giving lectures based on what they imagined they would talk about if they knew that it would be the last lecture they’d ever give before they died, but minus the hypothetical aspect, since he knew he had terminal cancer. At some point in his career he was asked to write an entry for an encyclopedia, and he explained what he wrote was what was published, that it seemed that the publication process was simply to hire experts and trust they knew what they were talking about.)

There are plenty of people who work in all kinds of arenas who might call themselves artists. I can think of people of my own acquaintance who I would say are artists in the work they do, paid or not, as aestheticians, as cooks, as parents, as teachers, as friends, as healers, as technicians…

Maybe you express your creativity in the food you make, or the way you keep house, or the way you love. I think everyone is an artist in something, though maybe not everyone acknowledges their artistry, or even allows themself to engage in the work they love.

Writing that, I have to say, I think loving is an art form itself, one too few people really appreciate as such. Love is not just a feeling, love is an action verb. It is how you behave toward people. It is caring about another person beyond your self-interest. About someone else’s happiness, even if their happiness may not involve you. And really, as I am writing, I also think love is integral to art – I think artists are generally people who love what it is they do.

And I do think joy is pretty constantly an element of art – even if it isn’t fireworks-y or high-energy, joy nonetheless. Isn’t that what “flow” is, as a psychological state? I suppose there is another way of defining art in a different terminology – art is wherever we find ourselves in a flow state.

Or art is non-destructive work performed with honest joy and love.

Or art does not have a single, simple defintion…which makes sense, since creativity is essentially conjuring, making something new, something that did not exist before. Kind of hard to narrowly define a process that involves unpredictability and the unknown.

So also, art is peaceful coexistence with temporal reality (because even the next fraction of a second into the future is always an unknown – probability is not the same as certainty, and even if our expectations are fulfilled, it does not change that there was and is ever the possibility they would and/or will not be).

Or artists are all human beings, when we are engaged in non-harmful pursuits we love.

Probably going to hang it up, at least for the time being, since I am not getting less tired, and while I enjoy a good tangent as much as anyone, I still like my assorted tangents to make what is, at least for me, logical sense, and I am probably getting past the point where I can construct comprehensible sentences. But happily got to experience some flow in the writing – and the state known as flow is as purely happiness as anything else I know.

Not bad for a morning that started with waking up before the sun, already feeling stressed out. And so my circle of tangents ends where it began – because this wasn’t just a series of suggestions for possible stress-relieving practices and musings on art, it was a process of finding stress-relief in an artistic pursuit.

Practicing what I preach, and whatnot.

Not bad at all.



A Reminder

A reminder for everyone who is waiting for someone or something to come along and make everything better – most of what causes us the most pain and trouble in our lives are the dysfunctional beliefs we carry inside ourselves. No matter what changes on the outside, no matter what things beyond our control go as we wish or not, we are unlikely to feel very differently for very long as long as those beliefs remain unchallenged and unchanged – and that is work others may be able to help us with, but that no one can do for us.

Many of us have tried to do so for other people, many of us have had others try to do so for us – but it simply does not work. It is alright, of course, to feel, and to desire – but what we control are our choices, our actions.

If you really want your life to change for the better, if you really want to feel differently, then I hope today will be the day you take even a tiny step in the direction of the change you wish for. I am not going to lie to you and say there is a guarantee you will get all of the results you wish for – just like I wouldn’t lie to you and say there is a magic wand someone can wave to make everything all better for you with no effort or difficulty or pain or uncertainty on your part. (If we really want trust, we have to be willing to say what people don’t want to hear when it is true, and to hear what we may not want to hear.)

Maybe you need to ask for help. Maybe you need to look at the beliefs that are steering you wrong. Maybe you need to allow yourself to admit your mistakes, your wrongs. Maybe you need to apologize. Maybe you need to ask forgiveness. Maybe you need to forgive. Maybe you need to try something that you aren’t perfect at doing, maybe you need to practice.

I don’t know what it is you have been avoiding that might be helpful to you in your healing. I only know that I cannot do whatever it is for anyone else. And there are a lot of people in my own life I wish would find the inspiration they need to make efforts on their own behalf that no one else can do for them. That I wish I could help with. That I can’t do. I know there are things I need to do for myself that no one else is going to do for me. Some that no one could do, besides myself. I am trying, as ever.

