Divorced Moms – Parent Yourself First To Be A Better Parent

By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC

It’s that time of year again when all mothers feel the connection with their children. Often they reflect and wonder whether they are being the best they can be for the kids they love. Since none of us are perfect, Mother’s Day can be a highly emotional time for many mothers.

It can be an even more stressful time for a divorced mom!

That’s because divorce is a life-altering experience. It takes its toll on your physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Its ramifications not only turn your own world upside down. Divorce can also seriously affect your innocent children – a dire consequence every loving mother wants to avoid.

Since divorce is a process, often a lengthy one, there are days – yes, weeks and months – when life can seem awfully low. Often overbearing. The weight can seem just too much to carry. The many life changes related to divorce can play a part in these difficult circumstances. And when you’re a parent at the same time … well, you know how it feels!

Then Mother’s Day comes along. Frequently it reminds us of what once was that isn’t the same anymore. We compare our lives with happier times. We question whether we made the best decisions in recent times. We can also dive deep into fears of what may lie ahead for us and for our kids.

If you are being triggered by any of these thoughts, keep in mind: you’re not alone.

Parenting is tough for everyone, even under the best of circumstances. Parenting through and beyond divorce takes enormous focus and a continuous need for compassion, both for yourself and your children. If you take it day by day, it can be easier to find the strength and the insight to make decisions that tap into your innate wisdom and love for your children.

But it’s also essential to parent and nurture yourself at the same time. Take a tip from the airlines when they instruct you to put your oxygen mask on first before providing oxygen to your children. You need to be alert and functioning well before you can make vital decisions on behalf of your children. Because they matter so much to you.

That means it’s crucial that you seek out the help you need to recharge.

De-stress and unwind from time to time. Share your frustrations with a caring friend or family member. Find a compassionate coach or counselor who specializes in divorce issues. Join a support group for divorced Moms. Reach out to community and spiritual resources that empower you. Treat yourself to a massage, concert, evening out, weekend away from the kids or other activity that energizes your psyche.

Don’t suffer or brood alone. We all need help, support and encouragement when times are tough. Find a source that you value and respect. We can’t always give what we need to ourselves. But we can and must let others know when we need a shoulder to cry on, a babysitter for an occasional indulgence or a team of reinforcement when the burden of moving on feels too heavy.

Your kids deserve the best mother they can get.

Remember this as well: sometimes all you need is to take care of yourself for a day – and you’ll be better prepared to handle tomorrow. Stepping away from your routine structure can often give you the clearer perspective you need to make sound decisions on behalf of your children. Unburdening yourself in the hands of an experienced professional can lesson your load and remind you there are other options available when you need them.

Whether you’re a divorced co-parent or single parent, remember your first obligation is to parent yourself with loving compassion. Your family will thank you!

Happy Mother’s Day to you all!

*     *     *

Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is a Certified Divorce & Parenting Coach, founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network and author of How Do I Tell the Kids About the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love! For her free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting as well as articles, coaching services, co-parenting programs and other valuable resources on divorce with children, visit: www.childcentereddivorce.com.

© Rosalind Sedacca  All rights reserved.




Signs You’re Holding On When It’s Time to Let Go

Letting go is hard.
Damned hard.

I first learned this as a young child, exploring my grandmother’s basement, packed to the ceiling with carefully labeled and organized items as though she was preparing to seek refuge from the apocalypse.

Which, in many ways, she was.

She lived through starvation and disaster on the Dakota prairie. Later, she experienced the second World War and the Great Depression that followed. She felt the burden of providing for three children while also caring for a sister and a husband that faced medical crises.

All of this occurred long before I was born. So I puzzled at the multiples of cans stacked on a windowsill that approximated a grocery shelf when a fully-stocked pantry and fridge occupied the kitchen above. From my perspective as a middle class American kid, the grocery store was a constant. I simply couldn’t understand the need to create an additional level of food security at home even as I could see how deeply the need went within her.

Then my parents divorced. And for the first time in my young life, I felt that overwhelming need to hold on to something – anything – in an attempt to create that sense of security and certainty that I needed to feel safe in the world. In fact, that need was part of what drove my attachment towards my first husband. Sometimes I wish that hindsight could be aimed forwards.

At some point, most of us experience that sense of life pulling the rug from beneath our feet. We reach out. And grab on.
Only to realize much later that we’re still holding on long after it’s time to let go.

The following are possible signs that you’re still holding on when perhaps it is time to let go:

The person, object or situation no longer brings you joy or fulfills a purpose.

The first hosta that I planted in my old front yard brought me endless pleasure. I admired its immense green span when I pulled into the driveway and marveled at the unfurling of its new leaves. As the sun intensified over the ensuing weeks, the once-pristine leaves began to brown, turning shriveled and deformed in the face of the sun’s relentless beating. The plant no longer brought me joy. Instead, the sight of the failing foliage brought me guilt and shame and frustration. Even as I refused to admit defeat and replace it with something more suitable.
We all have a tendency to that, to stubbornly hold on to our choices even when we no longer find joy or usefulness with our selection. Life’s too short for placeholders and clutter. If it doesn’t bring joy (to you or someone else) or fulfill a purpose, why continue to hold on?

You show signs of anxiety when you consider letting go that are out of proportion with the actual loss.

Have you ever removed a pacifier, favored toy or security blanket from the hands of young child? Did they act as though you were threatening their very existence? This just goes to show how easily we assign great meaning to things that can be relatively inconsequential.
We use these things – whether people or items – much like first responders use gauze to pack a wound. We stuff them in around the bleeding spaces in an attempt to halt the flow of emotion. Their presence means that we don’t have to examine the wound. And we fear that if we remove them, we will succumb to the underlying injury.

The opportunity cost is beginning to be a burden.

I was in contact with a person who was in an on-again, off-again relationship. They were torn. On the one hand, they were afraid of being alone and were appreciative of the positive aspects of this particular partner. On the other hand, there were significant communication struggles and work that both needed to do to past this. Ultimately, this person decided to move on – literally – because continuing to say “yes” to this relationship meant saying “no” to many exciting opportunities that were presenting themselves.

