Just be you!

I was speaking with my chiropractor (AKA my torture guy) and he was talking about how his wife talks in her sleep, and will answer the questions honestly through her subconscious that she will lie about while she is awake.  Now, as far as I can tell he is playful with this and doesn’t use her sleep-talking for nefarious purposes, but he did share something that he thought was cute and funny but can create large difficulties in relationships.  He asked her if she really wanted to go to Canada, and she admitted in her sleep that she doesn’t.  When awake, because she knows he wants to go, she says yes.  This folks, is a relationship killer.


It seems harmless, doesn’t it?  Telling your partner what they want to hear helps us validate them and make them feel more connected to us.  Right?  But what happens when they go to Canada and do his chilly outdoor adventure, when she really wanted a tropical paradise.  The first, second, even 4th time this happens it probably won’t be a big deal.  But if she never says anything, never stands up for her own wants, wishes and would likes and instead always allows him to have his, she will eventually become resentful.  The anger will build.  I have watched this happen in couples, and then all of a sudden one partner is raging at the other. When asked why, the raging partner usually yells something the equivalent of “Because we always do what YOU want to do!”.  Yes, well, did you ever say what you wanted to do?  Did you ever stick up for your wants, wishes and would likes and he just ignored them, or did you just ignore them yourself until the frustration built to a boiling point?


I see this not only in relationships but in friendships as well.  We have this belief that we need to validate each other.  We have a belief that we need to have the same likes and dislikes or our partner or friend may decide we aren’t what they want and then we are left alone.  We fake desire or interest in something to make ourselves move attractive and desirable.


A repeated topic in the therapy sessions this week has been the work “acceptable”.   We will do a lot and contort ourselves in to strange emotional positions to be considered acceptable by others.  We will lie about who we are, our likes and dislikes, even our hair color just to be “accepted”.  The difficulty with hiding who we are to be accepted is the resentment that comes when you keep sacrificing yourself for others over, and over and over. It also creates problems when people that like you for the lie that you show them all of a sudden have to find a way to accept the new you. In all reality they probably would have liked you for the real you (and if they wouldn’t have, then you probably like them for the wrong reasons anyway) and will just be frustrated that you lied to them.


If you are attracted to someone and they won’t like you for who you are, it isn’t going to work. There is no way around that, no way to make it work. You aren’t able to lie forever, no way to sacrifice your identity forever. It will make you resentful and angry, and is a disservice both to yourself and to the person that you like.


We all want people to see the best in us. We want to be accepted and liked. For most of us, who we are as individuals is actually not that bad, and when you show your true self, people will like you. If there are parts of you that people really don’t like, instead of hiding them and lying about them, change them. Be honest with who you are, it will make you and your partners and friends happier in the long run.

Recovering from betrayal

Each of us has been betrayed. We have all trusted someone or something or some company and that trust has been misplaced. We learn quickly that some betrayals are bigger than others, and some betrayals are harder to recover from. Learning to recover from betrayal requires learning to trust again. Sometimes that learning to trust just takes time to put distance between you and the betrayal. We see this in regular break-ups, when we are left reeling but within a year or two life moves on again, we trust ourselves and start to branch out and trust others again. Sometimes learning to trust takes a bit more work.

As said above, betrayal comes in all shapes and sizes. What happens when these betrayals are bigger, and it takes more than 6 months of pizza, beer and Hagen Daaz? How do we learn to trust that the world can be safe, that there is good in the world?

Believe it or not, eating healthy, drinking water, and exercising is key to recovering from any kind of life difficulty.  Our body is our temple, and if we aren’t treating our body with respect our mind will have difficulty working toward recovery.

We need to find someone we can be safe with or even someplace anonymous, and tell our story. There is power in telling our story when we are heard without judgment. This can be a counselor, a friend, a parent or even just a letter than gets thrown away. It is important to use very careful judgment about with whom you disclose to. Sometimes parents and friends can be the most judgmental, and sometimes they are even more invested than you may have been in keeping the betrayal secret. They can be harsh and cruel in if this is the case. Words like “liar” can be just as traumatizing as the initial betrayal. Counselors are often a safe place to disclose because they have no emotional attachment to the betrayal or the betrayer, or even to you.