This is not the most overpowering or inspirational thing I have ever written. And it doesn’t need to be. It is just a reminder. One that I hope reaches someone who needs it, and makes a difference. Because all I can do is what I can do – I can make an effort to reach out, I cannot control whether anyone is reached. Part of existing in the world as it is and maintaining touch with reality, I think, is being able to hold truths that feel contradictory – like having a small range of control and a large range of not-control. All or nothing thinking might feel comfortable, but it doesn’t often have much to do with reality. This is a very, very small thing I can do – offer some words to the data collection void. That is what I am doing, and all I am offering. Whether anyone reads them or finds any use in them or chooses to change their behavior is beyond me.


Three Topics

There are a few topics I think are worth looking into, for people generally, and probably particularly so for people who have been traumatized or are dealing with some form of dysfunction.

I am just going to name them and maybe throw in a couple of links as starting points if anyone is interested.

(I am not a mental health professional, these are just things I have personally found valuable in understanding some things I have experienced, as well as understanding some people of my acquaintance. I can’t vouch for the quality of the material I have personally found valuable in terms of how a person with a professional understanding of the subjects would evaluate them, just offer that they explain these things in pretty clear terms, from my perspective.)

The first topic is compulsive repetition of trauma (and its relationship to PTSD and CPTSD).


The first link is to a survivor’s blog with a brief piece on the topic:



The second link is to an article by Bessel van der Kolk, a psychiatrist who has done a lot of work on PTSD. It is a little longer and more clinical in its discussion than the previous link, if that is something that might be of interest to you:



The second topic is narcissistic abuse. (In learning about it you will likely also come across information about narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder, and less often, it seems, histrionic personality disorder, which can be confusing to distinguish. They used to be categorized together as “Cluster B Personality Disorders,” but I believe that has changed recently. And depending on the source, it also seems like the term can apply to these behaviors even when the person has one of those disorders other than narcissistic personality disorder. And in my opinion, narcissistic abuse seems like a predictable set of behaviors that are psychologically/emotionally abusive, so just from one human being to another, even if a person is not engaging in the full array of behaviors, or does not fit a diagnosable disorder, it does not mean you have to dismiss the behavior as not abusive. And in any case, learning about psychological/emotional abuse more generally might also be useful. Lastly, I would add that whatever the most prevailing narratives might be, abuse is not limited to certain kinds of relationships. Could be a parent, a sibling, a child – whether a young child abusing other children, or the adult child of an ageing parent; it could be another family member, a spouse, a friend, a member of the clergy, a healthcare provider or caregiver, a roommate, a family friend, a stranger, an employer, a government official…not by any means a comprehensive list of possible relationships, but just bear in mind that abuse is about the behavior, not the person’s title.)



There is a lot of material out there, and reading pieces written by survivors is particularly illuminating, I think, but for a summary introduction, a portion of the Wikipedia entry (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissistic_abuse) on the subject seems like a good starting point. Narcissistic abuse also happens to children (“Parental narcissistic abuse is where parents require the child to give up their own wants and feelings in order to serve the parent’s needs for esteem”), but I chose the excerpt about adult relationships because it goes into motive somewhat, defines narcissistic supply, and gives examples of some of the specific abusive behaviors:

“Narcissistic abuse may also occur in adult-to-adult relationships, where the narcissistic person tends to seek out an empathetic partner in order to gain admiration of their own attributes and feelings of power and control – narcissistic supply. The narcissist creates a dynamic abuser and victim relationship through a cycle of abuse resulting in traumatic bonding that makes it hard for their partner to leave the increasingly abusive relationship.

People with codependent-type traits may seek relationships with narcissists.

The narcissists’ relationships are characterized by a period of intense involvement and idealization of their partner, followed by devaluation, and a rapid discarding of the partner. Alternatively, that scenario can loop, with ghosting (ceasing communication with the codependent) and hoovering (luring the codependent back) instead of discarding. At the beginning of a relationship (or its new cycle) with a narcissist, the partner is only shown the ideal self of the narcissist, which includes pseudo-empathy, kindness, and charm. Once the partner has committed to the relationship (e.g., through marriage or a business partnership), the true self of the narcissist will begin to emerge. The initial narcissistic abuse begins with belittling comments and grows to contempt, ignoring behavior, adultery, triangulation (forming any relationship triangles), sabotage, and, at times, physical abuse.