Whenever you are holding on to one thing, you are preventing yourself from holding on to something else. Are you finding that you have goals that you cannot seem to meet because your attention is still directed towards this other thing? Are your hands too full to pick up what you desire?

You find yourself making excuses and becoming defensive when questioned.

My need for my ex husband was extreme. So extreme that I was not able to face the thought of losing him, much less confront the reality of who he was. I made excuses for his excuses and defended him to myself and others. And the one time someone asked if I was afraid about infidelity while he travelled? Let’s just say that they never tried to bring it up again.

We often feed ourselves the narrative that we’ve made choices and now we have to live with them because it’s easier than facing the fact that maybe we made the wrong choice and we have the power to change it. Denial is powerful and it puts up quite the fight when it feels threatened. As such, when you feel yourself gearing up for a battle when there are no weapons drawn, it’s a sign that you may be grasping onto something that would be better off released.

The fear of the leap is the only thing in your way.

It’s scary to take a leap of faith.

The thought of letting go when you fear that you may plummet seems like a fool’s mission.

Yet if you’re always holding on, you’ll never know what you can reach.

Lisa Arends is a moved-forward, re-center, re-purpose divorcee working to inspire others to do so as well. She has written the “How-To-Thrive Guide.” You can learn more about “thriving” and get other inspirations at her blog, lessonsfromtheendofamarriage.com.

Narcissists’ and Abusers’ Lethal Weapon Targeting Empaths: Projection

Projection is a defense mechanism commonly used by abusers, including people with narcissistic or borderline personality disorder and addicts. Basically, they say, “It’s not me, it’s you!” When we project, we’re defending ourselves against unconscious impulses or traits, either positive or negative, that we’ve denied in ourselves. Instead we attribute them to others. Our thoughts or feelings about someone or something are too uncomfortable to acknowledge. In our mind we believe that the thought or emotion originates from that other person or thing.

We might imagine “She hates me,” when we actually hate her. We might think someone else is angry or judgmental, yet are unaware that we are. Similar to projection is externalization, when we blame others for our problems rather than taking responsibility for our part in causing them. It makes us feel like a victim. Addicts often blame their drinking or drug use on their spouse or boss.

Our coping strategies reflect our emotional maturity. Projection is considered a primitive defense because it distorts or ignores reality in order for us to function and preserve our ego. It’s reactive, without forethought, and is defense children use. When used by adults, it reveals less emotional maturity and indicates impaired emotional development.


Klein famously said that a mother must be able to love her child even as it bites her breast, meaning that a good mother, like a good therapist, with appropriate boundaries and self-esteem, won’t react to the anger and projected badness from her baby. She will love her baby nonetheless. If instead we had a mother who reacted with anger or withdrawal, her boundaries were weak, and a child’s are naturally porous. We absorbed our mother’s reaction, as if it was a negative statement about our worth and lovability. We developed weak boundaries and shame ourselves. The mother-infant bond may have become negative.

The same thing can happen with a father’s reactions, because a child needs to feel loved and accepted unconditionally by both parents. We can grow up with shame-based beliefs about ourselves and are set up to be manipulated and abused. Moreover, if one of our parents is a narcissist or abuser, his or her feelings and needs, particularly emotional needs, will come first. As a result of shame, we learn ours are unimportant. We adapt and become codependent.


It’s common for codependents to have internalized or toxic shame and strong inner critic. As a result, we will find fault with others just as we do with ourselves, often about the same characteristics. We might project our critic onto others and think they’re criticizing us, when in fact it’s our own self-judgment that is being activated. We assume people will judge and not accept us, because we judge and don’t accept ourselves. The more we accept ourselves, the more comfortable we are with others. We’re not self-conscious thinking that they’re judging us.

Declining Self-Esteem

In an adult relationship with an abuser or addict, you may not believe you have any rights. Naturally, you go along or put your partner’s needs and feelings, sometimes self-sacrificing at great lengths to please and avoid conflict. Your self-esteem and independence steadily decline. As your partner behaves like a king or queen, you become increasingly dependent, even though your needs aren’t being fulfilled.  This allows your partner to easily manipulate, abuse, and exploit you. Your self-doubt grows as your partner projects more shame and criticism onto you.

Meanwhile, you accept the blame and try to be more understanding in the relationship. In vain attempts to win approval and stay connected, you thread on eggshells, fearful of your partner’s displeasure and criticism. You worry what he or she will think or do and become preoccupied with the relationship. You stay to prevent your greatest fear—abandonment and rejection and losing hope of finding lasting love. You may begin to believe that no one would want you or that the grass isn’t greener. Your partner might even say that in an attempt to project their shame and fear onto you. After whittling down your self-esteem, you’re prime to believe it’s true.

Projective Identification

When we have a strong sense of self and self-esteem, we have healthy boundaries. When someone projects something onto us, it bounces off. We don’t take it personally, because we realize it’s untrue or merely a statement about the speaker. A good slogan to remember is QTIP, “Quit taking it personally!”

However, when we have low self-esteem or are sensitive about a specific issue, such as our looks or intelligence, we are susceptible to believing a projection as a fact. We introject the projection. This is because internally we agree with it. It sticks like a magnet, and we believe it’s true. Then we react to the shaming and compound our relationship problems. Doing so validates the abusers’ ideas about us and gives them authority and control. We’re sending the message that they have power over our self-esteem and the right to approve of us.

Responding to Projection

A projector may exert enormous pressure on you to accept the projection. If you’re empathic, you’re more open, less psychologically defended. If you also have poor boundaries, as described above, you may absorb a projection more easily and identify with them as your own trait.