We have to learn to trust ourselves.   The first instinct when we have been betrayed is to believe that we are at fault for the betrayal, that we should have known. This is tricky, because even if we did know, there are times that knowing would have been dangerous or we would have lost more than we gained by seeing the betrayal, so being able to forgive yourself for not seeing or not doing anything about the betrayal is important. We have to begin to pay attention to when we have made good judgments about people and situations (usually this is more often than not) and start to trust in our own ability to judge something or someone.

In addition to trusting yourself learning to care for your own heart is crucial. Other may people have taken your heart and played badminton with it. You may have had people that expected you to manage the pain in their hearts. The truth is the only person that can manage the pain in your heart is you. Learning to look at the hurt you feel without judgment and give it the care and comfort that you wish you could get from others will be a big step. Knowing that you can recover your own heart when it is broke makes it easier to trust others.

Start to learn your own trigger levels. Begin to understand where you are at in general, and work to bring your level down to a consistent green. It is more difficult to trust others when you are consistently activated, as we are always ready to be attacked. The levels of distress are:

Subjective Levels of Distress (Melissa Bradley-Ball, MS)

Green: 0-3

Neutral or low activation

At this point you feel calm, centered and grounded with diaphragmatic breathing. Even if slightly annoyed or anxious things are good.

Yellow: 4-6


You’re “on alert”. Either through anxiety or frustration your more focused on what’s going on around you and your breathing has gotten shallower.

Red: 6-10

High Intensity

You’re running on adrenalin. You’re in fight, flight, freeze or fold and your breath is shallow and fast. You have scattered or impaired concentration and are more prone to paranoia.


When you are yellow or red you are less likely to trust because you are more alert for threats around you. This means you may start to see threats that don’t exist, start to feel betrayals that didn’t happen, and stop trusting your own judgment. Knowing when you are triggered is the first step to being able to soothe. If you can’t even recognize when triggered you aren’t able to put your coping skills in to practice to begin with.  When we don’t know we are triggered we often try to get other people to soothe us instead of doing it for ourselves, and become hurt, feel betrayed, and ultimately feel more miserable when they ultimately can’t.

The final step is to trust someone else again. There is a level of vulnerability in trusting someone. It leaves us open to being hurt.  Fides tamen quin – Trust but Verify.   Begin to see what characteristics generally mean people are safe, and take time to get to know them. Allow yourself to move slowly in to relationships and friendships to allow yourself to know that while no one is perfect, there are safe people out there. They won’t always be able to keep from stepping on our emotional (and sometimes physical, believe me) toes.

When we are betrayed as young children or teens, repeatedly betrayed, and betrayed by our supposed rescuers this has a strong effect on how we build trust. It can also affect how we process and understand other people’s actions, at times causing us to feel as though we have been betrayed when there has been no betrayal. Examples of this are:

  • Parents setting limits
  • Friends setting limits
  • Friends not liking pictures / posts on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Parents / friends / partners giving painful feedback
  • Partners saying hi to friends of the opposite sex
  • Partners spending time with co-workers / friends of the opposite sex
  • Partners / friends having their own hobbies that exclude you
  • Partners / friends not being interested or invested in an event in your life
  • Partners / friends not understanding triggers
  • Therapists giving painful feedback / setting limits
  • Situations in which you have to set limits with parents, friends or partners (If they loved you they should just know what your limits / triggers are, right?)

These situations often feel just like the betrayals of the past, and we often react to them in a similar fashion. This often confuses our parents, partner or friends and creates cracks in relationships. There are often fights in which both you and the other party go back and forth, probably neither knowing what the true problem is.

To be clear, these are not betrayals. They feel invalidating and attack the parts of us that hold our deepest fears. This often includes fears of worthlessness, being un-loveable, having done something wrong, and not being enough.

Being able to understand the difference between a true betrayal and what feels strongly of betrayal is an integral part of developing trust and intimacy.

Being able to tell the difference between traumatic betrayal, self-care betrayal, and non betrayal will increase your own self esteem, you own feelings of worth, and your ability to open yourself to vulnerability in healthy relationships.

Self-care betrayal is when our parents, friends and partners ignore our needs to take care of their own. This is not selfishness, this is self-care. At times this is going to make us feel abandoned, hurt, invalidated and unloved. We have to learn to do this ourselves. Not make our partners feel hurt, abandoned, invalidated and unloved of course, but to be able to see ourselves as valuable enough to put other’s needs, wants wishes and would-likes to the side to take care of our own.

