People who’ve been in relationships with manipulators and other disturbed characters will readily tell you how hard it is at times not only to fully divest themselves of the emotional scars they’ve sustained but also to pick up the pieces of their lives and move forward. I’ve written about this before (see, for example: Moving On After An Abusive Relationship, Toxic Relationship Aftermath: Doubt, Mistrust, and Paranoia?, Aftermath Of A Toxic Relationship – Part Two, and Toxic Relationship Aftermath: A Wrap-Up). And while the key to personal empowerment is a relatively simple and straightforward proposition, it can be an inordinately difficult one to faithfully carry out at times. Still, once you know and understand the secret to making the simple but difficult task of recovery easier, the journey of personal empowerment becomes a much smoother trek. The secret lies in respecting the power of the moment.
As I’ve mentioned before, change always occurs in the here and now. So many times we deceive ourselves with talk about what we’ll do tomorrow or accomplish someday, while we remain stuck in our same old ruts today. And disturbed characters are notorious for promising changes they never sincerely committed themselves to make good on. Change, when it occurs, always happens in the moment of choice. That’s always where our ultimate power lies: the power to choose, and especially, to choose to do differently – at least at any given moment in time. This is crucial for a therapist to recognize when confronting the manifestations of character disturbance in treatment. But it’s also important for toxic relationship survivors to remember in their quest for a better life.
A long time ago, a recovering alcoholic friend of mine made a big impression on me when sharing his insights about his own empowerment. He had recently re-read the famous Hazelden publication Twenty-Four Hours A Day, and I had been talking to him about his feelings about the 5 year sobriety coin he was about to receive at his next group meeting. He looked at me and said: “I can’t say I’ll never take another drink. I can’t even say I won’t drink next month, next week, or even tomorrow. But I can affirm the fact that I’m not drinking at this moment. I face that choice every minute – every second. What I can say is that right here, right now, I choose not to drink. This is where I have to stay, minute by minute, hour by hour, one day at a time.” It was a light bulb moment for me – not only a poetically beautiful description of the psychological principle we call mindfulness but also of the power of choice in the moment.
I’ve done hundreds of consultations with folks over the years and most of the time these consultations have centered around empowerment issues. What I’ve learned is that toxic relationship survivors inevitably tend to discount at first the importance of their small momentary choices. Early on, it’s hard for them to appreciate that that’s where all the power is. What they have to get into the habit of doing is not only seizing and focusing on the moment but also recognizing the value of their choice in that moment. Affording the healthy exercise of their will the attention and respect it deserves does more to foster mindfulness than anything else they can do. And when they then reliably and sincerely endorse their efforts (giving themselves an “internal” pat-on-the-back, akin to what a loving parent naturally does on an external level to encourage one of their children making the effort to achieve a goal), they confer upon themselves the reinforcement necessary to make it more likely they’ll meet the next moment’s challenge successfully and conquered their demons (For more on this see my article: Becoming A Better Person: Covert Self-Monitoring And Self-Reinforcement).
When I developed my books In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance, I needed to give a lot of attention to the various disturbed character types, their attributes, and the tactics they use to evade responsibility and manipulate and control others. It was important that folks looking for help and browsing through the books could readily identify with the scenarios I depicted and in the process have their feelings and perceptions validated, possibly for the first time. But I sometimes regret not giving more attention to the mechanisms by which survivors of bad relationships can realize the power of the moment to make the changes that will empower their lives (i.e. how to put the “tools of empowerment” I outline into practice). So in the next few articles, I’ll be doing just that. And I hope that in addition to the usual helpful comments from readers, we’ll hear from folks who’ve used the tools I advocate moment to moment, day by day, to change their lives for the better and for the long haul.
Some big surprises coming up on Character Matters (Sunday evenings at 7 pm Eastern, 4 pm Pacific on UCY.TV) the next few weeks, and a very special guest on the July 13 program. Stay tuned. And my apologies for the technical difficulties the past couple of weeks taking calls. Last week, the program had more callers-in then ever, but due to technical glitches, the callers could not be patched through and heard properly. Hopefully, that will not be a problem this week.