Understanding how projective identification works is crucial for self-protection. Recognizing the defense can be a valuable tool, for it’s a window into the unconscious mind of an abuser. We can actually experience what he or she is feeling and thinking. Armed with this knowledge, if someone shames us, we realize that he or she is reacting to his or he own shame. It can give us empathy, which is helpful, provided we have good self-esteem and empathy for ourselves! Building self-esteem by disarming our inner critic are our first defense against projection.


Still, you may feel baffled about what to do. When someone projects onto you, simply set a boundary. This gives the projection back to the speaker. You’re establishing a force field – an invisible wall. Say something like one of the following:

“I don’t see it that way.”

“I disagree.”

“I don’t take responsibility for that.”

“That’s your opinion.”

It’s important not to argue or defend yourself, because that gives credence to the projector’s false reality. If the abuser persists, you can say, “We simply disagree,” and leave the conversation. The projector will have to stew in his or he own negative feelings. See “Do’s and Don’ts in Confronting Abuse.” Learn how to communicate with a narcissist in Dealing with a Narcissist and how to overcome toxic shame in Conquering Shame and Codependency.

© Darlene Lancer 2019

Author of Codependency for Dummies and Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You


10 Steps to Self-Esteem

Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People

How To Speak Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits and webinar How to Be Assertive

Breakup Recovery

“I’m Not Perfect – I’m Only Human” – How to Beat Perfectionism

Spiritual Transformation in the Twelve Steps

Freedom from Guilt and Blame – Finding Self-Forgiveness

Codependency’s Recovery Daily Reflections

How to Raise Your Self-Esteem

Self-Love Meditation

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Understanding Your Love Languages

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

According to author Gary Chapman, couples will communicate more effectively and feel happier if they gain insight into their primary way of desiring expressions of love. They can also ask their partner to demonstrate love in this fashion. He explains that deep inside every hurting couple exists an invisible “emotional love tank” which has its gauge on empty. Chapman explains that the miscommunication, criticism, harsh words, and withdrawal that goes on between couples occurs because of one or both of their empty love tanks.

In order to keep your “emotional love tank” full, Chapman believes you need to identify your primary love language. First, ask yourself: what does my spouse do or fail to do that hurts me most deeply? The opposite of what hurts you most is probably your love language. Then, ask yourself: what have I most often requested from my partner? For example, if you are most likely to request time with him or her, your love language is most likely “Quality Time.”

Finally, your method of expressing love is an indication of what will make you feel loved in return.  In The Five Languages of Love, Chapman explains that people have a tendency to desire and express love in one of five ways:

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Quality Time
  3. Receiving Gifts
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Physical Touch

Chapman suggests that spouses need more sensitivity so they can help to keep their partners “emotional love tank” full. For instance, Tim has learned to ask Laura for a hug. His primary love language is “Physical Touch,” and this brings him satisfaction. Laura has become aware of his strong desire for affection, and she’s actively trying to be more receptive to his physical gestures and even spontaneously embraces him or holds his hand when they take a walk around their neighborhood.

Likewise, since Laura’s primary love language is “Acts of Service,” she likes to prepare food for Tim and also appreciates it when he offers to repair her car or things that break around their home. These are wonderful gestures that they can both do to show love to each other.

Quality time with a partner can become a ritual for couples. Examples are eating meals together or going for a daily walk. All of these things cement positive communication. Comments such as “I appreciate how thoughtful you were when you made me dinner” are ways to express love to partners who desire “Words of affirmation.” Finally, gifts can include small tokens of appreciation such as notes, flowers, and handmade crafts.

Honoring Your Love Language Through Physical Touch

Physical touch is a powerful way to promote positive communication and to show your love and affection to your partner. It’s important for couples to connect through touch that is non-sexual on a daily basis. A loving touch is completely different from a sexual touch, and when people confuse the two, it can be detrimental to a marriage. For example, if a couple isn’t getting along and a partner attempts to have sex, it is like saying, “I don’t like you, but I want to have sex with you to satisfy my needs.” Yet, when partners frequently touch each other in non-sexual ways, it conveys tenderness and love.

Further, “Physical Reconnect” can enhance sexual intimacy and also communicate love. When you give an intimate kiss to your partner, it’s not just about the meeting of your lips. It usually involves touching with other parts of your bodies, hand on cheek; hand on hair, offering an embrace. Having an additional point of contact during a kiss with your partner creates a deeper sense of emotional attunement and intimacy.

In this scenario, Tim comes home and Laura is watching a TV show and she invites him to cuddle on the couch. They share a loving, intimate moment when they kiss and embrace briefly. Then, Tim runs into the kitchen and makes himself a snack. Then Laura mutes the TV, tells Tim that her show is almost over, and invites him to go for a power walk before they pick up his daughters at gymnastics. Tim has never objected to Laura watching her 4pm talk show. Since she works at home, Laura’s need to take a break is not a problem and by itself does not negatively affect their relationship.

The underlying message that Laura is communicating to Tim in this scenario when she turns toward Tim and invites him to go for a walk, is that she is interested in him but just wants to watch the end of her TV show. Due to his strong need for physical touch and experiencing a difficult day, Tim’s feelings are raw and he feels satisfied by Laura’s offer to cuddle and go for a walk. With some sensitivity to each other’s different love languages and personalities, Tim and Laura are learning to communicate more effectively and this will help to prevent huge misunderstandings or rifts in their degree of love and intimacy.

Terry would love to hear from you if you have any questions or comments. To find out more about her research, order her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy Long-Lasting Relationship.

How Children Are Affected by Divorce

By Kristin M. Davin, Psy.D.

Divorce is a game changer in a child’s life. That we know. It creates significant physical, emotional, financial, and psychological changes. Feelings of loss and separation abound. Sadness and pain of the breakup of their family unit, the anger they feel that often gets expressed either internally (stomaches, headaches) or externally (through behavior problems, acting out) are very common.

Children struggle to adjust to living without one parent every day, as they shuffle between two homes, splitting and sharing their time. They are often caught in the middle of potential conflict between their parents, enduring at times economic hardship, broken bonds with a parent, loss of emotional security and stability, and multiple emotional stressors. They do this while hanging on tight as they ride the emotional roller coaster of the inherent ups and downs and uncertainties of their life. Of their parent’s divorce. It’s a new life they never asked for but for one they have no choice to endure.