Trust is an integral part to building intimacy. We have to be able to not only be able to keep someone else’s heart safe when they let us in, we have to let people in to our hearts. This means finding people that are safe to be let in, knowing how to manage our own stress and distress levels by understanding your triggers, and most importantly trusting your own judgment. Recovering from betrayal trauma is a series of steps, some of which are life long. The results are worth it.




We want to punish neglegence, not failure

Negligence – Definition:

noun: negligence; plural noun: negligences
1. failure to take proper care in doing something.
“some of these accidents are due to negligence”
failure to use reasonable care, resulting in damage or injury to another.

Failure: Definition

noun: failure

lack of success.
1. an unsuccessful person, enterprise, or thing
o plural noun: failures
o “bad weather had resulted in crop failures”

2. the omission of expected or required action.
o “their failure to comply with the basic rules”
The owners of my martial arts school have a 7 month old baby that they bring to the evening classes. She is one of the cutest and sweetest babies I have ever had the pleasure of being around. She is currently working on being able to sit up without support and learning to crawl. There are a ton of failures. Last night she forgot to use her arms in her attempts to crawl and scooted across the floor on her head. If she is sitting without support she falls frequently. She is failing over and over again in her attempts to learn to sit up and crawl.

There is an instinct to run over and keep her from falling, or at the very least keep her from getting rug-burn on her head while learning to crawl. The problem with saving her from these failures though is that she will never build the physical or mental muscles to do these things on her own. We have to watch and allow her to fail over, and over and over in order for her to learn.

Take any task you have ever had to learn how to do. In learning there is always a series of failures as you figure out the concept, the technique and the implementation of the task. There will be trials and errors as you find how to incorporate the new task in to your understanding of the universe. This happens whenever anything new is tried. This builds muscle, be it physical or mental regarding the new task. It creates a new understanding of how the world works, how we work (individually, as a society, or even the laws of nature) and allows us to expand. We build muscles through failure that we wouldn’t have otherwise.  Failure builds the muscles of humility, self examination, and self realization.

A difficulty we are running in to at present is we are seeing failure as negligence and punishing any kind of failure. This means that any time we as an individual or as a society try something new and it fails, we have judgment, irritation or down right anger, inquiries, and at times punishment. This creates a society where innovation is restricted to what will only succeed the first time, which is almost nothing. It keeps us from experimenting with new ideas or new technology and will stifle personal, professional, and even societal growth in the long run.

Where is see this frequently in my practice is with parents. The parents of children don’t want their kids to be hurt emotionally or physically so they protect their kids from their failures. If a kid fails in school, instead of working with the kiddo to improve the teacher is yelled at for letting the kid fail, implying negligence on the teachers part. Think about what this teaches the kid. It teaches that your failures aren’t your fault, you don’t have to learn and you don’t have to try hard. There is an entire generation of young adults now that have the attitude that they don’t have to try and failures will be someone else’s problem. They are entitled and frustrating to work with as colleagues because they are very self-focused, thinking about what the company can do for them instead of what they can bring to the company. Their muscles haven’t been developed for work-ethic and it is visible (and crazy making to those they work with).

Where we saw this recently was with the Affordable Care Act web-sites. A completely new concept, new system, and new program wasn’t as smooth as we would have liked it to be getting off the ground. Instead of showing understanding and working to fix the bugs and problems, we punished the programmers and the entire administration as neglegent. This kind of thinking stifles innovation, because none of us wants to be punished for trying something new.
Of course there has to be limits. We want to make sure something is safe and within reasonable limits before implementing it so people are not injured. That is why we have medical testing before we put out new medications. That is why we have malpractice boards to pay attention to where we are neglectful in our attempts. An example in the therapy world of neglect vs failure ended in the death of a 10-year-old child (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1174742/) and so having practices and policies for safe experimentation in place is important.

We have to learn the difference between neglect and experimentation. As a society we seem to have swung toward the end of believing any failure is neglectful on someone’s part, and working to assign blame. We as a society are starting to wither because of this. Failure helps with growth when we learn what works and what doesn’t work and consistently work to move toward success. We have to start re-thinking how we treat ourselves, our children, our employees, and our society as we work on finding the balance between punishing neglectful behavior and sponsoring through failure towards success.