At the core of a narcissist is a combination of entitlement and low self-esteem. These feelings of inadequacy are projected onto the victim. If the narcissistic person is feeling unattractive they will belittle their romantic partner’s appearance. If the narcissist makes an error, this error becomes the partner’s fault. Narcissists also engage in insidious, manipulative abuse by giving subtle hints and comments that result in the victim questioning their own behavior and thoughts. This is termed gaslighting. Another common abusive tactic is underhanded public humiliation, when the narcissist says something seemingly neutral but offensive to the victim and enjoys the emotional reaction. This is called dog-whistling. Any slight criticism of the narcissist, whether actual or perceived, often triggers narcissistic rage and full-blown annihilation from the narcissistic person. This can take the form of screaming tirades, silent treatment or quiet sabotage (setting traps, refusing communication, hiding belongings, spreading rumors, etc.).

The discard phase can be swift and occurs once the narcissistic supply is obtained elsewhere. In romantic relationships, the narcissistic supply can be acquired by having affairs. The new partner is in the idealization phase and only witnesses the ideal self; thus once again the cycle of narcissistic abuse begins. Narcissists do not take responsibility for relationship difficulties and exhibit no feelings of remorse. Instead they believe themselves to be the victim in the relationship as because of their self-debasing projections, their partner can only ever fail to meet their expectations.”


There are more MedCircle videos on YouTube on this and related subjects; there is also a channel called “Surviving Narcissism” that has a variety of clips on the topic, as well:



The third topic is a strategy advocated for by some survivors (I have no idea what, if any, mental health professionals endorse the idea) of narcissistic abuse referred to as “gray rock.” Whatever its actual value or not as a survival strategy, I think its description is pretty useful in understanding some of the relationship dynamics involved around  narcissistic abuse.


I hope some of this will be useful to someone, whether just in being aware of some things should they ever cross your path, or that may be relevant to someone you care about, or because you are already experiencing some form of abuse (maybe the often-hard-to-pin-down kind of abuse that is psychological/emotional), or because you might be living with a personality disorder yourself.

For those fortunate enough to have access to mental healthcare, a lot of the mental health professionals whose work I have read or watched talk about therapy both for people with personality disorders, and for people who have been in abusive or otherwise dysfunctional relationships. If you have experienced abuse or other trauma, whether or not you also engage in abusive behaviors, and the option is available, you might find it helpful to choose a provider who specializes in trauma, as such a person might be more competent in dealing with a person with such a background in a sensitive manner – whatever the profession, its practitioners are only human, and have human limitations, including some not be great at everything, and some just being bad at their jobs, or having unhelpful biases. You don’t have to give up if your first attempt is not a good fit, it is okay to change providers and find someone you are comfortable with so you have a better experience.

I am neither condoning abuse in any circumstance, nor am I condemning all people living with such personality disorders as abusers. (If there is any such data available on the overall rates of abuse perpetrated by people with these types of personality disorders, I have not come across it yet; but I have seen it mentioned repeatedly that such people are often victims of abuse themselves at some point in life. And again, the latter does not negate such behavior as abuse when committed by a person who has also been victimized.)

For those people I have known who have been diagnosed with one of the formerly-Cluster-B disorders, or those I suspect would be if they sought treatment and were honest with their mental healthcare providers, I have never gotten the impression that they are particularly happy or at peace. On the contrary, I have always felt most of those people of my acquaintance seem to be trapped in a pattern that keeps them from experiencing the very things they seem to long for.

And for those who have experienced such abusive behaviors, many seem to have a hard time naming the abuse as such (and that has seemed to be the case both in those who seem to have in turn engaged in such abusive behaviors toward others, as well as those who have not). And often people who love the people who are engaging in abusive behaviors wish to help them, as the pain behind such behavior is often obvious , though it really does seem to me that it is only a mental health professional who is really going to be of help in that regard. I believe the impulse to help and focus on the suffering of the person engaging in abusive behavior, rather than the suffering caused by the abusive behavior, as often seems to happen when the person suffering abuse has experienced such abuse in the past, often prolongs and worsens a person’s experience of being abused. And it is just damned difficult to communicate if the other person is dishonest and/or manipulative.

This is a strictly-in-my-own-non-professional-opinion bit: I have noticed, over the course of my life, that many people who engage in behaviors that fit the description of narcissistic abuse in adulthood still seem to also be susceptible to being abused in that manner, whether by those people who are presumably the source of the abuse in their formative years (and the root of developing such behaviors in themselves), often parents or other relatives with whom they maintain relationships, but also with peers or partners.