Long term, children of divorce are more aggressive towards their teachers and parents. They are more often referred for psychological help due to heightened anxiety and depression, struggle to get along with their peers, and more likely to divorce themselves (Wallerstein, 2000).

Yet, although divorce affects a child’s world in impactful ways, there are many things that parents can do – individually and collectively – to help them navigate this major change in their life in positive and healthy ways.

Preschool Children

This is a very sensitive developmental stage for preschool children. They have developed a strong attachment to each parent, but young and vulnerable to possible breaks in attachment and a fear of abandonment because family means everything to them. It is common for many children to fantacize that their parents will get back together again. They are aware of what is happening.

And although they understand many things, they do not fully understand or grasp the meaning of divorce and often react with confusion. This may be demonstrated through thinking if one parent left, maybe the other one will leave, too. Or, thinking they are to blame for their parents break up (thinking I did something wrong or if they behaved better, then their parents would still be together). They will search for an explanation for what they know best – their own thoughts and experiences.

Possible effects of divorce are:

• An increase in separation anxiety with more clingy behavior, and/or an increase in anxiety about losing a parent.
• May become more fearful in general.
• Resistance to being apart from one or both of their parents.
• Group negative emotions together (sadness and anger may feel the same).
• Emergence of attention seeking behavior.
• Regression or loss of developmental skills previously mastered.
• Asking the same questions repeatedly because they are struggling to make sense and understand what is happening (for example, where will I sleep? Will I go to the same school? Will I have the same friends? Where will all my toys go?).

What parents can do:

• Offer stability and a predictable routine. The use of a calendar is a positive way to help your young child, so they can anticipate visits with the non-resident parent helping them to feel more control and consistency over their environment.
• Reassure them that things will be OK (even if in the moment it doesn’t feel that way).
• Spend quality 1:1 time by reading, playing and cuddling together.
• Maintain consistent communication with the non-resident parent.
• Provide a safe space for your child to express their thoughts and feelings.
• Maintain your own self-care by having a healthy lifestyle and having a support system to share your thoughts and feelings.

School age children

During this stage of development, elementary-aged children have begun the process of figuring out who they are and their own identity with a focus on building their self-esteem. Despite the divorce, their relationship with the other parent is critical in how their view themselves and maintaining that relationship. They also have a greater understanding about their parent’s divorce. However, this can increase their feelings of sadness and loss because they are better able to grasp the depth and the full implications of their parent’s divorce. Many may also have second hand knowledge through their friends at school who are experiencing something similar. They are more prone to getting their feelings hurt by negative words expressed by their peers as they deeply value their family unit as it’s an extension of their own identity and divorce makes them feel betrayed by their parents. Yet, they continue to hope their parents will reconcile.

Possible effects of divorce are:

• Worry more about the emotional well-being of their parents and internalize their sadness and anxiety especially when they are with one parent and the other one is alone.
• Feel personally rejected by the divorce.
• Worry about money, living arrangements and how well (or not) their parents are getting along.
• Feel shame around their parent’s divorce.
• An increase in anger, often overt, towards their parents especially if they feel that one parent is to blame for the divorce.
• Difficulty concentrating on schoolwork while being preoccupied with their family and the separation/divorce process.

What parents can do:

• Ensure your child has someone to speak to about how they feel (therapist, school counselor, family member or friend).
• Inform the school of the current situation so the teachers can watch for signs of acting out or a decrease in their grades.
• Keep them informed (to a large degree) what is going on and talk to them about any impending changes with schedules. This will help them feel they are being kept in the loop and that in some ways, the family is still intact.
• Speak to them how the family is changing and what their new family will look like. This could be creating new family traditions or habits after the divorce.


Developmentally, adolescents are more independent, relying more on friends for support and guidance than younger children, they are still dependent on their parents emotionally, physically, and financially. Yet, they are just as affected by their parent’s divorce as younger children but are affected in different ways.

Possible effects of divorce are:

• They may act out more aggressively and in defiant ways that create greater distance with a stronger determination to live life on ‘his or her life in their own way’, with greater self-interest. They may disregard discipline and start taking care of themselves more.
• May try and get back at their parents, as this is a way of expressing their anger, fear, and disappointment at their parents. They may also not want to follow their advice due to a break in trust.
• Act ‘cool’ and say the divorce doesn’t affect them (as a way to hide their true feelings of sadness and loss) because they are often confused and angry by what their parents did, what they saw, and how they were told they should behave.
• Start to question their future that once felt more secure, asking, should I go to college, leave home, get married, and worry if one parent is sad and depressed.
• Experience greater insecurity as they navigate their own way to adulthood because divorce has taught them to be skeptical of trust and loyalty and may struggle to maintain their own close relationships
• Act out in dangerous and destructive ways such as delinquency, drug or alcohol abuse, or sexual promiscuity.
• Worry about money or be concerned they will not be able to do the things they have been doing.
Find faults in their parents and pick sides during the divorce.
• Attempt to fill the role they perceive to be filled by one of their parents. Unfortunately, some parents allow this to happen and place the older child in the role of the parent (‘the man of the house’) well before they are developmentally, emotionally, and psychologically ready (often referred to as being parentified).

What parents shouldn’t do:

• Do not speak negatively about your ex-spouse in front of them keeping in mind that they will always be the mother or father of your child. Doing this only creates greater confusion, stress, and anxiety for them. Find other resources (family and friends) to manage your negative feelings.
• Do not use your child as the messenger by giving them information to communicate with your ex-spouse (money issues, custody, visitation, personal anger).
• Do not use them as a weapon in the divorce battle by putting them in the middle or asking them to take sides.