Where do you need to start doing this with yourself? Think of the last task you worked to learn that was completely new. Were you perfect at it the first time? When you weren’t perfect, what kind of judgments went through your head? Did you feel as though you were neglectful, believing that you didn’t give it your all and throw all kinds of punishment in the form of shame towards yourself? Were you neglectful, or were you just working toward success and the failure was part of that? As we get older this desire to avoid failure often keeps us from trying new things or meeting new people. We throw so much judgment at ourselves we start to stifle our own growth and keep from expanding our boundaries. Something my own martial arts practice has taught me as I move closer and closer to my black belt is that I will fail, over and over again. It is expected and even required to learn. I have had to learn patience with myself, and how to sponsor myself as I fall (often literally) again and again. We are not perfect. We will not succeed the first time out at anything. We will have a series of failures throughout our lives. When we are honest with ourselves and reflect on if this is building and creating then we work toward success. At times there is negligence, and we need to be honest with ourselves about that too. Overall though, we need to work on punishing negligence and sponsoring failure.

Making “I love you” a meditation

I how often do you say “I love you”? How often do you say it to your partner, to your kids, to your parents? I love you can be one of those phrases that is uttered in a thoughtless moment as you rush out the door, or drop the kids off at school. It can be said in a moment of passion, but still said thoughtlessly, without intent.

Meditation is letting yourself be present, focused and intentional about what you are doing. It doesn’t have to be a 30 minute long session of intense breathing and focus, it can the little moments in the day. Meditation can be looking at the beautiful sunset in front of you, taking a breath and being present in with the sunset until traffic moves along. Meditation can be taking a breath and being present with the love you feel for the person you are with before saying the words.

There are words that have lost their meaning over time. I’m sorry is one of them. I’m sorry seems to have come to mean; “It sucks that you feel bad” as opposed to “I regret what I have done”.   What has “I love you” come to mean in your life? Is it the thing you say as you walk out the door or hang up the phone because you’re supposed to, but don’t really feel it? Or is it the way of maintaining a connection with someone you truly care about. If the words have lost their meaning, and you are just staying it to say it but don’t feel it anymore, then there is a bigger problem. If it is the way of maintaining the connection then make sure to be present with the connection.

Each time you say “I love you” take a breath. Find the place inside of you that truly loves that person and be present with it, even for just the space of that breath. Send the energy of that love and that connection through your words. This is more than reminding your loved on that you love them, it is reminding yourself that you love them, and being present with that love and that connection.

Imagine a household that does this with every I love you. You would know that every time you are told you are loved, it is meant deeply and truly. Even when things aren’t going well, they are words you can access to remember that you love them, and they love you. It takes the struggle out of the argument and hopefully brings it in to perspective. It allows you to take a step back for a moment, and instead of thinking “If you really loved me you would…” and be able to say “You really love me, and I don’t like what you are doing.”

Make each “I love you” a meditation, every day. Feel that connection every day. Remember you have true love, feel true love and true connection and be present with it every day. After a month, see what this does to your relationship, your intimacy and even your fights. Meditation is about being present with, and what a wonderful thing to be present with.

Willingness to change

We all have something in our life we would like to be different.   Be it our child, our sibling, our boss, our spouse, our weight etc we want it to change.  One of the most difficult things we have to realize is that for change to happen, be it internal or external, we are the ones that have to change first.  I often work with parents of difficult children. When I ask “What are you willing to do to make the situation different?” I hear a variation on the theme of “They need to”.     In one of my firsts posts I used one of my favorite quotes.  “If you always do what you always did you will always get what you always got”.  If I want the world around me to change, I have to change too.

A treatment method I utilize in my practice is Solution Focused Brief Therapy.  The primary focus of this therapy is approaching the solution of the problem as though it were already solved.  How would you act, treat the person, do for  yourself, if the change you wanted already happened? What is one thing you could do that could bring you 1/2 a step closer to your goal of change.   The difficulty people have with this is they often find things that the OTHER person is able to do to make things better, and often have little concept of what THEY are able to do to effect change in the situation.  People often want the world around them to change, they want the end result without having to do their own work.