In my experience, those who engage in such behaviors seem to primarily focus them on one or a few people, and mostly maintain a facade with others; and as the abuse seems to tend to be focused around perceived disparities in power, the person tends to focus the abusive behavior on a person or persons whom they perceive as weak or vulnerable relative to themself, but when they come into contact with a person who engages in similarly abusive behaviors they perceive to be stronger or more powerful than themselves, they can revert to the role of being the person suffering the abuse. I have not seen any mental health professional discuss this as of yet, but I am just adding the observation in the event that there is a person you have a difficult time viewing as abusive when they engage in the behavior because you have witnessed them being subjected to similar abuse.

I would also add, again, just in my opinion, that I would guess that virtually everyone in this former-cluster of disorders, as well as those prone to being in relationships with such people (like sufferers of similar abuse in childhood), likely would be diagnosed as having PTSD (or, in my opinion, likelier still,  CPTSD, where practitioners recognize that as a discrete diagnosis). And I take issue with some aspects of how what is defined as “codependency” is addressed, but that is a topic for another time.

I certainly wish I could offer the professional level of insight and advice here, but as one human being who has lived through some shit (and loved a lot of people who have been, too), whoever you are, whatever you are going through, I hope you will reach out and find some help, and allow yourself to believe that you can change your life for the better with the right help, some hard work on your part, and enough time.

For those without access to adequate mental healthcare, I would imagine good starting points might be some hotlines, like the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY); The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (which explicitly states it is “…for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals,” so keep it in mind that if you are not actively suicidal, or you are concerned about someone else in your life who may be, it is still okay to call); and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline, 1-800-950-NAMI (6264). These calls can be made anonymously (not that they won’t appear in your phone records or call logs, though), so also a plus for those who are hesitant to share with people they know, or who might find their own possible support groups negatively impacted by a person engaging in abusive behavior of the “smearing/sabotaging” kind.  These hotlines also have websites, if you prefer to look around that way, they all seem to offer some other informational resources, as well as alternate ways to contact them:

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is at https://www.thehotline.org/

They offer a live chat feature, though as all organizations that deal with abuse tend to do, the first thing their site shows is a pop up “Safety Alert: Computer use can be monitored and is impossible to completely clear. If you are afraid your internet usage might be monitored, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.” So proceed with due caution if you are concerned a person who is abusing you might have access to your computer, whether physically, or remotely through some form of malware – the latter can also go for your cellphone, unfortunately. (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/05/victims-of-domestic-violence-challenged-by-abusers-using-technology.html)

(Use your judgement. Maybe a phone at a friend’s home, or get a burner phone if you are able – these are strictly my own thoughts, but I would guess a landline that does not belong to you or the person who is abusive, where they won’t see a number on a bill, possibly, or in caller ID, would be the safest bet.)

They also offer additional options: “Advocates who are deaf are available Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PST) by videophone (855-812-1001), instant messenger (DeafHotline) or email (deafhelp@thehotline.org).”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ (They also offer a chat feature: the link is a little easy to miss, it is in the upper right hand corner of the homepage, right next to the phone number, and to the left of the search tool).

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is at https://www.nami.org/

They offer a lot of information and resources; they also have a text option, Text NAMI to 741741, or you can email them at info@nami.org

Whatever it is you may have suffered, or be suffering, be it the sort of abuse talked about here, or other forms, you didn’t, and don’t, deserve it. Even if you have inflicted suffering on another person, you don’t deserve to suffer (though that does not change that those to whom you behave abusively suffer because of it, and they don’t deserve it, either).

I hope you will find your courage (and I know it is there, because to behave abusively or be vulnerable to repetition of suffering abuse both suggest you almost certainly were abused yourself, and here you are, alive and kicking and reading some rando lady’s blog – or maybe not rando to you, in which case, hello, person I know, I hope you are well, and if you are not, I hope you reach out – to me, if I am a trusted person and you are someone who is, in my judgement, safe for me to communicate with; or to someone else who is trusted and to whom you do not represent a lack of safety, whether someone in your personal life, or a hotline, or a mental health professional).

In any case, you are alive.

That makes you a survivor.

You may well have been little and helpless and put through hell, and still, here you are.

That takes strength.

It takes strength to do what would otherwise be small things when your fight or flight is all fucked up and may even be kind of constantly switched on, or alternately, when you may not feel like you can feel much of anything.