What parents can do:
• Continue to maintain and nurture your relationship with them.
• Take care of yourself emotionally, physically, and psychologically.
• Encourage support by including extended family and other positive people in their life to help them so they feel less alone and have someone to talk to outside of their parents).
• Maintain routines as much as you are able to. This will help provide consistency and help them feel safe.
• Create a few new habits to help them transition. This will give them a sense of control and ownership and will also help to create resiliency.
• Listen to them. Give them the time they need to talk and process their feelings. Don’t judge and feel they should be further along they are.
• Don’t have lofty expectations just because they ‘appear’ to be doing fine or you think they can handle more information (as they often cannot but will not tell you that because they don’t want to burden you more.
• Create healthy conversations that include them and talk with them, not at them.

At the end of the day, one of the most important things that you can do as a parent is to simply talk with and listen to your child. They need to know that you are emotionally and physically available for them as this will provide them with a safe place to share their feelings, which will better equip you to understand what exactly is bothering them.

Finally, as a parent, it’s imperative that you work through your own negative emotions with friends and family and not use your child or children as a sounding board as this will only prolong their adjustment and increase their distress. Being able to speak positively about your ex as this is your child’s parent speaks volumes and will have a positive long lasting effect on their overall health and well-being both now and in the future.

Kristin M. Davin, Psy.D.
Strategic Professional Coach and Therapist
Counseling, Coaching, and Consulting

This blog was originally posted on on Worthy.com

6 Steps to Set Yourself Free from People Pleasing

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

While it’s admirable to be a caring person, learning to accept and respect myself has helped me to set healthy boundaries and to say “no” without feeling guilty. For instance, I used to take on too much responsibility at work because I thought that others would “like” me and I’d feel better about myself. As it turns out, it was a quick way to burn out and I ended up feeling resentful and depleted.

The term “People Pleaser” is often used to describe people who go out of their way to make sure someone else is happy to the detriment of their own happiness. They seek approval from others due to unresolved issues with their parents or a need to be accepted. Becoming a people pleaser is a way in which many individuals neglect to set boundaries and convey to others that they’re not good enough.

If you’re not sure if this description fits you, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

-Do you have a hard time saying “no” when you are asked to do something for others?

-Do you worry a lot about disappointing others or worry they’ll leave you?

-Do you bend over backwards for other people, often at your own expense?

-Do you do some things because of a feeling of obligation, and then feel resentful afterwards?

-Are you afraid that if you don’t take care of others, they’ll think you’re not “nice?”

-Do you avoid speaking up for yourself or voicing your opinion because you’re afraid of conflict?

-Do you let your other people “take advantage” of you?”

If you find yourself recognizing yourself in a lot of these, then you probably can benefit from being more assertive. After all, although pleasing others at your own expense might gain you some recognition, it won’t be good for your self-esteem in the long run.

Letting Go of Being a Victim

Studies show that while some men may experience “People Pleasing” it appears more often in women. Over time, a lack of setting boundaries in relationships can damage a person’s sense of self-worth. The good news is that this damage is reversible with self-awareness and support from others.

Before you can begin to  build healthy relationships you must have healthy self-esteem – which means evaluating yourself in positive ways and believing in yourself. Honestly take stock of your patterns of relating to others. One of the first things to ask yourself is: how do I treat ymyself? No one is going to treat you with respect if you beat yourself up. Get rid of all those self-defeating thoughts in your head – such as calling yourself “stupid” that won’t help you get back on your feet.

The first step to addressing people pleasing behavior is to examine your attitudes and beliefs. Often people get stuck in the role of “People Pleasing” because they lack self-awareness.  The following 6 steps will allow you to gain control of your life.

  • Embrace the idea that you can’t be liked by everyone. There will always be those who don’t agree or approve of your words or actions. Accept that you can’t control what others think of you. All you can really control is yourself.
  • Ask yourself: do I give too much in relationships? Do you ignore your own needs due to seeking other’s approval? Therapy, reading, and keeping a journal can aid you in this process.
  • Challenge your beliefs and self-defeating thoughts about your self-worth. You don’t need to prove anything to another person about your self-worth. You are just as deserving of attention and caring as other people are.
  • Put an end to playing the role of a victim. Make new decisions to change your life – such as taking time to do the things that you enjoy rather than deferring to the needs of others.
  • Practice compassion and self-approval by learning to set personal boundaries and saying “no”to unreasonable requests from others.  You will feel better when you give yourself time to replenish yourself rather than focusing too much on others.
  • Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean you are selfish. As you begin to care less about seeking the approval of others, you’ll find you have more energy – people pleasing can drain us of time and make us feel tired. Strive to achieve balance between your physical, mental, and emotional heath.

Take a moment to ask yourself: Am I able to freeing express my thoughts, wishes, and desires without worrying about my partner or friends reaction? If the answer is no, it may be time to consider working on freeing yourself from being a people pleaser. By learning to be more assertive, you will no longer feel like a victim. Making yourself a priority isn’t the same as being selfish. You are worth the effort and deserve a freer, happier life.

Terry would love to hear from you if you have any questions or comments. To find out more about her research, order her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy Long-Lasting Relationship. Her new book “The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around” will be published by Sounds True in the spring of 2020.

How Couples Can Repair from an Argument and Make Love Last

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

During counseling sessions couples often ask me some version of this important question: How can we get back on track after a disagreement and build a strong relationship that lasts a lifetime?

Typically, I explain that conflict is an inevitable part of an intimate relationship and that one of the main ingredients of a healthy, long-lasting partnership is making a commitment to repair hurt feelings and bounce back from arguments fairly quickly.

In over 40 years of research in his classic “Love Lab” studies, Dr. John Gottman discovered that the number one solution to marital problems is to get good at repair skills. He explains that repair attempts allow a couple to get back on track after a dispute and are an important way to avoid resentment.

In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. Gottman describes repair attempts as the secret weapon that emotionally intelligent couples employ that allows their marriage to flourish rather than flounder. A repair attempt is any statement or action – verbal, physical, or otherwise – intended to diffuse negativity and keep a conflict from escalating.