For any change to be permanent, our own behavior must change long term as well.  If I want to loose weight I CANNOT change my behavior short term only until the weight is lost and return to old habits without expecting to gain the weight back.  All parties in the relationship are required to change for the change to be maintained.  I cannot expect my child’s behavior to change while I treat him / her the same.

So, since my behavior and responses have to change no matter what, what would happen if I changed them first?  If I alter my behavior, the system around me will eventually shift to accommodate that change.  In the short term the system, no matter how much it wants that change, will work to maintain the status quo, but long term the system will move.

Say I want my brother to treat me with more respect.  Because he does not respect me I do not treat him with respect, and often display passive aggressive behavior toward him reinforcing his disrespectful behavior.  If I were to treat him with respect, especially when he isn’t actively disrespecting me (he can’t be disrespectful 24/7, there has to be a moment in time when he is pleasant), after he unconsciously works to maintain the comfortable status quo, he will eventually shift his behaviors.  If he DOES shift his behavior and I return to my previous attitudes and behaviors toward him he will not maintain his change.  If I don’t change my behaviors when he does show positive behavior toward me I don’t reinforce (training anyone?) his behavior and he won’t be encouraged to continue.

No matter what the problem the first question to ask is “What do I need to do differently to make this change happen”.  Willingness to alter my view, perception and behaviors in a situation will not only help my frustration in the situation (I at least know I am doing what I can), but will eventually help to affect change in my environment. It is always better than waiting around for things to change around me.

Tolerating pain to expand joy

Brother, stand the pain.
Escape the poison of your impulses.
The sky will bow to your beauty, if you do.
Learn to light the candle. Rise with the sun.
Turn away from the cave of your sleeping.
That way a thorn expands to a rose.”
Rumi, The Essential Rumi


Dr. David Snarch teaches one of the therapy approaches I use. He discusses the concept of tolerating distress for the sake of growth in his discussion of moving through relationships. If we take that concept a step further to our relationship with ourselves the concept still applies.

We have developed a culture where we work to avoid pain. We use drugs, shopping, food, sex and a multitude of other coping skills to avoid pain. Instead of working to manage the stress pain causes, we work to avoid the pain entirely. When we do this we run in to suffering. The true reality is that pain is necessary and it is going to come no matter what. So is pleasure and happiness. Pain tells us that something isn’t quite right with the world, and encourages us to be aware of our surroundings. Pain keeps us present with what is happening around us. It isn’t pleasant, but it does keep us grounded. They will move through cycles in our lives no matter what we do. The more we strive to avoid pain the more we cause difficulty for ourselves, and struggle when the painful experiences of life do happen.

Brother, stand the pain. I read this to say that we shouldn’t run from the inevitable. We can work to prepare to keep unnecessary pain from occurring; we save for retirement, we have seat-belts and airbags in our cars, we wear helmets when we cycle (well, we should anyway). We will never to able to avoid fighting in our relationships completely. We will never be able to avoid natural disasters and the havoc they wreak upon us. We will never be able to avoid the deaths of our pets, friends and loved ones. These things are painful, and should be. I want to lean in to the pain, and be present with it. I want to mourn the loss of my loved ones because it means that I had joy with them. I want to work to mitigate fights with my partner, but the fact that they are so painful means that I have someone that I truly care about and is important to me. Things that bring great joy in our life are going to be attached to pain, no matter what we do.

I have a rosebush in front of my house that in the spring and fall put out the biggest red-tipped white roses. When it is in bloom it is a sight to behold. And every time I move in to take care of it the thorns bite me. The plant brings me joy. I love being able to walk and drive past it and see the amazing roses it puts out. And at the same time it causes me pain, even as I try to care for it. Beauty and joy will always have thorns, as long as there aren’t more thorns than beauty then the pain is OK.

When I allow myself to be OK with pain I allow myself to expand myself to a greater cadre of experiences. I am able to see and feel an amazing spectrum of life. If I just work to avoid the pain I am going to miss the grand and amazing things that the world has to offer me, because joy is going to come with pain.

Pain is inevitable. It comes with joy; they are two sides of the same coin and will always be attached in some way. When the pain is greater than the joy then it is time to re-evaluate the situation and there is no doubt that staying in situations in which you are being abused or mistreated is not OK, even if there is a little bit of joy. This is about learning to tolerate distress for the sake of growth. When I am able to tolerate a little distress I am able to expand my world and see more of the beauty and feel more of the joy it has to offer. We have to let go of our fear of pain in order to do so. That is a tall order, and at the same time; big rewards require big risks.