It takes strength to admit you are scared or need help, especially when you may have learned early on those things meant danger. Especially when you might have to ask many times before someone helps. Especially when some people, even people in “helping professions,” might be the kind of people who seek positions of power to take advantage of vulnerable people. Use your judgement. Acknowledge when someone makes you uncomfortable. And if someone does exploit your vulnerability, know it is their wrong, not yours. Keep asking for help. Find people who will prove worthy of trust over time. Seek out support groups of other survivors. Find what works for you. Just try. There are loads of resources, and lots of survivors and resources online, too. There are blogs and discussion groups. It is okay to take small steps, to start out where you are just looking at information, not engaging with a person.

It takes strength to admit you fucked up and hurt someone else, especially if you learned early on that you were not “allowed” to fuck up in even the most inconsequential way without being subjected to intolerable pain. Especially when on some level you know hurting someone else is not an inconsequential fuck up. Especially if you have decided what happened when you got hurt was unforgivable, and that the person who hurt you deserves bad things. Hard to admit out loud that you have done the same kind of hurting, then, since by your own rationale you are unforgivable and deserve bad things. But those are feelings, not logic, not reality. Maybe the people you have hurt won’t forgive you – but you can still stop hurting them. You can walk away from the relationship without doing any more harm. You can stop putting yourself back into one role in a dynamic you probably grew up longing to escape. And you can, in that way, finally free yourself from a life with regular violence in it. And you can work with a professional who can help you – but you have to be willing to be honest with them.

If you are able to bear hearing some really specific details of childhood abuse described, and of the violence that child then engaged in as he grew up, I very much recommend Sammy Rangel’s TEDx talk, “The Power of Forgiveness.”



Or you can look up his organization, The Forgiveness Project (https://www.theforgivenessproject.com/)

He can stand as an example of a person who suffered violence, caused others to suffer – and himself to continue to suffer – by inflicting violence on others, and who found a way to leave violence behind. If you believe your experiences of being  subjected to violence were too extreme – his experiences of being subjected to violence were quite extreme. If you believe you have done too much harm to change – he did a great deal of harm, and has reached a place where he can not only own it, but where he has ceased to engage in violence. Just if you need to maybe see a little evidence, some example, of hope.

It takes strength not to revert to habitual bad behaviors that are the only ways of coping with fear and pain you know – whether they are abusive of others, self-destructive, or both. There are other ways, and you can learn, and those ones don’t cause you or anyone else injury. And they don’t leave you feeling like you are divided inside between the ugly truths and the supposedly pretty lies that cover them.

And just because your nervous system got fucked up and/or you never learned how to relate to people in healthy ways, or got help dealing with your damage, doesn’t change that you are a human being, you being hurt was wrong, and you can try to get help, and learn, and heal.

Treat yourself as worth the effort.

I wish you all the best, and that you find people closer to you than a stranger, and sources of information and assistance better than some rando lady’s blog, to help you on your journey.

And it is a journey.

And the road out of hell can be unpleasantly scenic and winding, and it may bring you through similar territories (or worse ones), but traveling it truly does beat just remaining in the same ring of the inferno indefinitely.

Same pit, different day is no way to live your life.

Even if you start with the teeniest of steps, you are still on your way. Fucking up is not just allowed, it is inevitable. If you accept that, and don’t give up when you stumble, and don’t let yourself off the hook for hurting someone, and don’t blame yourself for being hurt, and get what help you can, I believe you can find your way out.

From my road to yours, I wish you good luck.






I am thinking about truth.

About thought and action.

About the significance of words.

About the meaninglessness of words in contrast with behavior.

About secrets and lies. About dishonesty.

About the frequency with which the words “can’t” and “I don’t have a choice” get spoken, and how seldom they are true.

About the meaning and meaninglessness of feelings that are claimed, proclaimed, but not acted upon.

About trauma and fear and cruelty and coping and dissuasion and narrative.

About abuse.

About prolonged immaturity/infancy self-styled as superiority.

(Wikipedia is a little dainty about the role also known as “The Royal Finger” – it means the guy who wiped the king’s butt for him, like a baby’s.


I am thinking about how we use pleasures as substitutes for meaning. For love, joy, purpose, belonging.

About delusions of control and illusions of powerlessness.

About what people imagine power to be. About what power actually is.

About superstition. About a mostly futile wish that “what” can be changed or limited or made wholly impossible by “who,” “when,” “where,” “why,” and “want.”

About context and perspective.

About how giving – not trading, not transacting, not exchanging, but giving as in “gift” – can so easily awaken us to how much change we can affect.

About “Loss is one thing, but regret, quite another.”



About the difference between regret and remorse.