Couples who discuss concerns in a timely and respectful way and adopt a “we’re in this together” mindset have a better chance of creating a happy long-lasting partnership. They are resilient and don’t let anger destroy the loving feelings and affection that brought them together in the first place.

7 Steps to getting good at repair skills:

1. Do not blame, criticize, or show contempt for your partner. Talking about specific issues will reap better results than attacking him or her. For instance, a complaint is: “I’m upset because you didn’t tell me about spending money on new clothes. We agreed to be open with each other and money is tight right now.” Versus a criticism: “You never tell me the truth. How can I trust you?” Avoid defensiveness and showing contempt for your partner (rolling your eyes, ridicule, name-calling, sarcasm, etc.).

2. Start a conversation with a soft and curious tone such as, “Could I ask you something?” will lessen your partner’s defensiveness. Dr. John Gottman reminds us that criticism is extremely damaging to a marriage and that talking about specific issues with a soft approach will reap better results.

3. Avoid character assassinations. Don’t attack your partner’s character, values, or core beliefs. Remember that anger is usually a symptom of underlying hurt, fear, and frustration so stop and reflect on your own emotions. Listen to our partner’s side of the story instead of focusing on your counterargument. Validate their perspective first – then share your viewpoint. When you feel like attacking your partner, ask yourself: what am I trying to accomplish?

4. Don’t make threats or issue ultimatums. Avoid saying things you will regret later. Being vulnerable with your partner can make you feel exposed but it is an important ingredient in a trusting, intimate relationship. You may have created a psychological armor since childhood due to being hurt or judged but this might not serve you well as an adult. Be assertive yet open in your attempts to negotiate for what you want from your partner. Both individuals in a relationship deserve to get some (not all) of their needs met.

5. Approach conflict with a problem-solving attitude. Avoid trying to prove a point and examine your part in a disagreement. Listen to your partner’s requests and ask for clarification on issues than are unclear. Discuss expectations to avoid misunderstandings. Engage in a conversation with your partner that is productive rather than shutting down or criticizing him or her.

6. Take a short break if you feel overwhelmed or flooded. This will give you both time to calm down and collect your thoughts so you can have a more meaningful dialogue with your partner. Author David Akiva, encourages couples to develop a Hurt-Free Zone Policy which is a period when criticism is not allowed between partners. Without it, couples usually feel less defensive and as a result, feelings of hurt and rejection dissolve within 3 to 4 weeks.

7. Practice having a recovery conversation after an argument. Daniel B. Wile, Ph.D. believes that your focus needs to be on listening to your partner’s perspective, collaborating, building intimacy, and restoring safety and good will if you want to develop good repair skills. A recovery conversation can reveal information about your relationship, lead to a resolution of the fight, and restore intimacy. It’s best to wait until both partners have calmed down before starting it and to be careful not to rekindle the fight. If you stay focused on the present this will prevent rehashing an argument.

Be sure to give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Instead of focusing on your partner’s flaws try spending your energy fostering a deeper connection. Avoid building a case against your partner. Instead, express positive feelings and gestures of love often and become skilled at demonstrating acceptance and gratitude in your words and actions.

Can a Marriage Thrive with Unresolved Conflict?

Dr. Gottman advises us that couples can live with unsolvable differences about ongoing issues in their relationship as long as they aren’t deal breakers. His research informs us that 69% of problems in a marriage don’t get resolved but can be managed successfully.

Author Marcia Naomi Berger, explains that many couples buy into the myth that if a marriage is healthy all issues get resolved. She writes: “Simply put, it is not the presence of conflict that stresses the relationship; it is the manner in which the couple responds. Positive, respectful communication about differences helps keep a marriage thriving.”

Once you have gotten better at recovering after a dispute, it becomes easier to restore loving feelings with your partner. If you find yourself struggling, tell him or her what is on your mind. For instance, say something like “I feel flooded right now. Can you hold me or tell me you love me? I feel like attacking you but I don’t want to do that.”

Most of the time, you’ll restore intimacy during times of conflict or stress by being honest and vulnerable with your partner. Adopting these skills takes time and patience but will help you recapture the love, trust, and intimacy you once experienced.

Terry would love to hear from you if you have any questions or comments. To find out more about her research, order her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy Long-Lasting Relationship.

Parents: How To Talk To Your Children After Your Divorce

By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC

It’s no secret that one of the biggest challenges a parent faces after divorce is staying in good communication with your children. Obviously all parents struggle with communication issues as their children grow, but children who have had their lives dramatically altered by separation or divorce need even more attention – and diligent observation by their parents.

Children tend not to tell you when they are angry, resentful, confused, hurt or depressed. Instead they reflect their problems through their behavior – acting out or perhaps turning inward in ways that you have not experienced prior to the divorce.

Here are some tips about ways to encourage positive and productive communication between you and your children. Many of these are obvious or innate behaviors. Some can easily be forgotten amid the challenges you are juggling in your own life on a daily basis.

Take time to see the world through your children’s eyes and you will be better able to meet their needs, understand their confusion or aggression and find appropriate ways to dissolve tension through your conversation and caring behaviors.

   Be available and attentive when your child comes to you to talk or ask questions. That means turning off the TV, putting down the newspaper, not answering the phone and giving them eye-contact and a welcoming smile. Sometimes attempting to talk to you is the result of considerable thought and risk on their part. Encourage these conversations when they happen.

   It is helpful to sit, kneel or in other ways get down closer to your child’s level when you talk. Towering over them is a form of intimidation that does not translate into safety or trust.

   Keep your conversations private unless they want to include others. Let them know they are safe in confiding to you and that you are interested and care about matters that concern them.

   Don’t dismiss a subject lightly if it is one bothering your child. Laughing, joking or teasing will create alienation that ultimately will discourage your child to share what is bothering them with you. This is a dangerous road to travel, especially as your children develop into their teen years.

   Equally important is to never embarrass your children or put them on the spot in front of others. This will immediately close the door to honest, trustworthy communication.