Moving through ebb and flow

People that rely on the ocean and on rivers know the concept of ebb and flow very intimately. They understand not only the movement of the tides, but that the rains that supply the water to the rivers move through periods of ebbing and flowing. Right now many parts of the country have been in a relative ebb of water and many parts of the country are suffering a drought.

There are other areas of life that aren’t as obvious that also move through ebbs and flows. Our relationships are a perfect example. There are times when our relationships are flowing strongly. We feel connected to our partners or friends, and this connection feels very filling. During these times we think how strong our relationship is and we feel that all is right with the world.

The other side of this is the ebb. In the natural movement of things there will be times when our relationships don’t feel as connected. We snip at each other more, we don’t feel as in sync. During these times we can feel very lonely and isolated. There is often an automatic feeling of abandonment and fear of losing the person completely. This can lead us to doing rash things, either to prevent the perceived loss or to retaliate against the future betrayal that we fear is coming. These actions can take us from ebb, a natural occurrence, in to something larger.

Ebbs often come with distress. When we don’t get enough rain our crops suffer. When things aren’t going well at our job we fear losing the job. When things aren’t going well in our relationship we fear losing the relationship.   Being able to tolerate the distress that comes with the natural ebbs in your life will help you flow more smoothly in general.

The easiest way to tell the difference between ebb and a real problem is that ebbs don’t last. If you’ve left work for the last 9 months feeling drained, unfulfilled and frustrated this probably isn’t ebb. There is no flow to counterbalance it. If you spend the majority of time in your relationship walking on eggshells, arguing, snipping or hurt and it has been this way for a while then you probably aren’t in ebb. Again, there is no flow to counterbalance it. Ebb and flow are like the tides; they move back and forth with a semblance of balance with each other, and in general things should feel relatively good

The key to tolerating ebb is to stay grounded with yourself, your identity and your strengths. It is natural to start worrying that you are doing something wrong creating a problem. Always do a self-check to see if there is something you are doing or aren’t doing that could be causing difficulties. We personally go through ebb and flow as well, and on ebb days (bad days) we can sometimes act poorly to those we care about causing problems. If in general you are overall being healthy in your job or relationship, remember this. This means that you are probably in ebb. Stay centered with the fact that you are where you need to be in your thoughts and actions. Remind yourself that you are OK, that the relationship is overall OK, and that life is in general OK. Use this as a buoy to keep you afloat when anxiety and fear start to set in.

There are small changes to make during ebbs. Pay attention to your frustration level and make sure you are soothing when you want to snipe. Make sure you continue to do your work at your job, make sure you continue to be tender and loving to your partner, possibly even more so to remind yourself that this ebb is temporary. As stated above, many parts of the country are in ebb in relationship to water, and people are not changing their habits at all. This is creating additional distress for the environment. If we don’t give a little and be a little more tolerant during ebbs we can create increased distress and actual problems.

Learning to tolerate the ebbs in your life is about learning to sooth your heart when it is afraid. We like stability and ebbs don’t represent stability to us, especially for those that have been through trauma or betrayal before. In these cases we are hyper-alert to problems and ebbs are large red-flags to our systems. Being able to tolerate the mild distress of an ebb will help you trust more, and feel even more connected to your job or partner when times are good. Knowing that the ebbs are natural and the feelings of disconnectedness are temporary will help you feel more connected comfortable in your relationships because you know a flow is coming soon.

Knowing whom to trust

Knowing who to trust in this world is tricky. We always put on a good face when meeting new people for the first time, and being able to identify the people that have a fantastic façade but with a less than healthy inside can be difficult, especially in the first couple of months of knowing someone. There are some simple tells though, and once you learn what they are you will have a better time of catching the crazies before they worm their way too far in to your life.

One of the first things you will see in another person is their sense of humor. We all have one (even though I bet you’ve met someone you think doesn’t), and looking at what people find funny is a good window in to their inner being. Finding cruelty and the pain of others funny is a sign of lacking empathy. Admittedly I’m the first person to chuckle at my friends when they get a booboo from doing something “hold my beer” worthy, I’m also the first one running to their side to make sure they aren’t actually injured. Laughing at the emotional or physical injury of others, especially through jokes that demean a gender or a group of people is a sign of a cruel streak that can add darkness to your life, and be a sign that they can eventually turn on you and start telling their “jokes” at your expense.