About “What we do now echoes in eternity” (Marcus Aurelius, or, in slightly paraphrased form, both St. Mark and Banksy). And “In the line of eternity, what does this matter?” (https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-news/the-subversive-joy-of-stephen-colbert-106698/)



About the inescapable interconnectedness of all life, and the unbelievable stupidity and destructiveness of pretending it isn’t so. About the reality of ubiquitous interdependence, and the destructive myth of the “rugged individual.” And the equally destructive myths of flawlessness, of flawless humanity, of unforgivability and unlovability.


About isolation and addiction.

About the rise of selfishness and self-pity and self-justification, and the fall of generosity and empathy and compassion.

About relentless rationalization, in defiance of all reasonable evidence of its failure to convince anyone its fabrications are true, not even the self it emanates from.

About the difference in meaning, and realistic disconnect, between “earn,” “deserve,” and “have.”

About hypocrisy.

About how one hurt cannot undo another.

About “… grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned…”     (The Peace Prayer of St. Francis)

About how suffering is not inherently a source of cruelty or failure or wisdom or success – how luck and choice play a part in what each of us do with the pains we experience.

About sorrow and happiness. About “To everything there is a season…” (Ecclesiastes, or Pete Seeger/The Byrds, according to your preference.)



About “…happiness exists in action; it exists in telling the truth and saying what your truth is; and it exists in giving away what you want the most.”



About forgiveness.


About “Everything you done to me, you already done to yourself.”    (The Color Purple)


About “And my turning point came with this next question: ‘Sammy, have you ever hurt anyone the way your mother has hurt you?'” (https://www.theforgivenessproject.com/)



About “…forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could be any different.”



About what it means to defend. To protect. To sacrifice. To love.

It is Christmas, after all, a day with a pretty wide range of connotation, depending largely on individual context.

And I am trying very hard, for a combination of selfish and unselfish reasons, not to respond with anger, where anger feels a wholly appropriate emotional response to some spectacularly shitty behavior.

If we will exercise the minimal restraint required not to gratify our anger in an instant, and spend some actual time and energy on trying to figure out what is right, and why people behave badly the way they do, including ourselves, it is actually pretty easy to make the leap from fuck-these-selfish-spoiled-cruel-narcissistic-assholes to some less profanity-riddled, more inquisitive, and potentially more useful thoughts.

I have no idea where I first heard the idea that anger is not a primary, but rather a secondary emotion, one that we tend to use to mask feelings we are more uncomfortable with, the ones we experience as unpleasant and powerless – fear and sadness, particularly. I don’t know what the basis of the speaker’s assertion was, but I do know it stuck with me because it rings so true.

Anger is an emotion, from my perspective, that has a lot of power-hype, but is really a show of vulnerability or weakness. Fight is a fear response. Fear is a survival-threat response. Whatever our cultural narratives about anger and its companion action, violence (which is more varied, I believe, than the limited array of actions we are conditioned to label that way), it seems pretty clear that those things have little to nothing to do with strength. Strength is what is required to do what is difficult, not a descriptor of what is easily, speedily self-gratifying.

What does this all have to do with Christmas? Well, for a start, it means working today to manage my own fear and sadness in a way that doesn’t involve me texting “Go fuck yourself” to anyone. Trying to understand the hype and the subtext of the varied meanings assigned to the day. Trying to understand why so many people seem to fail to try to understand.

It means minding my own hypocrisy.

It means putting in the effort not to leave myself trapped in the myopic perspective of an endless present of pain that comes with a fear response. Survival-mode means now; prolonged survival-mode makes now feel timeless. Like an inescapable eternity. Like hell.

It means considering the relative value of survival strategies and coping behavior that have short-term and long-term value, and how to make the best of the former til the latter, which tend to be more time-consuming to achieve efficacy, can be fully realized. About not falling into the trap of treating short-term strategies as long-term sustainable.

It means being grateful I held back my angrily reactive thumbtyping to insensitivity that was hurtful, whether it was consciously or thoughtlessly cruel, and spent the day considering, and ultimately affirming, why that was the right choice to make.

I am glad I held my thumbs. Because this might bring me no greater kindness, but I am fairly certain it has done me a world more good than “Go fuck yourself” would have done.

I hope today brought you some joy. If not, I hope you made the choice to seek some perspective instead of adding your own contribution to the sum total of human misery. And if you didn’t, that you will accept that as long as you are alive, it is not too late, and decide differently, now, or in the future.