   Avoid talking to your child when you are angry or upset with them or others. Promise to talk in a half-hour or hour at a specific place after you’ve had a chance to settle down and regain your objectivity.

   Be an active listener. Don’t interrupt while your child is talking. Listen carefully and then paraphrase back what you heard them say. Ask if you’re right in your interpretation. They’ll tell you. This give and tack will   help you be more precisely understood what is really at issue.

Children who feel safe talking to their parents grow up as better communicators overall. They will be more likely to have healthy communication in their own adult relationships – with their spouses and children.

Families that keep feelings repressed, that don’t discuss issues that come up, send the message that it’s not all right to talk about things that bother us. The consequences of this can be seen in our news headlines every day.

You can open the doors to caring communication in your home by starting today. Your children may be a little resistant at first as they test the waters, but they will surely appreciate this opportunity once they know you are sincere. Start the process yourself – and see how valuable it is to “hear” what your children have to say!

*    *    *

Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is the founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network, a Divorce & Co-Parenting Coach and author of the acclaimed ebook, How Do I Tell the Kids About the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — With Love! To get her free ebook, coaching services, expert interviews, programs, e-courses and other valuable resources on divorce and co-parenting, visit: http://www.childcentereddivorce.com

Beware of the Dark Triad and Narcissism

Think of the Dark Triad of Narcissism, Psychopathy, and Machiavellianism as the Bermuda Triangle – it’s perilous to get near it! The traits of all three often overlap and create personality profiles that are damaging and toxic, especially when it comes to intimate relationships, where we let our guard down.

One woman was the subject of identity fraud. Her bank accounts and credit cards were compromised. At the time, she was in love with her boyfriend who lived with her in her apartment. She was speaking regularly with the FBI and suffered extreme anxiety and emotionally stress. The authorities were unsuccessful in finding the culprit. Her fiancé was very supportive in doing research to try to find him. He comforted her, occasionally bought her gifts, and paid her monthly rent out of money she gave him. When the landlord confronted her about months of delinquency, she realized that the criminal was in fact her own boyfriend, who had been pocketing her rent money, except to buy her gifts. Her denial made it difficult to accept the truth about his ruthless gaslighting.

What is the Dark Triad ?

This is a popular term was coined in 2002 by Paulhus and Williams. Dark Triad refers to three unusually negative personality traits—narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. The latter two share more traits with each other than with narcissists. Generally, the term refers to individuals with “subclinical” symptoms, meaning that they may not necessarily fully have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or anti-social personality disorder (ASPD). Machiavellianism arose out of Machiavelli’s philosophy and is not a mental health disorder.

• Narcissism is characterized by the pursuit of ego gratification, vanity, and a sense of superiority, grandiosity, dominance, and entitlement.
• Machiavellianism is marked by manipulation – a calculating, duplicitous and amoral personality, focused on self-interest and personal gain.
• Psychopathy is distinguished by callousness, impulsivity, and enduring antisocial and bold behavior.

Common Dark Triad Traits

Recent comparative research on the Dark Triad has attempted to analyze differences among these three malevolent personalities. To varying degrees, all act aggressively out of self-interest and lack empathy and remorse. They’re skilled at manipulation and exploit and deceive others, though their motivations and tactics vary. They violate social norms and moral values and lie, deceive, cheat, steal, and bully. It’s thought that genetic factors underlie their personality.

Machiavellianism and psychopathy are more closely correlated due to their malicious behavior; whereas narcissists are defensive and more fragile. This is because their grandiosity and arrogance is a façade for deeper feelings of inadequacy. (See “Relationships with Narcissists.”) Men outnumber women, primarily when psychopathic traits were measured (i.e., not just deceit, manipulation, etc.) This difference is linked to the overt antisocial behavior associated with psychopathy, suggesting that it may be due to biological factors, such as testosterone, and social norms.

All three types (narcissism to a lesser degree) scored low on agreeableness, measured by the Big Five personality test that assesses extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness. Agreeableness differs from charm and charisma. It involves trustworthiness, unselfishness, straightforwardness, compliance, kindness, and modesty, which are essential for good relationships.

Machiavellians and psychopaths are more lacking in conscientiousness. (Why work when you can cheat and steal!) Psychopaths have the lowest level of neuroticism or negative emotions, which makes them the most sinister. Predictably, narcissists scored higher on openness and are much more extroverted. Openness correlates with evidence that narcissists tend to be creative.


All three personalities lack honesty and humility, which includes sincerity, faithfulness, lack of greed, and fairness. A study of cheating revealed that all three cheat when the risk of getting caught is low. When the risk is high, psychopaths and Machiavellians (when their energy for thinking is low) cheat. Both will intentionally lie. Narcissists have high levels of self-deception rather than intentional dishonesty.

Psychosocial Consequences

The comparative research examined a variety of behaviors, including aggression (bullying, sadism, aggression, and violence), erratic lifestyle (impulsivity, risk taking, and substance use), sexual activity (bizarre fantasies, infidelity, and sexual harassment), socio-emotional deficits (lack of empathy, low emotional intelligence, and theory of mind, i.e., to attribute own and others’ mental states), poor well-being (depression, loneliness, and stress), interpersonal problems (dominance, entitlement, and self-aggrandizement), immorality (lack of values, “deadly sins,” and moral disengagement, i.e. “standards don’t apply to me”), and antisocial tactics (cheating, lying, and negative humor). Machiavellians and psychopaths scored higher in these psychosocial issues; psychopaths twice as high as narcissists. The highest scores were among psychopaths, with aggression being the highest trait. Narcissists scored in the categories of aggression, sexual issues, interpersonal difficulties, and antisocial tactics. Among all three personalities, most of the high scores were due to psychopathic traits. When those were controlled (removed), narcissism still accounted for interpersonal difficulties.