Another thing to look for is the other friendships that the person has. Think of who you want your friends to be. What does “healthy” mean to you? How I interpret it is a general idea of how their actions affect themselves and others. Healthy people take accountability for their actions and choices, and as such make good choices. The old adage “birds of a feather stick together” is very accurate. If their friends don’t have jobs, use drugs regularly, like strip clubs, make demeaning jokes or have a multitude of other unhealthy habits, you can bet your friend or partner does too. You can see what a person is like by keeping an eye on who they hang out with.  If they don’t have any friends at all, there is probably a reason for that as well.

Keep an eye on how they treat other people (and animals) in general. If you are reading this blog you probably have a generally healthy respect of life and believe everyone deserves respect. This includes wait-staff, ticket-takers, janitors, fast food employees, and all other people that work hard for a living but don’t have a 401K. How we treat people who are just trying to do their job is a good insight in to how we are going to treat those close to us when we get to know them better and are hurt, frustrated or stressed. How we treat animals, especially those that aren’t our own pets is a strong indicator in to how a person interacts with the world around them.  We tend to make excuses early on in friendships and relationships for how people treat those around them that aren’t friends. We shouldn’t. How people treat those that aren’t as “high” as they are on the world food chain is a good indication of how they will eventually treat you and how they think of others in general.

Listen to see how they accept feedback from others. If they are constantly complaining about how no one likes them at work and their boss is always on them, be aware that they may struggle to accept feedback when their behavior isn’t that great. If they are starting conversations with “This person is such a (insert derogatory name here)”, and consistently identify why everyone else is wrong while they are the perfect angel, they are probably getting feedback that they aren’t able to take constructively.  How they accept feedback will be important when you are frustrated with their behavior and you need to tell them something.  If they don’t take feedback well, you will find that you keep from talking about the important issues and eventually start feeling resentful.

Listen to them as they talk about past friendships and past relationships. If they talk about a multitude of friends that have betrayed them, abandoned them, are less than they are or that they just complain about, there is a high chance that you will become one of the multitudes that have abandoned or betrayed them. If they talk with a good deal of disrespect about past relationships, it means they are likely to struggle to feel strong bonds with others, to trust others, and that will include you. It does indicate that they have a history of actual betrayal somewhere in their past. While you can be understanding of how they have come to the point of struggling to form bonds does not mean you should willing accept them in to your heart. People that struggle to form close bonds tend to turn dangerous and hurtful to those others when they feel hurt. If you’ve let them in that means they will hurt you, even if they don’t mean to.

Pay attention to what their hobbies are, and how obsessed they are with them. Everything is OK in moderation. Clubbing, gambling, drinking, smoking, video games, even exercise and knitting (the knitting addicts are the worst) are great in small doses. When they become obsessions though, they can have a pathology about them that can interfere with relationships and friendships. It is one thing that they go out with the co-workers on Friday for happy-hour for a couple of hours. It is another if they go every night until 2 in the morning. It is one thing to play the lottery when you can win 250 million, it is another thing to spend $50 or more every week on tickets. The level of obsession is important, especially when something comes between their obsessions. Being able to be healthy in their passions shows health in other places.

Social Media has become a very clear window in to a person’s soul. Watch what they post on FaceBook, Twitter, and all other social media sites. If they post things that degrade people that aren’t in their religion or that don’t follow their political views, if they “troll” places and leave hate-filled comments because they are relatively anonymous behind their keyboard, you are seeing their true feelings and beliefs. You are seeing how they treat others they don’t agree with. What happens when they don’t agree with you?

We have all been betrayed by someone we have cared about. Some of those betrayals have been bigger and caused more damage and bigger wounds than others. Learning who to trust and understanding the traits that lead to healthy friendships and relationships will lessen the likelihood of the big betrayals. Whenever two people get together there are going to be the mini betrayals, they are unavoidable. The big ones though, the “She slept with someone else in our tent at a festival” kind, the “he lied took all my money”, or the “she started screaming at me irrationally when I left a beer on the counter and ended up hitting me so I had to call the cops” kind are less likely when you know what to look for.