To further understand the lack of empathy among the Dark Triad personalities, research examined affective empathy, which is the ability to have an appropriate emotional response to others’ emotions, and cognitive empathy, the ability to discern others’ emotional states. They found that all three personality types lacked affective empathy, but had unimpaired cognitive empathy. Creepily, all three felt positive looking a sad faces and felt negative seeing happy images! Narcissists and psychopaths also felt good seeing angry faces. Psychopaths liked seeing fearful faces. Overall empathy was lowest among psychopaths and Machiavellians, and study participants who were high on any of the three personality profiles had the lowest affective empathy. Narcissists scored highest on cognitive empathy. The fact that these people are insensitive to others feelings, while retaining the ability to assess others’ emotions, allows them to strategically manipulate people, while ignoring the harm they inflict.

Protect Yourself

If you think you may be involved with a Dark Triad personality, seek psychotherapy. Don’t be afraid to talk to others about your experience. Covering up bad behavior is a common, but dangerous form of denial. Learn about narcissistic abuse, subtle forms of abuse, abusive relationships, and narcissistic relationships. Learn How to Be Assertive and read Dealing with a Narcissist. Violence is preceded by emotional abuse. If you’ve been threatened with violence, don’t wait for it to happen or trust that it won’t be repeated!
© Darlene Lancer 2018 https://www.whatiscodependency.com/

Author of
Codependency for Dummies and
ame> Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You


<http://www.whatiscodependency.com/books-on-codependency/#3> 10 Steps to
<http://www.whatiscodependency.com/books-on-codependency/#5> Dealing with a
Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult
<http://www.whatiscodependency.com/books-on-codependency/#4> How To Speak
Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits and webinar
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For more titles visit Darlene Lancer at https://www.whatiscodependency.com/

10 Questions Every Single Parent Should Ask Their New Partner

By Terry Gaspard, LICSW, MSW

Dating after divorce can be exciting, but when you have children it’s a risky proposition. Over and over again, I see single mom and single dad clients leap headlong into a new relationship — even move in with someone — only to face a disastrous breakup a short while afterward.

While it’s normal to seek solace, companionship and a sexual relationship after a breakup, it’s crucial to take it slow so you can assess whether this relationship is casual or might be permanent. Ask yourself, “Is my new love interest a good fit for my family?” After all, you might have great chemistry with someone, but they might not be best suited to become part of your family.

Here are 10 questions every single parent must ask a new partner before diving in head-first.

  1. How long was your longest committed relationship and how many times have you been married?
  2. Why did your marriage (or last committed relationship) end?
  3. Are you close to your family members, including any children you have?
  4. What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Don’t assume that your partner has good anger-management skills. Do they tend to stonewall or withdraw from conflict or see it as an opportunity for growth? 
  5. How do you feel about making a commitment to someone with children? 
  6. How do you feel about having children? How many children do you consider the best number if you want them? 
  7. Do you believe that couples should share chores and child-care responsibilities? If so, what do you believe is a fair distribution of chores? 
  8. What is your view of divorce? What would you consider a good solution to a period when your marriage is rocky? 
  9. What are your values and beliefs about infidelity? 
  10. What is your vision for your life in five, 10, and 20 years?

Next, if you feel satisfied that your new love interest is a good fit for your family, it’s critical to determine the best time to introduce them to your children. This is the number one question parents ask me. My response is: What’s the hurry? Even if you are madly in love and seem to have a lot in common with your new love interest, breakups are common and kids get caught in the crossfire.

When you find a person that you are becoming seriously involved with, be sure to prepare your children in advance for the first visit. Keep in mind that the setting and timing of an introduction is vital to your success. Rather than planning a long visit, it’s best to have a brief, casual meeting with few expectations.

Divorce expert Rosalind Sedacca recommends these tips: “Ask the kids for their feedback. Discuss their feelings. Watch how your partner behaves with them. Make sure the kids never feel threatened by the thought that they are losing their Mom or Dad to a stranger. How you approach adding a new partner into your life will affect their long-term relationship with the children.”

A crucial factor to keep in mind when introducing a new partner to your children is their age. In fact, younger children (under age 10) may feel confused, angry, or sad because they tend to be possessive of their parents. Renowned researcher Constance Ahrons, who conducted a 20-year study of children of divorce, concluded that most children find their parent’s courtship behaviors confusing and strange.

On the other hand, adolescents may appear more accepting of your new partner than younger children, but they may still perceive that person as a threat to your relationship. Ahrons found that teenagers may find open affection between their parent and a partner troubling, so go easy on physical contact in front of them. Do you want your teenager to model their behavior after you? If so, you owe it to yourself and your kids to build new relationships thoughtfully.

I’ve witnessed many new relationships go south when a partner is introduced to children too quickly. It can cause anguish for everyone, especially children who are probably holding on to the idea that their parents will eventually get back together. It may take them time to accept a new person in their life.

Just because you are smitten with your new love, it doesn’t mean that your kids will share your positive feelings. In fact, children of divorce often feel rivalry with their parents’ love interests, especially the first few years after the divorce. Children need time to adjust to their parents’ split, and it can take at least two years for them to get over anger, sadness, and other emotions.

Consider that you are a role model for your kids and exposing them to casual partners may not set an example for responsible dating. Keep in mind that your children look to you as a model for healthy adult romantic relationships. Do you want them to feel pessimistic about lasting love?

The key to successful parenting post-divorce is healing, and introducing a new love interest too soon might complicate, delay or damage this process. Have realistic expectations about your children’s acceptance of your new partner. Just because you are enthralled with this person, it doesn’t mean that your kids will share your enthusiasm.

Using the questions every single parent must ask a new partner will pay off for everyone. Consider the amount of time since your divorce, the age of your children and the level of commitment with your new partner. Don’t introduce your children to someone who you are dating casually because they may not know how to interpret this relationship and could feel let down if you breakup.

You can inform your kids that you are going out with friends and that’s enough information. Talking to a relationship coach or therapist may help you to make a smooth transition into this next phase of your life.

Terry would love to hear from you if you have any questions or comments. To find out more about her research, order her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy Long-Lasting Relationship.